Thursday, April 26, 2012

What a week!

It has been quite a week of ups and downs!  I was very excited to receive my new lens last week.  It's a telephoto lens, giving me the ability to capture wildlife better and do some macro photography.  I was anxious to try it out, so we headed to the beach for sunset Friday night.  It's not the best lens for landscape, but I just wanted to get a feel for it before heading out to Hunter Botanical Gardens on Saturday.  Never anything wrong with spending time on the beach!

Saturday we ran into Newcastle to do a bit of shopping.  It's about an hour away - not very long, but I don't head there every day.  And boy, was it nice to see a real Target again!  I bought some new clothes and we let Will give us some ideas for his birthday.  Suffice it to say, the kiddo wants everything!

We stopped by the Botanical Gardens on the way back home.  It's closer to Newie than home, so it seemed like a good plan.  Unfortunately, there wasn't much blooming because it's Autumn.  But Nathan had been anxious to show us the third place he went on his school excursion.  He was really excited to show us what he had seen, especially the Cactus garden.  Bri and I were kind of whingeing to each other about walking around a garden not in bloom when we saw something in the field next to the garden.

Wallabies through the bush

Seeing these indigenous animals never gets old!  Maybe we'll get used to it at some point, but it's a great reminder that we're in this really lovely spot of the world.  We watched them graze for awhile and then the boys decided they wanted to chase them.  I suppose chasing pigeons won't be quite the same for them anymore!


I love the guy on the left tearing off while the other ones watched for awhile.  We walked back in to the actual gardens to see all of the cacti.  Nathan was pointing out his favorite cactus when I heard a rustling and turned my head.  This cutie had followed us!  He watched us for awhile, then ignored us when he realized we weren't going to bother him.

We walked around for awhile and eventually found some flowers blooming!  I do find a lot of the Australian flora interesting.  I guess the best way I can describe it is that they look so tropical.  I suppose that makes a lot of sense!

I have no idea what any of those were, but they're pretty!

On Monday I went back to the doctor for my ankle.  Several of you know that I hurt my ankle during our visit to the US for Christmas.  It was incredibly stupid - I was trying on pajama pants at a store when my foot got caught in the fabric.  I pulled the pants and pushed my foot through at the same moment.  Bad plan, because my foot shot through, I lost my balance and consequently smacked the outside of my right foot on the bench in the room.  It hurt and I assumed it was just bruised until two days later I looked down and realized my foot was so swollen that I couldn't see my ankle bone.  Because we're living in Australia, I have no primary care physician in the US and I had to go to Urgent Care.  I had an X-ray and was told I just had a bad bone contusion and that the pain would last for a few weeks.  Made sense to me and we were off to Oz a few days later.  My ankle hurt for about that length of time, but I could never understand why the ligaments hurt.  I just assumed I had pulled those as well.  The pain went away and I resumed normal activities.

Fast forward to about 6 weeks ago.  We had been out walking a fair amount and by the time we got home my ankle was throbbing in the exact same spot.  I figured I had just overdone it and babied my foot for awhile.  The pain went away in a day or two.  Brian suggested I go get it checked out again, but I convinced him it was ok.  However, after the third time I decided he was right.  So off I went on Monday afternoon.

The doctor listened to me and sent me off for X-rays.  He thought I had either torn my Collateral ligaments or injured the joint somehow.  I had my X-rays taken that afternoon and brought them back to the office.  He looked at them and because my joint was stable he ruled out the ligament problem, which I was happy about because that would have probably meant surgery.  He ordered a bone scan for the next morning.  Off I went for a day of fun in Newcastle again!  After being made radioactive and lying still for awhile, I was given my film and headed back to the doctor.

When I walked into his office, he was opening up the envelope with my film.  He pulled out the film and immediately said "Oh, sh*t.  I'm so sorry."  All I could tell was that my ankle was a pretty purple shade.  Apparently I now have Post Traumatic Arthritis in my ankle and the only way to deal with it is to lose weight.  I explained my experience with that from four years ago, which is basically I worked really hard on my diet and exercise and had great results - until I didn't and began to gain some weight back even though I was eating really boring food and working out hard 3-4 days a week.  His solution was to put me on a no sugar diet.  Before my dietitian family member freak out, it's for a short time to drop weight quickly!  I will soon go on to a low GI diet, so there will be carbs sometime in my future.  I promise I won't be stupid!

