Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Our BIG move

(**This post ought to come with a warning...it is quite long. I had initially thought this post would be in 2 parts, but couldn't decide how to carve it up. So here it is as one long post. **)

Now that we have been in Australia for a week, I finally have some time to post about our trip. It was a busy few days leading up to the BIG move. Here's a summary of how those days unfolded.

I left the boys with my parents and drove to the Twin Cities. This was a big day for two reasons. First, it was my sister's girls' night out before her wedding on Saturday. Second, Paul was flying in from Sydney later that night.

After checking into the hotel where we would be staying for the wedding and enlisting the help of an unsuspecting concierge to help me move my seven 50-lb suitcases and additional carry-ons (more on our luggage in a moment), I headed to downtown Minneapolis to meet up with the girls at the Brit's Pub. They had secured a couple of tables on the roof adjacent to the bowling greens. It was a lovely, warm and windy later Spring evening. And the bride-to-be, my sister Laura, looked fantastic.

I left Laura's party and drove to the airport to get my darling husband. Paul flew in from Sydney (via Los Angeles and Chicago) and arrived at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport right on time. It was so great to see him - he had been in Sydney for 7 weeks!!

The best thing about Friday was reuniting Paul and the boys - well, Paul and Vincent (Desmond was just excited to have somebody around to smile at him and hold him!) Vincent was so pleased to see his daddy again - and I think that Paul was equally excited to see his boys.

The day was busy with last minute wedding stuff. Laura and her bridal party had a mani/pedi appointment and then lunch to follow. It was so much fun hanging out with the girls. Friday evening was the wedding rehearsal and groom's dinner. The groom's parents had reserved Victor's 1959 Cafe - the Cuban food and the conversation were both wonderful!

Laura and Paul at Victor's

Wedding day!! Laura and Nick's wedding was a beautiful celebration of their love for each other. The entire event was low stress. Laura was a stunning bride. And Nick ensured that the ceremony and reception had some great live jazz. The beautiful bouquets, corsages, and boutineers by The Monkey Flower Group featured locally-sourced plants and flowers. And I cannot wait to see the photos from Natalie Champa Jennings. Until then, here are two of my (very amateur) photographic highlights:

The evening concluded back at our hotel, where we had a mini-impromptu family reunion with my mom's cousins who were visiting from Wisconsin and Iowa. The conversation is always fantastic when this side of the family gets together!

Today was the BIG moving day! Paul and I spent the morning packing the last suitcase and carry-ons. In the end, we had a few things that just wouldn't fit. But, all-in-all, we did quite well. After stopping by Laura and Nick's apartment for gift opening and wedding food leftovers, we headed to the airport. Mom and Dad met us there to help us unload all of our luggage. In the end, we checked eight 50-pound bags (all of them were 49, 49.5 or 50 pounds - the weight limit is 50 pounds), plus Vincent's car seat. We were then also able to gate check through to Sydney three of our carry-ons. We also had a diaper bag, 2 backpacks, Vincent's backpack, Desmond's car seat, and a food bag.
Dad and Paul help Vincent move our luggage out of our hotel room.
The good-bye at the airport was really tough. My parents had good-bye gifts for the boys - Vincent got Jeremy the Jet Plane from Thomas the Tank Engine and Desmond got a cute pink stuffed pig, which we affectionately call Cora (short for Decorah). Lots of tears were shed as we hugged our final good-byes.

We made it through security with little drama (although Vincent was not very keen to let the TSA people put his newly acquired Jeremy though the x-ray machine...) We found our gate and waited for our flight. While we were sitting there, Vincent turned to me and said, "Mama, why is it called an 'airport' if it's not in the air?" I told him that I did not know.

We flew with United Airlines from Minneapolis to San Francisco. I have very few good things to say about United. On this occasion, the airline managed to book seats for us that were not allowed for Desmond's car seat. The flight attendant was not helpful in assisting us in swapping seats with somebody. In fact, he told us that we would have to ask somebody, even though it was the airline's fault for not assigning us an appropriate seat. Luckily for us, there was a woman who was very willing to swap seats with us. Furthermore, as we were boarding the plan, hands full with a baby, a 3-year-old, a car seat, luggage, etc., I asked one of the flight attendants if she might hold the diaper bag for me or stow it in one of the overhead bins for me while I tried not to drop Desmond. She looked at me with disdain and told me, "No, I can't [help you]. I have to close the overhead bins. Besides, I have bad wrists." Luckily for me, another passenger heard this exchange, told me that he used to travel with his children all the time, and offered to put the diaper bag in a space in the overhead bin above his seat. I don't want to turn this blog post into a rant against United Airlines - so let me just say this: the people who work for United need to take a lesson from the guests who fly with them.

