Sunday, August 21, 2011

Check One More Thing Off My Bucket List

Our rental on our first condo was up this past Friday, we can't move into our house until the 30th, and the rental on our next condo doesn't start until Sunday, so what should we do?  The best answer we came up with was go to Sydney!

We picked Nathan up after school on Friday and headed out.  It's about 2-1/2 hours from Port Stephens, so there was no way to get there before dark.  Unfortunately, it began a torrential downpour on us.  It was slow going and we were exhausted by the time we fought Friday night traffic as well.  It turned into over a 3 hour trip with hungry and tired children in the back seat.

After checking into our hotel in Darling Harbour we decided to simply eat in our hotel and let the kids crash.  Funny how children change how you visit a city!  Bri and I were tired and a bit cranky as well, so we got some much needed rest before heading out the next day.

We got up early, had breakfast, and headed out to the Opera House via the subway.  Apparently, we have deprived Nathan by never letting him ride the subway in his 6 years of life - I know, what kind of parents are we!  He was excited as we descended the escalators, but quickly became concerned with the noise.  For those of you who don't know Nath well, he has very sensitive ears.  We got on and he wanted me to take a commemorative pictures.

I really want to like this...
He did end up enjoying the ride and was quite put out that we walked anywhere else the rest of the day.
Walking around Sydney Harbour

The Harbour Bridge

Front of the Opera House
 The Opera House is as amazing as you would think.  I could hardly wait to see it close up.  I never realized that it was actually three separate buildings until Brian's first trip to Sydney.  Even knowing that, I was surprised at how separated they actually are.
Will playing on the stairs

I wanted to see the iconic view and check out one of the famous beaches, so we hopped the ferry to Manly Beach.  We saw a sign that warned of a bit of choppy water, but we didn't think too much about it.  We've both been on a bit of water before.  Boy, were we wrong.

My new favorite picture of Nath
The iconic shot

Me and my boys

Theses were taken before the rough waters - and were they ever rough.  The boat started rocking wildly from side to side.  It felt like we were on a roller coaster.  Will was squealing "whee" with each wave while we were watching Nath's face get paler and paler.  I thought he was just frightened - justifiably - until he looked up and said "My tummy doesn't feel so good."  Brian jumped up to take him to the toilet, which of course was on the lower level since we were on the upper.  Luckily he didn't get sick, but he did observe waves crashing over the side of the ferry.  I had Dramamine in my purse from the plane ride over, so we decided to give him some before we took the ferry back to Sydney proper and give the waters time to calm down.

Finally we arrived at Manly.  We found a restaurant and got Nathan a Sprite to try and settle his stomach.  It helped a bit, but he didn't eat much for the rest of the day.

We walked around the downtown area where there were a lot of boutique shops.  I didn't go any many, which is the downside of living with three guys!  After a short walk, we arrived at the actual beach.

Nathan sat on the stairs with Brian while Wills and I ran promptly to the waters edge.  I could hardly keep him out of the water, even though it was rough and we had no swimsuits.  We were both quickly wet up to our knees.

After a bit of wandering and one Dramamine to Nath, we were headed back on a ferry.  The weather had been beautiful, so we thought the water would be calmer.  Once again, we couldn't have been more wrong.  It was a rougher passage back and although Nathan looked scared, the Dramamine did the trick.  The other passengers were not helping with the fright level, as there was much screaming and cursing happening.  I heard several people say they had taken the ferry many times and that trip was by far the worst they had ever been on.

We decided to walk around the city a little more before exploring some of the shopping.  The boys found a fountain in a plaza and wanted there picture taken in front of it.  Behold there chosen pose:

 After hearing how bored and hungry my boys were, we walked back to Darling Harbour for dinner.  In my opinion, the quality of food is proportional to how close to the water you are.  Dinner was indeed quite good. 

We were seated outside next to a party room.  In said room was a bachelorette party with all of the girls in very short, tight skirts with bustiers and belly-dancing scarves around their waists.  They began a belly dancing lesson, which completely fascinated Nath and Will.  We kept trying to get the boys to turn around, but quickly gave up.  Once they began learning another type of "dance," we decided to leave before questions came up.

The view of which I decided to take a picture

Darling Harbour at night

We took a Ferris wheel ride after this.  Sorry, no pictures.  I hate Ferris wheels and was simply trying to keep my dinner down.  Will sweetly held my hand so I would feel better.  About every minute, the boys would ask if I liked the Ferris wheel now.  Sorry kidlets, I will never enjoy the Ferris wheel!

