Risky Business

It’s funny the things people say when they find out your eighteen year old son is about to purchase his first motor bike. “Did you let him?” is one that comes to mind. The comment itself is something that is foreign to the way I think. I didn’t “let” him, because it wasn’t something he needed permission to do. He is, by all intents and purposes, legally an adult. I didn’t attempt to forbid him from buying one; nor was he given “permission”. It was a decision he made, and talked to us about. He told us his reasons for wanting one, including fun of course, but also the fact that it is a much more economical way to get around than his car (which he will be keeping and using sometimes too – when it’s not at the mechanics!) I reminded him that my first boyfriend had died in a motorbike accident, so I was painfully aware of the risks, and he respects that it is a “big thing” for me. We have also already buried one son, and really have no desire to bury another.

Whilst there are certainly inherent dangers in motor bike riding (as there are with many things), I bet you didn’t know that you’re about 21 times more likely to sustain a serious injury from riding a horse! (According to figures from Stoke Mandeville Hospital.) I guess I’d better re-think my daughter’s horse riding lessons! Not. Life is risky. From the moment of conception right through til the oldest person ever to have lived, we are surrounded by risk and the possibility of hurt or injury. Better to live a fully, happy life, than live in fear of what might happen. I’m not talking about ridiculous risks here of course, and it is good to be aware of ways in which we can increase our likelihood of being safe.

We discussed some safety issues, and he has shared some of what he learned in his rider training course. I was actually quite impressed with the information he’d been given, and his preparedness for riding as safely as possible. And I admired the way that he had specifically asked the instructor for some advice for his first trip on the bike: a three hour drive that would take him through unfamiliar streets in the largest city in Australia, and then along a long stretch of freeway, which is notorious for trucks and cars whizzing past.

He seems to have a good understanding of the dangers and the need for wise riding, coupled with confidence, excitement, and a love of the adrenaline rush he knew he’d get from riding. When he returned home from that first trip, detouring past most of his friends houses on the way home to show off his new pride and joy, I asked him how it had gone. He said it was “SO different to driving a car… you feel so much more ALIVE somehow; it’s so awesome!” I managed to have a laugh about how I hope he STAYS alive, but basically, it was so wonderful to see his enthusiasm, and to know that he is following his heart. Yes, MY heart wants to jump up into my mouth occasionally, but for the most part I am choosing to trust, and to enjoy his joy! It feels good to support him in his passion, just as it feels good when people support me in mine. And yes, I know all too well that sometimes bad things happen to good people, but I think there is more than one way to interpret that. Sometimes the “bad thing” is having a parent who doesn’t support or encourage you, who reacts out of fear instead of hope. And that’s a bad thing no matter what.

Instead, I choose the goodness of trust, hope, faith, support, connection and encouragement.

Trav buying bike
At the bike shop waiting for his bike to be ready….
My choice for a bike!
The kind of bike a Mum might choose!
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Finally the bike is ready to go and we have one VERY happy young man!
This is scary!
And one slightly terrified Dad! 🙂
Home safe and sound
And yet he safely made it home
Home for 5 mins then out again!
Home for about 5 minutes anyway, before heading off again!

“I’m A Genius!”

EVERYBODY IS A GENIUS. BUT IF YOU JUDGE A FISH BY ITS ABILITY TO CLIMB A TREE, IT WILL SPEND ITS WHOLE LIFE BELIEVING IT IS STUPID. (Albert Einstein)

molly_countingblocks-unshackled“I’m a GENIUS!” shouted my nine year old daughter, after spending quite a bit of time and effort working out how much money she has, how much she’s owed (don’t you just love “owing” your kids money?), how much she needs to pay for the next sonic screwdriver in her collection, and how that all works out together! It was like her own personal “word problem”.

Do you remember those tedious, artificial “word problems” from your school days? I sure do! You know, all those long-winded situational maths problems that we were supposed to be turned into mathematical equations so they could be solved? If a train is driving at a speed of….. and the wind is blowing at a speed of… and…  Most of them seemed to be so ridiculous, and hardly likely to happen any time soon! Now if they’d just given us a big chocolate cake (better yet, a recipe and ingredients) and an uneven number of kids, and let the class sort it out, all manner of maths (and other) skills would have been used, and the trail of cake crumbs would have obliterated the “word problems” in the workbooks!

