Friday, January 31, 2014

First day of school

For a while, we were worried that public school wasn't going to come through for Jonathan at all.  Before we left the US, I emailed a few schools to see about enrolment.  (Yes, they spell enrolment with just one 'l' here.  I don't like it, and neither does my internet browser.  It keeps auto-correcting.)

In any case, before we arrived, one school said "no way -- no short term enrolments." One school said "fine, but only if you live right in our boundaries."  And the other, a French-English dual immersion school, sent along the enrolment forms.

Unfortunately, the French school was a little too far away from the university to be reasonable.  We didn't end up in the boundaries of the second school.  And we didn't even look at the first.  As soon as we signed a lease agreement, we emailed the school that we thought we were in the boundaries of. 

And then nothing happened.

The school is directly across the park from our house, so we would walk by and see if anyone was around, and call in the mornings to see if anyone would pick up the phone.  They were taking their summer holidays very seriously.  No one was ever there.

Finally, less than a week before school started, we reached a real live person.  They told us to come by with all our enrolment information the day before school started and they would decide if we were really in their zone, and if they really had the space for us.

On Tuesday, we brought a stack of forms (proof of residence, birth certificate, Australian immunisation form -- yes they spell that with an 's' -- passport, visa, doctor information, emergency contacts, kitchen sink).  They let us enroll.  (I believe they really had no choice, by law, but they weren't going to tell us that.)

We had a personal interview with the principal on Wednesday, purchased school supplies, uniforms, paid fees, and *whew*!  We were in.  First day of school Thursday.

Jonathan was super excited about the uniforms.  He likes new clothes. 

The hat is part of the uniform. There is a large hole in the ozone over Australia, most locals are very fair skinned, and they have a very high rate of skin cancer.  If you forget your hat, no outdoor time for you. 

Because of his birthdate, Jonathan is starting the 4th year.  Looking at their curriculum, it looks like Jonathan will learn a lot of interesting stuff about Australia and its people, as well as art, writing, science, and other school type stuff.

Unfortunately, he won't learn any math.  Looks like he learned all the 4th year Australian math back in 3rd and 4th grade in the US.  He's already upset with that, because he likes math.  Hopefully we can supplement some at home.  (Mom is a mathematician.  Who better to supplement?)  I tried to explain that there were other things he would be learning that don't fit neatly into academic categories.  I don't know that the little boy is convinced.  But he is making the best of it. 

Aside from the math, all looks good.  The school is 160 years old this year, with about 200-something students enrolled.  The zone for the school is very tight -- basically it appears you must be able to prove you reside on one of the streets bordering the park in order to get in.  Apparently the Lord Mayor of Melbourne resides here, and has children enrolled at the school, but he hasn't introduced himself to our family yet.  The principal says the tiny zone means it's a close knit group.  Close knit group is good, once you're in the group.  Fingers crossed that it will be easy to make friends. 

Anyway, we are happy and relieved to have Jonathan in school. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Happy Australia Day!

On the 26th of January, 1788, the first fleet of British ships landed in Sydney to establish a settlement.  January 26, Australia Day, is now a national public holiday in Australia, much like the 4th of July in the USA, only without having gone to war against Great Britain.  The 26th of January was a Sunday this year, so the festivities were spread over both Sunday and Monday, because it's no fair to have a holiday without getting work off on a weekday. 

After church on Sunday, we wandered out to experience our first ever Australia day.

Only once a year, on Australia Day, the governor's house opens for tours.  But the line to see the whole house was too long, so we just slipped in and took the guide-yourself highlights tour. 

Nearby, there were many booths set up in the park by local groups, and an old car parade, with cars from the 1920s to 1970s.  Incidentally, old cars may look cute, but their emissions smell really bad.  I am so very glad that laws have been passed to get them off the road.  I was feeling ill just walking past the cars. 

