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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Am I Uncle Traveling Matt?

Autumn is most certainly upon us here in Sydney so it's pretty bizarre to jump on social media sites and see our American friends wrapping up their school year, swimming, boating and enjoying the arrival of summer (even if the solstice is still a few weeks away).

Temps in Sydney are in the teens (remember that is Celsius; the conversion is T(°F) = T(°C) × 9/5 + 32, whatever that means). So today's high of 17°C = 63°F. That seems really pleasant but - HOLY MOLY - I've climatized! I'm in a t-shirt, jumper (hoodie) and puffy vest. I wouldn't scoff at gloves. I am cold.

Graphic courtesy of

The kids have been a bit slower to climatize. Just this morning, when the temps were a crisp 10°C (52°F) I bundled them in three layers each. E was displeased but went along with my shenanigans; M loves new clothes so was thrilled for a new jacket. By the time I collected them from school they were both down to just their t-shirts (and pants!). I guess as long as they're comfortable...

Sydney hasn't seen measurable snow since 1836. That is not a typo. It has been 181 years since there was enough snow in Sydney to accurately measure. Farther out of Sydney -- the Blue Mountains especially -- will see some snow. I hope we're not here to see that 181 year old record broken.

If you walk into a chemist (pharmacy), variety store, grocery store, etc. you'll see gobs of winter gear. A few weekends ago ALDI released their middle aisle winter gear and it was the talk of the playground. You would've thought a shipment of 100 Hatchimals were begin stocked on Black Friday in the US. Proper winter boots; ski jackets, pants and other attire; space heaters; heating blankets; fleece-lined slippers / blankets / everything; hot water bottles...the list goes on and on. 

Thank you, Sydney Morning Herald!
This pic is from an ALDI in Melbourne during last year's winter gear release.

Aussies prepare for the tundra, but get mostly San Diego (with more precipitation). I really wish I knew how to order a proper coffee here to keep myself warm.

When preparing for this move, one adult in our household convinced the other adult that it was insane to bring heavy sweaters, gloves / hats / scarves, serious winter jackets, etc as it wouldn't get cold enough for any of that. But what we've learned is a) it does get cold enough, especially in the shade or when the sun sets (remember the sun sets early as we head into winter); and b) insulation in buildings isn't a thing here. As in, I'm pretty sure we have no insulation in our walls.

I guess I get to (have to?) go shopping.

The boys have gotten really into Fraggle Rock lately. It's such fun to watch with them and relive my childhood. Many days I feel like a less clumsy Uncle Traveling Matt exploring this new world! I have ventured out of the Rock and into Outer Space.

Image courtesy of Muppet Wiki

Monday, May 22, 2017

Where are you from?

Though the kids had showed tremendous interest in another guest blog, that interest waned when it actually came time to put words down. So you're stuck with me (Julie) again. I've been thinking a lot about what to write next. I have several blogs already drafted, but this one is tugging at my heart.

Once we open our mouths, it's quite obvious we're not Aussies. Instead of assuming we're Americans, people ask where we're from. We say the States, then they ask where. That's where things get tricky.

We've come to realize this is an incredibly challenging question for us to answer. We usually respond with "We most recently lived in Arkansas [blank stare]. Our "forever home" is in Washington, DC [name recognition!]. Most of our family is in Michigan [maybe?]." 

Someone once dug a bit deeper, and that stuck with me. They asked "well if you were going back to the States for holiday, where would you go?" Michigan. Yep, Michigan. Of course we'd want to hop all around the country to see friends and family, but Michigan would be home base. Funny since we haven't lived in Michigan as "adults." 

Cool shirt from

I've been thinking about Michigan a lot lately. A lot. Simply put: we've hit the homesick stage.

I'm learning there are many stages of a move like this. I'm summing them up as follows:

  • Honeymoon where everything is magical
  • Homesickness where you ache for the familiarity of your previous country
  • Coping where you begin to integrate into your community
  • Living where you've fully integrated

I think we're wandering between homesickness and coping simultaneously -- very normal and healthy. The homesickness isn't getting us down or stopping us from doing anything. We're not moping around the house or laying in bed. We just miss "home." 

We've made wonderful friends, are enjoying Sydney, are experiencing a lot of great things together; but that doesn't change our ache for "home."

