Two year mega blog

Hard to believe, but its true, two years ago todayish we landed in America to live and work for a while…….
Like last year, I have decided to do this in one long mega blog. So, once again, please try and relax, this will all be over as soon as you get to the bottom (or sooner if you give up now!).

I’m going to use the same format as the one-year mega blog as it seems to break things down into groups pretty well.
So lets get started already!

Work. Good and bad sitting in the cube all day answering the phone. Some simple quick calls, some longer more detailed. I really enjoyed the challenging calls. The ones where you really need to do some work to engineer a solution.
Thankfully my daily job changed pretty radically about half way through the year….. My mate Nick from Australia came up with a neat solution for some web-based access to the Opto 22 controllers. I had been working on it for years but just did not have the smarts to make it happen. When Nick came on board he took up the challenge and we got a few things working while I was still at the hospital, but nothing really elegant. A year and a half after I left he hit the jackpot and came up with a really sweet solution.
We played with it a bit over here, but it needed tweaking to suit us. For a few weeks I just tinkered with it, but it never went very far.
Then the oddest thing happened that changed the game for all of us. I showed Benson, the VP of marketing Freddys humming bird camera streaming video to his iphone….. Odd, but it makes sense when you hear that Benson had 4 cameras at his place that he wanted to get going for years but never had the knack of getting it working on the web like he wanted.
In short order I got an old PC from him, put Linux on it and installed two camera cards. Once we had that running, we ported Nicks web solution over to Linux, and the rest is history. Bensons house became a bit of a test site, and a really cool demo. It wrapped up all the little bitts we were working on and presented them in a really nice package. Energy monitoring, process control and streaming video, all the data from the Opto and all the web pages from Linux to a web browser on a PC or an iphone.
To give me a little more time to work on the web stuff Selam became the first to answer calls, then Tom, then me. It made a big difference, as I was really able to make some progress on the web project. Over time the software based web solution has become a hardware solution, Nicks concept has been redeveloped from the ground up by a new software engineer over here called Justin. He, Benson and I have been working on the product and Benson and Bob have been working on the sales and marketing. Some really cool things are in the pipeline.
I am still involved in the training; we are in the process of developing an advanced training session as well as tweaking the current course to make it more of a beginner’s course.
I still go home tired, I still get hassled about my accent from time to time by the odd customer, but it’s generally a lot more rewarding now days working with both sales and marketing.

Family life. This has settled down some. We are getting to know each other again, and in some cases, for the first time and are trying to spend more time together to do just that.
A few things happened that really tweaked things across the board for us all.
First up, Freddy made a friend. Hope and her met in the thrift store (Op shop).
Hope has a lot of energy and keeps Freddy on the go a lot of the time, so they are always up to something. It means that Freddy gets out during the day and sometimes at night. She interacts with others and so is a lot more relaxed by the time I get home.
The other thing that happened that changed a lot of the family dynamics is that I had a little break down….. Did not make a lot of fuss about it, and certainly, did not blog about it at the time, so don’t feel too bad that this is the first you are hearing about it. Don’t want to spend too long on it here as I have covered it after the fact in another blog entry, but in case you missed that one, I pretty much lost grip on a lot of things and felt I was going to lose it completely. Out of the blue my buddy Dan emails me a very short email “Did you ever consider that you are an introvert in an extroverts world?”
I knew the words, but had never thought about it, and certainty not where I fit in.
As a family we went and took a Briggs-Myers test. Turns out I am an introverts introvert.
Having this understanding helped put things back in perspective. We started to understand each other as family members better and were able to adjust for each other better.
We still struggle a bit with each other from time to time, but I don’t know a family that does not, and the good thing is now we are a lot more aware of each other and will go the extra mile for each other more readily.

Church. Even things such as going to church became more tolerable understanding why I struggled with it so much (that introvert thing again). I cant begin to describe how important ‘church’ is for me and how much a part of my life it is. I am (don’t want to talk for the whole family here) still struggling with the physical attending aspect of it, but its becoming clearer in my mind. Its something that I need to put more energy into and try and improve how I manage it.

School. Lets be clear here. The school system in California is broken. Not a little bit, not just cracked, but full on totally, completely broken! We have taken Amy out of it. She is now doing a thing called ‘independent study’. Its one step between normal school and home school. In a nutshell, she only goes to school for about ½ a day a week. So far, so good for her. Terry is still in regular high school, but we are not happy with how its going.

