Perceptions

Before we moved to the US there were quite a few negative opinions of America when we told people we were going away. A lack of gun control, no universal healthcare, tipping. Most people would say they loved parts of the country; New York, Las Vegas, Disneyland, but that they weren’t necessarily fond of the people. Visions of brash overweight Americans wearing visors and bum bags, Presidents like GW Bush who didn’t have a passport until he gained office, people who had no idea of global geography.

Now we’ve been here a couple of months I feel I can confidently say that for all those stereotypes, there are a hundred more reasons to enjoy this place. The people are truly friendly; from school parents to shop assistants, everyone is happy to help out, talk to you and engage in the interaction. The landscape is beautiful, Melbourne could get some tips from the Boston Public Transport system (it actually works across buses and trains). Yes they have massive problems with gun control, but universal healthcare is slowly coming in, Obamacare seems to be making a difference. The state of Vermont has implemented a program that covers everyone – yes universal healthcare – and on initial budgetary projections looks to save the state millions of dollars. Tipping I am getting used to, and although I don’t agree with it, am comfortable not punishing the staff that are getting so poorly paid by trying to prove a point. It seems like Obama is actually getting somewhere. A huge advantage that he’s not up for re-election so can actually get on with the job, but he has to fight with Congress every step of the way.

I’ve been following the Australian political scene a little bit since being away and you know what? There are plenty of reasons not to be proud of our country. Our treatment of asylum seekers, the life expectancy of the Aboriginal community, and a government who continue to embarrass us all in their lack of integrity. I read today that Minister Pyne has thrown out the Gonski report, without any great explanation. Why? Just because Labour thought of it? We need political leaders that are prepared to see beyond themselves and identify what is best for humanity, regardless of where the ideas come from, and be proud to look back at the next election and be able to honestly say they made Australia and the world a better place to live. Australians are happy people, and should be strive to be open minded, inclusive and willing to help those who need a hand no matter where they come from.

Our village

Three months in and the Hutchies are in a good rhythm. Hutch does the school drop off, Meema and I catch up with friends and take advantage of the activities of our neighbourhood, and I eventually get around to vacumming the stairs. (Note to self, never put dark carpet on stairs, they are a nightmare to get clean.)

Slowly slowly we’re becoming part of the community. Margie is the local lollipop lady who looks out for all three kids every day and loves to hear what they’re up to. Hutch has found his favourite coffee place in all of Boston, and we visit it most weekends so we’re nearly at the stage when they know what we want before we order it.

Choosing not to have a car here has worked out well so far. The school is a three minute walk away, Hutch’s uni is a mile away and the supermarket delivery is top notch. We haven’t got to the depths of winter yet, so I’m not sure how Meema and I will go wandering/scooting the streets on icy footpaths but we’ll give it a go.

Saying that, I rented a car today to go across town to buy some Wilton’s food colouring. Of course my data allowance had run out so I had to figure out how to get there without a map. Total first world problem I know, but I was pretty proud of myself for getting there without getting lost. You see so much more of the town when you go somewhere new and as much as I love our local shops, we need to do a little more exploring. It was fantastic to get an afternoon kid free to check out AC Moore, an arts and crafts store that has an amazing range. I was thinking of my sister and cousin’s wife the whole time I was in there, Presh is right into crafting and quilting, MT is an amazing cake decorator and I could imagine her with an overflowing trolley. I’ve bought the first few Christmas pressies and some crafty activities for the kids to do when the snow keeps us stuck inside.

We’re hosting Thanksgiving in a couple of weeks, and with only one American guest I’m glad no one will have high expectations! I’ll do the turkey, and have already been on marthastewart.com looking up stuffing recipes, and I’ll allocate the rest to the guests. It’s pretty much a Christmas dinner without the presents isn’t it?

