Category Archives: expat blog challege

To Dump or Not to Dump: The Smartphone Question

expat blog challege

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor the Expat Blog Challenge April prompt, I’ve asked everyone to have a look at this article from Forbes, which intrigued me when it crossed my feed. “Why I Dumped My Smartphone (and what it feels like after a month)” hit on a topic I have strong and complicated feelings about. Some days, dumping it is exactly what I’d like to do.

I’m not techie by any means, but like many of us, I feel that my smartphone is one of those “naked without it” items in my life – I was about to say, “like my wedding ring,” but my husband would tell you that I’m rubbish at remembering to wear my wedding ring, so pretty much like nothing else in my life. I regularly reach the end of my data allowance each month, which I accredit to two factors:

1. Internet plans in Australia are ridiculous

2. Facebook.  (And to a lesser extent Instagram and Gmaill).

I find myself doing casual social media and email check-ins all day long. It’s overkill, and when I say “I find myself” doing this, it really feels this way. Half the time, I’m hardly conscious that I’ve even logged on. In the past, I’ve signed off of Facebook for a week or two, and I missed so little, that it’s amazing that my brain is wired to continue wanting that constant fix of … what, really? … funny cartoons, political rants, and what airline my friends are angry with today? Obviously, baby pictures, pet photos, smart thoughts, and newsie items, too – the important stuff – but nothing that can’t be attended to just a couple times a day.photo 1

For this reason – my abject slavery to the little blue and white “F” button on the top of my screen – I’d do very well to give up my smartphone and revert to a “dumb” phone with its texting/calling/nothing else – the kind of phone that was revolutionary and mind-blowing when I got my first one at age 21. The kind of phone that seemed like all I could ever need in this world and more until my smartphone came along and proved otherwise, forever altering my relationship with real-life in the process.

Yes, I would love to ditch my smartphone and remember what reality is all about. I’d throw it out the window this minute if it weren’t for one thing: MAPS.

My map apps are a lifeline, and I actually can’t imagine don’t want to imagine life without them. I have friends who, as if by sorcery, have this thing they tell me is called “a sense of direction.” I believe them – kind of – sort of like people who “don’t eat breakfast” or “just need four hours of sleep a night.” It seems improbable, but they’ve proven reliable narrators, so I have to believe them. I, by contrast, still have to think about which hand I write with to know which way is right or left, and the only time in my life that I could tell you which was was West was when I lived one block from the Gulf of Mexico. I like to sum up my complete lack of directional sense with a quote from my brother, who spent a weekend riding subways with me when he visited me in New York. When you walk out of the subway at an unfamiliar stop, you immediately have to choose which direction is the correct one to walk to get you to your ultimate destination. After a couple of days of perpetual backtracking, my brother said, “Statistically, you should choose the right way half the time. But, you’re wrong 100% of the time.”photo 2

And so it is that the introduction of map apps into my life has improved my quality of living immeasurably. Many, many hours of my life have been spent in productive endeavors, rather than wandering, desperately lost in the absolutely wrong end of the city. There are a few parts of Sydney that I know extremely well, but anytime I venture out of that comfort zone, you’ll see me following that little arrow, making sure it stays firmly attached to my blue navigational dots. On Google Maps, you can even see the bus stops, which I am so grateful for, especially now that I’m often making trips with an unforgiving toddler in tow. There’s no room for error/ending up miles (kilometres) from my destination and on the verge of a quiet meltdown while also pushing a pram with a kid who would really really rather be at the park. I had a lot of quiet meltdowns wandering mystery streets before my smartphone, and I don’t want to go back to that dark period of my life. It was an era of lost hours, missed appointments, and sometimes even finding myself in potentially dangerous situations. No thanks.

So, perhaps the answer is to delete my nemesis, the little “F,” in order to have a healthier relationship with my phone – and with my life. But, I will never ditch my smartphone. Once you realize what it’s like to always know where you’re headed, there’s no going back to the lost days.

My Worldly Possessions

expat blog challege, expat issues

This post is part of the October installment of the Expat Blog Challenge. My fellow challengers are invited to write on a prompt each month (some of them take me up on it, some don’t!). If you want to read some of the blogs written by other marvelous expat bloggers who took part in the challenge earlier this year, and continue to be part of our little community, I’ve added asterisks by their blogs on the Blogroll page.

Our prompt for October is: “My worldly possessions.”
Nearly all expats have a complicated relationship with their “stuff.” Tell us how moving abroad has made you think about your possessions.

