Tuesday, February 28, 2006

“the elevator has just gone down...”

Today was cold but lovely and sunny so I decided to take the boys on an outing... Destination: Garfield Park and its lovely old Conservatory, now about 100 years old. The Conservatory is a huge glasshouse, full of exotic plants. It really is a great place to go when it is cold, to hang out with a bunch of arid plants (and their warm climate). A huge palm house, an immense fern house and a magnificent display of spring azaleas, camellias and other bulb plants, were all highlights. A fish pond with large Koi fish and a Children’s Garden were the definite winners. The Children’s Garden included an area with large foam play blocks, a twisting twining vine to climb upon, large Monsteria leaves to peak through, and a curly slide - all assisting with the tiring out of a toddler. The staff were lovely and there were no crowds to get lost amongst: the perfect place to beat the winter chills.

A real highlight for Luc was catching a train to the Conservatory. This was a task that did require some research as the main train services are either the subway or the ‘L’. As these both have numerous stairs to negotiate and to navigate with a stroller, I really needed to make sure that the train stations we required had access for the disabled, i.e. an ‘elevator’ (or ‘lift’). The ‘L’ is so named due to it’s ‘elevated’ nature. The tracks are located a couple of storeys above the ground (mostly with the road network running beneath). The L provides a great vantage point for the city as it runs right through it (and over it!) and is not segregated to a separate rail corridor or under the ground.

All went well with our journey and we were just about to leave the station of Clinton (right next to our apartment) when a CTA official told me that “the elevator has just gone down”. No problem I thought, I will wait until it comes back up... until I realised that what she was actually telling me was that the elevator was broken. This caused some momentary panic. My cell phone had just run out of charge and there was no way that I could possibly get a stroller down the stairs. The CTA lady told me she could not help me as CTA officials were not allowed to lift anything. Instead, she set off to recruit a fellow commuter to assist! Be it Chicago, or the renowned mid-western hospitality, there always seem to be people around ready to help - willingly. Lucky for us, the elevator repair man came to our rescue and we were on our way in about 5 minutes - PHEW!

After doing a little research on the ‘L’, I began to think that perhaps ‘Granville’ was not the best name for a location on a train line - refer to the links re: Sydney’s Granville and Chicago’s Granville to see what I mean.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Weekend No 2

We have just spent our 2nd weekend in this great city. Although still cold (maximums around 1 to 4°C), the sun was out... and so were we! On Saturday we visited the Shedd Aquarium as a family. I had brought the two boys here by myself and found it quite a stressful visit trying to manage both a baby and a toddler that dearly likes to explore - solo. Having a toddler-lead and Paul helped immensely. The Aquarium has several themed zones - a few too many to visit with only toddler-attention-span time... but the Wild Reef (full of sharks) and the Carribean Reef (full of Nemo-type coral-dwelling tropical fish & crustaceans) have been very appealing.

From the Aquarium we caught a cab to Millennium Park - this time a little warmer. After doing a couple of laps around the Crown Fountain, we had a look at the spectacular Cloud Gate or sculpture. Although largely cordoned off due to some final grinding and polishing works being undertaken on its ‘omphalos’, it is still very popular. We also had a look at architect Frank Gehry’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion. The pavilion was reminiscent of some of Gehry’s other works including the Guggenheim Museum which I visited in Bibao, Spain back in 2000 (and absolutely adored).

On Sunday, we made the trek to Wishbone for brunch. This place is an institution and a reasonably short walk from our apartment. I could sense Paul’s growing vexation as we arrived to see a crowd of people waiting outside and then to find a huge throng of people waiting for a table (it appeared that there were more people waiting for a table than were actually seated. It did not look good. My growing hunger ensured that we persevere, even though I think Paul would have easily called it quits. We asked for a table and were given a beeper /pager. Despite the apparent chaos, a very efficient system saw us seated (with high chair) in a seemingly short time. The staff were extremely good humoured (and efficient) given the huge volume of customers. The food served is Southern so is comprised of hearty portions of ingredients such as grits, corncakes, crawfish, biscuits (what we would call scones), catfish and heaps of egg and pancake variations. We had a great time here, even with children in tow, and will return...

