Category Archives: holidays

The Christmas Activity Advent Calendar

holidays, Little Aussie 13 Replies

ChristmasActivityYou might guess from my previous post that the magical mood known as “Christmas spirit” can be hard to come by when you’re a Northern Hemisphere squirrel transplanted into a Southern Hemisphere summer holiday. I’ve made a lot of concessions and alterations to make the holiday feel authentic – in with the pavlova and out with “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.” Yet, I often still find myself in “fake it ’til ya make it” mode. Now that we have a child who is old enough to understand holidays, I want to gift her the wonder that can be the Christmas season, as I felt it when I was growing up.

So, in that spirit, I jumped right on board to holiday-spirit town when I saw someone on my local mother’s group Facebook page post about a Christmas activity advent calendar. I didn’t have an advent calendar growing up, so had never given them much thought. I just thought of them as cheap paper boxes with waxy chocolate inside. I loved the idea that we could turn this into something so special for our family this season.

(It was such a well-received idea that North Shore Mums turned it into an article on the website.)

I bought an advent calendar with pockets for $12 at Target, and then filled it with handmade slips of paper indicating our daily activity. The activity list is a mix of big events and smaller tasks so that we don’t burn out. And, on days that we already had something planned (i.e. -a  Christmas party), that became the daily activity. Choosing an advent calendar where I could access the papers easily was important because I like the ability to tailor the activity to the weather or how busy we are going to be – for instance, “See Christmas lights” on a sunny day or “Get new Christmas pajamas” on a day when I have to go shopping, anyway. I also included a few acts of service to make sure that becomes part of the of thread of the season.photo (51)

We’re a little over half way through, and it’s been marvelous. I’ve been posting updates most days on my Instagram (join me!). Every day, Hushpuppy says, “my calendar?” and then picks her little paper with such happy anticipation. Each card has a small picture on it to give her a clue, and then I read it to her. No matter what it is, the reading of the day’s plan is met with a joyful, “Ooooooh!”.Many days, she’s kept track of and held onto that little piece of paper for ages, like it was her ticket to ride.

I have to thank the Christmas activity advent calendar for giving us transplanted squirrels so much joy this holiday season.photo 2 (21)

Here’s our full schedule of activities:

  • Put up the Christmas tree
  • Get a new Christmas book x2
  • Do a Christmas craft x2
  • See Jingle Bell Jazz at the Sydney Opera House
  • Christmas Carols at the park x2
  • Make a gingerbread house
  • Watch a Christmas movie
  • Stuff Christmas baskets for families in need with Helping Hands North Shore
  • Christmas lunch with our Unitarian group
  • Make Christmas cookies
  • Do a Christmas rubbish clean up at the park
  • Santa Fest at Darling Harbour
  • North Sydney Christmas markets
  • Playgroup Christmas party
  • Dance party to Christmas music
  • Make snack packs for One Meal
  • See the Christmas lights display on St Mary’s Cathedral
  • Santa photos
  • Make Christmas cards
  • Pick out a pair of Christmas pajama
  • Christmas Eve festivities!

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Feel free to follow our Christmas activities on Instagram.

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Sydney Expat Interview Series Part 6: Christmas Down Under

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The Christmas season can be one of the most disorienting times for expats in Australia. Not only are we away from family and friends, but our long-held traditions for a winter holiday become hard to maintain when celebrating in the summer. “What is Christmas like in Australia,” has to be one of the questions I’m asked most frequently by friends from home

For this month’s installment of the Sydney Expat Interview Series, I asked the expats to tell me their thoughts on Christmas in Australia. For some, this will be their first Christmas. Others are seasoned veterans. 

This is the 6th in an 18 part interview series with expats living in Sydney. I know the expats with blogs and websites listed here would love for you to give them the gift of a visit and follow. And for my Christmas present, I hope you’ll also follow Between Roots and Wings on Facebook and/or subscribe via the box on the right. Happy holidays from Down Under!

Sydney Expat Interview Series - Australian Christmas


 

Question 6: Tell me about Australian Christmas. 

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

Very strange for me not to have a Christmas where I crave being bundled up in front of a cozy fire sipping hot cocoa. Instead I was soaking up rays on the beach. Felt like a destination holiday!

 


 

Name: Ashley
Country of origin: United States
Lived in Sydney: 2 years (in Newcastle)
Visit Ashley on Instagram

I miss “real” Christmas. Cold weather, real trees, real pine preceded by pumpkin and apple picking. Christmas here is really, really odd. You have to really put energy into it to make it feel like a Christmas from the US. It’s HOT! People are Christmas shopping in shorts and “singlets”. It’s just weird. The decorations are summery…think surf type ornaments and snowmen. But what’s even weirder is finding all the snow themed decorations because in Australia…snow…at Christmas? No. Won’t happen!

