Friday, October 28, 2011

Peter talking and laughing...enjoy.

The kindness of strangers

Yesterday Peter, Eliot and I went to take a gift to Avery McWilliams, the brand new baby of our friends Paul and Christina. The McWilliams rent a small apartment from Fritz and Margrite Grader, a sweet couple from the Netherlands. Paul and Christina are both from Edmonton, Alberta, but that's not how we know them.

Back in July we were out of town a lot. But on the one Sunday that we were in church in Toronto, Paul and his father were visiting. Paul introduced himself to the Sunday School class and mentioned that he has been living in Perth. After class, Spencer chatted with him and from that time the McWilliams have been very helpful, giving us information about moving to Australia and arranging for their neighbors/landlords, the Graders, to take us in that first night we arrived in Perth.

The Graders were so welcoming and kind. We didn't do much chatting the night we arrived, but the next morning Fritz showed us around their backyard. You could smell the orange blossoms and the jasmine, and Fritz explained that he has an almond tree, but that the cockatoos keep eating the nuts. Cockatoos? Where are we?

After we had paid our respects to the new baby we went next door to say a quick 'hello' to the Graders and to deliver some oatmeal raisin cookies (Eliot had cleaned them out when we'd stayed with them) and it was great to see them. They and the McWilliams had been our first exposure to the kindness and willingness to help that has been a hallmark of our encounters with people here.

To say that I've never met so many generous people wouldn't be true. I know many many kind and generous people. I suppose our little family has just never found itself in such a vulnerable position, so it stands out a bit more. Here we are, clear on the other side of the globe. Far from the support of family and friends. So when total strangers, at church and in the community, step up and willingly offer help (everything from giving us directions to lending us a house and car) it's really humbling. The MO around here seems to be Pay It Forward. Whenever I thank people for their help, they always talk about how someone else has helped them. I'm looking forward to being settled soon so that we'll be able to start paying it forward ourselves.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Kings Park

Just North of the University of Western Australia campus, running along the Swan River, you'll find an expanse of wilderness called Kings Park. The first week or so that we were here, we called up two of our new friends, Paul and Christina McWilliams, and took in a small portion of the reserve.

One of the first things I notice about a new place is the vegetation. This is probably true for a lot of people. When you're accustomed to maple and elm lining the streets and now you find olive and eucalyptus it's a constant reminder that you're far from home, but in a good way.

So it was really neat to wander around Kings Park and take in all of the blooming flowers (remember, it's spring here) and the native bush plants, and the not-so-native boab tree. The view of the Swan River and the surrounding city was beautiful. It's definitely on our list of Where to Take People Who Visit Us Here.

Eliot is not making a funny face here but, rather, stating the name of the thing he's holding. "Gum nut."


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Leaving Toronto

So now that we're here in Australia, and I've had a chance to breathe, I can't help but look back a bit at what we've come from. Our departure from Toronto seemed like such a whirlwind. The University of Western Australia had arranged for a moving company to handle the packing and shipping of our things which meant that all we had to do was decide what we were taking with us, get it all sorted out for the movers, keep Eliot and Peter out of their way when they came to pack up, sell off the remaining items, and camp out in our empty apartment for a couple days until it was time to leave for the airport. Friends helped us haul things to Goodwill (we'd sold our car during an earlier visit to Milwaukee), lent us an air mattress, helped clean the apartment, and drove us to the airport (a task that required two vehicles). Thank goodness for good friends!

Take that Atkins! We couldn't leave Toronto without enjoying a hot dog from one of the street vendors.

To say that I miss Toronto and the people I met there isn't to say that I'm not coming to love Australia and the people I'm meeting here, just as I've come to love other places and friends. We only lived in Toronto for 12 months. We experienced each season just once. But I really think it was one of my favorite places to live. Perhaps it was because we lived in a sleepy neighbourhood that was nestled in the heart of the city so we were a few minutes away from bustling urban activity but could hear the crickets at night. I'm certain it was the fantastic people we met and the good friendships we formed. And of course, the city itself had such a fun energy. Something was always going on--very unlike Perth where everything closes at 6pm. Don't get me wrong, Perth is lovely and has a lot to offer, but those late-night gelato runs are at an end. Possibly for best ;)

Eliot was eager to be of use.

Peter secured his nomination for Easy-Going Baby of the Year by drifting to sleep, quietly and unassisted, right in the midst of all the commotion.

Peter is ready for the flight to Edmonton. Eliot seemed to think he was going straight to Australia.

I'm glad that we had that year in Toronto. Looking back at it makes me smile, and you can't ask much more than that from a city.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Perff, Austrai-ya

Eliot and Peter seem to have adjusted well to the move. Eliot enjoys telling us that we are in "Perff, Austrai-ya" and pointing it out on a map (though he seems to think that Milwaukee and Edmonton are both in the vicinity). Peter has been sitting independently, trying really hard to crawl, and getting more accustomed to solid foods, though each bite still seems like an unpleasant surprise. Unfortunately, he is also dealing with teething issues which have turned him into something of a Baby Jekyll and Baby Hyde. In his Baby Jekyll state he's the same charming, dumpling of a boy, winning hearts left and right. As Baby Hyde, he screams (without warning and generally in the middle of the night), claws at your face and neck and bites your finger with such force that you're tempted to make sure the digit is still intact.

