Monday, October 22, 2012

Tidepools in Macro

So, I recently discovered the macro lens on my camera and was in love with viewing the world through a magnified lens.  If I had two wishes, I would shrink myself and live amongst the magical world where the rocks meet the sea (I'd happily donate the first wish towards curing childhood cancer).

My love for all things macro is now in a period of mourning, because I dropped our camera (while in its padded case) into the water for a millisecond at the close of our canoe trip.  Lightning fast reflexes prevented moisture from breaching the case, and it there wasn't a hard impact on the fall, but I'm still getting a lens error, dammit.  I keep powering it on in hopes there will be have been some camera faith healing due to sheer will, but no dice.

Coupled with the loss of my iphone due to a freakish wave on the beach soaking our belongings, I've had some serious pangs of withdrawal and Paul Simon's Kodachrome has been playing on a loop in my head as we go about our days here.  The mention of Instagram makes my eyes teary and my hands are shaky for the shutter button.

These are precious days, made more poignant by the boys growing right before my very eyes.  I've blinked and the pajamas that Jackson seemingly just wore are now Kenyon's.  I love the fact that Alex's almost 8-year old self is most comfortable sleeping in his green plaid Major Snoozers with his blanket and stuffed guinea pig, but it won't be long before they will all be a mere remnant of his boyhood.  Alex came to Australia with a mouth full of baby teeth but has lost six of them during the course of this year.  It goes by all too fast, this mothering of children, these years of family togetherness, and I want to soak it up while I can.  To have a record of Kenyon's hair before it's no longer a sun-kissed blond, his naked body wearing nothing but a blanket as a cape.  And of Alex's perfect sprinkling of freckles, and Jackson's strong boyish build.


I just sucked it up and purchased a new camera; a duplicate of the Canon Powershot Elph 300HS that we have been using.  It's no fancy SLR, but it works just fine for traveling.  Unfortunately, there is no instant gratification to be had in Australia for anywhere near a reasonable price.  I'll be hardly containing my excitement until it's delivered to my brother and then forwarded along to me.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Bellingen Birthday

My birthday fell towards the end of our road trip, and since I was still holding my family hostage in paradise basking in the glow of Bellingen, we went canoeing on the Bellinger River.  Sam gave me the ultimate birthday present by telling me to go ahead and have my own kayak while he'd be managing the kids.

Jackson was in a single-person craft as well,
and Sam, Alex and Kenyon triple-teamed it.

With no kids to wrangle, or iwanttositupfront/isaidthatiwasgoingtousethatoarbutyoujusttookit/whenisitmyturntousethesinglekayakyousaidicouldusethesinglekayak to mediate, it's amazing how peaceful it is to be on a river!
ahhhhhhhhh...serenity now. So lovely.
We'd paddle some, and then mosey on over to the side to spot water dragons in the trees.

Alex spent much of his time in the canoe crafting and delivering his finest arguments as to why he should have a turn in the single-man kayak.  You'd think one of his parents was one of those annoying attorney-types or something; I wonder where on Earth he could get this persistence?

Of course, as soon as he got his wish, we saw a lot of this:
A blur of lots of movement but going absolutely nowhere?  Check.  Stuck in trees and other brush? Check.  Backwards motion while seemingly paddling forward? Check.  It's honestly hard to believe so much effort could be put forth with such a poor outcome.  Luckily, my wonder-husband Sam totally MacGyvered a solution by breaking off a vine and tethering his canoe to Alex's so he and the other two boys could provide some forward momentum for our canoe-inept Al Pal.  And more luckily, I was still in my peaceful solo kayak enjoying the river.
Despite the fact that it was my last day in Bellingen (cue the weeping), it was a pleasant, peaceful birthday out enjoying life with people I love, in beautiful surroundings.  No better way to celebrate another year on this planet, really, and I can't think of any other life I'd rather be living at 35 than this.

