Monday, 31 August 2015


a portrait of my son, once a week, every week in 2015

Jimmy: Mummy! Grrrr!

This photo, taken by Michael, pretty much sums up this week for Jimmy: happy, cheeky, and wanting Mummy close whenever we're at home. It's sweet. It's tiring. It's hard on Daddy, because Jimmy is only interested in having Mummy help or assist or do anything. Not to worry, Daddy does get a look in, especially if Daddy is doing something in the kitchen, but many meals have been taken with Jimmy on my lap. It's all down to Jimmy realising that daycare school is the new normal and he's trying to make up for our separation... Sweet boy... Until! he unleashes his scary face!

Scary, right?

Friday, 28 August 2015

Back to work: Jimmy's first week at daycare...

Or "school", as they call it...

This story really starts on the Friday before Jimmy started full-time at school. Friday morning, around 9am, after taking the above photo, I took Jimmy to school, told him I would pick him up after lunch, made sure that he was suitably engaged in something and left. Naturally, I did leave a few supplies for the "teachers", a change of clothes, a few nappies diapers, and a change of shoes because you never know.

Two hours without Jimmy... what was I to do? Meh, some chores. Meanwhile, Jimmy was having a great time "mowing" the lawn.

When I walked in while they were eating lunch, Jimmy didn't notice me. I sat down opposite him and saw his tired little face. Then he looked at me...

"It's Mummy."

No tears of relief, no jumping into my lap. None of that. He kept eating, asked for more food, ate that. He was fairly hungry it seemed. Hungry and tired and happy. He slept for nearly 3 hours when we returned home.

When I sat next to him I noticed that yes, his shoes had been changed. I also remember how small those shoes were getting, which is why we had an adventure the next day.

In addition to that adventure, there was a pillow to make, spare clothes to organise, sunscreen to decant (they didn't need the whole bottle), a packet of pull-up nappies diapers to pack... And a little boy to make a fuss over, so that he knew that he is loved even if he's not around us.

I mostly made a fuss about the pillow and the fact that it was for his naps, that I was making it especially for him, and that it has a cool feature or two. Don't worry, I think I managed not to overwhelm my little boy.

Jimmy knew something was up on Monday morning. He wasn't sure what to make of all the fuss we were making, trying to get him ready and out the door at the same time as Daddy. When we arrived, all 3 of us, he did his best to follow us out, saying that he wanted to go into the area we had to walk through to leave the building. There were a few tears, but I was told that he settled down after 5-10 minutes. When we picked Jimmy up, he looked over his shoulder and, after being questioned by a teacher, said:

"It's Daddy."

And kept doing what he was doing. Then he saw me.

"It's Mummy."

No fuss. Clearly he had had a good day.

The next morning was the real test. And he didn't want to go through the door. He was not having a bar of it. But Michael and I managed to get him into his room. We managed to say bye-bye without tears and the second Jimmy was distracted, we ran for it. 

When I picked him up that afternoon I was met with the same level of cool recognition. Clearly another good day. I think the highlight was painting "dinosaur skin", because Jimmy has never painted before - I take full responsibility for that.

Wednesday? Jimmy woke up and started talking about paint and painting - clearly it was an exciting event. Another thing Jimmy likes is riding Daddy's bike, and he wanted to ride it to school, but Daddy was in a rush, so that didn't happen. From memory the drop off went well. Michael did indeed pick Jimmy up that afternoon and Jimmy did get to ride on Daddy's bike. So far, so good.

Thursday... Well... Daddy was under instructions to have Jimmy in his swimming gear at drop off because they would be playing with water that morning. Well... Jimmy was most put out by this change in routine. Oh man... it was a struggle to get him into his swimmers and out the door, but we did it. And the Jimmy and I arrived and it turned out that they weren't even sure that they would be doing anything with water, especially as it was a cool morning. Well... all that fuss and bother for nothing... I changed Jimmy into normal clothes, including his fruit shorts, which he had been wearing all week, because they are his favourite shorts. And after a few minutes Jimmy was into the swing of it, and he even blew me a kiss and waved bye-bye. Sweet, sweet boy. 

