Thursday, October 30, 2008

And the winner is...

The Handsome Australian has carefully considered the entires into my Name My Pumpkins contest and he's chosen saretta's entry, "Thelma and Louise" as the winner. So the pumpkins have been officially christened with their new names and are awaiting their new looks...we'll get to the carving tomorrow.

Meet Thelma and Louise

Stay tuned for pics of the finished product!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pumpkins, again...

Thanks to all those folks who've submitted comments on yesterday's post with suggestions for names for my two bouncy baby pumpkins. There is still time to leave your suggestions if you haven't already. So have a crack!

This morning I was speaking to my sister in the USA on the telephone. As a faithful reader of my blog, she knew about the Great Pumpkin Search and the resulting $18 pumpkins. I was trying to explain my momentary insanity for paying that much for pumpkins when she said this, "Well, for pumpkins that size, I think you'd probably pay about $10 or $12 for them at my church's pumpkin patch." I was really shocked by this. I just imagined that pumpkins in the USA would only cost $5 or $6 each. I don't know why, but there always seemed to be an abundance of them around when I was a kid and using the simple principles of supply and demand, it seems like an oversupply would equal a lower price. Of course here in Australia the supply is probably quite small and so the price is much, much higher...or so I thought.

After my sister gave me this news of $10 or $12 pumpkins in the USA, I decided I'd work that out using the current exchange rate (which heavily favours the US dollar). Here's what I found, a pumpkin that cost USD$10 would work out to be AUD$15.47 and a pumpkin that cost USD$12 would work out to be AUD$18.57. So if my sister's information is accurate, then perhaps I haven't been insane at all. If people in the USA are spending $12 on a pumpkin, that's the equivalent of my $18 pumpkin. I still think that is a lot to pay for a pumpkin, but I am feeling slightly better about it now.

If you are in the USA, how much did you pay for your pumpkin(s)this year? This is an extremely important question--I must know if I've been robbed or not! Help me if you can, tell me about your pumpkin purchases in the comments section.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got pumpkins to look after.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Name My Pumpkins

Even though I'm still recovering from paying $18 EACH for my Halloween pumpkins here in Melbourne, I am trying to look forward to the fun task of carving them into jack-o-lanterns. That's what my whole search was about right? Finding pumpkins to carve into jack-o-lanterns so I could share this Halloween tradition with my children. I can't help but feel like I've invested a lot in these pumpkins this year. Perhaps that's because I HAVE invested A LOT in these pumpkins--$36 to be exact. So I figure I've got to make the most of this precious commodity before it expires into a mouldy heap on my front doorstep. I need your help. I figure we should give these pumpkins names before we carve them up. I'm accepting your suggestions in the comments section of this post. I figure once the pumpkins are named, we'll have a better idea what direction we should go with the carving.

Now, so as not to confuse any of my readers, naming pumpkins in not a regular American tradition. Well, not one that I know of. We Americans don't normally name our Halloween pumpkins, but these pumpkins of mine, they aren't just your run of the mill pumpkins. My pumpkins are $18 pumpkins!!!! So to make myself feel better about the $18, I'm trying to convince myself that I didn't just purchase pumpkins, I also purchased the naming rights to the pumpkins. See, I'm value adding so it seems like I got a better deal. Very clever, I know.

So here's a photo so you know who you are naming:

Here's the other side of the pumpkins:

I know, I know, they look pretty special don't they? Well they are $18 pumpkins. It doesn't get more special than that does it? If it does, I don't think I want to know about it.

So hit me with your name suggestions. You've got until midnight PST Wednesday in the USA or until 6pm AEST Thursday in Australia. I'll let the Handsome Australian choose the winners from your suggestions. Then we'll see what kind of face we can put with a name when we carve the jack-o-lanterns.

Can't wait to see what everyone comes up with! Don't let me down!

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Great Pumpkin Search

When I first arrived here in Australia 8 years ago, there were very little signs of anything Halloween related. At the time, I wasn't that fussed about it. I always enjoyed Halloween as a child, but it wasn't something I missed terribly being away from the USA. Even so, I'd watch with interest each year as Australians would shun or shyly celebrate the holiday that most consider to have a clearly American connotation. This can be good or bad depending on who you ask. Nevertheless, I've watched Halloween slowly, ever so slowly, grow in popularity each year.

My personal interest in celebrating Halloween was rekindled about four years ago with the birth of my first child. I decided that although I am raising my children in Australia, I want them to understand the traditions of my youth and my home country. I didn't like the idea of visiting the USA one October when my kids were older and have them freaking out about the idea of Halloween. I could just hear them saying, "Mum, how could you have kept this from us? All these free lollies? Dressing up in cool costumes?". Or perhaps they wouldn't be upset at all, but I didn't want to take the chance. Halloween is for kids and I wanted my kids to enjoy it and experience it as much as they could living in Australia.

One of my favourite aspects of Halloween from my youth was the carving of the jack-o-lantern. I remember going to the grocery store with my Mom and helping her to pick out the pumpkin. We'd then take it home and keep it until a few days before Halloween. When the time came to carve it, my siblings and I would gather around the kitchen table and my Mom would ask us each to give design suggestions. We'd argue amongst ourselves whether that year's pumpkin should have a goofy expression or a scary one. Should it have eyebrows or teeth or be more simplistic? Once we'd settled on the design, one of us would draw it on the pumpkin and our Mom would carve it out for us. We'd often scoop the seeds out and put them in the oven to toast them to be enjoyed later.

For my daughter's first Halloween (she'd have been about 8 months old) I decided the best way to celebrate would be to carve a pumpkin and put up a few decorations around the house. We looked around for some of the orange pumpkins we use to make jack-o-lanterns in the USA, but could never find any. My brother-in-law brought us a Queensland Blue pumpkin that was the right shape, but the wrong colour. It has a grey like colour about it and the flesh of the pumpkin on the inside is very dense. Carving this thing was a nightmare. We needed an extremely sharp knife and plenty of muscle--the Handsome Australian struggled for quite awhile, but in the end he managed to conquer the beast. We stuck a candle in it and put it on our front door step. We had no trick-or-treaters that year and I'm not sure anyone even saw our jack-o-lantern and if they did they mightn't have known what it was for.

The following year, I found some proper orange pumpkins in a fruit and vegetable shop in the suburb of Bentleigh. Centre Road, Bentleigh used to be home to a Halloween trick-or-treat organised by an American Expatriate who was a local shop owner. So it made sense that this fruit and veg shop could sell these pumpkins. Hundreds of American Expats would turn up each year for the trick-or-treat and would pass through the fruit and veg shop and buy the pumpkins. We bought two of these pumpkins and brought them home. When it came time to carve them, I noticed each of them had a sticker that read, "Not to be consumed. For decorative purposes only." What? I mean I hadn't planned on consuming them, but I might have toasted the seeds. So I started wondering why exactly couldn't you consume them? In what type of environment had they been grown? Where did they even come from? I never got the answers to any of these questions, but I certainly didn't consume any of those pumpkins. They made good jack-o-lanterns though and more importantly, I knew where to source these pumpkins going forward.

Last year, I went back to visit this same fruit and veg shop in Bentleigh and was disappointed to find that they didn't have any of the orange pumpkins this year. I even asked at a few other fruit and veg shops and someone indicated that they usually do get some, but there were none around this year. So disappointing. So I was back to the Queensland Blue once again. I taught my neighbours how to carve pumpkins that year--I'm not sure they enjoyed it as much as they might have had we been able to source some of the orange pumpkins. Those Queensland Blues are really, really hard work.

