Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas - pre and post

We found ourselves very busy in the lead-up to Christmas with lots to do and organise for Christmas and our month away from home. We visited the zoo to see Zoo Lights – some beautiful light displays, with fairy tale, Christmas and nursery rhyme themes, set up throughout the Lincoln Park Zoo. 

We had a fall of snow a week or so before we left the city. This was a little unseasonal and put the city inhabitants in a bit of a tizz, but allowed Luc and I to have some serious snowball fights. Paul and Luc made snow angels on the roof deck. Nicolas was intrigued by the cold white stuff and had a great time crawling about in it and thought it hilarious when Luc was hit by snowballs.  

My brother Ian came to stay with us in the last week before we left. Thank you very much Ian for taking such good uncle-care of the boys while we ran around trying to organise last minute items. When Ian arrived at around midnight, Luc woke and the first thing Luc said to Ian was a bleary “Sears Tower?” Ian had no idea what he was talking about… but we made the obligatory visit the next day, taking in the view of Chicago’s skyline. We froze our way through Millennium Park and saw a few downtown sights. Ian and I made a trip down to Hancock Tower one evening to have a cocktail and chat about life – with an amazing backdrop of city and Christmas lights. Michigan Avenue was lit up with trees bound in lights. It makes so much more sense to see deciduous trees wrapped in lights than the Christmas lights on leaf-clad trees in Australia. The cold kept us indoors a little more than usual. 

We went to Mary and Clark’s ‘Open House’ on the 9th December. Paul was not keen on attending this as he really didn’t want to see a ‘home on the market’. When he found out that the term ‘open house’ really meant a Christmas party with a flexible time frame (i.e. turn up when you like between 4pm and 8pm), he was much more interested. We had a lovely time meeting more locals, Mary’s charismatic Dad and feasting on festive treats including hot apple cider. 

The days before we were to leave were chaotic. I spent the day before rushing around organising Christmas cards when I discovered that the ones that I thought I had ordered… hadn’t been. Some Christmas gifts were dropped off the night before we were to leave, and presents for our nephews finally arrived (thankfully) just as we were about to leave for the airport. Thank you so much to Christmas Elf Ann who very unexpectedly turned up at our door bearing hot lattes on the morning of our departure. This was such a welcome diversion and did much to still our frazzled nerves. 

Luc and Nicolas are having a lovely time catching up with their cousins Jacob and Sam and various aunts and uncles staying out at the farm in Chinchilla. Riding the quad bikes, tractors and go-cart have been highlights, as has, choosing a Christmas tree, splashing in a small pool, playing with their Christmas loot, watching movies together and generally being boisterous boys. 

Australia is having wacky weather at present. Prior to our arrival, temperatures in the 40’s (over 105+F) were being experienced with high winds and major bushfires in Victoria and Tasmania. We had some sensationally warm and comfortable weather when we first arrived, a very mild Christmas and now we are wearing what few winter items we brought with us. Thankfully some rain has arrived in Chinchilla, and hopefully enough has fallen to do some good. 

Down south is another matter… snow has been falling on the high peaks. Mt Kosciuszko (Australia’s tallest peak – even though it doesn’t actually qualify as a mountain) has had snow. Keep warm Mandy and Craig – who are camping up there at the moment! Tasmania’s Mt Wellington produced a white Christmas – much to the surprise and delight of local children and visiting tourists. Mum and Dad have experienced hail and black ice on the roads. They have even turned the heating on. These would be unusual conditions for winter let alone the summer. My sister Jenni and her partner Sebastien are out from France and staying with mum and dad. Sebastien has demanded the money back for his flight, as the promised summer weather is not in evidence! 

Photo: Cousins cooling down in the pool on Christmas Day. From left to right: Nicolas, Sam, Jacob & Luc.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


We have now arrived in Australia…. finally! We had a delay at Chicago of 4 ½ hours, leaving us a mere ½ hour to make our connection in LA (including check-in, and security clearance). Thankfully we took the stroller to the gate, as this made our sprint through the airport, run to the International Airport, and race to the Qantas counter, all that much faster. We boarded our plane sweaty and a little stressed. The boys were wonderful given all the waiting we had to do, a 4 hour flight, then a 13 hour flight. Paul and I were the irascible ones! 

We landed in Brisbane about 7:30am on Friday. Paul’s father met us at the airport and we met Paul’s sister Naomi to do a car swap. We went to Indooroopilly shopping centre to have coffee and a bite to eat. We then went to a Christmas lunch for the mothers group I used to attend. We had lunch with mums and bubs: Janine, Oliver and Joshua; Jacque, Thomas and Jade; Melissa, Mia and Jensen; Kirsten, Corban and Hannah; Melinda, Harry and William. This was at the Everton Park Hotel – a truly Australian pub ‘beer garden’ with a gated play area for children to play in while we ate lunch. We later checked into our hotel and were all in bed by 6pm.

We visited the Roma Street Parkland on Saturday to have breakfast with some friends: Jacque, Paul and their children Thomas and Jade, and Georgie and Michael with their children Zach and Flynn. Our friends Craig and Tania were not able to make it to breakfast using the excuse that Tania had given birth to their second baby early that morning! The gardens were surprisingly lush given the water restrictions in place (notices informed that recycled water was being used). We noticed all the insects and lizards that crossed our path on our walk through the gardens and laughed that the Chicago equivalents would be rabbits and squirrels. 

