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.