The other part of Christmas I miss is having my big Italian family around. We would always have a massive Christmas Eve together then split into our families for Christmas day. We’ve had two Christmases here and the 2nd one was a bit better but I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. It’s like trying to make Christmas in July in America. It just makes no sense!
Sydney Expat Interview Series - Australian Chrismas 2


 

Name: Victoria
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 5 years
Victoria blogs at The Freedom Travellers  

Just not like Christmas at all! There’s not much hype and I don’t feel any pressure to spend hundreds on Christmas presents. Beach, beers and BBQ would probably sum it up best. Hot Christmases are probably something I’ll never get used to!


 

Name: Debbie
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 10 years
I find it really hard getting into the Christmas spirit, having lived all my life in the northern hemisphere, with Christmas in the depths of winter, short freezing cold nights etc. to then move here and have to wait til 8pm to go and see Christmas lights, and wandering around in shorts and t-shirts, it’s all a bit odd.
Australian Santa

Photo via Debbie


 

Name: Rachel
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 3 years, 8 months

I celebrated my first Australian Christmas just last year, having journeyed back to the UK for the previous two to spend it with family and friends. But 2014 was very memorable as my Mum visited me in Sydney and we celebrated together. Mum and I escaped for a much needed pre-Christmas mini break to Fraser Island in Queensland, and flew back to Sydney on Christmas Eve.

It was certainly memorable experiencing a ‘hot’ Christmas and the atmosphere in Sydney was different to back home in England, with people wearing Santa hats on the beach and hearing Christmas jingles in the stores. But tinsels and the fake snow without the cold temperatures just isn’t right! Christmas has to be cold, sitting around the fire with a mulled wine and a fire blazing.

We tried to keep things as traditional as possible, and headed to an early morning Church service and then went to the beach for some champagne picnic with friends and a traditional turkey lunch at home.


 

Name: Julia
Country of origin: UK
Lived in Sydney: 6 years

Forget about having roast potatoes, gravy and stuffing. I was so so disappointed my first Christmas, as I presumed it would be just like the UK, only everyone would be wearing sunnies and sun hats!! I was so wrong – its cold meats, seafood and salads. I now just think of Christmas day just like an extra special BBQ that way I don’t get so disappointed. I really miss a proper Christmas meal, with all the trimmings.

 


Name: Dido
Country of origin: India
Lived in Sydney: 1.5 years

Hot, in shorts or thongs at the beach. Lots of skin in Christmas parties. Beautiful trees in malls and streets. Beautiful carols in churches.


 

Name: Caitlin
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 11 months
Caitlin blogs at Where’s Wallis

Still to be experienced, but I’m looking forward to it. Also the ‘July Christmas’ I’ve heard talk of.Australian Christmas Tree at The Rocks


 

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

Not really like Christmas…just enjoy the weather.


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

I’ve gone home for both Christmases, but I have experienced Christmas season here. Although California can be pretty toasty at Christmas time, I’m still really confused by the weather heating up as Christmas comes near. If Christmas is in summer here, what is there to look forward to in winter? That’s why I hosted a Christmas in June for my friends!


 

Name: Nom de geurre – “Bushranger”
Country of origin: Serbia
Lived in Sydney: 6.5yrs

What’s there to tell mate? Put a few coldies and prawns in your esky, get your budgie smugglers and she’ll be right.


 

What does Australian Christmas mean to you?

Read Part 5: The Birds!

Thanksgiving Around the World

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My first year abroad, we were determined to make a go of Thanksgiving with our American expat friends. We didn’t know all the shopping tips, yet, so we faced some challenges – where to find cranberry sauce, pecans for pecan pie (though, those seem to be everywhere now), corn meal for muffins (polenta), American marshmallows – and I was blown away to learn that our turkey cost $60 (bargain, in retrospect!). We pulled it together, and it was the best day.

Ever since then, we have always come together at someone’s home for a potluck style Thanksgiving.

I was thinking this year about some of my friends who live in other countries, and how they might celebrate, so I decided to put a call out to see if any other American expats would share their Thanksgivings with me. I think you’ll see here the importance of the holiday to all of us, and the personality and heart that goes into each celebration. For many of us abroad, this holiday takes on special meaning, both reminding us of our families and traditions at home, as well as how grateful we are for our made-families in our new countries.