(think harder, you say?  Ok, if hardpressed, I'd toss a few more dollars in our bank account, buy some property up here large enough that friends and family could visit, and then do the obvious--open a wombat sanctuary.) But canoeing on the river is a close second, and I'll always remember it.

**and this concludes my posts and gushing about Bellingen, I promise!**

Saturday, October 6, 2012

I Left My Heart in Bellingen

Last week, we pulled into the town of Bellingen, NSW for just a one-night stopover.  Have you ever gone to a new town and immediately had the uncanny sensation that you were home?
I hadn't, until that moment.

We parked along the main street of small, non-touristy shops (of course, making a quick mental note of the gelato shop), and I already felt twinges of a crush.
By the time we strolled around the corner and my eyes fell upon the hostel, I immediately turned to Sam and informed him that we would be staying here more than one night.  There were no arguments; we were all fairly enthralled.

The boys quickly got acquainted with the pool table ("we don't even have to pay for the games!") and the chess board.  The various other kids staying at the hostel became playmates.

'Paradise' is a strong word, and not one that I toss around lightly.  Paradise evokes images of different things for different people (cue theme song to Diff'rent Strokes), but my paradise?

Well, it needs to have lots of wood--lots of trees as well as wood in the living spaces.

Set nearby Dorrigo National Park with its lush rainforests, trees are aplenty in Bellingen.  The hostel had wonderful wooden deck spaces and balconies to enjoy the view.

Another must-have for my paradise is a swimmable river.  Here, my dear Bellingen scores a double-whammy.  Just beyond a grassy meadow behind the hostel is the Bellinger River, and the hostel had inner tubes for the taking.

A scenic 15 minute drive takes you up into--and I'm not making this up--an area called the Promised Land, where the Never Never Creek runs.
Any place named the Promised Land can't be drab, barren or forgettable; here, the area more than lived up to its name with a) striking hills and postcard-perfect farmland

and b) a gorgeous river with water pure enough to drink.

I'd also like to see some interesting flora and fauna.
I am always seeing new and interesting plants in Australia, so that's an easy one.
But again, Bellingen scores high on the fauna scale with its huge colony of grey-headed flying foxes.  Seeing thousands of bats heading out as dusk takes over the land is magical, and I love that it happens on a nightly basis and isn't just a seasonal migration.

Another must?  I need me some character.  With less than 3000 residents, Bellingen is small but its disproportionally high number of artists and musicians lend a wonderful feeling to the community.
painting on the side of a house near the bat nature reserve
yarnbombed gate
I know I sound like some gushy tween who just got the latest issue of Teen Beat, but I swear I wish I could bottle the sweet smell in the air and replay the sound of the birds chirping, because it was simply everything that I picture when I think of the word 'paradise' (well, except that there was a notable absence of frolicking wombats...but you can't have everything, right?).

I don't profess to know what happens after we die, but if we are reincarnated, I can only hope my soul will find its way into any life form in Bellingen.  Platypus in the river?  Sure.  Rainbow lorikeet in a banksia tree?  Awesome.

**there is one more thing that is difficult for me to type...a major flaw that puts a chink in my idyllic image of the area.  Anyone who knows me well will understand why I see this is a major travesty, yet I am willing to (gasp!) overlook it because I love this town so much.  Ok, here goes.  The town is called Bellingen, but it is set on the Bellinger River.  Strange, huh?  Um, it is said that the discrepancy is a spelling error likely caused by the misinterpretation of bad handwriting.  My beloved town is linked to a spelling error? Noooooooo!**

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bombs and Bellingen Bats

During this entire year in Australia, a recurring, near-daily theme that the older boys discuss in our household is Odyssey, their public charter school back in Denver.  Sure, they talk about the friends they miss, but it's so much more than that--they talk about the teachers and the principal, all of whom they endlessly adore.  When I admire any work they've done, they say that it's because Lori (or Billy) was such a good teacher.  Because they go on camping and hiking outings with Odyssey, the school assuredly comes up on every single road trip as we camp and hike.  They talk about things they've learned and the way they learn there, because it is so much more interesting than the school they're at in Wollongong.  I agree wholeheartedly; I've said before that the Odyssey community is what I miss most about Denver.

