Author Archives: Cristin

Word of the Year 2018

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It started with a cookbook. Every week, I make a meal plan for the week, scouring the Internet for something new, something interesting, something I’ve never made before. This particular week, I was thinking of lasagna, and I had this sudden epiphany that, instead of digging through food blog after food blog to for some fancy pants quinoa  noodles with homemade goats cheese ricotta business, I could just use the no-frills recipe in my Betty Crocker cookbook. Betty Crocker is such an old reliable that I got for a birthday – maybe 21 – as a mark of proper adulthood. Every home cook in America ought to have a trusty Betty Crocker. Sure, it’s unpretentious and maybe a little Mid Western in its taste palette, but darn it if everyone in my family didn’t love that plain old lasagna. And, so, for the past few months, I’ve been going to Ms Crocker for a lot of recipes, and she rarely steers me wrong. They’re basic, and they work.

The Betty Crocker revelation got me thinking about what else in my life I’m over-complicating. Buying too much nonsense, comparing my life to Instagram photos, and adding wholly unnecessary events to my schedule are a few of the things that came to mind. I just don’t need any of it. And so, for my word of the year for 2018, my focus is on “Basics.”

“Basics,” to me, means cutting back, both in terms of physical stuff and, moveover, in thought and actions that are unnecessarily complicated. For instance, Facebook was causing me a lot of stress. I was clocking a lot of scrolling hours, as I sat and fed the new baby, and it seemed to just multiply itself. The more I scrolled, the more I wanted to scroll. I realized how overwhelmed I was with just this jumble of information, much of it stressful news and a lot more of it totally unrelated to my life. I took Facebook off my phone, and vowed to leave it off next year, finding ways, instead of letting the information come to me in a more curated manner.

The habit I want to cultivate most this year is asking myself, “do I need this?” “How does this contribute to my life?” “Is there a simpler way?” I want to find the Betty Crocker approach to things, thoughts, and actions. Simple and effective.

That’s not to say that my 2018 has to be devoid of the fanciful or the wonderfully frivolous. That’s so often the stuff that makes life fun. But, I want to partake in this stuff with thought as to how it might enhance my life, not out of a sense of obligation or a desire to “keep up” socially.

I’m entering this year with the realization that I have plenty enough that’s really worth my time and effort – my marriage, my beautiful little girls, two blogs, friends and causes that I care about, good books and art. No matter how much information or how many opportunities are swirling around me, I don’t need to add any extra ingredients.

My best wishes to you for 2018. May you have the perfect recipe this year!

Learning to Love Our Australian Christmas

holidays

I’ve written a lot about Christmas Down Under, over the years I’ve lived here. It seems like there is no more universally difficult time for transplants from the Northern Hemisphere to be in Australia. I’ve felt the sting of lost traditions, reversed seasons, and missing family. I’ve struggled with what to do and how to feel merry during Australian Christmas for 7 years in a row, minus one blissful Christmas that Hushpuppy and I spent back home.

For some reason, this year is different. I’ve found myself downright festive, and I’m not even dreaming of a white Christmas (not that we ever had one of those in Georgia). The formula, I think, has been a big helping of a very enthusiastic 4 year old, a splash of having friends in town to celebrate with this year, and a big helping of just getting used to a summer Christmas. We also had a massive trip to visit both sides of the family just recently, so my interest in hopping a long-haul flight with two small children is at an all-time low.

While I may never shake the image of a Courier and Ives Christmas, I thought I’d share a few of the lovely, Australian things that, for the first time, feel like Christmas to me:

Carols in the Park

What I Love About Australian Christmas

Carols in the Park may be the loveliest of all Australian Christmas traditions. You pack a picnic and a blanket for an evening on the green listening to live Christmas carols. Because it’s summer, it’s bound to be a beautiful, family-friendly evening. Our first year here, friends introduced us to the massive Carols in the Domain event, where the year’s reality stars, a few singers just a little past their peak stardom, and The Wiggles sing carols to thousands in Sydney CBD’s largest open space, as it’s broadcast on TV. I’d never experienced anything like it. Closer to home, you can find local carols in the park concerts of various sizes every weekend in the lead up to the big day. Attending our local carols has become a beloved tradition for our family.

Santa in Unusual Places

What I Love About Australian Christmas

Oh, certainly, you’ll find your Santa for photos in every shopping mall, but he also pops up in some unexpected places. Like the beach. Or, next to Luna Park on Sydney Harbour. It makes for a pretty eye-catching Christmas card.

Australian Versions of Christmas Songs 

What I Love About Australian Christmas

So many traditional Christmas songs just make little sense for an Australian holiday, and leave it to the cheeky Aussies to twist them around into something funny and right on the mark for a True Blue summer celebration. There’s “Aussie Jingle Bells” (“Dashing through the bush in a rusty Holden ute…), “We Wish You a Ripper Christmas” (“A dead set ripper Christmas”), and “Deck the Shed With Bits of Wattle” (“Wack some gum leaves in a bottle…”), among others. They’re really a lot of fun, with the only-in-Australia humor.

