Sunday, July 15, 2012

Baby, You're a Sparkler

Big kids (Brian) like to have fun too!
The boys loved my Wool Spinning pictures and were keen to try it themselves.  Convinced that spinning lit steel wool around on a chain was not the safest thing in the world for them to do, I promised them we could do sparklers on Independence Day.  They have done sparklers before and (mostly) enjoyed them.  Nathan is always a bit skittish of the large booms associated with fireworks, so I was pretty certain he'd be happier.  It took me a while to convince him that they don't actually celebrate Independence Day in Australia, but Nathan was finally excited to try out the sparklers.  Unfortunately, it was cold and pouring down rain that evening, so we had to postpone until weather and life cooperated. 

Last Sunday evening turned out to be beautiful.  There was a beautiful starry sky and a bit of warmth still hanging around.  I set up my camera on the tripod and off we went.  The boys had a blast! 

I tried to explain he needed to stand still.  I was unsuccessful.
Will waved his low enough that you could see his face

Nathan having fun

Nathan and Will together

All my boys together!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Chocolate and Snow, What More Could a Kid Ask For?

Christmas in July is a very big thing around this area.  The boy's school is having a Christmas dinner as a fund raiser, local stores are selling Christmas items, many places are having major sales, and the Hunter Valley Gardens is having snow.  I had already decided to take the kids to see the snow while they were on holiday, but when we discovered it coincided with the Chocolate Festival, Brian decided he wanted to go as well.  So off we went last Saturday.

It was a beautiful day out - mostly sunny and 19 C (or 66 F), so apparently everyone in the region decided to show up as well!  We waited for quite a bit to just get in the gate.  Luckily for the boys, and for us, they behaved incredibly well.  Once we were actually in the gates the crowd spread out fairly decently - except for the snow events. 

The first place we headed into was where chefs (artists?) were making beautiful sculptures out of chocolate.  It felt like that dessert competition they show on TLC.  I can't imagine the patience and steady hand it takes to make these works of art!  Even the boys were interested in what they were making.  Plus, they liked the fact that it smelled like a fondue pot - yum!

The boys were hungry - probably from the smells - so we decided to have afternoon tea instead of lunch.  Seemed like a very wise decision, since the line to the cafe was huge and there was a large tent filled with chocolate vendors.  Off we went, almost all to the same stand.  Will was the only dissenter - he had seen a stand with beautifully decorated cupcakes and there was no talking him out of one.  I was surprised he didn't want the TimTam one, but he was dead set on the Rocky Road Cupcake.  It was massive and he only ate about half of it.  So we wrapped it up for later, knowing you can't keep a growing boy filled for long!

Almost as big as his head, which is saying a lot!

So off we went in search of snow.  It wasn't hard to find, just look for most of the crowd!  The boys decided they wanted to go sled riding first.  After - you guessed it - standing in line for some time they were ready to go!

You can't tell here, but Brian and I were seriously amused watching people that weren't used to snow trying to walk on it.  In their defense it was more like ice, but I'm not sure that made it any less funny to us.  I believe we managed to not laugh out loud, although I did have to chuckle at the people wearing ski pants, mittens, and beanies!


Complete joy

Off we went to the snowball fight that was set up over a volleyball net.  That didn't last very long!  Like I previously said, it was more snow than ice.  They both got hit once and decided that was enough.  Smart kiddos!

We had some time to kill before the appointed hour for the boys to ice skate, so off we went to explore a bit.  I love wandering around gardens and made the kids wait while I set up some photos, which they did very well.

See, some leaves do change color here

Orange trees bearing fruit while there was snow around
Why, yes indeed!
View from the lookout
I'm a sucker for a purple rose

The boys both very much wanted to have a go at ice skating, something they've never tried before.  Ice skating always hurt my ankles pre-arthritis, so Brian was going to wrangle the boys by himself.  I was happy enough to take pictures, but was praying there wouldn't be a major catastrophe.  After all, I do know my Wills fairly well, and the kid trips over air on a regular basis!  Nathan doesn't seem particularly inclined to sports, so we figured they'd both take a tumble and be done.  Boy, were we wrong!  Nath took off like a duck to water!

I promise, this was at the beginning of the session

Will, however, spent most of his time like this:

When he wasn't on his bum
I think this next photo series sums the entire ice skating experience up.  The announcement had just come on that their session was over.  Brian is trying to get the kids off the ice quickly - Nathan, because he's having to good of a time to leave and for Will, well, I do believe this is a case of a picture being worth a thousand words!




and both gone!

To both their credit, whenever they fell they just got back up and kept going.  In the above pictures, Will was giggling the entire way.  Also, they were on an ice-like substance.  I don't think a parent skated by without uttering "Boy, there's no grip on this" or "It's horribly slippery and harder to skate out there."

We stayed at the Gardens a bit longer, then packed it in and called it a day.  Everyone was tired and hungry by the time we got home, so we just headed out to the local RSL club for dinner.

We were thankful for such a lovely time together as a family and happy that the next day brought good weather as well.  That meant the sparklers were finally a go...

