Baby Weight

Disclaimer: I feel compelled to note that I don’t want or need anyone to reassure me about how I look or feel. The following is simply part of this fascinating pregnancy experience that I wanted to share.

If you’ve ever had an unhealthy relationship with food or weight (I know it can’t just be me, right?), falling pregnant carries a whole lot of scary realities. My history with food, health, weight, and body image is long and complicated. Suffice it to say that I firmly believed carbohydrates were evil from about the tenth grade. I was also convinced that the only way I could lose weight was to completely eliminate carbs. Would you like to know what’s completely unsustainable and utterly depressing? A life without bread.

My beliefs about food and my body were incompatible with living any kind of balanced, normal, social life, which led to a relentless cycle of short-term weight loss, cementing my self-worth to a number on the scale, an inevitable binging on all things hot, salty, and carb-laden, immense guilt and disgust with my failure, and an ensuing weight gain. It seemed that each time I repeated this cycle I gained a little more, until I found myself morbidly obese and unable to fully participate in my life.

I could write an entire book about my journey out of that dark place, but that’s not really what I want to focus on here. The really happy part of this story is that beginning in March of 2016, Donnie and I made a series of changes in the way we ate, exercised (as in, we started actually exercising), and the way we thought about and spoke about ourselves. If you are interested in the ins and outs of what that entailed, I would be happy to share with you outside of this post. We have continuously and successfully lived our new lifestyle for eighteen months, and the ways life has changed for us are honestly unbelievable. One of the amazing changes for me was the ability to get pregnant at all, which was generally impossible before.

After adjusting to the shock of finding myself with a little one on board, I realized that being pregnant meant I was going to gain weight. I have steadily lost weight and focused on my health and fitness for well over a year, so the thought of reversing that pattern immediately sent me into a tailspin. I became obsessed with my weight, a habit I had finally broken after years of obsession, and thoughts of the food I consumed swirled around my head all day. What harm am I doing my baby by eating this muffin? Am I dooming my baby to a lifetime of struggling with her weight because I’m still overweight? Was it reckless to even let myself become pregnant? Add in the terrifying message boards and internet articles I was seeking out, and I kind of lost it.

The reality is that while I am still technically overweight, I am a very healthy person. I walk between five and eight kilometers (3 to 5ish miles) almost every day and exercise four to five days a week. I eat a balanced diet full of protein and veggies and complex carbs (and the occasional Dairy Milk bar because life is fun). My blood pressure is appropriately low, my cholesterol is where it should be, my thyroid function is normal, my blood sugar is regulated. I’ve been living an intentionally health-focused life for quite a while, and the benefits are evident. I honestly don’t say any of this to try to make myself sound good, but more so to reassure myself that I’m going to be ok. Nineteen weeks in and I have a very normal, very healthy baby who is growing appropriately. Just because my BMI is still in a certain category does not mean I am incapable of being a good mother. That sentence may sound ridiculous to anyone who has never struggled with these issues, but it’s something I have to actively choose to believe every single day.

I still struggle with my food choices and my intense desire to limit my food intake. As I’m starting to really “show” (there’s an undeniable bump happening these days) I vacillate between intense excitement that a growing baby brings and disgust and fear with my reflection in the mirror. I constantly wonder if a passing stranger thinks “aw, pregnant” or “gross, fat.” (I realize it really doesn’t matter what a random stranger thinks, and most people probably don’t even notice or think either of these things, but these are the crazy places my brain goes on the reg.) Some days my guilt over feeding my increased appetite or giving in to a random craving weighs heavily on my heart, but most days I feel empowered by the good choices and healthful nutrients I’m consuming to fuel my strong and healthy baby girl. I’m lucky to be surrounded by supportive people who both encourage me and also refuse to let me wallow in self-pity or dumb opinions. This baby and I both have a lot of growing to do, and I speak for us both (is that allowed?) when I say we are so lucky to have our support network cheering us on.

