Bridge Climb!



I don’t consider myself to be a courageous person, especially when it comes to doing new things. That may sound odd coming from an expat, but it’s true. For me, any new endeavor is a challenge. I’m not a thrill seeker and I don’t enjoy rushes of adrenaline. Basically I’m a big chicken, but every once in a while something comes along that captures my imagination and I’m compelled to pursue it even though I know I will have  endless arguments with myself as well as endure the exhausting process of overcoming my fear. This is the story of my Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb.

When I was planning our trip, the bridge climb came up on tripadvisor’s top ten things to do in Sydney. It looked amazing and I was feeling the need to challenge my middle-aged self. Predictably though, my mind started calculating a long list of reasons why I shouldn’t attempt such a feat. I researched the official site, looking for things to scare me off. It was too expensive ($318AUD), it would take too long (3.5 hrs.), there was no bathroom (always a top concern for us ladies), maybe I wasn’t fit enough, and…what if I all of a sudden developed a crippling fear of heights?

My endless obsessing finally gave way to resolve and commitment. Plus I’d already paid…no refunds. In the end analysis, I decided that I needed the challenge and I needed to succeed. I read an article recently that reported on a study that found that people are sometimes drawn to higher-risk activities because it helps them to regulate their emotions and control over their lives. I was definitely feeling the need for empowerment and I think it drove my compulsion to take on the climb.

I chose the late afternoon climb for my husband, my daughter and I. After a safety briefing, and a breathalyzer (it’s required of everyone, drinking and climbing is not a legal method of relaxing your potential height anxieties) our guide had some cursory questions. “Is anyone nervous?” I raised my hand. My husband and daughter looked at me pathetically. “Does anyone have a fear of heights?” ‘No, but what if a suddenly do?’ I thought, suppressing my panic. Finally, we signed a liability waiver and suited up. All bridge climbers have a set of coveralls equipped with a safety belt and a carabiner, a hat and a set of headphones. Everyone was given one last chance to back out before heading out onto the bridge. Once that heavy metal door shuts, there’s no getting back inside (or at least that’s what they tell you). I believed them…my anxiety level rose.

Ten of us, single file, clipped our carabiners to a thin safety cable that ran along a metal railing for the entire length of the climb. Despite the assurances of our guide, that cable didn’t look like it would hold the weight of a person that might happen to get blown over the side. Oh well, it was too late to worry about that now.

To get to the arch of the bridge requires navigating up a set of vertical metal ladders and across a catwalk that extends out beyond the bridge frame and over the highway below. In hindsight, this turned out to be the most unnerving part of the climb. It was windy, and walking over the freeway on a swaying catwalk was unsettling. Needless to say, I didn’t look down. Just hearing the cars whizzing by below was enough.

Up the arch Sydney Harbour Bridge Shirley Ralston,

Up the arch
Sydney Harbour Bridge
Shirley Ralston,

As we climbed the arch, our guide made periodic stops so we could enjoy the views and he could tell us the history of the bridge. It’s a fascinating story and speaks to the ingenuity and foresight of the designers, the bridge workers and the Australian people. The views from the bridge made me forget my fears (looking out not down was key) . It was a gorgeous afternoon and the sky was so clear, you could see all of Sydney Harbour and out to the coast.

Across the apex Sydney Harbour Bridge Shirley Ralston,

Across the apex
Sydney Harbour Bridge
Shirley Ralston,

At the apex of the arch, we chatted with our group as our guide took photos. I was happy to have real proof of my adventure…in case someone doubted by tale.  We crossed over on a catwalk that spans the arches and began our descent on the other side. I marveled as our guide pointed out the massive steel rivets and recounted the fact that those who built the bridge worked without safety nets and with no loss of life.

Coming down was definitely the most strenuous part of the climb for me. By the time I reached that last set of vertical ladders, my calve muscles were letting me know it was time to stop. I wasn’t complaining though. I had successfully conquered the bridge. I came away from my climb feeling empowered, for at least as long as it takes before the  next irresistible challenge comes my way.

