Happy New Year 2016

Hmm, that was a much longer hiatus than I had planned.  Actually, I hadn’t planned on a hiatus at all.

The last year has been a whirlwind of adaptation, change, and re-adaptation.  All in all, it’s been a wonderful year, but such an enormous change was bound to be stressful, no matter how good.

We are coming up on the one-year anniversary of Jack and I arriving here. In some ways the time has flown – and in others it feels like we’ve always been here.

By February we had worked out the bus system, Jack had joined a dojo and a the local chess club, and life started to get busy.  The original dojo Jack had joined was a massive affair with one instructor and dozens of students.  It was very different from his Isshinryu experience, but it was also a very long way away, so in April he changed dojos to a much smaller one where he works more closely with his instructor and we don’t have to spend four hours traveling to get him there.   They also meet three nights a week, as opposed to only Saturday morning, and Jack regularly attends two of those.

I did take the photography class.  It was a lot of fun!  For six months I concentrated on photography and I got pretty decent.  However my class ended in early December, and I have taken few photos since my exhibition – and for some reason, they haven’t been very good pictures.  Oh well, I learned a great deal and I will pick the camera up again in the new year.  It’s been nice not to HAVE to do shoots every week for a few weeks.

One of the expected challenges of moving to a completely new culture has been the whole food issue.  We eat funny.  I have spend the best part of the last 12 months exploring the foods here, looking for safe versions of packaged foods and tracking down completely pastured meats. We have found a wonderful farm market and a pastured meat delivery service, so the basics are covered. We also have a lovely greengrocer and an IGA a very short walk from our new home, which covers most of the rest. But the exploration process – and a really bad and long lasting case of indulgence – has had some less than ideal effects on my health.

After 20 years of close control of my diabetes, I am having some complications – due almost entirely, I’m sure – to my indulgence in “cafe culture”. I stopped having gluten free treats with my coffee when we’re out and about a few months ago, but I think my blood sugar must still be very high because my feet have been getting numb after meals that have even a little too much carbohydrate.  I have a lot of work to do! (My glucometer broke about six months ago, and I have only just gotten the paperwork done to apply for a new one.  Foolish of me, but it’s done now. I will eventually have a new one and can test my blood sugar experiments and get control back.)

In September, we moved from Ann’s house, down the hill to share a house with Trudi – another of Rod’s sisters. Our new home is around the corner from Rod’s mother and his third sister, Karen, which is very, very cool! I have had a marvelous time getting to know this side of Rods family better.  It’s also been great to unpack the boxes that waited in Rod’s mother’s garage for us to move down here. Not surprisingly, we are finding that some things from the boxes “went astray” – and some of the boxes had clearly been unpacked and repacked.  Putting things in different boxes than they came from was a dead give-away. Oh well – almost a year between packing and packing means that it may be years before I am sure what’s missing, and the emotional impact come largely from the impossibility of replacing things until I am working again.

The higher rent on a bigger house has also presented us with some challenges.  Pensions are not established with whole food diets in mind, so most weeks the money is gone once we have our groceries.  I’m not wildly enthused about going back to being poor and have begun to investigate how I might make some extra income while Rod still needs me to be home.

Jack’s exciting news is that he is now working.  He tutors chess at a private girl’s school in Melbourne for a couple hours per week.  He REALLY enjoys having an income of his own and he has bailed us out on more than one occasion when the budget came up short. His studies are continuing smoothly  – and I have joined him in his math studies.  I never got a very good math education, so a few years ago, I picked up his curriculum and started working through it.  He’s still far ahead of me, but I am making progress.  I recently completed the elementary section and started on the middle school section  – and since he does one chapter each day and I do two or three, I may eventually overtake him. (Or not.  he seems to understand math better than i do and I consider it possible – or probable – that I will come to a point where I slow way down just to understand.

In other exciting news, Nerida and Connor have come to spend the new year celebrations with us! Our first house guests!  It’s so very, very good to catch up with them again. The only problem is that its made me very aware of how much I miss our weekly dinners together. Sadly, they will head back to Sydney this weekend.

It’s 3:30am. I think I’d better get some sleep. I’m sure there’s more, but I wouldn’t be able to write about it coherently at this point….