I’d love to show you the Thanksgiving spirit across the world.Expat Thanksgiving Map


Tracy in Switzerland

The biggest difference between my American Thanksgiving and my Swiss Thanksgiving is the date. I struggle with homesickness every year on the last Thursday of November. It is the day I miss my home the most. Thankfully, I am lucky to have a Swiss family who loves me, and roasted turkey, enough to celebrate with me each year. This year was especially hard, for unknown reasons. So I have decided to host Thanksgiving on the weekend before. Therefore, I can sit and watch the parade feed online with the warm glow of my Christmas decorations, and a belly full of leftovers to keep me company. Tracy Thanksgiving


 

Sarah in Thailand
(Read more about Sarah’s travels at Sarah’s Musings and Wanderings)

I just completed my TESOL certification (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) with a group of incredible and like-minded adventurers in Thailand. When it came time for us to part ways, it was as tough as saying goodbye to my family back at home. So, a bunch of us decided to meet up in a central location, Korat, for a “friendsgiving” this past weekend. We had a phenomenal reunion filled with good friends, food and drinks. Of course it was a challenge to be absent for Thanksgiving back in the states, at least it was leading up to the holiday, anticipating missing my family, food, parade, etc. But a funny thing happened when I actually video chatted my family and a few friends during their dinners – I realized I wasn’t missing much. It’s the same as last year and the year before and the year before that. However, I have changed and I am happy here and thrilled to have the opportunity to celebrate instead with some great friends. I am probably more thankful than ever this year BECAUSE I’m not at home. I’m thankful for the special opportunity missing the holiday has provided me with, creating a new kind of celebration with a new family. Oh, and at dinner we ate a variety of dishes from pastas and pizzas to Korean BBQ and tons of wine and beer. There was no turkey, but no one noticed!

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Rosemary in Tokyo

Rosemary Thanksgiving

My expat friends and I swap ingredient tips and shopping duties–it turns out there’s a kind of Japanese sweet potato that become even sweeter and richer than yams, and it’s easy to pick up an extra carton of fresh cranberries for a friend from the import grocery store. And my home may be tiny, but it’s just big enough for our friends and family, and for that, among many other blessings, I’m thankful.

Cooking Thanksgiving in Japan definitely has its challenges–chief among them being my tiny kitchen (counter space is severely limited, and trying to remove platters from the fridge is like a game of Jenga), my even tinier oven (the turkey just *barely* fit, with about 1 centimetre to spare), and the lack of proper ingredients (turkeys and cranberries are not exactly part of the Japanese diet, and there’s an ongoing butter shortage. Yes, you read that right. A butter shortage. It’s even more horrible than it sounds).

But! If I don’t make Thanksgiving for my kids, they’re never going to know about the holiday or have that particular connection with their history. So over the course of 10 years of married life in Tokyo, I’ve learned to make a proper Thanksgiving for my family, despite the difficulties. The tiny oven means I’ve become a whiz at precision cooking–since I can’t cook the corn pudding and the green bean casserole at the same time, I start cooking well in advance and have the schedule down to a fine science.


Penny in Singapore
Penny shared her experience with nearly two decades of expat Thanksgiving!

I have (celebrated Thanksgiving abroad) since 1988 in Southeast Asia. Each year I would make a huge traditional feast and invite mostly non-Americans. Others are so curious and feel honored to be included. The turkey, dressing cranberry sauce has such a distinct taste. Yum! Now that our kids live in Sydney & San Francisco, I don’t cook anymore. This year we are invited to 3 dinners, Thurs, Fri & Saturday. (Also American Association had a Turkey Trot Family Race last weekend at the US Navy yard here. Lots of hotels serve Thanksgiving food in their buffet at this time of year.) Americans are everywhere and so is our culture. Grateful for friends here who are just like family. 12351230_10207234962126433_2080937635_n


 

Kelli in Bahrain

We spent the holiday with friends from around the globe. Our faculty celebrated by having a pot luck at our director’s house. We streamed the Macy’s Day Parade and ate and drank together. We had to cook the three massive turkeys in our school oven because they were too big for the ones in our houses. Then my family left and went to our close friend’s house where we watched football and ate green bean casserole and sweet potato pie- it made me long for my Southern roots but I was happy to be with my family.kelli thanksgiving


 

Cristin in Sydney
(That’s me…)

I’ve already shared the story of our first little Thanksgiving party on Thursday, where we introduced British and French friends to a traditional meal. We followed up that feast on the weekend, when we attended a spectacular party at our fellow-American friend G’s house. G is an impeccable party host, as well as a raging extrovert, so her home was filled to the brim with friends, children and decorations crafted to perfection, including name badges where we were to each write what we were thankful for, a kid’s table with homemade Thanksgiving coloring books, and a giant inflatable turkey out front (I wonder if it’s the only one in Australia?!). We went potluck style, with G and her partner serving up two turkeys from the grill, and the rest of us contributing the sides and desserts. I made 4 pecan pies for the occasion.

