31 July, 2009

Viewing Australia through the eyes of an outsider

Australian houses have garages. This has been brought to our attention many times in the past few weeks by our boys. They seem caught up on the issue. I have to admit, having our car parked practically in our kitchen is a novelty for me! But to them it is even weirder! I'm not sure whether they are feeling positive or negative about it just now, but our middle son got mad about it the other day. Strange - to me it doesn't seem to be an emotive type issue. But maybe it has come to symbolise the many differences our boys are noticing. Things like Australian roads are wide and cars travel fast, we use freeways far more often. They've had to relax and experiment with some different sports too. Culture shock! It is challenging for us to realise that, even though these boys look like ordinary Aussies and call themselves Australians and mostly sound Australian, they really don't have an insider's understanding of the country. Some understanding, but it is patchy. My husband and I grew up here, so imbibed the culture as we grew, these guys have to learn it. Much like we've had to learn about Japan in a not so natural way.

30 July, 2009

More bits n pieces

I've spent too long on the computer already today, but I want to record some stuff before it slips away. Phone Our telecommunications dramas continue. First it was difficult to decide on the run what sort of package to cover our needs. Then, it took ages to all come through. After a while we got mobiles and the internet working (only after going to a public phone to activate it all) and we assumed that the land-line would follow eventually. But no, the company we'd signed up with couldn't contact us about our phone because we didn't have a phone (they rang my mother-in-law and she couldn't contact us either, because we didn't have the phone they were supposed to be connecting!). After nearly two weeks we rang them again and they admitted they'd given up on us. They said they'd try again, but we still would have to wait more than a week. Then we had a phone call saying they'd send out a technician. He came today. After digging up some of our lawn, he discovered that 2 m of essential cable hadn't been laid! Another type of expert is required to lay the cable, so we still wait. We've had some trouble with our mobile broadband (which runs off the mobile (cell phone) network), but are now thankful for it, because otherwise we'd have no internet either. Exchange student Are we crazy? We've volunteered to take a nine year old South Korean exchange student for eight days starting Monday. The school was pleading for host families. With a spare bedroom and a van, we thought we might as well give it a go. So for a week we'll have four boys in our house! Interesting. Why does Australia have shopping centres and Japan doesn't This is the question which our 10 y.o. was pondering last night. Actually Japan does have shopping centres, but not as many and not as many people use them for weekly shopping as Australians do. This has a lot to do with how densely populated Japan is. Small areas can easily support a grocery store. Also many less people have cars, many do their grocery shopping daily on bikes. Australia is much more spread out and people tend therefore to use cars and shop less frequently. Just different. Does this make sense? It is the best I can do right now because I've been staring at this computer screen for hours... Writing a news/prayerletter I've been writing monthly our news/prayerletters for more than 10 years now. For most of that time I've used the program "Publisher". The main objection I had to changing to a Mac is that Publisher doesn't work on Macs. Eventually I was persuaded that Mac's "Pages" could be a suitable substitute. This week our new letter is due out. I've been learning heaps about this new program. It hasn't been too bad. Until today. Having created a two page document that I thought looked okay, I got someone to print it out for me (we don't have a printer yet). The photos looked awful - people's faces almost unidentifiable. Ouch. I faced a familiar dilema - I could produce either a massive un-emailable file with wonderful photos OR I could send out an email-friendly document that has shocking pictures. I've done this before, several times, but on PC with Publisher. Hours later, I've fiddled and fiddled and my head is hurting. I've got something that might work and I've emailed it to a friend with a printer for her opinion. Now I'm going to turn this machine off and take a break while I fry up a good steak for dinner. Huge steaks, actually. I'm on a program of introducing our children to some food we cannot easily get in Japan. Food like Time Outs, Cherry Ripes, Rice Cakes (believe it or not), a variety of dried fruit, Mars Bars etc. Steak falls in that category, so here I go...I wonder what to feed our temporary South Korean son next week?