Driving. Both Freddy and I have been driven into in car parks now. No major damage, just some bent panels and busted bumpers. I still love the speed on the freeways. I still stop at every stop sign; I still use and scream at people about their misuse of their indicators.
I am getting rabid about people talking on cell phones while driving.
It’s only a matter of time till one or both of us are involved in an accident. People here are so careless. To the average American, driving is a right, they own the road, you had better get out of their way.
Amy has started talking seriously about getting her drivers permit and Terry is also chomping at the bit.

Riding. I still ride. I still love riding. But I am thinking about selling the bike. I don’t want to, but I feel it’s only a matter of time before I am knocked off it. Probably by someone on a cell phone……. Now that I have the Rover, I don’t need to keep the bike. It got me through a rough patch. I have to decide if I want to take the risk of keeping it and riding it any longer. Mixed feelings about this one.

Light switches. Little things like this still throw me. Sounds daft, but when you are tired and stressed, a simple task such as turning a light on or off can be an effort. I still have trouble plugging things into the power and getting them going. I will blog about this some time.

Bathroom taps. Better, much better. We all can take a shower now with out the usual ‘how-do-I-get-water-out-of-this-stupid-thing’ delay. They are still ‘silly’ compared to a hot tap and a cold tap, but I am sure they made sense to someone somewhere sometime.

Food. I am back to one main meal a day. We have tried to ovoid processed food as much as possible, but even so, it’s hard to eliminate sugar out of your diet over here.
Probably if I was exercising more, I could eat more, but since I just don’t get the time or have the energy (or motivation) to do that, the simplest way to ‘stay in shape’ is just to eat less.
Have tried some nice wines. Most out of our budget, but now and then for a rare treat there is some really nice stuff out there.

Freddy got a blender, so we are all enjoying milk shakes, thick shakes, fruit juice and smoothies of different kinds. It even makes ice cream which we are keen to try this summer. Should be able to make some less sweet treats. I’m told that it makes mean margarita. Next winter we can use it to make some veggie soups.
We still miss a lot of food from home, but we are a lot more settled about it, we all understand that its just food.

Weather. Still drives me mad. No really, it’s just not natural or normal to have such perfect weather for so much of the year. I still find myself ‘glitching’ mentally now and then when it’s good day after day. The human brain is an amazing thing, you get conditioned to something and it’s painful to have that condition changed. When it’s something as ‘silly’ as perfect weather for weeks on end, it makes no sense. You’re just going to have to trust me on this one.

Money. Freddy has really worked really hard to keep the expenses in check. We are still on a cash envelope budget. (i.e. take the cash out of the bank once a week, divide it up between the different envelopes and that’s that, if the envelope gets empty before the weeks end, bad luck). It’s the best way to make sure we don’t go over budget each week. I don’t know how we would survive without Freddy doing the coupon shopping thing and such.

California, more so Southern California is never going to get cheaper to live in any time soon. It’s just going to go up and up so its not like we can look forward to a break anytime soon.
I feel there is a big gap between those that have money and those in the middle class, and then those that don’t have any at all. It’s a pretty clear wide line here. In Australia it seems narrower or more blurred. Duno. It remains one area that frustrates me.

Kid time. The kids still have three months off over summer. Well, Terry does.
Because of the broken school system Amy is going to be doing summer school again this year (and again next I’m sure). She will also be doing her class work as usual. They are going to load her up before they break so that she can work through and try and pick up more credits so she can graduate on time.

Every Wednesday night Amy and I have ‘date night’. We go out somewhere for an hour or so. It’s good for the two of us to connect like that. I would really like to do the same with Terry, but we have both struggled with the idea of just going for a drive…. must be a guy thing to want to do something….. Anyway, I am trying to have more time with the kids. Its sort of working. Its something I need to work more on over the next year.
I still go home every lunchtime. It’s important (and nice) for Freddy and I to have that time together every day.

Resident Alien. If you are a regular blog reader you would know that we went back to Australia to get that sorted at the start of the year. Turned out pretty well. We have a 10-year visa now and don’t have to go back to Aust to renew. Another upside of this is that Freddy and the kids can have social security numbers now. This means that they can work, open bank accounts and start to become integrated over here. For me, it means that I am not tied to Opto any more for employment. I can get a job with anyone if I want, or I can get a part time job, that’s about the only change for me in gaining this status, so not such a big deal for me. Well, on the legal aspect anyways, mentally it makes a huge difference for all of us, mostly as a result of removing the whole two-year temporary visa thing.
On the other side of this is the fact that we can now stay here for as long as we like.
So, yes, its yet another thing to mentally juggle, we did not like the two-year limit over us as we knew that we could never settle down, now that its gone, its unsettling knowing that its up to us to decide when we go home.
Lastly, it means that we can now get a home loan. We are going to try and buy a house and see if that makes a difference to the whole ‘settling down’ compartment in our brains.
This is something I really struggling with. I really miss home, but its been made clear to me that I need to be here.

