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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!

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...