The Beauty of The Holidays

It’s been an event-filled few weeks, and suddenly, we are in 2013 full force as life rolls on.  Our Christmas holidays turned out lovely, much better than I could have anticipated.  We kept so busy this year in the weeks leading up to Christmas, that I didn’t really have time to be homesick, and I really enjoyed my family and friends here. 

In addition to the lovely Christmas party, my company also gave me a gift card and a bonus.  I couldn’t believe it!  In addition to all that, I got paid for the four days that I didn’t have to work because of the holidays (we were closed from the 24th through the 1st).  I have never been so well compensated by a company, especially for so little time put in!  Thanks to that bonus, and Steve’s part time job, we were still able to save money in December, even after paying for all the gifts and our trip—I still am in happy shock about that!  Sadly, teachers are still not compensated as they should be here, and Steve got no bonus and half the amount I did in a gift card. 

I used my gift card the day after receiving it!  I bought a food processor, replacing the one I’d had to leave behind in CO.  I used it four times that same week.  It’s been great!  We took the kids to see Santa that day which was cute.  It’s still odd to me to hear Santa with an Aussie accent. 

The weekend before Christmas, we celebrated one of Steve’s best mate’s 40th birthdays with an afternoon cricket game.  I have never really been able to watch much of how the game is played (it’s on TV a lot, but it just seems so boring and white that way), so it was really interesting to watch these men play backyard-style.  Boys and their sports—it’s all the same no matter what they’re playing or where they are.  I also saw it being played a lot in the campgrounds on our trip.  It’s common to use a trash can (rubbish bin) in the center of the game—-called the wicket keeper I think.  It looked funny! 

Our Christmas Eve was just lovely, at a friend’s house for a BBQ, enjoying good people and laughter.  That has always been such a big day for my family, so it was wonderful to be with great people and have such a good night.  We also went to Catholic mass beforehand, same as we used to do.  I discovered that being sure to make a Christmas service is a ‘Catholic’ custom.  I had previously thought that the religious holidays just weren’t important days to actually go to church in Australia.  People seem to be more religious and more involved in whatever their church is and take part in caroling services ahead of time, but not really worry about making it on the actual day; the same was true for Easter last year.  Churches don’t add services; they actually decrease them.  But I found out that is the Protestant tradition.  I guess they figure they go regularly, so the holiday isn’t a big deal.  But Catholics are the same in either country!  Add services and pack in everyone who hasn’t gone for the past year!  It was good to keep up tradition anyway.   

Christmas Day with our boys was an absolute joy.  They still sleep in, thankfully, especially after a big night.  We put the stockings in their rooms to find in the morning.  Drew woke up, went through his stocking, came out and saw the special breakfast I’d made and how pretty the tree looked with the presents underneath (wrapped in newspaper, by the way) and proclaimed, “This is my best Christmas!”  That just warmed my soul.   When things started, he was excitedly going from one present to another, his own as well as wanting to see what each of the rest of us had.  Zach, however, pulled a tiny toy airplane from his stocking and could have been done for the day; he was so happy with that.  Their joy was beautiful to share and made me realize that sharing any holiday with them is really all I need. 

We had great conversations with my family, and of course, I missed them.  I also love the photos of their white Christmas.   But I did realize that I was enjoying this new experience and enjoying my friends here and my sweet family. 

The next day we headed off on our big adventure!  We were traveling with one other family, wonderful friends we met within a month of arriving in Australia, including their twin 4-year-old boys.  We met up with them a few hours into our drive and all made it to our campground that evening near a place called Port Macquarie, in New South Wales, the state south of Queensland.  It was pouring rain!  The men had to set up our tents in the rain and us ladies tried to keep the kids from getting soaked while entertaining them—didn’t work out so well for my boys! 

The next day was picture perfect and we all went to the beach, which the kids just adored.   Actually, we all did.  This holiday has helped me remember that being a parent gives me an opportunity to be a kid again.  The boys got boogie boards for Christmas and we enjoyed playing in the waves with them on those.  Drew also got a kite and we all took turns flying it.  I couldn’t remember the last time I’d flown a kite!  It was such a freeing feeling, such a beautiful sight. 

