Monday, December 29, 2008

One of many gifts

A beautiful book titled simplyWisdom is one of the amazing gifts that entered our household this Christmas. On the website link, you will find some fascinating snippits in a video format. Check it out if you are so inclined and enjoy the wisdom these people share. I know I will treasure this work.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!


Merry Christmas from our family to yours! Wishing you all the joys of the season!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Day 24: Read "The Night Before Christmas"

Over the years, we've collected several versions of this story, including the Cajun, Redneck, and now Aussie tales. For Christmas Eve, we read the classic. I hope in the future we'll spend the greater part of December reading through "A Christmas Carol" as a family, but right now that's a bit much for our girls. "The Night Before Christmas" is just our speed, and it's always a joy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Day 23: Welcome our guests!

Markus's mother and sister arrive today to spend the holiday and ring in the new year far away from the German wintry rain and cold. Having recently been all too familiar with European winter, I certainly appreciate their timing! It will be wonderful to have our first visitors over our first Christmas in the new place. It doesn't feel like Christmas since we're not used to celebrating it in the summertime, but it is beautiful and always a good time to see family!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Aussie Love Poem

As part of my ongoing multicultural and local lingo education, this poem was forwarded to me by my gorgeous red-haired girlfriend from Sydney. She has two busy little boys, each of whom she calls "mistah."

Aussie Love Poem

Of course I love ya darling
You're a bloody top notch bird
And when I say you're gorgeous
I mean every single word
So ya bum is on the big side
I don't mind a bit of flab
It means that when I'm ready
There's somethin there to grab
So your belly isn't flat no more
I tell ya, I don't care
So long as when I cuddle ya
I can get my arms round there
No Sheila who is your age
Has nice round perky breasts
They just gave in to gravity
But I know ya did ya best
I'm tellin ya the truth now
I never tell ya lies
I think its very sexy
That you've got dimples on ya thighs
I swear on me nanna's grave now
The moment that we met
I thought u was as good as
I was ever gonna get
No matter wot u look like
I'll always love ya dear
Now shut up while the footy's on
And fetch another beer.

Weekly Video Post

Observe the level of wild hysteria and amusement. Can't you tell it's bedtime?

Happiness is...

...making time for simple pleasures.


...a muffin as big as your face.


...bouncing on a trampoline in a "princess dress".


...protecting that adorable noggin.


...father-daughter time.


May the holiday season bring you and yours much happiness and joy!

Day 22: Bake Christmas cookies.

I've been putting this off, because cookies baked are cookies eaten. Instantly (usually by me when no one is watching). Markus's mother and sister will be arriving tomorrow for their 3 week Christmas visit, so it seemed time to have some cookies in the house! Watch for recipe links to show up in the sidebar once the baking slows. Tomorrow will be all about the decorating!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Day 21: Have a solstice feast.

Summer solstice in December is new to us, but we celebrated in style.
Menu: maple-thyme glazed salmon, snow peas in lemon butter, corn on the cob, black & white quinoa, Margaret River white wine. And iced tea, of course.
Ellie ate some leftover pasta. Whatcha gonna do?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Day 20: Have a picnic dinner.

We are nowhere near the championship picnic level inherent to locals, but we do enjoy meals outside. People here take it so seriously! They picnic ALL DAY. As Markus says, we wouldn't be surprised to see them erect a huge white tent with Persian carpets inside. This is serious business. Our family picnics, on the other hand, involve lots of last minute scrambling to assemble assorted foods the kids will eat and the adults should eat, plus drinks. We keep the blanket and two chairs in the car; that's about as pro as we go. Still, you can't beat a picnic in this glorious weather! I know it's bad for the farmers, but I am enjoying this extended spring so much!

Friday, December 19, 2008

The real purpose of Lamaze

We've all seen it in the movies. A woman goes into labor and instantly starts huffing and puffing like the Big Bad Wolf, doing her best at Hollywood Lamaze breathing. Deep, regular breathing, we are told, will help women cope with labor, meaning it makes the pain less, right? Speaking as a woman who has gone the natural birth route, let me clear that up: it doesn't. What it DOES do is make you breathe, a highly underrated activity. Focused regular breathing can help keep stress levels down or reduce stress further. When in pain, focused breathing has many benefits. It prevents holding your breath or hyperventilating, both of which reduce oxygen in your system and increase stress considerably. It also has the marvelous, untold benefit of keeping you from screaming or swearing or both. All of these benefits will come in handy again, say sometime when you are reaching into the fridge with a baby on one hip and an expectant child at your leg and you knock a glass bowl out and onto your big toe, where the bowl promptly breaks and leaves your toe (and thus the rest of you) in momentary white-hot, throbbing agony.
Lamaze: learn it for life.

Day 19: Invite friends for a Christmas tea party.

This is another activity that was heavily adapted as the reality of busy parent schedules factored in. Last week, two of Ellie's friends came over to decorate Christmas ornaments and to jump on the trampoline until they were all exhausted. Today, we met up with another of Ellie's friends at a huge indoor playground, where they ran around like monkeys and played to their hearts' content. Maybe next year we'll get to the tea party with Christmas cookies, but this year the alternatives were just as fun!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Day 18: Purchase a gift for charity.

Two weekends ago as I worked at the toy library, I was chatting with my co-worker about the gorgeous extended spring we've had. He is from Nepal, but he has been living here for the past 3 years. He was commenting that the weather is most unusual for this time of year. I responded with how much I am enjoying it, especially given the fact that our A/C is still not installed (should have been done a month ago) and the children don't sleep well in the heat. He said, "Yes, it is nice for us, but what about the farmers? How will this weather impact the growing of food?" This simple, casual exchange reminded me once again of the bounty of our blessings. Nepal is filled with families who rely on subsistence farming for survival. I have never had to worry about food supply; he has. How easy it is to take for granted one of the greatest blessings of all!

As our children grow older, I hope they will participate in the annual selection of a charity. This year, given her joy at the Cuddly Animal Farm, I thought Ellie would like selecting a gift from Heifer International. In a snippit from their website, "In FY2007, Heifer had 867 active projects in 53 countries/provinces and 28 U.S. states. Heifer projects around the world help families achieve self-reliance through the gift of livestock and training. Gifts are passed from recipient to recipient until entire communities are transformed." For as little as $20, you can give a gift of a flock of chicks, ducks or geese...and it goes up from there. Selecting animals with older kids can be a lot of fun and a great learning experience, weighing up the potential benefits for the recipient (a sheep and a goat cost the same, so what is the real difference for the community that receives it?). This allows children to participate in charitable giving in a way that is tangible and has meaning for them. It is my hope that my children will grow to understand how rich our lives truly are and how blessed we can be to share our resources and our talents to make even the smallest difference in the world.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Surfing for Sanity

I am sitting here surfing the internet, mostly looking at other people's wondrous creativity, in hopes to stave off the inevitable descent into madness that accompanies having a mini-adult in the house. Oh my goodness. When the Terrible 2s started at 18 months, I was relieved, thinking we'd be out of the woods earlier too. Hardy har har. Here we are past 39 months (that's nearly 2 years later!), and the woods are closing in around me, people! She has not outgrown the tantrums. Instead, she has refined and enhanced them to take fit-throwing to a whole new level of insanity-inducing mania. The thing is, to the untrained eye, she is still WORLDS ahead of most kiddies her age. Most parents who've been through this age (or are going through it now) would wonder why I'm so fussed (unless they are party to the actual fit). You see, typical toddler/preschooler behavior has never been her thing. She knows EXACTLY what buttons of mine she wants to push, and she knows EXACTLY how to push them. I like to say that you always wish for your children to be very smart until they are. I was done for by the time she turned 2.