I sat at a table outside (it was a warm late-Spring day in Australia!) with half a dozen close friends, and we talked about all the Thanksgivings we’ve now shared together in Australia. Our Australian friend said she takes pride in being invited every year, and for us “Yanks,” celebrating together has become an important part of our year. photo (41)

Thanksgiving, With a Little Help From Our Friends

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A Yank, a Brit, a Frenchwoman, a Serb and two tiny Aussies sat down at a table…

…and the Yank says to the others… “I’m so glad to be sharing this meal with you all. At home, we often go around the table and say something we’re thankful for.” And so, we all shared some words on how grateful we are for our families, friends, and to live in this beautiful country, before breaking bread together on a Thanksgiving day feast – familiar to some of us and a new adventure for others. photo 5 (7)

Since moving abroad, I’ve come to a new appreciation for the simple beauty of Thanksgiving. I love talking about the spirit of the day – fellowship and gratitude – and how it’s for everyone. It’s a day devoid of commercialism and full of heart.

I also love to share our traditional Thanksgiving foods because most of them are new to our friends not from America.

This year, I was a little cheeky and suggested to my mother’s group friend Rani, who recently became a Thermomix consultant, that we try out her magic machines on a Thanksgiving meal. Rani loves cooking in her Thermomixes (is that the plural, Rani? Thermomi?), and she’s always interested in trying out new dishes, so she said an enthusiastic yes, and we got to planning.

We did a bit of back and forth, and finally settled on a menu that included a couple of recipes from the Thermomix cookbooks, as well as some of my favorites that we adapted for the Thermomix style of cooking (not to mention a fair bit of conversions between ounces and grams and Fahrenheit to Celsius).

Our menu was:

-Turkey roulade stuffed with Cranberry bacon stuffing (both recipes from the Thermomix Festive Flavour cookbook)
Green bean casserole
Sweet potato casserole
-Mashed potatoes (Thermomix)
Pecan Pie

We had a couple of “expat” moments in the shopping process. Last week, I got a message from Rani saying, “what is corn syrup?” Oh, right – for the pecan pie. Short answer – it’s a sticky, sweet thing that you can’t buy in the grocery store here. Hot tip I learned from an American I worked with a few years ago – Golden Syrup is an excellent substitute. You can’t even tell the difference in pecan pie. golden syrup

Then, on Monday, neither of us could find turkey breast in the grocery store. I thought we might have to cheat with chicken breast, but that felt sacrilegious, so I made a desperate run to a local butcher, who thankfully had a couple on hand. “Is this for Thanksgiving,” he asked? “Everyone is coming to pick up their turkeys.”

All potential ingredient crises averted, we put our kids in the wading pool, under the watchful eye of the lovely French au pair, and got to work. Now, I don’t have any stake in Thermomix – I don’t even own one – but I thought I’d mention a couple of things I noticed about our Thermomix cooking. If you’re not familiar, and most of my American readers probably aren’t, these machines chop, blend, stir, knead, mix, steam, cook, and then get you a glass of wine to help you enjoy all of the time you’ve freed up (no, come on, get your own wine). The things that I found most helpful were the fact that you can do so much in one machine, saving you dirtying a lot of extra pots and pans, as well as a lot of moving from one bowl to another, and also that they contain their heat really well, so it’s a lot less warming up the kitchen, which is much appreciated in the middle of Sydney summer.

Take the sweet potato casserole, for example:

-We peeled and chopped the sweet potatoes, then put them in the Thermomix steamer (sorry – “Varoma”): varoma

-Once steamed, we put them, along with the rest of the ingredients (butter, brown sugar, and pecans) into the bowl that the Varoma sits on to mash and mix. The machine weighs your ingredients (I know, right?), so as long as you know weights, you don’t have to dirty up any measuring cups. It also chopped the pecans.sweet potato

-Then, you transfer it to the casserole dish, top it with marshmallows (I brought the American ones, naturally)… 12308895_10153142193101244_538299392_n

-… and then pop it in the oven. So, it doesn’t take all the work away, but does save using and heating a pan and strainer for boiling and draining the potatoes, dirtying measuring cups, and mashing by hand.
Sweet potato casserole, by the way, is always the dish that never fails to surprise and impress our non-American friends – they always go in for seconds. 12309105_10153142192856244_2121205915_n

