Blue Mountains with Boszormeny’s and Ben and Aidan

Our return from New Zealand saw the end of the third school holiday break.  But thankfully our time with the Boszormeny family didn’t have to end when we left the South Island!  George, Julie, Amber and Abby were able to spend a week exploring Sydney and the Blue Mountains with us.

Arriving hot on their heels to the land down under were Matt’s brother Ben and his wife Aidan, who had just spent a week in Bali, Indonesia at a friends wedding. Ben arrived with what appeared to be an infection on the top of his foot, and what was originally going to be a brief 3-day visit with us, turned into a trip to the Lithgow Hospital for antibiotics, the cancellation of plans to travel up the coast, and a 6-day stay with us in the Blue Mountains!  And although we felt bad that Ben had to deal with an injury, we were certainly thankful for the extended visit!

The day the Boszormeny family arrived to Blackheath, was also the day that Matt had been invited by his friend Julian to the Bathurst 1000 at Mount Panarama.  The boys arrived home from the race and the celebrations continued while the final laps were watched from the comfort of our lounge room!

During our time together in the Blue Mountains, we explored the Jamison Valley and took both families on a cable car ride down into the rainforest, had lunch at the base, and then rode the steep railway back up to the top.  We enjoyed a Thanksgiving dinner, and delighted in a bonfire and children’s talent show, complete with headlamps!

Ben was well enough to travel down the coast to Callala Beach with Caroline and Aidan mid-week, so while they were off skinny dipping in the ocean, the Boszormeny family went on a big hike down to Bridal Veil Falls at Govetts Leap where they were shocked to find a snake coiled up beside the hiking trail and Amber was dive-bombed by a nesting magpie!  They were completely mesmerized by the views.

Amber and Abby were fortunate enough to experience a day in the life of an Aussie student and attended Blackheath Public with Leina and Cohen during their week with us.  Amber was in a year 5 class for the day, while Abby shadowed Leina in her year 1/2 class.  The students were treated to maple sugar candies brought especially to Australia by the Boszormeny girls!  Some of the students at the school still rave about those treats!

While the kids were at school, the adults, and Elijah, hiked at Wentworth Falls and had lunch out at a unique spot, The Garage, in Leura, one of our favourite towns.  Although the service was mediocre, the meal was quite good.  We arrived to pick up the kids at the end of the school day and they had many wonderful stories to share about their time in an Australian school.

Our last night with the Boszormeny’s was a real treat!  We hired a babysitter for the evening, and delighted in dinner out at Thai Silk in Blackheath, and a night-cap at the local pub, the Ivanhoe.  Upon leaving the pub, the temperature outside had dropped considerably, and so it wasn’t surprising that the following morning we awoke to snow!  And it snowed.  And snowed.  And snowed!  Matt and the kids never made it to school that day.  Matt tried to drive to work, but quickly realized that the icy roads, mountainous terrain, rear-wheel drive car, and lack of winter tires, were the wrong combination!   In fact the roads were so bad that they closed them until 4 in the afternoon.  Branches were creaking and breaking off and we lost power from about 9AM.  Needless to say, the Boszormeny family didn’t make it to Sydney until late that night.  Thankfully their flight home to Canada wasn’t until the following day!  By the time the snow had turned to rain at about 1PM, we had received 14 cm in 7 hours and we had played 15 rounds of euchre by the woodstove!  And although Sydney families were flocking to the Blue Mountains to experience the snow, we were one of few families who kept their kids indoors all day!  The reasoning behind this was the combination of branches breaking and improper clothing and footwear!  Poor excuse for Canadians, eh?!  We never imagined having an authentic ‘Snow Day’ while living in Australia!

Once the roads opened, we said farewell to the Boszormeny family and then headed down to Glenbrook to Caroline and Collin’s place for a visit and to leave our kids for a sleepover with them while we partied it up in Sydney for the night with Ben and Aidan, Amy and Alex, and good family friend Chris Walker, who had come from Melbourne by bus for the weekend.

Our night was slightly overshadowed by news of Matt’s dads very serious fall and head trauma and surgery, but we still managed to leave a dent in some of Sydney’s iconic pubs and hotels thanks to our fearless leader Chris.  Our favourite by far was the ‘Hollywood Hotel’ where the beer flowed freely, the music was ace, and the urinals epic!  After experiencing the atmosphere and cocktails on the patio at ‘The Beresford’, we ate the most amazing food at a spot that Aidan found on the internet – a Loation/Burmese restaurant on Oxford Street called the Pink Peppercorn, and we continued the party at a couple more pubs before grabbing another bite and crashing at the hotel at 3AM.  It was a memorable night for many reasons.

