Twenty-nine isn’t so Scary

Nine years ago, I celebrated my 20th birthday in Paris. I spent the weekend with some of my best friends roaming the city, going to the Moulin Rouge, eating Nutella crepes, visiting Disneyland, and snacking on baguettes along the banks of the Seine. It felt somewhat monumental, leaving my teenage years behind and starting a new decade in a glitzy, cosmopolitan place like Paris.

1923575_507128863035_5390_n

1923575_507128962835_1483_n

1923575_507128878005_6139_n

In two days (three if you’re reading this in the US) I’ll turn 29, celebrating my birthday on yet another continent. It doesn’t feel like my 20th birthday could have really been nine years ago. I so clearly remember feeling confident and sure of myself. I was living in England and spending my weekends traveling through Europe with my friends, I still had so much time to figure out what exactly I wanted to do with my life, and in many ways it felt like real life was just beginning. Fast forward nine years, and I am still trying to figure out what I want to be, it still feels like real life is just beginning, except now I realize just how little I actually know.

1931061_515613564625_9096_n.jpg

Celebrating my 21st birthday in Evansville, IN.

In the last nine years I’ve accomplished quite a bit: visited 12 countries in Europe, made life-long friends, became an aunt, graduated from college, moved to a city where I knew no one, spent a few years working harder than I’ve ever worked to try to be a good teacher for my students, moved back to my hometown, adopted a puppy, jumped out of a plane, chose to love and commit to the best guy I’ve ever known, worked long hours and driven tens of thousands of miles while helping thousands of seniors access college, built a house, moved to Australia, started a Masters program, and had a lot of fun.

76589_550274937955_3748696_n.jpg

Turning 23 in Tulsa, OK.

When I look at that list, nine years feels like a long time. In some ways, I’m a completely different person than I was on that birthday in Paris, but I still have that feeling of being on the edge of something, waiting for that moment of clarity and understanding. I hope I always hold onto that feeling, because it keeps me motivated and optimistic for my next adventures. The hope and expectations for the future keep me young.

340983_601933004775_515444494_o.jpg

In Fayetteville, AR for the South Carolina/Arkansas football game for my 24th birthday.

I was initially a little apprehensive about turning 29. It’s my last birthday in my twenties, and to be 30 feels like a jump I’m just not prepared for. When my mom was 30 she had a five year old, and I was a newborn, but I still don’t feel capable of taking care of a child for more than 12 hours. Professionally my life is all up in the air, as I left a job I saw myself in for the longterm to move to Sydney, and now I’m only working part-time while studying full-time. Needless to say, I’m absolutely no where near where I assumed I would be at this point in my life. But I’m really OK with that. If nothing else, moving across the world and taking on the huge changes that have come my way in the last year has taught me not to try so hard to mold my life into what I think it should be. I’m developing a more zen attitude while truly slowing down and appreciating the insignificant day-to-day moments that eventually add up to real life. I’ve also noticed a trend of caring less about what others think about me or how they judge my happiness or success with each passing year, so I’m excited for that freedom to continually grow.

IMG_9858.JPG

Celebrating 25 with my family in Brentwood, TN.

In order to truly appreciate my 29th year, I’ve decided to commit to doing 12 things that scare me before my 30th birthday. Ideally, I will conquer a fear (big or small) each month leading up to my birthday next year. My hope is that this challenge will keep me focused on the present, not wishing for time time to speed up or slow down, and consistently engage my sense of adventure. I’ll blog about the experience, so look out for the first adventure coming sometime in the next 32 days. Here’s to enjoying every moment of my 29th year on this earth and to embracing aging for the gift it truly is!

The Great Ocean Road

img_6179

While in Melbourne, we took a day trip down the Great Ocean Road. Let me just say that if you ever find yourself in Melbourne you absolutely must venture out on the GRO and I would highly recommend going with Paul and Escape Discovery Adventures (www.escapediscoveryadventures.com.au). It was a truly magical day!

img_6108

Our morning started with pick-up at our hotel and an hour or so drive before our stop for morning tea. Paul’s wife made the most addictive Anzac biscuits I’ve ever tasted, and we also had TimTams, lamingtons, French-press coffee, and tea. Paul, our tour guide, is one of the most Aussie of Australians in the best way. He casually said “crikey” and used the phrase “spit the dummy” (to throw a tantrum (a baby’s pacifier is called a dummy)) in normal conversation.

IMG_6102.JPG

After tea, we drove for quite a bit before coming to our first glimpse of Apollo Bay. We had to take a slightly altered route as part of the Road is still closed due to severe storms that ruined the road several weeks ago. Luckily, Paul made sure we doubled back to search out some wild koalas. We wandered up a dusty road, staring up into the leafy, tall eucalyptus trees hoping to catch a glimpse of a furry little koala sleeping up in the branches. What we found was so much better: an alert koala who ate some eucalyptus leaves and then climbed down the tree she was in and jumped to a new tree!

img_5531

img_6138

Unfortunately, my husband will not let me waste $76 a year in order to post videos directly to this blog, so you’ll have to click on this YouTube link to see her in action!

Paul takes these tour groups out 4 days a week, and even he was impressed by the experience and made sure we knew how rare of an opportunity we had to see a koala in action!

img_6171

 

We stopped at another scenic overlook before heading into Apollo Bay for lunch. After a scrumptious ham and cheese toasty we left the coastline and made our way into the temperate rainforest of the Great Otway National Park. After terrifying the kids in our small group (there were 10 of us) with harrowing tales of the dangerous, carnivorous mystery animal lurking in the trees (it turned out to be a snail- hah!) and assuring us Americans that he has liability insurance, we went for a pleasant walk through the lush rainforest.

img_6212

img_6220

Post-rainforest we headed back to the coastline and made our way to the 12 Apostles. These limestone stacks are impressive, and also reminiscent of the Koopa Troopa beach levels from Mario Kart. We made a few stops at different vantage points, as you can’t actually see all eight “apostles” (there never were 12, despite the name) at once. We also learned that there used to be 9 apostles, but one collapsed dramatically in 2005. We also learned that the stacks were originally called the “sow and piglets” until a visitor decided one of the stacks looked like a priest, which then became the apostles. The apostles were formed by gradual erosion of the soft limestone that first created arches until the “bridge” of the arch became too weak, crumbled, and left two pillars standing alone. You can actually see the process taking place with what will eventually become the newest apostles which is pretty cool!

IMG_6228.JPG

IMG_6252.JPG

We also had the chance to explore the Loch Ard Gorge that was the site of an awful shipwreck in 1878. While there, we decided (ie I forced Donnie) to take “jumping”pictures because why not? Turns out one of us was really impressive and one of us was terrible. You can make your judgments from the photos below…

IMG_6284.JPG

IMG_6329.JPG

After a lovely dinner of fish and chips we made the long trek back to Melbourne. It was a long (over 14 hours) day, but we were blown away by the natural beauty and wonders of the Great Ocean Road.

