31 December 2004

The Christmas Beard Poll

Should David keep his beard? In Australia whenever David grew a beard he knew he would get a friendly ribbing or surprise people. But this time he is getting various favourable responses from most of the locals. This is very confusing. Here is your chance to voice your opinion. Should the beard stay or go?
(Clare reckons the beard should stay as it is “tickly to kiss”)

Should the beard stay or go?

Almost a White Christmas

We missed out on a white Christmas by one week. On the Sunday prior we were at Church attending the Sunday School when snow started to lightly fall, then heavier and then it began to “stick”. When snow “sticks” it doesn’t just melt upon hitting the ground. In less than one hour, everything was completely white, with enough snow to play in. As it was between Masses, even Father Wise threw a few snowballs and all the children enjoyed themselves.

Almost a white Christmas

Merry Christmas

We celebrate Christmas is line with ancient Christian traditions, whereby we prepare for the day with four weeks of preparation (Advent) lighting a candle for each week. We also give up something or do something extra to remind us of what is coming. It is sort of like a mini Lent. Then on the last Sunday of Advent we put up the Christmas tree. This year we found one from Walmart, which came complete with built in lights, and no dropping pine needles for Rose to eat.
In the last week Mary and Joseph are moved each day on their way to the Nativity Scene and each child puts up a decoration. Then whilst we attend Christmas Eve Mass the presents mysteriously appear under the tree.
Ariel, Eric and James were in the Choir at the Christmas Eve Mass.
Then the 12 days of Christmas are celebrated, ending on January 6 – The Epiphany (Coming of the wise men). Whilst the wise men begin their trek around the house we MUST celebrate somehow each day. All good fun.

Some of theParish children being a live Nativity Scene prior to Christmas Eve Mass.
The photo is a bit fuzzy as I didn't want to use the flash.

Nativity Play

On Christmas day we all enjoyed the joy of the season and ended at a friend’s house and were able to borrow their grandparents and family. The children all joined in a nativity play David created. He tried to find one on the Internet but they were all “re-interpreted” or silly, so he went straight to the gospels of Luke and Matthew and made a play straight from the text. It worked out great.
The children all did well and we will do even better next year. The borrowed grandparents and Aunt were delighted to be able to take on their role as the audience.
We have put a copy of the Nativity play into the Bruggie Tales folder on the web site.

The final bow for the Nativty Play 2004.

The Nativity Play Scene Angel

Clare was supposed to be the “Scene Angel”, but she wanted to be a fairy, so a Scene Fairy she was. As each scene was to commence Clare stepped out and announced, “The angels appear to Jofes” and “The Flee wise men” whilst spinning around and holding her skirt.

The Scene Fairy

Rose's First Christmas

Rose as a Christmas Ornament


For many years David enjoyed wargaming – playing games with historical toy soldiers. This lasted from when he was twelve years old until in his late 20’s when family commitments and moving interstate made it hard to find opponents. But now Eric and James are old enough to play, so it has started up again. They have purchased some figures and some models and lots of craft materials and paints to make the scenery and paint the soldiers. The boys (all four of them) are having great fun, supplying all the sound effects and imagination to fill in any gaps in the models. David has discovered that he can still paint adequately, and he enjoys the boys awe and wonder on how well the figures look. This is working out to be a great activity they can all play together. All David has to do is to remember to keep the rules and play simple – complexity can come into the games as they all get more experienced.

Rubbish Opossum

Our rubbish (aka Garbage/Trash) has recently been mauled by unknown creatures of the night. We thought it was dogs, but the neighbours with the dogs moved, and it wasn't cats or squirrels, so we set up better vigilance. We finally saw this weird creature attacking the plastic bags and suddenly realized, "That's a possum!", quickly followed with a "Yuk!". Naturally enough, when locals said "possum" we thought of cute Australian possums. As you can see by the picture, cute is one word you would NOT use to describe an Opossum here.

Our rubbish attacking Opossum.

Mavis Beacon

An enjoyable typing tutor program we are using is called “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing”, by Broderbund. The children have competitions to see who gets the fastest, and it intersperses the lessons with games – which are really lessons in another form. They had great fun picking on David who tried using his normal 2+ finger typing “method” and getting slower in the lessons than they were getting!

Another Aussie in America

Interesting Web site
Lana discovered this very interesting site whilst looking up taxidermy and Australian quarantine laws. A lady married to an American writes it and she has many cultural comparisons that certainly resonate with us. Be sure to read the story “Squirrelly ways” in the wildlife section, a list of 300 words that are confusing and her description of Possums. Lana couldn’t tell the squirrel story to David without laughing continually during her explanation.

iTunes and Airtunes

We organize all of our music and sound files using iTunes. It is a free sound library software available from Apple and is very easy to use. When linked to an iPod it becomes a portable and flexible music library. Now Apple has released a little box called Airtunes. This is basically a wireless base station that can connect to a sound system. From our main computer (with a wireless card), iTunes sends the music, or audio book, or radio show we wish to play across the house to the Airtunes which is plugged into the speaker system. Now the computer is linked to the house and we can all hear the music very well. The Airtunes thing is about $120 US.


One thing we have really missed from Australia are nice sausages. There are plenty of hotdog sausages here and even some tasty specialist sausages but not what we are used to. David was finally able to obtain his father’s secret pork sausage recipe and we showed it to the local meat market. They were very obliging and made up a batch for us and the next day as the sausages sizzled away, the smells brought back many fond memories. And they tasted pretty good, too.

The Sound of Reading

One of the family Christmas presents was the audio book of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series. All seven stories are well narrated by different actors and they are a delight to hear. They are all unabridged and we are able to hear (and re-hear) the stories together. It is available for only $51 US at Amazon Books.
Previously we had purchased the audio books for J.R.Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. These were also well read and took a long time to finish. As the books contain far more than was in the film, the children not only understood the parts of the film they did see, but were also able to experience the fullness of Tolkein’s epic.

30 November 2004

Go ahead. Make my day.

Guns and Thanksgiving

One of the biggest holidays of the year, almost rivaling Christmas and surpassing Easter is Thanksgiving. This is set for the fourth Thursday of November, since President Lincoln first pronounced it during the American Civil War (also known as the war between the States). It is to remind all Americans that they should give thanks to God for all the blessings they have been given. Of course, the public schools and modern books erase any mention of God and give an interesting rewrite of history. The first thanksgiving was by the Spanish and Indians in the 1500's in St Augustine in Florida. 100 years later, the Pilgrims were saved from extinction by some assistance from the local Indians. Once they abandoned their socialized economy and went to a free market, production boomed and they never went hungry again.

David firing an Assault Rifle at defenceless bits of wood.

