The Lure of the Snow – A Journey From Sweatt Ski Hill to the Snowy Mountains of Australia

Australia’s aptly named, Snowy Mountains, are located about a six hour drive south of Sydney. Our GPS tells us it’s 5 hours and 15 minutes from home, but let’s just say, it’s very optimistic about ETA’s.

We don’t get down to the snow very often, as the, more like, 7 hour trip, combined with exorbitant lodging rates and, honestly, outrageous lift prices (for the conditions and the facilities) make a trip for our family of four a luxury we seldom indulge in.

This year, we headed down the second week of August, for three nights, a week earlier than we did last year. This year, as last, we were blessed by blue, sunny skies, temps just a bit above freezing, little wind and plenty of soft snow on both the days we planned to ski. In the past, I can recall going down to face freezing rain mixed with snow, no sun, and strong winds, all the while paying a small fortune for the “pleasure”. So, to get good conditions for a trip planned well in advance is a blessing.

On our drive down, we took a fortuitous wrong turn while dealing with a “gotta pee right now” emergency for Brian. Where we pulled off the highway, there was a paddock with some friendly horses that we fed apples to and pet, along with a small flock of Galahs, 4 Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoos and a few Crimson Rosellas. Sorry to say, I didn’t get any photos of the birds, but trust me, they were beautiful

Some horses we fed apples to on the way down to the snow

Here are the horses we fed apples to on the way down to the snow

First thing when we get to the snow, it’s snowball time!

Snowball time!

Snowball time!

Heather and me, on the lift

Heather and me, on the lift

Brian and me up on Smiggins, Heather skiing by in the background

Brian and me up on Smiggins

Brian and me, on the chairlift

Brian and me, on the chairlift

Heading towards Brian's favorite trail, Back Wood Run, on Smiggins

Heading towards Brian’s favorite trail, Back Wood Run, on Smiggins

Brian and I enjoying a hot chocolate break

Brian and I enjoying a hot chocolate break

Our lodging was in Crackenback, which is about a 30 to 40 minute drive from the ski area. Most of the time, there’s only snow in the higher elevations at this latitude. We’ve stayed up in the snow before, but, that’s twice the price of where we stayed and I’d rather spend an extra night for less money and drive 30 minutes or so each morning.

Outside our lodging. Snowy mountains in the background. Pokemon are serious business for these two, but that's another story.

Pokemon are serious business for these two

Teresa with Heather and Brian

Teresa with Heather and Brian

We met some lovely people where we were staying. A lady named, Sharon, and her children Noah and Ethan. Noah and Ethan got along with Heather and Brian, and me, famously. We, and some other kids at the lodge, had great fun playing hide and seek, while possibly annoying some of the less fun-inclined guests. ;)

Heather and Brian both did really well skiing. Heather was able to ski independently on green trails, and ride the chairlift and T-bar with ease. Brian, still needs some work before he’s independent on the slopes. He still wants to go up the chairlift, and I indulged him so he wouldn’t be stuck in the learning area. I’d ski in a snow-plow, with Brian in front of me doing his own shaky snow plow, sometimes at fairly high speed, inside my snow plow. So, he’d have his skis in a wedge, inside the larger wedge of my skis. It was tough work for me, but worth it. When we’d get to easy parts, I’d open up and convince him he can do it on his own and he’d glide out and did really well where he was comfortable, able to complete turns. He really enjoyed when we’d, together, go over this one little jump. I’d get him to crouch down and spring up at the right moment to catch a bit of air, with me holding him under his arms. Wish I’d gotten a video of this, actually. That’s the problem with being the camera-man, though. :)

We were skiing at Smiggins Holes, which is connected to 3 other largish (for Australia) ski areas. It was perfect for us as it’s not too crowded, has some nice green (easy) trails and parking and access was a breeze. Sharon and her children were skiing across all 4 areas, but still managed to bump into us on the green trails on Smiggins each day. That was a real treat for all the kids. It also really pushed Heather to go down some blue (intermediate) trails on the second day, as she really wanted to stay with Ethan. ;) I’m pretty sure, Ethan was quite pleased about that, too.

Noah and Ethan, with Heather.

Noah and Ethan, with Heather.

I may bitch about the cost of going down to the snow, but, I’m a skier from way back and I want to share what I love with my children, so we go, all the same. To understand that, we’ve got to wind the clock back a bit.