 

 

 

 

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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The Red Centre

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I wasn’t really sure what to expect when we arrived at Uluru. I knew there was a giant rock and a lot of red dirt, but other than that, I was out of ideas. After spending a few days in the Red Centre, I don’t believe anyone should visit Australia without making the trek out to Uluru. I’m also anxious to explore more of the area– perhaps even braving an adventure in a camper van!

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After checking into the simple, clean, and spacious Emu Walk Apartments (part of the Ayers Rock Resort– the only place to stay) we grabbed a quick bite at the Kulata Academy Cafe. The cafe is run by trainees of the Rock’s indigenous training academy, and the students take their job seriously, while providing efficient service with a smile. After our toasties and pies, we met our camel guide Burt for the short transfer to the camel farm.

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I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a camel in person before. They are much cuter than I was expecting! They were also much bigger than I imagined. After Burt described the curious manner in which a camel stands (from his knees to back legs up, then front legs) I was more than a little nervous to get on Nicko, my camel for the evening. Donnie went first– climbed into the saddle, held on, leaned all the way back– and his camel stood up in one quick, fluid motion. I breathed a little sigh of relief and decided not to be nervous. Nicko, however, decided to be quite stubborn, and I ended up holding my breath and leaning back for a solid three minutes while he burped, Burt rubbed his head and cajoled him, and eventually smacked his rear before deciding to stand. My heart was pounding through my chest! But I managed to stay on, and once we were up, it was magical.

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The camels walked at a leisurely pace while we admired the scrubby landscape and Burt taught us more about the area and the camels. Surprisingly, the camels are caught in the wild and trained to work as adults. We also learned that when the International Space Station passes overhead, it is the closest neighbouring “town.” I’m not exaggerating when I say we were out in the middle of nowhere.

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Being at Uluru was humbling. We learned a lot of the stories and legends passed down from the traditional owners, and it’s easy to see why country is so important. Uluru is a sacred place for the Anangu, and it wasn’t actually handed back over to them until 1985. Learning about the troubled history was challenging but necessary. It’s difficult to really understand the complex relationships that develop within a country that is not your home, but at the end of the day, it basically boils down to colonialism and the power exerted over original peoples by European “settlers.” I am really trying to learn more of the nuanced history, and visiting here helped in that regard.

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The day after our camel adventure, we spent time within the National Park, walking up close around Uluru and soaking in the awesome power of the place. Several times we reached a resting point and just sat silently, all four of us just taking in the energy as we looked around in awe.

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We also got caught in the rain, which is incredibly rare as they only receive approximately twelve inches of rain annually. Somehow this was not surprising since my parents were with us, and I’m pretty sure we’ve experienced rain in virtually every desert we’ve visited.

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The small amount of rain was enough to force a cancellation for our field of lights tour, which was incredibly disappointing as the installment is only there for a short time. We made up for the disappointment with a few games of Bananagrams and some ice cream. While visiting Uluru may not be at the top of everyone’s Australian bucket list, I would highly recommend including it in a visit. The majesty of the land is hard to describe, but wonderful to experience. And if that’s not enticing enough, I’d go again just to ride the camels!

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Goals.

I’ve been reading some really great essayists in one of my classes at school this semester, which has had the effect of simultaneously making me want to write and also just leave it to the professionals. However, I really enjoy sharing bits and pieces of our Aussie adventure so I shall persist.

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My best friend Hailey is the most goal-oriented person I know. She decides what she wants, breaks the process of getting there down into smaller steps, and then systematically accomplishes each step. It’s honestly quite impressive. I was lucky enough to spend a few days with her in Sydney last month on the tail end of her trip to New Zealand, and along with all of the fun and adventures we had, I felt a renewed sense of purpose and drive after her visit.

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Between eating delicious meals, cozying up to kangaroos and koalas, wine tasting, and almost getting blown off the path between Bronte and Bondi, we chatted the way you can only chat with someone who has been in your life since 5th grade. Since living here, away from everyone I’ve ever known, I’ve learned a new appreciation for the comfort of conversation with someone who truly knows me. We talked about feeling comfortable in our own skin– the importance of being fit and strong, not so we look good on the outside, but so we feel confident and are ready and able to put ourselves out into the world. It’s hard to be vulnerable and take risks when you don’t feel good about yourself. We talked about the traditions and habits we want to start with our own families one day. We talked about finding peace with the difference in our politics and those of people close to us, and how crazy the world can feel these days. All of these conversations really helped me examine the alignment between what I want in the here and now and what I want long-term down the road.

