29 June 2005

Your Tunes. Your Way. (TM)

On some recent DVDs we purchased was a token for two free downloads from Walmart's music store. So I had a look. Their catch phrase is "Your Tunes. Your Way".
On the next screen the requirements state - no Mac, no Linux, only Microsoft Internet Explorer, only Windows 98SE and higher and no iPods. Otherwise "Your Tunes. Your Way."
I wonder how they define the term "Your" - it's certainly not mine!

(Just a minor rant about silly marketing slogans.)

28 June 2005

Do you call that a drought?

We have been keeping in touch with conditions back home and mentioned to our friends in the US that Australia still has huge areas in drought. This normally gets a brief recognition, but little more. Upon further investigation I think the word "drought" in the US is over-used and can normally be translated as "Dry Spell" in Australia.
Here is a photo of Lake Pejar, the source of water for Goulburn which is a large inland town not far from where our home is in NSW. Have a look and then come back.

See the level of water? Namely - none. The swimming pools are closed and the nearest pools are in Canberra, about an hour's drive away.
Our water supply is rain water. Rain hits the roof and runs into the water tanks. As our house is not on town water, when we built our house we calculated our water usage based on our water bills from Sydney and had capacity for about nine months usage. That is, we created enough water storage so that if the water tanks were full we could survive nine months with no rain. If we run out, it has to be trucked in and loaded into the tanks.

Please include Australia in your prayers. Rain would be nice.

27 June 2005

Does driving make one crazy?

I just wanted to post this photo because it shows that driving for two weeks tends to bring out the funnier side of the family. Just imagine: eight people in a Suburban, not a lot of space to move around, at this point air conditioning wasn't working, 90F (35C) temperatures, high humidity and we had been away from home about 16 days. Oh yes, and we had just had a challenging evening with the car breaking down and stayed at a local equivalent of Fawlty Towers.
Amazingly we not only survived but have lots of happy memories - we are eager to do this again next time!
The photo is of Eric, wearing my hat, sitting in the front seat not long after Lana moved to the middle seat next to Rose.

What do dads do?

In the course of our trek we visited at least 21 homeschooling families. They are from all areas of the country from city to country, from higher to lower value areas and from all walks of life. The common link was each family had lots of children (average of 5 to 8) and all were supported by one income.
The father's occupations included accountants, salesmen, lawyers, an insurance agent, mechanics, a welder, an actuary, nuclear power plant manager, Church employee, printer manager, hardware store employee, carpenters and teachers among others.
Each family's financial situation differed, but all were able to raise a family, feed and educate them, and have the occasional extras. The main similarity - they all place children and family life on the Asset side of life's balance sheet.
I remember a story of a teacher asking his students where to place various parts of life on a balance sheet with assets (positive things) on one side and liabilities on the other. Initially most students placed all the non material/monetary assets on the liability side. Eventually, after a bit more discussion surrounding the true meaning of value, wealth and timeliness of assets, the students re-evaluated many items - especially the non monetary items.

All of these families have happy and intelligent children and wholesome lives. We are often informed by the media that two incomes are compulsory in today's world. But the twenty one families we met on our trek and the thousands of other homeschooling families we know locally, in Australia and via the Internet, show that it is not essential.
When we were first starting our family (I think just after James - our third child - was born) I did the typical accountant thing and did a cross comparison between Lana working and having the children in school and child care versus her staying at home and being a home-maker. After taking into account schooling costs, transport, clothing, child care, food costs and so on, the type of job Lana required to get the pre-tax level of income necessary to break even, we saved a fortune being on one income. This did not take into account the non financial benefits of being there as the children grew and developed. In the US, the tax situation is even more beneficial for families.
So, what do Dads do? They still can perform their role as provider and protector in close and intimate association with their wives doing their role as the family's heart. Partners in life - for life.

(By the way - the photo is an example of what NOT to do if you need to open your laptop PC. A power drill is not the recommended tool!)

Travelling in the heat

We have been discussing our impressions obtained during our recent trek and they highlight some differences we discovered between Australia and the US.
The first difference is heat and humidity.
Luckily we planned our trip for late Spring rather than mid or late Summer. As one travels further North in Australia it gets hotter and more humid. Considering one is getting closer to the Equator and further from the Antarctic this makes sense.
However, we found that in the US it was humid wherever we went when it was hot. In Illinois the temperatures were in the mid 90's F (high 30's C) and it was VERY humid. So the more North we went - towards the "cooler" areas - the humidity was just as high as where we left. We figure it must have something to do with the greater quantities of water around. The Great Lakes are truly great bodies of water. (Although REALLY cold in Winter)
In the area we live in Australia we are bordered on one side by a mountain range, and a few hundred kilometres to the West are the dryer areas then the desert. Check out a map of Australia. You will see lots of little blue lines that are dotted. This means they are "seasonal" or occasionally filled with water. There are no big lakes or large bodies of water.
Although we complain about the lack of sunlight where we live here under a almost solid canopy of trees, the temperature difference in summer is 20F. It was 95F at the office 15 minutes away, and at home it was 75F. (39C to 27C) What a difference a bit of shade makes! Also, being in the Appalachian mountains and bit higher up, the humidity is a lot less than further South.