This year, I was resigned to the fact that the Queensland Blue would be kicking my jack-o-lantern carving arse (that's Aussie for ass) once again. Then on Saturday, something miraculous happened. I walked into the large fruit and veg shop where I do my weekly shopping and along the back wall I saw them. Sitting on a shelf under a sign that read, Halloween Pumpkins, were four very healthy looking orange pumpkins. My little Expat heart skipped a beat! Wow! Real orange pumpkins where I least expected to find them. I raced straight to the back of the shop with the intention of grabbing two of them before anyone else could get their hands on them. You probably won't be surprised to hear that absolutely no one else in the store was vaguely interested in these pumpkins. My paranoia about missing out was needless. I had a quick study of the four pumpkins and chose the two that I felt had the nicest shape, the fewest marks or bumps and I marched right up to the till to pay. I did take a momentary glance at the price when I was choosing the pumpkins, "Halloween Pumpkins $4/kilo". These pumpkins are mostly hollow inside and so I thought they'd weigh maybe 2 kilos each or something. (Please note: estimating the weight of things has never been a strong point).

When I got to the till, the little display screen was out of order so I couldn't see how much each of my items was being scanned for. I didn't care though, I was riding the wave of euphoria that comes when you stumble upon a sought after item where you'd least expect it. The girl behind the till was keen to know how you actually carved the jack-o-lantern. She's asking questions and I'm giving her a quick "How to" as she tells me the total and I hand over my credit card. The woman in the queue behind me overhears our conversation and asks me curiously, "So what are those exactly?" I explain that they are pumpkins for Halloween. We use this sort in the USA to make our jack-o-lanterns. I can never find them here. I'm so excited to have found them today. She congratulates me on my find and wishes me a good Halloween. I sign the credit card slip, grab my pumpkins and walk out the door.

The Handsome Australian is at a neighbouring cafe taming the little people while I do the shopping. I walk into the cafe--one large pumpkin under each arm and a smile plastered on my face.

Me: "Have a look at what I found right now! Real Halloween pumpkins! They were just there along the back wall. I can't believe they had any. How lucky am I?"

HA: "Wow. Those are really big. They look good too. You're really pleased with yourself aren't you?"

Me: "I am. I'm just really excited."

HA: "How much were they?"

Me: (glancing at the docket for the first time, jaw dropping, sweat appearing on the brow) "Perhaps it's better if we don't discuss that."

HA: "Why? How much were they? 10 bucks each or something?"

Me: (quickly coming down off my high) "Uh, no. They were a bit more than that apparently."

HA: "What do you mean apparently? Didn't you see the sign before you bought them?"

Me: "I did, they were $4/kilo. I thought they'd be about 2 kilos a piece or something."

HA: "No way, these are huge. They are more like 4 or 5 kilos, which means..."

Me: "Yes, okay, yes. I just paid $18 EACH for these pumpkins. I'm insane. I know. I was just so excited."

HA: "That's okay. It's once a year. Who cares. If it makes you happy that's the important thing."

Yep, that's why I love him. He doesn't care that I just spent $36 on two vegetables that I intend on carving up and displaying on our doorstep until they begin to rot. He's a good man that Handsome Australian.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Your Questions Answered Part 7

Hooray! We've finally made it to the last set of questions. This little series of posts seems to have gathered its own momentum and now I'm considering making it a weekly occurrence. I'll get back to y'all with the details soon.

In the meantime, we've got ibbabs97's second set of questions to get to. Here's all the other things she needed to know:

1. Do you find that most people over there live close to their families? Do many of your friends have large families that are near by?
2. Do they have the same fruits and veggies as in the US.
3. As I am watching the news here tonight they are showcasing a girl playing football. Are there any girls that play or allowed to play Aussie Rules Football?

With no further ado:
1. Do you find that most people over there live close to their families? Do many of your friends have large families that are near by?
One of the first things I began to notice about Melbourne when I first arrived, was how most people here seem to have very tight networks of friends and family. Breaking in to social circles here and making lasting friends was certainly a challenge in the beginning. I think there are several reasons for this:

a) Australians don't tend to be as transient as Americans have become. Most of the people I've befriended here in Melbourne, grew up here in Melbourne. They went to school here in Melbourne and in most cases completed University here in Melbourne. I'm always amazed at how close people remain to the neighbourhoods in which they grew up. They may be married with their own children and have their own homes now, but they are usually just down the road from their parents or their old neighbourhood.

b) With that kind of geographic proximity to your roots, you'll find that people remain friends with their old school mates and their Uni mates and see these people regularly. What this means is that their social calendars are generally full and their friendship circles complete--not only that, but within these circles, people have known each other their entire lives. Try and crack that nut open! It's a tough one.

So to answer your question more directly ibbabs97, yes many people here live near their families in fact you'd be surprised at just how close. With a large population of European and Mediterranean immigrants you find there is a huge importance placed on the extended family here and these families often operate as their own networks within the community.

To illustrate my point, the Handsome Australian currently resides 5km (or 3.1 miles) from his childhood home. Our daughter takes her swimming lessons in the same pool where he took his swimming lessons as a boy. His friendship group consists of people he knows from school or Uni. When his family has a gathering, you are looking at a minimum of 30 people. When he's not spending time with his friends, he's catching up with his large extended family. That's a very typical situation here.

2. Do they have the same fruits and veggies as in the US?
I'd say on the whole the fruits and veggies are the same. I often feel like the fruit and veggies we get here seem to be fresher than what I often see on offer in the USA. I'd say the bulk of fresh produce is actually grown locally although we do get some items, like grapes, imported from the USA during the off season here in Australia.

3. As I am watching the news here tonight, they are showcasing a girl playing football. Are there any girls that play or are allowed to play Aussie Rules Football?
Yes, ibbabs97 there are girls that play Aussie Rules. I think it's very much like the USA here where girls are allowed to play up to a certain age and then are discouraged once they start to mature a bit. There is a program called Auskick which is the organised form of Aussie Rules for kids. You'll see plenty of girls involved in the Auskick teams. The Handsome Australian's young cousin plays Auskick and there is a girl on his team and she's one of the toughest players on the field. She's just amazing to watch. There is no professional league that I am aware of for women here though as I believe there to be in the USA.

Even if they aren't playing Aussie Rules, the women here in Melbourne are huge fans of the game. You will find some females who are more passionate about the footy than some guys you'll meet. The girls here really get into it and go to the games to support their teams. People here seem to be raised on Aussie Rules and it starts as a family affair and then as people grow up, they've established these fierce loyalties to the teams their families have supported all these years. I think that is one of the main reasons why so many women follow the sport.

Thanks for your questions ibbabs97. Hope these were the answers you were looking for.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Your Questions Answered Part 6

Ask and ye shall receive...I'm back with more answers to your questions!

I know I said I'd answer ibbabs97's second set of questions, but since she's already had a turn, I decided I'd leave her questions to tomorrow and give someone new a go. Today I'll be addressing Danielle's questions. She's new to the Melbourne Expat scene and here is what she wants to know:

1: Do you ever get used to the coffee here? (if you are a coffee drinker, that is!)
2: Is it easy to drive when you go back home to the US, going from the left back to the right?
3: Are there ever times when you are so homesick you want to jump on the next Qantas flight?
4: What's up with the lack of online shopping?

There are some good questions here, so here we go:

1. Do you ever get used to the coffee here? (if you are a coffee drinker, that is!)
Danielle, I'm not really sure what you mean by getting used to the coffee, I'm going to assume you mean the espresso coffee served at most cafes here versus the percolated coffee that is served at most American restaurants and consumed in most American homes. Along those lines, I have to say it's never an adjustment that I had to make. I am a coffee drinker, but I didn't pick up that habit until I spent a year living in Buenos Aires, Argentina (where I met the Handsome Australian btw). Buenos Aires is similar to Melbourne in the sense that there is a real cafe culture. People meet for coffee at a cafe all the time in Buenos Aires and the same is true here in Melbourne. As a result, I began to drink coffee as it was a very important aspect of the social scene in Argentina. The coffee in Buenos Aires is very similar to the coffee that is served her in Melbourne and in some cases it was stronger again. Cafe con leche in Buenos Aires is usually served in a small mug type cup whereas a cafe latte is usually served in a glass here in Melbourne. Other than that, the coffee is generally the same. So I guess what I'm trying to say is the coffee here didn't take much getting used to because I started drinking this type of coffee from the beginning. On the other hand, the Handsome Australian has a very difficult time transitioning to the coffee in the USA. I've even written a post about his coffee struggles.