So, once again we were fortunate to host some very special visitors from Canada.  Our afternoons were enjoyed sitting on the back deck in the sunshine, and dinners were always lively.  Everyone pitched in.  In fact, I think Julie was in the kitchen more than I was!  And she spoiled Leina by styling her hair every day!  Ben was on bath duty with the kids in the evenings, and Aidan and George were dynamic story tellers at bedtime!  We went for long walks, and we wowed them with the size of the Aussie spiders, the colorful birds, and the awesome views from the lookouts.

George summed it up best by expressing that their visit was an opportunity of a lifetime and we couldn’t agree more!  We are once again blessed with memories made with some wonderful friends and family members – George, Julie, Amber, Abby, and Ben and Aidan – our lives are richer and our year down under made memorable because you came to visit!

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“You Did It!”

Olivia, our 13 year old niece, was greeted by Elijah and I at the airport in Sydney on August 16th with a small home-made sign that read “You Did It”!  Escorted through security and immigration by one of the staff at the airport, Livi and I spotted each other, and proceeded to dissolve into each other’s arms – the sign crumpled between us – both of us relieved that she had made it safely!

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Livi was going to be away from her dad Scott (my brother), her mom Julia, her sister Grace, her friends and other family members, and her soccer teammates (during playoffs I might add!) for a total of 2 weeks!  We were so impressed that she wanted to come visit us and that she was willing to come on her own!  It is not a short journey, nor is it uncomplicated.  But with minimal assistance from the airlines, airport staff, and good friend Caralynne in Vancouver, Liv was able to get herself here and home again safe and sound.

Olivia was the absolute perfect visitor.  Our kids literally sparkled the entire time she was here with us.  Leina stuck to her like glue and tried to spend every waking moment with her special cousin.  While she was here, the kids enjoyed playing charades, and card games, and we went for bike rides around town and walks in the evenings, and hiked in the mountains.  Afternoons were often spent jumping on the trampoline in the backyard and evenings were always capped off with story time.  The kids were so proud to show Liv how well they are reading in English.

Olivia got introduced to their school and their teachers and some of their friends.  She went on a tour of their school, got to read in Cohen’s class, attended one of their weekly assemblies, and even rode home on the school bus with them!  Olivia marveled at their accomplishments and was impressed with their awards and certificates.

Olivia was at the perfect age for this visit.  While she enjoyed sitting and playing with the kids as much as possible, she was equally interested in sitting around with adults to talk about current events and life in Glengarry.  She was responsible enough to make the kids dinner one night and to babysit, so that Matt and I could go out on a date!

She managed to charm the pants off everyone she met and everyone was amazed at how mature and polite and gregarious she is for someone her age.  One woman even mistook Liv for being a university student!  Liv thought that was great!

Liv was able to visit Katoomba and rode the cable car and steep railway into and out of the Grose Valley and rainforest below.  She hiked at Pulpit Rock and picnicked on the side of a cliff, and she was blown away by the views at Govetts Leap, and her favourite lookout, Anvil Rock.  She came with us to celebrate Damien and Amber’s little nephew Ollie’s 4th birthday party at an indoor play place and spent the afternoon crawling and sliding right along with the other kids, much to the delight of Leina, Cohen and Elijah!

The kids introduced Liv to some of their favourite Australian animals at Featherdale Wildlife Park, and she loved seeing the kangaroos randomly out in the fields not unlike seeing deer at home!

Matt introduced Liv to an Australian high school for a day, and matched her with Caitlin, a year 8 student at Lithgow.  Liv had many observations from the day, and came away with an appreciation for life at her little rural high school in Glengarry.  She even got published in the school’s monthly newsletter!  Thankfully she didn’t fall in love with any year 8 boy and decide to stay here!

One of the highlights from our time together was our weekend spent exploring Sydney.  We spent time with friends Amelia and Huw and their children Imogen, Annika and Charlie, at Shelley Beach near Manly and rode the ferry back to Circular Quay at night time with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge sparkling with light.  We introduced her to Sydney’s Chinatown and dined on Chinese food.  We spent time on Cockatoo Island exploring the Biennale art exhibit, bought gelato and souvenirs in the Rocks Market, and watched buskers playing their didgeridoo’s.

We’ve discovered that Liv is an impressive shopper and managed to get some wonderful little gifts to bring home to her family, as well as a few new “back-to-school” wardrobe staples.  She enjoyed shopping at the Factory Outlets down in Sydney, as well as the little shops in the Blue Mountains, and succeeded in buying herself a pair of authentic UGG boots!

