Friday, March 30, 2012

Murramarang Camping Weekend, Part 2

On Sunday (let's just call it The Big Day), I counted the minutes until opening time at Birdland Animal Park in the nearby town of Batemans Bay.  We had already been to a couple of other animal parks and zoos, but I knew this park would hold a very special place in my heart.

It was fun to see a koala awake and eating; the most strenuous activity I had them seen perform previously was a slow opening of the eyes and closing, much like the "exercise" classes I held during my short-lived first job out of college as an Activities Director at a nursing home.

This particularly fluffy kangaroo was the prettiest I had ever seen, and I had to restrain myself from giving him zerbits on his belly.

I bravely walked by the ostriches, an animal that has haunted me ever since my parents cruelly forced me into a van for a drive around Lion Country Safari in Florida.  I don't know if I truly remember 'the incident' or if I have recreated the image from my parents teasing me about it for 30 years, but a) they made me sit next to the window and b) a ostrich was on the loose, running alongside our van maneuvering its thin hairy neck attempting to get inside the van (read: eat me).  If anyone has ever wanted to film a horror movie about ostriches, I've got the screenplay written in my head.  According to the website, Lion Country Safari is "The Best Value Theme Park in Florida".  That's right, folks, forget about Disney World--step right up and scar your children for half the price than at other parks!

Luckily, I escaped the ostriches yet again.  One of the park staff brought out a python we could hold, and Jackson jumped at the chance; Alex declined.

I'm not a fan of snakes, a fact that was confirmed when I held one for the picture.  Kenyon didn't take his eyes of the snake's head the whole time it was near him.

I love this picture of our friends Kylie and Issy; the look on Issy's face was how I felt.

And then.

The moment had arrived.

When the park staff brought out Bubbles the Wombat to be held (to be held!!), I swear my eyes filled with tears, but I fought them back because I didn't want to be the crazy lady who cried at the animal park.  Bubbles' hefty, stout body was placed into my arms much like my own boys were the moment they were born.  And I'm only slightly exaggerating when I say that the amount of joy I felt was pretty darn close to those days as well.

The claws, the pointy-tipped ears, the whiskery nose? CUTE OVERLOAD.

I reluctantly handed her off so other people could experience the utter joy of a wombat snuggle.

I'm already planning my next visit (and snuggle) when my parents come to visit next month.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Murramarang Camping Weekend, Part 1

We rolled into the Pebbly Beach campground at Murramarang National Park after dark on Friday; not an ideal situation but Sam and I wanted to make the most of our long weekend.  The fact that Jackson and Alex have become absolute experts at setting up their tent was a huge bonus--I think our tent bag wasn't even unzipped before the dim outline of their bodies were seen proudly declaring that they were done, and with nary a punch thrown or even a pinched word of frustration or superiority.  Seeing as though we're less than two weeks away from our next big road trip with plenty of opportunities for tent setup and breakdown, I'm psyched that this solid level of teamwork has carried over from our first big trip in January.

Pebbly Beach is a beautiful, well-maintained campground with nice cooking and restroom facilities, while still maintaining the rustic camping feeling.  Spotted gum trees meet a grassy field which runs to the ocean; it is here that we hoped to see what Pebbly Beach is known for: its kangaroos, which can be found right on the sand.

As morning light hit, I handed out slices of the berry coffee cake I'd made (to appease the rabid dragon Kenyon) and we quietly walked towards the beach, hoping to spot kangaroos.  As soon as we hit the path leading to the beach, we saw this handsome fella:
We observed for a few minutes and headed onward towards the beach.
We moved slowly and watched from afar, but as we made our way closer the kangaroos continued to nibble on the grass and plants without any signs of caution.

Even though they are used to humans, they are still wild animals, so we didn't pet them.

Okay, fine, we did pet them.  How could you not? They are fuzzy and soft and didn't seem to mind at all.
offering some beach grass to my new friend

Our friends Kylie and Josh and their two children Xavier and Issy showed up later that morning, troopers for making the drive and setting up camp for just one night (although we were thisclose to making you stay for another night, weren't we, Josh? Ha!).

It's great to have the beach right by our campsite, and we went to bed each night to the sounds of the waves.

Alex and Issy were fast friends since their initial meeting, and they enjoyed a long stint on the beach together working in the sand.

We wanted to share our American traditions of camping with our friends, so I brought s'mores fixins, or the best I could approximate in a country that doesn't make s'mores.  No graham crackers here, folks, so I used Marie biscuits.  And the marshmallows?  I don't know where to begin.  First of all, they're about 1/3 the size of their Kraft jet-puffed American counterpart.  And the strangest part is that you can't buy plain white marshmallows--all the bags come in an assortment of white and pink, and the pink is some sort of fruit flavor.  Let it be known that that's the kind of country Australia is, forcing flavored marshmallows on its consumers.  I futilely attempted to thwart the oppression and high-grade the bag for the white ones, but the fruity flavor permeates all the mallows.  If I became a United States ambassador to Australia, these are the sort of oppressive issues I'd bring to light.  Luckily, I had no problem finding dark chocolate.

