Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sawtell Beach Gems

Well, I guess the universe is trying to teach me something about my whole trip-planning mode; today was a lesson in letting go, and I'm listening. We had loosely planned this whole road trip around being in Bongil Bongil National Park at a certain date and time to attend an award-winning tour about Aboriginal weapons and bush tucker.  We pulled into the park and waited with a number of other people, but the ranger guide never showed.  Although I was bummed because I had really been looking forward to this activity, the rest of our day ended up being so enjoyable I can't muster up any complaints.

Once almost an hour had passed and it was clear there was no chance of the ranger's appearance, we made the 5 minute drive into the cute little town of Sawtell and had a quick picnic lunch before heading to the beach.
Not a bad Plan B on a whim.
someone was excited to be at the beach...
we spotted lots of these teeny little jellyfish globules in the sand

pretty coral covered rock
Tidepools are an endless supply of wonderment, and today was no exception.
Sam found this awesome banjo shark
hey little crab!
eagle-eye Alex spotted this octopus, and we also got to see it squirt ink!
But the real highlight for me?  These AMAZING starfish that looked as if they are adorned with batiked Celtic knots.

Honestly, have you ever seen such gorgeous sealife??  They were all over the place, and each one had a different color scheme.  So lovely.

Sawtell Beach reminded me a lot of my all-time favorite beach at Yuraygir National Park, especially with the crabs that come up from holes and push out these perfectly round little balls of sand.

And on the walk back, I caught a sweet moment of brotherly love between Jackson and Alex...
...and caught Kenyon during a rousing game of Fall in the Sand While Stomping Through the Steep Parts
We stopped for a long time and chatted with a father and son, learning as we watched them capture sandworms to use as bait.

The father dragged a bag of fish parts back and forth over very shallow water to attract the worms just beyond...

The son's trained eye would spot the little feelers of the worm coming up through the sand, and he reached down to hold a little piece of fish directly above it...

And voila!  Sand worm.

This is a fine art, and was far harder than it looked--the boys and Sam tried repeatedly, even with finding a worm and having their fingers right on it, but were never successful.

And me?  I stayed on the chatting/photographing end of things, not wanting the knowledge that these massive worms live right under the sand in the very area that had only very recently been deemed tied for the esteemed award of Annie's Favorite Beach.

Epic, epic day, despite that darn ranger being a no-show.  Now I need to start researching the logistics involved with constructing a wall-length batik starfish aquarium back home in Denver...

Friday, September 28, 2012

Trip Planning Braggadocio and Dorrigo Rainforest Hike

When it comes to traveling, I'm a planner.  And not just a planner, but I spend hours upon hours scouring the internet, doing Google blog searches, for any and all information I can find on the very best places around.  I figure if I'm only going to be someplace once, I want to see the things and eat at the places that I'd most enjoy (and if I'm hardpressed, I guess I think of my family as well...).  Wouldn't it be a terrible shame if I missed, say, a terrific cup of coffee at a cute cafe, or worse yet, an amazing chocolate shop with a resident wombat??  My hands tremble at the mere thought!

(if a wombat-adorned chocolate shop exists, I beg anyone reading this to write and tell me now before I leave this country because I will find a way to get there, come hell or high water)

I write all this because despite my travel-planning ways, we woke up in our hotel in Armidale, NSW without a clear plan of where to go next.  We knew we had to be at Bongil Bongil National Park (motto: So Nice We Named It Twice!) by Saturday morning for an Aboriginal Bush Tucker, Tools and Weapons tour.  But with no camping allowed at the park, I was unsure where to go--not a great position to be in at the start of a long holiday weekend where anyone and everyone is traveling.  There are only 22 million people in this whole country, but during a long holiday weekend they all seem to go wherever we want to go.  And with a husband tapping his foot and three antsy kids, I spent a frantic 30 minutes with my trusty iPhone and iPad working overtime to draft a plan.

I'm well aware of Australians' disdain for tall poppies and their view of Americans as loudmouthed braggarts...but can I take a moment and pat myself (lightly) on the back here?  Because I scored bigtime sitting on a concrete planter during this hasty motel parking lot trip planning when I scored the last room at the Bellingen YHA.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, because I also squeezed in a perfectly-timed mid-drive rainforest hike.  (again, let me pause to demurely bask in the glory of myself...)

Dorrigo National Park is a World Heritage-listed park that seemingly comes out of nowhere--we had just driven through terrain that bore an uncanny resemblance to Sonoma County, California when all of a sudden we were in a lush rainforest.

The Crystal Shower Falls hike was just the right length to stretch our legs, and you can't beat a picnic lunch right smack in front of a waterfall.

Behold, the obligatory waterfall pictures...

excuse the wrinkles and Sam's bad hair; we've been camping...and we're getting older.
I'd probably better add a youthful appearance to the picture...
much better
Then we were off to Bellingen, where I sit so contentedly writing this post and continuing to revel in my luck. And now I shall retire to bed, so declaring my undying love for this town I'm in must wait until tomorrow...