Regardless of how brief our time together here in Australia was, we are grateful for the quality of her visit.  We are indebted to all of the generous individuals who made her trip possible, and we are grateful to her parents, Scott and Julia, for giving their daughter firm roots as well as wings.

It was not easy to say good-bye to someone as special a visitor as Livi, but I must say, it was touching to witness the compassionate exchange between very fond cousins – both when she arrived and when she had to leave.

There is no greater gift than the gift of love and family and we are all so proud and lucky to have such a beautiful, brave, and fun-loving gem like Livi in our midst!

And Livi – congratulations – you did it!  You are an amazing young lady.  And may this just be the start of some fantastic worldly travels.  You, and the people you will meet, will be richer for it.

Waves and Sunsets and Smiles

It will be a long time before I forget the delight and emotion that was displayed by my sister Erin earlier this year, when she asked Leina and Cohen and Elijah via Skype if it would be alright if she and Uncle Johnny Boy came to visit us in Australia in July!  She followed the request up with “I don’t know why I’m crying!”  But we all knew exactly why she was crying!  It was Erin!  She pretty much cries at everything!  Well it was a combination of that, and the fact that she was going to be leaving behind her two small children, Jillian and Graham, in order to come and see us!

July 8th couldn’t come soon enough!  I had waited patiently to wrap my arms around my only sister for 6 months, and finally it was going to happen!

The afternoon they were arriving in Sydney, we were situated at the holiday house up in South West Rocks, waiting anxiously for their safe arrival!  The video recording of their arrival into the holiday house is priceless!

Immediately upon their arrival after a 7 hour drive up the coast from Sydney, we headed to the beach to greet the rest of the troops!  Long-awaited hugs and kisses were exchanged and a few “Holy Sh@#!  We’re in Australia!” before consuming a well-deserved pint on the beach!

After an exhausting 21 hours in flights, and 7 hours in the car, it wasn’t surprising the eyelids were closing quickly after dinner was served, which was a good thing, since a full day trip to Port Macquarie had been planned for their second day in the land down under.  There would be no rest for the weary!

Port Macquarie was only an hour drive down the coast, and a whale-watching trip had been planned for noon.  The humpback whales were en route to warmer temperatures and Port Macquarie was suggested as the perfect spot to view their migration.  And we were certainly not disappointed.  For those who have never spent time with these magnificent mammals, please heed my advice and GO!  It is one trip I will never forget!  Two humpback whales decided to spend a solid hour around our boat, surprising us with where they would appear next.  All of us were poised and ready with our cameras and video recorders!  The kids were completely fascinated and the sight of these majestic creatures was so impressive.  We had the boat to ourselves and our captain kept the music playing as the whales swam playfully around us.  After two hours, and when it became clear that our two whales were attracted to something further out, we headed back towards shore only to be personally guided into the harbour by a very playful dolphin who we nicknamed “Winter” after the movie “Dolphin Tale”!  It was such a memorable conclusion to the experience.

That afternoon, the bulk of the group toured the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital where between 200 and 300 koalas are admitted each year after being hit by cars, or attacked by animals (dogs mostly), or found and rescued in areas devastated by forest fires or in new residential developments.  We caught up with the free guided tour in the outdoor enclosures of the facility and met some special koalas who were in the process of being rehabilitated in order to be released back into the wild.  We were able to witness some koalas being treated for various injuries and diseases (some for the third or fourth time – naughty koalas!) and thoroughly enjoyed the brief tour.  The kids were really affected by our visit to this unique facility and will often still “play” koala hospital, or ask about it.  Leina has talked extensively about returning to Australia when she is older and working at the Koala Hospital!

One of our most memorable days spent with Erin and John up at South West Rocks, was the day we climbed to the lookout at the Smoky Cape Lighthouse and spotted whales migrating north, and then walked the Jack Perkins track down to the North Smoky Cape Beach (clothing optional beach, I might add!), and spent a good amount of time running in the waves and sand (with clothes on, I might add!), and snapped many photos!

That afternoon, which also happened to be the warmest day of our holiday together, we brought snacks over to the Trial Bay beach and had a blast with the kids!  It had been a long time since I had witnessed my little sister giggling like a young school-girl, as she and Leina tackled body surfing in the waves!  Who had more fun – Leina or Erin – is still up for debate!  They both had huge grins for most of the afternoon and the memories will live on longer than the rashes they developed from slamming into the ocean’s sandy floor over and over again!

Our drive back down the coast towards the Blue Mountains was broken up with a stop at Manning Point for one night at a holiday spot graciously provided to us by Damien’s brother James.  The weather unfortunately did not cooperate – it poured buckets of rain on us – but we were thankful for a cozy place for all of us to sleep, as well as some Aussie red wine and a deck of cards!

