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Saturday, October 21, 2017

...9 Months Later...

Nope, not a birth announcement. LOL. We landed in Sydney 9 months ago today on Sunday, 22 January. We were exhausted and excited. Prepared and naive. Unsure and confident.

I'm a pretty forward thinking gal, but I also like to look back and marvel at how far my family has come (both literally and figuratively) during this amazing chapter of our lives.

We landed in Sydney with 12 suitcases, four rucksacks, two car seats, a laptop bag and two carry-ons. And each other. We've set-up a life here and made damn fine friends.

One of my favorite pics. Most of our stuff lined up just before leaving Arkansas.


Thanks to GPS we get around just fine, either by public transit (mostly Aaron) or car (mostly me and the kids). We grocery shop, go to swimming lessons, play on team sports and just live life. We've found medical care, a dentist, a dry cleaner (she could / should be her own blog post! Ha!) and just do life. And Aaron works, of course. 

I speak to my grandma (really, Aaron's grandma but that's just semantics as I've always felt like her granddaughter) a few times each week. Every so often, she gushes to me about how proud she is of Aaron, the boys, me and us as a family. I always thank her sincerely for her kind and supportive words. And you know what? I'm damn proud of us, too! We moved to the other side of the world and have made a life! That takes some guts.

E took this pic from the backseat one day while driving over the Anzac Bridge.


The perennial questions of our lives seem to be "how long will you be here" and "where to next?" I don't have answers to either of those. We made an 18-month commitment, which puts us mid-way through our Sydney chapter. There may be an epilogue. There may not. I don't try to predict the future. I do try to live in the moment and enjoy each day I am on this earth. Wherever we are together is home. 💖

Thursday, October 19, 2017

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

When we arrived to Australia in January, the boys and I toured the city until school started. One of our first activities was an awesome Junior Adventure Day at the Opera House. I remember vaguely a lovely spiel welcoming us to the land. I honestly didn't pay much attention to it.

As the weeks flew along and I attended more functions and tours, I realized that lovely spiel from the Opera House is an incredibly beautiful and respectful display called Welcome to and Acknowledgement of Country (two separate but complementary recognitions).

Welcome to Country is public recognition that the land we are on -- the land where the festival or event or museum tour or school fete is taking place -- once belonged to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.

Protocol for welcoming a foreigner to new land has been part of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture for thousands of years. Once a visitor was granted permission to enter a foreign land its residents would formally welcome said visitor, offering them safe passage and protection during their journey.

Imagine if on your next US road trip across state boundaries the residents of a state you were crossing into formally welcomed you. The road signs welcoming us are nice, but this is a whole new ball game!

Thanks for the photo, Chris Hill / EquipmentWorld.com

The essential elements of welcoming visitors and offering safe passage remain in place here in Australia. A Welcome to Country occurs at the beginning of a formal event and can take many forms including singing, dancing, smoking ceremonies, or a speech in traditional language or English. I've only been privy to a speech. Welcome to Country is delivered by Traditional Owners or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who have been given permission from Traditional Owners, to welcome visitors to their Country. It is a great honour to be given this permission, and I feel it is a great honour to be part of recognizing the land's original owners. I tear up nearly every time.

Acknowledgement of Country is a bit different, but equally as important. Anyone can deliver an Acknowledgement of Country. It's an opportunity for everyone to show respect for the land's Traditional Owners and the continuing connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to Country.

Here's an example of an Acknowledgement of Country poster from Twinkl.com

But why all of these acknowledgements? (Really...? Really...? Sigh.) There is a long and sad history in Australia of excluding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders from history books, Australian heritage (flag, anthem, etc) and Australian democracy. Recognizing and including all who dwell on land -- past, present and future -- is a small but mighty reminder of the importance of treating every human with dignity and respect.

Here's a beautiful Welcome to and Acknowledgement of Country given by Deborah Lennis at the recent school fete I planned.



These recognitions are beautiful and important. Imagine what other nations might be like if we took just a few minutes out of an event or special occasion to recognize the land we're using, and pay gratitude and R-E-S-P-E-C-T to the indigenous people of the area.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Translation: biscuits at the cake stall

Some time ago, I wrote about language / phrase / name differences we've found in Australia.

As we've grown more comfortable and familiar with our surroundings, I thought it would be fun to give an updated list of some of these different phrases.

"How you going" is a very common greeting. I've only once been greeted by someone who said "g'day." At least among my friends and my daily routine, g'day isn't common.

Lollies are candy.

A cake stall is a bake sale.

The tuck shop is a canteen.

Your rucksack is your backpack.

A drink bottle is a water bottle.

Your mate is your friend / pal / buddy.

Biscuits are (often) cookies (but usually more like a shortbread vs. soft cookie).

Your lunch sack is your lunch bag.

The arvo is the afternoon.

Rego is registration.

A mozzie is a mosquito.

Tassie is Tasmania.

To whinge is to whine.

Cheese toasties are grilled cheese.

The chemist is the pharmacy / drug store.

Your bub is your baby. Your nan is your grandma. Your mum is your mom.