I came home pretty bummed about that - and frankly I still am.  My doctor kept telling me how sorry he was I hadn't been properly diagnosed.  He thought if he would've treated my ankle to begin with I wouldn't be having pain now.  Bummer, but it is what it is and I'm coping.

Wednesday was ANZAC Day - which stands for Australian New Zealand Army Corps.  The day started out remembering Gallipolli and has turned into more of a Veteran's Day celebration.  Apparently the celebrations had started to trickle off until the younger generation decided to make it a bigger deal again.  There was a parade down one of the main streets in Nelson Bay and stopped at a park that has a permanent war memorial.  Many veterans and those of active duty marched.  The local schools participated as well.  The boys wanted to watch this year, but have decided to march next year.  It was sweet to watch these children marching with pictures of family members from WWI or WWII, the veterans medals pinned proudly on the right side of their chest.  Below are a few of the moments I captured.

The different flags

I loved the little girl proudly waving her flag

I think the following is my favorite picture.  I took this while a bugler was playing Taps and the flag was being lowered. 

After the service was over we went back to the house to relax for a few hours before we met a group of friends from church at one of the local parks.  It was great fun and we had a lovely spread of cheese, olives, fruit, etc.  It was a lovely way to end the holiday.

So, there are my ups and downs for the week.  It feels like my anti-inflammatory medicine is kicking in, so there's another positive for the week!

Monday, April 16, 2012

It's Not Just Any Easter Show, It's Royal

One of the big things we kept hearing to do over the kids holidays was the Sydney Easter Show.  We figured we might as well check it out since we were around.  We booked a deal with a nearby hotel that included tickets to the Show and headed out Friday early afternoon.  We spent a good portion of our afternoon wandering around Parramatta, a suburb of Sydney.  The Paramatta River runs through the town and has a lovely walking path around it.  We walked along there for some time, letting the kiddos roam up and the hills while we strolled.  It was a lovely, lazy afternoon.  Afterwards, we freshened up at the hotel and walked to a restaurant.  After a good dinner, we headed back to get the boys in bed on time.  From what we heard, the next day was going to be full on - and it was.

We got up, had a big breakfast, and drove off to the show.  The show is on the Olympic Grounds, which was exciting to me.  It was hard to get good shots, since there were a lot of people around.  This is a picture of ANZ (pronounced anzed) Stadium.  I love how everything around it reflected the Olympic Cauldron - even the lightposts, which you can't see in this shot.  I was hoping they had removed the Olympic Cauldron from inside the stadium.  I distinctly remember thinking how beautiful the fire and water combination was during the 2000 Olympic Opening Ceremony and never thought I'd be standing so close to it.  Luckily, it had been revamped into a fountain in a memorial park next to the stadium, where children are able to romp through.  I was able to finally get a picture without people in it.

Olympic Cauldron
The theme of this year's show - and around Australia in general - is Year of the Farmer.  So off we were to find out where our food comes from.  We hardly got in the door of the exhibition hall before the kids were begging to see the tractor.

Impressive tire, or should I say tyre, size

Next the boys picked some wheat and ground up the little bit they had.  As you can see, this was serious work.  Both boys were convinced they had made enough flour to make a pie crust.  When I said they'd have to make a lot more flour to make a pie crust they were disappointed -until they were handed a small tin with dough in it.  On went the aprons and they were off making meat pies.

Nathan quickly discovered that you can't roll the dough back and forth, you have to pick up the rolling pin first.  He has decided to help me the next time I make anything that needs rolling out.  Will, on the other hand, needed a bit more help.  I was glad because while Bri was helping him, I was able to snap this picture.

Placing the pie crust in the tin

I know it doesn't show a whole lot, but I love the juxtaposition of their hands together.  So sweet!