In the afternoon, friends Mandy and Craig came over and we walked into the Queen Street Mall to have some coffee. One thing we really miss in the States is the abundant coffee shops / carts / cafés that are available. Practically every café or restaurant in Brisbane will serve espresso coffee. There are a number of chains / franchises that are becoming more apparent including: Dome (from Perth), Hudsons (from Melbourne), Coffee Club (from Brisbane) and, probably the most prolific, Gloria Jeans (from USA – run by an Australian company). Starbucks has a couple of outlets but is not as popular. There has been a long history of the independent coffee shop in Australia – allowing favourite shops to flourish and chain stores to lift their game in order to compete. From the trendy young things sipping espresso in Pelligrinis in the 1950’s, Australia has well-embraced the espresso culture. This took some time to reach Brisbane (I was appalled by the coffee I was served in the early to mid-90’s), but has since caught up and decent coffee is now available.

Sunday morning, we picked up Paul’s brother Matthew and took him out for breakfast at Pandemonium to celebrate his 18th birthday (on the 16th), before he made the drive back to Chinchilla. We visited Tania in hospital to say a great big welcome to little Jack and a great big congratulations to Tania. Well done! We then went to have some authentic fruit gelati – something that we have not been able to get in Chicago. 

Monday saw a busy day with Paul working and me walking into the city to visit Trish (former colleague), then out to friend Sharyn’s for morning tea with her children Mia and Edward, along with Lyndal and her daughter Annabel, back to Pandemonium for some lunch and to visit owner Leisa, and to see her wedding photos, then off to friend Nikki’s house for afternoon tea with her daughter Yasmin and new son Felix. Naomi came by to visit and look after the boys while Paul and I had a night out. We had a VERY disappointing and expensive meal at Southbank – costing some $75+ for a very ordinary and simple feed. We were astounded at how prices have seemed to escalate in our absence. At least we didn’t have to tip!

Tuesday morning we had a visit from good friend Deborah, in Brisbane for business, and shared pastries and coffee for breakfast. We then went into Brisbane city. I visited EDAW’s office to say hi to former colleagues. I suffered an embarrassing moment as Luc and Nic wandered into a meeting between the company’s CEO (out from the States), the Director of the Pacific region and the Melbourne Director. Thankfully they cheerfully stopped proceedings to have a quick chat while I reclaimed my sons!

We are now out in Chinchilla, arriving late Tuesday afternoon after a four hour drive. We are staying at Bealla, Paul’s family’s 4000+ acre farm. The drought has had a huge impact, with no crops in the last year and everything looking very dry indeed. Paul’s father (Paul Snr) planted a crop of sorghum on Wednesday and is now praying for rain. Luc is fast learning how to ride a quad bike and is very happy accompanying Grandpa on the tractor. He has been super excited and has become Grandpa’s new shadow. He now wants to do ‘farm work’ much more than ‘puter work’ (like Daddy). Poor Nicolas has had a bout of teething teemed with some virus giving him spots. He has been a little grumpy but seems to be on the mend and back to his usual happy self. Grandpa Paul and Nanna Naureen are fast becoming reacquainted with the extent of mischief a 13 month old can accomplish in record time. 

We have heard some very sad news with our Brisbane Chiropractor, Adam, losing two of his sons in an horrific car accident last week. The swings and roundabouts keep turning with the birth of my cousin’s son Elijiah Philip to Theo and Kellee – born very unexpectedly at home in Melbourne (he was in a very big hurry!) on the 17th and named Philip after a very close family friend who died the next day (leaving his wife and five children). Christmas is going to be a very hard time for many families. 

Luc did something that amused me the other day (though I can’t remember exactly what it was). I laughed at him. This apparently hurt his feelings and he sent me to the corner. “Stop laughing at me! Go straight to the corner Mummy!” I dutifully did and contemplated for how long he would expect me to stand there (we do the standard one-minute-per-year-of-age system). Thankfully, Luc allowed me to come out of the corner after a short time and I had to give him a kiss and apologise for laughing at him.

Photo: Looking east from the house at Bealla, towards a newly-planted Sorghum crop. The tree, a ‘Brachychiton rupestris’ is known commonly as a ‘bottle tree’ because of its bottle-shaped trunk

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Good better breast

I was horrified to hear on the radio today, that a mother breastfeeding her child on an airplane (due to fly from Vermont to New York) had been asked to leave after she had refused to stop breastfeeding or cover herself with a blanket while feeding her child. What century are we in? Has it occurred to people that breastfeeding is not actually a new or ‘trendy’ thing to do!? Mothers and babies do happen to be more mobile these days (as does the general public), so this wholly necessary act might be more apparent than it was years ago. Babies need to be fed every few hours and there is NO way to avoid this. Those offended by breastfeeding would undoubtedly be the same that would be annoyed by a hungry and crying child. There is no better way to settle a baby suffering from ear pain due to air pressure changes (during take-off and landing), than to feed it. I have done this numerous times on flights with both children. 

Breastfeeding is called ‘nursing’ here. This gives a completely different meaning to the statement “My father is elderly and I need to nurse him” (!) The mothers whom I know personally here, have all breastfed their children. However, the vast majority of young babies I see fed in public are fed formula. Illinois is a liberal state when it comes to breastfeeding, allowing a mother to breastfeed in any location that she would be legally permitted to be. It did seem a little awkward doing this when I first arrived, particularly as this had to occur inside (too cold outside!), often in crowded coffee shops where it obviously was not the ‘norm’. 

It makes my heart break seeing so many VERY new babies being fed formula as it is far inferior to breastmilk. There are SO many advantages of breastfeeding to both mother and baby and these far outweigh any disadvantages. Breastfeeding reduces likelihood of breast cancer for the mother (and ovarian and uterine cancers). It is free. No sterilising of bottles and accoutrements is required and no need to pre-boil water. It provides a close bond between mother and child. It is available immediately and on-demand. It is full of nutrients and protects babies against illness and infection and possible allergies and asthma. There is no argument. 

