Saturday, March 31, 2012


Today I looked after my nephew Edward for a few hours and got a sense of what it might be like to have three boys. They played together (well, near one another) nicely most of the time and when Riker wasn't sitting on Edward or taking his toys, he was guiding him around the house by the hand, helping him down a step or informing him of what he shouldn't touch. The hardest part was trying to get the baby down for a nap while not letting two toddlers out of my sight.

Edward (16 months) with Ari (6 months) and Riker (29 months)

Fortunately I didn't have to cook any meals or get to any appointments so it wasn't a terribly realistic picture of life with three, but it was a nice little glimpse.  Could I manage three kids of my own? Probably. Would I ever leave the house alone with them? Probably not.

Friday, March 23, 2012

G'day USA!

We made it.  It was a grueling and challenging ordeal but we're finally here.  In hindsight I think I'll choose to think of it all as a character building exercise or else I may never fly again! 

The cab was scheduled to come at 9am and as I'd booked a twelve seater maxi taxi several days in advance, I didn't think we'd have any trouble fitting ourselves and some fifteen bags into the vehicle.  But, notoriously unreliable Canberra Cabs sent us a seven seater mini van, at 9:20 am no less, which clearly wasn't going to fit us and our things comfortably.  A lengthy and irritating phone conversation with an operator who said they didn't actually have twelve seaters, led to him concluding that there must have been some error in the booking.  Ya think?  After a bit of jiggery pokery we were able to push on.

Arriving at Canberra airport, stressed and exhausted, we checked in and were told that they were putting us on an earlier flight.  Great, we thought - more time in Sydney to get lunch and make it to the international terminal.  After waiting for ages however, we came to realize that after delays due to fog, the flight they put us on was actually later than the flight we were supposed to be on, landing us in Sydney with very little time to spare. They wouldn't put us on the earlier flight to give us more time, but told us they would give us express passes to get us through customs, then they wouldn't actually give us the passes, then they approached us at our seats with the passes and apologies - ugh. The flight was uneventful once we did board.  Ari slept and Riker was entertained by Brian and no one had any ear issues whatsoever.  I had a nice conversation with my seat mate about parenting and schools in Canberra. 

We landed in Sydney and realized just how little time we had.  Carrying bags for four and two small children we must have looked like a bit of a circus rushing ourselves through the airport.  Thankfully, my seatmate pulled some strings and with a single phone call had one of those electric cars at our feet within a minute to pick us up and deliver us to the transfer desk.  I only caught his name when the driver called me to confirm and said Mr Evans requested a vehicle and it'll be right there.  Not sure who he was, but a big thanks to Mr Evans. 

Before we could take the bus to the international terminal, Brian had to collect our stroller from oversize baggage and go back through security.  We'd have run to the gate if we could, but Riker was very tired by that point and crying to be held.  I was wearing the baby and pulling a suitcase and Brian was laden with bags.  A kind older couple helped me with all my bags so that I could carry both kids and we arrived at the gate sweating and panting with the last few stragglers before the gate closed.  Whew. 

Our seats were great at least.  We had four seats to ourselves behind the bulkhead, with a bassinet for Ari to sleep in so we would be as comfortable as could be expected in economy.  We juggled and entertained the kids as best as possible and made it through a long night of frequent feedings and miserable sleep for a congested Riker.  Brian caught a few winks but I was up all night as the kids woke at precisely opposite times all night long.  No thanks to the passengers behind us who wouldn't turn off their reading light until the wee hours despite holding my hand up in the air to shield the eyes of my cranky and tired and kids who were trying to sleep. 

Finally, the sixteen hours were over and we found ourselves with six hours on our hands in Dallas.  A kids play area passed the time nicely while we sipped smoothies and coffees. Then we had Mexican for dinner.  Twice.  The first place we found near our gate was a fast food sort of Mexican (no not Taco Bell - real food) and we had tacos and horchata.  Yum.  Then we found our gate had changed and we had to get back on the train to go to another part of the airport.  We arrived with 45 minutes to spare and found a Mexican cantina next to our gate so we had margaritas, quesadillas, chips and salsa.  Finally, we boarded our last plane of the day for Cleveland.  With very few passengers, we had plenty of space and the kids were tired so we thought this flight was going to be easy.  Except that the pilot felt the need to tell us every little thing he was doing despite the fact that is was nearing midnight.  This woke up both of the kids several times and I wanted to scream as I was getting the only rest I'd had in ages.  So awake and cranky, Riker and Ari screamed through the whole descent and we found ourselves in Cleveland, thirty some hours after we'd left our doorstep. 

