Category Archives: Uncategorized

Ameristralia

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Yesterday Partner-in-Crime sent me this article about a White House petition to create a combined country, American and Australia merged into “Ameristralia.” Oh, some people have far too much time on their hands.

The petition itself is obviously a work of absurdity, hardly even funny, in my opinion; but it picked up a bit of attention, as many a silly thing does, when it hit Reddit. The petition is now up to a little over 5,000 signatures, so a mere 95,000 more to warrant a response from the White House. It has, however, created a bevy of rather clever images. A couple of my favorites from a Google Image search of “Ameristralia:”

Hands down the best part of the article is the comments. For people who pride themselves on their wicked humor, there were sure a lot of Aussies who did not think this Ameristralia business was funny. My favorite was poor Derryn of Melbourne – comment no. 48 – who was really wringing his hands over this one (though, not enough to actually read the article, it would seem).

This makes me so angry. We stand proud as an independent nation, we’ve had our boys fight and die under the Aussie flag, and now the yanks want to just undo that identity to satisfy their egos? I’m proud to be Aussie, I have the Southern Cross tattooed on my arm and I tear up at every dawn service. I like my football to be played without padding. Their beer is wrong. GAAH! On so many levels this angers me! If this petition gets up, and the President has to agree – IS THAT SERIOUSLY ALL IT TAKES!? 100,000 people and we lose everything we hold dear, over 200 years of Australian history, the blood and guts hard work of our nation’s founders, down the toilet because the yanks say so! Foreshame Gillard! How could you let this happen! I can’t believe this will happen in my lifetime. I will never ever ever give up my flag or my passport or the coins in my wallet for some yank version. I am crying right now. It is so sad. My God. I can’t believe it…

Poor Derryn, sweet tatoo-ed, footie, beer, and ANZAC loving DerrynHome in Melbourne crying actual tears over images dancing in his head of some Red Dawn scenario where Yanks descend from the skies and emerge from the seas to take over this fine,proud land while Julia stands by with a hapless grin and a welcoming wave, as she hands over her country to America, all because 100,000 Americans said it must be so. Foreshame, indeed! Derryn, my dearest, may you one day find the peace of mind you so richly deserve, mate.

Derryn aside, it does get one thinking about Ameristralia. Assuming that all the cities and landmarks remain as is, a few things I’d like to see in my Ameristralia:

From America…
-Baseball
-Ice and free drink refills
-Graham crackers
-Mexican food
-Proper Targets
-Striving for excellence (i.e. – the opposite of tall poppy syndrome)
-Marketplace competition

From Australia…
-Pavlova
-Tim Tams
-Tea breaks
-Wombats
-Medicare
-Australia’s gun laws
-Living to work, not working to live

This is a top of my head list, and I’m sure I’ll think of more. Expats, feel free to weigh in on your Ameristralia.

ANZAC Day Baking

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Today was ANZAC Day in Australia and New Zealand. I didn’t do much to commemorate the day like we did last year,. You can read about that here.

My one nod to the day was whipping up a batch of ANZAC biscuits, or at least a close approximation. ANZAC biscuits are a popular cookie (in American parlance) that are presumed to have originated during WWI when eggs were scarce and, also, these bikkies traveled well to the soldiers overseas. A classic recipe includes oats, flour, coconut, sugar, butter, golden syrup, and baking soda (bi-carbonate of soda, as it is known in Oz). I was inspired by this healthier recipe, but then I altered it a bit further based on what I had in the kitchen.

I didn’t have any coconut sugar, as called for in the healthy version; I just used regular sugar, but I think the coconut sugar would be delicious. I also, sadly, had to replace real butter with olive oil spread because I’m doing a no dairy experiment for Hushpuppy’s benefit, at the moment. 
This is pretty much as easy as it gets in terms of baking projects. Combine the dry ingredients (except for the baking soda). Mix together the butter and syrup in a skillet.

“Butter” and syrup in a skillet.
This is what Paula Dean dreams about, only hers is actual butter, not olive oil spread.

Mix the baking soda with a bit of boiling water and add to the skillet. Combine with the dry ingredients.

It is a very dry batter since there are no eggs. I felt like I needed to mix it by hand after a few stirs.

Pop in the oven on 170 C for 15 minutes.

On their way into the oven.
Finished product.

