Wednesday, January 30, 2008

For the Love of Zoe...

-I quoted annoying Tom Chapin music on my blog and then had it in my head for 24 hours. We sang "we're going to the zoo" to her on our way there and it had made her laugh, so I lost sight of the fact that I truly don't like that song.

-My brother Kenneth, her father, often sings "One" (from "A Chorus Line"), "Tomorrow" (from "Annie") and even The Carpenters' "Close to You" while dancing with her around the room. I remember singing all of "The Sound of Music" to Gillen. My mother often sang "Just you Wait, Henry Higgins" (from "My Fair Lady") and "Open a New Window" (from "Mame") to us, even when we were in high school. : / I guess it is hereditary.

-Nicolas and Jesse were reduced to babbling, smiling idiots.

-Her mother, Naomi, lay still for ten weeks, staring at an ultrasound picture of her for inspiration, to help her develop fully. It worked. Now she frequently, un-whingeingly sacrifices warm food, continuous sleep and time to herself.

-My "cool" ten year old's favorite part of the day in Sydney was giving her a massage and/or reading her a book.

-I would run over hot coals and swim with sharks to get to smell the top of her head.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"I'm going to the zoo, zoo, zoo...

how about you, you, you" The Taronga Zoo in Sydney that is, at 3:30 in the morning (GA time). I think it's getting towards evening there now. The families have left the animals in peace. It is cooler. The animals are no longer looking like this:

It was a happy, clean zoo and we had a wonderful time there. I am just picking out the ones who look like me right now, in my much sleep-deprived state.

Look at the amazing view the giraffes have of the harbour:

It was less that a week ago that we were there for hours and then decided to walk home. It wasn't that far, if you knew where you were going. We got lost. It was an adventure - a good one, because Zoe stayed very happy and Jesse took on the role of wood and weapon collector (so as to make a shelter for us and give protection) and Gillen was relishing the prospect of climbing the roof to go in the apartment window and let us in (Nicolas and Kenneth were far, far away with all sets of keys).

This zoo day and the good, long, sweaty walk to Mosman Bay seem very far away as I listen to the heater on this quiet winter night in Georgia. I have a great picture of Zoe as a penguin but you'll have to go to
Jesse's new blog to see it. I think I'm finally, maybe a bit sleepy.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Jet LAGging and blog reading

On a rainy morning in Sydney last week (the only rainy one of the trip)I found that wonderful Kelli had passed along the following award in a comment to me. How excellent! In looking at her list of blogs that she included in this group I discovered an unschooling family that are blogging about a long stay in France. It was so cool (and surreal) to be reading about their French adventures while we were having our own in Sydney. I hope that someone out there discovers a new blog from my list. Whoever chooses to accept the award then needs to nominate ten other blogs.

Here are some of the excellent blogs I most regularly read:

Plus the first five I started going to in the beginning that are listed on the side. So many more,Alecto and Kimba... so little sleep, so using jet lag as an excuse to stop now. With Sage Reader, it is really very quick to catch up on many.

That freaky looong sleep that we experienced on the first night back after barely sleeping on the flights home? No longer the case. The 17 hour time difference has been making itself felt ever since. Fortunately, the kids are doing OK. They are getting to sleep by 11pm or midnight and are sleeping straight through. Nicolas was OK until last night, the night before his first day back farming. He was up until 5am reading "The Count of Monte Cristo" in french. I was sure that would knock him out.

I have been up successively later every night - last night until 6am, and then I never really reached deep sleep before getting up at 10am. I love having all that quiet time in which to read. I read "Gluten Free Girl" - the book, not her web site. It is a memoir about how she discovered that she was a celiac (I'm wheat sensitive) and is mostly a love story about the bliss that is wrought forth by real food - from the blackberries that are in season in Seattle to the rare olive oils that she has discovered in chef warehouses. If I'd had any food left in my kitchen, I would have spent those quiet wee hours of the morning cooking her curry carrot soup or flourless chocolate torte... I am going to brave a jet lagged drive to the bank and the grocery store now, leaving my children safe and sound at the farm. When I return, we'll stay awake by baking some sort of luscious chocolate creation.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Hannah Jenner's point, on Sydney Bay

I was struck by Hannah Jenner (nine at the time) the first time I ever saw her, at Jenny's zoo "funshop" slide show, at the St. Louis unschooling conference three years ago. I was sitting in the front of the room, watching Jenny's slides, when I caught Hannah out of the corner of my eye. She was surrounded by other young girls her age who were all looking at her instead of at the slides. Hannah was staring at the slides, her beautiful face and blond hair glowing in the soft light. I remember thinking how confident she seemed and that I thought I knew what the other girls were seeing.

