Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Greetings - American Style

I've had some complaints from Lori about my recent blogs. Well, not so recent anymore since I wrote this almost three weeks ago – plus quite a few others – and really just haven't had the chance , or perhaps the energy, to get online at night when I finally have the kids down and access to the internet. Contentment seems to be taking away that hard edge. That plus food shopping, malls, parks and beaches on public transport. (The kids are FIT! We have cut our walking time to the train station almost in half!) It's all good, no worries.....and if you don't hear from me for a few weeks – it's just the peace and contentment of finally having found home. I'll rave about the sunshine and the friendliness, the schools and Medicare, the beaches and......

''Glad you're happy and all, but do you mind toning it down a bit? You DO realize that it's snowing here, right?!'' (This from Lori quite a few weeks ago already.)

So that this seems like the perfect time to finally post my American Christmas Greeting, a spoof of those once-a-year updates you get letting you know just how perfect everyone else's life seems to be going while you're still wondering WHERE yours is going.

I wrote it last Christmas just for kicks but then didn't post it because I was scared that people who WERE sending me cards would feel I was mocking them and stop sending them.

DON'T stop sending the cards. I love them and live off of them all year. Now if only I would send you all my address – check on facebook this week! I'll post photos don't mind receiving belated Christmas cards in 2011!

This is for you Lori. And for Babette – who sends fantastic Christmas photos of the kids scuba diving and snow skiing every year, but doesn't rub it in – and who thinks I'm witty and is therefore brilliant! (Keep those cards coming folks, I really DO like to hear how brilliant your lives are!)

(It's taken me over an hour just to force something I've already written online - forgive me, I miss you, I just lose any and all good will fighting with the internet.  The kids ALL start school on January 22.  I'll be in touch then!)

Merry Christmas!!!   ENJOY!


An American Christmas Greeting

Merry Christmas friends and family,

Another year has come and gone in which none of us has had the time to visit, phone, email or even twitter. Check us out on Facebook if you get a chance.

And so we'd like to share news of our family with the 400 of you who are closest in our hearts during this joyous holiday season.

All of the kids are, of course, in the gifted program at school, the school being the best in the entire country. Our son is the star of the soccer, baseball, and basketball teams and is training for his black belt in karate, the youngest ever to do so at the age of seven. He also plays a Stradavarius. Our ten year old daughter is travelling to New York City on the weekends to dance ballet professionally. And weren't we surprised when NASA called to ask her opinion about the latest space station. All of which somehow led to a modelling gig. She'll also be in the Olympics next year for stadium jumping. We've enclosed the photo of her on her new Thoroughbred. My husband meanwhile is never home, business (which obviously is booming) taking him to Shang-hai, Syndey, Berlin, Moscow and Paris this year alone. And yet he somehow finds time to coach the soccer team, sing in the church choir, travel with the cub scouts and volunteer at the local homeless shelter.

I am not doing much, still busy with homeschooling the youngest two before they enter preschool. They are trilingual now, at the age of three, but having some dificulty reading the French. I've repainted all the bedrooms in our six bedroom home (photo also enclosed) and made curtains to match. In between preparing organic vegan home-cooked meals for the entire family (grown in our own garden) and sewing all of our clothes, I have found time to open my own silk-screening business, currently bringing in $40,000 a month, in addition to continuing to work as a cardiologist at the local hospital.

Wishing you and yours a blessed and holy holiday season. (The Connors)


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Why Lawnton? (Part One: Down the Stream)

Ryan and Andrew probably hadn't even reached their classrooms on their first day at Lawnton State School – a week to the day after landing on the runway in Brisbane - when the school secretary leaned over the reception area and conspiratorially called me over. She looked both ways before she popped the question that was on her mind. (Okay, maybe not, but in my mind three weeks later she did!)
''WHY LAWNTON?'' she asked.

