Author Archives: Cristin

Baby Down Under #2: The Public Hospital

Little Aussie 23 Replies

12 days ago, Baby #2 entered our family. Here she is, the little squish face!

When Hushpuppy (Baby #1) came along four years ago, I wrote about our amazing experience with a public birth centre, and though her birth didn’t go exactly (even close) to plan, it was still overall an experience I wish I could have repeated and would recommend highly. But, because Hushpuppy ended up being a C-section, I wasn’t eligible to go back to the low risk birth centre, and instead we opted for the public hospital option.

So, for any of you expats or parents to be who are considering your options (or, for any of my Americans who wonder what “public” health care is really like), I thought I’d share the experience we had this time around with our local public hospital. Of course, this is just one story among many.

The Choice

Here in Australia, we have the option of having maternity care through the public or private system. Anyone with a Medicare card is eligible for the public option, at no additional charge (everyone pays into Medicare through taxes). Public patients are seen through the public hospital in their area, do not have a choice in doctor, and may stay in a shared room, depending on the hospital. Private coverage requires private insurance (often with a year of maternity cover, in advance), plus fees of around $8 – 10,000, depending on your doctor and hospital. The benefits of private care are consistent care from a doctor you’ve chosen at your preferred hospital.

Key factors that guided our decision to go public were:

1. Total confidence in our local public hospital, which has exceptional maternity facilities and a NICU, should anything have gone awry
2. We weren’t concerned about choosing our own OB (personal preference – I wanted to primarily see midwives).
3. Bonus: Our local hospital has done a major upgrade to the maternity ward since we had Hushpuppy, so there was a good chance that I’d get to stay in a private room. Room sharing was essentially the only complaint I had about our first experience.

Pre-Natal Care

My first call, once the 2nd line appeared on the test stick, was once again my trusty GP. She did the initial round of blood tests, and gave me a referral for the hospital. At my request, she also gave us a referral for the Harmony Test, which was the only thing we had done privately. It is completely optional genetic testing, and cost $500 out of our pocket, with no Medicare rebate.

I was booked into the hospital for my first appointment at 12 weeks. A lovely midwife (they were seriously all lovely) took my medical and family history, explained that I would see midwives, aside from two visits to the doctor’s clinic because of my previous C-section, and had an initial conversation with me about my birth preferences. I left with all of my appointments booked for the duration of the pregnancy. Too easy!

All went along swimmingly, with regular checks at 8 to 6 week intervals (closer together once we got nearer to the date). The doctors and midwives walked me through my options regarding scheduling a C-section (an option because of my first) or trying for a VBAC. I was firmly in camp VBAC, though this time a little more realistic about how birth happens as it will, regardless of your best plans.

Around 34 weeks, we took a tour of the maternity ward, which is a very well worth it optional, for a cost of $8 per adult – so, $16 for the husband and me (Hushpuppy hitched on to our coattails, complimentary). That was our only other out of pocket cost, so total cost to us for the whole pregnancy was $516.

Things started to get more complicated at my 36 week appointment with a doctor. My main concern going in was that the baby had been breech, and I was worried that if she hadn’t turned, I’d have little choice but to schedule a surgical delivery. Turns out the little champion had flipped herself, but then – completely unrelated – my blood pressure reading came up much higher than normal. My routine appointment turned into a battery of tests for pre-eclampsia – which I didn’t have – and instructions to follow up with the maternity clinic after the weekend.

I’m not going to lie. I went into a bit of a frenzy at that point. I more or less fasted for two days, hoping that would somehow lower my blood pressure, though I’m sure that the stress level I’d worked up by the time I walked into the clinic did nothing to improve my still elevated results. Again, I had no other markers for pre-eclampsia, but I was asked to come back again the next week. And then, again the next week. This whole exercise was stressing me out to no end, but meanwhile, I made it through my mini baby shower and Easter. Hushpuppy was so excited about the Easter Bunny, my main objective was to keep the baby snug inside until after the Bunny delivered his chocolate eggs.

The Birth

The following Friday, I was in for more tests and an ultrasound to monitor baby’s growth. While nothing was seriously alarming, there were enough borderline markers between my blood pressure and a couple of things on the ultrasound for the doctors to counsel me that it was baby time. And so, after dropping Hushpuppy off with a friend, we were at the hospital at 8a.m. the next morning for a birthday. My last ditch attempt for a VBAC through having my waters broken was a no-go, and so, after I cried my tears, I was in surgery for my second C-section by 11a.m.

Everyone has their own experiences of birth, and a planned C-section is not something I would have ever chosen for myself. Hushpuppy’s emergency C-section seemed to fly by, with little fanfare, but I can’t say that I found much to like about this

experience. The doctors and midwives were all professional and caring, but the operation was much too uncomfortable, clinical, and jarring for my taste. I suppose what I’m saying is that if anyone tries to tell you that C-section is an easy way out of birth, I’d give them the dirtiest look you can muster. There’s no easy way out of birth.

The baby came out shrieking like a wildcat, so I had no question that her lungs were functional. The doctors held her up for me to see, and after a quick check by the midwives, they placed her on my chest for a skin to skin session. In the recovery room, they helped with her first feed, and then popped her under a heat lamp to warm up while Dad sang to her, and I drifted in and out of sleep.

The Hospital Stay

The hospital recommends a stay of 48 hours for a vaginal birth and 72 hours for a C-section, which they’ll vary on a case by case basis. Big score for us – we did get one of the private rooms! In fact, the ward was extremely quiet over the weekend, and I’m sure everyone there was in a private room, with beds to spare. That privacy made every bit of difference to my mental well being between this stay and the last. I did hit a spot of overwhelm on Monday morning, when the quiet weekend ward suddenly came alive with weekday traffic, and it seemed like my room was Central Station with, not just the regular midwives and doctors popping in, but the photography lady … some guy doing a research study … a volunteer selling newspapers … a nice old lady with knitting from the Anglican church, who couldn’t quite get to her point … We mentioned it to the midwife on duty who promptly saved the day by finding us a “Do No Disturb” sign. Sanity restored, and the remainder of our time there was about me, the baby, Dad and big sister.