Settling In – a very tardy report

We’re still here! 🙂

I have wanted to blog for months, but at first I was emotionally overwhelmed with all the changes and couldn’t find words to express it all, and then, as my emotional life settled down, Jack’s social life picked up and time became an issue.

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1 Off to the shops

Our scholar now has eight regular commitment each week in addition to any play dates we arrange. (So far there has been at least one play date each week, and often two. He has met some stellar people and has started to make some fantastic new friends.)

He is back to playing chess and to studying karate, of course.

He has initiated a Games Day every Monday at a nearby cafe, and he has found a group that plays Magic the Gathering at a shop in town every week, so he has joined them.

He meets with friends at a “junior skate park” for a few hours each week and another days he meets other friends at a soccer field to play. (So far the parents and Jack are the ones who think soccer sounds like a good idea. Everyone else runs around and plays other things.)

Next month. he will start a cooking class at Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food and because he will be of minimum age for the class, I get to go free as his assistant!

On paper, it doesn’t sound like all that much, but I find myself wondering often how Rodney kept this pace for so long.  I find it grueling. Of course, while taking the bus isn’t as tiring as driving, it does stretch the adventure out for more hours – Saturday karate has taken the better part of eight hours. Fortunately, the dojo has just opened a class closer to town, so starting today we don’t have to travel as far.

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2 The view of the bay, just down the hill.

Jack and I have become real pros at hopping the bus and trundling around the city and suburbs and Jack figures that he’s ready to start taking the bus on his own.

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3 It’s a nice long walk to the shops…

I trust Jack, but this is a much bigger town than he’s accustomed to. I know he wouldn’t get lost if he was going somewhere familiar, but I am concerned about how he would handle unexpected situations.

I think I will hold him back for about a year, but by the time he turns 13 he will have been with me on the buses long enough to have observed most of what’s likely to happen. (Which is almost always “nothing” but might occasionally include something alarming.)

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*sigh*  My baby really is almost grown up. I’ll admit that the delay is as much (or more?) for me as for him.

Autumn has well and truly come to Victoria, and I have to make a confession.

I brought my winter coat because I left Michigan in a blizzard.  I didn’t think, having watched the weather online through the course of the last year, that I would ever have need of a big coat here.  40 is considered pretty cold in Victoria, and in Michigan that’s balmy weather.

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6 The shopping precinct is well marked, as are all of them. Very convenient.

What I couldn’t have realized from a distance is what the antarctic winds do to the wind chill. Oh my goodness!!!!

I have already worn my heavy winter coat this autumn and I expect to get a lot of use of it as winter approaches. 40 feels much colder here, with the frigid winds blowing my body heat away as fast as I can generate it.  Brrrrr!

Australian homes often don’t have central heating, and that is the case here at Ann’s house, so getting up at night is a VERY brisk experience some nights! I miss my winter robe and clothes and will be very glad to see them again when out shipment arrives!

Fortunately, the weather here is whimsical. One day we can be bundled up in coats and hats and still shivering, and the next in light slacks and shirt sleeves. Rod says that that continues all winter, the major difference being not how hot or cold, but how many days are hot or cold.

The folks here speak with pride of “four seasons in one day” and I am coming to realize that it’s only half a joke.

I still have the get used to the seasons being “backward”  – I suddenly have a winter birthday – but I am delighted to report that it’s far from boring like the tropics.

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7 but today, we passed on by to go to the further precinct for a coffee and to buy pastured pork and eggs — from a bakery of all places.

Rod’s health is coming along swimmingly! As my longtime readers know, he was in really bad shape when he left for home last September. Now, however, he is healing quickly.

He no longer sleeps most of every day, and when he’s busy, he is able to skip his nap entirely. Usually, he is down to an hour or two of extra sleep each day, which is perfectly reasonable. He is able to walk well with his cane, and is now able to walk anywhere he wants to go, as you can see in the photos. He does need to sit and rest along the way on long journeys, but he is getting further and further each day before he needs to rest.

He is speaking clearly – a little more slowly than he once did, but just fine.  No one who didn’t know him before the strokes started would detect a problem, I think. He is able to do meet with clients and to do big psychic fairs again!  That makes all the difference to him.

