25 March, 2011

Revised Start Date

Our visa application has been lodged! Now begins the 4-6 week long waiting period for its approval.

A popular question for us these days is, "When are you leaving?" Well, we still don't have a definitive answer but Michael does have a revised start date at PSC of May 16th. He will fly over before that date to allow himself to loose the jet-lag and take care of a million other details. That should probably be the subject of another post.

I have been busy trying to decide what is coming with us, helping man the online garage sale, and getting bids from moving companies. I've also been doing normal things like laundry, cooking, and occasionally reading a story or two to a little person. Notice that the word "Cleaning" isn't in that sentence. Who has time for that?!

So far, I have gotten 3 bids for a 20 foot shipping container. Service includes wrapping and packing of items, loading into the container, transporting container to the port, passage to Australia, transport to our new address, and unloading and unpacking at new address. What do you think that should cost? Having never done a move like this before or any move for that matter with a situation of actually hiring help, suffice it to say we are rather shocked at the cost. Bids range from $9,800 to $13,496. YIKES! I may get a few more bids; if for nothing else but entertainment value alone.

There are other expenses too. Duty and taxes on some items, storage fees if heaven forbid our container is quarantined, storage fees if something else goes wrong, insurance on the contents of the container.....yah dah yah dah yah dah. Yet, we keep moving forward and are not easily dismayed though sometimes I do become rather overwhelmed. Michael and I, in such times buoy one another up. We make a good team. Go team RIECKEN!

19 March, 2011

Bags Bags Bags

When traveling on Qantas, you are allowed two bags per person.  Each cannot weigh more than 50lbs (27kg) and cannot have a toral size of 106" (w+h+l x 2).  The rules can be found on the Qantas web site.

I called American Airlines (who we'll probably fly with on our way to LAX to catch the Sydney flight) and the Ruby, their customer service person, says that they will honor whatever baggage rules Qantas has.  (1-800-433-7300 American Airlines)

So, it's set.  We are limited to 100 pounds in two bags of no more than 106" total size.  Talk about constraints.

To maximize the amount of STUFF (read clothes and important belongings) we can bring, we need to minimuze the weight of the baggage and maximize the size.  Because we are traveling with 8 people (that's 16 bags) we also need to minimize the cost of new baggage.  And, lastly, because they only really need to last for one trip, the quality doesn't need to be that high.

So, where do you go for cheap, light luggage?  Wal-Mart, of course!

We just bought 16 of these bags pictured here for US$10.0 each.  They are 51" total size (w+h+l), which is two inches short of what we can have, but it is the closest I can find.  And because it is a light canvas bag, more weight can be consumed by my stuff and less by my bag.  Yeah!

The plan is to take a large black marker and tag each bag with a number 1-16 on both ends.  We will then let the kids decorate the rest of their bags (but not the ends) in a way that makes them happy.

18 March, 2011

Travelogue Part 2 - LAX to Sydney, Sydney

LAX to Sydney

I sure am glad that I am nice to strangers.

I met a nice lady on the bus from the Qantas ticket counter to the terminal building (a drive that still perplexes me). We chatted briefly, but only the most casual of conversations.

Who should be my seat-mates on the long ride from Los Angeles to Sydney but Geoff (from the previous post) and Lauren, the lady from the bus. Neat! People that I know. Lauren works for the Military Attaché at the Australian embassy in Washington DC. Needles to say, we had a ton to talk about.

Geoff and Lauren, both being from Australia, had some suggestions on what Australian movies to watch on my way down. Qantas has a selection of Australian movies in their video on demand system. Geoff recommended "Kenny". Kenny is the story of a man who manages a port-a-potty business and how he deals with his disapproving father, adoring son and estranged wife. It is a charming, if unflattering, look at the Australian people done in a mock-u-mentary style. Kenny speaks with both an Australian accent and a lisp, making it a real challenge for my ear.

Lauren recommended Kokoda. Kokoda is the name of the first direct battle between the Japanese and the Australians during World War II. The battle was initially fought by boys of the Australian Defence Forces, while the crack troops were off fighting in Europe. They heroically held the Japanese back from attacking a vital port city for weeks until reinforcements arrived. It was an inspiring story.

I don't generally like airline food. But, if you have to travel internationally, Qantas beats the other airlines I have traveled hands down. (Other airlines include Lufthansa, Al Italia, United, Continental, KLM, Delta, Northwest, SouthWest, American and.... I don't know - I am probably missing one or two.)


Customs in Sydney was a breeze. I had purchased a AU$20 90-day business visa on-line the week before my trip. So I just showed up and went through. In customs they x-rayed my bags, just like when you get on the plane. I suppose they were looking for guns (I didn't have any).

As soon as you exit customs you have the opportunity to re-check your bags onto a domestic flight. This will be a real pain in the butt if you are not traveling (like me) with only carry-on luggage. I am thinking of poor Erika bringing six kids through customs with 14 bags and then re-checking them and getting them all to the domestic side of the airport.