Despite all my modifications, these came out really well. Obviously, they would have been much better, and probably a fair bit crunchier, with real butter, but still good. I always think of them as sort of an old fashioned cookie in that simple, classic baking style – an unfussy biscuit (not a cookie!) that’s hard to go wrong with.

Meta Blogging

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I wrote my first post on this blog a little over three years ago, and in that time it has been fascinating to see how people engage with it and what content strikes a chord. Sometimes I toss off a blog post that I think is terribly slight and – BAM – it is flooded with comments (flooded with comments for me is like three comments, by the way!). Other times I’ve written something that I thought was super profound and crickets chirp.

The stats on the blog are always a source of amusement and wonder. For instance, the number one most viewed post on my blog by almost double the next one? The Australian Open. I’m not a tennis expert and I have nothing important to contribute to the sports world discussion (other than Yay Djokovic!), it’s just an account of our weekend there. But, it’s clear when I look at the search terms that brought people to this blog why it’s so popular. Number one term put into Google to get to this blog? – “Australian Open.” Not “American in Australia” or “Australian Expat Blog,” but “Australian Open.” Oh, and the number of comments on that most popular post … zero. Such a puzzling place, Blogland!

In case you’re interested, the next most popular posts are:

The search terms that bring people to the blog are also always fun to see. Like I said, my top search terms have nothing to do with being an expat in Australia. After “Australian Open,” the top searches include “tiger pie recipe” (sorry people, I don’t know the recipe for tiger pie!), “friend” (can you imagine how many pages you’d have to go through searching “friend” to get to this blog?), “sad sloth,” and “banana vampire” (no lie). This month, someone got to this blog by searching “ship is leaving” and someone else by searching “baby washcloth animal.”
I don’t know that I learn much from these stats, other than I should always remember that anyone from anywhere might somehow stumble on these pages in a most unexpected way, so I’d better stand firmly by everything I write. It’s not a money making or marketing endeavor for me, so I’m happy for people to engage with it in any way that is organic.
And, if you got to this post by searching for “banana vampire,” A.)Really? and B.) you want to be here

Whereupon I Went For a Stroll and Discovered Why Groceries Cost So Very Much

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A common ground meeting place for essentially all American expats in Australia is the sense of being punched in the stomach we felt when first seeing the prices at an Aussie grocery store. Personally, I’m not too proud to tell you that I had something of a hissy fit in the grocery once because – oh, for the sake of all things holy, all I need is a loaf of bread and they all cost at least $5. I marched out nearly in tears, and of course, had to turn around and go back because, you know, I still needed bread.

The shipping costs to such a remote country, high employee wages, and the lack of competition in the market  are all primary factors in the cost of things here, but today on my walk with the kiddo, it occurred to me that maybe there’s another factor helping to push grocery store prices so high. I think they’re going broke on grocery carts (trolleys).

I can’t explain it, but people in my neighborhood in Sydney seem to think nothing of walking out of the grocery store with their cart, taking it all the way home with them, and then dumping it on their lawn or sidewalk. We don’t live in a dodgy “broken window” neighborhood, in fact our part of town is often disparaged as sort of hoity-toity. Yet, we’re dotted with trolleys.

One of the funniest sights I’ve witnessed in Sydney was walking behind this absolute Nordic model looking woman – 6 feet tall, early 20s, blonde hair, decked out in black leggings and this super posh black leather jacket. She was one of those head-turning women, and there she was striding up busy Military Road pushing a full Coles shopping cart. I must have given her a look because as we passed her, she sort of said with her face, “I know, but – hey – what are you gonna do?”

Here is the cart detritus that I passed just today in our walk to the post office, less than a mile from our apartment.

Hard to see, but there’s a trolley hidden in the garage.
Triplets!

 I know that it can be tough to lug groceries home when you’re on foot. I don’t drive, so I do lots of grocery lugging. Believe me, I know about sore arms and nearly numb hands full of bags, but it has never once in my life crossed my mind to just rock out with the cart. And, I used to live in Brooklyn, a place where people got around in cars far less then here, and I never saw this phenomenon. 

I have to think that if Coles and Woolies could spend less on replacing an army of wayward carts, maybe they could lower the price of a loaf of bread. 

