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