Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas Plans 2009

The original idea had been to go to Utah to spend it with Martin, Stacie and offspring but a heavy schedule at work means that it really isn't do-able in the current situation :( We invited them to come spend it with us but Martin is more or less in the same situation. :( Lousy US work-freak culture. News flash: World doesn't go to hell in a hand basket if you have more than 10 days holiday a year.

Anyway, at least I have a back-up brother nearby -- sorry Donovan, you know you are really further up my speed dial than Martin anyway. :) So we'll do our usual fried ham, pineapple and eggs breakfast with the Christmas story and present openings and then we'll head down to the beach where Donovan has his hangout. A barbecue and beach on Christmas Day should almost convince us we are back in Australia. And while the weather might not be quite the same, chances are it'll be closer than Utah. Stay warm Mart and Stacie and we'll see you in April!

On How We Connect Today

If an average person on the subway turns to you, like an ancient mariner,
and starts telling you her tale, you turn away or nod and hope she stops,
not just because you fear she might be crazy. If she tells her tale on camera, you might listen. Watching strangers on television, even responding to them from a studio audience, we're disengaged -- voyeurs collaborating with exhibitionists in rituals of sham community. Never have so many known so much about people for whom they cared so little.
-- Wendy Kaminer commenting on testimonial television in I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional (1992).

Monday, 16 November 2009

Birthdays Abound

It's that time of year when our main batch of birthdays are coming to a close. Mara's 13th (19th of last month), Bryna's 6th (30th), Joshua's 16th (9th of this month) and mine (19th of this month) always seem to come thick and fast every year. Bryna's and Joshua's have warranted parties this year but just small family gatherings for Mara and myself. The birthday person always gets to pick the menu for the family dinner and it gives Gaynor a chance to justify some good time in the kitchen. Of course, the results are never disappointing. Mara went with lasagna, Bryna had shepherd's pie, Joshua chose chili and this evening I'll be enjoying cannelloni -- one variety, walnut and ricotta cheese and the other, pork mince with Italian herbs -- followed by an orange-infused butter cake with chocolate ganache. Hey I didn't make the menu, I just have to live with the consequences :)

The whole family make it into the shot as Mara hits the teens.

The girls ham it up for the camera at Bryna's 6th birthday party.

The family (plus a ring-in, can you tell which one?) at Bryna's birthday dinner.

Joshua's party is this Saturday, with about a dozen friends coming to help celebrate with movies, games and tacos. There might be a blog post about it but more than likely one of the children will put something up on Facebook. Good times!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Wonderful Australia by Bryna Glass

There are many wonderful things about Australia. I like Australia because it has kangaroos. I like kangaroos because it can jump fast and far. I like Australia because it has koalas. I like koalas because they sleep a long time like my sister[1]. I like going to the beach. I like going to the beach because I can get wet in the sea. All in all, I like Australia.

[1] Editor's Note: Mara is the sister in question.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Year of Four Schools

In the past we've gone to some lengths to keep the children at the same school, mostly for stability while other things changed. However, circumstances change and now, with the children stretching across age group boundaries, we find ourselves with children going to four different schools this academic year.

Bryna and Ariana are in the first and fifth grades respectively at the local elementary (primary, Gr√ľndschule) school. Bryna's reading has come along in leaps and bounds over the summer and she is enthusiastically reading everything she can get her hands on. Ariana will continue to do well in all areas I'm sure as last year's report card was very good.

Mara has just begun her second, and final, year at the middle school, also called junior high school. She has virtually all the same teachers that Elijah had last year and Joshua had the year before that. Hopefully the teachers won't suffer from Glass burnout. One of her favourite subjects is Honors Choir. Given my Australian education history, I've always thought of choir as an extra-curricular activity rather than an actual subject but they have a different point of view here.

