Tuesday, October 29, 2013

On the Record: Riker at Four

Last year I started a tradition of interviewing Riker on his birthday. By asking him the same questions every year, we'll be able to see how his personality and interests change (or stay the same). This is Riker's second interview.

What are you going to be when you grow up?
A daddy.

What’s that going to be like?
I don't know. I'll have kids (laughs).

What are your favorite toys?
Donald and Thomas and Annie and Clarabel and Donald's tender (trains).

What is your favorite food?

Who are your best friends?
Arlo and Alex and Pippa and Freja.

What makes you happy?
You (points to mama).

What makes you sad?  
Ari hits me.

When you dream at night, what do you dream about?

What do you like to do with Daddy?
Uh, I don't know. Play with trains.

What do you like to do with Mama?
Play trains.

What’s your favorite color?

What’s your favorite book?
Thomas the Tank Engine.

What does Daddy do during the day?
Go to work.

What does Mama do during the day?
Go to work.

What do you do during the day?
Play with Thomas stuff.

What do you want to learn or do before you turn five?
I want to play with trains more.

I've shamelessly pilfered these questions from my friend Lauren over at Sparkling Adventures, You can read the birthday interviews of her four darling daughters here.

See also:
On the Record: Riker at Three

Monday, October 28, 2013

National Arboretum

By 11:30 this morning the boys were clearly bored stiff as they were upturning boxes of toys, pulling things off shelves and aggravating their poor parents to no end. That's our cue to leave the house and find a place for them to burn off some energy. Our destination for today was the National Arboretum.

The National Arboretum is a great destination because of its terrific new playground .

The playground is full of interesting pods to explore and cubbies shaped like acorns with twisty slides descending.

I love to see play spaces with details that demonstrate creative thought in their design. The Pod Playground has details in abundance including this metal work of Australian animals on the fence. Peep holes in various pods contain spiders and insects and others have a variety of musical instruments built into them.

The arboretum has always seemed like a terrific place for kite flying. After lunch at the cafe we discovered the gift shop conveniently sells kites and we acquired a basic model that boasted its ease of use for 3-6 year old children.

It was indeed easy to use and Riker gets his first chance to fly a kite.

Ari even got to have a turn at flying the kite though I couldn't help but hover in case he let go. "No mama, me do it!" is a common refrain that I heard more than once today.

We're so grateful that Canberra is brimming with fun and interesting activities for kids especially on days when getting out of the house is the thing that saves our sanity!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Train Day

It's all trains all the time at the McMillin house! Despite spending last Saturday at the Kingston Miniature Railway, we were back there again today with three of Riker's buddies from preschool.

Alex, Riker, Arlo and Pippa

Tuckered out after a very fun day!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Bees, Bees, Bees...Honey!

Not long after we returned to Australia, we acquired a bee hive. As long time mead makers, it was logical that we would eventually try our hand at bee keeping and with a garden full of fruits and vegetables, it seemed a great addition to the back yard.

For many months the bees existed peacefully in our back yard and they required very little attention other than occasional monitoring to ensure that they had enough honey reserves to get them through winter.

Then one day not long ago, we noticed a swarm had collected on a branch near the hive.

If your hive swarms, you need to act quickly to get them back or you lose a queen and thousands of valuable bees. Fortunately, Brian had just acquired an additional hive so that he could do some rearranging in anticipation of harvesting our first batch of honey. He suited up, placed the new hive near the swarm and managed to lure them into it! Since the new hive was meant to be added to our existing hives, it didn't have a roof and Brian had to fashion a temporary base and roof for the time being.

The swarm moved right in and seemed happy enough!

When it came time to harvest the honey from the original box, Brian removed the frames and we were fascinated to be able to explore the parts of the hive. Below, the peanut shaped cells that are specially constructed to house the queen.

Brian spends some time 'rescuing' bees that hadn't yet hatched.

We were fortunate to be able to borrow most of the necessary equipment from my colleague, Barry. Below, Brian breaks open the capped sections of the honey comb before the frames can be placed into the extractor.

Riker and Ari were interested in the process for a short while and liked to poke their fingers into the comb to savor a bit of sweet gooeyness.

Once two frames are in the extractor, Riker has a go at turning the handle.

You start out spinning the frames slowly and then increase the speed to spin out the honey which collects on the sides and bottom of the extractor.

One of two fairly large buckets of honey with the bits of wax strained out.

Such an fascinating process! We're total novices at this so I'm sure we've made some mistakes along the way. But with a yield of about 19 pounds (8.5 kg) of honey in our first harvest, we must be doing something right!

