Keep Calm, You’re Only 40.

A couple of weeks ago I celebrated a milestone birthday that some call the big 4-0. It’s at times like this when it’s easy to look back and think about everything that’s changed in the past decade. At 30, I was expecting my first child. We lived in Portland but were yet to move into our own home. I’d been at my job for about a year and was starting to feel comfortable living in Portland. I hadn’t yet discovered my love for photography.

Wow – a lot can change in 10 years. Now I find myself with two great kids, a house that I love in a city that has become my second home and rediscovering my love of photography and starting my own business after leaving a job I loved after 11 years (well, I loved about 10.5 of those years).

I also find myself married for 16 years to a man who can apparently still surprise me even though I thought I had him all figured out.

Surprise!

Note: most of the photos in this post – the most colorful ones – were taken by my good friend and very talented photographer, Jeff Hopper. Yes, my husband even thought to arrange a photographer and I am so thankful that Jeff was able to capture everything, even though I continue to feel extremely uncomfortable on the other side of the camera.

But let me back up a little. This moment was just the end of a couple of epic days of birthday celebrations all arranged by my wonderful husband who, I’m sure, will be cashing in on this for years to come.

Kei had planned to play golf on Sunday (my actual birthday) so I wasn’t feeling great about the prospect of a good birthday. Oh, don’t get me wrong, my parents were in town which was lovely, but I wasn’t expecting much after 16 years of low key birthdays. While I’d hinted – ok, told, Kei that I wouldn’t be opposed to a huge blowout, my expectations were low.

On Saturday we went out for brunch at Salty’s between soccer games. Samuel loved it so much that he asked to go back for his birthday and the chocolate fountain even made him forget that we’d forced him to wear jeans and a collared shirt. I think I may have to rent a chocolate fountain for his birthday next year…

On my birthday I was blindfolded and led downstairs to a breakfast of french toast and bacon cooked by two boys (with some help, I’m sure). I was then told to dress “nicely” for a secret lunch date. My dad was tasked with babysitting while I was blindfolded again and led out to a car for mystery drive with, I found out shortly, my wonderful friend Jennifer and her mother. Jen then took me on a London tour of Portland to make up a  little bit for the fact that I wasn’t able to accompany her on her own 40th birthday trip the previous year. Our London tour included a drive across the Hawthorn (London) bridge which was closed so we made do with the Broadway bridge. Then we headed to the OSU tram (London Eye) – which was also closed… But, thankfully, The Heathman was open for business and we enjoyed a wonderful lunch after having the door opened for us by a Beefeater. Our adventure ended with a walk through Powells and a little window shopping. Jen really outdid herself and made my birthday more special than I could have imagined.

But, it wasn’t over yet. Mum, Dad, Kei and I dropped the boys with friends before heading to the Portland City Grill for dinner. After a wonderful meal I was blindfolded again for, what I thought, was going to be a special dessert date with the kids. Instead, I found myself stepping inside a karaoke room to shouts of “Surprise!” from a large group of friends who represented all corners of my life. From work, baby groups (nine years ago!), soccer, the neighborhood and just the most wonderful people that make up my life here in Portland.

After asking where my kids were (their babysitters were at the party) and confirming that they were ok, everyone sang Happy Birthday with the Beatles and my husband kicked things off by serenading me with one of the most romantic songs ever written.

I’m still trying to get my head around all the planning that went into making sure everything was such a surprise – and all the lies my friends told me in the lead up to the big event. I had coffee with one work friend and lunch with another just two days previously and neither of them mentioned a thing. And then I found out that they were all invited about a month before the party. The lies had been going on for quite some time. Well played, my friends.

And, of course, I am now a little frightened by the level of deception that my husband is capable of, while also impressed by the amount of organization and planning that went into such an epic weekend. It was a wonderful surprise and a truly memorable gift.

So, I leave you with some karaoke photos taken by my friend, Jeff Hopper. As you can see, we had a terrible time… Cheers!

He’s Seven (Finally!)