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One of the major things that came out of these reflections and conversations was the need for urgency– what am I doing today to work towards what I want tomorrow, in three months, next year, in ten years? Fitness is a big part of both my short-term and long-term goals. I want to be stronger so I can participate fully in life and not miss out on something because I can’t do it. I want to be fit and healthy so I can possibly have children one day (not now!). I want to be able to live a really, really long time with the love of my life because most days with him are hilarious and fun. I want to show up for my friends, both physically and emotionally, and that’s not possible if I’m not showing up for myself first.

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I also realized that I need to do a better job of trying to stay in touch with the people who mean the most to me. It’s so easy to get lazy, to only chat when it’s convenient or you need something. Hailey has singlehandedly kept our group of college friends together for seven years post-graduation at this point– planning reunions and trips and parties that keep us connected and in each other’s lives. While physically visiting people is challenging for me right now, I can focus on other types of communication: texts, emails, FaceTime, and actual letters. I’ve made a real commitment to put in more effort in this area, because really I only have myself to blame when I’m feeling isolated or alone.

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I have accomplished a lot since moving to Australia. Donnie and I have made vast improvements in our health and fitness, but we have both kicked it up a notch in the last few weeks and we’re feeling great about our new goals. I’ve started graduate school, which is something I wanted to do for years before actually enrolling. I’ve visited new countries and cities, and I have many more trips in the works. It’s easy, regardless of where you are in life, to get complacent and slack. Sometimes we need rest. We need to enjoy our rewards or focus on calming down at times. But right now I’m at a place where I need to extend, to set challenging goals for myself that will have a lasting effect on my life. It feels really good to feel challenged yet capable, pushed to your limits but able to see potential and possibility. Sometimes all it takes is a visit from your best friend to help you see what you really need.

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Fixer Upper Down Under

A few weeks ago one of my best friends from college, Kami, came to visit for her 30th birthday. We had an absolute blast exploring beaches, enjoying a spa day, visiting the zoo, riding ferries, indulging in afternoon beachside sangrias, doing touristy things, eating gelato in the shape of fancy roses, and redesigning my apartment. She’s an artist and a design genius, so I took advantage of having her in Sydney to seriously improve our living space. That sounds like I forced her to work while she was on holiday, but I promise she was excited to take on the challenge of our small space and small budget.

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The picture below was actually before we moved in, so imagine just the couch, a rug, and the TV with nothing else in the room.

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Kami walked in and within two minutes rearranged the layout to make the room feel so much more defined (and not a configuration I would have ever even tried– this is why you call in the professionals!)

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Once the room layout was solved we headed out to the shops to figure out how to decorate and fill in the gaps of missing space. I was pretty blown away by the results, especially considering we spent less than $500, including all new pillows and a new chair!

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I am obsessed with this gallery wall she put together for me, especially because it is such a perfect balance of sizes, shapes, and mixture of materials.

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What really brought the room together from being a random collection of furniture to feeling like a space designed with purpose was the little reading nook Kami created by pulling in a basket chair, side table, and some cute accessories. Not only does this seating area add a feeling of being “complete” to our living space, it’s super comfortable. My favourite piece in our whole house is this custom painting Kami did for us that perfectly captures the ocean and Aussie feel we wanted, without being too obvious.

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Because she’s a creative genius, Kami also waved her magic wand and completely revamped our balcony for only $40! Small touches go a long way. We also got really cute little string lights, but those haven’t been hung yet.

Before:

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After:

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Maybe the best part of having a curated and designed space is that we are enjoying our using our home so much more! I spend more time on the balcony because it’s comfy and cute, and we’ve also kept our living room neater because we love the way it looks. I also feel more connected to our apartment since it has so many personal touches now.