Aside from the cars, it was just like the 4th of July celebration in the park we attended in 2013 in Laramie, Wyoming!  There was food, activities for kids, music.  The only real difference was that we were in a city of 4.5 million people rather than a town of 32 thousand.  So there were more people and more booths and a larger park, and the food cost a whole lot more.  And I don't remember Laramie's Asian residents putting up as many booths, either.  Well, ok, you kind of could tell the difference between the events.  But same idea. 

This is Jonathan holding a duckling at the "pet the cute farm animals" booth. 

After wandering around the park, we headed to the Docklands for more festivities, and to find  spot to watch fireworks.  Early on we found a comfy spot on a bench, and then we didn't really move for about three hours. 

What, you ask, did we do for those three hours?  Well, about the same sorts of things you do while waiting for fireworks anywhere.  We watched people, listened to music, and were bored.

Jonathan made a kite in a booth further up the docks, and he played with that.

Tim and I did some people watching.  Apparently people are the same everywhere you go.  For example, after sitting around a while, who should wander by but tall Grandpa Earl with his accordion!

What a pleasure to see Earl in Melbourne.

And then finally we watched the fireworks out over the water.  And we went home in the dark, on a packed tram.

This morning, Monday, we met some people for a party at Wattle Park, far off in the eastern suburbs, about an hour away by tram.  This park was advertised as "50 hectares of bushland in Melbourne's suburbs", set aside around the 1900s to attract people to take a new tram line way out to the middle of nowhere.  The park is still very large and very dry and wild looking, but not so much in the middle of nowhere.  Even so, I feel like I have had my bushland experience, and I can check that off the list without more work.  In the park, there were many very tall trees, including eucalyptus, which they call gum trees, and acacia, which they call wattle trees.  Hence the name of the park. 
Tim had a go at playing cricket.  That means he tried it out.  Here he is with the bat, looking all Australian.  You can tell it is Australian cricket and not English because the grass is all dried out by the heat. 
It was hot again today, and it will be hotter tomorrow.  On the way home, I showed Jonathan how to style his hair to minimize the heat.
My mother wrote yesterday and hoped that we were all keeping warm.  Today it was around 39 degrees Celsius, tomorrow it is forecast to be 42 degrees Celsius.  That's well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  Don't worry, mother.  We are keeping warm. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A walk in the park

There are a lot of parks centrally located in Melbourne, including the one we moved next to.  On Saturday we decided to take a walking tour of the string of parks near our house.  Tim mapped out the trip and the sights to see.  The total distance was about six kilometers.  Factoring time to stop and see stuff, we figured we'd be gone a couple of hours or so.  We packed a picnic lunch and headed out around 10:00am.

First stop, the Royal Botanic Gardens, one block north of the park we live next to.

We spent about 15 minutes looking at ducks and swamp hens on the lily pad pond. 

Although Tim looks disengaged in the above photo, he is actually not texting his SF buddies.  He is trying to determine the name of this bird, below, which is the same thing in the wild that stole Jonathan's chicken nuggets in the zoo. 

We believe it is a Nankeen night heron.

Next we meandered through the fern gully. 

And then we spent 15 minutes or so exploring the children's garden.  Our only child, Jonathan, is a little older now than the target age group for that garden.  But if I had a child between the ages of two an five, I know that hypothetical child would have loved the children's garden.  It had little streams, tunnels made of trees, a bamboo forest, a lookout tower, and a giant sand pit. 

This flowering gum tree was in the children's garden. 

You may notice it is the same tree in which we saw the parrots a few posts ago.  Those parrots were in fact rainbow lorikeets, and they live in families in the parks here in the wild.  We almost become bird watchers here.  When large or colorful birds fly so close or call out just outside the window, it makes us want to know what we are looking at. 

In any case, astute reader Brent reported that he spent a long time looking for rainbow lorikeets in the last photo we posted of a flowering gum tree.  There are no rainbow lorikeets in the photo above.  However, in case you want to stare at a photo for a while, there are at least six swamp hens pictured in the lily pads below. 

