Friday, August 19, 2011

You Did It!

Thank you, thank you, thank you to all my faithful readers who voted (and voted and voted) to make Yellow Brick Road one of the Top 25 Expat Mom Blogs on Circle of Moms.

I can't believe I actually landed in the Top 25, and I am truly honored.  And, a special thank you to the anonymous reader who originally nominated me for the contest.  Thanks for reading, and thanks for voting!

To those of you stopping by from Circle of Moms, I'd like to say WELCOME!  I'm so glad you've clicked over.  I hope you stay and have a look around.

We left Australia for good last month, and I have decided to archive this blog as a sort of permanent record of our time there.  I still get emails from other Americans considering a move to Oz, and I enjoy being able to offer them encouragement and advice.  So The Yellow Brick Road will stay right here.

But my expat adventures aren't over yet.  This week we're moving across the pond and setting up house near London.  We're looking forward to a year of culture shock. miscommunication, funny stories, and lots of travel.  I would love to have you along for the journey.  So consider this your official invitation to join me at my new blog: Along The Yellow Brick Road.  Here's your chance to become one of my first followers!

Cheers,
Jenny

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Aussie Gift Guide

It seems that July is the perfect time for American expats to head home for a holiday.  It's a chance to escape winter in Australia and soak up some North American summer.  Americans are off school for the summer and most Aussie schools have a 2-3 week holiday break in July.

Annual home leave is a nice little perk that most expats enjoy.  A chance to reconnect with family and friends back in America.  And many of us want to bring gifts to all those people to let them know that even though we live on the other side of the world we haven't forgotten about them.

One can only buy so many stuffed koalas and coin purses made from kangaroo scrotum.  That's why I have put together the following Aussie Gift Guide.  There's a little something for everyone.


For Her:

An Oroton Bag
These beauties are designed in Australia and sold in boutiques around Oz and Europe.  As far as I know they are not widely available in the US.  A great gift for someone special.  They also sell key fobs and umbrellas if you're looking for something less expensive.

Von Treskow Coin Jewelry
This collection featuring Aussie coins that have been turned into necklaces, bracelets and earrings is one of my favourite things.  They're beautiful and wearable and Australian without being cheesy.

Ken Done Hoodie
These hoodies are nicer than your typical souvenir shop sweatshirts.  The colours are fun and Done's signature kangaroo silhouette is eye catching.

Havianas Aussie Beaches Flip Flops
Of course, in Australia they call them thongs.  These sport a small metal charm in the shape of Australia and they have the names of popular Aussie beaches printed on the sole.  So cute!  And everyone loves Havianas.

For Him:

Australian Wine
My favourite bottle shop is the Australian Wine Centre near Circular Quay.  They are helpful and have a great selection.  They will even package up your purchase in a box that can be checked as luggage on any major airline. 

Havianas (see above)
In addition to the Beaches version, Havianas also come with an Aussie Flag on the strap.

Bush Hat
These kangaroo leather bush hats are fun, and the Squashy collection are easy to pack in your suitcase.

Photography Prints
Ken Ducan has some amazing photographs of this beautiful country.  One of his prints (or a less expensive calendar or book) would make a great gift.

For Kids:


Between the Flags Gear
This shop benefits the Australian surf lifesavers, so you can feel good about shopping here.  Plenty of cute kids swimmers, hats, and towels.  Great sales in June- I saw lots of items for only $5 each! 

Candy by Sticky
This shop in The Rocks is a big hit with kids.  I picked up the cutest candy with a tiny koala on each piece.  Packaged in cellophane bags they make great little give aways for friends at home.

Anything from Paddy's Market
Paddy's Market (in Chinatown) is the place to go for cheap souvenirs.  If you need 30 pencil sets with Aussie animals on them, you'll find it at Paddy's.  They also have bags, towels, t-shirts and, strangely, a huge selection of trashy lingerie.  But that's another post.  Paddy's is a good place to go if you need to buy cheap gifts in bulk.

Animalz
These beautiful little wooden toys are designed in Australia.  The Aussie pouch, containing an echidna, koala and wombat is my favourite.


