Saturday, December 4, 2010

Happy Chrissy Mates!

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How ya going, mates?

After four years of planning, saving and dreaming we bit the bullet and 'Bob's your uncle'-- the Fusco family is in Australia having the walkabout of a lifetime! Up front we'd like to apologize for the odd way we're doing the annual letter this year, but the distance and Post costs were prohibitive to our being able to mail out letters. We hope you enjoy the photos on the cards we did send out and appreciate Tamara's sister, Tiffini, bringing them home from Oz and sending them for us. There are more Christmas pictures at our Flickr site.

Also, the letter will be a bit limited in content/details because we've put all the details of this trip, since serious planning started in February, into the blog posts below. For those of you who have not been following us on our adventure, “have a look, Mate” at the blog posts that start in February. We cover a range of topics, trials and adventures, and there are lots of nice photos (for those who would rather not slog through the thousands at the flickr site) that accompany each blog post, so “have a go!”

First though, let's back up a bit... In January we took our usual annual trip to Colorado for skiing with the Graves. As always, it was a wonderful visit and great time skiing. It was the first year for us to really ski together as a family since Amarra really took to skiing. We were all over the mountain and she just did wonderfully. The boys continue to advance in skill as well, and I have little doubt that they'll be blowing past the old fogey parents any time. Evan's sister, Danielle, even came up from Colorado Springs for a visit. Unfortunately, it won't be in January of 2011 since we'll be stuck in Port Macquarie suffering through summer on the beaches doing the Australian slip, slop, slap! (Translation: slip on a rash shirt, slop on sunscreen, and slap on a hat.)

Colorado 2010

Evan had a conference in Las Vegas in February and the entire family came along for the first few days. I'm sure the kids found the experience pretty eye opening, as anyone does on their first visit to the city of lights. No, we didn't go to any red light revues, but did have a great time at the Mac King comedy show, with Brendan being Mac's assistant. We pretty much stayed to banker's hours and the more tame areas of the city. While Evan was in meetings, Tamara rented a car and took the kids out to Hoover Dam and Red Rocks. We had a great time, although it's very different visiting Vegas with kids than without!

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Then, in March, we took a much belated trip to New York City for Spring break. Neither Tamara nor Evan had really visited the city, we're ashamed to admit and the kids were eager to see some sights. While our time was limited, we tried to make the most of the experience. The boys became expert navigators of the subway system as part of their 'training' for our 'Round the World' adventures. We hit all the touristy highlights including a Broadway showing of Mary Poppins. We visited the Ground Zero site. Despite the fact that the boys were only 2 years old on 9/11 and Amarra was not yet born, it was a pretty emotional experience for all of us to visit the memorial at the site. Heath was actually inspired to write a song about 9/11 that he titled “Falling Down” that is incredibly insightful for a boy of only 10 years making his first effort at writing something like that. Later on, his Uncle Brett helped put the song to music though we're still waiting for him to record it. We visited the UN, which really needs some major renovations, the Statue of Liberty, Union Station, etc. Perhaps the highlight was a fantastic Italian meal at Carmine's—wow, this picky Italian family was very impressed—and stuffed!

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After that we were a bit more home bound as we saved up for the trip. We made it to a St.Louis Cardinals game, spent time with friends and family at the Lake House and worked and worked.

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We had a lot to do to prepare for the trip as we found a wonderful house sitter in Kristi Burch and her 2 daughters Kelsey & Kinlan. We had to arrange for bills to be paid automatically, we had to 'winterize' the lake house, and we had to arrange for all the everyday matters we attend to to be taken care of either automatically or to beg family to help us—which they very generously have. Evan even managed to part ways with his beloved Prius for the duration of the trip thanks to the TLC his Uncle Ed is giving it up in Indiana.

Just to create some necessary panic, Brendan got sick a month before we were scheduled to leave with mastoiditis (infection of the bone/cavity behind the ear). He spent 2 days in hospital on antibiotics and had to have a myringotomy (surgical hole in his ear drum) to allow the infection to drain. Ultimately he made a full recovery, but that was certainly not planned or fun for anyone, especially Brendan.

