Saturday, December 27, 2014


My calendar has sent me numerous "write [insert topic here] blog post" reminders, and I've ignored every single one of them.

Because I'm home.

And I love being in my home, and I don't want to pop my little home bubble and deal with the outside world.

We've been home for a week and a half now, and it's just been so long as you ignore all the cleaning, unpacking, switching out of summer clothes for winter clothes, decorating for Christmas, shopping for Christmas, and all the extras that come with the holiday season that are usually really nice, but kind of overwhelming when you've just arrived home after living abroad for five months.

There was nothing organized about this Christmas whatsoever, everything was last minute!  But we knew that would be the case when we signed up to return in mid-December, so I had a strict "no sighing" policy for myself in regards to how Christmas turned out this year.  And, in order to get any justifiable amount of work done around here, I delegated out a lot of tasks to my children, who were so incredibly happy to do their share if it meant being in charge of something to do with Christmas.  That meant less Christmas funnery for myself, but it was OK because the children really had a lot of fun with their responsibilities--I even let them decorate the tree by themselves!

I unpacked two boxes of Christmas decorations only--the tree decorations, and the box with some serving pieces and a few decorative items that I set up on the piano.  No greenery, no wall anythings.  It looks fine.

The house isn't as clean as I'd like it to be...but we still went caroling and had friends over for cocoa and cookies afterwards.  It was fine.

The presents were ordered the Friday before Christmas.  It was fine.

I planned our Christmas dinner a week beforehand.  It was fine.

Don't get me wrong, I will in no way alter how I like to do Christmas after this "simplified" experience, but it was good that it was still incredibly sufficient without all the little extras I prefer to have in abundance.  It's good to experience things differently every now and then.  I've had more time to just sit and do some of the "lazy" things--watching more movies with the family, sipping apple cider with the kids after they come in from playing in the snow, snuggling with Michael, petting the dog.  All good things.  There's been lots of good things this Christmas.

But the best thing is that we are home.  We can phone friends and family whenever we want, we're greeted by friends and neighbors when we go out, we sleep in our own beds, and we drive our own cars.  I even have a sewing machine downstairs, hiding somewhere amongst the wall of boxes that greets me when I enter my craft room.  Everything is familiar and comfortable.  I am so incredibly grateful for the experience of living in Australia these past months, because one of things the experience has taught me is how much I love my home.

Michael and I have made a home here; our own little place on our own little spit of dirt.  It's ours, and it is good.

Merry Christmas.  I hope this little note finds you warm and comfortable in your homes, wherever they may be found on the map.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

An Encounter with a Sea Turtle

We live down the way from one of the largest Loggerhead turtle rookeries in the world.  While researching the various things to do while we were in Australia, the Mon Repos Turtle Encounter quickly rose to the top of the list.  You get to actually observe, right up close, a sea turtle dig its egg nest, lay its eggs, and then return to sea.

We decided that the evening of the last day of school was a perfect time to schedule our tour--no need to worry about waking up early in the morning if the turtles didn't show up until after midnight.

No worries, a turtle showed up a mere thirty minutes after we arrived!

The kids were not big fans of the walk to the turtle's location--the beach is almost pitch dark (lights confuse the turtles), and we actually had to stop a few times to let more sea turtles cross the beach in front of us.  Then one of those sea turtles decided that she really wasn't in an egg-laying mood, so she turned around at the top of the beach and made her way back into the ocean.  It's pretty neat to watch the "dark rock" moving along in the darkness, but kids aren't the best at waiting for things to happen at a turtle's literal pace.  :)

Eventually we made it to "our" sea turtle, who was in the process of digging her nest hole.  That's kind of fun to watch because she uses her back legs to reeeeeeach down, scoop up sand, and then brings it up and flings it out to the side.  Then the egg laying happens and it's just really neat.  Once she's in her egg-laying trance, you can take pictures all you least until another sea turtle pulls up beside your group and you can't have any lights on for fear of confusing that one as well.

Our turtle laid her eggs in a somewhat unsafe zone, so once she returned to the ocean, the park volunteers dug up the eggs (all 132 of them!) and asked us to help transport the eggs to a safer location.

I took two eggs to the new nest myself, but then spent the rest of the time sitting next to Michael on the beach because he was holding a sleeping Monkeyboy.  Oh, the stars...with no light around to diminish them, it was breathtaking--I saw clusters around Orion that I've never seen before.

While we were sitting, another sea turtle pulled its self up alongside us, about forty feet away, but then she spooked and high-tailed it back to the sea.  The park volunteers have to keep track of each turtle that visits the rookery, regardless of whether they lay eggs or not, so they had to run after it before it got back to the water, which is just hilarious when you think about it.  The turtles are so big and powerful that it takes two men pushing against them to make them stop long enough to do a tag check.  In the case of this fleeing turtle, only one guy caught up to it at first, and was rewarded with being pushed backwards towards the ocean until his mates caught up.  It was such a weird thing to witness!

On the way back we had to stop two more times to allow safe turtle crossings, and walked over quite a few turtle trails in the sand.  It's just so awesome to see all that!

