Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere

Christmas in the summer... yes please!  I am not missing the snow and cold even a bit.  We've been able to do some of the same activities, just a whole lot warmer.

For example, we often go to visit the lights at the Cincy Zoo or the Kentucky Horse Park.  This year we went to the Hunter Valley Gardens, where the roses are in bloom.  Even though it's been a bit cool, we were still able to wander around in light jackets or sweaters.  Here are a few of the pictures we took:

Waiting to see the lights
It was raining when we got there, but quickly let up.  While we were waiting to enter the section of the park with the lights, we talked to Santa and tried Lamingtons.  They are small squares of sponge cake dusted with chocolate powder and rolled in coconut flakes.  They are often left out for Santa on Christmas Eve.  We decided to stick with cookies and milk.

Rain on the roses

The 12 Days of Christmas

Nativity Scene
Brian's better with the no flash than I am
The previous three pictures were set to music.  The 12 Days of Christmas just about gave us whiplash because they were not in numerical order.  The Christmas Story was read from Luke and different characters would light up when they were in that section of the story.  The Christmas trees lit up to the TransSiberian Orchestra's "Ring Christmas Bells" - and I know that's not the actual name.  HVG brought in somebody from the US to set the lights to music.

Sydney at Christmas

In the storybook section of the Garden

We spent the night in Hunter Valley so I could do a bit of shopping the next day.  There were a lot of cute boutique stores around and I had to curb what I wanted to buy.  It's been 4 months since I've done real shopping!  I was able to pick up a few Christmas presents for family, including some adorable ornaments for our tree.

Nath's Kangaroo

My Platypus
I couldn't find Will's Koala on the tree until too late.

I'm looking forward to going back to HVG next year - it looks beautiful.

The Hunter Valley was beautiful.  Since it's summer, all of the grape vines at the wineries were lush.  It felt like when we drove through the Loire Valley in France - all roads lead through wineries.  The Valley is where a lot of the "good" wine in Australia is made - especially Semillion and Shiraz.  They even hold large concerts at the different wineries.  Rod Stewart and Faith Hill & Tim McGraw are coming in February.  It would be a lovely setting. 

See what I mean?

I'll be posting about the end of Nath's school year tomorrow.  Until then, I leave you with one of the pictures from our Christmas card...

I'm OK with Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Where I Live

Where I live is beautiful, and now homey.  We were able to get everything together for an office party for Brian's team last Sunday.  We worked hard to get everything together, but I think we pulled it off.

Bri bought my favorite flowers
My aunt Elaine got us a subscription for Kentucky magazine - lovely to have a touch of the Bluegrass state in Oz.  Beneath that is a beautiful book of photos of Kentucky given to us from family friends, the Conrads. I grew up with their daughters and then have been friends with my parents for forever. I think all of our guests looked through the book and commented how beautiful our home state is.
Grammy's Favorite Cake and Derby Pie
What Kentucky party is complete without Derby (or in Aussie, Darby) Pie?  And since our family found the recipe for this Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse Pie, this has become a staple as well.  Both were well eaten.

The kids had a great time playing together in the pool.  All of the kids are in the same age group and Nathan is now in love with one of the girls.  He knows she lives in the area and wants to see her again. 

It doesn't show up super well in this picture, but to the right is a beautiful photo of the Ohio River at sunset that our lovely Chancel Choir gave us as a going away present.  It's so lovely to have all of these touches of Kentucky in our house and to be reminded of family and friends when we look at them.

Where we live we can decide to go to the beach at a moments notice, which is what we did this past Friday evening.  We were told that Little Beach was the place to watch the sunset.  The way the bay curves, it gives the appearance of the sun setting over the water.  It's a lovely calm beach that opened up into a surprise as we walked - boulders everywhere.

Yaccaba Head is in the background

Nath loved the rocks

Amazing sunset
While waiting for the sun to set, we saw dolphins maybe 10 feet from the shore.  I'm not sure how well you can see them in the picture, but it was amazing.

It's in the middle of this photo

Where I live the kids are playing in the water in November.  My children have learned to truly swim and love the water in Australia.

Splashin' Around
Will blowing bubbles in the bay

Where I live you can climb Tomaree Head for the most spectacular views.

About halfway up the climb

Fingal Spit in the distance
Islands in the distance
It's amazing how clear the water is.  We are going to take a boat trip to the small islands soon.  They are home to penguins and seals.

Where we live is wonderful, although I could do without some of the fauna.  Here is what we found outside our patio door the other day.