I don’t feel like I’m an overly picky eater, but the hospital food was at least as horrible as expected, so thankfully Partner-in-Crime came armed with a giant bag of snacks and a steady stream of meals that sustained us for the 3 day stay. Oh, and lest I forget his daily coffee delivery. I had the worst heartburn during my pregnancy, to the point that, even with medication, I’d given up many foods, and all drinks, aside from water. That first flat white he set down on my tray was like an affirmation of why I married this man in the first place.

Going Home

We went home on Anzac Day, after 3 nights in hospital. I mourned the good drugs they’d been giving me in the hospital, as I suddenly felt like I’d been hit by a freight train when I got home (again – C-section – not easy – ooof). Maximum doses of Panadol were on the menu for the next week.

The following day, a midwife from the hospital came to visit us at home to check on our settling and weigh the baby. We ended up having two more visits from the midwives, who determined that baby was growing well, and we didn’t seem to be losing our minds (the gift of the second baby, everyone tells me). They will come or call for up to two weeks, depending on each family’s needs.  Next, we’ll have a visit from our local Early Childhood Centre for baby’s first health check, and from there on out, we’ll visit them for routine visits. And of course, we’ll always have our family GP available for illnesses and medical concerns.

So, once again, I had a baby whose arrival was nothing like I planned. They laugh at my plans, these babies! But, however she came, I’m grateful for the care we received that brought her to our family safely and with respect. She’s settled her little self right into our home, and I can’t wait  to share our ongoing adventures, now as a Down Under family of four.

 

 

A Farmstay Getaway: Big Bell Farm in Kangaroo Valley

Sydney Weekend trips 4 Replies

It occurred to me that we’d been in Sydney without at least a weekend trip away for the longest stretch of time since we’ve move here, and my feet started itching for a change of scenery. That, combined with the impending arrival of Baby #2, who I trust will keep us grounded for at least a little while, and the seemingly endless days of rain we’ve had all month had me declaring to Partner in Crime that we needed to go somewhere. Anywhere.

Luckily, our flexible schedules work in our favor (I already mourn the day when Hushpuppy starts school), so when a pair of sunny days appeared in the 10 day forecast, we went into fast planning mode, and hit the road on a Sunday morning.

Our first stop was 24 hours in Jervis Bay, our enduring and comfortable favorite getaway. I’ve written about it so many times in these pages, I’ll just link you here to my post about Jervis Bay with a toddler for an idea of what we got up to this time, too. We never change things up much!

Around lunchtime, we headed out for our second stop, Kangaroo Valley. We were swapping the beach for the farm. Hushpuppy was beside herself with the prospect of being on a farm, and I was, in turn, pretty excited for my city kid. Along the way, we stopped for groceries and lunch in Nowra, the largest nearby town. We also took a short and very worthwhile detour to Cambewarra Mountain Lookout. When we arrived at the top of the mountain, I wished we hadn’t just eaten because there was a little cafe with the best views, but we still loved sitting in the grass and looking out over the beautiful Kangaroo Valley region.

Cambewarra Mountain Lookout

From the lookout, it was a short drive to Big Bell Farm. Our host was the charming Farmer Bruno, a grandfatherly Swiss gent who always dreamed of owning a farm in Australia (as you do). He gave us the lay of the land, invited us to have a swim in the pool, told Hushpuppy that she could join him in feeding the animals their dinner, and invited her to ring the Swiss bells at the front of the property (hence the name of the farm).

Big Bell Farm

Big Bell Farm

We stayed in one of three cabins, each of which has a different layout. Ours had one bedroom with twin beds, which Bruno offered to push together, without us even asking. He also added a child’s size mattress for Hushpuppy. The kitchen was well equipped with stove, oven, microwave, and kettle – plenty of amenities to make our dinner and breakfast. There were plenty of blankets and towels, we found fans for cooling off, and there was also a gas heater for cooler nights. We did make the mistake of leaving the door open, as we went in and out during the evening, which let a lot of bugs in. Next time, I’d use the screen door the whole time to avoid the dinner guests.

Outside one window we had this view:

Big Bell Farm

And, outside the other window, our neighbors were the miniature goats.

Big Bell Farm

Hushpuppy spent the better part of our visit camped in front of the goats.

Big Bell Farm

Big Bell Farm

Aside from the goats, the farm also has two horses, who were happy for a pat and a carrot.

Big Bell Farm

I think if we’d stayed longer, we would have appreciated a few more animal companions to hang out with – maybe some pigs or chickens or something – but the goats and horses kept us plenty entertained for our short stay. That, and the gorgeous solitude. I was longing for a glass of wine (I settled for a pregnancy friendly cup of decaf tea), as I sat on the front porch with my book, watching the sun set over the mountain, while my kid chatted up the friendly goats.  It was just the quiet change of pace my itchy feet had been asking for.


From Big Bell Farm, it’s just a short drive to Kangaroo Valley sites. We spent the afternoon poking around the sweet village of Kangaroo Valley…

Kangaroo Valley

…the Tallowa Dam …

Tallowa Dam

…and the Hamden Bridge, which dates back to 1898.

It may have been a quick run out of town, but it was enough to make us feel like we’d really stepped into a different, relaxed environment. We’ll happily return to the farm as a family of four, with a nice, big bottle of wine for watching the sun set and the kids play.

I Love You and I Like You

Little Aussie 2 Replies

My baby girl turned 4 last week, in a blaze of wrapping paper, buttercream, and a steady stream of declarations (hers) about all the things she can do “now that I’m four.”

Four does seem like a momentous shift. No question that toddlerhood is well and truly over, and her independence has grown by leaps since we last rounded the sun together. As these milestones tend to, it got me thinking about where we’ve been – our journey together, so far. My memory landed on this feeling I had all through my pregnancy. I worried that my kid probably wasn’t going to like me.

Before she arrived, the things I knew to be true about my future child were: I would love her with the ferocity of a thousand charging stallions. She would love me, too. I would do the best I could figure out to do for this confounding little person.

I was fairly certain, however, that while she would love me, she wasn’t going to like me. Me – the rule maker, setter of bedtimes, and restricter of screen time. Me, who would always tell her where she needs to go and what she has to wear to those places. The one who would make her clean up messes and wash her hands before dinner. I imagined that I’d be the buzzkill. Oh, she’d love me, but how much fun is the one who is always trying to keep you in line?

