The Boys Outback

Last week Sam and G embarked on a four day backpacking trip to explore the highest places in Australia. They had planned and looked forward to it for weeks--packed and marked maps and made lists and shopped and gear checked and off they went. (And yet even as I snapped this picture and waved goodbye, visions of lost campers and injured hikers danced in my worried head. Imagination is so fun!)

Once they were in the Snowy Mountains they faced a day or two of 70 kph winds so had to revise their journey plans midway (hooray for flexipositivity). But they had a terrific trip and ended up summiting five of the tallest peaks on the continent. They would be quick to add that the mountains are all grouped together and admittedly on the small side compared to other continental giants. But still. I was home working in my comfy clothes (and, yes okay, sometimes binge watching Scott & Bailey) so I'm duly impressed.

Sam made a video of the short clips he filmed throughout the trip. I think I've replayed it ten times--it makes me happy and a bit mama verklempt. It's like that father and son time traveling scene on the beach in About Time--these are the moments they will remember and mentally time-travel. Also? What a spectacularly gorgeous place this planet is:

Slightly related note: don't you love this Apple ad? I love seeing the world through their eyes.

Vacation surprise


Once upon a time (yesterday), we were on a winter family holiday to the Sunshine Coast. It was sunny, beautiful, but brisk weather so we decided to explore a bit. We consulted a map and planned out a scenic hike through a national park to a remote, secluded beach for a picnic, hoping to see koalas and other local wildlife along the way. It was gorgeous and we talked our way through the hilly tropical forest to, eventually, the beach. There was a wetsuited surfing family down the beach and we walked a bit further, nestled ourselves in the sand, and got out our sandwiches. 

As we lunched, we soaked up the sun and enjoyed the gorgeous scene. Further down the beach, we noticed an old guy heading to the water. He was very tan. At precisely the same moment we all realized every inch of him was tan. Every naked inch. Looking around we realized we had navigated ourselves to a clothing-optional beach. Whoops. Surprise!

(Local wildlife, check.)

Be Jauntful

We've been lucky to travel a bit as a family and to live in some pretty interesting places over the years. Every once in a while a friend will email and say "you know how you used to love to drive down to NYC now and then? Well, we're going there on vacation and I was wondering if you had any suggestions for what to see, where to stay, what to eat...?"  I love it.  I love a good journey and I really love sharing great places along the way. But sometimes it's hard to remember or explain the recommendations in a narrative email. It takes a little time to look up all the links and addresses and directions. Over the years I've wished there were a way to put together an itinerary complete with map and links and notes. 

Well, now there is! I'm really excited about Jauntful. (You might remember I briefly mentioned Jauntful's concept a while back but they've recently launched and I've started exploring their site. I'm seriously excited to use this service. By the way, they don't know me at all nor have they paid or asked for my endorsement. I'm just a giddy oversharer is all.) You type in favorite spots--cafes, activities, hotels, must-sees--and they map it and fill in the nitty-gritty details. And they create a shareable, printable map from the suggestions you provide! Genius.

My friend Alyson is coming to visit next week (huzzah!) so I've been exploring the Jauntful guides to cities nearby. I think we'll probably try this one for Sydney--I love that there are hotel/cafe tips along the way, too, with suggested sequence and insider tips.

I tried Jauntful out by documenting the Melbourne trip I posted about last year and I'm hooked!  Oh, the possibilities.

p.s. If you do join Jauntful, let me know! I'd love to get your take on your hometown or your favorite destinations. Armchair travel is almost as fun as the real thing (um, with less jet lag, too).  

The Braxton-Hicks of launching kids

Yesterday Sam left on a school trip to France. For a month.

Look at that I'm-going-to-France smile! Or is it an I'm-getting-outta-here smile? I'm going to tell myself it's the former.

Look at that I'm-going-to-France smile! Or is it an I'm-getting-outta-here smile? I'm going to tell myself it's the former.

I know! A month?!  My reaction exactly! It's not the school trip of my own high school experience but apparently, if you are a school in Australia planning to take a group of students all the way to France, you go big or stay home.  At Sam's school most kids take a trip like this at least once in high school. It's a big part of the school's global education focus and we feel really lucky that they value and support these kind of experiences for their students. (And, since the two-week term break is coming up, he'll really miss just 8 days of school overall.) Sam's had his eye on this trip for a long time and has been counting down and preparing for months. The all-over-France itinerary has me alternately super excited for him and wildly jealous. I mean. April in Paris! They write songs about that kind of thing.