Anyway, today I thought I'd share some of the sites I browse. I often find great sites linked through other people's blogs, so maybe there will be something here for you too.

Geninne's Art Blog. I don't remember how I discovered this blog or her work, but I enjoy it so much! I have two prints from her etsy shop, and even the bubble-wrap mailer she sent them in was pretty. Now and then, she posts pictures of her house, and everything is clean and inspired and lovely. My house is currently buried in kiddie mess and I want to hide from it under the bed, so hers is particularly appealing!

lovelydesign. I've been following her personal blog for a while now. I found it through her work. She made a beautiful address file from assorted found papers that was so simple and beautiful that I tracked her down online...only to find she wasn't making them anymore. I did snag one of her journey books, and when I opened it up, it is so lovely that I'm reluctant to use it. A handmade work of art! Her blog has led me to discover other artists I enjoy, and my personal space is filling up with small art that gives me joy!

SouleMama. I seem unable to resist this blog despite the fact that it makes me feel inadequate. She has just home-birthed baby #4 (part of the draw for me, I know...I love little babies and pregnant bellies!), home-schools the other 3, creates constantly, runs a small non-profit and has published a book with another due out soon. How are these things possible? What hours in the day I am failing to utilize? At any rate, she takes lovely photos of her life and family, and I do enjoy browsing her site. I discovered her blog after buying her book, Creative Family, and the book is well worth owning if you parent littles.

The Pioneer Woman. She just makes me laugh! We are girlfriends separated by half a globe who have never met, but she is a girlfriend nonetheless! She also parents and homeschools four kids, but her life seems much closer to my reality and her humor is infectious.

dooce. Sometimes she's too over-the-top for me, but on my rough days, I appreciate her bluntness and sarcasm.

small notebook. After our most recent move, the staggering amount of STUFF we own hit me full force. Being raised by a pack-rat (and what's worse, a MILITARY pack-rat wherein the philosophy is if one is good, four is better), I have been hoarding for years. The paper chain Ellie and I made for our Christmas tree is from pre-cut scraps that I saved from a project I made during my teaching job EIGHT YEARS AGO. We're talking about scraps of paper, people. That should give you an idea of how scary the stuff pile is over here. I enjoy this woman's blog because she has said no thank you to all of that and lives small with her husband and young daughter. While I cannot reach where she is, I am inspired by it and often enjoy her posts.

Quadville. Just when I think I can't take it anymore, I read this and relax. She has FOUR. If she can survive, I can too.

And I just found this last one for Quinn. You're often stuck out here in Mama-Land when you check this blog, but I appreciate you checking on in me anyway! I do still have many many interests that I don't choose to write about, and it's nice to know my good friends trust I'm still in here somewhere.

Day 17: Make Christmas placemats.


Okay, so this wasn't the scheduled activity, but it was so fun that we wanted to share! I remembered how much I enjoyed weaving when I was a child, so I dug out my massive pile o' felt and did the pre-cutting. Ellie decided managing the strips to be woven was more her speed (she is, after all, CEO), so she handled the color order and I did the manual labor. Should be really cute on Christmas Eve when we have our fancy meal!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Lounging beside the Swan River


Last week, we went to one of our favorite spots along the Swan River to take our family Christmas photo. There is a beautiful old tree there with a massive above-ground root system that made a perfect sitting place. It took about 10 tries, but we got one we could use. Too bad I tipped the camera as a ran back into place after setting the timer on this attempt; Ellie's expression is priceless (and sums up her current enthusiasm for all things water-related).


This spot is close to our house in an upscale area that could either be Mosman Park or Peppermint Grove (we hear people call it both, so I'm guessing it's somewhere along the border between the towns). Whichever it is, we like it! It's wind-sheltered and shady, and there's plenty of space to play in the grass and the sand. In the afternoons, the shade extends into the water, which is extra-nice.


For almost two years now, Ellie has had a great affinity for sticks. Sticks in the sand is even better than sticks in the grass, so she's happy at the river even when she stays dry (or tries to). The other day, she couldn't resist attempts at spear-fishing one of the unidentified fish that swims close to the water's edge. Each time she squatted down, she dipped her skirt in the river...but who cares about such things when there are fish to be captured?


And let's not forget to style Mama's hair. Those gentle breezes don't do a thing for you, and we could all use a little help from a personal stylist, right? Stephanie doesn't look too sure about this, but Ellie is confident as ever.

Photo seekers

As a segue from the advent activities, I'd like to talk about my photos for a minute. There are LOTS of photos on this blog. I am a photographer by hobby. I am not professional by any stretch of the imagination, and since the birth of our first child, I have only shot using automatic features. I don't know how to use Photoshop, so what you see is what I saw. That being said, these photos of mine seem quite popular, and I'm so happy you like them! I'm flattered and thrilled that so many people in so many places find them appealing! I do ask, however, that you please do not steal them. I have a little copyright blurb on the sidebar in case you missed it, but even if I didn't, these photos were taken by me and I hope you will ask permission before you choose to use them in any way. If you are interested in purchasing a print, please shoot me an email at blitzpampers at gmail dot com describing which photos you would like, and we'll see what we can do. Selling my images is a new area for me, but I would be happy and quite excited to do so if there is a demand. In the meantime, please enjoy looking to your heart's content! I place them here with that hope in mind.
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming...
Best wishes for a happy holiday season!

Day 16: Go for a beach walk after dinner.

Our household is fairly routine-oriented, especially in the evenings. I know everyone has different opinions about family routines, but they work for us. Knowing what will come next because that's always what comes next makes life easier around here, and we're all for that! This made the beach walk after dinner extra-special. The Fremantle Doctor was a-blowin' strongly, but we still enjoyed the fresh air and the evening sun. The wind helped contain Ellie's usual enthusiasm for stripping naked and running into the surf, which was probably a good thing given her small case of the sniffles.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Day 15: Dress up in fancy clothes for dinner.

This one seemed easy enough! Ellie wore her princess dress all afternoon, so we thought we had day 15's activity in the bag. Think again. "We don't wear princess dresses at the table," we were informed by the CEO. Guess we missed that memo.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Day 14: Go out for ice cream.