Halloween

The boys were so excited it felt like Christmas Eve. They’d been talking about their costumes for weeks and the parade they were having at school. I was not sure what the fuss was about really, it’s not a big deal back home, but so many parents had told me that the kids were going to have such a brilliant time I was a little intrigued.

Because we had friends staying who could watch Meema I was able to go into school and help the kids get their costumes on for the parade. About six mums came in to help with lots of giggling and excitement. All classes up to fourth grade get dressed up, and the kinder and first graders do a lap of the oval while the bigger kids cheer them on. Add proud parents to that and there are quite a few people in the crowd.

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In the boys’ class there were ninjas, supergirls, turtles, genies, vampires, sharks, crayons and princesses. The teachers went as scrabble pieces that were supposed to spell out a word, but I never figured out what it was. A quick change and then home to wait until it was time to go trick or treating. Trying to fill kids’ tummies with something vaguely nutritious before we went out was challenging, and about 6 o’clock we were ready to hit the road. A big difference in Halloween here and back home is that by 6 o’clock here the sun has set and it’s dark. Adds a lot to the atmosphere of the night. We popped into our neighbours place who made us yell ‘trick or ‘treat’ before he’d give us anything, then through the neighbourhood. Most people were sitting on their front porch so we knew they were participating, other houses without pumpkins or decorations were bypassed. We’d been told by quite a few people to check out one particular street which is blocked off to traffic especially for Halloween. It was crazy busy. Lots of families, some older kids who I would have thought may have grown out of it, but no. By this stage we told the kids we were just looking at the lights as their lolly buckets were getting full, and the lights were amazing. For those readers in Melbourne, it was like going to Ivanhoe at Christmas time, families had put in a huge amount of effort; remote control bats, animatronic skeletons with scary music, pvc pipes that delivered sweets from the top floor window into bowls on the footpath.

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We walked for about an hour, saw friends from school and the playground and felt really part of the community. Lots of the people around here are new to the area so it was their first Halloween too, and we were all very impressed.

By the time we got home Hutch had nearly run out of lollies to give away – probably 250 pieces – and our street isn’t particularly busy.

Skets still has some left, Meema has been caught twice eating her brothers’ supplies and Woo has started giving his away. Hutch has been very good at resisting helping himself, I just tell the kids if they want two then they have to give me one 🙂

Yoo Nork

I was lucky enough to spend the weekend in New York, (or Yoo Nork if you ask Meema) with a friend from back home, TP. She and her family have been travelling around the US for a couple of months and planned to come and stay with us at the end of October. She and Hutch organised to send me to NY on the train while Pato and the kids came up to Boston to have a dads and kids weekend. Hutch is not great at keeping secrets from me, and accidentally sent me the Amtrak reservation a week before we were due to leave. Whoops. I was happy to know in advance, it meant I could spend the week getting excited about 48 hours kid free time in a most amazing city.

TP is a very organised person so by the time I got to Penn Station she’d booked dinner for both nights and brunch on Saturday. I must say it made things so much easier not having to decide what to do.

Friday night we wandered up to the Met in Central Park to go up to the rooftop and look over the city. Did you know you don’t actually have to pay the $25 entrance fee to the Met if you say you’re going up to the rooftop? We made a very small donation and took our time going up to the top floor. Unfortunately the bar was shut but the view was still spectacular. If only I had a decent camera and actually had some skill in photography I’d have a great shot to show you.

TP had some new shoes on, bought in a bit of a hurry which turned out to be were way too big so we took our time strolling down 5th Avenue to Tao for dinner. Vibe was amazing. A busy friday night, loud music, huge restaurant and great food. It’s asian fusion, so a little bit of this and a little bit of that. TP had the Ginger scallion broth with kobe beef that came with its own hot stone and candle so we could dip the beef in the broth to cook it lightly, fondue style. I finished off with the biggest fortune cookie I’ve ever seen, filled with dark and white chocolate mousse.

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We crashed pretty quickly, both enjoying having a bed to ourselves with no small people needing a cuddle in the middle of the night.