I love the way that opportunities for working with numbers come up so naturally in every day life. There is no need for artificially induced word problems! It was so awesome watching my daughter’s mind at work when she was trying to work out the money for the sonic screwdriver (yes, Doctor Who is one of her current passions!) She ended up donning her “scientist’s lab coat” and calling me her assistant. She used lots of different strategies, and we ended up having some fun with maths blocks and real money too. I love being witness to a child’s innocent, eager, excitable discovery of new knowledge. It’s almost like being able to see the workings of their brain like a cog in a machine, as they process a train of thought. Every so often my daughter’s train would go off on a tangent and lose focus, but then she’d enthusiastically get it back on track again. She was committed to her goal of working out the complexities of her real life “word problem”.

Declan's mythbusters midnight mathematical equationHere is another example: Inspired by watching (yet another) episode of Mythbusters, Mr 12 jumped out of bed just before midnight to share a nugget of wisdom he had gleaned from the show. It was something to do with mathematic probabilities I think. 🙂 As he jabbered on happily, trying to explain what he’d worked out, he was drawing on a pad of paper to aid his monologue. I love that there is no delineation in our family between learning and non-learning times or activities.

And you know what else? There is no need for maths phobia! It amuses me that so many wanna be unschoolers end up declaring “We unschool everything except maths” (which I don’t actually think is possible, but that’s the subject for another day!). Why is maths the subject so many people worry about? I am quite confident that maths phobia is primarily a product of compulsory schooling, maths drills, tests, endless workbooks and yes… word problems! In the absence of “busy work”, with no expectation of “outcomes”, no mandatory testing, no comparisons, and no fake word problems, there is opportunity for real learning to happen naturally. During life’s journey there are endless real life “word problems” that need to be solved, adventures to be had, projects to create, and a whole lot of maths skills that will be required along the way. Maths simply becomes a tool to assist in the living of life, and the discovery of its complexities and beauty is a joyful experience. When particular skills are needed to do the things that someone wants to do, and resources are on hand (such as the internet, books and manipulatives), the learning is not tedious, but practical and relevant. It is real learning in the context of real life.

So let’s see if we can work out this problem: What do you get when you combine a child who is undamaged by the expectations and requirements of school or school-at-home, an attentive and involved parent, resources on hand to assist the learning process as required, and a real life problem begging for an answer?

A child with an untampered love of learning….

A child with a confidence in their ability to learn what they need to know, when they need to know it….

A child who, instead of being told they’re in the bottom 10% of the state, or 25th out of a class of 30, or “isn’t trying hard enough”, is aware that there will always be something new to learn, and that they will be able to work it out….

A child who, instead of needing to stay on top of the heap to keep feeling good about themselves, can simply and confidently say of themselves (without reference or regard to anyone else’s ability):

I’M A GENIUS!

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Inaugural NSW Unschoolers’ Camp

It can be a lonely path at times, this unschooling life. It is certainly the road less travelled, and it can be hard to find like-minded souls to share the journey with. Let’s face it, the majority of parents send their children to school (which is totally cool – to each their own!). And of the minority that choose homeschooling, a smaller minority deschool themselves to the extent that they can let go of schoolish thoughts, practices and expectations, actively embracing the freedom of unschooling. This isn’t to say that unschoolers are superior. We all do what we believe is best for our own families. But the reality is: unschoolers are a rare breed!!

In the past couple of years the online connections between Australian unschoolers have been growing, including a Facebook group for NSW Unschoolers, out of which grew a desire for a casual camp. S0 in April, I had the privilege of being part of  what I think is the first ever Unschoolers’ Camp in our State! There may have been one in the past that I’m not aware of, and if so, please enlighten me, but as far as I know, this is the first one. And it rocked! It really did. For me, it was a dream come true.

The two Australian Unschooling Conferences I went to were great. A big marquee, keynote speakers from faraway places, organised activities, and LOTS of miles to get there. All good! But some of us also wanted a more low-key gathering. Organic. Down to earth and relaxed. A celebration of our connectedness to each other as a community of unschoolers. Sharing and learning from one another.