The kids have a long winter break in a few weeks (eek!) and I've been eyeing flights to bring them to Michigan. I've come very close to booking them. Then I remember that I can't fathom driving on the right-hand side of the road just yet; its a ridiculously long flight; a ridiculously long flight to be outnumbered by children; a crazy time change; and defeats much of the purpose of this experience. 

But how do you convey - without whining or suggesting you want pity or need help - your feelings of homesickness? The ache for family, friends, familiar foods. We don't want to pack up and move back, so that's good! But when I floated the idea of a trip to Michigan, the boys were very, very excited. You probably want this blog to end with me telling you we booked the trip. We haven't.

Aaron's grandfather encouraged us to keep journals of our experience here in Australia. While that sounds like a lovely idea, physically writing down our thoughts these days just doesn't seem practical. I guess that's how the blog was born. It has been an incredible outlet for us (mostly me / Julie) to try to put our experiences into words. Thank you for being my journal.

Sunday evening in Breakfast Point with friends from the cruise. Loved the crunch of leaves under our feet!

Friday, May 12, 2017

What'll it be, mate?

Coffee is serious business in Australia. I mean it. I don't really know how to describe the coffee culture here, but it is strong. Like double espresso at 8PM strong.

I've only been brave enough to order coffee in Sydney four times. Yes, that's correct. In 3.5 months, I've consumed all of 4 coffees. I'm not a huge coffee drinker, but I previously enjoyed a nice cup of decaf a few times per week. I can certainly go without it.

The first time I ventured for a coffee was the first day of school for both boys. I was a bit lost as to what to do with myself as I'd been schlepping the kids around for a few weeks. I stopped by a coffee shop on my way to buy mattresses. I fumbled through an order and the lovely barista helped me translate what I wanted. It was disgusting.

The second time was at a kids Purim (Jewish festival) party early on a Sunday morning. The event organizers were smart enough to bring in a special coffee stall for the parents. Genius. I think I went weak and got a cappuccino out of desperation. Meh.

The third time I ordered coffee was at a meeting with parents from school. My lack of Australian coffee knowledge became a very fun topic of conversation. The server and several parents tried to determine what I wanted and helped me order. It was better than round one or two but still not quite to my liking.

The fourth and final time I tried coffee was at my favorite cafe on Darling St. in our neighborhood. They have the yummiest eggs, and I thought I'd have a go at a cup of something. I've been back for food but haven't ordered a coffee again.

In researching (?) for this post, I stumbled upon this great guide to coffee in Australia. Apparently I'm not the only foreigner who doesn't know how to order coffee:

Thank you, Sydney Moving Guide!

As you'll see form the above guide, there's no drip coffee.

The guide above also fails to mention iced coffee. I don't have firsthand experience in this area, but I did hear a story about a younger American businessman meeting with an older Australian businessman for a cup of coffee in Sydney. The younger bloke orders an iced coffee and -- seeing this was a business meeting -- the server tries to dissuade him. Younger man politely pushes for his iced coffee. What shows up, according to legend, is nearly dessert: many shots of espresso, whipped cream, chocolate syrup and ice cream. Ha!

Image courtesy Sydney Food Lovers
We're learning so much and experiencing so many new and interesting things. Our global perspective is shifting right before our eyes. Its pretty spectacular to be a part of. I am thankful every day for this experience for our family.

Next up, if I'm brave enough, another post from M & E. Pray for me 🙏

Monday, May 8, 2017

Three numbers that have changed our lives

The process for obtaining visas to come to Australia was a bit atypical for us as compared to most. Since Aaron has a chronic illness – though he's lucky enough to be pretty healthy – our visa required Aaron to get a medical exam. It was a nerve-wracking process with almost no information / communication. After all, we were under contract to sell our house (YAY!), had booked flights, paid deposits to school, etc, etc, etc. and we had no idea if our move would happen or be blocked because of the health screening. Then one evening during a festive Hanukkah party at my sister-in-law's parents house our visas came through. With no warning. Just BOOM! We're really doing this! Sh*t got real.
Image courtesy of

We're here on the Temporary Work (Skilled) visa (subclass 457) which allows skilled workers to come to Aust​ralia and work for an approved business for up to four years. This visa is commonly referred to as the "457" in Australia. As in "are you here on a 457?"