Katie, our baby sitter arrived to look after the boys while Paul and I were driven around the north of the city by a realtor (real estate agent). Nancy Hearon was recommended to us by Polly. Nancy is super-efficient and had arranged for us to visit 6 properties to gain both an appreciation of what our money might be able to rent, and a feel for the neighbourhoods of Lincoln Park and Lake View. The first property we visited was a very grand and impressive apartment that, although within our budget, did not have the key criteria (open plan kitchen / living, internal laundry, the ‘L’, Lincoln Park Zoo...) - we would have taken this place on its immense size and fantastic kitchen alone (each bedroom had its own ensuite - including one next to the ‘maid’s room’!). The second property was less than appealing and reminded me of the overpriced student hovels to be found in South Yarra (Melbourne). The third property we saw struck both Paul and myself as being perfect for our needs. A little small, with a couple of flights of stairs to negotiate, this apartment in Lincoln Park seems to fit the majority of our criteria. We are putting in an application for it tomorrow!

As the age gap closes, Luc and Nic are becoming better and better mates. Nic really responds to Luc and, as a result, Luc pays him more attention. Nic has started to ‘mouth’ items. Luc became a little anxious as he first handed his toys to Nic, and then retrieved them from Nic’s mouth “Nic... no bite Buzz” “No bite Zurg”, “No bite Woody”...

Paul has started a second blog (!) that is less technical and concentrates more upon his ‘take’ of Chicago. Check it out at http://www.pgearon.blogspot.com/

Saturday, February 25, 2006

High F#@*tose corn syrup

High Fructose Corn Syrup. This stuff appears to be the sweetener of choice for the majority of food products in this country (apart from all that artificial nonsense). We hate the stuff as it is just too sweet and it tastes disgusting. A big deal is made of any product if it happens to contain ‘cane sugar’. Given the predominance of the sugar industry in Australia, it is strange for us to think of anything else being used as a sweetener.

The use of the corn syrup, coupled with Paul’s disparaging comments regarding food production through his reading of Fast Food Nation has lead to me being a little more vigilant about reading food labels since we have been here. Organic options seem to be more appealing.

It is difficult to find the time and the motivation to shop, let alone supermarket shop (with the boys, the cold weather, and without a car). At least we can be assured that nothing is going to melt on the trip home! I have therefore become quite accustomed to on-line shopping, and as of last week, on-line grocery shopping.

I accessed a site called Peapod (on the advice of Lynn) and placed a grocery order. This took some time as I read the ingredient information of practically every item I chose (still looking for a plain white rice that hasn’t been coated in glucose!). I completed the order at around 4pm Tuesday afternoon, and presto, it was delivered at 7am Wednesday morning! (Orders can be taken until 8pm if a morning delivery is required). The delivery included green grocery items and frozen goods and included a number or organic lines. I was most impressed with both the quality of the produce and the efficiency in which it arrived. We will definitely be using this service in the future for ‘big shops’.

The photo above was taken by Paul during our morning’s visit to the Shedd Aquarium. The Aquarium is located on Lake Michigan to the south of downtown Chicago. It is a fantastic place with some excellent exhibits (and a lot of fish!). Being an indoor activity, I took the boys here last week. I bought a family membership with the expectation that we will be visiting this place on numerous occasions.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Homesick? let me count the ways...

Paul started to construct a mental list of all the reasons he was feeling a little homesick, precipitated by... our door being pounded upon by a couple of (really large) burly Chicago police officers at about 4:30am.

First: we can’t get our social security numbers until immigration forwards our paperwork to the social security agency ... and the inability to do anything without a social security number.

