Friday, January 4, 2013

Matt Got Married!

My baby brother, whom some of you may still think of as little Mattie, got married to a lovely woman named Adrianne. We were lucky enough to get to participate in their sealing in the Salt Lake City temple, and then attend two separate receptions (one in Utah, one in Georgia).
I am a little overcome with the idea that my baby bro is now a married man. His wife is so sweet and funny, and we sisters are so happy to welcome her to our sisterhood. But I still can't believe he's grown up enough to have done such a grown up thing. Luckily, marriage hasn't changed him much. (Yet.) He's still his same hilarious, exciting, fun-loving, caring, up-for-anything, loves-my-kids-because-he-knows-at-least-one-of-them-is-almost-his-carbon-copy self.
Thanks for doing something so grown up we had to fly across the country to witness it, Matt! We had so much fun with you, your new family and our new and improved family. Also, thanks for letting RaRa get her boogie on.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Cookie Jar Goes To Australia

Subtitle: The Biscuit Jar On Holiday

We went to Australia. Even though the trip was a month and a half ago, I still get a thrill saying that. When people ask how our trip was, I can feel myself glowing as I tell them how amazing it was.
In short, we went to see a total solar eclipse, and while we were there, we dove in the Great Barrier Reef, visited the rain forest, went to the outback, hiked, swam, ate, drove, and cajoled our kids all over Queensland. Our group included me, Kevin, Stellan, Rachelle, Annie and my moms, Karen and Martha.
We took just under 3,000 photos, all of which can be found in a slideshow below. Just kidding.
Instead of one long travelogue, I've split my telling of our tale into a bunch of bite-sized chunks arranged thematically instead of chronologically. Some include the trip from the perspective of different family members, others are tips on how to travel en masse with kids, and then there are posts about specific events.
Take your time. Don't read them all at once. Visit a few times in the next several days and only read the posts that interest you. You won't hurt my feelings; my New Year's resolution was to get all 15(!) of these posts up by today, but that doesn't mean I hope you resolve to carefully read every word of each one.
As you read it, I hope you can feel our still-fresh enthusiasm for the awesomeness of Australia and our trip there. It's one of the biggest accomplishments of my life, and one I'll always be proud of. We planned it, we did it, and I'm pretty sure we avoided being ugly Americans for the most part. So happy New Year to you, from the world-traveling Familia Cook!

Beautiful Things To Make You Jealous

Although the following posts are chock full of fun photos, I've made a short slideshow of a few that will make you wish you came along with us to Australia.

Total Solar Eclipse!

About 6 years ago, I attended a lecture of the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. The lecturer, Craig Prater, was a friend, and he gave a talk and slideshow about taking his family (including 2 young children) to see a total solar eclipse in Egypt. At the end of the talk, he encouraged everyone to see a total solar eclipse at least once in their lives. Then he showed a map of all the eclipse sites for the next 20 years.
When I noticed a flag over the Great Barrier Reef, I knew that this was my best chance to convince Kevin. I went home and pitched the idea. He went for it. We started saving a little every month for our trip to Queensland to see a total solar eclipse over the Great Barrier Reef. We mentioned it to lots of people and invited them along. You, dear reader, may have been one of them!
For years we talked about it, and it seemed so far away and so unreal. But eventually is was 2012 and we realized we were really going to make it happen. My moms had decided early on to join us, and they were game. With the invaluable help of my globetrotting Auntie Beeb, we made plans, paid deposits, purchased airline tickets and couldn't believe it was really happening.
Well, it did happen. We went. We saw the eclipse. You may have heard that it was overcast in many parts of Queensland that day, including very near us. We scouted several viewing locations the day before so we could pick the one with the best weather the next day. At 3 AM, we decided that the best spot was probably going to be at the beach a block and a half away from our vacation home. Kevin left at 4 AM to get a spot, and it was a plum spot: right in front of the playground, on the beach. The kids and I got there at 4:45 and Stellan and Rachelle immediately made themselves at home. There were already around a hundred people gathered there on the esplanade, many with fancy cameras and telescopes.
By 5:45 when the eclipse started, the beach and street were full of people from all over the world. Languages and accents everywhere, but all of us there for the same unique experience. There was some cloud cover and we all worried. But about 40 minutes into the eclipse, the sky was mostly clear.
We watched the moon pass in front of the sun with our eclipse glasses on, seeing the sliver of sunlight get slimmer and slimmer. Then, totality. The beach went silent for a heartbeat and then erupted in cheers and applause. For almost two full minutes, it was as dark as dusk; stars were visible in the sky, as well Venus right next to the sun. There was a strange blue glow to the light around us, and the reflection off the sea was otherworldly.
Eventually the moon passed the sun completely and we saw the "diamond ring," which lasts for a moment and which we did not capture on film. But trust me, it was breathtaking. The sun slowly returned to its normal glow and size, and people slowly filtered away.
Was it worth it? Was it worth all the expense, all the time, all the planning, all the trouble, to get 7 people halfway around the world for 2 minutes of a total solar eclipse? Yes.