It is great to see that in Australia, the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) is a strong lobby group helping to make it more than acceptable to breastfeed a baby, particularly in public. Every shopping centre and large department store has a nursing room (mostly with curtained off rooms for the new baby – and mother – or the easily distracted child).  The mothers that I know that breastfed are definitely in the majority with a good proportion feeding until at least 12 months. In certain circles in Australia, more disapproving glances are thrown at parents formula-feeding than those breastfeeding! 

At eleven months of age, Nicolas decided to go cold turkey on breastfeeding. This did coincide with a period of illness but Paul thinks it may be part of the whole burgeoning competitive thing between the boys: after all, Luc is no longer breastfed! I had been hoping to keep Nic going until he was at least twelve months of age to enable a switch directly to cows milk. No. Nicolas decided otherwise. 

Photo: Breastfeeding a very new Nicolas after returning home from hospital (November 2005).

Note: My Australian spell-checker allowed breastfeeding as a word, while .Mac’s version picked it up as a misspelt word! 

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Nicolas turns one

Our baby Nicolas turned one last Saturday (11th November). This coincided with Paul being in Italy and a visit from Sarah, my first cousin-once-removed (i.e. my cousin Maggie’s stepdaughter). Sarah arrived on a very bleak and rainy Friday night at peak hour. Good on her for negotiating her way to our place on public transport with large backpack and snowboard! 

Nicolas is an adorable and very endearing little guy. He is very social and I catch him flirting with people all the time. He is good-natured and fairly independent. He is also cuddly and applies a ‘koala cuddle’ to our ‘tree’. His preferred mode of transportation is walking, although he reverts to crawling when he wishes to get somewhere fast (and he does!) including the following doors: laundry, study, refrigerator, dishwasher and the front door. 

Nic’s first discernible word was “Tickertickerticker” used when tickling someone (particularly Luc’s) tummy. It speaks volumes about our parenting when you consider that Luc’s first word was “Tickle”! Nicolas calls Luc “Ooo”  but seems to have no need to call Paul or I by any name, except perhaps a wailing “Maaaaaaaaaaaa!” when he wants out of his cot (crib). 

Nicolas has a love for and fascination with water. Luc called out to me the other day to say that Nic was playing with the potty. To my horror (and amusement), I found Nic with his hands in the toilet splashing about, having a great time. There is a lot to be said for Australian toilets and the low water level! We have to keep a close watch on Nic around bathtime as he is very determined to get into the by bath himself, fully clothed. 

We are going to have a small party for Nicolas on Sunday and have invited some of his and Luc’s playmates. 

Prior to Sarah’s visit, I mentioned to Luc that perhaps we would see if Sara would like to visit Sears Tower. Luc pulled out one of the play phones, dialled some numbers and spoke into the phone “Hello Sarah. Sears Tower? Yes. Sears Tower. OK. Bye” He then informed me that, Yes, we should indeed visit Sears Tower. It was practically the first thing he said to Sarah when she arrived.

We made a visit to Sears Tower after having some celebratory birthday cake at one of my favourite cafes, The Artopolis Bakery in Greektown. We visited the Art Institute of Chicago finally viewing the iconic American Gothic. Luc showed Sarah Millennium Park and his favourite items including The Bean and the red chairs at the Pritzker Pavillion. Paul arrived home late, we ate some typical deep-dish Chicago-style Pizza, while Paul crashed. The next day we showed Sarah the neighbourhood including Lincoln Park, the Zoo and Michigan lakefront. 

Monday we went to art class while a poorly Nicolas slept. In Argo Tea afterwards, following a good snack of apple sauce and cheese, we realised that Nic wasn’t feeling all that well when he brought it (and breakfast) all up … and over… himself, myself, the stroller, my handbag, the café floor. We abandoned any notion of going downtown and left Sarah to explore on her own while I returned home with the boys. 

While bathing Nic after his illness, I asked Luc to please fetch a cloth from the other bathroom. Luc took some time…. finally turning up with a about a metre of dental floss looped through his teeth and hanging from his mouth. He didn’t have a cloth but I am glad he is taking notice of his personal hygiene. 

Photo: Nicolas looking at me through a porthole in the Pirate Ship at Supera Park 

Monday, October 30, 2006

Halloween approaches

Halloween is tomorrow. Over the past month, pumpkins seemed to sprout EVERYWHERE! These appeared in shop windows and as displays in the windows of peoples houses, in gardens and running up front stairs. The extent of decoration is widespread and quite astounding to the first-time Halloweener. From my perspective, there appears to be two disparate schools of display: the more tasteful school including pumpkins, pots of coloured flowers, ornamental cabbages, hay bales and sheathes of corn; and the macabre – including the scary and grotesque – with abundant ghouls, bones, monsters, headstones and skeletons. These two schools do not appear to mix. 
I took Luc to a Spirit Halloween store recently. He walked in, and on seeing the displays exclaimed “AHH! A bad guys shop!” This is a seasonal shop full of costumes and every type of grotesque prop one could imagine: severed hands, bloody corpses with mechanics to lift them from the ground, opening coffins, shaking ghouls, bleeding bones suits for children (!) and every type of ghoulish and tasteless costume one could imagine. 

We took the boys to a Pumpkin Patch at Oz Park last weekend. This included a fenced yard where children could choose a small pumpkin (for $3) and then take it to a pumpkin decorating station to draw upon, stick things to and ‘upgrade’ their pumpkins before being photographed with these surrounded by Halloween props. Jumping castles, pony rides, a petting zoo, hotdog stand and face painting all provided entertainment for the neighbourhood children and their parents. We had a great time.