In our earliest days together, it almost felt there was truth to my premonition. We didn’t get off to the most cordial start to our relationship. I had a hard time feeding her properly due to supply issues, and then her dairy and soy intolerances, which took weeks and weeks to work out. I had one job. One job. To provide nutrition to this kid – and I was failing at it. The poor little hungry and uncomfortable thing was none to happy about it, either. Then, there was the harness she had to wear for a month to correct her hip dysplasia, just as she was trying her hardest to get mobile. And, she hated to sleep. Hated. It.

As I predicted, I would have jumped in front of a moving train for that little bunny, but she really wasn’t having the best time with me.

And then, sometime around 6 months, things started to click into place (except the sleep – the blessed, blessed sleep!). We hit our groove. She’s always been fiercely her own person, with her own will, but it never occurred to her for one second not to like me.

In my mind, I’d somehow turned my baby into a tiny teenager, not realizing what a long road of cuddles, devotion, and emotional need we had before us before we reached that age when her tenuously growing independence will cause her to sometimes see me as the spoiler of plans, and the ruiner of fun.

I look back now, and remember fearsome tantrums at 18 or 20 months, which I learned to let  run their course, until I’d finally step in to offer a hug to an emotionally drained toddler, who would collapse into the respite.

I will never forget her first ear infection, around age 2-1/2. As I carried her to the doctor’s office, she sunk her sore head on my shoulder and told me she loved me, of her own volition, for the very first time.

These days, my baby girl can feed herself, put on her own shoes, and pack her own toys away. There are more rules and restrictions from me now, than there have ever been. And, sure, she doesn’t always love putting her blocks away before TV time or having to wear a hat to play outside, but she also loves bigger than ever. We have a hundred snuggles a day. She tells me she “really, really, really, really” loves me. We talk about her observations, her dreams of being an astronaut or superhero, and her very real fear of monsters. Even when I’m short with her, and down on myself for losing patience, her forgiveness is immediate and unconditional. She can be shy when new people talk to her, but never with us, whose faces she scans the room for, and whose company is still her favorite in the world.

As expected, there’s a big, big love between my this girl and me. But it’s the unexpected gift of this unwavering little best friend that humbles me the most. To steal a line from Parks and Recreation, I love you and I like you, my Hushpuppy. And, it is the greatest gift of my life that you love me and you like me, too.

Setting An Intention For 2017

memoirs, Uncategorized 11 Replies

I stepped into 2017 as gingerly as I could manage. Usually, I’m the one bursting with optimism and hope for the year ahead, but as 2016 drew down, I spent New Year’s Eve day on the verge of tears, feeling that we’ve all been duped this holiday.

Regardless of my – or anyone’s – trepidation, we gathered with friends, ate spicy capsicum dip on crackers, even the 3 year old made it to the midnight fireworks (just), and we ticked over into 2017 with all the pyrotechnics, hysterical tantrums, and low level heartburn I am imagining that we can expect from the world in the months ahead.

It’s not my intention, however, to sit passively in brooding mode, crippled by my own fear for the year ahead. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been contemplating whether I wanted to make any resolutions this year, and after some soul searching about where I am and where I’d like to move towards, I decided, instead on setting in intention for the year. Setting an intention is a technique that always served me well in my yoga practice, and even on days when I just wake up feeling out of sorts, so why not an intention for the entire year?

My word for 2017: CREATE.

The idea started with some thinking about my kid, the burgeoning and enthusiastic stick figure/flower/rainbow artist. I really encourage her artistic invention, and it brings her so much joy, but when she asks me to draw with her, I tend to think (though, never say out loud!), “Nup, I’m rubbish at drawing,” and then find some other extremely pressing task I need to complete, while she creates. But, the thing I’ve noticed when I do sit down with her is: 1. She is delighted that I’m spending time with her, 2. She commits more time and puts more effort into her drawings, and 3. She thinks that my scribblings are grand works of art, worth emulating and learning from. So, why do I nearly always skip out on this  experience with my kid? Because I don’t think I’m “good” at drawing. Geez, lady, who actually cares? As someone with a theatre background, I believe so much in the act of creation, just for creation’s sake, regardless of the end result, yet I’ve let pride and fear stand in the way of doing just that, even in my own home.

I drew this. My kid thought it was so good that she put a stick on it and turned it into a puppet. Collaborative art!

I want to create silly things, things that only exist for a moment, things that are ugly-but-who-cares.: jokes, and essays, and paintings, and sand castles, and cakes, and songs.

I want to create on my blogs. I want to write things that scare me to hit publish. I want to build collaborations and nurture fresh ideas. I want to dance on these pages.

I hope to carve out space in my life for creating things that I haven’t begun to envision, yet – things to do with social justice, with helping the people for whom I’m feeling the weight as we enter this year, with speaking up for what is right. I’m heavy with worry this year, and I can either sit with that and do nothing, or I can be an architect for the change I want to see.

And, as I thought about my plans and goals for the year ahead, I realized that I’d need to keep my expectations in check, as I have this massive creative project I’m already working on – a new little girl entering our family in just four month’s time. It’s a humbling honor to be able to create such a thing in and for this world.

The beautiful and frightening thing about creation is that, if you’re doing it right, it will lead you places physically and mentally which you never envisioned. In fact, I’d say that’s the whole point. I recognize in myself so many walls and barriers to break down in order to create – the need to be in control, the concern about what others think, the fear that there’s actually nothing creative inside me, and the summoning of the energy required to make.

Creation doesn’t just happen. I have work to do, and I’m the only one who can do it.


Tell me, do you have an intention or word for 2017? Are you a resolution maker? How are you feeling as we start a new year? 

 

2016’s Greatest Hits – What You Lot Read This Year

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Ah, 2016. You were a real bugger, ya know? If for no other reason than you took away Alan Rickman, and then you left Donald Trump in charge. What the hell is that about?

Personally, though, 2016 was a perfectly fine year for my family and me (aside from the daily sick feeling in my stomach that I get every morning when I remember that Trump thing). Knock wood, we had good health, no big concerns in the family, new and continuing friendships, our girl is growing up lovelier and lovelier, and we managed some nice spots of travel. I truly count my blessings.

