Friday, 23 December 2011

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Winding Down 2011

Many things are drawing to a close at this time of year. For us, a lot has been happening, in part, simply due to the number in our family but also because of some significant milestones.

Most significantly, Joshua has successfully completed college. For those outside Canberra, this is essentially the final two years of high school. The system here is for high school up to Year 10 and then a separate school, called a college, that very much like half university and half high school. The dress code goes from uniforms to free style, the teachers prefer to go by first names and the hours of attendance are more relaxed. Out of all our children, Joshua and Mara -- mostly simply due to their ages -- have had the least settled formal education. Joshua has attended six and, by the time she finishes, Mara will have attended eight schools across three countries and educational systems. In any case, after a less than certain start while he readjusted to the Australian educational style, Joshua put in a good effort to finish the year strongly. He mostly enjoys the humanities with Spanish, sociology and history being his stronger subjects. He's already secured himself a full-time job and plans to work, pending the outcome of university entrance offers.

One Last Touch
Joshua gets one last adjustment from his mother on the way to his college graduation.

Mara has concluded one and a half years of Year 10 -- half in the US and one here -- and is onto college next year. In graduating she received the Kylie Souter Gift which recognises team work and quality commitment in the Performing Arts. Obviously, dance is still a big part of her life.

Elijah, Ariana and Bryna all had good academic years too with Elijah set to graduate from college next year, Ariana getting one B grade and an award for physical education and Bryna just enjoying her studies.

For the past few years, 'end of year' for us has also meant ballet productions. This year, Bryna joined Mara on stage in their ballet school's production based on the Sound of Music. Bryna was in two numbers and Mara performed in six or seven, including one as a queen bee tending to some very cute baby bees. They were both very busy the past couple of months with rehearsals and the performance was superb. A couple of weeks after the performances and ballet was done for the year with a good two months off before resuming.

Favourite Things
Bryna poses on the front lawn in her costume from the 'Favourite Things' number in a recent ballet school production. And dance and costumes really are a few of her favourite things.

For myself, a deadline at work, plans for the house and car repairs as well as the typical end of year goings on have taken up whatever spare time I had laying about. A couple of weeks off over Christmas, relaxing with family up in Brisbane, seems like just the tonic at the end of a fairly busy year.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

End of a Rented Era

Today marks the official end of our years spent renting houses to live in -- 10 places and just over 19 years in total. Settlement on the new place was completed late last week and today was the final inspection on the most recently rented property.

I'm also pleased that we've never lost a cent in bond/security deposit money. A few were close -- mostly due to the distance the landlord/lady/property manager was from Earth -- but the many hours spent scrubbing, cleaning and fixing someone else's house paid off. Of course, this wouldn't have been the case without our family and many good friends (in three countries) who helped us and were right there beside us scrubbing, cleaning and fixing. We are grateful.

So, now we've joined the Masses of the Mortgaged -- only 30 years to go baby!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

3D Printing Ahead

Elijah has been enjoying CAD at school and now, thanks to Fenton's colleague, he has entered the world of 3D printing.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Bryna's Got Talent

While it's no surprise to us how talented all our children are, it's great to see some of the rest of the planet give them a little recognition. Bryna took up ballet while we were still in California and has continued to dance, along with Mara, since we got back. Her primary school (elementary/grundschule) recently ran a competition using the now seemingly ubiquitous " ... Got Talent" and she did well enough in the heats -- run on a weeknight at the school -- to be invited back to the finals that were held at the school fête a few weeks later. And she won! She performed a self-choreographed dance routine to the first few minutes of Ben Fold's Still Fightin' It. There were even prizes -- well done Bryna. :)

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

So ... We Bought a House

After nineteen years of wedded bliss and six children, Gaynor and I feel it is time to settle down[1]. While we certainly aren't ruling out relocating to other countries in the future -- if it's a disease, Gaynor and I should probably both be formally diagnosed -- but for the time being putting down some stable-ish roots is our plan. We believe it is the right time for the children and, financially, it makes more sense for us too. Actually, this is probably our first real opportunity to buy a house. No-one would give me a loan as a student and once I finished my studies we fled the country almost straight away. That was always our plan and hope anyway. Although we came close to buying a house in California -- the market was certainly good for buyers and we were looking -- uncertainty in our longer-term plans made us hesitant.

So once we had decided to move back to Australia, and with the certainty of at least a few years of employment, we knew we wanted to buy a house as soon as possible. As much as we would have liked to, we didn't think we could stay in temporary accommodation until we purchased but we talked to a mortgage broker soon after settling in (and taking care of the very hectic stuff) and he helped us understand our financial reach. Then all we had to do was find something with that reach.