My advice to you would be the following, if you find the coffee too strong, order it weak. Lots of people order weak lattes here all the time. In fact there is a whole language around coffee ordering that you are probably slowly acquainting yourself with.

I hope this answers your question and I've gone down the right track. If you meant something entirely different, just let me know in the comments and I'll do my best to answer more appropriately.

2. Is it easy to drive when you go back home to the US, going from the left back to the right?
There are few things more challenging for your brain than learning to drive on the opposite side of the road to the side you are accustomed. I was fearful of driving here in Australia when I first started because it just seemed so intuitively wrong. Let's face it, a lot of what we do on the road is not conscious behaviour. Once you learn to drive, breaking, accelerating, indicating, etc all become second nature and aren't things you consciously think about when you drive. When you swap to the other side of the road and the other side of the car, you become fully aware of all these things again. The more I drove here, the more comfortable I became. As long as I've been in Australia, I still have moments where I walk to the wrong side of the car. If that gives you any indication of how ingrained these behaviours can become.

What happens when I go back to the USA though? Generally the transition is a relatively smooth one. It's a bit like riding a bicycle I suppose. Just because you've been driving on the left for so long doesn't mean you forget how to drive on the right. Normally I just get in the car and go for it. It's not always a smooth and easy transition, I do have lots of moments of panic where I think, "Oh my God, am I on the correct side of the road?" These are literally just moments and then my good sense kicks in and I figure out where I'm supposed to be. I find the hardest places to drive in the USA are on streets with no other traffic on them. If you are on a major road, you just follow the cars around you. It's very clear which side you should be on because of all the other traffic on the road. I just follow the leader. It's when I turn off onto an empty residential street that I may for a split second turn to the wrong side of the road. I generally recover very quickly and realise I'm on the wrong side. I suppose if you are going to make a mistake and drive on the wrong side, then a deserted street with no other traffic is the place to do it.

Having said all that, my Father in Law gave me a great tip once. He transitions from driving on the left to the right when he travels from Australia to Lebanon. He told me to just remember that as the driver, you should always be in the center of the road. What this means is that the driver's side of the car should always be next to the center lines of the road. If you keep that in mind, then you'll always be on the correct side. I use his little tip all time when I'm in the USA. It's been very helpful.

3. Are there ever times when you are so homesick you want to jump on the next Qantas flight?
Yes, I've even packed my bags driven to the airport and stood in line for the ticket, then when I got the counter and realised they wanted my first born child in exchange for the ticket, I decided against it. Only kidding. I haven't actually done that. I have to say on the whole, I don't experience extreme bouts of homesickness. I think that is because I've been here for so long, I've made a good group of friends and found a place for myself in the community. I do find myself missing home around the holidays though. Particularly if I know my whole family will be together somewhere celebrating and I am the only one not there. The reality is it's so expensive to fly back and forth between Australia and the USA (and more so during holiday periods) that we can't just jump on the plane whenever we feel like it. It's something we have to plan and budget for. I've been fortunate enough to manage to get back to the USA once a year since I've been here. When I go, I generally stay for 6 weeks. That is a pretty reasonable chunk of time and knowing that I can do that, makes living so far away a little bit easier.

4. What's with the lack of online shopping?
You said it sister! Australia is in the dark ages when it comes to buying anything online. I just don't understand it. Even the really large stores like David Jones and Myer don't sell anything online. I've asked the Handsome Australian about this before because not only is he handsome, but he also works in IT and I thought he might be able to explain it to me. His response is that setting up an online business for such a large store like David Jones would be quite an expensive endeavour and that these businesses just haven't made it a priority. When the exchange rate was a bit more favourable (for Australians that is) in recent years, I knew plenty of people that were ordering things online from the USA. You've probably discovered that not all American sites will deliver internationally and many won't accept a credit card with an international billing address. So even ordering from the USA can be limited in that respect. When I first came to Australia, I felt like people were more interested in technology and seemed to be much quicker at adapting new things. I now think that was a misinformed opinion because the longer I've lived here, the more frustrated I've become by the lack of things such as online shopping that are available. You and I aren't the only ones who have noticed either. There was an article not too long ago in The Age newspaper talking about the lack of online facilities for the larger department stores. When I saw it, I said to the Handsome Australian, "I've been saying this for years and Australians are just now picking up on the fact that they are behind the eight ball on this?"

In my experience, it's not just online shopping that's missing either. Lots of things in Australia that you'd expect to find on the Internet, just aren't there. I am often searching for restaurant menus or information about local schools, and I'm always disappointed by the amount of information available online. Hopefully this is something that will change with time. Being an Expat, in any country, requires lots of patience. That's one thing I've learned through experience.

I hope you find these answers useful Danielle. Please don't hesitate to send more questions my way if you have them! I'm happy to share anything I've learned during my stint here.

I'll get back to ibbabs97's questions tomorrow as promised!

Your Questions Answered Part 5

G'day y'all! I'm back with more answers to your very interesting questions. Today's questions come from Sandra. Here's what she wanted to know:

1. Are you sick of being asked if you miss home?
2. Do people confront you about American politics?
3. What American holidays if any, do you still celebrate?
4. Do you seek out other Americans in Australia or are you past that stage now?
5. Do you find the lack of political correctness refreshing or vulgar?

Okay, let's get this party started...
1. Are you sick of being asked if you miss home?
Gee Sandra, you sound like someone who speaks from experience. I was thinking, "How did she know that people ask me that question all the time?" Quite obviously, you've been there and done that yourself. Personally, I wouldn't say I'm sick of being asked the question (even though I do get it quite often, generally from people I've just met) but I do find it hard to come up with an original answer each time. The conversation generally goes something like this:

New Acquaintance: "So you're from America originally?"

Me: "Yes, Texas actually."

NA: "How long have you been here in Australia for?"

Me: "About 8 years now."

NA: "Do you miss it? I mean do you miss living in America?"

Me: "Well, I don't really miss living in America per se. As cities go, I love Melbourne. It's really a lovely place to live. What I do miss are my family and friends and some of the food you just can't get here. Those are the things I miss the most really."

NA: "Of course. Do you get to see your family much?"

Me: "Well, we try and make at trip over once a year if we can and they sometimes come here to visit as well."

Blah, blah, blah, blah and so it goes and so it goes. I've had this conversation hundreds of times with hundreds of people. I'm not really tired of it though because in my mind, it's just this person trying to make an effort to learn your story. They are trying to get to know you better and these are the obvious questions. As long as I have a hint of an American accent, I'll always be faced with this line of questioning. It's just the life of an Expat I suppose. I just wish I could think of more interesting things to say.

I'm sometimes tempted to revert back to the days of my practical joke loving youth and spin a yarn for these people. I used to do that all the time when I was the Handsome Australian's girlfriend and I'd just arrived in Australia. Remind me to tell you that story one day...

2. Do people confront you about American politics?
By "people", I'm assuming you mean "people" other than my Lebanese Father in Law because let's face it, when it comes to Arabs and Americans, it's been a bit of a bumpy road. His politics aside, there have been a handful of wankers who like to have a go at you when they find out you are American, but for the most part Australians have been pretty well behaved in that respect. I hear an awful lot of criticism about American politics here, but there aren't a lot of people shoving it in my face and blaming me for it. The worst feeling is when I'm among a group of people and not everyone in the group knows that I'm American. Someone might make a derogatory comment about America or it's politics without realising who they are speaking to. I find this a bit embarrassing--I think I'm embarrassed for them. Most of the time I might not even disagree with them (especially when they speak of the current President) but I know when they find out I'm American they are going to apologise or try to explain themselves. It's just a very awkward feeling.

Rather than confronting me about American politics, many people will actually quiz me or ask my opinion on things that are going on in the USA. The current Presidential Election is a hot topic at the moment. Lots of people ask me what I think of it, who I think will win, who I'd like to see win, if I can vote, etc, etc. I love it when people ask me something like, "What do Americans think of Barak Obama?" How would I know? When was the last time I lived in the USA? 8 years ago. No one even knew who he was then. I guess because I'm from the USA, people just expect me to know everything about it--including stuff that's happened since I've lived here.

