Monday, June 27, 2011

Tips for Taking a Trip With Six (or any other number) Kids

This last weekend we decided to break the monotony of getting rejected for house after house after house (because heaven forbid we move 6 children into a large 4 bedroom house because it just wouldn't be fair for them) and go play.  We have some sights we still want to see and decided it was a good day for it. We couldn't have picked a nicer day!

We headed out and looked at a house that was just plain thrashed by the people living there (in addition to being poorly constructed), decided against it and moved on.  An hour and a half later of driving through beautiful country side (reminded Steve of driving in Virginia and California and me of driving through parts of Idaho) we came upon Phillip Island.   My kids instantly wanted to move there.  Not sure Steve's work would be thrilled with that... Its a 2 hour ride to work.
On the bridge

We had lunch by the ocean where we saw surfers taking on some pretty good waves. We were up high on a cliff so we couldn't see how big the waves were but they made the surfers look small.  After that we headed over to a chocolate factory for a free sample and then headed off to the Koala Reserve.

We saw koalas that were right there in front of us. I could have reached out and touched one! Although they're rather mean so I figured that wouldn't be a good idea.   We saw a few wallabies and some ants too.  If I can get the video to work, you can see how close the koala was.  If not, a photo will have to do.

After we were done there, we headed towards the Penguin Parade.  The "parade" starts at sunset but you have to get than hour early so you can get your tickets, a free picture (which of course isn't really free but they're cute), headphones and then head out to the bleachers.  You keep quiet and watch all the cute, tiny little penguins come in from the ocean.  Steve said it looked a bit like fish getting beached on the shore, the water rushes in, and you suddenly see all of these flopping little bodies as the water flows back out.  They stay about 170 meters out until sunset and then head in where they stay in their burrows.  You can't take pictures or video which is tough because you just want to catch it all on film!  After you're done watching them come in, you can walk up the boardwalk and watch them walk along and into their burrows - or under the car if they feel like it (which is why they warn you to look under your car when you leave).

Penguin calls are awesome. They're loud and they talk to each other.  Steve said he'd use the term warbling.  Sounds like shrieking to me. :)

The kids LOVED it.  Jakob didn't want to leave. And Ashley kept squealing how cute they were.  Heidi was just along for the ride.  It was dark on our way back and we'd successfully worn out our kids for the evening.  And better yet, they didn't ask what was next.  I came up with some tips for any trip. This works for our six kids or one kid I'm sure.

  • Fill your car with enough snacks to feed an army. Maybe two.  This works for a half hour trip up to a day trip.  Even with that many snacks you may still get complaints that they're hungry. 
  • Know where every single restroom is from where you start, to where you end up.  Trees will do if you are in the middle of nowhere.
  • Be prepared for children arguing over trivial things and have such terms in mind as "Stop, or you get out and walk" or "Do we have to turn this car around?" or "Mommy gets all the chocolate and you get to watch me eat it."
  • If your children sing "I Know a Song That Gets on Everybody's Nerves", just be patient and let them sing it until it drives THEM crazy (we did this once. It was awesome.  Poor Ashley was sobbing because she wanted her brothers to stop). This of course only works if your nerves aren't already shot.  Otherwise, be ready with one of the terms I mentioned above.
  • If you get the comment, "Daddy, its boring in the back of the car", you can use the term "You can ride on top of the car. Its much more exciting up there."
  • Know where tissues, wipes and garbage bags are at all times. You have kids, your car will get sticky. 
  • Make sure you pack coats and an extra pair of pants for each child as your seven year old will most likely be a dork and wear shorts even though its winter...
  • If you don't want to spend money while you're gone, don't go to a chocolate factory. Just sayin'...
  • Sprout five arms in any gift shop so that you can keep a firm grip on each child so they'll stop touching EVERYTHING.
  • If the trip is longer, make sure all electronic devices (i.e. DSi's, leapsters, etc) are fully charged. This will keep children quiet for hours - or until the batteries are dead.
Those are my tips.  Some don't work when we're in a train or a bus because it's a whole new ball-game. No carseats means that little ones that are normally so calm in a car go wild and want to be everywhere at once in a train or bus. They want to push the button, or look out the window, or get down off the seat and run (which doesn't work when the buses or trains stop at regular intervals - and they are not very smooth stops!).

 As we continue on our adventures we'll pass on our little tidbits.   Now back to house hunting. Sigh...

Monday, June 20, 2011

We're Onto Move Number....

Nine. Yep. And we're not done yet. Although, luckily we have been told we can stay in this cottage (paying nightly) until we find a house so that means we should stop at Move 10.  As long as we're lucky and actually find a good house that doesn't try to kill us...