Brunch the next morning was at Pastis, in the meatpacking district. Think busy French Bistro in a funky part of town. With much better shoes we decided we needed to walk off a big eggy meal so we wandered across the Highline, an old freight railway track that runs down the east side of Manhattan about four storeys above ground. I had my first celebrity spotting moment when I saw Emily Mortimer, an English actress currently starring in The Newsroom. I heard her before I saw her, the accent stood out a mile. Back across town to ground zero which was understandably busy with other tourists. The Freedom Tower is nearly done but the rest of the development is still a few years away. I left New York on September 9 2001 and was at the top of the twin towers on the 8th. I remember seeing the towers go down on TV and feeling so lucky that I’d left the USA. TP and Pato were living in NYC at the time of the attack and knew people who were affected, it really doesn’t seem that long ago. I don’t know if I’d want to work in that building, it seems like it’s tempting fate a little.

After ground zero we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, the day was cold and windy but sunny and the view of Manhattan from Brooklyn is pretty good. We’d been talking solidly the whole day, TP and I have known each other since our sons were born, so we filled in the pre-kids stuff, you know, what we did in our twenties, how we got engaged, married and all that jazz. That kind of conversation doesn’t really happen when you’re pushing kids on a swing, or making sure they’re not running onto a road.

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Catching the subway back to Manhattan we had the obligatory visit to Victoria’s Secret, half an hour shopping was enough for both of us. Dinner that night was early – 6pm  – so we headed straight to La Esquina in Little Italy. First impressions were not great. It looks like a diner attached to a building, a few bar stools and a taco truck type kitchen. TP had been recommended it by a few people so was a little confused that it had come so highly regarded. We were told to queue by the door and wait.

So we did.

At 6 on the dot an internal door opened and a harried looking lady with a walkie talkie greeted us and ticked us off her list. We were sent down stairs, through the kitchen where we saw the chefs mincing meat and prepping for the night’s service. Handing our belongings in at the coat room we were directed around another corner and came out in an underground cave. I’m not sure if it’s an old subway tunnel or sewer but it’s amazing. A fantastic bar with a million types of tequila, and seating below a row of corona buckets suspended from the ceiling. We left the ordering of our food to the waiter and shared five different meals. I must say the food wasn’t brilliant, quite a few of the dishes felt like they’d been in the fridge too long and what should have been room temperature was a little too cold. Saying that, as far as a cool New York experience goes it was impressive.

Because we’d had such an early reservation we were done by 730 and TP had one more place to show me. Off to Pravda we went. A Russian vodka bar, beneath Lafayette St. Barely sign posted, with a red light at the top of a staircase you had to know what you were looking for. A few cocktails here, we stayed a few hours trying a variety of flavours (I don’t recommend the horseradish vodka) and we stumbled above ground in a very jovial mood. (Can I just interrupt for a moment, both Tao and Pravda try to be tricky in their bathrooms, Tao is marked Yin and Yang and Pravda is written in Russian. How’s a girl to know which one to use???)

The Red Sox were playing in the World Series finals, not something to be mentioned in Yankee town but I was keen to know the score. We got back to the hotel and saw the last five minutes of the game and fell into a slumber. I woke up the next morning regretting not having a glass of water by my bed and quite a manly voice which cleared up after the first coffee.

Sunday’s plan was fairly fluid, a late breakfast and a wander up to MOMA before catching the train back to Boston. MOMA didn’t thrill me this time and I’m a big fan of modern art, it was just a bit too full of interpretive dance and art critic wankery. My last visit five years ago was much better. I do like a bit of Lichtenstein though.

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We sat very happily on the train with Kindles and devices in hand and occasionally looked out the window to see the gorgeous country side.  Autumn is truly a glorious time of year to be in the North East.

The dads had a great weekend, we were all glad to be back together and get ready for the excitement of Halloween.