In modern day America, giving thanks to God is still overwhelmingly the case with almost everyone getting together with family, sharing tables full of delicious food, and giving thanks for the blessings we have. Then every family has their own Thanksgiving traditions. This year we spent our Thanksgiving with the Morris family. After turkey, ham and all the trimmings, as well as Pavlova (the Australian connection!) we went shooting. A very nice dessert was pumpkin log.
Donald has a great collection of guns and after first doing a safety lesson we then had turns shooting a selection of his weapons. David, Ariel, Eric, James and Peter all got to fire the 22 rifle (at bits of wood as targets) and they all did pretty well. The older ones then fired the 22 pistol, and then David was able to fire the Assault rifle, and 44 Magnum.
First Donald fired the Magnum at a water bottle, demonstrating to all watching how dangerous guns were as the bottle exploded and the water vaporised. It didn’t look too hard firing the gun the way Donald did it, so David had a go. However, when he fired the Magnum, the recoil was much stronger than he expected. As his hand flew back from the force, he let out a loud and enthusiastic "Bloody Hell", much to amusement of Donald and his family.
They still laugh when they think of the depth of feeling one can get into that colourful Australian expression.

Donald Morris instructing Peter in the finer arts of marksmanship.
In case you were wondering, he can see under that hat.

Our First experience of Halloween.

Lots of people have expressed surprise that Australia doesn't really DO Halloween. More children try, but most people resist the temptation..
To understand the phenomenon, Lana asked a lady we met in Walmart "How does Halloween work?" The lady mentioned that one could find where to go collecting by asking around about "Hot spots" - neighborhoods that are "good". These are basically safe places to go that have really good candy. She also mentioned precautions and safety measures after just door-to-door stuff. Safety tips include: Before you let your kids eat any lollies check that they are wrapped. Don't take anything unwrapped. If you get fruit cut it in small pieces. You can also take it to the local hospitals - they will scan it for you to look for anything metal. The Union County Hospital and one in Murphy were offering this service.
Going to the town squares, with all the shops, police station, restaurants and supermarkets is good too. We went to the Blairsville town square. There were lots of people walking around with their children, teens and Grandparents. One older man in a wheelchair was having a great time being pushed around and giving away candy. The costumes were varied, although there were not too many home made ones, mostly store bought that started to repeat the longer you stayed.

Even the baby unborn gets to join in Halloween!

One unique costume was by a pregnant lady - she had opened her shirt from the bottom to over her belly and painted a large pumpkin covering her belly. David knew her from a restaurant near his work and mentioned that he had seen her costume. She replied, "Well, the baby should have a costume too!". She mentioned she had mixed reactions, but overall it was a very clever costume.
There were a lot of princesses, Spiderman, Batman, witches, pirates, clowns, pumpkins and brides. There were very few "evil" characters - probably indicative of the area in which we live. The little children were very cute in their animal costumes, dragons, bumblebees, chickens, pony, and fairies. A lot of the community joined in, the police station, ambulance, the supermarket, pizza places and even the local pool hall.
It was celebrated on Saturday, rather than the actual day because Halloween fell on a Sunday. In this area there are certain things that are appropriate to Sundays, and Halloween is not one of those things.

Thanksgiving Traditional Bargains

The next day was another new experience - Walmart on the Thanksgiving Friday. This is also part of the American tradition of Thanksgiving - joining millions of fellow shoppers at 6:00 am on a cold day hoping to get some amazing bargains. David Floyd felt this was important for me to experience, but we wisely decided to leave the women and children behind.
As it was, David Floyd was able to get his bargains but we were both surprised that there weren’t as many people as we (or Walmart) expected. However, considering that it was only 6:00 in the morning the carpark was almost full.
Phew! The things we go through to report in Bruggie Tales!

David Floyd surprised at David’s photo of this amazing parking.
This fellow took up four car places nearest to the Walmart entrance
on the busiest day of the year. Now that’s the holiday spirit!

Shared Experiences

By David
I was talking with Eric the other day and asked him if he would do something by starting with, "Would you, could you?" and he responded with "Join the dance." This was a reference to a scene in Alice in Wonderland involving the Griffin and the Mock turtle. I thought he may have responded with "Eat green eggs and ham" from the Dr Seuss book, but his response led me to think about shared experiences.
Much of our time with anyone involves lots of different experiences together. Most of these are not trips to exciting places or exotic locations or sports events. Many are just doing "stuff" at home. But it seems to me that the glue that keeps a relationship together is shared times whereby a comment or phrase or look brings back memories that no-one else would know.
Lana and I often reply to an inaudible question with the answer "Eight Thirty". The person asking then realizes we couldn't hear what they were saying and comes closer or speaks clearer. Who else would understand this answer? It isn't so much a code, as an answer based on shared times spent together.
Also, the children will often put something on their head and ask, "Do you like my hat?" referring to the children's book "Go Dog Go", and the correct response is, "I do not!"
I suppose that is one of the benefits of spending so much time with the children and each other, our lives become so much more inter connected and more full of life as each little experience adds to the rich tapestry of each relationship.

A Dad is...

... someone who carries pictures where his money used to be
Seen in travels

Lana's birthday

The most important thing about the end of October was Lana's Birthday. And David wasn't even around to celebrate as he was back in Australia helping a client upgrade to Greentree. To make it up, David called from the client's office in Sydney, and once Lana had answered the phone, the whole office sang "Happy Birthday" to her. That certainly surprised Lana!
In America the "Happy Birthday" song stops after the final "Happy birthday to you". In Australia it is customary to add, "Hip Hip - Hooray" three times, and we even add in a good old "Hoorah Hoorah Hoorah" for good measure. We get a few odd looks from locals when we do this, but now they all join in. It is just too odd for the song to just finish without a hooray.

Banks - an update

Our story about US Banks generated the most feedback of any story so far. We just thought we would add another story about customer service.
Lana wanted to fill in time between appointments, so after getting the mail for the post office, she dropped in to the bank to see if they had the State Quarters missing from our collection. The teller Lana first went to didn't have any, then they checked with the other tellers and then went to the drive through teller as well. Whilst this search was on, the children enjoyed some free lollipops as well as some cookies (biscuits) and even some apples. If Lana had visited on a Friday, popcorn would have been available.
On the other hand, there is a reason that checking accounts are free. Most people use checks for almost everything. As both husband and wife frequently have separate checkbooks, and few use Quicken or similar to track the current balance, it isn't difficult to become overdrawn. As each overdrawn check fee is $30 or so, this means that those $2.00 checks and "free" checking account adds up quickly! Also, the government has just introduced a new law regarding check clearing making it much faster. The papers are now full of complaints that you can no longer write checks expecting to cover the amount with a deposit a day or so later! I would have thought writing a check when the balance couldn't cover it was just asking for a fee.

A drive through bank in Douglas Georgia. The one next to
the building is a human teller, the rest are ATMs.


If you have a reasonable Internet connection, you can make audio calls via a free program called Skype.

When you are online, Skype sits in the bottom of your screen and lets you know who else is online as part of the Skype network. If you want to call someone, you just double click on their name and their computer “rings”. They click the Skype phone button and you are talking to someone else using your computer speakers and microphone.
Alternatively you can use instant chat to share text.
You can even call land line phones for a fee. This can be a lot less than your normal phone lines, but the quality varies.

