Friday, December 28, 2012

Seal Rocks

While Brian is off on holiday, we decided to do a few things close to home.  We thought about going elsewhere for a few days, but decided we'd just as soon spend the majority of our time at the incredible beaches where we live.  However, I've been wanting to see Seal Rocks for a long time.  The pictures look beautiful and I always enjoy seeing creatures in their natural habitat.  As you might guess by it's name, Seal Rocks is home to lots of seals - in fact, it is the northern most colony of Australian Fur Seals.

So we planned our trip out.  Since there's not much in the way of food in Seal Rocks, we decided to stop in at Bulahdelah for lunch.  It's a small town, but we found a cafe and had a bite before heading out to see the Grandis - the tallest tree in New South Wales.

The boys were quite keen to see the Grandis.  It is a Flooded Gum Tree, or Eucalyptus Grandis.  We headed a few minutes out of our way, down a small, curvy road - with help from the navigation system!  We turned onto the road the Grandis is located on and were immediately disappointed.  The road was shut because of a bridge collapse!  The boys were disappointed, but we turned around and made our way towards Seal Rocks.

We turned onto yet another small, curvy road and were cruising along when Nathan shouted that a turnoff had a sign for the Grandis.  For once, Nathan's sign reading had paid off in spades!  We made a mental note of how many kilometres we had travelled and promised the boys we would try on our way back home.

From the small, curvy road we turned on to the unpaved, small, curvy road heading to Seal Rocks.  There are no plans to pave the road, in large part because that is how the citizens want it.  They do not want their town commercialised, and after spending time at one of their lovely beaches, I don't blame them.

We drove through town towards the Sugar Point Lighthouse, having to pull almost entirely off the road several times to let another vehicle by us.  We parked in the car lot and started the short hike to the lighthouse.  The kids warned me that my legs might hurt, as they had done this walk before.  I was pretty confused, as the path was pretty straight and flat.  They assured me that it would get steeper - and it did. It's actually a very steep climb to the lighthouse, but it doesn't last long and my legs didn't hurt!  On our way, we heard some skittering in the bush and encountered a Goanna climbing up a tree to get away from us.

We also passed a blowhole, which made for pretty landscape:

It looks more like a cave to me, but the sign said blowhole, so we'll go with it!

Before we started our steep climb, we took a short detour to see Seal Rocks.  Here are some of the lovely views we had.

You can't see it well in this picture, but, Yacaaba and Tomaree (where we live)
are in the left of the background

Not edited, the water is really this gorgeous!

There was also a big rock at the lookout, which the boys scrambled up immediately.  Will wanted to jump off of it.  I okayed it, taking pictures along the way.  Nathan decided to jump off of it as well.  He fussed after he landed.  In a change of personalities, Brian said he never would have let them jump in the first place.  For the record,  Nathan actually brought his knee up to high and hit his arm - it had nothing to do with the height of the rock!

He used to be my scaredy cat!
After goofing around with the rocks for awhile, it was up the steep incline to the lighthouse.  Unfortunately, you are unable to climb to the top.  We were able to climb up a level, but it would've been fun to go all the way. I'm not sure why you can't - maybe because of the gusty wind?

This picture looks like you are just seeing the top of the lighthouse, but it is actually all of the building.  It doesn't need to be as tall as most lighthouses are because it is built on such a tall cliff.  Apparently even with the lighthouse it was not easy to avoid rocks and such.  One of the beaches is actually named Treachery Beach!

Obligatory pose for mum!
After wandering around at the lighthouse, we went down and spent some time at the beach.  Brian and Nath did a bit of snorkelling, while Will and I splashed around in the water.  It was fairly rocky and seaweedy, not my favourite thing in the world.  However, spending time out on the beach is always well worth it!  After a while, we (and by that I mean I) changed out of our cozies (Aussie slang for swimsuit) and started the trek back home.

