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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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.