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Thursday, February 15, 2018


Auckland, on New Zealand's North island, is the country's most populous city. About 1.5 million residents live in the Auckland area. At just over 4.5 million residents in the country, that means about 1/3 of kiwi's live in one city.

According to Wikipedia, Auckland is the only city in the world built on a basaltic volcanic field that is still active.

We swam at Cheltenham beach, visited the Auckland Zoo and Bug Lab, went to the top of the Sky Tower and visited Hobbiton. We also relaxed. The kids were wiped out from a long (and wonderful!) school year + loads of activities.

M at Cheltenham

One of the highlights at the zoo was seeing the kiwi bird. Kiwi are flightless birds about the size of a chicken. They're related to the emu, ostrich and cassowary but are far smaller than any of those. They're nocturnal and tend to mate for life. Their population is declining and there are massive efforts across New Zealand to save the country's national symbol from extinction. 

The kiwi at the Auckland Zoo ran so fast I couldn't get a pic; luckily the
San Diego Zoo had this nice photo I could share with you :-) 


- Only half of kiwi eggs hatch
- About 90% of chicks that have hatched die within 6 months
- Fewer than 5% of chicks reach adulthood

If you live near Washington, DC; Boston, Massachusetts; San Diego, California; Toledo, Ohio, or a few other American cities, your zoo or wildlife park has kiwis for you to visit!

The Auckland Sky Tower was a great arvo (afternoon) activity on a clear day. At 328 metres, the Sky Tower is the tallest manmade structure in New Zealand. On a clear day, you can see about 80 kilometres in every direction! If you're feeling really adventurous (read: crazy!), you can walk along the perimeter outside or bungee jump from the tower. We passed on those options, but enjoyed our visit nonetheless. 

Some of the Auckland CBD from the Sky Tower

Our final full day in Auckland we journeyed to the Hobbiton movie set near Matamata. Hobbiton was a major filming location for the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films. The movie set is on a (still operational) family farm! After all the filming wrapped, Peter Jackson left behind some of the set for visitors.

The Fidler crew at Hobbiton

E checking out the Hobbit homes

M tacking the (trick) axe challenge!

Auckland was nice but not somewhere I'd rush back to. There's a lot to do within a few hours, but we just weren't feeling the long car rides. All that said, I'm glad we checked it out!

From Auckland we went to Christchurch on the South Island. Stay tuned...

The land of the long white cloud

New Zealand consists of two main islands, referred to as the North- and South island. I'm pretty sure at some point in the not so distant past I thought New Zealand was part of Australia. New Zealanders, referred to as kiwi's, do not appreciate this. New Zealand is far from a little sibling of Australia.

Thanks for the cool NZ & AUS flag pic,

I'm not sure I had a huge desire to visit New Zealand until I got to Australia. Once you're in Oz, you hear a lot about the magic of New Zealand; you realise how close you are to NZ; and you realise how far you are from most everything else in the world. Thrill seekers flock to New Zealand!

New Zealand history dates back about a thousand years when it was discovered and settled by Polynesians. These indigenous people developed a distinct Māori culture centred on kinship and land. Today Māori make up almost 15% of New Zealand's population. Aotearoa is the Māori name for New Zealand. Aotearoa commonly translates to the land of the long white cloud.

With school out for summer, Aaron's parents in tow and some public holidays, New Zealand seemed like a great place for a holiday. It did not disappoint!

Our itinerary was as follows:

     Five nights based in Auckland
     Two nights based in Christchurch
     Four nights based in Queenstown

Thanks for the map, Lonely Planet

Read more about Auckland and the rest of our New Zealand adventure in the coming blog posts!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

We are thankful!

Aussies don't celebrate Thanksgiving, which when you think about it should seem obvious.

We had a visitor from the US during the time of Thanksgiving (Julie's oldest brother, Marc) and some amazing American friends who were super keen on hosting a blowout meal. Whoa! The hostess and I split a lot of the cooking so no one person was overwhelmed.

Sourcing traditional Thanksgiving food is not an easy task.

Turkey, for starters, is a very uncommon meat in Australia. Finding a kosher turkey felt daunting! But I (Julie, for future reference as you're reading) asked the kosher butcher a month in advance and he told me he stocks turkey in the freezer year round. Bingo!

I had never cooked a whole turkey before (I know, what kind of Jewish woman am I?!?) but it was quite delicious!

Our friend found IQF cranberries that worked a treat for cranberry sauce. She drove ~45 minutes each way for these! That is insane dedication.

My brother brought us (contraband) corn meal from the US so we could have corn muffins. They were a bit hit!

Putting all the food out, complete with labels identifying each item.

Once we started eating, I didn't take many pictures. Here's J and A with full stomachs and happy hearts!

We are thankful this year more than ever for our friends who are like family all over the world. We are also thankful for the support of our family; our good health; and the adventures of life!

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Canberra, part 2

After our crazy journey getting to Canberra, we were ready for a few days of FUN in Canberra!

