24 December 2009

Christmas Eve Ice

It snowed yesterday and overnight. The rain began this morning. It was freezing rain at first, then changing over to rain as the temperatures rose. The forecast is for more rain into the night then changing back to snow as the temperatures fall below freezing again. What a mess things will be on Christmas day!

Our neighbor was on his roof removing snow!

Neo and Tristan used the new snow to build snow folk.

I must be distracted by the ice and snow this year because I forgot about my appointment for one of my favorite events of the year: the Christmas Eve American red Cross blood drive at the Alliant Energy center. There is music, Santa, a festive atmosphere. Really a wonderful event - and I missed it.

While Neo was outside in the morning, he was waving a stick around. A piece of ice and the stick caught him in the eye. After Christmas Eve church service at Blackhawk church, I took him to the Urgent Care. He explained to the doctor what happened. He was very brave while they looked for any foreign matter. But he began to cry about 1/2 way through the eye irrigation procedure. What a way to spend Christmas Eve.

I think I hear Santa arrive about 11pm. Norad Santa watch confirms that.

22 December 2009

The Big Snow

The snow cover we had prior to the "big event"

On Tuesday 7 December, Dave left for work about 7am. There had been a 1-2 inch snowfall overnight - just enough to make the roads slippery. Dave called at 7:30 to say that he had lost control of his vehicle while merging onto the beltline. He said his car had done a 180. Fortunately, he was not injured and the car came to rest on the side of the road, facing the wrong way. He said he backed up and drove to work. There was a small amount of damage on the car - on the bumper. He was very fortunate.

Tuesday night the weather forecast was for a large storm coming our way. This storm had already created havoc for the western part of the United States. The school districts were convinced and closed for Wednesday before the snow really began. At 3am, we were awaken by flashes outside - lightning with the snow? Then there were pops and more flashes and our power went out. It stayed out for 2-1/2 hours.

By morning, there were 15 inches of snow on the ground. The snow event was one of the largest in Madison's history. The snow was wet and heavy. It clung everywhere! It was a beautiful morning. Everything covered in white. Many tree branches were down. The large pine tree next to our house had several broken branches...which might have been the popping noises we heard. The branches not broken were bent over from the weight of the snow.

With the temperature right at 32, it was a mild day - perfect to spend some time outside moving snow and playing in it.

Our kids helped with shoveling but also created snow forts and went sledding down the small hills in our backyard.

I had just gotten the snow thrower repaired and tuned up a couple of days before, perfect timing. Even with the snow blower, it was slow going clearing the snow from our driveway and sidewalks. Dave managed to injure his back while shoveling. He said he felt a disc move and heard a pop. He walked around bent over for most of a week. He finally went in for chiropractic adjustment on Friday 18 December.

Because of the amount of snow, the city of Madison was closed down. All nonessential employees were ordered to stay home.

The city roads were not cleared very well. On Thursday, schools were opened. Dave went into work. Zoe wasn't feeling well so stayed home from school. We drove Tristan to school, then stayed home. When it was time to pick Tristan up from school, we found that the city was still a mess. The roads were not cleared very well and still very slippery. Traffic crawled. It took me 40 minutes to get to Shorewood - a trip the usually takes 10 minutes.

There was a truck stopped on Regent street because the power line had dragged on it. Because of the truck, Clara's bus was diverted. It took her 1 hour and 10 minutes longer then usual to make it home.
Dave called to say the he had lost control of his car again on the way home. He said he had plowed into a snowbank to avoid hitting another vehicle. It took him 2 hours to get home after calling AAA for road assistance to get out of the snowbank.

21 December 2009

Catching Up

It's December 2009 and we've managed to get integrated into our old life, more or less. We are living in our house. I am working part time from home and managing our 4 unit apartment building. Dave is working at the same company he worked at prior to our departure. Tristan is back at Shorewood Elementary school. Clara is back at Hamilton Middle School. Zoe didn't want to go back to Shorewood, so we enrolled her at St. James school, where she happily attends 1st grade in a class with 14 students.