We were now up to Friday, the 28th, and had to pack up and hit the road again.  It took us all day again to reach our next destination, south of Sydney.  Driving cross country in Australia is MUCH slower than the same in the U.S. because there are NO interstates.  We actually had to go THROUGH Sydney!  There was no way to just bypass it heading south.  It all was very pretty though and I enjoyed watching the changing scenery.  Plus the boys and I love having dance parties in the car—they can sing Call Me Maybe and I’m Sexy and I Know It REALLY well and it is just too fun.

This type of camping was a much different experience as well, except I had gotten a taste of it 10 years ago when I first came to visit Steve and we went north camping (can you believe it’s been that long?!  Almost exactly!).  It is NOT a wilderness, get away from it all experience.  It’s more like a ‘we’re too poor to sleep inside, so we’re going to pay exorbitant prices and bring almost everything we own to stay outside’ kind of experience.   You get a patch of lawn basically, that’s empty save for the power outlets.  They squeeze as many campsites onto a particular stretch of lawn as they can and the price is equivalent to a U.S. motel.  There are public bathrooms and showers and laundry facilities and playgrounds for the kids, and a couple of the campgrounds we stayed at had a pool.   We stayed at this one for 6 nights and it was huge and packed as full as it could be!  I am pretty sure I learned more about Australian culture in that week than I have in over a year of living here—talk about cultural immersion!  I was stuck in the middle of hundreds of Aussies on their Christmas summer holidays!  I learned several charming words and phrases that I will have to find room to share at some point. 

At least on trips like this, you don’t plan to just sit around the campground, and this was a beautiful area to explore.  I was able to jog twice and once was along the beach, on the open ocean, on the sand.  It was gorgeous!  And super hard!  I think I learned that ideally jogging on the beach would be done when the tide is going out, leaving hard sand that’s been covered by water for a few hours to run on.  I went when the tide was coming in, so the sand was not very hard and I got my feet soaked several times.  I just can’t escape all these rookie mistakes!  The other time was along a paved trail on the other side of our campground that went along the river (we were right on a peninsula) and then out along the open ocean.  That was just so inspiring that I ran harder and faster than I thought I could.  I have truly come to love that time in the early morning—just to be alone and exercise and take in the world around me—it is so good for my wellbeing in every sense—mentally, physically and spiritually.  I am so thankful I have discovered that through this move. 

On one rainy day we went for a short hike through Minnamurra rainforest, which was beautiful and peaceful.  We got to see the amazingly gorgeous Carrington Falls, which are the largest and most dramatic falls I’ve seen in Australia by far. 

We enjoyed as much time playing on the beach and in the water as we could.  I love to enjoy how different my boys are at the beach:  Drew is becoming almost scary with his confidence in the water.  He adored riding his boogie board and going out with Steve into the big waves and letting them crash over him.  He will go in the water no matter the weather.  He just doesn’t like standing in the waves with me, because I get knocked over almost as easily as he does!  Zach, on the other hand, prefers not to go near the water unless it is practically hot, and prefers to drive a truck on the sand or make castles.  He could play on his own in the sand for hours, just chatting away in his own little world.  It was so fun to have time to not be hurried, not have to be anywhere and just play all together.  And it was great to have friends with us, too.  I think it helps us all have more patience with each other because there are more people around to talk to and play with. 

Another day we went to a little beach town called Kiama and saw a cool blowhole.  It reminded me in some way of a geyser at Yellowstone; the difference is it’s water being pushed up between rocks.  Our friends let Steve and I escape that afternoon for a couple hours alone, which we both really enjoyed.  We toured a local winery and the owner let us sample about 20 wines!  Steve drove, so I had to finish some of his samples as well, so it made for quite a tipsy afternoon.  The wines were delicious and the area was gorgeous.  The owner told us the salt from the sea helps soften their grapes and affects the taste of the wines. 