We've saved a few jars of honey for eating and with the rest we're making a small 25 liter batch of low alcohol (8%) mead called a hydromel.

Proper meads can take a year to develop but by using an ale yeast, we're experimenting with speeding up that process to only a few weeks.

Should be an interesting experiment and a fitting way to wrap up the first year of another interesting experiment!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Best Buddies

Riker met Arlo at preschool and the two of them have become best friends.

I didn't really expect Riker to develop meaningful friendships and enduring bonds at such a young age, probably because it seems like only yesterday that he was a toddler who just played alongside other children. But now we're well and truly into the days of collaborative and imaginative play and it's fascinating to get glimpses into the complex social systems of the preschooler!

Riker and Arlo at our local park

Having a buddy has made the school day all the more enjoyable for both of them. Arlo lives in the same suburb and so we've been getting the boys together to play outside of school as well. It's been really interesting to see them navigate the rules of friendship and I look forward to seeing how it continues to unfold in the coming months!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Thomas in Town

Thomas the Tank Engine was visiting Canberra this weekend and as soon as we heard about it, we knew how we'd be spending our Saturday!

A huge fan of Thomas and all of his friends, Riker eagerly checked out the not-so-little blue engine and was very happy to get to blow his whistle. 

There were lots of trains on display at the Railway Museum where the event was held and it was great fun to explore the inside of various engines and carriages.

Boys of all sizes enjoyed seeing the gears and talking about what all those buttons and levers and gauges might be for.

Daddy and Riker with an engine from 1879

One of our favorite carriages to explore was built in the 1920s and had all sorts of finely crafted details including this fold-out metal wash basin. The kids loved exploring the carriage cars because they were like long hallways lined with cubby houses!

Part of our entry to the event included rides on the miniature railway (which we only did once because the lines were too long in the hot sun) and a ticket for a twenty minute long train ride in a full size vintage carriage. The kids loved looking out the open windows and riding on a real old train.

Another more modern engine gives Riker a chance to play at being the engineer.

Our day at the Railway Museum was loads of fund. After having seen Riker's cousins in the US have lots of opportunities to "meet" Thomas, we were thrilled that he finally came to Canberra. And having the chance to explore the collection of the museum was an added bonus!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

First Haircut

Ari got his first haircut this week!

With hair constantly hanging in front of his eyes and even touching his nose, he was well and truly in need of a trim. But, like Riker's first haircut, it took me more than two years to be able to think about taking a scissors to those sweet baby locks.

Top to bottom. Ari likes to select his clothes and dress himself but sometimes the pieces don't go in quite the right places. Here you can see how long his hair was getting.

Multi-tasking. Potty practice, iPad time and a haircut from mama. It's not easy to cut baby fine and stick straight hair without it looking choppy, but I was pretty pleased with the results.

Hey, something's different!

Now looking just that little bit more grown up.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Riker Donald is named after his grandfather, Donald Kerr. As my father passed away twenty three years ago today, I've been reflecting on how I remember him, the empty space left in my life when he died suddenly and the way in which that space then shaped me and my future.

I've been looking at the few photos I happen to have electronically (thanks to my cousin Gary and the work he's done on our family lineage) and I'll share those here as a record for myself and my children.

Donald and his brother Douglas, 1930s

For comparison - Riker, 2013

Douglas and Donald, 1930s

 Donald and Douglas, 1930s

 Douglas and Donald, 1930s

Douglas and Donald, 1941. Note, the above photos were all taken on the farm where I grew up.





Douglas and Donald with their father, Clyde in the 1940s



Douglas and Donald, 1950s

Donald, Douglas and their mother, Pearl in 1953. I find it pleasing that my father's head aligns with the kangaroo sign at the zoo.


1967 with cousin, Allen Kerr

1970s, now with the farm in color!

1976, my parent's wedding with my uncle Doug and aunt Phyllis

1978 with little me

As I reflect on the last twenty three years, I'm struck by what a great loss I endured as a child. And now as an adult, I find myself wanting to know so much more about my father. What was his childhood like? What was it like going to school in a one room school house? What did he do when he graduated from high school? How many different jobs did he have? Did he always want children? Where in the world did he want to travel? How did he envision the world in 2013?

I'll never know the personal answers to these questions of course, and I can only imagine the kind of relationship we'd have today. What I do know for certain is that he would absolutely adore his grandsons, their curiosity, their cleverness, their mischief. Today, it is for this great loss that I continue to mourn.