They were then told to place their pie crusts in the oven.  To Nath's chagrin, it was pretend.  He was ready to eat his own meat pie!

The kids weren't as excited to see the cows and learn how they became meat, so we pressed onward to the fruit stand.  We bought the boys "wobbly apples" - they had been cored and sliced in a spiral, which the boys had fun making be a spring.  Bri and I shared a freshly squeezed glass of apple juice - yum!

Chin up, Nath!

Out the door we went to the animal nursery.  On the way there we stopped for the boys to participate in a sack race.  They were happy to do so.  Both boys tried their hardest, but Nathan was able to pull out the win!  We told him it must have been the extra power from his Wallabies shirt.  He told us it was because he was the oldest!  Maybe, but we were proud of him anyway!

After all of that excitement, we were off to the animal nursery.  It's always amusing to me how excited children are to see farm animals.  It's like they've never been to a farm (they have) or a petting zoo (they have) before!  Both boys wanted feed cups for the animals.  Against our better judgement, we bought two.  See, Will has a history of getting bored, or perhaps frightened, and being done feeding the animals while there's about 3/4 of his feed left.  Of course, this happened again.  I don't have that great of pictures in the barn because the kids kept moving.  They did not like the bossy sheep and goats.  Here are a few anyway.

The white chicken didn't want to share

Will was begging us to take him on some of the carnival rides.  Nathan wanted nothing to do with them, mostly because they were so loud.  I think he was a bit afraid as well, but there was no way we were getting him on anything.  Brian and I took turns sharing rides with Will.  Brian got a few pictures of us on the rides-  not the best looking, since you had to aim the camera over a fence and hope you were getting something!  But they at least convey the fun Will was having!

This was his favorite ride.  It was a kiddie coaster with dinosaurs at the bottom.  It went a bit faster then I was expecting, but nothing Will couldn't handle.  He did make sure I kept my arm around him, however.

This is one of my favorite pictures, just for the look of total joy on Will's face.  He also went through a fun house and down one of those big slides, both with Brian, but the kiddie coasters were clearly his favorite type of ride, by a mile.

Nathan played the dart game.  He actually did quite well - hit a balloon every time.  I was surprised with his accuracy.  I guess the dartboard in his room is paying off - if you want to call a cheap, green monkey a payout!  He was very proud and we made a big deal out of it.

I know this bored the boys to tears, but I wanted to go and see the flower exhibition.  I am still in awe of the different types of plants around here.  Sure, there are roses, daisies, etc.  but most everything looks so foreign and so, I suppose, tropical to me!  I wish I remembered the names of the flowers, but I don't.    I had the boys pick out their favorite flowers and took a few pictures.  We liked the bright colors and the spikiness of these flowers. 

I loved the dress below made out of flora.  It didn't do much for anybody else, but I wanted to share it anyway.

Nathan was actually very fascinated with the Bonsai display, which does seem like something Nathan would like!  He's very specific and likes those type of lines.  He and Brian spent some time exploring that display.

While we were in that hall, they were having a competition for florists to decorate a cardboard tube large enough to hold a present.  They had to pick out the flowers they wanted to use before they knew the task.  We didn't stick around to see what they did because the boys were getting antsy.

My artsy picture of a Dahlia

We also watched a high dive show.  It was Sinbad and his pirates in search of the golden pineapple.  The boys were impressed and enjoyed the mild boyish humor in the show.  I'm impressed that anybody has the guts to dive off a platform several stories high into a 3 metre deep pool!

After walking through several more exhibit halls, we were tired and ready for some food.  As you can see, Will very much enjoyed his spaghetti!  We were trying to eat so we were in time to watch the rodeo.  Nathan really wanted to see people riding bulls, and we were happy to try.  However, before the rodeo we had to go get the boys showbags.  I had never heard of a showbag, but it was clear it was a big thing to do - they had an entire exhibit hall dedicated to showbags.  Basically, they are about the size of a shopping bag, filled with whatever topic in which you are interested.  And it wasn't just for the kids!  They had showbags with perfumes, AFL gear, and magazines - all for a variety of different prices.  We tried to interest the kids in some of the AFL bags, but they only had one interest - candy.  So we bought them one fairly large bag and told them they could share.  All sugared off, we were off to Commonwealth stadium to watch the rodeo.

