Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Birthday adventure

The kids may not sleep much at night, but sometimes, just sometimes, they give me the beautiful gift of a corresponding naptime. Today was one of those days, so I was able to make this little movie of Saturday's birthday adventure. My most thoughtful husband presented me with a helicopter tour of the scenic beaches of Perth. I've always been intrigued with the idea of a helicopter ride, but I'd never taken the opportunity. This past Saturday, we changed that. Thank you Markus, for yet another wonderful birthday!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Nanny wanted, graveyard shift

I now fully understand the term "graveyard shift". I feel like that's where I'm headed if this continues.
Our children do not sleep. We had a four day weekend this weekend. The best night was the night Stephanie woke up every two hours. Two other nights, they took turns waking up every hour. Last night was the prize-winner. Ellie spent the first 45 minutes after we put her to bed screaming bloody-murder to get us to keep coming back for water, potty, hugs, etc...and waking up her sister too, of course. After that, Stephanie was awake for almost an hour. It kept up in this lovely fashion so that by midnight, we had gone in their room for one or the other (or both) six times. After that, we stopped counting, moved Stephanie into our bed so at least one of them would be sorted out, and surrendered our sanity completely.
We just can't keep this up. Their sleep has been awful since the move began, and it doesn't really seem to get better (in fact, this weekend showed it was getting worse). We are supposed to be planning our return trip to the US for Mardi Gras, and I can't get myself to order my beads (deadline tomorrow) because the thought of doing this all again when we get there and then AGAIN when we come back here is too much for my wee brain to comprehend.
So if you know of any child-loving teenager who requires no sleep at night, please direct him or her our way. Our house is laid out so that the kids can stay up all night together in the back "wing" and the parents can get some much needed sleep. Something has got to change.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Spring-y things

(hey, at least I learned my lesson about titling this "Bouncing girls")

Spring isn't the only thing that's sprung lately. We bought a trampoline! Markus wisely suggested that a trampoline would be of more use to our ball of energy than a swing set would be. Plus, if the trampoline was big enough (and this one is), we could use it too! We ordered our new 10ft trampoline on Monday and it was delivered that afternoon. Ellie and I had a lot of fun bouncing together, and as usual, you can hear her bossing me around. Nothing like a little micromanagement to mediate reckless fun!

This week's round-up

Aside from the very frustrating school issue, we've had a pretty fun and very busy week around here. More than ever, Ellie is showing signs of being an uber-intelligent child in that she gets bored quite easily (thus the drive for good schooling, but I'll rant about that another time). This means I have to be on the ball with a plan from early on in the day, or we are booked on a one-way ticket to Tantrum City (and once you board, there is no escape). I've been a bit stuck in that I still have a long checklist of new-place items to check off, but somehow this week we managed it (mostly) and had good times.

Monday morning, the real estate agent who handles this house went on holiday. Before she did, she seems to have put notices in with the various repair people about the issues we noted in the hideous PCR. ALL of them called me Monday morning. My phone was ringing incessantly for over an hour. By that, I mean while I was answering a call, someone else was leaving voicemail, and while I was checking that voicemail, someone else was calling. It was gruesome. We also had delivery of our new appliances, which happened earlier than scheduled and required us to zip home as quickly as possible when we made our one escape of the day to the bakery. Sigh. This manic day was handled with grace by all, but it took its toll, as was to be evident on Tuesday. To sum Tuesday up, let's just say we boarded Tantrum Express, which offered non-stop service all the day long. I cried more than Ellie did on Tuesday, which seemed to egg her on. It was ugly, people. UGLY. But every day is new with kids and every day is different. Ellie seemed to have gotten the nasties out of her system overnight, and on Wednesday she was open to activities again. On Wednesday morning, we finally took baby Stephanie in for her (overdue) 6 month immunizations. There is a free immunization clinic here for children under 5, which is delightful! Because they only service small children, the waiting room is colorful, full of toys and books, and staffed with friendly people. The two nurses who give the injections are naturally quite experienced with children. Mobiles with bells are hung from the ceiling in the exam rooms, so the nurse gives the mobile a whack to create a visual and auditory distraction for a wee one while the injection is being given (or afterward). Thanks to a different immunization schedule in Holland, baby Stephanie only needed one shot to get her up to date...and she didn't even cry, thanks to that fascinating mobile and the nurse's gentle touch! Ellie had brought along Lolo and Bunny for their immunizations too, and the nurse didn't blink. She just made sure they got their bandages too.