We were prepared to spend hours upon hours at the rookery, but we pulled back into our driveway at 10pm, which is great when you have four young kids.  Had we decided to stay longer here in Australia, I was looking forward to going back to witness the little hatchlings make their way to the sea.

Each female will lay five batches of eggs over the course of eight weeks or so, with about 120-200 eggs in each batch.  The hatchlings emerge in 6-8 weeks, and it's estimated that 1 in 1,000 hatchlings will survive to adulthood.  (Ouch.)  The temperature of the sand where the eggs are laid determines the gender of the hatchlings.  Warmer sand means more females, cooler sand gives you more males.

Our particular turtle was first tagged at Mon Repos in 2005, laid eggs at Mon Repos again in 2011, and this was her first nesting this year.

Way cool.  Best thirty bucks I've ever spent.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Christmas Concert and Awards Ceremony

In Australia, the school year runs from January to December, so the school Christmas concert also doubles as the end-of-the-school-year awards ceremony.

Junebug received an award for demonstrating good character:

And Penguin received an award for "confidence" in the classroom:

The school places heavy emphasis on music (LOVE!), so we were able to listen to a couple of rather well-done bell pieces:

Then it was time for the Christmas pageant, complete with costumes and singing.  Bluebird was an angel, Penguin was a shepherd, and Junebug was a king.  In true Brooke fashion, the girls sang, remembering to open their mouths for better sound:

Penguin made me rather proud.  It was a mixture of pride and shaking my head over how cute she was as she belted her little heart out.  She also had a line in the play:  "Quickly!  Don't worry about the sheep!  This is more important, come on!"  We had a good chuckle when she said that.

Bluebird asked to be allowed to sing a descant during "Angels We Have Heard On High," and she didn't tell us about it, so we were just sitting there watching kids do a little ribbon dance when she stood up behind them all and started singing the descant.  What's more, the descant is some random little blip I sang four years ago...she remembered it pretty well, and did a great job.

Oh my goodness, the cute.  Seriously.

That's my girl!

It was the cutest little concert, we loved it so much.  So proud of my girls for their hard work in their classrooms, and their hard work on the stage!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Christmas Parade

The girls' school enters a float into Bundaberg's Christmas Parade each year, so they were invited to participate in this year's event.  They had so much fun, and their school's float won first place in their category!

There was a lot of competition, and one school even had its students riding atop actual camels:

The Bundaberg Brewing Company made an appearance in a vintage delivery truck:

The children were so good, waving and smiling and wishing the crowd "Merry Christmas!"  What a great way to kick off the holiday season!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Appreciating the Teachers

The girls' last day of school happens today, so I put together some gifts for their teachers and a couple of other staff members at their school.  I trolled Pinterest for inexpensive gift ideas that were easy to assemble because I don't have access to my gift wrap vault, which is a little sad-making.

Undaunted, I pressed forward and decided upon dressing up regular ol' paper bags with some paper Christmas doilies, which was ridiculously easy.  The girls were so excited to take "their" gifts to school--there was a little bit of bickering about who would carry the box containing all the bags as they headed out to catch the bus.

I kept it simple, gift-wise.  I baked up some soft ginger cookies and then piped a simple snowflake on top of each one and added some foodie pearls at the various snowflake junctions:

I don't even know if ginger cookies are something Australians even like, but it was from the heart.  (FYI, Peanut Butter and Jelly isn't a thing here.  My neighbor asked me what PB&J actually was..."Just peanut butter and jam?  On bread?  Do you toast it first?")  I've questioned a lot of my food assumptions in the past months, especially after having the missionaries over for Thanksgiving.  I'm constantly amazed by how different two first-world, English-speaking countries that stem from the same mother country can be.

I put two cookies in each bag, along with a gift card to a popular chain of stores around these parts.  Simple, looks and smells good, done.

Michael and I were talking about the irony that this is the first time our kids have given teacher appreciation gifts, and how it really was too bad I never received any teacher appreciation gifts while homeschooling.  And then, at the same time, we both laughed aloud and said, "Yarn stash!"

Now that I think of it, a lot of my yarn was purchased at the end of trying school days...

Merry Christmas, Educators!

Bonus link:  Doilies to dress up plain ol' chocolate bars!  Squee!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Our Thanksgiving in Australia

We invited our ward's missionaries over for Thanksgiving, partly because two of them were American and would no doubt be missing the holiday, and partly because we just really like all four of them.  It's been such a fun experience having missionaries in our ward that we actually get to spend time with, unlike in Utah where you rarely see them because they have to cover such a large number of wards in one area at a time.  (We've lived in our Utah home for nine years and I've only been able to grab the privilege of feeding the missionaries ONCE.)  But here in the Bundaberg Ward, we have four full-time missionaries at a time, and they are great about getting to know the members.  They're one of my favorite parts of our time here in Australia.