Starting last week, he can even ride the buses with Jack and me!  That has been fun! We actually managed a “coffee date” last night while Jack was playing Magic – and it means that he can start to take over some of Jack’s social whirl.  I think all of us will enjoy that! Jack will get more time with his Dad, Rod will have a more familiar role in Jack’s life, and I will have a little more time to myself.

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8 Cafe Dolce Trieste – the best coffee shop in the whole world! (And a bit of a secret. It’s almost always very quiet.)

Did I mention that Jack has adopted a very thick Aussie accent? It’s so thick – and different enough to Rod’s – that I can’t understand him sometimes and have to ask him to say it “in American” – but he’s forgetting how to do that! Ahh, well.  At least instead of commenting on Jack’s odd accent, people comment about how interesting it is that his accent is perfect even though he’s only been here  a few months.

I am pleased and amazed at how quickly Jack has adapted to life here. It was rough at first. He has reached an age where his friends are very, very important to him and leaving behind the friends he has loved since he was two years old was very traumatic and he is probably always going to miss them. (He is saving up to visit them as soon as he is old enough for International travel on his own.)

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9. And then back to the shops we haunt almost daily…

Then, having the average age of his daily companions here be around 60, and having little to do at first other than study was not terribly exciting.

One by one we added activities, starting with chess one day each week, then adding karate. Then we started games day, and he found the Magic group. Now he’s busy and happy.

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10 That’s it. The whole precinct. A pharmacy, an IGA, a butcher, a baker, a cafe, and a green grocer.

He finally finished his studies on the Ancient Rome unit on Pi day (March 14), and he’s been on school holidays ever since. After over a month off, he started back to hitting the books today and we will ramp up slowly, as usual. (The deal was, that he was allowed to break until out stuff arrived. We were notified that it docked on Saturday, so while we don’t have the books at hand yet, we have collected a few thing for him to start with.)

The history element of this unit is the Middle Ages.  That should be an interesting change from the ancients, which I think he is well and truly sick of. We’ll have a good look at Norse culture, too, which should bring some personal relevance to his studies.

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11 Oh, and a “bottle shop” – a liquor store.

Rod and I are also joining him on a more formal study of Latin, using lively Latin. That will probably replace his Swedish studies, at least for a while.

Oh!  I forgot to mention how it is that I have all this time to be involved with Jack’s education and touring around town with Rod.  Rod is on a disability pension for the next few years – and because he needs help throughout the day, I am on a care givers pension.  We are also on a homeschoolers allowance.

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12 And our final destination: the green grocer! This is where we get most of our groceries. All the veg is grown here in Victoria and most of it was picked this morning. (You do have to pay attention, because they don’t throw away yesterdays – but they seem to sell most of it most days.)

The disability pension has allowed Rod time to take care of himself and recover, but I don’t think he’ll need it forever.

Rod wants very much to be the one to support us and I think that would be very cool.  We just have to get him to the point where he has the stamina to work every day – and he is making progress daily on that. (I am so proud and impressed with his determination! I have known so many people who took a single stroke as a reason to stop living ad Rod is coming back from FOUR of them!)

I will continue to receive the homeschoolers allowance until Jack turns 16 and that will be a big help, but I need to find a way to contribute after that. I can probably do it in an office, but I so hope I don’t have to. Twenty-five years at a desk feels like plenty and I have four years to figure out what else I have to offer.  With Rod being the main income, I have a bit of leeway to figure it out – isn’t that cool?

In the meanwhile, I will take a photograph class.  Not because it will help my employability but because I have always wanted to!  Luxury!

OK, I need to run down to the shops before Jack wakes up.  Have a great day!

 

The Adventure Begins!

If the hero in an adventure story walks out the door of his home and into the dragon’s cave without incident, kills the dragon on the first shot without incident, and then walks home with the gold without incident, it’s not much of an adventure story! That’s just all in a day’s work.  This, my friends, is an adventure! [ Be advised- no dragons have been harmed,  no caves trespassed, and gold stolen during this adventure. ]

[comments in brackets by Jack]

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getting brighter …

Jack and I are now lounging in Los Angeles, waiting for the gods to turn the wheels of fate and get us upgraded to “passenger”. [Yes, passenger would be nice…] Our tickets were for standby, since we can’t really afford full fare.  Usually that doesn’t matter, but it seems that everyone in the country wants to go to Sydney this week and every flight is overbooked by impressive amounts. [ This may create serious over-crowding issues for Sydney.]