A couple more of our masterpieces –

Green bean casserole, it may not be the prettiest dish, but it’s completely from scratch – no canned soup or tins of fried onions here. green bean casserole

 

Let me tell you about this one. Clearly, it’s a little non-traditional, but we weren’t going to cook a whole turkey for our small dinner, so we went with this roulade recipe from the Thermomix book. We stuffed it with a stuffing also from the Thermomix collection, a cranberry, bacon stuffing. Now, that’s not your grandma’s stuffing, I realize, but I thought – “cranberries? bacon?” What could be more American? I actually think this stuffing was my favorite of everything we cooked.
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We didn’t get a picture of the mashed potatoes. But, you know what mashed potatoes look like. Oh, but, Hi!  I made pie!
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We were all pleased with our Thermomixgiving. We made a pretty good dent in the food, and everyone was in good spirits. Even Rani’s toddler daughter declared the meal “not yucky,” so that was a big win. dinner

Today, I’m thankful for my little family, friends from around the world, and the tastes of home.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!
Let’s go around the table – what are you thankful for?


 

If you have a Thermomix or are Thermomix curious, Rani runs a closed Facebook group called Thermie Family where she shares recipes and tips from a real family kitchen nearly every day. 

‘Straya Day

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A happy cold and rainy Australia Day to you, mates.

Australia Day is one of the most celebrated public holidays Down Under. Always falling on 26 January (or, January 26th for my American readers), the date signifies the landing of the First Fleet in Sydney in 1788. For that reason, it is a controversial day for many. My expat blogging compatriot, Cosette over at Stumble Down Under posted a good piece explaining why some call the day Invasion Day, and why there is a move to have the date changed. It’s well worth a read.

Typically, Australia Day is all about being outdoors – ceremonies, boats, BBQs, and the beach. The weather over the weekend was classic Australian summer, scorching and blazing blue. We were living at the pool. Overnight, a storm blew in, and I woke up to a shivering cold house, as we’d left the windows open the night before. It rained most of the day, and I was decked out in long sleeves. It hardly felt like Australia Day at all.

photo 2 (1)Hushpuppy and I did manage to get some celebrating in. We spent the morning at our leisure centre’s pool, where they were having an Australia Day BBQ. We even had snacks of sausage sangers from the sausage sizzle, and you don’t get much more Aussie than that (a “sanger” is slang for sandwich, and if often refers to grilled meat slapped unceremoniously between two pieces of white bread, upon which you slather your own ketchup – and by ketchup, of course, I mean “tomato sauce” or BBQ sauce). During Hushpuppy’s nap, I whipped up a batch of Anzac biscuits as a treat for friends in our complex who just had a baby, and another friend and I went for a visit to welcome one of the littlest Australians.

We made an effort, but this year’s Aussie Day celebrations probably weren’t one for the memory books (except visiting the 3-day old baby – that’s always worth remembering). I did, however, have my first Australia Day (2011) heavily in mind this year. It was such a special celebration and welcome to Australia. Though I’d been here for several months, it was one of the first times that I understood how amazing Sydney can be when it gets into party mode. It was also the first time I thought much about becoming a citizen in future years. There’s a little anecdote in my blog post about how I tell myself that I need to learn the anthem for when I became a citizen. I really wanted to get paraded  around on the citizenship boat, and though that didn’t happen, I did become a citizen recently, so this Australia Day took on special significance. I thought about the people and places and I’ve spent subsequent Australia Days with/at. I thought about my growing comfort with Australian culture. I even decided that I could grant myself the liberty of saying the very colloquial “‘Straya Day” for the first time this year.  And, I thought about the national anthem, which I was proud to know the words to on the day that I became an Aussie citizen. I’ve come a long way since my first ‘Straya Day.

Day 27: A Tradition

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Prompt: A tradition I maintain.

Some traditions are quite hard to maintain as an American in Australia. 4th of July without fireworks is a pretty pointless exercise. North American Christmas is something I gave up on in favor of new traditions more fitted to the summer. But, one tradition we’ve held dear is Thanksgiving.