 

How It All Started

I was very fortunate to have a small ski area, named Sweatt Hill,  in my home town, Wrentham, southwest of Boston, Massachusetts. I even had a season pass to it, when I was four years old. Consider this was in the mid 1960′s, and the ticket for a student was 25 cents for the afternoon, or 1 dollar for an entire weekend day. A far cry from today’s huge lift ticket prices.

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I remember we used to take great pride in how many lift tickets we’d have stapled together in a long line that trailed from your jacket.

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I learned to ski there, and more, learned to love skiing there. So many memories…riding the j-bar up the lift line, marveling at my older brothers and their friends, as they went shushing down the, seemingly, very steep front face, zooming down myself, but not down the steepest bit, feeling the rush of crisp winter wind on my face, taking the occasional wipe out complete with snow getting stuffed into any gaps in my clothes, and, even better, taking pride in making it down without falling at all, skidding to a long sliding stop at the base.

I can remember, after graduating from the “Bunny Slope” (a glorified bump), being very intimidated when I started riding the J-bar up the steep lift line. I also remember, quite vividly, soon after, falling off that J-bar and having a pile of people deposited on top of me before the lift attendant noticed and stopped the lift. Good times.

This is me (below) on the j-bar, wearing a Native American Indian outfit, for the annual ski costume parade contest.

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There were only a few trails, a couple of jumps, plus one unofficial trail that went off deep into the woods, out to the water tower and eventually back onto the trail.

Fifty plus years later, as I write this, my memories of skiing there are crystal clear. The smell of the smoky, welcoming fire blazing in the big stone fireplace in the warming hut, where I’d thaw out various frozen body parts. This was, after all, back in the days before gore-tex and thinsulate. We had leather ski boots, that got wet, woolen mittens, that got wet, along with normal pants, that got wet, and cold. Did that ever stop us? Nope, not for a moment. Wow, I sound like someone who walked a hundred miles to school, uphill, both ways! Ha! Anyway, that fire was something to cherish, as was the hot chocolate they sold there.

I also remember, having my skis at my elementary school and going directly from school to the ski area, which was close by, skiing until dark.

I have fond memories of my mom and dad crafting me outfits for the annual costume contest at the ski area. One year, I kid you not, my dad fashioned an A-Frame ski chalet out of wood and, maybe, cardboard. I looked like a steep roofed, golden painted, ski chalet with arms and legs (with ski boots and skis attached) sticking out, my face peeking from the balcony.

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In the photo above you can see the main slope of Sweat Hill in the background, and me front and center, dressed as a Wampanoag Indian. Wampanoags were the original inhabitants of this area and the local ski club was the Wampanoag Ski Club.

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Here I am in all of my Swiss Style Ski Chalet Glory.

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I can’t recall the result, but I don’t think I won the costume contest that year, either.

I can almost still hear the humming and the creaking of the cables of the J-bar and the sound of my wooden skis with cable clamp bindings gliding through the deep tracks of snow as I was pulled up the slope. Here’s a picture of the lift that I pulled off the internet, from the archives of the Sun Chronicle newspaper.

Sweatt Hill J-Bar lift

Sweatt Hill J-Bar lift

 

I’d forgotten this, but digging through old photos, I see I won a ski race there, too! There’s a blue ribbon on my jacket, if you look closely.

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Just in case you were doubting me, look below. :)  It’s blue and says, “Winner”. I think the girl in background thought I was a winner too, or maybe she was just checking out my butt! Ha! More likely, she was amused by how wet my backside was. ;) Anyone recognize her? She kind of looks like one of the Grady’s, my friends and neighbors.

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I continued to ski at Sweatt Hill through my teenage years, with much better equipment, thanks to Mom and Dad. In those years, they’d light the slopes for night skiing. The hippies (my brother’s friends) that worked the lift line would be blasting some great, loud, classic rock music through the PA system for us to groove on while night skiing, sometimes, under various levels of intoxication.

Sad to say, time and vandals finally took their toll on poor old Sweatt Hill, (Knuckup Hill, technically). Funding dried up to keep it running. It probably didn’t help that the snow seemed to not stick around so much as it used to, so revenue was low. I don’t recall there ever being any snow making there, but way back then, it seemed to always have plenty to ski on during the winter when I was younger, then less and less as I got closer to graduating from High School.