Birth Story: The Best Laid Plans

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Four days from my due date, I was feeling great about pregnancy – as noted here – and fully prepared for our baby to take her sweet time, since we’d learned in our antenatal classes that first babies are often late. So, I was completely surprised when I woke from sleep at 3:30am to what was unmistakably my water breaking. I mentally scanned myself and felt fine otherwise. No contractions, no signs of labor. Just water, water everywhere. Poor Partner-in-Crime was heading to bed when I intercepted him and told him to call our midwife. She instructed us to meet her at the birth center right away.

I felt a little rattled, as this did not fit any script I’d read or heard about. In fact, I’d laughed at P-i-C when he had at one point suggested that we would know to go to the hospital when my water broke. “That’s only in the movies,” I’d told him. When we got to the birth center, my amazing midwife was calm, but I could tell that this was a bit of an outlier event (I learned later, it’s called Premature Rupture of Membranes and is relatively unusual). After checking me over, she told me the news I was dreading. “We’re going to the hospital.” By protocol, I had to be transferred by ambulance, even though I felt fine. While we waited for the ambulance, she let me know what I might expect at the hospital and what my rights were in this case. She told me that they would want to induce my labor, but knowing that wasn’t at all what I wanted, she carefully outlined what the hospital’s policy actually was. I could wait up to 96 hours for induction and that if the baby’s head were to engage in my pelvis, I could be released from the hospital, wait for labor to start naturally at home, and be back in the care of the birth center midwives. In most cases where the water breaks early, women go into labor within 24 hours and over 90% within 96 hours. I very much wanted to go into labor naturally in the comfort of my home and to avoid the medicalized delivery I’d tried so hard to not have. “You’ll have to be strong,” she told me, to fend off pressure from the doctors to go the induction/stay in the hospital route.

My midwife rode in the ambulance with me, while P-i-C followed in the car. It took an hour or so for a doctor to see me and, as anticipated, he suggested induction. I told him that I wanted to wait at least 24 hours and then reassess. So, they admitted me to the maternity ward where we’d wait and see. My midwife told me later that he’d put me on the schedule for induction in the morning.

I sent P-i-C home to finally get some sleep and pondered my predicament from the maternity ward. I tried to sleep, but was too restless. I became determined to be released and let the baby come in its own time, so I got out of bed and power walked the hospital grounds for two hours. Then I came back to my room and did every hip opening stretch I could think of over and over. My bed was right in front of the nurse’s station, and they must have thought I was insane, as I was just lunging and squatting away all afternoon. I refused to get back into the bed. When a midwife came to check on me, I asked her if someone could examine me to see if the head had descended. I think she felt I was thinking wishfully, but she humored me and then was very surprised when she found that, indeed, baby had engaged. It took three hours for the doctor to come back to confirm (more stretches and lunges for me, just to be sure!). First, he strongly urged me to go on an antibiotic drip, which would have kept me in the hospital overnight. I declined and he replied with just a hint of snark that this “wasn’t a prison,” that he couldn’t hold me against my will (i.e. –  despite my poor decision making skills). Then, he examined me, confirmed the midwife’s findings, and sent me on my merry way, back into the care of my midwife from the birth center. We phoned her on the way home and she was really surprised and pleased that I’d been released. We scheduled an appointment for the next afternoon, though she said I’d probably be in labor sooner.

P-i-C and I ordered some pizza and I went to bed at 8pm, knowing that I’d better catch all the sleep I could.

By 12:30a.m., I woke up to what were clearly contractions. I tried to go back to sleep, knowing that I’d hardly slept at all since two days ago, but I was in just enough discomfort that it was a futile attempt. I got up, told P-i-C and started wandering around the house, as I knew it would be some time before we needed to wake the midwife (someone involved in my labor should be well rested!) and go to the birth center. I urged P-i-C to get some sleep, too. I tried to take it easy, so as not to expend too much energy, but sitting was uncomfortable, so I found myself in a middle of the night cleaning frenzy, prepping the apartment to be exactly as I would want it when we came home with a baby. I was beyond relieved to be having this experience in my own home, and not at the hospital.

Around 4a.m., I felt I’d reached the point where I should call our midwife. She joked that I was getting into the habit of calling her at that hour, and told us to meet her at 5. When we left the house, I fully expected that we’d be back later that day with our baby, as there is no overnight hospital stay for deliveries at the birth center.

