Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The belated-everything edition

This is the murky post where I remember that - oops - November was the 3rd anniversary of this blog, and I was fully intending to write about that. A month ago.

It's also the murky post where I share pretty photos of a festive nature from the lead up to Christmas.

It's the post where I briefly mention how crazy these last few weeks have especially been - starting a new job, having my wisdom teeth extracted (timing, right?), playing host to family members that visited, and officially breaking in my new role as (co-) Girl Scouts Brownie troop leader. Who knows, I may even touch more on this another day. God only knows, I've been meaning to write about several of these things for some time now.

It's the post where I quickly rave about the wonderful little trip downtown that we made on Christmas Eve, in the hope of wearing out the girls nicely for the night. It's where I share a pic or two from Christmas Day, and wax lyrical about the beautiful outing we had the next day to Gas Works Park. Okay, 'wax lyical' might be a tad exaggerated... but you get the idea.

It's also the post where I throw in the fact that we have visits in January from more family, and close friends from L.A... and I wonder about how the hell people work, live life, entertain, host, and find the time to blog? Regularly? It may be my way of excusing the upcoming lack of posts - unless I have an insomniac episode, in which case, blogging will be perfectly easy to fit in. I'll see what I can do.

In mean time, here are some photos... see you in 2014.













Monday, December 30, 2013

The boy who cried snow











Over the last month, there have been three separate occasions where the weather app on my phone predicted snow. Each time, we all got our hopes up, only to be disappointed the next day when the snow never eventuated, or the little snow icon changed to a boring old cloud or rain icon. Boo.

The last time that little snow icon popped up, we tried not to get too excited. It was probably just another false alarm, right? Still, when I woke up in the early hours of the morning for a loo visit, I couldn't help but peek through my bedroom window's blinds... and when I saw a soft white glow covering the trees and road below, I had to wake up J to show him. We couldn't tell if the snow was still falling or not, so we tiptoed into the girls' room for a better look out their window, where the street lamp would answer our question.

It was still falling, and we stood watching for a minute, hushed whispers as we discussed how we'd spend the day (I was pretty sure that school would be cancelled). As we whispered, our voices must have woken the Faery because she stirred, saw us looking out of her window, and then sprang out of bed to see the snow.

It was still early, so in attempt to keep Miss Pie from waking, we offered a space in our bed to the Faery. She eagerly accepted, but spent the next hour tossing and turning - too excited about her first proper snow day to let sleep pull her back in.

After a while, I accepted that I, too, was a little too revved up to fall asleep again, so I switched my phone on and found two recorded messages from the school district. The first one had been left at 6am, and notified that school would be starting two hours later than usual. I almost deleted the next message without listening, thinking it would be the same, but then saw it had been left at 7.20am, so I listened. Due to 'worsening weather', school was cancelled. It was supposed to have been the last day of school before the Christmas break, and the Faery was a little bummed not to give her card and gift to her teacher, but the lure of snow play outweighed any bad feelings there (and her teacher emailed all the parents with the loveliest thoughts and sentiments for the students to read about their hard work so far).

For part of their Christmas presents, J and I had bought some snow/cold weather boots and mittens/gloves for the girls. We decided that they may as well receive them early, so as they ate their breakfast, I hurriedly wrapped the gifts in our closet, and then presented them.

Then, thermal underwear on and new snow accessories in check, we headed outside. I only had rain boots for myself, which I discovered do not keep feet warm enough, but it was worth it. We had snow ball fights, I took photos, the girls built a snowman with J, I took more photos, then we shovelled snow from our sloped driveway and found a bag of chunky salt to spread, worried about slush freezing to ice later. Then we piled on more layers of coats and walked to our local park and embarked on more snowball fights and snowman-building... along with dozens of other kids. It turns out that baseball fields are an excellent source of endless snowball-rolling, and snow-forts.