And here is a nice picture of lucky clover.  (It was the botanic gardens.  We were supposed to take pictures of plants.)

The next stop on the garden tour was the Shrine of Remembrance.

In 1914, almost exactly 100 years ago, the state of Victoria, Australia, sent about 120,000 teenagers and young twenty-somethings to fight in a small conflict developing in Europe.  About one in five of those boys did not come home.  They were killed on the battle fields of World War I.  They died too far away for families to ever find their graves.  The shrine was built for the grieving families left behind.  And very soon after it was completed, war broke out in Europe again.  

We spent a long time at the shrine, talking about war, answering Jonathan's questions.  A building that leads children to ask hard questions is an important building. 

And there are great views of the city skyline from the balcony.

In the other direction, this is the street where we live.

Visiting the Shrine of Remembrance took longer than expected.  Time for picnic lunch.  Next stop, Kings Domain.

This large parkland was named for the statue of George V of England which stands in its interior.  Here is George himself. 

You will note he is dressed for a summer afternoon in the park, although those shorts are not BYU-approved. 

This fountain was in Kings Domain.  We spent at least a half hour watching it.  With the breeze and the spray, it was a little cool, which is why Jonathan is wearing his jacket and hood in that photo.  I took a picture of a couple of birds, for your enjoyment, Reader.

These are magpie larks, which seem to have random black and white coloring, like cows, only the size of a robin.  We see large groups of them in the park outside our house.

I was going to take a picture of an Australian magpie, while I was at it.  Australian magpies are larger, and although black and white, they have much more white than the magpies I know from the western US.  As I approached the bird to take its photo, however, Tim asked why I was trying?  I could just get a picture later on the web.  So no picture for you.

OK.  Next park, the Queen Victoria Gardens, just across the street.  Here is Queen Victoria herself. 

She gets a nice view.

We found in the park this piano, part of an art exhibit placing pianos in various places around the city. 

If you find and play them all, you earn a new magic spell!  (Sorry, video game reference.)

From there, we walked across the Yarra River to Federation Square, across from the main central city train station.  Before we began the walk, we promised Jonathan we would get ice cream at Federation Square to supplement our lunch.  That was back when we thought we'd only be out for a couple of hours.  Lunch was long over, but we looked at ice cream anyway.

And then chose Slurpees instead. 

Yes, there are actually a lot of 7-11's here, including one prominently located just across from the main central city train station.  In the photo, we are eating those Slurpees back across the river at the Birrarung Marr Park, by the way, the next park on the itinerary.

The photos thin out significantly here.  Around this point in time, I looked at my watch and realized we had been out for about five hours.  Five hours!  And just six kilometers?  We were all getting tired and grumpy with each other.  It was time to walk straight home. 

Instead, we lingered at the skate park, at the Pioneer Women's park, and then back through the botanic gardens, (where I snuck in a picture of an Australian magpie, only it turned its head away just as the photo was snapped):

And then finally back to our own tree-lined park.

And that's the end.


These people were playing cricket in our park.  That deserved a picture.

That is the end. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The House Tour Post

I meant to post this earlier.  I blame the heat wave.  The heat took a lot out of all of us, even though it was just four days long.  We mostly stayed inside, when we could help it, lounging around panting with our mouths open and trying to remember what we were really supposed to be doing.  On Friday afternoon, the last day of the 43 degree (C) weather, we realized we needed to go grocery shopping.  So we hopped on a tram and headed to the nearest large grocery store.  After buying an overfull load, we waited and waited in the 109 degree (F) temperatures for the tram to take us back, but it did not come.  Worried about the groceries, we walked the mile home.  And by the time we arrived, all our tempers were sizzling hot and we had to go to bed early to get away from each other. 

But since Saturday, the weather has been cool again.  What a relief.

In any case, while you await eagerly other details of our lives, we bring you a tour of our apartment, with photos.

Here is a picture of the lovely living room.  We actually had to roll up that rug and move it onto the balcony, because Tim seems to be allergic to all the rugs in the apartment. 