The next morning we had to head back to Port Stephens to get the key for our new condo.  I was kind of grumpy about heading back so quickly until I remembered we would be in Sydney lots more.  Plus, it's hard to feel to grumpy when you have a view like ours from the balcony.  Will would like to share it with you...

This is only one side.  We have an incredible panoramic view of most of the port, including an island in the distance.  I'll take more pictures when the sun comes up.  Until then, ta!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mama Said There'd Be Days Like This

What a crazy past few day! 

For those of you who saw my Facebook post, we received an email from our logistics coordinator (who's in Singapore, by the way) asking us if our air shipment was complete and undamaged.  We couldn't say, as nothing had been delivered to us.  Concerned, I quickly emailed her back and discovered that our shipment had been "delivered" on Saturday - and this was Tuesday evening.  We were told that nobody really knew where our shipment was and research was being done.  I took a few deep breaths and figured worse case scenario, I was going shopping with the insurance money.  There were only a few irreplacables in the shipment - a beautiful picture of the Ohio River at sunset our Chancel Choir had given to us and a set of Kentucky photos beautifully framed from my parents.  I wanted these quickly to remind us of our home in KY.

Luckily our shipment was found on Wednesday and delivered to us Thursday afternoon.  Apparently there was some confusion between Williamtown, New South Wales (where Bri works) and Williamstown, Victoria.  Suffice it to say, they are nowhere close to each other.  Oh, how one little s will make a difference in location! 

The kids were thrilled to get there pillowpets and some other small items for there bedroom - blankets and stuffed animals, etc.  Nathan said it made Australia feel like his Old Kentucky home.  I'm glad it's helping him, as he is the family member I was most concerned about moving to Australia.  He is a creature of habit and not very flexible, which brings me to my next concern - school.

Nathan's teacher said he's having a slightly hard time adjusting.  Nothing behaviorally, it's just that he's overwhelmed with all of the differences.  A lot of travel done at the school is outside, including assembly, library, and chapel.  He has a buddy that's helping him, but his level of work is a bit behind the others.  This was a concern I had to begin with, as he just finished Kindy and was jumping in 3/4 of the way through year one.  His teacher was surprised that Nathan can't identify an adverb.  I told her grammar wasn't taught until later in the US and she was shocked.  She has come to the conclusion that our Kindergarten is a glorified preschool.  Unfortunately, I agree with her.  She couldn't believe it when she found out Nathan's Kindy was only 1/2 a day - which isn't enough to really learn much.  We are having a meeting with his teacher on Wednesday to discuss our options.  We may possibly move him back to Kindy so he can learn parts of speech, letter writing, and beginning multiplication. 

We could use prayers for wisdom to make the correct decision.  We know he's a smart kid, but when he's overstimulated he shuts down for "alone time."  I understand and respect that, however that's not an option at school.  I think when he becomes acclimated, he'll do fine.  However, if that right choice is to move him back down to Kindy, I'm fine with that as well.  The Year 1 and Year 2 classes are combined, so next year he might be able to be with most of the Year 2 kids.  We just want to see him flourish in school - academically and socially. 

Thursday Brian was hit on his way to work.  He was yielding at a roundabout and the car behind him didn't.  Nobody was hurt, but there was a decent amount of damage to his rental car.  And of course Brian doesn't have an insurance card, since his insurance is through his work.  Luckily Hertz had the info and it was quickly taken care and labelled as not his fault.  Brian asked if he should report it to the police.  He was told if nobody was hurt, then it's not reported.  If he did choose to call the police, they might come.  The lady who hit him was beside herself that Brian might even mention the police.  She thought that meant he was going to sue her.  He was able to convince her that he had no intents to sue, we just don't know protocol in Australia!

I promise that's all for the bad, or at least not good, news.  My mama also said not to do another post without pictures, so in the immortal words of The Daily Show, here is your moment of Zen:

He rocks a hat.
 This was a ranger hat from the Fort in Newcastle.  It's the only fort in Australia to return fire on an enemy, specifically on the Japanese during WWII.  The tour guides were incredibly friendly and were able to answer a lot of questions.  My paternal grandfather actually stayed in Australia during WWII for an illness.  I asked if they knew where the Americans stayed for sick leave.  The answer - Nelson Bay!  General Patton actually stayed down the street from our condo.  Nice to know our family has come full circle.

Wrestling on Little Beach
This beach is about a five minute walk from our condo.  They had way to good of a time!

Fingal Bay
The larger land mass is actually an island with a burned out lighthouse on it.  There is a spit at low tide to walk across, which we were going to do until we heard thunder.

We are on our way to Sydney for the weekend, so I'll have more updates and pictures soon!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Baby, I Can Drive Your Car

No matter which side the steering wheel is attached!