First stop was Questacon with our friends.

Wow! Questacon is amazing! Questacon is the National Science and Technology Centre. There are more than 200 exhibits to see, touch, experience, interact with, read about, explore and more. We spent an entire day at Questacon. Highlights included:

  • Robot hockey where you compete against a robot / mechanical arm in a game of air hockey. The robot outscored the humans ~8 to 1 the day we were visiting.
Here's a terrible pic of E vs the robot
The robot whomped human in almost every match
  • Free fall where you experience the thrill of weightlessness for a brief second. I'm not much of an adrenaline junkie but I really enjoyed pushing myself for this! No one else in our group tried it that day.

If you're thinking about going to Questacon but aren't sure if it's worthwhile, let me assure you -- it is. We spent the whole day there and probably could've done another half day. Wow!

The next day we learned it was a public holiday -- Family and Community Day (only observed on this day in Canberra; and 2017 was the last day it was observed in the spring) -- but were still able to visit the Royal Australian Mint, shop at Costco, see a movie and make Build-a-Bear stuffies.

Making coins at the RAM
The fruits of our labour
M is worth about $450AUD

Interesting fact from the RAM

The boys loved Costco, though they kept saying they'd been there before. We determined it felt just like Sam's Club in Bentonville!

Very thankful we didn't build one of THESE giant bears!

Final stop of day 2 was a shopping mall for Build-a-Bear Workshop. We also caught a movie (read: nap!) and had a nice dinner.

They love BABW!
Our final day was reserved for Floriade. Floriade is a month-long music / arts / floral festival. I wasn't sure what to expect and it did not disappoint!

We started with a train ride to take you through the event and gardens. There were food trucks, artists and crafters, activities for the kids, reptiles to see, live music, beautiful flowers, garden demonstrations and so much more! We didn't plan to, but ended up spending the whole day at Floriade.

A beautiful floral display, as seen from the ferris wheel

I tried far too many times to get a nice picture of these two!

Floriade, as photographed by E
Bubble bowling on water (E)

Bubble bowling on water (M)
They couldn't get enough of this potato sack slide!

Truth: this trip happened in September. It's now December. Lots has happened between now and then. I'm working on getting caught up!

Canberra, part 1

During the most recent school holidays, the boys and I took a 4-day trip to Canberra. Canberra is Australia's capital city. It is a planned city, much like Washington, DC. It was chosen as the capital in the early 1900s as a compromise in distance between Sydney and Melbourne. Again, much like how Washington, DC, was chosen as the US capital. (At the time of its choosing, Washington, DC, was the very near the geographic center of the country!)

Before I can tell you about our adventures in Canberra, I have to tell you about our adventure getting to Canberra.

Like many humans traveling by car to a new / unfamiliar place, I popped the destination address into the car's GPS and off we went.

Traveling along the motorway in Oz is quite different from the US. There aren't billboards promoting McDonald's, Starbucks or Subway at the next twenty seven exits. There simply aren't billboards or advertisements. Every so often there would be a directional road sign, but playing the ABC game along the Aussie motorway is a no-go. There are emergency phones every kilometre with small directional signs between them so you know which way to walk to the nearest phone. That's about it.

At some point along the route, I saw some mobile signs warning that the Hume highway was closed. I paid little attention to these signs as a) I thought "they can't just close the one motorway between Sydney and Canberra!"; and b) I didn't know the motorway I was on was called the Hume. You know where this is going...

When we hit the backup, I was still perplexed. We had passed some rural fire brigade trucks waiting (presumably) to be called into action. We had seen the signs of the motorway closure. And yet still, I was perplexed. I was quite focused on safely getting to Canberra before the boys became too unruly. And before dinner. And before our petrol ran out.

At the point of the standstill we happened to be near an exit. I figured we'd take our chances. The GPS lady (in her brilliant Aussie except, no less) kept telling us to "turn back where possible." I had a hunch, though, that we had to stay the course. And then the road became unpaved. The anxious child was growing very concerned. The adventurous child was loving the bumps and uncertainty.

Whenever the GPS lady told us to turn, the road would be blocked. So we just kept following the few brave cars ahead of us. Through the dirt and mud, the ups and downs, the Aussie hillside. When we were nearing what looked like a paved road ahead, I realized we'd just driven through a sheep farmer's land. He was standing at the gate waving drivers through his gates.

Once we were back on the Hume, it was smooth sailing. And suspiciously almost no cars on the motorway alongside us. It wasn't until we reached our hotel in Canberra that we learned of bushfires along the Hume that had forced its closure.
Photo courtesy of the Canberra Times / Lisa Martin

The road was reopened later that evening; I heard only one lane in each direction for some time to help control the massive backups. 

I'm quite thankful we arrived to Canberra safely with only some delay. I'm even more thankful no people were hurt and no homes destroyed. 

More on Canberra next...

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


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 /

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

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.