We have used it a number of times to call Lana’s sister in Australia, as well as some of David’s clients in Australia and around the US.

David visits Australia

David was once more able to visit Australia for a very quick two-week trip in early November. His mission was to assist one of his long time clients upgrade to Greentree Accounting software. Although it was a very busy time, the client was up and running and getting lots of benefits from the new system.
As a further benefit, last time his trip timed perfectly with the marriage of his sister Colette to Tim. This time he was able to attend his father's birthday and even more importantly, was able to see the newborn daughter Lauren of his brother Philip and his wife Michelle. She is a very cute little lady and should grow up pretty tough with two active older brothers. The children were very excited to have a new cousin.
A secondary mission was to bring back important supplies to the family. Both of his bags were very full of goodies, including a cricket set, some Dream Angel Spring Pillows, Australian Jigsaw puzzle and ice block tray, Australian DVDs, and lots of good food such as Vegemite, Caramello Koalas, Turkish elight, Violet Crumbles, Crunchies, Pucnics, Snow flakes, Smarties, Clinkers, Cherry Ripe, Fruit Tingles, Snakes, Jelly babies, a variety of Cadbury's chocolates, Sultanas, Jersey Caramels, Chocolate Bullets, Vita Brits and a few more. The bags were VERY heavy.
When he arrived in Atlanta, only one bag popped on the carousel. After the plane had finished unloading her reported the missing bag, and waited for the next two flights from Los Angeles to make sure it hadn't just been missed. After about 2 hours, he had a phone call that they had found my bag. It had lost it's Airline tag, but my address tag was there and they had called Lana who told them I was there looking for it. After going to four different places they found the person who had called David and our goodies were safe.

The hunter gatherer returns from his trip abroad with exotic treasures.

Cool Lego Links

In looking for Lego to purchase online, we came across a whole lot of great Lego links by fans.
How Lego is made
Interesting mechanical creations
Star Wars Trilogy in Lego
Honda made from Lego
Lego Megachurch

The Incredibles

Just a quick plug. We all saw The Incredibles at the new local cinema in Hiawassee. A great film. It may be a little scary for little ones in some bits. We go to Decent Films for all our movie reviews.

The Tooth fairy

Amazon.com is hosting a series of short films on it's web site. Although most are just weird, one is about the Tooth fairy and is excellent. You can watch it online, or download it for an even better quality picture.

(You can also go the main www.amazon.com page and browse to the short film page)

Family Tid Bits

We brought a paper roll containing all the children's height history from Australia, including the heights of David and Lana's parents. Ariel has just passed David's mother by about an inch. All of the children have grown between 2 inches or more in the last 18 months. No wonder their clothes are not fitting so well!

Clare (3.5) has taken to hiding things. We heard Ariel ask where her book was, and then Clare said, "It's in Dad's cupboard in the study." Ariel had a look and couldn't find it. Then with a sigh, Clare said, "I'll get it" and she opened David's cupboard and the book was hidden behind some CDs. The same place where one of James' toys was "found" a little while later.

We occasionally ask Clare to pronounce a word or phrase correctly, and she responds with, "I can't say it." We urge her a bit more and with a serious expression she counters with, "I have to get bigger."

Rose is now sitting herself up. Lana had a bit of a worried squeal when she saw Rose lift herself up against a box. Time to move the smaller things up a bit higher!

10 October 2004

A licence to drive

We have just completed an incredible journey within Georgia bureaucracy. Lana finally got her local license.
As we couldn't make appointments we had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles office and try our luck. The Blue Ridge DMV office is smaller than a parking space with a desk for two officers and their computers, a smaller side desk with two computers for conducting the written tests, and room for about 6 people to wait.
Upon arriving you stand in a line to get a number in order to be called. Then you go outside (in the open) to wait for the number to appear on the display.
We tried first on a Saturday, but there were about 100 people waiting to take tests or handle DMV business and we decided we weren't going to get through.
We tried again the following Monday, but they had the day off because Columbus day was the previous Saturday so they had Monday off too.
We finally tried a third time and got through. After handing over Lana's Australian licence, she took the written tests and passed. Then the officer checked our paperwork and asked for a Social Security number. We gave her our Income Tax Return number but that wasn't good enough. We explained that Lana couldn't get a Social Security number because of our Visa restrictions. The officer told us we could not get a license without a letter from Social Security that we couldn't get a number. In the meantime Lana was now a learner and couldn't drive unaccompanied. Aaargh!
We went to the nearest Social Scurity office and wated our turn. About 2 hours later we got to the correct officer who told she did not know what we were talkling about. I ruffled amongst my documents and showed her the Internet information page which mentioned the form. She looked up the form on her computer and said, "Oh." With the right form we returned to the DMV office.
Now the paperwork went to the next stage and we were told Lana needed a driving test but there were no appointments for today. We could wait hoping for a cancellation, or we could come back later. We decided to wait.
About an hour later someone failed the car safety inspection so we had the chance. Lana passed and we finally got the licence. Only $15, but total time away from home was 8 hours. (not counting the previous two attempts)

1 October 2004

Academic Software

We discovered a new software company Creation Engine which offers lots of software at education prices. They need proof of academic status, which includes homeschoolers. A letter concerning our status was enough.
So we purchased Quark Xpress, a professional desk top publishing software David used previously when he wrote his books and games. $195 vs RRP of $945. This is so that not only David learns the package, but also Ariel and Eric will learn too.


David has just read two interesting business books:
“Death by Meeting” and “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, both by Patrick Lencioni.
These are fascinating books discussing practical ways to make meetings worthwhile and getting teams to operate effectively.
They discuss the issues through the use of a story which reveals the main points in a non textbook way.

30 September 2004

Eric looking for bugs and silvers.

17 September 2004

Hurricane Ivan

Throughout our travels we missed any bad weather. It did follow us around. Just after we left Nebrasksa they had very high winds. Just after leaving Georgia they had lots of rain.
But once we stopped, Hurricane Ivan came through the area. Power went out at about 8:00pm and the winds were very strong. One of the power workers was killed trying to reconnect power during the storm. We were fortunate that no major damage was caused by the storm although lots of trees were down around the towns.
David had to move a few fallen logs to get through and then was stopped at the bottom of the hill by two downed trees. The whole area was abuzz with people clearing trees, fixing roads and trying to regain power.
The creek was very full and trees had their root supports washed away so there were plenty of trees along the creek knocked down.
With no power we had no water. Also, the power fluctuations damaged our fridge so it wasn’t keeping things cool. With no idea when power would return and no water, we ended up staying the night with the Floyd family.
After a”breakfast of champions” made by David Floyd, we were able to return to a powered home.
We just had the edge of the hurricane. We can only imagine the much worse situation for those in Florida with four hurricanes going through in such a short time.