I recently viewed a website with some pictures of what became of Sweat Hill. The trails are still visible on the hill, as are the poles and rusted machinery for the j-bar lift. A handful of stone fireplaces from the warming lodge and a few other buildings are scattered about. If you are interested, you can see what’s left (or was when the photos were taken in 2004), by clicking the link below:

Sweatt Ski Area Memories – Click to view

There are a number of photos and some nice memories shared by people who used to be involved, or just skied at Sweatt Hill. I’m almost sad that I looked at it, seeing what’s become of it, but the stories that were posted there brought back some great memories.

I’ve been lucky enough to ski and snowboard all over the Northeast United States and it’s often challenging, yet rewarding conditions, plus trips to Canada, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Australia and I’ve even been snowboarding on an active volcano in New Zealand. Some of the best times of my life were had while skiing or snowboarding. You might be thinking, “But Paul, I thought you were all about water. You know, SCUBA diving, jet skiing, canoeing, waterfalls, surfing and all that?” Well, my answer to that, is, “Snow’s really just frozen water, isn’t it?” :)

Anyway, maybe now you can see why I’m drawn to the snow and will continue to bring Heather and Brian to “The Snow” here in Australia, or elsewhere, even if it is very far away and very expensive. Because, I love them.

Thanks for joining me for this extended blog. I hope you found it enjoyable.

Cheers!

Love to all,
Paul

Playing Catch-Up

Wow, so much has happened since my last update. I know I said I’d be better about posting more frequently, but… time just slips by so quickly.

Purling Brook Falls, worth the hike!

Purling Brook Falls, worth the hike!

So, let’s see, what’s been happening with us?

Brian finished his first term of Kindy/”Big School”, we’re underway with term two, now. Edit: It took me so long to finish and publish this post that we have just finished term two and are enjoying school holidays, term 3 is only days away now. : )

Heather is doing really well with her clarinet practice and band. They gave a concert at the end of term one and I was really impressed! She’s also been placed in an advanced class at her school and is doing great. She and I are continuing our karate journey and she’s doing so well. In a few weeks Heather will be grading for 9th Kyu (White Belt with Black Stripe) and I’ll be grading for 7th Kyu (Yellow Belt). We’ve been practicing, so, wish us luck!

Heather’s Clarinet Practice
This was a month or two ago, she’s improved quite a bit since then, too.

Brian has been playing soccer on Saturday mornings, for the Northbridge Football Club Red Torinos. Considering he’s never played before, he’s doing really well and continues to improve. At his level (Under 6′s) they play 4 to a side with no goalie and it’s more about having fun and getting to kick the ball than it is about winning or scoring goals. Still, it’s more fun when they win and his team has been doing that quite a bit. Brian even scores a goal now and then, which is always fun to see.

For the April school holidays we had an awesome, fun and adventure filled week, up north at the Gold Coast. More about that down below.

For the current, July, school holidays we’ve been local but doing lots of fun activities, which I hope to post about sometime before the next school holidays. ;)

And now for some details. : )

Heather’s Band Concert
For a group of year 3 students, many who’ve never played a musical instrument before this term, their concert was a treat. Heather is playing clarinet and has a flower in her hair. She’s mostly hidden behind a small girl sitting forward in her chair in the second row from the back. See if you can pick her out in these videos.

Heathers Junior Band – First concert from Paul Rooney on Vimeo.

Heather is mostly hidden behind a girl in the second row from the back.

and another

Heathers Junior Band – First concert – Part 2 from Paul Rooney on Vimeo.

Heather is mostly hidden behind a girl in the second row from the back.

Gold Coast Trip Highlights

We flew up to Gold Coast (it’s both a city and the name of the region). While there, we stayed at the Sea World resort and did a few days at Sea World, two days at Warner Bros. Movie World, an awesome day hiking up in the Gold Coast Hinterland then a weekend up in Brisbane with our friends David Ree, Elaine Pang and their children, Anya and Callum. With the Ree family we went for another lovely hike in the mountains to a secluded river valley with some crystal clear swimming holes.

The beach in front of our resort

A tiny, very fast, crab I caught at the beach on the Gold Coast. He was unhurt and returned to his home.