And, for the 6th year, I’ve continued to plug away at this site. It got a little quiet around here in August and September, as I launched my new page, Artsplorers (about kids and the arts – please join me!), but I’m getting into the swing of being two places at once.

As I reflect on this year nearly past, I thought I’d see what you guys were into this year, and wrap up with a look back at your most-read posts. I’m concluding with the 2016 Top 5 Greatest Hits of Between Roots and Wings.

I can’t thank you enough for being here and spreading the love. I hope your 2016 hasn’t been too harrowing, and may 2017 grant us our due of bright spots. I’ll see you right here, however things shake out!

Between Roots and Wings Top 5 Posts of 2016

5. The Novice Citizen’s 100% Unofficial Guide to Voting in Australia 

This year’s Federal election was the first one I was able to vote in, since becoming an Australian citizen in late 2014. I do enjoy politics, and have always found the differences between the U.S. and Australian systems interesting. So, I compiled this guide as a bit of a primer for voting in Australia (and, considering how much I had to look up, it turned out to be pretty useful for me, too). I tried to make it funny and informative, and I’m glad that it was also useful to some of my fellow Aussie newbies.

4. How to Mentally Prepare for a Long Haul Flight With a Toddler 

As Hushpuppy and I were preparing to set off together for a flight back to the States, I was remembering the extreme anxiety I experienced the first time I had to fly solo with her, when she was 20 months old. I was so grateful that, this time, I knew we’d survive, that I wanted to share everything I learned about getting through my mental block about flying long haul with a little one. I know I’m not the only parent who has been in this anxious pre-flight state. It can be done!

3. Sydney Expat Interview Series Part 10 – Advice for Moving to Sydney 

The 18 part Sydney Expat Interview Series ran for 1-1/2 years, concluding this month. It’s been one of my favorite things ever on this blog. And, the most popular one from the series this year? #10 back in April asked the expats for their advice for someone moving to Sydney. It ranged from “have enough money” to “check out different suburbs,” to the affirming advice of saying yes to new adventures.

2. Vivid With Kids: It’s All North of the Bridge 

Sydney’s Vivid Festival must be its most popular annual event – I’m guessing that by the size of the crowds in the city, which increase every year. That crush makes tackling the festival with small children a challenge, but this year we were lucky that the organizers put together a couple of beautifully family friendly districts on the North Shore with the Gondwana-inspired dinosaur wonderland in Chatswood and the simply stunning animal installations at Taronga Zoo. Thank you, Vivid, for remembering the families. Can’t wait for next year!

*Aaaand, insert fanfare here … the #1 most popular post on the blog this year:*

1. The Introverted Expat Makes Friends 

Making new friends is bloody hard when you’re an expat (heck, I’m learning that it’s actually pretty hard for most adults). It’s extra hard when you’re an introvert, and going to “meet-ups” just isn’t going to cut it for you. Believe me. I know. And, I guess I’m not alone in this dilemma because this post about making friends as an introvert was the most read post this year. As they say –  Introverts unite! Separately, in your own homes! Ha!

So, there they are. The winners and grinners on the ol’ blog this year. And, while I’m on the topic of popular posts, I’ll leave you with a few images from over on the blog’s Instagram page. These were the 9 most popular pictures over there. Join me for all the contenders in 2017, over there and here, too. Be well, my friends, and be kind, 2017!

Sydney Expat Interview Series Part 18: A Photo of Your Sydney

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I can’t believe it! After a year and a half, we’re reaching the end of the Sydney Expat Interview Series. For the past 18 months, I’ve been sharing stories, observations, and experiences from a group of expats who made Sydney their home, some for a short time, and some for the long term. 

*If you missed any of the series or want to revisit any, you’ll find links to the entire series at the end of the article.*

I can’t thank these expats enough for sharing their thoughts with us. I hope those of you native to Sydney have had the chance to view your city through new eyes. For anyone considering a move to Sydney, I expect this will take you well beyond the guide books. And, to the fellow expats here, I trust you’ve seen some familiar and some new ideas and attitudes, a reminder that none of us are alone in this big, international city, though we’re each travelling a journey our own.

For the 18th and final installment of the Sydney Expat Interview Series, I’ve asked the expats to share an image that says Sydney to them. Have a look at their Sydney. I think you’ll agree, it’s quite a place to hang your hat. 

As always, join me over on Between Roots and Wings’ Facebook page. And, make sure to visit the fantastic pages of the expats linked below! 



Please share with us a picture that says “Sydney” to you.


Name: Melissa
Country of origin: USA
Lived in Sydney: 1 year

Melissa blogs at Leche Love 

I have sooo many pictures of the opera house, bridge, harbors, oceans, plants, parks, food, everything, but all I could think of was this. We flew across the world! There are so many things to choose from that it’s hard to pick just one to give Sydney a true representation.

 


Name: Shane
Country of origin: USA
Lived in Sydney: 1 year
Shane blogs at Sea Salt Secrets

 

 


Name: Julia
Country of origin: UK
Lived in Sydney: 7 years

Balmoral Beach.


 

Name: Rachel
Country of Origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 4 Years

Taken on a walk to Shelly Beach. It’s the vantage point from my favorite reading place, under the much welcome shade of a tree on a hot summers day.


Name: Victoria
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 6 years
Victoria blogs at The Freedom Travellers

Icebergs, with Bondi in the background.


Name: Erin
Country of origin: Texas, USA
Lived in Sydney: 7 1/2 years
Erin blogs at TexErin-in-Sydneyland


Name: Kirstie
Country of origin: United States
Lived in Sydney: Since September 2013
Kirstie blogs at Venga Vale Vamos

A beautiful sunset, Sydney icons, and wildlife I’d never see back home, plus this was taken at a barbecue with all of my closest friends in Australia.


Name: “Bushranger”
Country of Origin: Serbia
Lived in Sydney: 6.5 Years

Sailing Sydney Harbour


Name: Dido
Country of origin: India
Lived in Sydney: 2.5 years

 


Name: Ashley
Country of origin: United States

Lived in Sydney: 2 years (in Newcastle)
Visit Ashley on Instagram 

My kids at a Sydney Sixers match. For me Sydney and Australia mean watching my kids fall in love with things WAY different than I did as a child. I love that they get to experience all these new things!


