Thursday, November 20, 2008

Australia Trip: Boat Trip Into Sydney

For our first day in Sydney, we picked up the "River Cat" in a suburb, which is a form of mass transit into Sydney. It was great to see all of the fancy river front homes along the Parramatta River. We even saw a glimpse of the Olympic Village. As we got closer and closer to Sydney Harbor, we had amazing views of the Harbor Bridge and the skyline.

Ethan on the River Cat with the Harbor Bridge in the background.
Darling Harbor

Then, after a stop at Darling Harbor, we came under the Harbor Bridge and got that signature Sydney shot: the Opera House!

It is an amazing building!

We got off the boat at Circular Quay and had to walk a bit to the Opera House. All along the sidewalk area there are outdoor cafes and street performers. The boys got a kick out of this one:

A "Living" Statue

We got to have a "private" tour of the Opera House because Dad has a hard time with stairs. We got to see 3 of the 4 theaters that are in the Opera House complex. My favorite was the Concert Hall which seats over 2000 people! It had wood floors, wood ceilings, wood walls, wood seats...all for the best acoustics. I would love to see a concert there! We weren't allowed to take pictures inside the theaters, but our tour guide took a picture of us next to one of the concrete pieces that forms one side of a "sail."

The construction aspect was very interesting!

This stairway outside the Concert Hall took my breath away!

The roof of the Opera House is made of thousands of these little tiles that are actually cream-colored with a few gray tiles thrown in. Our guide said the color of the tiles actually makes the roof look different colors depending on the weather or time of day. I always thought it was just white!

This side of the Opera House reminds me of Spanish Conquistador helmets. The architect wanted all of the stairs up to the Opera House because he wanted it to be like a Mayan temple, only a temple to the arts.

Here's yet another shot of the Opera House (I took a lot!), only from a different view...on the other side of Circular Quay. The Concert Hall is the larger sails closest to this side; the Opera Theater is on the other side. The smaller sails on the right are a restaurant.

After our tour, we ate an extremely overpriced, yet quite tasty lunch at one of the outdoor cafes. Dad was done walking for the day, so the rest of us set out for "The Rocks," the oldest section of Sydney. Some of the original buildings still stand there, but it is now mostly a trendy shopping and eating area.

This is Cadman's Cottage, one of the original buildings from the first settlement of Sydney.

This is one of the narrow alleys in "The Rocks" neighborhood.

After browsing in the crazily overpriced shops, we found a cute ice cream place and headed back to meet Dad.

One more shot of the bridge and Opera House as we left Sydney Harbor.

After our 1-hour boat ride back, we ran a few errands and the boys begged to go to "Hungry Jack's, " or the Australian version of Burger King.
It was just like home, but we had to try it!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Kevin: My "Oh, SOOO Two" Year Old

Today started out as a normal day. This morning it was rather windy and rainy outside, so Kevin and I curled up on the couch. He was watching a movie and snacking on popcorn and I was reading a book. After a little while, Kevin said to me, "Nose. Oh, Mommy, nose," and started pointing at his nose. He has had a bit of a runny nose lately, so I put down my book and looked at his nose. It looked normal, only, there was something in there that didn't belong. Upon closer examination, I discovered it was a popcorn kernal!

So, once I got over my shock, I went for a tissue. I told him to blow, and it flew out into the tissue. Luckily, Kevin is very adept at blowing his nose. Phew, I thought. Disaster averted. Then, Kevin started pointing at his nose again..."Nose, Mommy. Nose!" I looked into the other nostril...yes, another popcorn kernal where it shouldn't be. Only this time it was little higher. I realized I probably hadn't helped matters when I plugged the one nostril to help him blow out the first popcorn kernal. After a few more blows of the nose, the 2nd kernal popped out. Whew! Disaster diverted! And congrats to me for not freaking out too much. I dumped out the rest of the popcorn and told him "No popcorn in your nose!"

We settled back into our movie/book mode. After a few minutes, Kevin grabbed my hand and tried to put my finger in his nose. I thought, what is with this kid and his obsession with putting things in his nose?! "Nose, mommy. Nose!" Not again! This time, I looked a little deeper into the first nostril and I saw what I thought must be another kernal...only it was WAY up in there! This begged the rhetorial question, How many popcorn kernals can a two-year old fit in his nose?!

After a thorough examination, I determined there was just the one kernal still in his nose. We then set about a more vigorous nose blowing session. Blow, blow, blow...nothing! I peeked in his hadn't moved at all! After a few more tries, I had a fleeting image of my tweezers upstairs in my bathroom drawer, but then came to my senses and decided this was a job for the professionals!

