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*

Huge dragonfly

Here is the dragonfly that was hurt by our car. It is very large. Notice the green eyes – a short time later when it died they gradually turned black.

Dragonfly on James’ hand.


Bears are apparently roaming around again. Our neighbour, delivering the Fedex parcel for us that he received, told us how he opened his back door last week. He saw a large bear staring at him through the screen door.
We asked, “What did you do?”
“I went back inside.”

Vacation Bible School

Every summer all the Churches around here have what is called “Vacation Bible School” (VBS). Children get to attend the Church for about 3 to 4 hours each day or night for 5 days and focus on a theme. David attended one at the Floyd’s church with Ariel and Eric, which had the theme of “Mission and Japan”, and all the children attended the one at our Church, which had the theme “Constructing God’s Church”.
It is a great way for the children to learn bits of the faith and have a fun time with songs, crafts, activities, games, snacks, stories and bible reading. There is a good business with different organizations publishing various VBS packs which include the director’s guidelines, materials for each of the activities, promotional items, even DVDs and music!
As there are so many churches around here all having VBS’s each Church doesn’t really want to have the same one as another church, so there is plenty of variety. Some children go along to lots of VBS’s throughout the summer.
Each group that organizes the VBS for their Church does a lot of work coordinating the people, children, parents, decorations, planning and so on. It takes an immense effort and it is all done free of charge for those attending in an effort to bring the faith to the children. We all enjoyed them both.

Clare, MaryBeth and Peter enjoying a snack at VBS.