 

Adventures in Melbourne

Donnie and I ventured south over the weekend to do some exploring, and lots of eating, in lovely Melbourne. We have now officially visited half of Australia’s states! However, that isn’t quite the accomplishment that it would be in the US, as Australia only has six states (and two territories, if we’re getting technical).

IMG_6352.JPG

We spent two days in the city and one full day exploring the Great Ocean Road. I’m writing a separate blog post for the Great Ocean Road, as it was full of amazing things (like spotting a wild koala!) so today I’ll focus on our time spent directly in Melbourne.

img_5993

After finally arriving in the CBD (we flew on a cheap airline that flies to an airport about 45 minutes outside of the city) we immediately headed to a little cafe for brekkie. We had delicious bacon, egg, and cheese toasties (a departure from the ubiquitous bacon egg rolls of Sydney) and flat whites before dropping our bags at our hotel. We headed straight for the Queen Victoria Market, which was only a 5 minute walk from our room. The market reminded me a bit of the straw market in Nassau, only with laid back vendors and no one screaming at you for looking at their bags and then buying from someone else. We had fun picking out some cute things for people back home and Donnie even got a custom leather belt from an adorable older gentleman.

img_6008img_6002

We planned to ride the City Circle tram, as it is free and provides audio commentary of major areas around the CBD, but it was suffocatingly packed so we skipped it. Speaking of trams, because they run down the middle of the streets, there is this terrifying traffic pattern called a “hook turn” that only happens in Melbourne: when turning right (remember that cars drive on the left here) at an intersection, cars go out into the middle of the intersection all the way over on the left, and then turn right across all of the lanes, while watching for cars going straight to blow past. It’s scary to watch and even scarier to experience.

img_6012

One of the fun things about Melbourne are the random alleyways and side streets with restaurants, bars, and cafes tucked away. We found a cute little side street with globe-lights and outdoor seating for several restaurants for lunch. Donnie picked a place called “Bread and Meat Co.” (Ron Swanson approved) and I ate sweet potato fries while he had a Texas BBQ Chicken sandwich– they were celebrating their new “American” menu.

img_6020img_6030

After lunch, a Little Cupcakes indulgence, and a little rest in our room (catching a 7:00 am flight when you live an hour from the airport requires a pretty early start time!) we wandered over to Federation Square and the Flinders St. railway station. This turn-of-the-century station is gorgeous. It’s also home to a “pedestrian scramble” which essentially stops traffic in all directions at once and allows pedestrians to cross at every crosswalk, including diagonally. We eventually landed at the rooftop bar of Taxi Kitchen, with great views of the Yarra river that runs through Melbourne.

img_6047

IMG_6405.JPG

IMG_6060.JPG

For dinner (I really wasn’t kidding about all the eating) we headed up to Carlton, a cute, leafy neighborhood adjacent to the CDB and home to Lygon Street. Lygon Street houses all the best Italian restaurants, and we had reservations at Da Guido La Pasta. In order to understand the level of my delight at the enormous, fragrant dish of homemade, traditional Italian pasta that was set before me, you must first know that I have not had one single bite of pasta in over six months. This was a heavenly experience.

IMG_6079.JPG

img_6961img_6962

In addition to their fabulous, authentic Italian restaurants, Melbourne is also home to numerous cake shops. We ventured to one of the most famous, Brunetti, after our dinner. Thankfully we got in a bit of a walk on the way, so I was able to enjoy two miniature treats. The bright, white marble flagship store on Lygon Street was bustling at 9:00 pm. We walked in, took a number for our turn to order, and perused the cases that were filled with mignons (mini-cakes and treats), cake slices, cheesecakes, macarons, cannolis, eclairs, and every dessert imaginable. I ended up with a mini nutella cannoli and a nutella and ricotta mignon while Donnie indulged in two opera slices. We ended our evening on our hotel balcony overlooking Flagstaff Gardens, tired from a day full of exploring and so many delicious carbs.

IMG_6097.JPG

IMG_6095.JPG

IMG_6089.JPG

We spent the first part of Sunday morning listening to the Vols game on the radio as the illegal stream we were watching annoyingly turned into a baseball game. The game, which started at 6:30 am, was headed to overtime at the exact moment we had to check-out, which wasn’t great for Donnie’s nerves. I accidentally caught this moment when Tennessee failed to score a TD in the first OT…

IMG_6353.JPG

After a disappointing loss (but overall impressive comeback attempt by the Vols) we headed back to the Queen Victoria Market to buy some things we had passed up on Friday. There were intense 45 mph winds that made walking quite the challenge. You haven’t experienced “wind” until you’ve been to Australia. We managed to make it to the Greek Precinct and took a break from the blustery outdoors for some of the best (and most garlicky) hummus I’ve ever had at a cute little place called Stalactites, complete with stalactites hanging from the ceiling!

IMG_6358.JPG

Melbourne is known as one of the greatest street art cities in the world. One of the most famous laneways of street art is Hosier lane, which we happily stumbled upon because Donnie somehow has a weird sixth-sense for spontaneously finding places when we travel. This area reminded me a lot of Seattle. There were a few artists painting as we were walking by, and you could even pay to spray paint something yourself. Pretty cool!

IMG_6393.JPG

IMG_6380.JPG

We decided to check out The Crown, Melbourne’s fancy casino in Southbank. (Fun side note: the hotel attached to the casino, Crown Towers, is where Tiger Woods was busted by his wife for being a cheating loser.) The casino is luxurious and so clean with no smoking on the main gaming floor. Donnie found this super fun pokie (what Aussies call slots) called “More Chilli” and we ended up winning $200! We cashed out after that happy turn of events.

img_6980

The last thing on my Melbourne “to do” list was to photograph the bathing boxes at Brighton Beach. We caught an Uber to the quiet beach town about 20 minutes outside the CBD and after almost having the door smashed off our driver’s car when the wind blew it wide open into oncoming traffic, we made the short walk down to the iconic boxes. If you’ve never been on a beach in super strong winds, I would recommend keeping it that way. You could hardly see the water due to the “fog” of sand being swept up by the wind. The sand stung our faces and our eyes, filled my jacket pockets, and became permanently embedded in our scalps, but I got my pictures of the colourful boxes! Was feeling like Princess Jasmine when she’s trapped in that hour glass at the end of Aladdin worth it? Maybe not. But it made for a good story and some cool pictures!

img_6425img_6411

Overall, we really enjoyed Melbourne. The food was amazing and the city has a casual, hip, slightly gritty vibe that is very different from Sydney. We were planning a return trip while still there, which I think is a sign of a great city! Besides, how can you not feel drawn, as a Nashville native, to a city that has its own Batman building? It almost felt like home.