Aside from making P-i-C pull over the car mid-ride so that I could throw up (sorry people whose yard I did that to …), the next few hours went pretty smoothly. Some of the other midwives who were on duty knew that I’d “escaped” the hospital and told me how happy they were for me that I was there. I was, as well, and feeling very empowered and in the right frame of mind. The birthing room was so calm and serene – dim lights, my yoga music and just me, doing my thing, supported by P-i-C and our midwife with very minimal intervention. Though I was in pain, I felt so strong and in control for the next few hours.

I was in the birthing suite for 14 hours, and I remember it as a combination of intensity as the pain got worse and more frequent, calmness as I spent hours in the birthing pool doing my hypnobirth breathing and taking micro naps between contractions, and sort of boring as the monotony of the hours ticked by. I do remember telling P-i-C a couple of times late in the day that I “didn’t think I could do this,” though how I planned to get out of it, I’m not exactly sure. The worst pain actually came when an IV had to be inserted into my hand for the antibiotic drip I finally said yes to. Apparently, I have minuscule veins, and it took attempts by two midwives and eventually a doctor was called over to insert it. One failed attempt after another – it was excruciating.

I didn’t know it at the time, but by about hour 12, there started to be some concern about the position of the baby’s head. While I was on my way to being fully dilated, she wasn’t in the best position. Often babies adjust themselves, though, so my midwife told me she wanted me to go for another hour with the contractions. The thought of another hour before I even got to the pushing stage completely overwhelmed me. I know I could have gone on if I’d felt we were moving to the next phase, but this seemed sort of hopeless to me. So, I opted at that point to use the gas for pain relief. I hated saying yes, but I’d reached the point where I felt it was necessary for me to carry on.

Because my midwife had been on duty for so long by then, and there was clearly so much more to go, she gave me the sad news that she had to end her shift and turn me over to another midwife. I’d overheard her telling P-i-C this in the hall, so I knew it was coming and I gave her a resigned look, which I think she took to mean that I felt she was giving up on me. What I really meant was that I understood, as she’d put in so many hours with us over the last two days and I was just sad that she wouldn’t be there to greet our baby with us after so much care and work on her part. I saw her wipe away a tear as she left, which seemed pretty uncharacteristic of this very strong woman, and I still get a little choked up thinking about it.

I was turned over to the new midwife, who was also caring and professional, but by then everything aside from contractions and my precious gas mask were peripheral. After a little while, she examined me and then had to break the news. We were going back to the hospital. I must be the only woman in history of the birth center to be transferred to the hospital twice. Apparently, I was really a special case. I felt pretty devastated as she talked to me about impending induction, epidural – everything I’d tried to avoid. I also knew that the ambulance ride was not going to be nearly as pleasant as my first one in my current condition.

It took the ambulance about 30 minutes to arrive, and it was maybe another 20 minutes to the hospital, though it may have been shorter, as they went lights and sirens blaring this time. Once in the hospital, the midwife was still trying to do things naturally, and she asked for a birth stool to be brought into the room and urged me to try pushing. The pushing attempts did nothing but make me feel worse, and soon an OB from the adjoining private hospital was on site taking charge. She examined me and let us know that the baby was posterior and deflex – meaning she was the wrong direction and with the whole front part of her head in the pelvis, rather than just the top of her head. Basically, one of the worst positions she could have been in. I was later told that in an era before surgery, this is the sort of situation that mothers and babies died from. And so it was that the OB said my most dreaded words … C-section. This was my absolute worst case scenario, and one I never even gave any real consideration in all my preparation. But, a quick look around the room told me that it was inevitable. P-i-C was asking the OB to show him the baby on the ultrasound machine and he agreed. The midwife from the birth center was agreeing. I knew that these people, who were so supportive of my non-medical birth choices, would not let me go ahead if it were not the only option.

I was in the operating theatre in minutes and from there, the whole thing took maybe 15 minutes. I felt disembodied, as the contractions suddenly  ended with the anaesthesia and feeling people working on me, but no actual pain. P-i-C sat by me and talked to me through the procedure.

When the baby was presented, P-i-C declared it a boy. The anesthesiologist laughed and told him to look again. It was pretty funny, but also the strangest feeling because I was confused when he said boy. Though we hadn’t learned the sex, we’d both felt certain it was a girl, though I’d tried to suppress my certainty, telling everyone that there was just no way to know. But, I guess I did know because when P-i-C said, “it’s a girl,” I thought, “yes, that’s right.” Somehow, we both had some sort of primal sense.