Elijah, meanwhile, will be going to high school proper. It's a big school (around 4000 students I believe) but seems to have decent teachers and a reasonable curriculum. He is looking forward to the sporting aspects and has intentions on trying out for the track team. I don't think he'll find the academic side too taxing, though he'll still need to put in a consistent effort.

Finally, Joshua will be attending another high school -- after his first (freshman) year at the high school Elijah will be attending -- that is much smaller (around 400-500 students) and is located on the same campus as a community college. This high school, known as a middle college high school, allows and, in fact, encourages the students to take college courses in place of high school subjects. The student then receives a double credit both towards their high school completion and towards actual college. For high school, because it is equivalent or above the high school subject requirement and for college because, well it actually is a college course. This way a student who applies themselves and takes a fair few college courses can complete a two-year Associate's degree, which can then transfer as the first two years of four year Bachelor's degree -- at least here in the US. We think the school and the academic challenges will suit Joshua well. The main motivation, however, for having Joshua attend there and take as many college courses as possible is to help his standing should we move back to Australia before he has completed high school. Essentially, we'd like him to be as close to an Australian or German standard as possible and that should keep his options open as to where he might attend university -- be that Australia, here in the US or even back in Germany.

So lots of running around, I expect, and keeping on top of the information that'll come from all the schools will require some diligence. But all over I believe it should be an interesting academic year.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Micah's First

Amazingly, one year has passed since we welcomed Micah into the family. And while the year has appeared to fly by it's easy to see how long it really is by looking at the progress Micah has made. Apart from having his older brothers and sisters (usually) at his beck and call, he has also charmed quite a few friends of the family. Probably something about those blue eyes and easy grin ...

So we celebrated his successful completion of his first year on the planet with the usual gift-giving and a family dinner, the menu being a favourite of the celebratee. Gifts included a ride-on car -- he has very strong legs -- and a mini basketball. He loves to throw the ball and chase it. A fairly good arm too.
Micah is quite a fan of moving places fast -- so we thought he should have a new set of wheels.

The menu was chosen by Gaynor which she based on careful observation of the speed with which he wolfed down certain foods. Consequently, we enjoyed a lovely dinner of chicken drumsticks and corn on the cob. Of course, Gaynor's now-traditional, Year One Gateaux was a particular treat.
Too busy with a drumstick to blow out your own candles? You need Family Helpers(TM)!

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Summer Holiday 2009

One of the ironic exchanges made for us when moving to the US from Europe was the vast improvement in weather coupled with a vast reduction in work holidays in which to enjoy said weather. So it was with a fair bit of anticipation that we organised a couple of weeks away.

There had been an intention to make it all the way up the west coast to Vancouver and renew our entry visas. In the end, a lack of available appointments at the US Consulate in Vancouver meant that the focus of the trip shifted to relaxing with a bit of sightseeing. Northern California was still on the radar starting with a few days -- including the Fourth of July -- with some good friends in San Jose. During those days we made our second trip into San Francisco with Gaynor desperate to hunt down some `decent Chinese food'. Apart from the House of Nanking, sights included Coit Tower and rides on the cable car. The cable car was fun but seems mostly for tourists as the waits to get on were fairly lengthy.

The owners of some cute backsides look over San Francisco Bay from near Coit Tower

Gaynor gets some satisfaction.

We also enjoyed a little time down at Santa Cruz

So after the hospitality of San Jose we headed north-west to camp and relax. Basically days of doing nothing but eating, sleeping, reading, talking and running amok. We did rouse ourselves for a day trip into Sacramento -- nice but a return visit probably isn't necessary -- and another day in Yosemite National Park -- popular, spectacular and well worth going back!

The trip back through the San Joaquin Valley was a bit warm, especially without air conditioning in the van. I believe the high was 41C (106F) and the children coped with it very well using cooler packs and spray bottles to keep themselves from over-heating. Micah was a pretty fair traveller and we arrived home just on his first birthday.

Strolling through the gardens of the Capitol Building in Sacramento

Mara is speechless at the spectacular scenery.