Name: Debbie
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 10 years

From the St. Patrick’s fireworks.

 


What does Sydney life look like to you?

And, what would you like to see here next???


Read the rest of the Sydney Expat Interview Series!!

Read Part 1: Expectations vs Reality
Read Part 2: The Most Memorable Sydney Day
Read Part 3: Your First Day in Sydney
Read Part 4: Drinking Like an Aussie
Read Part 5: The Birds of Sydney
Read Part 6: Australian Christmas
Read Part 7: Off the Beaten Path
Read Part 8: Questions About Your Home
Read Part 9: What People at Home Think of Australia
Read Part 10: Advice for Moving to Sydney
Read Part 11: A Sydney Weekend
Read Part 12: Australian TV
Read Part 13: Something I Miss From Home 
Read Part 14: Favorite Sydney Restaurant
Read Part 15: The Huntsman Spider
Read Part 16: The Weekend Getaway
Read Part 17: Aussie Slang

“Aussie As” Gifts to Send Home from Australia

expat issues, shopping 8 Replies

australian-gifts-to-send-homeI always think it’s a bit special to be able to send people at home gifts from Australia. Gifts from our home away from home are totally unique, a great reminder of the sender, and something you can be sure the recipient won’t get duplicates of. Admittedly, my first year or so here, I used to head straight down to the souvenir shop at Circular Quay for some stuffed koalas or embroidered tea towels to send home, and I’m sure those things were appreciated, but these days I feel like I can do better – more interestng, more genuine, and more likely to be made in Australia, not a factory in Shenzhen.

So, here’s my gift guide for sending “Aussie As” gifts back home, just in time for the holiday shopping season. All of these items may be shipped internationally from the company’s website, from Amazon in the U.S., or easily purchased at stores in any Australian mall. Get in soon, if you’re shipping for Christmas!


*This post does contain some Amazon affiliate links. That simply means that if you purchase through that link, I get a little extra Tim Tam money. It doesn’t impact your purchase price in any way.*


For the Foodies

*Note: All of these things should make it past U.S. customs, just be sure to declare them on the shipping label, if you’re doing the shipping. For other countries, check local customs rules about importing food to ensure your gift makes it to the receiver.*

Tim Tams (2 for $5 at Woolies, if you play your cards right!) – Well, this is a no brainer! Is there any more widely beloved Australian snack food than the mighty Tim Tam? I bring them home with me every visit, and they never fail to make an impression. (And, yes, I know you can now buy them in U.S. Target sometimes, but there’s nothing like a few packages from Aussie-land). Send lots! And, toss in a few of the special flavours for comparison, as well.

T2 Teas – (price varies) – Does everyone love walking into a T2 store as much as I do? The impossibly stacked boxes, the gorgeous smells, it’s just an oasis of serenity inside the Westfield. The Melbourne-based tea haven just makes a lovely tea experience. Pick up some at your local shop to mail with the Tim Tams, or they offer international shipping through their website.

t2-teas

Personalize a Jar of Vegemite ($10 AUD) – A bit of kitsch, if ever there was one, because – let’s be honest – your overseas recipient is probably not going to just love Australia’s favorite toast spread, but most everyone’s a bit curious about it thanks to the Men at Work, and how fun to receive a jar with your own name on it? You can get them printed right now at KMart Australia. Just make sure to send some directions for serving on toast (spread thin with plenty of butter!), so that your poor giftee doesn’t try to just lick it off a spoon … gross.

vegemite

Bush Tucker ($89.95 AUD) – How gorgeous is this “Australian Bush Spirit Hamper“? “This stunning all-Australian pack features Nathan Ferlazzo drawing ‘Buddha of the Bush’ koala tea-towel; some delectable honey-roasted and sea salted macadamia nuts, Outback Spirit Chutney and Baylies Epicurean Delights Dipping Crackers.” Class act, this one.

bush-tucker

 

The Wanderlusters

In a Sunburned Country ($11.55 USD) –  Want to coax someone to come visit you in Australia? Bill Bryson’s book on his travels across Australia (called Down Under here) remains one of the most endearing and beloved book about visiting this beautiful country. You may have to talk them down about the killer animals, as Bryson does obsess on that a bit more than I think is probably necessary, but otherwise, it’s a love letter to this country.


In a Sunburned Country

Qantas Gear – Australia’s national airline is easily recognizable across the world by its flying kangaroo logo. Even if your giftee is just dreaming of hopping on a Qantas flight, at this point, I think the logo merchandise in their store is a lot of fun. I’m especially partial to this limited edition retro style shoulder bag ($49.99 AUD).


qantas

Movie Buffs

Your film lover probably knows Muriel’s Wedding, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and Strictly Ballroom. But what about these?

The Castle ($10.30 USD) – Based on a true story about a working class man who fights the system to save his family home, The Castle is probably the most “Aussie-As” Australian film ever. It’s full of quotes that are part of the lexicon, like, “straight to the pool room” and “tell him he’s dreamin'” – and it’s a quirky, endearing story about the triumph of the Aussie “battler.” Nothing more Australian than that.

The Castle

The Sapphires ($7.99 USD) – Set in 1968, The Sapphires is a “girl group” comprised of four Aboriginal women. They are discovered by a talent scout, who sends them to Vietnam to play for the troops. A period piece full of great music, with a compelling story. I loved this movie. Based loosely on a true story.

The Sapphires

The Dish ($14.37 USD) – Apollo 11 is set to land on the moon, and the world’s first moon walk will be televised using a satellite dish in a tiny Australian sheep farming town. When the dish malfunctions, the offbeat Aussie staff and their straight arrow American NASA supervisor scramble. Another true story – the famous moon landing broadcast that almost wasn’t. Completely charming movie.

