Sunday, June 30, 2013

The End

Molly enjoys swimming in the ocean!

So this is my last post on this blog. The Keys are no longer Down Under, so it's time to bring things to a close. Here's the latest on our lives:

1. We're currently living in a hotel room in Oakland, California. It's not ideal with our dog Molly, but we get free breakfast and dinner, and we're not too far from a BART station, so we can get to San Francisco pretty easily. We're trying to make the most of our time in California, going to baseball games (A's vs. Cards today), going on hikes around the Bay Area with Molly, eating at cool restaurants, etc.

2. We bought a house in Denver, Colorado. I actually flew into and out of Denver on Friday for the closing! It wasn't our original plan upon moving back to the US, but once we saw how much renting in the San Francisco area would cost, how low the interest rates were for mortgages, how much we loved Denver when we drove through there on our way out here, and how ready we were to have a house again and have our belongings all in one place, we decided to take a look around when we were in the area. We found a house we loved in the West Wash Park area, put in an offer, and now we move in at the end of July!

3. Zack got put on a project working in Berkeley, California that lasts until at least October of 2014. This means that he'll be flying out of Denver for work on Monday morning and coming back on Thursday night. The first few years of our marriage were spent this way (with him traveling), and it sort of works for us. Plus, Zack loves California, so he'll get the best of both worlds with Cali during the week and Denver on the weekends!

Our hotel room before I unpacked the boxes.
4. We got our shipment of stuff from Australia delivered to our hotel room earlier this week. We didn't have a ton of stuff (mostly clothes), so it actually all fits in our room (including the surfboards!). It's a bit crowded, but we'll survive for a month.

5. We celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary on July 5. We're going to spend the July 4th/anniversary weekend camping at Lake Tahoe. I'm looking forward to an awesome time!

6. I'm working on organizing and posting the thousands of pictures we took on our trip throughout Asia. Some are up already, but eventually they will all be here.

We'll always look back on our time in Australia with fond memories. Deciding to move there for two years was one of the best decisions of our lives. Thanks for reading our blog and following along with our adventures. If you are ever thinking about the expat life or even just visiting any of the places we've been, feel free to contact me with questions or for suggestions.

On to our next adventure...
Our home sweet home in Denver!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

What I Learned While Living in Australia

What I learned while living in Australia (along with how to knit/surf/sail/substitute teach/blog/speak Australian lingo/etc.):

America is not the best at everything.

Growing up in the United States, I had a very insulated view of our country and how it compared to others in the world. I think the general consensus among American citizens is that the USA is the greatest country in the world, and nowhere else can compete. While that may be true in some respects, I think we could learn a lot from the way other countries do certain things (and not just Australia). I don’t really want to get into the specifics of this point, but it was definitely eye-opening to realize that America is not “perfect.”

Making “couple friends” is like dating.

When Zack and I met and started dating in Denver, he became friends with some of the friends I had made when I had moved to that city and started a soccer team. Though we met a few couples over the next couple of years, we never really had to make any new friends together until we got to Australia. I had never realized how much like dating it would be. You all go out to dinner together or something on your first “date,” and try to present your best self and avoid uncomfortable topics of conversation. The girl has to like the other girl a lot, and the guy has to like the other guy a lot, and the girls and guys have to like each other too (but not too much!). As time progresses, you get more comfortable with each other and discuss more serious topics, hang out more informally, and do things together more spontaneously.  It’s a lot of work, but totally worth it for the great friendships you can create.

Traveling is not that big of a deal.

When I lived in the United States, a three-hour flight from one part of the country to another was a huge deal. That would constitute a major trip, and I wouldn’t do it too often. Now (if the price isn’t too ridiculous!), I’d hop on a flight for a weekend trip without even batting an eye. I think a lot of Americans make a huge deal out of leaving the country, or even their own state or city! After living abroad, I find traveling so much easier and wonder why I didn’t do it more often much earlier.