Brian's parents collected us from the airport  and we spent an hour or two drinking mead and chatting before collapsing into sleep.  Ari and I slept until 2pm and I actually woke feeling rejuvenated.  It was a great first day back with everyone - introducing the kids and watching them play with their cousins was delightful.  So there you have it.  The gory details of how Riker and Ari first arrive in their country of citizenship. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Eye of the Storm

The hurricane analogy is fitting. We're surrounded by stuff, both the kids are sick again and on Wednesday we get on one of the longest non-stop flights in the world - sixteen hours from Sydney to Dallas with another flight on either side. Wish us luck. 

Friday, March 16, 2012


A few snaps amidst the chaos of packing...

 The boys. It's not easy to get a good photo of these two together and it's not for lack of trying!

Having fun in a house full of someone else's toys, Riker builds his tallest and most architecturally interesting  tower to date, then promptly knocks it down.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


A funny thing is happening now that more and more of the mothers in our playgroup are having their second babies.  When I'm speaking to Riker I'll say, "we're going to Ariella's house today," but if I'm talking to Ari, I'll refer instead to Gideon's house :)

Tuesday was probably our last morning at mother's group for a number of months and I'm going to miss all of these awesome women and their kids so much!  Not to mention the fact that they'll all be so much bigger when I see them again!

Ari and Gideon in a still moment when not rolling over each other.  They're only two weeks apart but with hair, Gideon looks much older to us!

Ari with Gideon, Jess and Riker

Handsome boys

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Our friend Chris came up from Melbourne to visit us on our first weekend in Australia, way back in February of 2006.  He helped us stock our fridge, get some cheap bikes and identify giant spiders.  Since then we've had a number of fun adventures with him including a visit to Melbourne, an Australia Day weekend to Jervis Bay, another visit to Melbourne and a cycling adventure around Tasmania.  He's visited us several times in Canberra and he joined us on the Great Ocean Road leg of the McMillin family holiday in September 2006.

A few weeks ago, Chris flew up to Canberra for what we thought would be the last visit before our departure to the US.  Except that we decided he would be the perfect recipient for Brian's adsorption chiller, which I mentioned briefly in Backyard Living.  So on our second to last weekend in Australia, Chris drove up to collect the freezer and various bits of the work still in progress.  And, while in 2006 he helped us to stock our cupboards, in 2012 we sent him off with the groceries we won't be able to use up in the next week.  I find the symmetry rather pleasing. 

We've enjoyed catching up with a number of other friends lately as well.

 Coral, bringer of chocolate eggs and play dough, has a friend for life

 The lovely Beth

And last but not least, my most favorite of all the awesome and colorful birds in this country, the Gang Gang Cockatoos have been visiting the trees in front of our house. More great photos and video of my feathery friends in previous seasons can be found here

Thursday, March 08, 2012

A Boy and his Laptop

Riker has his very own laptop. I knew our children would be exposed to technology from an early age, but I didn't think they'd get their own computers until they were at least three!

Whenever Brian or I would be using our laptop, Riker would want to get right in there poking at the keys and stroking the touchpad.  While this was irksome, it wasn't until several keys got popped off the keyboard that we decided something had to be done.  As the ANUgreen office runs the IT recycling program at ANU, I thought I'd ask my colleagues to set aside a laptop that came in for recycling.  We figured that as long as it turned on, Riker could pretend he was typing right along with mommy or daddy.

A week or two passed and I got an email saying that there was a laptop waiting for me in the office.  I picked up the case and took it home, expecting to find a crappy old thing inside.  Instead, we found a rather nice computer than worked just fine, other than the odd blue screen event now and then.

As we took it out of the case for the first time, we announced to Riker that this was his very own laptop to work on and that we'd show him how to watch Playschool on it.  Of course, once we'd said this, we couldn't take it back, despite the fact that his new laptop was almost nicer than our old one!

We showed him how to watch Playschool and for the first few days, we had to start the computer and get the program loaded for him.  Within a few days however, he was able to open the screen, start the computer, use the touchpad to navigate to the particular episode he wants to watch, start and pause the program, minimize and maximize the viewing window and adjust the volume.  Clever chap

We're very impressed of course, but now we just have to attempt to limit his time in front of it.  Though with all the craziness of moving this past week, it's been a blessing.  The laptop has been working really well too, though if it does have one of its finicky moments, Riker simply announces "boo skeen!" 