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Warrumbungles Ahoy!

We set out for our final school holiday road trip at the auspicious time of 3:40am.  With our neighbors having a loud party until the wee hours of the night, Sam and I slept for but a wee bit ourselves before our alarm rang.  It sounds torturous, but believe me--waking up up at an ungodly hour to begin a road trip is far, far more enjoyable than spending any more than 4 hours in the car with three children.  With 7.5 hours of ground to cover, waking up super early and putting three sleepy kids in the car who would sleep for another 4 hours was a no-brainer.

Our first stop was the teeny but cute town of Mudgee, where we had an awesome breakfast and a run around the park.

One of us--I'm not naming any names (although I did take a picture), had some post-breakfast grump to work through.

The rest of the drive was no big deal thanks to a book on tape, and before we knew it we were pulling into Warrumbungle National Park. We chose a great spot that would be our home for the next three nights, and met our new neighbors.

We camped next to a dry creek bed, nestled amongst the trees but with a nice meadow.

The Warrumbungle region is known for amazing stargazing, but although we had clear skies the moon was bright enough to hamper any memorable experience with distant galaxies.  Instead, we kept our activities to the daytime and went on a couple great hikes.

this tree stump was made of gorgeous waves

we found a sweet little abandoned bird's nest

This first hike took us to Tara Cave, where we could see grinding grooves in the stone from earlier Aboriginal occupants.

The second hike was only 3.6km but contained 2000 steps...and my calves are feeling it.

The views at the top were worth it, as well as the nice couple we met up there.  They said that seeing us was like a time warp, as they also had three boys spaced apart exactly as our boys (although they were now 35, 33, and 30).  They were both educators and it was great to chat with them about family and teaching before heading back down.

I was slightly bummed that we didn't get the stargazing delight that I had imagined, but we did have an unexpected surprise that was a clear highlight.  As we began driving out of the park, an mother emu and her babies crossed the road right in front of us.
If you look closely you can see a few babies around her as well as the plucky little straggler still crossing...totally awesome!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

BlogHer Book Review: Daring Greatly

I received an advance copy of a new book to read and review, and in full disclosure, I am being compensated to participate in this brief BlogHer Book Club review but my opinions about the book are mine and mine alone.

Dr. Brene Brown, an academic researcher on the topic of shame, gained wide recognition from a 2010 TED talk called The Power of Vulnerability.  Her new book, Daring Greatly, explores themes of shame, vulnerability--topics I don't necessarily have on the forefront of my thoughts on a regular basis--and it gave me some good insight into both how I view myself and how I parent my children.

All parents have hopes and dreams for their children, and as I watch my boys grow, my hopes and dreams for them are not that they go to Ivy League schools, or that they become lawyers (heaven forbid!).  What I yearn for most when I imagine them as adults is that they are...happy.  Happy that they are alive and living their lives, because life is beautiful.  It sounds simple enough, but this ambiguous adjective is hard to ensure because there are no tangible criteria for progress in one's happiness like there are in mathematics or reading.  Instead, we as parents need to somehow arm our children with emotional tools of resilience so they have the strength, confidence and peace of mind to find their own happiness.  A daunting task.

Brown writes how present society has this overarching tenet of scarcity, of 'not enough'--we feel we aren't (insert any adjective here--rich, pretty, smart, active, tall, petite, curvy).  We didn't get enough sleep.  We didn't eat healthy enough that day.  We weren't funny enough when we told that joke.  She posits that in shame-prone cultures with this 'not enough' mentality, self-worth is tied to what a person produces instead of simply who they are or what makes them happy.  Thinking along these lines, we will never achieve satisfaction with our lives.

This one quote really stuck with me: "Raising children who are hopeful and who have the courage to be vulnerable means stepping back and letting them experience disappointment, deal with conflict, learn how to assert themselves, and have the opportunity to fail.  If we're always following our children into the arena, hushing the critics, and assuring their victory, they'll never learn that they have the ability to dare greatly on their own."

That right there is enough for me to chew on for a while, and then I'll return to the book for more.  Daring Greatly is a book most anyone would find thought-provoking, and I look forward to more from Dr. Brown.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sydney Weekender, Day Two

I sometimes imagine families on the opposite end of the spectrum as mine, with all daughters instead of sons.  My mind wanders to bedtime, where surely the girls must clutch their favorite stuffed animals, snuggle up in their beds, and fall asleep dreaming of fairies and unicorns.  In my family--with boys--there are stuffed animals, and there is snuggling, but there is also...farting.  And then laughing.  And more farting.  Usually, the boys and their boyness are in a whole separate bedroom from me, so I don't have to be privy to the whole thing.  But there we were, in a family room at a hostel in Sydney...and I was trapped amongst the boyness.

