28 November 2013


Toys R Us

Saguaro close up

We arrived in Mesa Arizona. It's fair to say it is very different from New England. It could be another country and for a long time it was; it didn't surprise me to learn that, aside from Alaska and Hawaii, it was the last state to join the union. The landscape has the terrible beauty of the desert. It's all about the colour and the frank boldness of those amazing saguaro cacti, the sudden red jut of rock from the flat surrounds and the scrabbly greenery. It's not dissimilar to parts of Australia. While Massachusetts towns seem an inevitable part of the landscape - all picturesque red gold leaves and simple spired churches, here there is no escaping that the town has been plonked down in the middle of the desert. Clean efficient roads and highways lined with large chain stores and golf courses end abruptly and you find yourself in the desert. A few minutes out of town we were picnicking on the banks of the Salt River, looking at the aptly, if unimaginatively, named Red Mountain and surrounded by enormous cacti.  To survive here requires all the technological advancements America is famous for.  Power from the Hoover dam, water from the Colorado River and presumably produce from all over the country, flown into one of the country's busiest airports.  There is a sense that one is merely keeping nature at bay here.  Like any extreme place, deserts may tolerate the presence of humans, but it always feels temporary.  

We are having a lot of fun. In some ways it feels more 'American' to us, or at least a version of America with which we are familiar. Bottomless fries and soda with our meals, served in cavernous barns with sports on various screens and posters all over the walls; big box stores lining multi- lanes highways; blessings on the food before meals and hand towels cross-stitched with turkeys; Fox News on TV in our hotel breakfast room - 'coming up after the break find out why Obamacare may unfairly favour trade unions'; friendly polite people at every turn - 'have you found everything you were looking for today?' ask the shop assistants, 'you have a great day now'.  It may be required sales patter but it's delivered with a convincing sincerity that is rather charming. Storms are lashing the Northeast and whilst I kind of regret not experiencing them, it's pretty nice being warm here in the desert.

25 November 2013

The Museum of Felted Wool Jewellry

If you like handcrafted jewellry and sipping tea while looking at handcrafted jewellry then the 'Museum of Felted Wool Jewellry' is just the place for you!

Take a look at our beautiful jewellry while drinking free refreshments.  Try your favourite peice of jewellry on and share a laugh with a friend or family member.  Meet the crafters and have fun all day long.
Bracelet of Water
Headband of peace
Braclet of Faith
There was great debate over whether the final piece should be devoted to justice or hope.  Which would you have chosen?
I was hoping for the ring of truth but no, it turns out it's a bracelet

Have we been taking the kids to too many museums?  I guess it's not that surprising that they decided to make their own.  The opening ceremony was a song and dance routine which required a lot of chanting of 'i'm a crafter' 'yeah' and so on.  I am a crafter but I'm not sure that chanting it in a quasi-rap is quite my preferred way of expressing that fact.

Our experience with museums has been a bit mixed.  Ones aimed at kids are a hit with them but interest me less.  The ones that I want to spend hours in hold their interest for only a fraction of the time I want there.  This results in a slightly rushed and anxious visit - I don't want to dawdle over the early musical instruments when there are are ancient and modern masters to be viewed and the pin has been pulled on the Lily-grenande.  

23 November 2013

Tea Party (of The United East India Tea Company Variety)

Nina about to commit treason

The rigging of the 'Eleanor' - authentically sail-less

On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK we commemorated another famous moment in American history with Boston connections  - the Boston Tea Party - at the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum.  This relatively new museum was a surprising delight.  Two of the three ships have been faithfully recreated, with the third in production.  The museum is staffed by humerous young folk in costume who really know their history and seem to genuinely enjoy being in character.  We attended the meeting at the Old South Meeting House where Samuel Adams roused us all to action, we stormed the Eleanor, went below decks, and tossed the tea overboard.  If Boston Harbour wasn't exactly a teapot, we at least had a sense of what it all would have been like.  I learned lots of interesting things - like the origins of the expression 'sleep tight' and that a crew of 8 to 10 men had only 4 bunks between them.  The captain of the 'Eleanor' was a Tory and took the tea on board in support of the king, knowing the potential for trouble unloading the cargo in Boston.  The ship's owner was a patriot and participated in the tea party aboard his own ship. 

Handing over the money for the tour, I expected it to either be terribly cheesy or horribly dull, but it was neither.  By the time our tour was over, and we'd had tea and scones in the tea rooms, it was dark outside.    