It took months to feel like we were "home." Part of this is because of the reception I received upon my return to Madison (for more details, follow this link then click the back button to continue on in the blog). It took Dave's work more then 2 months to bring him onboard upon our return. Getting into the swing of the schools and work really helped to settle us in.

We have some wonderful friends and neighbors. But these relationships have changed because of absence. We have changed too. We are settled. Madison and our house feel like "home" but....we'll keep our options open.

28 November 2009

Thanksgiving Visitor

Dave's mom, Grandma Stallman, came for a visit on Tuesday 24 November. She had some difficulties with unreliable aircraft on the way out, so her flights were changed and delayed....and her bag was lost. Her bag was delivered Tuesday night.

We enjoyed grocery shopping in preparation for Thanksgiving meal on Thursday 26 November. On turkey day, we worked together to create the Thanksgiving feast - including a turkey and a tofurky. Everything was delicious!

On Black Friday, I got up early to score a good deal on a new digital camera and other gifts. Clara came with me. The lines were incredibly long just to enter the Target store at 5:15 am - and the store had been open for 15 minutes already. Grandma gave each of the children money for Christmas and they spent it before the day was through. Grandma got to see the gifts they chose for themselves.

We went to Olbrich gardens as a family. It's a beautiful place and was a nice outing.

Grandma left for home early Saturday morning. She didn't have any trouble on the way back.

14 July 2009

A Week with the Cousins in Beautiful Washington

Neo 2-1/2 and Eve 1-1/2

"The Cousins" range in age from age 12 years to 18 months

The goal of our road trip through California and Oregon was to spend time with "the cousins". They live on the side of a mountain on the outskirts of beautiful Belfair, Washington with their mom and dad - Aunt Ranae and Uncle Paul. It was the first time they got to meet Neo. It was our first meeting of their youngest too.

Aunt Ranae at Olympia State Park

We arrived about 4pm on Sunday, July 5. We departed on Sunday, July 12 about 10:30am. During our visit, we went on several natural outings - to the beach of Puget Sound, the river, and state parks. We also visited the zoo in Tacoma and went to Chuckie Cheese to celebrate Isaac's birthday. But mostly we talked and the children played.

Zoe and Eve at the Zoo

Ranae made some delicious meals. Everyone ate a lot. The eight children made a lot of noise at times. They all got to stay up past their usual bedtimes. I was limping around on a painful knee.

Enjoying icecream and a video in the living area

Their very large dog, Teddy, frightened Neo a little at first because of his size. Clara was delighted to have a dog to walk. She didn't appreciate his early morning barking spree.

Clara with Teddy, Ian following

Everyone had a fantastic time! It's a visit my children will not soon forget. My three oldest were ready to remain on so they could continue to play and have fun.

On a hike

05 July 2009

CA to WA Road Trip - Part 2

On July 4, we left Eureka, CA for the 5 hour drive to Eugene, OR - 294 miles (474 km). We had the pleasure of driving in Redwoods National and State Parks. The first sights were the ocean with Black Sand beaches.

We liked the Smith State Park

The surprise of the day came when we took Hwy 199 from CA 101 toward Interstate Hwy 5. This road is a two lane hwy right through the heart of redwood forests. The trees are amazing....and the forests are magical and peaceful. With the fog hanging in the upper branches, and the sunlight streaming through, it was mystical.

The curves on Hwy 199 are sharp, and the speeds drop to 30mph in some places. There are lovely streams running through deep gorges. The natural beauty is amazing.

I was surprised to see the traffic from Oregon into California being diverted for inspections. There was a sign on our side of the road talking about fruit quarantine. Perhaps that is what they were looking for? But a state inspection?

Through the windscreen.

The vistas on Interstate Hwy 5 were of the majestic mountains. This road had some nice easy curves, and steep grades....both up and down.

Golden bears on either side and either end of this bridge.