A tiny, very fast, crab I caught at the beach on the Gold Coast. He was unhurt and returned to his home.

Heather heading for the Emerald City, or maybe it was Gold Coast. : )

Heather heading for the Emerald City, or maybe it was Gold Coast. : )

Mum and Batman at the beach on the Gold Coast

Mum and Batman at the beach on the Gold Coast

Sea World

Sea World dolphin show

Sea World dolphin show

Heather lovin' the ray tank at Sea World

Heather lovin’ the ray tank at Sea World

Brian getting in on the fun at the ray tank at Sea World

Brian getting in on the fun at the ray tank at Sea World

Some odd sea creature spotted at Sea World

Some odd sea creature spotted at Sea World

Hike to Purling Brook Falls in the Gold Coast Hinterland – Highly Recommended

Seen on our hike to Purling Brook Falls

Seen on our hike to Purling Brook Falls

Little Monkey

Little Monkey

Purling Brook Falls

Purling Brook Falls

Having an awesome day with my amazing family

Having an awesome day with my amazing family

Gorgeous view from the Gold Coast Hinterland

Gorgeous view from the Gold Coast Hinterland

Our obligatory "stand by the sign" photo. Now, where was this? Aha!

Our obligatory “stand by the sign” photo. Now, where was this? Aha!

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Talk about being in the right place at the right time. This happened right on the trail we were on and I just happened to look down in time to see it. Amazing. David Attenborough, eat your heart out!

Talk about being in the right place at the right time. This happened right on the trail we were on and I just happened to look down in time to see it. Amazing. David Attenboro, eat your heart out!

Here is the video I took of the battle. Check it out!

Battle to the death – Spider vs Wasp from Paul Rooney on Vimeo.

An epic battle of natural enemies we happened upon during a bushwalk in the Gold Coast hinterlands.

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This looks like a comfy spot for a break

This looks like a comfy spot for a break

An amazing butterfly I snapped a pic of on our hike to Purling Brook Falls

An amazing butterfly I snapped a pic of on our hike to Purling Brook Falls

Monkey Girl

Monkey Girl

We weren’t allowed in at the main splash pool, due to an endangered species of frog that lives there, but we were able to get in at a lovely spot downstream for a few jumps into a refreshing pool

Waterfall jumping with Heather from Paul Rooney on Vimeo.

A lovely bushwalk in Gold Coast hinterland led us to this lovely little waterfall and the refreshing swimming hole that Heather and I jumped into a couple of times. I love how adventurous Heather is and how excited Brian gets cheering us on.

Fun with the Ree Family

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Brian, exploring with the Ree Family

Brian, exploring with the Ree Family

Heather exploring with the Ree family

Heather exploring with the Ree family

The Great Outdoors

For our four day Easter long weekend, we headed down south to an idyllic campground set in the middle of a vast wilderness, nestled in a valley along the banks of the Wollondilly River.

Wollondilly River Station is a fabulous campground due to its location, the very generous size of the campsites and the fact that campfires are allowed there year-round. To get there, we take the highway 90 minutes south of Sydney to Mittagong, then turn onto a long dirt road that plunges deep into National Park land, twisting and turning its way up and up through tall eucalyptus forest before finally descending steeply in a series of nerve wracking sharp, blind turns, complete with heart stopping sheer drop offs beside the narrow dirt road. Eventually you emerge from the forest and are greeted by a peaceful, green valley nestled between mountains, bisected by the slow moving Wollondilly River.

Wollondilly River Station

Wollondilly River Station

Wollondilly River Station

Wollondilly River Station

To me, there’s nothing like getting away for a few nights in the great outdoors. Spending the day exploring the area’s mountains, caves, canyons and rivers and getting up close and personal with kangaroos, wallabies and goannas (huge lizards) is a real treat.

6 foot long Goanna (Lace Monitor Lizard)

6 foot long Goanna (Lace Monitor Lizard)

A hearty dinner followed by a campfire, toasting marshmallows with the children, then a beer or two, before eventually nodding off in my camp chair late at night warmed by the dying fire with the amazingly clear and bright Milky Way twinkling down on me.

My campfire before it died down.

My campfire before it died down.