We arrived here in LA on Monday morning (having left Detroit very early) planning for a 12 hour layover and then to be off to Sydney.  We did our best to entertain ourselves at the airport, though the weeks leading in to our departure had been grueling and had involved short sleep and little real food, so we were exhausted.  (Have I ever mentioned how much my son impresses me? [Only 50 times this week. Thank you, though.] As exhausted as he has been, he has never been grumpy with me.  At worst he gets very, very quiet and solemn.  He clearly didn’t get that particular strength from me!  But I can be reasonable when I am exhausted, as long as no one else is unreasonable with me [which mean breathing too deeply], so we’ve been doing really well.  This young man is such a joy to travel with!) [*blush*]

Anyway, on Thursday, the movers came.  They were an hour and a half late, because the wind chill was -45 (a goodbye gift from my beloved Michigan winter), and the truck was cranky, and then they lost their way to our house when they missed a turn. That’s OK.  I was signing papers at the end before I realized that they had been late, and then only because they had written it on the forms.  I had been too busy to watch the clock. Anyway, remember I mentioned the wind chill?  Yeah; well, it was necessary to take the door off the hinges to get the dolly in and out with boxes on it.  It took four hours to load the truck.  It was a tad nippy even in the house (not much point in having the furnace roaring with no door) and my hands are still rough and red from cold damage.  It was hilarious, but I did feel very bad for the fellow who was hauling the boxes out into the freezing gale. He kept coming in from a load and huddling over a furnace vent trying to get warm. It was cold in the house; I can’t imagine how much colder it was out in the wind. [I was on a sleepover for most of that part, but it was pretty cold.]

Friday and Saturday were our days to say goodbye.  Jack had a party on Friday with his homeschool friends and I had an open house on Saturday for people to drop in to say goodbye.  It was wonderful to see everyone, but also overwhelmingly sad for both Jack and me. Before and after the parties, I was frantically sorting to make sure I had not forgotten anything.  On Friday, the moms of Jack’s friends spotted a closet I hadn’t even looked at yet and helped me to go through it. (Thanks, Nerida, Mary, and Stacey!) They found two pair of brand new shoes I had bought as backup and forgotten about!!!  (I have a miserable time finding shoes that fit, so when I order a pair that feels heavenly, I try to buy another couple of pair, since they always discontinue wonderful shoes right after I discover them! Whew!  That was close! Thank you so much, ladies!!!)

On Sunday, our last day in Michigan, we spent the day scrabbling to get done everything that we needed to do before we left. It seemed that no matter how hard I worked, no matter how long the hours, I never quite got “within cooee” of getting it all done. Thankfully, Linda is handling the stuff I couldn’t get to and then she and Paula and Nerida, and Jan will get the remaining stuff shipped.  In the evening, our dear friend, Mark, drove us to a hotel near the Detroit airport. We had an early Monday flight to Los Angeles, and Michigan decided to throw a blizzard to see me off, so rather than ask anyone to drive through that at 5 a.m. [Who sets these hours?] , we went to a hotel in the evening and took the shuttle to the airport in the morning. It just made more sense. [And it wasn’t borderline cruelty.]

Not making the flight to Sydney was a possibility that I knew about, but I was emotionally unprepared for it. We were devastated. All I could imagine was weeks taking turns with Jack sleeping on the airport floor.  Paula, who arranged the tickets for us, offered to bring us back to Michigan, but emotionally, we can’t bring ourselves to turn back now. We have said too many goodbyes and our lives are now ahead! [Well, right now they’re at a bit of a standstill…]

We were exhausted, near tears [We?] , and a serious mess, so I did what I always do under those circumstances.  I called my beloved Rodney. As he always does, just by being Rodney [And, you know, breathing, and maybe talking.] , my love talked [I rest my case.] me through it and calmed me down. The poor guy had to deal with my helpless [No.], doom-saying [Eh… I guess so…] , negative first reactions [dramatic might be a better adjective…], but he’s used to that I guess. [You think?]  He just keeps using his soothing voice and I start to feel my brain turning over and the world starts to look brighter. I usually just go with his advice no matter how unlikely it seems to me that it will work, because he is usually right. After a few minutes, my brain started to work and I decided that the first thing we needed was a good night’s sleep and a shower. [Not to mention food.] The flights to Sydney leave Los Angeles every 24 hours at 10:30 pm. It was going to be a long wait even for the next available flight, and I knew from discussions with the agents that every flight for a week or more is overbooked and this could take a while.

