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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

Vegemite

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...

Friday, February 17, 2017

School


As I reported in our first blog, we connected with the great folks at Inner Sydney Montessori School very early in our moving process. Really before we were even officially moving. More like in the "we could be moving" and eventually the "we're very likely moving but we can't really talk about it" stage. We had records transferred, Skype get to know you sessions, paid enrollment fees, etc all before we were officially, officially moving.

Though this may seem crazy to have taken on so early in the process, it was crucial to me that the boys could get settled quickly. Not just for their ease in adjusting but also for my sanity!

Arriving as summer holiday was winding down worked out very nicely for us. This meant that after a short adjustment to the time change, the boys could start school right at the beginning of the school year. We had about 10 days between landing and E's first day where we explored the city. Aside from the touristy stuff, we visited the school, met teachers and got ready for their first days at ISMS.

E was the first to go off to school on the very first day back from summer holiday.
In the elevator on the way to school.


We took 2 public buses to get to Micah's campus so E could ride the bus from there to his campus. I wanted him to get used to that on Day 1. He was so so nervous (who can blame him?!?) but put on such a brave face.



At pickup time, I was greeted with the biggest smile I've ever seen on his face. Big and genuine. I *gushed* with happiness. He was a celebrity in his class! The teacher let the children ask him anything they wanted about life in the US. Many inquiries about guns. It was a bit disturbing to hear his recount of this, but such is life.



M's first day was the next day and he roared off to school with his typical gusto! 





E's teacher reported after his first week, "He is a quiet and considerate soul and we are seeing glimpses of his true self emerging as each day passes." She also noted, "I feel like he has been with me for longer." 

M's teacher reported, "Micah is continuing to demonstrate his social feathers of confidence" and "It has been wonderful to observe his great ability to just get in there! He definitely lacks no confidence!" Also, "He is very keen and a great little worker - focused and great concentration!"

I love how quickly and accurately the teachers have gotten to know the boys, and I 💝 how unique each kiddo is.

One of the biggest changes at school has been that the boys get to bring their own lunches! I bet many parents are groaning at the thought of making school lunches. It hasn't bothered me yet. Yet. I'm pretty sure our kids are the only children in Australia who haven't brought Vegemite sandwiches for lunch. Read more about Vegemite in the next post!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Exploring Sydney!

I know I said I'd talk about our first few days in Sydney next, but before I get to that I want to address what felt like a heavy weight -- figuring out communication back to the US.

I had read online about transferring our cell phone numbers to google voice but we weren't actually sure if it would work. Guess what? It works! It's amazing! We can text, talk and video chat via google products as long as we have an internet signal. Cost to port our numbers was $20/line. That's it. No international calling charges from Oz to the US, just use your monthly allotted cell data or home internet. We both have Oz cell phone numbers with google voice / hangout apps for our US numbers. Now that you know this, there is *no excuse* for not being in touch!

Now on to the promised topic, our first few days in Sydney. As the previous post noted, we landed on a Sunday and Aaron went to work on Monday. This is insane. And amazing. The kids and I were in a new city and were ready to explore!

After a delicious breakfast near our temporary housing in the CBD, we ventured to Darling Harbour.
This is across the Harbour from the Australian National Maritime Museum.

We bought an annual pass to WILD LIFE Sydney / SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium / Sydney Tower Eye and more. The kids have really enjoyed these attractions, and we've used the passes several times already. I've mostly relied on trip advisor, yelp, etc for suggestions of things to do and places to eat. It's worked quite well for us.
Giant crocodile at WILD LIFE Sydney!
Obligatory kangaroo photo from WILD LIFE Sydney.
Entering Madame Tussauds. The kids were a bit freaked out by the wax figures.

We lived in Arkansas -- a beautiful and rural place -- for 4 1/2 years. I thought the transition to urban life would be very painful for the boys (one in particular). They have truly amazed me!

Waiting for the train!

Before we left the US, I signed us up for a Jr Adventure Day at the Sydney Opera House. We really didn't know what to expect. It was a WONDERFUL intro to one of the world's most iconic buildings for the three of us. 