The weekend prior to Halloween is a good excuse for parties. We were invited to our neighbours party on Saturday night. I left it to the last minute to purchase an outfit, and finding a local costumers, had to wait in line outside the shop as it was FULL of people buying costumes! EVERYONE dresses up – in something or another. In Australia, at costume parties, there are generally a good proportion of guests who just don’t bother with dressing up. To not go in costume here would be social suicide. I was against wearing any of the multitude of women’s outfits that could be easily described as ‘tarty’. I ended up buying a velvet hooded cape and a Venetian cat mask. Paul had purchased a very creepy black, full-length phantom outfit that obscured his face save for some glowing red eyes. A skull sceptre and skeleton hands and feet completed a very creepy look. Guests at the party were convinced that Paul’s outfit was going to scar the boys for life. Luc was one of several cowboys at the party (winning an award for best cowboy) and Nic was the only koala to be seen. Both boys were a real hit at the party and had amazing staying power, dancing with a mechanical ghost, flirting with the girls and playing with several dog guests (one, part of a Paris Hilton outfit, the others in costume).

Photos: Nic choosing a pumpkin at the Pumpkin Patch and various decorations found around our neighbourhood.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Preston Dodds Reid

My paternal grandfather, the wonderful and charismatic Preston Dodds Reid, died today (Australian time), aged 96 years. He will be sorely missed by family and all those that he touched throughout his lifetime. I am very sad at his passing as he was an instrumental part of my life. The family is feeling a certain relief as his last two weeks were not all that comfortable for him. I am once again, feeling rather isolated so far from home. 

Is it OK to have a favourite grandparent? I’m not sure. I was surely blessed with four wonderful grandparents.  I loved Grandma (Reid) for her patience, humour and quiet wisdom. I loved Nanma (Edwards) for her giggling, calming and soothing manner and Scottish lilt that had the effect of calming every person and beast. I loved Kung Kung (Edwards) for his big booming laugh and his twinkly smile under a very stern and proper exterior. I would have loved to meet my maternal grandmother (who died of typhus in rural China when my mother was just seven years old... another story) who, by all accounts, was also a wondrous person. All my grandparents provided the most brilliant role models. All adored their partners and were always calm, kind, open and loving to all family members. Grandpa outlived the rest of my grandparents by at least ten years, so of course, he was there for a greater part of my life. There was something exceptional about Grandpa though. 

My husband Paul asked me some time ago who the heroes in my life were. Grandpa topped the list. It is said that we marry our fathers… in my case, perhaps it was more my grandfather! Generations ensure difference, but each had an interest in similar pursuits. Both gentle souls with a can’t-hurt-a-fly exterior, and with a keen interest and participation in combat sports (Grandpa – boxing, Paul – wrestling). Both with a strong interest in cryptography (Grandpa – with a pen and manual count of letter occurrences, Paul with computer programming). Each with a love to read – voraciously. Each with a phenomenal memory – particularly for detail of long ago occurrences, things read, events, etc. Grandpa loved the horse races. Paul attended these for years (and is still a member of the Queensland Turf Club). Both big fans of drinking coffee (Grandpa developing a taste for the stuff during overseas travel).  Each stubbornly principled, yet willing to hear and contemplate a different perspective. Both honest and open with an ability to express those things that, perhaps, they had not been so proud of during their lives - a rare ability to admit (and learn from) mistakes. Both kind and generous to a fault. Both adoring their soul mate and partner in life. Both with an undying thirst for knowledge. Both an influential part of my life. 

Grandpa had a special place for all his grandchildren and took much more than a passing curiosity in everyone’s likes and interests. He took the time to find out who ABBA was when I was so wrapped in them aged nine. He listened to the music (sitting himself in front of Countdown on a Sunday night) to work out the lyrics. He did the same when my brother Ian had an interest in Billy Bragg

Grandpa introduced me to dance and took me to my first ballet performance. Later, when I became a subscriber of the Australian Ballet, Grandpa would brief me on all the performances and give me notable key dance sequences to look out for in the classic ballets. Deciding we needed to witness Gilbert and Sullivan on the stage (even if we didn’t like it), he sent the grandchildren along to see The Gondoliers. Grandpa ensured my interest in art was nurtured, accompanying me to National Gallery of Victoria, passing on some of his notated art catalogues and discussing favourite works and artists. 

I am so glad at Paul’s insistence at using family names for our children. We will remember a little of Grandpa in Luc as he was named Luc Preston after Grandpa - an honour that really pleased Grandpa. Preston was a family name (I believed it was his mother’s maiden name), as was Dodds. Preston has been an uncommon name in Australia, with the only reference I know being the north-eastern Melbourne suburb. However, Preston is a reasonably popular name in the States, with a couple of TV characters having that name (Grey’s Anatomy & Desperate Housewives). Even Britney Spears used the name for her son (much to my chagrin). We have even met a Preston or two in the playgrounds here. Of course there is the character Preston, a robot dog, in Wallace & Gromit’s A Close Shave.

I miss my Grandpa.