Done and Dusted Sydney Harbour Bridge Shirley Ralston,

Done and Dusted
Sydney Harbour Bridge
Shirley Ralston,

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Adventures in Australia – “Confident and Manly” Beach

Manly Men

We were eager to experience Australia’s beaches while we were in Sydney. One of my husband’s co-workers recommended Manly Beach over the more famous Bondi. “Fewer crowds,” he said. Finding Manly to be an odd name for a beach, I decided to do some research. Captain Arthur Phillip, the first governor of New South Wales and founder of the settlement that became Sydney, named the cove after the “confidence and manly behavior” of the indigenous people he observed living there. [1]

Captain Philip and the "confident and manly" men.,%20by%20the%20'Port%20Jackson%20Painter',%20(Manly%20Museum%20and%20Gallery).lightbox.jpg

Captain Philip and the “confident and manly” men.


Ferryboat Friend

Ferries are the transportation of choice in Sydney Harbour. They are fast and easy – and a necessity for those traveling to and from the outer reaches of the Sydney area. The freeways in Houston and my security situation in Papua New Guinea made me yearn for this low maintenance and stress-free way to get around. Plus, it would just be cool to commute by water.

The ferry to Manly leaves from Wharf #3 in Circular Quay. We made an early start from our hotel with all our beach paraphernalia in tow. It was a beautiful Sunday morning with clear blue skies. The salt air, seagulls and ship’s horns in the bustling quay made for an inviting scene. The Manly Ferry was a popular ticket on a perfect day for a beach trip. It’s a 30 minute ride through the harbour and out to the coast. As we sat chatting and enjoying the views, a fellow passenger sitting next to us recognized our Texas twang. We quickly struck up a conversation with our new friend, a young exchange student from the University of Texas, in Sydney for the spring semester. She was a wealth of valuable information for things to do during our stay. Our world became pretty small that day in the Southern Hemisphere as we talked about mutual friends. Six degrees of separation? We were only three with our fellow Texas traveler. I still marvel at our meeting and connection to dear friends back home, all because she missed her boat to her soccer game, and ended up on ours.

Beach Bumming

Boogie board fun @ Manly Beach Shirley Ralston:

Boogie board fun @ Manly Beach
Shirley Ralston:

The ferry terminal at Manly Cove empties passengers onto a picturesque pedestrian walk called the Corso, lined with quaint hotels, shops and cafes. The end of the Corso opens up onto the wide, half-moon shaped beach, bounded on both sides by rocky cliffs. This shape is characteristic of the beaches in this part of Australia. I think the wave conditions it creates is one of the reasons why surfing is so popular here. We rented chairs and umbrellas and claimed our spot in the sand. I was comfortable with my kindle but my husband and daughter were quick to take to the water after discovering the boogie board rental stand. The weathered, friendly Australian woman who was renting boards had the appearance and demeanor of one who’d lived at the beach all her life. I could see the attraction. Australian waters are a beautiful sapphire blue, and cold – providing welcome relief from the summer heat. For a brief moment I allowed myself to imagine, ‘Yeah, I could live here.’

Surf rescue is serious business.

Surf safety is serious business.

It didn’t take me long to notice the prominent presence of the Manly Life Saving Club. They are the modern-day equivalent of “confident and manly”…(and womanly). These clubs are a big part of Australia’s beach culture and every beach community has one. I don’t think I’ve seen the equivalent in the states. Well coordinated and looking sharp in their UV protection gear, club members patrolled the beach in pairs, scanning the water for possible signs of distress. They also keep everybody in their proper place. Swimming and surfing areas are clearly marked with flags to prevent the unfortunate collision between surfboard, boogie board and unsuspecting swimmer. Manned boats constantly patrol the water and every kind of life saving equipment imaginable is clearly visible on the beach and at the life saving station. Surf safety is serious business. It was reassuring, but I’m a child of the 70’s – the movie Jaws defines my perception of the ocean. I just kept thinking, ‘Can you protect me from the great whites roaming around out there?’