It will come as no surprise that October’s prompt was inspired by our recent move. It was our fourth apartment in under 5 years, which followed our huge move across the world. As the packed boxes piled up in the dining room, I started looking at it with equal parts awe and disgust. It wasn’t that long ago that I sold nearly all of my possessions, stashed the better part of the remaining at my mom’s house, and moved to Australia with two suitcases. How could it be that we now own enough that we have to store dozens of boxes and various pieces of furniture in our garage because we don’t have enough room in our two bedroom apartment?

The first thing I feel when I think about all this acquisition is a little bit sick to my stomach. How much money have we spent on all this stuff and, moreover, what are we doing to the environment?

In my 20s, I moved around a lot, too, and I always declared that I wanted to be more “Buddhist” in my relationship to my possessions (yes, I realize that’s an oversimplification of an entire body of belief, but maybe you’ll get what I mean). Every time I had to pack up my car for another move, I dreamed of being able to toss it all into one box and hitting the road. Every move has involved a big purge. I’ll never be a hoarder. I have no sentimental attachment to things like ticket stubs or clothing items, and I never buy souvenirs on vacation. But still, the stack of boxes only grows.

Now in my mid-30s, I choose to be more honest with myself about the parts of my personality that I don’t think will change. If I were really the kind of person who could live out of one box, I would have been that girl, but I never was. So, I’m done beating myself up about who I am. Partner-in-Crime actually is the kind of person who could live out of one box. He has the detachment down. So, we talk about our stuff sometimes, and the best way I can verbalize my feeling is that I don’t want “stuff” for the sake of having stuff. I’m not into flashy or expensive things or name brands. What I do want is to have “the right” stuff, that is to say the stuff that makes me feel a little bit more at ease or comfortable. For instance, last Christmas, I was aching for the Bellini thermo cooker. I wasn’t bothered about having the $2000 Thermomix on which it is modeled, but I knew that this thing would bring me a lot of joy in the kitchen. And, has it ever. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t use it multiple times. This is a “stuff” that makes me happy.

The problem with moving so much is that the “right” stuff for one place may be of no use in the next. In our garage, for instance, is the long table we bought to serve as our dining room table in our small first apartment. When we had a bigger place, we replaced it with a real dining room table (stuff that makes me happy), but hey, you know, we used it that once to serve Thanksgiving dinner on, so we’d better not get rid of it! We have a portable air conditioning unit that we bought from expat friends who were moving home, and it was just the thing in our Neutral Bay place when I was 8 months pregnant and it was 108 degrees outside. Here, however, we have a built in A/C unit. But, what if we don’t in the next place, and it was such a good deal … And on and on to the tune of a quarter of a garage.

I also do have a special weakness for bargain hunting.  In the States, I was plowing through the racks at Ross once a week looking for something so wonderful and so cheap that it made my heart leap. On days off, I tread a path straight to the Goodwill. When I first got to Sydney and had a lot of free time while P-i-C was at work, I used to get on the train for up to an hour on the hunt for a new and better Vinnies or Salvos (“op shops,” as they are called here, just like our thrift stores at home). These days, I mostly hunt for Hushpuppy. The poor thing has hardly ever had a piece of clothing in her life that didn’t come to her secondhand. This Saturday, I spent half the day dragging her around from one garage sale to another, as it was the annual Garage Sale Trail.  I was so proud of my $40 haul that I took a picture and posted it to Instagram. It was the most fun I’ve had in ages.

photo (24)

This kind of deal hunting is an endeavor wrought with emotions for me. I’m thrilled by the hunt, giddy when I find a buried gem, and elated about spending just a small amount. I am, incidentally, similarly racked with guilt anytime I spend a lot of money, which is to say anything that ‘s full price (“racked” with guilt, not “wracked” with guilt, by the way, is the correct way of saying that. I looked it up). I suppose it’s no surprise then that many of the “stuff” items to which I’m most attached  are prizes from the bargain hunt. In thinking about this post, I wondered to myself which, if any, items I left behind in Florida I miss. Two things came to mind: The first was an absolutely gorgeous and huge Christmas wreath that I bought 75% off after the holidays and never got to hang. The second were my turquoise diner chairs that I picked up at the Goodwill, and I considered the piece de resistance of my colorful Coney Island themed kitchen.

Not the actual chairs, but they looked exactly like this. Source.

Not the actual chairs, but they looked exactly like this. Source.