Sam made sure there were plenty of sharpened sticks for the boys to play with, because camping isn't camping without flesh wounds and Lord of the Flies-esque savagery.

This campground is home to tons of gorgeous birds--king parrots, crimson rosellas, and rainbow lorikeets.  As we walked back from the beach in the afternoon, we saw this:

Another camper had brought bird food (which turns out to be a big no-no, but since we didn't know it at the time, we happily joined in for the feeding).

There was plenty of bird life outside of the parrot family as well.  Alex got up close and personal with a kookaburra while climbing a tree.

We also saw a satin bowerbird, which are known for their distinctive methods for attracting a mate.  They build a stick structure and decorate the outside with blue objects.  While I didn't get a picture of the bird, I thought this glimpse of his nest was worth sharing.

Just down the path from our campsite was a lovely gate that read 'Alexander's Cottage'.  Naturally, we needed to document our Alex's presence there.

All of this--the kangaroos, the birds, the beach, the quality time with friends--was awesome.  But the true highlight of the weekend (and surely, my year) was to happen the next day...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Queen of the Pack Mules

Sam took a 'sickie' on Monday and we headed out for a long weekend camping trip at Pebbly Beach in Murramarang National Park.  Friday had been a blur of preparations, and between meal planning, grocery shopping, Kenyon's swim lessons, and picking up the boys, it wasn't until we were well on the road that it dawned on me that I hadn't seen the two bags of grapes I bought...or the avocado...or the 3 peaches...or the loaf of bread...or the 8 bananas.

Let me preface this gripping tale of the Case of the Missing Groceries by saying that in Australia (or at least in the town where we live), you cannot take your grocery cart outside of Woolworths ('Woolies').  People leave their bags on racks just inside the store and pull their car up to a designated lane for easy access to loading.  It seems a bit cumbersome to do all that, so I have simply gotten accustomed to pack-muling it and carrying all 174,572 bags out to the car in one trip--and really, with my apartment building's elevator having been broken now for 47 days (not that anyone's counting), I am Queen of the Pack Mules, a title I never set out to earn but I think it's the only shot I've got at being a queen so I should relish it.

Anyway, after buying my groceries I had to go next door to the liquor store for ice, so the cashier told me to leave my groceries on the rack by the door.  I asked if they ever had any problem with theft, and she said, "No, absolutely not!  The cashiers all keep an eye on them, and we've never had a problem."  Righty-o...I took care of my errand next door and pulled my car up, Aussie-style, to load my groceries.  Then came the remaining blur of afternoon tasks, and there we were, back in the car heading south as I wondered where my myriad fruits and bread ran off to.

Folks, I know you're in suspense so I'll just solve this mystery for you--on my very first attempt to grocery shop Aussie-style, one of my grocery bags was stolen.  Not cool at all, especially since we were now 2.5 hours south, setting up tents in the dark as I wondered what kind of punishment would befall me when I broke the news to Kenyon that his morning oatmeal would not have chopped peaches.  You don't want to mess with this kid and his breakfast expectations; he's like a rabid, fire-breathing dragon in the early morning light.  There was also the fact that our peanut butter and jelly would have to be eaten by the globful instead of spread on bread since our bread was now sitting in someone else's kitchen (hopefully emanating massive amounts of bad karma if the universe is at all well-balanced).  And I'm fairly certain ensuring an adequate supply of bananas was a major topic in my wedding vows, and now Sam was going to have to go without for three whole days.  Grounds for divorce for sure; did the thief know that he was derailing almost 10 years of marriage with that one stolen bag of groceries?

Our friends Kylie and Josh, who joined us the next morning, were merciful enough to let us hog their bread among many other important foods, like beer, so I'm happy to report that our family is still in tact.

I'm happy to report that when I mentioned the missing grocery bag to the Woolies cashier today, she was more than willing to replace the lost goods even though I had no receipt.  I love businesses with good customer service.  But I'm not leaving my bags on that cart to be grocery-napped again; anyhow, the Queen of the Pack Mules needs to stay on her game lest someone else steal the crown.  There is no end in sight for the broken elevator, so I shall have a long reign.

Oh, and the actual camping portion of the weekend?  Epic.  Pictures to follow in the next post...

Saturday, March 17, 2012

They Can't All Be Gems

The loudest clap of thunder I've ever heard boomed last night, without lightning offering its typical courtesy flash as warning.  Sam, who had been snoring peacefully a minute before, said it sounded like the building next door collapsed.

Needless to say, we didn't wake up to a bright and sunny Saturday.
With all this talk of the weather, I should change the name of this blog to The Adventures of Annie and Her Seasonal Affective Disorder.

I had been dreaming of a nice weekend coffee...when they look like this at the wonderful little cafe Lee and Me, how could you not?  That's a spa day in a cup right there, folks.  It's less about the caffeine and more about the fact that I'm treating myself to something that's just for me.  Okay, although I'd like to think it's not, it's also about the caffeine, but still.  Who's paying attention to the fact that it's raining on another Saturday and that it has now been thirty-seven days since the elevator in our building has been broken (not that I'm counting or anything) when there's a swirly design in my frothed milk and a sprinkling of cocoa powder?  Not this lady.

