Wednesday, April 26, 2006

ANZAC day, hug an Aussie, etc.

There is little knowledge of ANZAC Day, Gallipoli, etc. over here (no surprises there)... except for one of Paul’s colleagues, Kerem, who is out from Turkey at the moment and gave Paul an appreciation of what the commemoration means for the Turkish people. Of course, there were many, many more Turkish than allied casualties. The thing we found interesting was that the first World War was a defining moment for Turkey as a nation. Prior to this event, the Ottoman Empire were like a muslim-based ‘collective’ of different groups. In a nutshell, the War provided the impetus for the Turks to unite as a single national group.

My friend Deborah, who had visited ANZAC Cove some time ago, had told me about the beautiful inscription there that provides a tribute to those that died at Gallipoli:

" Those heroes that shed their blood and

lost their lives...! You are now lying in

the soul of a friendly country, therefore

rest in peace. There is no differences between

the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they

lie side by side here in this country of ours...

You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away

countries wipe away your tears. Your sons are now

lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having

lost their lives on this land they have become

our sons as well."

ATATURK, (1934).

We ‘celebrated’ ANZAC day on Sunday at a local pub, The Globe, with a number of other Aussies and watched Peter Weir’s Gallipoli. This apparently is an annual tradition, instigated by Warwick, a tall Melbournian who, (I am sure was his class clown) has been in Chicago for about 5 years and moonlights at The Globe as a bar tender on Tuesday nights. We ate Australian roast lamb and listened to a medley of Australian songs (Still Call Australia Home, Road to Gundagai, Bound for South Australia, Waltzing Matilda) played by another Aussie on the bag pipes. The music was really stirring (bagpipes are so powerful - particularly in a confined space), and brought a tear to the eye. We felt a little homesick again... Paul was due to go to an official ANZAC Day event at the Australian Consulate on ANZAC Day (25th April), but a tummy and tiredness bug that has affected us all, had Paul working from home, and not inclined to go out at all.

Today it is ‘officially’ Hug-an-Australian Day. Well, so Paul’s brother Rowan tells us. Rowan and his wife Shirley live in Houston, Texas. Rowan wrote to me earlier to tell me he had received quite a few hugs from people at his work and he found this “nice, if a little odd”.

The weather has been all over the place. T-shirt days have been followed by days that require the winter woolies once again. On Monday we met Margaret and her children Liam and Fiona at the zoo - it was a gloriously sunny day and we were in short sleeves. Yesterday I ventured out in the morning to witness rain and 3°C! Today is somewhere in between. Paul is working from home, Nic is asleep, and as it is currently 13°C, I am going to take a little boy out for a walk....

....We are now back from our walk. Warm in the sunshine, a little cool in the shade. Luc and I went to the Austrian Bakery & Deli for a piece of cake. A lady there was making marzipan characters (that looked like little Mozarts). As Luc was eating his lemon mousse cake (his choice), she brought over an exquisite little marzipan lady bug she had made especially for Luc. Upon species identification, Luc immediately ate it! Next stop was the Edo Sushi restaurant where we asked for a ‘carry out’ (take-away) menu, and ended up having lunch. Luc is a big fan of sushi. He loves the pickled ginger, miso soup and sushi rice (including the more tender sashimi) but is a little wary of wasabi. I think it might be related to a former incident involving wasabi peas... and lots of water to follow. It was time to go home after Luc locked the door of the restaurant (unbeknownst to me) and another diner had to get up to let some customers in.

The photo above was taken at the zoo on Monday. The polar bear took quite an interest in Buzz Lightyear.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Eggcellent Weekend

We had a lovely weekend over Easter. On Saturday morning, John, Yoly & Joseph visited and we went to a local park at North Pond, Lincoln Park. Luc and Joseph had a great time on the swings, followed by an Easter egg hunt. Luc and I had coloured almost 20 hardboiled eggs on Friday, and I hid these amongst some trees and shrubs. It was a very successful hunt once we explained to Joseph that the aim of the game was not to squash the eggs.

Luc became a little egg crazy so I coloured some more eggs for him to crack and eat (see photo above). He wanted to eat the all in one sitting. I drew the line at three. Flashback to the egg scene from Cool Hand Luke?!

Sunday it rained. Paul ordered in breakfast from Ritters – omelettes, turnovers, coffee – our answer to going out for breakfast, and a fill of eggs for us. Later in the day we attempted a walk with the rain cover over the stroller but gave up when it started to really pour.