For Yourself:

Now that I'm back in the U.S., the one thing I wish I had more of is video.  I found a 45 second video of Balmoral on my phone today and watched it over and over.  I would love to be able to look back at quick snippets of our life in Sydney.  It would be the best gift of all.



Jenny

Sunday, July 10, 2011

How We Said Goodbye

Repatriation.  After 2+ years working to build a life in another country, we suddenly find ourselves about to return "home".  We spent our last week saying goodbye to all the people, places and things that we loved in Australia.

The kids each had parties at school and needed small gifts to hand out to their classmates and friends. I scoured Pinterest and found this adorable idea for s'more kits.   I tweaked it a bit to fit our purposes and printed our email and skype info on the back.  Such a cute little way to share an American tradition and encourage the kids to keep in touch.


We hosted a party, with sushi from our favourite place Goeman, to say farewell to our Australian, American, Canadian, and British friends down under.  

We went into the city and had lunch at the Opera Bar, and one last hot chocolate at Guylian.  We tracked down our favourite street performers and stocked up on Australian wine to bring back with us.

We walked from Bradleys Head to Balmoral one more time on our last full day in Sydney.  It was the most gorgeous winter's day.  Sydney was wishing us a fond farewell.  It was the perfect way to appreciate the beautiful spot we have called home for the past 2 years.

View on the bushwalk







On our final morning, 2 of my dear friends stopped by to wave us off.  It was emotional.  We loaded the kids (and 9 suitcases!) into the van and I went back to do one last sweep through the apartment.    It was surreal.  I walked through each room trying to take a mental picture.  This was my home.  I want to remember the happiness we felt here.  I want to carry this experience around with me forever.  And as the door to the elevator closed that last time, I knew I would.  I will always have Sydney.

Jenny

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Gifted

Last week I had a birthday.  A milestone birthday. 
Yes, that one. 
To mark the occasion I decided to get myself a gift.


I first read about it at Simple Mom and knew I had to have one for myself.

The format of the book is so clever.  I love the way it chronicles your life for 5 years and allows you to easily look back and see what you were doing exactly one year ago.  Some people have suggested occasionally having your children write in the journal to record what their handwriting looked like.  The one line a day format is not intimidating- I think I'll actually be able to keep up with this journal.  I'm looking forward to recording all my adventures in its pages.



I love this little journal so much I decided to gift it to my children's teachers and coaches as a way to say thank you to them before our big move.  A little kraft paper and a strip of printed map made for pretty wrapping.

I hope the recipients love this little journal as much as I do.

xx  Jenny

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Misadventures in Packing

Before the movers arrived a couple weeks ago, I went through every cupboard, wardrobe and drawer (or draw as some say here).  I asked my darling husband to sort through his belongings and get rid of anything he didn't want to take to the U.K.   We purged enough clothing and shoes and toys and household items to require several drop offs at our local thrift shop

When the packers finally showed up, I had carefully set aside one suitcase  for me and each child which contained everything we'd need for the next 6 weeks.  This was no easy task since I had to pack for 2 climates!  It was pretty minimal- but adequate.

Now notice that I did not pack a bag for my husband.  This is an important point in the story.  He was responsible for packing his own bag.

Fast forward to packing day.  The crew arrived and, in a very Un-Aussie like way, swept into action.  They were quick, efficient and thorough.  In less than 5 hours all of our belongings were wrapped and packed and stacked in the container.

In fact, they were so good that I was almost able to overlook their slightly offensive musical tastes (like T-Pain's "Take Your Shirt Off" ).

At the end of the day, we breathed a sigh of relief.  The hard work was done.  Now we'd be able to spend the next 2 and a half weeks visiting with friends and enjoying our time in Sydney.

But of course, everything did not go off without a hitch.  When my sweet husband went to get ready for work the next morning he quickly realized something was missing from his suitcase.  Shoes.  He has no shoes.  Well, except for the trainers (that's what they call sneakers here) he had on his feet.  Every other pair of shoes the man owns are now in a container not to be seen again for 6-8 weeks.