Pre-trip, getting ready to go

Finally, on August 5th, Evan finished his last shift in the ED and with multiple family members in attendance we boarded our first plane in Springfield bound for Los Angeles, then on to Hawaii where we spent 5 days relaxing and contemplating our coming adventure.


On August 11th we boarded a plane and 40 hours, 2 planes, 1 train, and one taxi ride later we arrived in our big purple house in Port Macquarie. (“We all live in a big purple house, a big purple house, a big purple house....”)

While things have not gone strictly to plan up until now, it's been a great example of how you must be flexible and adaptable when traveling for the kids. We spent 2 months in Australia without a pay check or work because of red tape and administrative issues. However having the Aussie attitude of , “She'll be right, Mate,” we, fortuitously, managed to find work in New Zealand for a month, then returned, just recently, to Port Macquarie with all the credentialing issues resolved. Finally Evan is working at the job we intended to have to start with. The people here are great and we're sure it'll be a nice 3 months. Our savings have taken a pretty big hit, but we'll survive by living conservatively. We briefly stayed in the same purple house we had the first 2 months here, but are moving to a smaller “Holiday Apartment” for the duration of the trip that will, hopefully, be easier to care for, has a pool and game area, and is much closer to the beach. If anyone wishes to write to us, the address there is:

Oasis Holiday Apartments, Apt. 27

216 Matthew Flinders Drive

Port Macquarie, NSW 2444 Australia

Of course, we're big email people, so or will work too...and we're always posting on Facebook and usually have a new blog post every 2-3 weeks.

We will eventually return home about April 22nd. But not before a paid “holiday” in Vanuatu and a return visit to New Zealand to see the South Island—which we didn't have time for when we were working. Then the rest of our 'Round the World' adventure including visits to Tokyo, Hong Kong, Thailand, Cambodia, India, Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Spain and France all crammed into the last 2 months of this trip. I wish you could all see just how much the kids have matured, changed and grown during this sabbatical, and we can only dream of how much they will change and learn during the next 5 months. What we dreamed of is for them to become more worldly and to appreciate other cultures in a way that so many Americans lack. We can already see the changes!

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Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy Holidays to all!

G'Day--The Fusco Family

*See all the trip photos at

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Diving back into Australia!

Great Barrier Reef-Below Surface

*As always, click on any picture to see it larger and to go to the flickr site which is replete with photos.

We're back where it all began—the purple house at 9 Scarborough Close in Port Macquarie, Australia. At least for the time being.

Early Australia

In the last blog we mentioned that Tamara's father, sister, brother in law & nephew had come down for a visit and we'd met up with them in Sydney. We had a nice tour of the usual tourist spots around Sydney including the Opera (soon to be Oprah) House, Sydney Tower, Circular Quay, Darling Harbour, Paddy's market & etc.

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Sydney in November

After that we boarded a Qantas flight up to Cairns (pron. Cans), an area none of us had seen before, but a popular jumping off point to see the Great Barrier Reef, rain forests, and the far north coast. We enjoyed a really nice reef tour with Passions of Paradise Tours .

Great Barrier Reef-on deck

An all day trip complete with gourmet lunch, scuba diving for mom, dad, Tiffini and Kerry, glass bottom boat tours for Tamara's dad and snorkeling for everyone but her dad! It was quite exciting snorkeling with the kids, they struggled, but ultimately enjoyed the experience with Brendan, Heath and Mom actually seeing a shark! The diving wasn't as spectacular as we had hoped, the water was hazy due to the chop and season. We'd sure like to see the outer reef during winter and dive that sometime.

Great Barrier Reef-Below Surface

Great Barrier Reef-Below Surface

We also drove as far North toward Cape Tribulation as conditions allowed, but heavy 'wet season' rains and a flooded road kept us from going too far.