And so the NSW Unschoolers’ Camp was born. Much kerfuffle went on trying to work out the details, but eventually we were off and running. Excitement built up online (we love you Facebook), and eventually we packed up our camping gear, knitting needles (yes – truly), cameras, sporting supplies, a huge assortment of food, the all-important laptop (yes – that too) and headed off to beautiful Port Stephens.

We all revelled in the opportunity to hang out, in real life, with other unschooling families. There was never a shortage of conversations or cups of tea on offer. The only structure we had was a daily “circle time”, for anyone who wanted to gather together for some shared conversation. It was a good way to move beyond the natural connections that were happening in smaller groups, and to include those that might be too shy to turn up at someone’s tent for a casual cuppa. A couple of times we managed to have one person talking at a time, but inevitably it would turn into a raucous, roudy rabble of simultaneous, exciting conversations, so we quickly worked out that the multitude of words begging to be spoken over-ruled any possibility of decorum! 🙂 Don’t ya just love it when a group of women get together? Especially women with much in common and much to say, and infrequent opportunities to talk together!

More Circle Time
Circle time was definitely a highlight of each day. And yes, there really is a real live man in this photo! Only a couple of dads were able to come to the camp, but it was SO great to have them there, even if only for some of the time.

It was so lovely being able to linger over conversations, and get to know these wonderful women in real life. Initially we had laughingly entertained the idea of wearing name tags with our Facebook profile picture on them, so we could work out who we all were! It was lovely having some of the mums share their interests and skills with others, from crochet, knitting and chai tea, to belly dancing!

Crochet seemed to be a popular hobby. I did actually take a crochet hook and wool, hoping to learn this great skill, but it stayed packed in my bag for another time. :)
Crochet seemed to be a popular hobby. I did actually take a crochet hook and wool, hoping to learn this great skill, but it stayed packed in my bag for another time. 🙂
One of the mums is a passionate belly dancer, having found it to be a vehicle for deep healing and joy in her own life. She ran a casual workshop for anyone who was interested, and even a couple of the little girls joined in! Later on she performed for us and it was really quite spectacular! Not that I can see myself taking it up anytime soon! :)
One of the mums is a passionate belly dancer, having found it to be a vehicle for deep healing and joy in her own life. She ran a casual workshop for anyone who was interested, and even a couple of the little girls joined in! Later on she performed for us and it was really quite spectacular! Not that I can see myself taking it up anytime soon! 🙂

Typical of home ed events, it was lovely watching the children play with a varied mix of ages. It didn’t matter what “grade” someone was in (because grading is not even on the unschooling radar). They were just a bunch of kids and teens having fun, and getting to know each other.

Helping a younger child with a helmet for a shared ride on one of the buggies
Helping a younger child with a helmet for a shared ride on one of the buggies
There were plenty of activities on offer including swimming, volleyball, pedal karts and so on, but sometimes the kids preferred to make their own fun.
There were plenty of activities on offer including swimming, volleyball, pedal karts and so on, but sometimes the kids preferred to make their own fun.
The majority of teens enjoyed the opportunity to hang out in a group, although some chose to play with just one child or spend time alone and that’s good too!
The majority of teens enjoyed the opportunity to hang out in a group, although some chose to play with just one child or spend time alone and that’s good too!
It really was a beautiful place to catch up with beautiful people. This was our final sunset.
It really was a beautiful place to catch up with beautiful people. This was our final sunset.
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After a week of sunny days, the heavens decided to open on the morning we packed up. What’s camping without rain, huh?
We had just put the very last thing in the car when it turned torrential, and then it was a case of quickly retrieving my child from her friend’s cabin, and huddling in the car with the heater full blast for the trip home!
We had just put the very last thing in the car when it turned torrential, and then it was a case of quickly retrieving my child from her friend’s cabin, and huddling in the car with the heater full blast for the trip home!

We came home on a high, and are eagerly looking forward to the next camp, knowing that it will be another chance to deepen these friendships and get to know new people. A few years ago I only knew one other unschooling family, and now here I am in this privileged place of being able to camp with about 20 other families, all either practising unschooling, or at least open to the idea. Feeling very blessed….

RSPCA Cupcake Day

One of the things that really matters to me is social justice, and making a the world a better place for all to enjoy! I used to be part of a local TEAR group and enjoyed learning about & raising awareness of various issues, but ended up deciding that my time would be better spent doing it with my kids rather than off on my own. I really want to share my passion for this with them, and hope that they’ll also choose a life of compassion and advocacy for the poor and disadvantaged.