Roadside Delights

The various State Road departments throughout the US have a program of seeding the highway median strips with wildflowers. Also, as many roadside areas are not used once you are out of the main cities, wildflowers are encouraged to flourish. The colours whilst driving are beautiful.
On a roadside just near home are these roadside Daylilies. Daylilies intially only had a few colours but through selective breeding they now come in a riot of colours. These ones are just growing wild. For more information, you can read about Daylilies here.

Reading to new heights

Now that it is Summer, and the schools are out, the local libraries all have Summer Reading programs. Each week a library employee reads to the children, and they have a variety of incentives and prizes for attending the weekly session, other library visits and also reading. The children are really enjoying getting involved in the local Library.
We go there often anyway and the Young Harris library is marvellous, filled with a treasure trove of great books, the staff are always helpful and we go through lots of books - especially Ariel.
One of the prizes was donated by a local business called Funworld. It has a variety of entertainment for the children including rock climbing (pictured), laser tag, mini golf, a foam room where the children can shoot foam balls at each other or into the air, slides and a jumping castle (called a "moonwalk" in the US).
The free tickets saved us a LOT of money and we had great fun for about 3 hours. The older three children talked me into joining them in Laser tag. There were the four of us against four others. Ariel scored the highest, although the other team just beat us.
All in all, not bad prizes to encourage us to read!

I've got my own 'coon hat

As part of our cultural experience the children liked the idea of having their own 'coon hat. A 'coon hat is one made from the fur of a raccoon, and as dead raccoons are on the roadside in plentiful numbers, anyone that knows how to skin and tan has plenty of material with which to work.
Lana found a raccoon on a very cold Winter's day and we arranged with friends to have the job done. The raccoon was cleaned very well, so that the head and claws were still attached and the whole hide was on one piece. As you can see from this photo, the raccoon hide makes a fine hat, even without actually fashioning it into a hat shape!

26 June 2005

Bookmarks are so yesterday

One of our local friends gave me a wonderful birthday present a few months back. It was a container of "Book Darts" These wonderful little things are paper thin bronze clips in the shape of an arrow that serve as book marks. They are slid on to the page and point to the line at which you left the book, and - best of all - the little children have great difficulty removing them. There are 50 in the little can and all the family gets to use them.

The times where someone yells, "Who took my bookmark!" are over.

Update: Ariel just read this and said, "No it's not!". Rose opens the book until she finds the book dart and then flicks it off with her thumb after a number of attempts. So, the best we can say is that it's harder for the litte ones to remove the book dart!


I have turned on the comments feature. This is an easy way to let us know if you have any thoughts about the post. All you need do is click on the # comments at the bottom of any post.

24 June 2005


After arriving home safe and sound from our vacation (just) we unpacked and unwound on Monday and Tuesday I went down to a client in Southern Georgia - 6 hours drive away.

So whilst I worked, Lana and the children had a week off school and enjoyed going nowhere. Rose walked all over the house grinning at her new found freedom, drooling with indications of another tooth coming in. The boys enjoyed playing outside and making lots of creations in Lego whilst Ariel enjoyed catching up on some reading.

I returned via Sam's Club (a bulk warehouse, related to the Walmart mega shopping cabal) with plenty of frozen and bulk goods as well as some Star Wars "incredible cross section" books for the boys. The boys have been making newer and more amazing Lego Star Wars creations ever since.

I was surprised to see a dedicated in car GPS system at Sam's for around $700. This was a comparatively good price, yet I was glad to compare to my GPS thingy (Garmin iQue 3600) which was under $400 after the Audible credit - and it is a full Palm based organiser too.

Now we have had some time to reflect on our very busy trip, I have a few articles to post.

15 June 2005

Our American is now an Australian

Whilst we were away our application for Rose to be an Australian citizen by descent was processed.
We are pleased to announce that Rose is now an Australian and an American citizen.
Our next hurdle is to organise for an Australian passport. At least we won't need to have a US visa stamped in it!

13 June 2005

National Anthem

Ariel was explaining in the car to Eric about the lady singing the US national anthem at start of the baseball game. One of the living history books Ariel had read was about Francis Scott Key and was describing what each part of the anthem meant.
Next thing we heard was Ariel and Eric singing the anthem in the car.
How's that for inculturation? The US national anthem in Australian accents!