She meant the town and not the school. (More raves about THAT later! Less than 200 kids, an engaged teaching staff, caring administrative staff AND personalized attention for EACH student? Why NOT Lawnton State School?!)

What brings a family from the United States – the bolder, louder sibling across the globe – through the wonders of Europe to land on the shores not only of Australia, and Brisbane, but of LAWNTON, a tiny suburb north of Brisbane. The mall? The wonders of Target and Big W? Lawnmowers on Sunday? (YAY – Sundays as they SHOULD be! But more on that later too!)

I'm beginning to realize that 'Row, row, row your boat...gently down the stream'' really DOES say more about life than most people ever pick up on. (Also that sooner or later I will have to begin spelling realize 'realise' but baby steps on the personal growth here.)

There is a current to our lives, and clinging to branches or escaping onto flotsam and jetsam is only a temporary – and false – sense of control over where the great river of life is bringing us.
Have you ever felt that you were in exactly the right place at the right time, that you were EXACTLY where you were MEANT to be?

When my shrink asked me that over 15 months ago, in September 2009, I cried. (I cried a lot in 2009 so it came as no surprise!) The only time I had ever experienced that before (and I now know that I'm lucky that I have ever experienced it at all) was 20 years before, on a bus in Kenya. My new friend, Kristy, shared it too, as we sat together in the back of the bus taking us to the rest of our lives. THIS was where we were meant to be. THIS was right.

20 years later, in Holzgerlingen, I cried. If THAT was who I was, then I was lost. Because there was no way I was going to get back onto that bus in Kenya with four kids and bills to pay.

That month I decided to look into jobs in Australia, a continent that, quite frankly, had never really interested me before. English colony. Bah.

But Damon could get citizenship there. It had a universal health care system (unlike Germany whose system REQUIRES all citizens to be insured but doesn't offer them all that privilege – it's an obligation, NOT a privilege, which - in my mind at least- are polar opposites). It spoke English. And it had jobs, jobs, jobs. Unlike Europe, it recognizes MY degree. Unlike Europe, it respects Damon's degree from the USA. And, again unlike Europe, it encouraged skilled immigrants with programs such as tax incentives for first-time home buyers in Australia.

And the damn education system didn't condemn my daughter to prostitution at the age of 8. (And while this might seem like a gross exaggeration, where else is an underappreciated sensitive soul going to go in an outdated feudal system that already has her pegged to finish school at the age of 14?!) Hey – at least the prostitutes have a pension plan. And health insurance!

So that when I went back to my shrink and told her we were moving to Australia, it didn't take much time until she was convinced it was the right move for us. (I do like to think she wasn't just trying to get rid of a difficult patient because, frankly, we had lots of laughs too and compared to the rest of the saps I saw in there I was a bright ray of sunshine!)

My shrink was on board before I was entirely on myself. (I still wasn't sure I wasn't running ''from'' something instead of ''to'' something.)

''Oh.'' she said. Her face lit up with understanding and she visibly relaxed and settled back into her chair as if she'd finally put the last piece into the puzzle of my discontent.

''You're an adventurer.''

And from that moment on all she did was give me the tools to let go of my flotsam and jetsam and to row, row, row...........

Not exactly the answer the school secretary was looking for that first Friday at Lawnton SS. Not the answer I gave. (Although, in the rewind of my mind's eye I like to see me leaning casually across the reception window talking to her about the movement of my life, as she wearily begins to slump and fade into her chair, politely regretting that she ever asked me in the first place!)

Not what I meant to write about either.

Unfortunately this is what happens when I don't clear out my brain's cobwebs on a regular basis. (And who knew they could build up so quickly up there?!)

Why Lawnton? Because it's where the river took me.

I call Anita that October for our weekly two hour pre-English group chat....

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Wonders of Australia Part Two; From the Kids

Ah.  The wonders of a brave new world.


Corn on the cob.

Windmills on the ceiling.  (Otherwise known as ceiling fans.)

