being away and being

Coming around after a month of globe-hopping to what seemed to be everywhere.  One clear benefit to living so far from home and just about anywhere, any flight shorter than ten hours seems short.  So much so, that I repeatedly forgot or well never even thought of packing snacks for trips.  I’m pretty intolerant of the least bit of hunger and had to just shake my head and wonder why in the world I set off with my “Mary Poppins bag” busting my shoulder heavy with all manner of digital things and not a morsel to eat.  Australia takes customs searches for food very seriously, so I think that profound fear of having my treats sniffed out by the hounds at the airport and ending up on an episode of “Customs and Border Patrol” has something to do with it.  But honestly, I need to revisit my packing list. For sure at 53 if it isn’t written down, it does not happen.  I miss being smart.  Truly.

I spent three lovely (and hot) weeks in the states visiting, celebrating and hauling a giant suitcase around.  July is generally a good month to miss in Sydney with winter weather seeming out of place and uncomfortable (unless you are snuggled under a blanket and that’s not always a productive way to pass the day).  But it’s hard to be gone for that long because it’s very much home now.   And home in the states does not really exist now, which is unsettling.  It’s hard to be a guest where you used to be at home.

And we have no answer for the what’s next and when questions which isn’t really difficult generally, but discussing it with people who legitimately want to know the answer (like, say our children and our parents who probably would love answers and we do understand that) is unsettling.  I think Greg and I are good at this whole expat thing because we both have some seriously good coping (or possibly avoidance) skills;  spending very little energy on wondering what’s next and much more on where we are walking today or what we are having for dinner tonight.

Visiting home, or the bubble-within-the-bubble that is our old neighborhood in Midwestern suburbia affirms that our re-entry into America will be challenging.  Such a wonderful place to live family life, but making that engaging after our international assignment in what is basically paradise….well…we should save up some coping skills is what I am saying.

So I’m shaking that uneasiness off and embracing all that I love about living abroad and specifically living in Manly, NSW, Australia.  I’m one lucky girl, let me tell you.  I’m the girl I would not want to read about or see pictures of when I was waist deep in the toddler years. But, how fantastic is it that same person I was insanely jealous of when I was younger is actually me?   I mean I couldn’t even watch the movie “Eat, Pray, Love” after reading the book.  I just wanted to strangle that woman who just ran away from the real world (and hers was not that hard, please….and you are right neither was mine) and did whatever the hell she wanted to do.   Right, I am totally doing that, but it’s part of a package deal with being the spouse of someone very much hard-wired to love doing the job he is doing running his company’s business (more or less) in Asia.  Believe me, living on the other side of the planet from my children is not easy for me.  There’s a daily cost there, trust me.  I know that goes both ways.  I’m just hoping we are all holding some space to be back in real-time face-to-face life again some day.   Hoping we haven’t become too terribly adjusted to being apart.  And maybe all I’m saying is we will be texting each other back and forth in more or less the same time zone  or we will just be getting together over lunch or coffee because we can.  I wonder if I’ll ever stop calculating the time difference before I text, call or post.  All the math, I suppose it’s good for me.

So back for now to loving our life by the ocean in a magical place with a day full of kisses on the cheeks, hugs, “How you going?” and a steamy “rice milk flat white, gorgeous?” “yes, please” fresh from a stunningly beautiful beach to beach and back swim (which is currently very fresh at 17 degrees Celsius or pretty ridiculously cold in degrees Fahrenheit).  A little beach town currently only mildly visited by tourists but otherwise busy with regular life in paradise just minutes by ferry, of course because it’s really the luckiest country, from a picture-perfect city.   I am that girl.  That aggressively friendly midwestern American girl whose made a nice life for herself being open to the adventure and the every day.  Thank you to everyone that let me go for a while.  Thank you to everyone who has taken me in for a while.  I’m grateful.

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love this from the kitchen wall at my dear friend Heather’s in Santa Monica

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lovely long layover in LA IMG_4642

hours hanging out at my in-laws with my boysIMG_4640

slushy dark and stormies with Kelly in ChicagoFullSizeRender-3

Sara showing me her universe in MadisonIMG_4756

I did this.  Becky’s Mini and I survived.IMG_4715

A lot of this.  He misses me, but won’t let on.IMG_4807

Climbed things.  Up at the top in North Carolina.FullSizeRender-6

Dreamteam reunion at Spencer and Lauren’s wedding.  Excellent team effort.  IMG_4907

One last stop to be sure I completed coast to coast.  My brother’s beach in South Carolina.FullSizeRender-5

Thirty-two years with this guy.  He took me to Bali, as you do.  FullSizeRender-4

We were out and about and liked that best, as usual.IMG_5451 And I’m home.

 

The luckiest.

 

 

Deep (True) Blue

Over on the original blog, I’ve just written a recipe for the first time in too long and I’ve written down some words for the day.  It’s an easy day to write fueled by coffee, the cake I blogged about and the Prince retrospective rolling on without interruption on Australian state radio, Double J.  All the words about Prince are over there, but the feelings will be over here too.  Plus there will be dancing.  There won’t be video, I’ll spare my children that, but just know there’s dancing and there’s serious reminiscing.  Prince was just 4 years older than me, so our history is long.  One sorority sister and I bonded over music, with our tastes running a little rebellious for the Delta Gammas.  She was on the concert board, I subscribed to Rolling Stone.  And here’s where this is all going to come together. Today I’m writing about the true blue me.  The whole moving across the planet with almost limitless opportunities for “me time” helps redefine exactly who you are now.  Bizzy (the aforementioned sister) always saw the true me.  I couldn’t get away with much around her and well, truly, no one could.  Whip smart.  No BS.  She would have been a good Aussie:  direct, sharp-witted and hilarious.  And I can’t hear Purple Rain without her tugging on my heart a little bit still.  She died in a car accident at 21.  That was the week before she was to wear a bright pink long dress (very not her style) and stand at the altar with me when I married Greg.  Man, she would have been a good human to have in the grown-up world.  What a fantastic mom she would have been.  Hers is not my story to tell.  But on this rainy late afternoon in a place so far from our sorority days, I’m thinking of you Biz.  We didn’t call people authentic back in the 80’s, but you were always you.  I’m more me now and you’d be pretty happy about that.  I am.

I’m apparently a swimmer.  Is it the Pisces in me?  I’m not someone who assigns much weight to astrologic signs but I’m under the sign of the two fish, so my love of the water could just be from the stars.  It could be that I was lucky my parents chose a house in a neighborhood with a spring-fed lake where we could wade in, push off and learn to swim with our little metal membership tags safety-pinned to our little tank suits and speedos.  Eventually we could swim between the two docks over the muck bottom and between the lane lines a little green from the algae.  Vivid memories of swim team practices on chilly Northeast Ohio summer mornings, diving off the docks painted white and red with sand mixed in, snacking on instant jello powder for energy and collecting ribbons with the little paper result tags sewn in the back during neighborhood swim meets.  Never good enough to swim year-round on an AAU team.  Good enough to pass my lifesaving and water safety instructor tests and spend summers lifeguarding and coaching until a couple of weeks before I got married. Both girls learned to swim pushing off the pool bottom in the shallow end swimming to me and we spent just about every summer day at the pool.  But I only occasionally swam a few laps, never really loving freestyle enough to do it for fitness.  I’m a backstroker by nature, no weird hip or knee movements and most importantly, you can always breathe.

Hold on, dance break.  Take Me with You.  Be right back.  Ooh, that was a good stretch. Raspberry Beret too.