Second: me not being able to get a social security number due to the fact that I have to ‘apply’ for permission to work (at a cost of $180), even though the E3 visa we were issued expressly allows me to work.

Third: the fact that our phone isn’t yet connected due to the absence of us having social security numbers.

Fourth: the rigmarole surrounding finding a doctor to give Nicolas his 4 month immunisations - no, we don’t have social security numbers, our health insurance doesn’t begin until April 1st, trying to establish whether our health care cover policy will be recognised by certain medical practices (they each have their preferred cover policies - not necessarily agencies - and there are zillions of these), no we can’t be given a quote for how much immunisations will cost without insurance... perhaps $300... perhaps not.

Fifth: it is so cold, we can’t do too much with the boys in this weather without transport (and it would cost $180 per month to garage a car in our apartment complex)... and the fact that we came from a climate where park visits were possible virtually every day of the year.

Sixth: having no credit history in this country, we are faced with paying a 3 month rental security deposit before even moving into rental accommodation.

Seventh: not being able to establish a credit history without having social security numbers.

Eighth: Luc being able to escape from the apartment - despite roadblocks including a large box and the stroller with its brakes on... and the fact that we came from a house that was safe and secure for the boys.

It was this last point that brought the police officers to our door this morning. Luc had woken, and let himself out sometime through the night. A married couple found him crying and distraught on the 4th floor sometime around 4am. They took him down to building reception where they sat with him for some time until he was retrieved by us. The doorman could not reach us (no, our phone has not yet been connected!), and so the police were called to try and get our attention... AND THEY CERTAINLY DID! Paul thought that by having boys, we could expect a visit from the police at some time through their lives... he didn’t quite expect it at the age of two! Paul thanked the neighbours who found him with a huge box of Godiva chocolates... Luc’s Houdini act looks like costing us a fortune in thank you presents!

Now that building management has received two reports from the doormen about an escaping child, they finally responded to our request for additional security - we now have a chain lock so Luc should not be able to escape anymore. (Paul is already worrying about Luc dragging over a chair to reach the chain...)

Saturday, February 18, 2006


We had an interesting start to our day. Paul and I had a little sleep in (until 8:30am) when we were about to get the boys up for nappy changes and breakfast. Paul went in to check in on Luc to find he wasn’t there! He wasn’t anywhere to be found in the apartment - we checked all rooms / cupboards / closets / Wiggle House, the corridor, rubbish room, etc. We started to really panic. Paul threw on some clothes and rushed down to see our building’s doorman. He found Victor, holding a pajama-clad Luc, looking a little ‘concerned’ but not too worried (after all, he had his essentials: Buzz Lightyear and his water bottle). Victor had tried to contact us but we didn’t hear him knock on our door (our ‘silent’ humidifier is anything but!). Victor made the not too subtle suggestion that a ‘pizza reward’ might be in order - Paul gave him enough money for three pizzas - we were so relieved to have Luc found. Victor had heard someone pushing the ‘call’ button in the lift, but no-one spoke when he answered the call - when he went to investigate, he found Luc! We had an inkling that this ‘might’ happen as there is no way we can lock our door securely from the inside.

We made a family visit to the Sears Tower today. This was the world’s tallest building for some time before being overtaken by Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. The views were stunning - we could see all the way to Michigan! From the Sears Tower we caught a cab to Millennium Park. This is an awesome park - one that we will need to spend more time in - particularly in summer. It was just too cold to spend anytime outdoors (-16°C) so we had an early dinner at Park Grill. This was a great establishment - popular with the pre-theatre set, but still very accommodating for young children. We watched people ice-skating outdoors... we are just so many miles away from sub-tropical Brisbane!

