blue skies abroad, the Australian expat years


the view from the edge of our garden the morning of my 52nd birthday

How you going?
That’s Aussie for “how are you?” or “how’s it going?”.  We live on the ocean, so “Good” is a very honest answer.  But, “How you going”?  At least now I am fairly certain I’ll be greeted with that phrase (in person and on the phone) and even if someone says it super fast or super Australian, I have an answer ready and no longer return the interestingly constructed greeting with a quizzical expression or baffled silence.  We moved 11 weeks ago and after two temporary addresses, we’re happy to be settling in at a considerably more permanent address with a 12-month lease.   Life is good living in a 3-bedroom/2-bath apartment right on the ocean.   It’s damp and salty, but it’s good.  Living on a “blue ribbon street” with a million dollar view (actually, $3.3M AUS was the selling price in October) keeps us in constant wonder.  Sydney, Australia or more specifically the Fairy Bower Precinct of Manly, Australia may inspire the least amount of productivity from a fairly type A person, ever.  And that, friends is most definitely a good thing.

However, we’re firmly here now and if I can just find my way to organizing (and here I appreciate that WordPress spellcheck does not replace all the z’s with s’s as my Australian iPhone does-yes, I know I can change that setting but it’s so amusing) the last bits of the place, I’ll be able to clear the way for more creating.  Setting up an apartment for two 50-somethings with the things we brought and without the things we didn’t has been highly amusing.  Okay, a bit annoying too because there is Target here, but don’t be fooled.  Not the same.   No housewares, cleaning supplies, linens and all the super cute Target things that are so easy to throw in your cart because they’re so cute and not very expensive.  Nope.  No one-stop shopping.  Well, maybe but if a store has everything the everything part is usually of very low quality.  I did find Method cleaning products (Target favorites in the states) at the Big W (no Walmart, but instead the general merchandise storefront of Woolworth’s which is actually a decent grocer here).  I bought the whole lot, as they say.  Just completely made that day.

Greg and I made the long drive to IKEA and quickly he decided that was not where we would buy furniture and etc. and it was somewhere we never needed to go together again (remember that 30 Rock Episode where Liz Lemon discusses the relationship perils of going to IKEA together?  It wasn’t exactly like that but the charm of the place was lost on my husband). We have, however, successfully completed our first Gumtree transactions (the Aussie version of Craig’s list) buying a very sweet Polish couple’s nice big Breville food processor and deluxe ironing board.  Nothing with a motor came with us to Australia.  Even with a converter, the change of current eventually kills appliances from home.  Since we won’t be here for forever you have to question the wisdom of buying everything new and then selling it or handing it down to someone when you leave.  So we worked some deals.  You might note that ironing boards have no motors, but you would be amazed at the price of a good ironing board (easily you should spend $125 or more and the pricing disparity completely eludes us both).  Anything with a plug also stayed home except all of our Apple things and our Bose wireless speaker.  They all seem to be surviving with adapters for their plugs just fine.  My straightener?  Hmmm, does your straightener hum or buzz?  Yeah, I didn’t think that was a good sign either.  Our electric toothbrushes?  Tiny motor, but motor nonetheless and completely dead here.  My new cute haircut?  Getting shorter when I go for round 2.  Just going with the flow on that one.  Some days are more humid than others, but we live literally on the Pacific Ocean (specifically the Tasman Sea) and we have no HVAC.  No heat, no air conditioning.  So far, so good with just fans sandwiching our bed.  The ocean is good for breezes.  When it’s winter, I’ll let you know if we still love the sea breeze.