3. What American holidays if any, do you still celebrate?
During my first year in Australia, I didn't celebrate many American holidays. I was too busy learning what holidays were being celebrated here. As time has gone by, and more importantly I've had my own children, I've become much more interested in celebrating the American as well as the Australian holidays. Since the birth of my first child, we've celebrated both Halloween and Thanksgiving each year. I mentioned in a previous post that we celebrated Halloween with a festival put on by Expat Americans and have also started our very own neighbourhood trick-or-treat. I've always liked the idea of Halloween. I think it's a very fun holiday for young children. The whole process of thinking up a costume, getting to dress up and then going around to collect a bag full of lollies. I always loved Halloween as a kid. I'm glad I've been able to share a bit of that with my children. Of course, I'd really love for them to experience a proper Halloween in the USA. I think they'd be over the moon with that because as much as we try and do here, it will never be as big as it is over there.

As for Thanksgiving, I just started making the meal and inviting a set of friends each year to celebrate with us. There are a few things about Thanksgiving that makes it a bit tricky though. Firstly, it's not a holiday here in Australia which means people don't have any time off of work so you can't have it on a Thursday afternoon. So we move it to Saturday afternoon which feels a little out of step with the USA, but I guess it doesn't really matter. Also, it's a bit hard to source all the ingredients that you need to cook the meal. I've only found cranberries here once and they were frozen. I've never seen fresh ones. You can buy dried cranberries or cranberry sauce in a jar, but if you want to make anything from scratch, you are a bit out of luck. Also, the turkey is hard to come by. Australia isn't oozing with gargantuan turkeys that the grocery stores are practically begging you to take home as is the case in the USA. Here, I have to go to a butcher several weeks in advance and order one. I go to the same butcher every year, and every year they think it's an odd request for a turkey in November. This is because people eat turkeys at Christmas here (that's the old English influence) but not really any other time. And please don't ask me how much the bloody bird's something like $10 or $11 a kilo and I usually get a 5 to 6 kilo bird. That's something like $50-$60 just for the turkey.

I feel a credit card ad coming on here:

Jar of Cranberry Sauce $3.50
6 Kilo Turkey $60
Passing on an American tradition to my Australian children: Priceless.

Yes, I'd celebrate Thanksgiving no matter the cost. Again, it's a holiday that I really enjoy and I appreciate the non-commercial aspect of it. It's really still about good food, family and being thankful. I'm all for that.

4. Do you seek out other Americans in Australia or are you past that stage now?
I don't think I've ever really been in that stage Sandra. I found this question very intriguing because I think one would assume that you'd look to surround yourself by similar people in similar circumstances, but I suppose in many ways I've often chosen to take the road less traveled by. I guess I've always felt that by surrounding myself with a group of American friends, I'd never really assimilate here in Australia. I'd prefer to weave my way into the local tapestry instead of keeping it all at arm's length with a group of like minded people. The more I think about this, the more I question why this is so. Here are a few reasons I've come up with:

a) All of my Expat experiences prior to living in Australia were in countries in which Spanish is spoken. During my time in those countries, I was always trying to maximise the amount of Spanish I spoke so as to improve my fluency in the language. As a result, I tried to gravitate towards locals as much as possible and away from Americans where I knew most conversations would be held in English. So perhaps this was just a pattern I set up for myself historically and have carried with me to Australia.

b) I have been and probably always will be quite a stubborn person. I think deep down I look at the idea of creating a network of other Americans here as the easy way to go about things and why would I take the easy way? I wouldn't because I'm stubborn like that. Ask the Handsome Australian--he's got plenty of "Yes, she's as stubborn as a mule" stories to tell you. (Maybe we'll even let him do a guest post someday...don't hold your breath though I don't think he even reads this thing). If perhaps I knew I was going to be here for a set period--a couple of years or something I may have been more keen to have other American Expat friends, but being here indefinitely has meant I've worked quite hard to find a place for myself amongst the locals. I think to do otherwise, one would always feel like an outsider.

c) I hate looking the part of the tourist. Take me anywhere on a holiday, but don't pull out your big tourist map and stand on the corner and point in eight different directions. No, I'm too cool for that. I like to discreetly figure these things out and walk with purpose. I know where I am and I know where I'm going. Also, don't ask me to pose for silly tourist photos--the locals might figure out I don't belong (as if my clothing and speech hasn't given that away already, but let a girl pretend for a moment...). Yes, I like the idea of fitting in and it's probably that urge that has also kept me from making connections with other Americans.

Having said all that, it's not as if I don't know any other Americans or I don't have other American friends here because I do, but those friendships have been out of consequence not because I intentionally sought out a particular group of people.

5. Do you find the lack of political correctness refreshing or vulgar?
Sandra, can I tell you how many times I've watched something on Australian TV and thought to myself, "They would never get away with that in the USA." Hundreds. Thousands even. Most of the time, I'm quite pleased that Australians are as laid back as they are. There are so many things that I think Americans can be needlessly uptight about and it's nice that people here in Australia don't have the same hang ups. Sometimes though, it does bother me. Particularly when it comes to sexist comments. I find one of the morning news shows here to be one of the worst offenders in this case. The anchor people (both male and female) are often making stereotypical remarks about men or women that I think are very last century. I just couldn't imagine the same thing happening on American television. The women there just wouldn't put up with it.

Summing up, I generally find the lack of political correctness refreshing, but there are still some bits of it that makes me cringe.

Holy guacamole! Those were some good questions. Thanks Sandra for asking them. I hope my answers don't disappoint.

Looks like we'll have one more round of questions tomorrow as ibbabs97 seems to have thought of a few more. So stay tuned!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Your Questions Answered Part 4

Here we go with another set of questions. I hope everyone is learning a lot from these posts. There has been a good variety of things asked.

Today's questions are from scintilla and here's what she would like to know:

1.Is the moon upside down ?- when my sister came to visit me in Positano, she swore that the patterns she could see were inverted. (It's meant to be a snail shape over there)
2.Does it take you longer to drive around than it did in Texas ?
3. Which is your favourite beach?
4. Are you water wise more than in the states? (I know, they are boring questions)
5. Do you mind if I put you on my blogroll?

The teacher in me wants to tell you there is no such thing as a boring question scintilla. Here at G'day Y'all, we are just happy to have any questions at all. =) So thanks for asking and here are my responses:

1. Is the moon upside down? -when my sister came to visit me in Positano, she swore that the patterns she could see were inverted. (It's meant to be a snail shape over there)
Wow scintilla! That's a tough one. Are you trying to play stump the Expat here? I thought about this for a long time today, but I couldn't actually go and look at the moon because it wasn't dark. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that even if I could see the moon I wouldn't know if it was upside down or not. See, I'll be honest here, I haven't spent a lot of time studying the moon in my life. I don't remember what the patterns would have been like in the northern hemisphere and as such couldn't really compare them to what I can see here tonight. Does it sound like I'm giving up? Well I'm not! I've decided to ask one of the wisest people I know--the Handsome Australian. This is how the conversation went:

Me: Is the moon upside down here?

HA: The moon? Upside down? Who are you writing to?

Me: It's a question I'm answering for my blog.

HA: Oh. Okay. Is the moon upside down? No. It can't be upside down. It's a sphere. How can it be upside down. It's a sphere and we are part of a sphere and so we see the same side of it. No, no way. It's not upside down.

Me: Thanks, that really clears things up.

So scintilla, there is your answer. Are you thinking, "Well that's a bit piss weak?" Cause I am.

2. Does it take you longer to drive around than it did in Texas?
I'm not totally sure what you mean with this question, but I'm taking it to mean is the the traffic worse here in Melbourne than in Texas or are things more spread out than in Texas? I wouldn't say the traffic in Melbourne is particularly bad compared to most large Texas cities. When I think of notoriously bad traffic that just doesn't move during peak hour sometimes, I think of Houston. I think the traffic in Melbourne is a bit better for a few reasons:
a) The prevalence of public transport means people have other means to get to and from places rather than driving their own car (there is very little public transport in Texas) and this means less traffic
b) The tendency of Aussies to shop locally and the existence of small shopping strips in nearly every suburb means you don't have to travel very far to get your shopping. In Australia there are lots of little shops in each neighbourhood whereas in Texas, we'd drive to a more central gigantic grocery store.
c) People ride their bikes here as a form of transport and there are dedicated bike paths for this purpose. The Handsome Australian is a keen cyclist and during the warmer months will ride his bike to and from work (that's a 32km ride round trip) and he can make the whole trip on a paved path that runs along the Yarra River--he doesn't even have to ride on the road. Lovely.

So no, I don't think it takes longer to drive around here in Melbourne than it does in Texas. I can remember lots of frustrating traffic jams I've experienced in Texas, but very few that I've come across here.

3. Which is your favourite beach?
Australia is known for it's beautiful beaches and it's beach culture. I grew up in the desert though and don't have the faintest idea what to do at a beach. We had a lot of sand, but no water. So the whole beach thing is kind of new to me. I must admit I often forget that we live so close to the water here in Melbourne because I spent so much of my life living so far away from it. When we do go to the beach, we usually leave the city and head to Apollo Bay. That's probably the one beach I've been to repeatedly. It's nice and is along the Great Ocean Road which is an amazing little drive to take. I don't know if Apollo Bay is my favourite, but it's the one I know the best. Since our recent holiday to Queensland though, I've become very fond of Noosa. So if I was pressed, I think I would say Noosa is my favourite beach.

Favourites aside, what I have noticed about Australian beaches is that there is literally no one on them. I've been to Apollo Bay during peak season in January when relations of ours who summer there every year have commented on how crowded the beaches are. I look around and think, "This is crowded? There's almost no one here." I also remember the very first time the Handsome Australian took me to Apollo Bay. It was 2 months after I first arrived in Australia and we drove from Apollo Bay to a little spot called Crayfish Bay. We walked along that beach together and as far as you could see in either direction, there was no one! Literally no one. I've never been on a beach with no one else around. It was amazing. Australians are truly lucky to have so much space to themselves. The country is so big and the population so small.

4. Are you water wise more than in the states?
As I mentioned above, I grew up in the desert. Water was always an issue for us. I've lived with water restrictions for most of my life. Most people where I'm from don't have front lawns--they've got rocks and gravel laid out in different patterns with native plants dispersed throughout. Mostly your hearty desert plants--yuccas, cactus, etc. So I'm used to thinking about water use, but in the past several years as the drought has worsened here in Australia, I've had to consider the issue more and more. I'd say that I'm definitely more water wise now than I have been at any time in my life. I think most Melbournians are. We have to be. Last year's hot topic of conversation was grey water systems. Everyone was having one installed or a rain water tank. These items became a must have here. We don't have a grey water system at our house, but we do carry the kid's bath water out of the house in buckets and use it to water the plants in the garden. When I'm on the ball, I do the same with the runoff from the washing machine. At first these measures seemed extreme, but now they are normal and seem rather sensible.

5. Do you mind if I put you on my blogroll?
Go right ahead scintilla, I don't mind. =)

Thanks for your questions scintilla. Hope the answers live up to your expectations.

We've still got a few more to get to, so stay tuned tomorrow for more answers to your questions!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Your Questions Answered Part 3

I'm back with more answers to your questions about life in Oz.

I'm going to double up in today's post and answer kristin and annelise's questions since they both have rather short lists.

kristin wanted to know:
Do your toilets really flush the water down in an opposite spiral motion than here above the equator?
Kristin, thanks for your thoughtful question. This is always a hotly debated topic and probably has The Simpsons to thank for bringing it onto the pop culture radar. As a result of your questions and feeling I needed to complete the most diligent of research, I spent a large part of today flushing the toilet and taking notes. Okay, so maybe I exaggerate when I say a large part of today. Perhaps, it was just one single flush but you have to remember a few things a) we only have the one toilet in the house, so no one can monopolise it for too long otherwise there'd be trouble b) I've got two little people to look after and rarely get time to actually use the toilet myself much less study it c) we are in the midst of a long and painful drought and I couldn't bring myself to consciously waste so much water. I hope you can understand my reasons for only observing the one flush. I did pay extra close attention and here's what I found. It appears that the water in my toilet does a bit of a tidal thing where the water comes from the top and rolls over itself whilst going down. That's the best way I can describe it. The water doesn't seem to flush down in a spiral motion at all. If there was any direction to the water I'd say it was counter-clockwise, but that would be stretching it.

After the careful study of my own toilet, I then contacted my best friend Google. She led me to several websites that seem to think the whole theory is a myth. I wonder if this is one the guys on Myth Busters have tested out before. Does anyone else watch that show? The Handsome Australian loves it and insists on watching it with the kids and lauds it's scientific value. I'm still not convinced.

To sum up kristin, I don't think the toilet flushes in an opposite direction. While we are on the subject of toilets and flushing though--there are two types of flushes here in Australia. Most toilets have two buttons on the top of them. One is for the "half flush" and the other is for the "full flush". What's the difference? Well, the half flush uses less water and is generally used to flush down your number 1s. The full flush, true to it's name gives a fuller flush. It's generally used to flush down your number 2s.

Hope that answers your question kristin and tells you more than you ever wanted to know about Australian toilets. Thanks for asking!

Now we'll move on to annelise's questions. Here is what she wanted to know:

1. Is there no "z" in the Australian alphabet and that is why your spelling changed to the over use of s( realise vs realize)?

2. Has the Aussie hubby ever made up for a night out of drinking in the States (the one pre marriage)?

3. Are Aussie women tall?

First up:
1. Is there no "z" in the Australian alphabet and that is why your spelling changed to the over use of s (realise vs. realize)?
Actually annelise, to tell you the truth, there is no "z" in the Australian alphabet. Well, they don't call it "z" anyway. Where Americans pronounce the letter "z" as zee, the Australians pronounce it "zed". The letter does exist, but it goes by a different name. Funny? Now sing the Alphabet song, "...Y and Zed. Next time won't you sing with me?" Yeah, doesn't sound right does it? "Zed" doesn't rhyme with "me" at the end of the song. It sounds terrible. It's like someone placed this heavy weight at the end of the alphabet. To my ears, "zed" just sinks. Initially, I insisted my children learn the song the way it is sung in the USA. I like "zee". I'm happy with "zee". Once my oldest child aged a bit and started attending preschool, I realised my efforts were futile. She was going to learn "zed" at school and as long as we live in Australia "zed" is the way it's going to be. That's it folks, I'm going to have a vegemite loving, "zed" speaking child that learns "maths" instead of "math". How will I cope?

Ok, moving past that small wanted to know why I use "s" to spell so many words that are spelled with "z" in the USA. This is just the Australian way. I'm pretty sure they've gotten this little tradition from the English, they get a lot of things from the English. So while we Americans were throwing English Tea in Boston Harbour, the Australians were learning to spell with the "s" instead of the "z". Why do I spell that way now? Can't I just keep using the "z"? Well truth be told, my first job here in Australia was as a high school English teacher. I couldn't spell with the "z" because a) 14 year olds will take any opportunity to point out your faults, make fun of them and then remind you of your mistake every time you see them b) I was teaching English in Australia and I needed to teach these kids what would be considered correct here and the "s" is what is considered correct, and c) Australians sometimes get upset by what they feel is the Americanisation of everything. They are keen to maintain their own cultural identity and by maintaining the use of the "s" instead of the "z" they are doing that in their own small way.

That's a really long way of saying, I do it to fit in. Thanks for asking, because I know you were really curious and weren't poking fun at me at all. Right?