Anyway, those are the three major revelations I had while living abroad, along with hundreds of other little ones. Can you tell this blog is nearing an end?

This was the first American flag I saw upon landing in the United States.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Tattoo Time

Before going in-does he look nervous?
For several months before leaving Australia, Zack was talking about wanting a tattoo. Now, neither of us had/have any tattoos, and I didn't think he (or I) would ever get one. I wasn't against the idea of him getting one, provided the location was inconspicuous and the design was personal and meaningful. I just didn't want him to do something he'd regret later. After much research, many vetoed ideas ("A koi fish sleeve, really dear?"), and several drafted designs, Zack had a good plan, and I accompanied him to the tattoo parlor about a week before we left the country.

Are you ready for this, Zack?!

When we first arrived, the guy tried to draw the design Zack was asking for and kept getting it wrong. Finally, another girl took over and drew exactly what he was looking for. After sticking the temporary tattoo drawing on his upper right back so she could trace the lines, he was ready to go. Zack said the process was really only painful at the beginning and then again at the end when the girl went back over some lines. He put in some headphones and listened to hard rock music the whole time she was working; it took about half an hour.

I actually expected the whole process to be a lot bloodier. It was more like an oozy sore, such as when you skin your knee. The girl would do a small portion of the line or shading in either black or gray ink and then wipe away the blood and extra ink smears with the rag. The tattoo gun sounded kind of like a dental drill or an electric hair clipper. It was fascinating to watch her work.

Red because it was newly finished.
The design Zack chose was the New Zealand koru symbol. This spiral shape is based on the unfurling fern frond, and it symbolizes new life, growth, strength, and peace. Our trip to New Zealand was his favorite from our time abroad, and this seemed like a good way to remember our two years in the Southern Hemisphere as well as look forward to our "new life" back in the United States. I think he made a good choice! And if I wasn't a chicken, I might have gotten a tiny little outline of Australia on my inner ankle. But I was (am) too scared of the pain!

Happily, Zack still likes his tattoo (and so do I). It's a happy reminder of the great time we had down under!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Farewell Concert

Zack LOVES Guns N' Roses. Loves them. Like Slash was sort of his idol. So when he saw that they were coming to Melbourne (unfortunately without Slash), he just had to go. So he bought the tickets as soon as they went on sale, and we had to plan our Australian leave date around this concert. But it was a fun show, and we had a good time listening to the classic songs. 

ZZ Top was the opening act, so that was pretty fun as well. I didn't realize how many songs I actually knew by them ("Legs," "Sharp Dressed Man,""Gimme All Your Lovin'," etc.).

So Zack finally got to fulfill his dream of seeing Guns N' Roses in concert, only days before we left Australia. I think the smile on his face shows that it was worth staying for!

Happy husband living out a childhood dream.
Guns N' Roses put on a great show. Axl Rose was still quite the rock star for being over fifty years old.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sayonara to Surfing in Australia

Before we left Australia, we went surfing one last time with our friends Klem and Vesna. We went to Torquay Beach, which was where we first learned to surf. The rain held off until we had our fill, and we had some decent beginner-sized waves that were good for us to practice on.
Learning to surf was one of my favorite parts of living in Australia. I never got very good at it, but I just had fun being in the water and riding the little waves.
After our final surf, we enjoyed Vesna's famous chocolate cake (with strawberries and whipped cream!) in the "comfort" of our almost-moved-out-of house in South Melbourne. Nothing like sitting on an air mattress and camp chairs!

Friday, June 7, 2013

First Impressions of the United States

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, but it's all still pretty accurate. These are my three main first impressions upon arriving back in the United States. Keep in mind, these were made after traveling throughout Asia for a few months, so they are not necessarily solely in comparison to life in Australia, but they do apply in some ways.

Indian airline ad for flight attendants
      (Some) employees treat customers like incompetent children.

