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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.

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

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 /

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,

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!


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.


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!