27 July, 2011

Licensed to Drive

It has been a red-letter day at sunny Casa Del Riecken.  Both of the adults are now officially licensed drivers in Australia!

Our "real" licenses are not in our possession... yet, but we do have the temporary paper versions.

If you are considering moving to Australia from the United States, here is what was involved for us.

There is no test required.  You simply show up, pay your fee and they send you your license in the mail. You will need TWO forms of identification though.  Erika used her passport and a utility bill.  I used my passport and a copy of our signed lease.  You can see the required documents in this PDF.

There is no written test.  There is no behind-the-wheel test.

Once all of the paperwork has been filled out and your picture has been taken, it takes three to five days to get your license in the mail.  That is not a typo.  Three to five DAYS.  Wow - that is super efficient.  I am used to waiting weeks.

Erika was able to walk in, pay and be done.   I was a special case.  Because I am diabetic (Type II), I had to get a (very very brief) medical exam before getting my license.  I make an appointment with Central City Medical Center and was able to get in the same day that I called.  The ten minute physical cost me AU$75 (AU$65 for the exam and a AU$10 new patient fee).  The doctor asked me about my condition, took my blood pressure, did a simple eye exam and listened to my heart and lungs.  I gave him the forms and he faxed, then mailed, them to the drivers license center.  That was on a Thursday.  On Tuesday I was able to return to the center (centre) to finish the process.  (Again, very fast.)

The doctor approved a two-year license for me.


Your fees vary based on how long you want your license to be valid.  Erika is a healthy person and she had the option of one or five years.  She took the "I'm committed to living here" approach and put down AU$116.00.  If she had opted for one year only it would have cost AU$37.00.

I could only get a two-year license, so my fee was $48.40.  I am not sure what the fee amounts are for three and four years, as they are not published.

That's all there is to it.  If you come from some other countries, there is more involved.  My Scottish friend, because of the licensing rules, had to sit for the written test and has a heavy vehicle license - because his Scottish license allowed him to drive heavier vehicles (his wife has the same license) - though they didn't have to have any special training for that.  He tells me that they have since "fixed" the system.

If you are from Burma or Bangladesh you need to sit for a theory test.  Some countries require a note from the consulate indicating that you are licensed to drive in your home country.  If your documents are not in English you may require an official translation.

The Australian Department of Transport:

We would call this the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) in Minnesota.  The waiting room here has the same queue system that the Hennepin County License Bureau has in Minnetonka.  You get a ticket and then wait.  The ticket in Oz is distributed by a machine, where in Minnetonka you ask a person for the ticket.  You then wait while tickets are called.  Different services go to different counters.  You wait until your number is called and then go up to the numbered counter.  Very efficient.

But... don't go over lunch.  The ADT is only open banker's hours and, of course, everybody goes down on their lunch break.  I waited for an hour over lunch and only a few minutes when I went in the early afternoon.

See this PDF  and this page for additional information.

19 July, 2011

Thrifty digs at the Ops shop

Thrift shopping is nothing new to me. With one income and a gaggle of kids, I often shop thrift stores for clothing and other items. In the midst of our packing we were able to make a very large donation of our stuff for charity. Thankfully Australia has such shops. They are not known as thrift stores or Goodwill here but rather "Ops Shops". I think that's short for opportunity. I'm not sure about whose opportunity it refers though. Mine perhaps in getting a bargain or someone else who benefits from the proceeds. I like the new name (new to me that is). Opportunity Shop is very positive sounding. There are lots of opportunities. The opportunity to get a bargain, to recycle, to help someone in need. It's much better than second hand or thrift store.

The items we saw were typical of what one would find in Minnesota, clothing sorted by color and season, kitchen wares, toys and books. Prices did differ though. There was a half price rack with items for $2. But most clothing was $6 or $7 dollars and not the $2 or $3 I was hoping for. Still, I went away with a renewed sense of hope that we can make a go of it here in Australia. I took comfort in the fact that yes there are thrift stores and Target is just around the corner.

14 July, 2011

Aussie English 001

Seen in an advertisement at the Joondalup train station:

Ticket price includes one free drink and "nibblies".

Do you think that they mean appetizers? Appetizers on menus here are called "entrée" and what folk in the USA would call an entrée is called a "main".

Viva la differance.

Location:Collier Pass,Joondalup,Australia

Caversham Wildlife Park

Last Saturday, on the advice of a friendly co-worker, we took the family to the Caversham Wildlife Park in the countryside to the East of Perth.

The park is somewhat like a zoo, in that there are many animals in cages.  But more interesting is that many of the animals are not in cages.  This gives the animals an opportunity to interact with the humans... and gives the humans a chance to interact with the critters.

The Entrance to Witeman Park, where the Caversham Wildlife Park is found.
Critter Alert!  Let's see.. Kangaroos, Cows, and... ?! What is that?

At The Park Entrance
It costs $101 for the whole crew to go in.  It was worth every cent.
In the large kangaroo encounter area (that's not what they call it)

The 'roos are fat and lazy.  Why be anything else when hundreds of children bring you hands full of food.