I wanted to get over my jetlag at least a bit before attempting to drive.  I decided Saturday would be a good day to try in a parking lot, however my husband had other ideas.   He backed the car out of the garage and tossed me the keys.  I asked if he was sure I could do it, and he was with one big piece of advice - put your side view mirror pointing down so you can see the lane marking, not other cars.

Since Bri taught me how to drive a manual without too much stress, I decided to take him up on the offer.  He's a pretty good teacher, and very calm.  He didn't yell or go for his "brake" once.

So off we were to Oakvale Farms.  Luckily it's a pretty straight shot from our condo.  There's not much traffic out here and the lanes are wide.  I'm certain I drove slower then most, but I got us there in one piece.  Turns out, it's really not that hard with a few exceptions:

  1. Parking lots are hard.  I don't know why, but Brian agrees.  I still have to talk myself through being on the "proper" side of the road.  My theory is it has something to do with no real lane markings.
  2. If the lanes are wide, the road is straight, and there are no other cars, you tend to drift.  I prefer normal size lanes and a bit of traffic just to keep me straight.
  3. Rotaries feel weird - and there are a lot of them.  I actually prefer rotaries to traffic lights - it keeps traffic moving at a good pace.  The first one Brian drove us through my thought was "Oh, they're coming from the right."  Well of course they are!  It took me a bit to get over hesitating on seeing a car about to enter from the left.  Which brings me to the next point...
  4. Look right first!  It is natural for us Americans to look left and then pull out or step off the curb.  This will get you hit.  I know that seems like an obvious statement,  but it's difficult to override habit.  For the first week everytime I'd reach an intersection I'd mutter "look right first, then left, then right again."
Those truly are the hardest things.  After about a week of driving around town it began to actually feel natural.  Granted, if you would have been in my car you would have thought I was a bit crazy because of all the talking out loud (yes, I answered myself as well).

I was going to post this yesterday, but I was exhausted.  Good thing I waited because now I can proudly report that not only can I drive on the proper side, but I can parallel park as well!  I almost took a picture, but decided that might be overkill. 

So come and visit!  I promise I can get you from the airport to our house safely and in a timely manner!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Back to School

Today was Nathan's first day of school in Australia.  Schools go year round here, so he he started out in the middle of Year One.  He has excelled in school so far and I assume he will be just fine, even if they are learning multiplication in Year One.  We worked on this a bit before we moved, so I don't think he'll be too far behind.

Brian had met with the school recommened to us on his last visit to Australia and was very comfortable after meeting with the principal.  Nathan had his interview/placement testing last Tuesday while we met with the principal and the head of junior school.  I was incredibly happy that we had chosen this school after our discussions were over.  The school seems very concerned with the individual student and doesn't have to teach to testing standards.  Also, there are quite a few ex-pats that attend the school, so they are used to dealing with overwhelmed children coming in mid-year.

Nathan has always loved school, but was understandably nervous about starting here.  We made sure to show up early so we could meet his new teacher and make sure he knew where his desk, cubby, and bin were placed.  This is what greeted us upon arrival:

Seems like an auspicious start
As an aside, the red car there is mine.  Told you I could drive here!

We went into the office to meet his new teacher, but not before I snapped a few first day pictures.

Shot of his full uniform

He ended up being very happy to start

I can tie a tie!

This is his uniform four days out of the week.  On Fridays he dresses in a sports suit for gym.  I'll take a picture of that uniform later.  All students must wear there hats when they are outside.  Once settled into class they are allowed to remove their jumpers and untuck there shirts.

When I left Nath, he seemed pretty happy.  Will, on the other hand, told me he was sad to leave "his best buddy."  Broke my heart in two.  I was doing ok until we got back to the condo.  That's when I started to panic knowing I had left my little guy in a place where he knew nobody, had recently moved him across the world, and he had never been to a full day of school.  I regrouped and knew he would be fine, but also knew that I would feel better after I picked him up.

I made sure to get to his class a few minutes early and peek through the window.  He was smiling and cleaning up his desk with the help of his two assigned "school buddies."  When he came out and I asked him how school went, his response was a resounding great!  His teacher said he did pretty well, but seemed a little lost, which was to be expected.  She said he would be fine - and I'm convinced she's right.  He's already looking forward to going back tomorrow.

And just because I can't leave you without another picture of the water, here is the marina where have eaten quite a few meals.  It's about a five minute walk from where we're staying.

Not a rough life

I promise to update on driving tomorrow.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Wombats, and kangaroos, and wallabies - Oh my!