The Dish

Art Lovers 

Warlukurlangu Paintings ($120 AUD and up) – Paintings created by the Warlukulangu Artists, a group based in the community of Yuendumu in Central Australia. “It is a fundamental aim of Warlukurlangu Artists to share Warlpiri culture and in addition, to increase awareness about Aboriginal culture generally, and to broadly support Indigenous causes.” Paintings are sold through the Blak Markets site, or follow Blak Markets on Facebook to find out where they will be next for many more gift options created by Aboriginal artists (Sydneysiders, make it out this weekend for Blak Markets at Barangaroo on Sunday 4 December!).

blak-markets

Jillian Nampijinpa Brown – Ngapa Jukurrpa (Water Dreaming) – Mikanji

Ken Done – Bright and cheerful, Ken Done has such a distinctive take on Australia. His work has been seen all over the world, and shows Sydney and beyond at its most colorful. Prints at the Ken Done online store start at $20 AUD, and you can also purchase clothing, books, and gifts.

ken-done

Summer From the Verandah

For the Blokes

Australia cufflinks ($45.00 AUD) – Maybe cufflinks are up there with socks and ties on the boring gift list, but I’ve never seen ones quite like these before. Made from solid timber, they are a cut out of Australia (except poor Tasmania). I think these would be an especially great going away gift for an expat finishing up an Australian assignment, or one for expats to send over to dads and brothers who will get a little smile thinking of faraway family whenever they wear them.

australia-cuff-links

Kookaburra Cricket accessories (various prices) – Listen, I don’t know Thing 1 about cricket, but I do believe that a lot of Aussies and people around the world do. And, I’m told that these Kookaburra sports balls are the real Aussie deal, and have been since the 1940s. Plenty of other cricket bats, bags, and accessories on offer, as well.

cricket-ball

Kookaburra Miniature Ball – $10 AUD

Stuff Ladies Like 

Lucas Paw Paw Ointment ($14.20 USD for 75g) – This stuff is a wonder of the world. Use it as a lip gloss, hand lotion, diaper rash cream, or help with healing bug bites or sunburn. The not-so secret ingredient (it’s right there in the title) is paw paw fruit grown in Queensland. I always have a little tube in my handbag.


Lucas’ Papaw Ointment 75g

Liane Moriarty novels – Sydney author Liane Moriarty truly knows how to turn a suspenseful yarn. They have great characters, compelling stories, and a good dose of humor. I recommend them to just about every book loving female reader I know. For my money, I’d start with Big Little Lies ($18.86 USD), the tale of a group of Sydney suburban school mums whose lives become intertwined.

Big Little Lies

Oroton handbag – Want something a little more schmick? Your style vixens would be more than happy to receive a handbag from Australian brand, Oroton. They’re plenty pricey, but good quality and well-loved. You can also dip your toe in for a more budget friendly, but still lovely, wallet or key fob (men’s options, too).

oroton

Beautiful, Bouncing Babies 

Love to Dream Swaddle ($33.02 USD) – This Aussie invention is my number one must buy gift for every single new baby in my life, and that’s because it was one of those miracle items that helped us so much when Hushpuppy was tiny. The thing that makes the Love to Dream swaddle different from others is that it puts the baby in an arms up position. Once most babies “discover” their hands, they want those buggers in their mouth at all times. So, if they’re swaddled to their side, it makes them really, really angry! (Or, at least that’s what happened with our kid) Getting to sleep with their hands up (Maggie Simpson style, as someone I know said) makes for a happy little Vegemite.


Love to Dream Swaddle UP Organic

Bonds Wondersuit (currently 2 for $39 AUD on sale) – See an Aussie baby? Good chance they’re dressed in a Bonds Wondersuit. Having been the owner of a few of these things, myself, I have to admit that they’re pretty wonderful, indeed. I can’t really explain what it is that makes them so popular, but beyond an exceptional marketing campaign, they’re easy wearing fabric, super rugged, good for day or night, and they come in so many cute patterns. But, whatever you do, go for the zipper ones – ain’t nobody got time for buttons on a baby suit.

wondersuit

Kids, Kids, Kids

Diary of a Wombat ($14.54 USD) – If you’ve been hanging around this site for long, it will come as no surprise to you that this picture book by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley is much beloved in my world. Because … wombats. And, quite the cheeky wombat, just doing wombat stuff, at that. It is, just as the title suggests, the diary of the wombat’s days – and it’s the cutest. Suitable for kids up to about age 7.


Diary of a Wombat

Mem Fox books – For years, Australian kids have grown up on the books of Mem Fox. For the young ones, Where is the Green Sheep is the sweetest little board book. And, for the ever slightly older, Possum Magic is one of the most classic Australian story books (great introduction to Australian place and food names, as well). You can pick these up at any bookseller in Australia for shipping, including KMart and Target.

mem-fox-books

Lego Sydney Opera House ($310.00 USD) – The epitome of Aussie gifts for a Lego loving kid. Look at this thing! This one is guaranteed to keep them busy for a good, long while. This is quite a complex set, so best suited to older kids – preteens and teens (maybe even some Lego loving parents).


LEGO Creator Expert – Sydney Opera House

Caramello Koalas – In any package for kids, toss in some Caramello Koalas from the grocery store. Manufactured by Cadbury Australia, it’s both real Aussie chocolate with a caramel center and an iconic marsupial from Down Under. They’re a cute and tasty little ad-on that will delight almost any kid.

koala


Do you have a tried and true Australian gift that you send overseas? Let us know in the comments!

Sydney Expat Interview Series Part 17: Australian Slang

Sydney Expat Interviews Leave a reply

I have to admit, I resisted picking up Australian slang for ages. But over the years, it’s just crept its sneaky way right into my life to the point where, these days, I literally write messages like this: 

“Cheeky coffee this arvo or brekkie tomo? Heaps keen for a catch up!”

Who even am I??

There are so many Australian phrases that I just adore, and are so much fun to say, that I’ve found resistance to be futile. I was sure some of the Sydney expats will have Aussie-fied their language, as well, so for this month’s interview series, I asked them what bits of Down Under slang they find slipping off their tongues, and there were defo definitely a few common denominators. 

This is the 17th in an 18 part interview series with expats living in Sydney. Please make sure to visit the fantastic websites of the participants linked below, and join me on Facebook for much more on expat life in Sydney.


autralian-slang

Question 17: What bits of Australian slang have you picked up?


Name: “Bushranger”
Country of Origin: Serbia
Lived in Sydney: 6.5 Years

“No worries” is like a mantra to me.


Name: Kirstie
Country of origin: United States
Lived in Sydney: Since September 2013
Kirstie blogs at Venga Vale Vamos

I’ll admit I said “no worries” frequently before arriving, although I’m sure I say it even more now! “Keen” and “how ya goin?” have also crept into my lexicon.