Photo: Preston Dodds Reid and Luc Preston Gearon meet for the first time in Melbourne (August 2004)

Monday, October 9, 2006

Visitors - welcome and unwelcome

We have just had the pleasure of being visited by Paul’s sister Lari and her husband Allan. These two took the opportunity of their recent misfortune to see a bit of the world and visit siblings Paul and Rowan (in Houston), while living in the USA. Despite some cooler and rainy weather, we still managed to do a few tourist outings. We visited our favourite tourist sites including Sears Tower (this is Luc’s favourite building), Millennium Park, Michigan Avenue, Lincoln Park Zoo, some very funny improvised theatre, etc. We saw quite a bit of our local Lincoln Park neighbourhood and Lari and Allan were able to do a spot of shopping. Lari and Allan found great delight in some of the things that we now find commonplace but were astounded by when we first arrived: including abundant squirrels, breakfast at a local diner and the large book stores such as Borders and Barnes and Noble. The large bookstores were a very welcome change diversion after limited English book store options in Japan. 

Allan felt completely at home with the American sports (he is a huge basketball, baseball and gridiron / football fan) and the casual dress code. We live near DePaul University and track pants, sports jerseys and trainers are de rigueur. 

Unfortunately, the visit coincided with a visiting flu virus that left us a little lacking in energy and enthusiasm. This last week we ALL have a bout of hand-foot-and-mouth disease – another common virus that has taken the time to visit us (see Paul’s blog entry). Luc had a case of this virus in Brisbane – that generally leaves one immune. A different strain of the virus has seen him contract it again – as well as Paul and myself (adults are usually immune due to contracting this as a child). As a consequence, we have all been laid flat. The boys and myself have been housebound for most of the week – which is just as well as the virus is contagious. I had been speaking to a nurse at the paediatric practice to monitor the situation. Excessive spots on Nic, prompted us to make a visit to the doctors last Friday to have it checked out. After spending some time in the waiting room, playing with toys and doing the rounds, Luc took his time joining us in the examination room. As he was leaving the waiting room, Luc announced to everyone that “I have spots”, repeating this several times in case people weren’t aware of his predicament. I was horrified. Luc’s spots had gone by this stage and I could only imagine that everyone thought he must have some highly contagious disease! 

Photo: Allan and Lari in front of the Crown fountain at Millennium Park

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Run, run as fast as you can

While he was at work one day, Paul got in contact with me to say that, oh by–the-way, he had signed me up for an organised 5 mile run. I was a little annoyed at the prospect of this for several reasons: 
 1.   I had no idea how long 5 miles actually was
 2.   When was I going to find the time to train?
 3.   What about some input from myself into these decisions? 
Too bad, he had already paid the money and I was signed up. 

Paul then found out about a nearby running group that I could train with, organised by a sports shop named Fleet Feet. The group was specifically for women and trained on a Tuesday evening. He assured me that it was a very casual group and beginners were welcome. Paul was training with a triathlon group on Tuesday evenings but we were able to get Lisa to babysit one night and I trekked down to participate. I was a little shocked when I found out that there was a choice of a 3 mile 4 mile or 5 mile run. Walking did not seem to be an option. Running with others enabled me to keep a pace and I was surprised to complete a 3 mile run without being overly stretched. This surprised me as the last time I had run was since taking part in the International Womens Day run in Brisbane when newly pregnant with Nicolas. A lack of time, rainy weather and hot weather all provided excuses not to make it back to train. I did however, manage to get out for a few runs by myself. 

August 17th was the night of the run: the Nike Run Hit Remix. Paul hadn’t been feeling too well in the previous week and I would have been happy if he told me he couldn’t do the run (providing me with an excuse to pike). No such luck. We had organised Kate to babysit the boys and caught a taxi downtown.

The run itself didn’t begin until 9pm, so we spent our waiting time checking out the numerous stalls set up to provide runner sustenance (smoothies, after run snacks) and enticement to all athletes and wannabes (sports wear, burgers, ribs and beer!). The event was extremely well organised and had staging locations for people who run a 7 minute mile, 8 minute mile, etc. Not knowing how long it would take to run a mile, we chose the 10 minute mile location to start. We met Chris, one of Paul’s colleagues and some of his friends, who were amongst the 10,000 participants.

Each mile of the run was marked by a performing band. This really added to the atmosphere, and the pace as people altered their stride to the beat of the music. This was particularly noticeable when running under the convention centre with the sounds of a Japanese Taiko drumming band reverberating around the walls at a quickening pace.  A dark underground section was enlivened with lights, flying sparkles and trance tracks. I have never been to a run where everyone was in such great spirits. I have also never been to a run that took place at night and where all participants (over the age of 21) were entitled to a beer at the finish! An office building, in line with the final length of the run, had organised for its windows to spell out a giant ‘RUN!’ providing added incentive to finish.  

I was taken back to my uni days (college) with such performers as Digital Underground and Young MC  and cover bands playing early 90’s tracks. The main attraction was De la Soul playing a concert post-run. It was such an enjoyable experience – we really want to do it again next year. 

Paul completed the Chicago Triathlon on August 27th and is now in training for the Chicago Half Marathon on October 1st.

Photo: Anne and Paul crossing the finishing line. Photo courtesy of 

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

September showers

One of Luc’s latest obsessions has been the Wallace and Gromit movies. In particular, The Wrong Trousers. He walks around doing his best goosestep, looking a little like John Cleese’s Minister of Silly Walks, saying he is a ‘pants robot’. We were walking down the street with Luc doing his robot impression one day, when I accidentally bumped into him. I said “I’m sorry darling”. Luc said “No. You say ‘Sorry Robot’”. So I have been referring to him as Robot Pants or Techno Trousers for some time now. Luc became really annoyed when he found that he could not walk up walls like the techno trousers, despite his best efforts (of course, being ex-NASA the trousers have suction cup feet). Paul assists here by holding him and lifting Luc above his head, while Luc walks up the wall. I found a pair of pyjamas in a clearance store with robots on the top. Luc is obsessed with these pyjamas and it takes some effort to get these off him in the morning. He would wear them night and day if he had the choice. 