Sending him off on this trip has reminded me once again that, ultimately, one of my mama roles is to stand at the doorway and wave goodbye, over and over and over again--handkerchief waving optional. Launching implies a leaving place, a launching pad to push against and leave behind. I am that person, that place. I've had my turn at the launching myself; now I'm the launcher, not the launchee. That's the deal. (See: The Lion King.)

I have been remembering those pesky Braxton Hicks contractions that plagued me in the last part of my pregnancies.  Life has a way of warning us, of designing rehearsals into our systems so that we can gradually prepare ourselves for the real deal.  I've come to think of these adventures and field trips as another set of Braxton Hicks experiences, just preparing me ever-so-slightly for the time when he--they--get on the plane and fly away into a new life. Ever since their births, the leavings just get longer and more distant, more thrilling and bittersweet.  But it's what I signed on for and I have to remind myself that healthy, sprouting, blooming independence is a thing to celebrate, not mourn. Right?

Go, Sam!  Now go bring us back something delicious. And remember to pick up your socks and towels at your host family's house.

Hey, N&L friends! Thanks for the comments on our first anniversary/giveaway post. As we have probably said before (and will probably say again), comments are one of our love languages.  We've been on cloud nine reading through your comments and feedback. If you haven't already, remember to go and comment on that post by Thursday at 8 p.m. (Texas time) to enter to win our prize package filled with 12 of our favorite things. 

Occupying small street

We said goodbye this morning to our French exchange student who stayed with us this week. It's an interesting experience having a stranger stay with your family around the clock and jump right into your routines with you. It made me look at our habits and our home in a completely different light. (Are our packed lunches up to par? Should we have more structured activities going on? Are we boring? Too busy?) Sure, we have guests and friends here quite often in short bursts but when someone stays with you for a week--and sees you in your pajamas, in your hurry-up impatient times, in your feeling-too-sleepy-to-get-up-and-make-breakfast times--that's another level of acquaintance and sudden closeness! As I told Sarah mid-week, it's tough to keep the shiny facade in tact for that long, haha! Margaux was terrific, though--smart, funny, easy-going--and a lovely guest who spoke English really well. Her visit was a great preview and example for Sam, who is excited to head to France on a school trip for the month of April, including two home stays--one in Lyon and one in Carcassonne. 

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Over the weekend we went to Enlighten, where Canberra illuminates some of the public buildings and museums with artistic light shows.

Old Parliament House

Old Parliament House

Then we happened upon a really cool project in the Museum of Democracy in the Old Parliament House. They had collected hundreds of toy figurines and invited everyone to choose a figurine, make a mini protest sign out of broken toothpicks and small cardboard squares for the toy to hold (either something you believe in or something the toy might advocate for) and add it to the masses assembled in the "Occupy Small Street" there in the hall (sorry for the grainy phone photos!). 

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Some were silly, some were funny, some were serious. Sam chose to speak out on a crucial issue facing the world today:

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It was a fascinating exhibit. I thought I'd mention it here because I think it's an activity that would appeal to most big kids and teens, since identity development in the teen years includes a very typical fascination with advocacy for causes. They are developmentally right in the process of piecing together what they believe in, what to stand up for, what advocacy means. I think this could work as an art installation, classroom or school or even city-wide project. I can also imagine the appeal of using this as an activity at home--a sort of animated version of a suggestion jar!

Okay, so what would your protest/advocacy sign say?  Mine was a little playmobil guy holding a sign that said "Educate me!" but later I thought of several other slightly more witty things I wished I had said.
Story of my life!

Adventures with big kids: skiing


It seems like mid-November might be the perfect time to talk about skiing. If you are a long-time, hockey-stop, swish-down-the-mountain skiier, then this post might not be for you. This post is for us warm-weather, newbie skiiers (or you cold weather folks who haven't yet braved the slopes). 