After the beach, Brian wanted to take us to Oakvale Farm.  It is a petting zoo where you can feed most of the animals.  The boys had a great time feeding the kangaroos and so did I.  It was fun watching them hop over to you and eat gently out of your hands.

They came quickly over to us.  This section of the farm had around 20 kangaroos wandering around.  The only other place we've seen that many has been on the golf course close to our condo.

The boys decided to move out from the main group to watch them jump.

 And off they go!  They truly were gentle, even when they became pushy.  I held my hand up high to see one stand up on it's hind legs instead of being on all four.  It wanted nothing to do with this and used it's paws to move my hand down to a more manageable level.

Nathan liked to get close to their ground level.  They were fairly soft and didn't mind being petted, as long as they were being fed.  I was surprised at just how friendly they were.

Next we were off to the Wallaby habitat.  They are a bit smaller then kangaroos and, in my humble opinion, have cuter faces.  I'm sure there is a more scientific explanation, but there it is in a nutshell from me.  Will especially loved the wallabies.

 Will didn't want to leave this little guy.  We had to promise him we'd be back eventually.  We were finally able to distract him with the highlight of the trip - a wallaby with her joey.

The wallabies that eat together, stay together.

Hello world!

Will got to close and the baby jumped back inside.

Pretty amazing to see, but glad I didn't have to have my kiddos attached to me anymore then they already were!

By this point the kids were getting tired, so we had lunch at Murray's.  It's a local brewery/winery that served an incredible lunch.  I had an Aussie Burger with all the salads (toppings), including beetroot and rocket (a specific type of lettuce).  In this area they put beetroot on everything, which is good for me!  This was the first meal I enjoyed.  Jetlag effects my stomach in a weird way. 

It was a great day introducing the kidlets to Australian animals.  We decided to go back to the condo afterwards for naptime and relaxing.  I had to rest up so I would be ready to drive on the "proper" side of the road the next day...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Welcome to Australia!

It's been a crazy week since landing in Sydney last Thursday morning.  After a shorter than expected time in customs and then picking up our rental (a ginormous Mitsubishi Pajero), we were off to our new home of Nelson Bay, New South Wales. 

After a beautiful 2-1/2 hour drive through mountains, the coal port of Newcastle, and the largest sand dunes in the Southern hemisphere (Stockton Dunes) we pulled up to our condo.  We quickly got our luggage in and were headed off to Birubi Point, a beautiful beach on the Tasman Sea.  William loved it and ran directly into the water.

                                               He knows no fear...

                                         ..which can be a problem!

Nathan was a bit more reluctant.  The next picture in comparison to Will's shows the difference between the two boys in a nutshell.

                                        Thanks, but I'll stay and climb on rocks

We eventually convinced him to get closer to the water, but only because the sea was as calm as a lake.  More on that in a later post, however.

                                                 This far, but no farther guys.

We stayed at the beach for a bit, had a bite to eat, and then collapsed into bed.  I have no idea what or where we ate - jetlag from a 15 hour flight that causes a 14 hour time difference is a killer.  Brian made me stay up until 8:00pm which was an incredible struggle.

The next day we were up at 4:30 in the morning.  Not only did our bodies have no idea what time it was, we have what appears to be a flock of Magpies and parrots outside of our windows.  I guarantee that Magpies are at least as loud as you may have heard. 

We got up and head to a local patisserie for breakfast and Flat Whites for the adults.  The best description I can give of a Flat White is a cross between a cafe au lait and a cappucino - and they are wonderful.  After a lovely breakfast, we headed back to the beach.

Since we still had an all wheel drive we wanted to make the most of it and go drive on the sand dunes.  Unfortunately, you have to have a permit from the Worimi people and we were unsure of how to do that, so we decided to go for a walk on the beach instead.

We ended up at the north end of Birubi Point, which is where the sand dunes begin.  The water was a sparkling blue and the winter weather was 20 celsius, which is equivalent to 70 farenheit. 

                       This is the first time Nathan has been able to get us in frame.

After walking the beach for a bit, we decided to let the kids play on the dunes.  They had a great time trying to run up them and sliding down the dunes.  We will be taking camel rides some time soon on these same dunes.

                         Nathan complained about the sand in his pants afterwards.

After this adventure we were off to the Oakvale Farm, a place to view and feed the local animals.  I'll post more on that tomorrow.

All in all, we've had a great first week.  The kids are doing fairly well adjusting, although Nathan has his moments.  I think after he starts school on Monday and gets on a schedule he'll do much better.  The Aussies are a lovely, friendly group of people who have been nothing but incredibly welcoming to us.  As far as places to relocate to, you could do worse!