21 November 2013

Luckey Climbers

We visited the Boston Children's Museum, which this year celebrates 100 years of existence.  The centrepiece is this great climber (you can see Lily in it above ), designed by architect Tom Luckey who is apparently pretty famous for designing playgrounds and installations for kids to climb all over.  There was lots to do but we chose the one day of the year that they were closing early to host a private function - the launch of some swish new car.  Banished outside we watched them set up the marquees with huge bowls of lollies and giant lollypops.  A kind woman slipped her hand under the marquee, tapped Grace on the foot, and passed her a handful of bubble gum.

Later we had afternoon tea in a cafe in the financial district and I was taken by these edible gardens outside a very corporate looking building.  There were silverbeet, chillies, various cabbages and some edible looking greenery as well as flowers.  I'd like to think that passersby are encouraged to take a few chillies or a head of lettuce home for dinner, but I suspect not.

20 November 2013

Adventures in American Food

We bought some of what we considered quintessentially American food and drink. Some of this you can find in Australia, like Hershey's chocolate, but none of the kids had ever had any of it.  Then we had a tasting session. 

Here is the general consensus (from the kids)

Would willingly eat again : the wieners, the goldfish crackers, butterfinger, pop-tarts.

Would eat again to be polite : tootsie roll, Hershey's chocolate, Kool aid, cheezits.

Would never eat again: collard greens, chipotle peppers, goobers peanut butter and jelly (all in one jar), key lime pie flavoured yoghurt, twinkies (that surprised me, Lily wouldn't even try hers), Dr Pepper (like medicine with fizz in it), instant Mac'nCheese, dill pickles.

I read a blog written by an American woman who had relocated to Australia and she bemoaned how tasteless she found the food in Australia. We are finding a lot of things are much sweeter or saltier (or both) than we are used to and I guess if you grow up with that as default Australian food might well be comparatively bland.  We are constantly surprised at how many things can be combined with peanut butter - icecream, muffins, donuts, cupcakes, cookies - you name it and you'll find a peanut butter combo.  In fact multiple flavour options generally seem to be popular. Red velvet coffee. 'Moose tracks' milkshakes (chocolate bits and marshmallows). Pumpkin spice icecream.  I'll let you know the feedback if we sample any of these more exotic varieties.  So far the brownie batter icecream with a scoop of mini freckles stumped even sweet-tooth-Ruby.

18 November 2013


Sorry if you are not that in to slightly blurry photos of gingko leaves.  We went to Boston Common yesterday during an unseasonably warm and sunny day.  It seemed that most of Boston had the same idea and we shared our little picnic spot on a carpet of ginkgo leaves with families, lovers, squirrels and even a lesbian wedding straight out of Ruby's drawing - two lovely brides, both in white (one long and traditional dress, one short cocktail dress with a blue sash.  lovely!)

Many people seemed to be getting professional photos taken.  We speculated that perhaps they were having family portraits done for those American style Christmas cards that I have heard about.  Not infrequently the family groups were in matching colours - black pants and red tops for instance.

George Washington was wearing a Red Socks t-shirt and there was a large group of Uni students on a scavenger hunt.  There were (good) buskers and though we had intentions of going to some historic sites, we couldn't seem to leave.

16 November 2013

Getting into a Groove

We have not quite got our body clocks in sync with our time zone or each other.  Craig wakes during the night and sleeps late, as do Ruby and Nina, leaving me and the little girls to enjoy the early morning. The girls played outside in our garden and I sat in this rocking chair in the sunshine and did a bit of knitting.  I also went to a knitting workshop at the local yarn and fabric store.  My knitting so far has mostly been figured out through making it up and occasionally youtubing it.  How useful to find out finally how to cast on properly.  Also very helpful to meet some locals with knowledge of good things to do around town.
(my apologies for the fuzzy iphone photos)
On Wednesday, after a bloody cold walk around Jamaica Pond, we headed to the local library. Grace had to find out various things about Massachusetts including how to spell it. She also discovered that the state insect is the ladybug. Who knew states had insects? Do we have a state insect of Victoria?  Imagine the fights over who got the ladybug - surely the pick of emblematic insects.
Ruby 'researched' the Revolutionary war; Nina the Boston Tea Party. Don't be under the misapprehension that they miraculously and voluntarily set themselves these tasks, though Nina in particular seemed to welcome the chance to do a bit of work. After reading about Samuel Adams' rousing speech in the Old South Church, she now has the chance not just to visit the church, but to comment every time she sees an advertisement for Samuel Adams Beer...

The library itself is gorgeous - old fashioned (built in 1931) and right round the corner, with wood everywhere and big tables, a homework club that meets Monday - Thursday and staffed by kindly and slightly harassed librarians.  Our membership entitles us to borrow up to 75(!) books at a time from any library in Boston, including the imposing Boston Public Library.