Name: Melissa
Country of origin: USA
Lived in Sydney: 1 year

Melissa blogs at Leche Love

Not so much for me, yet. My son is using rubbish and bin now. I do use “no worries” a little bit more often though..

no-worries

 


Name: Ashley
Country of origin: United States

Lived in Sydney: 2 years (in Newcastle)
Visit Ashley on Instagram

I frequently embarrass myself when talking to my American friends because you just don’t realise how many sayings you’ve picked up and how many words you’ve actually forgotten! Plus having kids means I have to change what I say to what they are learning otherwise it can get confusing! So here are a few of my new words: bin, mate, chuck a u-ey, catalogue (instead of flyer).


Name: Julia
Country of origin: UK
Lived in Sydney: 7 years

Fully, No worries, for sure, ahh yeah.


Name: Caitlin
Country of origin: England

Lived in Sydney: 1.5 year
Caitlin blogs at Where’s Wallis

I’ve managed to retain a relatively good Queen’s English so far, despite constant enquiries as to how I’m going, or how I pulled up!


Name: Debbie
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 10 years

Not much, to be honest. I’m still quintessentially English, although I do occassionally drop the odd “arvo” into typed text.


Name: Dido
Country of origin: India
Lived in Sydney: 2.5 years

Arvo is afternoon. Mate is friend/buddy/colleague/or any random person on the street


Name: Mollie
Country of origin: USA
Lived in Sydney: 4 years

How are you going?

how-ya-going


Name: Victoria
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 6 years
Victoria blogs at The Freedom Travellers

“No worries” and “How are you going?” (pronounced “howaryagoin”) are two I say a lot!


Name: Shane
Country of origin: USA
Lived in Sydney: 1 year
Shane blogs at Sea Salt Secrets

The biggies I’ve adapted are “No worries” “Keen” “Heaps” “Arvo” “Cheers” “How ya goin?”
(Shane has a comprehensive post about Aussie slang over on Sea Salt Secrets!)


Name: Erin
Country of origin: Texas, USA
Lived in Sydney: 7 1/2 years
Erin blogs at TexErin-in-Sydneyland

No worries. I use this every day. And, “cheers” to say “thank you”. That’s pretty common for me to use now too.

cheers-mate


Name: Rachel
Country of Origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 4 Years

I’m still not wholle conversant with the Australian – English, but it still makes me chuckle when I hear some new Aussie lingo. I’d love to drop the occassional “fair dinkum” into daily conversation. I know I say, “‘no worries,’ ‘no dramas’ and ‘how you going'” a fair bit!


Expats, how Aussie do you sound?


Read Part 1: Expectations vs Reality
Read Part 2: The Most Memorable Sydney Day
Read Part 3: Your First Day in Sydney
Read Part 4: Drinking Like an Aussie
Read Part 5: The Birds of Sydney
Read Part 6: Australian Christmas
Read Part 7: Off the Beaten Path
Read Part 8: Questions About Your Home
Read Part 9: What People at Home Think of Australia
Read Part 10: Advice for Moving to Sydney
Read Part 11: A Sydney Weekend
Read Part 12: Australian TV
Read Part 13: Something I Miss From Home 
Read Part 14: Favorite Sydney Restaurant
Read Part 15: The Huntsman Spider
Read Part 16: The Weekend Getaway

A Letter to My Daughter: To Read When History Tells You about Donald Trump

politics 11 Replies

to-my-dear-little-daughter

 

To My Dear Little Daughter,

You, my spunky girl, are the best person I know. You are unwaveringly nice. It has never, for one moment, occurred to you to judge anyone based on anything other than their kindness. Your world is limitless – it’s incredible. Being 3-1/2 is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever witnessed.

I know the world, and not just your doting parents, will sculpt and form you, as you grow, which is why my great hope is for you to live in the most just, accepting, generous, and intelligent realm possible.

So, today, I am just so profoundly sorry for this box of evil spirits that my country has loosed upon our world this week.


You know that you are American (and Australian, of course). What you know about America is that you love visiting your adoring family. You know that you get to eat a lot of hot dogs, and something called “nachos,” that you’ve never even heard of before. People are effusive towards you, you get gifts, and you always have the most incredible adventures.

I have to tell you, kiddo, that even though I’ve lived a bit more life than you, and have seen a lot more of America, that my perception of our country has always been pretty optimistic, too. Aside from two years in New York, I have always been a “Blue” in the reddest of “Red” states. John McCain was my Congressman. Then Newt Gingrich. Then Marco Rubio. I’ve known quite well the Religious Right. When I was in college, the KKK marched a block from my campus. My own father was an atheist with a PhD who, inexplicably, loved nothing more than a good riling up from his radio pal, Rush Limbaugh. Yet, despite some serious ideological differences, I always had this feeling that the people of America – the vast majority of them, anyway – had big hearts and an inherent sense of kindness. Blues and Reds might disagree on many things, but we could mostly get along, and there was a cultural thread of decency that knitted us together.

My girl. I am so sorry, but I have somehow gotten things wrong. Hence, the first President you will be able to remember is not the graceful, diplomatic Obama of your toddler years. It’s not, though it brings me to tears to say this, a woman who dedicated her life to people like you – children and girls. A woman who I believe to my very core is so much more good than not. Instead, America has risen to the highest literal and symbolic office in the world, a man who would judge you by your looks, on a scale of 1-10. A man who thinks it’s just “guy stuff” to grab your genitals, as if he owns them, not you. A man who thinks your biological functions are disgusting. You, my perfect little person, are nothing but flawed, in his eyes.

This election is historic. Maybe, when you’re old enough to learn about 2016, you’ll have some questions about where your mother stood. These are the things I’d want you to know:

  • I have been sickened by the words we’ve heard Donald Trump say about women, immigrants, refugees, the disabled, and minorities. His values are so far from the values I carry, and those that I would wish for you.
  • I would not, to my last breath on this Earth, cast a vote for a person who would strip away health care, reproductive rights, or the rights of our gay friends to marry.
  • I believe in science. Climate change is real.
  • I cried big, sloppy tears when I cast my vote for America’s first female President. Those tears were for you, and for me, and for every warrior woman and girl we’ve ever known. And, for every man and young boy, too – they also need to see an amazing woman in the highest office, at least as much as we do.
  • Please know that more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump. That may go down as an historical footnote, nearly forgotten by the time you’re old enough to understand this, but I need you to know that there were more people in the United States who rejected hate and ignorance than who supported it.
  • I cast my vote, and I spoke my truth to my friends, but I could have done so much more. Remember that. In your life, when you see something that you know so fundamentally in your heart and mind to be wrong, you will never regret doing more to fight for what’s right. You will only regret your silence and inaction.