On the first Thanksgiving we spent together in Florida, Partner-in-Crime told me it was his favorite holiday, and a very special day to him. This was unexpected for me because he did not come to the U.S. until he was 18, so it wasn’t a holiday he grew up with. But, now that I’ve spent a few Thanksgivings away from home, and shared Thanksgiving meals with other non-Americans, I understand why it’s so dear to him. I think when you grow up with a tradition, it can be something you take for granted, not really making an effort to internalize the true meaning of the event. But, experiencing it for the first time as an adult, you have to give some thought as to what it is about. Also, I’ve learned, celebrating in a foreign country means sourcing items or making do, so you start to think about what the essence of the day is, rather than the letter of the tradition-law. Thanksgiving is a holiday that is so pure and wonderful. It’s about giving thanks. It’s about breaking bread with your family and your community. It’s about making space in your life for being welcoming and grateful. What a thing to celebrate.

I have, in my adult life, mostly celebrated “orphans’ Thanksgivings” with a different band of friends each year (I wrote about it here, and, incidentally, it happened to be during my first blog challenge), and our Down Under Thanksgivings have been a continuation on that theme. The first two years were spent at Mimi and Joe’s, their gorgeous Harbour view a constant reminder that we weren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto. Our third year, we dined at my friend N’s with a great group of American, British, and Irish guests. Then, the next week, I cooked an entire Thanksgiving meal for our Unitarian Universalist group, where P-i-C and I gave a little talk about Thanksgiving to the mostly Aussie gathering and served what was the first ever Thanksgiving meal for most of them (the one Canadian member was thrilled about the feast). They were a little puzzled by some of the food, but I think the consensus was highly favorable for the whole experience. For the record, I was 7 months pregnant and cooked that whole meal on a day when it was 95 degrees outside. Thanksgiving dedication!

Last Thanksgiving, P-i-C and I bit the bullet and finally hosted for the first time. We had about 20 guests, covering 5 nationalities. One of our friends served up latkes for appetizers, as one of the days of Hanukkah fell on Thanksgiving this year. It was an honor to be able to open up our home to people dear to us and share wonderful company and delicious food (it was potluck – I’m not bragging on my own cooking!). Putting in the work to make a day like that come together makes you put real thought into the importance of the day, and there was no doubt that Thanksgiving is something special that we’ll continue to ensure is part of our lives every year. More than ever, I appreciate the beauty of the day and the richness of the celebration.tgiving

The Instagram masterpiece our friend G made on the occasion of our Thanksgiving party last year, a special day to be sure.

 

I Resolve

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It’s New Year’s Eve, the most celebrated day in Sydney. It’s not true that we get the new year first, but we do certainly do it better than anyone else.

My dearest friend in this world posted a bit of an essay about New Year’s resolutions this morning with the thesis that she would not resolve to change herself, but to just be, and find happiness in the being. That resonated with my recent thoughts on resolutions. I have always been a resolution maker with varying success at the keeping. I started thinking about the resolutions I might make this year to do better at this and that and change such and such. It crossed my mind that I have been making resolutions since I was, say, 15. That’s 20 years of telling myself that I’m not yet good enough. Shouldn’t I be getting closer? Yet, every year I find myriad ways to beat myself up, scold myself, and tell myself to Just. Do. Better.

What a soul crushing way to start the year.

So, this morning, I thought about what would truly make my life happier – not by mentally beating myself into being someone I’m not, but just by living in the most joyful way possible. I started jotting them down, and it felt so uplifting.

So, yes, I’m making some resolutions this year. And they are:

  • Skip a day of laundry each week
  • Buy clothes in the size I wear today. Don’t wait.
  • Make more delicious meals. Keep cooking with Jamie.
  • Go out to more brunches
  • Swim. A lot.
  • Do yoga. In the living room. In the park. In the kitchen. Do just one sun salute if that’s what there’s time and space for and feel great about it.
  • Buy Hushpuppy as many sweet girly clothes as I want. Let her get them as dirty as she wants.
  • Take a million pictures. Be in some of them, and be genuinely smiling. Post all the ones I love to Facebook and don’t think a single thought about how many is too many.
  • Make the bed every day. Except the days when we just don’t feel like it.
  • Fill my ipod with songs that Hushpuppy and I can dance to.
  • Do my nails more.
  • Drink more water. And wine. And margaritas. Definitely more margaritas.
  • Invite people over on the spur of the moment.
  • Go to bed early if I’m tired. Stay up later if I’m not.
  • Hire babysitters and enjoy date nights – or days – with my husband.
  • Write on my blog whenever I want to, and don’t tell anyone in a half-joking way that it’s a narcissistic hobby.
  • Don’t stress if Hushpuppy has too much unnecessary plastic crap. Find a good home for it when she outgrows it.
  • Let Hushpuppy get into a little mischief now and then. Pretend not to see.
  • Buy more coffees from the cafe next door. Enjoy the taste of a latte far superior to the coffee I brew at home.
  • Soak up all the sunshine.
  • Always, always have bubbles in the house.

