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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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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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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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!