Easter does not have the same significance here as it does in Australia. Instead of public holidays for Good Friday and Easter Monday, it appears to be up to the employer whether or not their employees will have time off. Most shops were open Friday with some closed on Easter Sunday. Paul had the day off work on Monday. We treated this as our Easter Sunday and arranged another egg hunt for Luc and Nic. This time the hunt was for chocolate eggs, a couple of finger puppets, a fluffy chicken in a mug, and a knitted stuffed bunny for Nic. Luc was so excited. Nic showed an immediate affection for his bunny by stuffing it in his mouth. It was pure joy to watch the boys.

I don’t know if I had left the search too late, or was just looking in the wrong locations, but I found it really difficult to find chocolate Easter eggs. In Australia, Easter Eggs and Hot Cross Buns seem to appear on supermarket shelves as soon as the Christmas decorations are cleared away. Not so here. I finally found some in Starbucks (of all places!) in a Easter Egg Hunt kit.

Monday afternoon, we made a visit to Oz Park. An attempt at playing soccer with Luc was aborted once he placed the ball under a spindly bush, then made a beeline for a big muddy puddle while I was trying to retrieve the ball. I was too late. Luc was too wet. Paul took the boys home while I caught a cab to buy a few household items in the North Clybourn area.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Warm again!

Thank you for all your good thoughts and best wishes. We are through all the dramas now and can begin to laugh a bit about all the tribulations of the last week.

The story continued with me ringing Peoples Energy again at 2pm to find out how far away the inspector might be. They told me that my 11:30am call had been recorded and they would respond accordingly. I asked about my 7:30am call. I was told that I had made no such call… and oh, someone should be out by 10pm. I lost it. I rang Paul and the tone of my voice was enough to send him packing. He was on his way home when the gas inspector arrived. The inspector got all grumpy as he thought that the plumber had not finished the job and had left the fireplace ‘live’. Than goodness Paul arrived to explain that the plumber had totally ‘disabled’ the fireplace (to be fixed at a later date). Our gas was reconnected by 4pm, only some 72 hours after being disconnected - but I was happy.

It was warm outside, we had missed out on another beautiful day. I took Luc for a walk so Paul could continue with his work. We were in our ugg boots, lots of layers, jumpers (sweaters) and jackets (as it had been so cold inside), only to find people walking around in shorts and t-shirts. We soon stripped off and took advantage of the great weather, chatting to almost every dog (and their owners) on the way. We visited a lovely gift shop around the corner, Climate Home, and I bought a toy for each boy: a plush robot with magnetic feet as chosen by Luc, a Skwish for Nic and ”Dirty Bertie”, a book my Aunt Margaret likes reading with her grandchildren. The shop’s owner seemed to be very kid tolerant, with Luc running from one breakable to the next. It made sense that he would be so tolerant, when he told me he was the first of 12 children!

Both boys adore the Skwish – the first toy they are really going to fight over. It is a great toy for Nic, being light, ‘grippable’, colourful and with moving parts. It has maintained his interest more than any other toy so far. He is even reluctant for Luc to wrench it away from him!

Our ‘space’ seemed to be somewhat compromised over the last week since we moved in, with the following interruptions: Saturday – delivery from IKEA, bed from Sears; Sunday – Luc’s bed delivery, Cable guy to install internet and TV connections, Peapod with grocery delivery; Monday – Handyman to check hot water system leak and items to be repaired; Wednesday – Handyman to fix intercom, etc.; Thursday – Chad to measure hot water cabinet; Friday – Gas inspectors, plumber # 1, sofa delivery; Saturday – Chad to dismantle fireplace, Plumber #2; Sunday – Plumber #2 again; Monday – Hot-water system installers, Gas inspector. No one is due today – phew!

I was loading the washing machine earlier, catching up on some of the washing that accumulated during our ‘shut-down’, when I heard Nic cry out. I went to investigate as he doesn’t usually yell out, and he wasn’t hungry, wet, nor tired. I found Luc leaning over him, kissing Nic’s forehead profusely. Nic had a reddening dent in his head. Luc looked very guilty. I gave Nic a cuddle and chastised Luc. Luc then picked up a plastic water bottle and banged his head with it. Nic laughed. Luc hit his head again, Nic laughed again. The more he hit his head, the more that Nic laughed and cackled.

Oh well…. life goes on.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Breaking Point

I am in tears… this is all too much. I have been so stoic until now… treating everything as an adventure… but now, it all seems just too much and I have had enough. If we don’t have our gas turned on in a couple of hours then we are leaving! Well, we will be off to a hotel anyway.