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We did enjoy a nice rainforest stroll at the Daintree Rainforest Discovery Centre. We learned about the frightening Stinging Tree, or Gympie Gympie as the aboriginals call it. As if the fauna of Australia aren't frightening enough, this rather innocent looking tree has tiny silica needles covering every bit of it (trunk, stems, leaves) that merely brusing up against causes them to imbed into your skin and causes excruciating pain that can last for weeks. And even after the initial pain resolves it can be reactivated by touch, cold, or heat. Horses have been known to go mad and kill themselves after coming into contact with these babies! We did successfully avoid them.

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After a too short visit to Port Douglas we had to turn around and come back to Sydney for a night before heading back to our prior temporary home of Port Macquarie.

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Time here was more relaxed. We visited the Koala Hospital where the kids used some of their allowance savings to adopt a Koala, Bonny Willy (click link to read his story), which helps support the privately funded hospital—the only of it's kind in the world. We went for a swim on Lighthouse Beach (near where we'll soon be moving—see below), and drove up to Dorrigo National Park to hike to one of the beautiful water falls.

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On Monday the 29th of November, a full 9 months from when he first began the interview and application process and more than 3 months after our initial arrival in Australia, Evan finally had his first day of work at Port Macquarie Base Hospital in the ED. What a relief it was. The job here has similarities to my job in New Zealand in that it is a teaching environment, but it is also different in many ways in that ancillary services are run by contractors and are thus much more efficient, no more begging to do CT scans or even MRIs. Evan is considered a “Staff Specialist”, which means somewhat lower pay than the VMO (visiting medical officer) contractors, but the benefits of a full time physician including paid leave. If he was staying longer there is even paid CME and almost 2 months total paid time off. Patient load is small b/c there are registrars, interns and contract medical officers who see most patients. As in New Zealand, there are no night shifts, but he will be working Christmas.

On December 1st Tamara and the kids went down to Sydney again to see off her family returning to the US. Sad to see them go, the first bit of 'home' we've had since leaving almost 4 months ago—hard to believe it's been that long—4 months. And we still have almost 5 months to go before we get home again

December 1st also marked the first day of Summer in Australia, but you'd never know it from the weather—still fairly cool and rainy. We hope to take advantage of a move to a smaller, but a bit more comfortable accommodation in a “Holiday Apartment” at the Oasis Holiday Apartments near the previously mentioned Lighthouse Beach. It's still a bit further from the center of town and our expat friends, the Ross's, but it has a pool, game room, faster (if pricy) internet, and should be a bit nicer than the house we're in now. We'll be putting up a small Christmas tree and we've purchased a few ornaments during our antipodean travels to decorate with. In other exciting news...Tamara will be learning to drive on the left—gonna have to so she can run errands when Evan is at work.

BTW, Christmas Cards will go out this year to the usual suspects. But the Christmas letter will be a blog post and photos on the card itself and online. Keep an eye on your mail box!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ka Kite Ano, New Zealand

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As the Maori would say, “Until we come back”, New Zealand! It's hard to believe our time in New Zealand has ended. We have only great memories from our time there. It's the first time in a long time that I have seen Evan come home from work not stressed and not tired!

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Hamilton was a personable, quirky, and overall lovely place to live. The Waikato River runs through the center of town with walking trails on either side. Hamilton Gardens, “World Famous in New Zealand” was so much more than we expected. We went to the public garden expecting local flora and some nice flowers. We were amazed at all the different types of gardens: Italian, Chinese, English, Japanese, Indian, Maori, sustainable, herb, and more (I can't even remember all the types!) Downtown Hamilton was a fun place to grab a beer at one of the several pubs, eat al fresco, or (and this is Hamilton's TRUE claim to fame) take your picture with the Riff Raff statue and practice dancing the time warp! Apparently Richard O'Brien, writer of the Rocky Horror Picture Show is a native son of Hamilton---how fun is that?

Hamilton Scenery

Now if you ask Brendan what the best part of Hamilton is, he would yell, “Waikato Rugby Union”. Brendan went to their last game of the season with Evan's boss, John Bonning, who is the team physician. He then CHEERED (“rooted” is not a word we would use down here as it has risque connotations!) the team through the national finals. Go Mooloo!

