Sunday, 8 April 2012

Ten Months in AUS

It is hard to believe that I have now been living in Australia for over 10 months.  While the time has gone by so fast, it also has been packed with new experiences, changes in how I see the world and my place in it and what matters most in life.  I look back and each month was so incredibly different than the last.  I feel like I have slowly been unplugging from one Matrix while plugging in to another one.  Both have so many similarities that many times I mistakenly assume they are the same and other times I am reminded just how different things are.

As I celebrate my 42nd birthday, I look back to a year ago and think about how this whole adventure began.  I was living in the town I grew up in, Redmond, WA.  I never really loved Redmond, and cannot really put my finger on exactly why.  It was a nice, safe little town, close to everything I could want or need.  My commute to work was ideal. Most days I was able to work from my home office and when I did commute to Microsoft, it was a 5 mile drive.  The public schools were very good and we lived in a nice, big, happy home.  My family was close by and I had some good friends that I could always count on to be there.  My work was interesting and the money was great.  I drove a nice car and led a nice life.  However, I was not happy.  I did not realize it at the time as I have always tried to make the most of any situation and overlook that which I could not change.  I just always felt something was missing, my whole life, living in Redmond.  My 10 years in California were the best 10 years of my life and it was very hard for me to move back to Redmond for work.  But I made the most of it and did my best for over 10 years in the Seattle area. We had some great times, made some great friends, and I had two great kids, surrounded by loving grandparents who helped me through the baby years.  I think I just got fed up with the WEATHER!!!!

Evan and I were seriously considering moving to back to Southern California but no matter how hard we tried, things just weren't working out.  It was like trying to push a rock up hill.  We gave up on the idea and just decided to focus on learning to love the area.  I felt partially relieved as I knew moving would have created turmoil and I was going to miss my parents and our wonderful nanny.  I also had concerns about buying a home given the economic conditions and was concerned about the quality of public schools in CA.  I wanted to go, but it just did not feel like the right thing to do at that time, given all that was going on around us.  Then one day, just after my 41st birthday, Evan asked me, almost jokingly if I would consider moving to Australia.  At first, I joked back but did not think it was possible or sane given that we had two young kids, a home, careers, etc....  But then I started thinking "why not, it is now or never!"  I had always wanted to visit but knew that this was the sort of place that you cannot come for just one week.  And until the kids were much older, I was not likely to have that kind of vacation time on my hands.  So, I told Evan I would do it if he wanted to pursue the job opportunity he was discussing.

For the first five months that I was here, I was both exhilarated by the newness of it all and worried that I had made the wrong choice for my kids.  They were amazing and adjusted incredibly well, especially Carson, who is not known for his ability to adjust to new situations.  However, it was hard on them, and it came out in the form of tantrums and disagreements about totally unrelated things.  Now that they are settled in and happy I am able to look back and know that they were reacting to the changes in their own ways.  It was hard to go through a Seattle winter, get a few days of Seattle spring and then move back to the beginning of Winter in the Southern hemisphere.  I don't recommend that!  Instead, go from summer to summer!

In our 7th month here, we moved in to a great house just after I took an amazing job.  Since taking my job and moving in a new house, I have really started to feel like I may belong here.  My house is full of light, with windows and doors that open up from wall-to-wall, making my main living area like an indoor/outdoor space.  I watch the tropical birds flying around the house and have several eating just outside my window now.  I see the ships coming and going in to the harbor, including all of the big cruise ships and I can see the city skyline from the other side of my house.  Being here just makes me HAPPY.  I have found it very easy to make friends here and have one friend in particular whom I know will be a friend for life no matter where I go.  I have been lucky to have several friends like this in my life and feel very lucky to already have one here.  That is really all you need!

The thought of moving to California is getting harder and harder for us to consider and I think Redmond is out of the question at this point.  We hope to sell the house someday - hopefully to our current tenants.  The only thing pulling me back at the moment is my family and a friend or two.  I miss them terribly but know that is not reason enough to move again.  We are working on establishing permanent residency so that we have the option to stay, and eventually buy a home if we want to.  However, I am not making any permanent decisions any time soon.  For the first time in my life I am just going with the flow and seeing where it takes me....and most of the time, it feels good.  Once in a while I have to fight the urge to control and KNOW where I am going - after all, we never really have control or know...just the illusion that we do.  It is just so foreign to me to relax and live in the moment.  I think breaking out of my comfortable bubble is what finally allowed me to do that.

It's been nearly a year since I agreed to this crazy adventure and I find myself happy that I took the risk and a better person for all that I have experienced so far.  Living in Australia is like going back to a simpler time, where relationships and quality of life are valued above possessions and status.  People work hard, but work does not seem to consume them.  The schools emphasize social skills and problem solving and put far less pressure on the kids from an academic standpoint, and yet it seems that their system works amazingly well.  I am definitely in no hurry to leave and still have so much to see and do before even making a decision.  We have agreed not to decide anything for as long as we can avoid making any decisions.  It feels liberating.  So, here I in the moment.  Experiencing new things every day.  Life is good when you let go of the reins!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Reflections on Month 2

As I near the two-month mark in Australia, I realize that a lot has happened over the past month. We went on our first great adventure to the Australian "Bush", our furniture arrived, we experienced what it was like to buy a new (used) car, and we got to know our neighbors.

To "The Bush" We Go: We started our second month off by going to "the bush." According to Wikipedia, "The Bush" is a term used for rural, undeveloped land. In other words, not in the city! Our dear friends booked us in adjoined cottages at the Yerring Gorge Cottages ( in the Yarra Valley area. Yarra Valley is about 1 hour (or less) outside of downtown Melbourne but the change in scenery is amazing. For the first 45 minutes of our drive, we were in civilization with strip malls and houses everywhere. Then, we literally crossed a road and suddenly we were in a different world. A world full of rolling green hills, lush Eucalyptus trees of every variety you can imagine, sheep and livestock as far as you can see and a quietness that is so different from being in the city. We drove in just after dusk and as we pulled in to the long, winding gravel road that led to our cottages, kangaroos could be seen hopping through the fields, grazing on grass and socializing with each other. It was an amazing thing to see a kangaroo hopping at the speed of the car in the wild. Nothing like seeing one in the zoo. I definitely felt like I was in another world, very different from my home in the U.S.

The next morning, we woke to kangaroos still grazing in front of our cabin, the sounds of birds that I have only heard on discovery channel documentaries and gorgeous scenery everywhere we looked. I truly felt like I was living in one of those animal documentaries I had seen on TV. We took a long walk in the woods after breakfast. I hesitated for a moment after reading the warning sign about entering the woods at my own risk given that there are "venomous snakes" and other "native" creatures out there. Then I thought, "What the heck" and walked on with Evan, the kids and our friends who are native to Australia. That is the Aussie way. They don't dwell on what can kill you. They just embrace life and enjoy it. As we walked, I heard kookaburras laughing in the trees, found a nice big wombat cave, and thanks to Carson, saw many interesting bugs and sticks along the way. Unfortunately (or fortunately), wombats are nocturnal so we never got to see the wombat while there. I guess I can just visit them at the zoo as I have NO intention of walking in those woods at night! A funny aside about wombats though. Apparently they have been known to create intricate boroughs right under people's houses that eventually cause the foundation to collapse. I guess as cute as they are, you don't really want one as your neighbor.

Our little friend the Echidna.
After spending the rest of the afternoon visiting local vineyards, we came back to the cabins for a nice dinner on the "barbie" with our friends. We relaxed on the porch and enjoyed the late afternoon sun. Suddenly, I noticed an odd little creature waddling through the grass, heading in our direction. My friend assumed it was a rabbit, but I knew better. Rabbits are much more graceful than this silly little creature was moving. We all got up and walked over to take a look, and there, right in front of us was an echidna. What is an echidna you ask? Well, I will tell you because I had read about them in a book by Bill Bryson called "Down Under." Great read by the way.... An echidna is an odd little creature, similar to a hedgehog, however it has evolved in some very unique ways. Aside from the Platypus, also unique to Australia, it is the only other mammal that lays eggs and then suckles their young once they hatch. It has sharp spines covering it's back and a beak-like snout, which it kept burying in the dirt when we moved. He was not in any particular hurry to get away or go anywhere in particular. I image few animals bother with him given all of these prickly spines. We all enjoyed watching this cute little guy bury his head in the dirt each time he realized we were near him.

We spent the rest of the evening enjoying good food and great conversation with friends. The stars were AMAZINGLY bright in the sky. Did you know that I look at different stars here than you do in the Northern hemisphere? In fact, if you look at the Australian flag, you will see five stars that make up the Southern Cross, which can only be seen in the Southern Hemisphere. It is so wild to know I am looking at stars that I have never seen before in my life! It makes me realize just how far I am from home.

A New Perspective: For the first two months that we were here, we slept on foam mattresses purchased at Ikea, we ate at a tiny, rickety table, also purchased at Ikea and we squeezed on to a $200 two-seater couch. We walked, took the bus or trammed everywhere. Going grocery shopping was quite an ordeal. I had to drag two rickety rolling bags and buy no more than what could fit in those two bags. I looked like a homeless bag lady, with the exception that I was carrying my LV purse, as I dragged overloaded reusable bags home to feed the family! On one occasion, I was carrying new cleaning supplies (mop and broom) and was propositioned to go clean someone's house.

I was always turned off by people who would brag on their blogs about "living with less" as if it is such a brave and heroic thing to do. It seemed so blow-hardy to me. However, I will digress and admit that there is 'something' to actually doing so. I cannot brag that I chose this for myself as it was sort of forced on me in choosing to move and I cannot brag that I was positive at all times about it - I complained plenty of times.  As much as I hate to admit it, it did put some things in to perspective. Don't get me wrong - I still like nice things. However, living in a place where people spend less, don't put such emphasis on expensive brands and in many ways, brag about how much they "saved" vs. spent, I was able to look at my former spending habits and priorities and realize what really mattered and what was just a waste of money. Things I did not really need: luxury cars (moving money pits), a six bedroom home (aka more rooms in which to make messes and store "stuff"), a swimming pool (aka leaky money pit), and tons of crap that I have already fogotten to fill the empty spots in my already filled with too much stuff home.  In order to downsize from 3700 square feet to 1700 sqare feet, I sold and gave away much more than I brought with me.  I whittled it down to only the things I loved the most.  And I do not say this to brag - it was not an easy process for me and I had to whittle down in phases.  People close to me can attest that at times it was not pretty.  The one thing I clung to was my luxury car.  I insisted that this go with so that I could keep my one real peice of bling.  More about that later!

As for living without my other things, forget that! I was in HEAVEN the day our boxes and furniture arrived. After two months of waking up sore from sleeping on a cheapo mattress on the floor with scratchy polyester sheets, I could not WAIT to sleep in my egyptian cotton sheets, under my down comforter on my king sized bed surrounded by my comfy pillows. Who cares that the bed takes up 90% of the living space in my bedroom!! I now know that I NEED a good bed with quality bedding. If that makes me materialistic, then call me guilty! I am a bed and bedding snob and proud of it. The other thing that I could not live esspresso maker. In fact, I did not even put that baby on the ship. I packed it up in a box and hauled it across the world with me from Seattle to Los Angeles to Melbourne. And while the coffee here is amazing and can be found inside nearly EVERY shop you pass, it is incredibly convenient, as well as cost saving, to have an espresso machine in your home. Giving up latte's was pushing the ticket WAY too far and is where I set my foot down on this move! Yes, this is a first-world problem, but so be it. Giving up my latte machine was and continues to be out of the question. The things that I miss most, after living without, are my family, my friends and my sweet little dog Sachi. It is hard at times to be so far from everyone and to know what an ordeal it would be to get back to the states quickly, should I need to. Thankfully, the people I surrounded myself with at home continue to be my support system abroad.

Importing, Buying and Driving Cars: After our wonderful trip to "the bush" we realized that we can no longer live without a car. The initial plan was to bring both of our cars over from the states, have them converted from left to right driving and then sell the Porsche and keep the Mercedes until we move back (if we move back). You may find yourself asking, "why not just buy a car there?" and if so, you are asking a good question. One that many others along the way have asked us, and we have ignored, until reality hit.

During our initial visit to Australia, we looked in to car prices and could not BELIEVE what they sell for here. I am amazed that ANYONE can afford or would want to buy a luxury car here.  In the US, so long as you have good credit, it really is not as expensive as you would initially think to drive a luxury car.  Because they maintain their value and because the interest rates for buying cars is close to 0%, we have been able to drive our cars, after selling them, for roughly what it costs to lease a Honda Accord.  Those are not at ALL the dynamics in Australia.  In the U.S. Evan's 911 sells for about $65K used.  In Australia, the same exact used car sells for $180K AUD, which is a little more than the US Dollar. Additionally, the interest rates are MUCH higher here (7%+) so buying a $180K car here will cost an Aussie almost $200K.  Definitely WAY, WAY out of our reach.

The plan was to take advantage of a one-time opportunity that was allowed to us upon moving here from the States.  We were each allowed to import ONE car without paying any of the taxes or pentalties that dealers pay when importing luxury cars.  This meant that we could essentially bring them over for what we bought them for in the US but then resell them, if we want to, for the going rate here.  The cost of converting each car was around $30K leaving room for up to $95K in profits per car. Even if we sold the cars for much lower than market price, we stood to make enough money to help pay for our move over and to replenish our dwindling savings account. And, it would help us to justify buying those cars in the first place.  After all, both Evan and I come from comfortable but middle class families who did not spend money so frivolously nor did they ever encourage us to.  Buying luxury cars was sort of a big deal for us - until we had them and realized they are just cars after all.

We were discouraged by many friends here not to import our cars as we were told it is too painful but we chose not to listen.  The hope of justifying our impulse buys was too strong!  There are all kinds of rules and conditions tied to the opportunity to import cars here as a "personal item" that will not be taxed. First, you have to have owned the car for one full year PRIOR to moving and be able to prove that it was in your posession and driven by you for that entire period. That was not a problem - it just took some time to get the right paperwork in.  Next, you have to fill out a MOUNTAIN of paperwork and wait months and months for a response from the government. OK, we did that and impatiently waited.  Next, the part we did not anticipate, we had to pay off our car loans in FULL, before they could be shipped over. DRAT!  OK, there is more than one way to skin a worries, we thought.  We tried transferring the loans within Mercedes and Porsche financial - no go. We tried working with our dealer in the US and tried to get them to work with the dealers here in Melbourne - no go.  We asked the banks to loan us the money knowing we would be able to pay it all back plus deposit a bunch of money.  While the banks all said they would loan us the money, they all seemed to avoid returning our calls and moving things forward. I wonder if they are in cahoots with the local car manufacturers also??!! Lastly, if you are wealthy enough to cough up all of that loan money to get the cars over (which we are NOT), you have to wait 3+ months to have the car converted and tested to meet stringent "safety" standards. In other CAN bring them over, but they make sure it is so incredibly painful that at some point you give up and buy a local car thereby feeding the local economy after all.  But it was so polite of them to offer!  :)