While feeling a bit under the weather earlier this week, Riker actually fell asleep ON his computer while watching Playschool

Tuesday, March 06, 2012


Whenever we go out for a coffee these days, Riker has to have a drink of his own or we can't enjoy our cappuccinos in peace.  All of the cafes here have a babyccino on the menu which is just the froth from steamed milk with some chocolate powder sprinkled on top.  Since these are often served in an espresso cup, they've become too small for our big boy so we've recently started asking for a Toddlerccino.  Riker adores them and he's taken to calling them "Rikerccinos." They're a powerful motivator for getting us through grocery shopping or other chores requiring toddler patience. 

The drink apparently originated in Australia and it seems that some American cafes have now adopted it.  I've read however, that Americans often make it as a child-sized decaf cappuccino(!) and then have the nerve to blame Australians for inspiring the age inappropriate beverage!


Looking like Cookie Monster while trying on his winter weather gear

Monday, March 05, 2012

Life Goes On

Although it often seems that I received the news only yesterday, today marks the one year anniversary of my sister in law's death.  Even after all these months, the fact seems totally unreal, impossible.  I can't help but imagine that when I go home to Minnesota, she and my brother will appear at my mom's and we'll spend the afternoon eating and chatting like we've done a hundred times before.  I'm afraid that it will all finally hit me when that doesn't happen.

When packing earlier this week, I brushed the dust off of the last family photo I have of us all together and then sat down to have a good look at it.  I looked at her face and peered into her eyes, analyzed her posture and looked for clues, any signs of unhappiness.  And all I saw was the person that I thought I knew.  The one with the sassy personality, the really big laugh and the love of fancy hats.

A recently discovered photo snapped on my iPhone during our last MN visit in Dec 08. 

While the rawest of emotions have softened with time as one would expect, the grief and sadness, of course linger. Grief at everyone's loss of such a lovely and caring person, but in particular for my brother.  I wonder how he's managed to the get through the last year; he speaks about it all very little.  Sadness that she will never meet her nephews.  And then anger that she chose this outcome.  It seems to me that the things that trouble us are often but a memory years down the road.  Clearly, I still struggle to find compassion for her actions.  It's all made even worse (if that's possible) by the knowledge of such a violent end.  It still makes the breath catch in my throat to think of her heading off into the woods with a gun...

Then of course, I can't help but wonder how I could have made a difference.  What if I called more?  Let her know I looked up to her?  Thought of her as a friend?   How could there not have been someone or something that made a difference?  A song on the radio.  The twinkle of snow on a branch.  The smell of pine needles in the crisp air.  Any little thing could have given her pause and reminded her of the beauty in the world.  Except that nothing did.

With the best of intentions, people tell me to "focus on the good memories that you have."  That's all well and good and of course I try to do just that but just as one can't add a splash of vinegar to a glass of fine wine and then hope to savor only the complex fruity bouquet, I can't relish the good memories without tasting a touch of the tragic with each thought.

Bec bought me a ticket to fly to Alaska so that we could spend a week exploring, adventuring and car camping out of a Mustang convertible when I was a junior in college.

A lot has happened in the last year.  For those of us left behind, life goes on, anger, sadness and all.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Trifecta of Unfortunateness

Moving house. Torrential rain. Sick family.

It's been quite a week.  Most of it was spent moving our things in the constantly pouring rain.  The only help we had was when our friend Janette and Riker's nanny each entertained Riker for an hour or two.  Our landlord then kept asking us to do more and more things around the house and yard, but in the end we got most of our bond back, thanks in no small part to meticulous cleaning skills inherited from my mother.  And with that we handed over the keys to the house we brought both of our babies home to.

We're now living out of suitcases amidst mountains of boxes while house sitting for our friends next door until we depart for the US. We're very grateful to Robyn and Leigh for offering their home to us while they travel in China so that we could avoid moving hassles in the days before international travel.

As if a week of packing, moving and cleaning in the rain wasn't enough, we've all been in varying states of illness.  A visit to the doctor confirmed that it's a viral thing, and so we wait it out.  Ari has been up most of the last two nights, crying and sobbing miserably.  If he slept, it was fitfully and only when he was latched on to me.  Tired beyond belief, I paced the kitchen with an eye on the horizon.  Turns out a watched sun is a lot like a watched pot. 

Finally, the sun did indeed come up and the baby slept.  With the first rays of the sun, a handsome man delivered a coffee and a danish with a kind smile.  So, perhaps it's all getting better already.