Where we’ve been… unplugged and offline

This is what life is like when you are a world away: no phones, no internet, no tv, no Google maps, limited rainwater supply, dirt roads and hundreds of Australian sea lions lazing about the beach (Seal Bay, Kangaroo Island, SA).

Life becomes simpler without the distraction of white noise.  Our vacation finally became just that, a vacation.

We’ve explored the southern reaches of Australia including Tasmania and Kangaroo Island in South Australia.  Its been a whirlwind of travel (since we hosted my parents and were previously scheduled to return home to the US) but we now return home to Melbourne. 

Melbourne is where we will stay for now.  Thank you for staying plugged in and online.  I’ve missed you.

Posted in Beach, Kangaroo Island, South Australia, Travel, Wildlife | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Great Ocean Road: Take Two

When you visit a place for a second time the first visit must have had a profound impact.  The Great Ocean Road is one of those not-to-be-missed places, even for a repeat visit.  Since my parents are in Australia we insisted on taking them westward along this coastal road.

Again, we visited Port Campbell National Park and stayed at the Great Ocean Ecolodge.  Our second visit was great yet so different from the first.  Perhaps the difference was the company, the additional night or our prior experience.  Either way it made an amazing, lasting impression.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

The Great Ocean Ecolodge bush walk : wild kangaroos, wallabies, koalas and tiger quolls.

Kangaroos at dawn (and awesome natural light) outside our room. 

Peterborough and Port Campbell National Park: 12 Apostles, Gibson’s Steps, London Bridge, Bay of Islands and a wild echidna.

The Otways National Park: lighthouse, wild koalas, Triplet Falls and Otway Fly skywalk.

Simply amazing, for a second time.

Posted in The Great Ocean Road, Travel, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Have kids. Will celebrate.

September normally brings on a new school year, falling temperatures and lots and lots and lots of birthdays, including my children born 2 years apart, minus 2 days to be exact.  Last year I was able to eek out a combo-celebration.  This year I was ordered to separate them.  For the past 4 days I’ve been baking.

  • Saturday: 1 bear chocolate cake (found bear cake pan in our kitchen) with pink butter cream frosting for Claire.

  • Sunday: 1 bear carrot cake with blue cream cheese frosting for Colin.

  • Monday : 2 batches of American brownies for playgroup children and mums.
  • Tuesday: 2 batches of s’mores brownies for Claire’s kinder.

Within this time period we’ve also been celebrating.

  • Saturday: took Claire and Colin to Luna Park in St. Kilda (they’ve been begging to go), peeled crying son off airplane and “choo-choo” ride, had evening family celebration with presents, consumed birthday cake.

  • Sunday: took Claire to celebrate a friend’s birthday, sang “Happy Birthday” with a few extra “Hip-Hip-Hoorays”, consumed roo-doo (chocolate rice krispy glop in cupcake cups, looks like name sake), fairy bread (toast with butter and sprinkles), lollies and cupcakes.
  • Monday: consumed small slices of birthday cake.
  • Tuesday: consumed brownies, got in trouble for bringing a messy treat to playgroup since the half-eaten brownies stuck to shoes and squished into carpeting, spent remainder of playgroup using my fingernails to pick up pieces, Colin found celebratory puddle and ruined his expensive Aussie children’s shoes.

  • Wednesday: wrapped s’more brownies so children could take home their treat instead of eating it at kinder (and getting mum in trouble again), got in trouble anyway because 1 child was allergic to eggs, consumed s’more s’more brownies

On Friday, Oma and Grandpop arrive with a celebration of their own.  No, I will not be baking brownies… we will probably eat heaps of leftovers.

Even though our Australian adventure has thrown us some curve balls, I believe we will have properly celebrated (and exhausted) our children’s birthdays, spring birthdays we will never forget.

Happy birthday to our children, Claire and Colin.  I can’t believe its been 4 years since children have entered our lives.  Seeing you two together, playing, talking, pretending, singing and dancing is amazing.  Hopefully, your Australian experience is something you can reminisce together.  Claire is right, you are besties (best friends) forever.

Posted in American Expat in Australia, Children, Food and Wine, Holidays, Melbourne, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Would never, could never be homesick

It’s happened.  The illness I thought I would never, could never have is upon me.  Homesickness has invaded my brain.  But why now?

Is it because our time here in Melbourne was recently cut short, our bodies mentally ready to reenter our normal, American lives, only to be lengthened again without a confirmed end date to our expat-hood?  Yes.

It is because I recently took a trip to USA Foods?  Yes.  It’s a trip I thought I would never, could never take.  What does one expect at an American food store?  Now I know.  Grape jelly.  When grape is not a flavor of jam offered in Aussie grocery stores a mom will go to great lengths to find it.  Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches just aren’t the same without it and I’ll gladly pay $8/jar for happy children.  We passed on basic Cheerios for $10/box, but noted the canned pure pumpkin and Thanksgiving tableware for the future.

Is it because our actual house is torn apart?  Yes.  Natural Disasters happen but they don’t happen to us.  That would never, could never happen.  But, it did.  Our finished basement is no longer a finished room but an empty cave right up to the studs.

Am I homesick because we missed babies being born?  Yes.  Being this far from home has taught me a lot about communication and friendship.  Thanks to Alexis and Pete for taking that extra step to send a baby announcement 10,000 miles across the globe.  Even though I told them not to mail it and even though I saw many baby pictures on Facebook, receiving the announcement in the mail made me feel remembered. 

Am I homesick because I don’t want to forget or be the one forgotten?  Yes.  Snow was falling on that March morning we left our New Jersey home.  I hardly remember looking out our bedroom window.  It has only been 7 months.

Also, I worry.  I worry about my dog.  I worry about my daughter’s school registration process back in the states.  I worry about any minor loose ends.

Previously, I thought I was the kind of person homesickness would never, could never inflict.  I was wrong.  I love Melbourne but I love home too.  For now I, along with my kids, rock out to Bon Jovi, Springsteen and Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind on the radio, looking forward to that first trip home.

Posted in American Expat in Australia, Food and Wine, Melbourne | Tagged , | 7 Comments

“GO BLUE!” from Oz

Our battle cries sounded through the sunny, late morning hours in St. Kilda on Sunday, the 11th.  We saw it live, the Saturday night Michigan game at the big house.

Our story begins.

We do not get cable tv and the only free-to-air sporting events we’ve seen are heaps of Aussie rules footy, rugby, tennis and Motorsports.  For weeks we casually searched the internet for ways to watch Michigan football in Australia.  Using Skype to watch a TV in the US was one suggestion.  Listening to live broadcasts on the Michigan website was another.  A few fans posted on forums wanting to start a college football watch group with a slingbox, which links to your home TV in the states.  None were Michigan fans plus we have 2 children in tow.

The first night game was only a few days away and still no plan.  We knew this could be our only chance to see a game live.  A 24 hour sports bar at the Crown Casino in the CBD most likely wouldn’t work with 2 small kids, but it was our plan b, c, d and e.  Plan A was to find a sports bar open at 10am on Sunday in St. Kilda.

Sunday morning arrived.  We spoke to my brother and sister-in-law who drove to Ann Arbor from Jersey.  We could hear the excitement in their voices and in the background.  How could we be missing this? 

Yes, we missed something.  Michigan v. Notre Dame was going to be on ESPN live in Australia.  After discovering this fact my husband showered and silently snuck out the door in 10 minutes.

The kids put on their oversized Michigan gear.  We packed up pb and j sandwiches, activity books and the portable DVD player, got the bikes ready and waited to hear from Daddy.  He found a pub, the Village Belle Hotel. 

Away we went, to the corner of Acland and Barkly Streets.  We found my husband silently drinking a beer alone in a large corner section of the bar.  He was watching a large TV without sound.  (Apparently, he wasn’t alone as others were in the back room playing the slots on Sunday morning, but that’s another post entirely.) 

We brought our kids (and their bikes) into the local, dingy bar and set up camp with a few raised eyebrows from the bartender and locals.  The kids dove into their sandwiches and fresh croissants, chanted “go blue” and enjoyed the flashing lights of betting machines.  It was 10:30am on a Sunday and I was drinking beer, a $10 Aussie pint to be exact. 

No one else knew what was going on in our corner room in the pub, but those locals milling around the bar (waiting for rugby world cup play to begin) respected our love of sport, a true Aussie tradition.  No one walking down the street in the sunshine knew we were witnessing Michigan history.  Minus the plastic cups of Labatts, the lawn chairs, the bratwursts and the long waits for port-a-potties we still had a good time.

Without sound, we heard those Michigan fans from across the globe.  We heard the band, the announcer, the gasps, the sighs and the fluctuating heartbeats of 114,000 people in the stands.  We chanted.  We stood up.  We high fived.  We stomped.  Hopefully, those fans heard us too.

*Thank you for reading yet another long post.  I am not a Michigan Alumnus, but a fan.  My husband and brother are alumni.  We have family in Michigan and my father grew up there as well.  I’ve been wearing maize and blue since childhood and lived in Ann Arbor for 18 months.  Here’s my shout out to my fellow University of Maryland Terrapins, “Go Terps!”

Posted in American Expat in Australia, Children, Melbourne | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Attempts at becoming an Aussie Mum

I attempted to become an Aussie Mum.

Lost in translation

First things first, I adopted certain lingo.  I now say nappies instead of diapers, pram instead of stroller, kinder instead of pre-school, catch-up instead of play-date, partner instead of husband, plaits instead of braids and nits instead of lice. (Thankfully, those nits were not in my children’s hair.)  

I say, “would your daughter like to have a catch-up?”  Other mum replies, “Of course, her and Claire are besties.  Oh yeah, She’s keen.”

I pretend I know what all the other mums are talking about.  One playgroup mum’s daughter just turned 4 and, equally stressed out with multiple children as the rest of us, says, “Oh, and I almost forgot to get her jabbers!”  Hmmm, OK, birthday punches.  That sounds like something aggressive, Australian boys would be raised on but nothing too strange, right?  Other mums jokingly asked if she was brave.  I’m asking myself, are these jabbers a scary right of passage?  Later, another mum asks, “What did she get?  Another MMR?”  At least 5 minutes of conversation went by until I realized that jabbers are shots/immunizations.  Duly noted.

Parent Duty

I completed parent/roster duty.  If you join a toy library, you need to volunteer a few hours a year.  There I was one Saturday morning, counting puzzles pieces and cleaning old toys.  If you are accepted into a community kinder/preschool you need to do duty once a term or 4 times per year.  During every kinder session a parent or guardian is present to help the teachers and children. 

Kinder duty seems silly to me, since all I did was clean off some tables, organize artwork and play with the kids for 3 hours.  However, parent involvement is assumed and forced upon parents much more than in the states.  I remember how hard it was to organize the parents in Claire’s former pre-school back in New Jersey.  The Australian method seems to work. 

The Accent

I changed my son’s name to Cull’n.  I am often asked to repeat my son’s name.  These conversations go as follows:

 Aussie mum: “What’s your son’s name again?”

Me: “Colin”

Aussie mum: “What is it again?”

Me: “Caahhlin”

Aussie mum: “Sorry, can you spell that?”

Me, somewhat annoyed: “C, O, L, I, N”

Aussie mum: “Oh!  Cull’n.  Right. (pause) Must be the accent.”

Sure.  Which accent would that be?

All seriousness aside

I avoid using serious words.  While waiting for our children to finish kinda’, the mums happened upon a conversation about Toy Story 3, and its more serious bits.  We eagerly talked amongst each other and noted the scary scenes.

Aussie Mum: “Including the bit in the garbage incinerator, going into the fire.”

Aussie Mums:  “Yes, yeah, I know.”

Me: “Yeah, that was a little intense.”

Silence…  “coodle ordles” from the magpies outside…  more silence inside.  Blank stares all around and, I’m pretty sure, held back laughter too.  Good one, Meg.   Apparently, nothing is intense down under.

Dress code

I wear black leggings with brown boots, designer jeans, havaianas in 40-50 degree weather and oversized sweater coats.  However, I still wear my top siders, gap jeans and t-shirts.

Aussie mums are a pretty cool bunch with the same nuances as American moms.  I attempt to assimilate as much as I can while still being genuine.  However,  I’ll most likely continue using “how are you?” instead of “how are you going?” and yelling after my kids on the playground.

Posted in American Expat in Australia, Children | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Sovereign Hill, Ballarat

Eureka!  On a whim, we decided to do something historical this past weekend (Aussie Father’s Day weekend) and visit Ballarat, a late 1800s gold-rush town, about 90 minutes from Melbourne.  It was a surprising uphill drive with views of burnt orange hills, rows of gum trees and, as a bonus, kangaroos beside the roadway.

We entered Sovereign Hill, a recreation of Ballarat during the Aussie gold-rush period.  Main Street is lined with cafes, shops and craftsmen.  Actors in period costumes and even Redcoats, just as we Americans know them, parade around town.

While we half-heartedly panned for real gold, (yes, people find gold shavings in the stream) others were getting their whole bodies into the activity and into the cold, muddy water.  We later heard that the ‘gold’ is planted, but planted or not I might have made more of an effort had I known it was real.

We took an underground tour of a gold mine, watched a $170,000 gold pour, ate homemade lollies and even bowled a few historic rounds.  At the candlemaker’s presentation, my daughter boldly declared we were from New York City and with oohs and aahs from the audience we were pronounced the tourists who traveled the farthest.  The man from China came in second.  Nice.

Despite the blustery winds and wearing the wrong navy khakis to a dust filled town we had a great time.  Sovereign Hill has a lot to offer.  There is much to learn about this country we’ve forgotten on the other side of the world.

Posted in American Expat in Australia, Children, Melbourne, Travel with children | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Lost in Queensland

This is our story of how we survived tropical Queensland, a visit-at-your-own-risk state.  Please note, this is a long post.  Getting lost in Queensland is easy.  Getting out is an adventure.

Queensland is gorgeous, dangerously gorgeous.  Many haunting tales come from this northern state of Australia, including encounters with crocodiles and forgotten tourists in remote locations, including the Great Barrier Reef.  We decided to hone our survival skills (thank you Bear Grylls) during our time in Queensland.

We tested our endurance, ran down 4 Mile Beach and explored its small trails through the bush.

We dug large holes in the softest sand for shelter.

We swam our entire resort’s lagoons, looking for emergency exit strategies.

We successfully skirted eye contact with a cassowary, 2 frogmouths, heaps of tropical birds and salties, or saltwater crocodiles, on the Daintree River.

We donned our stinger suits to avoid touching deadly jellyfish and other threatening creatures within the incredible Great Barrier Reef.  (I also took ginger pills to avoid seasickness on the 90 minute, bumpy ride out to the reef.  Multiple people lost their breakfasts.)

We saw amazing coral and ocean life before skillfully snorkeling through these guys to return to our pontoon in the middle of the Coral Sea.

We traversed pathways and swing bridges through the Daintree Rainforest.

We found a crystal clear, fresh water source at Mossman Gorge.

We smoothly boated past maze upon maze of evil-looking mangrove trees.

We obeyed signage.

Due to our quick thinking and resourcefulness, we successfully returned to our resort each night to retell our daily tales of Queensland.  Survival in far north, tropical Queensland is an awesome adventure, an other-worldly, once in a lifetime adventure.

Once just isn’t enough.

We stayed

Sheraton Mirage, Port Douglas

We explored

Mossman Gorge

Wildlife Habitat

Quicksilver Great Barrier Reef Tour, Agincourt Reef

Dan Irby’s Mangrove Adventures

Well done, mate.  You made it through the Queensland post with us.  Excellent perseverance.

Posted in American Expat in Australia, Beach, Children, Queensland/Great Barrier Reef, Travel, Travel with children, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How do you pump a flooded basement 10,355 miles away?

Move closer to family and have extremely helpful neighbors with a power generator.

You thought you were prepared.  You’ve waterproofed your finished basement.  You’ve installed a sump pump and battery backup.  Good on ya.  But what happens when the power goes out for over 24 hours?  Nothing.  That’s right, absolutely nothing, no working motors, no lights, no alarms.  Nothing except a flood, 18 inches of flood water to be exact.

Hurricane Irene has hit our home and we are 10, 355 miles away.   

The power is still out and the water keeps coming in, but the skies are clear.  10, 355 miles away, you are helpless.  Your expat stories of once in a lifetime adventures seem to lose meaning and a hard reality sets in.

How do you feel?  Bloody awful.  The moral of the story is to move closer to family… and buy a power generator.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to my parents, John, Katie and John and Gloria, our faithful neighbors.  It’s nice to know there’s someone looking out for us back home, 10,355 miles away.

Posted in American Expat in Australia | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Where we’ve been… again

Lost in Queensland with Dan from Mangrove Adventures and finding our way through croc-infested waters.

Again, its been over a week between posts but I suppose that’s what happens when everyday life in Australia becomes ordinary.  However, take a trip to Far North Queensland and it becomes the opposite.  More to follow.

We are in the midst of a hurricane on the east coast of the US.  Hope all is well with family, friends and our basement sump pump.

Posted in Queensland/Great Barrier Reef, Travel, Wildlife | Tagged , , | Leave a comment