Day 17 - Home finally

We finally arrived home at about 5:30pm. Whilst we were away there had been lots of rain and the flora was very green.
As you can see, Rose had had enough of this travelling thing. All that evening she was just wandering around grinning with the freedom to walk where she knew she could.
We had travelled over 3860 miles, visited 15 states, met at least 21 homeschooling families with about 130 children between them and had a most enjoyable time.
But it was still great to be back home and in our own beds. It's great to travel and see new things and meet new people, but coming home is always the crowning highlight!

Hot Hot Hot

Sunday was hot. And the air conditioning still hadn't cooled down enough after being replaced. But at least the engine was running smoothly. We had not yet had breakfast or lunch so stopped off at Walmart and bought small icecream containers, some ice and some subway sandwiches.

After we had eaten and were listening to the audio book "Mariel of Redwall", the younger children fell asleep. You can see how hot it was by Clare's sweat filled brow.

We finally get a move on

Sunday began with sporadic rain showers. I got up, had a shower and went to look for a phone book. There was no Internet here and the desk had little ants all over it which I didn't want in my computer. I called the office and went to get a phone book as there was none in the room. I tracked down the local Auto store to get a fan belt and then called for a taxi. The landlady must have felt guilty about overcharging as she offered to drive me and Eric to the shop. We cancelled the taxi (just before he finally arrived!) and I bought two different fan belt size options.
Lana and I worked out how it went on and the car started. But it sounded pretty rough, and the splattered rubber of the old belt gave off occasional smoke.
But we started off anyway, going via the auto shop to return the excess belt. 2 minutes after getting back on to the I24, the engine made a very weird noise so we pulled back off and into a gas station. Opening the bonnet/hood we saw the top of the engine (shown here) but with the front cap and screw thingy way out of kilter.
A fellow called out and asked if it was overheating. I answered it was more than that and he came to look. He was a part time mechanic and offered to fix it so we could continue. After all we were only 2 hours from home.
Trusting to my guardian angel and a gut isntinct we agreed and drove to his place just around the corner. His folks were on the porch in the shade and other family friends gathered round with great Tennessee Southern accents adding their advice. The best option was to replace the top thingummy as it was "stuffed" (this is the appropriate Australian description of it's condition). His dad gave us a lift to the same auto shop and we purchased both the replacement thingummy and the air conditioning gas refill kit as our lovely cool gas had to be released in order to replace the thingummy. ($250)
After an hour and a half it was all fixed and running very smoothly, much better than before we left home.
So off we went on the last leg - on a very hot Sunday.

Day 16 - Stranded in Tennessee

AAA didn't really provide much help for this. I decided that as it was just a fan belt I could replace that, but I wanted to be in Chattanooga to expand my options. Checking my GPS thingy I started to call hotels. The first few had no rooms until I finally found "Alpine Lodge". OK. So now we had a room but no way to get there. The hotel gave me some phone numbers for taxis.
I called the first one and asked for a taxi to transport 7 people (I would go with the tow truck). They had one, but he wanted cash too!
Meanhwile AAA called back and asked what we were doing. They suggested I call 911 for assistance. I replied that I thought that was for real emergencies. I suppose being stranded in the middle of nowhere with 8 people and a dead car could be an emergency, but who would I talk to? Police, Ambulance or Fire? What a stupid suggestion!
I had an ATM card, so I gave it to Lana. She would go with the taxi to the hotel via an ATM and get cash to pay the taxi and the tow truck when I arrived.
AAA was notified and they dispatched the driver. Without payment confirmation he was just waiting.
The taxi arrived and out came "Big John" (that was his name). He was a big black guy, rings on most of his fingers, gold chains around his neck, shoulder length greasy hair and originally from the Bronx in NY. He was actually a really nice guy. As he was leaving I looked at him in the eye and said, "You've got all my family there." Shortly afterwards I was left standing on my own around midnight next to a dead car waiting for the tow truck with my family driven off into the night. That was quite a lonely feeling.
We finally got to the hotel around 1:00am, paid the taxi $80, tow truck $70 and the hotel doubled the price when they saw we had 6 children. As the room size didn't change I don't see how they justified it.
Anyway, by 2:00am we were all in bed/floor/sofa, with a dead car parked outside wondering what tomorrow would bring.