I figured they’d enjoy it more and have a bigger impact (and more fun!) if they banded with some other kids to do stuff, so our “World Changers” group was formed! It’s a small group of home educating families, with parents whose christian faith inspires their passion to help the poor. Our aim is to get together once a month or so to learn about an issue, maybe do some simulation games, and partner with the kids as they brainstorm ideas about what we can do to make a difference!

The first thing we did was my daughter Molly’s idea (she’s an avid animal lover!!) and it’s more about helping animals than people, but they’re part of this world too! We did a fundraiser for the RSPCA called “RSPCA Cupcake Day”. All the kids made cupcakes and promotional posters, then we got together to run a stall at a local park after a home ed excursion to a worm farm (definitely no connection between worms and cupcakes!!). We had a lot of fun and raised $130 for the RSPCA! The first step was for each family to make and decorate their cupcakes at home, and make some signs for the stall.

Molly enjoyed using LOTS of lollies to decorate her capcakes!
Molly enjoyed using LOTS of lollies to decorate her capcakes!
These are some of Declan’s creations. Every face tells a story.
These are some of Declan’s creations. Every face tells a story.
Hard at work
Hard at work
Things got a bit silly after awhile! :)
Things got a bit silly after awhile! 🙂
I’m VEEEERRRRRYYYY happy! :)
I’m VEEEERRRRRYYYY happy! 🙂
Cupcakes ready to go!
Cupcakes ready to go!

Then it was time to meet up at the local park. We had invited some other homeschooling families to come along (cash in hand!) and we also knew there would be other families at the park who might be interested in purchasing such delicious looking cakes for a great cause.

The kids had a lot of fun running their stall and everyone was very supportive and encouraging of their efforts. For the younger kids it was like playing shops! Some of the more outgoing kids enjoyed going around to people they didn’t know and trying to get them to come and “buy” a cupcake for a donation to the RSPCA. Everyone went home with fuller tummies, and the knowledge that together we’d made a difference.

Two very excited “shopkeepers” holding the fort, waiting for customers
Two very excited “shopkeepers” holding the fort, waiting for customers
YES! Customers!
YES! Customers!
A team effort
A team effort

Donations to the RSPCA Cupcake Day can be made until 3rd October 2010, so if you’d like to make a donation, go to

No Dig Vegie Patch

We’ve finally done it! The no dig garden that has lived only in my imagination for so long has finally become an actual thing in real life! Like most things, I learned a lot by researching on the internet and in books, but I topped off that learning by actually DOING it. I’ve now realised a few things I’d do differently next time, but like they say – live n learn!