And then we took the International Assignment to Sydney and made the very wise choice to live on the northern beaches.  Every morning I would hear the calming sound of hundreds of swimmers pulling their strokes through the water and kicking along the rocks between the two beaches.  Well, they do all gather off the point and one very strong-voiced gentleman calls out “Let’s go!” and that’s a little jarring if you happen to be asleep at 7:05 am, but generally the swimmers dutifully pass by our house one way and then the other every day (within reason and some days seemingly without).   I’d be walking to yoga or tennis along the beach (which is awesome, simply walking to things and having  the commute along the beach) and they’d be gathered up on the picnic benches with their coffees and I’d say to myself, “Look at all those friends.  I could be their friend.  I can swim.”  And we’ve been over this, but as a refresher, that swim is 700-800 meters one way without you know, walls for turning and resting.  And there are creatures below.  And there are waves and currents and well, I had some learning to do.  So I hired a coach and after some fits, starts, ear infections, ice-cold water and a whole lot of fear I became an ocean swimmer.  And I have those friends.  And they know the real me (and they’re still my friends which says something about the Australians).

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the view at the turn

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It’s all been said before by ocean swimmers the world over.  An original way to describe the freedom and joy of swimming without lanes and walls isn’t going to happen even on a day when the writing is easy.  But I can tell you that at some point in almost every swim, I take notice of just how happy it makes me.  Some days that’s because it’s stunningly beautiful in my little part of the big Pacific Ocean (more specifically, the Tasman Sea) being that our route is an Aquatic Marine Reserve.  When the warm water is in with the pretty little tropical fish, it’s ridiculously distracting to swim in what is basically a giant aquarium.  Some days it’s because the choppy seas and relentless waves make you feel like a little boat tossing this way and that, but you lift your head and look around and see your little squad and you’re doing it and the fun’s in the challenge.  Some days it’s because we stop and chat and tread water for who knows how long before someone decides we’d better swim.  And always I think, learning to do this has been just the best thing for me.  I’m happy like a kid out there.  I’m proud that I can do it.  I’m grateful that I’m strong enough (and buoyant).  And I love the friends it’s brought my way.  The most welcoming people.

It amazes me, but here the swimmers are my community in a way I’ll never find with yoga in this lovely beach town.  They are an eclectic bunch, but they are the very core of the community.  Yoga at my chosen studio is  a wee bit competitive (which is not yoga and that’s a boring and different story).   Tennis, well it’s called comps, so quite literally,  it’s competitive.  There are some lovely girls there, friends even.  And now I play in a highly entertaining mixed doubles group some Monday nights, but I’m still trying to get everyone’s names straight and return those male serves.  The neighbors call me the sporty one.   Which is really funny to me, because listen, I’m not particularly good at any of this. I’m not the best at tennis (nor am I the worst), I’m not the fastest at swimming (nor am I the slowest) and well, you are not supposed to evaluate your yoga beyond being present (hmmmm) and breathing (which I do amazingly well).  But I guess at 53 simply doing all this physical activity qualifies as sporty.  Success is irrelevant.

So there I was swimming in the deep blue earlier today, a day that was meant to be rainy top to bottom but instead was gorgeous for a good long while before it was not.  We swam back not along the rocks but across the proper ocean.  The deep blue.  And I was only the tiniest bit wary.  Let’s just call it a healthy level of caution (which I understand is very American of me).  When I breathed to the right, there was a cap of a friend.  When I breathed to the left (look at me, I can do both now) there was another friend matching my stroke.  And that’s how I’ve become more me.  I took the risk of learning to ocean swim , facing considerable fear, and I continue to be encouraged and embraced by all the other crazy people who think swimming a mile in open water with little sharks below you is awesome. It’s a heck of a way to start a day.  I am grateful every day we get to live this big adventure with the ocean out our back door.  And I’m grateful for all the days.  And for the ” beautiful ones” that share and have shared them with me.

Now for one last chorus of Purple Rain.  Hands in the air.  Singing along, loudly, as I do. Being me.  I am good at that.

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like a kid (that’s me splashing in)

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swimming into a school of little silver fish

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school of assorted tropical fish

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paradise, I tell you

*writer’s note:  this took a day to hit “post”.  I struggle a bit with the worthiness of the words, particularly this very “me me me” theme.  Thanks for reading my therapy.

Aussie Aussie Aussie

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I love Australia.  Just love it.  As they say, it suits me.  We live in a beach town so it’s properly casual and accordingly happy.  It’s a struggle to maintain any decent level of drama when the ocean keeps crashing along the rocks and little ones in full rashies with dinosaur scales run along the beach.  It can’t be done.  Or if it can, it certainly is a good measure easier to get over it and yourself when you live by the sea.  Especially when you know some clock some where is ticking down the minutes left in expat imaginary land. Who really knows, but we must be at least half way to the finish.  The real world is out there somewhere and I’m in no particular hurry to be reunited with it.  No hurry.  None. Don’t make me go.  Please.  I beg you.

I’ll happily crawl out of bed to swim my meters in a virtual aquarium, shower off and grab my rice milk flat white (the ability to complicate food and beverage orders is a special gift of mine) at Bench, read all the papers, walk to the shops and the market and wander home before wandering out again for the afternoon.  I’ll do it every day.  Modifications on rainy days, substitutions and additions for fitness:  yoga, tennis, beach walks and bush hikes and the rare appointment but this is how I spend my time.  The dream.  Really. Living my dream.  Lucky girl in a lucky country.

Enough about me.  I love Australia because they are blessed with all the riches of the first world, but they are so small and isolated their cares are less.  The world expects only a proportionate response from Australia, and it’s role on the world stage is much less significant than America’s.  One would have a supremely valid argument in that America imposes it’s will (good or not) often without an invitation, trust me.  I spend a lot of time (usually over wine) defending and explaining America.  These people are a commonwealth of a country that I believe tried to colonize most of the planet (also often uninvited), but apparently that’s not the point.  Australia’s find their politics just as infuriating as Americans find our own, but they know their revolving doors of PM’s only influence the world to such a degree.  Then there is America and political gridlock, guns and Donald Trump. the hours we spend on these three topics are usually hilarious.  They are becoming a little less entertaining as it’s actually the election year now.   The reality is we had best register to vote absentee with some expediency.  You have to participate to have a valid opinion.  And living on the other side of the planet, you have to do a lot of reading to keep up.  I start with The Skimm.  It rolls in to my Australian inbox every night before I go to sleep and it’s usually a better idea to leave it for morning reading.  C’mon, America.  I’m cheering for you.  I love it here, but I am a proud American for better or worse.  Let’s try to keep it for better, shall we?

So off I went to the Australian Open, or “the tennis” as it’s affectionately known here.  I missed attending last year as we had yet to find somewhere to rent long term and that was a priority.  Channel 7 is full on with the broadcasting here, however.  Everyone can see every match on three television channels and online/on the app.  For free.  Too easy. Last year I could barely stand the dull commentary and yearned for Mary Jo, Pammy, Chris, BG, Killer Cahill and the McEnroes.  Still miss them, but now I understand “Australian” significantly better and find the Aussies (plus Jim Courier who is thankfully on the Channel 7 team) pretty funny.  We’ve gone over this before, but Australians have a dry wit and that is completely in my wheelhouse.  I understand them, but they understand me less which is confounding.  They do not expect me to be as direct or as dry as I am and it kind of throws them.  I’m all in with your games, people.  But I still speak American and I think it’s my syntax that is the problem more than the delivery.