After the move to the apartment, we stayed the weekend and then had to move downstairs for a day before moving back to the cute little cottage.  This little cottage feels more like home than anywhere else has!  All two bedrooms of it.  Two days after we got to the cottage we left again because of the holiday (Queen's Birthday and it was already booked, so what can you do?) and stayed at an apartment that is owned by a friend of the lady we've been renting from. That apartment had a lot of room but I'm pretty sure we were living in mold, unfortunately.   But we still loved it. It was very very nice. While we were there we did more searching, went to church, went to a museum and Steve went to work.

After THAT move we moved right back into the cottage. Which is where we are now.  Like I said, we've been assured that we could stay here until we have the house. We were also promised we could have the car we've been borrowing until we get a house. So happy for us!

Even better than that, Steve got two projects. We think, at least.  Steve has been trying to take this exam for a long time and everything that could happen has happened to prevent him from taking it.  He was warned that he better take it or else. So he signed up for the test and left an extra 1/2 hour early just to make sure he was on the train.  His train time came and went.  And he kept waiting. And waiting. And waiting.  He watched four trains go from the city to Frankston - the opposite way from where he wanted to go.  He found out that power had gone out on the tracks a few stops down and they were waiting for another train to be ready.  So there went another chance to take the test.  He came home and picked up the kids and took them to school instead.  Then he headed to work where he got to explain everything that had been going on.

By the end of the day, he had a project that starts in a week or two and when he got home that evening he got called for another one that lasts a week (which, since then has been shortened to two days...).  We were very happy.  How did we celebrate? We went to Ikea.  Yep, we celebrate big.  We had dinner and then wandered through and got a couple of things for the nonexistent house that we may or may not get sometime. :) Ok really we got mattress pads and crates (and Ethan managed to get some trains in the cart too but as they were 4.99 we let him get them).  The crates are to help control our bags of stuff we have to take everywhere.

Saturday morning we were very happy to be going to a baptism. We made it just in time and enjoyed it.  Andy had such a big smile afterwards, knowing that he has just over a month before he gets baptized.  He told me he was willing to miss school so he could get baptized on his birthday. :)  That's what his friend got to do but as his birthday is on a Monday that probably won't happen!

Afterwards we went house hunting.  We went to a very large home that I was excited about because across a field was a primary school for the kids.  But the house was a mess. There were tears in the carpet over where the tack board was so one wrong step and you'd have holes in your feet! There was electrical tape over a hole in the window and a few other miscellaneous messes. I'm sad because it was a very pretty house but we both felt it wasn't the right house. Darn.

We went to the next house and barely missed it. We were one minute late but no one was there. I'm wondering if they'd cancelled the showing or something.  I did get to help an older couple move a desk to their house. I thought it would be just across the street but it ended up almost a block away! I'm glad we were able to help. They were hilarious to talk to and they thought it was awesome they were "being helped by the Americans" and invited us to come and visit them whenever we wanted.  We may not have seen the house but we got to meet very sweet people!

The kids wanted to see where we'd lived when we first got to Melbourne and then they wanted to see their old school.  Then Ashley needed to use the potty.  We drove all over to find both a gas station and a potty (figuring they'd be in the same place).  We found the gas station but no potty (and Steve got chewed out for using his cell phone while pumping gas - even though there is NO proof that anything can happen while doing so) and then headed off.  The Woolworths we tried to go to had a  "not an entrance" sign and yet we could not find the actual entrance. So we kept on going and just decided to drive.  We finally came upon a huge shopping center where not one but three kids used the potty.   We also found me a belt, Ashley a hat (it was buy one get one free) and Andy some shoes.   Then we wandered home and had yummy spaghetti - a nice way to end the day.

Sunday, which is Father's Day in America, was just a normal day here in Australia.  I still wished Steve a Happy Father's Day and sent him and Jakob off to church.  The rest of us stayed at home and laid around blowing our noses and coughing up a storm. We must have coughed really hard because man, is there a storm out there today!!!

Back to yesterday though.  After leftovers of spaghetti and chicken soup, we headed off to the beach for a few minutes.  It was cold and we had colds so we didn't spend much time out there.   I have some awesome video that I need to post.  The ocean is a magnet for Heidi!!

Steve decided that he wanted chicken sandwiches for his Father's Day dinner. Worked for me! He went to Woolworths (a different one from the aforementioned one) Saturday night and got the leftover chicken and brought it home.  So for dinner we had yummy chicken sandwiches followed by scrumptious ice cream.  We also watched A Wrinkle In Time which was fun.

Today Steve took Andy and Jakob to school and headed off to work while I stayed home and cleaned, did the dishes, laundry and hung out with the younger kids.  I got to talk to my mom and dad (and Georgy) on Skype.  We got pictures of Heidi and my dad on screen so that I have A picture of my dad and Heidi.  I cannot believe we never got pictures of the two together! She adores him and remembers him so I know they've spent plenty of time together!!