Matilda Bay is an awesome spot for an ice cream. It's in a wind-sheltered bend along the Swan River with lots of shade trees, which is imperative on days like today. We got our first really hot day (35 C in the shade), so the ice cream "activity" was much appreciated by all!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Day 13: Eat something different for dinner.

Maybe this doesn't qualify as an activity in your house, but in ours...heck yes! We ate Indian food. Stephanie ate anything within reach. Ellie ate rice and naan. I say that counts.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Overheard in a cafe

"Mum, why do women have a boob crack?"

Day 12: Make Christmas ornaments.

We like this recipe for clay cookie ornaments from Feed Me I'm Yours by Vicki Lansky. The ornaments are white white white, which makes a good base for painting and they taste so salty and ick that the inedible part isn't hard to enforce.

Clay Cookie Ornaments
(Overnight Drying Method)

2 cups salt
2/3 cup water
1 cup (or more) cornstarch
1/2 cup cold water

Mix salt with 2/3 cup water and boil. Add cornstarch and remaining water. Stir. If mixture doesn't thicken, set back on stove. Sprinkle extra cornstarch on table and rolling pin. Roll out dough and cut with cookie cutters. Use a straw to make a hole at the top for hanging. Let dry. Use paint, glitter, and so on to decorate. These are not edible!

Picasso had his Blue Period. Ellie is having a Red Period. Last year's ornaments were mostly black, so eventually we may have a rainbow on the tree.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Day 11: Bake cookies together.

This is fun anytime! Our favorite recipe is peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips; we mixed in regular and mini M&m's instead. Yummy yummy yummy!!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Day 10: Eat dinner by candlelight.

Ellie was dumbfounded by this one. Though we used to light dinner candles often, we haven't remembered to since the move. Ellie kept asking whose birthday it was and if we could blow the candles out.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Pitter-patter of little feet

Bedtime with Ellie has become a nightmare of late. Apparently, this is a common tale at this age. In a fit of madness, I typed in "defiant 3 year old" in google, and bedtime problems was the first thing to come back. Kids seem to use this as another area of control (the first one being food). I can't make her sleep, and she knows it! So these days, the bedtime routine is as it always was, except she keeps coming out of her room over and over and over again for up to 1.5 hours, and it makes us nuts! Not to mention the fact that she's getting less and less sleep this way. Nothing we do seems to make a dent, and it gets really old fighting her every night. She seems to thrive on it, but we find it a really unpleasant way to end the evening. It's extra hard because she's very smart and highly verbal, so we often make the mistake of expecting her to act older than she is. She is only 3, and it helps to try to remember that when trying not to rip one's hair out.
And then there are nights like last night, when all goes so well and peacefully. The bliss is tangible. No shouts. No debates. No repeat visits as we tidy the kitchen.
Except...


Forgive the exposure, but I had to take it quick and without flash so she wouldn't know we'd spotted her.
We had to hand it to her: excellent stealth and bonus marks for cute cheekiness. It made us giggle (behind our hands so she wouldn't see). She's only 3, and what a little cutie she can be.

Day 9: Set up Christmas tree.


Okay, so this isn't exactly what I had in mind for this day's activity, but that's how it worked out. When we took our scrawny $25 once-pre-lit-but-non-working-lights-cut-off-by-Mimi-2-Christmases-ago tree out of the box last night, it stank a musty packed-away stank and required airing. The table outside seemed the best out of the way option. Hopefully, we can bring it in and set it up properly tonight.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Day 8: Eat breakfast for dinner.

Ooooo...I love this one!
Extra bonus feature: Ellie will happily eat pancakes anytime. Not true for most dinner foods.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Career change

Once upon a time, I was a teacher in a private school. I loved teaching, but I hated almost everything else about my job. I was burned enough by the experience to pursue a Masters degree in a totally different area--International Development--which I also found fascinating. It opened up the world to me in a way I'd always wanted to understand but couldn't or didn't or wouldn't without that study. For this, I am grateful, but it's unlikely that I will be working in that field. To do so would either mean working directly in a developing country (not practical for our family) or working in a developed country for a major international organization (which I know I would hate). I'm just not cut out to be one of a million in a huge bureaucracy. Know thyself, and I know that's not me. But what is? Good question! People who know me well insist that I am a teacher, despite my reservations. I am and have always been passionate about education, and I don't see that changing. But I cannot work in another environment like the place I started. It was profoundly unhealthy for me and is fodder for bad dreams to this day (I'm not kidding). Also, my reservations about teaching kept me from signing up for education certification in time while at university (I decided to go for it about one week after the deadline), so I'll need to go back to school whatever I choose to do. This makes me look at all options, and lately the gleaming shining new subject of interest has been midwifery.

After Stephanie's beautiful home birth, I felt so compelled to look into midwifery. When I thought about med school years ago, I wanted to be an OB, so midwifery isn't a new interest...just a renewed and attainable interest sparked by an incredible personal experience. In The Netherlands, midwives are not nurses (like nurse-midwives in the States), which was most appealing because I have no interest in becoming a nurse (and would be beaten down by my experienced nurse mother if I did). Lo and behold, there is a university here that trains direct entry midwives: no nursing! Hooray! I know I'd have to retrain in the States if we moved there, but think of all I'd learn! So fascinating! Plus, combine that with my Masters degree and think of the possibilities for development work! It's a full-time, three year program, which means I would need to get started next term to finish before we have to move again. So despite the fact that I had planned to be a full-time mom until my baby was in school, I called them up today: Permanent residents only.
Alas. I am oh-so-sad.

But it's just as well. I do currently have my dream job (though it's not nearly as easy as the dream itself), and I'll just have to keep searching for the best choice of what's next. I'm pretty sure it will be education, but what age? Kidlets? Preteens? Teens? Adults? What subject? So many possibilities! Having too many interests makes life interesting, but it does complicate decision-making. Suggestions? Comments?

Day 7: Enjoy a family outing.

As Ellie has been asking about the bunnies every day since our last visit, today's activity was a no-brainer: back to the Cuddly Animal Farm! I know you've seen the video, so you know what's there but look at this:


And if that isn't the most darling thing you've seen this week, look at this one:


Baby Stephanie was eager to get in on the action:


When we pulled up today, the parking lot was filled to capacity and there were several large groups having birthday parties or family picnics there. The feeling of trepidation returned, but Ellie insisted we "just try". So happy we did! It is sooo sweet watching Ellie be so tender with baby animals. I'm a bit mad about baby animals myself...


I'm thinking we'll need to raise chickens at some point. Just so I can hold the chicks.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Day 6: Sing a Christmas song together.

Or not.
In the words of the CEO, "Um...I think not. How about 'American Pear' [Prayer] or 'Walking on Sunshine'?"
She also really enjoys singing "Ellie feeds the bunnies" (otherwise known as "Ordinary Miracle", the song I soundtracked to our animal farm video). "Ordinary Miracle" could be a Christmas song, I think. It fits the feel of the season, if not the traditional lyrics.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Day 5: Set out shoes for Saint Nicholas.