The Aus Open is quintessential Australian much as Wimbledon was just as British as promised.  Lucky girl in a lucky country.  I’ve now crossed off two of the four majors from my bucket list.  Unlike Wimbledon, it is possible to get a ticket to the tournament possibly even on that day.  The night sessions are sell outs and I’m pretty sure the days under the blessed roofs of Rod Laver and Margaret Court Arenas are sell-outs most sessions too, but grounds passes are plentiful and on a dry day, perfectly suitable.  Waiting to get into Hisense Arena (the unticketed court with a roof) and the popular matches can be an exercise in patience.  But who better to endure long lines with than Australians?  You can either be the aggressively friendly American (me) or you can just listen to them. Especially the ones with cold beverages.  There’s a lot of entertainment value in observation down here.  And once you are in, you stay because you do not want to wait again and now you have new best mates who share binoculars, bring you drinks and hold your seat because they’ve brought you drinks and you know…  Anyway, you whisper some stuff about the tennis and your lives and America v Australia and it’s what being an expat is all about.  Really.  Sharing the little stuff.  Tell me about what it’s like sending your kids to school here.  Tell me about where you like to travel and let me take some notes.  Ask me some questions about America.  Ask me what foods I miss from the states (answer: none).  Ask me if I’d stay (yes, if this was 10 years ago and the kids were here with us). And then ask me about Donald Trump.  Please.  Cue big eye roll and shake of the head.

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My favorite day, well properly my “favourite” day, was the day on the outer courts spent under the blazing sun just rows from the action, where you can hear the players talk to each other and themselves.  I think that’s what keeps the tennis interesting, how do you coach yourself or your partner to the win?  Can you adjust?  Can you just come in and dominate (Lord knows that is never my plan for good reason)?  Loved the doubles. Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza were brilliant and happy.  Of course they were winning, but they look like they’re just happy to be there.  So confident.  So smart.  If only.  Nick Kyrgios and his pretty partner.  No one cared about anything other than that mongrel, Nick.  All the fan girls poured in for that one.  Awesome.  Had to run over to Hisense to watch retiring Hewitt and big-serving Sam Groth win for the Aussies.  All the Aussie-Aussie-Aussie, Oi-Oi-Oi you could want in that celebration.   The Bryan brothers tethered together, mirror images but then my Indiana hometown’s own, Rajeev and his South African partner went the distance beating them soundly in three.  So fun.  Just ducked in there for the first set and the last with a trip to the Heineken Beer Garden in the middle.  Drafted in through the priority line (who knew that was a thing) with new best friends than had to kiss a “bloke” on the cheek to get one of the coveted Heineken hats.  When in Rome.  Such a good day.  So Australian.  Plus, I have that hat.

And the towels.  I have the towels.  I have all the towels.  I bought five.  Yep, five.  Two are to share.  One is my new playing towel all nicely monogrammed with K ROGERS.  Because in Australia no one will think I’m a grocery store advert.  And because that’s how players are listed on the score board.  Because my game is just like that.  No, it isn’t.   But it can be fun (and infuriating) and I do still love to play.  Still need a return on the initial investment in private and semi-private lessons with Susan and Slater.  The return is really my lifelong friendships with them both.  With any luck, I’ll be here next year to return to the Open with that tennis friend since we both walked on the courts in Carmel for the first time in 2001 fresh from moves and bonded by traveling husbands, busy kids and shaky tennis games.  And then the tennis coach that could take us both on and still laugh about it.  He spent American winters in Australia for years and now I understand why.  Lucky lucky girl in a lucky lucky country.

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Go Pro of Rod Laver with the roof open

Pro Tip:  Fly Qantas.  Queensland and Northern Territories Air Service (now you know) is peerless for domestic travel.  Our coach flight home to Sydney from Melbourne (about 90 minutes) included two choices for a hot meal, a little bottle of wine or beer if you so choose, a chocolate and entertainment on well-stocked iPad minis.  I had no idea that would be happening, so I saw the iPad in my seat pocket and took it right to a flight attendant thinking someone left if behind.  Rookie.  Oh, and the movie “People, Places and Things” is delightful (Jemaine Clement from the equally delightful “Flight of the Conchords” being as kiwi but not as ridiculous) and the last 10 minutes can be seen on Netflix if don’t quite finish the movie on board.  Anyway, luxurious coach travel.  Also with domestic travel in Australia:  no ID checks through security or to board your flight (no American will find that normal or possibly a good idea), no shoe removal at security, free newspapers at your gate (Qantas and Virgin which is also a nicer coach experience than most US carriers) and apparently no worries about liquids in your carry ons (I am still all travel-sized because I just keep thinking some day they will care).  More reasons to love Australia.  I could go on.  Just like I did here, when I had fairly wrapped up my story in the previous paragraph.

Oi Oi Oi

A Lucky Country

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Perhaps all my musings on the psychology of living abroad have left the impression that it’s a bigger challenge than it really is most of the time.  Let’s face it, I am living the dream.  I live on the ocean in a “lucky country” with golden light and temperate weather.  I have an almost unlimited amount of hours in the week to spend as I please.  I’ve made lovely friends and along my daily and weekly route of errands, people know me by face and name and I know them the same (I am aggressively American that way, we need to be on a first name basis).  Life in a fairly laid-back beach town off-season is a charmed life.  Winter is easing and on sunny Sundays the ferries are full and we jostle for position on the busy sidewalks to keep pace until we can climb up and away from the crowds.  We started as tourists and piled off the Manly ferry too, we understand.  My favorite thing is hauling home toilet paper along the Esplanade with all the people spending their day along the ocean.  You can’t get any more local than carrying a 24-pack of toilet paper home (the smallest rolls ever, by the way).

Ferries never get old.  I love to get about on the water and still ride mainly on the outside, but now generally stay seated and take just a photo or two because like I said, ferries never get old for me.  They are such a lovely way to get about.  Bobbing a bit in the water, moving mostly gently along the harbor.  Mind you, I generally stay off the ferries in rough seas.  That’s the beauty of a very unstructured life. Whitecaps out there?  Looks like a fine day to stay on this side of the bridge.  Possibly a nice day to read or bake.  Or binge watch Parks and Rec on Netflix.  Whatever, just a good day to appreciate not having to go anywhere and avoid the perils of high seas. But some days I (or we) go into the CBD on the ferry mainly just for the nice ride. The destination can be a very secondary consideration.  And it’s far easier to use public transport than to drive.  We have one bridge to cross over the Middle Harbor which is actually a draw bridge and that stretch of road, bridge up or down is always a challenge.  Crossing the Sydney Harbor via the iconic bridge or the far less enchanting tunnel can be slow going (but at least Greg has the lanes mastered which GPS is absolutely no help at all)  and then there is city parking which is ridiculously cost prohibitive or street parking which took us a bit to figure out the signage:  1P,2P, 4P and all variations of the theme.  We now have a parking pass for our neighborhood so that some day when I finally learn to drive on the other side sitting on the other side I will not also have to negotiate the very tight underground parking at home.  Not sure when that day will be.  I have two pannier baskets now for my tank of an American hybrid bike and two perfectly good (well, never mind the arthritis in one) feet to get me here and there.  But I should learn.  Just in case.