IMG_6082.JPG

Why English?

img_6873

I’m officially more than half-way through my first semester of grad school- hooray! Going back to school after a 6 year absence was intimidating to begin with, then compounded by my unfamiliarity with the Australian education system. I’m starting to settle in and feel more comfortable with my courses, and thought I would share three insights from my experience so far.

img_6886

1. Grades are Marks, and No One Really Cares

One of the biggest changes from the American university system has been the lack of emphasis on grades. Here, we call grades “marks” and instead of an A, B, C, D, F system, they use a much broader range to encompass a student’s degree of understanding and mastery.

85-100%: High Distinction

75-84%: Distinction

65-74%: Credit

50-64%: Pass

49% and lower: Fail

In grad programs, anything that receives a mark of 90 or higher is considered publishable, so that mark is reserved for only incredibly outstanding, thoroughly researched, original work. I’ve only received one mark thus far, on an oral presentation I gave in my Critical Reading class on a highly theoretical, difficult reading. When I first saw my mark (I got an 88) I was disappointed. In my American mind, I’d received a B+, which was a letdown for the amount of work I’d put into my lecture. However, when I met with my professor (or tutor, or lecturer, or coordinator– I still haven’t figured out exactly what to call my professors here) he was full of praise and remarked how well I had done. We then spent a few minutes discussing the differences in grading here and in the States (he came to Sydney Uni from Harvard.)

Marks are really less of a judgment and more of an acknowledgement of a student’s output. Students here are also much less concerned with specific marks– they want to pass, and generally want to earn at least a credit for their work, but students are much more concerned with actually learning material and being able to apply new knowledge in their work. Honestly, it’s pretty refreshing. I’m still adjusting, but overall, there is much less pressure to earn a perfect mark, and more encouragement to take in new information and be able to apply that information to class discussions, future readings, and written work.

img_6838

2. English is Hard, and also Worthwhile

I’ve loved reading and writing since I was able to do each. My first journal begins when I was around 4 and half, and contains many amazing descriptions including: (and I’m paraphrasing from memory here) “Today we had a snowball fight. My daddy hit me in the face and I cried and cried.” And then an ending note, clearly in my mom’s handwriting, stating “It was an accident and he said he was sorry!”

However, from an early age I can also recall trying to figure out how to find a job that used my love of reading and writing, but was profitable. I landed on law first, then journalism, then editing– but ultimately ended up teaching. I love education, and I will always consider myself an educator, but I’ve also realized that I spent 28 years skirting around my true love: literature. Why? Because it wasn’t practical, profitable, or pragmatic. (Not that teaching is profitable in the States either.)

There is such an emphasis today (especially in the US) on earning a degree that is “worth it.” I kept English relegated as a minor area of study in my undergrad because Communication provided much wider access to the job market, and as I graduated in 2010, the job market was scary enough on its own. I’ve read countless articles that advocate for students to look at entry-level salaries in their chosen field, and then use that data to determine whether it is worth it to pursue their chosen major. It is exactly this thinking that kept me from pursuing the degree I truly wanted.

Education is a privilege, and the material we have covered in my courses this semester (namely Critical Reading and Global Lit) has only reinforced the privilege and responsibility that comes with an education. Many times, the only way repressed or unrepresented voices are heard in our privileged community is through words– by producing literature that is then accessed by broader communities. Literature provides us with a real, authentic education, and I’ve found that studying literature, and the greater cultural context inevitably surrounding all literature, immensely rewarding. Will I ever make a ton of money with an English MA? Nope. But I’m learning to look outside of our rigidly capitalistic societal norms and find a greater purpose. (Dad, please don’t read this as your already liberal daughter turning into a Socialist, I promise I’m not!) However, literature does connect us in a way nothing else can, and studying those connections prompts us to be better, more responsible, more responsive global citizens.

img_6820

3. Experience Creates Better Students

I was a pretty good student in undergrad. Pretty good. I went to (most) of my classes, I did some of my reading, and I almost always turned in assignments on time. It helped that I went to a tiny school where you failed if you had more than 3 absences in any given class and where your professors knew immediately if one of 15-20 students were missing from a class. I also remembered my Dad telling me that each class I took cost something like $7,500 or something ridiculous, so that motivated me as well. But I also cared a lot about my friends, my sorority, my extracurriculars, and sleep. Thank goodness Netflix instant streaming didn’t exist while I was in undergrad, or I really might not have gotten anything done.

As an adult, who is actually paying for her own degree and taking this on completely voluntarily, I am a much better student than I ever was in high school or college. Because I’m only working part-time, I have the time to read all of my assigned readings (though reading Moby Dick in one-and-a-half weeks was still quite the challenge) and take notes on everything. I have the space to think through the context surrounding different works, and even read interviews with authors and other critical pieces related to the work. I’ve been prepared for every seminar, and I feel like I’m able to participate in a meaningful way. I’m earning this degree because this is a subject matter that I love, and it changes everything.

I believe there’s a lot to be gained through taking a “gap year” (loads of Aussies take one, it’s a very common practice here) and growing up a bit before undertaking an undergrad program. I’m learning that education should be a process, not a product, and that we’ve (Americans) missed the mark in a big way with our current university system. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I do know I’m developing the skills and critical knowledge necessary to take on this problem in a meaningful way for the undergrads I’ll eventually teach.

Bonus: The University of Sydney has a gorgeous campus, and better coffee than I was ever able to get at UE or Harlaxton. Although this school does have considerably more asbestos than I’ve encountered in the US or UK. (Yikes.)

img_6874

IMG_6771.JPG

 

 

 

It’s Called the Mountains…

Back in June and July, life was a little hectic. We went to Alaska with my parents, my friend Lane came to visit, we went to Bali, and then I started grad school. I slacked a bit on this dear little blog, so I want to go back and revisit some of the adventures from this winter! (In case you forgot, the seasons are switched Down Under.)

img_5319

While Lane was here, we decided to take a day trip to the Blue Mountains. We’d heard lovely things and decided to check out the views for ourselves. We made two mistakes early on in our journey.

img_6189

First, don’t ever sit in the first or last carriage of a Sydney train unless you are alone or desperate for some quiet. Lane and I learned this the hard way. We boarded the Blue Mountains Line train to Katoomba at Central Station, excited for our adventure and surprisingly energetic for the early morning hour. We settled into our seats for the two hour train ride, just chatting away. We noticed this older woman, who vaguely resembled Professor Umbridge in her pink beret, gesticulating wildly at us and tapping the window repeatedly. She was glaring at us. We followed her pointing to a sign that clearly (and politely) stated that this was a “quiet carriage” and passengers should please keep talking to a minimum. Oops.