With the car seat in place in the seat next to the window and both boys buckled in, I made myself as comfortable as possible between them. (Paul was seated in the middle seat directly behind me). Before long, we were on the runway, picking up speed to take off. As the force of the plane's acceleration pushed us back in our seats, Vincent looked at me wide-eyed and said, "Wow! I like being on an airplane!"

The flight to San Francisco was fairly uneventful, except for one meltdown moment from Vincent, which I blame on the solar eclipse which was happening at the exact same moment. Although I did not see the eclipse, people in the seats around us did. We arrived in San Francisco on time and found our way to the Air New Zealand gate. I had called the airline several weeks before our departure and had booked seats in the bulkhead row so that we could get a bassinet for Desmond. We boarded the plane, made ourselves at home, and settled in for the 12.5-hour flight to Auckland. It was around 9pm local time - 11pm Minnesota time. Both boys were sound asleep before the massive, half-full 747 left the ground.

Fortunately for us, both boys slept most of the way to New Zealand. Vincent slept for at least 5 hours. He was up for about an hour to have something to eat and watch some of the kids' in-flight entertainment. I then gave him some benedryl and he fell asleep again. He woke with about 30 minutes left in the flight. Desmond slept in spurts and we alternated putting him in his car seat and the bassinet (which he only just fit in to!) The decision we made to buy him a seat for his car seat was one of the best things we did on this trip - he weights approximately 22lbs/10kg - much to heavy to hold for a long-haul flight across the Pacific Ocean.

Since both of the boys slept, Paul and I were able to get some sleep as well. Being at the bulkhead made it easy to stretch out a bit in an attempt to get comfortable. The Air New Zealand flight attendants were excellent - very courteous and accommodating. I look forward to flying with them again.

We landed in Auckland just before sunrise on Tuesday morning. Thanks to the International Dateline, we lost Monday. We had only a short layover in New Zealand before boarding our final Air NZ flight for the last 3-hour hop from Auckland to Sydney. Luckily for Vincent, he was able to get a window seat in the 2-3-2 configuration of the aircraft.

And Desmond got a middle seat between me and a very nice woman who had a few young children of her own. She enjoyed entertaining Desmond when he was awake (which wasn't very often...)

As the sun rose over the Pacific, the Australian coast materialized in the distance, just beyond the Air NZ wing tip:

Before we knew it, we were descending into Sydney. Vincent was full of questions: Are we on the ground yet? What boat is that in the water? Are we on the ground yet? When will I see my cousins? Is this Australia? Are we on the ground yet? Why do I need to put the table up? Are we on the ground yet? Why are the flaps moving? Are we on the ground yet?

Finally, we landed at Sydney International Airport.

Vincent's first look at the Sydney International Airport

We gathered our belongings, disembarked the plane, made our way through immigration in record time, and located the baggage carousel for our flight. Paul was in charge of getting all 11 suitcases + stroller + car seat, while I put Desmond in my Mobi wrap baby carrier (so as to have 2 free hands) and answered Vincent's unending stream of questions. Before long, Paul had precariously loaded all of our bags onto two carts. Fortunately, while I was waiting for Paul's return from the over-size baggage area (where he went to collect Vincent's car seat and our stroller), one of the customs agents came over and cleared us through customs.

And so, with Desmond strapped to the front of me and Vincent dancing around next to me, I followed Paul out the of the customs and immigration area, through the automatic double doors and into the arrivals hall at Sydney International Airport.

We had finally arrived! 

Paul's parents, sister and brother-in-law met us at the airport, and, after loading up our luggage into a trailer behind one of the cars, they drove us to our new home in Asquith, one of Sydney's northern suburbs.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Our BIG move - a photographic preview

We have arrived at our new home in Australia! Since our arrival, I've been having problems logging into Google (the company behind this blogging service), so I have not had a chance to update my blog. But the issues have been resolved, and I hope to have some new posts up soon. I am also trying out the Blogger app on my phone. So hopefully this works!

In the meanwhile, here are some highlights of our trip.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The top 5 things I will miss about Decorah

For about a week and a half, the boys and I have been staying at my parents' house in Decorah, Iowa. I was raised in this lovely town in northeast Iowa, and I am so grateful that my parents have continued to live here so that we can bring our boys back here to visit. Although they moved out of my childhood home several years ago, visiting their "new" house feels like coming home.

Over the past several days, I have come to realize just how special this place is.  Perhaps it is because I have lived in many different countries and  larger cities since I left for college. Or maybe it is because I am now a mama with kids of my own. I am painfully aware that I my perspective is framed by rose-colored glasses. As the date of our departure to Sydney looms closer than ever on the horizon (we leave on May 20), I am faced with the hard reality that it may be a few years before I am able to come back to Decorah to visit.

And so, I have come up with a list of the top 5 things I will miss about Decorah.