Afterwards, we went to the Perth Zoo, where someone captured this picture of me chasing Ellie before I tied her to my back with the Kozy Carrier.

The Perth Zoo is quite nice. I particularly liked the Outback Walk section, where kangaroos and wallabies roam free. Most of them were snoozing in the shade (UV factor 8 out of 10 that day!), but one came close enough to inspect our stroller before moving on. Ellie had great fun on the playground before we headed home.

Thursday morning was time to return to the toy library for our weekly exchange. What is a toy library, you ask? A brilliant idea, I answer! The community maintains a "toy library" with a wide assortment of children's toys from dress-up costumes to Little Tikes cars to tricycles to blocks to sing-a-long CDs... For a relatively minor annual membership fee, families can borrow a toy per child per week. This gives kids the opportunity to play with lots of different toys, toys that are always new to them and fun, at hardly any expense to the parents. This week was our third visit, and Ellie had it down. She walked in, handed over last week's toy, looked at the shelves for about 0.6 seconds, pointed and exclaimed, "That one, please!" and out the door we went. This gave us plenty of time to get to her ballet class. We have joined "Teeny Ballet"! It is just about the cutest thing ever! The girls can wear whatever they like and the teacher brings lots of extra tutus for them to try on if they like. For as long as Ellie has been Ellie, she observes new activities carefully and rarely attempts them until she feels she's got it mastered in her head. This means she spends most of ballet class watching the teacher like a hawk but merely following the rest of the class from one side of the room to another rather than running free like the other kiddos tend to do. This week was only her second class. We're pretty sure that once she gets more familiar with what is expected, she will let loose and dance up a storm. She did participate in some skipping along with a partner, which I caught on video:

And this brings us to Friday, which is MY BIRTHDAY! Markus took the day off to help me celebrate, and we're going to have a great, relaxing day doing whatever seems most appealing at the time. Woo-hoo! Happy Birthday to me! See you back here for the weekly video post soon!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Ellie is a smart, inquisitive, interested child. She wants to know. She wants to do. She wants to work. She wants to learn. I would like to place her in a Montessori school, as I am a huge fan of that philosophy for children under 6. Unfortunately, so is every other new arrival in Perth, not to mention the people already living here. Every school I contact has a waiting list a mile long, and some have told me flat out not to bother (and yes, two of them have been quite rude about it). So I've looked at some alternative educational models (not really wanting a standard public school and definitely not standard day care), and I've had no better luck. I want the best for her, and I just can't seem to get it or even get close to it because of the timing of our arrival (about a month too late for next year's intake lists). This is very frustrating! Please keep your fingers crossed that something good will work out. Massive waiting lists for preschools! This is madness.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Our new address

On Friday, Ellie received a belated birthday card from my grandfather and his wife. My grandfather is Italian by descent, and he embraces the family patriarch role with both arms. Here is the letter enclosed with her card:

Dearest, dearest Ellie,

We hope you had a very happy birthday.

We are sorry this card and letter are so late, but we did not know your new address at the time of your birthday.

Don't blame us, honey. Blame it on your peripatetic parents.

We send you all our love and good wishes,

Okay, we've been remiss in sharing our new address! Sorry!!! We are not going to post it here for sake of privacy (this is a public blog) and I prefer snail mail to email. I will send it out to friends and family this week, but if you want it earlier, just send me an email or leave a comment to this post. Thank you for the reminder, Grandpa!

Spring has arrived!