Unfortunately, what seemed to be within our reach was a small cupboard "far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of [Canberra]". Somewhat deflated, but nevertheless undeterred, Gaynor started scouring the web and newspapers but this time for real. Our plan was to try and find something that needed improvement, preferably with a larger block in case the house also needed extensions. We also thought that if we could put in most of the work ourselves we'd be getting ahead a little, or at least providing a little protection if the market were to take a downward slide.

Gaynor has had strong opinions about houses and their designs since she was young. I have lived in houses. So one of the challenges for Gaynor was not only to find a house within our budget, our preferred area and our improve-it-while-you-live-in-it plan but to negotiate with her husband and his quickly-formed opinions. Fortunately, I've learnt a lot about houses recently and, combined with a bit of travel, I'm now far more amenable to ideas outside my traditional purview. Still, I provide the occasional resistance, just to help me feel like I'm part of the action.

Despite all this, we did find a few houses that fit our criteria and they were all being offered via auctions. The first house was on a massive block but was riddled with termite damage. We estimated about $20,000 worth of materials alone to make it livable. In order to get the hang of auctions, I had attended one that I did not register to bid in. Interesting to see how quickly several thousand dollars can be added to a price. At the auction for the Termite Castle we were eventually outbid by a guy who almost certainly will sub-divide the block, knock down the Castle and put in a couple of new houses. Hard to compete with that kind of money.

At that auction was another real estate agent who approached us afterwards to inform us that there was another similar place, just around the corner, coming up for auction in a few weeks. After looking through it, it also needed a fair bit of work but not as much as the first place. The auction eventually rolled around and it turns out, we were the only bidders! My opening bid was, obviously, too low and so we negotiated with the seller afterwards. In the end, she had an over-inflated sense of what the house was worth and would not come down to something closer to reality. We'd always maintained the position that we had to be prepared to walk away if it didn't work and we wouldn't put ourselves into something we couldn't afford. And in this case, we walked.

Finally, we found a small place, better maintained than the first two but with a slightly smaller block and a little further out. From the outset there was very little interest in this property and when the auction arrived, we were the only registered bidders. I did feel a little awkward as the auctioneer asked repeatedly for an opening bid, knowing that I was the only one who could start. One might think that the previous auctions had helped me relax a little but I still find committing to that much money a bit stressful. My starting bid was naturally low and, as per auction regulations, the seller, via the auctioneer, can enter one bid. He did this but it was already beyond what we felt we could comfortably afford and more than I was prepared to commit without further consideration. The house was passed in unsold and then we started a tense 20 minutes of back and forth between us and the vendor and discussions between Gaynor and I. Eventually, we decided came to a price slightly lower than half way between his initial price and ours. I note that it was slightly lower because he wouldn't budge and we daren't go any higher and so, to make the sale, the estate agents knocked the last thousand off, out of their commission. We can live with that.

So now we have a place. Settlement is in a few more weeks with plenty of paperwork and financial decisions to worry about in the meantime. And, even though the challenges of renovations and, hopefully, extensions are still ahead of us and, even though it'll be smaller and older than we have become accustomed to in the past few years, Gaynor still seems pretty happy and it will be ours.

[1] I believe I have worked through my fear of commitment.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Micah Reads 'Big Little'

Micah loves books and puzzles. Here he is with one of his favourite books that he can 'read' himself. The funny, sort of scrunched up face he pulls is his deliberate smiling face. :)

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Celia Lashlie: The World of Boys and Men

Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to Celia Lashlie give a public lecture at ANU entitled The World of Boys and Men. Though I have lived in this world for a while, I thought it would be useful to get an outsider's point-of-view, to be reminded of how my own boys sometimes see things and pick up any insights she might have gained. Unfortunately, I don't have time to give a full account of the talk and so, instead, for those interested in helping to raise successful men, I offer below an unedited copy of my own notes taken.
  • 'I get annoyed when ...' puts it on yourself rather than 'You should ...' which puts it on him.
  • Boys tend to ignore women's voices because they have heard many negative comments throughout their lives since there were small -- often from others who do not need to pass judgements -- that they aren't okay being who they are. a-la 2 year old misbeaving in public.
  • Once they are 12 -- 13 they turn off until ~24.
  • Note:
    • women think and talk at the same time, thinking out loud
    • men think and then talk -- note the gap -- and women prefer to fill the gap.
  • Often the thinking on the part of men in response to an 'uh oh' question[1] is to pick the words that get him out of trouble.[2]
  • Women consider externally and men consider internally. Wait for them to consider! In both cases!
  • Boys make 30 second decisions.
  • Men have intuition -- just use it differently.
  • Take in information from 2 years old -> 12 -- 13 and then process.
  • 12 -- 13 slow down; the laziness is wanting to slow the world down and is aware of the end of adolescence, the world is changing.
  • Slow down means getting through with "Don't know" or "No" and will wait for a woman to answer her own question.
  • Boys know through observation how things are. Example!
  • Relationships -- the essence of life -- will keep boys safe.
  • In communicating, learn to wait for answers, don't fill the gap nor provide answers or options. Let them think and talk and don't let them off the hook by doing those earlier things. Look directly at them.
  • They already know right from wrong so need to prod their intuition -- simply need to remind them without your own emotional insecurities.
  • Parents (mothers?) have checklist of things to talk about during adolescence and avoid segueing to it.
  • Ask them by stating own views and giving them time to think abou it and then being prepared for their answers.
  • Nothing if not pragmatic!
  • Pragmatism drives many actions and communications
  • They must experience consequences to learn.
  • Set the line and let him find it.
  • Link action and consequences -- his pragmatic nature will drive the results.

[1] She explained that an 'uh oh' question is typically one of deeper significance that usually has the man mentally responding with an 'uh oh'.
[2] It reminded me of one of my favourite illustrative stories, The Difference Between Men and Women.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Control Room Envy

I know it's something straight out of the 70s but Nuclear Physics Control Room seems so much cooler than the Heliac's.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

In this house ...

I'm not much one for interior design -- and the world is generally very grateful -- but when I see something like this I want to have it in my own house[1].

[1] And we'd like to have our own house.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Sunday, 12 June 2011

The Status Quo: June 2011

While there hasn't been anything major of note happening of late there are plenty of day-to-day events that make up our lives and I thought a post about some of them might be informative.

The children have largely resumed their activities, some as before and others trying new things. Joshua is still working on his creative side, making videos, learning guitar and writing jokes. Elijah is playing another season of rugby with his former club and Mara is, surprisingly, dancing ballet again. Ariana has taken up learning tennis on Saturday mornings and Bryna has continued on with her ballet lessons as well. And Micah, well, he is just enjoying himself and hanging out with his siblings who, needless to say, adore him.

We've slowly been reconnecting with old (I won't say former!) friends in Canberra. It's good to see them again and, in some cases, see how much they have grown in the time we have been away. Some, in the case of the children's friends, have grown up and some, in the case of Fenton's friends, have grown out. All of Gaynor's friends remain as fabulous as the day she met them. Since we now have a place and with our belongings having returned from their own adventures we are gradually inviting friends over to reacquaint them with Gaynor's cooking. And because she's picked up all sorts of new recipes and ideas from her travels, the meals are more superb than ever.

You'd think that a move back to your native country would mean that something like a driver's licence would be a simpler process, right? However, if you are Joshua, and have your licence from California, you are generally back in the Awkward Basket for a bureaucrat. So, despite having passed his California's driving test and driving there for a number of months with a few restrictions -- essentially equivalent to a Provisional Licence in Australia -- the Powers That Be decreed firstly, that he would need to start with a Learner's Permit but could count his start date from his Californian licence. Then after we organised that, with it's attendant classes and exams, they said he'd have to be on it for the full six months before he could take his driving test. We wrote a letter pointing out our case -- we were fine for him to do a driving exam since it is the other side of the road and he'd mostly driven automatic transmission equipped cars in the US -- but they stuck by their second assessment. (Why couldn't it have been the first one that we were happy with?) Of course, his case wasn't helped by the fact that the Californian DMV failed to issue anything other than a paper, temporary licence before we left the US. It did, after all, take them 18 months to renew Gaynor's. :\ Anyway, he's eligible to take the test in October.

Finally, as previously mentioned, housing prices in Canberra are even higher than other major cities in Australia. Despite this, Gaynor and I believe now is as good a time as any to take the plunge into home ownership. Mostly this means we would prefer to put our money into our own home and not someone else's pocket and this is the first opportunity that we've realistically been able to do that. We'll be looking for a house we can fit into -- though it may be a bit of a squeeze -- that will require some renovation work. A single income in Canberra doesn't make this an easy proposition but, then again, we've never really been big fans of 'easy' :) So even though we may end up with a dump, at least it will be our dump.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Mara Expresses Herself via Interpretive Planking

Actually, not so much planking as it is a lay-in protest against having to clean the kitchen.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The 60s Kombi Van of Microwave Ovens

Gaynor's children decorated her Mother's Day gift as a tribute to her hippie tendencies.

