Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sophia Hope McMillin

My niece has arrived!

Welcome darling Sophia! May you long know the joys of laughter, love, life and family. And when you're a teenager and your parents are driving you crazy, know your Auntie will welcome you with open arms and listening ears ;)

Congratulations Liz, Keith, Gavin and Edward! Now you are five!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Baby McBelly

My sister-in-law, Liz, is expecting a baby any day now and I'm very excited to add a second niece to the posse!

The other day we stole a couple hours to capture some photos of the family and her baby belly. Here are my favorites.

Aren't they gorgeous?

In other news, I've just begun a twelve week photography course that has me giddy with excitement! My photos are already reasonably decent but with more technical knowledge under my belt and a better understanding of how to use the exceptionally powerful tool that is my camera, I expect my photos to rise to a new level. So in just a few more weeks these photos would be even better but this little lady is due to arrive in about a week so these will have to suffice! And of course I'll have plenty of cuteness to practice on in the coming months!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


I ended the final post of 2014 by saying that I hoped 2015 would lead to us feeling more settled than we have in a long time. I'm pleased to announce that we've made some major strides in that general direction as we are now homeowners!

After spending many months looking at properties all over town, we were starting to feel somewhat discouraged. Our criteria were all over the place and essentially impossible to fulfill - walkable, close to family, a bit of land, near good schools, near parks, in a safe neighborhood, new-ish and reasonably nice or maybe older with a bit of character but not in need of major renovations - you get the idea. We even considered buying a bus and traveling around the US for a while but the whole starting a business thing won out for now :)

In the end we got several of the things on our wishlist. This house sits on a quiet cul-de-sac street and is in a good school district, is near both the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Cleveland Metroparks, borders a wooded lot, has about half an acre of usable land and is very near the homes of both Brian's parents and his brother.

Once upon a time ago, Brian and I proposed the idea of a McMillin Ranch where we'd all buy a plot of land and build our own homes in our own little corners of the property. We envisioned common areas, local and low carbon energy sources, gardens, etc. but the logistics of bringing four families together in this way proved to be insurmountable for now. So we figure this new arrangement is a close second! (Some of you might be cringing at the thought of living so close to the in-laws but I can assure you, as many of you will know firsthand, that the McMillins are a pretty awesome bunch).

What's interesting about this house is that it never even went onto the market. Carl mentioned to some of the neighbors that we were looking to buy and one mentioned that he was thinking of listing his house in the spring, about the time his son would graduate from high school. He invited us over to have a look and we liked it right away. So we managed the negotiations and closing all without a realtor and everyone was happy!

The house is in very good condition but we're considering some upgrades to the kitchen and master bathroom before we move in along with a few coats of paint here and there. I'll be sure to keep you posted and I might even take you along on our renovation journey (which I have a sneaking suspicion may evolve into a creative do-it-yourself endeavor).

Little by little, bits fall into place. We just hope they're in the right places! One thing is for sure, the kids are elated to live within a stone's throw of their grandparent's and cousin's homes. We figure that after being away for most of a decade and deciding to return home to be near family, that it makes good sense to go ahead and be near family!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Three American Seasons

It's been six months already since we arrived back in the US!

The other day I took some time to back up all of our photos from various devices and it was fun to peruse the slideshow of our lives from the last six months. Then I realized that many of the photos from my phone made appearances on Facebook but never made it to the blog. So, I've compiled this collection which nicely captures the transition from summer to autumn to winter that we've experienced since our arrival in North America.

 Riker at the lovely Chagrin Falls.

 This coffee shop in Rocky River kindly provided a bicycle rack out front in each boy's favorite color.

 At a family event at Riker's school, Ari lands on Ohio!

 The little train conductor.

Muddy fun in the Metroparks with cousins. 

Hummingbird sculpture behind the CanalWay visitor center where I used to work in the Cleveland Metroparks.

Leaving the park, we spotted this huge praying mantis making it's way across the pavement!

 Riker genuinely loves to wash dishes!

 Gluing leaves on a sheet of paper makes for a great (and easy) autumn craft.

 Proud of the finished product.