Daddy picked him up again. And they had played with water! And Jimmy was so, so tired. He wasn't interested in his dinner. He was keen to vacuum. He was not going to have a bath or a shower, nope, no chance. I managed to brush his teeth and then he was in bed by 8pm, which for summer is unheard of. He was exhausted. And running a little hot... 

But on Friday morning Jimmy woke up and was kicking his legs about and asking to watch Gummi Bears. He wasn't sick. Just worn out. Phew... Friday's drop off was rather long... I don't know why, but it was. It might have had a lot to do with me not leaving at exactly the same time as Daddy, or it could have been that Jimmy was just over it. Overtired. Overwhelmed by the week. Over being away from Mummy. Over it. But I managed to leave and he wasn't crying, so that was good.

I told his teachers that I was going to pick him up early, so when I did arrive Jimmy was wearing his backpack and hat and ready to go home - the night before I had decided that if Jimmy wasn't sick, then I would pick him up early, after naptime, and we could watch Gummi Bears and eat popcorn at home. And we did. 

Jimmy seemed to enjoy school, and even though he was tired for most of the week, and wasn't happy to see us leave each morning, I think he enjoyed himself. It's now nearly the end of his second week and he seems to be fairly settled into the daycare, which is great, because Jimmy really didn't have much choice but to like it. So, we're good. At least as far as daycare choice.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

On the needles: a little pillow...

Jimmy needed a little pillow for naptime at daycare, so after finding out that 10x8 inches was about the size that would fit their beds, I arranged to borrow our neighbours sewing machine and set to work. I may have already talked about it, but I wanted to share some more details about it (and I now regret not taking more "in progress" photos).

I wanted the pillow to be special. I used some red bunting fabric that I had bought a while back, and had already turned most of it into a pillowcase for a regular sized pillow - for Jimmy, of course. So, using the leftover fabric made perfect sense. Only there wasn't enough of it. Enter an old white cotton shirt.

I bought this shirt when I was in highschool, at a local opshop and probably paid less than $3 for it. It is 100% cotton and the cotton is lovely. The shirt is so old... I've had to cut the collar off, replaced one button and repaired the shirt area around another, and just had to deal with a work-related stain that slowly faded. And then I work it in the pool and it ended up with awful discolouration and that was that.

But I just couldn't throw it away. No chance. The fabric was still in good condition (except around the cuffs, oh well), so I was hoping that I would be able to put it to good use before we left Manhattan, KS, otherwise it would be binned (sad face). It was still hanging in the wardrobe after its replacement arrived. The fabric of the replacement is no match, in terms of quality, but the cut is about the same... anyway... I used the fabric for the pillow and the pillowcase and, to me, it makes Jimmy's naptime pillow all the more special.

I'm so happy with the end result. So is Jimmy, although he is too young to appreciate the two pockets on the same side as the opening, but he will. He saw me making parts of it, most of it even, and I made a fuss about it, and made sure he knew that I was making it just for him. A special little pillow, for naps away from home, made from things at home. He's napping at daycare, and hugging it too, so I think my plan worked - my plan to give him something special, from me to him, that is just his, but with a little of something of mine too.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015


a portrait of my son, once a week, every week in 2015

Jimmy: Off to school... day 3.

Oh man... there's a post coming about this, I promise... Jimmy is in daycare. Or school as they call it here. Everything is called school here. Even university. It can get confusing. Anyway...

On Wednesday morning was the first morning in a long time that it was cool out. Cool enough for Jimmy to wear his big red car hoodie - one of his birthday presents, thank you Grantie L!!! And Daddy just couldn't resist the cuteness and took a few photos. It was hard to pick the best one, because they were all good and filled with epic-Jimmy-cuteness. The backpack has his toy dog in it, another birthday present, thank you Grandma!!!

From memory, it was an easy drop-off that morning, but I could be wrong about that...

Friday, 21 August 2015

Losing my Australian filter: hidden costs...

One of the great things about buying anything in Australia is that the ticket price is the price of the item - with a few exceptions that we can put down to human error, with the item being in the wrong spot the main culprit, although finding out that the item is "on sale" is always a nice surprise. Anyway... My point is that in Australia that $7 sandwich costs $7. Jeans for $50 cost $50.