Eventually we decided to head home again, and passing the last cul-de-sac before our street, found a number of the Faery's classmates on their sleds, so home was delayed a little longer while the Faery and Miss Pie joined in and took turns on various sleds. As we walked home, the Faery chatted about how the weather app had wrongly forecast snow a few times, so she hadn't really believed that it would snow on this day: Mum, it's like the boy who cried wolf, but instead, it was the boy who cried snow!

By midday, the swirls of snow had given way to soft rain. By the end of the day, much of the snow had melted, and by the following day, the only evidence of snow were the occasional piles left where the biggest shovel-fuls and snowmen had been scattered around town. Just grey skies and drizzle, business as usual. We were all a little sad, but it was a fabulous start to our Christmas break and I'm crossing my fingers that we get more snow, locally, this winter.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Yesterday, I looked out my bathroom window and noticed a very long icicle suspended from one of the down pipes. That is how cold it is now. Nonetheless, I got a small thrill from seeing this - I hadn't seen any icicles in real life since our trip to Sweden more than ten years ago.

Seattle's weather has been a truly mixed bag in recent weeks. The standard grey wet days have been outnumbered by crystal clear skies. There's also been some amazing fog to behold, and now I understand why people liken it to some kind of shapeshifting entity. One morning I drove J to work, and the fog had lifted from when we first got up. After dropping him off in sunshine, I got onto a freeway and headed off to get some errands done. As I merged lanes and checked my rear view mirror, I saw Mt Rainier behind me - clearer and brighter than I'd seen in a month or so. Less than a minute later, I entered such heavy fog that I couldn't see immediately in front of me, and the exit signs couldn't be read. Deep breaths and headlights flicked on, I had to rely on my memory of the route to know when to exit. Then - once I exited - I was fog-free and in sunshine again. Given my dislike of driving on freeways, I was hi-fiving myself when I arrived at my destination.

In other news, I'm now part of the employed world. After four years out, it's time to start feeling useful again. The more I looked into it, the less of an option teaching is at this point in time. Unlike in Sydney, part-time EFL teaching positions seem to be non-existent - not to mention working hours that fit in with school and preschool. Factor in the costs of after-school care/babysitting, and childcare for Miss Pie and, well, I may as well just be working a minimum wage job on the side instead...

...which is what is what I'm doing. I'll be working several evenings a week, maybe some Saturday shifts too, and not have to worry about childcare for two kids on different schedules, because J will be home. The hourly rate is less than what I've earned in many, many years, so that's taken a little time to get my head around. Then there's the fact that part of me worries a little about encounters with the school parents in my area - so many of who seem to have high-flying careers, or present the image of the perfect stay-at-home, gym-honed, soccer moms - and may judge me to be less educated than I actually am.

I was worried at first, but then I thought, fuck it. In this economic climate, plenty of people accept jobs that they may be overqualified for. If there's something wrong with getting out and meeting people a few evenings a week, bringing in some extra dollars, and feeling useful, then so be it. I've been doing training stints over the past week, and surprisingly, enjoying the social side of it - seeing co-workers banter, and realising how I've missed that.

For legal reasons, I won't be able to identify where I work, or talk shop, so apart from this post it's likely to be a part of my life I'll keep separate from the blog. It's nothing exciting anyway (although who knows where it may lead to), so let's just leave it at that. I just had to mention it because, you know, the first job in four years is kind of a big deal, regardless of what it is. At any rate, it's going to be interesting to compare my work experiences in a third country now.

So. Here's to winter, trying to keep warm, and employment.













Thursday, November 21, 2013

Frostilicious

After what has felt like endless weeks of dreary grey skies, icy winds, and rain rain rain, I was woken up yesterday by the moonlight peering into our bedroom. Moonlight? Visible moonlight? By the time my alarm went off, the sky was a beautiful mixture of pink and lavender tones.

Setting off to the bus stop where the Faery catches her school bus, we noticed the the grass was dusted in frost. I made sure to go for a stroll around one of the nearby bays while Miss Pie was at preschool, and I was mesmerised by the frosted, sparkling landscape. This morning was much the same, but with an even thicker frost and white rooftops everywhere.