Sydney looks like San Francisco or Malibu with rolling hills and cliffs along the water, but it’s warm like Los Angeles.  Manly, where we live is a half-hour ferry from the CBD (Central Business District) or where we first started.  The Manly Ferry is non-stop right into Circular Quay (that’s pronounced “key”) between the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge.  When my dear friend (and sorority sister), Carolyn, visited Australia in June she immediately messaged that I should live in Manly.  When we first visited Sydney to house hunt, neither one of us really saw it.  Mind you our neighbors from the Village of WestClay moved to Manly almost 2 years ago, but we still looked all around Sydney.  When our corporate housing lease expired and we could not find a rental property (moving around the holidays was not a strategically excellent decision for real estate considerations) and corporate housing could not find another apartment for us anywhere, I did what my girls would do and got on Airbnb.  This, as it turns out was pure serendipity.

I took the ferry over to see two Airbnb properties and the first I never even walked through the door.  The second was charming, the host was so nice and with the exception of the joys of moving 8 suitcases, groceries and etc. in a “maxi van” taxi (such a name) on a steamy hot day it worked out beautifully.  I learned quickly that Carolyn was so right.  The area of Manly we live in is of course drop-dead gorgeous (you’ve seen the photos, there will be more) but it’s also very easy to live here without a car.  Greg has a very nice BMX X1 crossover sedan, but the steering wheel is on the other side and you drive on the other side of the road.  I swear I’lll learn to drive, but it might be a while.  I can walk to the ferry, the bus, the shops, the yoga studios, the tennis courts and then I can hike and stroll for hours.  The big AND here is we live on the OCEAN.  We have water lizards in the garden (or the back yard as we say) and they like to be fed grapes.  We have lorikeets (they look like parrots, you can go to the lorikeet house at the Indianapolis Zoo) that wake us every morning and hang out in our tree all day.  We swim, snorkel and paddle (all well documented) right here in the “Bower”.  When the place we live now came on the market, my Airbnb host and his wife sent me a message to go see it.  So now we’re neighbors a couple of doors down the street.  Serendipity.

But let’s revisit the no HVAC.  It’s going to be interesting.  There are also no screens on any doors or windows anywhere (that’s true for everyone which is why I never see cats, you couldn’t possibly keep one inside).  We leave sliding doors off our lounge (family room) open wide all day along with the french doors at the other end of our long narrow apartment in the back bedroom and then all of the casement windows along the side are slightly open all day and all night.  Our unit is one of four in the pretty little building.  We have a secure entrance with the whole buzzer thing for the front door.  We also have an underground parking garage we all share (which is going to be super tricky to get in and out of, I may buy a street parking pass for when Greg’s not around so I can skip the whole 8 point turn needed to get in and out of our space), we are up on a cliff over a walkway between two of the most famous beaches in Sydney (Manly and Shelly) and we share a lawn with a lovely seating area at the edge of the lawn atop the cliff.  There are gardeners for the lawn and the area bordering our patio off our bedroom on the lower level.  I am apparently in charge of our plants up on the main level balcony and the walled garden off the street side of the house.  There are Sydney funnel web spiders (the ones that can kill you, but don’t generally because of the anti venom stocked around town) that live in mulch and underground.  I am buying the toughest gardening gloves I can find.  I am digging nothing unless absolutely necessary.  We leave our french doors open off our bedroom sometimes during the day, but never at night.  We only leave the windows that drop down from the top open at night.  That’s a 3×4 foot opening just wide open.  There are bats.  Giant bats.  They are chattering right now in the tree.  Everyone assures us the ocean breezes will keep everything out.  Okay.  The bats do their thing, however.  There are almost no bugs.