Whale sighting! This one was in Crescent City, CA

Dave went to University of Oregon, Eugene years ago. He recommended we get New York style pizza from Sy's. We were a little concerned as we walked to the restaurant that it might be closed on July 4 - many were. We enjoyed our pizza supper then walked to the University to look around. Everyone enjoyed seeing a squirrel. We haven't seen one for months!

Neo and Zoe outside of Sy's Pizza - Neo pushed the stroller all the way

Zoe in front of the University of Oregon sign

The 4th of July fireworks were visible from just outside our hotel room. It was a nice treat for the entire family. It was fun to watch Neo so excited about them. He and Zoe were jumping up and down with delight.

We arrived in Belfair, WA a little before 4pm on Sunday. I was surprised how far off "the beaten path" the house is. As is the norm, we brought rain overnight to this area that hasn't seen it for months.

04 July 2009

California to Washington Road Trip - Part 1

The kids on Pier 39 with San Francisco in the background

On July 2, we began our long drive from Grover Beach to Belfair, WA via California Hwy 101. We decided to break it up into 4 days of driving with 3 overnights at hotels. Our first destination was San Francisco. The drive is 258 miles (416 km) or 4 hours and 20 minutes according to Google maps.

We drove through downtown San Francisco. Walked around Pier 39 for a while, taking in the sights. Then drove across the Golden Gate bridge to our hotel in Sausalito, CA.

Clara, Zoe and Neo with Golden Gate Bridge

The destination of our 2nd day, Friday July 3, was Eureka, CA - 278 miles (448 km), approx. 5 hours. Our going was slow due to traffic bottlenecks near SF and in other places further up the road. I suspect traffic was heavy due to the July 4th holiday weekend. I've heard that Hwy 101 is full of curves and hilly. We found that the curves are gentle and the hills provide an awesome view.

Zoe, Tristan and Neo on the stump of a Redwood tree.

Chandler, CA - Drive thru Tree Park

We loved the majestic redwood trees. We stopped at "The Drive thru Tree" Park. The tree is over 2000 years old. It's still living - even though cars drive through it daily.

Tristan in front of a redwood that splits

Santa Barbara Zoo

Clara on a lion statue at the Santa Barbara zoo

We arrived in Los Angeles from Brisbane, Australia on Saturday, June 27....4 hours before we left! The flight was just under 14 hours. After making our way through customs, and discovering that Neo's car seat and stroller were on a later flight, we took a taxi to Union Station. We took the train to Santa Barbara....Clara was the only one awake. Grandma and Grandpa Smith greeted us at the Amtrak Station and took us to get our rental car, then our hotel. We met later for pizza then off to bed for us.

Neo in the egg.

Sunday was a beautiful sunny day....perfect for going to the Santa Barbara zoo. It's a wonderful zoo - great size for visiting in one day. Grandma and Grandpa, Elena and Carmelo joined us.

Neo sliding down "the ant hill"

Zoe designed her own button at the zoo

We ate lunch at a new tex-mex restaurant. Delicious chicken tacos!! I haven't had tacos in a long time.

Neo, Tristan and Carmelo peering through the windows at the California Condors

01 July 2009

Brisbane Encore

Zoe and Tristan in front of a fountain in the Southbank Parklands (Brisbane river in background)

On Friday, June 26, we drove from our home in Macmasters Beach to New Castle airport. We left at 5am to catch a 7:50am flight. I had driven the route provided by "Where Is" a week ago and almost gave up finding the airport on several occasions. I drove back from the airport following the signs set up for new arrivals and found that much easier. We made it to the airport without incident!

Brisbane CBD, as seen across the Brisbane river

We arrived in Brisbane at 9am, collected our luggage, dropped it off at the hotel, and took the train to Southbank Parklands. What a different place in winter! It's lovely! Not steaming like we had experienced when we visited in November. We walked along the Brisbane riverwalk then got some lunch. We had intended to find a ferry that would take us to the Lone Pines Koala sanctuary, but found that it can't be done. We caught a cab.

This koala is in Kindy

The Lone Pines Koala sanctuary is fairly small, but nice. There were many internationals visiting.