I started to research hotels in the area, but just as the page came up listing the hotels that have 24 hour shuttle service, my phone’s battery died. (Sunday night’s hotel had no electric outlets.  One down side of a cheap hotel.) The only hotel whose name I saw before the phone died was the one I asked the cab to take us to. (It was too late for the shuttle so I would have needed the hotel’s phone number to call the shuttle after hours – and my phone was dead. A cab it was.)

We settled in and got some sleep, and the next morning  – as I often do – I whinged on Facebook. I was already feeling better, but the challenge of many nights in the hotel taking me closer to the desperate need for an income immediately was still stressful. Several friends immediately offered to help us out with the hotel bill.  I gratefully accepted and they have been calling the desk and paying a night at a time.  That removed the last of the panic factors.  Now it is just a waiting game. [The Waiting Games… I like it.]

I hope to be on tonight’s flight.  Jack and I were #1 and #2 on the wait list last night, so if there are any seats we might we get them. (If no one with higher priority signs in today.)

When Rod and I dreamed about this day for 15 years, I never envisioned doing it alone.  Just as well.  I’m pretty sure I would have been terrified out of my mind. To some degree, it is true that this is an impossible task to do alone.  But I have never been alone in all of this.  Our friends have come together to lift Jack and me out of panic and to help us at every step.  Each friend has brought something different to the project, and all of the contributions have been vital. Not to downplay those very tangible helps, but I think that the greatest gift any of them has given to Jack and me, is the understanding that we are loved and we are not alone in this amazing adventure. With friends like these, no adventure is too much to handle. [ I agree.]

Finally on our way!

It’s been a long, grueling road over the last five months, with little time for introspection and blogging. My apologies for not making time – but when I am very emotional I am not terribly coherent and that made it almost impossible to find anything to talk about that would be even marginally interesting.

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We have packed up our lives into a stack of boxes, tied off all the threads that made up our lives here, and lived like squatters for months, making due with as few possession as possible so that everything stayed in its boxes rather than sneaking out to play and making packing later -now-more difficult.

We have said goodbyes, we have cried, and we have dreamed about an amorphous future on the other side of the globe. We have reached out to home-schoolers, dojos, and chess clubs in our new town. We have ignored it all and watched way too much TV. (On dvd on the laptop, but escape is escape.)

But tomorrow the movers come and take away our boxes.  We will be saying our goodbyes over the weekend, and then at dawn on Monday, we are on our way!

It’s amazing to me how having the flight settled has changed my mood.  For the last month, I have been near tears a lot of the time. We announced over a year ago that we were leaving and it seems like we have had a steady stream of “last times” and “goodbyes” since then, with the pace becoming breakneck once Rod left for Australia in September.

My permanent resident visa came through in mid-November and planning and packing went into high gear. I retired and started closing accounts and wrapping up day to day details in early December … and by last week it had all become too much emotionally.

Then the retirement money cleared the bank and Jack’s Australian passport arrived so we were able to make flight arrangements.  When my friend, Paula, who works at the airlines, called yesterday afternoon with itinerary, the sun came out for me. Now I feel like I can look ahead and I realize that I had spent many weeks and months looking backward.

I had spent more than 30 years making this area my home after a rather footloose youth. Each time I went somewhere that had been familiar in my past, I was painfully aware that the odds were that I would never see it again. You can only do that for so long before it all gets overwhelming.

Now my attention can turn to wrapping up the last details here and starting my new life in Australia.  What a relief.  As much as I will miss everyone here, I can’t take many more endings and knowing that beginnings will start in five days has made life so much easier.

Jack and I have been discussing that we will need a new look for the blog, though…this house goes back to the bank on Friday (that’s another long story for another day.) and is no longer Chez Smiffy.  We will be looking for a new look once we get there.