27 March 2010


I want to study!

I am currently enrolled in the Certificate IV Applied Science (Nutrition) course through Australian Institute of Applied Science. I have been enrolled since I was pregnant with Maya, and I have completed... one subject. And what have I learned? That I am crap at distance learning. I have no discipline when it comes to managing my own study.

When we were deciding which of our possessions to ship to America and which to find new homes for, I was undecided about my textbooks and workbooks. Should I just face the fact that I'm not going to complete the course and find someone who would use the stuff? I listed it all on Freecycle, and then backed out.

I'm so passionate about nutrition! I just can't imagine not learning as much as I can and really being a part of the movement.

So I'm back onboard with studying. I would like to be a Holistic Nutritionist. After my stint with The Laughing Planet Baking Company (my own whole foods baking business), I thought I would start that back up in the States. It was fun, it was rewarding, and I can see that if I would have put more time and effort into it, it would have been very successful.

I'm not sure now if I want to do it again on its own, or if I would want to do it in conjunction with a Holistic Nutrition practice, or if I want to do it at all. My original recipes will come in very handy in that kind of practice, and it is the recipe development that was my favourite part of the whole affair. Maybe I could outsource the baking? Hmmm, lots to think about.

But I do know I want to study. I just need to work out a way to organise myself!

23 March 2010

Aaaarrrggghhhh, immigration again.

I'm absolutely kicking myself, for a few things: a) Not checking into Nick's immigration stuff before we went travelling, and b) Letting his bloody permanent resident status lapse in the first place! How easy it would have been to remove the conditions on his conditional green card before it expired in 2005 - then he would have gotten a 10 year visa! But we didn't, and now it looks like we're going to have to go through the whole boring, pedantic, expensive process again. FFS. I wish we would have just had a bit of foresight. I mean, in 2005 we had no idea that we would be moving back to America ever. But you know, it makes sense to take care of things just in case. We have some enquiries in via email, and we'll make some phone calls tomorrow. Sigh.

At least there is some relatively good news regarding the motorhome: Nick has arranged for the place we bought it from to organise 3 months of NSW registration. So there's that off the list of things to do. We should have it back from the shop next week sometime, and then we can actively sell the mofo.

I'm busy filling out forms for Maya and Eli to become Americans. We plan to lodge the forms next Tuesday and then we'll just wait on their passports to be sent. At least they're automatically eligible so we don't have to apply for anything.

Back to paperwork...

18 March 2010

To Do List

We have been working on a few things that need to get sorted for our overseas move. Yesterday we went over to Nick's mum's place and got our boxes ready to ship. It didn't take as long as we thought it would and it's exciting to have that done. We almost sealed a box with all of our passports inside. Now we just need to, you know, ship it. Quotes to get, shipping to sort.

There are also some immigration/citizenship things we need to take care of. Nick's permanent residency needs to be renewed. It is like 5 years expired though, so I'm not sure how easy that will be. Nate's US passport is expired, and Maya and Eli aren't yet American citizens. Forms to pick up, fill out and return.

And then there's the motorhome. It has been in the shop for a week now. We knew it would take a little while, because they had to send their quote through to the insurance company, get an approval, and then do the work. Here's where things start to get complicated. Nick rang today and they have only just sent their quote through to the insurance company. Annoying. We can't sell it until we have it, and selling it is our major concern at the moment. It looks like we're still a long way off having it back.

The registration runs out on Monday. Nick learned, through hours on the phone today, that it isn't even in our name, so we're going to have a hard time renewing the registration. Plus there is a lot of extra crap to do because it is registered in Victoria and we need it to be NSW. There is an engineer's report to get, a weigh station to visit, a blue slip which I had never even heard of, and we're still figuring out why it isn't ours. Kind of scary to spend many many thousands of dollars on something that you find out months later doesn't really belong to you.

We still have three kids though, so doing anything takes a bit more time than it would if we could completely dedicate ourselves to the task. I'm glad for the excuse to stay sane with our regular routines - Monday at the park with our friends; Friday, storytime at the library and a sushi lunch; in between, opportunities for enriching conversations and catch-ups with dear friends.

Oh but there's a lot to be done.