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One of the joys of traveling is meeting other travelers and locals. We spent a weekend in New Plymouth with the Petty family. This delightful family opened their home to us and showed us amazing hospitality. The funny thing is that we had never met them before going to New Plymouth! We connected with them through a friend of mine from college who knew them when they were part of the ex-pat community in Saipan. New Plymouth lies at the base of Mount Taranaki, which is currently a dormant volcano.

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We hiked through “goblin” forests (moss covered gnarled trees with hobbits hiding behind them) and crossed mountain streams. Once again, the kids did great and have become quite intrepid hikers!

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Our last weekend was spent in Auckland. After touring Kelly Tarlton's Antarctic Encounter and Underwater World (cute penguins!), we had a lovely brunch with the Rangers, also friends of friends, at Mission Bay.


Afterwards, we did a walking tour of the city, first taking a break for some refreshments at the Belgian Beer Cafe, and then ending up at a Mexican restaurant. Yum, fajitas!

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This was one of the few Mexican restaurants we've seen “Down Under”, so we HAD to stop in for some cheese dip and margaritas. Our day was topped off by viewing Auckland at night from the Auckland tower---beautiful!

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Day 2 in Auckland was great, too. The Auckland Museum rocks!

Auckland Museum

It has the best collection of Maori and other South Pacific taronga (treasures) that I've ever seen. We loved the earth science area with displays ranging from a volcano demonstration to the strata of a coral reef, and the kids' section (wild and wonderful) was so great that we had a hard time getting the kids to leave. If you're going to be in town, put this on your agenda.

We ended our weekend in Auckland with a hike up One Tree Hill (as in the U2 song). Although Evan was a bit over the top by playing the song on his i-pod the entire hike, it set the mood perfectly.

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Evan working, while fabulous for our checking account, put a real kink in our traveling time. We were limited to overnight trips to location within several hours driving distance. We missed out on several sites on the North Island including Wellington and Raglan Beach, not to mention many others that would have made nice side trips had time permitted. We did not make it to the South Island at all. So, ultimately, the only way we could see to do justice to say we've truly visited New Zealand is to go back. Thus, in late February, when Evan's done working, but before we start off on our 'Round the World part of the trip, we're heading back for a quick 9-10 day jaunt to Wellington and the South Island to cram in as much of the country as we can. Who knows? That may STILL not be enough.


We returned to Australia on November 18 to meet my father, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew for some “holidays” before going back to Port Macquarie to work! Stay tuned for later blogs on more Aussie adventures!

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Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What's not to love about New Zealand?

*As always, click on the pictures for bigger versions and to go to the flickr page with lots more photos.

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Welcome to the land of the long white cloud, Aotearoa (in Maori), EnZed in local slang or just New Zealand, as we commonly know it. After 2 months in Australia, we headed for greener pastures! Admittedly, having 2 months off to travel and relax in Australia was great, but our savings were taking a beating. Evan's licensure for Australia was “still in progress”, so we grabbed an opportunity for him to work in New Zealand, where licensing moved at a much quicker pace.

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On October 16 we arrived in Auckland. It was a drizzly day when we arrived, but even then, the mountains were a lush, glowing green. We grabbed our hospital arranged rental car and headed to Hamilton, which is about 2 hours south of Auckland and checked into the Camelot Motor Inn, our “home away from home” in New Zealand.

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The drive down was quite beautiful with volcanic peaks covered in tree ferns and verdant pastures with sheep everywhere. NZ is the peculiar mixture of Scotland (crags), Hawaii (waterfalls, volcanoes), British influence, and Maori culture. As odd as a blend as that sounds, it all works.

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Arriving over the weekend gave us a chance to meet an online Prius friend of Evan's, Sam. Sam is an ex-pat from New Mexico who has lived in NZ for 16 years. A psychology professor officially, he and his family live on a traditional NZ farm with sheep, horses, and chickens. The kids loved the opportunity to feed the orphan lambs and cuddle “Bear”, the miniature pony.