12 June 2005

A slight change in plans

We left Peoria in the morning and arrived at our stop in Illinois, just across from St Louis Missouri. We had a great time meeting a new family and having a travel break before the last leg home.
Although they had four girls and a new baby on the way, the boys were happy as they had light sabers!
We left and decided to push on home. The thought of our own beds and going to Mass locally was very appealing.
We had gotten as far as 20 miles out of Chattanooga, near stop 143 on I24, at about 10:30pm when there was a pop and the sound of burning rubber. I still had control of the car so I knew it wasn't the tires. I exited off the next ramp less than 1 mile away and went to the gas station and fireworks store we noticed in our September trip last time. As I went up the ramp the power steering failed and we barely coasted to a stop in front of the shop.
Under the bonnet/hood was a badly melted accessory belt, with melted rubber splattered everywhere, and traces of smoke. Later we learned that the accessory belt connects the power steering, battery, air conditioning and engine cooling.
And if it hadn't snapped it may have caught on fire.
And we had just passed through some very heavy rainfall, but now it was dry.
And if it was any further from a rest stop we wouldn't have made it.
It could have been worse.
But now we had to co-ordinate a few things. I called AAA (being very glad I was a member) who arranged for a tow. But the tow truck could only be paid in cash. Anything over 5 miles away was charged at $2.50 a mile. We did not have enough cash. Also, we had 8 people to get to a hotel somewhere. And it was now after 11:00pm on a Saturday night.

11 June 2005

Day 15 - a new experience

We arranged to meet a few other homeschooling families at a local park and as it was hot we started early. Under the shade of the well established trees there was a lovely breeze. We met two families, one with 5 children and about to have another any moment now (her husband told her to sit down as he was busy today), and another lady who has 8 children. Lots of playing and lunch.
On the way home Eric was in our host's car next to their little 4 month old baby who was crying a lot.
Eric is very good with entertaining babies, especially with his experience with Rose, but 4 month old babies are hard to distract.

In a hurry to get home and take care of her our host was going a little over the speed limit. I noticed a sherriff car approach us and then go past and do a U turn. With lights flashing we pulled over to let him pass, but he stopped and got out. He approached me and asked for my license and insurance papers and whether we were together. He then went to our host. Hearing the crying baby he said "Sorry to pull you over, Maam.." and went through the formalities. He checked the licenses and insurance on their database and then told our host he wouldn't issue a ticket, just a warning.

Our host was very embarrassed, but we just laughed and appreciated another experience for our trek.

Our 1 year old American

Rose turned 1 this week.

So today we had a party with our host's family and her parents. Did you notice the birthday cake? Lana made her contribution by making another Pavlova. As we needed to use the oven at our host's home, Lana and our host trotted across the back yard to her mum's place. Eric and their eldest son were already there playing a Lord of the Rings wargame. Unfortunately, it was a very humid day (and around 94F) and so the pavlova wasn't as crunchy as Lana wished. It still tasted yummy though.

By the way, we did stop Rose from touching the candle flame.

10 June 2005

Day 14 - Back to Illinois

On the way back South we passed a Wind Farm. There were lots of huge wind turbines spinning away generating power from the wind.

After a few more Chicago tolls, we ended up in Peoria where our host's children were all very excited that we had made it.

Piggly Wiggly

My sister and her friend have this thing about cute pig related things. There is a supermarket chain here called "Piggly Wiggly" which we figured she might find interesting. This store we passed wasn't in the best of maintenance as you can see by the bird's nests cleverly built into the "g"s.

"Rock Park"

The call had gone around to the other Wisconsin homeschoolers that these odd Australian family would be in the area so we met four families at the Devil's Lake State Park (pictured). However, as no-one really likes the name the local families dubbed it "Rock Park". As this was a week day, patrons are expected to fill in a form and pay the appropriate entry fee and put it in a container. This is obviously the honor system as I didn't see any park staff around at all.

Including us, there was 2 dads and 4 mums and 30 children. We shared lunch and experiences and all enjoyed ourselves before leaving at 1:00 ish to get to our next host family in Peoria, Illinois.

9 June 2005

Day 13 - Wisconsin

After popping into the hotel and making sure it was ready, we went to our hosts for the afternoon. The children were glad to be out of the car and there were two families to play with. Four adults and 19 children and all had an enjoyable time.

In the backyard, James discovered a variety off odds and ends and we noticed him doing his inventing thing. He ended up attaching an old golf buggy to a tricycle with a belt and making it into a sort of rikshaw. I suspect watching the DVD of the first series of Macgyver may be fuelling his inventing! MacGyver Series 1

We finally got to the hotel by about 10:00pm, and to a well deserved sleep

Baraboo - Home of the cow pie

As we weren't sick from or previous exposures we were free to continue. So we contacted our next hosts in Wisconsin and asked if they were available a day early. This trip had been arranged only a few days prior to the start of our trek. The Wisconsin families asked if I was coming their way, Lana and I looked at the map and replied, "300 miles extra - no worries!"
It was another really hot day and we were glad to escape Chicago. After paying lots of tolls we made it to Baraboo - Home of the Cow Pie!
Cow pies are the term normally reserved for cow outputs, but at the Baraboo Candy Co they referred to very nice chocolate puddles with caramel and nuts. The chocolate is very nice so we purchased some but our problem was storing so it would last. Ice in the cooler bag would be our choice. We'll see how that goes.