Halloween: The Great Divide

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Probably because I’m more in tune with family matters these days, I’ve been seeing the Great Halloween debate pop up a fair bit. It is a holiday whose popularity is growing in Australia, but sparks divisive feelings between those who think it’s a good romp of fun for the kiddos and those who think it is:
a. Another example of American commercialism invading Australia
b. Teaching kids to be greedy “lolly beggers”

This post on North Shore Mums, “Trick, Treat or Banish” really got the discussion going and sums up both sides of the debate pretty concisely.

As an American who grew up loving Halloween, I almost feel as if I have no right to weigh in on the debate. I can see why Australian parents might be against it, and I certainly see why kids love it. But, regardless of how I or anyone else feels, based on the number of trick-or-treaters I saw  last year and the 8 year old boy outside the discount store yesterday asking his dad, “do you think they have fake blood!?!,” I think Halloween is Down Under to stay.

One of the most creative ideas I’ve seen was “Operation Orange Balloon” from Offbeat Families. I love this because it gives people who want to participate a way to join in, while gracefully letting those who don’t off the hook. Basically, neighbors are invited to put a balloon on their mailbox to signal that they are open for trick or treating business. As some of the commenters noted, this is especially good in Australia where it is Spring and still light out when the kids head out, so porch lights don’t work like they do in the States.

I did get a kick out of this sign for a Halloween party at a local school. Fireworks for Halloween? Only in Sydney!

This is the only picture I can find of myself at Halloween. I’m the hippie.
This would have been my last year trick or treating, and surely under the guise of taking my sister, the witch.
I doubt I was turning down any “treats” offered, though!

Independence Week

holidays, Little Aussie Leave a reply

It may have been a patchwork and spread out over a few days, but I managed to find some Independence Day spirit in a country that hasn’t yet felt the compulsion to declare hers.

It was the 5th of July here, but still the 4th in the States when my clan marched our red, white and blue personages off to Sydney’s Little America (aka Costco). Truthfully, it was just a regular shopping trip, but when you need the holiday spirit, this is not just a hot dog, but a Real American Hot Dog(!). And the American flag banners on all the food tasting stalls don’t just make you want to say, “I’m American. You can’t trick me with that Spam. I know better,” as you do the rest of the year, but also do a jaunty little military salute while turning up your nose.

It wouldn’t have been patriotic to not take advantage of a free refill on my Coca Cola before we left, as well. 
We came home to find a Real American treat in the post box. Our little girl got a letter from POTUS and FLOTUS welcoming her into the world, one of America’s newest Yankee Doodle Sweethearts. 

Inspecting her official mail.
(Your baby too can receive a letter from the White House).
Around the same time as Hushpuppy’s official welcome, she became so emboldened with her newfound sense of identity that she mastered the art of rolling back to front, thus declaring her own independence from the tyranny of staring at the ceiling. That’s American ingenuity, folks!
On Saturday (6th of July, but who’s counting?), we had an Independence Day picnic as a way of getting to know some other Yanks With Kids. We had an uncharacteristically warm and beautiful day for winter, which almost (really not almost, but if you pretended super hard that you weren’t wearing a sweater) gave the impression of it being summer. We brought along 3 kilos (“American Size”) of chicken wings and the other YWKs contributed American flag inspired taco dip and cake, plus the most gorgeous patriotic cookies this side of Martha Stewart’s house. Across the lawn, the Democrats Abroad also happened to be having a 6th 4th of July picnic, so there was some co-mingling, and Hushpuppy even scored an illustrated Star Spangled Banner book (did you know that there is more than one verse? Because I, fellow patriots, did not). The Democrats apologized that it was too windy to erect cardboard cut-out Obama, so unfortunately, we did not get to personally thank him for the letter.
That night, there were fireworks over the Harbour. Partner-in-Crime and I agreed that they were probably for Independence Day. Never mind that there are fireworks over the Harbour a good three days a week and that it was now nearing the end of the 6th of July. When you are celebrating the most American of holidays in a country who still salutes the Queen, hot dogs, mail, sunshine, and fireworks mean what you want them to. I pulled my holiday up by its bootstraps with hard work and a good imagination. Ain’t that just the American way.