And here is the lovely balcony on which the rugs currently lie.  (The owner is supposed to come pick the rugs up so they don't get damaged.)  Note all the lovely trees.  They made a big difference during the heat wave.

We have another balcony that looks about the same. 

Next, a view of the kitchen.  Note we have a dishwasher.  That is nice.

Dining room.

Jonathan's bedroom. 
Toilet.  Yes, the toilet has its own room.  And tiny washbasin on the top.  When you flush, the water runs into the washbasin first, then into the toilet tank, and it continues to run until the toilet tank is full.  Plenty of time to get those hands clean, if a little awkward, leaning over the toilet seat.
In case you wondered, so far I have no complaints with Australian toilets.  The bowls are straight (no trophy shelf as in the UK).  Ours actually seems to be deeper than those in our home in the USA, which is a feature.  Less splashing and less cleaning.  Just in case you wondered.
Another interesting feature of the toilet room is that there is no glass on the window, only a screen and some slats.  If you don't put glass in the window of the toilet room, then you never need to install a fan.  Not a bad idea, eh?  The building was built in the 1930's, and I'm sure it was seen as very modern and fresh-smelling back in its time.  I do anticipate having a chilly bum, though, in the winter.
If the toilet gets its own room, then where is the bath?  In the bathroom, of course.  With the washer and dryer. 
Then we have the office, where Tim works.  That rug in the photo was the first to go, by the way.  Because Tim has serious allergies to rugs.
And finally the master bedroom. 
The window in the master bedroom seems to be warped or painted shut.  It doesn't open.  But after a couple of days of living there, we found out that that is for the best.  On the other side of the glass is a tunnel-shaped spider web where a giant man eating hairy spider lives. 
You can also see from the picture that our bed sheets are black.  Black is typically not my first choice in sheet color.  However, sheets were not provided with the apartment.  When we went to Target to buy them (yes, they have a Target here), there was a large sale of sheets.  The fancy slippery-smooth sheets were on sale, for example.  But Jonathan was with us, and he said that if we got to get fancy sheets, then she should be able to get them, too.  Only there weren't fancy sheets for a single bed, only standard sheets.  So then Jonathan declared that if he had to get standard sheets, we had to get standard ones too.  Only there weren't any standard sheets in queen size. 
And so we were at an impasse.  Usually when we reach such a situation, we tell the boy "it stinks to be you" and just buy the nice stuff four ourselves.  In this case, however, Tim was able to avert disaster by finding a set of standard queen sized sheets hidden on the back of a shelf somewhere.  And they were black. 
So yes, we are the black sheets in the family. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Heat wave

Today it reached 43 degrees.

So what?  You say.  Then you remember that degrees in this country are in Celsius.  So you try to figure out what 43 means.  Let's see.  Multiply by 9/5 and add 32?  Since 9/5 is roughly 2, and 32 is roughly 30, that should be about 116 degrees.  Holy Moly!  That can't be right!

So then you ask Google, and it tells you that 43 degrees is 109 degrees Fahrenheit.

There is no air conditioning in my building at work. 

However, my officemate explained yesterday when it was only about 31 degrees but we were aware of the forecast, that although our building has no air conditioning, when it was built it was intended to be the anatomy building, so it is well insulated. 

It didn't feel well insulated when it was 43 degrees outside.  There was a fan, and I pointed the fan directly at myself while I tried to think.  It was a little too hot to think, so I decided I'd catch the tram home 15 minutes early to avoid the rush.  What could be worse than a tram without air conditioning, standing-room-only, when it is 43 degrees outside?

I was not the only person who decided to leave 15 minutes early.  The tram had no air conditioning, standing-room-only.  And to top it off, the Australian Open tennis tournament is going on right now (unless the athletes all died in the 43 degree heat).  Which means that we crawl through the central business district, taking an extra 10 minutes to reach the main train station there. 