Friday, 25 February 2011

First Few Days Back in Australia

It always feels like a major logistical exercise to get the whole family and carefully chosen belongings from one continent to the next but it is such a great feeling to finally arrive and be met by good friends and family. Even tired and in a new time zone the relief is noticeable. Though the flights from Los Angeles to Canberra are not the longest trip we have taken -- Brisbane to Singapore to Amsterdam to Jülich totalled 24 hours of actual travel time from airplane door to house door, not counting any layovers or stops -- they are long enough to give one that awake-and-functioning-at-3am feeling. As we've said before, the children really are excellent travellers, handling the trip very well and now some are older getting fifteen suitcases through the various airports wasn't as hard as it might have been.

Though (Because?) he is tired after the flight into Sydney, Micah insists on pulling his own bag through a busy terminal.

Unlike previous moves, we had actually already purchased a suitable van before we arrived -- many thanks to Gaynor's father for his excellent car hunting and repairing skills. Because of it's shape, family members had dubbed it the Fat Green Wombat. Consequently, we had an 8-seater to get us home from the airport, along with friends and families' cars, and by 'home' here we mean Tamara and Troy's recently completed lovely, new house. They had already generously agreed to a 160% increase in their household size while we found a place of our own. Considering the cousins had never really spent much time in each other's company and being thrown in such close quarters for extended periods, they all got along as if they were old friends.

Having the Fat Green Wombat also meant we were able to easily get out and about house hunting. We knew the rental market would be tough -- we even made an application to rent before we left the US -- but it still took us a solid month to have an application accepted[1]. Even though the house is the upper end of what we felt we could afford, it is in a pretty good location, easy walking distance to a good set of shops and bus stops, and is fairly large. At least it seemed large when we walked through it and didn't have much furniture to put in it. We'll see how long it feels that way :)

Our plan (and hard work) to pack up, leave the house in California and ship our things before Christmas paid off with most[2] of our stuff arriving about two weeks after we moved into the new place. Again, it is like Christmas all over again but you are opening the old and familiar, the known and loved. And because these objects have survived (most of them) moving, now literally, around the world you know they are things we really want to keep. That makes it even more enjoyable. :) So, once again, we have the essentials and will work on replacing a few more of the nicer, but less essential, items over the next several months. Oh, and double thumbs up to Tamara who did a great job of picking up or saving items like dining table and chairs, mattresses and beds, kitchen equipment and even a television to mean that we had many things from the start. Thanks also to some new friends who felt they could donate a no longer needed washing machine (front loader and large -- perfect!) and a single bed.

Finally, even though the Fat Green Wombat is great to get us all around, I decided another motorcycle would fit my daily commuting bill nicely. I mean, being the slave to financial rationalism that I am, it only makes economic sense![3]

Back on a bike -- a 1985 GSX 750 S Katana -- with a few minor things to do but she goes fine.

[1] Technically, we were accepted to rent a house that was not in an area we really wanted to live and wasn't available until March. We applied because we were feeling pressure to find something. In the end, Gaynor took a gamble that we would find something sooner and in our preferred area and she was right (though a bit more stressful at times).

[2] Unfortunately, at least two boxes and half our chairs didn't make it. The shipping company said we could fill out an insurance claim but the deductible is basically the replacement cost and the monetary value of some of the lost goods is much less than the sentimental value. Gaynor is not happy. Oh, and when I say 'half our chairs' I don't mean 'half the number of chair' I mean, since the chairs were disassembled for shipping, the back half of the dining chairs didn't make it. So now we have 8 seats and pairs of front legs. I guess I'll make them into a dining bench or some such thing.

[3] Yes, I already know how dangerous they are -- I have clocked over eleven years as a daily rider, a number of them on the gnarly southern Californian freeways -- but I do appreciate your concern. Seriously.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Last Few Days in California

Having been officially homeless since a little before Christmas, we've relied on the generosity of family and friends to keep a roof over our heads. Though we discussed many possible exit strategies -- having to balance such things as the actual departure date, remaining commitments at work, when to ship household items, what shouldn't be shipped as it would be needed and when and how to sell four vehicles -- it always turns out a bit crazy in the end.

