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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale...

I think I've noted the Oz school schedule before. There are 4 terms, each being 9-10 weeks long. Between terms, students get 2-3 weeks break. Summer break is 6-7 weeks. Remember, summer break is mid-December until end of January.

So with the kids first school break, we decided on a 13-day Royal Caribbean cruise out of Sydney. My dad joined us all the way from Detroit, MI, USA! Living in a port city has huge benefits! The itinerary had several stops in Fiji and New Caledonia; plus Mystery Island in Vanuatu.

I don't really know how to describe being on a 13-day cruise. It was lovely not to have to cook or clean for almost 2 weeks! But we were very tired of the food and activities by day 10.

Our favorite stop was Isle of Pines, an island in the archipelago of New Caledonia (an overseas French territory). I'm not a beach lover. In fact, I'm a beach hater. I loved this beach. The sand was soft and luxurious. It was amazing and relaxing and loads of fun. I even offered to let the boys bury me in the sand!

We also stopped at Noumea, New Caledonia; Inyeug, Vanuatu; Lautoka, Fiji; Suva, Fiji; and Mare, New Caledonia.

In Noumea we walked around a bit but there wasn't much to see right near the port. The port itself is an "active" port, meaning it is in frequent use for shipping goods. We had to be bussed from the ship to just out of the port.

Bus out of the port in Noumea

View from ship in Noumea

Noumea is the capital of New Caledonia. Right near the bus drop felt incredibly touristy, and by this point Passover had started so eating off the ship was very challenging. We walked around a bit but didn't do much else.

Inyeug is commonly referred to as Mystery Island. As someone in PR can tell you, this is all BS. This tiny islet off the southern tip of the Vanuatu archipelago is totally uninhabited. The human population of this lovely place is 0. Zero. Nada. Zip. Zilch. The natives that service the island live on a different island -- they won't sleep here. History says in the 1850s Australian blackbirders (kidnappers who would enslave islanders and drag them back to Queensland to work on the burgeoning sugar cane farms) used the island as a hiding spot and safe haven from authorities. The local islanders, then superstitious cannibals, feared Inyeug was inhabited after dark by ghosts. So after dark, the blackbirders could roam free here.

Inyeug / Mystery Island is supposed to be an amazing snorkel and dive spot. We had miserable weather; we played on the beach for a bit, then got back on the boat. Sad.

I picked up this neat shell and realized it was someone's home!
Digging to...China?

Lautoka is the second largest city in Fiji. It is in the heart of Fiji's sugar cane crops. Lautoka was a mostly wonderful day (more on that in the next post). We took a taxi to a lovely resort and spent the day swimming and lounging. We skipped seeing the town as it was Easter Sunday and most everything was closed.

Passover lunch at the pool -- icy poles (popsicles) and crisps (chips)

Next stop was Suva, the capital city of Fiji. It's a shame we were here on Easter Monday (public holiday in Fiji, Australia and many other South Pacific countries) as I would've liked to explore a bit more. The boys skipped this port (again, you'll learn more about that in our next post) and hung out on the ship in the kids club. We shopped a bit but most stores were closed for Easter Monday.

Our final stop was Mare. I didn't think I'd be able to cajole them off the boat, but at the last minute they both joined me. We took a bus to a beach and played in the water and sand all day. The sand wasn't nearly as magical as Isle of Pines, but I toughed it out 👧

The boys burying each other at the beach near Mare

Proof that Grumpa visited a beach (he likes beaches less than I do).
All in all, it was a nice trip. Thirteen days was a bit long, but its hard to complain about that. Our special order Passover food never materialized but the crew did a phenomenal job catering to us. Here's M eating a ship-made matzo pizza!

Explorer of the Seas matzo pizza!
Lunch at Johnny Rocket's on the ship. Root beer floats!
Romping around the ship 

Early birthday celebration!
Arriving back to Sydney on day 13 was spectacular! I hope this view never gets old or mundane.

It was great to have no internet for almost two weeks, though returning to the grid following that was a bit painful.

As you've probably gathered from this post, M had a defining event in Lautoka, Fiji, that he wants to blog about. Until next time...!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The magic suitcase!