Burger Binge


Moo Manly (Gourmet Burgers) Shirley Ralston:

Pretty soon the sand, sun and water took a toll on everyone’s energy and made us ravenously hungry. We headed up to the Corso for lunch. There we found a local burger joint called Moo Gourmet Burgers and well, it was awesome! Turns out, America is not the only place where you can get a major burger fix. The Moo Manly menu would be the envy of any burger lover in the U.S. Some of the items are distinctly Australian, most notably, the Kangaroo Burger. All the main burger fare is 100% Australian Pure Angus Beef so my husband and daughter went for the Big Moo, a basket of onion rings and homemade sweet potato chips (chips are fries… and for me, they will always be fries). I decided on the healthier Classic Chicken (although I was determined not to leave Australia without sampling Kangaroo and Crocodile, which I did…and I lived…and it was good). We chose a table on the upper deck in the two-story establishment, looking out towards the ocean and over the towering Norfolk Pines that line the beach perimeter next to the Corso. Our lunch, with a gorgeous view of the beach and ocean, made for a memorable food experience.

A Bit of Baz

St. Patrick's Seminary/Gatsby's Long Island Estate Shirley Ralston:

St. Patrick’s Seminary/Gatsby’s Long Island Estate
Shirley Ralston:


Our new ferryboat friend drew our attention to a tall stone tower on the hill to our right as we entered Manly Cove that morning. She said, “That’s where The Great Gatsby was filmed”. This definitely piqued our interest. Certain members of my family are huge Baz Luhrmann fans (especially our media production spring breaker). It’s a love that began with Strictly Ballroom, one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. If you love dancing shows (and Australian accents) then I highly recommend it. You’ll be in stitches. The love continued with Romeo and Juliet, Moulin Rouge, Australia and finally The Great Gatsby. So, we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to see the place that was transformed into Gatsby’s expansive and fabulous Long Island estate. Formerly St. Patrick’s Seminary, it now houses the International School of Management. We hiked from the beach up Darley Road to find the seminary at the top of the hill overlooking Manly Beach to the east and Manly Cove to the west. It was fun imagining how they recreated Gatsby’s opulent jazz age parties that spilled out the entrance, onto the lawn and around those fabulous fountains. The seminary is a popular site for weddings and the immaculate grounds include a beautiful chapel. I later learned it was the wedding venue for Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban. All was well; we had our photos and our celebrity fix.

Manly Wharf Shirley Ralston:

Manly Wharf – Where manly men used to roam Shirley Ralston:

What a great day it was. As we pulled away from the Manly ferry terminal and headed back towards Sydney, I wondered what Captain Philip would think if he sailed into Manly Cove today. And, I wondered what became of those “manly men”.


[1] Phillip to Lord Sydney, 15 May 1788, in the Historical Records of New South Wales ii:129, quoted by Robert Hughes in The Fatal Shore, 1987, paperback ISBN 1-86046-150-6-page 15


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Rangers Lead The Way! – Pointe Du Hoc

June 6, 2014 – Remembering the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

This post was originally published in 2011 after our trip to Normandy.

Rangers Lead The Way!

Pointe Du Hoc

The Pointe

Pointe Du Hoc is an amazing piece of shoreline. Translated “Hook Point”, this anvil shaped rock outcropping juts into the English Channel giving it an unmistakable profile. The cliffs of this legendary site are situated between Utah and Omaha Beach, making it an ideal strategic location for Germany to defend the occupied French coastline during World War II. From a distance, its rugged beauty conceals the horror and destruction of the D-Day invasion in June of 1944. A closer look reveals a crater laden landscape, now deceptively covered in green grass.

The twisted remains of concrete fortifications remain as they were after allied bombers obliterated the area, preparing the way for the U.S. Army 2nd Ranger Battalion.  The Ranger Monument on the site consists of a gray granite pillar  meant to symbolize the knives used by Rangers to pull themselves to the top of the cliffs. There are two inscribed tablets at its base on either side. It was erected by the French to honor those men who successfully seized the cliff top from the Germans, preventing artillery fire on American troops landing on Omaha Beach. Tourists, many of whom are veterans, roam the site in quiet contemplation. Children play in the craters and climb atop the rubble. High school students mill about, laughing and talking with one another. I think they are oblivious to the meaning of their field trip. Perhaps one day, what happened to me will happen to them. Their life experiences will begin to catch up with what they’ve learned in books. Freedom will take on new significance.