Now for the next question:
2. Has the Aussie hubby ever made up for a night out drinking in the States (the one pre marriage)
Unfortunately annelise, I can't answer that question on this blog (but check out my next status update on facebook....only kidding). I will, however, take this opportunity to discuss the cultural differences relating to alcohol. Australians love their drinks. I don't think I've ever been to an alcohol free event here in Australia. Imagine my surprise when I began work as a high school English teacher and every Friday afternoon the staff met in the staffroom for a few drinks before heading home. Beer and wine was kept in the staff fridge. I can't even imagine having alcohol on a school campus in Texas. It doesn't matter if the staff are the ones drinking it, it simply isn't done. Don't get me wrong, as a young teacher in Texas, we did go out on Friday afternoons for a few drinks, but we left the school and went to a local bar for "happy hour". We would never have considered drinking at the school. No way.

I also remember when the Handsome Australian told me about the Friday afternoon ritual at his work. They'd generally have a meeting on a Friday afternoon with some finger food and some beers. Then when the meeting was done, everyone would go back to their desks and take their beers with them. They'd still be working away, sipping on a cold one. I don't think there are many American workplaces where that would be the norm. Going out after work to have a few cold ones, yes. Drinking them while at work, no.

All around, the Aussies seem much more relaxed when it comes to alcohol than the Americans are. I've never met anyone in Australia who has been a member of Alcoholics Anonymous and in fact, I don't hear the word "alcoholic" used very much here. It seems that people are much more accepting of the idea of drinking lots of alcohol and don't see a real problem with it.

Armed with those observations, you can imagine the Handsome Australian's explanations of his night out drinking in the US. I'll leave it to you to fill in the blanks.

And finally:
3. Are Aussie women tall?
Hmm...this one really had me thinking. I'd say there is a reasonable population of tall women here. It's probably comparable to the amount of tall women in the USA based on percentage of the overall population. I'll tell you one thing though my tall friend...there aren't any stores here that really cater to tall women. In the USA, you can walk into the GAP or similar store and have a choice as to what length pants you will buy--there is petite, regular, and long. Something for everyone. Here it seems everyone is expected to be the same height. So that is why I still buy my pants in the USA. That and all the clothes are generally cheaper there, but that's another blog for another day...

Thanks kristin and annelise for your interest and questions. I hope I've given satisfactory responses.

Stay tuned tomorrow as we make our way through more of your questions! There are some good ones coming up so be sure to check back!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Your Questions Answered Part 2

Well, yesterday's post went so well (at least I think it did...I haven't heard from ibbabs97 since posting. I'm hoping she's not too devastated by the Whataburger comments. Are you out there ibbabs97?)that I thought we'd continue along the same vein and make our way through another set of questions.

Today's set of questions come from Dana and here's what she wanted to know:

1.Do you miss certain foods from home?
2.Do they have Halloween there?
3. Do you use public transportation?
4.Are the houses similar there?
5.Do you use your Spanish much?
6.Are there signs in other languages everywhere like there are in Texas?

So as the Aussies would say, let's get stuck into it!

1. Do you miss certain foods from home?
Oh Dana, if you only knew. As I mentioned yesterday, I do miss a certain Texas hamburger chain (Whataburger for those of you just joining us), but my woe doesn't end there. The food I probably miss the most generally is anything of Mexican origin. Growing up along the Mexican border, Mexican food became an integral part of my daily diet. I think I may have possibly eaten tacos 4 nights out of 7 when I was attending Uni (that's college for you folks back home). Tex Mex, Real Mex just anything mildly related to Mexican food was a love of mine. I love Gorditas, Tamales, Fajitas, Tacos, Sal Picon, and the list goes on and on. So what I didn't say in yesterday's post is that I will often have Whataburger for lunch and Mexican food for dinner when I'm back in Texas. The Handsome Australian is a Mexican food lover as be honest he's just a food lover in general, but he does show a preference for eating Mexican food when we are in Texas.

The unfortunate reality of Australia's geographic position is that it's no where near Mexico. That's probably only unfortunate for me, but there might be some Mexicans who'd like to see the kangaroos as well. I don't know. What I do know is that there are only a handful of Mexican restaurants in Melbourne and there is only one I can say I will eat at and be completely happy with my meal. I remember a few years ago I went on a quest to find a good Mexican food restaurant here and did a bit of digging around on the Internet. At some point I navigated to the Mexican Embassy website in Australia--by their count at this particular point in time there were only something like 500 Mexicans living in Australia. 500. That's it. What are the chances one of them has a really, really good restaurant somewhere. With my luck one probably does, but it's in Sydney. So this is a call out to all you Mexican cooks and chefs out there reading this blog--come to Australia. There is a gap in the market here--we need you to fill it. I swear I'll dine at your place every night. Just come!!

2. Do they have Halloween there?
The answer to this question is yes and no. Australians don't officially celebrate Halloween or recognise it as a holiday in their calendars. Having said that, there are pockets around the place where people do things to celebrate Halloween. There is enough American influence here through the television and film media that people are well aware of what Halloween is and most young people are somewhat keen to celebrate it--if only for the novelty of it. Also, Halloween is quite big in Ireland and there is a large Irish Expat population here as well.

Personally, I only began celebrating Halloween here when I had children because I wanted them to know the tradition and experience the fun of it. For the past three years we've attended a Halloween Festival run by a group of Expat Americans here in Melbourne. My neighbours always asked me lots of questions about the festival and about Halloween in general and so last year we got together and organised a neighbourhood trick-or-treat for the kids in our area. People who wanted to participate were asked to hang a sign on their front fences so the children would know which houses were handing out lollies. It was a big hit and we're continuing the tradition again this year.

3. Do you use public transportation?
The Handsome Australian utilises the public transport in Melbourne every day on his way to work. Up until recently we've only had one car between the two of us. The public transport in Melbourne is quite good (although the Handsome Australian will tell you upgrades are in order) and you can easily move around the city without owning a car if you want to. Whenever we have an event to attend in the City, we always take the train. It's easier, less hectic and you don't have to pay for parking. Perfect. So yes, we are big fans of public transport at our house.

4. Are the houses similar there?
I'd say the houses are similar, but on the whole the average house here is probably slightly smaller than it's counterpart in the USA. Of course the size of houses runs the whole gamut from tiny little shack to mansion and everything in between. Probably the greatest differences is the number of bathrooms. It's quite common for your average Australian home to have only one bathroom for the entire family. In fact, when the Handsome Australian and I were looking for a home to buy, we came across house after house that had the shower, bath and sink in one room near the bedrooms and the toilet in a little room outside the house. Literally an outhouse type of situation. As an American used to modern conveniences and homes with 2, 3 and even 4 bathrooms this kind of simplicity baffled me. I'm pleased to report we found a house with the toilet indoors, but we've only got one!!

5. Do you use your Spanish much?
As I said before, there might be 500 Mexicans in all of Australia and I don't know a single one of them. There is a relatively decent population of Argentines and Chileans as well as others from Bolivia, Columbia and other parts of Central and South America. The problem is I never seem to run into these people. So I don't use my Spanish much at all. This is another thing that I truly miss from living in the USA--Spanish surrounds you there. In fact, I love getting off the plane at LAX airport and hearing everyone speaking in Spanish.

6. Are there signs in other languages everywhere like there are in Texas?
I have to say that signs here are mostly in English, but you'll hear a whole bevy of languages being spoken when you are out and about. Australia is a nation of immigrants and most of the immigration has happened in the last 50 years. This means lots and lots of people still speak their native tongues. Walk through a local market here in Melbourne and you might hear Greek, Chinese, Indonesian, Croatian or any number of other languages being spoken by the shoppers. If you go to a neighbourhood that has a large population of a particular cultural group, then you'll find shops in these areas have signs in both English and the native language of the people who make up the community.

Thanks Dana for your thoughtful questions.

Whew! Another set under my belt. More answers to your questions tomorrow!

Monday, October 20, 2008

We Interrupt this Blog...

We interrupt this blog for an important announcement:

I love food and love to cook, but I love it more when someone else cooks for me. Read about my search for the perfect breakfast in my new breakfast blog: Breakfast...One Suburb At A Time. There is a link to it on the sidebar to the right on this page (look for the photo of breakfast food). Or you can just click here.

Warning: There are pictures of delicious breakfast foods, so don't come hungry!!