13529204_10103015296673168_3284673139300273229_n

We waited in silence (with lots of eye rolling and semi-silent giggling) until the train got to the next stop, ran out of the quiet carriage, and re-boarded in a normal one. Why didn’t we just walk through the connecting doors, you may ask? Because we literally couldn’t escape the quiet carriage! Everywhere we went, there were still signs. While we were waiting for the next stop, some boys down quite a bit from the Umbridge lookalike and her husband were talking and laughing until Umbridge’s husband bounded out of his seat, down the stairs, and shouted (in his polite Aussie voice) “I don’t like what you are doing and I wish that you would stop it Right. Now.” We died.

img_5310

I forced Lane to be in this picture. But seriously, how cute is that new puffy vest? 

If boarding the quiet carriage was mistake number one, we became aware of mistake number two immediately upon exiting the train at Katoomba Station. The temperatures had been in the high-60’s to low-70’s in Sydney pretty consistently, so we thought we would be fine in long sleeves and fleece pullovers in case it was cooler in the mountains. Well, it was cooler, by about 15 degrees. Despite being from Michigan, Lane is a giant baby when it comes to the cold, so we immediately headed into a hiking shop across the street to purchase some additional layers. While perusing a rack of puffy vests, we explained to the shopkeeper that it was much colder here than we were used to in Sydney. He kind of stared blankly at us and then said, “… it’s called the mountains.”

Armed with a cute, and warm, new puffy vest, we headed for Echo Point Lookout. The view was easily worth getting chastised on the train and freezing a bit. It was absolutely stunning.

img_5304

We decided to do a medium-difficulty hike that allegedly involved descending over 900 steps, and then continuing in a flat walk along the valley floor, until we came to a cable car that would take us up the incline to Scenic World. The steps were pretty intense, with most consisting of various-sized rocks and not actual stairs, but we were going down which was much easier than going up. We caught up to a group of middle-school aged kids who were not quite enjoying the experience. One kid in the back of the group decided this was “idiotic” and “not fun AT ALL.” Hah!

img_5318

Once we finished with the steps, our legs were excited to stretch out on this supposedly flat walk. However, what the woman in the visitor’s center failed to mention that was throughout the flat bits of the path, there were approximately 500 more steps and more steep inclines than could possible be part of any walk I would call “flat.” Luckily it was a gorgeous day, and after over a year of not seeing each other in person, we had plenty to discuss and enjoy along the way. Overall it was a fabulous hike– just not described quite accurately.

13507116_10103015295904708_1240419799338777451_n

Once we made it to the (world’s steepest!) cable car, we were kind of tired. We enjoyed a scary ride to the top of the mountain and had some fish and chips in the cafe. From Scenic World we took the trail back towards Echo Point, which involved hundreds (I kid you not) more stairs. Except for one moment when I refused to continue if there were more stairs ahead (spoiler alert: there were) I survived, and thankfully Lane the CrossFit champ kept me motivated. After our day of nature and adventure, we were happy to relax on the train ride (safely in a talking-allowed carriage) back to the city!

img_6187

So… What’s New?

After 6 months in the Land Down Under, it feels like time for a bit of a check-in. The time has flown and a lot has changed, so a little reflection seems appropriate. The following are six ways in which our lives have experienced major changes, transformations, or adjustments.

13932884_10100167628313815_127846632088351806_n.jpg

Public transportation (or a major lesson in patience and an active lifestyle.)

Donnie and I haven’t bought a car at this point. Aside from being terrified of driving on the wrong side of the road, navigating roundabouts, and learning new road rules, depending on public transportation has improved our lives in several ways. We are a lot more active on a regular basis. Going to school involves a 20 minute walk to the bus, a ten minute walk to class, a 10 minute walk back to the bus, and a 20 minute walk home. Just going about my daily business usually requires anywhere from 45-90 minutes of walking, which really adds up.  Relying on the bus and trains also requires us to operate on a schedule– we have to be ready to go at a specific time in order to catch your ride. Buses are late (especially the 136) and you have to be able to create back-up plans to get to work or school on time, which always keeps things interesting. We also have plenty of time to read and listen to podcasts while someone else worries about the transportation, which takes an unbelievable amount of stress out of the day.

 

Cooking at home (or the solution to money and health problems.)

After downgrading from a large, gorgeous kitchen full of my dream cabinets, walk-in pantry, and more storage than I could fill to a tiny space of basically one counter and a miniature stove/oven, I was somehow inspired to start cooking regularly. Hah. I would say cooking (almost) every meal at home has been the biggest change, with the best impact, in our lives here. It’s so basic, so simple, but has allowed us to save money for travel (priorities) and made losing weight feel so manageable. We eat real food, and never feel deprived, which is almost like magic. Now that I have class three nights a week, Donnie has taken over the weeknight cooking, and is surprisingly talented! He is the best grill master, so we tend to take advantage of those skills as well. I plan a menu each week, order our groceries online, and they arrive weekly– easy as! (This is a common phrase here, by the way.)

IMG_5724.JPG

 

Exploring a new place (or not just watching Netflix all day.)

Back in Nashville, we had gotten stuck in a pretty serious rut. We loved our new house and were so content to just be home with our little pup that we became pretty boring. We got out every now and then, and of course we still saw friends and family, but overall we were homebodies getting old before our time. Moving to an exciting, new city makes it so much easier to get out of the house and do some exploring in our new town. Whether we take the ferry into the city, hike up to a gorgeous lighthouse and view, cheer at an AFL game (go Swans!), indulge in Yum Cha, have a pint at a new pub, or just relax at the beach, we are consistently going somewhere or doing something new. We also spend considerably more time outside, which makes my soul happy.

IMG_5987.JPG

 

Communicating (or thank goodness for FaceTime Audio.)

Communicating with friends and family has become slightly more complicated, thanks to the physical distance and the 15-17 hour time difference (depending on daylight savings.) I can’t just randomly decide I want to talk to someone and pick up the phone to call. Thanks to FaceTime Audio, and the ubiquity of the iPhone, I can actually talk to people (for free!) without having to be on the camera, like with FaceTime or Skype. We use those as well, but it’s nice to be able to have a regular “phone call.” Communication has become much more deliberate and planned– dates and times picked out that will work for both parties. Planning a time to talk to my best friend becomes a conversation like this, “OK so you are available on Thursday morning? Me, too! Wait, but my Thursday morning is your Wednesday afternoon and evening. OK so if you can talk between 4 and 5 pm on Friday? Your Friday of my Friday? I’ll call you at 6:30 am on my Saturday.” Just a little complicated.

