Saying Goodbye

Today, Xavier’s best friend moves away. He’s taking Sarah’s best friend with him.

Sarah I’m sad for, but she’s an adult. She understands what’s happening, and why, and she has the ability to make new friends more freely than a 3 year old. Xavier on the other hand still doesn’t really grasp what’s happening.

“Leland is moving to his Grandmas” we told him. He knows that Grandma’s always live on the other end of a plane.
“Big plane!”
“Yes, he’s going on a big plane. He’s moving. You may not see him again.”
“Me big plane! I go with Leland!”
“No, you can’t go with Leland. You have to stay with Mommy and Daddy.”

And so it goes. He hasn’t asked yet when Leland is coming back, but I know that this is coming. His friend, who is a little older, still uses words like vacation and holiday to describe what’s happening.

Moving is hard, but being the kid who doesn’t move feels at least as hard. In Xavier’s case, nothing new and exciting happens, there is no change except for loss. On our end, we are going to try and fill his time over the next two weeks. Partly with fun things to do, and partly with play dates if we can find them. Xavier and Leland (and Sarah and Dani) played together about 6 days a week, so I don’t expect we’ll be able to fill that gap in their lives. But, given enough toddlers, we might be able to make a dent.

Brisbane

We recently took a trip north to sunny Brisbane to visit our friends Jesse and Aaron.

They were kind enough to host us, and also show us around Queensland’s capital city.

Brisbane is a river city, and it’s highlights seem to lie along the banks of the Brisbane river. Our hosts live in the CBD, but a short walk got us to a free ferry that took us about a kilometre south to the parklands of the South Bank. We were visiting during the annual Brisbane Budha festival, the worlds largest celebration of Buddha’s birthday. Following our trip along the south bank, we walked back to our hosts apartment in the CBD. That evening, we went out for Mexican food with a few other people. The portions were small, but the food, and the company, was fabulous.

Everyone slept well that night, which was good, because the next day we were off to the Sunshine Coast.

Found this fellow sunning himself by the ferry terminal.
Found this fellow sunning himself by the ferry terminal.
Along the river bank there's a rocky outcropping that many people were climbing.
Along the river bank there’s a rocky outcropping that many people were climbing.
We stopped here for afternoon tea. In the background you can see some of the pretty purple flowers that appear all along the south bank.
We stopped here for afternoon tea. In the background you can see some of the pretty purple flowers that appear all along the south bank.
We visited during the annual Budha fair. Hundreds of red paper lanterns were string up along the water front.
We visited during the annual Budha fair. Hundreds of red paper lanterns were string up along the water front.

brisbane5

Art?
Art?
Definitely art.
Definitely art.
Hanging out in the sun with Dad and Jesse.
Hanging out in the sun with Dad and Jesse.

Wild Life Sydney

We spent this morning at the Wild Life Sydney Zoo. This is the third zoo we’ve been to in Sydney, and definitely number 3 on the awesome zoo experience list (after Featherdale and Taronga), but it has some major advantages. It’s super convenient to get to, it’s much cheaper than the others, it’s indoors – making it nice for rainy days – and it does have it’s share of Australian wildlife. Anything that you’d really like to see as far as local fauna goes can be found here.

The other huge up side is that their crocodile, Rex, (or as Xavier calls him: snap snap) is by far the most active one that we’ve seen.

Birthday Party!

birthday_boy

Last weekend we hosted Xavier’s second birthday party in the park near our house. It was an awesome day outside, even for the dead of winter, and we got super lucky with both weather and location.

For his second Birthday, Mom baked up a storm – there were owl cupcakes and special cookies shaped like buttons (both for the Giggle and Hoot theme), fairy bread, sandwiches, a sausage sizzle, and drinks galore. Unfortunately, most of his guests don’t have teeth yet, so a lot of the bits ended up being extra towards the end. On the up side, Sarah was heading out to meet up with some friends from the local uni afterwards, and as everyone knows, grad students will eat anything, so nothing went to waste.

In addition to spoiling him with food, he was also spoiled rotten in terms of gifts. But I think that’s ok – we don’t buy him too many things on account of having only a little bit of place to put stuff, and so he was about due for a ‘things’ and toy refresh. My favourite new addition was a great new duvet and duvet cover from our friends Tom and Alex. He’s been sleeping so much better now that he doesn’t get cold at night.