8 June 2005

Day 12 - A rest day

Today was a VERY hot day in Chicago. The local dealer wasn't able to arrange for any client visits so we had a rest day. We went to visit the local mall and wander around. One of the shops was "Build A Bear Workshop". This store allows the customer to pick a teddy bear and then stuff it, record a personal sound into a voicebox, add a heart, brush and fluff it and dress it. You can then register and name the bear and a little electronic tag is placed inside so if the bear is lost it can be returned. Quite an amazing marketing idea. Whilst we were there many customers came through the door. There are a couple of chairs on the side near the front where dads can sit and wait.
After mostly window shopping we retired to the pool and then an interesting round about route to find a restaurant. The information on restaurants in my GPS thingy isn't always the latest so the first two restaurants we went to had been moved or replaced. So, knowing we could find our way back, we went in random directions until we found what we were looking for.

7 June 2005

Day 11 - the Longest Day

June 6 is the day many remember as D-Day, also known as The Longest Day when the Allies invaded Normandy marking the beginning of the end of German occupied Europe in World War II.
For Ariel and I, this year will be remembered as the day we began in Michigan, went to Holland (MI), through Indiana and into Illinois, dropped off Lana and the other children in Chicago then went to Milwaukee Wisconsin for a baseball game and finally arrived back at the hotel in Chicago at 2:00am. Ariel was a very tired girl for a few days.

Compulsory Exercise

At the seventh inning all patrons are asked to stand up and sing the baseball song. The words are placed on the very large scoreboard and everyone sings along.
The mascot and one of the racing sausages dance in their box and everyone sings and shouts.
You can see how large the screen is when the little dots in the bottom right corner of the photo are people (click to enlarge).
One of the dealer's customers was kindly explaining a lot of the statistics and game concepts to Ariel and I. This certainly helped us understand the game better and get more interested in the outcome.
Before the game began, whilst I was chatting to the dealers and some of their customers, Ariel was chatting with one of the dealer's staff whom I had been dealing with for some time. As we had only chatted via text messanging, it was a while before she realised that I was an Australian when I let it slip. I wonder what Ariel and her talked about whilst I wasn't listening?

This is a good way to see a baseball game

At some point during the game, the dessert cart came to the suite. As you can see, this was not a boring cart with a few trifles - it had a great variety - expect for icecream. Cheese cakes, chocolate cases, strawberries, cream, various pies, chocolate, caramel and other sauces, bags of jelly belly beans and so on. Ariel and I shared a cheesecake and we had a bag of jelly belly beans to take home.
Another gift given to us by the dealer was a bobble head doll of a Brewers pitcher Ben Sheets. A bobble head doll is a statuette with a big head attached to the body by a spring which make the head wobble.

Baseball Lessons

We arrived at the car park with about a million other cars and began our long walk to the stadium. The dealers met us at the front, laughing at my geography lesson, and led us to the suite. I did get to meet some of clients with which I had been dealing and learned some important baseball information.
Statistics Rules - everything has a statistic and considering that baseball is essentially a very simple game, it allows for everyone to gather expectations based on past performances - number of hits, times out, batting averages and so on. But the game can still drag on so there is entertainment and distractions often.
This photo is of the Miller's Racing Sausages. These fellows dressed in cartoon sausage costumes line up and have a race around the field. Everyone picks a favorite and cheers and the scoreboard goes crazy for the winner. Then the statistics appear on the scoreboard the number of wins/losses per sausage.

A geography lesson

The Chicago leg of our journey coincided perfectly with a customer appreciation and training day organised by one of our Greentree dealers. We had discussed what was happening, and I was to be there for the afternoon session to assist with the report writing training. The day was being held at Miller Park and we were going to attend a baseball game at the park after the sessions.
The hotel had been arranged in a central spot in Chicago as per the dealer's suggestion, so I could visit some clients with them the next day or two.
We arrived at the hotel after a reasonably long and hot drive and I called the dealer asking how far away Miller Park was. He asked, "Are you in Chicago?". I replied, "Yes". He said, "We're in Milwaukee". "So Miller Park isn't in Chicago?"
Any American with knowledge of baseball will laugh at my lack of knowledge, as Miller park is the home of the Milwaukee Brewers baseball team. It is 1.5 hours North of Chicago.
So, I arranged to meet them there with Ariel. Unfortunately, as I had not planned on visiting Milwaukee, I had not loaded the detailed maps for that area into the GPS thingy - just the base map which has major roads. So we followed the signs and found ourselves at Miller Park, whilst Lana and the rest of the children relaxed at the hotel and experienced a Chicago Deep Pan pizza.