With this more deliberate, focused communication, I’ve learned that I really value the time I have to talk with my people. We Skype with Donnie’s parents on scattered Sunday mornings, which is time we now look forward to and save up stories during the week to tell during these chats. It’s a different kind of “visiting” than we used to do, when we could just sit down on the couch or pick up the phone and randomly call, but it’s also more meaningful. You really appreciate the friends who take the time and effort to stay in touch when it isn’t simple and straightforward. Even getting a text message from someone I haven’t heard from in while is exciting. And real mail? Getting a card or a letter is like Christmas!

IMG_6815.JPG

 

Marriage (or we haven’t killed each other yet!)

I knew that moving to Sydney meant leaving a lot of my favorite people. I also knew that Donnie would be my only friend (for a while) and that we would be relying on each other in a different way once we got here. What I didn’t expect is that our marriage would benefit so much from this move. It seems counterintuitive, but our marriage feels easier, lighter, and more joyful in the six months we’ve been here. There is absolutely a “honeymoon” effect to thank for some of that, but it also goes deeper. Because we are the only physical support system for each other, we seem to be a bit more careful with our words and actions– we are more intentional about how we take care of the other. Moving to Australia wasn’t pure magic. Donnie still doesn’t really know how to properly wash a dish or turn the water off while brushing his teeth, and these things still annoy me. I still get super annoyed if he asks me more than two questions within the first 30 minutes I come home and I’m entirely too judgmental about the way Donnie washes the dishes, or really cleans anything. We still have our faults. We still argue. We still get upset, annoyed, or hurt. But there is also this understanding that we really need each other, magnified by the physical distance between us and the “safety” of home, and this realization helps us both be a little more selfless and a bit more understanding.

Life is also really fun, and we are much more active, which keeps us both much happier. This is a simple, but powerful, lesson that we’ve resolved to keep a priority wherever we live in the future.

IMG_4546

 

Travel (or what feeds our souls.) 

One of the biggest perks to moving to Australia, for me, was being centered in a completely different spot on the globe, which opened up new worlds for nearby traveling. We absolutely loved our first foray into south east Asia (see my post on Finding Bliss in Bali) and we’ve had fun exploring Australia and the South Pacific. Donnie and I travel really well together, with the exception of the actual airport experience, where I usually have zero patience and Donnie overthinks everything and I may or may not sulk/pout/or get super annoyed. But once we’re beyond the airport, we have similar travel styles and enjoy experiencing new places in many of the same ways. I am obsessed with planning trips and Donnie is really good at green-lighting my harebrained ideas. Planning and daydreaming about future trips keeps life exciting. Traveling with a partner requires both people to sacrifice and prioritize the other, while sharing the excitement, beauty, and awe of new places or vistas or experiences with someone else can magnify and increase the joy. I firmly believe that traveling with your significant other challenges you to develop better communication skills/habits while also creating the unique bond that only experiencing something new together can create.

I start feeling trapped or claustrophobic if I’ve been in one place for too long, and Donnie not only understands this, but proactively makes sure we’ve got travel plans in the works and prioritizes our travel needs by budgeting his holiday time as well as our finances. I was scared of getting married for a long time, because it felt like “settling down” and I wasn’t really into that. Luckily, I’ve found that just because you’ve “settled” into the comfort of a committed relationship, it doesn’t mean you have to be “stuck” in anything. Relationships are living, breathing things, and you get to create a relationship that supports both of you, however that may look. For us, traveling is a big piece of that support, and we’ve found a good groove here “down under.”

IMG_6683.JPG

 

 

 

 

Finding Bliss in Bali

This blog post is ridiculously late, but I started my master’s program the week after our trip and I’ve been crazy busy with reading, preparing presentations, and translating Old English. School is incredible. I promise an updated post on the whole experience soon! But for now, let’s dive into the absolutely lovely adventure that was Bali.

IMG_5532

We arrived in Denpasar really late, and were immediately hit by an overwhelming wave of intense heat and humidity. Thankfully our hotel provided cold towels and bottled water with our driver. We stayed at the Kayon Resort just outside of Ubud, which is about an hour from the airport, nestled snugly in the jungle. We arrived at our resort around 1:00 am, but the staff on site quickly had us situated in our room, and had even prepared sandwiches for us since the kitchen was closed.

IMG_5517

We were immediately impressed with the service and our gorgeous room. Despite numerous conversations about not drinking or using the water, Donnie almost immediately brushed his teeth with water straight out of the tap. Yikes! Luckily, he was just fine. 

Our first morning dawned sunny and hot. We headed straight for the restaurant, Kepitu, for our included breakfast. Donnie went with the American breakfast option: juice, fruit, eggs, bacon, sausage, and a bread basket. I was more adventurous with the local option: jackfruit and pineapple and then a number of mysterious dishes that were delicious and exotic, and even a breakfast-dessert of sticky rice pudding with shaved coconut. Yum! 

IMG_5497

After breakfast we posted up by the gorgeous, refreshingly cool pool. We enjoyed some cocktails, lots of sun, a few dips in the pool, and an overall idyllic day. 

IMG_5507

IMG_5516

Our next day was much more adventurous! We set up a private driver with our hotel and planned a day of visiting temples, rice terraces, a coffee plantation, and an active volcano- Mt. Batur. Our driver was super nice and told us a lot about Bali and his experience living on the island. One of the most interesting things we talked about were family support structures and how traditional homes are built to accommodate several generations living together. 

IMG_5555

The area around Ubud is beautiful. We went out early to see Mt. Batur and a large rice terrace before the clouds moved in and obstructed the views. Both landscapes were picturesque. 

IMG_5571

IMG_5577

We stopped by a coffee plantation to do some coffee and tea tasting after visiting the volcano. They grew all number of plants and fruit and coffee and we really enjoyed exploring and learning about the coffee-making process. They still grind and roast the coffee by hand, in small, 1 kg batches! My favorites were the coconut coffee and the ginger tea, while Donnie preferred the vanilla coffee and the lemongrass tea. A really knowledgeable lady took us around, taught us about the different crops, and led our tasting. 

IMG_5602

IMG_5612

After our caffeine boost, we set off for the temples. The first temple we visited was the Gunung Kawi, an impressive collection of temples etched into the mountainside. You really have to work for the views here, as there are over 300 stairs down (not too bad) and then back up (exhausting.) We had our own sarongs and sashes to wear, as appropriate dress is required to visit temples in the area.

IMG_5711

IMG_5652

When we parked at Mount Kawi there were dozens of vendors selling gorgeous sarongs and other goods. One woman struck up a conversation with me and I ended up promising to come see her to buy something from her when we got back. She sold me a lovely teal sarong and a t-shirt for Donnie, that ended up being so small I’m not sure it would fit my 8 year old niece! Oops.