My kids went with Hannah, Hayden, their grandmother and Nicolas to the zoo and Diana and I met up with them later at St. Louis' City Museum. There, I remember watching Hannah crawl away from everyone up these tunnel mazes, completely unafraid of getting separated from the others. I remember thinking how brave she seemed. I was definitely right about that perception.

I have had a small allotment of Hannah's ashes for a while now, sitting on a special shelf, in the tiny, heart decorated plastic bag in which her mother placed them. I had thought that I would scatter her at the farm, to be with our vegetables. But I just couldn't do it.

Finally, four days ago, on our last day in Sydney, I released her into Sydney Bay. Naomi had pointed the spot out to me. I took this picture of it, earlier in the week, while on the ferry. It is called Cremonte Point. It is at the end of a long, hilly, twisting, bay side walk near my brother's home and it has a view of the Sydney Opera House and of the Harbour Bridge. Ferries and sea kayakers pass by regularly.

Several interesting things happened on Nicolas' and my walk to and from the point that morning. A woman was at the point, maybe in her sixties. After some brief hellos, she asked us how we'd come to be in Sydney. Nicolas told her about visiting my brother and his wife. She replied, "It's important to have our loved ones in beautiful places." That gave me confidence that we'd picked the right spot for Hannah. She told us that she was just starting to embark on a new adventure as a photo journalist student, her on-line classes begin next week. She said that she would take what she wanted from the course and not stress about doing everything that was asked. She was doing this for herself. An unschooler at heart.

We climbed down the rocks. I gave Hannah a prayer of thanks and let her go into the bay.

On the walk home, we had the amazing fortune to meet a legendary woman who has been gardening the long rocky slope near her home for decades. Here is more information about her (click on the picture to enlarge it):We had been visiting this beautiful garden on previous walks, Gillen naming different sections of it - "Fairy Garden", "Water Garden", "Rock Garden"... Her name is Ruby. She happened to be out on the path, mulching the top part of the garden as we passed by. We stopped and had a wonderful conversation with her. She is now 93 years old. She pointed to a beautiful large black butterfly that kept fluttering around her and said that she'd decided to call it "Mum" because it had showed up that morning and had continually settled on a plant that she and her husband had put in the garden years ago to honor his mother. Ruby has a wonderful smile. I could tell that she missed her husband terribly, and that she gets to be with him still in their garden.

There was a commemorative plaque at the point, put there to remember a 16 year old girl who'd died there twenty years ago.

We thought about courage and loss, about living brightly and briefly, and about surviving those we've lost. Thank you Diana, for sharing your daughter and your experiences with us.

Back in Georgia

We are home. The three flights to get here took 24 hours. We only slept a total of about four hours each.
There were just too many good movies to watch! But we made it up today, sleeping from 11pm last night until 2pm today (all four of us). This is not how I imagined jet-lag hitting. Lots of sleep? It sure never happened that way in the past. I'll take it.

It was good to see Tuki and Fracas. Tuki followed me around all day while I unpacked. She even convinced me to go for a walk in the cold. It actually wasn't as bleak and miserable as I expected, until right now. As I write this, my hands are too stiff with cold to move properly and my legs are falling asleep due to being all knotted up to stay warm.

In denial about it being winter, Nicolas spent the first part of today in "thongs"(what they call flip-flops in Australia :)
Rosalinafini and Rusty were bitterly cold from their long journey in the planes' luggage shafts. Jesse bundled them up and insisted that we make a fire, right away. I was glad for that.
We're doing better, today anyway, than I expected. After tearfully hugging Kenneth, Naomi and Zoe goodbye we had a very silent hour-long taxi ride to the airport. It will be a long time before we see these three again. Last night, I heard Zoe cooing from the other room. It was, of course, not her; just Jesse, talking to his dinosaurs in his bath.

Gillen traded his recent Boogie Board passion for his old standby, the BB-Gun. He spent the day reconnecting with his hunting friend Aaron. They threw boomerangs for the first time, tried out Gillen's new bow and arrow and hunted squirrels (don't worry, only in the woods, and the squirrels always win).