In my perfect world, all hoteliers would make 'family rooms' 2-bedroom suites--or at least have some mercy and reserve those for families with all boys.  Even though my guys share a room at home, there is always something about sleeping in a different bed that ups the ante with the whole farting and laughing business.

It's all bit fuzzy because I was insanely tired, and I want to spare you the annoying details, but a few gentle reminders gave way to a few exasperated rounds of 'ok, that's enough', and then Sam got angry.  Any sensible kid would have surmised it was actually time to quiet their mouths (among other body parts), but the two older ones were committed enough to the routine that they just couldn't let it go.  Come morning, I opened my eyes and remembered that I had doled out a punishment the night before--in Alex's eyes, the worst possible punishment.  I had told them that while they would be given breakfast in the morning, they would not be having breakfast at the nice cafe where their father and I (and Kenyon, who had fallen asleep before the lights were even turned off) would be eating--they would get their breakfast from the convenience store next door.

Grumpy attitudes prevailed as the two boys sat on concrete steps of the hostel eating cereal with a plastic spoon and sipping orange juice.

Wheeeee for family outings!

Luckily, my family's storm cloud of sour attitude was no match for Sydney's blue skies and balmy temps, so we were all feeling a bit more brighter by the time we had walked to the adorable Clipper Cafe in Glebe.

That is, until Alex spotted his Holy Grail of breakfast menu items--pancakes--and the quiet weeping began.

Are we overly strict to withhold from our offspring a delectable menu item of their choosing, relegating them to concrete and cereal packets?  Maybe.  I don't know.  (according to their Nana, a definitive YES).  But we certainly couldn't cave then, or all semblance of us as parental figureheads would be dashed.  We'd be left frantically turning dials and pushing buttons to continue the billowing smoke and omniscient voice effects as we try to pull the curtain closed.

Instead, I explained to Alex that I don't enjoy punishing him, and said I'd bet that next time he was in a similar situation, he'd make a different choice.  And I allowed them to have toast--I'm not a heartless monster!--and from there everyone's mood improved.

Here, Alex had a hard time maintaining a firm grip on his Pathetic Mode while I tried to make him laugh.

Breakfast took forever to arrive at the table, but we had fun playing I Spy...
I feel compelled to note that Sam had intentionally made his hair look ridiculous here so our loved ones won't fly to Australia for an emergency hair intervention
...and making funny faces...

...and the food was well worth the wait.

Glebe is an awesome little neighborhood in Sydney, with used bookstores, cafes and other small, independent shops.  We happily holed ourselves up at one bookstore; I think we would have all been happy to spend the day there.

Alex spotted a really cool hardback book, The Wildlife of Star Wars: A Field Guide, and spent the rest of our visit completely immersed, mesmerized by the truly gorgeous illustrations and information about each creature in the beloved series.

I wanted to buy the book and surprise him with it as a Christmas present, so I paid for it but told the bookstore lady that we'd put it back on the shelf and leave, with Sam sneaking it into our bag without the boys knowing when he feigned having to go back to the store to use the restroom.

The weakness in my plan was exactly how I'd wrest the book from Alex's arms.  When I announced it was time to leave, and that the books needed to go back where they belonged, Alex instinctively clutched the book to his chest, wide-eyed and pleading that he needed the book, that he'd be getting money for his birthday or Christmas, that he just had to have it.  He was desperate for the book, and it was becoming increasingly obvious that any joy that he'd experience being reunited with it underneath red and green wrapping paper in three months' time would be negated by the pain and suffering I'd cause to force him to shelve the book on this day.  It was a book, for heaven's sake, so I did cave this time, and with a smile told him that we had already bought him the book.  He thanked us profusely throughout the day for this most prized possession.

Just down the road from the bookstore was Chocolateria San Churro.  Now, I don't have all that much opportunity to practice the Spanish I picked up from my childhood in Miami, but they had me at 'chocolateria'.

This orange-infused drinking chocolate was delicious.

The boys had their first taste of fondue.
neat and tidy, before the madness began
They started out like this...
...but this is a more accurate picture.
Continuing the spontaneous culinary tour of Glebe, Sam couldn't resist getting a few Chinese buns from the curiously named but authentic Chubby Girl's Bunz Shop.  

Jackson is never one to turn down food, even though he was a mere 10 minutes out from chocolate fondue.

Our little baby pygmy marmoset along for the ride...

We had a brief look at the Museum of Contemporary Art before heading home on the train.  I'd like to go back; it looked like a great museum and admission is free.

A rough start to the day, but all the rest more than made up for it.  We were completely wiped out on the train, and we'd all like to squeeze in a couple more trips to Sydney before we leave.

Time is passing quickly, and I'm already feeling pangs of sadness that our time here is coming to a close.