The latest Dutch fashion

On the way to Chicago we stopped in at Holland, Michigan. They had a Dutch village which looked interesting. At the entrance they had the entrance prices listed. I told the lady we couldn't possibly afford that and did they have family prices. "No" she replied, "But you can go to the shoe factory for free." "That sounds like our price" I replied and we went in.
The shoe factory was part of the shops that are at the public end of the village. So we just had a look and found the Dutch licorice, and a couple of pins for Lana. This is just as well as the main reason we went was to top up our Dutch licorice supply.
If you thought clogs were old wooden things, this photo is of some of the high Dutch fashion now available.

6 June 2005

Day 10 - Best Laid Plans ...

The day started off with Mass. Because I could, I plotted our route on the GPS thingy so the track wouild be recorded for later reference. Our host's older son was serving so they had left earlier in the dad's car whilst all the rest followed. The youngest daughter of our host was feeling tired so the mother stayed at the back.
We enjoyed the Mass, but near the consecration our host's son left the altar and went down the side aisle.
Once Mass was over we said hello to the priest and began looking for our hosts.
There was a celebration at the church to welcome a newly ordained priest (eight days earlier). This priest was originally from the area and had made his first Holy Communion at this church. He had been enlisted and working in the 101st Airborne (you know - those tough army guys that jump out of planes and try to be in front of the front line) but discerned a calling to the priesthood.
We were going to join in but we couldn't find our hosts. They were
nowhere to be seen. Both cars and all the family (eight of them) were gone.
Eric then mentioned that the altar boy son had actually thrown up in Church halfway down the aisle before he could exit, and figured they had returned home to deal with the sick children. So we left too, following our trusty GPS thingy.
Meanwhile, the dad had returned to the church to clean up and find us. He called his wife telling her "They're not here! What's happened!". She wisely told him, "The Bruggie's have probably started home. They know where we live and are used to changing plans." She was right.
So we had a very laid back day at their place. The sick boy had a good sleep and was a lot better later on. We heard their music and looked into various books and curriculum, and generally enjoyed each other's company.
Another fine day.

Pavlova - the Australian dessert

Lana wanted to contribute towards the fine fare we were enjoying with our host family so the best thing we could do was make a Pavlova. A Pavlova is a meringue with a light crunchy exterior and soft fluffy inside. The top is lathered with cream and topped with a selection of fresh summer fruits. Perfect for Christmas (in Australia) or Independence Day (in the US)
I went out with the Dad and gathered the fresh fruit and cream, whilst Lana made the Pavlova and let it cool in the oven.
By the time dinner was over and dessert was to be served, Lana had created this masterpiece. As this was our host's first experience of Pavlova we were interested in the reactions. "Ohhh. Mmmmm." was the basic summary.

Pavlova recipe:
6 egg whites - (if small eggs use more egg whites)
pinch of salt
2 cups Sugar
1.5 teaspoons white vinegar
1.5 teaspoons vanilla essence
(No humidity - use the air conditioning if you have to)

Preheat oven to 250F
Ensure egg whites are at room temperature
Beat egg whites and salt to firm peaks
Gradually add in sugar whilst beating
Once all sugar is in, fold in vinegar and vanilla essence.
On a flat tray/cookie sheet covered with foil or cooking paper, dump the stuff on their and mould it into a round or oval mound. Smooth it around making it look pretty.
Stick it in the oven for an hour. The exterior should get crunchy by the time it is cooked - unless it is humid when it may be softer.
Once done, turn off oven and allow to cool inside the oven. The gradual cooling process will stop it from sinking too fast.

The last bit:
The top should crack and fill the top with whipped cream (heavy whipping cream with a little sugar is better than the canned stuff) and decorate with fruit, grated chocolate or whatever you wish. Fruit's good as you can tell everyone it is healthy.

5 June 2005

Day 9 - OH to Michigan (MI)

Day 9 ended very peacefully at our host's home in Michigan. They had just finished hosting another family friend who had eleven children for the previous nine days, and there was a rampaging stomach virus going through both families during that time. Aargh!! Danger!
But we called and confirmed and there had been no illness for the last day or so. We had a couple of rest days planned after seeing them so we decided to visit anyway. As we arrived, the children noticed the pool had been set up, so both sets of children jumped in. We wouldn't have jumped in as the water was still quite cold, but it's a pool so the children didn't care.
The adults sat under the shade of nearby trees and began to know each other better. This was very relaxing after a relatively short (2.5 hours) car drive. The children got on very well together - as expected - and Eric was able to start a game of Lord of the Rings Battle game with their oldest son.

Power for the people

We only had a short drive from the hotel in Milton, OH to our next family near Lansing MI, which was lucky considering the day was promising to be quite hot. One of the interesting things we saw was the operating nuclear power station with steam coming out the top.
On the left is one of the many water towers spotted around the countryside (worth 1 point to quick spotters). I asked the children to think about how they would paint these considering how high they were and all of the towers had either advertisements or the county/city name on them. After many guesses we finally saw one being painted, with the painters using ropes attached to poles sticking out from the top. Certainly not a job for those nervous about heights.