Jesse stayed in his footed pajamas all day, returned to his Game Cube joy, talked to his friend Logan for a long time on the phone, and made tools out of cardboard for the snow he hopes will appear tomorrow.

While travel does broaden our minds, and I truly saw the expansion (especially for Jesse) while we were away, what is familiar and routine can easily draw us in. I was very thankful that my mother in law had made us soup (with six more containers of different soups in the freezer!)and that she had warmed up our house. Our friends who house-sat kept it so clean.

Sigh. If only it weren't this cold.

I'll be posting more of Australia here in the next few days - that should help thaw me out.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Tangalooma Island

My favorite bird - the Galah, so much more welcoming in this picture than when I was near its nest:

For me, the most exciting thing about our week on Tangalooma Island was watching the birds. There are such different birds here than in the U.S. and I got to go on a bird walk with a ranger and learned a lot. Here are just a few of the many birds that I stalked and photographed this week.

Here is the Kukaburra. Unlike the human Aussies, he is completely unafraid of being a tall Poppy and loudly laughs every morning and every evening in order to proclaim his territory. These birds stay in family groups(a fairly unusual thing for birds)and their territory is up to 4 acres large.

A Pied Cormorant drying his wings. There were loads of these and of pelicans in front of our apartment.

Here is the Friar Bird. They are quite ugly, and it's really cool to watch them eat. This one is about to catch a Lilac Flax Lily berry. We tried these as well. They taste like potatoes and are one source of food (bush tucker) for Aboriginals.

Jesse loved the resort schedule of events. He took advantage of lots of activities: basketball, movies,limbo, talent show, a night time search for nocturnal animals...

Kenneth is a wonderful baby wrangler, the most entertaining episode of late being on the plane ride back to Sydney yesterday when he had two rattles, a nursing necklace and the white throw up bag (that is included in every seat pocket) all making noises or being blown up to distract a very unhappy babe from wanting to nurse before take-off.

We had front row balcony seats every night to the following event, even though we weren't allowed to take part ourselves (as we weren't staying at the "resort"):
Looks like newly converted Christians being led to baptism by sea water, doesn't it? Actually, they were people staying at the resort who waited in a long line in order to feed the dolphins. Yes, dolphins! About three of them showed up every night. On the night that they didn't show (being untrained and wild), it was really fun to watch the marine staff lead the guests through hours of dolphin education and dolphin sand sculpture games. The coolest thing that I learned about dolphins was from Naomi. Dolphins never sleep. If they did, they'd be easy tucker for sharks. So instead they shut down one side of the their brain at a time, closing only one eye and floating on the surface of the water. I ended up swimming only twenty feet from one on the last morning. So cool. The following is from an evening visit.
The kids' limbo contest. I wish that I had a good picture of Jesse in the talent show. He read that they were having one, practiced his break dancing moves in the sand and confidently signed up. Unfortunately, he danced completely on the floor and it was hard for most to see him, but he was very pleased with himself which was awesome.

Gillen spent the entire week with Adam and Alfie, whom he met on the first day there. They fished, boogie boarded down dunes, and were almost swept out to sea on a surf board while trying to surf in the surfless bay one day. They must have hit a rip tide from a boat pulling out. Here I was just worried about the day he had a bit of sunburn on his face. I'm so grateful that he made it back (it took them a while) and that none of the many Moreton Bay sharks sensed their screaming. And he'll be really careful now when he actually surfs with waves again.

What a luxury to be able to stand on our balcony and see the sea this past week and then come home to Kenneth and Naomi's and look off their balcony into the bay. Looking at water is a very good thing. I'll have to sit by Gillen's pond when I go home and to visit Georgia's many rivers and lakes more often. I hear that there has even been snow in GA while we were gone! Kind of wish we hadn't missed that. Maybe there is less of a drought there now?

Our “tall Poppy” interlude between Sydney and Tangalooma Island

I wrote this last week, while on Tagalooma Island with Kenneth, Naomi and Zoe. We had no internet to post it at the time.

Some of the most memorable moments happen on the journey, don’t they? Once we have arrived at our different destinations, this month, it’s been all sunsets, fireworks and happy reunions – not all that much to say that won’t fit on a large, colorful post card, the picture telling the story. And it feels cruel to talk about warmth and lapping waves, knowing how cold it is in the northern hemisphere. But during the journey, you have luggage and kids’ needs and time schedules to juggle. It can get more interesting.

