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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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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Privileged

Today was another gorgeous day in Oz: sunny, 80 degrees (or 27 since I’m supposed to be learning Celsius) and a light breeze. I rode the ferry into the CBD and visited the Australian Museum, which I thoroughly enjoyed. The (mostly) natural history museum is well-designed and easily accessible to kiddos, while being informative and interesting for adults as well. Look forward to a museum-focused post coming your way soon. There’s something a bit more serious on my mind right now, though, so let’s get on with it.

As I was skimming across the deep blue waters between Manly and Sydney, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly content. The sun warmed my face and I was thoroughly relaxed on my bench, breeze ruffling my hair and keeping me cool. Autumn in this country is perfection. The day was so nice I decided to walk the mile or so to the museum instead of catching a bus. While I walked I kept thinking, “This is my life. This is where I live.” Because honestly, it still feels quite surreal, even after 9 weeks of living here.

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Once I reached the museum, I quickly lost myself in the exhibits. I’m somewhat of a (huge) dork and I love learning. Visiting a museum by myself was such a luxury– no one to hurry me or get bored, able to move at my own pace and read as much as I wanted about each exhibit. (I now realize that I might actually be turning into my Mama– at least I know where I get my curiosity!)

A large portion of the Australian Museum is dedicated to the history and experience of many Aboriginal tribes. As I read about these native people, their culture and practice, their laws and traditions, I realized this was a group about whom I know very little. I’m unfortunately well acquainted with racism in America, but the racism in Australia is much more of an unknown for me. However, Australia’s racism is still very real, very present, and very destructive.

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As I wandered through the quiet halls, reading about indigenous people and learning about their heritage, I was deeply moved. I was also hit with an ugly reality: I live here, I call this place home, and I don’t even know anything about the original inhabitants of this land. I waltzed onto this continent, American passport in hand, and felt no qualms about being here. I felt, in short, entitled to be here.

I continued exploring the museum for another hour or so, and once I had seen everything (and after buying some adorable Aussie animal sticker books for my niece and nephew) I left the building and walked out into the sunshine. I crossed the street and entered Hyde Park, finding a splashing fountain encircled by flowers and low stone steps, so I sat down to reflect.

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Living in a foreign country is a privilege. I feel a responsibility to learn the customs, history, and tradition of the place I call home. But it’s more than that. The Wall Street Journal has a blog dedicated to the expat experience, and they recently published this post asking the question, “Who is an expat anyway?” While the blog focused on the expat experience specifically in Hong Kong, the take aways are applicable anywhere. “Expat” (expatriate: someone who lives somewhere other than their native country) is a term that almost exclusively applies to Western, overwhelmingly white, people.

Think about it. A Latino man working on a farm in California is considered a “migrant worker.” The family who moves to Tennessee from China is labeled as “immigrants.” But when my American-self moves to Australia, I’m an expat. And that word conveys all my privilege. I’m choosing to be here, and my husband is considered an asset to the business world because he possesses “critical skills”– IT skills, in his case. I have a passport that entitles me to move, somewhat freely, between most countries in this world.

Since moving here, I’ve had the unusual experience (for me) of being easily identifiable by a personal characteristic. Sitting on the bus, I look like almost everyone around me, but when I open my mouth to thank the bus driver as I tap-off, boom! I’m American, and everyone around me knows it. (This isn’t the first time I’ve been in a foreign country, but it is the first time I’ve been a resident, so the feeling is very different from my tourist experiences elsewhere.) I find myself wondering, “What do people automatically assume about me when they hear me talk? Is it positive? Negative? Deserved or not so much?” Before moving here, I never would have included “American” in a list of the top 5 ways to describe myself. I actually had to complete this exercise when I was in Teach for America training, and I’m pretty sure my identity centered around: female, Christian, educated, adventurous, and book-lover. If I made that list today, American would be one of the most important ways I would identify myself.

I’ve found myself so frustrated in conversations about America, especially American politics. Everyone has an opinion, and I find myself making apologies, keeping quiet when I have so much to say. What I really want is to yell, “Stop telling me how America is or isn’t! I live there. I actually know!” And suddenly it seems so obvious to me. The white settlers in Australia ultimately believed, because they were White Westerners, that they knew what was best for the Aboriginals, and they carried out those beliefs until the native people, the ones who were here first, were marginalized, segregated, and oppressed. Then I think to my real home, in the States, where racism is still very much alive. Why are White people leading the conversation on racism, especially when that narrative is so often: “Does racism really still exist?” We aren’t the ones who are supposed to have an opinion on that.

