A Home Divided.

I’m currently sitting on one of my balconies (yes, our new apartment has more than one– it’s delightful!) while Donnie grills chicken for our burrito bowls we’ll soon eat for supper. It’s absolutely lovely here: 27 degrees (80 fahrenheit), sunny, with a nice breeze coming off the ocean, and our friendly Cockatoo hanging out on the roof. It’s hard to believe that two weeks ago we were in the middle of winter!

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We had a fabulous time visiting home over the holidays. I got to spend nine days in Carlsbad, CA (just north of San Diego) with my sister, brother-in-law, niece, and nephew at their new home having a blast at Sea World, Disneyland, and exploring their beautiful neighborhood beaches and hangouts. I also got to meet up with one of my best friends from college for a day of living out high school dreams in Laguna Beach.

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I missed my niece’s eighth birthday on December 2, so I took her to Disneyland for a belated celebration. She’s been to Disney over a dozen times, but she still was so excited when we got off the shuttle that she couldn’t stop squealing and we ended up sprinting to the ticket line. It was a truly magical day.

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After a week full of laughs, games of speed, trampoline time, and snuggles with my fave little ones, we all headed to Nashville the day before Christmas Eve. We walked off our flight to the best welcome home committee ever, including a giant poster of my face. (Funny side note: I saw the face as we were walking up and thought “Hah! That’s so funny and also embarrassing for whoever it is on the poster…. wait… that’s MY face!”)

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Donnie got in later that evening after 17 hours from Sydney to Dallas and a quick 2 hour flight up from DFW. We all rendezvoused at our all-time favorite Mexican place, Las Palmas, for some much-craved cheese dip (which sadly does not exist in Sydney) and the always delicious LP Special (chicken, peppers, and onions over a bed of rice and doused in cheese dip). Donnie and I went back to his parents’ house to spend the night and have a reunion with our little black pup, Lucy. My in-laws are graciously keeping Lucy while we are in Australia and I miss her immeasurably. She was very happy to see us and promptly snuggled up on the couch with us, even when there wasn’t really room for her. All the puppy kisses and snuggles helped make up for all the tears I cried when we had to leave her.

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Christmas was a whirlwind of family time, comfort food, and presents. We got to celebrate with both sides of our families which was such a treat. The highlight of my day was waking up to Ally and Burton (8 and 3) digging into their stockings and trying to hold off until all the adults made it downstairs for presents. My nephew gets unusually excited about clothes, and when he opened the t-shirt Donnie had picked out for him he squealed, “It’s got a kangaroo AND a koala!” Later in the day at my aunt’s house he paused while tearing into a giant package, looked around the room and asked, “Is everyone enjoying their presents?” He’s pretty emotionally tuned in for a three year old.

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After Christmas we got to spend time with our parents and siblings– enjoying game nights, a Preds game, more delicious food, shopping, and just hanging out. Donnie got to go to a Titans game with his buddies and we got together with one of our favorite couples to watch our only Vols win of the year when they trampled Nebraska at the Music City Bowl, followed by some fun out on Broadway downtown.

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We rang in the New Year with some of my college besties and their husbands and friends, really fun games, too many jello shots, a music note drop, and a Keith Urban concert. (I was pretty convinced that if we told Keith Urban’s security guards that I lived in Australia he would let us meet him. Luckily, I didn’t test out that theory.)

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Being home felt surprisingly normal. At one point I remember thinking, “That was fun when we used to live in Australia.” Falling back into old patterns felt seamless. And now that I’m back home (Australia home) it also feels surprisingly normal. The day we landed in Sydney we collected our bags (and our two amazing backpack beach chairs with headrests and cupholders that recline- thanks Mama and Daddy!) and took a cab back to Dee Why. We dropped off our stuff, grabbed bacon and egg rolls, showered and rested for a minute before heading to the beach. It was a perfect day and we soaked up the sun until we were too tired to stay awake and promptly fell asleep at 6:30 pm.

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I have felt an acute loneliness since we’ve been back that I hadn’t really felt before. I miss my friends, my family, my niece and nephew. I miss being able to drive anywhere I want to go. I miss being surrounded by people who know me, who just get me, who speak the same and grew up the same and share my cultural identity. But I also simultaneously crave the slightly uncomfortable growth that I experience here almost daily. While in Tennessee, I really missed being surrounded by various accents and languages at all times. I missed the ease of jumping on a bus and being driven wherever I need to go. I missed being able to walk to the grocery or to shops. I missed my little apartment and my new familiarities. I felt a sense of relief the first day I boarded a bus, tapped my Opal card, and sat down to listen to a podcast while riding the 15 minutes to the mall. I suppose what I’m trying to describe is the bizarre reality of truly having two homes– two distinctly different places in which I feel both comfortable and also like some integral part of my reality is missing. While living here is not our forever plan, it really has become home over the last eleven months, and I think there will always be a little piece of my heart here.

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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.