And so....we gave in and bought a reliable used Mitsubishi with many of the same amenities we enjoyed in our Mercedes but none of the glamour. The process of buying and getting a car loan was quite interesting. First, I spent time online researching what was available here. I wanted to look at affordable cars only. There are two manufacturers here in Australia, Ford and Holden but then there is also a wide variety of reasonably priced Japanese cars to choose from as well. I decided on a Mitsubishi Outlander VR-X (7 seater SUV). I called several dealers who had used ones on their lot and after explaining to them that I had no car to come see the car, they all offered to bring the cars to my home for a test drive. I spent the next two days having dealers personally bring cars by for me to drive. I was really amazed by this as it seemed to be something they were used to doing. I picked the one with the least amount of miles that had GPS, DVD, leather seats and sunroof to take some of the sting out of giving up my new GL back home.

I called the bank after finding the car that I wanted. It took them only minutes to let me know that they would be happy to loan me the money. Great! I figured I would have the car by the end of the day, or the next morning at the latest given my past experience with buying cars in the U.S. Next time you are waiting an hour or two on the lot to get your new car in the states, realize that you really do have it good. The process of getting approved takes no time here in AUS. However, the process of actually getting the money transferred to the dealer took nearly a week and a whole bunch of pomp and circumstance to make it "feel" official. The bank had no real way to know what my financial situation is as they asked for no social security or Tax ID number, they could only see the small amount of money in my local bank account and had no history on me to know if I would actually pay my bills. make it seem more "professional" they put a bunch of meaningless red tape and silly exercises in futility in the way to make me "feel" like they were doing their due diligence. I guess the one thing they can count on is that while Australia is a MASSIVE continent, the vast majority of the land in uninhabitable and if they want to repossess the car, it should not be too hard to find me.

Driving on the wrong side of the road is mostly easy. Turning right took some getting used to and I keep forgetting that I can turn left so easily. The biggest issue I keep having is that every time I go to my car, I jump in on the passenger side ready to drive away and then realize, I am not in the driver’s seat. After two weeks, I still do it EVERY time! People look at me funny and I try to pretend that I "meant" to do that by rummaging around before getting out and walking over to the right side of the car. At least when Evan and the kids are with me I can pretend that I meant to sit in the passenger seat and let Evan drive! The other issue I keep having is that the controls are all reversed. Each time I go to turn on my signal at a turn, instead I turn on my windshield wipers. I look like a total dork of course given that the weather has been sunny and warm lately. So to cover up, I turn on the washer fluid and pretend that I needed to clean my windshield in order to see where I am turning. Er....umm...yeah.

School, Friends and Life in General: The kids continue to do well in school and are making friends. Zoe seems to know the name of every kid in her classroom already, has started speaking more with an Aussie accent than an American one and was invited to her first birthday party here. She seems to be fitting in quite well. Unfortunately, with her growing confidence comes her growing attitude! She takes after her mamma and sasses us every chance she gets. She is in that wonderful phase of yelling "NO" at everything, teasing her brother relentlessly and pushing buttons every which way she can. I am very, very afraid of what the teenage years will bring. I am proud of her strong will and strong sense of self - I just look forward to a slightly more mellow time with her before the teens kick in!

Carson is adjusting very well, especially...for Carson. He tends to like predictability and routines and moving here has thrown a lot of that off kilter. Everything in his world has changed, even the way people speak to him. I am so proud of how well he has adapted and continues to adapt. I don't think he has found a particular friend or two that he connects with yet, but it took him a while in preschool in the states. By the end of the school year, he was part of a boy pack that really liked him. Kids happily call out, "Carson" when he enters the classroom so I know he is liked. It just takes Carson longer to bond with new kids and he is perfectly happy playing by himself as well. He does not have the same need to be liked by others or to fit in quickly that most of us are born with. It must be nice not to put that kind of pressure on yourself!  I met with the principle of the primary school where he will start this February and they are working to ensure that he gets a very experienced teacher accustomed to working with Asperger's kids. The unfortunate thing here in Australia is that the school systems have not really done much in the way of formal training or requirements to help children with Asperger's. They are quite behind the U.S. in that matter - not that there is not a lot of room for improvement in the states. The research community is ahead here but the schools are behind and don't have the funding to do the necessary interventions and provide the right level of support to ensure that the Bill Gates' and Einstein's of the world do not fall through the cracks because they are so "different."  However, the principle of Carson's new school has two sons with Asperger's and places an emphasis on doing whatever they can to work around some of the quirks of Autism and play up the gifts and extraordinary talents that Aspies can bring to the classroom. I am quite sure that the entire class will know everything they need to know about bugs by the end of the school year with Carson! Maybe my calling here is to help transform the school system to better integrate these kids in to the system vs. expecting them to be "normal" and learn like everyone else.  Something for me to think about...

Now that the sun is out we are enjoying our back patio and while doing so, I learned something new!  It turns out that for the past two months, we have literally been living across the way from four families with kids in Zoe's classroom! We are very excited to have all of these new friends at once and are very much looking forward to summer bbq's with the neighbors while the kids ride their bikes and run in and out of all of the houses. We bought Carson a cool new "big boy" bike and Zoe is SUPER FAST on her little red Radio Flyer trike. We feel so lucky to have moved into the perfect neighborhood after living so much more remotely in Redmond. Part of the vision of moving here was to have neighbors to hang out with and kids for our kids to play with.  This could not possibly have been any more perfect! I am sure I will have more to share about this new part of our lives as the weather improves. is good. It is starting to be "normal" and we have what we need. I am glad that I lived with less so I can appreciate havinga little more and reset my sights on what I "need."  And I am very, very optimistic about our future here. I hope everyone back home enjoyed their summer as I am heading towards mine. If you are up for a visit, we will be having Christmas margaritas on the patio and will be happy to make some for you too!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

One Month Mark

As I near the one month mark I thought I would spend some time reflecting on this first month.  Some are observations, some are things I was told and some are just random thoughts from an American girl down under.

Aussies are Raised to be Socially Successful.  Aside from one bad seed, the Aussies I have met have been warm, reliable, honest and direct.  They don't beat around the bush, they don't say things they don't mean and they don't leave  you guessing what they really think.  Thankfully, they are also friendly, good-natured and easy-going.  At first I thought it was because they are raised in such a nice place; the weather ranges from mild to sunny, the food is amazing and there is much to do and see.  All basic needs are met - shelter, school, transportation and healthcare is available to everyone of every walk of life.  Crime is incredibly low and minimum wage is quite high. Life is just hunky dory.  Sure, many things cost more, but aside from cars, most of the basic things needed to get by are readily available. While these things certainly contribute, it is my impression, after spending time in two preschools and around several Aussie parents, that Aussies place a HUGE emphasis on social behavior from a very young age.  In fact, Kinder (pre-school) is almost wholly focused on developing socially successful little people vs. cramming a bunch of letters, numbers and handwriting down their throat.  There is no pressure for kids to be able to do certain things by the time they enter primary school.  The Aussies know that the academics will come and giving the kids a strong foundation to function in the classroom, and in the world, is so much more important.  Now, I know this is a focus in the early years in the States as well, but what I saw here was different and more deeply entrenched in everything they do.  And the way they teach it is so natural and casual that the kids don't really even seem to notice that they are being taught.  I'm at a loss for describing what about it is so different, but it is....  Anyone who has lived here and has children in school here knows what I am talking about.  It is just different, kind, simple and refreshing.

Back in Time: I really feel sometimes like I have returned to a simpler time where things just felt easier, happier, less stressful.  I remember a time as a kid when we could just wander around the neighborhood without parents, when the front door could be left unlocked and I did not have to worry about what college I was going to get in to at age 10.  The schools do not put the same pressure on the kids, people are just more relaxed and life is just simpler.  There is a lot less "keeping up with the Jone's" here as well.  In fact, I was advised by a dear friend, before moving here, that Aussies tend to be very modest.  If you have a real designer bag and someone compliments it, you are supposed to say "Oh this old thing, I got it on sale" or "it is a fake!  Looks real doesn't it?" 

Aussies strike me as being much more careful with their money.  Credit cards are not used nearly like they are in the states and people tend to spend within their means.  Maybe the higher interest rates drives this behavior but I believe it runs deeper than that.  I don't get the feeling that Aussies have been tempted in to spending beyond their means by credit cards that just "show up" in the mail and they don't seem to be competing with each other to have the best house, car, clothes, shoes, etc....  In fact, I have not seen any credit card ads, have not recieved anything in the mail and not even my bank has shown any interest in offering me a credit card.  I still recall my first day of college when they were handing out credit cards to any student that had a pulse.  They have no subprime market, they have interest rates that prevent people from spending more than they have and it seems to be working.  I will keep my eye on this as I think I can learn much from how they live here.  I

Then again, often I feel like I have lost many of the conveniences I once had while living in the States.  Many things are just more work and/or they just don't happen the way I know they can.  One example, of many similar I assure you: Evan's paycheck was paid electronically by his new employer.  His employer is a good friend and so we know that he banks with the VERY SAME bank that we do.  He has a long-standing business account with them.  Our account has been open at the same bank, at the same branch for over a month.  However, despite this, the bank placed a 24 hour hold on the deposit to ensure that it cleared.  My husband went down to the bank to straighten it out as clearly if the money is moving within the same bank and same branch, electronically, it is obviously secure.  While the bank manager admitted that this is true and apologized, the hold remained on the account.  I have had similar experiences while shopping or in dealing with service providers.  There is little urgency to things here and I have to remind myself to SLOW DOWN and focus on what is really urgent and what is just an inconvenience that with patience will work itself out.  It is not that people are lazy here, in fact, they are very friendly and helpful most of the time.  The pace is just different as are the expectations.  I am just bringing my former expectations to things that don't follow the same timelines as I am used to.  I think slowing down, for the most part, is a good lesson in patience and may add years to my life!  I just have to keep reminding myself of this.  :)

Additionally, because Australia is so remote from everywhere and because the population is so much smaller than most major countries, supply on non-essentials is often a problem.  The things that I once loved are either unavailable here OR cost a fortune when compared to local products.  For example, I was a bit homesick and thinking some Tom and Jerry's ice cream might be the answer - as it is for all bummed out ladies!  I took one look at the price of Tom and Jerry's and decided I am just going to have to "get over it" and move on.  A tiny container is $11!!!  At that price, forget about it - maybe that is why the girls here are skinnier.  They cannot afford Tom and Jerrys!!  Cars are priced at almost three times what we paid in the States and for some odd reason, razor blades for shaving are sold at almost usery rates.  I guess you take the good with the bad - and the bad is really not that bad...just slower and less convenient.  The best advice I was given so far while here, from an American that moved here, is to drop all expectations that I have from being in the States and just go with the Aussie flow.  It is working so far!  :)

Everything is just DIFFERENT: I kid you not, the weather here is nuts, the animals are so unique and up is down.  On any given day you can have warm sun followed by a serious downpour, followed by double rainbows and then cold only to have the evening warm back up again.  The weather is never too cold and only sometimes too hot (at least that is what I am told, summer is still coming so I'll get back to you on that one).  I carry with me, at all times, an umbrella, a windbreaker, a down jacket, sunglasses and I layer my clothes.  I never know what I will need on any given day - so I am resigned to be a bag lady until I have a car here! 
If you know me at all, you know that I LOVE animals. I have passed this love on to my kids and have even warmed Evan up to most animals as well.  The first two big purchases made here were to the aquarium and the zoo.  At the aquarium I learned that certain fish evolved ONLY in Australia due to the extreme conditions of life here.  They have sharks that have adapted to live in fresh water rivers.  And they have crazy animals such as the duck-billed platypus, the kangaroo, and the Tasmanian Devil.  Australia has been so removed from all other land for so many millions of years that nature has gone on it's own evolutionary path altogether.  Basic lifeforms that were here at the beginning of our evolution, thought to be extinct long, long ago have been found here and/or still thrive here.  Spiders here, that just eat bugs like other spiders, have enough venom to kill an elephant.  Why they are so poisonous, who knows?!  They certainly went overboard there!  :)  You will hear much more about my adventures with animals I am sure.  I plan to see them all! 

So, my first month was a good one.  I have enjoyed getting to know the area, trying to fit in culturally and establishing new roots here.  It is a good place, albeit remote, to spend some time and enjoy life.  I am looking forward to finding a job, seeing animals, visiting the country and going on tropical vacations to destinations that before were simply too far to visit.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Listen to your Gut!

I have always been a big believer in listening to your gut and so far it has never steered me wrong.  In a new place, with a new culture and new ways of doing things, my gut has served me well in looking out for my kids.

Because we did not have much information to go on, we chose the only school that had room for us. Apparently we moved to a very popular area and everyone wants to send their kids to preschool in this area (referred to as Kinder).  We put our name on a few different wait lists after going online and guessing which ones were good. We ended up at the only one with room, and later found out why.  On day one, I got the awful nagging in my gut, but I had no idea why.  The place was clean, the teachers were nice and it was in an easy to reach location.  As the days went on, my gut continued to nag at me and soon, Zoe and then Carson started telling me that they did not want to go to school. Each day they became more insistent about not going.  Still, I could not place my finger on why because the kids seemed happy once they got there and when I picked them up.  I thought that maybe they were just having trouble with the new, much earlier routine.

On the sixth day of daycare I got a call from another school that had just gotten two openings due to a family's move overseas.  By this time, the kids were starting to "seem" settled in but still begged each morning not to go.  Once they got there, they were OK.  I hesitated to shake up their world again, but decided to visit the other school.  It was like night and day.  I walked in during lunch time and the entire class of kids looked up and politely and sincerely said "hello" unprompted by their teachers. The teachers were warm, friendly and experienced.  I signed on the spot to move the kids to this school.  Our other school required a two week notice so I started to plan how I would tell the kids.

I gave them a hypothetical about going to a new school and asked them if they could change would they.  They nearly jumped to the ceiling with excitement and desperation and said "YES PLEASE!"  So much for telling them gently.  I let them know that they had a choice and that I would take them to a new school for a visit.  I told them that they could decide and then prayed that they would like it!   Both took to the school like fish who had been out of water and were just dropped back in.  Neither one cared where I was and when it was time to go, begged to stay longer.  On the way I asked them which school they wanted to attend.  The both yelled out, without ANY hesitation, the "NEW school."  And so the decision was made.  We all liked it better!