Things are a little different in the good ol' US of A...

That $7 sandwich is taxed at 8% (roughly the tax charged on items in Kansas), and then there's the 15-20% tip if the sandwich is from a cafe or restaurant. Let's pretend we're feeling rich and generous and we'll tip the waitstaff 20%. So: $7 plus 8% tax AND 20% tip. And that's 20% of the bill which includes the tax.

That $7 sandwich now costs $7.56 after tax, and $9.07 after the generous 20% tip of $1.51.

We can round that all down and say that our $7 sandwich cost us $9, and the waitstaff still received a reasonable tip.

That shop assistant who we buy those $50 jeans from does not get a tip, but there is still 8% tax on the jeans. Once that is added those jeans that seemed like a reasonable purchase cost $54. It's not totally outrageous but it's still a hidden cost and it still frustrates me, because the bigger the ticket price, the bigger the price hike sales tax.

When we arrived I tried my old trick of adding up the prices of grocery items as we went along, just to get a sense of how much our shopping was going to cost. Well, let's just say that my efforts were in vain and that I gave up on the process pretty quickly because there was an 8% surprise at the checkout. It was annoying to say the least.

Why don't they just add the tax before putting prices on menus, stickers, and labels? I really don't know. Perhaps it's because there is taxation from three different levels of government on any item, and the levels of government want their cut of sales tax clearly marked, clearly theirs, and having the tax added at the checkout is the simplest way the Americans can do it.

(*sigh* I can't change the system...)

Before coming to the USA we were warned about the tipping and how it was the done thing, but no one talked about the tax that is added at the point of sale. I guess it's an easy thing to forget if you're just passing through, especially when everything seems so cheap. For me, I'm reminded of the addition of tax with every single transaction, no more so when buy things online and the tax does not help me get to the "free shipping" threshold (and I only aim to reach it, if the threshold is $50 or less, because it's a waste of money otherwise - but this is a tale for another time...).

Plus tip? Plus tax... I'm sort of used to both of these hidden or added costs, but clearly it still bothers me enough to write about it.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Over the weekend we...

Went on a mission to find some new shoes for Jimmy's ever growing feet. Our brief: to find the cheapest, best fitting, daycare appropriate shoes. Hopefully Jimmy would like them too.

We trecked out to Goodwill opshop thrift shop and found no shoes for Jimmy there. We stopped at Dillons East and bought supplies for lunch. Jimmy was being his cheeky self and was scaring us with his scary face (he's making it in all these photos, if you couldn't tell).

Scary right?

We checked out the Salvation Army opshop thrift shop and found one pair that would have done the job. For 2 seconds. Before they fell apart. Hmmm...

We ended up buying new shoes. They went on easily, Jimmy said they were good, so they came home with us. I'm sure we spent more on transport and refreshments than the shoes themselves, so perhaps next time I should just order shoes for Jimmy online - only this time I would have bought shoes that would have been too small. Actually, it was good to have Jimmy involved and trying on the shoes, because we had an idea of what size to get and having Jimmy try them on confirmed our guess. And I'm not sure how his feet seem to go up two sizes at a time... but they do.

Another thing that has been happening: Jimmy has started helping with the washing up. Not every time, but some times. It's early days yet, but he's good at rising the inside of cups, and scrubbing the frying pan. Mostly, I think, Jimmy just likes to feel like he's part of what Daddy and Mummy do, which is very sweet, because...

Our little boy started daycare on Monday, so I spent sometime on the weekend making this little pillow for nap times. The pillow is made from an old shirt that was due for repurposing, and the button closure on the pillowcase is also from the same shirt, mostly because there wasn't enough of the bunting fabric for the cover. I'm really happy how it turned out (and there are two pockets on the button side), and I made a bit of a fuss about making it, telling Jimmy that it was for him, for naptime at daycare, that I was making it just for him. And the best part? The bunting fabric I used was leftover from a bigger pillowcase I made for him, so Jimmy has a little bit of home while he naps.

And then on Monday Jimmy had his first day at daycare...