You might think, no problem,  just go out and buy a new pair of shoes.  Sounds simple enough, unless you've seen the type of shoes Aussie men tend to wear.  Think long, pointy, duck bill-like footwear.  That's pretty much what was "on offer" at our local shoe shop.

And then, yesterday, I was walking past our local Vinnie's- the thrift shop that served as a dumping ground for all our unwanted stuff.  And guess what I saw in the front window-  proudly displayed to lure in bargain seeking customers?

That's right:  a pair of my husband's discarded shoes!  We could actually buy his unwanted shoes back for the bargain price of $70 AUD  (about $72.80 USD).



Believe me, I was tempted to buy them back, but I resisted.  So if you happen to see my otherwise well dressed husband going to fancy dinners and meetings and goodbye parties in his trainers, you'll know why.

Jenny

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Dear Australia

I don't want to leave you- with your sunshine and white sand beaches and happy people and tall white gum trees.

I want more time to watch my kids run around Rocky Point Island and stare out at the sea and think about how lucky I am to have landed in this lucky country for 2 years.

I want to ride on the green and yellow ferry, marvel at how the sea and the sky could possibly be so blue and stare at the sparkling white sails of the Opera House as we pull into Circular Quay. 

I want to stop by the kiosk and stroll along The Esplanade holding my husband's hand and just freeze time for a moment.  I don't want to say goodbye.

We will come back some day.  It won't be the same, but I'll remember.  I'll show my daughter where she learned to ride a bike and my son where he spent so many afternoons digging in the sand.  And I'll tell my baby, "You were born here."

Thank you, Australia, for being our home.  I will miss you.  Only one week left.


Photo:Vincent Lai


With love,
Jenny


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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Packing Up

And so it goes . . . .


I guess it's official now.  All of our personal belongings are being loading into this container, placed aboard a ship and sent to the other side of the world. 


We have to show up in London-  otherwise, what would become of my beloved tortilla press, the Little Buddy's rubbish truck collection (they say "rubbish" in the UK, right?), and our huge library of children's books? 


Nope, no backing out now.  Less than three weeks and counting.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Winter Beach Days

Winter is officially here in Sydney.  It is cold and the wind is biting.  We've had some torrential rain, too.  But last week we were also blessed with gorgeous blue skies and bright sunshine.  Perfect winter afternoon on the beach.



I'm really going to miss days like this.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Memories

Family Photos in the Botanic Garden


Photographer:  Vincent Lai

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Don't Mind if I Doo

 

Doo Town is a quirky little place on the Tasman Peninsula.  The story goes that back in the 1930s, an early resident of Doo Town placed a name plate reading "Doo I" on his weekend cottage.  He started a trend, and creative townspeople have been naming their cottages ever since.

Here's a pictorial tour of Doo Town's clever cottages.










One of my favourites:

What doo you think?




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Friday, June 3, 2011

Unraveling a Life

Tasmanian Sunrise
Our time left here in Australia can now be measured in weeks instead of months.  We'll be gone before the eggs in my refrigerator expire.  It's surreal to think that I  have to begin to unravel the life I've spent the past 2 years creating.

Squeeze in a couple last trips.
Sort through our belongings and decide what to take, what to sell, what to toss.  
Close out our accounts and memberships.  
Say good-bye to all the people we've come to love here. 

Even the kids are starting to feel the tension of being torn between two lives on two continents.  Someone once said that beginnings are always scary, endings are always sad, but it's what's in between that counts.

I just wish the in between could last a little longer.




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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Scenic Tasmania


For our final Aussie holiday we headed down to Tasmania and spent some time exploring the Tasman peninsula and the capital city of Hobart.  Tassie has a reputation for being the most natural state in Australia.  It's rugged coastline and convict past didn't disappoint.  Tasmania was gorgeous (But really, isn't all of Australia?  Like this, this and this).

Tourists are discouraged from driving after dark in Tasmania.  It didn't take long to see why. At least 4 dead wombats lined the Arthur highway on the drive from Hobart to Port Arthur.  So much marsupial carnage was difficult to see.  Luckily the kiddos were too busy poking each other in the backseat to notice the roadkill wonderland.