Since we had planned for some time to spend Christmas with family in Utah and, given that it would take two to three months for our household goods to be shipped to Australia, we thought it a good idea to move out before Christmas. And that's about when it became a bit busy. Gaynor and the children drove up a few days before the closing date for the house, leaving myself and a number of volunteering friends to ship, sell, give-away, donate or discard what remained of our possessions, as well as to clean and make minor repairs to the house. I never would have made the deadline were it not for those very good friends who pitched in when it was needed the most and to them I extend my gratitude once again.

After weeks of selling and giving away over half our worldy possessions, what remains is filed for future archeologists.

I flew up to Utah on Christmas Eve to join the family and had a wonderful time over that break, especially since I didn't have to get rid of anything else, enjoying time with Martin and his lovely family. Gaynor and the children, with the exception of Elijah, sojourned in sunny, snowy Utah for the month following while I returned to southern California in the New Year for the last few weeks of work. The children really got on very well with their cousins and Gaynor kept her sanity by crocheting and cooking. Stacie was pleased to have her own personal cook and highlights of the stay included ice skating with the Parkers, bowling with Erin and spending time again with Donovan. Meanwhile, Elijah had worked on convincing his parents that he desperately needed to spend more time with his friends in southern California before settling across the Pacific and, with plenty of good people willing to take him off our hands and some to drive him back down, we relented with a few specific instructions designed to ease the stay.

After what seemed like ages but at the same time passed very quickly, Gaynor and the children, with Joshua doing most of the driving, travelled back down to California for a few more days before flying out from Los Angeles. We're grateful to our close friends who not only provided places to stay for us and our belongings but also decided to throw us a farewell party. It was lovely to see good friends one more time, for what might be a while, and to receive and give well wishes. Of course, they may have also been looking forward to the even bigger party that was sure to be thrown just after we left. In these days of web logs, Facebook, email and Skype staying in touch is far, far easier that ever before -- so no excuses people! -- but we'll still greatly miss the times spent in the company of fine friends.

A final photo with our good friends who came along to make sure we left the country -- they even provided the required convoy of vehicles to the airport, just to be extra certain. Thanks!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Together for Gaynor's 40th

After a time apart, we are reunited to celebrate Gaynor's birthday at one of our preferred restaurants in California.

Friday, 21 January 2011

So, Where Are You From?

During our trip up to Vancouver, we visited the excellent Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. There most of us joined a tour run by a volunteer with a group of a dozen or so. To break the ice a little the tour guide introduced herself and then asked where people were from. A couple from the UK, some from the US and then she got to Ariana who just went, 'Errr ...' and looked up at me, a little lost. I said that we were Australian by way of California and that seemed sufficient. In discussing it with Ariana later, she confided that she thought about saying Australia, Germany and/or California -- and while in some sense we are from each of those places -- none of them were particularly accurate.

That got me to thinking a little about cultural identity and, well, what exactly is ours? At the time we were in Vancouver I posted this status update on Facebook: "Fenton thinks that a family from California who has lived longest in Canberra -- watching in their motel in Vancouver -- supporting Queensland beat NSW can't possibly be confused about their cultural identity."

I think that, for us, we are a little bit of each culture we have lived in and embraced, to the extent of those things we adopted. So, I know Gaynor[1] and I quite like lighting a candle on a Weihnachtskranz and singing a hymn each week in the four weeks leading up to Christmas. The children are fond of Halloween (though not quite as much as Karneval where the sweets come to you) and we all seem to enjoy Thanksgiving. I think these are traditions that we'll bring back to Australia with us and enjoy for years to come.

However, more subtle and powerful are the effects on our understanding, our world view and our character. I believe that the particular ways that different cultures perceive things alters your own point of view, however minutely, to the extent that you come to understand the people. Of course, not everything you find is worth picking up but just being exposed to an alternative is usually beneficial. Perhaps one of the main benefits for us has been an increase in tolerance for different ways of doing things. Having now lived in three education systems, three health care systems and three political systems, we occasionally remind the children that sometimes some ways are better, sometimes they are worse and sometimes they are just different.

Recognising that your own eyes have been opened to an alternative way is not always apparent -- can't see the forest for the trees, I expect -- but you can clearly see that recognition in someone else's reaction when you expose them to something new, something they hadn't previously known or considered. We've enjoyed doing that for people met in other cultures and I've enjoyed being on the receiving end, however difficult it might have been to adjust perceptions and thinking at the time.