All in all he had a blast – he spent the afternoon playing in the sunshine with all of his friends, and running back for ‘cake breaks’ (or maybe just icing breaks) whenever he felt a bit peckish.

That time we found a still in a flower garden

The entrance to the distillery. It just gets nicer after this.
The entrance to the distillery. It just gets nicer after this.

The fourth of six catch-up posts that I hope to get out in February.

One of the fabulous Christmas gifts we received from our chef friends was the Foodies Guide to Sydney. This is not a restaurant guide; I have plenty of those. This is a guide to grocery stores, gardens, markets, bakeries, coffee roasters, and other purveyors of fine foods. Seeing as vacation = food, this was the perfect accessory for our summer excursions.

We consulted the guide on several of our excursions, and on the first day Nick was here we opted to take a short detour through the Central Coast on account of the recommendation of Distillery Botanica – a Gin distillery just outside the city bounds. How could we pass up the opportunity to visit a fully operational distillery, especially one who specialises in Gin, and native botanical liqueurs?

Distillery Botanica — recently rebranded from St Fiacre — is set in an old gardening centre. The proprietor, Philip Moore, has a long history as a gardener, and after developing an allergy to the liquor of the region (wine) he decided to retool a little and start making spirits. In particular, he wanted to highlight the flavours of the region, and he incorporates local herbs and such into his products whenever possible.

A lot of his inspiration in the production was taken from the London Dry Gin style, and the flavours in the Gin are very familiar. He showed us around the distillery, and took us into the back to show us his two copper stills. The big one had six separate filtration chambers, each one allowing him to refine the taste in his raw alcohol to be a little cleaner than the chamber before.

Copper Pot Still
Copper Pot Still

After the tour, he took as back to the entrance for a tasting. We of course tried the gin (delicious!), but also some of his liqueurs. The raspberry liqueur was a clear crowd favourite. It tastes of purse raspberry with a nice balance of sweet and tart, and no hint of alcohol at all. His other, native flavours included things like Lemon Myrtle, Mountain Pepperberry, and Wild Lime. Each one was delicious as a digestif; but perhaps a little too sweet for my palate under normal circumstances. My favourites were all flavours that had a nice tart or spice to balance the sugar.

After the tasting (and buying) we took a quick trip around the gardens to stretch our legs. Philip told us that the entire area had been lovingly brought back to life using a delicate garden tool (a back hoe) about two years prior. You’d hardly know to look at it though. The path from the car park had a wide variety of flowering plants, and was teeming with small bugs and animals.

A butterfly resting on some white flowers near the entrance of the garden.
A butterfly resting on some white flowers near the entrance of the garden.
Lavender lines the interior courtyard.
Lavender lines the interior courtyard.

Canberra

The third of six catch-up posts that I hope to get out in February.

Our first of four road trips this summer was to visit the nation’s capital (and a friend of ours). Canberra is about a 3 hour drive from Sydney, and we figured that we could make a day trip out of it. Note to future travelers – you might want to stay the night. The three hour estimate is maybe a little short.

The drive out was quite pretty. Lots of rolling hills (bigger than England; smaller than Ontario) and sweeping tree lines. We were also treated to an ‘act of God’ (as defined in our car insurance) on the way there when the great big freezer in the sky opened up and dumped giant balls of ice all over the highway.

Look at the size of these hailstones!
Look at the size of these hailstones!
Xavier was pretty keen to give them a taste.
Xavier was pretty keen to give them a taste.

Canberra is an odd city, and feels very manufactured. The streets are built in circles, and radiate out from the parliament buildings. From the center point, the city is cut into six parts, each dedicated to a different aspect — markets, museums, parks, and so on. It’s not a super big place, and really feels like it’s just a hub for government. I’m told that it was selected as the site for the Nation’s capital because it was equidistant from the two largest cities in Australia; but, if that’s the case, then Australian geographers cannot be trusted.

During our trip we met up with Jade, a friend of ours from the American Church in Paris, who helped us through a whirlwind tour of the parliament buildings, the gardens near the old parliament buildings, and the War Memorial. We managed to snap a few pics in the gardens, but as you can see, Xavier had a lot of excess energy from all his time sitting in the car on the way up. Thankfully, The space between the new and old Parliament buildings turned out to be an awesome outlet for pent up toddler energy. Had we been there an extra day, we definitely would have hit up the botanic gardens, and some of the national museums.