I put in notice that very day at their other school.  When asked why, I could not really articulate why as there really was no clear reason other than the kids were not happy.  I was reminded it had only been just over a week and that maybe I should give them one more week to settle in.  It seemed logical and things were starting to be more routine for us.  However, I stuck to my gut and signed the paperwork to leave after the two week notice period.  Over the next two weeks, I started to doubt my decision a bit.  The kids got more used to the routine.  The teachers seemed to be getting more organized and were actually doing some activities with the kids vs. letting them run around without direction.  But the kids did still tell me they did not want to go to school, which was unusual for them.

Only after I promised to move the kids did Carson tell me about what had been going on at school.  Apparently, he was being bullied regularly by two boys, language was being used on the playground directed at him, that was hurtful and innappropriate and the teacher's either did not notice or did not intervene when they should have.  I mentioned some of what had happened to his teacher.  She acknowledged that one of the boys was "acting up" in the classroom as well and that something must be going on at home.  She then told me that Carson should not take it personally.  The next day, Carson's glasses "mysteriously" broke according to the teachers.  I am no stranger to broken glasses with Carson.  He is a boy and he likes to play.  However, he had a big cut on his eye and it was obvious someone else had been involved.  I decided to let it go and believe that they just broke while he was playing.  During breakfast on his last day of school there, Carson randomly mentioned the incident and then told me that the same boy broke his glasses while hitting him in the face and then trying to cram sand in between his glasses and his eyes.  Apparently this boy and another had been picking on Carson far more than Carson had initially told me but Carson waited until his last day to tell me, probably to avoid getting them in trouble.  He next told me "they are not my friends and they are not welcome in my home" which actually made me proud.  Carson has a tendency to like everyone and usually gives people more slack than they deserve.  I guess it is just part of his Autism and is why Autistic kids are often targeted by bullies.  Carson how now developed the ability to know "friends" from "not friends" which is a HUGE developmental step for him.  So I guess that was the goodness that came from going to that school.

The moral of the story....listen to your gut and listen to your kids if they hate school.  The right teachers and the right environment can change their perspective almost immediately.  Most schools and most teachers are great.  And kids, at this age at least, model and learn their behavior from the adults they spend time with.  There is little that can be done about what goes on in the home.  However, a GOOD teacher in a good school will have clear expectations of how a child should behave at school, despite what is going on at home.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Thoughts Before the BIG Plunge

It has been a while since I blogged, then again, I have not been in Oz since the end of May.  Here are my final thoughts before heading off to the begin the real adventure of actually living there.

The past month without Evan here at home has been both rewarding and hard.  The rewarding part is that I spent more one-on-one time with the kids each evening and on the first few weekends.  The kids and I spent many evenings after dinner watching the LARGE frogs in a little pond across from us.  We enjoyed the plethera of hummingbirds who had found my feeder and over time got braver and braver about flying up close to us.  We had a pair of young deer in our yard who stayed quite a while and were not very afraid of us.  We spent time with my mom and Jenny and Skyped whenever we could with Evan.  The hard part was not having my best friend and my rock around during this tumultously busy time.  Renting out our home, selling/giving away three-fourths of all our belongings, working full time and managing the sheer number of things that needed to get done forced me to shut off my emotions so that I could just focus on getting the work done.  I won't lie, there was one day that I completely broke down on the phone when Evan called and it was hard not having him here in person to talk to.  I knew this before being apart from him, but was reminded again of what an amazing friend, partner and confident I have in Evan.  Thank GOODNESS he is with us now! 

During the past month, I had to rely on friends and family to help me whenever they could on weekends and I am quite sure I overwithdrew on my favors from my mom and Jenny during this time. I am lucky to have such amazing friends and family, which makes leaving them behind all the more hard.  Up until now, I have just been focused on getting the work done and making sure everything goes smoothly.  I have not been sad or scared, despite the fact that everything about my life is going to change soon.  Evan is home, the house is mostly empty, I have AWESOME renters and a great neighbor who has agreed to take care of the house while we are gone and I finally have a moment to reflect and allow my emotions to color my thoughts.  I realize that although I am very excited and know this is the right move for us, I am sad about leaving the amazing people in my life behind.  It is not the same as moving away to California or even the East Coast.  Despite Skype and other great technologies, the reality is that the conversations are not as easy, the timing less convenient due to time zone differences and  I will live in a totally different culture.  I will change, hopefully for the better, and it is hard to change without your loved ones to be around to support you when you need a lift back up.

I am going to miss my parents dearly.  They are still young and active, but both are getting older.  It makes me sad that they are going to age while I am gone and even sadder that I will not be here at a moment's notice if they need me for anything. It also worries me that I will be so far that I will be less connected to what is going on in their lives.  It is inevitable that this will happen - even if they make a conscious effort to stay in touch with me.  Life just gets in the way and the things that are right there are distracting.  I guess that is the good thing about family though, time can go by, things can change but no matter what, your family loves you.  I will hold on to that thought.