We have downsized, but still have three bedrooms and two baths.  But they are not ours.  It’s mostly freeing to have almost nothing you can do around the house.  Yes, I still clean bathrooms, vacuum floors (no carpet), dust and pick up but there are no big projects to do.  I have a few potted things to tend to on our balcony and porches, but the lawn is shared and maintained by a service.  Sure, I don’t have a disposal (virtually no one does) which is unpleasant and yes, I hang most of the laundry instead of using the dryer (most people do, but I draw the line with towels and jeans that have to be dried at least for a bit in the dryer at whatever cost).  If it’s a gorgeous sunny day it’s also a fantastic laundry day.  The trick is to bring the laundry in before the late afternoon, because there’s a (dew)point window where if you miss it, your laundry will become damp again.  And then there is the always vexing question, is it damp or cold?  Both?  As an added bonus, if you get it all just right and remember to start your wash in the morning for maximum drying time, the sun is remarkably good at bleaching whites.  Lord knows my washer and whatever combinations of Australian laundry powders and potions I’ve tried are not.  I’ve settled on a nice eco brand scented with orange and geranium and the delicates cycle after determining the washer just is not that effective at cleaning, regardless.  But it can be extremely effective at destroying clothes and towels.  The spin cycle could be mistaken for an airbus on take-off, which really can’t be good.  This is not a universal Australian problem and I’m almost tempted to mark it with an * for fear the washer will die and I will have to replace it (not covered in our lease agreement just like the refrigerator- both things that you usually bring to your rental property and I am happy to have been provided in whatever dubious state of appearance and level of performance).

Australian bathrooms are generally open arrangements with floor drains in the showers and floor drains in the middle of the room.  I was warned about this by a dear friend who keenly misses her expat years in Australia and gleefully shared all the quirky things that might trip up an American.  Showers are almost never fully enclosed.  Our Marriott showers and our corporate rental showers in the CBD (Central Business District, aka downtown) had doors, but they were not completely sealed so they also had drains in the middle of the floor.  Our showers at the beach house have glass walls with no door where you might expect one to be.  So it’s a particularly effective way to get most of the bathroom floor wet especially when the water bounces off a head around 6 feet from the ground (i.e. my husband and my younger daughter).  It’s extra special now in winter when not only is the tile floor cold, but it’s still wet in the middle of the night when you slip in (sometimes literally) to use the facilities.  Neighbors have heated floors and that would be Nirvana.  We do have heated towel racks which are a lovely, lovely thing.  Your towels are toasty warm and they actually dry before the next shower.  If you’re one of those fresh towels with every shower people, Australia can reform you.  No one is terribly worried about using water, but electricity is clearly only cheap in the states.  You’ll think twice here for your budget and the planet.  And really, you’re at the beach with better things to do than laundry.  Even in winter.

But still, it’s nothing to keep a small house for one or two people and a minimum amount of stuff.  Rental property is even more liberating.  It takes a little mind shift to be comfortable with things just as they are, especially if they are crying out for updating.  I’ve always been fairly accomplished at looking past things I couldn’t change (generally as a homeowner that would mean things just not in the budget for now) and that talent is useful with rental property.  I will admit to a little reluctance to hosting new friends for dinner when it’s too cold to eat outside.  There’s still a little pride of place holding me back and that’s all about the outdated and a bit shabby kitchen, cabinetry and floors.  Plus, who wants to eat dinner in your down vest or winter coat?  Just seems a little off-putting.  But our view.  Worth whatever bit of shabbiness.  And really, that shabbiness is in the eye of the beholder (and that look past things you can’t change, well I still have to dust and clean it so you know I still see it).   Sara walked right past it all and out to the lawn over the ocean and told me I had described it all wrong.  She said she had no idea her parents were Beyonce and Jay Z.  That’s how good the view is here.  It’s Malibu good.  Even better.  And who knows if our lease will be renewed this summer (Australian summer when you seriously do not want to try to find something else because nothing is up for rental and again, you are at the beach with much better things to do than move), so I’ll be quiet about the little stuff.

Housing is prohibitively expensive here with young couples routinely buying first homes in the low one millions.  You read that right.  Australians make a living wage and compensation just goes up from there (food service $26 AUD per hour, for example hence no tipping in case you visit).  The housing market has been growing at rates of over 20% per year for a few years now with almost no signs of that bubble bursting despite the almost constant chatter that it will.  Home ownership (primary and investment residences are equally awarded tax breaks) is incentivized favorably and the market is so strong that it seems everyone owns rental property.  The returns on investment are obscene and as Americans we just have to say “for now”.  And of course property where we live on the ocean is at a pretty premium.  We live in a “free hold” apartment, meaning the land on which it was built it titled to the homeowners.  A few doors up the street all the way to “the castle” on the hill aka St. Patrick’s Seminary (which is now a school of hospitality management but was the location for Keith and Nicole’s wedding and the exteriors for Leo’s house in “The Great Gatsby”) the land is owned by the Catholic Church and leased at a handsome sum to the homeowner’s through lease contracts of varying lengths.  But say your’s is a 10-year lease, then every 10 years the church must be paid 10% of the market value of your home (lease terms vary, but it seems a fairly large recurring expense). It’s all very interesting.  If you’d like to invest, there are lots of rules for foreign buyers (some very bluntly aimed at prohibiting Chinese from buying all the finest old homes on the best land, very bluntly, right out there).  But if you’d just like to see the properties, opens (known as inspections) generally last 10-20 minutes so queue up with other potential buyers (or renters, the rental market is intense too) and march on through at the designated time.  Quickly.  No time to waste.  No three-hour Sunday afternoon open houses here.  And then many properties are sold at auction which is just what it sounds like.  You stand around outside and bid with an auctioneer running the show.  You’ll be paying well over the guidance price and then you have to come up with stamp duty and finance some kind of mortgage which is generally not a fixed rate, or not fixed for very long.  Greg and I are slightly obsessed with a television show “Selling Houses Australia” where the clearance rate (Australian for the rate of homes on auction that sell over a weekend) is shockingly low.  The SHA team takes on some fantastically poorly kept/outdated/ugly properties, so there’s that.  But you watch the whole show, the transformation (always into something that I am sure the sellers wish had been that way all along) only to find that no offer meets the reserve (guidance, list price). It’s reality tv without the neat and tidy ending.  Very Australian.

As I come back and do some editing here, I am watching The Bachelor Australia for giggles and because pretty much everyone watches it.  Not that I need water cooler talk, because, um;  there are no water coolers in my life.  My big observation from tonight’s episode, the girls are all “frocked up” (a very funny Australian way of saying dressed up) and while they are otherwise indisposed sitting around, they have blankets across their laps.  Because, apparently there is no heat in the Bachelor mansion either.  Greg and I have another favorite show, “Have You Been Paying Attention” in which a panel of 6 celebrities (radio personalities, actors, comedians and the like) compete in a hilarious game of current events.  Ridiculously funny and very helpful in keeping us up to date on news, politics, sports and popular culture. It’s on the same network as The Bachelor so you had best been paying attention to the show.  As with all media here, no punches are pulled and the PC police just do not seem to be patrolling the area.  Just a little side bar there on why we love Australia.

If I could teleport them, I’d love to have our cats but the quarantine, the travel and most importantly the no screens and the wide open doors mean I’m unusually enthusiastic about the water dragons starting to come out of hibernation (here they actually run PSA’s helpfully suggesting you feed your cats really enticing food so the cats don’t hunt the water dragons, birds and all the other rare species).  So with the family cats lovingly under the care of my in-laws, I’ve bought a bird book to sort all the exotic creatures.  The birds are up at first light and even after 6 months in this apartment, I can’t get the least bit upset with them.  I even have little conversations with the lorikeets and kookaburras.  That bit would not surprise any of my family, particularly not my children who painfully know the ridiculous degree to which I love small animals.  But really, the the birds sound as if they want me to talk.  And the same ones come every day. There’s little difference:  empty nester with a big empty house and 2 cats in the states or empty nester with a smaller apartment in Australia. You need some interaction.  It’s a little one-sided with the birds, but I fully embrace my kind of Dr. Doolittle crazy.