 

CherriesWhat I Love About Australian Christmas

In the Northern Hemisphere, chestnuts and cranberries reign supreme, but down here, cherries are coming into season, just as we approach Christmas. They’re so pretty, and the season is so short, that they feel like a real decadence. Chestnuts or cherries? I know which I’d rather have!

So Much Bubbly

What I Love About Australian Christmas

It’s hot outside, and of course, no Australian party would be complete without a festive drink. So, it’s break out the cold bubbly  for a holiday toast at every party. Last year, when I was pregnant, the only time I missed drinking was during the holidays when those flutes of chilled bevvies looked so inviting. White wine and Christmas are so synonymous that Tim Minchin’s Christmas song is called “Drinking White Wine in the Sun.” Make mine sparkling, please!

Merry Christmas, everyone! May your days be merry, and bright. And, may you get to sit in the sun this Christmas Day.

Trying to Cure a Seven Year Ache

expat issues

I didn’t mean to go MIA here, but somehow it’s gone radio silence for months now, and for that I’m sorry.

I could blame the new baby.
It’s always safe to blame the baby – she can’t defend herself.
Or, it could be the other blog, six weeks of overseas travel, or just, you know … laundry.

But, honestly, I haven’t carved out the time to write because I just haven’t known what to say. While my home life has been mercifully lovely, external world events have weighed so heavily on me. I always write a “where I am this year” post on my expat anniversary in August. This year, I was sitting on a beach in Wollongong as I marked 7 years in Australia; meanwhile, actual Nazis were marching in my birth country, and Australia was getting ready to open up the nation to a public debate about whether or not gay men and women should have the right to marry. I just could not find coherent thoughts about where I sit in relation to either country. So, I didn’t say anything.

I logged off Facebook for a month, and realized that some quiet in my head was just the prescription for this year. It was bliss.

A week or so ago, I almost lost this entire blog – all 7 years worth of entries could have vanished in a hacker incident, and I had to decide if maybe that was OK. If I was actually just done here. Perhaps that would be the next level of quiet. I finally decided that it wasn’t OK, and I’m not done; so someone with witchcraft and wizardry skills cleaned it all up, and after all that, I believe owe this place some more words.

I also owe this clunky old site a grand makeover if we’re going to do this thing, so look for that after the holidays.

Thanksgiving seems like a good time to delve back in with the right attitude. Instead of trying to put words to the complicated feelings I’ve had about America, Australia, and expat life this year, I think it will be a lot healthier for me to share my great gratitudes as a belated expativersary celebration. And, as I’ve always done in my anniversary posts, I’ll conclude with some of the most meaningful photos from the year.

  • Thank you to whatever spiritual power that gave us the world’s most charming and delightful baby. We thought CJ was never going to smile, but once she finally cracked, her face hasn’t stopped beaming. She’s a girl in a hurry, rolling just after turning 3 months, and crawling not long after 6 months. And, it’s no wonder, when she has as a role model her 4 year old sister who never slows down from her duties as superhero-scientist-explorer.
  • Last September, I launched my Artsplorers page, and it’s reconnected me to my love of the arts.
  • I had to give myself permission to more or less take it easy for a lot of the year because I felt so sick from pregnancy, so thank goodness for Partner-in-Crime who kept the adventures going for Hushpuppy.
  • And, still, we had more than our fair share of festivals, beaches, museums, playgroups, pools, cafes, and parks. Sydney, as flashy and expensive as it is, never fails to provide. We could do worse. We could definitely do worse.
  • It was a year of new and deepened friendships. Of new babies (not just ours!) and weddings and watching the kids we know grow up. I said goodbye to two of my closest expat friends and welcomed the return of another. It’s an ebb and flow, but my heart has been full of these people I call my second family.

August 12, 2016 – August 12, 2018

Sydney, ya beaut. (August 2016)

This baby hit the scene

Children’s theatre at the Opera House

Halloween Down Under

Democrats Abroad – this was the saddest party I’ve ever been to in my life

We hosted Thanksgiving

Aussie Christmas

Watching the Sydney to Hobart launch is our Boxing Day tradition

We marched

Australia Day

Hushpuppy turned 4 (4!) Octonauts style

We took one final outing as a family of three to Jervis Bay and Kangaroo Valley

Welcome to our beautiful CJ, April 22

Vivid Festival

We were in our beautiful friend’s wedding ❤️

We’ve got another dualie, guys!

…and now we’re at 7 years! We’ll talk again soon, friends.

True Blue! 7 Bits of Everyday Australian Culture

expat issues

Everyone has a learning curve when you move to a new place. Tourist books will get you so far, but there are always little things that are so ingrained in the culture that you probably won’t read much about them, and sometimes you just have to smile and nod until you can find someone to quietly ask about it, or work it out yourself. I’m not talking about big things like how to rent an apartment or get around on public transport, nor do I mean just regular bits of slang language (we all pick up on the “arvos” and “brekkies” pretty quickly, I think!), but just day to day things that give a person pause.