 Uncle Keith takes Riker to his first football game.

 At one of many terrific playgrounds in suburban Cleveland.

 The draw of a shallow creek pulls Edward, Ari, Gavin and Riker away from the play equipment.

 One of these sleepyheads looks more comfortable than the other.

Riker's first experience with snow!

Auntie Jenn sends the crew down a hill in the neighborhood.

At our Australian farewell party, friends gave the kids cookie cutters in the shape of Aussie animals. Riker is proud of his koala shortbread biscuit that he helped to make!

Uncle Keith reads to Ari.

Riker meets a turtle at a science discovery day in his elementary school. (Photo from the parent organization's Facebook page.)

Riker's kindergarten class pajama day. (Photo from the school district's Facebook page).

Despite freezing temperatures, the boys plant themselves in the front doorway to wait for a much anticipated parcel - a new train set that Riker bought with his savings.

Riker loves to write and send cards. In this envelope, he's generously place fifty cents to gift to Cael on his return from a Disney World holiday.

Our family loves maps!

Ari watches the deer in the backyard from a comfortable perch on the couch.

Some days, I feel that we've accomplished very little towards our big picture goals in this country and other days I'm reminded just how many tasks we've completed. The photos above remind me that time has flown past but we have some fun experiences to show for it!

The past year has been a big one for our family - full of major decisions, an epic move and an ongoing series of transitions. I'm still processing all of it but I have high hopes for 2015 as the year our family feels truly settled for the first time, well, ever!


Monday, December 22, 2014

Easel in a Day

Brian has really been enjoying the woodworking shop in his father's basement and while Jan and Carl were vacationing in Kauai, he spent much of the week cleaning and organizing the shop.

With some of the scrap wood he found in the basement, Brian built the boys an easel. It's a great design, if not a bit more complicated than the one he was initially envisioning! I requested a double sided design, the rod at the top to hold a roll of craft paper, and the dual trays to hold brushes and paints.

Below, Riker tries out the easel for the first time. Gotta love the washable paints and no-spill paint cups that I ordered to complete the set.

Both the boys can work at the same time though time will tell whether a second set of paint cups is in order to minimize paint conflicts. Notice Ari's two handed approach on his side :)

I know this sturdy easel will provide years of enjoyment for the kids. Thanks Brian for another great project!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

There's Snow Place Like Home

I have several friends with very young children right now and watching them gush over their precious bundles brings me back to a time that seems like ages ago, yet at the same time, like only yesterday.

This odd time vortex is brought into sharp contrast when the kids do things that seem mature for their age or are really genuinely helpful or just take my breath away. Here's this week's example of the latter.

These treasures came home with Riker from school the other day and Brian and I practically melted.

This hand painted plate reads "There's snow place like home."

The accompanying letter reads, "Dear Mom and Dad. You light up my life! Love Riker 2014"

So while I find my composure, let me remind the new parents (and myself, once again) that time flies and all the baby stuff that seems so hard will pass. I will refrain from trite platitudes such as 'enjoy every moment' because we all know that's malarkey, but every day certainly offers it's moments to be savored and those are the ones to celebrate and to remember. And in this case, to make room for on the mantle. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

A Walk in the Park

The beginning of the week graced us with unseasonably warm temperatures and so we took advantage of the opportunity to take Ari and Edward for a walk in the Metroparks.

Below, the boys stop along the towpath at a sign describing some of the history of the Cuyahoga River, the canal, the towpath and lock system.

Without fail, venturing into the nearby Metroparks or the Cuyahoga Valley National Park affords opportunities for wildlife viewing. We've seen deer, beaver, frogs and toads, turtles, blue herons and a whole host of other birds and ducks. On this visit we saw Mallard ducks (below) and turtles sunning themselves on mossy logs in the canal just next to the path.

Edward meanders along the path. I love this photo and not just because it represents one of the few times he wasn't running off ahead of us!

I couldn't help but think that passersby might mistakenly think that we had twin boys on our hands!

These beautiful days with warmer temperatures and blue skies are so refreshing since winter here can be so long and dreary and gray!