Clara holding a chick

There was a small farm with sheep, goats, guinea pigs, and small horses. It was really raining when we were in the barn. There were demonstrations by sheep dogs in the paddock. We each cuddled a koala. Each of the older children had the opportunity to hold the koala and have their picture taken with it.

Zoe and Tristan at the Lone Pines sign.

We bought food for the kangaroos and wallabies. One kangaroo was forward enough to rip Tristan's food bag open.

The red kangaroos had recently been included in the enclosure and were still wary.

The emu was happy to eat out of my hand.

Here's a joey in his mother's pouch. Funny, with his hind leg sticking out too!

We really enjoyed the rainbow lorikeet feeding. The Lorikeets began gathering at 2pm for the 3pm feeding time. These lorikeets are WILD! But they come right up and are happy to sit on your arms, shoulder, or head!

Neo with with Wild Rainbow Lorikeet perched on his head!

The food was in a milk - and the Lorikeets used their tongues to lap it up!

We took the bus back to the Queen Street mall, this was a new experience. We grabbed a couple of sushi rolls, then went out onto Queen Street to make our way to Central Train station. We arrived back at our hotel a little before 6pm. We had a full apartment - two bedrooms upstairs, a living room and kitchenette. For the price of a standard hotel room. It was really wonderful.

Jo Laws, Oliver, Zoe, Clara, Tristan, Zoe, Neo and Me.

Jo Laws (from British Expats - they were also April applicants) and her family (Jon, Zoe, and Oliver) arrived a little while later with pizza. We chatted while the kids played. Zoe and Clara became friends in that short time. Amazing the wonderful people we have met on this journey.

29 June 2009

The last days of school

Zoe with her 60 Home Readers Certificate and Bookmark

Our children really love their school: Copacabana Public School. But the last week before our departure was rough.

On the last Friday, Tristan suffered a mild concussion.

On the last Tuesday, Zoe was sent to sick bay because she had a wave of nausea at the end of the day. She did vomit when she returned home and spent Wednesday at home with me. Wednesday afternoon she was doing OK, so we went to a birthday party she was invited to for her friends Izzy and Rylee. It was a lovely party and a beautiful day....at the Copacabana surf lifesaving club.

Thursday was the last day of school. Zoe woke up late and didn't want to go to school. Her teacher had organized a party on her behalf as a special lunchtime celebration.

Clara walked to school that morning. The lagoon had been let out again - this time a trench was dug by hand and it was smaller. There was standing water when Clara arrived in the morning and the tide was high. Instead of returning home for a ride to school, Clara decided to wade through the water. She was soaked to her buttocks! She didn't ask to call me, as I would have brought her a pair of pants to wear.

When I arrived at school, I heard that there was some confusion so I went to see her. We could not find any pants in lost and found and school did not have a change of clothes. So she had to wear the new skirt that I had bought her and we had planned to return to the store for a refund. She was not happy about having to wear her skirt.

Clara's teacher had arranged for the canteen to make cupcakes for the entire class to celebrate Clara's departure.

Tristan with his buddies Roan and Cullen

Tristan's teacher had organized a special card for Tristan. The card is huge and attached to it are many greetings - mini cards - from each of his classmates. Tristan had also been tested in his reading earlier in the week and scored as an "independent" reader. He brought home his "Wall of Fame" and all the spots had been filled in...an accomplishment not achieved by anyone else in the class.

Thursday afternoon, I brought Zoe in to her class a little before the bell. She was greeted warmly by her classmates. We took pictures.

After the bell, we went to Clara's room where she was chatting with her teacher. We took more pictures and said good bye.

As we walked out of the school yard, the principal and vice principal came to say good bye and wish us well.

Clara and Zoe with Principal Sue Lewis

The school was wonderful. My children thrived at Copacabana Public School: academically, socially, and spiritually. The teachers, students, and parents are awesome. Copa school is where my children made many friends. I also made many friends with the parents. We were well blessed to be part of this community.

Jennefer, the first parent friend I made at Copa School