After all the waiting and uncertainty we experienced in December, there was a HUGE disruption to our lives while we were on our cruise in April.

During our trip, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton announced that the 457 visa will be abolished and replaced with a new work visa that is “manifestly, rigorously, resolutely conducted in the national interest.” Um. Okay. Deep breath.

PM Malcom Turnbull (L) and IM Peter Dutton (R) announcing plans
to scrap the 45 visa.  Image courtesy Kym Smith / NT News

So here we are, out of the country we reside in. Away from home. A new home, maybe sometimes unfamiliar, but still HOME. Will we be able to re-enter and get back home? Will we be detained at the border by immigration? Will we have to apply for a new visa? How will Aaron's Crohn's disease impact us staying?

Luckily, anyone already issued a 457 visa can continue on as usual. It took some patience to determine this (remember: we were on a cruise!) and though one of us was 100% certain we'd be welcomed back to Oz the other wasn't nearly as sure (Aaron’s note: I’ll let you all guess which one of us was more relaxed about this).

I hadn't previously thought of a label for our family during this experience. I guess temporary worker. But think about what that term means to you. And think about WHY you think of that meaning. This has made me incredibly introspective and cognitive about my own prejudice when I hear certain terms relating to immigration or job status and role.

We aren't immigrants as we're not seeking permanent residence (though I do love it here!). We also don’t think of ourselves as a class of people who are threats to take Australian jobs. We’re here legally with Aaron focused on building up an office that will add jobs to the Australian economy. We’re paying taxes and have insurance to cover our health issues. And we've been welcomed by the Australian people with open arms. 

Would we do the same in the US? Would it depend on where the foreigners hailed from? If they had insurance? If they had a high paying job v. a low paying one? No answers here, just lots of thoughts on the subject.

I've noted this before -- I pushed (hard!) for us to make this move. I wanted to push myself and our family outside of our comfort zone (cliche!). Taste new foods, experience a new culture, live on a different continent.

When did borders start to tighten? And why? Or have they been this way for some time and I just never noticed because it didn't impact me. And is that really the right attitude to have regarding immigration (or other, for that matter!) policy? "It's not going to impact me, why should I care?" But you know what? It might impact you one day. Or a friend. Or a neighbor. Or a child.

This isn't meant to stir up a political debate, but it's had me pondering for quite some time and I encourage you to think about these things, too. What is a “good” immigration policy? Why are so many people skeptical of immigrants? Why shouldn’t people that don’t live in our country of residence have the chance to experience what we experience? Aren’t nearly all of us descendants of immigrants?

You can point fingers many places, but sometimes we also have to look in the mirror. Are we really just scared...?

Monday, May 1, 2017

Trouble in Paradise, by M

Hi, I am Micah and I am 5 1/2 years old.

I got stuck in the toilet in Fiji. Here's what happened: the lock came off. No one knew how to get me out. I was almost stuck in there for an hour.

How did we get me out? The man came with a big knife and he told me to stand back. Mommy said he jabbed it into the toilet stall door. He tried to cut it open. That did not work. 

He came with a tall chair and hoisted me out. "Stand on the toilet" the man said. Some people helped him and he picked me up and pulled me over the toilet wall. 

When I got out everyone was happy. I hugged mommy and wouldn't let go. I was so sad I didn't want to go back to Fiji again in my life. I still don't feel happy about that.


Back at school, Micah drew a picture and wrote the above document about his holiday. All grammar and spelling have been corrected to protect my sanity. It reads: In the holiday I went to Fiji and I got stuck in a toilet.

[Some editor's notes and fill-ins: Micah did, in fact, get stuck in a toilet stall at a lovely resort near Lautoka, Fiji. Being the incredibly confident human that he is, he ventured to the toilet himself, locked the stall door and the lock broke. He did inform me he used the toilet before calling for help. He was not in the stall for an hour, as he claims; probably 7 minutes before we knew he was in distress and another 4 minutes until he was freed. Micah was a local celebrity upon reaching freedom. Our taxi driver mentioned the excitement without realizing he was driving the same child who was stuck. M is still experiencing toilet terrors. I predict this will be one of his earliest memories as he grows up. In lieu of another trip to Fiji, we may set that money aside for his future therapy.]