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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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.

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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.

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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! 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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! 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.)

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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!

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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!

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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.

 

 

To the Lighthouse

Donnie and I took on an interesting challenge for the month of May: No spending money on anything other than groceries and transportation.

Traveling is a major priority for us while living in Australia, so we wanted to see if we could save money while still enjoying our new home and not being boring homebodies. While Australia, specifically Sydney, is one of the most expensive places in the world, it turns out it is almost one of the best places for fun, free activities.

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One of the top places on my “free in Sydney” list was the Barrenjoey Lighthouse in Palm Beach. Palm Beach is located right at the tip top of the Northern Beaches, about 20 km from our neighborhood. We hopped on the bus and settled in for the hour-long journey.

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The lighthouse sits in the Ku-ring-gai National Park, where it was built in 1881. To get to the top, we took what was described as “an easy 1 km walking trail” to the top. The walking trail was short and paved, so there was no real hiking involved, but the trail was at one of the steepest grades I’ve ever encountered. There’s a chance we took a few “Oh look at that beautiful view” breaks that were poorly disguised “gotta catch my breath” breaks on the way up.

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Once we reached the top, the views were unbelievable. It’s supposed to be a great place to spot whales, but we didn’t have binoculars so we were unable to see if there were any passing by. With the bay on one side and the sea on the other, you are almost completely surrounded by water.

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It was an absolutely lovely day to sit and enjoy the views once we reached the lighthouse. Our late fall (or autumn, since “fall” isn’t really a thing here) has been almost consistently mid-70’s temperatures and warm, bright sunshine, so we’ve been spending as much as time outside as possible.

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While we were enjoying the lovely panoramas, I was overcome with gratitude. Australia is truly the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen, and I have the freedom and opportunity to explore and enjoy each day here. My life has changed significantly in the three months I’ve called Australia home. I am surprised and thrilled with the direction my life is heading, and Australia is the gorgeous catalyst for those changes.

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As for our May challenge, we did great! With the exception of a ballet and a Swans (Aussie Rules Football) game, which we had bought tickets for prior to May, we limited our spending to groceries, transportation, and a few necessary household items. I was shocked at how much money we were able to save without feeling like we were sacrificing anything. The best part is planning the trips we’ll be able to take! I also got a part-time job this month, which has been really fun while also contributing to our travel fund. I’m teaching Kindy to Year 6 students in private and small-group literacy lessons. My kiddos are adorable and the center where I’m teaching is fabulous with really great materials, curriculum, and support. The hours are flexible and should work well with my class schedule once my masters program begins in late July.

May has been a pretty fabulous month!

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