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Celebrations in July

Before we moved to Australia, we had decided to keep celebrating American holiday, albeit in a toned down fashion.  We had a mini-Thanksgiving - yet still were eating off leftovers for quite awhile.  So when it came around to the 4th of July we decided to have some other people over, even though it was a different culture.  This became less of a concern when the Rehberg family began attending our church a few months ago.  Like us, they are ex-pats from the US.  Sara stays at home, taking care of Natalya and is currently pregnant with a little girl.  Her husband, Shane, is an engineer.  They are a lovely family that have quickly become good friends, and I'm certain we'd be friends even if we didn't have our "home" in common.  Since she was able to take more pictures at the party, I'm linking to her blog post on our Independence Day celebration.

Brian and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary today, July 8th.  We actually went out to dinner on Friday night to a lovely restaurant called Ritual.  I had been hearing wonderful things about dinner there, and it did not disappoint.  I will do my best at explaining, but I would strongly suggest clicking on the above link to hear the owner's description of the restaurant.

Ritual is very into the science of food and taste.  They believe it is more important to base someone's meal on their taste, instead of just having the diner pick from words on a menu.  Prior to each course, the staff brings you two spoons with the main flavor of the options.  Based on whichever taste you preferred, food was prepared for you - without knowing what you would be receiving.  For example, for our entree course we had a bite of seafood and smoke and a bite of tequila, citrus, and Tabasco sauce.  Both were wonderful and it was very difficult to choose.  I eventually picked the tequila and citrus, partially out of deference to Brian's shellfish intolerance issue.  I was presented scallops done three different ways.  These were by far the best scallops I have ever had.  Everything about them, from the actual flavor to the texture, was phenomenal.

For the owner and chef, this was not just about the taste of the food, but the presentation and science as well, attempting to give you the best food experience possible.  As an appetizer we were given a complete soup in one bite.  It was presented on a spoon and looked like a red egg yolk.  You placed the entire bite in your mouth and were rewarded with an explosion of flavor.  The chef even explained the process to us at the end of the meal, as several of us were curious.  Brian's main course was presented over a Zen garden and included a Tree of Life made out of wire, with dried red cabbage and a dumpling-ish item hanging down like leaves.  It was beautiful and he did take a picture of it with his cell phone.  I've been urging him to put it on Facebook, as I can't do the description justice.

One thing I discovered was that it's not that I don't like duck, I've just never been served good duck!  I even was game to try the Bruleed Pate, and it was delicious as well. 

The whole meal went for about 3 and 1/2 hours.  We were seated at a large table with three other couples.  It was great fun to talk with other people we probably never would have met otherwise.  It would also be a blast to go there with a group of friends, and we are hoping to organize a dinner around Christmas with several other couples.  I plan on bringing my camera with me, as it is impossible to do justice to have lovely the dinner was.  It was an incredible way to celebrate our marriage!

None of this would have been possible without our friends Emmy and Gavin.  Our babysitting situation went pear shaped at the last moment.  What a wonderful feeling to know we have several good friends that we could call on in a pinch - of course we are happy to babysit their two girls at any time! 

On Saturday we went to the Hunter Valley Gardens for Snow Days.  I can't wait to go through my pictures and share them with you.  Who knew you could find a place that had "snow" and orange trees with fruit on them at the same place!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Elephant Toothpaste

Knowing that the boys had school holiday coming up, I began to look around for some fun indoor activities for rainy days.  Being a girl, I headed straight to Pinterest hoping to find some fun, new ideas.  I lucked out on a couple of different websites, especially one that had science experiments for children using pantry staples.  The boys and I decided that the one called Elephant Toothpaste looked like fun.  Luckily for me, I had everything handy except for the higher strength hydrogen peroxide, which was easy enough to find.

We had lucked out for the first week of the holiday and last Saturday was especially brilliant.  Sadly this week has not been the same story.  We did have one beautiful day where the kiddos and I went for a walk down to the beach and ran into some friends at the playground, but the rest of the time has been duck weather.  So we forged ahead making the toothpaste.  The boys were excited.  I had read through the process several times and felt confident I was ready to assist.  Everything seemed straightforward and the science seemed to make sense.  Admittedly, I'm probably not the best source to say it seemed scientific, but Brian agreed - and he graduated with a physics degree.

We started out with 2 empty and cleaned 600mL bottles.  We could have used a 2 litre, but of course the boys wanted different colors of toothpaste, which was fine.  In went the food color, hydrogen peroxide, and a bit of Dawn.

Not so happy about the camera, but you can see Nath's missing teeth

Next it said to put in the yeast mixed with water and quickly remove the funnel.  The liquid was supposed to bubble up quickly and then look like toothpaste being squeezed out of a tube by an elephant.  However, here is what we got:

It's a pretty good sad face, no?

I decided that I was smarter than a children's science experiment, so I mixed up another batch of yeast and water, waited 5 minutes, and then poured it in to each boy's bottle.  We anxiously waited for a few more minutes until -

Sorry for the thumb in front of his face.  He threw that in at the last minute.

So even though it didn't perform as expected, the boys had a good time with it.  I'm not sure how it could have been done better - maybe a higher percentage hydrogen peroxide or more yeast?  If it worked better I would've linked back to the site.  It's not hard to find on google and maybe you can find a better one.  Here's one more picture of our end result: