Discovering Clovelly

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Discovering ClovellyNot one of Sydney’s most iconic beaches, lovely little Clovelly has long been on my list of places to discover (hence its appearance on my Undiscovered Sydney to-do list), so when I won a voucher for a Clovelly spa from the fabulous Mum to Five, a most excellent plan started to come together.

Recruiting husband for a few hours of Daddy duty, I decided to make an afternoon retreat of my Clovelly outing.

First stop, Yummy Mummy Day SpaDiscovering ClovellyDiscovering Clovelly

As you can see by the sign, they cater to pregnant women, but this is not an announcement. They’re happy to take regular, non-expectant “mummies,” as well. I went in for a couple hours of massage, facial, foot bath hoo-ha, and it was gorgeous. Just a big, giant sigh of candlelit, eye pillow, hushed voices, piano music relief.

You should go there. I should go back!

I took my time returning to reality in the relaxation room, and then left to walk down the hill for part two of Operation Clovelly Holiday.Discovering Clovelly

Clovelly Beach was about a 15 minute walk from the spa, and the whole area just has that relaxed, beach town feel to it. Deep saltwater sighs, all the way.

I found the beach, and it was quite interesting, a tucked away little inlet, leading out to the greater ocean, which you could observe on rock cliffs at the other end of the park. I could see why this secluded beach is popular with families (there’s a little playground just off the beach, as well).

Discovering Clovelly

Discovering Clovelly

There had been a storm the night before, and the water was still pretty wild, waves crashing up the cliffs. It was beautifully dramatic.Discovering Clovelly

After having my Joni Mitchell, clifftop, hair blowing in the breeze moment, I walked along the boardwalk, past the beach pool, and set myself up on a towel in the sand. One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Clovelly was because it purportedly has excellent snorkeling. I’d brought my snorkel, but sadly the water was far too murky from the storm to see anything, and the only sealife visible was an onslaught of of seaweed.Discovering Clovelly

I did make an effort, but ended up just setting myself up for a lounge on the beach with my book. Which, truly, was no hardship.

The man next to me had a better time of his swim, as he emerged quite chuffed to have found $20 floating in the tempestuous water. The sea taketh, and the sea giveth – you never know!

When the weather warms again, I’d like to get back to make another attempt at the snorkeling.
And, while I’m in the neighborhood, check in to make sure the day spa is still, you know, running properly.

Sydney Expat Interview Series Part 12 – Australian Television

Sydney Expat Interviews

Australian television. It’s rather a funny beast – original Aussie shows, interspersed with British and American fare. Shows start at odd times (8:03?) and you’re never entirely sure when the new season of your favorite program is set to begin again (“House Raiders is back – after Australia Day!” So, February? March?). Cooking shows, home renovations, and panel shows reign supreme. Not long after moving here, I realized that if I wanted to make conversation with my co-workers, I needed to start watching Masterchef, ASAP. Watching local TV is one of the quickest ways to get in touch with the culture (for better or for worse!), so this month, I’ve asked the expats to give me their take on TV in Australia.

This is the 12th in an 18 part interview series with expats living in Sydney. Please make sure to visit the fantastic websites of the participants linked below, and join me on Facebook for much more on expat life in Sydney.

Sydney Expats Answer - What Australian TV Shows Do You Love


Question 12: Do you love any Australian television shows?


Australian TV schedule

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

Yes! I LOOOOVE watching TV shows from other countries. It really helps you get a glimpse into another culture. I got hooked on Big Brother when I visited for the first time in 2007. It’s an addiction. I’ve also enjoyed My Kitchen Rules, House Rules, and Real Housewives of Melbourne. I haven’t gotten into any of their dramas or sitcoms and I think that’s because the reality shows are on almost every night of the week. Meaning House Rules will be on 5 nights out of 7 so if you want to get involved in it, you have to watch nightly.


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

I am loving watching Masterchef, at the moment.Sydney Expats - What Australian TV Shows Are You Watching?


Name: Katie
Country of Origin: UK (but, born in Australia)
Lived in Sydney: 12 years

I LOVE Masterchef, contestants need real talent on that show. I also loved Heartbreak High, the kids were so cool! Big fan of The Cleverman (just started on ABC).


Name: Paul
Country of Origin: England
Lived in Australia (currently Perth): 6 years
Have a look at Paul’s doodles at Sprotson Green via The Notorious MUM

Gogglebox, Border Security and Summer Heights High. Also, Police Ten Seven from New Zealand. They’re funny – Australians “take the piss” in a really nice way.


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

I have to say, Chris Lilley’s shows (particularly Summer Heights High) probably contributed to my decision to come to Australia! I knew I’d love the sense of humor.Sydney Expats - What Australian TV Shows Are You Watching?


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

Honestly haven’t turned on a TV since I’ve been here. Australia recently joined the 21st century with Netflix and I find Upper Middle Bogan entertaining. (A bogan is a redneck).


Name: Caitlin
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 1.5 years
Caitlin blogs at Where’s Wallis

I’ve been so busy enjoying what the country has to offer that I haven’t had any time for TV!


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

Not really, I don’t really watch TV since moving here, there’s just so much other stuff I’d rather be doing. My other half does love the AFL and The Block so those would be the two we watch the most.


Name: “Bushranger”
Country of origin: Serbia
Lived in Sydney: 6.5yrs

ABC Kids (by coercion from my toddler).abckids


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

Nope. None whatsoever. I find Australian TV to be very poor quality and the Australian TV Networks idea of program scheduling is non-existent. It’s impossible to follow any show through a season as the networks move the shows around, drop them for a week, change the days or just stop showing them altogether.


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

Definitely not. Most I have seen are pretty bad.


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

No. But I do watch a whole lot more British television since living here. QI, Would I Lie About You?, the Alan Carr show (Chattyman), and The Graham Norton Show.


Name: Melissa
Country of origin: USA
Lived in Sydney: 1 year
Melissa blogs at Leche Love

Quite a bit of Graham Norton, but I believe that’s BBC based.


Name: Rachel
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 4 years

I don’t tend to watch much Australian TV. I’ve recently become hooked on Netflix and catching on English comedy re-runs and trying new boxsets like House of Cards, Orange is The New Black and The Killing.


Name: Alana
Country of Origin: New Zealand
Lived in Sydney: 14 years

I watch absolute minimal TV (2-3 hours a week), but LOVE Offspring for its quirky, relatable characters and Wonderland for its beautiful people.Sydney Expats - What Australian TV Shows Are You Watching?


Name: Patricia
Country of Origin: Switzerland
Lived in Sydney: 5 years
I love A Place to Call Home, Gogglebox and The Great Australian Bakeoff. First one because I love seeing how Australia was in the 50s, second one because it’s funny, and the third one because I love baking, and I love how they help each other and they are always polite and respectful.


Name: Emily
Country of Origin: UK
Lived in Sydney: 13 years

When I first got here I liked Grass is Greener and McClouds Daughters. I watched The Footy Show a lot – but then I grew up. I loved Masterchef first and second series.
I will watch Bondi Rescue.  Kath and Kim is another classic. I’ve loved panel shows like Gruen and The Glass House and RoveIn the UK, I watched Home and Away and Neighbours religiously at uni, and my favourite late night telly was Prisoner.  Sydney Expats - What Australian TV Shows Are You Watching?


Name: Kristen
Country of Origin: United States
Lived in Sydney: 8 years

I don’t get to watch as much TV as I’d like, but when I do have a few moments I love:
* The Project. I’m a huge Waleed Aly fan. I would love to see him in a one on one debate with Donald Trump.
* Selling Houses Australia. Love seeing the renovations but get frustrated by people who hold out for a price that is not supported by the market.
* AFL! This is the year that the North Melbourne Kangas will take it all. Mark my word.Sydney Expats - What Australian TV Shows Are You Watching?


What are your favorite Australian television shows?
Anything else we should be tuning in for?


Read Part 1: Expectations vs Reality
Read Part 2: The Most Memorable Sydney Day
Read Part 3: Your First Day in Sydney
Read Part 4: Drinking Like an Aussie
Read Part 5: The Birds of Sydney
Read Part 6: Australian Christmas
Read Part 7: Off the Beaten Path
Read Part 8: Questions About Your Home
Read Part 9: What People at Home Think of Australia
Read Part 10: Advice for Moving to Sydney
Read Part 11: A Sydney Weekend

Vivid With Kids – It’s All North of the Bridge!

annual events, art, Sydney

Vivid Festival With Kids - North of the Bridge

I’ve made no secret of my love-hate relationship with Sydney’s annual Vivid Festival. On one hand, the light displays are spectacular. On the flip, there’s the crowds – the soul crushing crowds. Add a small child to the experience, and it can become an experience that makes a woman question her own sanity.

It’s like the organizers of Vivid heard my agoraphobic cries, and arranged for families with small children to have a completely satisfying Vivid experience, all on the north side of the Harbour.

Chatswood

Last year was the first time Chatswood took part in the Vivid Festival, and we loved the easygoing and family-friendly atmosphere, so we headed straight there with our girl this year. The theme is on dinosaurs, which could not have been more perfect for our dino fanatic (ours, and just about every other 2 – 5 year old I know).

We started our night at The Concourse, where a moving dinosaur show was projected on the huge outdoor screen and dino eggs glowed below in a smokey swamp. Vivid Festival Chastwood

Hushpuppy’s favorite part of the night was interacting with the roaming mechanical dinosaur skeletons, which were manned by Vivid guests who could take a turn wearing them. Both the kids and volunteers seemed to be having a great time playing with these puppets.

Vivid Festival ChatswoodFurther down Victoria Avenue is a fun moving light display full of dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures, which was particularly fun for the little kids to interact with. Vivid Festival Chatswood

Vivid Festival Chatswood

At the Interchange (next to the train station), is definitely the coolest part of the dinosaur spectacle. Large glowing and squawking pterodactyls soar up and down 3 stories, powered by visitors on step machines below. It’s definitely a sight.
Vivid Festival Chatswood

Finally, up at The District (dining district above The Interchange), the kids found the “crumbling bridge” – another light projection that young children were loving. Hushpuppy managed to “cross” the uneven bridge, and then looked up with amazement with it crumbled away under her feet.  We ran into some friends, and from The District, we decided the best way to end the night was with dumplings at Tim Ho Wan (can recommend!).

Lights at Chatswood are on at 5:30p.m. and there are plenty of dining options at Hawkers Lane, The District, and in between.

If you happen to be in Chatswood during the day, or between 5-7p.m. on a Thursday evening, there’s one more display you might try. On Level 1 at Chatswood Chase is “The Luminarium,” where kids (and grown ups, too) get to dress up in underwater explorer costumes and enter a “deep sea” adventure, mostly to do with projected light sea creatures and some mesh and light “jellyfish.” I wouldn’t say it’s worth a special trip, but if you’re there, it is fun for the kids to wear the costumes and enter through the secret door.Vivid Festival Luminarium

Taronga Zoo

We didn’t know what to expect when we booked tickets to the Vivid Festival at Taronga Zoo, as this was the first year they’ve had a display there. Our day finally arrived, and what a bummer – there was a huge rainstorm. On top of that, my daughter decided that she didn’t care to leave the house without her “super duper” jacket, which after running through all possible candidates, I found out was the one that was soaking wet in the washing machine. Though we’d been looking forward to it, none of us were in much of a mood as we arrived at Taronga!

The good news was that there was no crowd, thanks to the weather, and we hopped right onto our round trip ride on the Sky Train (booked through the ANZ Blue Pass, which is limited, but the same price as regular admission). The bad news is that we couldn’t see much out the windows, which were covered in rain. So much for our view of the city.

Aaah, but everything turned around when we got off, found that the rain had stopped, and started to make our way down the ramp into the zoo. The path was illuminated in blinking green rays of light that felt like stepping into a mystery jungle land.

From there, we spent an hour or so walking the well marked path with illuminated sculptures of endangered animals around every turn. “LOOK AT THAT!,” was Hushpuppy’s refrain for the remainder of the evening. Many of the displays moved or had an interactive quality, and zoo volunteers staffed each display, happy to tell you more about the animal.