As you probably know, my dad came to visit us! It was a surprise to the kiddos. They were excited to see him, but only briefly. I had made homemade pancakes for breakfast the morning he arrived and they wanted to return to their delicious food.

My dad brought a suitcase of stuff just for us. You can get most anything in Australia -- but at a steep price. This is an island nation. There's no Mexico or Canada from which to procure produce if the crop is poor in Oz. There are a few shops throughout the country that cater to Americans (which remember is the size of the US lower 48). Mostly, though American goodies are pricey.

A few weeks prior to Grumpa's visit, I began loading up our online shopping cart and shipping boxes to him. About a week prior to his departure he noted the suitcase still had some space. Big mistake :-)

So, here are some of the items that were so valuable to us:

  • The Sunday New York Times. This probably doesn't require an explanation, but you cannot get a print copy of the Times in Sydney. I really enjoy the Sunday edition. It takes me back to my pre-parenthood life. The New York Times recently opened a full bureau in Sydney; they report some interesting things and put out a weekly newsletter. But no print copy. No printed magazine. I savored that paper for 2 weeks and paced myself. It was glorious.
  • VPN-enabled router. We have a lot of streaming content available to us when we're in the US. When you're out of the US but still have that content available, it's not easy to access. Your device tells the request device where you are geographically. A lot of content gets blocked when you're outside your "home" country. We could stream American content on a laptop with a VPN (a sort of location scrambler) but that was very unsatisfying and inconvenient. The router is VPN-enabled. It has its own wifi name and password and it tells servers we live in the US. It took a long time to get situated but it's so nice to have. Very happy with this purchase. Thank you again M.O. for the help!
  • Girl Scout Cookies. We're rationing these.

  • Cheerios. The struggle is real. This was a last minute addition. E was so thrilled they had arrived!

  • Toiletries. All these can be found in Oz. At a hefty price. I found a comparable deodorant to what I like and it was $25AUD.
  • Zipper sheets. M requested bunk beds when we were furniture shopping. Having never tried to change sheets on the top bunk, I didn't know how challenging this would be. The zipper sheets will make life way easier. Props to Aaron for this suggestion!
  • Goodies for us + the kids. Nani and Bubbie Erma put presents and cards in for the kids, us and me. So thoughtful! I'm saving mine until my birthday.
This is not a full list of what was in the suitcase but it is some highlights. Nothing spectacular, as you can see.

There was a long delay in posting while we were on a 13-day cruise. More about that shortly!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Oh, crap!

I started writing this blog post several days ago and it mysteriously vanished. Oh, crap! Fitting since this post is about the Coriolos effect and the impact (or lack of) on Australian toilets.

Australia is in the southern hemisphere. The United States is in the northern hemisphere. This means there are many opposites.

Winter in the northern hemisphere is from mid-December until mid-March; that's summertime in the southern hemisphere with winter happening mid-June until mid-September. In the northern hemisphere you go south for warmer weather; in the southern hemisphere you go north. We're still comprehending all of this.

Image credit: quora / Peshawa B Salih

The other interesting thing about being in the opposite hemisphere from what you're used to is that some things can be impacted by the Coriolos effect. I'm not a physicist but from what I can tell the Coriolos effect is how a moving object veers right in the northern hemisphere and left in the southern.

Image credit: NOAA

When we announced we were moving to Australia, one of the comments people often made was about how the toilet flush would swirl the opposite direction. As if this should be a major concern of ours. I assure, this has not concerned us. And I can tell you, if there is a directional change in flush I have not noticed it.

Joseph Castro from LiveScience had this to say a few years ago: The influence of the Coriolis force on spin direction is real, but it is generally only observable on very large scales, such as trade winds and hurricanes.

The affect the Coriolis force has on a toilet bowl is much too small to actually see in a flushing toilet but that doesn't mean that it doesn't exist.

One of the beautiful things about toilets here is that I've yet to come across one that doesn't offer a low flow option. This allows the user to decide whether the deposit requires just a little water or a lot of water. Such an easy place to conserve. Good on ya, Australia!

So there you have it, America -- the water flushing down the toilet might spin differently but its on such a small scale you can't actually see it.