When I scold Luc or send him to the corner during the week, he whimpers “I want Daaaaadddy!” (because, of course, Paul is not here). One weekend, after we had both scolded him, he surprised us by whimpering “I want David!” I was dumbfounded by this one and couldn’t quite work it out until I realised that he meant David Wood - whom we had recently spent time with in Ohio. 

Nic is now ten months old. He has started to play games now. He is a little obsessed with cars and any toy with wheels and pushes these along making his best impressions of car noises. He loves standing at the window and pushing cars along the window sill (which is very low in our living room and the perfect height for a little guy). Nic is also doing impressions of Luc. It is very funny seeing them in the bath together, with Nic trying to imitate everything that Luc does including: splashing, crawling along the bottom of the bath, clapping, yelling at the top of his lungs… (not so cute). Nic is still a very happy little guy and smiles for the majority of the time. Conversely, he has started noticeably expressing his frustration: - knocking unwanted food items to the ground, yelling for attention, kicking his legs when put down for a sleep or being picked up when he doesn’t want to be. 

We took Luc to a sushi restaurant on Saturday as a reward for his recent exemplary behaviour. I offered him some pickled ginger (which he adores). He pointed to a pile of pickled ginger on a plate and referred to it, with a great big smile, as ‘dog’. I was a little taken aback and really couldn’t work out what this reference was to until I remembered that the dog living across the road from us is named Ginger! 

We attended a street party on Sunday afternoon. This was a great opportunity to meet some of our neighbours, despite being outdoors on a very rainy afternoon. The rain didn’t seem to bother anyone. Following the request to take along food, we decided we would make a Pavlova. Some consternation as to how to ‘dress’ the pav took place but we managed to have a pretty good looking sample to bring. I was about to set it down on the food table when a lady exclaimed “That looks like a Pavlova!” I couldn’t believe anyone would have known what it was. The lady, Donny, had spent some time living in Australia so was well versed in Pavlova. Much to Donny’s insistence that people sample the pav, it went very quickly – and was much appreciated. One lady mentioned that perhaps we should all bring dishes from our homelands next year (planning to bring soda bread from her native Ireland).  We will probably take… a pav!

Photo taken in the ‘Circus’ exhibit of the Museum of Science and Industry 

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Half birthday...

Yesterday, the boys reached a significant milestone. Luc is now two and a half and Nicolas is nine months old. Here is a little update of what the boys have been up to. 

The two boys are growing and interacting more and more. Now that our furniture has (finally) arrived and we have a cot (crib) for Nic, the boys are sharing a room. Of course, this can have its drawbacks. Just ask me after I have found every toy, a weeks worth of nappies of all sizes and a full tub of loose nappy wipes accompanying Nic. Of course, Nic does not complain, he sees it all as an adventure (what a great attitude). I wish I shared his enthusiasm while I am changing wet bedding and drying his mattress with a hair dryer because Luc thought he needed a drink from a squirt sports bottle. 

The boys really light up when they see each other. Nic giggles at Luc. When Luc looks at him, Nic burst into gales of laughter. This sets Luc off, making Nic laugh all the more. Much to my annoyance, this generally happens during the middle of a feed (I am still breastfeeding Nic), but who can get angry -  after all, there is no better sound than that of children laughing.

Nic is getting around very quickly – crawling or reverting to a combat crawl when speed is really important. When Luc hears Nic he yells “Nic’s coming! Nic’s coming” and tries to hide from him (with much revealing commotion of course). Luc yells these warnings with the same urgency as one might yell “A tsunami is coming!” 

Luc found that he could hide in a cupboard the other day and was having fun hiding and ‘unhiding’. Nic wanted in on the action and ended up climbing in the cupboard with him. Being in a confined, dark cupboard with a flailing brother did not seem to distress either boy. 

Nic is doing his best impression of Foo or Kilroy – we often see the top of his head and two hands peering over the top of his cot (crib), the couch or any furniture item he can pull himself up against (which is just about EVERYTHING). He has a real determination and is starting to show definite signs of frustration when he can’t climb up. Two days ago we had to rescue Nicolas from the bottom rung of a stool – he had managed to climb onto it and we stopped him before he could pull himself any higher (we were scared). We are dreading the concept of having a ‘climber’ in the family. 

With our stuff arriving, there is a constant case of discovery and rediscovery. Luc found a new item and asked “What’s this Mummy?” I turned to see what he had found and said “That’s daddy’s squash racquet”. “Oh” said Luc, placing it on the floor and pushing the strings into the carpet “Squash, squash, squash”. I explained that squash was a game that Daddy used to play. Luc then picked up the racquet, and like countless children before, started ‘playing’ it like a guitar, singing his version of a song (a lot of garble peppered with words, such as Buzz, Nic, Luc, Bus, Plane… whatever happened to be the focus of attention at the moment).

Luc had a full on tantrum one day when we returned home, despite saying he wanted to go home ALL morning. I said “We are home”. Luc said “I don’t want to go home” “Where DO you want to go then?” through tears of rage “I want to fly to Pittsburgh!”

Photo is our reflection in Cloud Gate in Millennium Park taken when we visited on Wednesday

Monday, August 7, 2006

Urgent Care

It was early April and Luc had a cough that was lingering. He had had a bad case of croup. We had an appointment with a paediatrician, and were not too worried, but wanted him checked out a little sooner as his cough appeared to be getting worse. A visit to see a GP was what I had in mind. I rang the paediatrician's office to find out if we could get an appointment any sooner. They nonchalantly told me to “just go to the emergency department” of the Children’s Memorial Hospital. Our health insurance had just commenced, the hospital is a couple of blocks from where we live, so we made the trek to the emergency department. 