It’s a complex relationship I have with my possessions. I wish I could channel one of those beautiful placards that people post on Facebook reminding us that “happiness is found in our heart” or “a simple life is the path to happiness,” but I’m just not going to wake up tomorrow as one of those one-box people. I find solace in a few comforts and attachments. Of course, if I lost it all tomorrow, and all I had left was P-i-C and Hushpuppy, I truly would count myself grateful for the only things that truly matter, but today, I am so fortunate to have those pieces of “stuff” in my life that bring me some sense of joy, stability, and ease.

Australian Real Estate: Only in Oz

expat blog challege, Sydney

I’m doubling up with this post, tackling both my monthly Sydney Side entry, as well as our assignment for the Expat Blog Challenge. Every month, we challengers have a new topic, and this month we are choosing a news story that we think says, “only in our country.” So, only in Australia …

This piece from today’s Sydney Morning Herald – “How to double the price you – and your neighbors – get for your house” – popped up on my Twitter feed today, and I had no doubt that this was my article. In short, this is an account of nine neighbors in a Sydney suburb who got together to sell their properties to an undisclosed buyer in one lot for about double the market value. Now, that’s an OK story that could probably happen many places, but the “only in Australia” part of this story is that the price each owner is expected to get is nearly $3 million. Yessir, that’s $3 million. Each.

Those of you not in Australia might be thinking, $3 million. That would buy a lot of house. They must be some nice mansions!

You’d be wrong.

The article doesn’t mention the exact addresses, but when you look up the street on Google Maps, here’s what comes up. It’s not a very long street, so I think we can presume this is fairly representative.

lane cove2

Pretty average.

Maybe a $3 million house at least has an amazing Harbour view?lane cove

Nup.

So, presumably you’ve done the math on these fairly average/no Harbour view homes and figured out that their normal market value is $1.5 million.

This is so normal to Sydneysiders that any of you reading this are probably thinking, “yeah, that sounds about right.”

Really? Does it really? Because to me, it sounds plain crazy town.

I’m absolutely no expert on any of this, though to be honest, I’m married to someone who is pretty savvy on this stuff, and I do try to pay attention. And, having lived in central Florida between 2006 and 2009, wary doesn’t even begin to explain how I feel when I see home prices like Sydney’s.

Some people will tell you that it’s “foreign investors” driving up the property prices. Personally, I think that’s rubbish. What’s even odder is Australia’s relationship to property. Property is a national obsession. Americans invest in stocks and bonds. Australians invest in property. And, everyone wants in. Anecdotally, just amongst the people I know, it is not uncommon for young investors to own one or more properties, often while renting the one they live in.  I’ve also heard of so many young people who live at home with their parents until they are 25 or older so that they can save to buy property.

There are a few factors at work that drive the prices so high, and I think this article, “Why Australia is floored by sky-high house prices” does a great job of explaining them. A couple of the more puzzling factors are negative gearing tax concessions and limited release of crown lands. One of the reasons that investment properties are so popular (like with the people I mentioned in my circle) and considered lucrative is because there are tax breaks for negative gearing. Not familiar? Here’s a quick primer one why negative gearing is super duper. Or, perhaps like me, it may make you super duper skeptical. As for “crown land,” this is land held by the government that may be released for development at their discretion. And, their discretion seems to be not to release so much of it. Why? Well, perhaps it’s a bit cynical, but here’s a theory posited by the author of the article I linked to here: “State governments help to keep prices high by limiting the land released for development. High house prices lead to more stamp duty and that is a major source of state revenue.” That’s one theory, anyway.

Here’s another quote from that article that puts the Australian property market into humbling perspective: Sydney dwelling prices, for example, are around 50 per cent higher than prices in New York, despite New York being home to more accumulated wealth than anywhere in the world.

There’s been an ongoing debate since I’ve lived here as to whether Australia is in a housing bubble. Most sources I’ve read think not, but that a market “correction” must take place at some point in the future (some say it’s already underway, but I’m not convinced).

Partner-in-Crime and I are on the same page that this is not a time for us to consider purchasing property, so it’s something that we watch a bit from the sidelines. However, as you might expect, inflated property prices also translate to inflated rental prices, which is our reality. We recently learned that we have to move from our current apartment because our landlord is moving back into our unit. We love where we live, but this new reality caused a lot of discussions about why we live where we do and whether we would decide to stay here, as we’re not tied to Sydney for work. For now, we decided to stay, and were lucky enough – if that’s the right word – to find another unit in our complex (for just a little more rent, of course!). We’ve settled here, have friends we care about, like our routine, and the proximity to the city when we want it. And, honestly, I pushed to stay here because I’m really happy with our current situation. Part of me does feel guilty, though, as we’re spending a lot of money in this crazy market. We could get so much more elsewhere. But, as you can see by the $3 million homes, we’re not the only ones who have been sucked in. The Sydney lifestyle truly is something special … but sometimes we do have to reflect on the cost.