You know what's not on a small scale? My excitement for our first houseguest! Squeal! My dad is en route from Los Angeles. He'll be surprising the boys and joining us on a 13-day cruise to Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. Yeehaw! I'll try to post one more blog before we head off but no promises. 😘

Friday, March 31, 2017

Zed's NOT dead, baby!

We recently wrote about some American things we miss. We're also really enjoying many Australian treasures of life.

We really like saying the ABCs. H becomes haych. Z becomes zed. So follow along: A-B-C-D-E-F-G-Haych-I-J-K-L-M-N-O-P-Q-R-S-T-U-V-W-X-Y and ZED. Love listening to the boys try it out!

Our car has a petrol saving feature. When you're stopped in traffic, if you push the brake pedal in ever so slightly the car will shut itself off to save fuel. When you're ready to go again, just lift your foot off the brake, the engine is back on and off you go. It's a little depressing to see how many hours we've spent sitting in traffic over the last month or so, but it's really awesome to see how much petrol we've saved. I don't think this feature is unique to just Subaru here. I've heard many engines shutdown like this at a stop in traffic. Get on the bandwagon, M'rica!

Our electrical outlets all have on / off switches. Whaaaat?!? This is so awesome. I'm so obsessed. When I'm not using the washer or dryer (almost never these days!) I keep them switched off. When I'm not charging an iPad / phone / computer, the cords can stay plugged in but the switch can be off. No vampire electricity draining! No overcharging electronics!

A huge (I mean HUGE) driving no-no here is blocking the box. Y'all! Aussies are so civilized about this. Americans would be inching up more and more to make the light, block the box, then pretend like they don't see all the pissed off cross-traffic drivers that are stuck because of them.

This is my view from the car at the intersection with a green light.

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign. We pass this one on the way to Micah's campus each morning. I really enjoy it. We've yet to see a possum since they're nocturnal but I just love that this is necessary here.

We are who we are -- Americans -- but we're really enjoying these little tidbits and additions to our lives. We're still learning the ins and outs of life here, like the swirl of the toilet. Americans seem fascinated by this. We'll explore that next. Cheers, mate!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Aaron's guest blog!

By Aaron 

When Julie said I was allowed to write a guest post, I felt honored, but also nervous. What should I write about? The overall experience of moving to a new city/country/continent/hemisphere? The challenge of settling into a new job? Driving on the wrong {editor's note OTHER} side of the road? While all good topics, I figured it’d be best to start w/ my area of greatest expertise, sports (aka “sport” here in Australia).

Moving to Australia has meant a big adjustment when it comes to sports. For one, trying to follow the big US sports is challenging due to the time change and lack of coverage here. For example, the Super Bowl started on Monday morning and while the bar across the street from my office had a decent turnout, outside of that most people didn’t know it was happening, let alone care about the results. I think Lady Gaga was more of a draw for Aussies than either of the teams playing.

Games that start in the evening back in the States at least give you a chance of watching live here, assuming they’re on TV (or you have access to a working slingbox back in the US). But early afternoon games in the US are nearly impossible to watch live since they’re happening in the middle of the night in Australia. I love the Wolverines, but I don’t know that I love them enough to wake up every Sunday morning around 3am to watch their football games.

You may think that moving here has been all bad news from a sporting perspective, but the upside has been getting to watch and try to understand a number of new sports. Here are my early observations on the new {editor's note: new to us} sports:

  • Aaron’s description: It’s a slower version of baseball (many people may ask: is that possible? Yes, yes it is) with a bowler (pitcher), batsman and a circular field. Some games can last for 5 days. How that is enjoyable for anyone involved is a mystery.
  • Pros: It’s the perfect sport to have on TV in the background because no single activity seems to matter all that much. Also, I like the circular field and the idea that hitting the ball backward (really, deflecting it backward) is a good strategy. 
  • Cons: Did I mention that it’s slower than baseball?
  • Fun Fact #1: If a bowler is able to hit the wickets behind the batsman it’s kind of like a strikeout, but a bigger deal. When this happens and you’re watching on TV, it looks like a strobe light goes off signifying that the wickets were hit. Only recently did I learn that this is only visible on TV and not an actual light that goes off (read this for more). 
  • Fun Fact #2: If the batsman hits the ball over the rope that goes around the field, it’s a six or sixer. If you tell someone who knows cricket that you saw a “six-pointer” they will laugh at you (hypothetically, of course).
Image credit: Cricket ACT