Terrible selfie outside the Opera House. Is there such a thing as a good selfie?

Side view of the Opera House -- it's spectacular!
The Junior Adventurers are ready to go!

The boys were moderately amused by the dress-up portion (one was more interested than the other; I'll leave you to guess which based on the faces in this photo.)

Since we arrived during summer holiday (!!!), there were a lot of activities for kids as they wound down their break before heading back to school. It was perfect timing for us, though I suspect we would have made anything work. 

Our first week we got to celebrate Australia Day and Chinese New Year. Australia Day is much like Independence Day in the US -- beaches, BBQ, fireworks, parades, etc. What a great way to immerse in the culture. We went to a massive free Wiggles concert, haha!

Chinese New Year was very neat with beautifully crafted roosters all throughout the city, though we didn't spend as much time as I would have liked at these activities. Next year...

For the first ten or so days, the kids and I straddled the line between vacationing and living as residents. Example: I dragged the boys to open a bank account after a fun-filled day of exploring this awesome city!

Next up, the first day(s) of school...

Monday, February 13, 2017

How did this happen?!?

Well, here we are in Sydney, Australia! Before I can move to the current, I'll have to recount the past. I intended to start this before we left the US, but alas...
Our final family photo in front of our Bentonville house. 
Around the end of September, Aaron (husband) mentioned an opening in his company's Sydney office. "Yes! Yes! Yes!" He wasn't sold, but a few of us worked to convince him.

Even before we committed to this huge move, one of the first things I did was look up Montessori schools in Sydney. Our boys had been attending the amazing Walnut Farm Montessori School in Bentonville, Ark, for quite some time and we feel very strongly in the Montessori pedagogy. We connected with the great folks at Inner Sydney Montessori School and here we are! Okay, there was more to it than that, but the transfer from one Montessori school to another has been a beautiful thing to watch. I'll get to that in another post, promise.

Once school was solidified, the rest fell into place. Right after US Thanksgiving, we got the final thumbs up from Aaron's company, applied for the 457 visa, sold our house to some dear friends, booked plane tickets and hit the sky! Again, not quite like that but looking back it feels that way.

There were so many things to figure out besides school. We were ready to part with many of our possessions, but not all. It didn't make sense for us to crate and ship them, so storage was a good solution. But where? Lucky for us, my dad has an expansive finished basement and he was happy to have our boxes and a few pieces of furniture as roommates. We used PODS to transport our items and it worked out great.
Some of the boxes ready to load in the PODS.
To pack up our belongings a friend recommended the most amazing team of organizers, The Organizer Chicks. They devised a color-coded sticky note system: pink was going to Oz and would be needed upon landing; neon yellow would be going to Oz but was long-term; blue was going to MI in the PODS; and orange was for the estate sale. They organized, labeled, packed and loaded everything. (Disclaimer: the photo of the sports team-looking suitcases + car seats is only ~1/2 of what we took!)
About half of our suitcases; we checked *12* suitcases totaling ~700 lbs, carried on 2 small suitcases, had 2 car seats, 3 backpacks and 1 laptop bag. We enjoyed joking with airline personnel that we were packed for a long weekend.
Everything was meticulously rolled to maximize space and reduce wrinkling. Amazing!
We relied on many friends for help. One of our nanny's who moved away came to town to say goodbye and she was an enormous help. I couldn't have gotten through the final week without her. Once our cars were sold, friends drove us wherever we needed. It was truly amazing. 

We flew from XNA to LAX to SYD. After a few hours at LAX, we boarded the plane to SYD. We all managed to stay awake until shortly after departure, then slept for most of the flight. That helped us adjust to the massive time change with ease! We left the US on a Friday and landed in Australia on a Sunday, crossing both the International Date Line and the equator in a short span in the air. Moving from winter to summer has been quite an adjustment! We pushed through our first day with no naps or breaks and were all asleep by 8PM. Aaron was able to work the following day -- amazing!

Next up: our first few days in Sydney!
Teaser photo for the next post 😉