15 March 2010

Settling in

We went back to our regular Sydney Monday park play day today, and it was fantastic. The kids were really looking forward to seeing their friends, and I was really looking forward to seeing mine. We got there at lunch time and stayed until after dinner. I plan to do the same again next week, because it is just so much fun to be there after the sun sets.

The kids have really settled in. When we got home, they went straight into their train set which we left here at our friends' place, completely absorbed for hours. All the next day, same thing. They have been doing a lot of that - PLAYING, completely absorbed. It is wonderful. Maya is getting the space she needs. They have a nice big bathtub to use, proper beds to sleep in, and loads of choices of things to do. It's good to be back "home", no matter whose home it is.

Our motorhome is in the shop and our hard drive is with the data recovery specialists. I hope to be able to report tomorrow that all of our photos have been recovered. Fingers crossed.

09 March 2010


We spent another wonderful night with our Gold Coast friends. More lovely hospitality, more play time for the kids, more delicious (and gargantuan) coffees, more yummy food, and more adult conversation after the kids were asleep. We left much later in the morning than we had planned to, but the kids just kept looking so engaged - walking by the window clearly absorbed in some kind of expedition, sporting back packs and torches (and in Maya's case, a hobby horse and cowgirl hat). Eventually, though, we tore ourselves away - I think it was nearly 11am. And very soon into the drive we lost another hour, thanks to our border crossing into NSW and Queensland's distrust of daylight savings time (wouldn't an extra hour of sun every day age the paint on their houses that much sooner?).

We had a stop to make in Ballina for a potential buyer to have a look at our motorhome. Then we were really underway. We were hoping to get to Coffs Harbour or Port Macquarie for the night, and we'd finish up the last 4-6 hours of driving the following day.

It was all bittersweet. I really adore northern NSW. It is absolutely gorgeous. Driving by the turnoff to Byron Bay without stopping seemed like such a shame, but at the same time it would take a really oblivious or selfish or strong-minded person to be able to thoroughly enjoy a place when half of the group really would rather not be there. I was taunted by blue skies and temperatures in the low 30's - ahhhhh, what a day for The Pass. But on we drove. On, past lush farmlands and fertile rolling hills and inviting little villages. And it was ok, because I too can feel the excitement about being back in Sydney.

At around Coffs Harbour, Nick and I had a great, reflective chat about our trip. Coffs was really our first stop in our travels, and it was great. The weather was perfect, the beaches were nice, the city was interesting, the free camping was abundant, and we were thinking we had made the best decision of our lives and might very well spend the next year feeling just this free and happy.

We made our Top 5 lists for our favourite travelling experiences.


5. Great Barrier Reef (in the moment it would have ranked higher, but thinking about it afterwards and being a bit disappointed by the lack of colour at the reef knocks it down to number 5)
4. The pool at Adventure Whitsunday
3. Mt Warning (or more specifically, the way he felt after our climb was all over)
2. Free camping here at Coffs Harbour
1. Lake Mackenzie at Fraser Island

And mine:

5. Byron Bay hinterland, including but not limited to The Channon Markets
4. The Mt Warning afterglow
3. Protesters Falls
2. Lake Mackenzie, which was unbelievably beautiful
1. The Pass, my favourite beach

As we were debating how far to drive yesterday afternoon, Nick was looking in the Lonely Planet for dinner suggestions. He saw that on Tuesdays from 4:30, Mike's Seafood in Port Macquarie does a buy one get one for $1 fish and chips special, and a tasty fish and chips for that matter. Sounded good to us. We headed into Port Macquarie at around 6 (with our bodies on Queensland time at 5), found a place to park the motorhome, and found Mike's. We took our dinner and our picnic blanket to the waterfront which was clearly the popular choice - there was a brass band playing songs from The Beatles and Grease, loads of people sitting around enjoying the music, a mad flock of rainbow lorikeets chirping about the fruit trees, and a bat migration filling the sky. The fish and chips were great (and generous!) and the atmosphere was the perfect ending to a trip I hope to remember as mostly wonderful.

We ended up driving down to Taree for the night, and this morning we only have a few hours to drive. We'll be in Sydney by lunchtime. The sky is crystal clear. It is a beautiful day.

07 March 2010

Unlucky streak? Unfortunate, at least.