We rented an apartment on the ground floor, near lots of trees.  When I came home, the temperature was amazingly refreshingly cool inside. 

"Did you turn on the air conditioner?" I asked Tim.


Ah.  We picked apartments well. 

Of course, the temperature is forecast to be in the mid 40s all week, right up until Saturday, when it drops down to about 20.  Let's see.  Multiply by 9/5 and add 32 ... that's about 68 degrees.  Can you believe it?  We are going to freeze on Saturday, after a week of 109. 

I expressed some amazement about the forecast to my colleague.  He shrugged his shoulders and told me that the weather in Melbourne is changeable. 

Friday, January 10, 2014


We signed the lease on our apartment on Monday, and moved into the apartment on the park on Tuesday afternoon.  Pics to come. 

Moving is a pain no matter where you go.  You just forget how painful it is if you haven't moved for a while. 

Monday afternoon, we spent two hours in a shop signing up for internet.  Tim knew exactly what he needed.  But getting the internet set up takes two weeks, hundreds of dollars of fees, and apparently at least two hours in a shop.  But two hours later we walked away with a data plan to last two weeks, and an appointment to set up the regular network on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, moving day, we received one of the two sets of keys.  The other set had to be tracked down, along with the inventory.  Since the apartment came with everything except towels and sheets, we stuck a set of newly-purchased sheets into the washing machine.  The machine was quite small.  The cycle options were 1 through 3 on cotton, 4 through 7 on synthetics, or wool.  Pick your own temperature, in degrees Celsius.  Let's see.  Sheets are cotton, right?  How about, um, setting 2?  At 60 degrees?  For a nice round number?

As we waited for the washing machine, I scrubbed the kitchen floor and Tim began rearranging furniture.  He thought there was a funny smell somewhere in the apartment, but he couldn't track it down.  While he walked around sniffing, I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed.  The washing machine was still going.  The toilet stopped flushing.  That is, the flush button stopped working.  We turned the water on and then off.  Nothing happened.  No flush.  Maybe it would start again when the washing machine stopped?  The washing machine kept running.  No toilet. 

Two hours later, the washing machine stopped.  We decided the next set of sheets didn't need setting-2 cotton.  Um, setting 3?  Sheets in the dryer.  Warm or hot?  For how long?  Um, an hour?  The toilet still wasn't running.  The sheets came out damp.  The washing machine ran nonstop until bedtime. 

Wednesday morning I called our realtor to ask her to please send a plumber.  Tim was working from the hotel, but arrived at the apartment just before noon, and I hopped on the tram to spend a half day at the university. 

At the university, my computer wouldn't connect to the internet.  The IT staff leaves at 1pm.  Between 12:30 and 1pm, I ran up and down the stairs four times between my office and theirs, trying to get the internet connection sorted. 

Then I tried to call Tim, so he would have my office phone number.  I couldn't dial out.  After three trips up and downstairs again, I was told that within a couple of days they'd set up my phone properly.  Time to go back and relieve Tim from waiting for the internet guy and the plumber.  Since we probably wouldn't yet have internet, I decided to print a paper to read in the morning.  Surprise.  No printer access.  Back downstairs to ask about the printer.  Only IT can help with that.  It's past 1pm, so they're gone.  Fill out a work request? 

Back at home, Tim reported that the plumber had spent 90 minutes cursing out the old toilet and the home decorator who had caulked the lid shut.  But he had gotten it fixed.  The internet was a no show.  Tim called to inquire why, and was told they didn't know.  They'd call him back in 24 to 48 hours. 

Thursday morning Tim found the smell.  It was the rug in the office.  He rolled it up and hauled it out to the balcony, then found he could breathe easy.  We called the realtor to ask if the rug could be taken away?  The realtor brought by the extra set of keys and the inventory in the evening. 

Friday morning the rug was taken, replaced by a brand new rug.  Tim called the internet company.  After two more hours on the phone, he found out that due to some sort of paperwork error, our plan hadn't gone through.  With more time and more fees, he had a new plan set up, and an appointment to install it on January 16.  To compensate us for the extra hassle, they gave him six extra gigs of data to last until January 16. 