After the fire finally dies, I wake in the cold night to hear… nothing, not a sound. How refreshing that is, to hear absolutely nothing. But if I listen, really listen, there are sounds. The faint sound of water running over rocks in the river beside me, an owl hooting far off in the distance, and then, as I approach the tent, soft snoring from one of my children, deep in a well earned slumber. These are the moments that fill my soul.

Waking in the morning to Laughing Kookaburras cackling in the trees overhead, heralding a new day, the occasional fish heard jumping in the river, tempting you to cast a line in, the sun streaming into the tent and my family sleeping peacefully in their sleeping bags beside me is my idea of a perfect way to start a day.

Quietly slipping out of my sleeping bag, I unzip the tent flap, step outside and greet the day ahead. The air is fresh, crisp and clean. As I look about, the morning sun bathes the leaves of the trees and bushes with a golden glow. The river beside our campsite is sparkling and glasslike, reflecting the mountains that rise steeply beside the river. A few Eastern Grey Kangaroos are nibbling on the grass not far away, watchful and cautious of any approach.

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I fire up the Coleman stove, for morning coffee and prepare to make blueberry pancakes, as my dad did many years ago. Camping always brings back my fondest childhood memories of time spent with my mom and dad and my brothers. In times like these, I feel like my dad is with me and I smile and wish it were true.

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Over the course of our 4 days at Wollondilly River Station, we played in the river, swimming or paddling about in our little 2 person inflatable boat. Heather and I climbed up the mountain across the river one afternoon, inspiring Teresa and Brian to tackle it with us the following day. We took a day trip to Wombeyan Caves, a further 40 minutes along the windy dirt road. The caves are breathtakingly beautiful, decorated with a multitude of colourful limestone formations, but this time instead of going on one of the guided cave tours, we opted for a hike in the area and chose the trail to Limestone Gorge.

Our visit to Limestone Gorge turned out to be a lovely outing for the family as well as a great adventure for Heather and myself, even if I did manage to get my foot crushed by a massive boulder along the way.

The obligatory "Sign" photo

The obligatory “Sign” photo

We arrived at Wombeyan caves around midday and ate our lunch in the shade of a tree that drops massive, car denting heavy, pine cones. Note, we were in its shade, but not directly under it. With lunch tucked away, we hit the trail. After hiking up a steep path for a while, we noticed a short side trail and checked it out. Turned out it led to the entrance of one of the tour caves. Exploring further, we followed some stairs that led down through a cool cavern, ending at a locked door. Enjoying the cool air, I hopped over the railing of the stairs and using the light from my camera flash, I explored a bit finding a hole leading to a smaller cavern that had some beautiful stalactites and crystal formations. As the rest of the family had already moved on, I took a few photos and made a mental note to stop again on our way back.

The hike to the gorge was lovely. It was sunny and hot and we were treated to a display of native wildflowers and the occasional colourful bird darting about. On the way to Limestone Gorge, there is a small self guided cave with a few nice formations, leading to a cavern exit perched high on a cliff face, overlooking Limestone Gorge. From here, we can see a few people swimming in the gorge below. Seeing that, I couldn’t wait to get down there.

Self guided cave

Self guided cave

Overlooking Limestone Gorge

Overlooking Limestone Gorge

Looking down at the Gorge. I want to get in there!

Looking down at the Gorge. I want to get in there!

At the bottom of the gorge, we found quite a few people hanging out on the rocks. After testing the water Brian decided that having a swim in water that felt like it belonged in a cooler full of ice wasn’t on his to-do list for the day. Teresa graciously kept Brian company while Heather and I headed off to explore the canyon, and I am so glad we did.

The canyon was beautiful. The rock walls looming up on either side were graced with moss, ferns and air plants. Leaving the crowds behind, we waded through the first section with the cold water nearly up to my chest. The canyon floor alternated between boulders and rocks to scramble over and pools of water to wade through or swim across. My favourite section was one that was totally flooded. Heather and I had to swim about 100 yards through the very cold water to make it to the next section. As we swam, I looked at Heather and said, “Remember this moment.”

Part of our trip through the gorge we shared with two men. One from Germany, the other, his friend, from Mexico. The guy from Mexico had a cast on his hand, shaping his hand into a permanent “thumbs up”. This led to a few queries of “How’s the water?” as he swam with one hand held up. Of course, his answer was a resounding “thumbs up” even though the water nearly took your breath away. Maybe you needed to be there, but, the four of us found this very funny.