IMG_5722

Tirta Empul was up next on our itinerary. This “holy water” temple is a popular place for pilgrims seeking temple blessings. There is a natural spring that provides for the blessing ceremonies which are open to all people of all faiths. I was surprised to learn that many of the temples in Bali are not for a specific religion. This was my favorite place we visited! 

IMG_5757

IMG_5748

IMG_5726

The temples really surprised me with the peace and calm that was just infused in the atmosphere. The physical structures were impressive, and the sense of history was obvious. We also stopped in at Goa Gajah– the “elephant” temple. Despite the cool name, this temple was less impressive than the other two, and there were sadly no elephants to be found. By the end of the day we were drenched in sweat, but so thankful for the privilege of experiencing a little bit of Bali. 

IMG_5798

One night at the Kayon we were excited to partake in a cultural dinner featuring traditional Balinese dancers from the local community. The menu was all traditional Balinese food, which consisted of fall-off-the-bone amazing pork, some soup that was amazing, and these delicious little desserts that were kind of jello-like, but also very chewy. Most of the dances were ceremonial, except for the last man who choreographed and performed his own dance. 

IMG_6669

IMG_6664

Ubud, where we stayed, is known as an artist’s retreat, and you may be familiar with the town from Liz Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. The town is a busy little center of art, yoga, the most amazing food, markets, and lots of scooters. We really enjoyed shopping in the market– browsing handcrafted wooden sculptures, braided bracelets, and the iconic elephant pants while haggling for the best prices. (Donnie is really good at negotiating, while I am absolutely terrible and ready to pay whatever anyone tells me right away.) Thanks to my friend, Megan, who spent considerable time in Bali, I knew to order Mie Goring. This dish, how do I even describe it? Noodles, prawns, chicken, spices, and fried egg, all piled together to form a piping hot plate of heaven.

IMG_6685

IMG_6695

IMG_6723

We also visited the town’s famous Monkey Forest. Now, I had quite the dilemma about visiting this place. The monkeys are wild, not kept in the forest or trapped in any way. However, tourists flock here to take pictures with the monkeys and feed them bananas in order to lure them onto their backs, laps, and heads.

IMG_5898

IMG_5911

The monkeys can be aggressive, as monkeys are, and dumb tourists end up with cuts, bites, and other injuries. The monkeys will also steal from visitors, taking water bottles, keys, and anything else they can grab. My desire to see a monkey in the wild, and the promise of some really cool pictures, convinced me to stop in for a visit. We were careful to not leave anything out for the monkeys to grab, and we did not attempt to pet a monkey, feed one, or get dangerously in contact. Not super proud that we contributed to this attraction, but to be honest, it was really cool and I loved walking around observing these cheeky little guys. If you are ever in Ubud and want to visit, just don’t be an idiot!

IMG_5890

My hair was huge for the entire duration of our trip. Donnie laughed just watching it grow while we sat outside for dinner. We ended up with an extra day in Bali, due to a Jetstar flight issue that delayed us a full 24 hours, but it absolutely poured all day so we stayed in our hotel room and read on the balcony. We spent our extra night in Kuta, the beach town right next to the airport, and it was an entirely different world from Ubud. Kuta was super crowded, loud, and reminded me a lot of Panama City Beach– not my cup of tea. 

IMG_6713

IMG_5922

Overall, we were quite enamored with Bali. The jungle is much quieter and calmer than Denpasar and Kuta. The Kayon, where we stayed, was luxurious and perfect. I love small, boutique hotels, and the Kayon fit the bill with 18 rooms spread across the property and the best service I’ve ever experienced. We met so many kind people, and I was really taken with the temples all around Ubud. The best part of visiting Bali from Australia is that it’s an easy, direct 5.5-hour flight! Much easier than the 30+ hours it takes from the States. We’ve celebrated each anniversary in a new place: our honeymoon on the beach, our first anniversary in London, and our second in the jungles of Bali. Can’t wait to see where we end up celebrating next year. 

IMG_5917

Happy two years of being married to the best guy I know! 

Besties

I’ve been missing my friends a lot lately. Going to college out of state and then moving to Tulsa, OK after graduating resulted in most of my adult friends living spread out all over the country. As a result, I’m used to going weeks or months without seeing some of my friends, but being separated by so many thousands of miles of oceans feels different. And a little bit lonely.

10446206_841085571115_608541996015335693_o.jpg

One of my best friends recently came to visit in Sydney, and we had a magical week of fun. Since she left, I realized how much I miss being with people who really know me and share part of my history. I haven’t really made many friends since we moved to Australia in February. This sounds sad and pathetic, but most of the time it doesn’t really affect me. I think I sort of forgot what I was missing.

623140531.jpg

I’m starting grad school next week, and while I’m really excited to be back in academia and working towards some of my bigger goals, I’m most excited to meet new people and (hopefully) make some friends here! I’m also kind of nervous. I’ve had lots of time and opportunity to reflect on life since moving, and in some ways I feel like a different person than I was even five months ago. So how do I interact with others from this new frame of reference? I guess we shall see!

13510831_10103015291224088_4932671330728483413_n.jpg

While there are numerous annoying facets of social media, I’ve actually been so thankful for the connection Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat gives me to my support network and friends. I really do look at all the pictures you guys post of your adorable pets, delicious meals, and fun activities. I even look at most of your baby pictures, especially the funny ones and/or baby with animal pictures. And every single picture of my precious niece and nephew. I treasure the connection forged through these channels.

13613337_10101239753086718_2878210123502525096_o.jpg

I’m so appreciative of my friends who have made an effort to stay in touch, even when it’s difficult with the time difference and separation. When Lane came to visit, it was really interesting to share this new home and country with someone else. I felt more “at home” here after introducing her to Sydney. I realized how much I’ve learned (or learnt, as I recently learned they spell that word here) since moving here, and inversely, how much I still have to learn about this place I now call home. I’m so excited for more visitors to come because sharing this experience, being able to talk to someone about Dee Why beach or the Manly ferry and have that shared knowledge, makes my two homes feel more connected, and helps me feel less removed from my ‘real’ life.

13507116_10103015295904708_1240419799338777451_n.jpg

At the end of the day, I know my true friendships will withstand time, space, and distance. Thanks to social media (and FaceTime) we are never really that far apart. Also, if you are ever considering a trip to Australia, I’ve got a room available (and the world’s worst air mattress, just ask Lane.) Sydney is pretty fabulous, but it’s even better when shared with friends!

It’s a Love Story…

Cheesy TSwift lyric aside, I want to take a minute to reflect on Donnie’s and my marriage, as today marks two years since we said, “I do.” Two years in the marriage game is hardly anything, I’m very aware, but I also feel like we’ve learned so much and grown in ways I didn’t even expect since that hot, beautiful day in July when we celebrated our commitment and threw one excellent party.

0803.jpg

I never really dreamt of my wedding or made elaborate plans ahead of time, so the planning process was uncharted territory for me. Donnie and I really had one goal for our wedding: have a ton of fun with people we love.  And our wedding turned out exactly as we had hoped: great food, cold beer, fun band, lots of dancing, and so much laughter.

0850.jpg

0218

When thinking about our wedding day, I’m struck by how that celebration reflects our married life. We laugh a lot– because our life is fun, and also Donnie is hilarious. Family is a priority for both of us, though our families may think we show that in a strange way by moving to a different continent. We love spending time with our friends, and we try to keep life exciting and adventurous.

We also try not to take ourselves, or life, too seriously.

0090.jpg

We had five kids in our wedding party, two of whom were under 2. They were too cute for words and none of them did exactly what they were supposed to. My nephew took a few steps and sat down in the middle of the aisle to play with a rock. My niece, who had strict orders to not pick him up, scooped him up immediately (see photo below.) One of Donnie’s sweet cousins came up to me after the ceremony, opened her hands to revel crushed flower petals, and whispered, “I didn’t drop any.” They were such a wonderful addition to the whole experience, and we were just happy their parents let them be the cutest part of our wedding party. The point wasn’t perfection.

10559807_849750067395_1866569507107006282_n

This is the attitude Donnie and I try to have about life and our relationship. We are going to screw up pretty much all the time. Nothing in life is going to go exactly as we had planned, but our goal is to laugh about it when we can, and hold each other up when laughing isn’t really an option.

I know I have much to learn, but here are a handful of relationship lessons I’ve learned so far. Nothing is groundbreaking or revolutionary by any means, but this has been our journey for now.

   1. Don’t be afraid to try new things.

I grew up liking football a lot, but hating the Tennessee Vols. There’s no real reason for my disdain, other than a Dad who cheered for Miami and my 4th grade bestie who loved the Memphis Tigers and taught me to despise Peyton Manning. When Donnie and I started dating, it was very clear that the Vols were important to him. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really sure how his football obsession would play out in regards to a relationship, and I went into our first fall together with low expectations and a bit of uncertainty. Turns out I had little to fear, as I fell head over heels for the boys in orange after experiencing my first weekend tailgating in Knoxville. (Even if we lost to Florida (yet again) and I learned first hand that Donnie doesn’t like to talk after a rough loss.) Now one my favorite autumn activities is going to Vols games with him, or watching on TV if we can’t be there in person.

69172_677726528945_1589793628_n.jpg

As I learned to love the Vols, Donnie was busy trying new things as well. He ended up skydiving with me, even though he was not excited at all. I took him on his first-ever hike (how someone lives 23 years without going on a single hike I will never understand) and even got him to brave swimming. We also started traveling: Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Tulsa, Little Rock, and the Caribbean, just in the first six months we were dating. Donnie wasn’t much of a traveler when we first met, and when I once asked him where he would consider living (keep in mind I had a global perspective here) he said, “Nashville, Knoxville, parts of South or North Carolina, or northern Georgia.” Ummm… not exactly what I was looking for.

It’s good advice to never marry, or seriously date, someone you need or want to change. I am deathly allergic to cigarette smoke, so I would never even go on a date with someone who smoked. But there is a big difference in wanting to change someone and being willing to try new things with a person you love. I had to decide if I was willing to live with the reality that, if I married Donnie, I would probably never live outside of the southeastern United States. I decided that I was OK with that. (And then I took him to London, he fell in love with international travel, and less than a year later moved us to Australia.) So really, you never know what will happen. People do change. Sometimes for better, sometimes not so much. Marry someone you love right now, not the idea of someone or who you think they can or will be. Then be willing to try new things, get a little out of your comfort zone, and you can create a new life together– one that fits and fulfills you both.

2. Marry someone your family and friends love and who loves your family and friends.

You might say I learned this lesson the hard way. I dated someone for a while who I thought was funny and sweet, but who my entire family and most of my friends hated. I fought them tooth and nail on this, until one day the newness (and blindness) wore off and I realized he was rude, disrespectful, and boring. My family and friends who knew me best could easily see that we were a terrible match, but it took me a while to accept that.

My family is very close. I have talked to my Mama almost every single day since I left for college in 2006. No one is afraid to offer their opinion, and with my parents, my sister, my sister’s husband who is very much an older brother, and my little brother, there have always been plenty of opinions to go around. I was nervous to introduce Donnie to them, because I knew they would be brutally honest. I also knew I valued their opinions most. I shouldn’t have worried, as Donnie fit in seamlessly to my crazy fam. He talks football stats (sometimes from 1972) with my Daddy, does puzzles with my Mama, plays stupid video games and obsesses about hockey with my brothers, and plays adorable games with our niece and nephew. My Mama once told me that I should marry someone who “halves my sorrow and doubles my joy.” I found that person in Donnie, and my family and friends saw how well we worked together. My friend Mariel once told me that if I screwed it up with Donnie I was really out of luck, because two people have never been more perfect for each other. I think she’s right.

10565093_849746923695_8518129597368011458_n.jpg

I had to learn to listen to the people closest to me and stop trying to convince myself that something fits when it doesn’t.

3. Find someone who has similar goals and priorities.

I took some time after college to be single and really get to know myself. I moved away to a town where I didn’t know a single soul and I started a new, independent life. For me, as a Christian, it was really important that I get to a place where I was OK with it just being me and God before I tried to start a relationship with someone else. I knew from experience that when I looked to a boyfriend to complete my life, make me happy, or fill a void, I was just setting myself up for disappointment. I made really good friends, worked ridiculously hard at the challenging but rewarding job of teaching, and I found my center. If I had tried dating Donnie at a different point in my life, it most likely would not have worked out, even though we are great together now, because I was not in a place where I loved myself or was confident enough to just be me.

Donnie and I have different spiritual relationships and were raised pretty differently in this regard, but at the end of the day we both have a strong faith and belief, and this is a guiding force for our relationship. Donnie understands sacrificial love because he sees it in the Gospel, and he loves me better because of it. Our shared goal is to live and love the way real Christians should. This looks differently for each of us in practice, but at the end of the day we share the same focus.

0012.jpg

After two years of being married to this guy, I count myself incredibly fortunate. I am truly excited for the adventures this next year will bring, and I try to not ever take him for granted. I don’t believe in “soul mates” or fate (sorry, Kami!) but I do believe that you can build a lasting relationship that truly makes life better and more fun. It takes work, a lot of forgiveness, patience, sacrifice, and the ability to laugh at yourself, but we are working on it together, and just taking this life one day at a time.