For those that have asked about setting up a web page, first get yourself an Apple computer (!), then a brilliant package called iWeb. This has templates that make web design and layout really easy. The .mac server provides a host for our web page and email. For those that are PC-based, perhaps a site called Go Daddy might be able to help. This is a web and email host service. There must be a heap of providers that provide similar services.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Beginning of week two

It is about time that I make another blog entry... several ‘gentle’ reminders have led me to do so. We have had a busy time since we arrived.

On Tuesday morning, the boys and I caught a cab north to an indoor play facility called Fantasy Kingdom. We met up with Polly and her son Callum and her friend Lynda and her sons Jack and Wyatt. I was introduced to Polly via Sharon, a friend from high school (thanks for the intro Sharon). Polly and her husband (originally from England) have lived in Chicago for a number of years with a stint in Amsterdam in between. We were able to catch up a little, while the boys had a great time on slides, playing trains and hooning around in little cars. Luc was in heaven when he found not only Buzz Lightyear, but a Woody doll as well. It took quite an effort to drag one very overtired little boy away from this facility.

Yesterday we ventured into the city to sign some paperwork at the Australian Consulate, have a quick lunch with Paul and then partake in a spot of shopping. I take the boys out in our Valco stroller with a toddler seat attachment on the front for Luc. Lynda tells me that Valco (from Australia) and Phil & Ted (from New Zealand) strollers are very popular over here. I wrapped Luc in a blanket yesterday, but am seeking some other means of keeping him warm (as the blanket is often discarded in transit).

Chicago is very accessible via stroller. It is nice and flat - none of the treacherous hills of Brisbane. The kerbs are rollover, or have pram ramps, most larger buildings have a disabled access door (with push button access), all the pedestrian crossings have automatic crossing signals (no buttons to press), the city has a grid street pattern (very easy to navigate) and the numbering system is very straightforward and foolproof... we are going to get great use out of our stroller - particularly during the warmer months.

Today it was a little too cold and wet to get out. Instead, Yolanda (Yoli, who works nearby) came over for lunch. It was really nice to have some more adult company, make friends and learn some more about this city.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Birthday boy

Today we celebrated Luc’s 2nd birthday. This was spent opening presents including a ‘fire na nee’ (fire engine), books, electronic match-up game and several sports balls. It was then off to meet John and Yolanda Nowak and their son Joseph at the Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier on Lake Michigan. This is an excellent museum and Luc had a fantastic time.

Once Paul retrieved Luc after he ran off to explore by himself, Luc became actively involved: building a pipe system, changing tyres on a car, playing with water and boats, building a block wall, digging for dinosaurs, playing with robotics, etc. There was some reluctance and screaming when it was time to leave! After some lunch, Luc went for a ride on a miniature train (3 times). Then it was off home for a snooze. When Luc woke up, there were yet more presents to unwrap (very generous gifts from the Nowaks - even a present for Nic). We shared some birthday cake with Luc and spent a warm afternoon indoors, playing with new toys while it snowed outside.

Thursday, February 9, 2006

We are here!

We are now in Chicago! We arrived safely (and exhausted) yesterday evening. Paul’s workmate John met us at the airport and drove us through peak hour traffic and falling snow to our apartment (for the next 8 or so weeks). He made us feel very welcome with some frozen pizzas and a bottle of red. Thank you John. The city skyline is truly spectacular at night as the fuzzy photo above will attest (note snowflakes).

Luc and Nic were excellent during the trip over. With over 17 hours flying time, lots of waiting in-between, missed meals and strange environments, the boy’s behaviour was commendable and even elicited comment from some (obviously relieved) fellow travellers.

When we finally got up and going today (after 2pm!) we set off for the Social Security office with the boys in our stroller. It was cold outside - top temperature of 2℃. Snow is forecast for tomorrow. We will need to get ourselves some more warm clothes. We visited Marshall Field’s department store, a very large store in an old building with stunning atrium. I was waiting for Paul and someone commented on how they liked my Ugg boots! Like that would ever happen in Australia.