28 July, 2009

The process of settling

We are still settling. Hard to believe how long it takes. Here are some more things we've been doing in the last two days: Shopping then Not shopping On Sunday we were given a larger fridge/freezer. Old but MUCH bigger. Believe it or not, this was an important step to feeling settled. Last week I began to get annoyed with needing to go to a grocery store almost daily. The day after I'd made a conscious effort not to shop, we had a massive blow-up at breakfast, because there was only two pieces of bread for three boys (one of whom usually doesn't eat toast at breakfast EXCEPT this day). The reason why I couldn't stay away from the shops was not because I like grocery shopping, but because our fridge/freezer couldn't hold enough for our family for more than a few days. This was beginning to annoy me. I didn't want to spend so much of my precious time grocery shopping. And that is what happens. Grocery stores in Australian cities are massive and they swallow you up. Once you go in, there is no knowing when you'll get out again, especially if you don't know exactly where what you want is! In Japan it is usual to shop almost daily, although I generally managed to do it only three times a week. Their package sizes are much smaller (except for rice, sake and seaweed). Somehow although our fridge wasn't that small, we couldn't store more than about eight individual one litre bottles of milk at a time. Their fruit and vegetables also seem to go off more quickly. Other important reasons I shopped more frequently include small trolleys (no way I could fit more than a couple of days food for my ravenous three boys into them) and we had a small kitchen with no pantry. No large floor to roof cupboard in which to store the food bought. Shopping three times a week was manageable, though. Because the stores we used were small. You could pop in, get your groceries and be out in 15 minutes give or take a few, depending on the mood of your child/ren. In most cases I only had a choice of two or three brands of the same food. Choosing was easy. So yesterday, after I went to the gym, I girded up my loins and waded into Woolies for a full as-best-as-I-could-plan week's grocery shop. It took an hour. My large trolley was amply filled. It still takes a lot of self control to not buy all those things we've longed for: sultana/fruit bread, fruit cake, Tiny Teddies, sausages, meat and more meat, salt and vinegar chips, dips, cream cheese etc. Best of all, it all fitted into our new/old fridge when I got home (I had my doubts - it looked so much to my "Japanese" eyes). Booking swimming lessons Our boys haven't had much in the way of swimming lessons. That is one of our priorities in our year at home, but of course it is the off season. Finally yesterday one of the places I'd contacted called me back and offered us lessons starting tomorrow - at a cost. I cannot believe how expensive lessons are. I'm pretty sure I learnt at free council sponsored lessons in January school holidays (and it always rained...). Another thing factored into our weeks ahead and ticked off our list-of-things-to-do. It also added a shopping trip to yesterday. The boys are required to wear Speedo-like togs (swimmers). It is winter (even if we're wearing T-shirts in the middle of the day). Likelihood of finding these easily yesterday afternoon while dragging around three tired boys - minimal! But we finally did find something, not exactly what we wanted, but at least they'll be covered acceptably. Found a doctor who will see us Finding a doctor is a challenge whenever you move somewhere new. My habit is to ask around and find one people I trust are satisfied with. Had trouble this time. I hadn't anticipated so much dissatisfaction. In this area there are many 'imported' doctors. Many Australians seem to dislike them, mostly, it seems, because of their poor English. I finally got a couple of recommendations, but when I rang up found that these doctors weren't accepting new patients. So then I faced the choice - do I go back to our previous practise (involving about 20 minutes drive, including the Ipswich motorway) OR do I just take whatever I can get in my local area. In the end I chose the latter. We have a relatively mild thing to consult the doctor about today, so hopefully that will give me a good enough idea about whether to continue there or search for someone better. Centrelink This esteemed organisation is the social services provider in Australia (if you are reading from overseas). Actually, it is not so esteemed. The lady behind me in the line this morning was saying she hasn't had to go there for years and regretted being there at all this morning! Centrelink sent us a several letters last week. One was expected and welcomed, but the other was not. Two very large bills, to be honest. And no explanation. I went in this morning to ask for an explanation. I didn't get one, however the lady on reception gave me a well practised and official sounding version of, "Sometimes the left hand doesn't know what the right had is doing." I also managed to prise out of her that the bill was computer generated and probably not the result of a conscious decision by someone. I was somewhat relieved by all this. Now, however, I await a phonecall from someone who should be more knowledgeable than that computer. I'm just hoping the computer was terribly, terribly wrong. Prayer letter It is that time of the month. Actually it has been two months since I wrote one and people are wondering where we are living, what we're doing. It is time to crank up the prayer letter machine and get communicating with our supporters again. Trick is, I've left Publisher behind in Japan with our old Notebook. Now I have to use Pages on our Mac. Another learning curve. Conclusion Settling takes a long time. I am tired of the process. Actually, I am tired. It is hard to give myself permission to rest, because I know that the process will be longer unless I persist in working through these things.