Tuesday, 18 August 2015


a portrait of my son, once a week, every week in 2015

Jimmy: Cheeky... cheeky boy...

I love this. This is Jimmy. All cheek. All spunk. He is also all sweetness and affection, but he does like to act up for the camera - especially when Daddy is taking the photos, just like here.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Cheap thrills: Eton mess...

Eton mess or mashed up pavlova with extra cream, take your pick. It's tasty and simple, but it does need to be made in advance - at least 3 hours (!!) before you expect to eat it. 

Coming straight out of River Cottage Every Day, although altered somewhat because of Jimmy and taste testing, the Eton mess has been staring at me every time I flip through the fruit section, tempting me with visions of cream and raspberries and summer garden parties or high tea. So, with raspberries dropping to $1 a punnet (and strawberries $3/punnet), I figured it was time to act before berry season ended.

What you need to serve 6, and roughly what I ended up making:
  • 2 egg whites worth of meringue, dolloped onto clean baking trays lined with baking paper and cooked at a low temperature (say, 120 C or a little less) for about 2 hours (although mine only needed an hour and a half.
  • 1.5 punnets of raspberries and about 1 punnet of strawberries, washed, with the strawberries trimmed and halved - but you'll need a swift hand if you have the sort of kitchen helper I had. Combine the fruit in a bowl, add a tablespoon (or two) of sugar, mix by hand so that you can mash the fruit a little as you go. Place in the fridge for about 2 hours or until needed.
  • Cream. The heavy, made for whipping kind, lightly whipped with nothing added. I used the suggested 350 ml, but it was a bit much because I forgot to allow for Jimmy's fruit consumption and all the meringues we just had to taste...

Other fruit combinations to try are:
  • kiwifruit and strawberry
  • peaches and nectarines (raw or baked so that they are a little caramelised)
  • mango (possibly with banana, or peach).

About an hour before serving, break up the meringues and mix with the cream. Mix in the fruit, so that it is covered with the cream but stop before the cream is completely drenched in fruit juices. Cover and set aside (in the fridge if it is summer) until ready to serve. Eat that night.

Definitely toddler approved: simple enough for them to help in the prep; easy and tasty enough for them to gobble down. That said, Jimmy was more interested in the raspberries and strawberries than the cream or his prune (which was an afterthought), and he was more interested in finishing and having a bath than the meringue.

Michael and I may have had two helpings... which seemed a good idea, because the fruit and meringue are really light, but the cream makes it a little heavier and I was feeling very full. Oh I will be making this again, especially as it is really similar to pavlova in taste but so much quicker (and forgiving) in the preparation. Eton mess for the win.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Back to work: choosing a daycare...

This is not a guide for choosing a daycare. This is our approach to finding a daycare for Jimmy, given our set of circumstances and given our circumstances, we really didn't have much choice, but here goes... because ch-ch-ch-changes...

Let's start with an observation:

At the county playgroup there numerous children under the age of 2 who are there with a grandparent, because the parent/s have to work. I thought it was lovely that the children were spending time with a grandparent and not some unrelated carer at a daycare. I'm sure the grandparents were enjoying themselves too, but...

But some friends had been in this situation, with the maternal grandmother looking after her only grandchild. She really seemed to love looking after the baby and the baby loved it too. But the situation was less than ideal: the maternal grandparents were now separated by an ocean and the maternal grandmother could not stay forever. The problem was a lack of daycare spaces for the child's age group - it still is. The child is under 2.

I started looking at the grandparents at playgroup in a different light. Sure, they still loved being with their grandchildren, but they were making a sacrifice because there are so few daycare places for the under 2s.


Way back in January, while my sister Asha was visiting, the nearby daycare had an Open House (Open Day for the Australians out there) and we visited. I even put Jimmy on their waiting list, to start April/May. They never called and that was ok.

And then May came around, and we were still in Manhattan, KS, and I lined up work and suddenly we had to seriously start thinking about daycare for Jimmy. Ep!