Number 5: You see people you know everywhere you go.
Growing up, this feature of living in Decorah was anything but a perk. But now, I find it comforting to see familiar faces around town. In the past week, I have run into friends from school, parents of friends, friends of my parents, and kids (now adults) for whom I used to babysit. It has been great to catch up with people I haven't seen in years and introduce my boys to friends from my past.

Number 4: It takes 5 minutes to get anywhere in town.
In the recent past, the cities in which I have lived (the Twin Cities, the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area, and Sydney) have a minimum transportation time of 20 minutes (on a good day, in dry, sunny - but not too sunny - weather). I have to admit that I am still getting used to the fact that it only takes 5 minutes to get from my parents' house to practically anywhere in town. Decorah is also very biker- and pedestrian-friendly. They have almost completed a new bike trail that I can't wait to try when I come back to town.

Number 3: Parks
If you have ever lived in or visited Decorah, you know that this town has some amazing parks. From Phelps Park to the Fish Hatchery to the new "natural" play area at West Side School, the boys (well, Vincent in particular) LOVES to go the various parks. Over the past week, we have been to Phelps Park twice and have frequented the Fish Hatchery on previous visits (maybe we will get there later today). And Vincent really enjoys playing at the new natural playground at West Side School. The natural playground is within walking distance of my parents' house and the other two are - you guessed it - a five minute drive (give or take a few minutes).

Vincent playing at the Natural Playground at West Side School

Vincent playing at Phelps Park

Feeding the fish at the Fish Hatchery

Number 2: My parents' house
I LOVE my parents' house. It sits on the edge of town. They only have neighbors on one side and the house overlooks the town prairie. From their deck, all you can see are trees, green leaves and grass, prairie, and glimpses of the Upper Iowa River, which flows through town. My mom is an accomplished gardener and she has the most beautiful flower gardens in her backyard. My parents also love birds - they have multiple bird feeders which provide a variety of different kinds of food to several species of birds. The boys and I love to sit on the 3-season porch and watch all the different kinds of birds come to the feeders.
A hummingbird at the feeder

The view from the deck at my parents' house

My mom's garden

My parents' house is also a comfortable home. And I am really going to miss visiting on a regular basis.

And the Number 1 thing I am going to miss (more than anything else) is.....

My mom and dad.

It will be difficult knowing that I can't call or text regularly, and I have gotten used to seeing them every few weeks. And the boys LOVE spending time with them - they are FANTASTIC grandparents! But we will be speaking regularly on video Skype and they are coming to visit for Christmas and New Years!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Never thought we'd be a "daycare family"

Earlier this week, the boys and I had to say good-bye to a "family" I never expected to have - a daycare family. When Vincent was 18 months old, we decided that he would benefit from spending some time with other people his size. So we enrolled him in daycare. We chose a place rather randomly - it was close to home but on the way to work and seemed to be a nice enough place.

Since Vincent's first day at the Kindercare in Eagan, Minnesota in September 2010, we have been nothing short of completely impressed with the care he received. We found that the teachers truly loved their jobs and the children for whom they cared. During the last two years, Vincent blossomed from a shy boy to an outgoing, independent 3 year old. With the help of his teachers, he learned and mastered a wide variety of "book" skills, social skills, and gross motor skills. He developed friendships with boys and girls from different ethnic backgrounds. And the staff accommodated his food allergies - in fact, he never experienced an allergic reaction while in their care.

When Desmond was born in September 2011, I knew that I would need to go back to work after only 6 weeks. It was very difficult for me to leave him in the care of another person, but I knew that he would be cared for and loved by the teachers in the infant room. By the time he was 6 months, he would smile at and reach for his teachers when we walked into his room in the morning. Not only were the boys welcomed at Kindercare, Paul and I were welcomed into the Kindercare family as well. I was fortunate to have time in my schedule to breastfeed Desmond at Kindercare during my lunch break. And the teachers always made me feel at home in the infant room.

To the staff at Kindercare in Eagan (near Cliff and 35E) - thank you, thank you, thank you! We will miss you dearly.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"Operation: Find a new house" is a SUCCESS!

Paul, the boys and I have been "basement dwellers" the past few weeks. Paul has been living in his sister's basement and the boys and I have been living in my aunt and uncle's basement in St. Paul and now are living in my parents' basement in Decorah. We haven't really been homeless, but we have been without a home since closing on our house in Burnsville early last week.

But now we are happy to report that will have a house to move into when we arrive in Sydney on May 22!