Huntsman Spider
I googled New South Wales spiders and determined it was a Huntsman.  The tag was, I promise, "barely poisonous."  Good to know!  Of course, our theory is that if it lives in Australia, it's probably poisonous.

And that doesn't show the Redback we found.  I was trying to show the boys a huge snail climbing our fence when I looked over to see the Redback spider.  We immediately went inside and got Brian to kill it.  I did assist by handing him the bug spray.

Where I live has become home.  To quote Jack Johnson (hey, my family loves his music) "home is wherever we are, if there's love there too."  And there is, because where I live is also where my three favorite guys live:

Nath is getting better at taking pictures

Brotherly love
And that's a whole lot of love.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What We've Been Doing...

As a side note, I was going to call this post "What We've Been Up To," but I couldn't end the title in a preposition and "To What We've Been Up" sounds a wee bit pretentious....

So here is why I've been a bit neglectful of this blog...

Can you hear us singing the Hallelujah Chorus?
After three looong months, our stuff had finally been reunited with us - and it felt so good. 

Since we had been told that it would take that long, we had our house in Kentucky packed up a few weeks before we left and moved in with my parents until the big move.  Then we stayed in rental properties for a month until the house we are now renting became available.  Then we lived with rental furniture for 6 weeks.  And I will tell you that a rental mattress is nowhere near the quality of our mattress. 

So for the past week I have been unpacking boxes and organizing rooms at a frenzied pace.  Why so frenzied, you may ask.  Well, because we are hosting an office party next weekend!  We had originally been told that everything would arrive a week earlier, but alas.  Anyway, we are nearly ready, just a few more piles to go.

Part of the piles are laundry.  Clothes in boxes for three months equals a musty smell.  So I began to open boxes and start piling a few things in the laundry room and began washing with our brand spanking new washing machine - which promptly began to pour water all over the floor, getting those piles of clothes even grosser than they were before.  This happened on a Friday, so of course Whirlpool couldn't send anyone to our house over the weekend.  When we got a tech out on Tuesday, he discovered that a part had been left out - the one that keeps the rubber around the barrel tight so it's waterproof.  He fixed it quickly, and I've been washing ever since.

We haven't just been doing boring things.  After all, all work and no play makes Kristi a bit crazy.  We've had some glorious weather, so we've relaxed at the pool.

Add caption
Well, I relaxed.  The kiddos practiced their swimming.

Ready, set...



All the way down the pool

It's hard to believe that last summer we could barely get him to go underwater.  Now we're working on big arms and pencil-leg kicking.  He's doing very well and I can relax a bit with him in the water.  Wills, on the other hand is a work in progress.

Bri, thank me later for the picture that looks like you have more hair

Wills also took some time out to "play" for the All Blacks.  I'm sure he helped carry them to victory.

Watching intently to copy the plays

Over the past weekend we went to Bunnings (like Home Depot) for their Halloween kids workshop and face painting.  The kids made lolly bags for Trick or Treating.  Ironic, since there's not much trick or treating in Australia.

Nath didn't want his face to itch

 I was fine with this on his arm - on his face would've been to close to Mike Tyson's tattoo for my comfort.

Scary pumpkin

Will was growling at people trying to scare them.  He loved this face paint and even cried when we made him wash it off before bedtime.

So that's what we've been doing.  Hopefully I'll be able to get some pictures up of the house soon!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday, Sporty Sunday

One of the biggest things we miss about the US (obviously besides family and friends) is American Football.  We are at least able to DVR a college game or two while we're at church, which is nice.  Unless Brian's watching UF get beat for the third time in a row, at least.

We did arrive in time for the start of the Rugby World Cup.  It has been fun to watch and, while not American Football, very entertaining.  Besides the insane tackling, every game we've watched has had at least one player sans shorts at one point.  We even got to see a streaker - and they don't censor in Australia.

The boys have enjoyed watching and cheering for the Wallabies, but they absolutely love watching the New Zealand All Blacks do their Haka.  The Haka is a Maori Dance - and a big tradition of the All Blacks.  Below is a video of their pregame ritual:

So we're currently at half time of the Australia vs. New Zealand semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup.  During the game, Nathan told us he was cheering for the Wallabies, but he was pretending to be an All Black.  Here are a few pictures:

Piri Weepu, in the back, leads the Haka

Tongue flicking is a big part of it

Not getting the intimidation factor
I also learned that Nathan knows the Australian National anthem.  When they began to sing, Nathan came running in yelling "That's Advance Australia Fair!"  He then sat down on the couch and sang along.  Apparently they sing it often enough at his school, followed by the school's Alma Mater.  In case you're wondering, he goes to "the best school in the southern hemisphere."