Each display was just so beautiful and charming. I was particular to the gorgeous elephant, and Hushpuppy loved the tail-wagging tiger. Vivid Festival Taronga Zoo

Vivid Festival Taronga Zoo

Vivid Festival Taronga Zoo

Vivid Festival Taronga Zoo

Vivid Festival Taronga Zoo

Vivid Festival Taronga Zoo

At a few spots along the walk, there were additional light displays, several of them made from paper lanterns shaped like animals, made by Sydney schoolchildren. Vivid Festival Taronga Zoo

Vivid Festival Taronga Zoo

And, we got one final surprise on the way out – a real animal, out for a late night snack.Vivid Festival Taronga Zoo

I was a little sad when we came to the end – I could easily have done another loop around, as it was all so magical. But, the parent in me knew that was pushing our luck way too hard with Little Miss Super Duper. Fortunately, on the way out, we had one more treat, which was the light and sound display that was projected on a loop on the front of the Taronga entrance. We’d passed by it on the way in, not wanting to stand in the rain, but settled in for the show on the way out. The theme was on human’s responsibility towards protecting endangered animals and featured moving images of all of the species that were displayed inside. It was gorgeous. I wanted to applaud at the end. Vivid Festival Taronga Zoo

If you’re thinking of going to Vivid at Taronga Zoo, do make sure to book your tickets online ahead of time. Lights are on at 5:30p.m. Food options are limited both inside and near Taronga Zoo, so either eat before, after, or bring food in with you.

The Vivid Festival runs through 18 June (Chatswood ends 13 June). If you’re attending with young children, my best recommendation is to head over the bridge for these perfect family nights at Chatswood and Taronga Zoo.

A Visit to Club Pippies in Chatswood Westfield

expat issues, Little Aussie

A Visit to Club Pippies

Edit: Club Pippies is, unfortunately, now closed.

Confession time: I get a little jealous – in particular, I turn a shade greener whenever I hear about fellow parents with family nearby. Such is life as an expat parent (parents with families out of state, who don’t have a great relationship, or whose family is no longer with us – I see you, too). For us expats, of course it was our choice to step away from our village, but sometimes I do have a quiet twinge of envy towards people who can manage a date with their partner while the grandparents take the reins for a few hours, or get to run a couple of errands, while leaving the kids for some quality time with aunts and uncles. So, when I was invited to visit Club Pippies at Chatswood Westfield, I was intrigued by their “Shop and Drop” program, where parents can leave their kids with the staff while they do their shopping, or sit outside and get some work done using the free WiFi.

Not quite “baking cookies with grandma” level, but it still sounded pretty good.

Club Pippies Chatswood

We popped into Club Pippies on a weekday afternoon, and it was fairly quiet, but Hushpuppy still quickly found a couple of friends to conspire with. She did some painting and craft with little boy, whose mum had gone out for a some shopping. Then, she and another girl ran into the big play gym with one of the staff members, from where she occasionally poked her head out over the next two hours, just to tell me that she’d mastered the slide or that they’d renamed all the balls from the ball pit after fruits. Actual acts of bribery were required to convince her to leave as we inched close to dinner time. Meanwhile, I sat at one of the tables in the cafe drinking my coffee, wondering why I hadn’t brought a nice book to read, or my grocery list to tackle alone.

Grocery shopping alone. Even big dreams can come true.

Craft at Club Pippies

Nailed it!

Club Pippies Westfield

The club’s manager told me that they always have activities on for the kids, and that they change them out during the day. All of the staff have First Aid certificates and Working With Children checks.

I loved how the staff got the kids playing cooperatively together. Sometimes play centers can turn a little Lord of the Flies and it’s every pre-schooler for himself, but the staff kept saying, “would you like to play with Bobby?” and “Look, you and Anna can play with this together!” – and so play together they did. They remembered off of the kid’s names, and knew the particular interests of the frequent attendees.

Club Pippies accepts children from 6 weeks onward, and run extra activities during school holidays. Parents can either “Stay and Play” ($12 for 30 minutes up to $25 for 2 hours) or “Shop and Drop” ($18 for 30 minutes up to $45 for 3 hours). I asked for the full lowdown on the monthly membership because I really felt like some of my expat parents will get something out of it, so here’s the deal: For $99 per month, you can bring one child as many as 3 times per week for up to 2 hours per session. If you do the math, that’s not quite as cheap as Grandma would be, but a lot less than a babysitter or occasional care in Sydney.

**I got a little cheeky, and asked if Club Pippies could sweeten the deal even further for my people, and they said, “yep, sure thing.” So, mention Between Roots and Wings, and you’ll get $20 off your first month’s membership. (Club Pippies does require that you commit to at least 2 month’s membership, and then you’re free to cancel with at least 2 week’s notice).**Club Pippies Chatswood**I did not receive any compensation to write about our visit to Club Pippies, though our visit was complimentary.


 

If you go…

Club Pippies – Level 6 at Chatswood Westfield
Website / Facebook 
Email: chatswood@pippies.com.au / Phone: 9419 5050
Suitable for ages 6 weeks up.
I’d suggest dressing kids in something suitable for craft and active play.
Mention this blog for $20 off your first month’s membership.

The Introverted Expat Makes Friends

expat issues

Makes FriendsOur little daughter went through a shy phase awhile back. She would literally hide her face if a stranger even looked in her direction. She liked her friends, but if some nice grandmother on the bus looked up from the afghan she was knitting to give her a smile, my shrinking violet buried her head in my chest for the rest of the trip. It was a little embarrassing, but I really got where she was coming from. I’m introverted, and a shy introvert, at that, and though I’ve learned to fake it pretty expertly, sometimes new people make me feel like burying my head for the whole trip, too. I love being social and having great friends, but I like intimate groups, small talk stresses me out, and I hate being someplace loud where you can’t have a meaningful conversation.

Moving to a new country where I knew no one but my guy (who also knew almost no one, but has the distinct advantage of being the King of the Extroverts) was a particular challenge for a shy but social introvert. But, can I brag for a tiny moment? Right, thanks – so, I haven’t aced every aspect of expat life, but I feel I’ve done pretty OK on this whole making friends business, despite myself. I call some of the best and most loyal people friends today, and I love that about my life here. So, for all the introverted expats – I know I’m not the only one – these have been my best tactics:

Online Friend-Dating

When we first arrived, we hauled ourselves around to expat meetups and social events. I took classes and got out of the house every single day. That’s what “How to Make Friends” guides  tell you to do it. Except, those things are written for extroverts.

Big groups just are not the way that introverts make friends. We hate small talk, and “meetups” are about 98% “Where are you from? How long have you been here? What brought you here? And you?” I wanted to kick a wall every time we left one. And, as for classes and just walking around the grocery store, I’m about as likely to strike up a conversation with a stranger as I am to learn to love Vegemite toast.

The beautiful thing about meeting people on the Internet first is that you can cut the small talk, and when you do decide to meet in person, it’s because there’s already some kind of friend-spark. I’ve met people through blogging, expat forums, and Facebook groups.

You do have to put yourself out there on the Internet. You can’t just be a “watcher.” It’s good to try to get the lay of the land when you first join an online group or forum, but once you’ve picked up the tone, jump in on conversations you find interesting, and be yourself. We introverts are often at our best in writing, where you can avoid, “I can’t believe I just said that,” “oh my god, I have no idea where this story is going…,” and “did I just snort when I laughed? Did she notice? Why? Whyyyyyyy?!?“.

Online friend-courtship is your chance to make a great  impression, showing off your smartest and wittiest side long before your first pig snort laugh.Computer

Be the Cruise Director

Here’s the secret about making friendships. Almost everyone wants new friends. Very few people want to be the one organizing the get-togethers where you’ll meet new friends. It’s a pain to organize things. You have to stick your neck out and get everyone to agree. You have to pick a date. And get everyone to agree. You have to find a venue, which is ridiculously hard. And get everyone to agree. Then, people will want to change the time, find out if they can bring their sister, or just cancel at the last minute. This is why no one wants to do it.Cruise Director

Nonetheless, I like to be the Cruise Director sometimes. For 4th of July, we threw a little party for American families in our section of Sydney. That’s a pretty limited group, which is exactly how this introvert likes it. We picked a spot and time, told everyone to bring a dish, tossed up a few balloons, and I think everyone had a nice time. We had 5 families in total, which is the perfect number for me – enough to feel festive, but not so many that you get that crushed in a crowded room feeling. When you host, people will naturally talk to you, which is half of the shy person’s battle.

Sometimes it’s as simple as asking someone else to coffee. I think “we live in neighboring suburbs, we both have toddlers, and that thing you said online made me laugh” is more than enough reason to suggest meeting up. I can’t remember ever being turned down for a coffee date. Sometimes they go nowhere, but sometimes it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Identify a People Connector

There are people in this world who love nothing more than meeting new people and putting them together with other people. A Friend Emissary, if you will. If you’re an introverted expat trying to make friends, you should do your best to befriend at least one of these people. Luckily, I’ve met a couple, and I can trace almost my entire network of friends back to these people. The good news is that Friend Emissaries love making new friends, so if you’re open, there’s a good chance that you’ll get one in your corner.People Who Need People

Fear Not the Extroverts

Real life talk here: Extroverts often stress me out, and I can feel myself immediately trying to back slowly out of the room when I come across some of the particularly boisterous members of Tribe Extrovert. I always thought that I was just choosy about people until I read a quote that, to paraphrase, said that introverts are sometimes wary of extroverts because we feel that they “steal our energy.” That was a ding-ding-ding moment for me. The other thing about extroverts that, for me, is hard to understand, is that they are so social, have so many friends and obligations, that it’s hard to feel that you are an important part of their life. And so, consciously or unconsciously, I have tended to keep extroverts at bay, in terms of friendships (which is crazy because I married an extrovert!).Extrovert

It is only recently that I’ve realized how unfair and limiting this bias has been. Yes, there are shallow “energy thieves” in this world – and we’d all do well to steer clear of them – but that’s not all extroverts. I’ve discovered that I need to manage my interactions with extroverts, where possible, and be together in smaller groups or one-on-one, rather than at large gatherings. This has the dual benefit of allowing me more introvert-energy to commit to the friendship, as well as allowing me to feel like we’re connecting on that deeper level that we introverts crave. I have some very close extrovert friends, and they all understand that I’m always good for a lunch date, but probably going to pass on the big party where I know no one else.

Oh, and don’t forget – the Friend Emissaries I mentioned above – pretty exclusively extroverts. Love the extroverts, and they will love you back.

Don’t Chicken Out!

There’s a joke that introverts think, “I love making plans so that I can cancel them.”Canceling Plans

I’m always enthusiastic when I make plans, but then the date comes closer, and it seems like a lot to put on the clothes, catch the bus, find the restaurant – every part of the event that isn’t me in yoga pants watching Nashville. Many of us introverts imagine our energy being sapped long before it’s even happened. And, if there are going to be new people there, even more so.

But, then I get there, and 98% of the time, it’s really fun. Is that your experience, too?

Repeat after me: Don’t cancel. It will be fun, and it will be worth it.

Follow Up

I’m not great at this, and should really heed my own advice. You found someone rad to friend-date because you made each other laugh in a Facebook group. You had coffee, and the conversation flowed nicely, and you were both like, “hey, we should try that new hot chocolate and brownies pop up cafe that’s opening next week!” (*If only*).

Then, maybe you go home, and you think, “well, I had a good time, but I did say that one awkward thing, and also I snort-laughed, so I wonder if I came across as kind of weird…?” She’s probably super busy, anyway. And, then you think you’ll text tomorrow … the next day … after the weekend … and it just gets away from you. Here’s the thing – there’s a very good chance, that she went home and thought some of the same things.

There’s a bit of a narcissistic tendency many of us introverts have to think that we are the only ones with self-doubt and insecurities, and I think we probably need to try to get over ourselves. Be the one to pick up the phone, write the text, be brave enough to say you had a fun time, and set up the next get-together.  Making plans

Allow For One Flake Out (Way More If You’re Parents)

You’ve made the plans, and you’re psyched for the hot chocolate and brownie cafe on Tuesday afternoon. Tuesday at 10a.m. she cancels because she’s “not feeling 100%”. That’s a bummer (but also a tiny bit not because Nashville is not going to watch itself, am I right?). Reschedule. One flake out is allowed. Maybe she’s cancelling because she changed her mind, but maybe she’s about to come down with a raging flu, or maybe she’s going through some tough stuff at home that she’s not ready to talk about, yet. Let it slide. But, when the flake outs become regular, that’s not on. No adults need that in their lives. One flake out, totally fine. Multiple flake outs – probably time to move along.

UNLESS. Unless you’re both parents. Then, the flake out rule goes to, I don’t know, 7 in a row? 9? Because, let’s get real, you’re going to be pulling the, “sorry, Kenny has a runny nose, and it’s clear, but – I don’t know – he’s just not acting like himself” line out plenty of times in this friendship, too. Sorry I Was Late

Keep At It

Unfortunately for us introverts – and, especially we introverted expats – this work of making new friends is never done. It’s like laundry. As long as you want clean clothes people to spend quality time with, you have to keep at it. Friendships ebb and flow, and the reality of expat friendships is that someone is always moving on. But, the fortunate part of this cycle is that you never know what extraordinary person might walk into your life tomorrow. Keep at it. Be bold. Do the work. The really special people make it all worth it. Ghost friends

How to Ride Sydney Buses with a Stroller Like a Pro

Sydney

How to Ride Sydney Buses With a StrollerSince landing in Australia, I’ve done everything possible to avoid driving. Lucky for me, Sydney public transport pretty good, and there are rarely places I can’t get by bus, train, or ferry. When I started my Mother’s Group, it actually came as a shock to me that all the other local mothers drove, as a lot of my expat friends were also non-drivers. Never one to conform, I was determined to carry on riding public transport, baby in tow.

Trains and ferries are fairly straightforward, but catching the bus with a stroller (pram) is a different animal. Like going out to eat or boarding an airplane with your new baby, riding the bus can seem daunting for a new parent. Will I know how to get on and off? Will I be able to balance everything? Will the bus driver gnarl at me if I’m not fast enough? Will the other passengers shoot me death rays from their eyes if my baby cries? I know I’m not alone in this, as many people have told me that they find the prospect of riding the bus with a stroller daunting, and I, too, was so nervous on my first few trips. Having been riding Sydney buses with a young child for over 3 years now, I think I’m a bit of an expert, and I want to share with you my top tips for riding Sydney buses with a stroller.

Catching the Bus

Your best option for riding a bus with a stroller is to catch an accessible bus. If you’re able to plan ahead, use the Transport NSW Trip Planner tool. Look for buses with the wheelchair symbol. Most accessible buses will also have the wheelchair symbol displayed on the front or side. Accessible Bus

For the official word on riding an accessible bus, this is Transport NSW’s policy.
As for my suggestions …

  • Hail the bus, as usual, then have a look to see if there is space for your stroller. Most accessible buses have two areas where the seats fold up for wheelchairs and prams. They are usually red seats across from each other near the front of the bus (just behind the luggage racks), or sometimes they are closer to the middle door. If both sections are taken with wheelchairs or prams, you’ll either have to wait for the next bus, or choose to fold your pram (more on this later).
  • Assuming there is room, the bus driver should lower the bus for you (though, honestly, I can manage even if they don’t). Push on your handle bar to lift up the front wheels of your pram, and lift it on board. Remember to tap your Opal card.
  • If there are people sitting in the accessible seats, and they don’t automatically move, you may need to ask them nicely if they’d mind sitting elsewhere. 99% of the time, people are happy to make room for you, though very rarely I’ve had someone either rude or completely oblivious. *Do be mindful that there are people with invisible disabilities for whom changing seats may pose a problem, so if you’ve asked nicely and been told, “I’m not able,” please don’t press the issue.
  • Fold up the seats, and move your stroller into place, facing backwards, and apply the brake. There is also a seatbelt that can be looped around the stroller’s handle for extra safety. I don’t often use it, but you will occasionally get a driver who insists that you do, which if fine.
  • If you’re nervous about riding the bus with a stroller, definitely do your first couple of trips outside of peak hour when the buses aren’t as full and people are less frenzied.
  • And, you’re all set. Enjoy the ride – could be your first chance to sit all day! And, if your baby cries, don’t stress it. 90% of the passengers have headphones in, anyway!

Getting Off the Bus

  • Ring the bell for your stop, as you normally would. Wait until the bus has come to a full stop to take the brake off the stroller and begin to roll towards the exit. You never know when a bus can make a sudden stop, so seriously –  always err on the side of caution.
  • If the bus driver notices you getting off, she will often stop any passengers who are getting on, as there’s really not enough room for you both to pass. If not, you may just need to ask them nicely if you can pass.
  • *This is my number one tip for riding the bus with a stroller* When exiting the bus – GO BACKWARDS. I can’t tell you how much easier it is to get your stroller off the bus if you pull it, rather than push. You can step down first, then pull down the back wheels, then front wheels. It’s far more manageable than trying to push your stroller off the cliff that is the bus step.
    If you take nothing else away from this article – go backwards!

Oh, and don’t forget to thank your driver and tap off with your Opal card.

Non-Accessible Buses

Don’t even get me started on why Sydney Buses even have non-accessible buses in their fleet. Can you imagine the frustration if you’re a wheelchair user? Completely not cool, in my opinion. Yet, they do exist. I had a chat to a bus driver about this once, and he told me that the plan is to have all buses accessible by 2018, so that’s still awhile before the non-accessible ones are out of the equation. Based on my experience – and completely unscientific – I’d guess that maybe 10-15% of Sydney buses are not wheelchair/pram compliant. So, if you’re a frequent rider, you’re going to get one of these, eventually. As I said above, your best bet is to pre-plan for an accessible bus. However, often you’re just rocking up to the closest stop, and hoping to catch the next bus that comes, and pre-planning isn’t possible.

Here are my suggestions:

  • Ask the driver (nicely) if you can push your pram in between the red seats. The non-accessible buses have a bank of four seats in the front which face each other. If the bus isn’t busy, some drivers won’t mind if you just push your pram in between these two seats. Be aware, that you do this at your own risk, and the drivers can’t guarantee the same level of safety as in an accessible bus. And, some will downright refuse, which they are completely within their rights to do.
  • Can you fold your stroller? If your stroller isn’t too unwieldy and you don’t have a lot of shopping in the basket, consider folding and storing your pram in the luggage rack. Only do this if you’re comfortable folding and lifting your stroller with one hand (baby in the other arm, of course!), as it is unlikely that the driver will help you.
  • Wait for the next bus. Such is the reality of public transport – sometimes it’s just necessary to wait for the next bus. As much as possible, leave yourself extra time when travelling. Thankfully, the chances are that the next bus will be accessible.

Choose Your Stroller Wisely

If you are an infrequent rider of public transport, bus riding won’t play much into your selection, but if you think that you and your little one may hop the bus with some regularity, I urge you to take that into consideration when purchasing your pram/stroller. A couple of things to think about:

  • Can you fold it easily? As I talked about above, there are times when the ability to fold your stroller may mean the difference between getting on the bus or waiting for the next one, and with a cranky baby, the wait can seem like an eternity. Even accessible buses can get full – I’ve been on a bus leaving the beach with as many as six strollers – two parked and four folded up in the luggage rack! Make sure that you can fold your stroller with one hand, and that you can lift it at least to shoulder height for storing it.
  • Is it light? You definitely want a light stroller if you’re storing it, but not having to push too much extra weight will also just make things easier for you as you maneuver on and off. Don’t forget that you’ll also have several kilos of baby, a nappie bag, and maybe even some shopping tucked away. Make it easier on yourself with a lighter pram.
  • Double strollers. If you have more than one child in a stroller, I highly recommend that you get a double stroller with the seats above and below, rather than the side-by-side style if you’ll be riding the bus with any regularity. All strollers need to fit within certain width guidelines (less than 800mm wide), and it’s very hard to get through the aisle with a side-by-side stroller. I have actually seen a mother refused a ride because her double pram was too wide.

How to Be an Awesome Bus Rider 

So maybe you’re not riding with a stroller (I don’t know how you made it to the end of this article, but cheers!). As a mother with a stroller, this is what I’d say to my fellow passengers who want to be awesome:

  • If you’re sitting in the accessible seats (the ones that fold up), please don’t zone out or get so engrossed in your phone that you don’t notice when someone who needs that seat – either because of a wheelchair or stroller – gets on the bus. Don’t make us ask you to move, if moving does not pose a physical issue for you. Be rad and jump up when you see us coming. Extra awesome points for the people who push the seats up for us. Yes, I can do it, but it’s a kind gesture. Your parents raised you well.
  • If you’re getting on the bus, take a moment to look down the aisle to see if anyone with a stroller is getting off. If they are, stand to the side at street level, and let them pass before you step on. I promise the bus won’t leave without you.
  • Offer help, if you’re able. It’s so nice when I’m stepping on the bus and someone offers to lift up my pram, or on the odd occasion when I’ve had to fold my stroller – yes! I could so use your help, thank you! I don’t actually typically need help when I’m getting on and off, so I sometimes decline with what I hope are profuse and sincere enough thank yous, but you never know who does, so it’s really lovely to offer. It just makes everyone feel happy, you know?
  • Don’t give the stink eye if a baby is crying on your bus. Actually, this is just a good general rule in life. Babies cry. Move along.

There are a lot of perks to using public transport – better for the environment, not having to find parking at the other end, letting someone else deal with the traffic jams – and having a stroller shouldn’t be a deterrent to choosing this method for getting around. Let me know if you give it a try. I expect you’ll also be an expert in a couple of trips.


 

Do you ride the bus with a stroller? Have I missed any pro tips? 


More on Sydney with kids, join me – 

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The Zebra Conundrum Part 2: Notes on a Third Culture Kid’s Accent

language, Little Aussie

Notes on a Third Culture Kid's Accent“She’s been telling us all the names for this,” the daycare worker told me this morning, holding up a garden toy. “She said it’s a spade, and can also be called a shovel.” That’s my cunning little AusMerican, showing off a skill she’s worked out all on her own.

Last year, I wrote “The Zebra Conundrum,” a post where I talked about choosing whether to pronounce words my way (American) or the Australian way when talking to and reading with my 2 year old burgeoning talker. At that point, it still wasn’t clear what words she would pick up, with what pronunciation, or if she’d find it all terribly confusing. I was certainly finding it confusing.

When I’m speaking to Australians, I’m pretty good about changing my language from Yank to Aussie, but it feels odd to do so when speaking to my nearest and dearest. Like a fraud. Or, a even a betrayal.

Maybe that was a smidge dramatic.

Today, I have a 3 year old chatterbox, and the funniest thing has happened. Australians tell me that she has an American accent. Americans, on the other hand, hear an Australian accent. And, I can see where they’re both coming from.

At the gym creche, the Australian workers like to ask her to say “soccer” because they think it’s cute how she says “sock-ER,” not “SOCK-a.” Yet, I’m continually taken aback when she asks to eat a “to-mah-toe.” Yet, somehow, she requests a “buh-NAN-uh,” not “BAN-nan-uh.”

The other day, she ran up to this thing at the playground, and told me – Notes on a Third Culture Kid's Accent

…”I want to go on the roundabout…” It took me a moment to even remember which country calls it that.

It became clear to me that she’d picked up on the social nuances one day when we were out with a British friend of mine. Hushpuppy had chosen a doll, and she marched up to my friend and told her that the baby was wearing a (*insert nearly indiscernible pause*) “nappie,” despite the fact that I have only ever called them “diapers” at home. Somehow she knew that my friend, who speaks with a different accent than her mother, would know them as “nappies.”

When I wrote about the Zebra Conundrum, I was mostly concerned with how my word and pronunciation choices were going to impact her future language. What I didn’t give nearly enough credit to was TV. We like our ABC Kids in this home, and they show programs from Australia, England, and the U.S. I believe that, more than anything I’ve done or not done, that the mix of accents from The Wiggles, Peppa Pig, Curious George, and so forth, has impacted her fluidity in moving between accents. I don’t know how else you can explain the way she occasionally whips out the most British sounding “mummy!” just like our hero, Peppa Pig.