It started with things slowly happening to the motorhome. First it was the house battery and battery charger, which wasn't cheap to fix. We broke a key and had to get a new one made at a locksmith's. We popped some screws out of the awning and it hasn't been quite right since. There was the ding on the back bumper from backing into a tap, yet to be fixed. Then there was the broken lid on the bathroom vent - whenever it rained, it rained in our bathroom. We got that fixed. The leak upstairs was a big one, but Nick fixed it (temporarily) with duct tape. So then we developed a new leak in the back. It's not as bad as the first one, but still. Now our house water pump has gone, and we have no running water. Also, there is a fuse up front blown (I hope it's a fuze anyway) and our chargers, light and radio aren't working. And our rego runs out this month. Aaarrgghhh. We don't like not having running water, and all of this is making us even more eager to get back to Sydney, where we can check the motorhome in for repairs and not have it be our only home.

So we drove. We left Cairns on Thursday after our pancake breakfast, and drove to Bowen, a good effort. Friday was Bowen to Rockhampton, and we watched the scenery changing. Saturday we hoped to make it to the Sunshine Coast, but with the cooler weather (the first two driving days were hot and sweaty) the kids were quite happy in the car, so we drove straight to the Gold Coast. Straight to Treasure Island again for us. We decided to stay for two nights so that we could have a nice day off driving. The kids spent Sunday enjoying the kids club activities and the pool.

It's not just the motorhome though. When I was opening up the hard drive to put some pictures on my Kuranda blog post, it gave me an error message and froze up. We were unable to open it again. I figured I wouldn't worry. We would take it into an IT person to check it out. The data - an emotionless, technical term for all of the thousands of photos we have taken since we moved to Australia in 2004, three children's baby pictures, 6 years of life, Christmases, birthdays, overseas visits - had to still be there.

We took our little hard drive to a "data recovery specialist" this morning, and he was unable to recover said data. Ever the optimist, my first thought was, "So he couldn't get into it, but at least he didn't get in to see there was nothing there!" He gave us the contact details for Australia's data recovery people for our brand of hard drive, and we'll call them once we get to our friends' place. Then we'll have to do something that makes me really nervous: We will have to send this little box that contains so many memories off in the post to some computer geeks who don't know us and don't particularly give a shit about our photos. Dear computer geeks, please please pleeeeeeease recover our data.


It's taken awhile to get this post up! I was waiting on some hard drive issues so that I could post some pictures, but things aren't looking too good on that front. I'll just have to post without them.

I was really keen to venture around Cairns a bit. I've mentioned that Cape York was at the top of my list of places to go, and also up there was Cape Tribulation, the Daintree, perhaps Cooktown, the Atherton Tablelands, and Kuranda.

It's tough though, when you're travelling not just for yourself but with a family to consider. Maya has been getting increasingly frustrated and unhappy with our life in this motorhome, so we promised her that after we got to Cairns we would turn around and head back south to Sydney. As close as we were to all of the places I would have really loved to see, her happiness (and my promise to her) was much more important. I plan to live a long, fulfilling life during which I can return to Australia at some point and finish seeing it all in a Land Down Under Finale. I'm cool with that.

Kuranda was just so close though, a day trip from Cairns. I expected the kids to really like the butterfly sanctuary, and I liked the idea of a quaint little rainforest village up in the hills. I had read about the Sky Rail, a cable car system leading from Cairns up through the mountains, over the rainforest canopy, to Kuranda, and thought it sounded amazing. There is also the Kuranda Scenic Railway which looked cool.

After our big day at the reef though, I just felt a bit overwhelmed and decided not to bother going to Kuranda. I was a bit teary and down, bummed out that the trip was really going to be over soon and we were missing so much, and bummed out that we were spending so much more money than I thought we would be, and bummed out that travelling with three kids was turning out to be way harder than I anticipated. The Sky Rail and Scenic Railway were expensive too, more so than I thought. So I was going to scrap the idea. But my lovely Nick said who cares about the money? It's something you want to do, so forget about the money. Those of you who know Nick know what a big deal it was to hear this from him. He's frugal. He suggested that I just take Nate and Maya, and he and Eli could spend the day together collecting our underwater photo disk from the city and playing in the pool. A day without Eli... I have spent lots of days without Eli, but none in the last 10 weeks or so, and it made me a bit sad, and it made me feel a bit guilty how great it sounded to just go up with Nate and Maya. So that's what we did.