Huge shout out and thanks to Kami (of kami land design) for not only coming all the way to Australia to let me celebrate your 30th with you, but making our little apartment truly feel like home. I couldn’t be happier with the results of the “remodel” (as I kept calling it to Donnie, which just made him fear for the financial fallout… hah!) and redesign.

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A Year in Review

One year ago today, Donnie and I got off our 17 hour Qantas flight with absolutely no idea what to expect. All I really remember from that first day was feeling super hot (it was -1C/30F the day we left Nashville and 36 C/96.8F the day we arrived in Sydney) and somewhat disoriented. We stayed in a hellacious granny flat for the first week we were here (you can revisit my recount of that lovely experience here) and it honestly took longer than I expected to really settle in to life Down Under. But after a year here, I have found Australia to be a wild, amazing place that I deeply love. I could write loads of serious insights into how different life is and how things have changed, but instead I thought we’d keep it light and fun with a few “Top 5” (or other random number) lists of different things we’ve experienced since February 14, 2016. Enjoy!

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Top 5 Weirdest Things We’ve Learned to Say

1. Chockers (pronounced “Chockahs”): full up, crowded

For example, “Aw mate, I tried to get us a table at Beach Burrito but it was chockers.”

2. How you going?: How are you? (Never answer with actual directions, like “Oh I’m going to the shops.”)

How you going mate?”  “Yeah, good!”

3. She’ll be right: it’s OK

As in, “Are you worried about layoffs at your company?” “Yeah nah, she’ll be right.”

4. Flat out like a lizard drinking: super busy

“How you going mate?” “I’m flat out like a lizard drinking!”

5. Easy as/Sweet as/Aussie as: various uses

“Just ring up Donnie and ask him.” “Easy as!”

“I got two tickets to the rugby match.” “Sweet as!”

“I chucked two snags on the barbecue.” “Ah, Aussie as!”

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Top 7 Trips We’ve Taken

1. Bali, Indonesia

2. Alaska

3. South Pacific Islands

4. San Diego/Nashville

5. The Blue Mountains

6. Brisbane

7. Melbourne

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Top 4 Weirdest Aussie Sports

1. Cricket

2. Aussie Rules Football

3. Rugby

4. Netball

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Top 6 Things We Miss from America

1. Lucy, the greatest little black pup

2. Central AC/heat

3.. Mexican food

4.. Trader Joe’s

5. Chick-Fil-A

6. Amazon (not even asking for Prime, just regular old Amazon)

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Top 6 Foods Australia Does Better Than the US

1. Coffee (Neither of us has ever been a coffee snob, but after getting used to coffee here it’s almost impossible to go back.)

2. Chocolate (specifically Cadbury, though it is still not quite on par with the UK’s Cadbury which is the all-time greatest)

3. Thai

4. Pizza

5. Chips (as in fries. Also chicken salt is the greatest invention.)

6. TimTams (also known as the greatest biscuit ever made)

7. Hot Cross Buns

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Top 2 Scariest Aussie Animals (spoiler alert: neither is a spider or a snake)

1. Magpies (You haven’t experienced true terror until one of these giant birds dive bombs your head and rips your hair from your head.)

2. Cockroaches (As if the giant gross bugs aren’t bad enough- they fly!)

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Top 7 Fave Aussie Experiences

 1. Diving into giant waves over and over and over.

2. Eating fish and chips on the beach.

3. Sausage sizzle.

4. Climbing the Harbour Bridge.

5. Cuddling a koala (which was more like trying not to get clawed to death and less like cuddling.)

6. Seeing a koala in the wild.

7. Watching a movie at the outdoor cinema on the harbour (and an incredible bonus Chinese New Year fireworks show!)

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It’s been a pretty unbelievable year. We are so grateful to our family and friends who make the time to stay in touch and keep up with us, even with the time difference and distance challenges. Cheers to a fabulous year of adventure and a whole new year to come!