We had Mike, the gas contractor out on Saturday night. His compressor was out of power, so he was not able to test the lines to find the offending gas leak. He told us he would be back on Sunday after lunch. We were cursing ourselves for having a late lunch, as he was running late and was not able to make it over until after 4pm. He did his best to fix the situation and found and repaired a leak near the location where the leak was detected. He could not properly test the system as there was no gas to run through the lines. We called Peoples Energy to come and reconnect our gas. They were sorry, but as their “computer system was down”, they could not dispatch anyone – I would have to call back after 7am Monday morning.

Yet another day without a shower and I was becoming more than a little irritated. I am so thankful that I bought an electric kettle as this enabled sponge bathing and a bath for Nic in the kitchen sink. Paul ‘cuddled’ Luc to sleep, providing some much needed body warmth after he had noticed Luc’s lips going blue during story time. We are totally hamstrung: no heating, no hot water, no stove, no oven, no ability to even wash clothes (as the clothes dryer is gas powered). We only have the bare essentials with us: no extra blankets or doonas (duvets) to help with the cold, and a limited supply of clothes. We were so optimistic about this whole system being resolved quickly – perhaps we should have gone to a hotel as soon as the gas was turned off on Friday. Another really annoying point was being trapped at home while we waited for plumbers, technicians etc. The weather was superb: a lovely clear weekend and we had to make sure someone was home at all times to provide access. Luc and I managed to escape for a little while on Sunday afternoon, and made it to Oz Park. Luc had a great time playing soccer, chasing dogs, and playing on an adventure playground. I had to drag him away from the park before he became too dirty and too cold (as we had little in the way to resolve either). Paul, the big darling he is, snuck out in the evening and bought some chai, chocolates and pudding to steam in the microwave to make me feel a little better... and a little warmer.

After several attempts this morning, I finally got through to Peoples Energy at about 7:30am and was told that a technician would be there very soon. In the meantime, Home Depot called at around 9am to let me know that the tradesmen would be there to install the new hot water system in the next hour. The hot water system is now installed. Of course, the technicians were not able to test for any gas leaks within their connections as the gas has not been turned on! One step closer to my hot shower...

11:30am - four hours after my call to Peoples Energy and still no sign of any technician. I called to find out how far away they might be, only to be told that my call had not been logged! I could not believe it. I got in touch with Paul to make sure that I had not dreamed the whole phone call. He assured me that I had indeed phoned – I was not dreaming. This is the straw that has driven me to tears.

Saturday, April 8, 2006

Are we jinxed?

We are beginning to wonder if there is some bad karma regarding our new apartment. We love it, but there are several things that have happened during the last week that make it seem as if we are having a string of bad luck.

The first bad thing to happen was when we were checking out the apartment with the owner, Narci, last Friday. Narci was in Chicago for a couple of days (she lives in California). She took the time to show us the roof deck to explain which areas were private and which were common property. It had just started to drizzle, so we made our way downstairs – several flights of wooden stairs back to the apartment’s back door. Paul was carrying Luc and I was following, carrying Nic. I heard a terrible thud thud, only to find Paul lying on his back on the stairs and Luc heading down the stairs on his back, head-first. Luc was OK, but Paul suffered some awful grazes on his elbows and wrist and a huge amount of bruising on his bottom (as was apparent a few days later). Suffice to say, he was not happy.

The next thing to happen was when we began to move in on Saturday. We were just about to leave to pick up some furniture when we heard a loud sound of gushing water. Our first thought was that it was coming from the apartment above, only to find that it was the overflow on the hot water system in our apartment. We got in touch with the real estate agent, and then Narci. We turned the system off and Narci arranged for a handyman to come and have a look at it on Monday. The system had been turned up very high and had therefore overheated. It looked as though the thermostat had broken as there was not enough hot water when turned on to a low heat. Narci agreed to have a new and larger system to be installed (hopefully this coming Monday). After moving in Sunday we had found another couple of items to be fixed including a fixed plug / stopper in the boy’s bathroom that wouldn’t seal (and therefore would leak water and not allow the bath to fill), the intercom system that wouldn’t allow us to talk to or hear visitors at the front door, a fridge door that swung open (but not closed), a back door that would stick, a lifting carpet strip and a couple of ‘proud’ nails jutting out of the hardwood floors. A visit from a handyman was arranged and these items have now all been rectified.