The seven of us had to take a plane and then a ferry to get to Tangalooma Island, where we are staying for a week. We did some last minute figuring to get us all to the airport, made it to the check-in line on time and felt confident that the kind Australian airport officials would know of a way to package Gillen’s boogie board and fishing pole, to bring them with us on the journey (they did; it was easy; I can see Gillen fishing off the pier , with a very cool assortment of likewise fishing boys, as I type this).

We stood in line at the Sydney Kingsford Airport, feeling positive that Zoe would love her first airplane ride. She did.

And then it was time to count the bags we’d be checking and as Kenneth surveyed the bags, his eyes suddenly got bigger, their green a bit greyer. There may have been some non-Aussie-like swearing (editorial note : turns out Aussies love swearing).

“Naomi, you didn’t bring our suitcase?”

“No. Didn’t you?”

It was Kenneth and Naomi’s first time traveling far with a baby. They had brought a giant blue suitcase for four month old Zoe, but all of their own clothing,, toiletries and books were in a suitcase, in their bedroom at home.

No one lost it. It was decided that they could buy a few things in Brisbane, during our four hours layover before we were scheduled to get on the ferry. New clothes. They aren’t on a farmers’ budget. Fun!

Once we landed, we took a taxi to a mall, bringing lots of luggage, and immediately set up camp at the first restaurant we saw – the light filled, large tabled, Seafood Palace. We ate garlic prawns, and fish and chips, and cheese covered cooked oysters. Zoe nursed and then slept. All were well fed. The power-shopping could begin. Tangalooma Island is mostly made up of protected national park ground and has only one resort hotel and a few apartment buildings, which is where we are staying. There is a pier and a few restaurants and that is it. No way to buy food. So Nicolas went food shopping, Kenneth went clothes shopping and Naomi sat with sleeping Zoe, waiting for her to wake up before her buying could begin.

We had entered the restaurant with four bags, a boogie board, a fishing pole, two kids, three adults and a baby. From the start we took up half of the restaurant. After Kenneth’s first round of shopping, he added a new suitcase to the pile by the door. On the next two rounds he came back with four shopping bags to add to the pile, only showing us one of his purchases – two bathing suits – which were so horrifying, in their designs and in their large size (to be fair, it is challenging to convert centimeters to inches for a new waist size when you are rushing) that we made him add on time to return them.

In the middle of Kenneth’s trips, Zoe woke up, with a happy smile and a large poop, her first in a diaper in weeks (they practice elimination communication). She was wearing a cloth diaper, but no cover. Her mother was wearing a white skirt. Zoe was in her mother’s lap. You get the picture. The restaurant had no bathroom. I got the wipes and another diaper and the bag for dirty diapers and (very ungracefully) managed to maneuver most of the non-smelly infant yellow poo into the wipes and bag. There was much “oo”ing from Gillen, lots of giggling from Jesse and I… not exactly a subtle undertaking. The very polite and patient Asian waiters and waitresses continued to look the other way, but they were definitely smiling less. I took Zoe, and Naomi had one hour to do her power shopping. Kenneth returned with a much more expensive, fantastic bathing suit and a need for a cup of coffee.

“Oh don’t get one here, go to the coffee shop next door,” I announced in my American voice (Australians are so much more soft spoken), apparently well within range of the waiters’ ears. Oops. And later, when Gillen was given money to get a snack, I suggested trying another place, yet again! Oh my God. I’m a loud, rude American. I can still feel the shame. Especially because at this point Nicolas entered the restaurant with a filled, squeaky, very large grocery shopping cart, parking it next to our table. Coles grocery store had give n him permission to bring the cart over. “No worries, mate!”

In a field of Poppies, according to Australian unspoken modes of behavior, you don’t want to be taller than the other Poppies. You want to be the same as everybody else. I believe we may have been the tallest, brightest Poppies that ever bloomed in that there Seafood Palace.

Now that we are on the island there is nothing but relaxation, hot sun, dolphins, pelicans and white sand to talk about.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Featherdale Wildlife Park

Frilled Necked Lizard
Sleeping Koala. That's what they do, 20 of every 24 hours.
Wombat butts
Tasmanian Devil - who raced in circles around his shelter, non-stop. Way less ferocious than the cartoons.
Kookaburra - not laughing very hard
Being tickled by a Koala's Eucalyptis leaf. His fur was surprisingly soft.