Nathan made sure that we remembered to check and see if we could get to the Grandis, which we had remembered even without his help!  We travelled down yet another small, curvy, dirt road and were able to make it to the tree.  The road was closed just on the other side, which made the boys happy.  It was a very short walk and suddenly we were there.  It is a beautiful tree, piercing through the canopy of the forest.

Will offered to hold my sunnies -
clearly out of the goodness of his heart!
And here's what happens when they get tired
of mum taking pictures!

And that's our adventure for that day.  We're getting ready to have another one - Brian finally bought a surfboard!  I only told him I would buy him one for his last birthday, which is the end of April.  We're heading to the beach shortly!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Snorkelling Boys

Little Beach
We had Nathan and Will write letters to Santa this year.  As usual, they were very cute - even though they put three different gaming systems on them!  One of the big things they both wanted was snorkel equipment so they would be confident when we go to the Great Barrier Reef.  Since I was concerned with room in my bags, I suggested to Brian's family that they get us a gift card to a local sports store in Australia and we would pick up the snorkels here.  Everyone was amenable, so the plan commenced.

We told the boys we were headed into Newcastle to do some shopping and they immediately began to whinge.  Shopping's boring to little boys, I suppose.  However, when as soon as we walked into Rebel Sports, they began talking about how they really wanted snorkel gear.  When we let them know that was why we were there they suddenly loved shopping!

We found a sales person and began to fit them.  We wanted to make sure they had quality equipment, because if there were leaking issues there was no way Nathan would keep trying.  Lucky for us, the good stuff was on a decent sale!  We talked about how to breathe and walk, but Will immediately freaked out.  As a claustrophobic person myself, I understand that feeling.  We were able to talk him down and explain that practice would help that feeling would go away.

We wrapped up the shopping trip with afternoon tea at Max Brenner's, a chocolate place, for a fun treat.  The boys ordered their snacks and were later surprised when a worker brought them an extra pot of melted chocolate because they weren't sure who ordered it!  We had wound up children on the drive home, to say the least.

Brian and I decided to have them practice breathing in the bathtub.  While this was hilarious, pictures were inappropriate for the internet, so you'll have to imagine for yourself!  Will was happy to try, but became very frustrated when his mask kept leaking.  We finally figured out the problem - his massive smile!  The kid very rarely isn't smiling, and when he does the skin crinkles underneath his mask, letting water inside.  Nothing like telling your kid to quit smiling so much!

See the crinkles on the side of the mask?

After a few practices, we were off to try snorkeling in the bay.  We decided to head to Little Beach, which is very calm and has crystal clear water.  The kids were very keen and it was a very successful trip.  We started out having them stick their heads in the water while standing.  Nathan was quickly over that and ready to swim.  I swear, now that he can breathe under water, we will never get his head back up!  The boys snorkeled until they were shivering, and still we had to pull them out of the water.

The boys bought me snorkel gear for my Christmas present.  Now we need to get Brian some and we'll be ready to go out to Fly Point.  It's still in the bay, and is supposed to have incredible marine life there. We have heard many sightings of sea turtles, beautiful fish, and other things we won't mention so my mom won't worry about us!

Enjoy the pictures of their first snorkeling adventure!

It's fun to watch someone walk in flippers!

He's not amused with the laughter.


This is the kids who wouldn't swim in salt water a few weeks ago!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere...

is frankly more to my taste than the Northern Hemisphere!  Obviously, this is not including spending time with family.  I'm not a snow person, so despite the Christmas season feeling a bit odd, I loved it!

We started out having Christmas Eve dinner with friends on the beach.  The kids ran around and swam while the adults watched and chatted.  Dinner was excellent - pork stuffed with figs, roasted sweet potatoes and leek, strawberry and mandarin salad, coleslaw, and Christmas pudding for dessert.  All of this was capped off with two of the local dolphins swimming incredibly close to the shore.  No big deal, just another day in paradise!