This last week I've shopped, converted measurements and temperatures, and figured out how to make a lot of things from scratch that are normally just in cans on the shelves back home.  I made pumpkin puree from an actual pumpkin because here they don't sell it in cans.  I don't have a food processor here either, so the "puree" part was me forcing cooked pumpkin through a fine mesh sieve.  I was determined to have pumpkin pie!  (It took four hours to "puree" my pumpkin...)  I made green bean casserole with fresh green beans because apparently they don't do canned green beans here either.  (And the Cream of Mushroom condensed soup...very different consistency than back home, practically milk.)

The American elders were very excited about Thanksgiving dinner, and the Australian elders kept leaning over to the Americans and whispering, "What's that?" in regards to many of the dishes I served.  (Green Bean Casserole was a new thing for them.)  Having spent the last five months myself grappling with the different flavors of Australian cuisine, it was downright endearing to watch the Australian elders have some of the same reactions to foods that I consider ridiculously normal.

Penguin sat through dinner with the biggest smile on her little face, just an ear-to-ear, face-splitting grin.  I leaned over to her and asked why she was smiling so hard, and she whispered, "I don't think I've ever been as happy as I am right now."  Oh, that moment.  I love Thanksgiving for so many reasons, and I'll treasure that little moment of hers forever.  It was such an enjoyable evening.

Don't worry, it's sparkling apple juice and sparkling grape juice!
We had fun explaining Thanksgiving to the Australian elders, and sharing stories about Thanksgivings past, and explaining the concept of Black Friday and stampeding crowds at Wal-Mart.  Saying it all out loud made me pause to consider how crazy it really is, and how odd it must seem to non-Americans.  But oh, for a few hours we just got to be American again, instead of Americans trying to live in Australia.  This was my favorite day here.

There's only one pie plate in our rental, so I made pumpkin tarts in a muffin pan.  The apple pie was popular, the (slaved over) pumpkin tarts not so much.  Oh well, it was all done with love.

Everyone had seconds, some had thirds, and when dinner was finished, the elders had to rest a wee bit.

That picture makes me laugh out loud.  I don't think I'll ever have four missionaries sprawled out in my living room ever again in my life.  Michael and Bluebird were sprawled out just outside this shot, and Penguin resolutely kept on eating at the table far after we all finished our food.  The missionaries were humbled by her sheer eating power, wailing that they were being outdone by an eight-year-old girl.

Monkeyboy became fast friends with this missionary, and they enjoyed toasting with the sparkling apple juice.

It was a great day, and we all had so much fun together.  I always love the Thanksgivings we share with others the most.  Thanksgiving dinner is meant for lots and lots of people being happy together.

2014 has been a big year for our family; a year of immense blessings and opportunities.  There is so much to be grateful for right now--this awesome experience of living abroad, the opportunities that have fallen to Michael in his career, the friends we have made and the friends who have shown their love from halfway around the world, our health, the girls' new school, and the ability to adapt and learn.  Our cups overfloweth.  Thank you, Heavenly Father, for this year, and for all the prayers you have so lovingly answered in our lives.

And let me tell ya, it's pretty awesome to eat Thanksgiving leftovers outside in the warm sunshine, gazing at the palm trees...

Happy Thanksgiving to you all, and thank you for all your love and support, especially in these past few months.  We are exceedingly blessed.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Because I "Have Time" Now for Mending

My school-aged kids attend school now, in case you missed the update.  That being said, I have a lot more time for things that I've been somewhat content to ignore for many years.

Case in point:  Mending.

Of course, the moment I spent a bucket of cash on school uniforms, all the girls started literally ripping through their other clothes.  I am determined to not buy clothes while we're here in Australia, mostly because I'm trying to save money to buy massive amounts of winter clothing when we land back in the States in the middle of winter, and also because most of the clothes that are wearing out are old, and on their last recipient (Junebug).

However, I have a thing about throwing away fabric.  I can't do it.  If we were home, I'd launch all these into the fabric stash pile, to be used in some fashion in a future sewing project.  But we're not home, and I'm not going to transport ripped clothing halfway around the world, so I decided, since I "have time" now, to see if I could fix the offending articles.

Armed with a few Pinterest images, and some handy how-to from The Beating Hearth, I mended this pair of Junebug's pants, backing the hole with her "favorite" fabric that I'm using in her Star Spangled Diamonds quilt.  I extended the darning out quite a bit, as the fabric of her pants is very thin throughout the entire lower leg.

Pleased with my progress, I tackled a pair of Bluebird's pants, which still have to last through two more girls:

That one didn't turn out as well; I should have cut away the loose threads.  Ah, well.  I'm amused by the "Utah-shaped" darning.

Inside shot:

I'm still learning, but I've managed to save two pairs of pants with my mediocre skill!  That's a skill in which to invest!  I'm unsure about the weaving part when you're done with the lines of seems unnecessary.

Of course, mending takes time, which meant I wasn't able to work on my other creative projects as much as usual, so progress on those was small this last week.  But I saved two pairs of pants, which is totally worth a little delay on extra-curriculars.  (At least, it's worth it to me.)  Also, it's surprisingly satisfying to mend clothing.  Maybe I'll try to unearth some articles out of the stash pile when we return home?