This is the first place I've ever lived during the "winter" where there is no real central heat. Technically, this was also true in Qatar, but we left while it was still over 100 degrees outside, so I didn't really notice. I've noticed here! Our house gets COLD! While I enjoy cool temperatures, I do not enjoy being cold. Especially in the house. Markus had verbally prepped me for this possibility while telling stories of Cape Town (many aspects of daily life are quite similar here), but it's still been a big adjustment. This house has two outlets for natural gas heaters, which we have purchased and used faithfully. What a difference they make! But they only heat the rooms with the outlets (kitchen and living room), so we've been hiding in those rooms during the evenings/mornings. We also bought a fancy oil-filled electric heater for the girls' room (part of the reason they are roommates), but it doesn't work as well as it could unless the door is shut and Ellie HATES it when the door is shut. What I'm telling you here is that it's often quite cold in the house, and unless you are my mom, this probably does not sound like Heaven to you.

On the upside, it's often warmer outside than it is in. The weather is just lovely! Today we're having our first real downpours, but on the whole, the weather couldn't be prettier. Blue skies that go on forever! Sparse white clouds. Breezes that turn to winds, but not cold winds (until the sun goes down). And now the plants are getting with the program, and new leaves and flowers are bursting out every day! Yesterday afternoon, a photo stroll of our backyard found the new pear trees in full bloom.

The wisteria along the pool fence is looking beautiful.

Apparently, the aesthetics have attracted some early-season swimmers.

Markus is enjoying getting to work on his shiny, schnazzy red scooter, though we did have to buy some motorcycle gloves this week to help keep his hands from numbing in the mornings. He's not the only one appreciating the Vespa thrill.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Weekly Video Post

We've been rather remiss in the video post department of late (largely due to an ultra-slow internet connection), so there are many moments past to share. We took this video on Ellie's birthday morning. She walked down the hall in her pjs and gasped in amazement to see balloons on her chair and presents at her place. Breakfast could wait! This video is especially for Mimi, whose present Ellie opened first.


As of last night, Stephanie and Ellie are now sharing a room. The layout of our house makes this the most practical solution, though it will definitely take some adjusting. Ellie loves to try my boundaries when it comes to any new situation, and trying my boundaries in this situation involves making just enough noise that the baby wakes and cries and Mama goes crazy. She thinks this is incredibly funny. As luck would have it, baby Stephanie is a very light sleeper, making Ellie's job easy. Fortunately, Ellie is a very heavy sleeper, so if Stephanie wakes while Ellie is sleeping (as often happens during the night), Ellie can sleep on. We'll have to see how this new arrangement evolves. This weekend, we are going shopping for a big girl bed. Ellie has been sleeping on a single bed mattress for months, but until now, it's been a mattress on the floor. It's time to buy her a bed she can be proud of, and we think we've found it in a shop nearby. Hopefully, that will give her extra motivation to snuggle down and hush (ha-ha).

Sesame Street podcasts

Speaking of mom stuff, there are free Sesame Street podcasts available through iTunes that Ellie is obsessed with! Yes, I know it's wrong to end a sentence with a preposition, but this is way too exciting for grammar. You moms with under-5s out there should check these out! There is a new podcast each week. They focus on one word, building up vocabulary and talking about healthy habits with all the usual Sesame Street skits, cartoons, and characters. We are currently fixated on "Octagon". But be warned: there is a song by Feist at the end that really gets stuck in your head. I've been singing it in the shower lately. This is what parenthood does to you.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Competitive Mothering (and some self-defense)

Competitive mothering.
In a word: DON'T.
It's just not okay. It's unkind to the mother you decide to compete with and it's unfair to your kids for you to compete on their backs. It's hurtful all around. Just don't do it.

I bring this up because I've been the victim of competitive mothering a few times in the past couple of weeks. People are surprisingly conservative here in Perth, and a lot of moms stay home with their kids (as I am fortunate enough to do). This means there are a lot of moms out there watching other moms, and sometimes they feel the need to make comments. I'm (overly) sensitive to begin with, so when these comments come my way...well, one comment in particular hurt me so much last week that I cried off and on all afternoon (when the kids weren't watching so as not to upset them too). In fairness to the wounding party, Markus does think I took it the wrong way (too seriously, as is my custom). Still, it was hurtful and unnecessary, and the little comments have piled up to make me critically look at my mothering.