Those twisty thingies that go around and around and spit out water.  (Sprinklers.)

Really.  Aidan and Matthew can sit and stare at these for hours.  They still don't get the point.  Who knew that lawns and plants needed to be watered?  Kids born and raised in Germany aren't going to understand that rain doesn't always fall from the sky.  Water as a source of life instead of a source of discontentment.  Hmmm.  Very nice concept.

Ants.  Cool.  Just look at all of them.  Look at how fast they are! What are they doing?  What will they do with this piece of my apple?  (How is Mommy going to explain to the homeowner why we are spending twenty minutes bent over an ant colony at the edge of his lawn?!

Australians.  (Oh cool.  The homeowner just came out and smiled at us.  Didn't inform us that this was his property and that he had spent an awful lot of time on his flower bed so that he didn't appreciate children, the unmitigated gall CHILDREN, playing in HIS yard, which he owned and which was his, his, lawfully his.  Sorry.  Momentary lapse.) 

Twigs and sticks and bark and seeds and flowers takes us an hour to walk home from school.  Because Aidan still can't understand that sticks can be found everywhere and anywhere here.  He still gathers up as many as he can and carries them home, arms filled to bursting.  We have a small woodpile in our front driveway.  How lucky we are to have lived in Europe, where the forests that once covered the continent from the western shores of France into the regions of Russia have been denuded for half a century.  Europeans treasure the small, carefully tended pockets they have left.  We are able to appreciate the bounty that still surround us here in this new country of ours. Twigs and sticks and bark and seeds....carelessly left on the ground,  because nature's gifts are so plentiful here that noone bothers with the discarded packaging.

Hummus.  Pita bread.  International choices galore.  (Okay,  that one's for Mom.  We still prefer McDonald's or Subway.)

Target.  Woolworth's.  Cohl's.  All in the same shopping mall.


Santa in the mall.

The waves of the South Pacific.

Cockatoos and kookaburras in our back yard.

Strangers smiling and speaking to the children, waving at us out of cars as we wait to cross the street, telling me what a wonderful family I have.

Swimming in the pool everyday.  Hearing from Mum that the deadman's float doesn't count as a stroke and learning how to swim from one side of the pool to the other without swim aids. 

Body surfing in the Pacific Ocean.  WITH SWIM AIDS.  WITH SWIM AIDS.  (Mum grew up on both sides of the ATLANTIC ocean.  Pshaw Mum.  They call it '' the pond'' for a reason.  THESE are WAVES.  And where are our surf boards?!)

A deputy principal who makesMilo for us.  (Can we please go to school, Mum, please can we, huh huh huh?)

A school dance.

When can we play handball with the school kids, Mum? Can we go to school too?

A mum who still yells at us when we play soccer in the house and spill Dad's coffee right next to his computer.

But who then comes right upstaris and gives us hugs.  And does a goofy dance.

Must be all the sunshine

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Wonders of Australia / Part One: The Koala

I'm still not up on all the accents – Australian, English, New Zealand, mixes of all three who have spent time in all three at some point or another – so that I've had to come up with another way to distinguish an Australian from a foreigner without risking offending anyone by asking.

The Australians are the ones running past the koala exhibit to get to the goats at the petting zoo.

The rest of us can be seen gazing up at the little guys in awe and admiration, snapping shots – still-lifes as it were since koalas don't move much – and shouting to eachother everytime one of the koalas shows signs of life.

''Oh. Oh. Ryan. Quick. That one just moved an ear.'' (Opened an eye.)

''Damon. Hurry up with the camera. I think that one might be stretching.''

''Oh. No. Never mind. No, I don't think you need to bother with the video recorder.''

Koalas don't move much.

In fact, we were a bit worried about Aidan this week. He's gone from what we called ''Aidan's brain in Australia'' -which consisted of running around in circles and then throwing himself from side to side- to going catatonic with his hands clawed and a blank expression on his face.