Our good friends Ruth & Maddie putting Melissa’s (horse’s!) poo on top of the wet newspaper. We made the edging for the no dig garden out of corrugated iron & hardwood from a local reclaimed building supply centre. The only new thing is the screws to hold it altogether!
Our good friends Ruth and Maddie putting Melissa’s (horse’s!) poo on top of the wet newspaper. We made the edging for the no dig garden out of corrugated iron and hardwood from a local reclaimed building supply centre. The only new thing is the screws to hold it altogether!
The chooks went a wee bit crazy with excitement at the opportunity to consume vast quantities of bugs from under where the bales of hay had been sitting for some months. Woo hoo! Turning bugs into eggs – can’t complain about that!
The chooks went a wee bit crazy with excitement at the opportunity to consume vast quantities of bugs from under where the bales of hay had been sitting for some months. Woo hoo! Turning bugs into eggs – can’t complain about that!
Let the planting begin! We had bought some bales of hay and straw for Geoff’s 40th earlier in the year, and they’ve been slowly rotting in the backyard ever since, waiting for us to clear the weeds and get our no dig garden ready. They’re now nicely gross, ready to decompose further and provide beautiful nutrients for our plants to hopefully thrive in!
Let the planting begin! We had bought some bales of hay and straw for Geoff’s 40th earlier in the year, and they’ve been slowly rotting in the backyard ever since, waiting for us to clear the weeds and get our no dig garden ready. They’re now nicely gross, ready to decompose further and provide beautiful nutrients for our plants to hopefully thrive in!
Let there be a worm farm – in the middle of the garden! Thanks Toni for paying for a permaculture design course so I could scab some good ideas off you! :)  The idea is that you cover the PVC pipe with a tile so it’s nice and dark inside, you place food scraps in the pipe from time to time, and the little wormies crawl through the holes that are under soil level, get the food, and go back into the soil to do their “business”, adding the fertiliser right where it’s needed, without any need for me – a la worm-a-phobe – to have to actually touch or look at them! :)
Let there be a worm farm – in the middle of the garden!
Thanks Toni for paying for a permaculture design course so I could scab some good ideas off you! 🙂
The idea is that you cover the PVC pipe with a tile so it’s nice and dark inside, you place food scraps in the pipe from time to time, and the little wormies crawl through the holes that are under soil level, get the food, and go back into the soil to do their “business”, adding the fertiliser right where it’s needed, without any need for me – a la worm-a-phobe – to have to actually touch or look at them! 🙂
Geoff, Declan & Molly built a trellis out of bamboo from our friend’s backyard, for our sugar snap peas to climb up
Geoff, Declan & Molly built a trellis out of bamboo from our friend’s backyard, for our sugar snap peas to climb up
The plants are starting to grow!! I thought this was our first red strawberry, but was informed that there HAVE been others. At least they’ve been enjoyed! 🙂
SUCCESS! (With the addition of some finer plastic trellis attached to the bamboo.) Lesson learned: it would have been better to put the trellis on the north-facing side of the garden, rather than the east-facing side. Notice how the peas on the northern (right hand) side of the trellis are growing more quickly cuz they get more sunlight? Live n Learn – it’s all good :) As Albert Einstein said: “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried…”
SUCCESS! (With the addition of some finer plastic trellis attached to the bamboo.) Lesson learned: it would have been better to put the trellis on the north-facing side of the garden, rather than the east-facing side. Notice how the peas on the northern (right hand) side of the trellis are growing more quickly cuz they get more sunlight? Live n Learn – it’s all good 🙂 As Albert Einstein said: “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried…”

Our “Rainbow Bay” Holiday

We’ve just returned from such an amazing, wonderful adventure! First, we enjoyed a MUCH needed holiday break at beautiful Rainbow Bay on the Gold Coast. The people who were in the unit we’d booked prior to our arrival had requested to stay an extra few days, so we were moved to a different unit from the one we’d booked. As we walked in to the unit, we just kept walking…. and walking…. and walking! There were absolutely massive, beautiful living spaces including two kitchens, plus there were 4 bedrooms & 3 bathrooms, and all up there was pretty much 360 degree views since we had the entire floor to ourselves!!! We quickly checked to make sure that we were in the right unit, and were delighted to find out we were – for no extra cost! What a blessing! After having so much stress & busyness over the past few months, with Geoff working multiple jobs and studying his masters at the same time, it was such a blessing to be upgraded to such a beautiful place. And for no extra money!