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Our international friends turned back at one point, but Heather and I went just a bit further. We were reluctant for this adventure to end. We climbed to the top of a giant boulder and had a snack before we also turned back.

After we rejoined Teresa and Brian, Teresa pointed out a massive spider, the like I have never seen. It was seriously the size of a dinner plate. I took a photo and would’ve put my hand next to it for scale, but I value my body parts. This spider was much bigger than my outstretched hand.

Biggest spider I've ever seen!

Biggest spider I’ve ever seen!

Another wonderful adventure in the books, we headed back along the trail. When we neared the cave we’d found on the way out, I borrowed Teresa’s phone to use as a flashlight and took Heather and Brian to see the cool little cave I’d found.

At one point, I had to drop off a ledge, and pass Brian over to another ledge that led to the cave. It was dark at that point, so I got him to sit down and turned to help Heather across. Just about this time, Heather climbed on to and off of a large boulder near where I was standing. Much to my dismay, the boulder was dislodged from it’s perch on the sloping cave floor and rolled down and over my foot. The fact that I didn’t swear a blue streak in front of Heather and Brian at that point should earn me a few credits when St Peter does the tally at the end of my life. Oh. My. God. I didn’t swear, but I did shout, quite a lot, in fact.

My foot had just been crushed, right on the upper joint of my big toe. Luckily, I was wearing good hiking boots and I was standing on a bit of soft soil. Those two things are what saved me from a trip to the hospital. I had a look at the boulder afterwards, it was big and mostly round and as tall as my knee. I couldn’t move it at all where it stopped next to me. Thank God it didn’t stop ON my foot. After a minute or so, I took the kids into the cave and showed them the beautiful crystal formations and the limestone stalactites. There were a few broken pieces on the floor of the cave, so I let them take a souvenir.

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After we drove back to the campsite, I got ice for my foot. The toe was a dark black and blue on the bottom and side already. I applied a few beers, internally, as I iced it down. By the morning, the black and blue encircled the entire toe, but luckily I could still walk on it okay. It’s now been a few months and aside from some scar tissue on the top and bottom of the toe, it seems to be okay.

The next day, Heather and I hiked up the ravine that leads to the top of the mountain across the river from our campsite.

The ravine hike across the way.

The ravine hike across the way.

The top. A goal we've yet to reach.

The top. A goal we’ve yet to reach.

The hike was enjoyable, following a washed out, dried up waterfall course. At one point, the overhead canopy of trees and vines was so thick that Heather wanted to leave it and go out to where we could see the sun shining up on the ridge to the side of the ravine. We did just that, emerging from the thick vegetation out to a wide open rock slide area. We carefully climbed up the rock slide, Heather in front of me as my boots dislodged stone after stone. We made it up to a goat path that crossed the side of the mountain and headed up a ridge line towards the top. Here’s where I learned a valuable lesson about cactus. I have relatives that are from the desert, my wife included, will surely get a chuckle out this.

Prickly pear cactus, loaded with fruit, were scattered around the mountainside. Some of the fruit was purple and appeared to be ripe and sure looked intriguing. Okay, so, I should be smarter than this, but… using my walking stick I knocked a ripe looking fruit off the cactus. I was going to have a taste of whatever was inside. Looking closely, the fruit didn’t have any spines, only some little tufts of fuzz. Not having my knife with me, or any other tools, I used what God gave me. My hands. Hmm. That was easy, those little tufts scrape right off. I’ll just scrape this all away, shall I… with, my, hands! What was I thinking? Was I planning on having a bite? All of a sudden I realized that the “fuzz” on the fruit were little, very fine needles. Those needles were now implanted in the tips of most of my fingers and were starting to hurt, A LOT! ARGHH! Wow, that really hurt! It took me a while but I managed to get the needles out of my skin. I can’t remember ever getting a taste of that fruit either.

One of those moments

One of those moments

The next day, Heather and I convinced Teresa and Brian to join us for the same hike up the ravine. It was slower going with Brian along and we stayed down in the ravine this time. No more cactus adventures for me! Brian found something else in the ravine though. Something unpleasant. Stinging nettles. They live near limestone and when you brush the leaves of them, you skin feels like you got stung by a bee. After Brian got nailed by it, we kept an eye out and it turns out this path, if you can call a dried up waterfall course a path, is littered with stinging nettles. It was all we could do to avoid any further mishaps. Interesting that when Heather and I had gone the same way the day before that we never even noticed they were there.