 

 

The Accomplishment

expat blog challege, memoirs

Each month, my fellow Expat Blog Challengers and I take on a new writing prompt. This month we have a photo prompt on the theme “an accomplishment.

I feel like it’s only fair that I mention that I’m the one who writes these monthly blog challenge prompts. It would seem like that gives me an unfair advantage of picking something that I want to write about, but I actually never have an idea in mind. As to the topic I’ve finally settled on for this month’s theme, I’m amazed that I might actually hit “publish” on this post. I’ve written about so many aspects of my life in these pages over the last four years, but I’ve never written about this aspect in more than a passing mention.

This picture was taken in the summer of 2003:

accomplishment1

This picture was taken about 14 months later (I was Nancy Sinatra for Halloween – I didn’t lose my mind, too).

accomplishment2

These pictures represent the most and least I’ve weighed in my adult life. In the months in between, I lost about 2 pounds a week, 100 in total (45kg for the non-Americans). It all started when I moved into my parent’s house in Montana for a year while I was applying for grad school. My mom and sister were following Weight Watchers, so I decided I’d join them. It was a case of being in the exact right place and frame of mind when I took the plunge. I set myself a modest goal, reached that, set another goal that I never thought I’d reach, got to that, and then set a huge goal that I finally achieved. There was no secret pill or guru. Yes, I followed the Weight Watchers plan (just the plan, I never went to meetings), but what it came down to was eating less, moving more, and doing both consciously. It was really that simple … and that complicated.

At the end of my year in Montana, my smaller self, a new wardrobe and I moved to New York to start grad school with people who had never known First Picture me. It was an exhilarating and strange experience, after being the chubby and beyond girl for almost my entire life. I had a newfound confidence that has only grown in the ensuing years. I also had a whole host of other more complicated feelings that it took me a number of years to sort through, but I eventually did and finally felt like myself. My best self.

So, end of story, right? That’s an accomplishment, hey?!

No, that’s not the accomplishment that I want to show you today.

In the years since the second photo was taken, I’ve been any number of sizes between the two pictures. I don’t believe I’ll ever be the size I was in either photo again, but, as you’d imagine, I’d rather be closer to Second Picture me than First Picture. In the year before we started trying to have a baby, I’d managed to creep up to a size that I was not at all happy with, and I couldn’t figure out why. I wasn’t sad or stress eating, as had always been the culprit before. I was discussing it with Partner-in-Crime one day, and he hit the nail on the head, “you’re happy and you like to bake.” He was exactly right. What that really meant was that I’d lost the most important element of my weight loss formula – the consciousness. I’d stopped paying attention.

After that I got back in gear and lost 20 pounds before becoming pregnant. I was in great shape during my pregnancy. I was this annoying pregnant lady who never had aches and pains, did yoga four times a week, walked every day, and in my third trimester, only craved fruit juices. But, after Hushpuppy was born, I lost my mojo again. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, stress eating, and feeling incapable of getting myself to do any more than the most moderate activity. Hushpuppy was a tough baby, and it showed on me. This stretched on for ages, far longer than one can consider it “a little extra baby weight.” As I slowly gained confidence and joy in motherhood, got my sleep and a little me-time back, my weight was the one thing that continued to haunt me daily. I just did not feel like myself. I made a few false starts on tackling it, but it dragged on well past Hushpuppy’s first birthday.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is my accomplishment photo – my ratty old gym shoes. For the past three months, they’ve been in steady use. Thanks to joining a gym with childcare, I go three days a week, doing spin classes twice a week and weight class once a week. On the off days, we go for walks around the park. And, I’ve been eating and drinking more deliberately. I’m not watching the scale, as the numbers are no longer important to me. What is important is maintaining the consciousness, and the accomplishment is again finding that place where I feel like my best self.