Many big trees fell - and all missed the mobile home and vehicle!
At least they now have a clear view of the creek.

16 September 2004

The Colorado Trip 2004

In September 2004 we had the opportunity to go to Colorado for the firm's Christmas party. The party was held early because the Australian MD was in the US at this time. Instead of just flying there with Lana, we decided to use some Vacation time and see some of the US and drive. This is the record of our adventure:

Day 1 - Georgia to North Carolina

Day 1 - Huntsville Space Center, Tennessee to Alabama, (Fireworks & Diesel)
Day 2 - Alabama to Mississippi
Day 3 - Mississippi to Tennessee to Arkansaw to Missouri

Day 3 - Elvis wasn't home
Day 4 - Missouri - Kansas, Kansas (via Russell Stover)
Day 5 - Kansas to Colorado
(& learning how to Mosey), Colorado
Day 6 - Colorado
Day 7&8 - Colorado (Chuck E Cheese), The Christmas Party, Nice Lana Sketch
Day 9 - Colorado to Nebraska (Denver Cathedral)
Day 10 - Nebraska to Iowa to Missouri
Day 11 - Missouri to Illinois (via Hannibal & Mark Twain)
Day 12 - Illinois to Georgia (via Superman and Metropolis)

How did we survive the long hours in the car?
Trek Conculsions.

Trek Conclusion

Some quick points:
  • We all survived the trip and enjoyed the travelling and seeing new things. No squabbling or major travel hassles.
  • The South is really a different culture to other parts. The US has many different cultures shared by one political system.
  • The children’s best things included Chuck E. Cheeses and the homeschooling families we visited. David and Lana really enjoyed meeting so many great people wherever we stopped.
  • There are lots of things to see and do that don’t cost too much money.
  • There really is a difference in Peak and Off-peak times. Once Labor Day (first Monday in September) is over, most tourist things slow down or stop.

iPod and iTunes

How did we survive cooped up in a car for all those miles?
All of our music collection is contained in our iPod - a device containg a 40gb hard disk the size of a cigarette packet.
The music is all in MP3 format, organised in the free iTunes software.
It works on both Windows and Macs and helps to categorise music by author, title, genre, album and so on as well as whatever playlists you can create. We have a playlist for each of the children with their favourite music and all of our audio books and educational CDs.
Whenever we purchase a CD we load it up into iTunes and put the CD away. No scratched or wrecked CDs. We don’t download “free” music from the Internet as there is just too much risk of viruses and spyware. We have purchased some music from the iTunes music store, but most are from CDs.
We even converted lots of our old LP records and singles (remember those big round black things?) and cassettes to MP3. This meant our entire music collection was all on the computer and much easier to transport to the US.
It is played in the car via the audio output through a cassette player.

15 September 2004

Day Twelve - Illinois - Kentucky - Tennessee - North Carolina - Georgia

The last day. However we had to stop somewhere interesting so went to the Illinois Information Center. We discoverd Metropolis - the home of Superman - and were given discount vouchers for the museum. There is only one town in the US called Metroplois and they made a deal to be called the home of Superman, built a huge Statue of Superman and had a museum for tourists.
Also in Metropolis is the restored Fort Massac which had been used by the French, British and Americans at various times, until it was put in the hands of a caretaker who sold off the walls as building materials for the locals. He took care of himself very well. It was restored and the children had a good run around.
Finally we arrived home, exhausted but glad we had discovered some more of America.

Truth - Justice - and the American Way
In Metropolis, Illinois

14 September 2004

Day Eleven - Missouri - Illinois

We visited Hannibal, MI, the birthplace of Mark Twain and home to lots of Tom Sawyer exhibits. In the Mark Twain visitor Center we began with a video, and then browsed the museum. We saw a photo of the Printing machine on which Mark Twain wasted a lot of money. We had listened to a radio play about this machine from homeschool Radio shows and it was great to actually see the machine.
We then went for a walk through Mark Twain’s boyhood home and the others that were the basis for Tom Sawyer’s town. The children saw the fence that was white washed in such an entrepreneurial way.
We stayed the night in Mt Vernon, Illinois

The white fence of Tom Sawyer
in Hannibal, Missouri

13 September 2004

Day Ten - Nebraska - Iowa - Missouri

After a very nice breakfast made by Anne (some really sweet yummy sticky bun thing and a breakfast loaf). The children continued to play, and we talked.
David did some computer things with Troy and we all finally left at 2:00pm to continue our trek.
The information center in Missouri was very helpful. They suggested an alternative route home which we followed and provided lots of useful information (as well as restrooms).
We ended up in St Josephs Missouri (MI)

Our Nebraska Hosts (Madison was away) -
showing us great hospitality and a yummy breakfast

12 September 2004

Day Nine - Colorado - Nebraska

We started the day at 5:15am to get to the Denver Cathedral for Mass at 6:30 am. The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is a beautiful church built from 1906 to 1911 and has some fantastic stained glass windows and beautiful traditional altar. As the Mass finished the sun began to rise illuminating the windows. Like a new dawn all these images of scripture began to glow. No wonder the illiterate people of the middle ages knew their bible - it was told to them through innumerable stained glass windows in churches across Christendom. With the children, we pointed out various scenes including the Annunciation, Nativity and many more. For more details see here.

One of the beautiful stained glass windows
in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

Then began the long drive to another homeschooling family living just South of Omaha, Nebraska - and our next host family.
After a long drive with few stops we arrived at our hosts' home. It worked out they were having their regular local Catholic family gathering and prayer night. Once more, before we could introduce the children they were inside playing with the other children.
Our hosts had very carefully organised things so we could all have our own rooms, but the boys wanted to sleep with their boys and the girls with their girls. A quick re-arrangement and they were done. Our families got along very well and the adults chatted till late, interspersed with a few “suggestions” to the children to go to sleep.

11 September 2004

Another nice Chucky Cheese sketch

Lana and Rose - from the busy Chuck E Cheese portrait machine

The Christmas Party

In the evening Ariel and I went to the work Christmas Party (the actual reason for being here). It was at a French restaurant south of Denver and it was a fun night. Ariel was able to experience a “fancy” restaurant and found that she enjoyed more of the food than she thought she might.
At the work Christmas parties it is a tradition to give a prize for the silliest thing a staff member has done during the year. In the US this is called the “Kangaroo Tail Award”. Last year David “won” the prize for calling his boss on the morning of our arrival at what he thought was 9:15am. Actually the time difference was 2 hours the other way and it was 5:15 am in Denver.! Oops.
This year’s prize was awarded to a staff member that had organised to go to the airport with another member and arranged to meet them about half an hour away to save doubling the travelling time. About 20 minutes down the road, he suddenly realised he didn’t have his passport and had to return to his home, thereby removing every benefit of meeting the others! A worthy winner. Who won? David. Again.