We hopped into the car, drove to Urgent Care, and signed in. I knew the nurses would love it when I told them why my son needed to be seen...she was remarkably composed when I said, "He has a popcorn kernal stuck in his nose." She even showed the appropriate amount of compassion. After a brief wait, and a sucker from the receptionist, we were called back. The nurse did a brief work-up, asked the usual questions, then told me they had another kid in yesterday with a sticker up his nose. Is there some sort of season for these things, or does it just happen all of the time?

Shortly thereafter, a pleasant looking doctor came in. He did a great job of showing Kevin his little light (and showing me the soft, bendable little instrument he was going to be shoving up my son's nose). His first attempt was made with Kevin sitting in my lap, my hand tilting Kevin's head back and the nurse holding Kevin's hands. Kevin was intrigued at first, but then quickly lost interest when the doctor shoved the little instrument up his nose. "I can't get at it from this angle," the doctor said.

So, we laid Kevin down with his head off of the examination table. My job was to hold his feet and hands, while the nurse held his head and shoulders. Once Kevin got wind of this, he was NOT interested. He squirmed and wiggled, but he never cried. Finally, he gave up, and the doctor popped that popcorn kernal out in 10 seconds flat! Hooray! Kevin sat up and we all gave him high-fives! The nurse gave him yet another sucker, as well as a sticker, and we were on our way.

Now, I have heard stories about children putting things into their noses, but I've never really understood it. Why would they do such a thing? Where were their parents? This has never happened to me before...Trevor and Ethan never showed the slightest interest in shoving anything up their noses. Only, Kevin is a rather interesting child. I'm actually not all that surprised that he would do such a thing. In fact, he has always been a little obsessed with popcorn know, the ones at the bottom of your bowl of popcorn. I try to pick as many as I can out when I give him a bowl of popcorn, along with the admonition, "Don't eat the seeds...they're yucky!" I guess he found another thing to do with them. And I can honestly say, I wouldn't be surprised if he tried that again.

I wonder where I can get one of those flexible little plastic tool things...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Australia Trip: Blue Mountains

My parents live in a very beautiful part of Australia, the Blue Mountains. Their town is called Springwood, a small town at the base of the Blue Mountains. It reminded me of the small towns and villages you drive through in the more rural parts of England, like the Cotswolds...small little buildings, people bustling about in the morning on the main street, going in and out of little shops for their morning errands. As you wind your way up the Blue Mountains, you find one of these small towns every10 to 15 kilometres or so. It was so green and lush, and the most amazing birds were flying around.

The day after we got there, Mom and Dad wanted to show us around their area. It was a very drizzly, foggy morning, and I was glad we had our jackets with us! (It is spring there right now, so the weather was sort of hit or miss.)

We drove up the main highway into Leura, a cute town where one of the branches of the church meet. They showed us their very unique church building:
It has a sort of open courtyard around it. The people are very proud of it because a prominent Australian architect designed it. It definitely stands out in the town!

We drove to Echo Point, which is a popular scenic spot because you can see the Blue Mountain valley, and the famous "Three Sisters," a rocky outcropping with 3 big rocks. Unfortunately, the fog had not lifted yet, and the view was completely hidden.

That's Trevor demonstrating the lack of view. We hit the gift shop, then headed to nearby Katoomba to do a little shopping until the fog cleared. Mom and I went to a neat rock shop that specialized in opals and other native Australian rocks. The owner was originally from France (that's a strange combination of accent for you: French and Australian!) He hand cut and polished all of the stones himself. The opal jewelry was a little pricey, but Mom and I both found these amazing zebra stones there. He had amazing things! Robert and boys hit the local "discount stores" to see what they had. They ended up buying me "Tiffany" cookies (they weren't very good.)

The fog hadn't lifted and we were all hungry, so Mom and Dad took us to their favorite meat pie place, "Mountain High Pies." They were very good! They served them with a side of "mash" (mashed potatoes), peas (mashed peas), or pumpkin (mashed pumpkin). I chose the pumpkin...very tasty!
After lunch, we decided to try Echo Point again...this time the fog had cleared and the view was very different!