I have noticed that Eliot is a little more fearful of certain things. He doesn't like to stay in the bathtub as the water drains and he sticks close to me more than usual. I don't know if it's the move or if that's just the age he's at now. Either way, we try to make him feel safe and involved, which seems to help. We sure do love our cool dudes.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

We Made It! Can You Believe It?

It feels great to be sitting down to a computer again. I can't believe that we've been here in Perth for three weeks! So much has happened! Before leaving Edmonton I remember preparing mentally for the flights by telling myself that it would be like camping but without the bugs. This helped, but I have to admit that it really wasn't as bad as I feared it would be. As many of you know, our trip here included five flights with layovers that varied in length. Our journey began in Edmonton...

Edmonton to Seattle:

This was by far the best flight. We were all fresh and relatively well-rested. Peter slept for a good portion of it and Eliot was happy to show Yellow Bear the view out the window, and munch on his snacks. We were in the Seattle airport for three hours. Long enough for Eliot to get a nap and for Peter to go exploring with Daddy.

Seattle to San Francisco:

This flight doesn't really stand out in my mind. Pretty uneventful. Peter took another nap and Eliot played well in his seat. It was the layover in San Francisco that was our undoing. We were in the airport for about 6 hours. The trick was that the Singapore Airlines desks didn't open until 9:30 pm so we didn't get to our gate until past 10:00. By the time we got there Eliot was happy to get into his pj's and he and Peter both crashed and had a good sleep.

San Francisco to Singapore via Hong Kong:

I thought the boys would go right back to sleep once we boarded the plane, around 1:00 am. Peter didn't have any trouble with that, partly because he was exhausted and partly because he was zipped into a snug little bassinet. Eliot, on the other hand, got his second wind and stayed awake for several hours, playing with the remote control for this TV and tucking in to the meal they brought him. I should mention here that we weren't able to use his carseat as we had planned. Something about the carseat only working on a window seat and the bassinet not being able to attach to the wall in front of the window seat...anyway, whatever. Eliot finally dropped off into a fitful sleep in his seat. Peter clearly had the best rest of any of us. Whenever the seatbelt sign lit up I had to take him out of the bassinet and strap him into an infant seatbelt that was attached to my own. Unfortunately this was not infrequent due to a squall that we hit out over the Pacific Ocean. But he was pretty good about going back to sleep. The real squall hit just before we were about to land in Hong Kong. Eliot, who felt he had put up with quite enough at this point, came totally unglued. It was that sort of sleep deprivation-induced insanity that all parents know and dread. I felt badly for the flight attendants who sort of fluttered in the background, wondering if there was anything they could do to help. Of course there wasn't. But mostly I felt badly for little Eliot as his maniacal screams roused the rest of the passengers to prepare for landing. (Interesting side note: The water that came with Eliot's meal was Nanton water which is bottled in southern Alberta, which Spencer enjoyed)

In Hong Kong we were quickly ushered off the plane, through a security check point and right back onto the plane, which by that time had been freshened up and refueled. It felt good to be back in our little row of seats again which, after the trans-Pacific flight, was starting to feel like home. Now we were off to Singapore.

The layover in Singapore was unquestionably the highlight of the trip. We'd heard that the Singapore Airport was some sort of travellers' Shangri-La, and during some of the more difficult legs of the trip it seemed to flutter mirage-like in the distance. Even though our bodies thought it was the middle of the night, we all rose to the occasion and took advantage of as many amenities as we could. We explored orchid gardens, enjoyed the goldfish pond, got a free foot massage, then another free foot massage, and took a few naps. But best of all was the free tour into the city. We were whisked through customs, loaded onto a bus, and away we went. The tours were started as an attempt to drum up tourism--which is a major part of the Singapore economy. So as the tour guide pointed out the historical buildings and lovely parks, she also pointed out the lavish hotels and the best restaurants. The tour included a walk along the river so we could stretch our legs and take some pictures. It was really lovely, and the kind of Disneyland clean that you only really get under a benevolently dictatorial government. If the tour was intended to spark interest in returning for a longer stay, it certainly worked on us. It was also the closest any of us had ever been to the Equator. Pretty cool.

Singapore to Perth:

We boarded the plane in Singapore, laden with all kinds of free toys that had practically been forced upon us by very friendly airport attendents in bright pink blazers. One more flight to go. I have to say, with the kids it wasn't so much the long flights as it was getting on and off so many times. We were glad that the disruptions were coming to an end, and as much as we had enjoyed our time in the Singapore Airport we were ready to get to our destination.

Both Eliot and Peter slept nearly this entire flight. I know Spencer managed to get a little shut eye, I don't remember whether I did or not. It was all becoming a blur at this point.

We arrived in Perth around midnight local time and Eliot and Peter didn't even stir when we picked them up and carried them off the plane. Eliot continued to sleep in the stroller all the way through baggage claim, customs, and quarantine. All of these stops were mercifully brief because of a kind airport attendant who helped us through and took us to the front of the line whenever she could (one the few advantages of travelling with small children). I don't remember much about the Perth Airport other than a large mural above the baggage carousel explaining to us that Perth's deadliest marine creature is not, in fact, any of the various sharks that hang out in the water but the small blue bottle jellyfish. Good to know. And then we stumbled out into the arms of the driver that had come to pick us up and take us to the home of some very kind church members who were waiting up for us (more about them in a future post). Little did I know at the time that our adventure had only just begun. New challenges and adjustments and wonderful discoveries awaited us. But at that moment all we could think of was how grateful we were that the children were both asleep, and that we had a place to stretch out flat and lay down our weary heads.