We have one really, really big constraint when it comes to where to send Jimmy: we don't own a car. For day-to-day living not owning a car is fine, but the instant we want to travel anywhere that is not covered by the bus routes or within walking distance, we either need to travel with friends who own cars or one of us stays behind with Jimmy while the other bikes.

So, requirement 1: daycare must be accessible by foot or bus.

This left us with 2 options. The nearby daycare and the K-State one. We had seen both before actually needing either of them.

I called the nearby one and Jimmy was placed on the waiting list - there was no mention of how many children were between him and the next available spot. Feeling a little lost, and reluctant, I took my time getting around to calling the K-State daycare.

Well! Firstly the person I spoke to couldn't help me, but was able to take my number so that someone who could would be able to get back to me in 48 hours. It took this person nearly a week to call me back (not impressed), then she referred me to information on their website (already read), and informed me that there was a fee of $30 to join the waitlist (already read that), and then she informed me that the waiting list was 17 children long. Seventeen! I said no thank you and ended the conversation.

One daycare option. One.

Our backup plan was to have my Dad (aka Pop) come for a few months and look after Jimmy for us, but I really, really wanted Jimmy to go to a local daycare because I felt (and still feel) that the socialisation is really important. I also really, really wanted to have my Dad look after Jimmy because they would have a blast together, just like the other children being looked after by their grandparents.

I did look into a few other places, places that we could take Jimmy if we bought a bike trailer, but one was not actually a daycare, and the other one doesn't take children under 2.5 years.


The situation out of our control, we waited and hoped. My parents started devising contingency plans for my Dad's visit.

Then, one day, while Jimmy and I were at the library with some friends, I received an unexpected phone call that started like this:
"Hello, this is XXX from XXX, can I speak to James?"
"Ahhh... He's two. He's not very good on the phone and he's got his mouth full."
"Can I speak to his mother?"
"We have an opening for James." 
In my disbelief at what had actually transpired in the conversation I hoped I had correctly remembered the time for our appointment. I could not believe our luck - this was the only place we had Jimmy on a waiting list. 

The only one.

If it was a physical thing, I would have grabbed it and not known if I should hold it tightly so that it couldn't slip away or hold it gently so as not to damage our chances of keeping the spot.

I handed over the registration cheque the day after our first visit as actual clients. Even though I was a little unsure that I would actually receive my work permit, but I also wanted to make sure that Jimmy would be looked after and cared for before I could commit to working.

I still can't believe our luck.

This particular daycare might be within easy walking distance of our apartment, and, although it is apparently one of the more expensive daycares in town, we don't need a car or bus to get Jimmy there. This makes the cost worth it.

Jimmy is yet to spend a full day there, but he seems comfortable there: he wants to play in the playground; he's walked off with the director while I was filling in some paperwork, they left the room, walked into another room, and were gone for about 5 minutes; last week, while dropping off the paperwork (egads! this is happening), Jimmy spent 20 minutes in his 'classroom' while I was in the director's office and he didn't seem to mind that I had been away. I think he'll have a great time there, at least most of the time.

Jimmy will start there next week and then we'll know if the most important requirement for selecting a daycare is met: it must be a good fit for Jimmy. I'm not entirely sure what we'll do if he doesn't like it there. Michael and I are a little freaked out at the idea of a non-family member looking after Jimmy, but the daycare staff are professionals, trained in childcare, first aid and CPR.

Fingers crossed that Jimmy likes being there full-time. With everything else falling into place for my return to the workforce, a happy Jimmy in daycare is now the most important thing to ensure. Fingers crossed. Now, to get things organised for Monday... Ep!

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Over the weekend we...

Were joined a group of friends and went for an early morning walk around Konza Prairie Biological Station. Now, when I say "early", we started walking around 7:30am, and when I say "we", I mean the five or so of us who arrived a little later than the others, who were about 30 minutes ahead of us.

Why so early? Well, it's summer here and the days can be very hot, so the idea was to get a walk in before the day became too hot. And thanks to the cloud cover (and rain) the morning stayed a nice warm temperature. Yay!

It's been a while since Michael, Jimmy, and I had been in the area - and even then we didn't do any walks - so we were enjoying every little thing, including this tiny toad that was the same colour as the path.