This isn't the first time I've encountered heavy frost - after all, J and I spent nearly five years in the U.K. - but when you're in your twenties and rushing to catch the next train to work, sometimes nursing a hangover from the previous night's pub shenanigans, frost isn't really a detail that bleeps largely on the radar. It's there, but not that interesting. Just bloody cold. I do remember one time though, stepping over a puddle and realising it was frozen. Naturally, out of curiosity, I stepped back and onto the puddle... and promptly slipped over onto my arse. I then managed to slip on the exact same puddle two more times that week. Alcohol wasn't even involved; I'm just clumsy at the best of times.

But I digress. One of the things about having kids is you get to see the world through their eyes. Frost is very much a new thing for my daughters, and to watch them touch it, step on it, and feel the grass crunch beneath their feet... is a lot of fun. I wonder how long the novelty will last?




Thursday, November 14, 2013

November musings





Ma'am

For my first few years in the US, whenever someone addressed me as "Ma'am", I couldn't help but turn and look behind me, certain that there must be an older woman standing nearby. Ma'am just isn't used in Australia, so my associations with that word are purely based on American films and TV shows. I certainly never felt like a ma'am... and then the other day as I was on a stroll, a male driver pulled up and asked me for directions. He addressed me as ma'am, and I liked it. I especially love the way people from the South use it so frequently.

It's one of those words that seems to be used out of respect and politeness, and I've come to appreciate that. Outside of the US, there's a stereotype about Americans being rude and without manners but that hasn't been my experience while living here. I'll admit that I used to hold those same preconceptions about Americans, but living here has changed that.


Nature 

The current autumnal weather means the grounds are overloaded with leaves, and it's beautiful. About a week ago, we had a huge windstorm overnight which pretty much took our power out for most of the weekend (not cool, Seattle, not cool - especially at this time of year). Something that feels odd at times, though, is sweeping or vacuuming the pine needles that get tracked into our home. For me, pine needles indoors has only ever been in connection with having a real Christmas tree, so - without a Christmas tree in sight yet - I can't help but smile when I find pine needles on our floor.

Another aspect of living in such a damp environment is the sheer amount of moss everywhere. It makes me grateful to be living in a building which isn't sheltered by trees, as I've seen a lot of green fuzzy rooftops around. In addition to the moss, I've now become aware of lichens - something I'd never really encountered (or at least noticed) in the past. Bare trees are now sprouting lichens up and down their trunks and along branches, and wooden fences are covered the same way. The soft blue-green delicate patterns remind me of snowflakes, and I'm finding myself peering for closer glimpses on my walks.

Going for walks isn't something I'm doing a great deal of these days. The cold and wet isn't something I've embraced yet, so I'm feeling a little like a hermit. Today, I thought Well, we've got months and months and months of this to go, so it's time to put your big girl panties on and go for a walk in the rain with Miss Pie. Deal with it. Get used to it.

So we did... and it was even less of an adventure than I'd hoped for. When we left the house, it was lightly raining and although we each had raincoats on, Miss Pie wanted to bring an umbrella too. Part of me was thinking, but if we're going to be locals, we have to learn not to bother with umbrellas... and then the other part of me reminded myself, fuck it, you hate water streaming off the top of your hood and into yours eyes... so the umbrellas won.

Then only two blocks down the hill, the whining began. Her umbrella was tricky to carry. She didn't want it up. She didn't want it down. She didn't want to carry it. Water was seeping into her boots through brand new holes at the heels (a record time for new boots not lasting). Her socks were getting wet and sticky. She didn't want sticky feet. Her hands were cold. Her mittens were getting wet.

At that point, we were more than halfway to the destination I had in mind (a French bakery) so I pushed on... and then the mother of all deluges kicked in. No amount of umbrellas or raincoats or functional boots could have kept us comfortably warm or dry. Once we got to the bakery, hot chocolate, coffee and pastries saved the day. We warmed up, watched the rain get even heavier out the windows, thanked our lucky stars that we were inside, and then waited for the rain to ease. The pastries were so good, I was tempted to just spend the entire afternoon there, stuffing my face.