When in Brisbane, we had taken Luc to the emergency department of the Wesley Hospital (a private hospital) on a Sunday afternoon with a suspected case of conjunctivitis. They were very careful to let us know how much it would cost to see a doctor - $130, upon which we could seek a refund from our insurer. This seemed expensive at the time, but were prepared to spend the money (particularly as it was approaching dinner-time and we couldn’t bear the thought of trying to find a medical clinic and wait around with a tired boy). 

After a wait of about 45 minutes or so in the Emergency department of the Children’s Memorial, the triage nurse looked at Luc. She took his oxygen levels and other vital measurements. She then sent us along to ‘Urgent Care’. This was when I really started to worry. I thought perhaps that we had been a little too blasé about Luc’s condition. Urgent Care! Was he to be admitted? Did he have pneumonia? It wasn’t until we arrived in Urgent Care, that I realised that this was actually a ‘step down’ from Emergency, rather than a case being considered even more urgent than an emergency! Urgent Care is for cases requiring minimal intervention. 

While we were waiting to see an attending doctor in Urgent Care, I gave our insurance details and signed some paperwork. No mention of a fee was for service was made. Luc was checked out by both a nurse and then a doctor. The staff were really lovely and thorough… Luc was given a clean bill of health and we were on our way.    

Several weeks later we received a bill for service. A cool $328, of which $146.17 was covered by medical insurance, leaving us to pay the remaining $181.83. I couldn’t believe it. Then a week later, we received a bill for $85.45 being for the doctor’s time. I was really annoyed as there was no mention at all of any gap payments to be made. 

I was really homesick for our lovely Dr Tim (Davidson) at Red Hill Medical Centre, whom we would have been able to see with perhaps a day’s notice (or another doctor probably that day), and it would have cost us $45 at the most (the majority of which would have been refunded by Medicare).

Recently, Paul went to see a doctor about a stomach complaint. It took him some time to find a doctor (as the doctor has to be recognised by the health insurance provider). He rang several practices before he was able to get an appointment. The appointment itself was affordable (a $20 gap payment). But then he was out-of-pocket $110 for prescribed medication (insurance covered the remaining $93.78). We have started to realise what a significant financial investment it is to stay healthy in this country!

Did I mention that our contribution to private health care is some $300 per month (while Paul’s employer pays 80% of the cost of cover). It would appear that quality health care is totally out of reach for those on a modest income without employer support. 

Gabrielle, an Australian friend, told me it cost them $15,000 a piece to have each of their children here! Of this, up to 80% may be reimbursed, but one needs the money to pay up front. 

Paul had another horror story to tell me. A colleague of his took his child to a emergency department of a hospital. The hospital and doctor were both recognised by the health care provider. Tests were done and samples sent to a pathologist for testing. The pathologist was not covered. Paul’s colleague was faced with a $1500 bill for testing a simple virus (one would think it had been Ebola at that price!) 

I cannot comprehend why the Australian government seems hell-bent on emulating the health system here.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

How did I become a mum?

How did I end up becoming a mother? It was a question that I pondered until my reverie was broken whilst having a little quiet time, competing for the toilet paper with an eight month old and trying my best to avoid repeated requests to provide voices for each member of a family of four play dough balls. 

This introspection was brought about by some extremely upsetting news delivered to us on Sunday evening. My sister-in-law Lari and her husband Allan were due to welcome their first child into the world next week. A freak of nature (that only ever happens to other families) occurred, namely the rupturing of the placenta. Baby Payton died and Lari became very sick. Lari is in hospital now, several blood transfusions and operations later. The whole family is in shock and disbelief. Everyone has asked “Why?” Surely this sort of thing just doesn’t happen anymore in a modern world of medicine and health care. Apparently stillbirths now occur in about one in 200 of all pregnancies – this rate has declined by 50% in the last 20 years. In Australia, the rate of stillborn babies is approximately 1750 per year - or in one in one hundred babies. These rates are far higher than I ever thought they would be – but help put a bit of perspective on the situation… if not answering ‘why this baby?’ 

When I think of all friends and family members that have spent months and even years trying to fall pregnant, those that have had one or multiple miscarriages, a couple of people who have lost one or more very young babies and even a friend with a three-year-old currently going through chemotherapy for leukaemia… it makes life appear all the more tenuous and fragile. I have been giving the boys extra hugs the last few days. 

Poor Lari and Allan had to deal with all the initial shock and trauma themselves as they live in Japan, away from family. Paul’s mother Naureen arrived to help on Tuesday and she will be followed by Allan’s mother. The news made us seem all that more isolated ourselves. 

Lari and Allan are in an extremely strong position as they are a very devoted and strong couple with a synergy of thought and expectation. I am positive that they are in the best position to overcome this appalling time in their lives and be able to live beyond, yet hold a special place for their darling little boy. 

Motherhood on a different note… On Saturday, we made a visit to Millennium Park to play in the Crown Fountain for a while. Luc and I returned from playing to find that Nic had his own harem of four young girls cuddling him and playing games with him. He looked very happy. Luc wanted to play as well, so the little girls played ring-a-ring-a-rosy with him. 