Now I'm going to bed so that 1. my kids will stop jumping off beds and laughing hysterically and 2. I'm tired.   And maybe if I go to bed I won't keep having nightmarish visions of the windows breaking from the windstorm out there. Wait... isn't night time when you have nightmares???

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Life Is Like a Book

Before I moved to Australia life was one big routine.  Get up, get the kids dressed, get them to school, get them home, get them to scouts or sports, make dinner, get the kids ready for bed, watch tv or read and go to bed.  The next thing we knew, it'd be the weekend.  Then we'd start over. I loved it.

If you add in the bookstore, things got a lot more interesting. Get the kids to school, come home for a few minutes, get dressed, head to the bookstore and stay there until 8:00 while Steve ran the kids everywhere.  Somehow shove all the sports and scouts and going to friends' houses in there.  But it was a routine. I loved it.  I missed my kids terribly being at the store all day but it was routine.

Pick us up and drop us in a new country, however, and it all changes.

Since we started packing I've noticed that life has gone in chapters at a time.  We move through an adventure and as that chapter comes to a close,  I forget what has happened and move on.  We have been here for three months and it feels like its been forever.

There's a chapter for us getting through the move to leave.

There's a chapter in Fiji (I liked that chapter...).

There's a chapter for the first week of being in Canberra.

There's a chapter for searching for houses in Canberra.

And on and on.  My life has been broken down into small sections and when I look back, I'm amazed that everything that has happened only took a few short weeks to actually happen!

I went back and read my blog from March.  I was amazed at what I'd been through and how much I'd forgotten. I really had two sleeping kids during the airport run in Salt Lake?  And only a few weeks into the time in Canberra I was so frustrated that I couldn't find a house and worried that I was being picky.  If only the Me now could go back and point and laugh at the Me then.  3 months later and still no house!

Picky is good when choosing a house.  If you're not picky, you end up with a heap of mold for a house that makes your family sick. Picky is better than being desperate and taking whatever you can get.

Anyway, my point is, I'm glad I've been writing this because it has allowed me to look back at where I was before I got here and where I am now. I'm stronger, smaller (I really need to go clothes shopping for pants), wiser, a better packer, and hopefully wiser than I was when I started on this trip.  I have a stronger testimony and more appreciation for the Church for what it has given me during this time.  I'm glad that my life has happened in chapters instead of remembering everything that has happened in the last few months.  It makes it easier for me to continue moving on instead of yelling "ENOUGH!!!!" and giving up and going home.  It's already happened enough with taking just small doses at a time!

So where are we now?  We're still by the coast, enjoying the sea air.  We made move number seven (yes, seven in 3 months) yesterday from the cottage to an apartment that the owners of the cottage own.  They'd had a booking for this weekend already set for the cottage and they couldn't break it so we got to move. With all of our stuff.  They helped which was very sweet of them.   On Monday we move back because its cheaper there. I'd rather stay here. SOOOOO much more space.  But truth be told, we'll have to move again on Friday anyway so what's another move?  Like I said before, I've gotten to be a very good packer.  Our entire amount of belongings packed up in 3 hours?! Not bad.   It took 3 vanloads and 3 carloads(of the owners' car) to get our stuff here. Yes, we do that again two more times.

Our house is nearly taken care of.  With a doctor's note on our side and hopefully three reports (those have been interesting to get a hold of...), we have quite a good case for ourselves.  Andy developed asthma after being in the house for less than 10 days. Yes, we were in our house for less than 10 days.  After that, whenever we'd go in there to clean stuff out and vacuum or have inspectors come through, Steve, Heidi and I would start feeling sick.  Headache, sinuses going out of whack and various other aches and pains. When we would leave the house and go back to the cottage, all of the symptoms would disappear.

The agent is willing to let us out of the lease but the owners are not being so kind. The agent doesn't want to deal with VCAT and the trial that goes with it.  He wants to try and keep things smooth between us and I'm ALMOST willing to allow them to help us find a house.  Steve would be except for one minor detail.

Last Wednesday we had a plumber come to fix a leak in the shower and while he was looking at the water heater outside (for some reason we had more water pressure in the hot water than in the cold water and apparently that's not supposed to happen), I noticed a gas smell in the family room. It was the only room in the house that smelled that way so I was going to just brush it off.   The plumber finished his work of sealing the knobs for the shower onto the wall (whoever built the house didn't so water had been leaking into the wall and down into both the master bedroom and into the stairs and ceiling below it!!).  As he was leaving I smelled the gas smell even stronger and mentioned it to Steve.  He smelled it too so we decided to grab the kids and get out.