In the end, our family's culture derives largely from the sum of our experiences -- just as for everyone -- though I guess our experiences have, perhaps, included exposure to more alternative ways of doing things than might otherwise have been the case if we had stayed put. I think we are better for it, even given some of the discomfort that came along with it. And to answer the original question, I think we are from a bit of lots of places now. Now the question, 'Where do you belong?', well ... that's a bit trickier.

[1] Gaynor has her own whole range of culinary traditions and experiences that she has embraced, including picking up her very own raclette grill in Germany.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Ballet Life

Hey, this is Mara. Dad told me to write a blog to update all people on my dancing. First of all, for those of you who don't already know, I got my first pair of pointe shoes in February. Secondly, I was at the highest level at my ballet school in California. Also, that a month ago I was cast in BRAVA's Nutcracker.

Pointe shoes are a pretty simple concept. They are ballet shoes designed so you can stand, literally, on your toes. Or, in other words, alot of pain. When you first start dancing on pointe, all you really do is go up, and come down. As you advance the more complicated the steps on pointe become. After about four months in the beginning class, I moved to the next one. And a couple of months after that, I moved on to the last level. The ultimate goal of pointe work is to be able to do 32 fuete turns en pointe. (If you don't know what those are, google it.)

My ballet school had six levels, six being the most advanced. I started in level three and after two years, I was in level six. Mind, you that moving that quickly isn't very common. I spent the first six months in level three, relearning the basics. After that, I was in level four for about four months. Level five is where a lot of dancers at the studio stay, or they quit. After only four months in that class, I was promoted to level 5/6. This meant that I took both classes for five and classes for six. After about four months I dropped level five, and I was on top of the world. That is where I left off.

Nutcracker is a famous ballet with music composed by Tchaikovsky. 2010 was the second year I was in it, however, it was with a new company. And by new, I mean new. New costumes, dancers, stage, choreography, and director. I was cast as a Courtier Lady and as part of the corpse de ballet for Waltz of the Flowers. In the end I had very sore feet and I was very tired. I had a total of (I think) ten people come to see me dance. It all worked out great and I got to wear an amazing costume.

All in all, my dancing experience in California has been great. I would like to thanks my parents for all the time and effort they put in to get me there, back, and fed. And I would like for all of you to have the opportunity to see me dance, sometime.

Love Mara

Got to dance, even (especially!) around the house, though not always in full gear.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Go Further West!

If you haven't heard already, we are planning on moving the family further west, back to Canberra. This will complete our first[1] round-the-world odyssey, begun in February 2005 with the move to Germany and continued in August 2007 with the shift to southern California. I've been offered a position within the Research School of Physics and Engineering at the Australian National University, working on plasma diagnostics in the same lab in which I performed my thesis work.

In many ways it is a mixed bag of feelings. To be leaving the wonderful friends we have made here is, of course, difficult but we are excited to be moving closer to family and to renew old friendships. Naturally, we expect the culture to be very familiar but even if it hasn't changed much, we have. It should make for an interesting mix of old and new.

Sorting out the children's formal education, especially that of the oldest four, will also add interest to the move. Since we are shifting hemispheres -- and thus back to an academic year of February to December -- some children who went back six months in the move to the northern hemisphere should be going forward and vice versa. So, Joshua should be starting Year 12, even though he has just finished the first half of Year 11 here. To complicate matters, we'd like Elijah to start Year 11 (six months ahead of where he is now and a year ahead of where he would be if we'd stayed in Australia) and Mara has been doing Year 10, same as Elijah, after skipping Year 9 here. I guess we'll have her start Year 10 again and have Ariana start high school. I think this puts them both a year ahead of their same-aged Australian friends[2]. Of course, the actual schools they end up at largely depends on where we end up living exactly.

And that brings me to the cost of housing in Canberra. Either to rent[3] or to buy[4], I mean, what the?! Gaynor is keen to buy a place and I expect we'll look for something small and old to improve or some land to build our own. Of course, we'll see how it goes and, at the very least, we are moving to a place where we mostly know the infrastructure, have good friends and family and will be back in a culture we (hopefully, possibly) understand.

Essentially, it comes down to this: After eighteen years of marriage and six children we are feeling like settling down -- for a little while at least.

[1] Who knows if it will be our only?
[2] Ariana has a friend who has also gone ahead a year so she'll, at least, have someone familiar.
[3] As at the March quarter of 2009 the median rent in Canberra was $420 per week, the third highest in the country.
[4] The median house price in Canberra as of September 2009 was $511,820, lower than only Sydney among capital cities of more than 100,000 people.