My best girl, I need you to understand that I can never stop being American, and I’ve always carried a quiet hope that one day it would be your home, too. Today, that feels like a distant dream. Today, I am angry, and sad, and for the first time in my life, pessimistic. I only hope that when you’re old enough to read this, society will be on the other end of this vile pendulum swing, and that the memory of Trump and his ilk will just be a strange blip from your childhood.

No matter how history unfolds, I hope you’ll see that your mother and father have never wavered from seeking to uphold our family’s values – kindness, acceptance, respect, equality, peace, curiosity, and education. No one – not even a President – can ever take these things away.

 

With so much love,
Your adoring, angry (not at you!), heartbroken mother

5 Things American Elections Can Learn From Australia

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Election day is upon the U.S. once again, and this one ought to be the dooziest of all doozies. Buckle in.

Though I haven’t physically cast a ballot in the U.S. in several years, I’ve done so many times in the past. I was one of those Democracy enthusiast people who voted in local school board elections and the whole lot of ’em. Luckily, I never encountered many problems at my polling places, but after voting in Australia a couple of times, I’ve taken away a few best practices that I’m certain would make the American election season and the process of voting much easier, and infinitely less frustrating for everyone.

And, just to be fair, Aussies don’t have everything worked out perfectly … those meter long Senate ballot papers?? We’ll chat next go ’round, Australia!

Short Election Seasons

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m starting to feel like I’ve aged dozens of years since the start of this campaign season – and that’s not just because of how many wrinkles screaming at the TV during the debates has given me. In truth, Clinton announced her candidacy in April 2015 – 19 MONTHS AGO – and Trump just one month later. In this insane amount of time, the campaigns have looked for increasingly wild ways to stay on top of the news cycle and keep voters’ attention. This involves doing nearly anything aside from talking about actual policy, which has been hardly a passing thought over this long, long, painfully long season.

My American friends, this is going to sound impossible to believe, but in Australia, an election must happen between 33 and 58 days after it has been called. DAYS. And, here’s what I’ve noticed about that – candidates have to get out there and hustle on the quick, and we, including the media, actually talk about issues and policy positions. Of course, there’s some mud-slinging, but I’ve yet to see it get anywhere near as personal and ugly as in these never ending American contests.

Preferences

There’s been a lot of talk this year about “not throwing away your vote” on a 3rd party. That it’s “too important to make sure that the other guy isn’t elected.” While I get the sentiment, I’m personally of the belief that you should vote for whoever reflects your values and the values you want for your country better than anyone else. The more voices in the conversation, the more interesting things get, in my estimation. And, frankly, some people are never going to vote for the major party candidates because they just can’t stand either of them.

In Australian elections, however, you don’t just choose one the person you like the best. You actually put your candidates in order of preferences, and if the vote count is close, those preferences come into play until a 50%+ winner is decided. For me, in the last election, I wasn’t crazy about either of the two major parties, but there was certainly one I liked better than the other. But, I really wanted to give my vote to a few of the small parties whose platforms reflected my interests a lot better. So, I preferenced two minor parties, and then the major party third, knowing full well that if it got close, my vote would go to the major party that I disliked the least, but I still got to give my nod of support to the smaller parties I preferred.

Who’s number 1?

Vote Anywhere in Your State

The first time I voted in Australia, I was in a bit of a tizzy because I was trying desperately to find “my” polling place. In the U.S., there’s only one local school or hall for the local area where you reside at which you’re able to cast your vote. If, for any reason, you’re not going to be near that particular location on election day, it takes some planning ahead – either voting early (where available), arranging for an absentee ballot, or just calling it too hard and skipping it, altogether. What I discovered about Australian elections, however, is that you can vote at any polling place in your state. You may have to go into a separate line if you’re voting outside of your council area, but it’s allowed. So, if you’re travelling or working away from your home area on election day, it’s no issue to cast your ballot.

Saturday Elections

Elections in the U.S. are always on Tuesdays. Do you know why? Because once upon a time, it took a full day to travel to the county seat from your little country farm (supposing you were a land owning white man and eligible to vote), so elections needed to be on a day that didn’t interfere with either Sunday church services or Wednesday market days. And, so totally logically, even though most of us don’t ride horse carriages to our polling places any longer, and Wednesday is just cloyingly best known as “Hump Day” now, we haven’t changed things … even though most people now actually have to go to work on Tuesdays. And, yes, employers are technically required to give you time off to vote, for many people it’s just too inconvenient, either because you’re too busy, too far away from your polling place, or your employer isn’t as supportive as they ought to be.

Yes, early voting – where available – does help with work conflicts – but, what if we just voted on a day when a lot more people have the day off? Like Saturday? Of course there are people who work on Saturdays – there is no perfect day – but far fewer than Tuesdays. I mean … Tuesday? Plus, when the election is on Saturday, it doesn’t hurt nearly so much the next day when you stay up all night watching the results come in, celebrating/drowning your sorrows.

Sausage Sizzles

Speaking of celebrating – can you imagine if election day was like a big ol’ party? Bake sales, maybe your kid can get her face pained or have a listen to the local school’s musical talent. And, do not forget the sausages! In Australia, the “sausage sizzle” is almost synonymous with elections. Get your “Democracy sausage!” Local schools and community groups use elections as fundraisers, and everyone sees taking part in the festivities as part of the experience. Polling places are a festive atmosphere, not an onerous chore to dread. Gives new meaning to “Rock the Vote!”

***You might notice that I left the biggest difference between American and Australian voting off this list – compulsory voting. Frankly, I like it, but I think there’s arguments to be made for and against it, and it’s a much, much, much bigger topic than this article. Let’s live through this election and then talk again soon, shall we?

Go get, ’em, America! And, Florida, don’t screw this up for everyone!