The stadium was packed.  We had to split up and sit a few rows apart.  Unfortunately, all of the close seats were reserved for members- of what, I don't know.  There was a big screen to watch, so that was good. 

For some reason, I don't associate cowboys with Australia, but after I thought about it, it makes since.  They do have the Outback and raise lots of cattle, so I suppose cowboys make sense. 

Apparently, every year it's a contest between New South Wales and Queensland.  Nathan got really into it, cheering loudly for the NSW guys.  He was very excited when they announced that one of the cowboys was from Raymond Terrace, which is very close to where we live.  Unfortunately, a NSW victory was not to be had.  It was a very close score and we got to see some exciting moments.  Nathan loved the bull riding and was beside himself with excitement when one of the bulls began snorting and pawing the ground.  Will was bored with most of it, but did seem to enjoy the barrel racing.  Brian and I both thought it was quite good fun.  I mean, how can it not be fun to watch a guy jump off a horse and wrestle a steer to the ground?

I think they're all a bit crazy

Fun with long exposures
It was getting fairly late and we had a 2 1/2 hour drive ahead of us, so we started thinking about heading home.  We had promised Will one of the battery powered twirly light up thingies (it's official name), so we stopped and let both of the boys pick one out.  They were very happy.  I told them they could light paint with them, so we set up a shot and let them go to town!  I also had them stop on the way out so I could just get a picture of the toy spinning.  And I couldn't resist taking a picture of one of the rides with the lights on spinning around.  It's fun to know how to work your camera!

And with that, we said goodbye to the Show.  I was right, it was a lot like I remember the Ohio State Fair being.  Lots of agricultural things, rides for the kids to enjoy, and competitions all around.  We had a great time, although I was reminded how much I hate being in large crowds.  The kids slept most of the way home.  We got them in their own beds around 11:00pm.  We crashed shortly after!  It was a long, but very fun day all around!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Easter Weekend

Previous to this weekend, everyone had seen a Koala in the wild except Brian.  I saw my first one a couple of weeks ago on Will's school excursion.  Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me.  We aren't allowed to take pictures at school because of child safety reasons.  While I understand and respect that, it's a bummer not being able to take pictures of your children in school plays, but I digress.  It would've been too much to have kept up with one of the kids in my group and take photos at the same time.

Nathan saw Koalas on his excursion as well.  Since the Tilligerry Boardwalk is a well known place to see Koalas and Nathan wanted us to show us where he went, off we were to the Boardwalk.

We stopped in at the welcome center and were greeted by a couple.  I think it had been a slow day and they were happy to see us.  The husband immediately walked us outside to where he knew a Koala was.

Sorry his back was turned.  I tried to get a picture from the other side, but his face was still hidden.  It's not my fault that Eucalyptus leaves basically make Koalas high and thus they sleep so much!  Nathan's fun fact for everyone - the Eucalyptus is poisonous to humans, but Koalas are cool because they can digest the leaves!

I was surprised at how big Koalas actually are.  For some reason I had it in my head that they would be smaller.  They are pretty hard creatures to spot since their color blends into the tree.  Apparently in December they run rampant looking for mates.  Almost everyone we've talked to has a story about a Koala running across their path to get to another tree. 

I was thrilled that I found another Koala on my own in the trees later in the day.  I don't actually have a picture since I don't have a telephoto lens - yet.  I'm waiting on the one I ordered to be delivered as an early Mother's Day present.

The gentleman also told us about the boardwalk area.  It is a reclaimed space that used to be a sand mine for minerals.  In the past 15 years an operation of volunteers has tended the area to attempt to bring it back to it's original habitat.  They have their own nursery of indigenous plants that is used not only for their habitat, but also for income.  Apparently they have contracts with several of the mining companies that use Tilligerry as their sole source when replanting after mining.  It's a pretty impressive venture for a group run only by volunteers. 