25 July, 2009

Yah for friends

I didn't realise how much I missed friends until the last couple of days. Our heads have been down. Focussed on getting boys settled into school, getting our house liveable and our Australian lives up and running. Not, on catching up with friends.

We've not lived in this particular corner of South East Queensland before and we have almost no close friends nearby. So, most of our conversations have been with people who we either have never met before or who are only vaguely familiar with us and our 'edge of ordinary' lifestyle. Hence a lot of the "what do you do?" conversations. That is tiring and stressful, even for an extrovert.

 Yesterday afternoon and into the evening I struggled with our internet service. It kept dropping out. Because I was trying to book aeroplane tickets simultaneously with a friend in another part of the city, it became a hugely stressful situation. (Long story about why I needed to do so, which will wait until another blog.) I was additionally pressed for time because a group of friends were coming to visit us in the evening.

The tickets got booked, in the end, but our visitors copped a bit of an earful. Not all complaints, but simply an overflow of lots of things that have happened in the last couple of weeks which I haven't been able to share with our new acquaintances.

 My husband gleefully observed as we flopped into bed last night, that I'd hardly stopped talking all evening. Not too unusual for me in a social situation, but last night I felt particularly pressed to share lots of stuff, and not all of it important to my listeners!

 Thankfully they are good friends. Actually they have a special place in our lives. The Australian branch of our mission insists that all missionaries have a group called a Home Ministry Committee or HMT. These are the people who've been finding us a car to drive, a house to live in, furniture to fill it and people to move the stuff.

They've been busy on many fronts and praying too. We are incredibly grateful for their ministry in our lives. Some of them are part of our home church and the rest were also part of the same church at one time. They only number nine adults (and eight kids, not counting adult children), but we are blessed because of them. Last night their main ministry to us was being friends and actively listening to the many things which have been going on for us. 

Today we visited friends, very good friends, whom we haven't seen for four years. It is the first time in nine years since we've lived within an hour's drive from each other. Nine years ago when we said goodbye to them at the airport, we had three children between us, now we have eight (seven are boys!). Much has changed. Little has changed. That is the way it is with good friends.

Oh, how I've missed them (and others). And I'm looking forward to spending more time with them during this year in Australia.

Moving overseas away from your support systems makes you more independent. It is easy to forget after a while that God designed us for long-term relationships. It is shocking to remember what it is like to have friends who knew you before you became a missionary. And to realise that you have stopped feeling that lack in your life.

 Praise God for friends. Specifically I praise Him for the timing of the visits with these particular friends, before I started to get too stressed by my lack of social life.

