Parents.

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I’ve really struggled to find the words for a post about my parents’ visit last month, which is why I really haven’t written anything lately. (I’ve also been behind on my school work for weeks, so there’s that!) I think despondent is the best word to describe how I’ve been feeling. They were here for several weeks (my mom stayed on for a bonus stay after my dad went back to work) and it was non-stop fun. We explored the Northern Beaches (where Donnie and I live), ate amazing food in the city, went kayaking and hiking, drank countess flat whites, rode lots of ferries, ate our fill of bacon and egg rolls and TimTams, walked across the Harbour Bridge, went snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, rode camels in the desert at Uluru, and cuddled koalas in Brisbane. It’s been a definite adjustment going back to “real life” since they left.

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My parents are veteran travellers, and completely to blame for my travel obsession, so they wasted no time jumping straight into Aussie life and soaking up all this unbelievable continent has to offer.

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I realized that my parents have shared in some part of literally all of my life experiences. They were there while I was growing up (obviously), moved me into countless dorms and housing while I was going to college in Evansville, visited me in England while I was studying abroad, moved me to Tulsa, visited my first-ever chaotic class of kindergarteners, moved me back to Nashville, let me move back in with them before I got married, and spent time in Donnie’s and my first home just hanging out, watching movies, eating dinner, and helping me garden. They’ve shared in every single stage of my life, emotionally supporting me, but also physically sharing in all of my spaces.

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They make the effort to show up, whether in a classroom in Oklahoma or a castle in the UK– they always manage to be there for me. And now, Australia feels so much more real to me since they’ve trekked thousands of miles across the world to share in this new space. Part of me didn’t feel like this experience was fully concrete until they spent time here and understood the places I described, the food I ate, and where I spent my time. I don’t mean this in a co-dependent or needy way, it’s more that things just feel a bit brighter and more meaningful now that my parents understand my environment on a different level.

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One of the hardest parts of moving to Sydney has been leaving family and friends. I get lonely sometimes, which isn’t fun to talk about, but it’s true. Talking and staying in touch is a particular challenge, especially when most people tend to put the responsibility on us to reach out. I am particularly grateful that my mom and dad make the time to call, whether for casual chats or long catch-ups, it means a lot. And now they understand the exact path I’m on when I say I’m walking to the bus, or what my apartment looks like, or how gorgeous the ocean is on a given day. There’s a privilege in being truly known, and I really can’t explain how grateful I am that my parents continue to make it a priority to know me and Donnie, specifically at this point in our lives.

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While I’m feeling a distinct void since my parents have come and gone that I hadn’t felt before, I also feel much more grounded having shared this new home with them. Donnie and I are constantly revisiting the adventures we had together and laughing over the ridiculous things that happened. Maybe I’m getting old and sentimental, but memories are so precious to me these days. (It’s really nothing new. I’ve been a sentimental mess since I can remember.) Now that I’ve worked through my emotions on their trip in general, I can’t wait to share more of the details from our travels across the land down under! (And maybe they are already talking of a return trip, which I fully support.)

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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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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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Risky Business

By Donnie Conley

“Some people see things that are and ask, Why? 
Some people dream of things that never were and ask, Why not? 
Some people have to go to work and don’t have time for all that.”

-George Carlin

I’m not a risk taker.

It’s just not my style. My brain has always been incredibly logical and that has shaped many of the important decisions of my life. Spontaneity doesn’t come naturally to me and it’s something I’ve tried to work on.

I did go skydiving in 2012. It’s something I never would have considered doing if my then-girlfriend (now my wife) didn’t ask me to try it. Of course, I also spent hours researching skydiving accidents and felt comfortable with the odds. Leave it to a nerd like me to turn an extreme sport into a math problem. Even so, on the way to the drop zone, I almost backed out.

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I decided to go through with it, and can honestly say it was one of the coolest, most exhilarating experiences of my life.Truthfully, I can’t jump into any decision without considering some of the underlying factors. This is a blessing and a curse. When it comes to big decisions, I try to consider every possible factor and make a good, informed decision.

When it comes to little decisions (like where to eat dinner), I’m horribly indecisive, I spend way too much time researching individual restaurants (“Well, BigButtz57 on Yelp said the spring rolls were overcooked and the service was horrible”) and end up wasting 30 minutes before just giving up and settling on something familiar.

This past fall, I was faced with the biggest risk of my life. I might have a chance to move to Australia. A process that started as an off-the-wall suggestion had turned into a very real possibility. In the early days of this process, I didn’t honestly think it would happen. Sometimes, I secretly hoped that it would just fade away and I wouldn’t have to confront this incredibly challenging decision. Yes, we had discussed it at length, but it wasn’t until I officially had a job interview scheduled that things began to feel real.

I changed my mind around 100 times. One day I would be super excited about the move, the next I was near tears at the thought of leaving my life behind. I was worried about so many things. Some practical—how much of a loss would we take on our house after owning it for such a short length of time? How would we manage to get out of a car loan that we are upside-down on? What would we do with our dog? How do I avoid a lapse in health benefits? Some less practical—can I survive if I only watch the Vols on sub-50-inch TV? How will I watch the NFL during work? Does Cracker Barrel deliver to Australia?

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For about four weeks, my mind was going 100 miles per hour every single day. It really wore on me and it wore on Emily as well. I am not the type to drop everything and make a major life change. I’ve always been jealous of those who were wired that way, but it’s simply not me.

In that respect, meeting and falling in love with Emily was my greatest achievement. She has a much greater sense of adventure than I have ever possessed. And while sometimes, I can keep her grounded more than she would like, I think we do a great job in bringing out the best in each other.

People often talk about the value of stepping outside of your comfort zone. For most of my life, I rolled my eyes at that. I knew what I liked and didn’t see a need to experience anything different. Once, early in our relationship, Emily asked where I would consider living. She was asking what foreign countries or cities I would move to. My response was “certain parts of Georgia and South Carolina.”

Suffice to say we’ve come a long way since that conversation. While some of that growth can be attributed to simply getting older and wiser, I think most of it is a result of spending my life with someone who is so willing to embrace the unknown.

The truth is, you can always come up with reasons not to do something. Sometimes these are imagined and sometimes they are very real. Either way, it’s very easy to maintain the status quo. If we had stayed in Tennessee, we would have had a wonderful time. We loved our life there, and for good reason. We were so close to family and friends in a house we built from the ground up.

We didn’t leave because we were miserable or in need of a change. We left because the chance to move to this incredible country was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will enrich us in ways we could never have imagined.

There is plenty of adventure and possibility surrounding you. My advice is to ignore the noise (looking at you, BigButtz57) and focus on trying something new.