Peter - from the Chuck E Cheese portrait machine

Day Seven and Eight - Colorado

We had a fun morning getting to know Dennis and Cheryl and then whilst Dennis had to go to work, we went out to Krispy Kreme, Barnes and Noble and a park/playground.
In the January 2004 issue of Bruggie Tales we discussed Krispy Kremes, but Lana still hadn’t been to one. So this was an important cultural icon to visit. We bought two dozen doughnuts, made up of 4 each of a number of flavours. We then cut them into quarters and we all tried them between our host's children and all of us. We were unable to get the fresh hot doughnuts, as the machines go from 5 to 11 AM and PM.
We met Sharon of the Head Office and David was able to show his Denver office to the rest of the family.
Then we went to an amazing place for dinner - Chuck E. Cheese’s. This is a sort of restaurant, but mostly amusement arcade. First you walk in and all members of the family are stamped with an infra red stamp which can only be read under a special light. In this way, children could only leave accompanied by matching adults.
Then you could buy a (quite average) pizza and lots of tokens. These tokens are used in a huge array of game machines. There are also non token entertainments such as huge climbing frame that goes around the room similar to air conditioning ducts, and some climbing frames for toddlers.
It was a riot of noise and colours, children everywhere with parents following them. Some parents also played some of the games and helped their children find ways to use their tokens. One interesting machine was a “sketching” machine. It took a digital photo and then rendered it like a pencil drawing. Peter’s picture on this page is one example.
The Saturday the children just wanted to stay at the hotel and NOT drive anywhere. It was a rest day and we spent the time at the hotel.

Inside Chuck E. Cheese - some dining tables surrounded
by children running around and enjoying themselves.

9 September 2004

Day Six - Colorado

This was a slow start. We had done a lot of driving and were basically at our destination. We arrived at Dennis and Cheryl’s home at about midday. We had arranged to stay at their place via an internet email group for homeschooling families with four or more children. David has been on this group for some time and had gotten to know them all pretty well. He had asked who was on the way and we had a couple of volunteers.
Before I could introduce the children, they were already inside playing with our host's children. We had a nice lazy days getting aquanted and we joined them at the eldest boy’s soccer practice.
Dennis was away on business but was able to finish early and arrive home late that evening.

Our Denver host Family (Dennis was at work) - great tour guides
showing us the best places (Krispy Kreme, Barnes & Noble and Playground)

8 September 2004

Day Five - Colorado

We then had a long drive, stopping at Castle Rock in Colorado. At the Applebees Grill and Bar restaurant the waitress spoke very fast to us. David looked at her and said, “Hold on. That was way too fast. Let’s try that again, a bit slower.” We were used to the Southern accent - slow with care taken in each and every word.

Welcome to “Colorful” Colorado -
Broken weathered boards with faded white paint.
Not a tree in sight across a brown plain.

Day Five - Kansas - Colorado

Dodge City - the home of Boot Hill and cowboys, gunfighters and Saloons. We arrived at Midday to a load siren wailing so loud that we couldn’t hear ourselves talk. It lasted for about 5 minutes just as we stopped at the information center. David asked the men behind the counter, “What’s the siren for?” They looked at him and replied, “What siren?” With a smile, David said, “Don’t give me that. Tell us.” It is sounded every Wednesday at 12:00 midday. It is the Tornado Warning system. If you hear that (other than on Wednesday’s at 12:00) you are to go to the nearest shelter as a Tornado is coming!
They were very friendly at the information center and provided us with lots of information. They even gave each of the children a Marshall’s badge, on the proviso they follow 3 rules: Obey your parents, always wear a seatbelt and don’t let your parents drive too fast.
As we signed the guest book, we were given a pin to place where we were from in a map of the US or one of the World. As Australia was more interesting to them than just Georgia, we put another one somewhere near Goulburn.
We then went to the Boot Hill Museum. The self guided tour started with a video, then a small museum on boot hill near the famous Boot Hill cemetary, and then the replica of Front Street, modelled after the Front Street from 1870. However, as this was just after Labor Day - the official end to all things “Summer” and the holidays, it resembled a ghost town. Many tourist attractions only operate to Labor day. Once all the school children lose their freedom, their business slows right down.
As we were meandering through the buildings, examing the displays, we reached the end of the street. The old schoolhouse had a sign “open”, but it looked very quiet. Ariel wanted to go in, so we did. Inside was a chap doing some leatherwork and we had a good time learning how he made the fancy marking on the leather.
David said, “Well, we better mosey out of here,” and the man replied, “Do you know how to Mosey?” We answered (skeptically), “No” and he said, “Here, let me show you,” and he reached for his hat (“Need a hat to Mosey Properly”)
Place your heels at a right angle then move them slightly apart. Put your thumbs in your belt, bow your knees (like a cowboy that has been riding too many horses), make a mean expression and then saunter along. He had all the children practice.
Then a lady came in and our host said, “She knows how to Mosey”, and she immediately did the Mosey as we had just been instructed, although she said she needed a hat to do it properly. But the mean expression was pretty important. A side visit ending up being one of the more memorable highlights of the trip!

James learning how to Mosey
at Boot Hill, Dodge City

7 September 2004

Day Four - Kansas

Whilst driving through Iola, KS, we saw a sign for Russell Stover warehouse direct candy. That sounded like a good idea so we followed the signs. Russell Stover makes Whitman’s chocolates and many in it’s own name too. They had lots of Easter and out of season chocolates and lollies (candy) as well as seconds - the ones that taste just as nice but were not quite the right shape or size. They are all over the country, but we were going past so purchased some chocolates.

Looking for chocolate bargains at the Russell Stover factory

Driving across Kansas was strangely familiar. It is a very similar landscape to the area between Sydney and Melbourne in Australia. If you drive down the Hume Highway, the surrounding area of gradual hills, lots of fields and sparse townships was the same as Kansas. Also, when we did arrive at the towns, we noted how similar in style it was to country towns like Goulburn, Tarcutta and Wangaratta. Other than everyone driving on the other side of the road of course!
Lana picked up a brochure detailing the Kansas wildflowers at Fort Scott. It showed the flower with its season and other information. We were able to stop along the side of the road and match up our list.
We finally stopped in Hutchinson, KS.

Day Four - Missouri - Kansas

In driving across the US we decided to travel on the secondary highway routes, rather than the major Interstate roads, those designated with an “I”, such as the I40 and I70. In this way, rather than zoom along at 75 miles an hour, we normally went about 60 or 65 mph with occasionally stops and slower speeds going through the towns.
We travelled to Fort Scott, Kansas (KS), right on the border of Missouri. Fort Scott was an important Fort during the Civil War and served as a Hospital and home for refugees. For a small fee we were able to go on a self guided tour and explore the various buildings. The children were able to climb all over some cannons and wagons, look into nooks and crannies and basically have a good run around without worrying anyone.