23 July, 2009

Four weeks since we left Japan

It is four weeks today since we hopped on that plane to Australia. Wow! Actually it doesn't feel like it was that long ago. As I was grocery shopping this morning, I realised there were a number of things I've had to learn or get used to again during that time: • To sign my name. Japanese don't use signatures. They use personalised stamps. The reason I've signed my name so much is that we're using our cashed-up credit card to buy stuff. I've hardly touch Aussie cash at all. In daily life Japanese use cash all the time. Credit cards - hardly ever. • To speak with a broader twang. My Japan mates would hardly understand me :-) • To drive and park an eight seater van. • To drive at 60 km/hr on suburban roads. The fastest I would drive in a usual week in Tokyo is 40 km/hr. • To overtake at 100 km/hr on the highway. • To drive for hour upon hour on the highway. • To operate a dishwasher and how to incorporate that into a daily schedule. (I didn't realise how much time I spent washing dishes and have been at a loose end when there are none to wash after dinner - I've had a sad life!) • That Saturday and Sunday aren't business days. And that shops open before 10 am. • To negotiate the incredible amount of choice Australian's have at grocery stores! This is a biggie and probably deserves its own blog entry. I've spent hours and hours since we arrived trawling through the choices. I mean, it has been a long time since I had to decide between a whole aisle of dairy products or cereal. My local shop developed a cereal shelf while we were there - so exciting! Especially when it mostly consisted of frosty cornflakes and Cocopops look-alikes. And don't get me started on bread or yoghurt or milk! • Massive Australian shopping trolleys. • How cheap fruit and veggies can be (if you look around). • That I am not size 16 or LL. • To NOT take my shoes off at the door (although that rule still applies in our house). • To park my car INSIDE the house! Who can imagine! • To hang my washing on a line again. • Big Australian ovens. • A new mobile. • Slower internet access. Is that enough? I'm sure I could go on for anther screen! Is it any wonder I'm feeling tired? That my bowels are exhibiting signs of stress? I need to relax more - that is what you'll all tell me. I tell you, it is hard to relax when we have so much work to do settling...but I'll try. My cross-stitch has not been neglected and I did watch the cricket earlier in the week (though that was probably more stressful than relaxing, given Australia's poor performance). We're getting together with friends tomorrow night and Saturday. That should help.

22 July, 2009

Gyms and optometrists

Yesterday I transferred my Curves membership to Australia. Because of the language barrier (i.e. all my records in Japan are in Japanese), I did have to go through all the questions again, but this time in English. I expected the gym to be a little different, but a couple of things caught me unaware, and not all of them cultural.
  1. The shoe thing was fine: I didn't have to take my shoes off as I entered. Getting used to that one.
  2. About the second question I was asked was, what is your occupation. Ummmm. Missionary? If the question threw me, the answer shocked my questioner. There are many things which I could describe myself as, but none of them are as comprehensive as missionary. What was even more difficult, however, was answering a later question. The trainer, trying to make conversation, asked why we keep going to Japan and coming back. Try to explain that to someone with no church background! It is a hard enough question for many Christians to understand.
  3. No toilet in the gym, a good 50m walk to another part of the shopping centre. I find this crazy. What if...well girls sometimes have to go really quickly...enough said.
  4. No footprints on the machines. Explanation required. Some of the machines have a wide platform for you to stand on while you do an upper body exercise using levers. In Japan the gym had cut-out footprints to show you where to stand while you use the machine. None in the gym yesterday. I wondered if I had my feet in the right place. A small thing and something you will probably think is weird. In Japan there are many rules, even for things like exactly what sort of bag your child requires for kindergarten. Australians scoff at such lack of invidual freedom. The Japanese love it, it makes them feel safe and cared for. I often feel over-cared for in Japan, but didn't realise that I'd gotten used to it, just a little.
We also took our 10 y.o. and 6 y.o. to the Optometrist yesterday. Our 6 y.o.'s teacher had concerns about him turning his head to the side when reading. I thought it was a behavioural thing - something he does even when he hears something new. But, just in case, we went to get it checked. As it turned out, it is our 10 y.o., not our 6 y.o. who needs the glasses. The poor chap has just changed countries and started a new school, then he finds he has to get used to wearing glasses too! He was adamant that, while it was okay for others, it was not okay for him. To make it even more interesting, the 6 y.o. had to have drops in his eyes for part of the exam. Strange, really, the drops caused his vision to blur and then he really thought that he needed glasses. So much so that he went and found a frame he really liked and we had trouble getting them off him! So, all the way home we had tired, hungry boys - one extolling the reasons why he, personally, could never wear glasses and the other begging to have a pair! In the end we allowed our youngest to tell them both to be quiet. It all finished well, however. When putting them to bed, our 10 y.o. pondered, "Will I get my own glasses case?" Our 6 y.o.'s eyes started to improve around then too and his desperate need for glasses suddenly evaporated! Phew! What a day. Now I have to get onto the thing which is frustrating us both - the mess in our 'office'. Deputation materials, stationary, school notices, various official letters and pieces of useful information. There is some kind of merry party going on in the room where our desk is and we are not really on top of it at all.