I do wish that I had prepared myself for the possibility of a C-section because I knew that there were things that I could ask for that would help mimic some of the post-birth immediate benefits for mother and baby that come with a normal birth, but I did not have my wits about me or the information in my head. So, rather than getting to hold my girl right away, my first glimpse of her was across the room as she was weighed and wiped down. I was so relieved to see P-i-C go right to her side and start singing to her the songs he’d sung her in the womb. I could see her quiet and look right at him. It was a beautiful second choice for her first moments of life and first meeting with her parents.

Finally, she was brought to me and laid on my chest. I stroked her tiny head and talked to her for awhile, and she just stared at me with her soulful, jeweltone blue eyes. She didn’t make a sound or shift her gaze, just looked at me. I don’t know if she recognized me as her mother, but it certainly felt that way in our first moments together.

On her way out, the OB told me that all had gone well, and she gave me a kiss on the cheek and said that she, too, had an emergency C-section with her son, so she knew what I was going through. It was a very kind gesture that I remain grateful for.
Having undergone surgery, I now obviously had to stay in the hospital. We were scrambling somewhat, as I had not packed a bag for an overnight, let alone multi-day stay, and we also realized that the one outfit we had for the baby was far too big for our tiny bundle. We had to buy her a going home outfit from the hospital gift shop. Because she was 5 grams under what is considered “normal” weight, we were once again a “special case,” and hospital midwives attended to us every 3 hours to make sure that she was feeding and gaining weight. They were all lovely women, but between their constant presence and array of different suggestions, sharing a room with another new mother and baby, and all the other random doctors and staff who were constantly in and out of the room, the whole hospital experience completely stressed me out. I broke down by the third day, and P-i-C helped me fight to get released. Because of the baby’s size, they wanted to keep us an extra two days, but I knew that we would flourish so much more in the privacy of our own home, attended by visits from my original midwife, who had been with me through my whole pregnancy. It was my first bit of mother’s intuition, and I was right. Though life with our newborn has not been easy, all has gone well in our first days and weeks at home, and we have been supported by the baby whisperer midwives from the birth center.
I am still coming to terms with the loss of my dream delivery, though I think my biggest regret is that, because of the C-section, I will not be able to have any subsequent children through a birth center. The care we received there was a blessing, as I was told at every step that I was capable, knew my body better than anyone, and empowered to see just how strong I could be. Of course, in the end, our girl doesn’t care how she came into this world, just that she’s here – a healthy daughter who only wants to be nurtured and part of our family. 

Of Tragedy: Guns and Beyond

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I have been paralyzed to write anything here since news of the Sandy Hook massacre came out over the weekend. My thoughts have not been far from the tragedy all week, and most conversations I’ve had since have turned in that direction. I’ve cried what seems like endless tears thinking about those children and teachers and their families, my emotions, I’m sure, heightened by being pregnant and imagining losing a child I don’t even know yet in such a senseless way. And, I’ve been thinking of my many teacher friends, most of whom I do believe would act as selflessly as reports say the teachers in that school did.

I’ve thought this week about writing a non-partisan post about Australia’s gun laws, something I’ve considered writing about since the last time the U.S. had a mass shooting … or was it the time before that …? And then, I thought that perhaps I would just let the whole thing go in these pages and move on to writing about some of the vacations we’ve been taking or my Christmas plans. But, neither option seemed genuine in the face of such a sad and complicated event. Not writing about it at all seemed somehow cowardly to me, as there is so much that I want to say that is relevant to this blog, but still don’t quite know how.

Headline of the paper in the cafe we breakfasted at
in the days after the tragedy.
Typical of what seems to be many Australian’s opinion.

Here in Australia, the topic of most of the discussions I’ve heard has been primarily on gun laws. Every Australian I’ve spoken to from work colleagues to our Unitarian group to waiters in a cafe think that the U.S. needs stronger gun laws. They come by this position from a “been there, done that” perspective. In 1996, Australia had its worst mass killing – the Port Arthur massacre. It was a tipping point, and the government, (which, incidentally, was led by one of the most conservative Prime Ministers in modern Australia), quickly made sweeping changes to the gun laws, including a ban on semi-automatic weapons, a buy-back of guns in circulation, and strict controls on who can own guns and how they are regulated. My understanding is that there was some public push-back, but Australians by and large supported and mostly still support those laws. (A good read on Australia’s gun laws was written by John Howard – the PM who oversaw the passage of these laws – in the wake of the Colorado movie theatre shooting).