My friend Gil (nay Jon) Wright met met right outside of customs. What a treat that was. We had arranged to wear recognisable clothing and he was going to hold up a sign. We recognized each other before he could even take his sign out. I cannot put into words how much of a blessing it is to see a friendly face as soon as you enter a new country. I almost teared. Gil helped me to navigate by train to the domestic terminal, but only after I stepped outside and took in my first Australian sky. Funny, it looks like the sky here.

We had issues getting the ticket machine working and Gil insisted on paying for my ticket at the ticket window. So, it's a lot like eating dinner with my family – we fight over paying the check (not who HAS to, but who GETS to :).
Once at the domestic terminal Gil walked me to my gate. You can do that in Australia – friends can pass through security and walk you right to the plane's door. And YOU CAN KEEP YOUR SHOES ON (I'm thinking of a Joe Cocker song now – "You Can Leave Your Hat On".)

My Friend Gil Wright in his Rosary Army T-Shirt
We bought some coffee (a "long black" please) and sat down by the window overlooking the tarmac. Gil had brought me Eucharist! Before consuming the coffee, we said some prayers and he presented me with the blessed sacrament. My first meal in Australia was the Eucharist. THAT did make me tear up (must be the dust in the airport, eh?).

The Wrights had acquired some gifts for my family and I had smuggled some trinkets from the United States for them. We exchanged gifts and pleasantries for a (way too) short time, and then it was time for me to be off.

After walking me to my gate, we snapped a couple of photos and I was off. I hope to see my friend Gil again soon.

17 March, 2011

This and That

Lots of little developments for us this week. Our visa application has been delayed by a few things. Turns out that we must use the new employer's migration officer. No big deal, we just had to email a bunch of paperwork over but that has delayed things significantly. We also found out that we do indeed NEED to have medical exams. This includes a chest x-ray for the adults and Madeline, and physical exams for all the kids. The kids and I have our appointment tomorrow morning. Michael is scheduled for Monday morning. He is in New Jersey for work this week. We had to go and get passport pictures again to accompany the medical reports. Ugh. More money. I am bringing the checkbook tomorrow too, as I'm pretty sure our insurance won't be paying for our examines. I don't believe the doc is an 'in-network' physician but he is authorized by the Aussie government so that makes him pretty special to us. I'm still hopeful that insurance might pay for some part though. Perhaps we'll have the Luck of the Irish with us still tomorrow. The kids and I cooked up an apple crisp as a gift to his staff. They don't usually work on Fridays and are coming in just for us. How great is that? Once we get the medicals done, our visa application should be ready to be 'lodged'. That expression was new to me. I suppose you lodge a complaint so you can most likely lodge an application. But when I see the word lodge, I naturally think of a beaver lodge not a paper shuffle. Silly me.

I'm busy getting moving quotes. I had a company representative out to the house today. He thinks a 20 foot container is going to be tight. He suggested that we hire a dumpster to help with the sorting/organizing. I priced that out, a 20 cubic yard dumpster is $425. I find it pretty ironic that I'm going to be renting a throw away dumpster about the same size as our shipping container.

Special thank you to our dear friend Connie who helped us out this week with getting organized. We planned, laughed, and packed some boxes. I'm so grateful for our friends and family who help us in so many ways. What would we do with out all of you?

08 March, 2011

Michael signs contract; fails to contract the flu bug

Michael has negotiated and signed an employment agreement with PSC (Power Services Consultancy) Perth, Western Australia. His first day will be 4th April, pending our visa being approved and processed. Wow! Things are going at lightening speed.

In other news, this is the THIRD week of illness at our house. The boys all had the flu with fever, vomiting, headache and a cough. Isaac had a fever on and off for 11 days! James and Oliver ended up with ear infections. Whilst the boys were sick, Madeline, Hannah and Zoey had head colds. Then once Oliver and James had recovered with the help of amoxicillin; Hannah started in with a fever. Thankfully, Josef was able to leave for boot camp healthy! The next to fall was little Zoey yesterday who complained of a headache and then promptly dropped off to sleep as a fever raged. Will Madeline continue to escape the miserable grip of the flu? Will the flu shot protect Dad? Will Mom continue to care for the sick lings whilst staving off the ever present flu germs?? Stay tuned....

02 March, 2011

Perth Travelogue - Part I

First Trip to Australia

One of he things people are amazed about our decision to move to Australia is that we have never actually been there. Well, tick that box.

Actually, the amazement seems to come more from the Australians than the Americans (and others) we speak with. One Australian I was speaking with blames Crocodile Dundee and Olivia Newton John. I don't think that those two people have influenced our decision as much as some would think.

But, more on our motivation in another post – on to the travelogue.