A bus took us to the Sky Rail terminal in the morning. Maya was a bit apprehensive after an unwise rollercoaster choice at Movie World - she was worried the gondola was going to go really high and really fast, herky jerky all over the place. She was also coming down with something (which I didn't know at the time) and that made her extra sensitive. When our gondola left the station, it appeared that she was going to be panicked for the whole hour-plus trip, but she quickly realised that although we were indeed very high, we weren't going to go too fast, and the ride was going to be smooth. So it was all ok. Nate LOVED it. I was glad that Nick wasn't there, because he isn't great with heights - I am generally fine with heights and the thing still made me nervous. He would have had to close his eyes.

We got off at both of the two stops along the way to check out the little rainforest walks. The Barron Falls station had a guided walk with an Aboriginal guy who pointed out some special trees and plants and their medicinal uses. One had a bright yellow sap which is waterproof, so it's good to seal cuts and sores. It is also used in art, and he said, "If you use this as lipstick, it will last for weeks! Wouldn't it be lovely to see - yellow lipstick!" Maya thought that was wonderful. Back at the station, under the platform, was a model of a cassowary and two chicks. He told us that if we see chicks in the wild, they will be with their father. The mother lays the eggs, and then she's gone. The father sits on them for 50 days, not leaving to eat or drink, and then brings up the chicks. Interesting, these differences between species. Apparently there is a woman up in the rainforest there that has been feeding some cassowaries so we had a good chance at spotting some. I asked if they are tame or if we should be wary, knowing that cassowaries are very cautious, solitary birds. He said we'd be fine, just to mind we didn't approach any chicks or we could get ourselves into some trouble. Alas, there were no cassowaries to be seen.

At the Kuranda station, we were faced with the option of taking the courtesy bus to the end of town - a whopping kilometre or so - or walking. I suggested we walk, and then we could check everything out as we walked by. Maya's complaints after walking about 20 metres (she was getting sick, remember) quickly changed my mind, and we headed back to the bus station. The driver told us that Kuranda is a lot bigger than people expect - it has schools and its own hospital, and two pubs! He drove us the short distance and we got off at the other end of town where we could meander back to the station end to catch our train at the end of the day.

First stop: Butterfly Sanctuary. We had read that if we wore red, we would have a good chance of attracting butterflies to land on us. In Are We There Yet?, a wonderful book about a family travelling around Australia, the mum has a butterfly land on her blue top. Nate decided to be safe and chose blue shorts and a red top. Maya wore red pants and a yellow top with flowers on it. She was the lucky one - a butterfly came to check out her flowers. It even stuck around after her initial reaction of trying to brush it away! She giggled.

The place was small, packed, and almost dizzyingly hot and humid. We weren't there for more than 20 minutes or so. There were lots of beautiful butterflies, but for the most part they kept to themselves.

Our Kuranda visitors' guide mentioned an ice cream stand selling homemade, tropical fruit ice cream. This was our next stop. The sign boasted great ingredients - raw sugar, fresh cream and milk, local fruits and nuts. I read all of the flavours out to the kids - there were some tropical choices like mango, passionfruit, coconut, rum and raisin, and then all of the regulars like chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. Nate chose mint chocolate chip, which I was happy to see was not bright green. The ice cream vendor (who was quite a character - I could have stayed and chatted for ages if the line behind us hadn't been so long) told me all about the high quality peppermint oil they use in that flavour; he was clearly proud of his work which is always wonderful to see. Maya chose lemon. He gave her a spoonful to try first since it is very tart, "Made with lemons from my own tree!" She loved it, so that was her flavour. I asked the man what his favourite is and he announced without hesitation, "Coconut ruff! I've already had two doubles this morning!" "I'll take one," I replied. After a short chat about the area of Sydney we're from (he did some naval stuff in Quakers Hill, our neighbouring suburb, many years ago) and his proclamation of the benefits of fresh ice cream to one's complexion ("I'm 68! You'd never guess, would you?"), we retired to a bench to enjoy our ice creams. They were all magnificent. The coconut ruff - chocolate ice cream with shredded coconut and little chocolate chips - was so good I could have had two doubles myself. I gave a little soapbox speech about why it's always good to choose quality products even when they cost more, and how they have to cost more because they are quality, blah blah blah, and the kids nodded their little heads, absorbed in their quality ice cream cones.