Being a multi-cultural family gives us the benefit of extended Christmas traditions. December 5th is Saint Nicholas's Day. You may remember last year reading about the arrival of Sinterklaus in Scheveningen and the subsequent parade through The Hague. In Germany, Saint Nicholas comes during the night. That evening, children set out a boot (Nikolaus-Stiefel), often containing a carrot or other treat for his horse. If the child has been good, Saint Nicholas will fill the boot with treats (fruits, nuts, candies and/or small gifts). If the child hasn't been so good, the child will find a twig or coal instead. This will be our first year observing Saint Nicholas's Day, but I know it's a tradition we plan to keep.

Day 4: Make Advent Calendar.


Honesty time. I've been making these activities up as we go along, and yesterday I just plain forgot to create something. Oh my, what is the world coming to? Well, obviously we can't have that! So I finally finished the advent calendar (origami cups) and put a different activity in each spot. Since we have an eager explorer with a bloodhound's instinct for treats, I will put a little treat in each cup just before we check that day's activity (planning on using mini-M&Ms). From here on out, activities are set! Away we go!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Day 3: Make Christmas decorations.


I think this one will be ongoing for us, as we endeavor to keep a certain 3 year old engaged and challenged. She is so proud of her crafting, and we all enjoy the results!

Sisters at tea (narrated by baby Stephanie)

Can you believe the service around here? S-L-O-W.


What am I missing?


Testing my other options...



Oh, I'll just do it myself.


At last!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Day 2: Take photos of each other.

This is a bit of a cheater post, since these photos were taken over the past week when Markus holidayed with us at home to burn off some of his backlogged vacation time. If I were to post about today's real advent calendar activity, it would be "make activity advent calendar" since I'm running behind this holiday season...but I don't want to admit that so we're going with a cheater post, yes? By the way, the advent calendar activity suggestions and the Christmas card exchange came from Amber at kids craft weekly. If you are a mom of littles or an elementary school teacher like our newfound babysitter, you're bound to enjoy her weekly newsletters. Our little CEO approves!


Thanks also to gail for teaching me about Picnik, the site where I built the photo collage above. I have pretty much followed gail's lead with anything technology-wise (including starting this blog), and I appreciate her willingness to be my teacher.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Grief


Today as we were driving to the post office, I spied an old man walking to his car. He still had a fine head of white hair and was wearing a white-striped navy polo shirt, khaki shorts, a leather belt, white athletic socks and sneakers--exactly what my dad liked to wear...and in the flash of the first instant of seeing him, I thought it would be exactly how my dad would look in another 20 years. Then the next flash was the memory that my father died of colon cancer two and a half years ago. It's been two and a half years, but seeing that old man today filled my chest with suffocating grief that just won't go away. I kept driving, although I wanted to pull over and break down. I smile for the girls, but right now they are napping and I'm beside myself. It's awful how the loss of a loved one just blindsides you sometimes. His birthday was last week, and he would have been 57. I tried to ignore it, but there it was. And then there he was today, as an old man that I will never see. I know it's awful to post this and spread the grief around, but I don't know what else to do. Everyone I know is either at work or asleep (middle of the night in the US now) or too little to be burdened with my grief, and I had to try to relieve it somehow.
I am just so sorry.

Day 1: Make Christmas cards.

We're finding it hard to get into the holiday spirit here, as it's my first December in the summertime. It just doesn't feel like Christmas, and I'm lagging behind in my usual fever for Christmas cards. I am a huge fan of occasion cards (birthday, anniversary, holiday), but getting started this year has been hard. Luckily, I imposed an external deadline on myself that helped get the juices flowing. We signed up for a Christmas card swap for Ellie. She makes and sends 10 cards to 10 children (assigned by the swap organizers), and she will receive 10 cards from 10 different children. The only conditions are that the child has to make/decorate the card and the cards have to be mailed the first week of December so everyone will receive their cards on time. Ellie's cards will go to Missouri, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Texas, Nevada, Michigan, Australia, and Japan. We can't wait to see where the incoming cards were postmarked!

Today was a great day to make the cards for two reasons. One, we have met a wonderful babysitter, and we asked her to come a few times during the day while I'm home so Ellie and Stephanie can get comfortable with her; today was the first day. She is in university to become an elementary school teacher, and she could not have been more enthusiastic about helping Ellie make her cards! Two, we have made a family activity advent calendar, and today's activity was (as in the title) "Make Christmas cards". Watch for additional advent calendar activity posts (hopefully one per day if I can be organized enough!) mixed in with regular-style posting for this month.

Without further ado, I present Ellie's cards. Notice the minimalist, modernist approach interspersed with forceful application of glitter glue. I will disclose that she did not cut the shapes herself (though she tried!); however, we felt the shapes still fit the criteria for the project as the shape and color was dictated by Mademoiselle Artiste.



Now I'm off to attempt to make the rest of our cards. I tried to commission more by Ellie, but after 10 cards, her creative juices were fully tapped and she moved on to dancing ballet around the living room. Maybe I should try that too...


Later...

When I looked through my address book and counted up for Christmas cards, I came to the sudden and marvelous conclusion that we needed to make lino-cut cards this year. Forget the fact that neither of us has done lino cutting since grade school! Supplies were bought, lino was cut down to size and...hm. Only black printing ink available. What to make? While fiddling with non-traditional designs, I came up with the Australian Magpie for the obvious reasons of black and white contrast, it's something from here, and this place is new this year. Riding on the wave of Ellie's card creations, we got down to business once the kids were in bed, and ya know what? I'd forgotten how much I enjoy printing! Although the block is the same, each print is different. Most are imperfect (uneven ink, lines down the middle...), but that's the nature of the beast! I say let's embrace imperfection and enjoy the handmade quality! At least, I ask you to keep that in mind if you receive one of the funky ones. Happy Holidays!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Weekly Video Post

This week, we drove out of Perth to the nearby wine region of Swan Valley. We weren't sure what we'd do there beyond a nice lunch at one of the many wineries, but a quick stop at the Visitor Centre tipped us off to the Swan Valley Cuddly Animal Farm. If you know Ellie's track record around animals, you'll know this could have gone either way. Our little animal lover has been known to have a complete meltdown at an animal's approach, even seconds after she was coaxing it closer. We parked the car and approached the gate with a hint of trepidation. Either she would love it...or she would be in peril. Would be we brave enough to find out? Before we could change our minds and flee to the safety of the carpark, Farmer Lyn spotted us and gave us the overview. We had to forge ahead...and we are so happy we did! The Cuddly Animal Farm has baby farm animals, and (as the name suggests) most of them are happy to be handled. There is an indoor section where the animals can be fed. Ellie couldn't get enough of feeding the bunnies. She fed them and fed them and fed them until those little bunnies couldn't eat anymore. And Ellie woke up the next morning asking if she could go back and feed them again. The experience was so sweet and adorable, and we are happy we can share it with you as this week's video post.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Other Differences

