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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!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Some days are like that...

We're big fans of the book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Ray Cruz. If you don't remember the book, here's a reading of it:

For many years, when something "bad" (as defined by E & M) happened in our family, we'd respond with "...even in Australia." But now that we live here, it's take on a very new and different meaning for all of us. Now we say "...even in America" because sometimes life just don't go your way no matter where you live. 

That leads me to one of our big opportunities in Oz: making friends and finding people we really connect with. The kids are a nice door opener, but the culture here is very different from NW Arkansas. Most of the families in Sydney are two working parents. So after the kids get dropped off at school I'm left to my own devices. It can be lonely. 

There's a small group of parents who started a walking group once / week after we drop the kids off at school. That's been wonderful! I really like the other parents, and we're planning a weekend event to get the spouses and kids all integrated. There's also talk of a winter ski trip down south. Remember: that's June - August in the southern hemisphere.

I tell you all this not for sympathy but to help you understand that while all the procedural things are going as planned, making friends and forming our village is something that can't be researched and organized (at least not to the level I'm accustomed to). As much as I'm loving Sydney, I miss my friends and family. I miss our village. I miss having friends for taco Tuesday and Shabbat. I miss our friends at the basketball courts / soccer / baseball fields while the kids practice and play. 

I also believe very much in keeping posts on social media REAL. This is real. 

This lack of village became very apparent over the last few days when I got smacked with a bad cold. I didn't have anyone to call or text to ask if they could pick the boys up from school. I didn't even have a doctor to call to run my symptoms by to make sure I was doing the right things at home. We are a bit unprepared for the unexpected junk life throws at you. 

We've gotten involved in the Jewish community, the boys have had playdates (yeah!), we've been invited to birthday parties (double yeah!) but this is an area that just takes more time. I am impatient. I want my village.

Speaking of patience (or my lack of?), the boys are growing impatient waiting for their turn to write a blog post!!! Questions can be submitted in the comments section of the blog (below). They'll write it between couch surfing and being awesome, as seen below. 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

When in Rome, do as the Romans

We all know the saying "when in Rome, do as the Romans." I'm operating under this theory while we're in Oz.

For example, when we were apartment hunting an internal washer and dryer connection wasn't guaranteed. It was on my "must have" list, but in hindsight maybe it didn't need to be. Since the weather is generally sunny and warm (or warm enough) year round here, most ppl hang their clothes to dry outside. I just couldn't comprehend this.

It turns out some Council's (neighborhood associations, homeowners associations or local government) require an internal dryer because they don't want clothes hanging outside people's homes. Some don't give a hoot so there are clothes lines in courtyards, on balconies, etc. Aussies seem to love their clotheslines!

These "Romans" don't much care for dryer sheets. I haven't figured this one out completely, but an American friend here said Aussies just don't understand or comprehend the need for dryer sheets. In the US, particularly in the winter, dryer sheets or fabric softener are essential for preventing static. Is Australia static-free?

Fabric softener options at Woolies; notice only *1* choice of dryer sheets among all those fabric softeners!
40 sheets for $6.69AUD (about $5USD)

For the first few weeks I washed and dried all of our clothes in the dryer. After the American friend said she also had a hard initial transition to the clothesline but has since embraced it, I figured it was worth a try.

Double drying rack in the laundry room
Two more drying racks in the kids bathroom
Would you look at that?!? As long as its not wet outside, our clothes dry just fine on our laundry racks (inside the house). After they've air dried I give them a little fluff in the dryer to soften them up a bit. Rainy days with extra moisture and humidity in the air are a different story; I'm still working on figuring out the best strategy for drying clothes on the racks in yucky weather.

As we wind down summer and roll into autumn it has been quite rainy and humid. Some days (weeks?) are like that, even in Australia...

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Hit the road, Jack!

Driving. There's so much to cover here, as it was (is?) something that has weighed heavily on us. Initially we weren't planning to get a car; we would just rely on the expansive public transportation system of buses, trains, subways, ferries and the like. But having kids who go to activities means life is way, way easier with a car. Sure, there are car sharing options but in the end that would be far less convenient and wouldn't save any money.

Driving on the left side of the road while sitting on the right side of the car is just different. It's not better or worse, it's just different. I've been driving for 20+ years, so the mental change has been just that -- a change.

Photo credit: World Standards

My first stop for driving was Sydney SAFE Driving School. I connected with Fran over email, we set a date for a lesson and I hopped in her car. She was quick to give me the basics before having me take the wheel. I drove for about an hour on my first lesson, then set a time for the second lesson. Somewhere between there, I rented a car and canceled my second lesson. 