In the US, the trend seems to be going to church on Christmas Eve.  Here in Oz, everyone goes to church on Christmas morning.  So, we let the boys open their stockings and one present from my parents, handing them the ones that I knew had nice new polo shirts to wear to church.  They looked quite handsome, if I do say so myself!  Although keen to open the rest of the presents, they were also excited to head to church and see lots of their friends for Christmas.  It was a lovely service and we were wished a Happy Christmas more often then a Merry one!

Bri and I also opened our presents from the kids, but alas no pictures were taken.  The boys got Bri propeller cuff links that actually spin.  I got snorkeling gear as well, which I'll explain in another post.  Will was still working on a present for me, which we'll get to later.

Santa put harmonicas in the stockings.  Possibly not the smartest thing he's ever done, but they have had so much fun that it's worth it!

The boys also received UK shirts, because even though Santa wears red, we all know his favorite colors are blue and white, baby!


and back

After we got back from church I pulled out the tripod and made everyone pose for a family picture in front of the tree.  Here is the first take:

What do you mean I have to wait to open more presents?

The next one was much better!

I will keep taking picture until everyone smiles!

And then it was on to prezzies!

The kids big present from us was a Wii.  It was quite an ordeal buying this.  I went back to the US about a month ago and knew I would be bringing presents back from our family.  Bri and I finally decided to buy a Wii from the US and use our US tv and stepdown boxes to make it work.  While this will be a bit of a pain buying new games (their regionally coded), at least we will be able to use it in the US as well.  So I got to lug back a Wii system from the US.  I had enough stuff, plus added weight, that I had to borrow another suitcase from my parents.  Luckily I was upgraded from plain old Skymile status to silver on my way to the US, so the extra bag was free.  Everything was well worth it, as you can see from their reaction!  What we do for our children.    Also, Christmas day was rainy, so we spent lots of time trying out our new games from family members.  At least those were easy (and light) presents to bring back!

Thanks, Aunt Elaine!

This is actually his concentrating face.

Will playing Just Dance

This is the first year we had the kids "buy" presents for each other.  The both actually put a lot of thought into the selection - Bri and I were very pleased with both of them.  Will received Trash Packs and Nathan got a Nerf gun.  Here is another perfectly captured moment:

They really do love each other

I won't bore you with a ton more pictures of presents, I'll put those on my Facebook so they can be looked through without being forced.

*Total side note - Brian just remeasured the boys height.  In the past 3 weeks, Will grew 1/2cm and Nath grew 1cm.  Slow down, boys!*

We ended our day with a yummy dinner.  Plans were originally to barbecue, but the weather prevented that from happening.  We adapted, and cooked our Jerk Chicken on the stove instead.  It was a nice dinner, but the topper was my Pavlova - yummo!  

A Pavlova is a traditional Australian Christmas dessert named after the ballerina Anna Pavlova.  Their is a bit of disagreement on whether it was created in Australia or New Zealand, but we'll go with creation in Australia.  It's a bit like a meringue, with the addition of Corn Starch.  Apparently that gives it a crunchier texture on the outside and marshmallowy on the inside, but also makes it more finicky to make.  It was very clearly stated to let it cool inside the oven, which I did.  You serve it with whipped cream on top and garnish with whatever fruit you want - but they usually have passion fruit as one of the toppings.  The boys have decided that they want Pavlova for all special occasions now.  I wish I would've taken a picture of mine, but it was eaten fairly quickly.

We all crashed into bed later in the evening.  Today has been fairly lazy, since it's Boxing Day and we don't have to do anything.  I did make the mistake of going to the shops for a few things - big mistake!  I'd say it's the equivalent to Black Friday in the US, lots of sales plus rain equals a crowded shopping centre!  We spent the rest of the day playing on the Wii and other Christmas presents.  