As our kids got older, Sterling and I found it increasingly difficult to plan family vacations that addressed everyone's interests. When we were at The American Girl Store, Parker was in physical pain. When we were looking at WW II exhibits, the girls were bored and anxious. Plus, there are age differences. And personality differences. Sure, food brought us together, but you can only eat for so many hours a day, and then you just have to MOVE ON..

Skiing has been, in fact, something that all of our kids really enjoy. Plus, there's the story-telling AFTER skiing, wherein we detail our greatest wipe-outs and predicaments . . . and everyone loves that part too. And riding the lifts? Forget about it. There is nothing like gliding through snowy, mountain beauty while chatting with your kids. It's the best, Jerry. The best. 

Starting the sport is admittedly daunting -- there's lots of gear to buy and arrangements to make. For our first ski trip, three years ago, I scoured the Internet looking for advice, and didn't find what I was really looking for (but I did get lots of good advice from my SIL, Debbie). Here, I've compiled my tried-and-true list of recommendations for those just starting out.

Gear: This is a lot of stuff if you are starting from scratch. Craigslist, garage sales, and community Yahoo groups are great ways to find gently used ski clothes -- particularly for kids who may outgrow an entire set in just one season. Also, once we were in Utah, a quick stop by Walmart, revealed a whole world of low-priced snow pants, kids snowsuits, gloves, and even parkas. So, there are options in just about every price range. You do have to be determined. And fearless. And being BFFs with the Internet doesn't hurt.

But I digress. The first year, since the ski trip was essentially the kids' Christmas gift, I spent HOURS online trying to figure out how to clothe my crew. I ended up getting almost everything from Lands' End (who is NOT paying me to say this). I started putting everything I thought I would need into my cart, and then good old Lands' End responded by e-mailing me deals: I think I finally bought when everything was 30% off and free shipping. Because I'm not Midas, I only bought one complete set per person. So, yes, there was washing. Here's what we got: 


1. Thermals. These are an essential first layer. We bought the thermaskins (crew top and pants) from Lands' End. I ended up getting off-white for the girls and black for the boys. Don't ask me why. These have held up famously, and we are all still wearing the original pair. Bonus: wear them under jeans to a cold football game!

2. Fleece half zip. I also got these from Lands' End because the price (minus 30% was pretty darn good). This is your second layer up top. 

3. Ski pants. The first year I bought six pairs of ski pants from Lands' End (these are currently listed at $89, but I think they were more like $59 when I bought them). They worked great, but, honestly, they are pretty puffy. The second year I bought a slimmer fitting pair for myself that I like much better. Becca's asking for these pants for Christmas. Bonus: The kids' snow pants have an extended length you can access by ripping out some inside stitching, so Parker wore his for two years! 

4. Ski parka. I only bought Parker's coat through Lands' End. Sterling and I used hand-me-downs from my brother and SIL, and I scoured the Internet for more stylish options for the girls. Madison and Becca opted for snowboarding shells and Jordan bought a more traditional fitted ski jacket. I paid under $100 for each.

5. Sock liners. These aren't "essential," but I love them! Wear them under your ski socks for extra warmth. They wick the sweat away from your feet! And yes, you will be sweating. 

6. Ski socks. Go for one pair of real ski socks. These have padding in just the right places and are the appropriate thickness for ski boots.  

7. Snow boots. These are totally optional. You don't really NEED snow boots to walk from your car to the ski lodge. We did use them when we went tubing one night. Also, they might make you feel more legit -- if you are into that sort of thing. But otherwise, you can skip the boots. 

8. Gloves. I ordered six pairs of squall gloves from Lands' End. Moderate price. Worked great. 

9. Ski helmet. Okay, here's the deal on helmets. The first year we rented. The bummer is that a helmet is about $8.00/day, which is just about half of what you pay for skis, boots, and poles combined. When Sterling and I went up later in the season we actually bought helmets. We found some on sale for about $60, so we made up our purchase in about 8 days of rentals. Of course, they DO take up a bunch of luggage space!

10. Goggles. I was so on the fence about goggles. Goggles can run into the hundreds of dollars, which I was not willing to spend when we were just "trying out" the sport. I found some goggles in the $40 range (on sale) at a ski shop near my home at the last minute. They have been fine. Not great. But serviceable. When I'm really swishing down the slopes, THEN I'll upgrade. 