It reminded me of the Grand Canyon, with the reddish rock and the flat peaks jutting out, only it was covered with trees and the bottom was all rain forest. Of course, it also wasn't nearly as big as the Grand Canyon, but still very impressive! Here's a shot of the "Three Sisters":

At the base of the first "Sister" on the left, there is a little bridge. We decided we needed to go on the little bridge. The sign said it was a 1o minute walk, so Mom decided to accompany us (Dad stayed behind.) The trail started out nice, but then it got steeper and steeper, and muddier and muddier. Then we got to some "stairs" that led down to the bridge. I use the term "stairs" loosely because they were extremely steep, extremely large, and extremely uneven from all of the feet that had climbed them. Mom opted out for the crazy steep stair trip, so the rest of us ventured down them. Did I mention they were also extremely slippery because of the rain and drizzle earlier?Anyway, we made it down in one piece (thank goodness for hand rails, which were there every now and then.) The bridge ended up not being that exciting, but the view was beautiful. It was also very crowded with teenagers on a school field trip, so my pictures don't do it justice.

There was also an Aboriginal didgeridoo player at Echo Point. Mom and Dad actually knew him from someone in the branch...sort of a friend of a friend. His name was "Goombalah," although I'm not sure I'm spelling it right. The boys were a bit intimidated by him to sit for a picture, so I got to be in it all by myself!

Another shot with the "Three Sisters" in the background:
After snapping a million shots at Echo Point, we headed down to "Scenic World," home of the world's steepest funicular railway. It takes you down...straight down to the bottom of the Blue Mountain canyon into the rainforest. The ride was pretty seatbelts. They played the theme from "Indiana Jones" as we went down, at a 56 degree incline! They had all sorts of protective bars and things on the cars, so we didn't get a good picture. But they had an older, less safe looking railway car set up at the bottom for pictures.

I didn't put a lot of pictures in from our walk through the rainforest because they just didn't do it justice. I've never been in a rainforest-type environment, dark, and the most beautiful greens and crazy plants, like 15 foot ferns and vines growing everywhere. It was so amazing just to stroll through and looks at all of the plants and trees...the boys loved it, too! After our stroll through the rainforest, we took a huge cable car back up to the top...a fun ride with great views!

Dad then told us he wanted to show us another great lookout point they discovered while visiting a less active lady one day. The clouds had started to roll back in, but it was still amazing! There was even an amazing waterfall...a huge drop down to the valley floor. There was hardly anyone at the that lookout point...a well-kept secret!

Dad then took us on his favorite scenic drive...down to "Megalong Valley." The road was very twisty and turny...Dad said he reminded him of the road to Hanna in Hawaii. At the end of the winding road, we got to the valley where there the trees cleared and there was beautiful farm land. With the Blue Mountains on either side of the valley, it reminded me of a scene from "The Man From Snowy River." Anyway, it was just beautiful. I had Robert pull of the road several times for pictures...we almost got stuck in a mud puddle at one point.

It was a great beautiful. My parents get to drive through these places every day as they teach the gospel and serve the people of this area.

And they even get to see crazy signs like this:

(By the way, that's a wombat in the bottom left-hand corner...but we didn't get to see any one our drive!)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Australia Trip: Featherdale Wildlife Park

One of our favorite days in Australia was spent at Featherdale Wildlife Park. Originally we thought we would only spend a few hours there, but we ended up spending the entire day! We saw the most amazing animals and even had a chance to get up close and personal with some of them.

Here's a Tasmanian Devil...
he reminds me of a "R.O.U.S." in "The Princess Bride"

Trevor really bonded with this pink cockatoo...
every time he walked by, the bird would scramble across the enclosure to see him.
He even bit a hole in the rim of Trevor's hat!

How cute is this baby koala?
He was hanging on for dear life while his mom crawled around the branches

Robert got to hold a kookaburra.
A little while later, we heard his crazy laughing call.

This has to be the hugest crocodile I've ever seen in real life.
He sat so still, we all thought he was a statue at first.
(That's Trevor behind the glass reacting to his large size.)

How albino peacock with his feathers out?!
All of the peacocks were showing off that day...they really do shake their tail feathers!
(They are also very loud.)

Ethan and Trevor got up close and personal with this koala.
Koalas sleep 20 hours a day!

Trevor got to feed this adorable wallaby, sort of like a mini kangaroo.
It's some sort of feed inside of a plain ice cream cone.

It was tricky finding a hungry one...
they were just roaming around the park!
This one decided he like the cone better than the feed.

I couldn't get over this crazy pheasant bird...
that yellow hair on his head was almost neon!
(It was hard to get a picture because he kept running around.)

The boys with Grandpa

We also saw the inland taipan (the most venomous snake in the world), wombats (sort of like furry little pigs), frill-necked lizards, emus, the tallest storks ever, and a cassowary (the strangest, dinosauriest bird I've ever seen). An amazing day!