The paradox of parenthood is it simultaneously makes my heart burst with love and my brain implode with exhaustion. I am not perfect. I never claimed to be, and I know I never will be. I make mistakes. Sometimes I react poorly to things that deserve better reactions. Sometimes I lose my nut. Stephanie has yet to sleep through the night. If you count back from now to pregnancy insomnia to Ellie's night wakings, I really couldn't tell you the last time I slept through the night myself. I can't even remember the last time I slept for more than 4 consecutive hours. My current level of exhaustion is considered torture under some international treaties. And yet my house is acceptably clean. Though less so for our challenging eater, my family is healthfully fed meals cooked from scratch using fresh, local and organic when possible ingredients. And wouldn't you know it? I believe my kids are well-loved, well-looked-after, and well-supported in their pursuits to become incredibly busy little beings. Despite a major international move that has yet to be completed (our things aren't here yet)--heck, make that FOUR MOVES in THREE YEARS (3 of them international)--and routines being thrown to the wind, we are all keeping our heads above water, usually with smiles on our faces. Yes, I would like to be better at many things. There must be a hundred things on my imaginary to-do list of what I could do/make/arrange for them in an ideal world. I wish I had the energy at night to keep at it after they go to bed, but I just don't. When they go to bed, the most I can do most nights is finish cleaning up from dinner (unless the world's most fabulous husband/father is doing it) and sack out on the couch like a lump. After all, it won't be long before at least one of them is up again.
With more sleep being the obvious exception, there isn't one bit of it that I would trade. Sometimes I envy Markus the time he has away from the house while he's at work (after all, he gets to use the bathroom by himself!), but at the same time I know I wouldn't want any job other than the job I have. We aren't perfect...but then again, we are. We are a family, and we're in this together.

Weekend Update

This weekend, we experienced our first bout of not-so-nice weather as a storm moved in, bringing some rain and lots of wind. We were on a playground at the beach on Friday evening as the weather approached, and it was beautiful to watch. Although you can't see them in this picture, there were plenty of surfers making use of the choppy sea.

While the sun still shone, we made use of playground time. Stephanie stayed snug as a bug in her new Kozy Carrier. It had just arrived that afternoon, and we are instant fans. The design kept the wind (and eventual rain before we made it to the car) off of her, and she stayed toasty warm right next to me where she likes it best.

She is our little koala.

Our desire to avoid the bad weather made for a strange weekend, and we didn't get up to much that was noteworthy on Saturday. Sunday morning, we decided to visit the Aquarium of Western Australia (AQWA). We are a bit spoiled with our aquarium adventures, but we did enjoy ourselves. It was fun to see the beautiful range of creatures that inhabit Australia's waters.

On Sunday afternoon, our friends invited us to join them as they went geocaching. Have you ever heard of this? We hadn't! They told us it was a treasure hunt of sorts, and it would be fun for the kids, so we went along without cheating and looking it up online. We did take a bit of teasing for not being worldly enough to have heard of geocaching, but you, dear readers, have an advantage over us in that I'm going to tell you all about it! Geocaching is indeed a treasure hunt using a hand-held GPS. There are caches hidden all over the world. You can look online to see if there are any near you, and off you go! When you find the cache, you can remove a treasure from the box and you must leave a different treasure behind for the next people. Each cache has a logbook to sign and date, and you can also log online. Our friends are experienced geocachers, so they had with them a Travel Bug. It looks a bit like a dog tag with a bug and number on it. When you find a Travel Bug, you use its number to look it up online and see where it has been. You deposit it as the treasure at your next cache, and on it goes. The original owner keeps a copy of the bug and can track it down online. It would be very interesting to see where your bug goes! There is also a geocoin system similar to this. The kids really had fun discovering the cache and its treasures. This really is a fun family/friends idea. If you have access to a GPS, why not give it a whirl? You might be surprised at what you find!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Ellie's birthday

Last week, we celebrated Ellie's 3rd birthday. If you include the day she was born, Ellie has now had 4 birthdays on 4 continents. She was born in the US, celebrated her first birthday in Dohot, her second in Paris, and her third in Perth. Next year, we may fly to Thailand or Bali or somewhere fabulous in Asia just to keep up the trend. Of course, she will resent all this when she's 16, can't remember most of these places, and only stays in one place since by then we will have long since stopped moving around so much.