Accents. I still have one, and Freddy and the kids can still turn them on and off, but like last year, they are on more than they are off.
It still stabs me with hot knifes in the ear when I hear my family talk like that, but I am not lashing out like I used to. I still meet Americans that think they can do an Australian accent. It’s still just as insulting and un-funny as it was two years ago.
I have got into a few heated conversations with some Americans on how they say my accent is a plus and I say it is not. They insist that Americans love the Aussie accent and that none of them would ever find it hard to understand or be bothered by it. Of course I am the one with the accent and can assure them that’s any thing but correct. Let’s just say they don’t like being corrected by foreigners……

Hobbies. Major mess in my mind over this one still. Still not doing any electronics at all. I can go months and months without touching my soldering iron. Have needed to start doing a lot more web programming at work, PHP and HTML for the most part. Doing a lot more Linux stuff too. Is it a hobby? No, programming was always work for me. Still is. On the other hand I love tinkering with Linux and the video side of it, so that’s pretty cool.

I have taken up photography with a lot more consistency. When we went home over Dec/Jan 2009/2010 I felt I should pick something up to help ease the stress of being here.
For about 6 months I have been wanting to do more with my photography but was not sure how. While I was in Aust, I got the idea to do a ‘365 Project’. That’s one photo every day for a year. Every one on the web that has done one said flat out that it made them a better photographer and they had a lot of fun doing it. So, I started one while I was over there. At the time of this blog I am up to about day 80.
For the most part, it has been the breath of fresh air that I have needed to breath and live over here. The other good thing that came along with this choice was that I managed to talk my friend Zim into starting a 365 project as well.

Conclusion. Moving over has, even after the second year, still been the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. The amount of change that has had to be made is without a doubt the biggest aspect from small things like light switches, to bigger things like what you do to (try to) relax. Mixed in with all that then is also the fact that the way you lived and interacted with your family in the past has shown to be defective. Trying to change how we all interact and function as a family is difficult to verbalize.
Even after two years it’s all been so hard and stressful that I am still constantly tired. I am sick of being tired and telling people that I am tired. At times I feel its been bordering on exhaustion. It’s been a huge mental challenge.
There is still no ‘one thing’ that I can put my finger on and ‘blame’ for the discomfort, its more a case of death by a thousand cuts. People ask me what’s the one thing that is most different over here from Australia. I can never give them a straight answer, that answer shifts and changes depending on what I am trying to juggle at the time. Its so elusive to describe that one thing that is the biggest difference, I just cant do it. Change is indescribable for those not going through it.
So, to really conclude, once again, those two questions that seems to get asked in my mind most often at these key anniversary dates…….. Has it been worth it and are you glad you did it?
That’s a tough one. I am getting to know myself and my family better now than ever before. Mentally, emotionally and spiritually I have grown so much it’s hard for me to know who I am sometimes. Physically I feel like I have aged far more than two years. Most of the time I feel we are not out of the woods yet.

Has it been worth it? Hard to say, but at least now, after two years, I can see how it might be.
Am I glad I did it? Ask me again this time next year.

P.S I asked a few of my family to read this yesterday before I posted it today.
Their overwhelming consensus was that it was “excessively negative”.
While I did not mean it come over like this, I meant for it to be a cold hard telling it like it is, the fact remains, it is what it is.
I have been criticized in the past by both blog reader and family alike for not talking more about my family in the blog. The fact is, its my blog, I have offered to make blogs for the family many times in the past, they have declined. They have chosen not to tell their version of the story to the ‘public’. I am glad that they don’t blog on my behalf; I can’t see how I can blog telling their side. While we are spending more time together as a family, the fact is each of us is getting something different out of this experience. For example I cant pretend to really know what moving internationally is doing to the mind and character of a 16 year old girl! We are all going through a lot of change….. and that is the bottom line. This move has forced a lot of change on each of us. After two years the shear volume of things that have changed, are changing and need changing has not really let up. For the most part, the change is good, but its also really hard work, if that comes across as excessively negative then it’s the fault of the writing style rather than a reflection of reality.
For what its worth I did not go back and edit the body; I want a truthful record of this experience. It is changing our lives, for better or worse only time will tell. In the mean time, I still chose to share it all with you lot, hope you don’t mind (too much)!