It is truly breathtaking to stand on the edge of these sheer cliffs overlooking the sea. As I looked down on the roiling surf, I could only imagine how terrifying it must have been for Rangers as they approached in landing craft, looking straight up towards their objective 150 ft. above them. I could not conceive how any soldier overcame the terrifying reality that lay before them on that day. How does one summon the courage to do impossible things? Rangers in particular are possessed with a healthy dose of confident invincibility. I know this to be true. But even the Ranger will come face to face with human limitation as these men did on D-Day. I think for some soldiers the courage to do impossible things comes when all regard for self-preservation is exchanged for something else, confidence in a God who loves them and has already secured their fate.

Dedication to the 2nd Ranger Battalion

The Ranger

The origins of the Army Ranger are found in the settlement and defense of the Americas in the 1600’s. This new, rugged terrain and the unconventional “raiding” tactics of the Native American required adaptations in traditional fighting strategies. Using their foe as the example, settlers began to rely on stealth and reconnaissance carried out by small groups of fleet-footed men with the ability to survive in the wild. These men and their methods became more effective than traditional European tactics. Reports from the roving bands often included phrases like, “this day, ranged 9 miles”. Thus, the term Ranger was born. Ranger units continued to be an important facet of defense in the New World, participating in all major conflicts from the Revolutionary War until the present day. The modern-day concept of the Army Ranger took shape during World War II. In 1943, the U.S. Army realized the need for a different kind of soldier in efforts to bring down the German war machine. Inspired by British commandos, the army set about developing a recruitment program in the United States. 500 of the best of the best were chosen from over 2,000 men who applied for the opportunity to become part of this elite force. The results produced the first battalions of Army Rangers to serve in the European theatre.

Under the command of a Texan, Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder, members of the 2nd Ranger Battalion trained first in Tennessee, then on the Isle of Wight for perhaps the most dangerous mission of Operation Overlord and the D-Day invasion– the taking of Pointe Du Hoc. Their actions on that day are a testament to their bravery and perseverance in the face of incredible odds and high casualties. When most would have given up, they doggedly kept looking for opportunities to complete their mission. The same was true on Omaha Beach, where the remainder of the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions cut the German line, allowing the army to move in. Colonel Max F. Schneider’s yell, “Rangers lead the way!” as troops advanced on Omaha Beach has become the Ranger motto. Today they remain an elite fighting force, tasked with some of the most difficult missions around the world.

Army Rangers have an internal fortitude, drive, and ability to overcome and survive that I can only describe as unnatural. Trained to think, act and execute as a team, they embody sacrificial service for our nation and they would most certainly, willingly lay down their life for a friend.

The Mission

When Omar Bradley first tapped Rudder to lead the mission on Pointe Du Hoc, it was January, 1944. The scope of what he was being asked to do led Rudder to think that Bradley must have been joking. I suppose Rudder did some serious introspection when he realized the Bradley was intent on carrying out this dare-devil mission. The commanding general of the 1st U.S. Army was asking him to take three companies of men, approach from the sea, scale the cliffs while under fire and destroy six captured French guns being used by the Germans to fire on U.S. landing troops. Then they were to continue inland, setting up a roadblock along the beach roads. Bradley said this of Rudder:

“No soldier in my command has ever been wished a more difficult task than…Rudder.”

When Operation Overlord commenced, Rangers approached the cliffs of Pointe Du Hoc on landing craft equipped with grapnel firing rocket guns used to secure ropes and rope ladders to the cliff wall. Using accumulated bombardment debris, ropes and their own knives, the Rangers climbed in waves, swiftly scaling the cliffs. Casualties were high as they were under constant fire from Germans who held the high ground.. Only about 90 men survived out of the original landing party of 225. Those who remained were confronted with an unrecognizable landscape of bombed out destruction. Communications were disabled so Rudder was forced to send his radio man back down the cliff to get a message to headquarters. The words “Praise the Lord” signaled that Pointe Du Hoc had been secured.