I've changed the title of the last post to "Big Differences", because it was more about large cultural changes than "Life Down Under" per se. Also, I don't want to give the impression that we think Australia is like the States, because it's not. It is "New World" (like the States), as opposed to "Old World" (like Europe), which makes transitioning much easier for someone familiar with the New World system. It's hard to put a finger on where this place is like, especially as I'm told by many that Perth (and WA) is not representative of Australia as a whole. We've lived in similar places, so we often make comparisons. It's like the UK...but it's not. It's like Cape Town...but it's not. If there's one word to describe this place, it's "isolated." Isolation has many effects, and you can see them here. It's not wise to judge as an outsider (particularly as an outsider with a public blog; the spot on Perth is large and I don't know who's reading!). People here are VERY sensitive and protective of their corner of paradise, and who am I to question? One thing I will comment on is the closed attitude here, and it stems from this protectiveness. WA is naturally beautiful (as you've heard me go on about already), and Perth is relatively small. There is a small town feel to the area (particularly the western suburbs where we live) that makes it a great place for young families and of course outdoorsy enthusiasts. The boom in mining and oil and gas have brought a HUGE influx of people to Perth, but there is a bit of local backlash against the influx. People are not as relaxed as you'd expect in an outdoorsy place, and not as friendly as you'd expect in a small city/town either. British influence is heavy, but the politeness (even cold politeness) of the British is often absent. It's not that people are rude or difficult. It's just that they seem to be just as happy to interact with you as not. The welcome mat (if it was ever out) has been taken back inside.

The boom has had a big impact on local life, and not just in terms of population. You've already heard my rant about schooling and the sizable waiting lists (which have to be equally frustrating to locals who can't get their kids into certain schools either). Housing prices are insane. Starting prices in our area are above AU$1million, and those are "bargains". With the global economic downturn, the sellers' market here has dropped off significantly, but prices have remained steady. The rental market is still through the roof (around $1000/wk for a nice house isn't unusual). Prices on just about everything (food, clothes, etc.) are more than we saw in The Hague (which is itself high for Europe) and double (or more) what the same item would cost in the States. Cost of living is on par with Sydney, which has the 3rd highest cost of living in the world. Only this isn't Sydney; it's isolated WA. Think of paying the same to live on the US Gulf Coast as you do for New York City and you'll get an idea of why this seems crazy.

It will be interesting to observe life here over the next few years. Natural resource booms come and go. This one seems to be going, and it often takes its people with it. Many of the smaller companies have already stopped bringing in new people. Some are already sending people on to other places. Who knows how long we will stay, though we know we'll enjoy it while we do. Despite the intense sun, the weather is amazing. The place is awesome for my three kids (the oldest one is windsurfing as I type). Ellie loves running around the backyard in the buff, and she certainly couldn't do that in The Netherlands...nor would she have been able to in Sakhalin, had we gone there instead. And we finally got a school! We were told by insiders to stress my Montessori background on applications, and that paid off big-style. Three schools pushed us through the waiting lists and gave us offers. Ellie will start at the one closest to our home next term (Feb 2009). She was supposed to start this week and that didn't happen, but I won't go there. Plans change on us all the time here, and the best plan is to go with the flow as much as possible. Look at the pretty ocean, meditate...and try not to go mad. As the locals say, "No dramas." With a three-year-old in the house, we have enough of those anyway.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Big Differences

In the past three years, we have lived in three different countries--Qatar, The Netherlands, and Australia--with occasional visits to the States and Germany mixed in with small vacations in France and Italy (and Dubai and the Seychelles...and Singapore on the way here...). Whew. I feel jetlagged just looking at that list, but that's not why I bring it up. The point is that we've been living away from the States for a while now, and after initial settling in time, we adjust to where we are. The culture, the lifestyle, the language (if necessary), the people, the style of dress, etc. When I first arrived in Doha, I couldn't stop staring at the local dress. I had never been in a Muslim country before, and I'd only seen abayas and dishdashas on TV or movies. Seeing men in white and women in black from head to toe (finished off with huge designer sunglasses in either case) was a very new experience for me, and it felt DIFFERENT. But then I adjusted and didn't notice anymore. I didn't wear shorts or tanktops (too revealing and disrespectful), but I'm not really a shorts-and-tank-top-wearing kinda girl anyway. Jeans or skirts, short-sleeved tops or blouses were fine, and though I never stopped noticing the sunglasses or the massive flashy watches that are so requisite for the local men and on display in every jewelry shop window, I did stop noticing how differently we were dressed. I even learned some Arabic, though it wasn't particularly necessary. With so many foreigners, English was the rule. I also got away with English in The Hague. Although the Dutch are fiercely protective of their language (all printed material is in Dutch, though you get an occasional Turkish or Arabic translation), almost everyone speaks English in the major cities. My height and blondish hair often led to assumptions that I was Dutch and some communication confusion, but on the whole, English got me through (though my basic shoppers' Dutch was well-received). Of course, there were other adjustments to be made. European grocery shopping, for example, in which it takes visits to several shops often over several days to complete your list. And the fridge is so tiny that we bought milk every other day. Same deal with the washing machine. I was perpetually grocery shopping and doing laundry...but you get used to it.
Now we're in Australia, and there aren't these big adjustments to be made. There are hardly any adjustments at all, actually. It's amazing. The settling in process was so streamlined that we were settled here faster than we were able to do in New Orleans. We had a house, a car, and a scooter in no time flat. We are close to the big chain grocery store, which looks just like big chain grocery stores back in the States and has almost the same type of selection. There are subtle reminders like this...


but otherwise we could be somewhere in the States.
Yes, there's an Aussie tilt to it, but the language is English. Burger King is called "Hungry Jack's" and breakfast is "brekky", but most other differences are British-English (as opposed to American-English) that we learned in the UK years ago (cookies are "biscuits", diapers are "nappies", strollers are "prams", and most importantly pants are "trousers"--because here and in the UK, "pants" are underpants). Like the States and most unlike The Netherlands, it's a car culture here and people drive EVERYWHERE. Even short distances that seem so inviting to cycling or walking are most often tackled by car. Which finally brings me to the biggest difference we get on a daily basis: DRIVING ON THE LEFT.