 

Getting the Get Up and Go

expat blog challege

Our Expat Blog Challenge prompt for July is: Tell us about the first time you were bitten by the “travel bug.” Pop up to the Blogroll link on the top to explore some of my fellow blog “challengers,” as well as some other blogs I love to read, expat and otherwise.

postcardI do not come from what I would describe as a family of travelers. Oh, we went places now and again: I wasn’t one of those people who made it to adulthood without ever being on an airplane, and in fact there exists a photo of me at some early stage of infancy on a plane for the first time to meet my Grandma and Great Grandma, so there’s even proof that I got out a bit. When I was 12, we flew to Hawaii. That was the furthest we went. Aside from that, I mostly remember visiting relatives. Traveling with kids is hard (says someone with almost no experience in the matter, but it seems hard!) and expensive to boot, so no wonder we weren’t dashing off on European tours or hiking to Machu Pichu together. But, as we didn’t have a particularly strong travel culture in my family, I don’t remember the first time I felt the presence of the “travel bug” in my knickers, or wherever it plants itself to ensure that you get up and go.

I do know that when I was in college, I trotted myself off to Barnes and Noble and bought a book about study abroad programs. I scoured it with wonder, and even picked out a program in Scotland that seemed like something I’d like to do. But, semesters abroad weren’t really done by very many students at my college, so I put it in the “too hard basket” (thank you Australia for my favorite phrase), deeming it probably too expensive and complicated.

Finally, though, the year after I graduated, I had the perfect excuse. My best friend in college, and my soulmate to this day, V, was German. Obviously, I had to visit her, so using some savings I had (pretty well the last time in my life I had any savings!), I got myself a passport and booked the trip. Is there any feeling in the world like getting a new passport? Those blank pages hold more promise than almost any item you can hold in your hands. I didn’t know where the future stamps after Germany would come from, but I just knew there would be some.

I spent three weeks in Germany with V, and it was wonderful. I desperately wish I could put my hands on the pictures from that trip and share a couple here, but they must reside on another continent. We were based in Cologne where we did just about every tourist activity available, along with plenty of non-tourist ones. V showed me her life. We visited with V’s family, we went to Berlin, and spent a couple of hilarious and marvelous days in Amsterdam. We had a running joke about not eating McDonald’s but finally broke down and had some when we couldn’t find anything else in a train station and, wow, it really is the same the world over. We went to museums from ancient history to chocolate. We saw the Anne Frank House and remains of the Berlin Wall. We drank good beer and I carried on with the annoying habit of ordering sausages everywhere we went, while V suggested that Germans did eat other things. We went grocery shopping and road the train around town. I intuited things about German culture that I never could have understood from a book and, moreover, I saw something new in my friend, something about who she is at home, which is almost like how she was in the U.S., but just a bit more … at home.

The incredible thing to me, at the time, was that I came home not just knowing more about Germany, but more about my own culture. By placing everything I knew next to a different culture, I saw things that took for granted in a new way – some for better, some for worse, most for just different. I still remember having a heated conversation with V about most stores there closing on Sundays, by law. The good American in me was appalled. Hello, Capitalism! Stores should be open when they want to be! But, V saw it so differently, arguing that people need time to spend with their families. It was such a fundamentally different way of looking at the same thing and that surprised me. A lot of little pieces make up the education of travel.

I did go on to get more stamps in that passport, not as many as I would have liked. Once bitten by the bug, it’s never as many as we would like, I suppose. I have a new one now, after the first one expired a decade later. As an expat, it’s the most important object in my house. Things to save in a fire – kid, passport. My pictures shows a decade older woman, my last name has changed, but those empty pages still hold the clean, blue hope of what’s out there to see.

Overcoming the Busy-ness Bug

expat blog challege, expat issues

Our Expat Blog Challenge prompt for June is on the topic of changes. Specifically, “one way in which you’ve changed since becoming an expat.”

The other day, a friend and I were strolling our toddlers on our way to a coffee and play in the park (Coffee for adults. Park for toddlers. In that order.) and we somehow got on the topic of anxiety and the ways in which it manifests itself. Through the twists of this conversation, I thought about how culture can foster anxiety and how the culture I was enmeshed in in the U.S. seemed like a petri dish for growing that negative state of mind.

Since moving away, I’ve thought a lot about this part of the American culture, the part that worships busy-ness. In retrospect, I know that I was trapped by this mindset, and for no particular reason other than it was in the air. To be fair, I had a time consuming job, friends, dating, bills, and all the usual things that keep one busy. I always felt like I was on the run, rushing from one thing to the next, so many things perpetually left undone. I felt swamped, and so did everyone else I knew. But, the truth is that, while I was always running, I didn’t always have to be. I had great evenings with friends. I had many weekend afternoons to run errands or go to the beach. I saw movies and ate out. Yet, somehow, even these things turned into obligations in my mind. My days were always hyper scheduled and I was driven by the clock. I couldn’t locate the Off switch for the Go-Go-Go Machine. There was a certain glory to being always busy, forever half out the door and onto the next thing. Busy was a competitive sport with everyone else I met, and to lose meant … well, I actually don’t know, but I’m certain it wasn’t good. I think Americans worship busy-ness, and we feel flawed if we aren’t always on the clutch full throttle.