Turns out he's playing koala.

He just goes stiff all of a sudden, claws up his hands and stiffly sits staring blankly at nothing.

We thought he was having a fit of some sort.

But he's real easy to pick up and carry around on your hip when he's in role. Like the zookeeper and her koala last week at the zoo.

In Aidan's world, koalas speak in very hoarse voices and stilted sentences.

In the real world, koalas are an endangered species. The zookeeper told us they only live in scattered pockets now. There are only about 2,000 left in our area. 500 a year are killed by cars. Koalas are slow. Another 500 a year are killed by pet dogs. Koalas are slow. (Andrew did the math in his head. Not looking good for the little guys then, is it?)

Then there's the loss of habitat. (Hang head low as we think of the townhouse development we are in and the koala land it usurped. ''We saved that tree over there because there were koalas in it.'' the developer told us. Like any self-respecting koala was going to stay in a tree surrounded by townhouses.

We saw one in a tree across from our house the other day. And stopped and pointed and made real tourists of ourselves. But I consider myself lucky to get here before they are gone. (At the same time that I realize I am part of the reason they are gone.) In twenty years, or ten, or even two according to Andrew's math, we'll be telling kids that koalas used to run through our yards.

Or amble slowly anyway.

All too soon, koalas will cease to be a backyard neighbor and become an exotic animal here in Australia as well. I won't be able to tell the Australians apart at the zoo anymore.

It's all right. Australians don't take offense very easily.

But it really is a shame about the koala.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Kangaroos, Connors and a Germany Bird

 Once we found the kangaroo enclosure we knew we'd arrived in Australia. 

Matthew settles right in with Mama Koala.
As long as she doesn't have to get up!

From one Aussie to another, ay mate?!

Yay me!

The bird known in Australia as a scrub turkey. 
Immediately christened THE GERMANY BIRD by the twins!


Matthew too!

What are these two up to?

A boy and his kangaroo.

Shade break.

Right back at ya, mate!

Sleepy time.

Bounce, bounce.  Maybe later.


Hey!  There's one for each of us!

In duo.

Happy Matthew.

Mommy's happy too.


Two more members.

Beauty and the Kangaroo.

Upright for the camera.

Looks like Andrew has found his soulmates.

Farewell from the locals.

Lizard-lemur apathy.

Koala Photos

We spent last Saturday, November 12, at the nearby Alma Park Zoo.  We'd been in Australia a week and it was high time to get a closer look at the koalas.

We also got to pet the kangaroos but bear with me.  Koalas make very good subjects.  (Loosely translated to mean they hold very still for pictures!)

Why wait for the bus when it's only a two kilometer walk from the train station?!

Now THIS is more like it!  (Entrance to the zoo.)

Aidan is a good lizard spotter.  These are just the local wildlife.
Daddy is awfully impressed with the peacocks.  Mommy reminds him that we have those in the USA too and in Germany.  (They originally come from India.)  Although Mommy has to admit even the peacocks are more laid back than usual in Australia!

Australia has made him a new man.
Matthew finds the courage to feed a llama.
(Note the Germany hat!)

Aidan's turn to feed a llama.

If you could just hold still for a photo, please.


OOOOHHHHH!  Look!  He opened an eye!

The kids immediately christened this one 'yoga pose.'

Am I really this cute when I do yoga?

Koala and proud.

Because I'm so darn cute, that's why.

AWWWW!  Or did we already have that caption?

Do you really think we'll get to pet a koala?
(Aidan already contemplating his koala impersonation!)
I had a stuffed animal that moved faster than this!

Pardon me, but I'm looking for the ladies'!


Emus come from Australia.
But this is a rhea.
Looks like she's adapting just fine to the culture though!

Still lookin'good.

And noble.

And just down-right cuddly.

When you're this good lookin'......

you don't HAVE to move!

Damon is still taking pictures of the PEACOCKS!  Sigh.