Christmas time down under

We had a load of visitors throughout January, and I have a raft of half-written posts to catch up on. This will be the first of six catch-up posts that I hope to get out in February.

We’re used to being far away during the holidays. Ever since we first got married we’ve been on a three year rotating cycle: one year away, one year home with my mom, and one year with Sarah’s folks. This is the third winter now that we’ve spent away, and by far the warmest (metaphorically and physically speaking) to date.

Our first year away from home was also our first Christmas together as a married couple. We spent it living in the basement of a friend’s Dad’s house half way across the country in Waterloo. We weren’t alone – our friends family went out of their way to make us feel welcome during the holidays, but we were certainly lonely. It was the first time that either of us had been away for the holidays, and home sickness was a big factor. It was also exceptionally cold — more cold than I ever remember being. We spent a lot of our evenings huddled up on the bathroom floor (heated tiles) with a blanket, a cat, and a laptop.

The following foreign cycle we spent in Paris. We’d arrived in France a month earlier, and had just moved into our new apartment on rue de Marignan, just off the Champs Elysees. That year, in addition to being cold (our apartment was very poorly insulated), and even further away from family, we were also sufferingly poor. I’d missed three pay periods as part of the transfer fiasco, and we spent what amounted to our life savings on the move-in costs for the new place. The gifts we exchanged that year included such items as chocolate bars bought from a vending machine, wrapped in an envelope with hand drawn decorations. Christmas dinner was a peanut butter sandwich. On the up side though, we did attend the best Christmas service ever, and met several people on Christmas eve who would become lifelong friends.

This year we were in Australia, and things were completely different.

The most obvious change was in the temperature. Christmas time in Australia is synonymous with summer. As the local carol, ‘Christmas where the Gumtrees grow’ notes:

Christmas Where the Gumtrees Grow,
there is no frost and there is no snow,
Christmas in Australia’s hot,
cold and frosty’s what it’s not,
when the bloom of the jacaranda tree is here,
Christmas time is near.

It’s so very, very weird to be driving around listening to Christmas carols in the heat of summer. But, it’s the sort of weird you can get used to. 🙂

The other amazing difference was that we had the good fortune to be invited into a super tight familial circle just prior to the holidays. It may actually have been Xavier who introduced us by making friends with the couple’s three year old boy, but the entire group — all of whom are employed as bakers, chefs, cooks, and so on — really welcomed us into their lives for the holidays. We were invited to share in their Christmas day celebrations which included telling jokes, playing board games, opening presents, eating proper Turkey dinner (not the traditional Aussie dinner of prawns and cold ham), and watching National Lampoons Christmas vacation.

And finally, this year, instead of feeling removed from family, we were able to connect via technology. We actually opened our gifts with our family via Facetime this Christmas. It’s not quite the  same as being there, but so much better than making a rushed four minute long distance call from a stolen internet connection as we’ve done in years past. There’s been a lot of resistance in Australia to a government program to bring faster, and more reliable internet into Australian homes. This kind of thing – being able to spend Christmas in three different cities at once – is all the justification I need.

It’s been a lovely holiday season down under – as good as we could hope for and much better than we’d expected. But, still, we are definitely looking forward to a more traditional Christmas with family in 2013.

The down side of being away.

There are so many wonderful things about the life that we’re leading, the places we’ve been and the place that we are. But there are downsides as well; notably, how incredibly far away we are from the people who are most important in our lives.

We’ve missed births, deaths, marriages, first steps, next steps, last words, and everything in between.

Today, a very good friend of mine – a friend of 26 years – got married. While I’m so amazingly, wonderfully happy for him and his now wife, I’m also a more than a little sad that we couldn’t be there to share in their joy.

I think that of all of the things that might change our lives in the next year, the distance from family and friends will have the biggest impact.

What’s this? We found a social calendar!

I don’t know when it happened exactly. Some time over the winter we managed to find ourselves with a very active social calendar. Between Mommy Groups, and play groups, and work events, and tourist happenings, and random fun with friends, we are keeping actually quite busy. It’s certainly an improvement over our first few months in France. I’m pretty sure that in Paris by about this point we were just realizing that the few people we had met were about to return to whichever country they had come from as their studies had ended.

I’m going to try my best to keep this site updated with our goings on, but between the active life, work and baby duties, we’ve been tighter than normal – and normally I’m not very quick on the updates.