Personally, I find these laws to be incredibly sensible and they fit with my own feelings about guns, which is to say that I don’t begrudge anyone their right to hunt and game, but I hate guns, would never have one in my home, don’t want them anywhere near my family, and can’t understand why there’s even a debate about the need to outlaw semi-automatic weapons. While I find elements of Australian culture to be actually quite aggressive, I feel safe everywhere I go here because of the lack of guns. It’s not like there’s no violence here, and you do hear about people being beaten or knifed. This week in Tasmania, a man gunned down his ex-partner and her new boyfriend. But, random shootings are almost unheard of and, by and large, there is a sense of safety.

All of that said, I have been giving a lot of thought to my opinions about gun laws. For every study I show you that says that reducing guns reduces violence, I know that you can show me one that says the opposite. And, deep in the logical part of my heart, I know that any legislation in the U.S. will not work like it did here because the gun buy-back, which is necessary to the laws’ success, is completely unrealistic in America. Plus, in Australia, the population was mostly on board. Not nearly so much in the U.S., from what I see.

Moreover, I think there’s a lot more to this than guns, and something I’ve been puzzling on is the role of the American identity of “rugged individualism.” In many ways, this is such a great American trait and, in as much as there is any truth to the notion that there is or has been an “American exceptionalism,” I think our mythology of individualism is highly responsible for that. The cult of the individual has led us to work extremely hard, think inventively and to create some amazing inventions and ideas. I grew up in a family that epitomized that “bootstrap” mentality: my parents both staunch Libertarians, my dad one in a long line of do-it-yourself Montanans who worked himself through school up to a PhD from Johns Hopkins. There were no excuses, only “you can do it” in my home. One thing I dislike about Australian culture is the so-called “tall poppy syndrome,” which basically suggests that if someone is getting a bit “taller” (appearing more successful, brighter, etc) than the rest of the “poppies” in the field, that society will find a way to “cut them down” to the right size. I don’t like the thought of my kids growing up thinking that they don’t need to strive, that average is good enough. That’s the American in me.

But, the part of Individualism that worries me is the part of it that breeds mistrust, suspicion and fear of others. It seems to me that the extreme of that is the survivalist mentality that I’ve been reading the shooter’s mother possessed. I think being prepared for a disaster – of any kind – is great (I sometimes lament the fact that I have pretty much no useful skills that will get me anywhere in a crisis. I’ll be the first girl down in the zombie apocolypse, unless they want to put on a well-written play), but when people start believing that the disaster is imminent and that they are going to be on their own and fending against their own countrymen, I think that’s individualism run amok in a dangerous way. The notion of Us vs. Them, or rather, Me vs. You – Individualism turned into Isolationism –  strikes me as equally, if not more scary, than weaponry of any kind.

There’s more to this story, of course … mental health, violent video games, the 24 hour news cycle of hysteria, but I’ve already gone further than I intended with my personal punditry. I hope that there will be some sort of light at the end of this, which perhaps will be that we’ve finally seen enough that we have to do something productive as a society. I hope that more people who are much smarter than me will take all of this up and elevate the discussion to a more enlightened level. And, mostly, I so desperately hope for more peace and calm.

Featured

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The expat hub InterNations was kind enough to offer to feature this blog in their Sydney blogs section. I had fun answering questions for the little profile. It was a nice chance to reflect on my expat experiences and come up with some advice for people thinking about moving to Sydney.

If you feel so inclined, have a look here.

Also, I’ve been checking out the other recommended blogs, and there are some good ones for those of you, like me who love reading the expat blogs.

Make Mine Tea

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It’s a Saturday on a public holiday weekend, and somehow I find myself at the office. I’m sure you will infer from the fact that I am talking to you, Blogland, that my presence here is in the “hardly working” camp, and more of the “holding down the fort” variety.

Pondering my quiet surrounds, I remembered that I have been meaning to share what I consider to be one of the more charming aspects of Australian work culture: the tea station.

I’ve yet to find myself in an office setting that did not have some variation on the tea station. You can count on a source of hot water and a supply of tea bags, probably instant coffee, sugar, and milk. (It seems that most people won’t touch the instant coffee, and will go out to the coffee shop if it’s not going to be a tea sort of day. I understand that. I won’t touch it, either).