Red Wheat - a Kansas winter wheat crop brought over by the Mennonites
(More Info)

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6 September 2004

Day Three - Mississippi - Tennessee - Arkansas - Missouri

The first stop of the day was a side trip for educational purposes to Memphis TN - the home of Elvis. First we had to explain who Elvis was to the children. We stopped outside Gracelands and took some photos from the street, then stopped in the souvenir store next door.
Going through Arkansas (AR) (pronounced Arkansaw - why? It just is.) we saw maturing cotton fields, which tied in well to the cotton fields we saw during our trip to Douglas last month.
We basically made up time this day and ended up in Springfield, Missouri (MO), with the children once more enjoying the hotel pool.

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Day Three - Elvis wasn't home

Elvis wasn't available to see us.

Next Post

5 September 2004

Day Two - Alabama - Mississippi

Being Sunday, we started off at the local Catholic Church. We noticed a couple of families taking a lot more interest in the Mass. Afterwards we saw them chatting outside, so David asked them, “Do you guys homeschool?”. They replied, “Yes”, and we made some new friends. Whilst the children played in the playground, the adults and older children chatted for an hour or so. Then Davin and Janet invited us to their place for Breakfast/Lunch. Their children had been reading about early colonial times and wanted to try out apple and cinnamon pancakes which were included in one of the books. They said that if we were willing to join in their experimental breakfast we were welcome. So Lana helped chop up apples and we all talked while an enormous breakfast of eggs, pancakes, omelette, two types of sausage and the experimental pancakes began to pile up on the table. It was a feast which quickly disappeared once all the children had their fill.

Our Alabaman Family welcomed us into their home after Mass.

It was quite a busy time at their home with their six children and ours in various corners of the house. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we ended up leaving at 4:00 pm - after cancelling our next few nights accommodation bookings.
We zipped across back to the US Space and Rocket Center and bought Lana and her mum’s souvenir pins,(and the hat Peter left behind) then travelled a couple of hours to Corinth, Mississippi (MS).

Next Post

4 September 2004

Day One - Tennessee - Alabama

After briefly going through Tennessee (TN) we finally crossed into Alabama (AL) and stopped in Scottsboro. The reason? Unclaimed Baggage.
This is a store which contains unclaimed baggage from all sorts of transportation and sells it at very low prices. There is no guarantee what is for sale, as it is all forgotten luggage, but there is an amazing selection of stuff. The things people leave behind and don’t claim! We obtained books, toys, and games. They had video, electronics, clothes (lots and lots), strollers and so on.

This is a great combination of items for sale in Tennessee.

Update: This stopover is now more famous for when the car broke down on the way home from our last big trip. See
here and here and here for the terrible tale.

Next post

Day One - Georgia - North Carolina

First stop was to go via Home Depot and picked up this month’s craft kit. Although they hadn’t set up yet, they knew us so just gave us 5 kits and the relevant badges. We checked the post office box and off we went. Because of the mountains in our area, the best route was to hop into North Carolina, across to Tennessee and then down to Alabama. To accompany us we played “The Air Adventures of Biggles”. We found Biggles and other old time radio shows via the internet.
In North Carolina (NC) part of the National Forest Service is the “Ocoee Whitewater Center”. This is a very interesting stretch of river and forest where groups can go whitewater rafting. Groups hire the boats and a guide and with appropriate safety gear go off down the river. At the end (and a few spots on the way for less intrepid souls) buses await the boats to return the customers to their cars at the start. It looked great fun - but not with little ones!

The group at the back is stuck in a still spot and are having great trouble getting back into the stream.

Next post

Day One - Huntsville, Alabama

Next stop was Huntsville, Alabama - the home of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. This is an older launch center which is now a museum containing exhibits, older rockets, a space shuttle, Imax theater and more. We became members for $80 (saving $20 if we had just paid the entrance fees) and only had time to see the museum and Imax and gift shop. Luckily the membership means we get free entry at any time for the next 12 months and reciprocal deals at lots of other science museums (including Questacon in Canberra!)
The museum included many hands on activities, including a virtual reality visit to the space station where Ariel and David were strapped into a pseudo space ship. At the front of the ship they saw a video with the “ship” being buffeted in synchronised moments to match the film.
The most odd display was the interior of a section of a space rocket, but the insides were at an angle to the floor. Although we stood on the flat level base, everything else was at an angle of about 20 - 30 degrees. We felt that we should have been falling over!

Eric is standing up straight - everything else is at an angle.
(Note James holding on and Peter falling sideways)

The boys got to try “mountain climbing on Mars” which was rock climbing like they did at the Blairsville Bank Customer appreciation day.

Also on display were spacesuits and all the bits of which they are made. Seeing these inspired us to listen again to the audio book of “Have Spacesuit Will Travel” by Robert A. Heinlein, a tale of a lad that won a space suit and whilst testing it out is kidnapped by aliens. It is a very good book.
The Imax was pretty impressive. Patrons all lay down in specially designed seats and the movie plays on the dome like screen. It is so big that you peripheral vision is part of the film, too. The movie we saw was space station, detailing the deployment and construction of the International Space Station.

The Bruggie’s Trek

David's work was having their Christmas party early (September) and it was being held in Denver, Colorado. This presented a perfect opportunity to see more of the country with the whole family. So, on 4th September the children waved good-bye to the house and we began our trek across the US - eight little Bruggies in a Suburban, with a map and general directions.
We had organized the first few night’s accommodation, and a few days around the stay in Denver. The rest we would see what happened.

31 August 2004

A dancing Clare


US banks are quite different to Australian banks.

In Australia we have four major banks and a few smaller ones. They all operate on a branch system, whereby you can go almost anywhere in the country and access your funds. Internet banking is well advanced – to the point that you can pay anyone with a bank account via the internet with no human interference. Checks (cheques) are extremely rare and costly. Most people now use cash, credit card, debit card (known as EFTPOS), BPAY (electronic bill payments) or direct bank transfers. I had to ask the local bank tellers to go through the routine of writing a check the US way as it had been such a long time since we had written cheques.
However, whilst the electronic services are very good, the personal service is lousy.

In the US, banks are amazing. In our smal town, we have about 5 banks, some with multiple branches. Upon entering the main doors, you are confronted with a person who greets all comers and the tellers (two or three). Managers or bank officers are normally pretty available, there is coffee, refreshments (and a warm fire in winter) as well as the TV and some local papers and reading to keep you occupied if you need to wait. Some days they provide free popcorn, or breakfast, and there are lollies (candy) for the children. You can see right into the safe from the teller’s bench and there are no guards or bars to be seen. It’s like being in a fancy house, rather than a bank.

Inside one of the local banks

All these banks also compete for business. This is unlike the main Australian Banks which couldn’t care less about the small customer and compete to charge the most fees in a complex way as possible. ANZ does not even publish the local branch phone numbers anywhere. Customers must call the central office who will then arrange an appointment at the local branch. The central office is in Melbourne, about 800 km (500 miles) from our local branch in Moss Vale, NSW.