Pointe Du Hoc secured (httpen.wikipedia.orgwikiFileNormandy4.jpg)

To their surprise, the 155m artillery guns they were supposed to destroy were nowhere to be found. Immediately patrols set out from the point to set up roadblocks and look for the guns. Two particularly savvy Rangers recognized cart tracks leading away from the Pointe and correctly figured they had found the path of the big guns. Unbeknownst to them, the Germans had moved the guns a mile away and camouflaged them in the hedgerows. In the article “Rangers take Pointe”, Lenoard Lomell and Jack Kuhn are interviewed on the events that took place that day. Lomell explains:

“The guns had to have been taken off the Pointe. We were looking for any kind of evidence we could find and it looked like there were some markings on the secondary road where it joined the main road. We decided to leapfrog. Jack covered me, and I went forward. When I got a few feet forward, I covered him. It was a sunken road with very high hedgerows with trees and bushes and stuff like that. It was wide enough to put a column of tanks in, and they would be well hidden. We didn’t see anybody, so we just took a chance, running as fast as we could, looking over the hedgerow. At least we had the protection of the high hedgerows. When it became my turn to look over, I said, “God, here they are!” They were in an orchard, camouflaged in among the trees.”

They destroyed the guns with thermite grenades. Despite the setbacks, high casualties and against incredible odds, all objectives for the mission at Pointe Du Hoc were met by the 3rd day of the D-Day invasion. Army Rangers continued to play a pivotal role throughout the remainder of the war in Europe and Pacific theatres.

I left Pointe Du Hoc thinking about all the Army Rangers I  know. I had a new respect and awareness for their courage, their skills and their sacrifice. So, here’s to the United States Army Ranger, whose actions around the world are rarely known or reported, whose valor and bravery rarely recognized, whose role in securing our freedom and safety rarely acknowledged.

“You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith, and belief; it was loyalty and love.” 

Ronald Reagan at Pointe Du Hoc on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. June 6, 1984

This essay is dedicated to the United States Army Rangers.
The Ranger Creed
Recognizing that I volunteered as a Ranger, fully knowing the hazards of my chosen profession, I will always endeavor to uphold the prestige, honor, and high esprit de corps of my Ranger Regiment.
Acknowledging the fact that a Ranger is a more elite soldier who arrives at the cutting edge of battle by land, sea, or air, I accept the fact that as a Ranger my country expects me to move further, faster and fight harder than any other soldier.
Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong and morally straight and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be, one-hundred-percent and then some.
Gallantly will I show the world that I am a specially selected and well-trained soldier. My courtesy to superior officers, neatness of dress and care of equipment shall set the example for others to follow.
Energetically will I meet the enemies of my country. I shall defeat them on the field of battle for I am better trained and will fight with all my might. Surrender is not a Ranger word. I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy and under no circumstances will I ever embarrass my country.
Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission though I be the lone survivor.
—Ranger Handbook SH 21-76[1]
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Miles From Home On Memorial Day



My visit to the Port Moresby Bomana War Cemetery S. Ralston for

My friends and family are all together this weekend, observing Memorial Day in the U.S. It is on occasions like this one that I lament being so far away. Even so, I want to express my appreciation to all veterans and their families (especially those near and dear to my heart – you know who you are) and to acknowledge your losses.

As I thought about Memorial Day, I remembered that I live in a place that played a significant role in the Pacific during World War II. Back home in Texas, many would be hard pressed to find Papua New Guinea on a map, but I can always tell when I’m talking to a WWII veteran of the Pacific Campaign. Their age and that knowing look in their eye tell me I don’t have to explain to them where Papua New Guinea is or what all occurred here in the South Pacific.