Apparently, spring arrives on September 1st.  It’s always the 1st of the month for seasonal changes, absolutely nothing to do with a solstice.  Who’s going to notice if Australia does the whole season thing differently?  No one.  It’s practical, I’ll give you that.  The longer days are magical regardless of how mild your winter wherever you might be.  The nights have stayed warmer, and the space heaters get very little use now.  August and September winds are notorious and they’ve kept me mostly getting about on my feet.  My tank of a bike, gusty winds and hills is not nearly as fun right now.  That gorgeous BMW X1 is right below me, but for now it’s safe from me.

I think it’s pretty funny that I’ve decided to take on the super scary challenge of open-water swimming, but I won’t take on the challenge of driving on the other side of the road on the other side of the car.  Mind you I did not drive in the states until I was 20 years-old.  The next summer I got married.  (All that sounds like I am way older than I am, everyone else drove at 16 but it’s just a long story with the central theme being I was ridiculously hard to teach and slow to learn how to go backwards in a car). Plus, I have a healthy respect for big motorized machines and other people’s property and lives.  But I have always been a good swimmer and I’ve always loved water.  I am a Pisces, after all.  I have never been a lap swimmer since it was required for summer swim team and lifeguarding.  I just never liked freestyle. Backstroke with it’s free-breathing or breast stroke where you can easily see where you are going are much better.  I’m old enough that alternate side breathing was not a thing but if all the waves are crashing to your right, you better learn to breathe left. So, I have a swim coach and I’ve got that breathing thing down.  And I’ve learned all kinds of technique-y things that make my stroke more powerful.  Swim lessons for the swim instructor, I’m okay with that.  Now I just need it to warm up a bit in the water.  My one and only swim this winter out there in that gorgeous ocean was very very intimidating, cold and ugly.  But you have to start somewhere.  The new full length wetsuit arrived this week, so now there are no excuses.  Well, there are a few.  I’m looking for some success, so a really swishy day is out.  So are days after big rains, since I’d prefer to avoid another go round with an ear infection and muffled hearing.  And if I dive under and get brain freeze (which totally happened the first time, the water is that cold), that’s not the start of my next swim either (that’s the end, I’m not completely crazy). Something tells me there are a few more ugly swims on their way, but I’ll be headed out in a social group and we’ll test their support and encouragement.  This week after one of their swims they were enjoying cake and bubbles for a birthday.  I can do that.  Of course, they swam in just their cossies (swimsuits) no wet suits, let alone the full ones. Good on them.  Aussies are crazy.  C-R-A-Z-Y, crazy. It’s all just not a big deal. Alrighty then, I’ll give it a go and be sure to tell you all about it.  Greg knows where all the papers and passwords are now.  He thought we should go through that before my first swim, he was also kidding, but I was FREAKING out. It’s a big deal to me, but I’m going to crush it.

Because I’m lucky enough to live in a lucky country, on the most gorgeous stretch of ocean between two stunning beaches and a marine reserve in Australia.  How cool is that?  It’s very cool.

coming, going, staying

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Crisscrossing the country somewhere over Arizona for the 4th time in 2 months marveling at the happy fat clouds casting shadows as they do.  I should be sleeping.  I should be recharging and resetting headed for 6 days of fun in LA with Kelly, but now the view is too tempting to shut my eyes.  And so I pull down the overhead bin and open my laptop that I told myself was worth the room and weight in my bag this trip.  You’ll want to write, I reasoned.  You’ll have some time.  Surely you’ll have something in your head that wants to get sorted.  You’ll need that therapy.  I’m so smart. 

What keeps me from writing is my internal struggle that the biggest shifts for me of living abroad are happening in the same time and space as the universal shifts that anyone lucky enough to live to see 52 years, 31 years of marriage and 25 years of parenting experiences.  You may have been down this path, you might be on it with me or you might be in wonder of what it will be like to fully live the empty nest.  For all of the gut-wrenching, soul-crushing and deep deep pain of the finality of the last big chunks of bulk time with your children by your side (that’s not just me is it?), there’s the other side with it’s big wide possibility of what will be next for them, for you and for the people that will come into this story and into your family that you’ve yet to even meet.  How does it all work out?  You are literally bent over in half, trying to stop crying, trying to find your breath and trying so hard to just survive to the next day when whatever is next can begin (again, not just me, right?).  And then that day comes and you wake up and know you will be fine.  You get the excited phone call about how amazing it (whatever that might be) is and you have a nice big exhale.  So I’m here with Sara on her way starting real adult working life in Madison, Wisconsin and Kelly still loving life in LA now in a sweet little studio in Venice just off the beach.  And Greg’s in China so this is all about right for our little family.  There are just four of us, but many days we are in four time zones but texting and Face Timing and staying connected in the very modern world. 

We’ve done this before, this expat thing, but the girls were babies and we were all on our tatami mat floors under the same roof in Tokyo 20 years ago.  And those were the dark ages.  No e-mail, Facebook, Instagram, cell phones and video chats.  We did just fine with calling cards on land lines and handwritten letters going back and forth from the States to Japan, but it’s so much easier to stay in touch now.  I have been lucky to do a lot of visiting with two trips home almost back to back.  It’s a very deep happiness to actually hug someone and be with them in real life.  In my head I see you and I’m quickly categorizing all the background we’ve exchanged over the intrawebs and then it’s just so intense, the joy of actually holding you close and breathing it all in.  All the love.  All the missing.  It trips me up for just a second, that you are actually right there in front of me. I’m always surprised for a split second how vivid the connection is in real life. That is definitely a function of maintaining relationships electronically.  Massive amounts of energy behind the scene whirs through my head reassuring myself that I’m fine being isolated and doing a lot of living in a virtual space.  I don’t let myself think too long or too hard about how happy or sad I could be.  But when we meet after a stretch apart, at least for a brief while, everything is truly good and right.  And happy.  I know now to go ahead and let all that happy in whenever you can. 

Good and right moments happen back home in Australia now too (there was no more writing on the MacBook in LA, but I did log on and watch a good deal of Wimbledon early mornings in the Murphy bed with my earphones in which was great until I got a little excited and cheered and woke up Kelly over in her own bed meeting up just so at the foot of my bed, very fun sharing).  My first week home at the beach passed pretty quietly.  There was a lot of adjusting going on.  Back to winter and it’s chilly nights that come way too early when you are trying to re-set your internal clock.  Why stay awake?  It’s so cozy under a blanket reading a good book and then the next thing you know it’s 3 or 4 in the morning.  But the bigger adjustments were in coming around the fact that pretty much until Christmas morning, this is your life now.  For real.  And it’s up to you to make something of it.  So I went inside my head for a few days and let myself work it out.  Maybe that’s just me too, but I’m okay with my own kind of crazy.  Just me doing my thing.  Then as soon as I was ready to jump back in, friends popped up with invitations and we very consciously filled our days with all the things we love to do in our new life staying open to whatever might be next. Ah, the setting of intentions with an open heart.  Funny how that works.  

And so we’re here (well, I’m always here and Greg is often somewhere else but you know, we are here for his job which he has described at Australian Immigration as “running Asia” which the officer really enjoyed) digging in and making a new life.  We loved our full life back in the states.  And this expat life is filling up and expanding. It’s the expansion that’s so fun.  We’re both ridiculously friendly Midwesterners in case you have not had the pleasure of meeting us.  Pretty unstoppable.  Add in a good cup of coffee (rice milk flat white takeaway, please) or a nice glass of wine (or two) and well, that’s where all the stories start.  