She also recently began childcare, and looking around her center, she’s surrounded by a lot of other Third Culture Kids, who will surely be leaving little linguistic stamps on each other, as their language develops together.

From before she was even born, everyone we know wondered how her accent would turn out. Meryl Streep or Nicole Kidman? Or, Guy Ritchie era Madonna?

While it’s still a work in progress, it would seem that she’s sounding exactly as she ought to – one part her parents, one part her culture, and a big sprinkling of her own wits, desires, and charm.Notes on the accent of a Third Culture Kid

NSW Fire Station Open Day

Little Aussie, Sydney With Kids

A Visit To NSW Fire Station Open Day

Last year, I took Hushpuppy to her first movie – Fireman Sam: The Great Fire of Pontypandy (which, it must be said, was a lot like the other fires that infest Pontypandy on a daily basis, only longer and with popcorn). Ever since, she’s had a budding fireperson streak, conducting harrowing “rescues” and alerting about “emergencies” on the playground. So, when we heard about the New South Wales Fire Station Open Day, there was nowhere we would rather have been.

That time of year is coming up once again – this year on May 20, 2017 at participating fire stations across NSW – so I wanted to make sure that all of my fellow parents of Junior Fire and Rescuers had the skinny on one of our favorite events.

We found our local fire station in Crows Nest, and joined a few dozen other local families, most with young children who were generally fairly awed by the trucks, equipment, and the firemen and firewomen, who were making rounds of conversation, setting up demonstrations, and happily snapping photos.

Most important photo of the day. She’d be talking about this meeting for weeks…Fireman with child at NSW Fire Station Open Day

There were a few demonstrations while we were there, including the raising of the ladder truck (general aaaahs and amazement all around). And, they also put on a safety demo about preventing fires in your home, complete with a pretty impressive explosion that sent my 2 year old into tears, and the older kids into shrieking delight. (My girl will be 3 this year, so I’m sure she’ll handle any pyrotechnics like a professional). Fire Station Open Day Crane

We could walk inside the station and see the trucks, the uniforms, and the fire pole, which they wise had roped off to suggest, hey maybe don’t climb it, our insurance isn’t that good, alright? The station even got a call while we were there, so off one team went, sirens a-blaring, which was obviously the height of cool.

Not to worry, there were plenty of trained firefighters on hand, ready to take up a hose. Fire Station Open Day Mini Firepeople

The most popular attraction was the fire truck, which was open for the kids to climb on. Everyone displayed admirable order in queuing for their turn and keeping the pace moving, while parents snapped photos of their little heroes.Fire Station Open Day - Inside the Fire Truck

The line was only sightly shorter for the requisite sausage sizzle. It’s hungry work, keeping up with the awesome Fire and Rescue crew.Fire Station Open Day Sausage Sizzle

 

If you go…
New South Wales Fire and Rescue Open Day 2017
20 May 2016, 10a.m. – 2p.m. at participating fire stations
Full details on the website
Free entry. Bring a few gold coins for the sausage sizzle.
BYO firefighter costumes (highly recommended!)


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Sydney Expat Interview Series Part 11: A Sydney Weekend

Sydney, Sydney Expat Interviews, Sydney With Kids

Hey, Sydneysiders, what are you doing this weekend? For this month’s Sydney Expat Interview Series question, I asked the expats what they’d most likely be doing on a beautiful weekend day in Sydney. Let me tell you, none of them seem to have had any trouble getting into the groove of this city. Beaches, parks, cafes, BBQs and friends. It’s a tough life, but someone has to do it!

(This is the 11th in an 18 part interview series with expats living in Sydney. Please make sure to visit the fantastic websites of the participants linked below, and follow me on Facebook for much more on expat life in Sydney. )A Sydney Weekend



Question 11: It’s a beautiful weekend day. What are you up to, where are you going, and who are you spending the day with? 


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

I’m with my family and if I can roust them away from the X-box, then our first choice is always Fagan Park (Galston).


 

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

At Balmoral Beach – we’d normally get there early and have brunch with friends getting a take-away bacon and egg sandwich and coffee from The Boathouse, picnic blankets out near the kids playground so our kids can run about – and just enjoying the beautiful views.

Balmoral Beach

Balmoral Beach – photo by Julia



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

With family or friends – playing lawn balls, or going for a beer, or on my bike, or going for a bush walk, or going to a beach, or having a family picnic, or going for a swim, or having a barbie in a park … or grocery shopping…


 

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

In one of our many parks, with my husband and our dogs. Maybe Cafe Bones.


 

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

With my wife and daughter at Cremorne Reserve. It’s astoundingly beautiful.

Cremorne Point

Cremorne Point


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

Melissa blogs at Leche Love

As we’re still pretty new, we’re still exploring. However, we’ve been to Sydney Park quite a bit. Usually my husband, 6 year old son, and myself, enjoying the lovely weather, playing, and having a picnic.


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

There are so many stunning outdoor places in Sydney. I’d be with my husband and 2 kids (5 and 7) We’d probably grab lunch at a cafe, find a playground, and just chill out. I’ve found there tend to be a lot of art exhibitions going on so those are always fun to check out as well!


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

I’d be doing the Bondi to Bronte coastal walk with my girlfriend Elaina finishing up at The Hill Eatery in North Bondi for a late lunch and good coffee. North Bondi


Name: Caitlin
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 1 year
Caitlin blogs at Where’s Wallis

First I’d be going for a spin on my bike around Centennial park with the gang from Coogee Triathlon Club. This would be followed by relaxing in the sun on Bondi beach before an afternoon drink and snack at the Bucket List.


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

I’d love to be having a picnic and sipping wine in a spot in Kirribilli my friend used to live right by, overlooking the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, surrounded by my fantastic group of expat and Aussie friends.

Kirribilli


Name: Rachel
Country of origin: England
Lived in Sydney: 4 years

I would probably be with my boyfriend and group of friends, relaxing and enjoying the sun either with a few schooners at our local, or with an esky of beers at the beach or a perhaps enjoying a bike ride with a few laps around Centennial Park.