Across the street from the house, we sat in the van and called the agency to get the gas company out to us.  We got the voicemail for the repair lady so we called the gas company ourselves and were told we'd have a team out ASAP. Well, 50 minutes later on guy showed up and found a leak inside the house.  He turned the gas off and was getting ready to leave when Steve got a phone call from the lady from the agency. She YELLED at Steve saying that he had no authorization to call the gas company because she needed to send someone out to prove that were was actually a leak. When he tried to put the guy from the company on the phone, she hung up on him!  They found the gas leak, got it fixed and all was well that way.  But as far as we were concerned Ray White had royally messed up by yelling at us for fixing a very urgent problem.

Because of that, we don't want to go back to Chadstone, nor do we want to have anything to do with the agency that has been so unhelpful with anything.  Which of course makes it difficult to keep the kids in the same school because the majority of the houses in that area are managed by the same realtor!  I'm just glad that we're out, that Andy's symptoms have disappeared (no inhaler for 3 days now), and that we can hopefully move on.

I don't regret taking that house.  I regret the fact that Andy got sick.  He said to me, "I wish we'd never left America because then I wouldn't be sick."  Way to break your mother's heart, Andy!  But I think we had to take it to be ready for the next house.  We know more about our rights, we know how more of the government agencies work here and we know what to watch out for in looking for houses.   I honestly never felt good about that house.  I tried to be happy in it. I tried to make it a home.  But I never felt at home.  As we'd walk toward it my kids would yell "yay, we're home!",  and I would cringe and say "yay....." in a quiet "I hate this house" kind of way.   But I think it served its purpose.  I think we've learned a lot.

So onto the next chapter of our lives.  As we sit and enjoy the constant trains out our window,  we do searches for more houses.  The beach is just down the road from us but we haven't been there since we moved to the different apartment.  We might not before we move back to the cottage. Its enough to see it at the end of the street as we walk to the train or car.

We've done a little more searching for houses.  Some are awesome.  Others need help.  We got smart and instead of waiting for each inspection, we drive past the houses and see what vibes come from each house.  We've gotten rid of several on our list that way.  It saves hours.  Today we were able to rid ourselves of all but one by seeing that the photos hadn't shown the mold or other interesting pieces of information we'd find as we drove by.

We DID find a house not far from here that we're almost in love with.  It would mean a new ward for church and a new school but the school is across the street and the house is in a neighborhood full of families.  We didn't get that in many other places.  We did find that in Wantirna when we were there to see the temple.  We even looked for homes there but couldn't find anything to fit us.  But this was different. It felt different.  The kids were cheering when they saw the house. They cheered when they saw the school across the street.  They cheered as we drove through the neighborhood and saw all the big houses, cars and families in the area.   And I smiled.   I see the inside of the house on Monday.  I'm hoping for good vibes then too.

The crazy thing was that when we were trying to leave the area that morning, things kept happening to prevent us leaving.  A guy tried to run into us (the dork ran a red stop light!) so we had to turn and go the other way (it was easier than trying to wait for another open window in the traffic). Then the road was closed or there was construction or a dead end. When I realized where we were, I remembered that there was a house there that I was supposed to look at on Monday.  SO we went to go see it.  It was after that, while I was smiling, that we made our way out of the area and headed off to go house hunting. Call it coincidence if you will but I choose not to.  I needed to see that house.

After giving up on 4 homes because they weren't great and it would have been an hour or two until the showings, we headed off to the zoo.  Actually it was a sanctuary.  The drive was AMAZING.  It took a while but it was totally worth it.  Green, rolling hills, farm country, wineries (no, we didn't stop),  and farm animals.  I had to keep reminding myself to focus on the map to get us where we needed to go while Steve drove.

This sanctuary had all Australian animals.  I wanted to take a koala bear home with me.  They were adorable!  The platypuses were my second favorite. They were smaller than I expected but awesome. We also saw dingoes, bilbys, wallabys, kangaroos, brown snakes, tasmanian devils and on and on. It was so much fun!   We were sad to leave but Heidi was ready to leave after sitting in a stroller for 3 hours.

We enjoyed the trip back and then went to a fish and chips place.  The food was SO good but as it was fried, I had to peel a lot of the breading off.   The kids all devoured everything in front of them and we all left happy. We came home and showered and sat down to watch Mr. Bean.  Now Steve is going to enjoy a movie and I think I'll read my book. Or maybe fall asleep.

This book has had happy parts, sad parts, frustrating parts and parts where we just fully enjoyed ourselves.  Its been a joy to be part of.  I love Australia. I love learning the culture, meeting the people and seeing the sights.   I will be interested to see how everything continues on.  As long as it has a Happily Ever After. ;)