An Aussie Christmas

annual events, expat issues, food, holidays, Sydney Leave a reply

This year marked my third Australian Christmas. I remember the first two as both sort-of-nice and sort-of-sad (2010’s very strange trip is here. 2011, spent quietly with friends, seems to not even have warranted its own post). This year, I decided that I was approaching the holiday all wrong, and determined that I needed to, not just accept, but actually embrace that Christmas takes place in the middle of summer, and that either ignoring it all together or doing anything that tries to recreate a Norman Rockwell North American holiday was just going to leave me melancholy and disappointed.

So, this year, I undertook Operation Aussie Christmas.

Step 1: Ban all songs from the White Christmas oeuvre from my holiday playlist. Instead, put in heavy rotation “Mele Kalikimaka” and Tim Minchin’s “White Wine in the Sun” (Stand warned, if you don’t know Tim Minchin, he’s a humorist and a bit of a cynical atheist, who has written an Aussie Christmas song that ends up making me cry every time).

Step 2: Choose the festivities. Going to the beach is a big thing to do for Sydney Christmas, but my aversion to crowds led me to decide we’d have a picnic at our favorite park – Blues Point Reserve, which is rarely crowded and features the most marvelous view of the Harbour I’ve yet to find. I’m loathe to even mention it here, lest the best kept secret in Sydney get out!

Step 3: Plan the menu. I opted for a cold ham, cheese, a prawn salad, fruit and a pavlova for desert. These were all cool, light dishes that required minimal heating of the oven, but still felt festive.

Step 4: Under the tree. (Our little tree hasn’t changed much over the past 3 years). Partner-in-Crime and I are both starkly practical when it comes to gifts, so he chose to have me gift him some accouterments for his new Kindle. This year, though, I picked out something a little more impractical. Our dear friend Tanja is a brilliant jewelry designer, so I asked for a couple of her pieces. The week before Christmas, we went to her apartment/studio and I picked out exactly what I wanted. She custom made my beautiful necklace on the spot, and mailed the bracelet a couple days later, so I had something shiny under the tree to open. After a few other little odds and ends, a charitable donation to Heifer International from my mom, a couple of boxes of baby gifts from friends at home, along with some Christmas crackers, we really felt overwhelmed in the gift unwrapping department!

Step 5: The best laid plans. By Christmas Eve, all was well underway – grocery shopping done, presents wrapped, pavlova prepped, we’d watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and we spent the stiflingly warm afternoon in the pool. I was hot, but I was also elated, as this was exactly how my new Christmas fantasy had unfolded in my mind – sunny, toasty, and super casual.

Then, it started to rain. And overnight, the temperature dropped 20 degrees. It proceeded to rain for the entire Christmas day. I was glad that I had decided to preserve one North American Christmas tradition – cinnamon rolls for breakfast, which now seemed perfectly in place in all their warm, comforting gooeyness.

We devoured the better part of the plate of rolls, opened gifts and had a most delightful Skype date with my family, who really were wrapped in full Currier and Ives style Christmas regalia (minus the snow). We then rented “Elf” from i-tunes, and its slapstick silliness and sentimentality perfectly fit my Christmas mood. By the sappy end, it was late afternoon, and with the rain still falling, we sat our picnic blanket down in the living room, cranked up “Indie Holiday” on Pandora and shared what I do believe was the nicest Christmas picnic I could have asked for.

Christmas in Australia doesn’t end with Christmas, as the next day is Boxing Day, a holiday which really makes no sense. Despite its vague origins, it’s a good excuse for prolonging the holiday and post-Christmas sales. I had only one thing on my agenda for Boxing Day, which was again heading out to watch the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. This year, we got to Middle Head National Park with our leftovers picnic in time to get a most amazing viewing spot. It was still a little chilly and quite gusty, but the sun returned so it was actually a beautiful morning. 
I had to snap a cheeky shot of this couple in front of us – epitome of Australian picnic culture.
11:30a.m. No plates for their sandwiches, but you’d better believe they have wine in actual wine glasses!
Because of the wind, a lot of the boats had their bright spinnakers up, making for a particularly beautiful start to the race. Last year, we were not positioned well to see the actual line up for the race start, so this year, we were absolutely enamored with the whole scene: Over 70 sailboats lined up on the world’s most beautiful Harbour, waiting for a cannon to mark their start, and then taking off to sea towards one of the most difficult boat races around. It’s spectacular. 

Wild Oats, the winningest Sydney to Hobart yacht, took off with a massive lead and is still ahead 21 hours later.
Hordes of spectator boats, along with the racing sailboats.

This wasn’t the Christmas I grew up with by any means, but since we plan to live here for at least a few more years, I am elated to have finally found the secret to actually enjoying Australian Christmas, rather than just accepting its inevitability. It was a unique celebration, for sure, but I could not asked for a nicer one.