This week in Manly

Fall is here in earnest.  Absolutely fascinating weather week.  Cyclonic winds and rain for almost three days at the beginning of the week,  gentle rollers and almost glassy conditions for paddling in the sunshine by the end of the week, dramatic skies and hail that covered the streets like snow on the weekend.  Everywhere I have ever lived (with the possible exception of Tokyo because I honestly never knew what they were saying in regards to anything let along the weather) people think their weather uniquely unpredictable.  Friends,  I am here to tell you that Mother Nature just does her thing and she sometimes seems to have no firm plans for what that might be.  Fall is still mild here, but unlike at home it’s in the months of March-May.  That is a mind trick for me.  I’m almost through thinking in dual time.  Now, most of the time I just want to know what time it is in Sydney. Not what time it is in Sydney/Carmel/Durham/Venice/Chagrin Falls.  Seriously, for most of four months every time I thought about my tribe I had to do the math.  Exhausting.  But I’m still pondering why it’s dark so early and why people are wearing puffy coats and knit hats when it’s April.  And maybe they have on the knit cap and I’m swimming in the ocean in my wet suit and walking home with bare feet.

About that storm.  At home I would have been worn out by the weather people warning me to prepare to batten down the hatches and assemble emergency supplies.  Worn out.  But in Sydney they give the weather report for the whole country every time they do the weather.  It’s a big country.  A five hour flight from Sydney to Perth.  Still, one report.  They rarely get too excited about any of it.  But at home that storm would have had a name.  It’s wind speeds would be categorized.  But what felt exactly like a warm blizzard (would have been a *$%(@ ton of snow) since I have relatively little hurricane experience, was just, you know, an East Coast Low.  Uh huh.  That little low lifted my paddleboard off it’s trolley and flipped it at least once so it crashed on the fin.  Twice.  No damage, but that was quite a racket in the middle of the night.  Don’t worry I took my board out for a fantastic long paddle and cleaned off all the debris and trauma.  At the height of the storm people were just commuting to work and school and no one was really all that worried that the winds were howling sustained over 60 mph (gusting over 100 mph-that’s cat 2 cyclone wind speeds) absolutely sideways.  One of my friends caught the last ferry in before they wisely suspended ferry service and she’s an Australian (which is why she got on that boat, no American would have done it because despite that lack of warning you could see plain as day that was insane) and said she located her life jacket.  They just don’t get excited about all the things that are so obviously dangerous.  You have to be that way.  It’s all out to kill you here.  Look it up on Buzzfeed.  But still come visit me, I’ll save you.

Anyway, my house emptied out that day with Greg driving the hellish commute (because of duh, the cyclone) to the airport and back so Mike and Tina could fly home to Alabama after spending two weeks of Mike’s sabbatical with us (very fun, another post).  Greg got home just in time to pack for 5 weeks away and catch his cab to fly out on Malaysia Airlines to Kuala Lampur. You want to be on a Malaysian Airlines flight in a cyclone.  He called and said, “I’m on MH122 in case you need to know”. Can’t think about that.  So it’s just me and it’s the storm of the century, but that’s generally how that’s gone with a husband who travels.  I always got the dig the mailbox out of a 4 -foot drift shift.  No sirens are sounding and the sea is so spectacularly chaotic, I had to go see.  On foot.  In a cyclone.  My Aussie assimilation is going well, clearly.  I’m not the least bit afraid.  Just super curious.  Wish I could have captured the fierceness.  Not possible without all the senses going (except the common sense, because I’m still walking around in a cyclone in just my awesome new team Kathmandu rain jacket-Greg has the same model, same color, same team).  I am soaking.  My Hunter boots arrived the next day.  Soaking.  I live on the ocean side so that was spectacular, but what does it look like on the harbour side?  What does that ferry ride look like?  I don’t know, let’s walk down this street and see.  Let’s seriously try to walk directly into the cyclonic winds.  I have no idea how I stayed on the ground.  People are still walking to the ferry in work clothes.  Mothers have babies in strollers and are walking their little plaid uniform children to school.  School.  It’s a cyclone.  How are they not just taking flight?

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about that wintry mix in the middle of the East Coast Low

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impressive waves

I get to the wharf and there is a single file line to get on the one ferry that is running (and it’s the Fast Ferry, the catamaran one-the big tugboat sized Manly Ferry is not running mind you).  That line stretches out of the ferry terminal out into the storm. Crazy, crazy, crazy.   The boats in the harbor are just anchored, there is not a proper marina which is probably just as well.  The boats are everywhere.  One is pushed ashore.  That ferry still left, but it was the last one that day.  On the way over I should have grabbed my flat white.  Because now power is out and there will be no coffee for the rest of the day.  But they were open. They don’t even have windows or a door or anything more than a counter separating them from the outside.  Do you see what I mean?  So not America.  So I head back home with the wind at my back making it a quick and very wet trip.  Luckily hot showers do not require electricity.  Spent the rest of the day reading and watching the surfers off Shelly Point.  Honestly.  It looked like CGI.  The largest wave recorded off Sydney just north of Manly in Dee Why was measured at 14.9 meters (48.44 feet), read about it.  Surf on, you have a wetsuit.

During the daylight hours, my resident kookaburra sat on my deck rails, chairs and barbecue fluffing off the rain, cowering from the wind and looking dead straight at me, now all safe and dry.  Poor thing.  I don’t know where my water dragons tied up in the storm, but they all returned when the sun came out at the end of the week.  And so did my kookaburra.  I am not feeding him, but he is almost fearless.  I got up to grab something whilst lunching on my deck in the sun Friday and I turned around to see the bird hopping off my Tervis Tumbler of water and headed towards my deluxe grilled cheese.  Good save.  I sat down and he sat down on the chair back across the table from me.  New friend.  No judgement on the mac and cheese.  Unable to shake my ear infection (blaming ocean swimming for the original infection and traveling for the return with a vengeance) after two rounds of the Australian version of a Z-pack (3 days, like bombs), I had a return trip to my fabulous new GP and am now on a stronger antibiotic and steroids.  Hence, little appetite and no sleeping so I’m writing.  Yin and yang there.  I really needed to get some of this done.

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my very wet kookaburra staring me down

And so life returned to normal on the Northern Beaches turning gorgeous pretty simultaneously with me having to hop on a bus and sit in a waiting room to get this now double ear infection under control.  Side note here, we are not on Australian medicare (their public healthcare) but international insurance through a US provider who shall not be named because I’m not overjoyed with the paperwork, but as always I am happy to be insured no matter the scanning and uploading and cryptically coded we need more information mail).  Doctor’s visit is $80 and she’s worth it because she is getting me all squared away asking the right questions and giving me alternatives previously not considered in the states.  I go to the chemists on the first floor and have them fill my antibiotic, my steroids and my first month of new blood pressure medication (running out about the day I land in the states and we’re trying something new and hopefully beneficial).  I’m thinking this is going to be pricey and again, worth it because my ears hurt and I’m about to fly for twenty some hours in less than two weeks.  It was $120 cash.  Beautiful.  But no swimming which is fine because the water after all that rain is polluted from run off and etc.  And it’s brown and not it’s usual deep Pacific blue.  Yes, I did take my paddleboard out, but I do not fall.  Yoga.  Core strength.  Balance.  And risk avoidance (except for that one hour in the storm when I went full Aussie).