A progression of photos showing about half of the view of the ocean from different windows in the unit (beautiful!). I wish I could have taken a video from one side all the way around to the back of the unit – a full 360 degrees! On most days we were treated to a performance by whales on their journey south.
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I love the sky and the lighting in this photo from our balcony! Not as much as I love my firstborn dude though. :)
I love the sky and the lighting in this photo from our balcony! Not as much as I love my firstborn dude though. 🙂
AUSTRALIA ZOO
One day Geoff took D & M to Australia Zoo, mostly because of M’s absolute passion for all things “animal” and also because of the hero status she ascribes to Bindi Irwin. She didn’t get to meet her, but hopes to be able to one day!
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MOVIE WORLD
Our other big day out was when we all went to Movie World (half price tickets made it even more awesome!).
Molly got to pose for a photo with "The Gang" from Scooby Doo, which was a huge buzz for her because it's currently one of her favourite shows!
Molly got to pose for a photo with “The Gang” from Scooby Doo, which was a huge buzz for her because it’s currently one of her favourite shows!
She was too short to go on the main thrill rides with her big bros, so while they were off having an awesome time on all the roller coasters, she burned some rubber in the dodgems!
She was too short to go on the main thrill rides with her big bros, so while they were off having an awesome time on all the roller coasters, she burned some rubber on the dodgem circuit!
We had some fun trying to get the camera working in the dimly lit “big kid” dodgem ride area, with the bright lights on the cars. We tried adjusting the shutter speed, using the flash & no flash, and adjusting the ISO, but in the end decided there is still lots to learn about our new 2nd hand digital SLR camera! Regardless, we all decided the photos were actually pretty cool! This is Travis – obviously going WAY too fast for the camera LOL.
We had some fun trying to get the camera working in the dimly lit “big kid” dodgem ride area, with the bright lights on the cars. We tried adjusting the shutter speed, using the flash & no flash, and adjusting the ISO, but in the end decided there is still lots to learn about our new 2nd hand digital SLR camera! Regardless, we all decided the photos were actually pretty cool! This is Travis – obviously going WAY too fast for the camera LOL.
Molly was officially tall enough to go on the scary Scooby Doo roller coaster, but after the boys tried it out, they thought it would be too scary for her. She was not to be perturbed though and decided to have a go. She was obviously WAY too tired to walk though! ;) Oh, and for the record, she thoroughly loved the ride! It certainly helped having her big bros try it out for her first so they could explain what it was like.
Molly was officially tall enough to go on the scary Scooby Doo roller coaster, but after the boys tried it out, they thought it would be too frightening for her. She was not to be perturbed, however, and ended up absolutely loving it! It certainly helped having her big bros try it out for her first so they could explain what it was like. She was obviously WAY too tired to walk though! 😉
Declan got to go up the front and be a volunteer in making a film at the “Hollywood Stunt Driver” show. (He’s on the left towards the back, with the black, red and white shirt on)
Declan got to go up the front and be a volunteer in making a film at the “Hollywood Stunt Driver” show. (He’s on the left towards the back, with the black, red and white shirt on)
It was such an entertaining, funny show – we all had an absolute blast. Check out the car split into two halves by the bike!
It was such an entertaining, funny show – we all had an absolute blast. Check out the car split into two halves by the bike!
I think my older boys were just about salivating at the thought of being able to drive like that one day!
I think my older boys were just about salivating at the thought of being able to drive like that one day!
Here, the funny character in the show proved at the end of the show that he actually CAN drive a car (probably the best stunt driver there!) when he ended up driving over the top of the rooves, and into a building, which immediately burst into flames!
The funny, clown-type character in the show proved at the end of the show that he actually CAN drive a car (in fact he was probably the best stunt driver there!) when he ended up stealing a car, driving over the top of the roof, and into a building, which immediately burst into flames!
The kids all had different favourite rides, which, of course, had to be ridden over and over and over again! I’m sure I got queasy before anyone else – and I only went on the little kid stuff LOL!
FUN ON THE ROAD
Life is about the journey, right? We love road trips! We often listen to audio books together, and just enjoy the time, stopping at various places to discover new things and enjoy some fun together. Not that it’s perfect of course. Life never is!
Molly having fun on a playground ride at the caravan park at Nambucca Heads where we stopped overnight. Look at that HAIR!!
Molly having fun on a playground ride at the caravan park at Nambucca Heads where we stopped overnight. Look at that HAIR!!
Travis learning some tricks on the Z-Flex, during a break for lunch
Travis learning some tricks on the Z-Flex, during a break for lunch
Skater Chick!
Skater Chick!
What a handsome lad – otherwise known as the one who seems to hate having his photo taken (hence why there’s not very many photos of him on here!)
What a handsome lad – otherwise known as the one who seems to hate having his photo taken (hence why there’s not very many photos of him on here!)
I have no words! ;)
I have no words! 😉
SURFING
One of the big reasons we discovered beautiful Rainbow Bay was because Travis and Brady knew it was a great spot to surf, with about three or four awesome breaks all within easy walking distance (and all VERY close to our awesome unit!). But alas, the swell was not our friend, and for our ENTIRE holiday of two weeks there was barely a wave in sight! Seriously, on most days it was like Pacific Lake, not Pacific Ocean! Anyway, out of sheer determination, the boys did attempt to catch a few little waves on most days. Here they are at D-Bar.  See the HUGE waves?
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So there you have a very LONG blog post outlining a little bit of our holiday to the Gold Coast, and some of the fun we had along the way. We felt very blessed and privileged to have such a wonderful holiday in such a gorgeous part of the world.  It was a fantastic opportunity to reconnect as a family in the midst of a hectic crazy year!