4 June 2005

Day 8 - almost Niagara Falls

From our stay in Corning we travelled North to Rochester. The plan was to meet a family we have know remotely for over seven years and then visit Niagara Falls. Ariel had been emailing their daughter since then.
It was an amazing experience actually seeing people we had been corresponding with for so long. We ended up having too much fun to cut short just to see some water falling over an edge. We'll get some postcards. We see falls in miniature every time we have baths anyway!
Our early plans were to cut across Canada to get to Michigan. However, all we would need is a border control guy having a bad day and we could be gtrapped in canada. We had too many complications (Rose has no passport, Lana's passport was with the Washington Australian embassy as part of the processing of Rose's Australian citizenship application). So we went through Ohio.

Sunset on a long day of driving in OH

Late in day 8 we entered Ohio. Here is a fine sunset over the great lakes as we were approaching the hotel.

Four Monkeys in NY

In Rochester we visited another homeschooling family. This time the link was their daughter and Ariel have been corresponding sporadically for about seven years. The last photo we had of her was about six years ago and it was great getting updated. The dad was able to get some time off work and we had a most enjoyable day getting to know each other better.
So Ariel has another girl with whom to correspond.
Here our boys and theirs all posed in a lovely climbing tree in their front lawn.

3 June 2005

Country New York

A typical roadside scene showing the New York hidden behind the public New York City media presentation.

Day 7 - More NY State

We are still being surprised at the secret New York. Once one escapes New York City, one is surrounded by country - green, open, beautiful. After leaving Middletown we drove to Corning and visited the Corning Museum of Glass and spent a full few hours. There was lots to see and do. We then fulfilled another promise to the children. They were able to swim at the hotel's swimming pool.
The challenging news is that some stomach bug thingy has struck at the family we will be visiting in Michigan. Will they be over it by the time we visit, or should we forgo the plans - even though our boys and theirs have prepared their Lord of the Rings models and scenery in anticiaption over the last several weeks?
Stay tuned.

Corning Museum of Glass

The touristy thing today was a visit to the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning NY. Children are free and there is a discount for AAA members. Other than the museum and historical sections, there is an Interactive area which is very hands on with lots of experiments and exhibits showing all the ways glass is made and used.
Here the whole family gets to listen and participate in a screen based demo explaining how glass is made from differing chemicals and which chemicals will change the colour, texture or durability.

A fine way to look around town

One of the Corning Glass Museum's exhibits was a periscope which poked out the top of the building and allowed the observer (in this case Clare) to see highlights around town. A sign points out a number of key points that can be observed.

My what a big face you have!

James is demonstrating the fun ways glass distorts images.

Numa Numa Ay

A Romanian group called O-zone performs a song called Dragostea Din Tei. Normally this would never be noticed in the English speaking world. However an 18 year old American lad named Gary Brolsma did a humorous lip sync to the song and posted it on his web site. This spread and has had something like 50 million downloads. We saw it, checked out the lyrics and then purchase it from the iTunes store. Based on the key words, it is more commonly known as the "Numa Numa" song.
The children like it a lot and when the song plays they do the "dance" moves from the Gary Brolsma video. Even Rose joins in as you can see here!

2 June 2005

Day 6 - More New York

We were able to start the day with Mass at the local Church. This is a beautiful little church with Polish priests. Our local priests in Australia are also Polish so the accent was very familiar.
On the way out an older lady held the door open for us. As Peter came out he gave her a hug. This is what he does at our parish and he must have thought she would like a hug too! The look on her face was a delight to behold.
We then had breakfast and refueled the car. The gas station was a real full service station - and the price was lower than the self serve a short distance away. This was some 1st of the month deal. It pays to be a local and know about these things.
Then we had the bad news. The family we were to stay with had two children down with 102F fevers and vomiting! Aaarrggh! So that was cancelled. The older children who weren't yet sick were very upset with the younger siblings and they wanted to play with their new friends again. One can't always plan when the children get sick, so we rescheduled things. We would leave the homeschooling gathering early, escape New York and stay somewhere a bit North of Long Island.
But the homeschooling gathering was too much fun for the children and us so we dallied and we dillied. One of the homeschooling mothers offered us a room at their place which we decided to accept. Once the day gets to 4:00pm, one may as well wait until 7:00pm before leaving to avoid the traffic. One of the families lived 30 minutes away, but stayed at the gathering until 7:00pm to save an hour or more extra driving.
We had dinner with our new friends and a good chat, the children played, but as they only had dial up Internet and I had to solve an issue for an Australian client that night, we defaulted back to plan B (from Plan C).
We finally arrived at our Hotel at 10:15pm, put the children (and Lana) in bed, I helped the client and we were all snoring by midnight.