So, here is a little history that connects me and my far away home, to my beloved veterans in the United States:

In May of 1942, Japanese forces were intercepted and defeated by American air and naval forces in the Coral Sea. What remained of the Japanese expedition returned to Rabaul where they decided to attack Port Moresby from Bougainville in the Solomon Islands. They held the base at Bougainville until Americans and Australians began the New Guinea Offensives towards the end of 1943. [1]

The offensives involved thousands of Australian troops in jungle warfare and succeeded in giving Douglas MacArthur a firm base in New Guinea to launch another campaign for the capture of the Philippines.[2]

Those who died in the fighting in Papua and Bougainville are buried in PORT MORESBY (BOMANA) WAR CEMETERY, their graves brought in by the Australian Army Graves Service from burial grounds in the areas where the fighting had taken place. The PORT MORESBY MEMORIAL stands behind the cemetery and commemorates almost 750 men of the Australian Army (including Papua and New Guinea local forces), the Australian Merchant Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force who lost their lives in the operations in Papua and who have no known graves.[3]

This post is dedicated to all those I know and love who have served in the United States Armed Forces. Your sacrifices and your personal losses are acknowledged and appreciated by me as I live freely on the other side of the world. I also want to express appreciation for those I’ve met here in PNG who have served in the Australian Defence Forces.

Oh, when we are journeying through the murky night
and the dark woods of affliction and sorrow,
it is something to find here and there a spray broken,
or a leafy stem bent down
with the tread of His foot and the brush of His hand as He passed;
and to remember that the path He trod He has hallowed,
and thus to find lingering fragrance and hidden strength
in the remembrance of Him
 as in all points tempted like as we are,
bearing grief for us, bearing grief with us, bearing grief like us.
 ~Alexander MacLaren

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Adventures in Australia – The Sydney Harbour Scene

Before moving to this part of the world, I knew very little about Sydney, Australia. My knowledge was limited to the TV coverage of fireworks from the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge on New Year’s Eve – one of the first places the clock strikes midnight. And my parents had visited there, in their semi-retirement years. My only other experience was a one-night stay in early 2013, for the purpose of catching a connecting flight to Dallas the next day. During that short stay my husband and I had a memorable visit to The Wine Odyssey on Argyle St. in the historic Rocks section. We had so much fun choosing some Australian wines to ship to the U.S. for our daughter’s wedding. Australian personality even shows in their wine labels. The funniest one was Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch, a Fowles Wine Chardonnay that just kind of fit with the old world English feel of The Rocks and the light-hearted sassiness of the Australian people. Something about the ability of women to shoot their lunch also reminded me of Texas.

Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch!

Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch!

In my naiveté, I always equated Australia with photos I’d seen of the dusty outback. Sydney’s Rocks section consists of narrow, stone laneways, brick and mortar buildings and wood beamed warehouses, built into the rock face overlooking the harbour. It’s not at all what I expected. Not surprising though, considering Sydney is the site of the first European settlement in Australia, the storied penal colony from Britain established in 1788. I found it interesting that the oldest building in Sydney is St. James Church, built entirely by convict labour from 1819 to 1824. It’s use for worship has been continuous since it’s completion.

I fell in love with Sydney and it’s people on that first visit. They are friendly, funny, and addicted to the outdoors. I think all the vitamin D makes them extra happy. So, I jumped at the chance to meet our youngest there for her spring break from university this year.

I booked us with points at the Sydney Harbour Marriott, Circular Quay. The Circular Quay is where all the action is for Sydney Harbour. (Quay is another word for wharf and it’s pronounced key, not qway. If you say it wrong you risk getting that “oh brother, she’s a tourist” look. You will get corrected and you might get teased.)

We couldn’t have been in a better location. A lot of fun was right within walking distance of our hotel. So after a monstrous Chicken Caesar Salad and an equally large pot of Earl Grey tea, my daughter was sufficiently recovered enough from her “Pacific Express” jet lag to go out and explore.