Equipment Rentals: I know this is getting long, so I'll try to hurry this along. The first year, we rented our equipment from the resort. The shop was crowded, and we really did not get adequate help with fitting -- which meant REALLY uncomfortable ski boots. The next year we followed my brother to a smaller shop close by the resort. They were much more invested in the fitting, and the price was good. If you reserve online, you can get 20% off the entire rental. Beginner skis, boots, and poles run $22/day ($17.60 with discount), and the helmet is $8.00/day ($6.40 with the discount).

Lift Tickets: Each year we've bought discount tickets from our equipment rental place. Often Costco has great deals on packs of tickets. If you really look around (from the comfort of your computer) there is generally a discount to be found. The depth of the discount depends on the resort you choose. If I had it to do over again, I might have started at a smaller resort where lift tickets and ski instructors are less expensive.  So far we've skied at Park City and Deer Valley.

Instruction: The instruction portion of the trip, for beginners, is super important. It literally can be the difference between success and failure. For kids, ski school is a great option -- the lift ticket (and lunch) are included, and they get great (and safe) instruction from about 9 - 3. Most ski schools place the kids into groups by ability, about 5-6 kids per instructor. For our teenagers (and ourselves), the first year we tried out a Never Ever class, which, as you might guess, is designed for people who have never, ever, ever strapped on a pair of skis. This class was a bit of a wash. It was slow moving, and we probably went down the bunny slope ONE TIME all morning, which was boring for the kids. After the Never Ever, we engaged a private instructor. The private instructor is pricey, there is no doubt, but a couple of sessions can really get you on your way -- I can't recommend private instruction enough. 

Housing: While staying close to the resort is incredible, we opt to stay about 20 minutes away where prices are more reasonable. Try VRBO -- it gives you a little room to spread out! 

Guys! If you are even a tiny bit inclined -- try skiing. There are really no special skills involved. And soaring down the mountain is like flying . . . creeping down is pretty darn fun too. 

Surf & turf

When we first heard that we were moving to Australia last year, Greg put "learn to surf" high on his list of things he wanted to do. Never mind that we would live two hours inland. Or that we didn't have any equipment. Or know-how. Details!

It took him almost a year to get us out there but over ANZAC Day weekend last week we finally got the chance to give it a try. It was a beautiful autumn day at Narrawallee Beach: gentle, learner-perfect waves and surprisingly warm water.

We found a guy (this terrific and pretty hilarious surfing coach) to come meet us on the beach and put us through the paces, from warm-up stretches to sand-surfing to catching waves. 


In the middle of the day, I realized that we had hit upon the ideal mid-stage family activity: not surfing specifically, but learning something new together. The key? It was something where we all were equally, flailingly, hilariously novices.  No one was the boss or the expert (well, except Simon the coach. And he was good at being bossy, believe me.) It was in no one's wheelhouse, no one's turf. Just a bunch of newbies out trying something new together; no winners or losers, only cheers for anyone who made the slightest progress or caught the littlest bit of wave.

To G's delight, I think we're hooked. The surf school was getting rid of this season's wetsuits so we ended up getting one for each of us at a great price. (And, as an added bonus, we can all dress up as the Incredibles for Halloween in our matchy-matchy gear. Or not.)  Next up...what? Golf? Archery? Ceramics? Cricket? There are so many things we don't have a clue how to do it's hard to know where to begin.

[By the way, you've probably noticed by now that I am not featured in my wetsuit glory in any of these photos. Yes--and I guess this might water down my point a bit--in truth I was that mom. The one sitting out, taking the pictures and watching. I wholeheartedly agree with the get in the picture movement but let me just say, here and now, that on this particular morning I was delighted--THRILLED--to be documenting this.  I was perfectly content wandering the beach, reading in my beach chair, and cheering everyone on.  But I will say this: Next time I'll definitely surf. And now I've got my own supersuit.]

If you're in this part of the world (after you come and have a chat with me, of course), consider heading to Mollymook, Ulladulla and Narrawallee beaches on the South Coast. We found a great little cottage just a couple of blocks off the beach via Stayz. We ate at the classic beachside diner at Mollymook and strolled through the shops and cafes of the lovely historic hillside town of Milton. It was early in the off-season and we felt like we pretty much had this whole lovely area to ourselves!