When we first arrived, I was a bit afraid to drive. Markus spent a few years driving on the left in the UK, but I did it about 4 times and only then to get to Safeway and back, shaky the whole time in his little manual diesel car with my automatic transmission, drive-on-the-right brain. Once we were here, I was not eager to get behind the wheel when the wheel was on the wrong side of the car! But ya know what? It's not that bad. At all. I was surprised at how quickly I adjusted, and I think it's mostly because the roads (and parking spaces) are large and open here (not like in Holland where I cringed entering the underground garage in our big car). In Qatar, nearly everyone drove a white SUV and in The Netherlands, cars are far smaller on average and most are European brands, but here I see about the same mix I'd see at home, though with LOTS of Holdens (an Aussie brand) mixed in. Driving on the left isn't hard or nearly as confusing as trying to figure out which part of the road was for cars as opposed to trams, cyclists, pedestsrians or even horses in The Hague. I have yet to find myself on the wrong side (which ironically is the right side) of the road. The only adaptation I had to make was for using turn-signals. Yes, I actually use them, but for several weeks I kept turning on the windshield wipers every time I wanted to turn or change lanes because the switch is on the other side of the steering wheel. Now the difference I notice is when my mind is on auto-pilot when I walk out to the car, I unlock and climb in to drive away...on the passenger side (front left). Oops.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Life Down Under

Last week, the Pioneer Woman was espousing the virtues of a point-and-shoot camera and its ability to take great macro shots of flowers. When she wrote "Not that any flowers are growing anywhere right now except southern California and Australia…", I just KNEW it was because she has been reading my blog and has been hoping for an update on life Down Under. Just in case I'm wrong about that, perhaps YOU might be interested? If not, move on, buddy, because that's what I'm all about today. This will probably be the start of a series of posts on this subject, because you know I tend to be long-winded. I'll begin with the weather, since most of my readers are in the fall-winter transition and are far less likely to plot my demise now than if I were to do this when they are in the depths of dark cold misery (sorry, Europeans, but we haven't forgotten Dutch winters yet!).

It's full spring here in WA (pronounced "dubba-you-aye"; that's local-speak for where we live in Western Australia)! The weather is absolutely heavenly! Sunshine nearly all the time. Cool temperatures, but not cold. Sometimes we still need to turn on the heater in the baby's room at night, but that's because there's no insulation in these houses. Almost every day starts out with still air, and the wind kicks up in the early afternoon. Sometimes it's just breezy; other times, we get quite a wind. The kite surfers and windsurfers (Markus included!) could not be happier about these conditions.


The big (and by big, I mean HUGE) concern here is the sun. I have always tried to be sun-conscious, but now that I'm here, I realize I am nowhere near where I need to be in that department. The daily wearing of moisturizer on the face with 30 SPF that felt so smart back home and even over-prepared in sun-deprived Netherlands is soooo just a baby step here. The sun is INTENSE! It will fry you through your hat if you aren't careful. Forget sunburn, baby. I am convinced the sun here can cook the marrow in your bones. The home rule of stay indoors during peak hours from 10-2 just aren't the same here. For starters, no one stays indoors (though maybe they will once summer hits), but those hours just aren't enough to help you. We eat most of our meals outside these days (al fresco dining to some, "camping" to our friend Tony), and we can feel the sun strongly even as it's close to setting after dinner. All-over sunscreen with at least 30 SPF is mandatory. Reapplication is necessary. Hats are required. Shade is best, though that's still "partial-sun" and should be treated as such. I've been trying out a sunscreen called "Invisible Zinc" lately, and it seems quite good. I have to scrub extra hard in the shower to get it off my skin, so I'm hoping the sun will be equally repelled.


Anyway, the sunshine is beautiful, as long as you respect it. And speaking of beautiful, I cannot generate the words to describe the Indian Ocean. Oooo. Ooooo. Ooooooooooo!!!!!! This weekend, we stumbled onto an empty beach south of Fremantle, and the beauty was overwhelming. My camera didn't catch the color correctly, but you might still be able to judge the clarity. Crystal clear water, greenish turquoise-ish splendor! Each time I see it, I can't stop thinking about how much people pay to get to beaches like this...and we live here! There are many people here who start every day with a morning swim in the Indian Ocean, regardless of temperature or weather. Not gonna happen for me with two little ones, but I would love to be one of those people! It must be so good for the soul.


As I've mentioned before, outdoor living is the way to go here. The beach is for surfers and sun-worshippers (yes, those fools are here too, keeping dermatologists employed), and the river is for water play. The kite surfers and windsurfers gather at bends in the river where the winds are strongest. Paddlers (kayaks, canoes...even rowers) weave around sailboats, motorboats and yachts in the harbors. Picnicking is practically a sport here. People take it very seriously and have chairs and blankets ready to go. The top of King's Park provides a particularly lovely view of the city and the Swan River, though any spot directly on the river can be fabulous too. We eat most often at a plastic table we set up right outside our back door where the roof extends to give us some good shade, though we'll probably start shifting dinners to the side porch in the summer when the sun is too strong for us in the evenings.


I started this post with flowers, so flowers is where I will end it. Your Australia vocabulary word for today is JACARANDA. This is a tree that bursts into brilliant purple flowers where most trees are covered in green leaves. We have one in our backyard. It drops a purple carpet all over the grass and patio every day, but the beauty is worth the pain of sweeping up.




Sunday, November 16, 2008

International Babywearing Week

In honor of International Babywearing Week, we've made a slideshow of some of our family's babywearing moments. We have two girls who love to be held close, and each of them has preferred different things. There are the practical carriers, like the standard Baby Bjorn (don't even bother if it doesn't have back support!) and the oh-so-useful hiking backpack (ours is by Deuter). Ellie couldn't get enough of the hotslings sling as an infant, and Stephanie couldn't stand it. She needed the vertical position of the Baby Bjorn (which we didn't love) and other carriers like the Beco Butterfly and the Kozy (which we do love and appreciate for their versatility and comfort). Although we don't have any photos of it, we can even wear 3 year old Ellie on our backs with the last two mentioned carriers, and she is crazy about that when baby sister jealousy kicks in (though thankfully this is rare)! Ellie has watched us babywearing her sister, and she has extended the love on to her baby Lolo, who has her own sling and "baby-yorn" though she is most often wedged under Ellie's shirt with her head sticking out of the neck-hole. We are told this keeps her very warm and happy.



If you are a parent or grandparent or carer of a new bundle, we highly recommend babywearing for all the benefits you've ever read in those highly researched, mass produced parenting manuals...and for the personal reasons we've experienced, because it's just so sweet to be close to your wee one, especially when he or she is so small.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Stay tuned

If you're a regular, thanks for checking in! I know we have a (relatively big) time lag here on a blog that I try to update quite regularly. This week is a hectic, manic, and more-than-slightly-full week following last week's unusual 5-straight-evenings-of-chaos, and the blog has had to give. That being said, we're nearly to the mid-point of the week, so it will start to slow down again. Before you know it, we will be back to your regularly scheduled programming, so to speak. For you MacGyver types, here's a bit of Down Under trivia to tide you over:

Thursday, November 06, 2008

It's political.