Great Barrier Reef

Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef is the second coolest thing I've ever done in my life. It is hard to describe how amazing it is to discover an entire world under the surface of the sea. Basically, it's just like you see on nature documentaries.
We chartered our own boat for a day and headed out on the reef. Being on our own schedule and agenda was very helpful. Stinger suits in place, we braved the waters. The kids even jumped in for a bit, although they didn't really have much interest in snorkeling.
Here are photos of that trip. (Kevin's photos from his live-aboard SCUBA trip are on a different post.)

Kevin's Amazing Photos of the Great Barrier Reef

Please just watch the slideshow. That is all.

The Rain Forest

Many people do not realize that Queensland is home to the oldest rain forests in the world. We visited several, and they were so beautiful.

Everything In Australia Is Trying To Kill You

Australia is a beautiful place. Beautiful and savage. You can admire the beaches, but watch out for crocs, box jellies and blue ringed octopus in the water. You can sightsee in the rainforest, but beware the hundreds of venomous snakes and spiders, huge cassowaries and again, crocs. By all means, dive in the Great Barrier Reef, but wear a stinger suit (basically a full-body rash guard to protect against jellyfish), don't touch certain corals because you'll break out in an itchy rash, and watch out for sharks. Here are some of our favorite photos of deadly things.

Tips For Traveling With Kids

If you choose to take your young children on this trip, here are some tips from our adventures that you should learn from:

Krissie's Australia

What can I say about the trip? It was amazing. Obviously I'm biased. I dreamed it up, I planned it, I led the charge. My favorite part was the total solar eclipse, but I have to say that the Great Barrier Reef was also incredible. I love that I got to share the trip with my family. I love that we actually did it. I love that we'll always have our memories and our stories and of course several thousand photos.
When I think back on the trip, I have the feeling of little Annie on my back, squealing in excitement. I hear Rachelle singing a song as she runs off, probably in the wrong direction. I see myself talking to Stellan about why whatever we're looking at is unique and special. Kevin and I finish every sentence with "... in Australia!"
(We're grilling Australia! We're pumping gas by the Australia! We're taking eating mango ice Australia!) I have the constant comfort of knowing that three other adults are there helping with the kids, and that it's OK for me to take a breath and enjoy the moment.
Here are some of my favorite moments not recorded in the other dozen or so slideshows that I also put together:

Kevin's Austalia

"I got to go diving and drive a big boat." That's what Kevin has to say about his trip. "Did I mention on the Great Barrier Reef?"
His photos from his overnight SCUBA trip are in another post, for you to ooh and aah at. They are breathtaking. But I will add that he was also Superdad on the trip: able to swim with any kid anywhere, navigate strange lands on the wrong side of the road, unafraid to eat crocodile and other native delicacies, feeling at home in the land of his famous ancestor, Captain James Cook.