I feel differently here. I’ve hustled and I’ve worked hard, but my mind has been quieter. There’s not a buzz in the culture saying “keep moving or get out of the way!” Americans sometimes fault Aussies for being too laid back, and maybe there’s some truth to that, but the underlying feeling I get is that I don’t have to be busy for the sake of being busy. I might get busy naturally, but not just because it’s what we do.

I’ve been reflecting lately on the shape my days and life are in at the moment and, it feels decadent to say this, but at this moment, my life is pretty darn easygoing. It’s easy by design. Partner-in-Crime, in particular, has put in a lot of work to get us to this point where we really have time to enjoy each other and our lives. Who doesn’t want an easy life? And yet, when I tell you this, I can’t even say it without writing a caveat – “...it feels decadent to say this, but …”. I feel the need to apologize for my lack of busy-ness. It’s so hard for me to not write a follow up sentence here that explains that I do have obligations, that I do get things done. But, I’m resisting the temptation, here and in life, to apologize for being in a nice, quiet part of my life. I’m done with the worship of busy-ness, of hosting an anxious mind for no good reason. I have a fulfilling life, but not a busy one, and that is something that I never would have admitted in the U.S. elsewhere

A Few of My Favorite Things

expat blog challege

Thank goodness for our monthly expat blog prompts because it would seem that I haven’t written on here all month. I was in the mood for a topic on the lighter side this month, so I thought we could explore the everyday things that are giving us joy, at the moment. May I present “a few of my favorite things.”

Coffee Revelation!

Most days, I make my morning coffee at home in the French press, and I’m always looking for tricks to make it better, as it just doesn’t have that je ne sais quoi of cafe coffees. My latest gamble: maple syrup instead of sugar. Amazing. It sort of smooths the bitter edge off and brings out all the pleasant flavors. Thank goodness for Costco maple syrup.

Speaking of breakfast…

Over the past few months, I’ve been lucky enough to make friends with the loveliest group of moms/mums in my building, all who have kids within a few months of Hushpuppy’s age. We try to get together most weeks, and lately we’ve been doing breakfast dates. We do have a cool cafe just across from us, but the last couple of times, we’ve made our way over to Sprout Wholefood, a bit further away. The menu is all healthy and absolutely delicious, but the best part is that they have a fenced-in backyard with a playhouse and some toys for the kids. So, while we get going on our first coffees, the kiddos are safe playing in the yard. Then, we can pop them into one of the many high chairs they have available and give them a healthy breakfast, as we enjoy ours. Win, win.

Not sure if my friends want their kids’ pictures on the Internet, and the only photos I’ve snapped at Sprout have them in, so I’m borrowing this one from Little Eats until I can get one of my own. If you go over to the review this is from, you’ll see that I’m not alone in thinking this place is a gem.