Oh don’t get me wrong. Seven came way too quickly for me but, for Samuel, seven was an age that was just out of his reach for far too long. As his friends all had birthdays over the past few months, he felt left behind. Sometimes it’s tough being one of the youngest kids in the class.

The good news is that Samuel tells us he experienced a massive surge in strength and speed at around noon yesterday (the time of his birth), so being seven is already paying off. He also declared it the best birthday ever, even though it’s a non-party year (we only have parties on even numbered birthdays around here). We celebrated with cake while the grandparents visited a week or so ago, a friend sleepover and movie on Friday night (Penguins of Madagascar was his choice) and dinner at Tokio Table hibachi grill on his birthday. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Samuel in a better mood than he was in yesterday.

At seven, Samuel:

  • Is still a great hugger and likes to hold my hand
  • Tells me I am the best mum in the world (or in history) almost every day
  • Continues to be obsessed with all things soccer and can spout off player stats like a savant
  • Loves to read – and finished his two new birthday books before the end of the day. (I recommend the Dragonbreath series for seven year olds).
  • Found a new love for rocks and minerals (and heavy backpacks)
  • Enjoys writing and illustrating his own books – the latest is titled “The funnyest book” and starts with “One a pond a time…” Get it?
  • Is sporting a toothless grin that I am enjoying for the fleeting couple of months before his big teeth grow in and my little boy starts looking more and more like a little man.
  • Is one of the sweetest, most loving little people I know.

Happy birthday, Samuel. We love you so much.

Postcard from Tasmania: Swansea

On our way down to Swansea, we stopped for a quick dinner at the Brewhaus Cafe at the White Sands Estate. The food was pretty good and the service was slow, but it was the dinnertime view that really impressed us.

Yes, the restaurant looks empty but, in fairness, we arrived at about 5:30pm.

We stayed at the Swansea Motor Inn for the next couple of nights which was affordable and basic, but clean and comfortable enough for sleeping. It served as our base for a trip to the Freycinet National Park the following day and, located next to the beach, was a nice location for a scenic walk home from the local pub where had dinner on the second night.

But, you don’t really stay in Swansea to see Swansea (although it’s a nice location). The real attraction is the National Park and you’ll see why when I come back to share photos of that adventure in my next post.

Postcard from Tasmania: Fields of Lavender at Bridestowe Estate

The next stop on our road trip from Tasmania’s North Coast to Swansea, was the Bridestowe Estate Lavender Farm. What a beautiful place – and a popular one. We barely made it there ahead of a few tourist buses and managed to grab a quick bite to eat in the understaffed cafe. The food was nothing fancy, but we didn’t stop here for the food…

It was a photographer’s dream.

I think I should start a new photo series titled “Grandparents in Still Life”…

We had just enough time to grab some lavender ice cream before hitting the road once more. Samuel gave it two thumbs up. No artificial colors here.

If you’re ever in the neighborhood, I recommend a stop at the Bridestowe Lavender farm. Go for the views and stay for the purple ice cream.

Postcard from Tasmania: George Town to the Tamar Valley

The morning after our penguin adventure in George Town, we hit the road for our 200km drive to Swansea, located on the East Coast of the Island. A straight shot to Swansea would have taken about 2.5 hours but, of course, we made a few picturesque stops along the way.

Our first stop was just a couple of kilometers up the road from our accommodation in Low Head. An old Pilot Station (boat pilots, not plane pilots) has been restored and turned into a museum. While we decided to skip the museum tour, we did manage to take a quick look around at the beautifully restored buildings that sit right up next to the water’s edge.

The smaller building on the left side of the above picture was the outhouse or “dunny” as they’re commonly referred to in my home country. I don’t know what it is about outhouses, but they really help me imagine what it must have been like to live 150 years ago when these houses were built. Walking outside in the middle of a windy, freezing night would not have been a pleasant experience.

It was still very windy on the day we left George Town so, of course, the boys did some Air Bending.