Brave James is the first to approach an upright 'roo.

Zoey feeds a 'roo.  It is taller than her.  James is there for emotional support.

Oliver has the 'roos eating out of the palm of his hand.

Isaac commented that the 'roos fur is very soft.  It is - it is like cat fur.

A 'roo on the go.

Hannah has a new buddy.

Zoey, of course, found the smallest kangaroo in the park (that wasn't in a pouch) and had to snuggle it.

Madeline and a mob of kangaroos.

Emu.  Emo emu.  Freaky bird.  The fence next to it is just over waist high on a 2m tall adult.

Zoey grew brave enough to wander off on her own to commune with the wildlife.

Here's the kids and a ... Quokka.  I have no idea what a Quokka is... but there is one in the background.

The park is divided into sections based on parts of Australia.  And there is a large farm (domestic animal) section as well.  Here we walk from SE Australia's section to the farm.

In the farm section they had a bunny pen.  It is only open to kids five and under.  Oliver sat down and the bunnies started to mob him.  It didn't hurt that he had food for them.

City boy successfully milks a cow.  Shortly thereafter the cow urinated on the farmer.  What do you think the kids will remember?

Matilda the Carpet Python.  Picture by Hannah.

Rieckens + Wombat + Park Lady = Christmas Picture?

Some minions with a Barking Owl.

Zoey FINALLY found a DINGO!  She loves dingos.

Erika is pinching a koala's butt.
No... really... she is just stroking with the back of her hand.

All of the Rieckens and a sleeping marsupial.

13 July, 2011

no Middle School in Australia

When I was growing up we had three schools.

Elementary School - Grades k-6
Junior High School - Grades 7-9
Senior High School - Grades 10-12

Then it all changed. We got rid of Junior High School and had middle school instead. Then it looked like this:

Elementary School - Grades k-5
Middle School - Grades 6-8
High School - Grades 9-12

In Australia they only have two schools: Primary and High Scools. The High Schools sometimes are called a collage.

Primary School - Grades k-7
High School -Grades 8-12

UNLESS it is a Catholic School, which are wildly popular here, in which case it is

Primary School - Grades k-6
High School - Grades 7-12

I'm not sure what I can do with this information, but maybe you will find it useful.

09 July, 2011

The Cost of Electricity

Synergy is the electricity retailer for Perth and the surrounding area.

According to their web site, we will be paying $0.2187 per Kilowatt Hour for electricity.

For our little portable heaters then, which burn at 2000 Watts (2kW)- this means that it will cost us...

2kW x 1 Hour x 0.2187/kwH x 3 heaters = $1.31 to run our heaters for one hour. If we run them for eight hours at night, this comes to $10.50 per night. For a month of this, it will put us out $314.93 if the month has 30 nights.

Our current plan is to run all three heaters in the large common room with the rest of the house sealed off during the day, but only run them for an hour or so at a time. At night, we will put the heaters in the bedrooms on timers and run them from an hour before bedtime to an hour after lights out, then an hour before wake-up time until just after wake-up time (approximately 7:30-8:30).

Erika also spoke with the previous occupants of the house and they were kind enough to tell us their average electric bill. They told us that they were spending $125 every month. This means that they weren't running the heat on electric like us.

07 July, 2011

When life brings you lemons dress them up and play a game

Today the kids and I were invited to lunch at a friend's house. Christine, is a member of St. Simon Peter Parish and kindly welcomed us with open arms. What a treat to be in an actual home with regular home furnishings. We lunched on hamburgers, cookies, chocolate cake, coffee, tea and milk. Fun was had by all, but the crowning touch for the children was picking lemons from her lemon tree. Lemons are in season here now and they are beautiful! Some are the size of large oranges stateside. Everyone got to pick one and bring it home. They were so excited! They immediately gave names to their lemons and starting being absolutely silly. When we pulled up at our house I found myself saying, "If your lemon is now your new best friend, why don't you take him around back and show him the pool?" The lemons enjoyed a tour and a nap on the air mattress with a doll blankie. Oliver's quickly sported a sock hat and I couldn't help but wonder why I packed ANY toys at all in the shipping container when children can entertain themselves with boxes and fruit. I hope the children won't be too upset when their new friends become lemonade or lemon tart tomorrow.

06 July, 2011

We are the Rieckens and would like to apologize in advance

I am slowly meeting people. I've become accustomed to speaking to strangers in fact. While at the grocery store I often ask the poor person who happens to be in ear shot something inane like, "Excuse me, is this sour cream actually sour cream like you would put on a baked potato?" I've never bought sour cream in what looks like a small carton for whipping cream before. Turns out, just like the kind woman at the store with the lovely accent said, "It's beautiful!" The creamiest (I know this can't be good for me) sour cream.