Each bank here has “Customer Appreciation Days”. Everyone in town (customers or not) get to come along, listen to music, eat food, free soft drinks, snow cones (shaved ice), cotton candy (fairy floss), give-aways (if it doesn’t move it has the bank’s name on it), popcorn, and a free raffle. Also, the bank had Rock Climbing for the children. Can any of our Australian readers imagine an Australian bank having a “Customer Appreciation Day”?

Banks also charge differently. In Australia you are typically charged for any teller transactions, and if you exceed a certain number of electronic ones. Each cheque you write you can be charged a tax of between 80 cents and $2.00 as well as a bank fee for the privilege. Meanwhile, here checks are written for anything from shopping to video hire. One of our friends mentioned that the smallest check they had written was 27 cents!

State Coins

There is a current program of minting a unique quarter for each state. These are being released over a number of years and so Lana and her parents have decided to collect them. After three months, they both had almost all the coins that have been released to date. Lana and her Mum went into the bank and asked whether the tellers had any of the missing ones in their coin trays. When Lana’s Mum mentioned they were departing in a few days, the tellers all went through not only their coin trays but also about 8 - 10 rolls of coins. Now that is customer service! (Mum got the missing coins.)

The Big Chicken

The Big Chicken - now you know where you are!

In Marrietta (a Northern suburb of Atlanta) the most noted landmark by which any directions are given is “The Big Chicken”. It is a Kentucky Fried Chicken store built many years ago. The eyes roll around and the beak opens and closes. Sam’s Club is just down the road from this and to get to the Australian Bakery CafĂ© we turn right at this corner. It can be seen for some distance.

Drive Thru everything

In a society in which getting out of the car is a peculiar thing, everything is designed around an average of greater than 1 car per person. (This is the current statistic for the US)
A fast food restaurant chain called Sonic has drive in service where you park your car in the bay and they come out and serve you in the vehicle.
All banks have drive through ATMs and some even have drive through teller service. Any letter/mail boxes are accessible from the driver’s window.

27 August 2004

Lana’s parents move along.

After a very enjoyable stay of three and a half months, Lana’s parents left for home (via Holland and Singapore). They arrived on May 17 and were there for the birth of Rose, Dad helped the boys make some fine swords and shields, Mum did lots of cross stitching and quilting with Lana, they explored in many directions using our place as a base, joined us for our Douglas, Georgia, trip, Dad built some great head boards for the beds (called bed heads in Australia) and Dad even assisted us by changing the spark plus on B2.

After having two extra people sharing our house it was very odd when they left. During our nightly prayers we stopped and counted. Yep. We were all there but it just seemed less than it should be. There were only eight of us.

Places visited with Lana’s parents:
  • Helen
  • the local Bank's “Hometown Hoedown” customer appreciation day,
  • Brasstown Bald
  • Douglas, Georgia
  • Lots of Walmarts
  • Fireworks in Hiawassee
  • Memorial Day parade
  • Cabbage Patch Dolls “Babyland General Hospital” in Cleveland, Georgia
  • Georgia Mountain Fair
  • Vogel Park
  • Coopers Creek
  • Lots of experiences of US shopping.
Dad and Mum also went on a number of trips on their own using B1 as a travel vehicle, including along the Blue Ridge Parkway as far as Virginia, then across through Chattanooga to Alabama and various forays checking out local parks. Overall the visit was superb. We are really pleased that they were able to visit, and be with us when Rose arrived in the world.

Mum resting in the luxury of B1.

18 August 2004

The need to play

Wherever we go, one of the top things to find is a playground. The adults get to sit down and the children get to run around and use some of their energy and have some fun. In Douglas, Peter had a great time on the monkey bars. Back and forth and back again. And again.

Unfortunately, he did it so much he mentioned his hands were sore. The heat of the day, and the hot bars and the constant activity had given him large blisters across his fingers and palms.
Lana ran his hands under cold water and told Peter he wouldn’t be able to go on the monkey bars now. He couldn’t even straighten his hands yet he questioned Lana, “But why? It’s fun. I want to do some more!”

Peter - half way there

17 August 2004

Douglas Georgia

David had business in Southern Georgia about six hours drive away, not far from Douglas. Lana decided the initial installation and training would be a good excuse for a family visit and tour. David would work and Lana, her parents and the children would get to look around.

Douglas is a typical Southern town with a majority of people that have always been local. In contrast Blairsville has a great many residents that came from other parts of the US. The local visitor information center was very excited to have Australians visit. She gave all the children rulers, pens and other samples, offered a free tour and was extremely helpful. “I don’t know if the others on the tour care about having some Australians on the tour, but I do!” The lady in charge of the evening shift, Alison, was ringing around for good deals for families. The staff at Hampton Inn were very accommodating, even defending the noise of the children running along the hallway from the pool, “like a herd of elephants”. The other guests understood that “they’re young children that are settling down soon”. That was OK. The guest feared they might have unruly teenagers. Younger children were given a lot more leeway.

There was one big black guy who heard Ariel, James and Clare talking in the lift (elevator) and asked Ariel, “Where are you from?”. “Australia”. “Can you talk like that guy from the outback?” Ariel replied, “No. But my dad can.”
A little while later, he saw David standing behind Ariel and Eric and asked, “Is this your dad?”. David replied (in a good Aussie accent), “Yeah. How are you?” He thought it was great and they did some high fives. A little while later they chatted some more, and David was able to do some Steve Irwin impressions, which seemed to make the guy’s day.

During a visit to “Coffee State Park” in Douglas, there were a couple of ladies fishing. Peter went over and starting talking to them whilst Lana and her parents were getting lunch ready. Next thing Lana knew, there he was with a fishing rod in his hand! So much for homeschooling children having poor socialization!

Peter and Eric fishing using borrowed rods.

They also went to Okefenokee swamp. One fellow was surprised that Lana and the children didn’t see an alligator and he mentioned the alligators normally gather near boardwalk. Lana replied that we have five children that want to run along the boardwalk. The noise of the children obviously kept the critters at bay.

31 July 2004

Eric the Knight

We have survived our first year!

On 8 July we remembered our first anniversary of the family’s arrival in the USA. This photo was taken just after we landed in Atlanta, surrounded by suitcases, tired after a long time travelling, and still with about 3 hours to go before we finally stopped and landed in some beds.

In the last 12 months we have discovered new foods, made new friends, become involved in the local community through Church, soccer, 4H BB guns, homeschooling group and the local fairs and concerts.
We have a US drivers license, US bank accounts and even – after threats of canceling accounts – a US credit card.
We have an American baby.
But we still have Australian accents.

We enjoy comparing Australia and the US; it is a great thing to discover similarities and differences. We discover new things and so do our friends. Anyone coming to our parties discovers how we have a party and try the Australian foods we serve. They bring their own specialties and we all take turns expressing our likes and dislikes.

Our ongoing impression?

Australia and the USA are both great countries – separated by a common language – and it is a great privilege to experience living here and the great friendship of all the locals we have met.
Prefer living here or Australia? It doesn’t matter – home is where the family is.