Our experiences together in the Blue Mountains saw us celebrating Elijah’s 2nd birthday together (even though Erin bought ‘Happy 1st Birthday’ balloons!), as well as checking out some favourite lookouts like Govetts Leap in Blackheath, the Three Sisters in Katoomba, and Hargraeves over the Megalong Valley.  We did a brief hike and admired the views at Wentworth Falls.  Leina still talks about 2 things from this hike.  1 – that Auntie Erin was really freaked out by the heights, and 2 – that the way Auntie Erin was going to memorize the name of the lookout was by saying “We WENT, and it was WORTH it!”

But the lookout that really freaked Auntie Erin and Uncle John out had to be Pulpit Rock, just down the road from us here in Blackheath.  The photos don’t do this lookout justice.  But suffice it to say, this lookout can make even the strongest of stomachs, weak beyond belief!  The view is unsurpassed.  Four levels of lookouts provide different aspects of the views into the Grose Valley and Blue Gum forest below.  Personally, we think this lookout is much more impressive than the one at the Three Sisters, but thankfully it is a rare and unexploited lookout, which makes it all the more special.

We took Erin and John into Sydney on the train for a day and had a grand time exploring the city we have fallen in love with.  We took them on a ferry ride over to Manly Beach past the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, and enjoyed a delicious lunch of takeaway fish and chips while people watching on the boardwalk overlooking the beach.  We browsed the Rocks Market and then were entertained by an oompah band at the German restaurant ‘Lowenbrau’.  Who knew that Fabio is now making a living as an accordion player at the Lowenbrau in the Rocks in Sydney!?!  Erin and John were impressed with the city and were fortunate enough to spend a couple more days there while staying with my friend Merril, before they had to head back home to Canada.

Before their last few nights in Sydney, Erin and John had the opportunity to check out Blackheath Public School, and to meet Leina and Cohen’s teachers and friends.  They visited their classrooms and admired their hard work and were impressed with the ease and comfort that the kids displayed at the school they have become very attached to.

While Erin and John were here in the land down under, we made sure to expose them to some distinct “flavors”, like kangaroo meat and Tim Tams, and made sure to impress Johnny Boy with a bonfire of eucalyptus leaves, appropriately nicknamed “the eucalypt bomb”!

What impressed us the most during the duration of their visit was the quality of the visit.  Erin and John got to truly be aunt and uncle to their niece and nephews for two whole weeks.  It was a rare and beautiful thing to see them interact without having to worry about the demands of their own children.  The memories made during this quality visit will last many years and their relationships are richer for it.  It was fantastic to see them playing Uno together in the evenings, or reading stories together, or helping them with homework or listening to them read.  Or everyone’s favourite – the “Top 3 Highlights of Your Day”.  I hope to remember witnessing these special bonding moments forever.

The goodbyes at the end of the visit were very tough.  We knew it would be months before we would get to hug Erin and John again, which always makes farewells difficult, but we were just so thankful that they made it!  That they were able to leave their two precious children in the capable hands of the grandparents, and make the long journey to see us.  We will all have visions of waves, and sunsets, and smiles to last a lifetime.  And for that we are so incredibly grateful.

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Touring Around Town with Grandpa and Grandma!

They came.  They sewed.  They played.  They cooked.  They babysat.  They chopped.  They walked.  They gardened.  They read.  A lot!

Through the eyes of the three kids, Grandma and Grandpa’s visit was all about the parks and picnics and the card games and story times.  For Matt and I, their visit was about adult company on those walks and at meal times, and even a couple of date nights!  It was about quality time with two special visitors.  It was great welcoming Matts’ parents to our exchange home.

Blair and Jean spent over two weeks in the Blue Mountains broken up by a 10 day road trip together south of the mountains to the state of Victoria.  During their time in the Blue Mountains we hosted some of our new friends over lunch in the sunshine on our back deck and at everyone’s recommendation, we visited the Mount Tomah Botanical Gardens for a picnic lunch and walk.  Mount Tomah is this fantastic garden less than an hours drive from Blackheath.  It is a cool climate garden with wonderful walking trails, and plenty of grass for picnics.  We toured through the gardens and admired the variety of trees and plants that seem to thrive 1000 metres above sea level in the mountain air.  We especially liked the different pines, and my new favorite – the Wollemi Pine.

Easter Sunday, the kids were delighted to learn that the Easter Bilby had made an appearance!  He even left Easter eggs outside on the deck!  Jeannie and I sported lovely hand-made Easter bonnets at church Sunday morning, made by the church ladies, and we hosted Amber’s family for Easter dinner that evening, complete with Pavlova for dessert!