Today I met our neighbor to the east, under a more distressing situation. "Hello, I'm Erika Riecken your new neighbor. I'm so sorry, but my daughter Zoey has just bitten your son. There luckily isn't any blood. I'm not sure why she did it, but I wanted you to know that we do not accept this kind of behavior and she has made an apology and been punished." Belinda was very congenial and we chatted for some time on the front step. I probably should have apologized too for my children teaching her children how to play "toilet tag." Aussies play tag but not TOILET TAG. That was something new. I'm so proud.

"Sing to the Mountains. Sing to the Sea!"

A five minute drive west from our house lands us here, the Indian Ocean. This was our first official outing with just "Mum." I've become familiar enough with driving on the left side and with our roads/surroundings to venture out this afternoon. AND, the weather was cooperating. I sat by the pool with my lunch today and my pastey white Minnesota cheeks got some color. In reality, it is still only 60 something but lovely in the sunshine.
We had intended to also go to the Joondalup library but Oliver's wet pants lead us to stop home first. He was mortified to sit in his undies for the ride home. Upon arrival at home, we found neighbor kids wanting to play so the library trip was postponed.

02 July, 2011

House Music... and Zombies

I am still adjusting to the sounds that out house makes in the small hours of the night.

It is raining tonight (it currently being 6:00am and still dark out due to the Winter sun, I can still call it night).  And there is a drain pipe that goes down the side of our house in the patio area.  So you can imagine that when it rains there might be some noise that comes from this drain pipe...

Our house has almost no furniture yet.  The shipping container won't come for 6-10 weeks.  So there is a terrible echo throughout the house.

(You can see where this is going?)

When the rain slows down, this drain pipe makes a gurgling noise... much like a zombie outside of your door wanting to come inside and eat your brains....

Which echos through the entire house...

and apparently, in the case of an Australian zomb-pocolipse, I will be the only one awake for it.

Now that I know the source of the brain eating freak's gurgling call, I can go back to bed... but not yet back to sleep.  So instead of finding another hour of sleep, I blog.  My irrational fear of drain spout noises will hopefully translate into some minutes of reading pleasure for you.

Also, I can hear the toilet tank running (it doesn't seal properly and perpetually fills) from across the house. This however, has a financial, and not a survival, aspect to it.

Trying to return to sleep now.  Good night zombies.... wherever you are.

01 July, 2011

My Homeland's Birthday Party, Celebrated Abroad

Though we are half a world away (I guess a full world away would be right back where we started), we still celebrate America's birthday.  We will be joining the American Women's Club of Western Australia for their annual party.

Money changers

My mother always claimed that I could get into line at the bank and know everyone in line's life story before I got to the teller. Today that personality trait made me $140 and a bottle of Margaret River (Australian) wine.

I was "in line" at the bank getting some money out to put a down payment on a new van. The line at my bank involves checking in at a computer. The computer spits out a number and then they call the number. This way you get queued up for the teller that can best help you.

While I waited for my number to be called, I noticed a lady who looked to be lost. I asked if I could help. She was looking for the money changing counter. There is a sign outside of the bank that advertises the exchange rates and she was looking for where to change her money. As we were looking thorough the options on the computer screen a bank employee helped direct her to the dedicated money changing counter. Problem solved.

Then my number got called and I was at the window next to the lady. I overheard her complain about the rate that the bank offered her on AMERICAN DOLLARS. It turn out that they charge a commission and a changing fee on top of the advertised rate.

"Ma'am," I said. "I have American dollars that I can trade for you at the market rate." We sat down in the bank lobby and exchanged information.  I called Erika to find out how much American currency we had and called the lady on her cell to see if that would suit her needs.

She drove up to our house at dinner time and we made an exchange of AU$1,400 for US$1,500 (which is the going market rate within a dollar). She drove all the way up to us AND brought us a bottle of wine as a "welcome to Australia" present.

She saved about $140 in exchange fees and so did I. The bank lost out on $280 total.

As for her life story, she is going to visit her daughter in New York City next week and is a mortgage broker. We will call her in a year when our lease is up, perhaps.

You are never alone if you are not afraid to talk to strangers. And you are never without friends if you are not afraid to be kind to strangers.

And the wine was good. :)

For you bible thumpers out there: Link

License to Drive

I spent some quality time at the licensing bureau of Western Australia today. I found that the licensing bureau here is the same as it is anywhere. Yu dimly queue up and pay money. I could have been in Minneapolis or Timbuktu.

I was in the office to transfer the title to my new car (new to me, it is old, old, old in calendar years) and to register it for another six months.

While there I inquired into getting an Australian driver's license and this is what I found.

American drivers licenses are valid here for a period of ninety days. If you are going to stay longer, they prefer, but do not require, that you get your license before the ninety day period. There is no test for adults. Yu dimly fill out a form (know your height in centimeters) and pay a small fee of $36.20.

For people on medications (like me, I am a diabetic) you will be required to get a little note from your doctor that says that your pills aren't going to cause you to drive off the road. So, a new adventure begins as I have never visited a doctor in another country before.

More to follow on this, I am sure.

Location:Transport Clarkston Line, Perth, WA Australia