20 July, 2009

All is quiet!

Today is the day I've been waiting for. The day when all three children are at 'school'. To add to the fun, my husband was home too, so we went out for coffee. Ah bliss. Gotta be careful, though, I might be accused of selfishness. Why else would I want my kids all at school - so that I can have coffee with my husband? Probably not. I am confident that they are getting a good education at the school they are in and that certainly we will all remain saner than if we were all together at home all the time. Just like mission, I believe that home schooling is a calling - and I don't have it!

19 July, 2009

What do you do?

One of the most common questions I'm answering at present is, what are you going to be doing during your year in Australia. It is not an easy question to answer, at least not in three words. Here are a selection of "things" we'll be doing:
  • speaking at churches, small groups and other events. Speaking about Japan and our experiences, thanking supporters and encouraging others to be involved in mission.
  • being involved in our local church(es) however we can. This looks like might include attending a ladies Bible study, joining into craft evenings, kids club,
  • (my husband) starting his Masters in Education
  • updating my knowledge in my much-neglected profession, Occupational Therapy
  • attending to medical-type issues (like eye checks, immunisation etc.)
  • catching up with friends and family
  • learning a new skill - magazine editing
  • attending and helping at mission conferences
  • refreshing ourselves - spiritually, socially, emotionally and even physically
Does this sound like enough? Hopefully! But hard to explain quickly in a fly-by conversation at a social event. Even harder when you believe someone has received your prayer letters, but still seems to have no clue. After being a mum for so long I don't have too much of a problem with such an unstructured life. I do know that men can struggle with a lack of structure during home assignment. I hope my husband is okay after such a prescribed life of a school teacher. I'm "letting" him do things like washing, dish duty and school book covering, just to make sure he doesn't feel too much at a loose end ;-)

18 July, 2009

Drooling at the library

I love libraries. Unreservedly, unashamedly love English libraries. We visited our local library here for the first time today. Had to restrain myself, however, from gushing all over the librarian when we arrived, maybe I drooled, I'm not sure. As we signed up for our new library cards, we could also hear sounds of general approval coming from the kids section, "Oh cool", "Mum, look at this" etc. Pity I already have a lot of book to read for work. Work being deputation. Yes, our job now we're back in town is to go to various groups and tell them about Japan and our own stories from the last year, but also to thank many for praying and giving. Usually we take some Japanese 'stuff' for general interest and our mission asks us to promote (and hopefully sometimes sell) books on mission. But, how can I promote or sell a book I haven't read? So, got to get down to one of my favourite genre - mission bios plus other mission related books. A bit of a pity, because the library today had a lot of potential, but I just couldn't justify getting books out that I shouldn't spend time reading yet. I did get lots of picture books for the younger boys and long book for our reading-addicted 10 y.o. I also spied in their catalogue a number of movies that I've read about, but never had the chance to see. Plus there were so many Australian books, can you belive? Oops, better stop before I drool on the keyboard.