Stinging nettles

Stinging nettles

Brian on the ravine hike

Brian on the ravine hike

The Easter bunny managed to find our campsite. It even managed to scatter some eggs for Heather and Brian to collect.

Easter. Brian's least favorite holiday. The poor guy doesn't like chocolate!

Easter. Brian’s least favorite holiday. The poor guy doesn’t like chocolate!

Did you look under the bush?

Did you look under the bush?

Four days camping goes much too fast and before we knew it, it was time to pack up and head home.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tale and aren’t asleep in your chair, like me by the fire with the stars blazing overhead.

Love to all,
Paul

How time flies

My goodness. Has it been so long? So much has happened since my last post. I’m not sure where to begin.

So, I’m sitting here on Friday evening on the 8th of April, enjoying a well earned, cold beer. Ale, actually. James Squire Hop Thief American Pale Ale, made right here in Australia. It’s been a very, very long week. You see, this is the time of year that Teresa is lucky enough to have her company fly to Madison, Wisconsin, USA for a week of training. She’s also lucky enough to have me and my willingness to look after Heather and Brian for a weekend or so on either end of her training. 11 days this time. 11 days of doing the multitude of tasks that Teresa does week in, week out ,on top of my many contributions to taking care of the kids and the house, plus working my normal job. This is also the time of year that I’m reminded of how difficult it must be for single parents who live this way week in and week out. My heart and my admiration goes out to you!

Teresa has been gone now for 9 of the 11 days of her trip. During that time, I’ve acquired new upstairs neighbors who are incredibly noisy and unrepentant about it. Our previous neighbors of the past, what… 6 years, were silent as church mice. I miss them. Now I know how my mom felt when I was a teenager, asking me to turn down the bass on the stereo in my upstairs bedroom. The good news, if you can call it that, is that the building we live in will be demolished in June or July of this year, so we need to leave anyway. The new neighbors will just hasten our departure from here.

Also in that time, Brian and Heather have finished up term one of school. Year three for Heather, and Kindy for Brian. After a pretty rough start of Brian not wanting to go to school, a number of phone calls from the principle about Brian hitting, biting and head butting other kids, it’s turned around and he’s been doing great, in big part due to a reward based system we implemented along with his teacher. Academically, he was doing fantastically well all along, just challenged socially. The final three or 4 weeks of Term 1 breezed by without any more calls from the principle, and nothing but glowing reports about his day from his teacher.

A quick synopsis of what we’ve been up to since my last post, when Brian finished up at preschool…
I began spending way too much time playing the newly released game, Fallout 4 (a big reason for no blog updates, I’m afraid)
My mom (Gram-ma Joyce) came for a 2 month visit, from early December to early Feb
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We had a rainy trip to the Hunter Valley, a lovely (when not raining) wine growing region, north-west of Sydney
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I got out for some long overdue scuba diving with my favorite dive buddy, Teresa
We celebrated New Years Eve in traditional Sydney fashion, with a picnic, cocktails and fireworks
Brian turned 5
Brian started school (Kindy) at the same school with his sister
Heather was placed in an advanced year three class, combined with year 4 students
Heather joined the school band and took up clarinet
I enjoyed an amazing canyoning adventure, courtesy of a Christmas present from my awesome wife
Brian started playing soccer on a team for the Northbridge Football Club, called The Red Torinos
We went camping for 4 days over the Easter long weekend (Good Friday and Easter Monday are public holidays in Australia!)

I’m sure I’ve missed heaps, but those are most of the highpoints. There are stories attached to each of these highlights and I hope to get the chance to share some of them with you soon!

Here are few recent pics from our camping trip to whet your appetite, that is, if anyone bothers to visit this ghost town of a blog.

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One door closes, and a journey begins

Brian recently “graduated” from Max and Millys, his daycare/pre-school, where he’s been going since he was a year old. This is the same daycare that Heather went to, as well.

We attended his graduation ceremony and the following week we went to his Christmas party.