We had noticed a gas smell when we first visited the apartment. This smell seemed to be in the living area and we noticed that it appeared to come and go. I spoke to a couple of people about this, and it was recommended that I call the gas supplier to come and have a look (and smell) to see if there was a leak – particularly important as Nic is lying on the floor for the majority of his wake time. I rang Peoples Energy on Friday and was told that an inspector would be around within the hour. The inspectors arrived and used a Geiger-counter type of device to check for leaks. The stove was OK but gas was detected near the gas-log fire place. The inspectors then told me that they were going to shut down the gas, and lock the meter. The gas would be turned back on once we had the leak found and fixed. I rang Narci and a number of Narci’s contacts in Chicago to find out how we would possibly arrange for a gas plumber to come out on a Friday afternoon (not an easy task anywhere!). Gas is kind of important in this place as it runs the hot water, cooking and the heating. The thought of losing any of these services was horrifying to say the least – given that temperatures are dropping to -1°C overnight, and we have young children that need to be bathed (not to mention ourselves!). Narci rang to tell us she would put us up in a hotel until the problem was fixed! We felt so guilty that all these problems seemed to be occurring since we took possession of the place, and were beginning to wonder if we were jinxed (Narci admitted that she wondering the same). We decided we could survive for the short term in the apartment, hoping the problems might be resolved quickly.

We had a plumber come around on Friday night. He took one look at the granite hearth, timber floorboards and timber mouldings and mantle surrounding the fireplace, and said a carpenter would need to be called to rip up the floorboards / hearth / wall, before he could get to work. One of Narci’s friends, Chad, believed there must be a simpler solution to reaching the gas line and so came around this morning to dismantle the fireplace. Upon doing this, it was discovered that the gas pipes actually run through the wall, and not under the floorboards. The plumber from last night wasn’t able to make it today, but another plumber, Mike from Andy’s Plumbing said he could make it after 7pm. He has two young children himself (one only 2 weeks old) and I think he felt a little sorry for us. It is now 9pm and Mike is just about to test the system to find out where the leak might be. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Lincoln Park

No not Linkin Park, which was my first thought on hearing this name (an ‘alternative’ metal / hip hop music band), but Lincoln Park, the suburb or neighbourhood in Chicago. This is where we now live.

We made the move over the last weekend. Who thought that moving with so few belongings could be such a massive task. We needed to be at the new apartment to take delivery of some furniture items, services installation, etc., while juggling two boys who needed entertaining, picking up some furniture, packing up our belongings, transporting items, and cleaning the old apartment (for the next tenant – Kerem from Herzum’s Turkey office, who was arriving on Monday). We had Katie amuse Luc on Saturday (a huge relief), but we were absolutely exhausted by the end of the weekend. Paul had hired a mini van to help us with the move. I am so grateful that he is (reasonably) happy to do the driving. I have not yet summonsed the nerve to drive, let alone park a large vehicle in narrow, busy, one-way streets where parking is at an absolute premium.

Despite an acute lack of street parking, Lincoln Park is an excellent neighbourhood, with a great feel, some fantastic architecture and lots of trees (still devoid of leaves… but we are waiting!). The area is very well serviced with parks, transport, supermarkets, hardware stores, restaurants and cafes. We are a short walk away from the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Lincoln Park, Oz Park and the Lincoln Park Zoo. Within about a 100 metre radius of our apartment we have Einstein Brothers Bagels, an Austrian Bakery & Deli, Starbucks, Caribou Coffee (and other coffee options), a supermarket, a couple of Irish Pubs, Tapas, Algerian Crepes, Mexican, Italian, Indian, Pizza and Sushi restaurants (and still more), Tin Tin ice cream and gelataria, bike shop, Children’s’ Memorial Hospital, hairdressers, a plethora of record shops and drycleaners, comic store, etc. etc. Paul came home today saying “I am in heaven” (after he had made a quick recognisance of the bike shop and ice cream store after stepping off his bus).

One of the most distinctive features of the neighbourhood is its housing. Predominantly 3 floors in height (dispersed with some medium-rise apartment blocks), the architecture is distinctive with a great diversity of style and material. Victorian, Queen Anne, Georgian, Neo-gothic, Deco styles all abut one another. With a number of ‘single family’ dwellings, the majority of buildings appear to be apartment buildings with a single apartment per floor. This is the type of building we have moved into. Our apartment (or condominum) takes up the second floor of our building with an apartment above and one below. A shared basement provides a lock-up and area to store bicycles (this is a great facility for an apartment). We discovered just last Friday (after we had already signed up for the apartment) that there is a roof deck as well. The deck is sectioned into several discrete seating areas – potentially a great area to sit in the sun or witness the 4th July fireworks.

We have fallen in love with our apartment, despite the utter chaos and lack of seating (floor cushions have outlived their charm). The space seems so homely. Perhaps it is the timber floorboards that remind us of our house in Brisbane? It is larger than our house! Our landlady, Narci, is great – going as far as to replace the hot water service with a larger unit to better service a family!