We saw some beautiful birds and lizards in the wild (many bird pictures coming some other post) but had to find all other Australian animals in captivity at a wildlife park. Jesse got to see the venomous Taipan snake, which was very exciting for him. GIllen saw all kinds of birds that we never would have seen in the wild and we were all excited about getting to touch kangaroos and koalas. There was a sign that was interesting - it stated how proud the zoo keepers were of their park and that they hoped we visitors would treat the inmates well. At least it's an honest depiction. Some of the roos, the Kookaburra and the Dingo looked awfully spiritless. But it was clean and they had a lot of room.

This was the fast ferry that made up the most stylish section of our trip back to Sydney.

Buzzing in paradise

Since putting it out to the universe that I want to move here, a conspiracy has formed to damper my enthusiasm. I don't know who the ring leader is but they have some talented mercenaries working for them. Last night, the heat, a mosquito and a Kukaburra kept me awake until it was light out. Seriously. Buzzing in my ear is the way to torture me to death (I hope no one reading ever has reason to use this knowledge). I tried sleeping under a pillow, under a sheet, turning on the light and hunting it down...the most talented mosquito I have ever come across. How do I know it was a conspiracy? Nicolas - not bothered at all, until the Kukaburra started laughing at dawn.

By the way, this was venting, not whingeing. I'm good now.

Hopefully time for zoo pictures later.

Many mountain moments

I love the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia. I won't say that I love them more than the mountains of North Carolina, but I did feel extremely at home there. I was taken in by the smells, the light, the large number of artists who live there; even while knowing how many venomous spiders and snakes Jesse was hunting down.

As is true whenever we go away, I want to move here. This time, it's because the people are so unbelievably friendly and positive (maybe that gets old? I don't know), and the birds and trees and flowers are so colorful and strange, and I can speak the language but am still in a somewhat different culture (that last one is about my fear of learning Spanish at this late date if we do indeed follow Nicolas' dream of farming in Central or South America). I know that at some point in the rest of this life, I want to live in a wooden/stone green (environmentally green) cabin/cottage on a mountain with all the smells that entails. While I'm ordering up my dream cabin, I'll also ask for a creek that I can hear from my bedroom window.

We got back from the Blue Mountains this afternoon to much more heat, but lots of good reuniting with Zoe, Kenneth (sick with a sinus infection and not even whingeing about it) and Naomi . To get here, we drove (Nicolas was awesome at adapting to the other side of the road, not they I ever had any worries ;), took a fast ferry, and then one more slower ferry. How cool is it to use ferries as your public transportation?

My favorite part of the Blue Mountains experience were the beautiful hikes we took. One was called "Darwin's Walk" (Charles Darwin himself discovered it) and another one took us deep down into a rain forest. On this walk, the kids found some kind of iron-ore rocks - like those used by Aboriginals to do their art, to this day, with which they painted their faces.

On Darwin's Walk, the draw was a magnificent waterfall, the flowers and the birds.

On both walks, the ongoing, Jesse-created "Fight to the Finish" game was continued, now including sticks for bows and wands. Jesse supplied a running commentary about his game the entire time, with occassional shifts of attention to lizards, birds or some plan of his for the future. At one point, when we were all walking up the final hill of a walk in Katoomba, he listed all of the occupations he would consider having in the future - including things like historian and psychologist - which I'd never known he knew, and finished by announcing the career he won't pursue - he will never be a dentist.

We were really happy with the isolated, simple, solar-powered cabin that we rented. It was filled with information about living more greenly, and also filled with lots of good books, games and tea. There were magnificent green and red parrots and huge doves in the woods, right outside. They would come for food every day and they even ate out of the kids' hands.
The only challenge was the night when Nicolas couldn't sleep due to a smell in our bedroom. He couldn't figure out where it was coming from, nor how I wasn't bothered by it (who me? I don't whinge:), so logically assumed the smell must be me. : > / It turned out to be the smell that is put off my some kind of Australian ant when it is smashed. He realized this upon smashing one the next day so I was off the hook.

One more thing that sold me on the Blue Mountains - when we did go out to eat, they had loads of gluten free meals, everywhere we looked. I was able to eat pizza at the pizzeria!! They must have a wheat-intolerant government official, or rich resident.

Having a second summer is grand.

We never did see a Koala, in all of those blue Eucalaptys trees. There are only 100,000 Koalas left in all of Australia, which is really not a lot. We did get to see many Australian animals at a zoo on the way back to Sydney, but that will fill up another post...I've already shared too many photos as it is. It is very late here. G'day to you, up over.