Brian at his pre-school graduation

Brian at his pre-school graduation

On Brian’s very last day, at the Christmas party they had in the afternoon, it really hit me right in the feels. I’ve been going there every weekday morning for the past eight years, myself. Many happy moments were had at Max and Millys. For most of that time, I’d spend 30 or 40 minutes at drop off, hanging out and doing things with the kids. Singing Wiggles songs with Heather and her classmates as “The Fifth Wiggle” when she was a year old, spending time drawing with Heather as her art skills blossomed, learning to juggle and practicing while I entertained Heather and Brian and their friends. Teaching Brian to throw and catch with him and his friends or just running around playing with childish abandon or searching the outdoor area for cool bugs. I even took a turn as Santa one year for their Christmas party, donning the suit and beard and giving out the presents to all the kids.

Funny thing on that, both Heather and Brian came right up to “Santa” when I first entered the room and sat down. All the other children were seated nicely, but they came up to me with no hesitation and started to talking to “Santa”. I was wearing some spectacles I’d picked up at the Chemist to help disguise me. They had no idea it was me, thankfully. :)

Another fond memory for me is taking the bus every morning with Brian and all the highlights between the bus stop and Max and Millys.

The last day, on our final bus trip, I took photos of the major highlights of the trip. These trip highlights had originated as a way to get Brian to go to daycare, back when he didn’t really want to go. Let’s go say hi to the kitty, cool, now lets go say hi to Big Chef and Little Chef, say by to Big and Little Chef, lets go to the Flight Centre and see if they are open yet, let’s go see if Gary is there, or let’s get your haircut, lets see if the motorcycle is parked over there today (that was right across the street from daycare). It was a circuitous route and took a bit of time, but my schedule worked out well with all of it and I figured it was all good time spent together.

On the bus with Brian, on the way to pre-school

On the bus with Brian, on the way to pre-school


The kitty we see, sometimes, behind the Rag and Famish pub

The kitty we see, sometimes, behind the Rag and Famish pub


Big chef

Big chef


Little Chef

Little Chef


Big Chef, a year or so ago

Big Chef, a year or so ago


Little Chef, a year or so ago

Little Chef, a year or so ago


One last haircut from Tricia

One last haircut from Tricia

A haircut from Tricia when Brian was younger

A haircut from Tricia when Brian was younger


Part of the journey to daycare used to be stopping by Flight Centre where the ladies loved Brian. Sadly, they closed a year ago.

Part of the journey to daycare used to be stopping by Flight Centre where the ladies loved Brian. Sadly, they closed a year ago.


Another older journey to daycare. The ladies knew Brian loved "Ginormous Ships" so they gave him one. :)

Another older journey to daycare. The ladies knew Brian loved “Ginormous Ships” so they gave him one. :)


Gary, the really nice man at the key/shoe repair shop

Gary, the really nice man at the key/shoe repair shop


The motorcycle that was sometimes parked in the alley across from Brian's daycare. Nearly there!

The motorcycle that was sometimes parked in the alley across from Brian’s daycare. Nearly there!

His teachers will miss him a lot and Brian already misses them, too. Thankfully, I’ve connected with them on Facebook, so we’ll be able to keep in touch. :)

Brian and Jae. Jae is really lovely and Brian will miss her and her wonderful loving cuddles very much.

Brian and Jae. Jae is really lovely and Brian will miss her and her wonderful loving cuddles very much.

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Brian and his teacher, Jenn. She's been amazing and will stay in Brian's memory forever.

Brian and his teacher, Jenn. She’s been amazing and will stay in Brian’s memory forever.

We also hope to stay in touch with some of his friends that he has grown close to over the past few years.

Brian and Lilly

Brian and Lilly


Brian with Rhys (who graduated last year and was visiting) and his best friend, Josh

Brian with Rhys (who graduated last year and was visiting) and his best friend, Josh

I have to say that it hit me hard as we were leaving. I’m pretty sure somebody must’ve been cutting some onions (if you know what I mean) as I said goodbye. ;) We may have to stop by and visit sometime soon. :)

Brian will be starting Kindy in February at the same school his sister, Heather, attends.

Here he is modeling his new school uniform.

Brian is ready to follow Heather to school

Brian is ready to follow Heather to school


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Good luck Brian. God willing, I’ll be right there to help you and guide you along your journey.