I wondered if the girls were related. I asked the lady looking after them. She said, Yes, they were all sisters and were all her children. I asked her how many children she had. She said “Ten. Five boys and five girls” I looked at her in disbelief and exclaimed “How old are you?!” “Thirty-four” “My God! When did you start? When you were twelve?!” “Yes, as a matter of fact, I was twelve”. This mum was the coolest person, very calm and phlegmatic. She had five of her children with her, all their snacks, drinks, selection of toys, arm chairs, towels, etc. etc. and was even able to include and entertain our children. Her children were polite, well-behaved and very good natured. She rocked! I asked her how on earth she managed as I tended to find it hard to keep just two children in check. She said that it could be really hard, but she seemed to have such a great attitude that it looked as if it came easy to her. Given her early start into motherhood, we could only imagine the hardships she had faced and the total lack of education and opportunities she had dealt with.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Hometown Ohio

A very early Thursday morning (13th July) meant we were able to catch a 6:30am flight to Pittsburgh. This was an early enough flight for a commuter, let alone two young boys. Arriving at Pittsburgh international airport (Philadelphia), we were met by friend and Paul’s former employer, David, who was to drive us to Salem, Ohio

When we told people that we were flying to Ohio for the weekend, this was invariably met with a look of incredulity, a pause, then a hesitant “Well… have fun!” Then when met by David, he apologised profusely for making us meet up with him in Ohio. We started to sense that Ohio might not be the ‘hot-spot’ state of the USA. The belief that Luc only threw up in American cars was then shattered when he lost his stomach contents in a Volvo. There goes the European-car-steady-stomach theory. 

We arrived in Salem, checked into the Timberlanes Motel Inn and met up with Bernadette (David’s wife) and their children Aiden (8yo) and Mikayla (5yo). A quick lunch in the Hotel’s restaurant was followed by a walk to David’s parent’s house. The children had a great time hanging out together, playing on the swing, rolling on the lawn, watering the garden and generally being rambunctious. 

Salem is a beautiful old town with some very historic and grand buildings and homes. The land is gently undulating with many established parks and gardens. As is evident in many of the country’s older towns, gardens have no boundaries (fences) and there is a sense of houses sitting in an expansive parkland of lush green lawn with magnificent trees. The low density of housing has a major drawback: a heavy reliance on vehicle usage leading to a distinct lack of footpaths (sidewalks). This meant that a good proportion of our walk was actually on the road.

Salem residents have a strong German ancestry and the town has an evident Quaker heritage (named after Quaker settlement in New Jersey). The town has been a major manufacturing centre, particularly for porcelain and plastic products but has witnessed an economic decline in the past years, meaning a rise in unemployment and migration away. 

We attended some very ‘American’ institutions during our stay as we were there to witness Salem’s Bicentennial. These included the following: A Strawberry Festival dinner at the First United Methodist Church Hall, (menu consisting of: hotdogs, sloppy joes, sweet ham sandwiches, coleslaw, fresh apple sauce, cherry pie, ice-cream and strawberries). Although attended by all ages, a definite demographic became apparent when we walked in to see a sea of white hair. Saturday morning we attended the Frank A. Zamarelli Sr. Memorial Pancake Breakfast put on by the local Red Cross, this served several purposes including a local get-together, a fund-raiser and a means of enticing potential blood donors. We even partook in the wares from a ‘Lemonaid’ stand set up on the footpath outside someone’s house. 

We were a little too late to see some hot air balloons close-up, but these were very impressive when viewed en masse from a distance. We walked down the main street to see the wares of an OId Fashioned Sidewalk Sale, and visited the annual vintage and collectables Kiwianis Antique Show under the shade of some magnificent trees in beautiful Centennial Park. We had lunch with David’s parents at the Salem Golf Club followed by an afternoon of swimming in the Club’s pool. We even made it to the Wallaby’s Grille for a beer. The menu made me laugh with ‘Australian’ food items with a distinctive Cajun, Mexican and Hawaiian influence. Try ‘Tasmanian Wings’, ‘Dunk Island Pretzels’ ‘Oz Quesadilla’ ‘Mildura Ribs’ and lots of items with the title ‘Cobber’ or ‘Wally’. 

The piece-de-resistance was the Bicentennial Grande Parade on Saturday evening. EVERYONE attended this. Chairs had been placed in the prime viewing positions the day before. We sat near the end of the procession on the lawn of a friend of David’s parents.  All manner of local businesses and clubs took part, including the current festival queen and attendants, and those from 50 years ago! Abundant fire engines, services vehicles, marching bands and floats made for a colourful and vibrant procession. The copious candy flung from parade participants ensured that the interest of children was maintained.

Bernadette volunteered to drive us to Pittsburgh Saturday evening. We were so appreciative as it was a long drive there (and back) and we were all suitably exhausted (thank you so much Bernadette!) We had found a 4 star hotel in Pittsburgh through Hotwire, and although more expensive than we wanted to pay, we thought it was all worth it when we lay in our comfy beds (that didn’t try to ‘kill’ us as the Timberlane’s had tried to do to David), and were central enough to do some very fast tourist sight-seeing the next morning. This involved a walk through Pittsburgh’s theatre district to Point State Park (at the junction of the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio Rivers), and the site of the original Fort Pitt (after British Prime Minister Pitt and origin of Pittsburgh’s name) where we were able to view several Pittsburgh landmarks including the Carnegie Museum, Heinz Field (home of Steelers and Panthers football teams) and PNC Park (home of Pirates baseball team). 

It was such a shame that our plane was delayed by three hours as it would have meant the boys (and us) were not so bored hanging around the airport and would have enabled us to visit the Andy Warhol Museum, other Carnegie museums or the National Aviary – some must-sees of Pittsburgh – oh well, another time perhaps… 

We arrived home, eventually, in time for dinner, some unpacking, and ended up collapsing into bed. We had a wonderful weekend, great company, heaps to keep the kids entertained and some great memories.