There wasn't a whole heck of a lot to do in Kuranda. We could have had lunch at one of many places, but we had packed our lunches. The little village, it was clear, only existed for the tourists who came to visit. It woke up at 10am and went back to sleep at 4 after the last coach had left. My Lonely Planet suggested that you make Kuranda a day trip as there is really nothing to stay overnight for. We walked around the markets, checked out all of the touristy items for sale just like in any other touristy area of Australia. There was a candy kitchen with free demonstrations, but they were inexplicably closed for the day. There was another sweet shop with all kinds of homemade fudge, but they seemed to be the only other shop that was closed. My day of gluttony and excess wasn't to be.

Soon we had exhausted the village. We were uncomfortably hot. Maya's tolerance level was low. We decided to check out the historic train station, hoping it was air conditioned. We stopped at a supermarket for some cold juice to take with us, and headed to the station with two hours to spare before our train was due to leave.

It wasn't air conditioned, but it was at the bottom of the village and well shaded, so it was still a bit of a relief. We had no trouble passing the time; the kids listened to stories on their iPod and I read my book (the first decent book swap find of these travels!). We checked out the charming gift shop, and the kids took lots and lots of pictures and videos, which hopefully sometime I'll be able to post.

Our train journey home was long and slow, but interesting and beautiful. There was a commentary track that talked about the building of the railway line, early life in Kuranda, and general knowledge of the surrounding areas. More nice views.

Back at the train station, our bus was waiting for us, and it was glorious. It was the nicest bus I've ever been on, and the air conditioning made me want to cry with joy.

I'm glad we went, but only because I would have felt like we were missing out if we hadn't. We wouldn't have been after all. But the ice cream was magnificent.

02 March 2010

Good hair day

Yesterday Nate and Eli and I took advantage of the courtesy shuttle and hung out at the big Stockland shopping centre for a few hours, just as long as we had to until the shuttle was due back. Maya wasn't feeling well (and had her second fever of our travels, maybe because of the close quarters?), so she stayed at the tourist park with Nick while he moved us into OUR VILLA. She is the dearest little sick person - curls up in bed and chats through her stuffy little nose, drifts off to sleep when she needs it, looks at books, listens to her body.

The shoe curse is still with us and has now taken my recently aquired black thongs. The toe strap snapped on the Great Barrier Reef boat. I haven't even had them for two months! Haviana is going to hear from me. In the meantime, however, I needed a new pair of shoes to wear. I borrowed Nick's new mock-crocs for the trip to the shops, and am now the proud owner of some $6 pink thongs. Pink? It was the only plain pair (like, without bedazzling or sequins or bows). Nick said it's like being married to a 12 year old. I've never been a pink person, but now I have a pink bag and matching pink shoes. Who am I???

We did a big shop, anticipating our full villa kitchen! Plenty of room in a full sized fridge for lots of fruit and veg - it all needs refrigeration up here in Cairns. All the fixings for an Indian dinner and a pizza dinner for the two nights we're here. An oven! Yay! We'll be baking cookies today.

It was so nice coming back to our villa. Yesterday was really hot and insanely humid, so we kept the air con set at 24 degrees and the overhead fans on low, and it was so nice in here. The villa has two bedrooms, one with a queen bed, one with two bunks, and the couch folds out into a bed as well. It isn't big, but it is a lot bigger than our motorhome, so we're feeling a bit luxurious and spread out. We brought in all of the toys and books and the kids really got into being less cramped.

We have also had the telly on a lot. The kids haven't watched any TV for weeks, but they have watched movies from our hard drive in the motorhome, and it's been the same things over and over. It's been nice for sick Maya to just chill out watching stuff she hasn't seen before while the boys hung out at the water park with Nick.

I loved taking a shower yesterday afternoon without having to pack and tote everything I would need off to a public shower, and without dripping with sweat on the way back to the motorhome. I washed my hair and noticed that last night it was all dry and silky smooth and relatively straight. Due to the humidity, I have been sporting a frizzy fro framed by some Maya-like ringlets since like Brisbane. But yesterday I was inside all afternoon.