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The oppressed, the repressed, the marginalized communities get to have an opinion, because guess what, they know how it actually is. My frustration at being told how things should or shouldn’t be in America is honestly inconsequential when I start to imagine the frustration so many people of color experience on a daily basis. We need to shut up and start listening to the voices that actually matter, the voices of the people who know because they live the experience. My voice does not matter when it comes to racism. I have a responsibility to acknowledge my incredible privilege– a privilege I have simply because I was born to White, upper-middle class parents, not because I did anything to earn it. And once I acknowledge this privilege, my responsibility is to listen. Listen to those around me who are living lives different than mine because of their skin color, or their ethnicity, or their economic status. I need to learn how to be an ally by actually listening, not telling someone what I know, because my experience is not his or her experience, and my experience doesn’t really matter in this arena.

“Oh, you’ve been to America for two weeks and watch a lot of CNN? I’m glad you’re interested, but you don’t really have any basis for your opinions of how my country operates and what “we” are all actually like.” It’s so easy to understand in this context, but when applied to racism in America, it can suddenly feel more convoluted and confusing. But I am starting to really see, and understand, how privilege works. This isn’t something I was oblivious to previously to moving to Australia, but my limited experience in being “other” than the main has really taught me how little I understand. So here’s to growing, learning, shutting up and truly listening– because my privilege comes with responsibility, and that is not something to be wasted.

A love letter to Manly

Great news, friends: We found an apartment! We will be moving in this weekend, so there will be plenty of photos and blog posts about that new adventure soon. We are so excited to have found a place that was actually within our budget and met several other important criteria, but all those fun details are coming soon. Because of our impending move, it is now time to say goodbye to our temporary home of Manly.

Manly is one of the loveliest places I’ve ever experienced. It is idyllic here– perfect beaches, delicious restaurants, transport at your doorstep. We have enjoyed our time here more than I even realized until I started thinking about leaving. I also have an interesting connection to Manly now, because it is here that I decided to love Australia.

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Let’s get super honest here for a moment: Our first week in Australia was hellacious for me. I glossed over it at the time, because I was too raw and fragile to deal with it in the moment. I was on a new prescription that had me nauseated around the clock. I woke up in the hottest, muggiest, worst smelling accommodations (in a very “first world problem” sense) and spent my days sweating, reading, throwing up, and counting down until Donnie got home from work. I was homesick in a very physical way and I cried. A lot. I remember thinking, “This is the worst mistake I’ve ever made. And it is my fault that we’re here.”

It was a rough start.

Then we moved into Quest Manly, and my love affair with Australia began to slowly develop. We moved into a lovely, clean, air conditioned room on the waterfront of Manly Wharf. I figured out my medication was causing my nausea and quickly stopped taking it, feeling immeasurably better almost immediately. I also started getting out and exploring my new home, spending my days on the beach, walking the Corso, riding the bus to the mall and shops. I was an active participant in life again, and it felt great. I put forth some effort and Australia responded with crystal clear water, silky sand, and delectable pizzas, Thai stirfries, and Swiss ice cream.

Please enjoy this photo walk through my dear and lovely Manly.

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There are two main beaches in Manly: the famous Manly Beach and the not-so-famous Manly Cove. Manly Beach is usually teeming with sunbathers and surfers, especially on the weekends. Below is a photo from a random weekday, so the crowds are considerably smaller, though still present. It’s a really great place to sit with an after-dinner ice cream and watch surfers or kite-surfers as the sun sets.

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Manly Cove, on the other hand, is usually quiet, private, and my personal favorite. The water is calm and completely clear, and there are usually several large fish just swimming around your feet, which was quite the surprise the first time I ventured into the icy waves.

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There is a paved walking path all the way around Manly Beach, that reaches over to the secluded Shelley Beach.

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Connecting Manly Beach and Manly Wharf/Cove is the tree-lined Corso. The Corso is home to numerous restaurants, stores, tourist shops, and chemists. There are usually several street performers singing or playing instruments and a bustling, lively, pretty-touristy vibe.

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Donnie and I tried many of the restaurants Manly has to offer, because life still feels somewhat like a vacation and why not. Out of all of the culinary delights surrounding us, we developed a couple favorite spots.