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Post-Thanksgiving Thanks

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While Thanksgiving is officially over and it’s now time for presents and lights and trees, I still want to share a little about some specific things I’m thankful for this year. I find sharing our thanks to be a little tricky sometimes. When I was in fourth grade, we wrote in our journals at the end of every school day, and on Fridays we were supposed to write about things we were thankful for from our week and then share with our class. We had just put in a pool at our house and I ended up using this weekly reflection to brag about it. I wrote things like, “I’m thankful I can go swimming anytime I want” and “I’m thankful it’s warm enough to swim in my pool every day after school.” I kind of missed the point. As an adult, I still walk the line between being truly thankful for things and doing that annoying “humble brag” thing that is so easy to do. That being said, I spent some time in quiet reflection over the past week thinking over this year and all of the things, both seemingly positive and negative, for which I am truly thankful.

Alone Time

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Before moving to Australia, I spent very little time by myself. I spent my early and mid-20’s living with roommates and spending most of my days with my students and my free time with my friends. After moving back to Nashville at 25, I was usually with friends, Donnie, or my family. I’ve never lived alone and I’ve always worked full-time in jobs with lots of human interaction. However, I spent the majority of the first three months we were in Sydney completely alone. Donnie went to work every day and I had no where to be. After a year and a half of working far more than 40 hours a week at a demanding (and perfectly wonderful) job, the change was abrupt and challenging. I read 47 books in three months. I felt incredibly sad and lonely at first, but gradually I began to grow into my new-found alone time. I explored our new city at my own pace, visiting museums and parks with no rush and no agenda. I started drinking tea on my balcony each morning while our street slowly woke up. I prayed, but not in a deliberate or specific way, more in just a casual, continuous conversational way I had never really experienced before. I improved my photography skills a little. Even after I started working part-time and going to school full-time, I still found myself spending the better part of my days alone. I use my alone time to listen to podcasts, read, write, and just think. I’m much more comfortable with myself than I have ever been. Silence used to intimidate me, but I now find it to be vaguely comforting. I’m much more aware of my mental and physical health as I spend time tuning in to my experiences and working through things instead of just blazing full-steam ahead and ignoring my discomfort or frustrations.

My Students

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Connecting with students, whether my first class of kindergarteners (pictured above), high school seniors, or even college students, brings me joy unlike anything else. I’m so thankful for the hilarious, cheeky, curious little minds I get to engage with every week through my job. Watching as a kindy student makes the connection between all these sounds she’s learned and actual words on a page is inspiring. Coaxing a shy year five student into developing an opinion and putting his opinion into a structured persuasive essay is exciting. Building success with my little guy who finds school frustrating and who now looks forward to coming in for an hour after a long Monday at school because “this is fun and I actually learn stuff” is as rewarding as it gets.

Consistently Pleasant Weather

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I’ve lived through the end of summer, all of autumn, all of winter, and all of spring in Sydney so far, and there has not been a rough season. Winter, while cooler, was still almost always bright and sunny, with our average July (the equivalent of January in the States) temperature between 18-20 degrees (64-68 degrees fahrenheit). I’m pretty sure every single day of April was sunshine and 76 degrees. Good weather makes me a happier, more balanced person. I spend so much more time outside every day and I no longer have to suffer through those weeks of cold, dreary, grey days that just suck all of my energy and joy. The sky here is usually this unbelievable shade of blue, just so vibrant and rich that it looks like an Instagram filter in real life. Living on the ocean is an added benefit, as the calm and serenity that I gather from the water is unbelievable. I’m grateful for all of the sun I’ve soaked up, the cool sea breezes, and a consistently lovely climate.

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Thanksgiving is a time for traditions– deep-fried turkey and caramel apple sangria at the Conleys, Black Friday shopping (and an excuse to go out to lunch) with my mom, sister, and niece, watching football and putting up our Christmas lights at our house– and we really missed enjoying those things with our families this year. But Donnie and I truly have a lot to be thankful for in this exciting, adventurous season we’re living at the moment, and I feel it’s important to focus on what we gain instead of what we lose. This year we got to celebrate this holiday with friends from all over: the US, Australia, Ireland, Slovakia, and South Africa if I’m remembering all of the countries represented at our little expat celebration. We talked about our own family traditions and created new memories that we’ll think back to once we’re no longer in Australia. It’s a beautiful time and we’re so thankful for this wildly different and always changing life down under.

 

 

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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