Nina folding the laundry
While Craig is all about improving their minds (though they haven't exactly relished the required weekly chess games so far) I decided that now was the time to properly establish some sort of chore regime in our family.  We've had various attempts at daily/weekly chores and theoretically the girls do rather a lot more than in reality.  I know this is because hounding them to do things takes time and energy and sometimes it is just easier to turn, if not a blind eye, an extremely myopic one, to the pathetic effort at making one's bed or putting away one's clothes.  But here I have 12 weeks (only ten and a half now, time is already ticking away) to teach them how to do a load of laundry, set the table, properly stack a dishwasher.  My aim is that at least Ruby and Nina will also have a repertoire of basic meals they can cook.  We have set up duty rosters - they work in pairs and the pairs change each day.  Whoever gets Lily has the misfortune of either trying to get her to assist, or doing her share of the work.  But I guess that is a learning opportunity right there, isn't it?  We'll see how this all goes.  My fantasy is that the requirement to perform chores somehow morphs into a deeper ingrained understanding of the work of running a house, so that everyone contributes, as in a socialist state, according to their ability.  But perhaps it is doomed to remain a fantasy.  We shall see.
Ruby did a nice job setting the table
Since our extremely cold Wednesday, the weather has warmed up considerably which is sort of a relief.  I know it will get much colder but to be that cold at the beginning of November was a shock to the system.

Other things  - we went to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  Even better than I remembered, despite the missing paintings but difficult to fully appreciate with four kids in tow, all of whom claimed severe starvation about half way through our visit, and one of whom (I'll let you guess which) declared loudly and frequently that she DIDN'T WANT TO WALK ANYMORE and that she WASN'T GOING TO TOUCH THAT PAINTING/CABINET/PRICELESS ARTEFACT that her hands were mere millimetres from.  A solo return visit (or several) is in order.

Tonight Craig is at TD Garden watching the Celtics play the Trailblazers in a (nearly) courtside seat purchased for a song from StubHub.

And we had a fun day today with some American delicacies, but it's getting late so I'll write about it later.

What I had for Breakfast on Friday 15 Novemba 2013

13 November 2013

We've Arrived

To the last of the fall leaves,
And the remains of Halloween decorations.
Yesterday, when we landed , was sunny and relatively mild, but today was considerably colder and the jackets we brought from home didn't cut it.  At the end of quite a shopping spree we were all significantly warmer.
 I'd forgotten how much I love the architecture of New England. There is something both restrained and extravagant about it. Those tall wooden lines, then crazy domes, turrets and colours.

 We were all thoroughly exhausted after our flight.  You can see Ruby flaked out on the couch. She's got so tall...
We slept in till nearly midday today and with the sun setting around 4pm the day was short. We're spoiled for choice as to how to spend tomorrow, and the lovely thing is that we don't have to rush. A day or more at home is just fine too. And how about this:

Right at the end our street, a fabric and yarn store 'JP Knit and Stitch'. Serendipitous I think.

10 November 2013

Wild Weather

Crazy wild weather today has kept us out of the water. Yesterday green sea turtles swam near us at our little beach. Why do we value so high a visit from a wild creature and yet treat them so indifferently in the way we live our lives? Anyway it was a little treat. We visited the  Polynesian Cultural Centre, staffed almost entirely by bright-eyed, smiling students from around the Pacific, studying on scholarships at Brigham Young University. There were some very clever and entertaining shows, lots to see, banana leaves to weave, canoe rides to be had. The kids had an absolute ball but I couldn't help feeling that, whilst the idea may have seemed brilliant 50 years ago when it first started, perhaps our understanding of the indigenous cultures  and the role of missionaries could have moved on a bit further.  I'm fairly sure it's not all dancing and singing in Polynesia these days. I feel a bit curmudgeonly even saying that, the staff were so overwhelmingly professional, cheerful, helpful and hard working. Several of them explained that they would have no prospects of higher education but for these scholarships, so what can you do but wish them all the best. 

The last photo is of the paper dolls and village the girls made whilst stuck indoors today. The dolls are in 'Inga' tribe, formed from survivors of the Titanic, washed ashore on in the tropics and left to fend for themselves. I guess they were influenced by our day yesterday and all the focus on different islands, but it's hard to entirely abandon their regular orphan/historic settings shtick.

We leave tomorrow for what feels like the true start of our adventure. This has been a delightful tropical interlude on our way to the different wilds of New England but now I am bracing myself for the cold and looking forward to settling in for a while in Boston.