Song

This is very not new information to, well, probably anyone, but it’s been swirling around my eardrums today. We’re hosting an Australian themed party on the weekend to celebrate Partner-in-Crime’s new citizenship, and I’ve put myself in charge of the playlist. The first song I added was Nick Cave’s “The Ship Song,” and I suggested to P-i-C that maybe we could just listen to it on repeat for three or four hours at the party.
I might have just been out of the loop, but I’d never heard this song before I moved to Australia. It is one of the most beautiful love songs – about real life, adult love – that I’ve ever heard. It’s a stunner.
And, because one listen is certainly not enough … I’m sure I’ve posted this before, but it’s always worth another look – The Sydney Opera House’s “The Ship Song Project.” The best thing about Sydney I’ve ever seen. I’ve been so fortunate to see a lot of the incredible artists featured perform at the Opera House and elsewhere, and that final view of the Harbour is one that brings me back to how lucky I am every time I feel like I want to break up with Sydney. Swoon worthy.
Reading
I’ve been making a concerted effort to read everyday, lately. It’s been ages since I’ve had or made the time to get  through so many books, and I’m thrilled to be back in the habit. My favorite thing that I’ve read recently was the marvelous, charming The Rosie Project. It’s screwball romantic comedy with the complication arising from the main character’s unconventional behaviour that we suspect comes from his undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome. His literal and linear way of seeing the world gets him into a lot of hijinks, but it’s not a book about laughing at this character and his quirks. Rather, I felt that I came away with a much deeper appreciation for how the mind of someone on the autism spectrum may view the world. It’s definitely not wrong, just fundamentally different from those of us not on the spectrum. It’s an easy read, and certainly a romantic comedy, but I took quite a lot away from it, plus it was supremely entertaining.
The To-Do List
Thanks to Jackie from Granite House on the Hill, she, Hushpuppy, Sydney Smiles and I got to spend Sunday morning at the Aquarium, a Sydney must-do item that I’d never checked off my list. It was a great experience, and it was amazing to see all the sea life – sharks, rays, exotic looking fish, sea horses, massive crustaceans, penguins, and so on. Hushpuppy was a trouper as I pushed her around in her pram, so when we got to the first of several hallways that are covered in an aquarium arch, like an aquatic dreamland, I decided to let her out to explore. Oh, my wild one was off like a bolt, taking on the role of tiny tour guide, leading us from one room to the next, waving her arms and shrieking the whole way – and occasionally stopping to look at fish. There’s nothing I love more than seeing my kid filled with joy, and this trip decidedly achieved that end. Thanks, Jackie!!
Watching
Also in the not-exactly-new category, this Louis CK interview where he explains why he hates cell phones popped up again in my news feed recently. It’s so-so good. Pretty much like everything Louis CK does.
I love playing Oprah. Who doesn’t? Sure, it’s a little narcissistic, but all of these things are bringing me joy, at the moment, and maybe one of them will strike a chord with you, as well, and then – boom – a little more joy in the world. Boom. The world can always do with a little more joy.

Seasons Change

expat blog challege

We’ve come to another second Wednesday, which means that all of my Expat Blog Challenge cohorts have agreed to once again conspire on a theme post. This month, we have a photo post on the theme “seasons change.”

I took this one a few days ago on a morning play in our park.
Autumn

I snapped this on my iphone because I loved the perspective of tiny Hushpuppy trotting blissfully through the large expanse of grass, shadowed by the tall trees. It wasn’t until later that I noticed how autumnal the scene is with that gorgeous red tree in the center. I should have noticed, though, because it was a classic Autumn morning: blazing blue sky and this crisp cool in the air that just bites at your skin, but not so unkindly even that you need to worry about covering up. It was the kind of morning where you want to hold a warm cup of coffee in between your hands to feel the contrast, but you know that by noon it will feel more summer than winter once again.

I’ve been dreading the season change with a lingering sadness. We’ve had a glorious summer. The move to our new place has been a blessing, and we’ve enjoyed pool days, daily – sometimes twice daily – trips to the park, barbecues and eating meals out on the deck, long plays with the water table, and trips to the zoo. Hushpuppy has taken up walking and loves to wander all over creation. I was thinking recently that this has turned into a magical, easy season in my life, and when we move on from it, it’s one I’ll miss and look back on with great fondness.

We’ll still haunt the park in Autumn and Winter, but it won’t be as effortless. The pool and barbecue will retire for another six or nine months. Our apartment, which is mercifully cool in the summer thanks to being on the ground floor and floored in mostly tile, feels like a cave in the cooler season. We’ll run heaters non-stop and I’ll be bundled in hoodies and blankets. I hate the cold and I miss our beautiful summer already, even though we’re still enjoying the waning moments of it, pretending as if it will never end.

On a completely unrelated and self-promotional note, a couple weeks ago, I wrote another parenting essay for North Shore Mums, which I never posted about here. It’s a personal story I wanted to share, so if you’re interested in parenting matters, and you’re looking for more reading material, I invite you to pop over. 

Advice: You Can’t Go Wrong

expat blog challege, expat issues

Very happy to be reconvening with my fellow expat blog challengers for the first of our monthly writing prompts. For March, the topic is “advice.” 

Decision made. Onward!

Decision made. Onward!

I have an unproductive habit of sometimes letting my mind wander over the past – What-iffing. It’s not a melancholy thing, just a curiosity  to play out imagined outcomes of taking the other fork in the road at pivotal moments in my life. What if I had gone to that big state school instead of the tiny women’s college? What if I had majored in Early Childhood Education like I was originally planning? What if I had accepted that full-ride assistantship in St Louis for grad school instead of deciding to pay full tuition to go to Brooklyn? What if I had turned down that Lit Manager job in Florida and stayed in New York, instead? What if I’d not answered Partner-in-Crime’s email on an online dating site (I almost didn’t!)?