One day it actually got cold!  Everyone had told me we were crazy to camp in the summer heat, so I hadn’t brought anything to prepare for cool weather.  I could have used a light jacket pretty much every evening, just like Colorado camping.  Oh, well.  We learned for next time.  But this day it was very rainy and windy and actually chilly!  Pants, socks, closed shoes and a jacket would have been nice!  For all of us!  I don’t mind myself, but I feel really guilty when I don’t have my children dressed appropriately.  They didn’t seem to mind though.  We spent that day exploring the nearest larger town of Wollongong.  We enjoyed some scenic roads and hot chocolate in a beach café.  Haha! 

After our time was up in this area, we spent another long day driving, this time inland, west.  Unlike the U.S., when you start to head away from the coast in Australia, you leave the bulk of the population and development behind.  This is why such similarly sized countries in terms of landmass vary so greatly in terms of population.  We went over the Blue Mountains, which were gorgeous green-forested hills, and into the plains town of Dubbo.  We stayed in a cabin at this campground and spent the next day at the locally famous zoo.  It had mostly African animals and was spread out enough that you went around to the different enclosures by car.  It was SO hot!  The flies were disgusting; the heat was suffocating; the kids were exhausted and misbehaving horribly.  But we had no major issues.  Actually we had none at all on the trip, for which I am very grateful.

After the zoo we drove another few hours to our friend’s mother’s house in the small country town of Moree.  It was great to enjoy the warm hospitality of a family.  The next morning they took us jet skiing on their local lake.  Now, we were near the outback, so water is quite scarce.  Our friends took us down some remote roads, through a family friend’s private farm, which was enormous, and suddenly pulled up at a private manmade lake in the middle of the dirt!  It was fabulous!  We all got to take turns on the Jet Ski with no one else around.  The kids were in heaven.  Drew could not get himself out of the muddy water.  The only downside was when Steve took Zach and I out he tipped the Jet Ski and dumped us into the muddy water!  Thankfully, there is nothing scary in that water, just dirt. 

At the beaches, we’d had to avoid swimming on occasion because of bluebottle jellyfish.  We could see several washed up on shore, and I was told that pretty much every Australian has been stung by one.  That to me is similar to every Australian breaking his nose playing rugby—wear a helmet and you don’t break your nose; stay out of the water and you won’t get stung by a jellyfish!  I sure didn’t need much convincing! 

On our drive out of this farm, we were all amazed to see TWO EMUS walking together next to the dirt road, and then a line of kangaroos bouncing past behind them, on their way who knows where.   It was incredible!  It was the boys’ first kangaroo-sightings, and my first since visits years ago.  Plus EMUS!  I practically thought they were fictional!  I felt like I was in a scene from National Geographic! 

After that, we finished our drive back to Brisbane, arriving home on the 5th of January.  It was so wonderful to have such a great trip planned over the holiday period.   And traveling with friends was such a fun way to do it, something we have always wanted to, but never managed to be able to pull together.  It takes a lot of the stress out of traveling with a young family—we got built-in breaks.  I got to jog, knowing the others were all ok.  The adults got to chat and play games after the kids went to sleep.  Steve and I got a date.  We took their kids to a ‘bush dance’ (sounds so cool—basically the same as a square dance) held at the campground one night for a little bit.  Us girls would get to chat when the boys were off showering while we made dinner.  The big boys would set up camp while we handled the kids.  It just made it all so nice. 

 It not only made me significantly less homesick, but it was also great just to get away and explore again.  Steve and I have always enjoyed traveling together and exploring new places, and we hadn’t really gotten to do that since moving here.  We did have a few days in Utah and a few days an hour north of here in Noosa, which were also wonderful.  I think I have just been so focused on the stress of the move along with everyone’s prior illness, and so I had forgotten to relish the adventure and the enviable experience of the move.  This trip helped me to have a chance to relax, to enjoy family and new, good friends, to see the beauty in my new country, to learn, to live through my children and soak up the experiences on their level.   I will cherish the memories of my 2012 holidays for a long time and I am so grateful.  Another time, I’ll share part of the new language I’m continuing to learn!  😉 

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