Panorama of Yosemite Valley taken on our way out of the park.

More photos from this trip on Flickr.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Father's Day 2009

Father's Day is quite the event in the US and the third date on which we have celebrated it[1]. It's almost as big as Mother's Day and very similar in many ways -- breakfast in bed, children shower you with presents and adoration and generally have a bit of a bludge. Ariana is usually the one who insists on providing the breakfast in bed and made me a couple of things with an Australian theme, Vegemite on toast and a glass of cold Milo[2]. The presents were a bit light on the further you went up the child tree but Micah, with the help of his mother, complemented the Australian breakfast with Nanny's favourite stand-by present, a packet of Iced Vo-Vos. And Bryna presented a lovely photo of herself, courtesy of her kindergarten teacher. Ariana and Mara also made a pair of thoughtful cards. Actually, they usually are a pair of cards those two but this time they constructed some as well.

The children gave me a bit of time-off to rest during the afternoon and by evening Gaynor had even managed to coax, not exactly adoration, but certainly a positive comment from Joshua.

[1] Australia: First Sunday in September.
Germany: Ascension Day. Actually, it slipped by, forgotten, one year and wasn't much of a deal the other years. Here's why.
USA: Third Sunday in June.

[2] Spoils of Gaynor's recent journey back to Oz.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Summer Holiday Plans 2009

After saving up my holiday time from work we are thinking about a couple of weeks away. Specifically, a trip to Vancouver, BC, Canada to renew our US visas and a trip to a campground in northern California where we intend to do pretty much nothing for as long as we can get away with it. Perhaps somewhere near Yosemite or Lassen National Forest with a couple of day trips to see the sights. So, glaciers and geysers in one holiday. What's not to like? :)

Monday, 18 May 2009

Rugby 2009

Being Australian we do enjoy a lot of sports and, having left the country, we often go to some lengths to ensure our children receive a good sporting education. This usually involves grabbing relevant sporting events -- Tri Nations, Super 14, State of Origin, AFL Grand Final -- from the internet since they don't receive a whole lot of coverage here. While the education is a whole family affair, the boys, in particular, also enjoy playing. So we felt relatively fortunate to have found a rugby club within half an hour of our place.

The club itself has only been going a couple of seasons, this season fielding both U16 and U19 sides for the first time. Rugby has an odd reputation here in the US, at least here in southern California. It is generally viewed as a brutal game without rules. Generally, American football high school coaches don't want their players playing it for fear of injury. So consequently, the first practice of the season -- which runs January to April -- was bit light on with only six boys. I chatted with the coach, who had supplied a couple of the boys, and appreciated that he was working hard to develop a club with a traditional rugby team culture. I was a little concerned before hand that even rugby might have been infected by the American competitive hype and drive in sports. There were a couple of teams that we played who seemed to have bought into that but, by and large, it was usually sane.

Elijah has always been the most keen to play but Joshua -- who revels in being a bit different from many of the other teenagers in some ways -- also joined in, preferring fly-half to Elijah's wing, centre or fullback. Unfortunately with only a U16 side available the boys were punching above their weight most of the season. The good news is that by the end of the season the club was sporting a roster of over fifty. Our boys did their part in spreading the word with a total of five friends training and playing for the season and a few more who came along to check it out. Too much running for some of those however. The ones who did stick it out loved virtually every minute of it, even when the team didn't perform so well. The fact that rugby allows most of the players to be involved most of the time (well, except for those glory wingers) makes it a fun game to play. I'm hoping they'll get involved again next season too. They'll only enjoy it more with a season under their belts. Oh and Elijah and Josh managed a try each during the season. :D

I also got involved in the administrative side of things. There were three coaches for the club and one of them was handling all the paperwork so it was the least I could do. Having never really played myself, I don't feel qualified to coach but administration I can usually do without too much trouble. We ended up with some great parents contributing to the club and we will only have a better season next year. I can't wait. In the meantime, we'll just have to get by barracking for the Reds and the Wallabies.