Another highlight was a daytrip to Sydney.  We rode the train to Parramatta, and because Blair and Jean are of a certain age, they got to travel for $2.50 for the entire day!  From Parramatta, we walked to the Parramatta Wharf and caught the River Cat ferry down to the Sydney harbour.  What a beautiful way to travel to the heart of the city.  Parramatta River winds its way past smaller harbours and shoreline executive homes.  And since the sun was shining, the trip down the river and under the Harbour Bridge was just perfect!

We spent the day walking around the Opera House and picnicked in Sydney’s Botanical Gardens before taking another ferry over to Manly.  The kids had a blast splashing in the waves and playing in the sand for the afternoon while the adults visited!  After ice cream on The Corso, we ventured back on the ferry and headed for Circular Quay to pick up the rental car.  The group split in two – the men and Leina took the rental car, and Jeannie, and I and the boys took the train back to Blackheath.

Blair and Jean got to experience some of our favourite lookouts and hikes, including the local Fairfax Heritage Track, as well as Wentworth Falls.  Cohen lead us to the Wentworth Falls Lake, a spot he had been to with his class, for some playtime on the pirate ship structure, and we enjoyed a picnic by the lake.

A highlight for Matt and I was a gift from Blair and Jean, a double date to Sydney to the Playhouse.  Our friend Kim looked after the kids for the afternoon and evening, and we ventured down on the train, enjoyed shopping in The Rocks market, and pre-show drinks and a visit with Preston and Sandra Manning.  The show we were treated to was a tribute show to the late Johnny Cash – ‘The Man in Black’ – performed by Australian singer and songwriter, Tex Perkins.  The Playhouse is a small, intimate theatre in the lower level of the Opera House.  Tex does a stellar Johnny Cash impersonation, and wove the story of Johnny Cash between songs.  After the show we enjoyed oysters and dinner right on the harbour.  The train ride back up to Blackheath meant that no one had to worry about staying awake!  It was a grande date and a real treat to be out without lugging a diaper bag, stroller, or snacks through downtown Sydney!

A couple of days before they were leaving for home, on ANZAC Day, we explored the Jenolan Caves, which is about an hour away from Blackheath.  This adventure is deserving of its’ own post, so stay tuned!

Also deserving of its’ own post is the entire road trip we did together to Melbourne and area, so stay tuned for that as well!

It was incredibly difficult to say good-bye to Blair and Jean when they left on April 27th.  There were flood warnings in Blackheath from all of the tears!  They brought a little piece of home, and knowing we wouldn’t see them for another 8 and a half months, made their departure all the more difficult.  They were wonderful guests – relaxed and easy-going company – who spoiled their grandchildren with games, and story time, and treats and cuddles.  We are so grateful that they made the trip to visit us and we will all cherish the memories forever.  Even Elijah, who appeared to be handling the morning of their departure best, reacted as their car drove away down the road by pointing and crying out “Ganpa and Gamma, Ijah wanna go too”!

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Govetts Leap

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The Blue Mountains National Park boasts some of the most amazing views in all of Australia, and one of those views is a mere 10 minute walk from our front door.

At Govetts Leap, you are immediately greeted by this 180 meter tall waterfall off in the distance, and breathtaking panoramas of the Grose Valley and the basalt tops of Mt. Tomah, Mt. Banks, and Mt. Hay (old volcanoes).

Legend has it that this amazing lookout was named after Govett, the bushranger, who was escaping troopers and jumped over the cliff on his horse.  But when you dig a little deeper into the story, you soon realize that “leap” is a Scottish word for waterfall, and Govett was a surveyor who discovered the area in 1831.  However, we agree, the jumping horse story is much more intriguing!

The cliff tops at Blackheath have been a public reserve since 1881, and the area has changed very little since that time.  Thankfully they have installed sturdy railings, which we have learned were built and installed by Amber’s dad Colin.

There is a splendid walking track that winds its’ way down to the base of the falls by way of steps and stairs, past damp rock faces, and hanging swamps that are home to some specially adapted plants and “grubbies” (nickname the kids have given to them)!

A less steep walk, but equally picturesque is the ‘Cliff Top Track’ which leads to the top of Govetts Leap waterfall, and continues along to Evans Lookout, through dense heathland, past gum and banksia trees and many wildflowers.

Govetts Leap, or “Gubbutts Leaf” as Cohen refers to it, is an absolute gem of a lookout and we are fortunate to be just a horse jump away from these amazing views and bushwalks!  We look forward to exploring it more with our kids and our visitors!