After talking with us for a minute, he sent us on our way.  The boardwalk runs mainly around the bay, which was at low tide.  I would be curious to go back at high tide.  Nathan claims to have seen stingrays and dolphins.

A heron wading
When I was taking this picture, we were trying to figure out what all the little dots in the foreground were.  They began to move and we decided they were probably crabs.  I climbed down to investigate.  They only way I can describe it is a swarm of these little guys.  It looked like they were being herded by the bigger crabs into the tidal pools and underground.  I stood still long enough to get a picture of one so you can see a bit of detail.

Mere seconds before Will terrified him
We found out that these are called Soldier Crabs.  They have different legs then most crabs and are therefore able to walk forward, instead of having to sidle along.  They also move in large groups, like soldiers marching. 

After a bit more wandering we headed home to dye Easter eggs.  This isn't a local tradition at all, so I bought food coloring instead of a kit.  The only eggs around here are brown ones and I was concerned about how they would take the color.  I did a little bit of Internet research - thank goodness for Google! - and found out that it shouldn't be a problem, they just needed to soak longer in the dye.  We had the boys drop the eggs in and then go play for about 10 minutes for the first round.  When they came out, it was apparent that these were the most saturated eggs we have ever dyed.  We told the boys after the first round they could leave the eggs in for as long or as little as they wanted.  Interestingly, they mostly left the eggs in for a fairly long time because they loved the rich colors, as did we.

Proud of their work
My favorite egg is the blue on closest to Nathan.  Will liked the red ones and Nathan liked the dark purple one in the front row closest to him.  We had fun hiding the eggs for the boys - they blended into things beautifully!

The rest of the weekend was a fairly normal one.  Church on Sunday and hanging out at the beach most of the rest of the time.  Brian had Good Friday and Easter Monday off of work.  He has been fairly busy for the past few weeks, so it was nice to just relax and be together.

We will be off to the Sydney Royal Easter Show soon.  I'm really looking forward to it.  It looks like a State Fair sort of event.  We're spending the night and then heading in for a full day there.  It's held on the Olympic Grounds, which I'm looking forward to seeing as well!  Hopefully my new lens will be in by that point....

Monday, April 9, 2012

Rock Pools and Climbing

Some rock pools at low tide
Since Nathan had his school excursion, he's been dying to take us to the places he visited.  So far we have been to two of the three places.  His class has been studying wet and dry environments throughout the first term, so his class went to visit some rock pools at Kingsley Beach.  He told us about all of the creatures he had found in the pools.  I told him how I had always wanted to find starfish and other things in rock or tidal pools, so at his insistence we went exploring two weekends ago.

We set out on a beautiful morning at low tide and began rock hopping along the pools.  Nathan was quick to point out several Sea stars.

They are in the crevice of the rocks - kind of a grayish color.  There is water all around the sea grass and sea stars - it's just that clear.

We didn't find much else -  a few fish darting around and some decent size crabs.  Unfortunately, the crabs move too quickly to get pictures of unless you stand still for awhile, which doesn't happen with two boys!

We decided to do some rock hopping on the other side of the beach.  Brian had climbed on that side before and reported back that the view was amazing.  He was right.

Rugged coastline between Kingsley and Little Kingsley

The boys did brilliantly climbing.  They actually listened to what we said.  Although there weren't any places that were horribly difficult, they still could have gotten hurt if they hadn't listened.  I'm glad they did as it was simply stunning to sit and watch the ocean do it's thing.

I finally got the boys to sit still long enough to get a decent picture.  It's not my favorite picture of them, but it does give you some scale of how high up we were.

I love living in a place with some many things to do with the children.  There are so many beaches around here with different features - some rocky, some with dunes, and one where dogs run free.  I will try to get some pictures from this weekend up tomorrow.  It's taken me awhile to deal with taking RAW pictures and manipulating them, then changing them to JPEGs so they will upload, so I'm a bit behind.  However, you can look forward to a Koala and some interesting crabs!