Our first stop was Port Arthur, the site of the convict settlement in the 1800s.  The landscape was beautiful, and the ruins were interesting.  When you see the historic site you just can't help but think about how miserable it must have been to be a convict at Port Arthur.  It was freezing, the wind was whipping and the rain pelted us.  I just kept thinking about how lucky the Sydney convicts were by comparison.


We spent the night in Port Arthur at the Stewarts bay Lodge.  I highly recommend the deluxe cabins there.  The setting and the views were so beautiful.  The cabins were modern and clean and spacious.  And dinner at their Taylors restaurant was the best meal we had in Tassie (Ok- it was the only decent meal we had in Tassie).   I wish we could have stayed more than one night!

After Port Arthur we did some exploring on the Tasman Peninsula.  The coastline is breathtaking.  We visited Devil's Kitchen, The Blowhole, Tesselated Pavement and the Tasman Arch.



We drove through Doo Town (which was so amusing it deserves its own post) and spent the night in a guest bungalow in Marion Bay.  The bungalow had a wall of glass looking out on the gorgeous Tasmanian coast.  It was so picturesque.  Freezing cold and pouring rain, but still picturesque!

Day three brought us to Hobart and the famous Salamanca Markets.  We handed each kid a $20 bill and set the free to shop for souvenirs.  The market was huge, with stalls hawking everything from gorgeous handmade Tassie wood products to cheap "made in China" plastic trucks and fresh produce.  Wanna guess what the little buddy bought?



That night our family had a private night tour at the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary.  We were the only people in the park, with a private guide who took us inside the enclosures.  Nothing quite like tossing a chunk of opossum leg to a hungry Tassie Devil


 We also fed this frogmouth and the little potoroos.


 

We all enjoyed getting up close with the animals at the sanctuary.  Although I did freak out a bit when a sugar glider plopped down on the face of my sleeping baby.  That was a little too close for comfort for me!

On our final day in Tasmania we headed up to the top of Mt Wellington where we found SNOW!  We were completely ill prepared but the kids didn't care.  They reveled in throwing snowballs at each other and the Little Princess (the only one with gloves!)  insisted on building a snowman while the rest on the family retreated to the warmth of the car. 


After all that snow play we stopped by the Cascade Brewery.


And then made our way to the MONA.

 There were some really cool things at the MONA, like the full size mack truck in a corridor, and the wall of paper panels seen above.  The kids loved the light bulbs that flicker in time with your heartbeat and the architecture of the building with its massive sandstone wall is impressive.  But there were also some really disturbing things at the MONA.  And much of the content is totally inappropriate for kids.  A staff member was stationed outside the most objectionable exhibits so they were easy to avoid.  But when we got out of the lift on level 2 and found ourselves staring at a wall of plaster cast vaginas we realized the MONA might not be the best place for our inquisitive little children.   So we quickly headed back outside to the expansive grounds and watched them run around with these giant bean bags.  (Which I think are intended to be used by adults as they relax and sip wine).

We loved Tasmania.  Even with the road kill, the freezing rain, the creepy art and the lack of decent dining options, it was an amazing holiday.   It was rural and green and rugged and simply stunning.  Tasmania really is like no place else on earth- and I'm so glad I got to see it.


If you made it all the way through this incredibly long post and are still reading, please take a moment and vote for me over at Circle of Moms.  
It only takes 2 clicks and you'll make my day. 


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On Becoming a Serial Expat

That's right- we're gonna do it again.  When we leave Australia in July we won't be moving back home to California.
We're going to London!



We've been given a second once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I can't wait to embark on this new adventure.

But don't worry Mom, after this one we're definitely coming home (I think).

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tasmania- Autumn Way Down Under

In case you were wondering what the weather is like in Tassie in Autumn, here's a little video from our recent holiday.



To be fair, this was taken at the top of Mt. Wellington.  But trust me, it was cold everywhere!

More holiday highlights coming soon.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Isn't That Special?

Some sweet anonymous person out there in the blog-o-sphere nominated Yellow Brick Road for this Circle of Moms expat blog award.




See that button up there?  I'm posting this so my mom can click on it and vote for my blog.  Then I will have 2 votes.  Two votes is a lot better than one.  And if any of you other gentle readers are so inclined, feel free to click and vote.