Annie's Australia

Annie was our easiest kid on this trip by far. She loves the baby backpack and rode happily in it and the stroller for miles and miles. She's easy to feed, can sleep pretty easily when she needs to and would stop crying just about anytime I picked her up.
That said, she's something of a mama's girl. Well, she loves Daddy too. But if one of us isn't holding her, life is pretty much over. Granny made it her personal mission to win her over. It took just about the whole two weeks, but it finally worked. The whole time we joked about the pair of them: Granny and Grrr-Annie.
She's one lucky baby. She's nursed in more exotic locations than many people will visit in their lives. And on airplane, she got a bassinet while we had normal seats. The bassinet hooks on the front of the bulkhead and was big enough for her to lay in quite comfortably. She slept, well, like a baby for almost the entire flight from LAX to Auckland and back. She was definitely flying first class while the rest of us were in coach.
Here are some really adorable photos of my sweet Anniecakes:

Rachelle's Australia

Taking Rachelle with us on this trip was the hardest decision we made. We knew Stellan was old enough to remember it, and since Annie is nursing, she was definitely coming. But it's basically insanity to take a two and half year old on a trip like ours. Lucky for her, I'm a softy. I knew that once she was old enough to realize she was the only one left behind, she would never forgive us. Well, at least not until she had her own two and a half year old child. So we took her.
I won't lie, it was challenging for all of us. She has a short attention span, was barely potty trained, is prone to regular tantrums and doesn't like keeping other people's schedules or agendas. Her midday naps were tough to accommodate, although they were always necessary. In the end, I don't regret it. And she's just so stinking cute, I hate being apart from her anyway.
Some things about two-year-olds are easy. She loves to dance and sing, and can be cajoled out of a bad mood almost 100% of the time with an interjection of "Bringing Home a Baby Bumblebee." In fact, that song may be the soundtrack of our trip. She is small enough to pick up relatively easily and could always be strapped in the stroller in a pinch. This was a regular and very real threat to her. Also, she's always looking for a good time, so we did our best to provide one.
Her favorite part of the trip was definitely the beach. In fact, she keeps asking to go to the beach now that we're home, not realizing that the South Pacific in the summer is much more pleasant than the Gulf of Mexico in winter. She also really enjoyed the pool in our yard and would beg to swim morning, noon and night. And she loves the plush baby crocodile she got at the croc farm gift shop. She sleeps with it every night and plays with it all day. I love the way she says it - baby cah-wock-a-dile. Now that we're home, she's got a whole crocodile family with existing plush animals.
Here are some of my favorite photos of her:

Stellan's Australia

Stellan had a really great time on the trip. Once he figured out that everywhere we wanted to take him was amazing, he was a very good sport about going along. He loved seeing lots of exotic animals and couldn't get enough of the beach. He also really liked the boat ride out to the reef, but didn't enjoy snorkeling on the open sea at all. Now he talks about the trip like it's no big deal, like every 5-year-old flits across continents just to hand feed kangaroos and watch crocodiles feed.
He also managed to have fun just hanging around our house; when you've got lots of space, some fun balls and a pool at your fingertips, life's a constant party. He did well with a limited diet (they don't have applesauce, he hated Australian honey hut Cheerios and he found the yogurt selection unsatisfactory) and was very good about understanding that everything wasn't like it is at home. He was very good on airplanes and mostly pretty good at airports.
I will say he was starved for peers on the trip. Being stuck with a two-year-old as his primary companion wasn't easy and we spent lots of time talking about how great our babysitting swap would be when we got home. (He loves "Kid Night", as we call it, because 9 kids all at once is basically his idea of heaven.) He loved spending time with his grandmas, though, and misses them lots now that we're so far away.
Here are some of his best photos of the trip:


We had overnight layovers in Auckland, New Zealand, on our way to Australia and also on the way back home. Even though we had less than 18 hours from when we left the airport until we had to be back each time, we did our best to take advantage of our time there. We wish we'd had more time there, because it was truly beautiful.

Adventures in LA

On our way to Australia, we had a one-day layover in Los Angeles each way. On the way there, we had lots of energy and were lucky enough to have Grandpa Steward and GrandMaggie drive down from Santa Barbara to spend the day with us. On the way home, we were too jetlagged to want to do much, so I have spared you photos of us looking bedraggled in a motel room.