Flying to Perth

I had a job interview in Perth on Monday morning. The goal was to fly down on a Friday afternoon and land on Sunday at 2:00pm. I would have overnight to recover and then go to my job interview.

Minneapolis (MSP)

The flight down was uneventful. The usual rigamarole about being Shoeless Joe going through security and the like was no problem. Due to the short stay and the number of flights I was taking (eight flights) I had only carry-on luggage so I did not have to worry about checking and then collecting anything.

My flight left Minneapolis at about 3:50pm on Friday. My son, Josef dropped me off at the airport. It was an emotional goodbye for me, as he would leave for Air Force Boot Camp while I was in Australia and we parted not knowing when we would see each other again. The longest I have been away from him his entire life was the three weeks I was in Germany on Business. I cried while wheeling my bags away from the drop zone and into the airport.

I took American Airlines from MSP to Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW). I had trouble checking in and had to use the counter. The nice lady who helped me was seven months pregnant and we chatted for a short time about kids and naming children. When I walked away from the counter, I noticed that she had upgraded me to an exit row. See – it pays to be nice to people.

I like exit rows.

MSP to Dallas / Fort Worth (DFW)

The flight was uneventful except that I sat next to John Daly, who is the Director of Engineering for a Texas-based company that is doing some work replacing Real Time Units for power systems in the Brainard, MN area. We talked about our work and what we were traveling for. He asked me to shoot him an e-mail to let him know how my trip was and, if I didn't get the job, maybe he had some work up in the Great North Woods for me. A former Marine pilot and current civilian aviator, we had a lot to talk about.

Dallas / Fort Worth

John gave me some time-killing advice for the Dallas/Ft. Worth (DFW) airport: Hop on the sky train that goes around the entire airport and see the sights. I did that though it was getting dark and I didn't see very much. The airport is large and clean. There were a large number of military personnel – more than I ever see at the Minneapolis (MSP) airport.

I really wanted some Mexican food, but there was nothing for sale in my terminal, so I settled for TGI Friday's. Meh.


The second leg of my trip was to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). I sat next to a charming young lady by the name of Lisa Biggs. Lisa is a voice over actress who has worked on a number of projects. She was flying out to LA for auditions, meetings and a workshop. Like me, she had to pay her own way. We talked the whole flight (so much for getting work done on the airplane). She talked of her fiance and their wedding plans and her aspirations as a voice actor. We got to the topic of faith and she is a strong Christian. Her fiance and her had to negotiate a church that they were both comfortable in and settled on Anglican. I told her that I would pray for her to have a successful trip (and I did on Sunday, from the Cathedral of Perth).


It was a dark and stormy night... when I landed at LAX. Crash Bandicoot managed to only bounce the plane once while landing, but I was still nervous with all of the adjustments being made.

I had just barely enough time to go from my landing gate to my departure gate. Gate 42 at LAX (the Qantas gate for your weary travellers) is NOT located between 41 and 43... no, no, no. It is located across from Gate 45. And it's not a gate. It's a door. You go through the door, down some stairs and THERE you have a ticket agent.

Because of the nature of the booking, I could not pre-print a boarding pass and had to wait for one. Apparently along with a ton of other people.

I found out later that there was an earlier flight to Sydney that had to turn back after a woman had a panic attack shortly after take off. The plane returned to LAX and I was sharing that flight with others. There were only 10 seats left on the plane and there were six of us waiting for boarding passes.

Once I received the boarding pass I boarded a bus and took a ten minute ride through the back-lot of the airport. Crazy driving around construction sites through the rain. I stood next to a nice lady on the bus and we chatted nicely about the weather and the long flight ahead.

The bus let us off in what looked like a warehouse. We went up the long ramp to the top of the warehouse and "boom" we were in a real airport again. This looked to be an international arrivals concourse on the edge of the airport. The large white Qantas 747 was illuminated and was kind of inspiring to see.

But... there was nobody at my gate. Another gentleman by the name of Geoff Begg was looking for the gate as well. There was a large number of people gathered around another gate and we walked down there. Geoff is a Control Systems Engineer – kind of does the same thing that I do, but not for power systems. My flight number had changed to take the number of the previously diverted flight and the gate had changed as well. All's well.

A note here on the professionalism of the Qantas personnel. It was panicky at the ticket counter and gate, with a large number of crabby and displaced individuals worrying about if they would get a seat. The Qantas folks were consistently cheery and cool and handled crabby and worried customers with grace. I was very impressed.

More to come...

01 March, 2011

He got the Job!!

Big news here at the Riecken's; Michael was offered the job!

We are all terribly excited and terrified at the same time. It's an interesting combination of emotions. It's a little like finding out for the first time that you are going to be a mom or dad. You're really happy and excited, but a moment later you are completely overwhelmed by what lies before you. I think that must be why God gave us 9 months of preparation. We have not given ourselves that much prep time.