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

Strolling around the city, checking out the markets, street art and local beaches.
Don’t forget your sunscreen, there’s a hole in our ozone layer!


Sydneysiders, tell us, what are you doing this weekend?


Read Part 1: Expectations vs Reality
Read Part 2: The Most Memorable Sydney Day
Read Part 3: Your First Day in Sydney
Read Part 4: Drinking Like an Aussie
Read Part 5: The Birds of Sydney
Read Part 6: Australian Christmas
Read Part 7: Off the Beaten Path
Read Part 8: Questions About Your Home
Read Part 9: What People at Home Think of Australia
Read Part 10: Advice for Moving to Sydney

 

The Bag That Voyaged a Million Miles

memoirs

This bag was an embarrassment. Long past its sprightly years, it hadn’t gotten a compliment in over a decade. It probably shouldn’t have even made the trip home in its condition; but there I was, tearing up in front of a garage wheelie bin, marking the demise of a literal sad sack in the most unstately funeral possible for such a well-traveled and loyal partner.

My sturdy Jansport backpack and I were coping fine when this bag came into my life. I was a senior in college, and something unexpected had happened: I’d been asked to Stage Manage my college’s production of A Christmas Carol. This Christmas Carol was a beast – a beautiful musical with dozens of cast members, children, and hundreds of light and fly cues. A professor, rather than a student, had Stage Managed the inaugural production the year previous because it was such a behemoth. I was no Stage Manager, so I agreed with trepidation, knowing this would be one of the most challenging projects I’d ever undertaken. I was in over my head.

To begin my transformation into Stage Manager/honor student, I made two purchases – my first ever mobile phone (this was 1999, and I was rolling with my new pocket flip phone) and a large, blue backpack. Having been overlooked for the entire back-to-school season, it was now on final offer, tucked away on the clearance rack with a $7.99 sticker. There was nothing particularly stylish or even hardy about this bag, but I liked it because it was big enough to carry my massive Stage Manager’s prompt book, along with the books and supplies I carried for the classes I’d more or less be ignoring for the next few weeks. Like it or not, it was going on this ride with me, that optimistic orphan bag.

It was never far from me as I shuttled between my overload of classes, jobs, clubs, production meetings, and rehearsals. It waited patiently as I said good night to cast and crew and closed up tight, carrying on to my shared apartment where I’d attempt some reading and work for the next day. It surely was nearby when, during tech week, I finally cracked and had a hysterical cry to my patient roommates. It sat at my feet in the booth, as I took the helm on headset, night after night, instructing tech cues and hoping everything would run smoothly. That bag knows the truth. I was not amazing, but I survived, and the show certainly did go on. I came out a little bit more confident. That bag held me together. 

A year and a half later, it boarded my first international flight with me, bound for Germany to visit one of the dear roommates who’d let me cry (it was college – we all cried). On that trip, it carried my copy of 100 Years of Solitude, which I’d devour in air, and would change my understanding of how a story could be told. It saw the Cologne Cathedral, the remains of the Berlin Wall, and the canals of Amsterdam.

This steady backpack was awarded a break, but roared back into service in 2004, when I employed it to be the bag I’d take to graduate school with me. It was a workhorse on those long days when I’d leave home in the morning, and not return until after an evening rehearsal or night of seeing shows in the city. It’s been stuffed under seats at Broadway theatres, it’s trekked through Brooklyn and Manhattan in every weather, and it has carried the words of Shakespeare, Brecht, Churchill, Peter Brook, Kenneth Tynan, William Hazlitt, and so many other geniuses whose words would blow my mind. It was on my desk when I wrote out a pros/cons list about staying in grad school when I felt so unmoored in my first semester, and it was in my lap on the subway headed over the Manhattan Bridge a year later, when I wondered to myself if I would ever in my life be happier.

I wouldn’t be, at least not for the next couple of years, when I carried handbags, and the weight of a job that consumed me and made me feel less than.

On one of the saddest days of my life, it was there when I decided that I wanted to do something that would have made my Dad proud. I hiked to the top of the “M,” a mountain landmark in Bozeman, Montana, the town where my Dad grew up and where we’d scattered his ashes the day before.

I’d use that bag again when I boarded a plane for Australia. It must have been stuffed to the brim, as I had a 2 suitcase allowance for moving my entire life. It was on my back when I stepped into Arrivals and blinked at the Australian sun for the first time.

That $7.99 backpack never could have dreamed that it would one day see the Opera House, climb the Harbour Bridge, drive up and down the Pacific coast, or meet a wallaby in Tasmania. 

Or, that it would again see the friends who already knew me well when I first bought it – this time not in a college in the American South, but on an island in Greece. And, that we’d all know each other in a way that only closeness over time permits.

In my stressed out college student days, neither of us would have been able to see far enough into its future to guess that it would one day carry diapers, bottles and baby wipes for this person who I’m sure I traveled all these miles for.

Sitting in the passenger seat on the way to Jervis Bay last year, I gave my bag’s holes a shoddy repair job with a sewing kit I’d stashed in one of its pockets from a long ago hotel that I don’t even remember. That bought it another few months of hard scrabble service, and I silently dared anyone to laugh at its appearance.

As its disheveled state worsened, I made a plan for honoring its final days. I’d bring it back to the States with me on one last flight, to retire it in the same town where I first employed it 16 years ago.

It made that now familiar trip over the ocean with me, once again tucked under my airplane seat, and at the end of our vacation, I gave it one final outing. My college roommate – the one who really was a gifted Stage Manager and had given me all of her wisdom –  our three small daughters holding hands, the bag, and I wandered a wildlife park, not far from where we’d gone to school. It carried waters, snacks, hats, and sunscreen. It carried them well.

It went into the bin the next day. You can’t really bury a backpack or scatter its remains, but the least you can do is thank it for many years of hard service over thousands of miles, and conditions far beyond the call of duty for which it originally enlisted. In an era where we are quick to replace things at the first sign of wear, I saluted every single rip, tear, mark, and scratch that bag earned. It got them the hard way, and I am humbled by its devotion.