And that brings us to this evening. 

In all? Moving is not fun.  But on the other hand, we have this huge living room, an actual table to eat at.  A stove where we can cook.  A full sized fridge.  Separate bedrooms.  A working (now) toilet.  A park in the backyard.  An easy ride to work out the front.

Life is good, though moving is not.

It will be better with internet.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Birds and beasts

We've been intensive house searching.  At least we were searching intensively until Friday morning, when we got a call from a realtor.  The woman who owns the apartment on the park, tied for the number one slot in Jonathan's opinion, has approved us to live in there.  Yea!  That phone call brought such relief!  We have set up an appointment to sign a contract tomorrow, and our fingers are crossed that everything will work out beautifully.

So since it looked like we would have housing, we decided to take Friday afternoon and Saturday and do some more tourist things again, since Tim goes back to work Monday in California, which is Tuesday morning early here.  Our window in which we can be carefree tourists is shrinking.

In any case, Friday afternoon we went to the Melbourne Museum, which is a natural history museum just a short walk from our hotel. 

You can read all about the Melbourne Museum elsewhere online.  To give the brief synopsis, since it's late at night here so time to be brief, the bug and insect room was pretty awesome.  Many of the bugs and insects in the museum's collection are dead and mounted on pins.  But many of them happen to be alive and crawling around.  Beetles, bees, flies, many large spiders, and stick bugs all crawl around live in their glass terrariums.  I left under the impression that Australia is covered in stick bugs -- at least the less urban parts.   These bugs are very long and sometimes very thick.  But they blend into the trees so you can't see them, until they fall onto your head and start eating your brains! 

Actually, I don't think stick insects eat brains. 

It appears that we took no photos of bugs, only a photo of this skink.

And this skink with a friend.

So here is a picture of a stick insect from Wikipedia by a guy named Peter Halasz. 

This picture does not help you see the fact that these bugs are the size of your hand.  Or maybe your forearm.  Or possibly the length of your shin depending on who is asking.  And when they are mounted on a white background, as in the photo, they are far less impressive than when you just walk by a pretty bush thing and then realize that there is very little bush there, mostly just bugs. 

The parrots are camouflaged like that too, but less creepy, and not in glass cages.  Outside of the museum, there was a lovely flowering tree, which seemed to be home to a large family of green parrots with red heads.  The parrots are exactly the same color as the tree.  But if you know where to look in this photo, which Tim took, you will see at least two parrots. 

Saturday we went to the zoo.  We didn't mean to spend eight hours.  It just happened.  By the end of the day, I was the one who said we had had enough.  I was tired.  It was time to go home. 

Again, just to give a few highlights, the butterfly house was very popular.  Here is Jonathan with a butterfly on his hat. 
Here are Jonathan and Tim with butterflies on their hats.

Tim's hat was very popular with the butterflies.  At one point, he had two butterflies on the hat.

And then three!  You can't top that.  We decided to see something else.

We enjoyed watching the orangutans.  That upside down orangutan in the picture below had just picked up a large plant, with a muddy root ball, and whacked it at the other orangutan guy underneath him.  Jonathan laughed and laughed.  That particular ape reminded us quite a bit of Jonathan, actually. 

What else?  The birds were too aggressive at lunch.  This bird, which looks very photogenic, is actually a thief.  First it stole Jonathan's chicken nugget right out of his tray.  Then it went after the chicken nugget in his hand, pecking his finger enough to draw a little blood and leave the boy in tears.  Mean mean bird.  I chased it until it flew away for good. 
This post is too long.  Let me speed it up.
We saw lions, tigers, and bears.  Monkeys.  Penguins, koalas, a platypus.  Some trivia.  Where do you go to see a platypus?
A platypusary.  Of course.
Lovely zoo experience.  But exhausting. 
The end.