Unfortunately, the dearth of parking spots in town and my groceries that needed to get in the fridge thwarted me from my side mission for coffee, the image of which was left drifting aimlessly in my brain and souring my mood.  As I opened the door to our condo (after lugging bags of groceries through wet puddles around the building, through three doors that need unlocking, and up flights of stairs), the first thing Sam said to me was "You didn't get yourself coffee".  That's what nearing 10 years of marriage gets you--coffee intake status upon first glance.  He mercifully got some going on the stove, and I made a poor substitute of my dreamy vision at home.  Not worth taking a picture of, that's for damn sure.

We did get outside, despite the rain, and searched for beach glass around the rock pool, known as Old Man's Pool.  We had the pool to ourselves; I'm guessing grey skies and rainy weather don't necessarily make the average person think 'beach!'.

the old man in the pool.  I KID!
 A few years ago, a baby shark was found in the rock pool.  Today, we only saw a sea urchin here and there. 
Not that I'm not complaining about the lack of sharks.

In my eyes, the day was basically a wash, but they can't all be gems.  Tomorrow, there will be beach.  And sun.

And you better believe there will be coffee.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Bundeena to Cronulla (Weekend, Part Two)

Being the cruel parents we are, Sam and I chortled wickedly as we forced our children into the car, ripping them from their beach paradise at Wattamolla (or at least that's how they'll tearfully relay it to their therapists twenty years from now).  We drove a short 15 minutes down the road to Bundeena, a cute town with an art trail held on the first Sunday of every month.  We didn't have time to explore the art trail, because we had our sights on the ferry.
The Curranulla ferry that runs between Bundeena and Cronulla is the oldest commuter ferry in Australia.  Cronulla is a beachside southern suburb of Sydney, set on peninsulas that jut out into the water creating plenty of space for gorgeous seaside homes.
A home perched above carved-out rock steps that wind their way down through greenery to the awaiting boat on a private dock in the sea?  Yep, I could be happy there.   One passenger commented that it would be quite a lot of work to keep all those windows clean; I had a hard time conjuring up an image of the homeowner lugging her teetery ladder out of the garage and reaching with a spray bottle in one hand and a squeegee in the other, because an image of a woman with freshly manicured hands delicately clasping a steaming cappuccino while telling her assistant to call and schedule the window cleaning kept jumping to the forefront of my brain.
I pulled out a crumpled receipt and jotted down a quick note to self regarding a sure path to riches (and thus my future seaside home in Cronulla): Purchase Lottery Tickets.  After I underlined each word twice to make it look more official, I felt pretty good about my financial planning efforts.

Then I looked down at my own unmanicured nails, and across at this face that I could stare at all day every day and never be bored, studying each square inch and marveling at his beauty, and figured I already had won the lottery.  Being a mother three times over is a big win in my book.

Months ago, I had purchased a LivingSocial deal for the Cronulla Pie Shop, so we headed there for a snack before wandering around a bit.  The town has tons of the kind of shops that I'd like to wander in and out of on my own or with a friend, but not with the family in tow.

The rain started again on the ferry ride back, which was just fine.  I had my sunny weekend day, which will be enough to get me geared up for another week of what is predicted to be wet weather.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Wattamolla Beach

We heard of a possibility of seeing the sun on Sunday and optimistically ventured out to Royal National Park, the oldest national park in Australia and the second oldest in the world (after Yellowstone).  We're fortunate to live just a short drive south of the park, and after winding our way through lush, palm-filled greenery, we pulled into the Wattamolla Beach car park and saw this:

Now, we could have been very happy spending the day right there in the car park, exploring the expanse of rock and water and watching the water dragons skitter through the trickling pools.  And seeing the patches of blue in the skies growing larger by the minute, we were all psyched.

We tore the boys away from rock-hopping with the promise of the actual beach beckoning below and began the walk down the path.
see the water dragon towards the bottom?
Just a moment or two into the walk we caught a glimpse of this:

The name Wattamolla is an Aboriginal word for 'place near running water', and this area is a perfect congregation of the waterfall flowing into a lagoon, which then runs out to meet the ocean.

After taking the above picture I blinked, looked around for my family, and spotted them down at the water, already crossing where the lagoon runoff meets the sea.  I took a moment and was so thankful that the sky was now almost all blue with only mere wisps of white clouds.

Alex added the Wattamolla notch to his boogie boarding belt.

Sam and I had a moment to enjoy each other.

I played Kenyon's 'count to five and jump in the water' game, his 'count to eight and jump in the water game', his 'start from really far back and jump in the water' game, and his 'start really close and count to three and jump in the water' game.  Then Sam played; Sam didn't capture any pictures of me but imagine me jumping really high and athletic-like just like my husband (and while we're at it, imagine me as tan as my husband as well).

So much fun, and only the first part of our Sunday 'holy crap, it's finally sunny' adventure was over...