America Votes: 2016

I have cried so many tears tonight my eyes are all squinchy and red.

There will be no cute koala pictures in this post, but there will be a lot of honesty.

I proudly cast my absentee ballot for Hillary Clinton. I am not ashamed and I do not feel like I chose the “lesser of two evils” for our nation’s president. I believe that Hillary Clinton is a brave, strategic, educated, intelligent, shrewd politician and I believe that she was the best option for president of this nation. Full stop.

After today’s (or last night’s) election, it is apparent that my candidate of choice did not win the election. Donald Trump, a racist, xenophobic misogynist has won the election. I am in disbelief. But I also accept the democratic process we have in place.

After the 2008 election, my newsfeed on Facebook was littered with both excited and distraught posts. Some of my friends were energized by the new President-elect, and some were dismayed. I saw so many “I’m leaving America” posts and too many “that’s not my President” posts. Tonight, however, I witnessed something different. I read post after post (the election ended much earlier in Australia, albeit on the 9th, so I read pretty much everything once all my Americans had gone to bed) about hope and love and the importance of fighting for love and acceptance and freedom. I saw so much sadness, and a lot of fear, and more than anything, I saw love.

Tonight I cried so many tears for so many different people. I cried for my friends who are minorities. I cried for my friends who are LGBTQA. I cried for my friends who are women. I cried for my friends who believe in freedom. I cried for my friends who believe in the love that Christ taught. I cried for my niece who, at seven years old, sat in front of a TV and chanted “Hillary! Hillary!” for the girl she saw who had a legitimate shot at our nation’s highest office. I cried for my country.

Donnie and I had so many conversations over the course of the evening– how did this happen, what are different demographics showing in the polls, what does this mean for us and how long we stay in Australia, how do we talk about this to those around us, how do we pray and what do we pray for? There is an unbelievably large amount of information and reality that we must sift through over the coming months and days. There is much to process and decisions to be made that will have long-term effects on our lives. But above all, we must acknowledge that Donald Trump, a man who stands for nothing I believe in, will be the President of our home country. I do not take this lightly. Michelle Obama, in her eternal eloquence, said it best, “When they go low, we go high.” I will not go low. I will not join in fear-mongering or spreading of hate or disparaging our elected leader. Do I believe he was the best option for President? I 100% do not. But I do respect the democratic process and I will never stoop to the lows I’ve seen others take during President Obama’s tenure.

I will reach out to each and every person I know who may be feeling scared or threatened or endangered by this election to let them know that I love them, value them, believe in them, and will hold space for whatever emotions they may be experiencing. I will continue my fight for equal education rights and the ability for every student to go to college, regardless of their economic status, ethnicity, or zip code. I will pray for our country and our leaders and I will trust that God has a plan that is greater than all of us. This is all I can do right now.

I am unbelievably encouraged by the strength, unity, and hope I’ve witnessed in the amazing people I call my friends and family. There is no hiding the fact that I am devastated and terrified by what tonight’s vote said. America stood up and cried out against a large percentage of its population and this is not something I take lightly. There is so much work to be done. But I believe that we will process, we will grieve, we will fight, and that ultimately, we will rise.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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…

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Why English?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.”

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