What-iffing always leads me to the same place – if I’d done any of these things differently, I wouldn’t have had the adventure of living overseas, I wouldn’t be married to the best guy I’ve ever known, and I wouldn’t have my Hushpuppy. So, though I may have faced some occasional hardships with the choices, I’m glad I made them. I’m not a fatalist: I don’t believe there’s “one person for everyone” or that things are “meant to be,” so the exercise of What-iffing is interesting to me knowing that at any one of those forks, my life could be so different – different economic status, different lifestyle, different husband or no husband, a different kid brought into this world.

What-iffing often reminds me of the most important piece of advice I’ve ever received. Over sub sandwiches and life transition conversation one day, my friend Nick, who has a good 20 years more life experience than me, said something so simple to me, “there are no ‘right’ choices, there’s only what you do with the choices you make.”

Through the following years, this advice has been so freeing to me. I don’t take it literally that there are no wrong choices. Breaking laws, hurting people, taking up smoking (I presume Hushpuppy will be able to read this blog one day) – those are wrong choices. There are people in this world who habitually make pretty terrible choices. But in the scope of regular life choices – this job or that job, to marry this person or not, to spend a lot of money on a dream vacation or save it for a rainy day, used or new car, oatmeal or toast – within these choices, you do the best you know how and then you move forward with a positive attitude and determination to make it work.

This is pretty solid advice to carry in your head, as an expat. I doubt there are many of us expats who haven’t once thought, “why am I here?” or “I’ve made a huge mistake.” What a powerful feeling if your next thought can be, “no, actually, there was no way to mess up the decision to move here or not. And now, I’ve decided to be here,that is valid, and what can I do with this decision?”,

For me, this advice has been the most powerful in the throes of making a decision. Move to Australia or not? There’s happiness, and at some point some pain, on either path off that choice. I’m a “go with my gut” person because I believe my gut is actually a pretty evolved part of me, sending its signals based on a lot of prior evidence and experiences. So, I do what my gut says, and release myself into the knowledge that I can’t choose incorrectly, and that I’m in charge of doing something grand once I’ve chosen.

Day 28: A Toast

expat blog challege

Readers, fellow bloggers, friends, family, quiet followers, jokers, smokers, and midnight tokers –

Thank you for joining me here in this cyber space, on the last day of February, and the final day of the Expat Blog Challenge.

When we began, this blog was in danger of falling into disrepair and neglect. This space has always been an outlet, a place where I played around with words, shared images, and perhaps provided a bit of entertainment or information. But, as my baby (my actual baby, that is) started to become a crawler and a toddler, my days were naturally spent more chasing her and less in following any of my own creative pursuits. I adore my days with her, but I was slowly losing just a tiny bit of me. I hoped to give myself some work and push myself to write a lot and to write as well as I know how. Maybe, on some days, even better. Most days, I think I’ve done that, and I’m uplifted having made that space for me.

I’m no stranger to wild hares. I’ve NaBloPoMo-ed, I’ve Day Zeroed, I’ve read 100 Aussie Plays in 100 Days. Tomorrow, I start a 31 day Yoga/Pilates challenge because I just can’t get enough of doing stuff for a lot of days. The Expat Blog Challenge was not the hardest or the longest one I’ve done, but it is definitely the most fun.

I am happy that I set the wheels in motion on the idea, recruiting and coming up with prompts, but the rewards of this challenge I owe entirely to my fellow challengers. They have been enthusiastic, dedicated, and most of all, encouraging. They’ve trotted around from one blog to another every day, leaving nice notes, and they have engaged in conversation on the group’s page. As an incentive to build community, I set up a contest for a small (tiny) prize that each blogger could enter any time they left a comment on another blogger’s post. I thought people would pop around now and again, but in fact, we had to limit the entries to one per day because so many people were leaving half a dozen or more comments per day – just because they wanted to, not for some silly prize. I had no idea that such a strong sense of community would come out of this challenge. I have gotten to know my fellow bloggers’ stories, their passions, their fears, their hidden gems, and the places they work. I’ve met kindred spirits and gotten to know friends I’ve known for years on a much deeper level. I have learned about life in Bahrain, Bangladesh, Spain, Canada, the Dominican Republic, and I’ve learned a lot more about life beyond my own in Australia. I am heartened, and humbled, and encouraged to follow more wild hares to see what fascinating and wonderful places and people they might lead me to.

It’s been a pleasure, friends. Thank you for writing, thank you for reading, thank you for making this February a month I will not forget.