Thursday, November 22, 2012

Six Months

Six months ago today, we moved to Australia. On the morning of May 22, Paul, the boys, and I arrived at Sydney Airport with eight huge suitcases, several carry-ons, and two car seats. We moved into a quirky house, generously furnished for us by our family and friends, and settled into our new life here.

In many ways, it feels like we have been here much longer than six months. The boys are now Australian citizens and they have settled in very well - they love spending time with their cousins, Auntie Barbara and Uncle Nick and Granny and Granddad.  We found a great daycare for them, and Vincent has been thriving. It has been so wonderful to see our friends and their kids (and we are looking forward to having everybody - 14 adults and 20 kids - over at our house on Saturday for an American Thanksgiving celebration!) We have taken advantage of Medicare (the universal healthcare system) - it is such a relief to be able to take boys to the doctor and not have to pay anything to get excellent medical attention (yes, we do pay for through payroll taxes, but it nothing like the premiums and deductibles and office visit costs that we had to pay in the States).

And, no, the boys don't have Australian accents yet. Desmond really isn't talking and Vincent still sounds like an American three-year-old (although several Australianisms have crept into his vocabulary).

The house isn't any less quirky, and we will be moving when our lease is up in May. But we have put in a veggie garden (tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, and heaps and heaps of butternut squash) and have adopted a family of lizards (skinks) that live under our front steps and in our back patio - their names are Steve, Betty, and Mike (we think Steve and Betty are siblings and Betty is married to Mike). And we don't have any cockroaches yet (knock on wood) but we do have a sugar ant problem. Still, it is an ok house in a good location with a nice backyard.

And thanks to Skype, we video chat with my parents and sister quite frequently. In fact, the boys often eat their lunch and talk to Grandma and Grandpa at the same time. Both Vincent and Desmond love chatting with their American grandparents and "playing" with them (this happens when I put the laptop on the floor - Desmond loves to crawl up to the computer and Vincent likes to show Grandma and Grandpa his trains).

I've had several people ask me how it was adjusting to living in Australia again after being gone for nearly ten years. It wasn't as difficult as I expected - perhaps because I was so focused on getting the boys settled and because I lived here before and knew what to expect. It also helps that I was able to get a driver's license and that Paul's family lives close by. The hardest part was suddenly becoming a full-time stay-at-home-mom after working three jobs (one full-time and two part-time) before we left Burnsville.

But there are days when I really miss the States. It's not a feeling of homesickness because my home is with my husband and boys - where ever that might be. This is more a feeling of missing my parents and sister and extended family in Minnesota and Wisconsin. And I often get a strong feeling of longing for the oddest things at the oddest times - like the leaves changing or the crisp feeling in the fall air or my mom's chocolate chip cookies or her apple crisp.

But all-in-all, I am glad we made the move. Paul is really enjoying his job - he has really grown into it and has made it his own. I had the wonderful opportunity to teach at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music this past term, but I am still looking for full-time work (anybody in Sydney need a musicologist??). Nonetheless, know that I am fortunate to have this time with my boys (even if they seriously try my patience every day).

Today also marks four weeks until my parents arrive in Sydney to spend the Christmas and New Year holidays with us. We are all looking forward to it - we are going to chop down a tree, have Christmas on the beach, and spend lots of time just being together.

Here's to the next six months.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

6 November 2012: two races that will stop two nations

On Tuesday, 6 November all eyes in the US and Australia will focus on a race that will likely come down to the wire. In the US, that race is the Presidential Election. In Australia, it is the Melbourne Cup.

A horse race dating back to 1861, the Melbourne Cup is now one of the most important events on the Melbourne social calendar. Anybody who is anybody will be there, dressed to the nines - with the focus on the women's hats. In the state of Victoria, Melbourne Cup Day is a public holiday - no work, no school. Across the rest of Australia, people often wear fancy dress to work and have a small party at race time.

I know we are talking about politics vs. horse racing, but the two are not as different as you might think.
  • The participants in both have been preparing months - if not years - for this single day.
  • The jockeys and the presidential candidates are the "front men" for their respective teams/political parties.
  • Both races are marred by controversy. In the Melbourne Cup, one of the jockeys is under investigation for betting on another horse and jockey in 2010. In the US presidential race, controversy is the name of the game.
  • The amount of money spent by those involved is obscene - a few days ago, it was reported that the presidential candidates have spent $1 BILLION on a million advertisements (most of them negative); last year, Australians bet more than $140 million on a race that only lasts 4 minutes. As Sarah McKenzie points out, "To put this in perspective, Austrlia's total funding in response to the East Africa Food Crisis, in which over 13 million people are at risk, currently sits at $128 million."

Of course, there are also similarities that are far more shallow. For example, all fashion eyes have been and will be focussing on what the women wear.

Nicole Kidman at Derby Day in Melbourne over the weekend (photo:  Getty Images)
First Lady Michelle Obama at the DNC (photo:
Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Romney and the fashion faux pas at the Presidential Debate (photo:
And you have to admit that the names of this years' presidential candidates are unique (I'll bet George Washington never thought we'd be voting on guys named Barack and Mitt) - not unlike the names of the horses in this year's Melbourne Cup field: Dunaden, Jakkalberry, Voila Ici, Zabellionaire, and My Quest for Peace. (I don't think the Romneys have a horse in the Melbourne Cup - that would be way too much excitement in the Romney house - or is that houses?? - for one day!)

Betting on the outcome of the US presidential election is illegal in the United States. But not in Australia. Right now, one Australian betting website has the odds in favor of the Democrats: an Obama win pays $1.22, while a Romney win will pay out $4.33. In the other race, Dunaden is the odds-on favorite for the Melbourne cup.

The second favorite to win is Americain.

How apropos.