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We spent the rest of the day in Cambridge, a very English town with an Equestrian bent, visiting the tiny museum, buying local produce, and having a lovely lunch at a Thai/NZ fusion restaurant. (Our orders ranged from battered mussels and chips to a mussel frittata to green chicken curry!) It was a wonderful,eclectic day, and after that, we were hooked on New Zealand!

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Tuesday was a bit of 'back to reality'. Evan met his contact at the hospital and began getting oriented for work. (Yeah, finally a job!) At that point, it had been two and a half months since his last patient contact. Actual work started on Friday just a few hours after final approval of his credentials and indemnity insurance. The hospital has the busiest emergency department in all of New Zealand, being the only major hospital in the area. Also, being that they have a public health care system here, things operate quite differently from the US--some for the better, some for the worse. The quality of care delivered and the expertise of the physicians is quite excellent. Every patient has a general practitioner whom they can see for a minor copay. Specialist care is a tougher task, though, sometimes with very long waits. A lot of unnecessary tests are not done because they work on a system of protocols and guidelines. (Ah, the joys of not having to practice defensive medicine since there is essentially no malpractice suits.) That said, there's no room for a physician's 'gut feeling' about things and obtaining advanced tests in marginal cases is almost impossible in the ED.

The work in the ED is chaotic, disorganized, and inefficient by US standards. Lots of minor tasks are done by the physicians. However, there are a lot of physicians because almost every hospital serves as a training facility. Evan's roll is equivalent to an attending for the residents and interns in a US training hospital. Thus, he only sees a handful or two of patients per shift, but there are other responsibilities for supervision, problem solving, etc. that take a lot of time. There is a, essentially, “mandatory” lunch break for all staff, and the nurses take two 15 minute 'tea breaks' per shift. The patients are very appreciative, even when they wait. And, as everywhere in Australia and New Zealand, almost everyone we meet is extremely nice, helpful and happy.

Waitomo Caves & Glow Worms

Now, back to the fun part...on Evan's first day off, we drove south an hour or so to Waitomo caves. These caves are river caves and have beautiful white calcite formations, but are more well known for their glow worms. These larvae of the fungus gnat make long strands of mucus (looks like strings of pearls) and have a continuous glowing posterior to attract insects. As gross as this sounds, it's really quite lovely. We had a small boat ride through the cave looking at the roof of the cave with thousands of small glowing blue lights. This is somewhat similar to a cross between a lightning bug and a spider.

Waitomo Caves & Glow Worms

[blue dots are the glow worms]

Waitomo Caves & Glow Worms

For Evan's first weekend off, we headed over to Rotorua. This area is known for its geothermal activity---geysers, mud pots, thermal pools, and the dreaded pervasive sulfur smell. Rotorua is also known as a center for Maori culture. We were lucky enough to experience both! Our hotel overlooked Te Puia, the geothermal park.

[that's our hotel in the background]

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Besides Te Puia, we visited Te Wairoa, an excavated Maori village that had been buried in a volcanic eruption in 1886.

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We also went to the Tamaki Brothers' Maori village and hangi (meal). This was really great. The evening started off with the traditional Maori warrior challenge and greeting.

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Then, village had interactive displays with personnel to explain and demonstrate aspects of Maori life---tattooing, Warrior training, use of the club, food preservation, etc. (It was kind of like a Maori Silver Dollar City without the rides.)

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The hangi is where food is cooked in a pit in the ground with hot rocks. They served lamb, chicken, mussels, fish, and root vegetables like kumara and carrots. Yum!

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To top off our visit to Rotorua, we decided to do the luge. It was a gondola ride up the mountain then 2 quick trips down the mountain on an asphalt path riding a specially designed “luge” with wheels. The team of Dad and Amarra were first every time! Next time perhaps we'll try the Zorb---the human hamster ball!

Tamara's Rotorua

Overall, we love New Zealand. It's everything you imagine and more. The kids and I will continue to explore Hamilton while Evan is working and try to see more sites around the North Island when he's off. We've already realized that we can't even begin to see everything we want, so we'll have to plan another trip here!

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More on our further New Zealand experiences later!