Last night I heard the weatherman announce, "The humidity today was pretty atrocious, and it will be more of the same tomorrow." I'm really appreciating the opportunity to hang out inside.

We have clocked 5000 kilometres, which means it is time for a minor service to maintain the warranty. I'm hoping that won't be too expensive, although we have completely abandoned keeping track of the budget as of last week. We spent an insane amount of money with the reef tour, our trip to Kuranda (which I'll write about soon), and now the villa. Since we have been in Queensland we haven't been free camping - it rains at night and our windows let the rain right in so we have to close everything up, and then it becomes stifling inside with no power to run a fan or air con. All of the accommodation charges have really added up.

We will be heading back south, recharged and ready for the motorhome once again, and we won't be spending any more money on tours or theme parks or fancy accomodation or anything big like that. So we're giving up on the budget thing. We're no good at it anyway.

01 March 2010

Great Barrier Reef

The check-in area for our Great Barrier Reef was just like an airport, with each of the major tours having their own counters. It was weird, and it was our first clue to just what a huge business this reef thing is.

Here's another illustration of the scale:

We cruised out of Cairns, into the big blue. The boat met up with its pontoon which just sits out at the reef permanently, and this is where we spent the next 4 1/2 hours.

There were lots of things to do - glass bottomed boat tours, a semi-submersible boat tour, a "touch tank" where people were allowed to molest some starfish and sea cucumbers, which were carefully counted at the end of the day before they were returned to the sea. Apparently they are a delicacy in some Asian countries and have been known to disappear into Asian tourists' bags - we were told that the bigger, football-sized ones would be worth $5000-$6000. Here is Nate returning it to its home after what must have been a stressful day, as far as sea cucumbers experience stress:

There was a children's pool which was enclosed but fish could swim in and out of:

And there were little landings for snorkellers to launch themselves from. I took Maya and Nate to snorkel first thing while Nick sat with sleeping Eli on the big boat. Unfortunately, we just couldn't get their masks and snorkels to work for them. Maya was happy to abandon the task and hang out in the children's pool, but Nate got quite frustrated with all of the failed attempts - there was either water getting into the mask or into the snorkel, or too many bubbles in front of his face (I have no idea what that was about). Nick couldn't make it work either when he came out to the pontoon, and eventually Nate decided he would give up trying and enjoy some other stuff. It was a hairy time there for awhile, with a grumpy kid, but it all worked out.

Here are some pictures from the semi-submersible (the colour reminds me of The Abyss):

Turtle! Dude!

Nick and I did some snorkelling, one at a time obviously. We opted not to hire the stinger suits after we discovered that there haven't been any stingers spotted at this area of the reef this season, but I found that I was still a bit nervous. I'm a bit of a nervous ocean person really, especially when there are genuinely things that can kill you, or at the very least make you very uncomfortable, floating and swimming about.

And Nate managed to find a bluebottle :o( He was just swimming from the snorkelling platform to the children's pool, right along the side of the pontoon, a distance of about 10 metres. It wasn't a big - what do I call it, sting? contact? But it hurt him, and it left a few small welts on his leg. The staff onboard knew exactly what to do, of course. The sweet lifeguard sprayed the area with vinegar and gave Nate some ice to put on it, and then she did the most helpful thing of all - she told him that she has seen grown adults cry from the pain, so he must be really, really tough. He loved hearing that and promptly reported this to Maya after the lifeguard had walked away.

We splurged (when haven't we lately, really?) and hired an underwater camera. The camera place transferred all of our photos and videos to a disk for us, but there is no disk drive on our little computer! We'll have to find a computer to transfer them over to a memory stick so that I can see them and upload any amazing ones.

I'm disappointed to report that all in all, the experience was a bit of a letdown. Because of the pontoon, it doesn't really feel like you're going out into the middle of the ocean (well not the middle, but you know what I mean). It feels like you're just going to another resort. And because the staff go to the same place every day, they already kind of know what's going to be out there. Sometimes there is a bit of variety - sharks and turtles come and go after all - but there are residents there that the staff have named, like Wally the Maori wrasse, which gives the feeling of jumping into a giant aquarium. For me, the draw of the reef was the wildness of it, but it didn't feel that way at all. On the flipside of that coin, it did feel very safe which is the feeling you want with kids around.

The buffet was good though :o)