I'm sorry. I try not to get political here. I created this blog for friends and family to keep up with us, and given our distance, they pretty much want to see the kiddos...so I try to stick to kiddo content, family life, etc. But this election was momentous, and it deserves recognition. I am so proud of my country! I am so proud of the American people who were so motivated to vote. I am so impressed with the movement that was the Obama campaign. Whether or not you share his vision or believe in his words, the way he drew in America and made people believe in something that goes beyond mere politics was incredible. Today I found this video, and I have to share. It's a beautiful sentiment and a good reminder to the international community that America is not all guns and God, all red and blue, all egotism and force. We are a nation of proud and hopeful people who can and do reinvent ourselves. This Tuesday, we began again.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Weekly Video Post

In the past two weeks, Ellie has suddenly become quite conversant on the phone. She has always enjoyed "talking on the phone", but it always had to be in quotes before because she mostly listened and smiled without saying much beyond the occasional "Hunh!" Then, quite spontaneously she became just as much the chatterbox on the phone as she is in person. Any call will start out with the inevitable discussion of airplanes and helicopters (very popular topics!) and move on as her eyes rest on items of interest in the immediate surroundings. I caught a morning conversation with Mary on video and cut it down so you can get the enjoyment without the lulls and repeated descriptions of things Mary obviously cannot see or reference. And Mary, now you'll know what she was trying to show you!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

VOTE!


image from The Library of Congress

Today is Election Day in the United States, and no matter how you feel about the current election, I urge you to please VOTE! Make your voice be heard! Every vote matters, if for no other reason than the cynical truth that it earns you the right to complain when things don't go your way. I speak particularly to my female readers. Less than 100 years ago, women were fighting hard for the right too many women now take for granted. We are blessed not to know what they went through so we can have the rights we enjoy today. Don't let them down. I know you have busy lives. I know your schedules are full. I know there are long lines at polling stations. But I also know that this election is important, and voting is a privilege. To all my American readers, please go vote today.


Note: I just received confirmation that my absentee ballot has been received. I voted from Australia! Surely you can vote too!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Temptation

We live down the road from a Catholic church with a changeable church billboard. This week, the billboard announced there would be a Flame Mass this Sunday. For the local teens, this must have been too hard to resist (either that or someone doesn't care for the priest):

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ellie says

Ellie is such a helpful girl! Markus cycled in to work today, and he was ready for a shower when he came home. Ellie always pounces him for playtime when he walks in the door, but she didn't miss a beat when he headed for the bathroom. Her response to "Papa needs a shower" was:

"I'll pull down your panties and put shampoo on you."

Undeterred by his independence in this area, she then followed him into the bathroom, insisted on helping to remove his socks, and then adjusted the toys in the shower to ready the space. When he turned on the water, she grabbed the curtain and announced,

"I'll give you privacy."

Of a limited sort, of course. I was so tickled I had to come record this all straight away, but she's still in there. One can only assume she's giving him instructions on a proper lather.

Our stuff, Ourselves

I've been thinking in all this unpacking and settling in that items we own say a lot about us, where we've been, and how far we've come. Consider...

...the spoon rest that I use daily (that we fondly refer to as "the kidney") is an unusual ceramic object Markus made in bored desperation in Lowestoft.

...the $80 bread box we got for $20 because it has a scratch and a dent in the front but opens and closes just fine. It matches our new fridge with the cracked handle and the washing machine with the dent at the bottom. And, and, and. Dinged but functional: that's us.

...the clothes dryer we bought in Qatar that we toted to Holland and now use in Australia but still don't know how to fully operate because the manual is in Danish.

That last one amazes even me. I'll just stop there, but I think I'll come back to this list and add to it over time.
What about you? I'm sure you have something in your home that fits into this post. Please tell me about it in the comments section. I'd love to hear your stories.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Some people have issues

Everywhere we go, people stop and make a fuss over baby Stephanie. She's a darling! She's gorgeous! What a sweetie! Look at those cheeks! What a happy girl! They go on and on, and we just stand there and grin proudly. But every now and again, we encounter people who are different (weird different) from the others, like the lady last week who offered to help me when she saw I was holding Stephanie, my purse, our jackets, and trying to pick up another bag...and then she snatched Stephanie rather than handing me the bag (this resulted in instant baby tears and almost-released Mama whoop-ass). Today was a prize-winner. We were in a cafe sharing a muffin (which Stephanie was shoveling in with gusto), when a lady at a nearby table caught sight of Stephanie. She broke her conversation with the other ladies at the table to make the normal cooing-over-baby noises, reaching over to stroke Stephanie's pink Polo sweater (fab gift from Auntie Awesome) and saying, "This sweater is lovely! A total waste of money, but lovely!" Then, she reached to stroke Stephanie's bare leg, saying, "You're gorgeous! Yes, you are! But you'd better watch that eating. You don't want to keep these fat knees. Oh no!"
I honestly couldn't tell if she was serious.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Furry friends


You might remember that some months back, our family included two deranged cats by the names of Bandit and Smokey. When we found out about our move to Perth and the quarantine situation here, we opted to find them a new home if a good home could be found. As luck had it, we found them a GREAT home with a loving family whose three kids adore them so much that they play with the kitties all day and sleep with the kitties at night. When I heard from the adopting mom about a month after the kitty transfer, she raved so much that it seemed the cats were even better off with their new family than they had been with us as we were bogged down with the move and a newborn and a busy toddler.

Ellie loved having pets, but she accepted their absence as a matter of course. We simply told her it was time for the cats to live with a new family, and she accepted that at face value. She didn't cry. She didn't even bring them up. If someone mentioned the cats to her, she would matter-of-factly tell them that the cats had gone to live with their new family, no emotions or visible regrets. Ellie has had so many transitions and changes over her 3 years that she seemed to accept them as inevitable and not be bothered.
Except she is bothered.

Since we've gotten our things here, she has been waiting for the cats to come too. Over the past few weeks as we unpack and settle in, she has asked repeatedly for the cats. Apparently, it was fine for them to live with their new family for a little while. Now, it's time for them to come back to live with us. In the past few days, she has actually gotten quite upset about it when we try to explain that the new family is permanent. Her memory has always been amazing, so I guess we shouldn't be surprised about this. Still, it has hit us out of left field. We won't be getting any more pets during this nomadic life, because it's just too hard to say good-bye and often impractical (or impossible) to bring them along. Even if that weren't such an issue, it's hard to find someone to care for pets when you go "on vacation" to go home for 3 weeks or more at a time. We have recently adopted a Beta fish (a request entirely separate from the cat issue), but we're even waffling about acquiring a tank full of guppies or goldfish (as we'd really like) because it will be harder to find someone to care for them over long holidays. It's a not-so-obvious downside to this nomadic lifestyle, and one that makes us very sad when we see Ellie longing so desperately for pets.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Water babies

No, the spiders have not gotten me (yet); the exterminator will spray outside on Wednesday. It's been a few days since I last posted because we are still trying to settle in, though finding time and energy to do it has proven challenging this week. The weather has been up and down recently, swinging from cool spring to hot summer to rainy fall all within a 7 day stretch. Swinging temperatures outside mean varying temperatures inside, and nighttime challenges reared their ugly heads again. I hadn't mentioned it for fear of jinxing us, but after we moved Stephanie back to the "children's wing", sleep in this house settled down quick. Ellie still dawdles as long (and as loudly) as possible, but she has no one to disturb and eventually caves. She does often wake once during the night and wander into our room for comfort, but Markus can usually settle her down again without much trouble. Stephanie still wakes twice a night to nurse, but she is also growing like a weed (as long as many 12+ month old babies) so that's no problem. This calmer routine has been working for a few weeks now. This week's high temps meant they got too hot while sleeping woke up, and last night temps plunged again and they got too cold and (you guessed it) woke up...but we're going to get there.
On to other things!