We now return you to our regularly scheduled blog.

Your Questions Answered Part 1

Thanks to all my loyal readers--it appears I was wrong there are actually four of you instead of three--for responding to my last post with your questions about life in Australia or life as an Expat in Australia. My plan this week is to answer each group of questions in individual posts. So watch this space for your questions and my answers to come up!

First in, best dressed--as they'd say here in Australia--is ibbabs97 and here are her questions:

1. Do you miss your sister the most of all?
2. Do you dream in Australian like you did in Spanish?
3. How do you get us to not having so much stuff?That is all for now. Got to go clean out a closet full of stuff.

I think it's fair to say that ibbabs97 has strayed a bit off topic with the last question, but since she happens to be related to me, I'll let it slide. So let's get down to the business of answering her questions:

1. Do you miss your sister the most of all?

Well, ibbabs97 this is quite the self interested question isn't it? I certainly miss my sister. I miss her heaps, but "the most of all"? I don't know. That's a tough call. Firstly, my sister has two adorable little boys who are irresistible and I certainly miss them A LOT too. I suppose that could be credit in my sister's account as well since they are her offspring. There is something though, that I think I might miss just slightly more than my sister and my adorable nephews. It's something I just can't get here in Australia and every time I go back to Texas, I make a point to get as much of it as possible.

That's right ibbabs97, I think I miss the humble Whataburger most of all. What's not to miss? Made to order. Tasty. Just the right combination of toppings. Mmm....heaven! With 700 locations spread out across 10 US States, this Texas burger is quietly storming the country. Yeah, that's us Texans--very quiet!! =)

So I'm sorry ibbabs97 if that disappoints you, but I have to be honest here. I hope you'll still speak to me after this. I know you love a little bit of Whataburger too!

2. Do you dream in Australian like you did in Spanish?

Now ibbabs97, this is an interesting question. I think ibbab97 is referring to the time I lived in Argentina and was speaking Spanish almost exclusively everyday. During this time, I used to dream in Spanish when I slept at night. I've heard many people say that you begin to dream in a language when you have begun to master it. I definitely think that was the case in with Spanish.

The question at hand though, is do I dream in Australian. The answer is a very weak--I'm not sure. I can't think of a particular dream I've had where there was a memorable occurrence of Australian speak. I definitely had dreams about people that I know here in Australia and places that I've been to here. I just can't be sure about the language though and perhaps this is because it isn't too dissimilar to the English we speak in the USA...or maybe I just don't remember.

3. How do you get us to not having so much stuff? That is all for now. Got to go and clean out a closet full of stuff.

Again ibbabs97, slightly off topic but we'll allow it because you obviously need the help. I won't even mention the grammar problems you had in composing the question in the first place because we've got more pressing issues at hand. You've got a lot of stuff and you need to get rid of it. Here's my advice to you:

1. Avoid the Dollar Spot at Target as much as possible. While these items seem like a bargain, it is really rubbish and you don't need any of it. I don't care if it cost a dollar or not. Just keep on walking sister.

2. If you haven't used something in the last 3 to 6 months (and this means clothes, shoes, toys, craft items, etc) then you need to find a new home for it. No one likes to throw things in the rubbish and really we should try to recycle as much as we can. So have a think about some places you might donate some of your unwanted items to. There are lots of charities out there that would love to have your stuff.

3. Take some time to organise your house so that everything has a place. This means that when something comes into the house you will have a spot for it. I find when I have a place for everything, the clutter doesn't build up as much and it's easy to put things away because I know exactly where they go.

4. Children don't need every toy known to man. In fact, the less you provide them with, the more they will use their imaginations. This is behaviour you should encourage--they will become better problem solvers, more competent negotiators, and more creative people.

5. You must get the entire family on board with the decluttering of the house. You can't have one person working towards that goal while the others continue their hoarding tendencies. You've got to work together as a team.

Good luck with your stuff ibbabs97! I hope you can dig your way out of it.

Thanks for your questions. We'll answer someone else's tomorrow! Stay tuned.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tag...and I'm it!

I was sent a meme earlier this week by my friend Lee Anne who blogs at Sam I Am. I'll admit now, I had no idea what a meme was and had to Google it! Turns out it's a chain letter sort of thing. My assignment is to write 6 interesting things about myself and then tag 6 other people to do the same. As I'm relatively new to the blog scene, I couldn't really come up with 6 other people to tag. So I'm going to break the rules here and be a bit naughty...I'm going to write about 6 things I do differently now that I live in Australia. Then I want you, my faithful readers (all three of you) to think of six questions about Australia or Expat life here that you'd like answered and write them in the comments section. Then I'll do my best going forward to answer as many as possible. Got it? Great!

So here's my list of the 6 things I do differently now that I live in Australia:

1. I speak with an Aussie accent. Really. It's true. Ask all my American friends, they'll tell you. I speak Australian now. When I go back to the USA, people spend a lot of time making fun of my new accent. What people might not realise is, it's not really a conscious thing that I do. I've always had an ear for the spoken language and have tended to pick up accents in the different places I've lived quite quickly. The worst part about it is that the Australians can still hear the American accent when I speak. So either way, I'm an outsider. In the USA, they take the piss out of me because I speak Australian. In Australia, they comment because I speak American. I sometimes think the best place for me would be an island in the Pacific--somewhere half way between Australia and the USA. It's a feeling that I'm sure is shared by many an Expat...not knowing where you really belong any more.

2. I dry my laundry on a clothes line in my back garden. It's a Hills Hoist clothes line to be exact. The Hills Hoist is an Aussie Icon. Most back yards you visit here have the unattractive but extremely useful Hills Hoist clothesline as a centerpiece of the landscape. When I first moved into this house, I was determined to remove it as quickly as possible. Then I started using it. I LOVE it!! There aren't a lot of domestic chores that I enjoy, but hanging clothes on the line is something that I really don't mind. It's very relaxing and peaceful and I find I get a lot of time to think while I'm putting clothes up or taking them down. Not only that, it keeps me from using my extremely energy inefficient clothes dryer (which I try to only use during really rainy periods). It reminds me of what life must have been like in the 1950s in America. In fact, my Mum sent me the actual clothes pins my Grandmother used to use on her clothesline way back when. I love those clothes pins--you can't find anything like them now.

3. I drive on the left side of the road. This did take a bit of getting used to, but I like to think I'm pretty good at it now. You can read all about my initial adventures with driving on the left here.

4. I recycle. To be fair, we always recycled aluminium cans when I was kid in Texas, but we didn't have the opportunity to recycle much else. The community in which we live here in Australia allows us to recycle plastic codes 1 thru 7, as well as glass bottles and newspapers. I love recycling. It literally cuts our rubbish in half.

5. I swear in Arabic. Yes, that's a little trick the Handsome Australian and all of his young cousins taught me. They are all of Lebanese heritage and were very quick to teach me all the naughty words. Only they didn't tell me they were naughty words. They led me to believe they were perfectly nice things to say and then sent me off to converse with their Grandmother while they stood back and watched her priceless expressions. If you've seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding you'll know what I'm talking about. The brother of the main character was always trying to trick her non-Greek boyfriend into saying lots of inappropriate things in Greek. I've so been there and done that...only in Arabic.

6. I eat vegemite and I love it. Only kidding...if you've read any of the posts on this blog, you'll be aware by now that I can't stand vegemite. I just wanted to make sure you all were still paying attention. Not to worry, loving vegemite is something that I'll never change...I'll never love it. I'm still my same old peanut butter loving self!

So there you have it, my list! Now let's hear from you guys. Hit me with your questions about Australia or being an Expat in Australia. I'm here for you.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Deal Breaker

Where I grew up, in Texas, it was really hot. Most summer days would see the mercury cracking 100 degrees or more (Fahrenheit that is, I'm talking 37+ degrees in Celsius). Not only was it very hot, but the air was dry too. Hot, dry and dusty. Oh how I miss it...the sand storms in the spring time, the dust in my eyes, in my ears, in my nose...everywhere!!! Okay, so maybe I don't miss that aspect of my Texas home too much, but it was because of this weather that I discovered the joy of the 7-11 Slurpee on a summer day or any day really.