Ta.  (That's "Thank you very much" in Australian).

Monday, May 9, 2011

So You're Thinking of Moving to Australia . . .

Maybe you've stumbled upon this blog because you are considering a move to Australia.  It's a big decision- leaving everything you know behind and heading to the other side of the world.


When the opportunity was first presented to us we weren't at all sure we wanted to do it.  But now, after 2 years in this lucky country I can say that coming here was one of the best decisions we've ever made.

This is a personal blog.  It's a recount of our time here and most of it is probably only interesting to my family and friends.  But, over the past 2 years I have met a surprising number of people who "found" me through this blog.  They are just like me:  typical American moms moving to Sydney for a few years.  And some things are universal for us expats.  We all have worries and questions.  We're all concerned about driving on the "wrong" side of the road and we're all baffled by the strange flavored potato chips (as evidenced here, here, and here).  We're all experiencing the same things and most of us spent the months leading up to the big move stalking expat bloggers trying to get as much info as possible about what might lie ahead.

So, in the interest of paying it forward, here are my top 10 tips to help others who may be looking into an expat assignment in Australia.

1.  Get a good relocation agent to help you.  We used Nuss Relocations and the service was very thorough.  Our agent set up over 20 property viewings for us, drove us all around the city, showed us schools, rental furniture warehouses, local amenities, and gave us references for doctors and other local service providers.  Be aware that rental property prices are quoted per week.  There are heaps of expats living on Sydney's lower North Shore (Mosman).  If you end up in this suburb, email me and I'll hook you up!

2.  Set up a Vonage account and bring the box with you.  You can actually use your current US phone number.  When you hook your Vonage box up here, anyone in the US can pick up the phone, dial your old number and it will ring at your new place in Australia.  Keeping in touch with friends and family is tough and believe me, people will be even less likely to call you if they have to deal with placing an international call.  It is also really handy to have a US phone number for all sorts of things.  And when you go home for visits you can just take the box with you and have a working phone again.

3.  Buy an Apple TV or a Slingbox.  Australian TV is pitiful-  unless you like watching 3 hours of Two and a Half Men every day.  Do yourself a favor and find a way to get your American TV fix.  And while you are at it, make sure you keep your iTunes account registered as a US account.  If you switch to an Aussie account you will only have access to content released here.

4.  Bring your kindle.  Books are crazy expensive here (I'm talking $40 for a paperback!).  See #3 about keeping your amazon account registered in the US.

5.  Get a set of these Sydney (or whatever city you're moving to) City Walk cards. These have been a wonderful resource for us and have helped us explore this beautiful city.  Strangely enough, they are very hard to find here.

6.  Spend some time on Yanks Down Under.  This forum is full of helpful American expats who are great at answering questions and giving advice.

7.  If you've got preschoolers, get your name on the waiting lists ASAP.  There are 2 basic options for the 2-5 year old crowd:  Preschool and Long Day Care.  "Preschool" means school hours (usually 9:00-3:00).  There is no such thing as half day preschool.  Long Day care is like preschool but with extended hours.  Long day care is typically more expensive than preschool ($100/day or more) and you do not get weeks off for the school holidays.   Many long day care centres run a preschool-like program.  Most traditional "Preschools" have waiting lists that can be 2+ years long.

8. Start a T-Shirt collection.  Get t-shirts from all the interesting places you visit while you're an expat and from all the activities your kids are involved in abroad.  Then, when you leave, have them made into one of these super cool T-Shirt quilts.  Great way to remember your time as an expat!  (Wish I would have thought of this at the beginning of our stay).

9.  Check out Gumtree.  It's like the Aussie version of Craigslist.  I've used it to find everything from a nanny to a piano.  Gumtree is a great resource.

10.  Just do it.  "Home" will always be there, waiting for you.  Take a chance, expand your horizons.  I'm so glad we did.








Linking up at


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Monday, April 25, 2011

Inventive Australians

I saw these adorable stamps for the first time the other day:


Hanging your clothes on the line while wearing Speedos and drinking wine from a box.  All made possible by those inventive Australians.
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