A long and painful story short, our participation in this school district-sanctioned teacher exchange program has caused our boys to lose their spots as students at this school.  Current state and district funding rules don't take this exchange program into account, despite the fact that this teacher exchange program has run for upwards of thirty years.  With charter schools on the rise, especially in Colorado, the rules need to change--it is a detriment to the exchange program that while my husband continues to earn his salary from the school system, gains another year towards retirement, and retains his position, our children are the ones who will be punished by being cut off from the educational community that they know and love upon our return.

We found out a couple of months ago that the kids had definitely lost their spots at Odyssey, and I was gutted.  Our plan was to wait as long as possible before telling the boys, especially since we didn't know what school they would attend and we thought the unknown would cause even more anxiety.  Recently, though, the talk about Odyssey has increased, and it has felt more and more like we're lying to them.  I didn't want to cause them anxiety, but I was experiencing extreme amounts of anxiety myself whenever they'd bring it up.

On our way to hike at Warrumbungle National Park, Odyssey came up for the second time in an hour, and Sam and I looked at each other and gave a small nod.  I took a deep breath and dropped the bomb on the kids.  With a shaky voice, I told them I had some bad news and let them know they wouldn't be returning to their treasured school right away, that it would take some time with wait lists and such.  That I was working on getting them into another great program and I'd let them know when we knew what it was (after this year of joyless education, all I want is for them to be in a program where they can feel engaged and fulfilled).

The dust settled, and we were all still alive--the boys had tears in their eyes, but it was far, far better than I had imagined over the preceding two months.  We processed it as we hiked, and Jackson said he was angry and sad.  I agreed, and said I felt the same way.  I assured him that he'd see his friends all the time and that we'd have lots of sleepovers, but he said he'd really miss the teachers as well.  I agreed.  I'm sure there will be more processing in the coming months as we prepare to head home, but I admire the way they have handled it thus far.  I don't handle perceived injustice very well and have had a far rougher go at this news myself.

I am fully aware that if this is the worst bomb that is dropped on them during their childhoods, they will have been blessed--but still, I hate the fact that this community that has nurtured them since their foray into education will not be there to welcome them back with loving arms when our exchange ends.


Just a 5 minute walk from the place I want to sell all my earthly possessions and move to the hostel we've been staying at is a mini nature reserve that houses a huge colony of grey-headed flying foxes.  These massive bats are unlike anything I've seen in the States.  We have seen them flying in the sky here at dusk, but we took a walk over there around 4pm to see them hanging from the trees.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but as we walked down the short path we saw them immediately.
Whoooooa.  Tree after tree, infested with these strange, wondrous creatures.

Um, holy crap.

When we first arrived, they were all sleeping but within a couple of minutes they began to awoke and began  chittering noisily, stretching and poking at each other.

Many of them were staring down at us, and although they eat fruit I was a bit nervous that they would angrily swarm us for invading their territory.

'Stay up there, nice little bats' was my silent mantra as we watched them, necks craned towards the sky.  And then here and there, they started taking to the sky.

Amidst school difficulties here and the boys losing their places at their beloved school, I have often wondered whether we've detrimentally altered our kids' educational paths by selfishly doing this exchange.

And then we watch fruit bats awaken right over our heads and fly off for their evening feasts.  My mind flashes through watching kangaroos box right next to our campsite, spotting octopus in the tidepools, rainforest hikes, swimming in perched lakes, and I hope those amazing experiences and so many more we've had as a family this year will render those dreary classroom hours immaterial.

And boys, I am so, so sorry that you won't be back at Odyssey.