I spent some time in the US during 1993, and again when we visited Hawaii last year... but, those little differences still astound: toilets so full of water that they look blocked, light switches that switch up to turn on, over 155 TV channels, built in sink plugs, light switches in bedrooms that do not appear to work as there are no ceiling or wall lights (switches are linked to power points instead), traffic travelling down streets on the right hand side, prices that don’t include tax, 100% fruit juice made from reconstituted juice with additives (I think that makes it 150% ?!?)... give us some time and this will become the norm.

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Departure Lounge

Here I sit in the Qantas Club at the Brisbane International Airport. We have checked in, passed through Passport Control and are now waiting to board our flight. It all seems a little surreal! Our house has been packed up and the contents are destined for Chicago and Chinchilla (for storage while we are gone).

We have just had some of the most stressful days trying to organise things and tie up (the majority of) our loose ends. For all those that we did not see before we departed, please accept our most sincere apologies - our time was completely taken up with preparing for our move. We crashed last night in a hotel, having a dinner of pizza and beer with some close friends. Luc wanted to go ‘home’ this morning... where is that now?!

Paul’s parents accompanied us to the airport to wish us farewell. A great big thank you to Paul and Naureen for all your help leading up to our departure. Farewell Australia... my next blog entry will be from the USA.

Sunday, February 5, 2006

Nic on the move

Give the boy a Bouncinette and he is on the move. We find it kind of funny to find out where Nic manages to move himself (across the dining room and into the kitchen, through the living area) in a such a short amount of time. Check out the Cuddle Nic movie for an idea of how he does it.

This morning he really scared us... Nic was lying with us on our bed when he made his first roll (from back to tummy). He even managed to extract his trapped arm (the arm he rolled onto). He is not yet 3 months old!

Both of our boys seem to be in a hurry to move. Luc was ‘combat’ crawling at 5 months and crawling on his hands and knees at 6 months of age. Nic is very wriggly and moves along his cot (crib) or along the floor whether on his back or his tummy.

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Ugg, ugg and away...

Our visas have arrived! It is now official... we will be leaving for Chicago next Wednesday. It is a real relief to finally be sure that everything has been approved and that we will be on our way... soon! Just as we had resigned ourselves to the fact that it might take weeks or even months before everything was sorted (given the experiences of others we know who have gone through the immigration / residency process).

The photo above is of the Ugg boots that I bought for Luc and myself from Ozbootz and Ugg booties for Nic from Ugg Store. It is a little disconcerting buying shoes online - but these all fit really well - and should keep our feet a little warmer. Snow has been forecast for this weekend. The temperature looks as it will be climbing by the time we arrive with Monday expecting a temperature range of -8℃ to 1℃. Brrrrrrrr

Paul’s Blog

I have now put a link to Paul’s Blog in a new page entitled Links.

Paul has been keeping a blog since 2004. He writes mostly about technical issues relating to his work and his research. His recent entries deal more with the trials and tribulations regarding our supposed move.

It was Paul’s blog that brought him to the attention of Herzum Software, the company that has employed Paul and is making the move to Chicago possible.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Boxed in

The packing has begun. Our house is now full of boxes. We have been left with our beds and furniture and several plates, bowls, a couple of mugs and glasses. Our crockery, cookware and most of our clothes are now inaccessible. It is kind of like camping out in our own house (although we are comfortable at the same time).

This morning we said goodbye to Paul’s brother Matthew and his friend Shaun (sp?). These boys helped us out tremendously over the last couple of days with a heap of sugar-soaping, undercoating the front fence and some general gardening work. Thank you so very much you two.

Our stress levels increased with a distinct lack of visas (we jump at the sound of any vehicle in our street), a car service (and resultant lack of car for a day, and long list of expensive items to be rectified for a road-worthiness certificate - required to sell the car), a suspected stolen wallet (after Paul found some strange guy entering our house - and the Pickfords man having his vehicle rifled through), and desperately trying to keep ahead of the packing. Very sleepy...