And Melbourne is not pronounced Mel-burn. It's Mel-bun.

I don't necessarily agree with all of these, but I thought it was fun!

That is today's public service announcement. Cheers, mate!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Treasure hunting at its finest!

Twice a year our council (local government, kind of like a county but a bit bigger I reckon) does bulk pick-up, called council collection. The first time I saw it in March I thought loads of neighbors had been tossed out and evicted. Despite my family's insistence that mass evictions couldn't be possible, I awaited confirmation from a school parent that this was a normal occurrence and one to be celebrated!

So the idea is that twice per year on a designated day in each neighborhood residents can toss out bulky items and the council will collect them and take them to a landfill. What's so amazing about council collection, though, is that sweet spot between when residents have dumped their goods on the footpath (kerb? curb?) and when the council has come around to collect them.

When we arrived home from the US college football game a few Sundays ago, the hunt was on!

The boys joined in and we had a blast!




There were heaps of junk, but also some great treasures. Junk pics (in our opinion) immediately below:





We have an amazing outdoor space that we haven't been using because we didn't want to invest in much past the basics during our short time in Sydney. With spring and summer approaching, I've been pining for some outdoor furniture -- checking Gumtree (like CraigsList), the local buy / sell / swap message boards, etc. So when I had a look around our neighborhood at all the goodies people tossed out, I was hopeful I could piece together a nice set-up for our expansive balcony.

Wow! Check out this cute table I found; the next morning on our way to school the boys spotted the chairs and they're perfect!

Found these two wicker chairs with footstools that tuck under + that adorable colorful "egg" chair that the boys love!

Found this well-loved but still very functional scooter that M adores!

Found a nice basket to store some sports balls in.

Perfectly good condition split rubbish bin; I was going to use it for our recyclables but the boys wanted it for organising sports equipment. 
All in all, we found great stuff that our neighbors were chucking. We saved it from landfills (yay!!), repurposed it for our needs (wants?) and will pass it along when the time comes.

I'm a huge fan of council collection! Imagine how much old stuff could be saved from landfills if other municipalities adopted this 💚.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Aussie politics

I've been halfheartedly trying to understand the Australian electorate and political system since we arrived in January but figured it was time to really get a handle on it. There's a local election taking place on 9 September so I wanted to understand the similarities and differences between Australian and US elections and political systems.

This is in no way an all-encompassing list:

1. The US is a republic. Australia is a constitutional monarchy. This means in the US the president is the head of state and head of government. The president is elected by the people. Australia's head of state is the British monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. QE2, if I may be so bold as to call Her Majesty, is represented in Australia by a Governor-General chosen by the Prime Minister.

Queen Elizabeth II, the head of state in Australia.
Photo courtesy of cnn.com

2. The Australian Prime Minister, currently Malcolm Turnbull, is chosen by the elected members of the political party that has won the majority of seats in the House of Representatives. So voters choose a governing party and that party chooses the prime minister. In the US we directly elect a president (except for that whole electoral college thing).

3. Voting in Australia is compulsory. Aussies can be fined for failing to vote. Reports vary, but participation of registered voters is often above 90%. Whoa!


Thank you for this nice graphic, José Santiago of the World Economic Forum

4. In Australia the Prime Minister can dissolve Parliament at any time and call for an early election. In the US elections are on set days for fixed terms.

There are several other distinct differences as well -- things like party allegiance (not as 'tight' in Australia as compared to the US); cabinet appointments (drawn from parliament in Australia).

In a country that seems at least as forward thinking as the US, I was surprised to learn that same-sex marriage is not legal in Australia. There have been many attempts to legalise (<-- do you like how I spelled that ala Aussie?) but none have passed.

There is an upcoming postal vote on marriage equality. This isn't a compulsory vote so its up to each registered voter to decide if they'd like to participate and then vote. If a majority of voters approve same-sex marriage, a bill would go to parliament for passage.

Since 2009 "de facto" relationships (domestic parternships) have been recognised by the Australian government.

Love is love, people. Its time to amend the Australian Marriage Act of 1961.

Thank you Kim / 28blogstreet.com

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Thailand: Did we achieve the unthinkable?

Until we moved to NW Arkansas, I didn't know I was an adventurer. I traveled the US quite a bit as a teen on organized camping trips. In college I went to Israel on a true whim and continued on to Europe for a few weeks with my bestie (all booked ~3 weeks prior to departure, rush passport and all!).

When we bought our house in Washington, DC, in June 2011 I joked that I wanted to be buried in the backyard. This was our forever house. Our dream house. And I hoped never to move again.

Love this house! I hope our renters do, too.

Joke was on me.

Something about moving to Arkansas struck a chord with me and brought out my adventurous side. Going off our expected path showed me how possible, good, and educational it was for us.

So with a long school holiday, some banked vacation time, "close" proximity to Asia from Sydney, and many English speakers, it seemed like Thailand would be a good place to vacation. Somehow I convinced Aaron. The kids were happy to oblige as they could tick another continent off their list and get new passport stamps. (For some it is about the destination in that moment, and that's okay. My hope is they look back and remember the journey.)