What are some other interesting things about daily living in Australia?  There are no disposals.  This is not interesting, it’s horrifying.  I am getting used to scraping the dishes and wiping down bowls, but it’s just unpleasant.  I have one of those microwaves that does all kinds of cooking.  I did not know you can adjust the wattage.  I warmed a bit of skillet chocolate chip cookie (that’s a cooking post for you or just look it up on Food 52) on a plate and after 15 seconds it was on fire.  Smoking from the inside of the cookie.  Sweet Jesus.  I have a big top load washer here.  I also have stacked on top a small dryer.  You do not use your dryer or you apparently use so much electricity you will have no money to buy food.  I have cheated a little and dried bath towels for 15 minutes before hanging them to dry the rest of the way.  And there’s a fine line there.  You put your laundry out on your drying rack (I’ll own a drying line thing too before this is all said and done) so at our house it’s best if I do laundry early in the day while the patio off our bedroom is still sunny.  Today was clear and not humid so things actually did dry.  But some days, that just never really happens.  And if you leave the laundry out into the evening, it’s just damp again.  I pick up a t-shirt to throw on and some days that t-shirt that’s never even been laundered yet in Australia is damp.  One of the many reasons we have to do something about reducing the amount of clothes we brought.  Pretty sure everything needs more air around it in our closet and in the wardrobes (the closets built into the walls).  Fairly certain the consequences of not enough air are dire.  We won’t talk about it.  We won’t talk about yet.  If it happens, we’ll talk about here.  No worries.

We brought too many clothes (mainly because we sold our home in the states and things either were given away, came with us or went in storage and that was all so exhausting we just didn’t make enough tough choices).  We brought (well, I brought) a lot of kitchen stuff but the only thing I have put up and away is my favorite stoneware baking pan which won’t fit in my cute little oven).  We did not bring enough furniture, but we also had no idea what our rental home would look like so that’s not too problematic.  We had one leather chair and ottoman in “the lounge” our first week or so until we took delivery of our mammoth sectional sofa from Pottery Barn (yes, PB is here and thank goodness).  We have been married over 30 years.  In that time we have owned exactly two sofas for our family room, it was time for sofa number three.  It didn’t matter for a while that we had no where to sit, we also did not have cable in our living area, it was in the very back bedroom where at the moment we have no furniture so we sat on a yoga mat on the floor and watched about 2 hours of television a night because it’s really hard to sit on the floor and watch television.  We paid our very nice electrician a nice handsome wage to move the cable.  Hourly rates for tradespeople are very generous here.  Even wait staff makes $26 and hour (there is no tipping and there’s a whole post about that at some point).  Anyway, we are up and running now watching our favorite Aussie show, MKR (My Kitchen Rules, a very bad staged reality cooking show that’s addicting) and the occasional awards show or American sporting event while sitting on your choice of sectional (night night) or leather chair (it is Greg’s so there really is not a choice).

We want visitors and know we have some coming in April, so we really need to set up our extra bedrooms.  We’re starting with one for now.  We only brought the mattress and box spring from our upstairs guest room at home because the bed frame did not need to move back and forth over the ocean and we thought we’d just get a metal frame and set up the bed for now.   Good thought, but they do not just sell bed frames.  They all come with headboards at the very least, so we’re checking one out from good old Gumtree this weekend.  I might paint it.  Get all creative.  But since I can not imagine paint drying, ever, I’m hoping I like it as it is.   The bed linens here, however, are fabulous.  Love the style.  Love the colors.  You can buy a duvet cover that has the top quilted so in the warm months you just do not stuff it with your duvet.  They don’t call any part of it a duvet, but it is.  I have no idea what your bed frame/headboard/footboard will look like if you’re our guest, but I can promise you nice bed clothes.  Now, how I am going to wash and dry any of these things is yet to be determined.  All in time.

So, it’s going.  It’s good.  It’s probably time to wrap it up for the first post of our expat adventure.  It’s a gorgeous night.  In the 70’s, good breeze, waves gently rolling in, bats occasionally making their bat noises, neighbor playing James Taylor and stars in the sky.  Greg’s watching his guilty pleasure, Celebrity Apprentice, on his iPad and I’m just writing away.  All is well.


the sparkly ocean view late morning


big swell day at high tide over the rock pool at Fairy Bower


view from Shelly Beach to our home (small building with terra cotta roof tiles directly to the right of tallest white building)


Manly ferry headed into Manly Wharf


our neighborhood, the midway point between Manly and Shelly beaches aka The Bower