Didgeridoo busker on Circular Quay

Didgeridoo busker on Circular Quay. H. Ralston for

Circular Quay is a hub of lively activity. I think it is one of the busiest places I’ve ever seen. Shops and cafes line the promenade opposite the wharves. Ferries continually come and go, carrying commuters and tourists to their destinations. The sound of the Aboriginal didgeridoo’s, played by local buskers (street performers) attired in aboriginal dress and paint, resonates all along the promenade. It’s ethereal beat is a reminder that this place was once populated only by Australia’s indigenous peoples.

The iconic Sydney Opera House…shells reaching over the harbor

The iconic Sydney Opera House…shells reaching over the harbor. S. Ralston for


Cruise ships and ferries in the busy quay

Cruise ships and ferries in the busy quay. H. Ralston for

The iconic Sydney Opera House sits at the far eastern end; it’s shell form reaching out towards the water. The beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens sit on the hill behind the opera house, ideally situated for a panoramic view. The Museum of Contemporary Art is located on the western end of the quay; just near the Overseas Passenger Terminal that supports the many cruise liners that come in and out every day. And there’s the bridge, always in sight, soaring over the harbour a short distance away.

Coffee and seahorse chocolates…people watching on the promenade.

Coffee and seahorse chocolates…people watching on the promenade. S. Ralston for

Sydney Harbour and Circular Quay kept us thoroughly entertained during our stay. We spent many hours having coffee by the waterside, planning our days, watching ferries… and people, taking photos and just enjoying the incredible clear blue sky. It was our staging area for more adventurous pursuits in the days to come. And of course, our trip wouldn’t have been complete without a return visit to The Wine Odyssey, this time just for dinner.

My mother was in my thoughts as I wrote this…wishing she were still here so we could share our memories of Sydney together. Love you Mom.



Dinner at The Wine Odyssey - The Rocks

Dinner at The Wine Odyssey on The Rocks. S. Ralston for

Next…Manly Beach, and a peek at one of the locations for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby!

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Flying Fears

Having one child still in college means a perfectly legitimate excuse for a spring break trip. This year we arranged for our youngest daughter to meet us in Sydney, Australia. She flew the 16-hour “Pacific Express” from Dallas to Sydney via Brisbane. It’s a long haul, but even so, she was ahead of us by a couple of hours. We followed behind her from Port Moresby to Cairns, Australia before journeying on to Sydney. Our flight from Port Moresby to Cairns was on a de Havilland Dash 8. I’ve flown the ‘ol Dash more in the last couple of years than in my whole lifetime before moving overseas. I used to avoid them like the plague because I was just convinced they would crash. But, flying has become so much a part of my life, so routine, that my fears have become nonexistent, well…almost.

It was Saturday, March 8th, notable because of my husband’s momentous birthday the day before – making him eligible for retirement. The date would take on much greater significance by day’s end, and I would revisit many of my flying fears.

Entering Australia from Papua New Guinea means passport control and customs. On the way down to Cairns, I passed the time reciting my passport number to my husband. I was determined to finally memorize it so I wouldn’t have to fumble with my passport, my reading glasses and the small print on the incoming passenger card. It’s infuriating for those of us in our 50’s with failing eyesight.

As we came through passport control, I noticed an extraordinary amount of staff on duty in the small airport. But Cairns is an international resort town with connecting flights to the rest of Australia so I didn’t think too much of it at first. But then I noticed that no one was being very friendly. ‘Where are all the tan, gregarious Australians?’ I thought. Where was my ‘Hello Love!’?  This time the agent who took my passenger card wasn’t smiling. In fact, she looked downright mean.

While my efforts to memorize my passport vitals were successful, I’d forgotten to actually write the info down on the card. I guess that sets off alarm bells. Still not smiling, the agent remarked that I had been remiss in my responsibility to properly fill out my card. She then motioned for me to step into “you are being punished for not writing down your passport number” lane. My bag and me were ushered off to the left where I was commanded to stand between two black lines and not to move. I was searched, sniffed by a sweet puppy trained to detect bombs and drugs, and swiped for explosive material. Thankfully I passed because, you know, I was pretty worried about it. I realize that being a middle-aged American woman makes me a prime suspect for all things deadly. My much more stern looking husband got no such treatment but of course, he remembered to fill out his card completely. I now know that being thorough on the passenger card is the number one sign for not being an international terrorist. He was waiting patiently for me at the exit. I met his quizzical look with a shrug as we proceeded into the arrival lobby.