This kid loves the journey!


We chose Koh Samui, a large island in the Gulf of Thailand, for its promise of "luxury resorts and posh spas." And it being the rainy season in mainland Thailand from May to November, Koh Samui would be in the hot season during our July trip.

Thank you for the map, TeachingEnglishInThailand.net


Koh Samui did not disappoint! We stayed at a wonderful resort in our own villa at the southwest end of the island. We had our own infinity pool. Whaaaaat?!?



View from the master bedroom

Our days pretty much went like this: breakfast, relax, swim, lunch, swim, bath (in swimsuits), relax, dinner, sleep. We did go into town and explore a bit. And we did go jet skiing. Otherwise, see above. Eight days of that and we are refreshed!

Swimming!


Jet skiing!
Don't worry, E wore a life jacket!

View of our resort from the jet ski.


The Thai people are brimming with hospitality. The smiles, the greetings, the insistence of assistance.  The food. The coffee (yes!). The fruit.

Durian. We tried it several times. It did not suit us.

Surely durian cheesecake would be delicious. This also did not suit us.


Freshly cut pineapple snack at the market.

Golden watermelon!


I believe we may have achieved the unthinkable on this trip: we vacationed. When the kids are traveling with us, I usually say we are on a trip -- not a vacation. That is an important distinction. As Aaron explained it to the boys, a vacation is abdication of all responsibilities. Even with two kids in tow, we may have achieved the unthinkable. And the boys never once stepped foot in the kids club.


Virgin pina colada.

Delicious daily breakfast

Fire show!

Fish eating dead skin off feet. We did not try this.


Carousel in Central Festival. The boys really wanted to ride but were ultimately not amused.

Indian lunch.

Dairy Queen!!

Green tea flavor Dairy Queen.

E waiting for his blizzard.
This is not why the coffee was good on Koh Samui. I just found it fascinating how westernized the island was.

LOL


Sunset + beverages. Yes, please. 

Off to dinner at Hemingway's On The Beach.

Delicious fresh honey at breakfast!


Though 2/3 of our luggage didn't arrive with us, we had no major disasters and no one got locked in a bathroom stall. We had a wonderful time in Thailand and I'm so glad we had this adventure.

Mid-way through the trip I began researching where we might venture to in December. The negotiation is on, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Vivid!

For the past several months, Aussies had been mentioning a light festival and saying we had to check it out. "Oh! And don't miss the light festival. The boys will love it." So when we started realizing this was A Thing, we looked into it a bit more.

Vivid Sydney started in 2009 as a way to bring attention to energy efficiency. The first year projected light paintings onto both sides of the Opera House.

Vivid has grown steadily and has been a huge success for Sydney. This year there were 12 major installations around the city, including the Opera House, Darling Harbour, the Harbour Bridge and the Taronga Zoo. In addition to spectacular light displays (some of which are interactive), the 23-day festival sought to bring together music and ideas.

A boat lit up for Vivid

We were so fortunate to have an awesome friend visiting from NY who was excited to check it all out. We made a booking (translation: got tickets) for Fleet Foxes at the Opera House, hopped aboard a ferry and made our way to Circular Quay. Holy moly -- there were a ton of people! Sydney is a big city by Aussie standards (about 5 million people in the Sydney area) and Vivid expected to draw about 2.5 million people to the festival.

At 6PM each evening of the festival, as the sun had set (remember it's winter here now!),  the lights came on! A 15 minute continuously moving light show illuminated the sails of the Opera House. It was like a really cool screen saver morphing from image to image. Wow!

The artist, Ash Bolland, titled the work Audio Creatures and said it featured a cast of fantastical land and sea creatures.


Most of the city gets into Vivid. Below is a picture of the Harbour Bridge and some boats lit up. The energy is awesome!


Harbour Bridge

Later during the Vivid festival, after our trip to Uluru, we went with another family to the Taronga Zoo. The zoo creates enormous light displays from recycled materials highlighting animals it is working to conserve -- Port Jackson shark, marine turtle, bees and more. It was great fun and we really enjoyed the zoo.

The Taronga Zoo ferry decorated for Vivid

Light display at the entrance to the zoo.

Riding the zoo's sky tram for an aerial view with our friend!

Sumatran Tiger

Honey Bees

Port Jackson Shark and marine turtles.

E said, "Vivid was awesome. I liked seeing vivid." M said, "Nothing. I don't want to work on the blog, mommy." Sigh.

I've been slacking a bit on the blog. This might seem bad, but I think it's really good! I've passed the homesick stage and sometimes forget I live in Australia so far away from everything I knew before. We're just into life, and it feels really awesome! I was volun-told / coerced into co-chairing a huge event at the boys school and that has been taking up a lot of my (blog writing?) time. I'm co-chairs with one of my dear friends and I'm so thankful for that. It has also been a great way to meet new people and use my skills for something really great.

The boys are on school holiday for the next three weeks. They'll be doing some camps for the first two weeks, then we're jetting off to THAILAND! More then...