As luck would have it, my parents chose the location of our house very wisely. We were within walking distance of a friendly neighbourhood 7-11 store. This meant when I was younger, my neighbourhood friends and I would walk down to the 7-11 together to get our Slurpee fix. Everyone had their favourite flavour combinations. Sometimes we could afford a small Slurpee, sometimes a larger one. Size didn't matter--we just had to have some!

When I hit high school and got a driver's license and a car, I would stop at the 7-11to get petrol and would almost always grab a Slurpee. By this stage in my life, the Slurpee and I were pretty inseparable. It wasn't part of my daily routine, but I liked the comfort of knowing it was just down the street if I wanted one.

Then something terrible happened. I moved to another Texas city to attend university and there weren't any 7-11s. No 7-11s meant no Slurpees. I lived in this city for 5 years while I attended Uni (that's Aussie for College). Each time we'd get a break, I'd return to my hot and dusty hometown and make sure that I drank as many Slurpees as humanly possible. It wasn't easy being away from my beloved Slurpee for such long periods. I coped though. I survived. I got by.

Next step for me was a move overseas to Argentina. The excitement of living in another country, of meeting new people, of speaking a different language distracted me from missing the cold, icy goodness of my old friend Slurpee.

Then like a whirlwind, I met the Handsome Australian and I followed him home to Australia. When I first arrived in Australia, my long term plans were unknown. I didn't know if things would work out with the Handsome Australian or if my stay would be short term. One thing was clear from the beginning of my stay in Australia though--if things did work out with the Handsome Australian and I did end up staying here for a long, long time it would be okay. How did I know this? Because on my very first day here I was walking through the center of Melbourne and there it was, like a beacon of light calling out to me--a friendly neighbourhood 7-11 store. Now that I think about it, the day was a bit on the hot side. Yes, it was perfect Slurpee weather. I went inside and found the same Slurpee machines that I was used to from home. Even the flavours made sense to me!! Eureka!!! In this one little corner of the CBD, they spoke my language. Slurpee language!!!

To this day, I think if there weren't 7-11s in Melbourne, if there weren't Slurpees, I may not have been able to stay. Seriously. No Slurpee = Deal Breaker.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The miracle of modern technology

Unless you've been living in a cave for the last year, you are fully aware that it's nearing election time in the USA. The hotly contested Democratic primary season between Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton was only the beginning of the chaos. Now that candidates have been chosen, campaigns are going full barrel and with less than a month to go before election day, voters are trying to get a feel for what each candidate has to offer. Voters, like me. This is why I've been so keen to watch the two Presidential and one Vice Presidential debates.

Being an Expat and living overseas means I'm out of the loop a bit when it comes to the American media cycle. I don't get to watch CNN or MSNBC or any of the American networks and listen to the American pundits talk about the election and what each candidate has said or done each day. Which in some ways, is probably not a bad thing. Living in Australia means I get to hear less of the he said-she said type of arguments going back and forth between campaigns, and more of the major announcements or general campaign themes. So when it was announced that there would be a series of debates between the candidates and their running mates, I was excited by the opportunity to see and hear them speak for themselves in detail about their platforms.

Luckily, all of the debates thus far have been broadcast live on Australian television. With the time difference, they come on at 11am here. I managed to watch the first Presidential Debate quite easily because it was on a Saturday morning. The Vice Presidential Debate was a bit trickier as I was at home, but had to convince the little people not to interrupt Mum for an hour and a half while I watched Palin and Biden go for it. The second Presidential Debate, however, was a different story. It was on at 11am on Wednesday morning our time. I had stuff to do. I was busy. I couldn't stop my day in the middle again to sit down for an hour and a half to watch Obama and McCain battle it out. I really wanted to watch, but there were kids to pick up and drop off. There was laundry to be done. Dishes to be washed. The house doesn't clean itself, y'all!

There is something about this particular election though, that is so compelling. So compelling that the guilt from missing this second debate was eating away at me. As the day went on, I kept wondering how it went. Who had won? Were there any memorable moments? What had I missed? Oh why hadn't I taken the time to watch it? Now I'll never know!

I do know though! That very night when all the little people around here were safely tucked in their beds, I went and asked my best friend, Google, to take me to the debate. She's a good friend, Google, and she didn't let me down. She took me to a New York Times website that had the entire video of the debate--all 90 minutes of it along with the complete transcript that sat in a box right next to it and automatically scrolled along with the debate. It was fantastic. Not only did I watch the debate, I read it too. If that wasn't cool enough, on the top of the screen was a bar that broke the debate down by topics and showed you how much time was spent on each topic and it moved along with the debate as well. Confused? Follow the link and have a look at the site yourself. It's fantastic.

So there I was last Wednesday night, curled up with a hot cup of tea watching the two candidates duke it out on my laptop. I could pause it at any moment, I could scroll up and down the text to read what they'd said. My options were endless. At some point during my fascination with this website, I stopped to think--isn't this incredible? Here I am sitting half a world away in Australia watching the candidates who are competing for the top job in my home country debate--not on television, but on the little screen of my laptop. Truly amazing.

Ah yes, the miracle of modern technology...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Still learning the lingo

Yesterday I stopped to get petrol (that's Aussie for gasoline) at a local petrol station. I filled my car with unleaded petrol at a price of $1.47 a litre (1 litres = 0.264172052 US gallons, 1.00 AUD
= 0.663374 USD--which is a lot of numbers meaning my petrol was equivalent to USD$3.68/gallon for those of you who might be interested...) then I went inside the petrol station to pay because as other expat bloggers have observed there is no paying at the pump here in Australia.

So in to the friendly petrol station I go and wait my turn in the queue (that's Australian for line). When I get to the counter the woman at the till (that's Australian for register) asks me which pump I was at and then proceeds to process my payment. While we are waiting for the little credit card slip to print out, she starts telling me a story--completely unsolicited. Normally the people behind the till at the petrol station don't engage in much conversation. If they do, it's usually the, "Nice day today. Beautiful weather." kind of niceties, but not a full story. So immediately I'm a bit thrown by this woman's behaviour.

Petrol Station Lady: "So there was a couple in this car..."

At this point I look at her confused and look out at my own car where my two children were patiently waiting for me and think she is making some reference to my kids or something. She senses my confusion and continues her story..

PSL: "There was an elderly couple here just before. They were in a blue Subaru at pump 6..."

Now I'm thinking she's going to ask me if I've seen the couple because I was at pump 5 just behind them. I'm wondering if they've driven off without paying or something.

She continues...

PSL: "They were both wearing stack hats."

I'm totally lost.

Me: "I'm sorry, what?"

PSL: "They were both wearing stack hats inside of their car."

Me: Looking confused, "I'm sorry, stack hats?"

PSL: Slightly exasperated, "Yeah, stack hats, you know bicycle helmets--they were wearing them inside the car. I've never seen that before."

Me: Finally making the connection--stack means to crash in Australia and so a stack hat would be a crash hat or a crash helmet in this case. I process this all and say, "Well perhaps it's not such a bad idea. I got petrol here a few weeks ago and then pulled out of your petrol station only to be hit by a P Plater two minutes down the road. They are obviously familiar with the area."

PSL: Horrified, "Oh my gosh, were you all right?"

Me: "Yes, we were all fine--I had my kids with me too."

PSL: Horrified further, "Oh your poor kids."

Me: "Yeah they were a bit scared, but everyone was okay."

PSL: "Well that's the important thing."

Me: "Yeah, so you can't be too careful really. I think those older people have just been around the block a few times and they know what they are doing. Don't doubt their stack hats!!"

When I get home later, I relate this story to the Handsome Australian. He has no idea what stack hats are either. I have to tell him. That's the thing about Aussie slang--there is so bloody much of it that even the Aussies who have lived here their whole lives don't know what half of it means. What hope is there for the rest of us?

Learn the Lingo
petrol = gasoline
queue = line
till = cash register
stack hats = crash helmets