This evening I was sending an email to a friend, to let him know what we've been doing lately. I haven't seen much of him since we moved to the US, so I couldn't remember what I've told him and what I haven't. This led to a long email, that also goes into some detail on our recent activities. It's mostly general information, so I thought I'd edit it a little for general consumption, and post it up here for any friends or family who may be following:
We have 3 children now. You know that, right? Luc (5), Nicolas (3) and Mietta (5 months). It's Luc's 5th birthday today, and I've only JUST got him down for the night. I have no idea where the last 5 years went, but I'm sure it was worthwhile.
I can't walk through this place for tripping over stuff, and it's not all the kids' stuff either. We are crammed into a 2 b/r apartment, and need more space. The baby is in our room for the time being, and the boys are in double bunks. The rooms are all large, but there aren't many of them. We're going to move, but it's very expensive in this area (we have good rent at the moment) and we haven't agreed on any other area we'd like.
Ideally, we'd stay nearby, as we really like it here. We're close to public transport, have dozens of restaurants within a 5 minute walk, plus various other specialty stores (books, electronics, comics, clothes, camping, etc). With the exception of school and going to a large (and hence cheaper-than-local) supermarket we almost never need the car. We're also a 10 minute walk from Lake Michigan with it's bike/walking trails and summer-time beaches, the Chicago Zoo (free entry), Lincoln Park (larger than Central Park in NYC), the Chicago Nature Museum (we're members, so free entry again), dozens of coffee shops with free WiFi (fast and reliable enough for video conferencing)..... the list goes on. So, it's pretty nice here.
I'm telecommuting these days, working for a non-profit who are based at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. They also pay for my internet, which is nice: 20 Mbps down (though I've clocked it at up to 28Mbps), and about 3Mbps up, with unlimited data. This so far beyond what I've seen in Australia that I thought it worth mentioning. I'm being paid to work on open source software full time. For anyone who knows me and know what that means, then I'm sure you'll agree it's a big deal for me. Since it's a non-profit organization I can't get bonuses, but then again, no one is getting them these days (except banking executives), so I'm not missing out on much. I'm doing pretty well with the salary though - it's the same amount that Google offered me last year (though they also offered me options, stock, and significant bonuses). Also, since it's a funded non-profit, the position is safe.... for the moment.
Anne has started her own business as well, doing children's art. It's been well received, but she's cut back on it while dealing with pregnancy and now a small baby.
Speaking of the baby: yes, she's cute. :-) She smiles all the time, even while teething. The boys both love her, and their whole day seems to revolve around her. Mind you, the same could be said of me. :-) Luc is doing well, and showing signs of really maturing. He's a very thoughtful young man, when he isn't driving is brother or parents insane. That leaves Nic. This kid is a force of nature. We saw my family for Christmas, and I don't think anyone was quite prepared for what they got there. On the other hand, his behaviour improved out of sight once he was spending most of his time outdoors. This saddened me to take him back to Chicago, and is another motivation to move to a bigger place with a yard. He's very physical, completely fearless, and a problem solver.... a dangerous combination. However, he's very intelligent, and when he remembers, his manners are impeccable, and he is very compassionate. I'm incredibly proud of him and the things that he accomplishes, so it can't all be bad, huh? :-)
As I mentioned earlier, we saw my family for Christmas. Since I telecommute, we were able to take a longer trip with me working out there. This didn't work as well as I'd intended. I didn't always feel like working, particularly with Christmas coming, and gorgeous, sunny Brisbane weather. Even when I stopped procrastinating, Anne needed me to help with the kids (who were out of their routine). Still, I got a little done, and I did get to enjoy some time off as well.
We also wanted to catch up with friends while we were there, but it really didn't happen like we'd hoped. We saw some of our closest friends for less than an hour, or not at all. :-( We did get to see a lot of family.... but that came with its own stresses. Still, it was good to see them, and I was glad for the time it gave them with my children.
My whole family was at the farm for Christmas, which was the first time this had happened in years, and may be one of the last times ever. When you include spouses, children, one fiance (now a spouse) and my sister's boyfriend, we came to 21 people. It was great, but also quite stressful for everyone. Then, just after New Year, my middle brother got married, which was actually a lot of fun for us all.
After that, we went to Anne's parents, just east of Melbourne. That was a lot easier, and I got far more work done there. I got to see some of my family down there as well (some cousins and an uncle), and Anne got to see most of her family and a few friends too. Also, having dedicated grandparents (who weren't also dealing with 3 other grandchildren simultaneously) gave Anne and I some breathing room. So overall, the pace slowed down for us down there.
We left before it got TOO hot in Melbourne (it just touched on 40C before we left) and when we landed in Chicago it was -24C, with a windchill at -36C. Let me tell you.... that's brutal. Given the climate here, I've been watching the temperatures back in Melbourne, and I've been finding it all hard to fathom.
FiresThe fires added an entirely new dimension to this weather watch, and we've been in touch with Anne's parents several times in recent days. They live in a rural area with fires all around them, but so far they've been safe. The Google mashup between the CFA incident reports and Google Maps showed us what was going on in a general sense, but with the news reports coming out of Victoria at the moment (some of them quite harrowing) the extra information may not have been very reassuring. All the same, it was very impressive to see how quickly nearby fires were brought back to a status of "SAFE".
Just looking for those links now, I saw there was a fire right at Anne's parents' place, but it was green (meaning it's safe) and when I clicked on it, it had a status of "FALSE ALARM". I'm glad I didn't see that one when it was first reported!
I don't know what to write here without being trite, but I found the stories of individual tragedy to be overwhelming. And we know that these are stores that happen far more times than we will ever hear about. I suppose it won't mean much for those who've lost their families, but we're going to be sending something back to Australia for the appeal. Cumulatively, I hope that the appeals go some way to helping those who are left get back on their feet.