Rugby (note: there are multiple forms of rugby; I have no idea which form I’ve seen so far):
  • Aaron’s description: Kill the carrier for adults. Or American football without the forward pass {editor's note: and sans-helmets, pads or any other protective gear!}. This is a violent sport. People have tried to tell me that American football is worse because the equipment (helmet, pads, etc.) makes people less worried about bad tackles. While there may be some truth to it, rugby doesn’t look any safer. People just ram into each other at full speed with no pads. Ouch.
  • Pros: As someone here said, it’s a “true” 80 minutes of action, so games are pretty quick and the action keeps moving.
  • Cons: A lot of the action involves someone running into the other team for a 3 yard gain. Not so exciting.
  • Fun Fact #1: You literally have to touch the ball down to the ground in the “end zone” in order to score. I’m guessing that this is where the term “touchdown” comes from.
  • Fun Fact #2: Where you touch the ball down matters in terms of where you kick the “extra point” from. The closer to the middle of the end zone, the easier the kick.

Image credit:

Australian Football League
  • Aaron’s description: I’ve watched half a game and still have no idea how this sport works. I think it’s some kind of mix of American football and rugby, but honestly, I’m not sure how this works.
  • Pros: I have no idea how this sport works.
  • Cons: I have no idea how this sport works.
  • Fun Fact #1: Anyone who used to watch ESPN in the middle of night may remember seeing Aussie football and the refs making gun shapes with their hands after someone scores. I learned that teenagers here like to run behind the refs after someone scores to yell out “how big’s your dick?” in advance of the refs putting their hands out in what could be construed as an awkward measurement of the size of their manhood. Aussies know how to have fun.
Image credit: SportsTG

This all goes back to what Julie's been writing about -- trying new things, opening our minds to other perspectives and experiencing a new culture. She recently wrote about the things we miss from the US; next she'll write about things we really like in Sydney that should be tried or tested in the US. Cheers, Mate!

Monday, March 20, 2017

These are a few of our favorite things...

...raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens; bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens...

Just kidding. The previous post where readers submitted questions for the kids was great (now that it's done). It also makes us miss the US a lot. I think we've hit that point in our move where we've settled in and reality has hit. HOLY SMOKES! We live in AUSTRALIA! Whoa.

We miss our friends and family terribly. It's bizarre not planning a trip to Michigan for Passover (but we'll make do with 13 days in New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Fiji!). We're not thinking about summer plans, because summer has just finished and autumn is upon us. A little taste of "home" can keep us going strong.

The boys miss American foods like Cheerios, Cheez-Itz and Olive Garden (if you've been a longtime reader, you'll notice OG has come up before!). There are Australian Cheerios but they were quickly rejected by the crew. I found American Cheerios at a specialty store. They were $10AUS / box. That's about $7.50USD. Did you read that correctly? $7.50 for a box of Cheerios. If a Cheerio falls on the floor, I declare a loss of $0.50. A little exaggeration, but not by much.

You know what happens in late February / early March in the US? Girl Scouts emerge hawking their amazing cookies. You know what happens in Australia then? Nothing of note. Nothing. It's not cookie time.

We really miss brunch at Table Mesa, lunch at Hammontree's, pizza from The Rail and so much more. We've found some interesting places near us, but the kids palates haven't yet acclimated to ethnic foods. We do have kosher restaurants in the area, so that's a BIG bonus!

I ventured out a bit recently to Costco. There is *one* Costco in New South Wales. That would be like having only one Costco (or Sam's Club, for our Bentonville peeps) in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina combined. I found some wonderful American treasures, and seeing the Kirkland brand was very comforting. We haven't gotten desperate enough to order from USA Foods near Melbourne but it is an option.

We also miss US sports. We had originally planned to spend US spring break in FL at Tigers spring training, seeing family and celebrating Papi's big birthday. That's obviously not happening. We have been able to get the March Madness games on Foxtel. Granted they start at 1AM or so, but that's what DVR is for.