17 July, 2009

Quiet day

Ah, a quiet day in the household. We took a small trip (1/2 hr drive each way) to ensure our health insurance covers July and buy a few more important household items (like Star Wars posters to decorate our bare walls - don't worry, only the boys' bedrooms). The afternoon included a half an hour on the bed reading (yay!), collecting the boys from school (so easy <10 min walk), a spot of back-yard cricket, changing the address on our driver's licences (on-line) and applying for social security benefits from Centrelink on-line (took over an hour!). Nice afternoon. By the way, is everything on-line these days? What happens to those computer illiterate folk or those who cannot afford a computer, let alone the cost of internet access? Anyway, the other thing I did was plan for a ladies evening tonight. Now I have to go and "present" it. First of this kind I've done for a long while, so I hope it all goes well. Don't let the ladies know they are somewhat guinea pigs...

16 July, 2009

Back from the black hole

Yes, I'm finally back...from my communications blackout. For the last eight days I've had no home phone or mobile (cellphone for you non-Aussies) or internet. Ahhh! But we're mostly back in touch with the rest of the world now. I have plenty "sorry I don't have a phone" stories. People (and companies just assume). The one that is the craziest is when you've signed up for a kind-of a package including all the above. When one piece arrives, it says to use the other to activate its use! We ended up driving to the nearest public phone to put an end to the craziness! Anyway, here's a short diary to catch you up on what we've been doing while we couldn't use the internet! Thursday 9th Drove from Rockhampton to Brisbane with a long lunch stop near Childers to catch up with friends. At 6.10pm we walked into the house which is to be our base for the next 12 months. AMAZING!! Brand new! Four bedrooms, an ensuite, massive living/dining area, dishwasher AND a decent backyard! It blew us away. It was actually pretty hard to come down off the ceiling to get ourselves to bed. We rattled around for a few days, but are gradually finding our feet in this place. It is at least twice the size of the place we called home in Tokyo for the last four years! Friday 10th This day was mostly spent in unpacking boxes. We also walked over to the boys' school to familiarise them with at least the view from outside the fence. We found the toaster, a bathmat, the pegs, etc. Good thing we did spend this day working hard because on Saturday 11th We had visitors. Two of them expected, the others not. Nonetheless, all of them came bearing good wishes AND food! Couldn't turn them away! At least we'd found plates to feed them their own food off. Sunday 12th We had a quiet morning and took some time to explore the neighbourhood on foot. The late afternoon found us at church - the church we called home before we left for Japan. I guess we still do call it 'home' though that meaning has changed a lot with the little time we've spent there since 2000. It was good to connect with many people and see how all the kids have grown. Amazingly our three boys coped with the 4.30 service time fairly well, but I'm not sure it will be quite so good during term time. Monday 13th In the morning I ventured off to grocery shop and hopefully find a Centrelink and Medibank Private. Whoops. Of course with no phone we also have no phone book and cannot check such things. Instead I found someone's lost bag and gave it into the local police beat - they asked me for my phone number! School assessment/interviews for our eldest and youngest. First opportunity to walk through the school with our boys. Gradually we're getting familiar with our environment and it all helped later in the week. Tuesday 14th Bright and early we headed over the hill for our middle son's school assessment. I felt a tiny bit nervous as if it was my teaching that was being assessed. Afterall, the only English-based education he's received was from me! Anyway he did fine and they all got accepted into the age appropriate levels. No uniform shop available until Thursday morning, so we headed off to visit our mission's state office to equip ourselves for deputation. No one was at the office (we didn't ring ahead with our non phones), so we decided to go to the local shopping centre to source some school shoes and socks. The boys were difficult to control. More than one middle aged woman has dealt me the look of disgust in the last week! Three boys and shopping centres just don't mix. We went back to the office later and found what we were looking for. A long day, however, as we dropped back to the rental agency looking for a manual to run our super-duper-up-to-date-but-incomprehensible oven. Wednesday 15th Another shopping day. Endevouring to finish finding all the non-uniform shop pieces of clothing before lunch proved an impossible challenge at yet another shopping centre. We did get a few more groceries including an incredibly popular large cauliflower. My boys love it, despite having not had any for years and years. Thursday 16th This is the day that had been on our calendar since about January. The day second semester starts at the school we've enrolled our kids in. THE day our kids have been worried about for almost as long. As far as we can tell, however, it all went well. Probably the saddest was our youngest, who doesn't start kindy until next Monday. He's been desperately sad that he has received no uniform and couldn't start today. Today, though, we got our mobiles working and, obviously, the internet too. Yahhooo! This blog entry has already become way too long. I'd better go to bed as tomorrow I have to figure out how to transform the list of ideas which sits next to me, into a workable evening of connecting with some ladies from our church tomorrow night! And obviously it isn't going to happen tonight because my writing is becoming unreadable!

