“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.

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Winter Hike at Bridal Veil Falls

“Never lose an opportunity to see anything that is beautiful.  It is God’s handwriting – a wayside sacrament.  Welcome it in every fair face, every fair sky, every fair flower.”  ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Bridal Veil Falls cascades off the cliff at Govetts Leap, and falls 250 meters onto the boulders of Govett Gorge in the Grose Valley.  We have been admiring this beautiful view of the falls and valley from the moment we arrived in Blackheath, and had always looked forward to following the aptly named falls into the valley below.

We set out on a gorgeous sunny winter day to attempt the descent into the valley beneath. Elijah in the backpack on Matt’s back; Leina and Cohen with their sticks as walking aids; and I with the camera, snacks and water.

We were spoiled with impressive views into the Grose Valley wilderness and the Blue Gum Forest and treated to the sounds of some of Australia’s native bush birds.  There is nothing like the sight of white sulphur-crested cockatoos swooping and soaring above the forest below, and perching on the gum trees along the track.  They may be one of Australia’s nosiest birds, but their attractiveness certainly makes up for it.

The track, at times, is perched right on the edge of the cliff with only tall gum trees and low shrubs between you and the distant valley below.  The track takes you in and out of gullies, down well-worn hand-hewn steps, as well as man-made stairs.  The track is narrow in parts, and sometimes saturated and dripping with water.  Matt would help the kids get over the wet areas by lifting them, and they would squeal when running water would drip down the backs of their sweaters from the plants hanging off the cliff face!

The winter day couldn’t have been more brilliant.  The sunshine was creating the most awesome rainbows in the waterfall and on the side of the cliff where the hanging ferns were trickling with water.  We were slowing peeling off the layers of clothing under the suns warm rays during the hike.

We only made it three-quarters of the way down to the falls before stopping for the snacks and water, and then started our grueling ascent, as we were anticipating a lot of whinging on the hike back up (but nothing that a little spelling and “maths” game can’t distract them from!).

We hope to do this hike again before we leave, namely because it is just 10 minutes from our door, but also since we understand that there are “yabbies’” (small little crayfish) at the base of the waterfall that make great little pets (or a dinner main!).   We also really want to see what the Blue Gum Forest and Bridal Veil Falls looks like from underneath – from a different perspective.

And I have to say, that although I have not been inside a church in the last few months, I see God’s awesome spirit on these breathtaking hikes in Australia.  It is there in the azure sky, and the magical rainbows, and the yellow wattle flower and crest on the cockatoo, and in my children’s smiles.  I am feeling very blessed and grateful for the opportunities afforded to us.

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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!