Our next stop was the Cellar door at a winery in the Tamar valley where Dad, Kei and I managed to sneak in some tasting before the natives got restless. I wish we’d had more time to explore the wineries but we had to focus the agendy on more family-friendly adventures.

The next stop on our driving tour deserves its own post – mainly because I think I’ve reached photo saturation on this one and I took a LOT of photos at the Lavender farm. I also like the idea of a blog post dominated by purple – with two boys in my life, it doesn’t happen very often. I posted a tease on Wednesday but there will be a lot more purple to come next week.

Postcard from Tasmania: George Town Day 1 (aka The Penguins!)

Our first night in Tasmania was spent in Low Head, just outside of George Town, on the northern coast. While our travel across Bass Straight the night before was relatively calm, the windstorm that developed over our first day on the island made me grateful that we weren’t currently on a ship. I feel queasy just thinking about it.

Our cabin at the Low Head Tourist park was great. It was cozy for the six of us but came with a kitchenette which was perfect for our money and time-saving strategy to eat cereal for breakfast before we headed out each day. As a bonus, the “soccer field” provided an ocean view.

Kei and I decided to take a walk along the rocky beach which, thanks to the gale-force winds, was freezing but still pretty.

After finding some Fish and Chips for dinner (my first of the trip which must be a new record), we eagerly drove a short distance to one of the most anticipated parts of our trip – for me, anyway. A couple of weeks earlier I had booked us all in for a penguin tour and I could not have been more excited. I may not have been the only one…

Our enjoyment was hindered a little by the gale force winds that chilled us all to the bone, but what’s a small breeze when we have penguins to see? The big lesson of the day? The small birds that I had called “Fairy Penguins” my entire life are now known as “Little Penguins”. Political correctness is officially out of control.

I wish I’d taken a photo of the tour group huddled behind one of the bushes that we used as an ineffective wind break but, instead, I decided to capture some of our surroundings as the moon came up and we eagerly waited for our tour to begin.

We were split into three or four large groups who each took their turn sitting in the bleachers and then walking (gently) down onto the beach and through the dunes where the penguins would return to their burrows. Our group started on the bleachers and listened to our guide share a bunch of interesting penguin facts like the fact that they abandon their young after just a few months and then the babies work out how to fish and swim on their own. Seems harsh but it works. We also passed around a little stuffed penguin who, I’m sure, died of natural causes.

It was a lot darker than it looks in these photos.

We waited for what felt like a REALLY long time and were able to walk down to the beach before our patience finally paid off.

The penguins can’t see the yellow light which is great for penguin spotting but gave my color photos an amber glow.

These penguins are very accustomed to seeing people on the beach. The guides explained that they think of us like trees or another part of nature. It doesn’t make them more vulnerable because they retain the same defense mechanism again natural predators. It does mean, however, that we were not allowed to touch them (not that I would want to risk losing a finger). Still, I was surprised at how close we could get without scaring them off. We witnessed two boy penguins fighting over a girl, dedicated Mums regurgitating fish for hungry, demanding babies and a little hanky panky in the bushes. And I don’t think I need to mention how incredibly cute they were.

After a couple of hours, Samuel finally couldn’t take the cold and exhaustion anymore so we bid a farewell to our new penguin friends. And, just like that, my dream of taking my children to see a penguin parade in Australia was complete. The best part is that we didn’t have to fight the crowds at Philip Island for the experience.

Postcard from Tasmania: Launceston and the Cataract Gorge

Thanks to a very early start, our first day in Tasmanai was a long one. We departed Devonport after breakfast and drove to Launceston, which only took an hour or so.

Launceston was just a quick stop on our way to the North Coast so we had just enough time to visit the Cataract Gorge and take a quick walk through the city before continuing our journey.

Apart from a couple of very windy days (which I will go into more in a future post), we were blessed with beautiful weather during our Tasmania adventure. The island is usually a few degrees colder than the mainland which isn’t a bad thing in December, but it can mean more cold, grey days. I think we hit the blue sky jackpot.