Thankfully, by the time we made our getaway, the rain did stop. It was a steep hill back home, and I braced myself for even more whining... but with the rain gone, suddenly everything in Miss Pie's world was hunky dory. Puddles to stomp in (wet socks be damned). Slushy piles of leaves to kick. More puddles. More leaves. Water-droplet enhanced spider webs to admire. Gurgling storm water drains to watch.

The walk back home was the walk I'd been hoping for when we'd first set off.

I'm not sure how many months of cold wetness I can handle though. People here - other transplants - tell me the first winter is the hardest. Locals - born and bred - laugh and tell me every winter sucks.

High time I learned to make mulled wine then. I have a feeling I'll be needing it...


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

36 hours in Sydney

As far as cities go, Sydney will always be my first love. We weren't able to spend much time there on our most recent trip back - more of a bookend to the two weeks - but we made sure that we stayed in a hotel in the heart of the city for our first two nights back.

Experience has taught us that the best way to adjust to the time zones is to force ourselves right into the swing of things and forget about naps - no matter how exhausted we are, no matter how early our flight arrived (6.30am!). We keep the whip cracking, run the kids ragged all day, and then we tend to all fall into a heap for a solid twelve-hour sleep that first heavenly night.

After arriving, we caught a taxi to our hotel in the CBD and were lucky enough to be able to check into our room super early. After refreshing ourselves, and before the girls had a chance to fall asleep, we made our way to Circular Quay. The plan was to catch a ferry to Manly so that we could spend the afternoon with a couple of close friends. Manly holds a special place in my heart, as it was the school holiday destination of choice when I was a child. My grandma would take me on the ferry, we'd buy hot chips and ice cream, and sit on the beach. I've wanted to take my own kids there since forever but ran out of time during our visit last year, so we made sure it was top of the list this time.







After a hot (40ÂșC) afternoon, we returned to the city and wound up at Hyde Park - just a short stroll from our hotel. There was an incredible public art installation with over three hundred mirrors. It was getting dark, and we were knackered but we found it hard to leave. We eventually dragged ourselves back to the hotel, fell into bed, closed our eyes, and suddenly it was morning. I love those kinds of deep sleeps.


After that huge sleep, we needed to get some bureaucratic stuff sorted (US visas renewed) and once that was tackled, we wandered around with some good old Sydney coffee. See all that sandstone on those buildings below? I miss seeing that. I used to work only a block away, and always loved walking around these parts.


On a whim, we took the girls to the Sydney Aquarium. We were lucky enough to see a platypus swimming around (as opposed to the usual hiding out they do) and to this day, the Faery has not stopped talking about it. The girls were also pretty enamoured with this dugong.


After a bit of a late afternoon rest in our hotel room, we headed back to Hyde Park for some dinner at the Night Noodle Markets (Lobster Pad Thai for me!), and another visit to the mirror installation.




We briefly met up at the park with an old friend, and during the crazy sunset light, I took myself off for a little time out and photo-taking mission. I'm not eloquent to express it properly, but the hustle and bustle of Sydney - especially on a spring evening - is one of my happy places. Having said that... Sydney? I don't miss your traffic. It's gnarly, and not in a cool way. Near the end of our trip, we needed to drive from my best friend's home to my brother's home, and what should have been a forty-five minute drive turned into two hours. Not cool, Sydney. Not cool.



I'm so glad we were able to have this time together - just us as a unit of four - before the busy family obligations kicked in. Also, we weren't to know it then, but a massively stressful shadow would soon hang over our trip when Miss Pie's passport's location became unknown for a week (courtesy of the US Consulate). We could have done without that!

After our quick break in Sydney, our next stop was Canberra for my sister-in-law's wedding... but more on that some other time.