 

 

Alaska: The Last Frontier

Nothing prepared me for the overwhelming beauty of Alaska; the sheer size and wildness of the landscape is breathtaking. It’s taken me a while to even put this experience into words as I doubt my ability to do the 49th state justice.

IMG_4513.jpg

We booked our Alaskan cruise almost a year ago, before we knew we were moving to Australia. Instead of a 4 hour flight from Nashville to Seattle, we ended up on a 13.5 hour flight from Sydney to San Francisco, before finally landing in Seattle. We settled in at the downtown Westin, ate some Chipotle for dinner (an obvious priority when in America), and then met up with my parents when they got in later that evening. It was so great to see my Mama and Daddy after four months! We were pretty exhausted after our flight, so we called it an early night.

IMG_3910.jpg

We spent all day Friday exploring Seattle: visiting Pike Place Market, wandering in Olympic Sculpture Park, taking in the views from the top of the Space Needle, marveling at Chihuly’s beautiful glass creations, soaking up the (warm!) sun on the waterfront.

IMG_3961.jpg

IMG_3963.jpg

IMG_4017.jpg

IMG_4062.jpg

13340067_10100144413012465_4423921879367180258_o.jpg

After a delicious breakfast in Pioneer Square and a quick stop in at the Klondike Gold Rush Museum, we hopped aboard the Crown Princess, our home for the next 7 nights.

IMG_4509.jpg

 

We had a room next door to Bill and Brenda, so we were able to open the connection between our balconies and have an extra-large balcony space! We enjoyed a (freezing) day at sea on our way to Juneau, full of whale-watching from our balcony and wildlife photography presentations.

IMG_4262.jpg

We pulled into a rainy, grey Juneau and headed to the Red Dog Saloon for some salmon chowder before heading out to do some whale watching. We saw so many humpback whales, and braved the chill and misty rain to get some great views of the huge animals. Watching those majestic whales surface and dive in and out of the water was humbling and awesome.

IMG_4368.jpg

IMG_4383.jpg

IMG_4193.jpg

After our whale adventure, we headed to the Mendenhall Glacier, which was enormous and really indescribable. These pictures don’t even fully communicate how impressive this giant glacier truly is.

IMG_4414.jpg

IMG_4418.jpg

IMG_4420.jpg

A woman walking by while I was snapping this picture of my parents exclaimed, “You two are just the cutest couple! Seriously!” I think she was right– they are annoyingly cute.

Tuesday evening we left Juneau headed to Skagway, a really cute little Alaskan town. Our first adventure was a ride on the White Pass Railway up through the gorgeous mountains. You can stand out on the front or back platforms in the open air as the train climbs up, which is a little scary, but worth it. We even saw a giant brown bear right next to the tracks, though my picture is pretty blurry as we were moving and everyone was rushing to see him!

IMG_4546.jpg

IMG_4600.jpg

IMG_4647.jpg

IMG_4665.jpg

I absolutely loved Skagway. Back in town we wandered through town, which feels very touristy. However, we learned that the buildings are actually restored to accurately reflect the town as it was in the early 1900s. Skagway is currently home to around only 1,000 residents, though that number tends to double during the summer months to help manage the 900,000 or so visitors that land in Skagway each year.

IMG_4770.jpg

IMG_4844

On Wednesday I woke up in time for my hot-stone massage that Donnie gave me as an anniversary gift. We celebrated our two-year wedding anniversary a month early, because who doesn’t love an excuse to celebrate?

After my glorious spa treatment, I headed for The Sanctuary– the exclusive spa deck that my parents booked for us as a treat for our Glacier Bay National Park experience. As we cruised through the National Park, instead of fighting for a spot to view the glaciers or freezing on deck, we were lucky enough to have a front-row view of the glaciers from our luxurious deck chairs. The experience came with warm blankets, bottomless mimosas, breakfast and lunch, snacks, and a “molten glacier” drink that was heavenly hot chocolate with Bailey’s and whipped cream. Needless to say, that was one of the most relaxing days of my life. We had great views of the impressive glaciers, stayed warm and hydrated, and in the afternoon as we left the park, everyone took a contented little nap.

IMG_4891.jpg

IMG_4920.jpg

IMG_4922.jpg

IMG_4894

Our third port was Ketchikan, home to Creek Street: the most photographed street in Alaska. Creek Street used to house brothels for the men of the town, but now all of the cute little houses have been turned into souvenir shops and tourist destinations. We didn’t have an excursion in Ketchikan, so we were able to just walk around and enjoy the town. We did encounter an unexpected rain shower, but luckily we all had our raincoats…. except for poor Donnie, who just got really wet.

IMG_5012

IMG_5029

IMG_5089.jpg

While on the ship, we saw countless whales, including a super playful, breaching Orca that quite literally left me speechless.

IMG_5118

IMG_5108

In addition to the humpbacks and Orcas, saw bald eagles, otters, seals, jellyfish (seriously!), Dall’s porpoises (they look exactly like baby Orcas), a brown bear, and a moose (well, everyone saw him but me, as I was getting a massage at that time.)

IMG_4394.jpg

IMG_4216

Alaska was full of surprises and unadulterated natural beauty. I already want to go back, so I’m sure we will be returning several times in the future. Cruising is a fabulous way to see the state, since traveling between towns is nearly impossible except by water. I loved our experience on Princess, including the delicious meals and entertaining shows. We even had the cutest door on board thanks to my Mama’s Cricut skills!

IMG_4538.jpg

We stopped in Victoria, BC, on our way back to Seattle. We didn’t arrive until 7:00 pm, but we had plenty of time to walk from the port into town and enjoy a pint at a local pub, conveniently called “The Local.” We walked through this adorable floating “house boat” neighborhood, took pictures of the iconic Parliament Buildings, enjoyed the sunset over the harbour, and wrapped up our evening at The Local. Our server grew up in Collaroy, which is right down the road from where we live in Sydney!

IMG_5172.jpg

IMG_5191.jpg

IMG_5241.jpg

IMG_5293.jpg

We enjoyed a peaceful, adventurous week in the Last Frontier. I was thrilled to get to spend some time with my parents, whom I’ve missed more than I realized. It was refreshing to get away from technology (so weird to have our phones not work in America, since we have Australian SIM cards) and breathe the crisp, clean air of the wild. If Alaska isn’t on your immediate travel list, I’d highly recommend prioritizing a visit. I never thought I’d love a cold-weather destination more than the Caribbean, but Alaska is easily my favourite cruise itinerary.