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sun also rises and so do the swimmers

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sunset over Manly Lagoon

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so many surfers at dusk

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sunrise and paddle surfers

This week in Manly wrapped up with Anzac Day and the day I think they should call Recovery Day or the day after Anzac Day. The bugle call at first light on the 100th Anniversary of Gallipoli.  I am not going to try to explain that to you. But long story short, the Australian and New Zealand troops fighting for the Queen and the British Empire realized that they were not supported by their mother country and that’s when their separate identities were forged.  The losses were staggering and Anzac Day is very similar to Memorial Day but highly focused on the one field of battle and loss.  They lost that battle spectacularly to the Turkish army and that is their most glorious holiday.  Interesting psyche here.  But it is Australia, so it’s a drinking holiday.  Friends invited me to a Manly Marlins rugby union game.  Again, I can’t really explain that to you.  It did look like the rugby my brother played at UC and now coaches in South Carolina.  Keith and Karen are planning their trip here (I know I’m really selling it with this post) for the Sydney Sevens.  When Keith sits next to me and explains it, maybe I can explain it to you.  Loved it, though.  On the surface, not too complicated. A ball crosses the plain of what appears to be a goal line and points are scored.  Kicking through uprights also scores some points.  Got it?  Rugby Union in Manly is a small town event.  Of course there was the whole Anzac rememberance.  This, unlike the weather, they cover with extreme passion and urgency.  As they should.   Anyway, this one involved period costumed “diggers” (soldiers) and nurses, life saving clubs all kitted out in the swim cap/beanie/tie on head wear kind of thing and little league rugby and cricket teams.  But the best part was the little cheerleaders.  Old school moves in sparkly uniforms and mismatched gym shoes on adorable little ones age about 3-11.  And I made new friends and I was invited to a book club. And the Marlins won.  Woo hoo!  And then we all headed to the hotel (remember, that’s Aussie for pub) for 2-up.  A game I really really can’t explain because a bank of billowing black storm clouds unleashed wind, rain and hail on my way home to change into warmer clothes before another social engagement.  I fully intended to witness 2-up, a coin flip gambling game that is legal in every pub across Australia on Anzac Day only, but I received a kind invitation from a sweet new American expat friend who had tried once before to invite Greg and I out only to be on the one day in weeks we were busy.  I need to embrace all opportunities to make friends.  So I apologized again for the early exit, scampered home barefoot (Birkenstocks do not like water) in the hail and lightning (I am looking reckless here, but let’s repeat this:  I need all the friends I can make), hung up all the wet things and changed into dry things to walk up and over the hill back to their house on the harbour.  And I made more new friends.  Yippee.  On a roll.  And by then it was too rainy to walk back into town for my 2-Up encounter.  Next year.  Next year Greg will be here for Australia Day and Anzac Day.  And by next year I will know the national anthem.  I love to sing.  It’s just not right to not even be able to hum along.  Plus, it’s pretty catchy.

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please see the 3 or 4 year olds-so cute

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rugby union action

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it’s coming


So today on recovery day, it was quiet and grey at first light (not just the steroids, we only have sheers and a big wall of windows facing east, I need a good eye mask) and then the rain began to fall on the wayto yoga and just kept falling most of the day.  Ah, best made plans.  So I went to yoga and with my lack of sleep struggled to fully let go of my continued irritation at the sound only of the instructor and maybe some ujjayi breath (but not alot, not terribly breath-focused instruction).  But I’m breathing and moving and feeling fairly good even after two weeks of dimished wellness.  Crooked, I am.  Sick, said the GP. But on the road to recovery.  The rain helped.  Lingered for however long it takes to have my flat white and a savory muffin and read two Sunday papers at my favorite coffee shop.  It’s own kind of bliss.  I even Tango-ed with Tammy back home (that’s a free video call between an iPhone and an android phone) without wifi which was a big splurge.  But again, friends are good.

My inner authentic me is so eager to make friends that I literally look for a compliment to give everyone I see out and about. And I mean everyone.  Such a strong urge to connect.  There are no barriers to this internal will.  Everyone.  I love your jumper. That’s a great hat.  Your dog is the cutest.  Whatever.  But I rarely say anything because it would just be so out of nowhere. We’re just passing on the street or sitting across from one and another on the ferry.  All the time.  I’m a connector.  It’s a huge part of my happiness.  And the struggle is real.  It’s particularly raw and sad at yoga.  Yoga.  Can’t make a friend there under any circumstances.  No one.  Not one single person has talked to me before or after class ever.  Not ever.  I’m not kidding.  It’s a big busy studio.  There are people of all ages.  There are friends there, I know it.  But they sure don’t.  I’ll try to make small talk and not only do they not seem interested, they do not respond.  I mean I can’t figure this out.  At dinner out tonight with my recent temporary flat-mate, Katie – a fellow expat from Indiana and former lulu co-worker who stayed with us for a couple of weeks between housing – she may have hit on something.  Clearly, as soon as I speak a word I’m easily identifiable as an American.  Quite possibly they aren’t interested in making temporary friends correctly assuming I’m here as an expat.  Let’s hope this has some truth.  Otherwise, something is either horribly wrong with me or with the whole “community” of them.  They are not my tribe from home, we’d be going to coffee or juice.  We’d be hugging, laughing, listening, talking and caring and we’d take our yoga out of that studio and onto the streets of Manly.  We would build a community.  It’s so frustrating to me.  I had a little discussion at the desk after class.  I’ve signed up and paid for a year.  I’ve gone to at least 3 classes a week for almost three months.  It doesn’t seem Australian. I’ll keep you posted.  I swear they’d be nicer if they’d just play some music in class.And maybe do triangle (we really almost never do triangle and even those of you who don’t practice yoga  probably know triangle).  Or here is the big one, breathe. Breathe.  Long inhales and exhales.  Mouth closed.  Mind focused.  Heart singing along with the music.  C’mon Power Living people.  It’s in you.  Share it.

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dramatic sunset









what’s it like?

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early Saturday morning at The Bower

IMG_0659Super exciting morning for my MacBook Air as we venture out together for a flat white and a long bus ride to the dental lab. Part one today comes from one end of an outdoor common table at Bench, the coffee shop where we have now firmly exchanged names:  Melissa takes my order and money and sweet Killian makes my coffee.  I don’t even drink coffee.  I’ve never been able to tolerate the caffeine, but in this new life I drink a flat white not quite every day.  For the communal ritual. Purely.  Plus they have rice milk because I’ve never been able to tolerate milk either.  When the lovely tropical birds and the sunrise wake you every morning a good hour or two before you are ready to wake up, you employ the magic of caffeine to start your day.  This morning there were power saws sawing somewhere in the Fairy Bower at 5:30 am.  Australians really aren’t that industrious, except for apparently on this morning.  They are renovating an apartment a few buildings down and they are building a gorgeous restaurant at Shelly Beach and one of those projects got a nice early start today.

If you’re reading, you want to know what is it like to live abroad.  What’s it like to live in Australia?  But so much of this adventure is uncharted territory for me.  What’s it like to live in a big city (did that for the first 5 weeks)?  What’s it like to live abroad solo for weeks on end (and then very closely not solo)?  What’s it like to live in an apartment again?  What’s it like to live in a beach town (and not just any beach town, the world famous Manly Beach)?  So much is so new.  All I can say is that I rarely admit to being strong, but I’m owning that now.  It’s gorgeous and exciting, but it’s hard and challenging too.

Hey, now I’m writing on the 143 Bus to Chatswood.  I’ll be on here 50 minutes, so let’s see how productive I can be.  Once again someone near me appears to have a cold, so this laptop will be getting a good wipe down.  I’m running a streak on bus rides and sick people right now. Gross, but not driving is just fine.  Public transport is pretty easy in Sydney.  Australians find it very lacking, but as a suburbanite from the sprawling Midwest I find it fairly convenient.  Surely it’s easier than finding parking and executing parallel parking on the other side or negotiating the tight turns in car parks (parking garages).  Note:  almost nothing was written on the bus ride.  I was off to somewhere I’ve never been and I was a little anxious about missing my stop. Next big trip, the laptop is staying home.  I’ll take my kindle or a newspaper to pass the time.

