Thursday, November 21, 2013


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


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.


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 (40ºC) 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.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Half-arsed Halloween

To be fair, we'd only arrived back from Australia three days earlier. I didn't get my shit together before our trip, which gave me very little time to prepare for Halloween after our return. I'd like to blame jet lag (at least partially) but let's face it - I've never been the type to sit down and lovingly make costumes from scratch. If I can buy it for under twenty bucks, that's what I call a happy result.

Exhibit A: Halloween 2010 (our first Halloween in the US)
The Faery's Cinderella - Target 
Miss Pie's jack o'lantern - Old Navy

Exhibit B - Halloween 2011 (our second Halloween in the US)
The Faery's cowgirl - skirt and boots already owned (Target?), flannel top from KMart for the cowgirl look,
hat and badge from The Party Store
Miss Pie's cupcake - Old Navy 

 Exhibit C - Halloween 2012 (our third)
Miss Pie's pirate princess - Costco
The Faery's pirate princess - Amazon

Which brings me to our most recent effort. In the past, I'd at least managed to carve some pumpkins, string up some fake spider webs and make a sign or two. This year, we were away for a good chunk of October, so decorating was non-existent - with the exception of one hastily carved pumpkin the night before.

I didn't worry too much about the lack of fun decorations. Our home is in a tiny side street, part of a group of just five townhouses. Neighbours had told us there was very little pedestrian traffic on Halloween, so it didn't look like we'd be getting many - if any - trick or treaters.

One other issue was the climate. With our Californian Halloweens, two of those days saw temperatures soar above 30ºC and the main issue then was keeping the kids from overheating. With absolutely no chance of that happening in Seattle (it's been COLD), we had to think about how the kids would stay warm enough during their trick or treating rounds. In all likelihood, puffy down jackets were going to be covering up their costumes anyway.

Their costumes could have been worse. I hit the lazy jackpot when Miss Pie declared she wanted to be Cinderella - we still had the Faery's first Halloween costume kicking around in the dress-up basket. It was falling apart but Miss Pie was happy to wear it. Yay for hand-me-downs, right?

As for the Faery, she wanted to be a ninja. A quick Google search for kids' ninja costumes convinced me it would be okay to dig out her old (black) Karate uniform, have her wear her dark navy hoodie underneath, and and an old red coat's belt (mine), plus a shimmery scarf (mine) to cover her face. Granted, it didn't look as 'smart' as her half-dozen male classmates' store-bought ninja costumes... but I was impressed that she was the only girl ninja in her class (there was a class Halloween party in the morning).

Allow me to present....

Exhibit D: Halloween 2013
The Faery's ninja - total half-arsed job
Miss Pie's Cinderella - lazy hand-me-down 

There is a bit of a happy ending to this unprepared Halloween. A little schoolmate's family invited us to their place for dinner, in a different neighbourhood. They have a gathering each year with other kids and their families - everyone brings a dish, the dads all take the kids trick or treating, and the mums all stay back and drink wine while handing out the treats.

Totally my kind of way to spend Halloween. We had such a great time that I even forgot to take many photos. The above one is sadly the best shot I had, taken in the chaos as all the kids were getting ready to go door-knocking.

J and I were almost delirious with fatigue - you know, since we'd only been back three days and had to get straight back into work and school routines - but we were more than glad to have the opportunity to make some new friends. It was an interesting mix - a little United Nations. Most of the families were Indian, Persian, Swedish, Brazilian, Chinese, German and Serbian... with us Aussies thrown into the mix. The evening led to more invitations for playdates and parties, and I'm happy to say I know a few more friendly faces I can chat to at school now.

For a day that had minimum effort put in, it turned out to be surprisingly fun. Who knows? Next Halloween, even I might dress up...