Joshua looks for the ball.

Elijah with the ball in hand.

One of the boys' friends (back left) who took up rugby after hearing the boys rave on about it.

More photos of the team.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Broken Boy Elijah

The wrist was first (aggressive inline skating). The knee came after coming off a scooter he wasn't supposed to be on.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Movie Insufficient for Gaynor

Even though we've lived and travelled across different parts of the globe now we still pine for the fjords of Australia.[1] Though it has only been just over four years, sometimes it feels like a different life. A couple of months ago we went along with my visiting brother Martin -- who has been out of Australia much longer than us -- and his wife to see Australia. We quite liked the film; fabulous cinematography, great story and what's not to like about Hugh Jackman? But it also didn't help Gaynor's missing-Australia itch, which she's had for a while now.

So when some relatively cheap tickets to Australia became available we had to make a decision. And the decision was that all children who had lived more than half their lives outside Australia were eligible for a return visit. Conveniently, this meant that the youngest (and therefore, cheapest) two would be heading back and Gaynor, obviously, would need to accompany a still-breast-fed Micah. So it was a win all round -- except for the older children, whom we considered already fortunate having lived more than half their lives in Australia. The next part of the conversation at the family meeting went something like this,

"Well, we would all very much like to go back to Australia but unfortunately that's not financially possible at this stage. So those children who are staying here, not only won't be able to go to Australia, but you'll also need to do extra work, picking up those jobs that your mother would normally do -- cooking, a lot of the cleaning, most of the washing etc. We realise that this is a tough ask, so what we'd like to do is shamelessly bribe you."

To this they all agreed and eventually -- after much negotiation, as is the norm in our house -- they decided on a new computer, primarily for the children. And so, yesterday we picked up a new Mac mini. This bribe also has the added benefit of getting the children out of my study.

Thus Gaynor is now set to fly back into Australia on the 4th of May and will be there for the entire remainder of the month. She'll spend most of that time in Brisbane with a week in Canberra. So while she may not be able to catch up with Hugh Jackman or Nicole Kidman, she will be spending a reasonable amount of time with family and close friends. And I believe that'll be sufficient for the time being.

[1] Though we do prefer kipping on our backs.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Easter 2009

While Good Friday is currently sacrosanct as a holiday in Australia and Germany -- indeed in many other countries that we've never experienced it in -- that's not the case in the U.S. At least, not in California. I'm told some other states do have it as a holiday but, well we don't live there. So as such, Elijah, Mara, Ariana and Bryna all had school that day, while Joshua is currently on spring break. Well, not so much of a break as an exaggerated bend -- it's merely a week off. Unlike many other general populace workers though, it was a company holiday for me. Not sure why exactly but it's good just the same. :)

So we had to be on our toes in order to continue one of our Easter traditions -- freshly baked hot cross buns on Good Friday. When I say 'we' I really mean 'Gaynor'. She was up early and had the buns baked in time for us to enjoy a good couple before dropping Ariana and Mara at school. Usually they catch the bus but driving them myself gave us just that bit of extra time.

The Devourees - the hot cross buns all prepared to fulfill their Easterly duties.

The Devourers - the family gathers for our Good Friday tradition.

Of course, the traditional condiment to accompany these delectable delights is nothing less than slatherings of butter. There are some things we are glad we have taken the time to carry on. :)

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

A Recent Vote

We've always done our best to include the children in family decisions. We believe it is good for them and good for the parents. Matters such as, where we'll go for holidays, where we'll eat and what we'll be watching. When there is no real common consensus, we'll usually take a vote. However that sometimes doesn't work out with the overall desires of the parents. A recent vote while travelling in the van helped the children keep some perspective. Fenton: "OK let's vote. Hands up who thinks this is a democracy?"

Thursday, 5 March 2009

I was walking down the street ...