Since our things will not arrive and clear customs for quite some time yet (we're guessing mid-October), we ordered a cake from the local bakery--a first in our house because I'm such a baker myself. Ellie couldn't have been happier. The bakery made her a ladybug cake!

She woke up on her birthday to find balloons tied to her chair (and if you have been reading this blog for a while, you know all about Ellie's undying love for balloons) and three presents waiting for her to rip open.

It was a big day! The balloons alone would have done it, but presents are always fun and the cake....ooo, the cake! We are so lucky to have friends here already. We knew a family in New Orleans who moved here three years ago. They have two little girls too, and they shared cake and ice cream with us that afternoon.

To enjoy the birthday-in-Australia thing, we drove out of the city to Whiteman Park (about 30 minutes away). Whiteman Park is a large nature preserve, and there are signs warning about kangaroos in road. Inside the park is an animal park where you can meet indigenous animals up close. We thought Ellie would love to meet some kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, what-have-you, so off we went! We got a bit lost along the way due to a poor map, so our drive took longer than we'd hoped. By the time we parked the car, Ellie was desperate to get out. The car park was next to a playground, and she zeroed in on that with no intent of doing anything else. It was her birthday, so we let her choose. The playground had a bouncy castle and little cars she could "drive" with Papa's help. We didn't see any animals at all, but she had a blast!

Greetings from Perth!

Quinn recently commented that he can't visualize Perth. Unless you've gone wild with Google Earth, you might have the same issue. If you want an intro to Perth, I am here for you! Perth is a city on the west coast of Australia. It's the capital of the state of Western Australia (commonly known as "double-yoo-aye" or WA), and it is the most isolated capital in the world. WA is a huge state, the largest in Australia, but it has a population of only around 2.1 million (2007 statistic), with 1.5 million of those living in Perth and its surrounds. At the moment, the economy of WA is booming due to its natural resources (mining, oil, gas) and its economic ties to China and India. This means the government has opened the floodgates for immigrants. They estimate Perth absorbs about 50,000 people per year (50,004 including us). Despite the rapid growth, Perth has more a town-feel than a city-feel. Surrounded by awesome outdoor opportunities, people tend to be laidback and live for the outdoorsy lifestyle so readily facilitated by location along the Indian Ocean, the Swan River, and wide open bush in every direction. Surfing, windsurfing, and sailing are big here. Picnicking is a major pastime. The weather seems very Meditteranean, with 9 months of lovely and 3 months of HOT (which are December, January and February--this is the Southern Hemisphere).

Perth is located on the north side of the Swan River, and the suburbs to its west are the most desirable given easy access to downtown, the beach and the river (you can see the river to the right in the picture above, which I took from the huge and lovely Kings Park). The top three suburbs for expats like us are Dalkeith, Nedlands, and Claremont. We live in Claremont. To deal with the population boom, suburbs are spreading and growing like mad. In the western suburbs, you'll find mostly old homes, some complete tear-down/rebuilds, and a lot of sparkly new renovations. The housing market is still in a huge bubble here. Houses on our street are selling for over AU$2 million. It's a nice street with pretty houses, but ouch. BUB-BLE. It can't last. The rental market is booming in an unhealthy way (prices have climbed 100% in the past 3 years by some accounts), while the sales market is starting to stagnate. It's a bit crazy.

There are some big differences in renting here than in other places we've lived. Rent charges are calculated on a weekly basis, allowing owners to rake in a bit more than they would based on a monthly system (ex: weekly rent of $1000 is $52,000 per year versus $4000 per month at a yearly $48,000--and yes, this is a realistic example amount). Housing inspections are conducted regularly, at an average of once every 3 months. From what we hear, the real estate agent makes an appointment and then sends someone to your (rented) home and examines every little thing about how you live, right down to how spotless you keep your sink drains. Within a week of moving in, we had to complete a Property Condition Report (PCR) that detailed every little speck, scratch, dent, etc. in the house. The real estate agent completes it before you move in, and you have one week to record anything different or you are liable for any differences when you move out. Our PCR was 28 pages long, and it took me over 6 hours to complete it. I've lived in military housing that was far more relaxed than this!