Paul found us a cute little 3-bedroom house in the northern Sydney suburb of Asquith. It is in a great neighborhood near Paul's sister's family and our friends and is a 10-minute walk to the train station. And then it will be a 45-50 train ride for Paul to get to work.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Last day at work and house hunting in Sydney

Today was my last day at Argosy (my admin job that helps to pay the bills). It was a pretty quiet last day - school is on break, so not much has been going on all week. Since most folks weren't around, I will be stopping by the department again on Monday to say a few final good-byes. It's been an ok job.For the past year, I supported 15 full-time faculty members and 230 students in the doctoral program in clinical psychology. And even though I was the resident musicologist, most days it felt like I was the therapist offering support and advice to the psychology faculty and graduate students!

I still have one more day of teaching - Monday will be the final exam for Music History I at Concordia University - St. Paul.

Paul is spending today (well, tomorrow in Sydney - I guess it all depends on your perspective) looking for a place for us to live. We have already Skyped twice tonight as he visits various houses and apartments that are open for inspection today. Hopefully by the end of the day we will have a list of several to which we can submit applications. The goal is to have a place to live when we land in Sydney on May 22.

Both boys are doing well. They are enjoying our stay at my aunt and uncle's house in St. Paul. I guess the only "big" news is that Desmond is getting his first tooth in (finally!)

Thus ends another chapter. As my aunt Kathi so eloquently stated: "Another ending makes room for another beginning."

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Goodbye house

This weekend, we moved out of our house in Burnsville. We moved into that house in April 2009, two weeks after Vincent was born. And now, almost exactly 3 years later, we moved out. Although the process has been, at times, overwhelming and very exhausting, it has been the best possible result of a difficult situation. A quick recap might be in order...

At the end of 2011, Paul and I began to discuss (in broad and general terms) what it might mean to move back to Australia. It was a lot of hypotheticals and "what ifs" with no real plans. We had numerous reasons to stay in Minnesota and the same reasons to move back to Sydney. So we decided that we would just see what happened. In January, we saw a job advertised at the University of Sydney that we thought would be perfect for Paul, so he decided to apply. Two Skype interviews later (the first while the entire family was stricken with a terrible and very messy tummy bug!) and the University of Sydney offered him the job - Manager, Reporting & Data Analysis for Advancement Services. Although it was an incredibly difficult decision, we decided that we would move our family to Sydney. Because of my work commitments and my sister's upcoming wedding, we decided that it would be best if Paul went to Sydney first to get settled, find a place for us to live and buy a car, while I stayed in Burnsville with the boys. He would fly back to the US in the middle of May for my sister's wedding; then we would move - as a family - to Sydney.

At the end of March, we put our house on the market (with no real hope of selling it), packed up Paul, and took him to the airport. As I was driving away from the airport, following a tearful goodbye to Paul, our real estate agent phoned to tell me that there was an offer on our house - after being on the market for only 3 weeks. We would not be facing a short sale and the buyer wanted to close on April 30! What followed was a very nervous period as we waiting for the appraisal and inspection reports - but in the end, the purchase was approved.

It was a huge sigh of relief - but it also marked the start of the dismantling of our household. Paul and I decided that we would not be shipping anything to our new home in Sydney. As I keep telling Vincent, "If it doesn't fit in a suitcase, we can't take it." With the amazing help of my parents, sister, and future brother-in-law, I sold, gave away, sorted, packed and threw out everything we owned. Cleansing and cathartic - but also a huge task. But in the end, with a big push from my mom and dad, I was successful.

As I drove away from the house last night for the final time, I was crying. Sad? Yes. Overwhelmed? Sure. Relieved? You bet. Grateful? Without a doubt.

We close on the house this afternoon. (Note: Of course, by "we" I mean "me." Paul is still in Sydney. So guess who gets to sign all of those forms associated with the sale of a house? Me. Twice. I have Power of Attorney for Paul - so every time I have to sign my name, I also have to print/sign his name. Lucky me.)

Although we only lived in that house on the lake for 3 years, it was an amazing 3 years. Here are some memories from our relatively short stay on E 125th St:

- Vincent's first steps in our living room
- writing and completing my dissertation
- the massive project of planting native shrubs and grasses along our shoreline (thanks to everybody who helped!) and the construction of a rock wall and steps for lake access
- the numerous nights rocking the boys to sleep (and waking up with them in the middle of the night)
- Vincent's naming ceremony
- Paul's mini-home improvement projects (work benches, fenced area for our garbage/recycling bins)
- our veggie patch
- making jars and jars of salsa
- buying a new water heater
- watching the sun set over our little lake
- playing duplos, blocks, and trains
- watching all the amazing wildlife on our lake: trumpeter swans, bald eagle, mallard and wood ducks, geese,  muskrats, fish, turtles, egrets, hooded mergansers
- teaching Vincent how to ride his little red trike - and watching him grow with confidence as he learned to zip around and around and around the cul-de-sac

And perhaps the most amazing and unforgettable memory --
- the birth of Desmond at home - with Paul as midwife

Thank you, house, for keeping our family safe these past 3 years. We will cherish the memories.