First of all, it has to be said that the physical attribute qualifications for flight attendants in Asia differ dramatically from those in the United States. Check out this ad I found for flight attendants on an Indian airline. Make of this what you will, but I noticed a marked difference the minute I got on the United Airlines flight from Mumbai to Newark. Anyway, the way that some of the American flight attendants, along with the immigration desk, ticket counter, and luggage handler workers talked to the customers (especially those who weren’t American) was condescending, abrupt, and borderline rude. I know not every employee is this way, but it was something that stood out quite obviously after eight weeks of traveling in Asia.

Life with our Molly is good!

The amount of choice is overwhelming.

On our drive between Michigan and St. Louis, we stopped at Panera Bread for lunch. It was one of probably ten choices for food at one exit (which is amazing by itself). I was absolutely overwhelmed. The restaurant was huge and crowded, the menu was gigantic, and I could barely give the lady my order without having a nervous breakdown! After finally making up my mind about what I wanted to order, she asked what I wanted for a side. Then she asked if I wanted a drink. And through it all I felt rushed, as there was a crowd in line behind me. I guess I’m so used to either having hardly any choices, or choices already having been made for me (preset meals), or having plenty of time to figure it out without time-crazed Americans standing in line behind me! I think my first trip to a grocery store is going to be pretty wild. Oh, and portion sizes are HUGE here!

Visiting my sister Morgan in Santa Cruz!
      Roads are clean, empty, straight paths full of people in their “bubbles.”

While traveling in Asia, one of my favorite things was driving (being driven) through the cities and countryside. Though the “roads” were often in terrible shape and the safety of them and/or our vehicle was questionable at times, this was where I saw the heart of the country. Everyone seems to live near the road, and people gather outside to sell things, play games, wash clothes or dishes, sit with friends, or just watch the world go by. Besides the people, the sides of the road are full of colorful trash, animals, and signs of life.

In stark contrast, the roads in the United States are long stretches of perfect cement paths with pristine green grass along the sides. When there are houses within view, no human is to be seen.  Instead of open-air modes of transportation like scooters, tractors, motorcycles, rickshaws, or tuk tuks, everyone in America is in his or her own enclosed car. Nobody interacts with anyone else, and driving just seems kind of lifeless and sterile.

Reading back over these, I realize that they sound a bit negative. I don't mean for them to sound that way; these things just stood out the most. A few more entries to come!
This was our home in Colorado before moving to Australia. We stopped by while driving through!

Monday, June 3, 2013

What I'll Miss About Living in Australia

So I've got a few more entries to add to this blog before it's finished. I'll get them all posted before the end of June. Here's the first one summing up our experience abroad:

What I'll miss about living in Australia...

      Being special

In Australia, I was unique. My accent was a conversation starter, my name was unheard of, and people wanted to know about my life in America and how I ended up in the Land Down Under. While substitute teaching, I had a built-in time killer just by letting the kids ask questions about my home country! In the United States, I’m just another everyday citizen with the same story as everyone else.

The wide range of activities

Melbourne has everything…festivals, sporting events, concerts, outdoor activities, great restaurants, markets, theatre performances, celebrity visits, clubs, and more. I realize that this is something that could probably be said about many large cities in the United States, but it’s especially cool when you’re in a different country. For example, I went to cricket and footy games, I saw Cadel Evans and Queen Elizabeth II, I ordered awesome chai lattes and kangaroo fillet at restaurants, and I went surfing on the weekends.

    Living in the moment

We knew we were only going to be in Australia for a limited amount of time, so we took advantage of every opportunity we could to make the most of it. When you live in your home country, you often get complacent and don’t even visit the awesome places right around you. Australians often told us that we had seen more of the country than they had. There weren’t many weekends when we sat around the house doing nothing. Not that there’s anything wrong with “doing nothing,” but I loved that our calendar was full of fun times with friends and trips to places near and far.

There are tons of other things I'll miss (great friends we made, the accent, amazing markets, the beach, etc.), but the three above are the ones that really stand out. More to come!