So, here are 7 Aussie-as cultural bits that, if you know about them before landing, will make you feel like a true blue Aussie when you run across them!

The Bunnings Sausage Sizzle 

Let’s unpack this one point by important point. First, there’s Bunnings. Oh, sure, you can think of it as “just a hardware store,” but if I can translate this for my Yank ladies, Bunnings is a “just a hardware store” in the same way that Target is “just a department store.” People lose hours of their lives wandering the aisles. Marriages go on the brink when the credit card statements show up. And, most importantly, it’s a place where families might end up hanging out for a couple of hours on a weekend. It’s actually a fun place for kids. They have those little, child size trolleys (carts) and free balloons. A lot of them even have play area. And, most importantly, on the weekend, you’ll often find a local charitable group running a “sausage sizzle.”

There is little in this world more Aussie than a sausage sizzle. You give volunteers a small amount of money, and they give you a sausage on a piece of white bread, maybe with some fried onions. Top it with tomato sauce (ketchup to us Yanks) or BBQ sauce. Lunch!

Get in on the Bunnings Sausage Sizzle, and you’re at least half way to your Australian citizenship.

Gold Coin Donations

Hand in hand with the sausage sizzle is the “gold coin donation.” In Australia, gold coins are worth $1 or $2, and that’s usually the going rate for your sausage at the sausage sizzle, or any number of other charity activities. But, make no mistake, just because it’s called a “donation,” that doesn’t mean it’s optional. It would be very un-Aussie to try to pass up on giving your gold coin to people doing good work in the local community.

Slip Slop Slap

The tourist book might warn you about sun protection in Australia, and it really is no joke here. You can still often hear people talking about the concept of “slip slop slap,” which came from a marketing campaign in the 1980s. It means:

Slip on a shirt.
Slop on sunscreen.
Slap on a hat.

If you have school aged kids, you might also hear the phrase, “no hat, no play.” To be allowed on the playground, children are required to wear a hat. Primary school uniforms are pretty well guaranteed to include a wide brimmed hat for this purpose. And, if you walk past an Aussie playground on a sunny day, you might notice that most of the kids will have sun hats on.

Fly Buys

The first time you do your grocery shop at Coles, you might be a little taken aback when the cashier asks you if you “have any Fly Buys?”. Do what?

“Fly Buys” are a shopping rewards card for Coles and its affiliated stores, including KMart, Target, Liquorland, and others. Given that is has “Fly” in the name, I initially thought that maybe you could earn airline miles with it, but alas, what you actually earn are points towards … I don’t know … toasters and movie vouchers, I think. There’s a whole book. I’ve ever actually earned enough points to get anything, but now that I do have Fly Buys, I just keep on swiping at the checkout.

The Bonds Baby Search

If you happen to be in the child-bearing age demographic, get ready because once a year, your Facebook feed is going to explode with friends and acquaintances asking – nay, pleading – for you to vote for their tiny humans in a mysterious contest called the Bonds Baby Search. Bonds is a popular clothing brand in Australia, perhaps best known for their baby “Wonder Suit.” It’s not 100% clear to me what the actual prize of winning the Bonds Baby Search is, but I don’t think it’s, like, a million dollars or anything that would seemingly make it such a coveted prize. Except for the Bonds corporation for whom the free advertising must be worth gazillions.

Hey, friends, all of your babies are gorgeous!

Infomercials On the News

So, there you are, coffee in hand, catching up on the Sunrise-Today-G’Day-To-You-Australia morning show. They’ve covered whatever Trump tweeted yesterday, and some outraged thing that Barnaby Joyce told reporters, and the latest sacking in the sportsball, when all of a sudden, the news reader gets down to business of reporting on an amazing new folding ladder … or, a life changing foundation makeup … or, fire insurance. It’s all very serious. This real life reporter is asking some well-rehearsed marketing manager serious questions like, “Kyle, why do we need an Ultra Green Blender?” and then listening intently to the answer like it’s actual news. It’s basically The Home Shopping Network pretending to be news, and it seriously blew all of my mind cells the first few times I saw it!

(Sensational!)

Hip, hip, hooray!

Yay, you’re invited to a birthday party! And, even more yay – it’s cake time! You sing the birthday song  – all normal – and then at the point where we Americans would think we were finished, some extrovert bellows, “HIP, HIP…”, to which everyone else replies, “HOORAY!”. Repeat two more times. “Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip, hoooooray!!!”. I’m not sure if any other Commonwealth countries do this, but it will probably be a surprise to any Yank. I think it’s good fun, I just want you to be prepared for the birthday surprise. Hooray!

Hooray!

I’m sure there are many more Aussie-as cultural bits and pieces that you don’t know until you just know.
Expats, what small differences came as a surprise to you?

Baby Down Under #2: The Public Hospital

Little Aussie

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

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

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

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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

Sydney, Sydney Expat Interviews

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