The tiny lobby was filled with security. Australian police stood in groups of three, talking quietly and looking around. More customs agents and their dogs walked in and amongst all the passengers who had just arrived. “What in the world is going on?” I asked my husband.

Later that day we learned of Malaysian Airlines flight 370’s disappearance under mysterious circumstances. When we flew through Cairns, the news was still fresh and everyone was speculating about terrorism. No one knew then (and no one knows now) where the plane went or the fate of the mostly Chinese passengers on board.

I’ll never know if the unusual circumstances in Cairns were just routine tightened security or whether the plane’s disappearance made the atmosphere more tense in a town that hosts so many Chinese travelers. Whatever it was, it was definitely out of the ordinary.

I would continue to follow the story of MH370 in the coming days. It took on extra significance for me because my husband and I were meeting in Kuala Lumpur some weeks later and we were flying Malaysia Air. For the first time in many years, fears about my fate in flight resurfaced. Would I know if something were wrong with my plane or if I were about to lose consciousness? Would I notice an odd turn in our flight path? Would I start looking at the pilots and crew more intently for signs of distress? All things I haven’t given much thought in years.

Flying is a necessary part of the expat life and I accept the risks. But the frequency and the routineness of it all breeds over confidence. I’ve become much more concerned about my physical comfort than my physical safety, in spite of the real dangers that exist in the world today. Those dangers are the reason for the mean faces, the dogs and the attentiveness to the passenger cards. And though I find it annoying, those dangers are why I’ve been screened, searched, swiped, questioned, even yelled at, all over the world. I know I’m supposed to trust those procedures for my protection, but when my flying fears resurfaced I had to ask myself – Whom did I really trust? Did I still trust the God of my salvation with my fate and my eternal security no matter what may befall me? I found my reassurance in Psalm 91.

The one who lives under the protection of the Most High dwells in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”” (Psalm 91:1–2, HCSB)

Whether I survive or perish, I am the Lord’s…and I’m going to be just fine.

under the protection of the Most High Photo: Shirley Ralston

under the protection of the Most High
Photo: Shirley Ralston

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Stick With Me Baby, I’ll Take You Places


I’m back in Port Moresby after a month of traveling to Australia, the U.S. and Malaysia. My itinerary was governed by my daughter’s university spring break and a much-needed trip to the U.S. How I ended up in Malaysia is still kind of confounding…probably not the wisest decision but I’m glad I got to visit Kuala Lumpur. In 30 days time, my boarding passes looked like this: POM/CNS/SYD/DFW/HOU/BNA/HOU/DFW/BNE/SIG/KL/SIN/BNE/POM

That’s 26 take off and landings, over 60 hours in the air and over 30 hours waiting in airports. A traveling soul mate commented, “How did you let your husband talk you into that?” ‘Hmmm…yes’, I thought. ‘How did that happen exactly?’ “Stick with me baby, I’ll take you places”, he said. I fell for it. The lure of foreign lands and my adventurous spirit conspired against my better judgment. You could say it’s my idea of subduing the earth.

I get funny reactions from family and friends about my travels. Some wish they could go with me, others think I’ve lost it, and some just aren’t interested. But you can always tell when you are talking to someone who shares your same irresistible wanderlust. You can see that restless yearning for the faraway experience in their eye. My fellow expat traveling friends understand this very well.

Traveling is challenging. For example, I’m sure my current diet of lime Jell-O and soup broth are evidence of too much exposure to public bathrooms and too many people in tightly enclosed places. But, if you are willing to endure the challenges there is great reward. My latest journeys were exciting (an unforgettable bridge climb), poignant (MH370)  and comedic (language barriers), sometimes even infuriating (security). But its all become part of my life story that I look forward to passing on to my grandchildren and anyone else who’s willing to listen to me.

I hope my reflections will make you laugh and give you some things to ponder.

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