Since my last post, it’s turned to fall.  So while you’re all thawing out and headed to spring, we’re cooling down a bit headed to winter.  Australians seem to randomly pick the dates their seasons change since it’s been fall here for a couple of weeks, but apparently seasons change more on observed temperature averages and not on astrological events.  Who knew?  Close to the ocean, our temperature holds a bit more steady between night and day.  I wore jeans all afternoon for the first time since moving in December.  But the water is still warm and there are still beach days ahead for March and April.  Warm is relative, but to a girl who grew up swimming in a very cold spring-fed lake in northeastern Ohio, water temperatures in the low 70’s are just fine once you dip your torso under and realize you did not die from a heart attack.  My big goal is to swim from Manly Beach to Shelly Beach for the Cole Classic open water swim in January, 2016.  So far my longer swims have employed a mask and snorkel which is really cheating.  I want to join the swim squad, but I actually think I need to take an open water swim lesson.  That’s pretty funny since I was a certified watersafety instructor.  Funnier still is the requirement that you wear a wetsuit for lessons.  Oh boy.

One of my strategies for meeting people is to play tennis at the local lawn tennis club.  The first thing I noticed about the Manly Lawn Tennis Club is the lawn is short artificial turf and sand, not natural lawn grass.  Our neighbor plays at Mosman Lawn Tennis Club on real lawn.  He’s taking me there to hit some day.  He’s very retired Australian and he and his darling wife are off traveling now in their caravan (RV) for the next 5 weeks.  Then they’re off in the winter for four months in Europe.  Australians travel.  Their collective wanderlust is very real.  He’ll probably kick my American butt on the court, but I’m willing to give it a go. Tuesday mornings I have Ladies’ Comps.  i’m playing in the second level of three levels.  The competition is generally friendly, but under that cute accent the ladies are pretty serious.  Like all American girls, I baffle them when I call out the score of 15 as 5.  But hey, they call it fifth.  We only play deuce and ad points once, if we’re back to deuce it’s sudden death.  We play a first to seven tie-breaker at 5-all in a set.  We play 3 sets even if a team has already one the first two sets.  We’re scored on the number of sets won.  Each court gets two new balls and they are not numbered.  So much easier than keeping track of three balls.  The nets are high enough off the ground at the bottom, that players roll the balls under the net to get them back.  I can’t do that.  Tossing them back is too ingrained.  I have squad on Thursdays, which is what Americans call clinic.  I am having the hardest time with squad, driving the pro absolutely crazy because I will not play balls that are out.  He can’t yell “play it” fast enough.  Hey, it’s out.  My point.  I’m not hitting it back.  That’s a bad habit.  Poaching at the net is called crossing, but I do that about as much as I did in the states so that’s not really an issue.  Overheads are called smashes.  Cute.  I’ll toss you up one if my lob is a little short, but i’m playing at a level where most opponents hate lobs so I’m liberally employing them.  Rarely are the sides of the court referred to as the deuce and ad sides.  I get pretty funny looks from him when I do that.  Doubles formation is apparently one up and one back and every time he calls it people line up two back.  It’s not that hard, girls.  I can’t get him to understand cross-court close.  I need Slater here to back me up.  But it’s good.  I wear a visor and sunscreen every time I’m on a court.  I am the only person not wearing sunglasses.  It’s a big deal for me to play with a visor.  I sweat way too much to wear sunglasses.  And we won’t even start on the tennis clothes.  If there was the equivalent of the IRC Pro Shop, Midwest Sports or Tennis Warehouse here they would make a fortune.  The poor girls have no choices in tennis clothes or shoes.  So sad.  Why else do you play?

I bit the bullet and paid in full for a year of yoga at Power Living yoga.  I can walk or ride my bike and be there in 5-10 minutes which is key.  Members have mat storage, but I like my mat to air out so right now I’m using my cool new “hippie” yoga bag (so named by my not hippie husband) from Wanderlust.  The teachers are good, it’s not their fault they do not play music but I sure wish they would.  Some days I think of getting a little bluetooth earbud and secretly playing my own music from my phone in my locker.  But all my modifications for my hips that can not externally rotate draw enough attention.  It’s fairly athletic yoga and they’ve never heard of flowing on your own. But I’m adapting.  My quads and hamstrings are ridiculously engaged from all of the walking, stairs, hills and bike riding so yoga is critical to undo the uptight muscles and the sometimes uptight mind.   Australia is not for the weak.  Seriously.  And if you end up injured, well you just don’t want to end up injured.  There can’t be an Australian equivalent of the ADA.   If there is no one is compliant.

In the beach town of Manly, people are crazy active.  I particularly love the little kids with their dads surfing before school.  How cute is that?  In the late afternoons on days when the surf is up people are bare-footed and in their board shorts, bikinis and wet suits literally running to the beach with their surfboards.  I’m not sure why they run, but it always looks like if they don’t get to the water right that very minute they’ll miss the best waves ever.  Everyone swims.  Everyone.  Every day.  When it’s warm/hot they just head down with a towel maybe and goggles maybe and go for a swim.  Now some people are just bobbing in the surf.  Some are swimming parallel to shore.  Some swim beach to beach.  Some swim fast.  Some stop often and just tread and chat.  I want to swim with those people.  Wet people everywhere having coffee all morning every day.  It’s awesome.  Snorkeling is an almost daily thing for me.  I recognize all the big blue gropers (not groupers, gropers) in our little aquatic reserve.  The warm water is particularly full of little tropical fish this time of year.  Some days I swim through schools of thousands.  Those are always the days when the GoPro is safely at home.

My paddleboard with the wheels always turns heads on the way down to the beach.  There are two of us with wheels.  We are both female.  We both live up the hill.  We are both over 50.  And we don’t care.  The weather’s been changing and the water has been less calm.  It’s a personal challenge to stay out longer and venture further out where the water is rolling.  The reward is always sitting and or lying on the board for a while and just drifting along.  Delightful.

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swimmers at Manly Beach on a cool fall morning while I head to hot yoga

 

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of course there is a unicyclist in the morning on the East Esplanade in Manly

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one of the biggest water dragons along the cliff over the beach walk, always hopeful I’ll have a grape for him

The esplanades along the beach are full of walkers, joggers and runners and their dogs.  All day into the evening.  I haven’t quite figured out the bike lanes.  There are roundabouts and you don’t bike through them.  You should walk your bike down the corso (shopping area) and the busy sidewalks the bike lanes sometimes ask you to move onto when the streets are narrow. Real cyclists know the rules.  I’m just riding to get places faster and with a little more ease than on foot.  I need baskets, probably panniers over the back tire.  Swinging bags of whatever on your handlebars is risky at best.  Bike shop guys are super nice.  And they really want to sell me a lighter bike to tackle the hills.  I brought Kelly’s old hybrid bike because my old hybrid bike was even heavier and older.  It’s a tank.   I’d get a retro bike with baskets and gears, but let’s rust out the old bike first.  Living on the ocean means everything rusts.  When I take my bright pink special in to get the baskets, I guarantee I’ll also get the subtle reminder that my bike makes it all a lot harder.  As if my legs were not strongly telling me the same thing after a long ride to the good market and back.

Walking to the beach this afternoon for some reading and or napping and a bit of a swim, the sun was shining and fat random raindrops were falling from a cloud I could not see.  It cleared long enough for a couple of chapters and a long enough nap that I’m sure involved some snoring.  As I dipped in for my daily swim (I’m not Australian enough for that, I still swim on only nice days) the clouds were building.  A while later, clean and dry in our apartment the thunderstorm rolled in and brought a double rainbow.  Did the surfers get out of the water?  Heck, no.  You could tell the storm would pass.  And it was gorgeous.

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storm rolling in late afternoon

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double rainbow over the ocean

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late afternoon fall sun over the rock pool