The tricks to buying a car

This is our new car:

The Suburban
With the arrival of Rose, we needed to have a vehicle that could seat 8 people. This means a car beyond the typical seven-seater van. In Australia, this would mean the Toyota Commuter, the typical homeschooling van one sees at all homeschooling events. Here the choices are also limited, but the vehicles are much bigger. There is a lot more metal between the occupants and the outside and a correspondingly lower fuel economy. But there is plenty of room for passengers and luggage and a much bigger engine.

Luckily, the Ogburns decided they needed a vehicle more suited to their family size and asked us if we wanted to buy theirs. We accepted the offer and did the deal. They have now purchased a new (second hand) vehicle, which is very nice. However, this was our first experience with US vehicle registration and ownership, and bank financing, as we required a loan for part of the balance. The loan was easy because we had built up a relationship with the bank for the last 12 months. However, with bank involvement, the process is a little more complicated.
1. Organise finance
2. Organise Insurance
3. Purchase the vehicle
4. Changeover Tags (Registration plates).
Buying from someone we know, financing from a small bank and dealing with a local insurer made the process a lot easier. A problem arose whereby we needed the insurance before we could get the finance, the finance before we could get the car, the car/bill of sale before we could get the insurance. We solved this by the bank agreeing to go ahead and the insurance willing to proceed before transfer. Phew!
The next runaround was a result of the way license plates “Tags” are handled here. The Tag is based on ownership. (In Australia the registration plate stays with the vehicle until change of State) Once the car was sold, the Title was passed across to the Bank who forwarded it to the seller’s local authority responsible for Tags (Union County based). When they got it back from the local Titles Office, they notified our local authority, who then sent us notice that they were ready for us to come in and get a new tag. We then went to the Tax Commissioner of Towns County and got a new Tag for $20.00. The title transfer was $18.00. These are somehow based on the vehicle’s value, but overall they are much cheaper than in Australia.
In Australia you would have Duty on transfer of the vehicle ($240), a transfer fee ($17) and registration ($242) of the vehicle. Total Cost: $499.00 (US$). And if I bought the car from a dealer I would also pay 10% GST. More hassles here, but less costs.

Dressing Up for a party

Whenever we have a party, the children love to make sure it’s a dress-up party. By this we mean a costume party, not formal wear. So the party to celebrate our 1st anniversary in the US and Ariel’s 13th birthday (13! Already!) was a dress-up party. The weather was great, the children all ran around, played in the sand pit, used the swings, rushed down the flying fox, jumped on the trampoline, or played games in the school room whilst the adults got a chance to chat away. The children occasionally came in with red faces, exhausted. Lana’s mum wiped down their faces with a cold towel, gave them a drink and out they went again!

Ariel as Kirsten from the “American Girl” book series.

By evening we had the traditional bonfire, but with a traditional US feature – Smores. A Smore (as in “I want some more” said with a mouth full) is made as follows:
  1. Get a Graham cracker (sweet cookie/biscuit) in one hand.
  2. Place a piece of chocolate on it (traditionally Hershey’s Milk Chocolate) It needs to be thin so that it can melt.
  3. Put a marshmallow on a stick and melt it “just so” in the fire
  4. Then squash the melted marshmallow against the chocolate with another Graham cracker.
The marshmallow melts the chocolate, and oozes out the edges.
David Floyd taught us this when we went camping with his parents at Cooper’s creek, a beautiful shady spot next to a creek nearby. Apparently it originated in the Boy Scouts.

By late evening everyone went home happy but exhausted. We’re sure the children had a good sleep that night!

July 4 Celebrations.

On July 4 in the US everyone has great fun blowing up fireworks and/or watching them. Unfortunately in Georgia, Fireworks aren’t allowed – except July 4 when the law isn’t enforced. The best place to get fireworks is over the border in Tennessee where they have lots of fireworks stores selling things that go boom, fizz and make lots of smoke, noise and light. We did the trek and got the fireworks. These included Mortars, rockets, fizzing things, crackers, lots of stuff.

We then trekked to our friends place as they had lots of open sky – unlike our house. Once it was dark we had great fun shooting off the lot, without damaging anyone (except for a minor mishap with Lana). A remarkable achievement indeed!

A sample of the 4th July Hiawassee fireworks at the fairgrounds.

Lana’s Mum and Dad are here.

Lana’s parents, Rudy and Dorothy, arrived on 17 May and have been a great help and comfort over the last couple of months. It was a lot easier going to the hospital knowing we could just leave the children with them at home, and when Rose was ready, they could come to the hospital without David going home first. Also, Lana and her mum are having fun sharing cross-stitch patterns, quilting together and experimenting with different local recipes and ingredients.

Whilst they are here, Rudy and Dorothy took the back seats out of one of our smaller vehicles and put in an inflatable mattress and traveling/camping supplies. Then off they went exploring. They have traveled along the Blue Ridge Parkway as far north as Virginia, some camping with David Floyd’s parents at Coopers Creek, and a trip to Tennessee and Alabama (cut short by the heat). Dad reckons that there must be about 10% of the US population on the roads at any one time.

They have also joined us on the various outings we have made including the Baptism, local festivals and Dad joined us helping the Floyds clear out and convert their garage to a schoolroom.

Brasstown Bald

We finally made it to the top of Brasstown Bald, the highest point (4784 ft) in Georgia. Although we can see the top from our house (as you have seen in earlier issues) our house is hidden amongst the trees.
Now we have a reliable vehicle, we made it to the parking area, which is a “short” 6/10-mile (1 km) walk to the observation area. It doesn’t sound far but it is pretty steep. I carried Rose and led with Rudy and the children. Lana and her mum followed us as the second stage. By the time we made it to the top, puffing and panting, they told us the museum and information area would be closing shortly! “Ok.” We puffed and panted, “We’ll just sit here whilst you get ready.”

The viewing area was accessible and it was certainly impressive.
And going down was a lot easier.

The view from Brasstown Bald to our house.

Fedex & UPS

Our house is not the easiest place to find. Also, the house numbering is not completely consistent. Our house is numbered 4600. The first house you come to at the start of our road is 4680. Behind them is another house with no number. These two houses get ALL of our Fedex parcels. I suppose this is one way to meet the neighbours.
The company I work for used Fedex to send a box of brochures across the country. It didn’t arrive. After a lot of hassling, telephone calls, and investigation, Bretta finally found out that it was damaged en route. What was left was to be returned to us here. After more telephone calls and hassle we were finally told the remains were available at the local office in a folder. Bretta opened the folder and found a slip of paper mentioning the entire contents were wrecked. The total time to non-deliver the goods? One month. Perhaps they are providing interesting reading matter to a castaway on some island whose Fedex plane crashed.
The main UPS driver that delivers here is very good. He made the effort for the first parcel we had delivered to get to the right place. He found us and now we always ask for UPS. Unfortunately his replacements when he is on holiday also reckon our neighbours are close enough. *sigh*