I am so thankful that Skype and Facebook exist so that I can stay in touch with my friends.  We leave behind some amazing friends and while we may not see them often or for a while, I hope to stay close to them by keeping up on their postings and emails.  Please drop us a line to say "hi" whenever as it is always nice to hear from a friendly and familiar person when you are quite literally on the other side of the world.

Time to wipe off the tears, put the fears to rest and get back to packing my family up.  We are meeting Evan's parents at Disneyland on Tuesday, which promises to be a very fun family vacation before we get on a plane and head for the great Down Under.

G'Day Mate!  Catch you on the flip side.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Funny Stuff

I have noticed some funny advertising over the past several days and thought I would share them before they become everyday white noise to me.  While there are many similarities between Aussies and Americans, there are several differences that are just funny and endearing to me.

Truth in Marketing:
As an experience consumer product marketer, I always appreciate seeing how other cultures market and sell products to their local customers.  The conclusion that I have come to with Aussies is that they pretty much tell it like it is and at the same time really have fun with their marketing.  Here are some examples of marketing that I could not resist:

Nothing like coming home from a long day at work, feeling really hungry for some Tucker and having your wife serve you up some spicy hot "Man Beans."  Funny...there weren't any for women.  Must not have tested well with that audience.  :)

Most Americans know this restaurant as Burger King.  They run those creepy ads with the giant King running around and doing off-putting things.  Well, here, they just call it Hungry Jacks and serve up Brekky, which is Aussie speak for breakfast.  It is not as if they don't use the word breakfast here, they just tend to use the slang more.  So, the ads follow this lead and do the same.

This place puts a smile on my face each time I walk by it.  They are a little stand that sells espresso and meat pies to the locals.  Notice how much different their latte list is to what you see every day at Starbucks.  Tomorrow, Evan and I are going to try the "Kick my Arse" in the hopes that it might help with jet lag.

And the last one I have for now is below.  We were looking for places to rent and one place in particular, that really stood out for us, but ended up being the most expensive BY FAR was this one.  Instead of the pot of gold being at the end of the rainbow, they were asking us to fill the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to have this place.  :)


Wednesday, 25 May 2011

First Impressions

I arrived in Melbourne in a complete fog after an 18 hour journey from Seattle.  While I was able to get some sleep on the plane, if you can call it that, I felt like I was walking around drunk and dizzy.  I am sooooo incredibly thankful to our dear friends here, Mick and Paula, for picking us up from the airport and taking us around from place to place that first day.  They have a 5-year-old daughter so they were qualified to deal with two Americans that were operating at the capacity of a 5-year-old that day!  They oversaw us in getting new mobile phones (notice I said "mobile" not cell), helped us to get to the bank to get an account and then ensured that we were fed and dropped off at our hotel.

No Worries:
Funny story about getting set up here....  To get phones, we needed a bank account and a local residency.  To get a bank account, you needed a local residency and phone and to get a residency, you needed a local bank account and phone.  They work on a "points" system.  You get a certain number of points for having a passport, additional points for having a local address, etc....  We managed to get mobile phones because our friend, and Evan's new boss "vouched" for us.  We then proceeded to walk over to the local bank with a WAD of cash to deposit so that we could open an account in order to rent a place.  The first bank very kindly told us that their tellers were busy and to come back in a day or so.  She was perfectly polite but did not seem to have any worries whatsoever about sending business elsewhere.  WHAT???  A bank did not want a GIANT WAD of CASH??!!!  This was perplexing.  It is not that they did not want our money, they were just busy with other things, were in no hurry and were not desperate to get more money.  We decided to wander up a block to their competition, who gladly took our money and opened an account.  No worries!

Smaller May be Better:
On my first full day here, Evan was scheduled to meet with his first client in his new job.  I stayed back and the hotel and worked while watching TV.  They had interrupted the morning show that was on to announce that one Australian soldier had been killed in Afghanistan.  My first reaction was, "this is breaking news?" followed by "wow, that is amazing that one life can be honored so directly here." If the US news were to interrupt broadcasts each time a US Soldier was killed, we would see very little else on TV.  The total population of Australia is only about two-thirds of the total population of the state of California.  It was nice to know that for the service men and women who go over there to support the US troops and to do their part in the "war on terrorism," that their lives can be honored should the worst happen.  This announcement continued to make headline news over the next two days.

As I began to ponder this notion of maybe smaller is better I thought about all that I had recently learned about their public healthcare system (it really works well), their public transportation, and their society as a whole (low crime, easy life).  Maybe the reason that it does work is that there are simply fewer people complaining, asking for exceptions, abusing the system etc...  My business experience has so far shown me that the more people you put on a problem, the more problems arise, and often, those new problems have little to do with solving the initial problem itself.  So much in the US has to be handled at the higher levels and so many people are competing with each other to have their specific needs met.  Maybe breaking it down to smaller segments makes things much more manageable...?  I guess I will see how things "really" work here as I establish my residency and begin to receive services that I can then compare to what I am used to in the States.  

Stay tuned.  :)