Last weekend, it was so warm that we christened our pool! Stephanie is still too young to tolerate the cold water, so she and I watched her big sister and papa play. Ellie has a wetsuit, so we squeezed her into that, pulled on her floaties, and plopped her in the water. What a happy little duckie she was too!


The weekend before that, Markus was finally able to get back on a windsurfer. He discovered a passion for that sport in the final months before we left New Orleans (windsurfing over in Ocean Springs on the weekends), but he hasn't been able to indulge in it since. In Qatar, it was TOO hot and in The Netherlands, it was TOO cold! People still windsurfed in both places, and we commented on the madness from the safety of some temperature-controlled locale. Now that we're here, there are no more excuses. While the Indian Ocean is a bit too wild, the Swan River makes an awesome spot for windsurfing (and kite surfing and sailing and paddle boarding and kayaking...), so off he went! He signed up for a refresher class, borrowed their equipment since ours wasn't unpacked, and had a blast!



Summer is just around the corner, so we are looking forward to getting back into more water sports again. We've discovered many wonderful picnic spots and shallow waters for kiddie splashing. As long as we can keep our skin out of the sun, we're up for some mighty fun times outdoors in the coming months! It's strange for me to think that this is October, the time of year I have always associated with cooler temperatures and autumnal foods. It's spring-turning-summer here. Daylight savings just kicked in today (more on this topic another time), so we "sprung forward" as the world I know "fell back". That puts us about 8 hours behind Europe and 14 hours behind the Eastern US. Ick. Trying not to think about it. Look at the lovely sunshine!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Loving reassurance

Today has not been my day in the spider department. You already know about the big black spider trauma, but it gets worse. As I went to check on Stephanie before going to bed, I spotted a spider on the hallway ceiling to put my earlier "HUGE" spider assessment to shame. This one was as wide as my hand (wrist to fingertips). Strangely enough, I instinctively knew it was harmless but you know enough about me by now to know it could not stay. I woke up Markus and made him take it outside. I have a PHOBIA. I know spiders are our friends, but this encounter left my heart racing and breathing shallow. That spider was NOT SMALL. Afterwards, I crawled into bed and tried to calm down. My spider savior turned to me, observed my state of distress, and lovingly reassured me with, "Even if it gets back in, comes down the hall, crawls up the bed and onto our faces, we won't notice in our sleep." With that, he rolled over and passed out.
You have got to be kidding me!
I am calling an exterminator first thing tomorrow morning.

Arachnophobia

I know spiders are our friends. They eat insects and are generally helpful critters. I know this and tell this to our three year old daughter, allowing her to extrapolate even more friendly characteristics from "Charlotte's Web". But make no mistake...spiders are not my personal friends. While I can appreciate them from a distance, I want them nowhere near my body. Ever. And now we live in Australia, where there is one particular deadly spider to be avoided: the redback. Related to the black widow, they are jet black with the tell-tale red marking on their topsides. Of course, the locals think I'm crazy for being worried, but I'm new here and these things make me nervous. I have researched them and learned that they are just about impossible to get rid of (they can close off their lungs for up to 7 hours if you spray!), but thankfully are rarely found in houses. The bites are nasty for adults but deadly for young children (of which we have two!), so I am very redback averse. And there are currently two unidentified black spiders in our house. One of them is quite small (a juvenile?) and the other is HUGE (the size of an Australian 50 cent piece, which is huge in my eyes when it's in my house). I just found the latter about an hour ago, and I'm still quaking about it. It's in the kitchen skylight, and it has a hiding place where the wall doesn't completely meet the ceiling right at the top. Lacking spray, I tried to suck it up in the vacuum, and it just laughed at me. It was too strong to get sucked away. This does not make me feel better about it, believe me. The hardest part for me right now is not being sure what type of spider it is. I only saw it from underneath, so I couldn't see if it has a red back or not. It could be the Black House Spider (which eats redbacks!), but those have nasty bites too. I want it gone. But I think it has other plans. For now, I just hope those plans include staying where it is to patrol the skylight with impunity.
Please cross your fingers that it doesn't come out to get me for the whole vacuum cleaner episode.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Weekly Video Post

This week, we actually have two videos to share, and both are from today!
First up, baby Stephanie has sprouted two teeth in the past few weeks, and she now chews everything! It's like we have a puppy in the house, only less destructive. Stephanie has always been a keen eater, and now she has no interest in pureed baby food. It's chewable or bust, so in the past few days we've started giving her some basic finger foods to keep her busy while we prepare other things. She loves experimenting with the pincer grasp, and we doubt its complexities will elude her for long. Meanwhile, it's darn cute to watch her. If you are so inclined, enjoy today's experiment with Cheerios and be on the lookout for those two teeth I mentioned!



The other video wasn't taken much later. While Stephanie munched her Cheerios (or tried), Markus and Ellie were on the porch hanging the baby swing. We had to give it a whirl straight away, and Ellie insisted on pushing her sister by herself. What you can't see is that Ellie is initially watching her own reflection in the glass door. The video you see here is take 3, after she'd already been knocked back a couple of times by the swing as she watched herself instead of the moving object (this is to explain why you hear me reminding her to watch her sister). The sisterly love you see here is a small example of what we are blessed to witness every day. Stephanie is absolutely crazy about her big sister, and usually the feeling is mutual (as long as no one expects Ellie to share Papa).

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Congratulations!


Our friends Meghan and Eric are tying the knot at a beautiful Virginia plantation wedding today. Congratulations, you two! Best wishes for a lifetime of love and laughter!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Update on the big move-in

We were so happy when the movers arrived with our things on Monday!


Oh wait, that's not our truck. That's the rental furniture being picked up. THIS is our truck:



Oh dear. But wait...


Ack!


EEEK!


Ahhh...that's better. Retreat into the sunshine. Enjoy the early days of summer.
No wait...intense Australian sunshine cooking the marrow in my bones! Retreat back inside and tackle Box Mountain!
Fear not, you smarter-than-us, simple-living-advocates: Operation Declutter has already commenced! We knew we had too much crap-o-la, but we've had other priorities in recent years. It's easy to let things pile up and stay piled up despite moving around too much because someone else moves us. Once things are unpacked and put away, they are forgotten. Not this time! No sirree! We are sifting as we go.

Regardless of the unhealthy volume, we are happy to have our own things again. Ellie is especially thrilled! She has been working diligently to get us back into full form.


Someone has got to keep things running smoothly.