For Thai, it’s got to be Mortar and Pestle. We tried three different Thai places, but nothing beats the chicken and cashew nut stirfry or red beef curry at M&P. We always snag an outside table, and sometimes also indulge in a pitcher of red sangria.

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For pizza, there is somewhat of a tie. For traditional, wood-fired margherita pizza, we don’t look anywhere except Da Vita.

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But when we’re in a more adventurous mood, the Tandoori Chicken Pizza at The Ivanhoe is unbelievable. Interesting fact: a “hotel” here actually means bar, so there are sadly no rooms at the Ivanhoe. Until the late 1980s, pubs or taverns were required to also provide accommodation by Australian law, even though most just focused on the drinks, thus the “hotel” title. Even though the laws have changed, and most pubs or bars do not provide rooms, the naming convention stuck.

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And for an apres-dinner treat, the swiss chocolate (Donnie’s fave) or cappuccino (my fave) ice cream at Movenpick cannot be topped.

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Manly is bursting with life and light and ocean breezes, and it really helped bring me back to myself. While I’m reluctant to leave this little slice of heaven, I’m really ready to have a “home” and feel fully settled. Luckily, when the craving for Mortar and Pestle hits (as it undoubtedly will) The Corso is only a 20 minute bus ride from our new place, which is somewhat of a relief, because my love affair with this little beach town is far from over.

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House Hunters Down Under

We have officially begun our home search! The housing market in Sydney is quite competitive, with apartments on the market for only a few hours in many cases. We are fortunate that Dell hooked us up with a relocation consultant who is helping us, along with a real estate consultant, to narrow down a list of properties that fit our wish list. If you’ve ever watched House Hunters, you know how crazy people can be about a house search: “We want 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, light granite that isn’t too sparkly, hardwood floors laid on a diagonal, and a northern exposure (whatever that means.) Also, our budget is $125,000.”

We fancy ourselves more practical, and came up with the following list of priorities:

  1. Air conditioning. (Central air isn’t even really an option, but after a week of no-AC in the granny flat, we desperately need some kind of aircon.)
  2. Short walk to the beach.
  3. 2 bedrooms. (We want everyone to come visit!)

That’s really all we’re after. It’s a very different process than when we were building our first house this time two years ago and I was stressed out over the specific tiles for our kitchen backsplash and finding the perfect hand-scraped hardwood.

We are specifically searching for properties in what’s called the “Northern Beaches” of Sydney. Across the harbour from the CBD (central business district– this is what they call downtown or the city centre) the Northern Beaches run from Manly (where we are living now) all the way up to Palm Beach.

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Donnie currently rides the bus to work, so we don’t want to be too far from his office in the more inland neighborhood of Frenchs Forest. We’ve focused our search mostly in Freshwater, Dee Why, and Collaroy, because they are somewhat reasonably priced and have great beach access.

According to the law here, a resident must physically visit a property before being allowed to lease it. The way most people accomplish this is to attend an “inspection” that is held for 15 or 30 minutes and generally quite crowded. Because we are working with an independent consultant, we are able to schedule private showings.

On Thursday, Donnie and I met up with our consultant to tackle 9 apartment inspections between 1:30 and 4:30. We generally had about 10 minutes to look around and ask any questions. Several agents asked if we were shipping our refrigerator or washing machine from home. Honestly, our fridge wouldn’t even fit in the entire kitchen in several of the places we viewed, and the space for the washing machine is generally about two feet. Needless to say, our American appliances wouldn’t begin to fit. It’s hard to remember all the different places, so Donnie took very detailed notes.

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After an exhausting day of searching, we’re excited to narrow down our list to two places we really like. Now comes the fun part– applying!

Applying to lease an apartment in Australia is infinitely more complicated than applying for a mortgage in America. We each had to fill out an online application for each place we were interested in, and then attach heaps of documents. They have a “100 point” identification process that requires each applicant to provide documents (each worth different point amounts) to total at least 100. You are given higher prioritization the greater points you can provide. We used driver’s licenses, passports, 457 work visa, proof of benefits, bank statements from our Aussie and US accounts, 3 utility bills, references from our realtor, mortgage statements, and our marriage certificate to establish our points. It was somewhat overwhelming, and not made any easier by our super slow and intermittent internet access.

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After several hours, we finally completed our applications! Now we just wait and cross our fingers that someone wants to give us a home. Stay tuned for updates!

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.