A couple of weeks back, we had a lovely weekend with three different groups of friends. On the Friday, one of my colleagues was getting married, and invited us out for the occasion. Weddings are always special, and this one was triply so as [1] it was Xavier’s first babysitter, and [2] we were headed out to Quai – one of Sydney’s fanciest restaurants. Between the sunshine, the food, and new friends, everyone ended up a little spoiled.

The view from the Quai dining hall.

The following day, we had two house warmings to attend, sadly on opposite ends of the city, about 70 minutes apart. We made the executive decision to attend the one with the Portuguese food (well, Brazillian, but close enough) up in Dee Why, one of Sydney’s Northern Beaches. While we gorged ourselves on Feijoada, Xavier got to spend some time with a few older boys playing ball.

Finally, Sunday had us out at the baptism (dedication?) of a friends son, Hunter. Sydney is the home of one of the world’s most prominent protestant churches, Hillsong, and Sarah and I had been meaning to check it out since before we arrived in the city. Unfortunately, the two times we had tried before we got lost on the way, and some how ended up exploring the pubs out in Surrey Hills instead. This time though, equipped with a car, a GPS and a little extra incentive, we managed to make it on time. The service was huge! And the dedication was lovely.

Xavier also had the bonus of attending his first ever Sunday school. As nervous parents (well, just me really) I popped in to check on him a few times during the service, and noticed that he was a little different than the other kids. While everyone else was listening to the lady at the front, and following along with books and stories, X was hanging out on his own playing with a piano. Maybe we have a future worship leader? Social pariah?

Given the amount of interaction X had with other kids over that weekend, this trend of mild isolation was actually feeling pretty prominent. We watched him a bit more, and asked the Sunday School teacher what she thought, and the general opinion seems to be that he is an exceptionally well adjusted little boy, with higher than average self confidence and independence. We’ve had that echoed a few times since by other folks who have a background in emotional well being. Considering that his first (and nearly all subsequent) steps were away from us, we had a notion that he was independent. It was reassuring to hear that it’s a good thing.

I suppose that overall this was an atypical weekend for our lot, but not so much that it stands out. The feeling of being settled in is definitely there. We have a touch more work to do with integrating into larger child-friendly-networks of parents and carers, but we feel well on the way.

Two Days in Canada

Following a week of madness in San Francisco, I’m grateful to be spending a couple of days in Vancouver with friends and family. This weekend is much less whirlwind than my last stopover; which is for the best.

Saturday morning I left my hotel in San Fran for some US airport craziness, and touched down just after ten am in Vancouver. My mom and aunt cheered me down the customs line (pretending not to know someone isn’t very effective when they keep shouting your name and looking at you) and we headed out to a farmers market in steveston for cucumbers, raspberries, and an entire sockeye salmon. After loading up, the rest of the afternoon was split between bar-b-q-ing, drinking coffee, and chatting on the patio. We capped the day off with a late showing of Brave, and hit the hay early.

Day two felt too short by comparison. We followed up a breakfast of fresh baked hippy bread with a brunch of bar-b-q salmon and new potatoes. After the morning rain cleared up we took a little trip downtown to the gardens at queen e park. I knew that they had gardens up that way, but I didn’t realize how nice they were. Also, I’m considering taking up lawn bowling after I get back to Oz.

We hit a Dairy Queen on the way to the airport, and met up with my inlaws at the YVR whitespot. It’s been more than eight years since my mom and sarah’s folks have been able to connect in person. Part of the trip that didn’t happen this year was to have some extended family time. I had basically given up all hope after we cancelled the birthday cruise excursion, but with some scheduling luck and a little flexibility we managed to pull it off.

I shook some hands and said good bye to everyone at the airport, which is always a little sad. I totally underestimated how much I’d miss the fam when we moved down under, and seeing them up close always reminds me just how far away we are.

But, I had one more stop to make, so I checked in early – scoring a lucky upgrade to Business Class (!) – checked my bag in short term storage and hopped the Skytrain into the city for a slater meetup.

We met up downtown and walked out to The Wallflower for a nibble. Feeling pretty stuff from the breakfast, brunch, lunch and snack I wasn’t sure about lunch, but Chris pointed out the Poutine, and how could I say no to that on Canada day?

I’m now on my way back to the airport for my late night flight. I’d hoped to connect with a few more people, but it wasn’t in the cards. Next time. Maybe next time will be soon; or maybe not. Or maybe it will be for a much longer time. We’ll see.