Will finished up my Christmas present, proving once again how sweet of a boy he is:

Seal Rocks Sunset
My sweet boy painted a beautiful picture of our family at a beach nearby Port Stephens.  He knows one of my favourite things is sunset at the beach.  He painted us each in our favourite colours.  He even mixed colours to make sure they were exactly what he wanted.  I especially love the two dolphins in the background.  I'm currenty looking for a frame, but it will be going up in our house soon!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Jazz in the Vines

Knowing that our family enjoyed music, our friends Emi and Gavin invited us to join them for Jazz in the Vines last weekend.  On Friday we drove to the Hunter Valley and stayed in a family cabin in Pokolbin, picking up Thai food on the way in and enjoying our combined four children chasing a herd of kangaroos (what do you call a group of kangaroos?).  We put the kiddos to bed and sat around chatting and enjoying a peaceful desert before we were off the next morning.

Jazz in the Vines is an annual event held at Tyrell Winery in the Hunter Valley.  It is a day long concert, with musical acts varying from a Dixieland group from England - which amused me to no end, although Woody Allen enjoys them - to a swing band, the man from Snowy River, and the runner-up on Australia's The Voice.  There are several local wineries and restaurants represented, although you are encouraged to bring your own picnic lunch, which we did.  Now, my idea of a picnic meal is a cheese plate, sandwiches, chips, and a fair amount of fruit.  I have to say, Emi put me to shame with her Egg & Bacon pie and Barbecue Chicken.  At least our kids can be bought with ice cream!

We weren't entirely sure how the kidlets would do, but having four children the same age makes a parent's life easier.  We made sure to bring books, a footy, and - most importantly - we had phones and iPads on which to play games!  What did we do before technology?

We were able to stay the entire length of the day - 7 hours in total - with no real issues from the kids.  Even better, the adults were able to relax and spend "adult" time just being together.  I had no idea we'd be in for such a relaxing time!  We even went down to the stage with the kids and danced together, and Nathan didn't even cover up his ears!  He does have one particular spin he likes, so I can usually bribe him with that.

Peeping around the umbrella

Keira is much cuter under her parasol!

Emi and Keira
Nath doing what he does best
Will making a mess with his Wizz Fizz
Anique and Nath reading
What can I say - my boys like Aussie girls!

We headed back to the cabin and collapsed.  It's amazing what a day out in the hot sun doing nothing but listening to music and hanging out with friends can take out of you!  We bathed the kids, barbecued, and put the kids to bed.  Sadly, we weren't that far behind them!

Possible even better then the concert was the next morning - the kids actually slept in for a bit!  We had a late breakfast that Brian made, consisting of bacon and French Toast with fruit.  Yum!

Nobody had anything pressing, so we wandered around the Hunter Valley.  Here is what happens when the kids (and boys) get tired of waiting for the coffee to arrive:

Don't worry, Gavin doesn't hit my son with his daughter!

Possibly my favourite picture of Will ever!

Luckily for everyone involved, a helicopter landed in the open field where they were playing.  This pulled the kids through until the coffees and hot chocolates arrived.

I really love this picture of the dads with their kids.  Two pretty good fathers, I believe!

And here's what happens when Gavin catches you trying to take pictures of the group stealthily:

I love that Nath is completely oblivious

We also were able to have a lovely long, late lunch.  We ate outside, basically in a courtyard, so the kids once again had green space.  They also had their parent's iPads...

Thank you, Mr. Jobs

And just so there are no complaints that I'm not in any pictures -

Hi there!
The food was good - nothing fancy, but nicer then just boring food.  For example, Emi and Gav had a Pork Belly pizza that was heavenly!  Nathan also enjoyed his salad, but only because it had Vinaigrette dressing!

He had no idea why we were all laughing

And not to be outdone...

It's a good thing he's cute

When we went into the weekend, we weren't entirely sure how it was going to be.  I mean, we enjoy music and love the DeVries, but honestly, with kids anything can - and usually does - happen.  We were all pleasantly surprised with how amazing the all of the kids were the entire weekend and came home completely relaxed.  We look forward to making this an annual event.  Will even cried on the way home because he wanted to spend more time with Anique and Keira, which is silly since we see them several times a week, but at the same time very sweet.  Thanks for inviting us, Emi and Gav!