08 July, 2009

The end of the journey

The end of the journey is in sight! Tomorrow we hit the road for Brisbane (only 600km this time). Hopefully we'll have a nicer journey than we had this morning. We drove a mere 35 km this morning to visit some caves. That trip was way worse than the 900 km journey we made last Thursday! Merely because of fighting, teasing and disobedient boys. Amazing! We're still quite tired. Pray for safe driving and nice boys. We're really looking forward to putting down our roots again and especially getting the boys into a better routine. They are tired too and Jamie particularly is easily upset. This weekend we get to open boxes and decide where to put stuff. Like Christmas! Next Monday and Tuesday we have school interviews and then buying uniforms, lunch boxes etc for school and hopefully the boys can start on Thursday with everyone else. My husband spent a couple of hours on his mother's phone this afternoon, organising telecommunications to be connected to our place in Brisbane. Crazy! The choices have exploded since we were here four years ago. Unfortunately, only getting to it today means we will have no phone or internet for several days, it seems. You'll have to wait awhile for another blog update. Today I had another 'cultural' experience. Self-check-out at Woolies. Lots of fun! Oh, yes, and we had a phone call from the Bank (via my Dad) saying there'd been some unusual activity on our credit card and they'd shut it down. Turns out it was us. We didn't realise we should let the bank know we're back in the country and using our credit card! Changing countries is challenging in more ways than one.

05 July, 2009

Travelling in Outback Queensland

This is just a note to let you know I haven't fallen off the ends of the earth. Although looking out the window where I'm typing, I'm not sure whether there is much else out there. I cannot see another house at all (and I'm not hiding behind a fence, either). We're between Springsure and Emerald (get out your maps) at my sister and brother-in-law's place. They manage a property here. It has been great catching up with family. All of my husband's immediate family is together for the first time since 2000! Yesterday we drove here from Moranbah, a mining town a couple of hours north of here, visiting with my sister, her husband and little boy (and Sampson, their dog). We were only there two nights, but it was a precious time catching up. Actually it is the closest in lifestage that I've been to my sister since we were at school. There are seven years between us, so when I was at uni, she was still at school, then I was working and she was at uni. I got married and started a family a long time before her, but finally we are both at the stage of being mothers. A real pleasure to spend some hours together. After a few days here, we'll go to Gracemere (a town outside Rockhampton) and then drive to Brisbane on the 9th to finally settle at the place we'll call home for our year in Australia. It will be very nice to settle into cupboards and our own kitchen and beds again. A bit more routine wouldn't go astray either. All that said, we're having a good time and the boys are being good travellers most of the time. The trip from Cairns to Moranbah took 14 hours - a very long drive (900km). The kids were great for the majority of the trip, we are both surprised and grateful! Right now the boys are out with their English uncle on quad bikes (or 4 wheelers) seeing some cattle and whatever else on the way. This morning they climbed in the cab of the 12m wide harvester and drove with their uncle on a tractor. So much fun!! In Moranabah they got to visit the local Firestation and climb all over the trucks with their fireman-uncle. It will be a long time before they forget this trip! Do pray for rest. We are quite tired and the lack of routine as well as long drives and unfamiliar beds contribute to that. We have a couple more long drives ahead. 3 hrs to Gracemere and 8 hrs to Brisbane. Pray we'll stay safe and be able to catch up as we settle down in Brisbane.