So, think about this: making a left turn is suddenly a breeze; making a right turn is a totally different ballgame. Parallel parking. Exiting the car into the road. TRAFFIC CIRCLES. Passing and fast lanes on the right. Buckling your seatbelt as the driver over your right shoulder, not your left. The list goes on and on. And the controls in the car are all flipped. The dials and levers are all opposite what you've known your whole driving life. Ahhhh!

Fuel economy on cars here reads km/l. No. Just no. I can't even form words to tell you how much this makes my brain hurt. 

A friend here told me I wouldn't have to take a written or road test to get my Oz license (refreshing and terrifying all in one). I gathered some documents and braved the Oz version of the DMV (holy smokes, it was amazing -- bright, friendly, helpful, cold water, couches, charging stations, etc). In less than an hour, I had an Australian drivers license!

Worst driver's license photo on the planet!

Next it was time to find a car. What size? Make? Type? I had a big car in the US and I loved it. But driving a big car in a big city is not practical unless you absolutely need to. I narrowed down my choices and started hunting.

I landed on a pre-owned Subaru Forester. Despite my love of diesel, the car was only available in petrol. I wanted to be like a Roman while in Rome...more about that next time!

Friday, February 24, 2017

"Wait, what?"

A move to Australia was really appealing to me for a number of reasons. High on the list was that we'd have no language barrier. I've found this to be only half true. Below are a list of the initial language differences I've experienced that have made communication interesting and / or challenging.

Americans call this cotton candy; Australians call it fairy floss.
Image credit: Bobby K Entertainment

Americans call the rear open part of the car the trunk; Australians call it a boot.
Image credit: Motor Trend

Americans call this a bathing suit; Australians call it a swimming costume. 
Image credit: Sports Direct

Americans call this a barbecue (or BBQ); Australians call it a barbie.
Image credit: Weber BBQ

Americans call these potato chips; Australians call them crisps.
Image credit: iSTOCK via Mental_Floss

Americans call these French fries (or fries); Australians call them chips.
Image credit Hemera / Thinkstock via The Splendid Table

Americans call this a stroller; Australians call it a pram.
Image credit Chicco Baby Gear

There are sooo many more; they creep up when you least expect it. I stare blankly. We chuckle. Then I try to describe what I think the other person is saying.

Most perplexing of all these was the swimming costume. E has weekly swimming lessons through school, and it took a lot of courage to ask someone in the front office what a swimming costume was. We had a funny conversation trying to describe to one another what we thought it was in mutual terms! In the end, I found him the right item, and all is well.

When Aussies say "cheers" they may mean hello, thank you, you're welcome or goodbye (from what I can tell). I'm still adjusting to saying "cheers" and then hanging up a telephone without also saying "goodbye," "thank you," "speak to you soon" or "have a nice day." But it's quite obvious from my voice that I'm from somewhere else so I think I get a little leeway on these things.

These subtle differences in language have been a great reminder of the importance of opening my mind and expanding my world view. While there are many, many similarities there are probably as many differences between the US and Australia. Like driving...stay tuned for more on that!

Monday, February 20, 2017


On our first trip to a grocery store, we felt obligated to buy Vegemite.

Vegemite in many sizes at Coles; there are now additional variations of the original.
You've probably heard of this Australian staple from late 70s / early 80s band Men at Work. Without checking Wikipedia or another source, can you name anyone in the band? Neither could I.

Aaron described Vegemite as salt spread. It's made from leftover brewers yeast and some vegetable scraps. We bought a jar and spread a bit on a cracker. 

I'm trying to be diplomatic and polite here, but, BLECH! 

We've since been told we did it all wrong. Vegemite is to be lightly smeared on a piece of buttered toast. Mmmmkay.

As of publish time, we haven't (re)tried it. I guess we're not feeling it, plus the boys have discovered Nutella! They'll eat pretty much anything with a little dab of Nutella on it.

We have good friends back in the US who love Vegemite so much they've dubbed us their suppliers of the stuff. Early in our second week we procured 10 squeeze tubes of Vegemite and shipped it to Arkansas. Bless their hearts!

I thought it was important to bring Vegemite comprehension to the non-Australian readers, and to help you understand that we're seeing this experience as a true adventure! We want to step out of our comfort zones, try new things and experience a broader world view. (Truth be told, if there were an Olive Garden here, E would be first in line for never ending pasta and all you can eat breadsticks.) All of this comes with a bit of a learning curve, which I'll cover in the next post...