... when suddenly my spectacles' prescription ran out. So said Steven Wright[1]. I always thought that was funny in an new-way-to-see-it kind of way but as with a number of things that reference US culture -- usually The Simpsons -- it's funnier (and in this case, sadder) when you have even more knowledge of the environment from which it comes. To wit, corrective lens prescriptions actually do run out in the US.

Glasses -- though I'm not sure about general reading spectacles -- are treated more or less as a drug. Contact lenses are regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration and cannot be purchased without a current prescription, with lens prescriptions being valid for a year. This contrasts with my experience in Germany -- not exactly noted for its free-wheeling market approach -- where contact lenses were available off the rack in a supermarket. I assume they are regulated in some way, like many products, but their availability didn't appear to be hampered. This statement quite surprised my optometrist who obviously knew of all the untold dangers an incorrect prescription might foist upon an unsuspecting victim. He was just a little hard pressed to give them when I asked what they were.

My point to him was: if you put on someone else's glasses, immediately you know they are not right, even for subtly difference prescriptions. If you keep them on you merely get a headache, possibly a very big headache. If you persist even further and determinedly work through that migraine then -- and here is the dangerous part -- your brain simply adapts. This is quite a different danger to taking the wrong drug or dosage that might, say, cause your kidneys to fail or your stomach to start bleeding. If there are more severe consequences to purchasing contacts on an out-of-date prescription, please chime in. I'd hate to think my many German friends are needlessly and thoughtlessly exposing themselves.

Don't get me wrong, I believe in having the correct prescription for your genetically (or otherwise) inferior eyes. When I made the jump to contacts a little while ago I had an eye examination and a couple of lessons on the fitting and care of them. I was pretty sure my prescription hadn't changed and, when it came time to resupply in the US, I had trouble finding lenses in the stores. I was told by an optician friend that I would need a prescription before purchasing. Bit strange, I thought but no problem, I'll get them online ... however they do require you to disclose your optometrist. Unfortunately, they didn't have a listing for that nice lady in Germany. Eventually, of course, I had to play the game, coughed up my money for, effectively, a lens subscription, but not without clear-sighted protestations. Oh, and my freshly-minted prescription is identical to my previous.

[1] Possibly.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Facebook following

Those who have been a part of the social networking website phenomena would be aware that it can be a simple and effective way to stay relatively involved in the lives of good friends and loved ones. Indeed, half of our family now have profiles on one of the largest -- Facebook -- including myself, Gaynor, Joshua and Elijah.

While I've tried many times to get other members of the family to post to this blog, most have resisted the lure (with the occasional rare exception). Keeping their profiles, status[1] and other information up to date seems to be easier for them on Facebook. So, to keep a closer eye on some of us, we invite you to add those you wish as friends or, if you are not yet on Facebook, feel free to join and search us out. Please contact us directly if your search for our names brings up a confusing array of our alter egos (Heaven forbid there be many with our names!)

I still plan to continue this blog[2] in the same fashion as it's been going for the past few years -- I prefer its overall layout and functionality -- but I expect I'll really be the single contributor now as I've made the decision[3] to stop harassing the others. They now have something else they prefer to say their peace with.

[1] Here, in the plural, I've taken the British form -- rather than the American or even Australian ones.

[2] Don't forget it's easy to keep up with the blog by subscribing to the feed (see also "Subscribe to ... Posts" on the left-hand side of this page) using something like Google Reader online.

[3] I prefer this terminology to "given up". It helps me feel like I have some control over it. :)

Saturday, 3 January 2009

No longer a toothless wonder

To ring in the new year, Micah produced his first tooth -- his lower front left -- on the first day of the year and its companion showed up today. Those months of dribble are starting to pay off. He's only been bested in the Fastest to Teeth Stakes by Joshua who clocked in at 3.5 months (same as his father, according to those in the know). So happy new year and many new teeth to all!