Taking a break for tea, either in the morning or afternoon or both, is perfectly normal, which I think is great. In the States, I found that often the only people who often got a little respite outside of regular breaks were smokers. It’s nice to have a reason to step away from your desk for a couple of minutes and go through the ritual of preparing your tea.

I’ve quite gotten into the spirit, and take my tea break almost every day at 3pm, which is the perfect time between lunch and the end of the day. White with one sugar, thanks for asking.

While I’m here in the office alone with no one to look at me strangely for doing so, I snapped this shot of our tea station. This set up is on top of a mini-fridge where the milk lives. It’s pretty typical of what I’ve seen in small offices.

I happen to sit right next to the tea station, which places me in prime talking-to position, sort of like the “makin’ copies” guy. Only I don’t have to fix any jams.

Expativersary: Two Years On

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My two year expativersary came and went a couple of weeks ago without my even noticing. This must mean that I am not marking time as closely as I was last year at this time. And, as I contemplated writing this post, I was at a loss to find a story arc or theme for the past 12 months. It has just been life, and I can’t suggest that this year my evolution as a person has been particularly marked by the fact that I live so far away from home – which is a milestone in and of itself.

When I look at my thoughts from my first expativersary, I can see how the groundwork was laid for this second and much easier twelve month stint.

I was aching to go home, which I did shortly thereafter. When I got back to Oz, I found a new part-time job to supplement my theatre work. Today, I have just a bit of theatre work here and there that just barely supplements the same part time job, and I am fine with the reversal. Though, I did manage to read 100 Australian plays, mentor some young theatre makers, and interview four more playwrights in some of my spare time. I’ve said goodbye to friends I felt I’d know forever and tried to nurture new friendships. Partner-in-Crime and I did more traveling and have also tried to enjoy Sydney like it was our home.

Becoming more comfortable has meant a real shift in my engagement with the culture: I inadvertently use more Australian phrases in my everyday speech (ring instead of call, mobile instead of cell, “how are you going?” “have a think,” and I’ve even taken up that inflection of going up at the end of a sentence, like it’s a question). A recent work acquaintance said the other day that I have “just a slight American accent,” which was very strange to hear. I use new ingredients in my cooking (fish sauce is a staple, which I never once used at home, passion fruit pulp is a perfect addition to my morning smoothie). I am almost completely used to prices – at least to the extent that I don’t want to cry when entering a grocery store or stomp out of a restaurant, as I felt like doing often when I first moved here, as it has all become a matter of perspective. I’ve become vaguely conversant in Australian politics and pop culture.

And, there are some things which I don’t think I will acclimate to. I haven’t taken up driving, and don’t plan to unless we move out of Sydney; public transport suits me well. I still go through an embarrassing amount of Costco sized Skippy peanut butter and I am not going to learn to like Vegemite. I cringe to do it, but will skip the serial comma, but I will not forget the comma after an introductory clause. Words with Zs have started to look odd, but I still can’t call it a “zed.” I don’t know the first thing about rugby or cricket. Holidays remain the hardest part of living in the Southern hemisphere (I said last year to ask me again this year, and I can now report that they have not gotten easier).

Looking at these meanderings, I think the emergent themes for the year are immersion and acceptance. It wasn’t so much a year to grow as to settle, to become comfortable, and to redefine my identity.

Like last year, I will close with some of the more significant images from the previous twelve months.

Jacarandas in bloom. The loveliest part of the year in Sydney.

Visiting the Martin Luther King Jr Historic Site was the most inspiring thing I did on my trip home.
New Zealand cruise.
Outpost street art festival.
Thanksgiving Down Under.
Trip to Tasmania was one of the highlights of the year.
Meeting wombats in the wild there  was a dream come true.
New Year’s Eve Sydney style!

On my way to being a true blue Aussie – I made a pavlova.

We fell in love with Tuba Skinny, a band from New Orleans who played at the Sydney Festival.

Mimi and me, on one of the several glorious summer afternoons spent on Cockatoo Island. 
Australian Open, where I met Djokovic(‘s picture).
Mimi and I took a photo field trip to the Fish Market.
Partner-in-Crime and I enjoyed a staycation around Sydney.
Opera on the Harbour
ANZAC Day parade.
Yoga retreat.
Slumber partied with the book club girls, and the talented Sydney Smiles created some pretty amazing nail art for us.
Pelicans, Port Stephens
Noosa, Sunshine Coast QLD trip.
Sydney Harbour sunset from Darling Point, where we got married almost two years ago.