Floral Hedge

Now this is a great tree to have for a hedge. It is about 12 foot high, it is an evergreen, has lush flowers all over and - the best part for the children - it is hollow inside like a fort!
This was at another homeschooling family's home where we dropped in for their meeting. About 15 families were there with lots of children. This is about half of the local homeschooling group. These families all have around 4 to 8 children and our children were running around with the others in moments.
Ariel found some more girls about her age so she was happy. Clare spent most of the time with some other little girls playing with dolls and the boys were up trees, on bikes, playing cops and robbers and eating.
Lana and I were enjoying ourselves meeting more homeschooling families and hearing more diverse American accents. And they think we have an accent!
I have a theory - as Australia has a consistent way of speaking English, whilst the US has a plethora of different accents, that must mean they have accents and not us! No one buys this theory but it sounds good.

"Davey" Jones Lockers

Jones Beach is one of the many beaches on Long Island. In the height of Summer they are packed with throngs of sun and surf loving people. There are a number of lockers and larger rooms with showers which are allocated on some lottery system and annual fee. BBQs and tables are all around, there is a swimming pool and showers, the beaches are very nice.
We let the children take off their shoes and socks and go to the edge of the water - but not to go in. Five minutes later James had fallen in. He had stepped a little far in from the edge and the waves had come in a bit fast and pushed/pulled him over. Lana was NOT happy.
"What part of NOT going in don't you understand?" Then Peter fell in!

Banging to a different drum

Australians are all well trained to wear hats when out in the sun. But little ones need to be carried. And hats just make the neatest toys and they are sooo close.
Here I am trying to keep my hat in position whilst Rose has decided it is time for some remodelling.

One certainty for NY - Taxes

We were surprised at the amount of control local Village councils had over what residents could do to their homes. Everything needed a permit and everything was added to the value for future property taxes. A bay window costs $50, rear patio $10, small fence $10 and so on. A "little man in a white car" travels around the village checking for violations to ensure compliance and to keep the tax revenue rolling. As in Australia, the nature strip adjoining the street is council/public property. However, the village council will get all annoyed if you do something terrible like, say, plant flowers without a permit.
The local school districts also have a lot of say in annoying homeschooling families, imposing all sorts of obligations depending on the district.
As I kept saying, "Repeat after me - The land of the free".

1 June 2005

Day 5 - The secret New York

After chatting till late with our great hosts, and the children playing games till too late, we still awoke reasonably early. We played and chatted more until midday before venturing out to the parks. We considered visiting Manhattan and doing the typical tourist things but decided against it. We wanted to do things the children would enjoy and we could afford. Also, we didn't want to get lost in the city again. I looked back at our tracks the day before and they look like I signed my name with all the wrong turns we made!
So after the park mentioned below, I called the family which would host us on Wednesday evening and dropped in. Before Lana and I could introduce ourselves, the children had all gone inside and were playing together. An hour later, whilst Lana and I were chatting, their oldest son came into the room and began, "My friend Eric...". Yep. This socialization thing is a real issue!
After a sad farewell, promosing to see each other the next evening, we left and the children saw a Chuck E Cheese store (See here for our last visit). Same overpriced pathetic pizzas with tokens. Next time we go we won't worry about the food and just get the tokens!
More chatting and playing finished the day marvellously.

Typical NY street

All one sees of New York in movies and television is mostly Manhattan - skyscrapers, trash, crime, high finance, no families, no trees, and so on. But we discovered a completely different New York - Long Island. This felt very similar to Melbourne, albeit with more local regulations and controls over citizens' lives. More about that later.
This photo is a typical suburban street in Long Island. Lots of trees, nice houses, places to walk and play. And many people we spoke to have always been Long Island residents and don't see any reason not to be. We found parks, gardens, lovely family homes, lots of families, quiet streets and busy highways.
This was a very pleasant surprise.

The Royal Wave

We'll probably post a number of Rose travelling photos. When Eric is sitting in the middle seat - next to Rose - he likes to play with her. Once when Eric was playing some game with Ariel, Rose reached over and pulled his shoulder obviously complaining that he was ignoring her! Who says 1 year olds can't communicate?
Here Rose is giving the royal wave to all her loyal subjects.

Planting Fields

On Tuesdays our hosts had their "busy day" which means we went exploring. The first suggestion was to visit Old Westbury Gardens - especially made attractive by the free ticket our hosts had! We pulled in to the drive in front of the closed gates and hailed the gardener. He told us the gardens are closed Tuesdays - but - we could go to another garden. I asked him the name, pulled out the GPS thingy and off we went.
Planting Fields Arboretum is an amazing place. It is a maintained old estate with huge gardens and paths. Plants are flowering often and the greenhouse has a children's activity which has the children searching each section.
This picture is one of the greenhouse areas.