I'm so happy Konza Prairie Biological Station exists, because I think it's very important to develop a really sound understanding of an area's ecosystems and ecology, and that is exactly what the Biological Station has been working out.

There are lots of photos to come, just press read more...

Monday, 10 August 2015


a portrait of my son, once a week, every week in 2015

Jimmy: Daddy, make you burrito!

And by that, Jimmy is asking to be rolled up into in his towel, or a foam sleeping mat, or his drawing mat - as pictured. It's freaking hilarious and adorable. He knows how to roll out of the burrito, so he's never really trapped, but he loves it.

Well, he loves it when Daddy and Mummy are paying him attention, like when Daddy took these photos, but he did fall over the other night, while in burritoed in his towel, and he couldn't break his fall. Poor little mite hit his head on a chair - he asked to be burritoed again, almost as soon as he had recovered. That's our boy! (Our boy still has problems with pronouns, but we're working on that.)

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Losing my Australian filter: the cost of living...

When looking at the prices of anything in the USA, it's easy to think that things are cheaper than in Australia. And indeed they can be, especially blueberries and some fancy cheeses, but clothes and nonessential items can be a little harder to work out...

Last year I bought a pair of gumboots (rainboots over here), and I paid US$26 for them. Now, they're not plain gumboots, and I thought they might be solid enough to be Jimmy's winter boots, so long as he had woollen socks on, which sort of worked. Now, $26 is not cheap for children's shoes, not even in Australia, but I would buy them over there, without a second thought, because they would cost me about an hours work.

But what about in the USA? Well...

The median annual income for an individual in the USA is about US$30,000, this equates to roughly US$15/hour. That means Jimmy's gumboots cost nearly 2 hours work. But most of the population is not on US$30,000 and the minimum wage ranges from state to state. For arguments sake, let's call it US$7.25/hour (which is true of Kansas) and it's even less for workers who rely on tips.

Let that sink in...

Go on Australian readers. Take a minute. Think about it. Minimum wage is US$7.25/hour.

Cheaper gumboots, available online, might cost an hours work for most workers, or two hours for someone on minimum wage, plus tax. But sometimes there's no platform for product reviews, so there's no telling how good the gumboots are.

So, what does this translate for everything else? Well, regardless of how the Australian dollar compares to the US dollar, I find the best way to gauge how much something might cost in Australia is to double the figure. This mostly applies to clothes, sporting goods, some shoes, and beautiful things for the home - most of which we don't buy, because we're only here short term.

Coffee is an interesting item because depending on where you go (and how you take it), is very similar in price, if we're assuming $3.50 has the same value in Australia and the USA. But it doesn't. And most Americans like their coffee to be watery, often filter coffee that tends to sit around for hour or the made-to-order pour over - it's fancy little sister. Regular filter coffee can cost as little as $1 for a really big coffee. Fancy pour overs (and lattes) cost $3.50 or more, which is half an hours wage for most people. This can turn coffee into a luxury item - can you imagine paying AUS$7 for a latte?

There are some things that are cheaper here, or very similar in price. Some things can end up heavily discounted, such as clothes. Some places are amazing when it comes to sales. The other week I bought some new clothes for Jimmy, from the discounted section at one of these places. All the items were subject to a further 50% off the marked price, so I paid US$1 for socks that cost US$4 full price. A friend paid US$0.66 for socks for her son. Again, they were on sale, which is often the case with a lot of places - almost everything can be bought on sale if you know how to play the game.

Sometimes I wonder if this approach - doubling the price to get a feel for how much it might cost in Australia - might all be a waste of time because of the huge difference in wage conditions and workers rights, and so much more manufacturing occurs on US soil than in Australia, plus there is market size to consider too. And transportation costs... Have I left anything out? Basically, there are a lot of factors involved before a price is placed on an item, and the buying power of the average worker may not be a consideration.

What I am certain about is Jimmy's need for new gumboot. His new ones have arrived and his old ones have been given to a friend who will get some use out of them. Did I pay US$26 for the new little gumboots? Yes. Do I scold Jimmy when he doesn't look after them? Yes I do, because I understand the true local value of those boots.