That being said, we do live in a very nice house:

Given that it's worth (in the bubble) over AU$2million, I can understand the owners being a bit jumpy. Still, sheesh. Not looking forward to being inspected every 3 months.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Back on the air! (so to speak)

We’re back! For the first few days without internet, I felt a bit twitchy. Not checking email or blogging was hard! But as with any habit, the desperation subsided after the first week or so, and my time was full of all the things I should be doing, like playing with the kiddos, cleaning up the messes, and discovering our new home. Oh, and going to bed at a reasonable time. That is always good. But now we’re connected again! It was no small feat (why haven’t companies figured out how to connect new customers?!), but here we are. Miss us?

Before I launch into the latest happenings, I realize I owe you a Singapore post. As one of my girlfriends reminded me, a lot of people don’t know much about Singapore beyond the caning that happened back when we were in high school to the guy who got caught breaking their laws (wasn’t that over something major like illegal drugs?) or the law they have against chewing gum. I didn’t know much about Singapore myself, so it made a great stopover for us on our way to Perth. The tropical climate was a nice change after Europe, and the humidity reminded us of home in the Southern US. Singapore is a huge port and petroleum city, with one of the world’s largest shipping ports as well as one of the world’s largest oil refineries. It is also a shopper’s paradise with more malls and shops than you can possibly visit. It is highly regulated with strict laws, which make everyday life fairly straightforward. No police were visible most of the time because punishments are strict and swiftly enforced, meaning most people just won’t risk being naughty in the first place. Public transport was efficient and clean, and the station announcements were broadcast in four languages, including English. My favorite was the one that sounded like “Make happy happy on the platform.” Singlish is widely spoken, and you’ll sometimes run across treasures in translation. Other times, the English will be spot-on, but the sign is a treasure anyway. Since I’m so mature (ha-ha), this was my favorite:

I feel the same way about Speedos.

We were primarily in Singapore as a stopover/jetlag killer for the kids, so we did kid-things. The Singapore Zoo is AWESOME. Built into the tropical forest, it is hands-down the prettiest zoo we’ve seen. The vegetation is amazing, and the layout is beautiful.

The stroll through the flora was worth the price of admission, but the animals are pretty great too! Native monkeys roam free, though they tend to stick to certain areas. We met our first local as we entered the zoo, where a little monkey was watching us carefully from a low branch.

We also visited the aquarium and rode their famous “travelator”, a moving walkway that takes you in a tunnel through the big tanks. After being on such a long flight, the travelator made us feel a bit like luggage, but the idea was unique.

Our aquarium admission included a pink dolphin show. Have you ever heard of pink dolphins? We hadn’t! Apparently, they are born grey and turn pink over time. The dolphins we saw were mottled, which tells us they are still young. After the show, you could pay to have a picture taken with one. To our surprise, Ellie was wild to do it, so we got in line. She kept shouting excitedly, “We’re going to touch a dolphin!” over and over. By we, she meant me, as she clung like Velcro to my torso while I waded in and bent down to pet the dolphin. She was rather satisfied with the whole experience, though, so that’s what we were after.

On our last day, we took a boat tour, giving us our first and only view of the downtown area.

We mostly stuck to our hotel, playing in the pool and eating most of our meals there as well to maximize the downtime and adjustment to the time zones we’d crossed. Thankfully, the girls are both great travelers! It wasn’t long before we were back at the airport, bound for Perth! By the way, the Singapore airport is awesome too! I spent our wait for the flight lounging like a cat in the “rest area”, a quiet, secluded space filled with long leather lounge chairs and surrounded by natural stone, plants and a water feature. Gorgeous.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Birthday Girl!

Three years ago, we welcomed a squinty little bundle:

Now our squinty little bundle holds lengthy debates with us on every imaginable topic, all the while gesturing like an Italian and batting her long eyelashes to emphasize her points:

Where has that time gone?!
Happy Birthday, Ellie! We love you!