We decided to explore Cataract Gorge after reading about it online. It’s a little hidden piece of nature on the outskirts of the city and was definitely worth the visit for the walk through some beautiful gardens and that feeling, again, like we were traveling back in time. It’s not difficult to imagine women at the turn of the century walking through the gardens with their parasols or a band playing a tune in the century-old music pavillion.

The gardens are also well known for their wandering peacocks (pictured) and wallabies (too quick for me).

The suspension bridge is another attraction – and a magnet for pushy photo-hungry tourists. For the record, I am a polite photo-hungry tourist.

It was a little chilly for a swim, but this has got to be one of the most picturesque pool locations I’ve ever experience.

After walking to the bottom of the gorge, we caught the chairlift back to the top and, I won’t lie, it was a little unsettling. Although I’m sure the ride is completely safe, the 1960’s design made me keep a tighter grip on my youngest child that I had anticipated. The bar across the seat didn’t seem enough to hold him in securely and, while I put on a brave face to avoid feeding into his new fear of heights, I didn’t quite have the ability to pull out the camera. I was even afraid that I’d lose my cellphone over the side if I attempted a chairlift selfie. So, alas, I wasn’t able to capture the view of the Gorge from above or the elusive wallaby who watched as we sailed overhead.

Our quick walk around the Gorge was followed by a quick walk through the city where we took photos next to a coat of arms that features an extinct Tiger…

… and then found some extinct tigers to sit on…

… and took silly pictures next to giant birds.

Not much to see here – just a still-life portrait that makes me giggle.

We enjoyed looking at both the old and classic parts of Launceston…

…as well as the new and funky.

And, before long, it was time to hop back in the car again and head for our first night’s stay in Georgetown on the Northern Coast. I don’t want to get you too excited but, PENGUINS! Next time.

Postcard from Tasmania: Port Melbourne to Devonport

A few days after Christmas we packed up Mum and Dad’s new SUV and piled in for the 3 hour drive to Port Melbourne before boarding the Spirit of Tasmania. We arrived early to allow enough time to grab some dinner, which was important given we were sharing the journey with two small boys who need to have blood sugar levels maintained at all times – especially when asked to wait quietly in a car for 90 minutes before we were allowed to drive on to the ship. We finally boarded and, after parking our car in the bowels of the vessel, walked the 5 flights of stairs up to our teeny tiny little cabin.

 

I’m surprised I didn’t take any photos of the cabin with my big camera but, luckily (or unfortunately), Kei managed to snap this gem on our way back that shows how we squeezed into the cozy living quarters.

A couple of tips for traveling on The Spirit of Tasmania:

  1. Pack an overnight bag and make it easy to access because they don’t mess around when they’re trying to move you from your car to your cabin. The cars are parked very tightly and there’s not much room to maneuver when everyone is trying to get to their cabin at the same time.
  2. Pack some medication to avoid sea sickness – even if you don’t think you’ll need it. We were blessed with two very smooth crossings but I was still surprised by the movement of the ship as we exited Port Philip Bay at around 11pm. At first I could hear the water sloshing in the toilet and then the movement became enough for me to reach for another pill. Thankfully, the kids slept through the worst of it.
  3. Be prepared to be woken at 5am by a loud speaker announcement. Although we were due to disembark at 6am, the process actually begins much earlier and I felt rushed to gather our stuff together. It didn’t help that Thomas slept through the announcement and all the activity. Poor kid didn’t even have time to brush his teeth.

We were blessed with great weather during most of our trip and the departure from Port Melbourne was no exception as, although it was a little chilly, we were able to witness an incredible sunset over the bay.

(Very) early the next morning, we drove off the ship on a mission to find breakfast in Devonport. Devonport, like most of Tasmania, often gives you the feeling of being transported back in time thanks to the prevalence Victorian architecture and the absence of modern buildings in some parts of the state.

We had breakfast next door to these beautiful terraces.

After breakfast we drove about an hour to Launceston where we enjoyed the first day of our Tasmanian adventure. But that’s for another post… I’ll be back with more stories from Tasmania soon.