Here's hoping the Wallabies play better in the second half than the first!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Holiday Fun

Last week Brian had a conference he needed to go to in Canberra.  He decided to drive because the flights were not at great times.  Since the boys were on holiday from school, we decided to tag along.  We found a deal on a hotel that included tickets to the National Zoo and Aquarium, and off we went.

Canberra is about a 5-1/2 hour drive from Port Stephens.  It was a beautiful drive, especially once we got outside of Sydney.  We drove along a ridge of mountains for quite a while.  I didn't have my camera out and was sorry about that.  We did have it ready for the drive home.  One of the things I've always wanted to see is a field full of flowers and this trip obliged.

The next day Brian took off for his conference and I took the Pajero and headed off to Parliament before the zoo opened.  The boys were, needless to say, thrilled.

Nath calls it "the boring building"
We passed a guard going inside.  He told us we'd have to go through security like at the airport.  I placed my camera and purse on the X-ray machine and went through the metal detector.  I turned around for the boys to follow through and they are holding their shoes.  The security guards were very amused.

The building reminded me of our Capital building, just more modern.  The boys wanted to head straight to the roof, but I bribed them by saying if they were good we'd go up after looking at the House of Reps and the Senate.  They agreed begrudgingly.


House of Representatives

As promised, view from the roof
They were not in session, so we had free access to everything.  I'd like to go back when they are in session - from what I understand things often become a wee bit rowdy.  The best example of heard (on the radio) was when a woman speaking was interrupted by a man.  She gave him a good dressing down.  His response - "Meow."  I laughed for five minutes over that one.

After the Senate and House, we were off to see the Magna Carta.  Not a replica, the Magna Carta.  I was very excited.  The kids were like "hey mum, it's an old piece of paper."  We had an, albeit brief, history lesson.  If you ask Nath what the Magna Carta means, he'll tell you that nobody is above the law.  I figure that's good enough for a 7 year old.

Clearly, no flash allowed

To the kiddos collective relief, we were off to the National Zoo and Aquarium.  I was not super impressed, but the boys had a good time.  The aquarium was smaller then one section of the Newport Aquarium and the zoo was small also.  I know I've been spoiled by the Cincy Zoo being so well and beautifully done.  We zipped through both places in about 2 hours, even after we looked at a few of the animals twice!  Here are a few of the boys favorite things:

This Meerkat was posing for photo ops

Feeding time for the lions - gross!

They really liked this fish - too bad I don't remember what it was!
I was so glad Brian had called earlier.  One of the gentlemen he had talked to recommended Questacon for the boys.  It's a big science museum that's very hands on - reminded me of COSI but bigger.  Otherwise we would've been headed a museum that I'm fairly certain would have bored the children.  And very bored boys twice in one day leads to crummy behavior and an exhausted mum!

We had lunch at Questacon and were off to look at the exhibits.  I wish Brian would've been able to have gone with us.  He would have loved it, I would have gotten more pictures, and he would've explained things better to the kiddos.  I'm not a science person to begin with and trying to make the things I know accessible to the boys is difficult for me.  Seriously, ask anybody that was in my senior physics class - it was awful (the teacher certainly didn't help)!  A few friends used to joke that I'd probably end up marrying a physicist.  Jokes on them, he was just a physics major!

The Periodic Table, taken for Bri
One of my favorite exhibits was The Science of Carnivals.  It showed things like why the games are nigh impossible to win, how the "psychic" booth works, and optical illusions. 

One of the tasks was to cover a large circle with five smaller circles.  We watched several adults try to cover it, but there were always slivers of the larger circle showing.  Guess who walked up and got it right on the first try?

Clearly pleased with himself

Before we picked Brian up from his meeting, I let the kids run around outside.  They immediately found these huge Marimbas and began to play.

Four hands, one keyboard were always the most fun duets to play
And that ended our whirlwind trip to Canberra.

We stopped for dinner about an hour outside of Canberra.  On the way in we had noticed signs for Big Merino.  Knowing how much wool comes out of Australia, I just assumed this was where a lot of the Merino wool came from.  I could not have been more wrong.

Meet Big Merino
When I had read Bill Bryson's book about Australia ("In a Sunburned Country"), he mentioned these huge, I don't know, models of things throughout Australia.  I was glad we had stumbled upon one.  It was a fun way to end our trip!