What we really, really, really miss is you. We're enjoying each day here but are looking forward to visitors (with suitcases stocked full of Cheerios and Cheez-Itz). In the meantime, stay tuned for Aaron's upcoming guest blog ;-)

Monday, March 13, 2017

Boyz in the (new) hood

It's been a little while since I've done any consulting work. I forgot what the challenges and blessings of collaboration are. Having the kids post a blog entry falls mostly into the "challenges" category, though it has been a blessing for them to speak more openly and answer questions from the readers (vs. me, Aaron or the grandparents).

So, without further ado...I present E and M's perspective on Australia. As a reminder, E is 8 and M is 5.

Q: What are the big differences between Arkansas and Sydney?
E: Sydney is a waaaaay bigger city.
M: It doesn't snow as often. And we're probably not ever gonna get snow in Sydney.

Image courtesy of WikiTravel
Fun facts:

Sydney is 4,775 square miles; population in 2012 was 4,293,000; the walk score at our Balmain house was 97.
Bentonville is 31.51 square miles; population in 2012 was 38,390; the walk score at our Bentonville house was a very respectable 69.

We live in the Inner West on the easternmost peninsula. Aaron works in Central Sydney near the westernmost peninsula (finger?). His commute is 4 bus stops. 

Q: Does life feel much different for a kid when you're traveling around the world?
E: Yes; you're in a different place, people speak different languages, um, you have to make new friends.
M: Uh, yes; uh huh. {Mommy asks: would you like add anything else to 'uh, yes; uh huh?'}
M: yes; I would like to add that.

As I've noted before, the kids have adjusted incredibly well to this change! They've made great friends already and are doing beautifully at school. They're taking a hip hop dance class, attending a weekly Judaics / Hebrew school program and E is playing basketball. They're learning to play handball, cricket and rugby. I'm still amazed at how easily they've acclimated to life here!

Q: What are the most common questions kids ask about America?
M: Kids ask about guns. They also ask about fire trucks. My friend Oscar asked me a few days ago if we have fire trucks in America. I told him "of course!"
E: Kids here want to know about guns in America and nothing else. 

Q: What's your favorite thing about Australia?
M: Making new friends.
E: Seeing koalas.

Image courtesy of Taronga Zoo, one of our favorite places in Sydney!

Fun facts:

Koalas are protected by law in Australia. It is illegal to hold them in certain states (including New South Wales, where we live).

Q: How do you like living in Australia?
M: Bad so far + eye roll. {This is news to me!}
E: Good. That feels like a Grumpa question. It's awesome.

Q: How about vegemite?
M: [Making a face] We didn't try it the right way. I'll try it again.
E: I tried it the right way in a vegemite sandwich. It's not that good. I didn't want to say anything terrible or bad so I don't hurt someone's feelings.

Q: What's it like being the "new kid" in class?
E: It's so cool to be the new kid! Cool as in really cold. Giggles.
M: Kind of weird and kind of awesome.

Q: Please share your experience riding the train or bus.
E: Good. Can I also write that I have to take an Opal bus to swimming? Not Mr Sam's bus...and we need *2* of them for 4 stage 2 classes!
M: Great! We have our own Opal (transit) cards! We get to tap on and tap off by ourselves. We also get free extra money on them when we've used all of it. One time the bus driver didn't see me tapping off at the back door and closed the door while I was still on and I tapped my opal card. Mommy was yelling and mad.

Image courtesy Transport NSW

Fun facts:

The public transit system here isn't called Opal, it's called Transport NSW; the card we use is called the Opal card. The transit system includes trains, buses, ferries, light rail and school buses. The kids' school has a small shuttle van (AKA Mr Sam's bus) but most of the time when the kids go on an excursion (field trip), they take a chartered Transport NSW bus.

Q: What's your favorite activity:
M: Wildlife Sydney and the aquarium
E: Going to the zoo and the aquarium.

So, that's the boys' perspective on life in Oz. It got us talking about the new foods, friends and experiences we've had since we arrived here. It also got us talking about some of the things we miss back in the US. Stay tuned so you can prepare your care packages! Just kidding...sort of!