Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

A little fun with PicMonkey's Christmas image-maker :-)
Merry Christmas!  We had the world's longest Christmas Eve by beginning our travels from Australia to the US on Christmas Eve morning in Australia, and arriving around noon on Christmas Eve in the US.  I was definitely on the lookout for Santa out of my airplane window :-)  Hopefully our jetlag isn't too bad and we don't sleep Christmas Day away!  Although I'm sure that won't happen... at least not until presents are opened and Christmas breakfast is enjoyed!

We hope everyone has a wonderful day celebrating with friends and family!  Happy Holidays! 

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Goodbye Australia!

 "You get a strange feeling when you're about to leave a place. Like you'll not only miss the people  and places you love but you'll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you'll never be exactly this way ever again."
--Azar Nafisi

The Gladstone Port from Auckland Lookout Point
Well, somehow the day is here already.  Today is the day that David and I leave this place that has been our home for the last year and a half, and return to Houston (with some stops on the way to visit our families for Christmas and New Years). 

As I expected, I have very mixed emotions about this day.  I wish I could be more excited about a trip home for the holidays... but the sadness of leaving this place (and knowing I likely won't ever return) is overshadowing that for now.  I guess you could say I'm having a bit of a hard time letting go...

I have a lot more I want to document about our last two days in Gladstone and the roller coaster of emotions it has been, but I will have to revisit that after we return and get settled a bit.  So for now,
I just want to say thank you, Gladstone for letting me call you home and for bringing such amazing people and experiences into my life. 

Goodbye, Gladstone!  Goodbye, Australia!

Beautiful Aussie skies!
One last sunset over Canoe Point
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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Going Away Party

Like I've mentioned before, we have been lucky enough to make some amazing friends during our time here.  It did take a while for me to make these connections, but once I finally did, I felt like the friendships developed quickly.  These people quickly became friends that we really do consider family.  When you live abroad, being able to share the whole expat experience is something that instantly bonds you with others.  You just automatically have so much in common- your frustrations, your joys, your husband's crazy schedule, etc.  You just "get" each other right off the bat.  Not to mention that everyone is so far away from family and friends, that you come to rely on and support each other a lot more than you might in other situations.  Because of this shared experience, I know that these are friends that I will stay in touch with for many years to come. 

Last Saturday, some of these friends had a little going away party for David and I.  It was so great to have everyone together.  I mostly just pretended that it wasn't a going away party, so I wouldn't get overly emotional.  We had such a great time that night just hanging out, drinking, and we even played Taboo later in the night, which was a blast. 

All the girls - Me, Nicole, Alexa & Sawyer, Jackie, Katie, Ann
Jackie surprised us with these adorable framed subway art photos with each of our last names and words that remind us of our time in Australia.  Thanks, Jackie!

The couples: Nick & Katie, David & Me, Tim & Alexa, Jason & Jackie, Chris & Ann, Brad & Nicole

Truly, if it wasn't for this group, I would be ready to leave Gladstone in a second.  These friends have been such a support and blessing.  I will miss them so very much.  And I'm holding out hope that a few years down the line we will all end up in the same place for another work assignment for our husbands.  One can hope, right?! 

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Last Day Of Work

Last Friday was my last day of work.  As anticipated, it was a tough day emotionally.  But I guess I feel fortunate to have found a place to work that makes leaving difficult. 

A little background about where I worked... I was a special education teacher in the US.  So when we came over here, I started to research schools in the area to see what my options were.  I started out substituting or "relief teaching" as they call it at two schools.  One was a "regular school" where I worked in the special education unit when they called me in.  The other was a dedicated "special school"- strictly for students with severe needs.  At first I had a hard time wrapping my head around this, because in the US, completely separating students with special needs would never fly.  But I managed to put my opinions around that issue aside, and I really did end up enjoying working at the school, so I was thrilled when they offered me a contract.  I was contracted for three days a week, with the other two days as "call in days" where they would have me come in if someone called in sick, etc.  More often than not, I ended up being there 4-5 days a week.  It was a pretty sweet schedule, and nice to have some flexibility on those two non-contracted days.  Pretty sure I will be totally spoiled/ruined when I go back to the US and have to look for a full time job :-) 


In the US, I worked with students with mild to moderate disabilities (think- learning disabilities, ADD, autism, dyslexia, behavior issues, etc.).  In this job, the entire school had children with moderate to severe disabilities.  On top of that I was placed in the classroom with the students who were the most severely disabled (think- wheel chairs, non-verbal, feeding, toileting, medications, etc.).  I was SO intimidated at first.  It terrified me to be working with such high risk and high needs students, but it didn't take long for me to end up absolutely loving it.  Sure it wasn't the most glamorous job... especially dealing with feeding, toileting, and lots of lifting... but I really did come to love those kids.  And now I actually will consider looking into working with this population once I start looking for jobs again in the US. 

On top of working with some amazing students at this school, the staff was very welcoming and supportive.  It was a really great environment to work in.  Sure, there was some dysfunction and disorganization- but I think all schools have their fair share of that.  Another thing I loved about this job, is that I got to work in the same classroom with a friend that I had made here- Katie.  She started working at the school in August, and I loved working so closely with a friend. 

At any rate, Friday was the last day of school for everyone since the school years here run on a calendar year.  The Christmas break is their long summer break.  Since it was everyone's last day for the year, I was hoping to kind of fly under the radar.  Wrong.  Every Friday morning, the school gathers for a parade (what we call an assembly).  This morning after the usual National Anthem, classroom presentations, announcements, birthdays, etc., my friend Katie and another teacher I worked with brought me up in front of everyone for the students I worked with to present me with a scrapbook they had made for me.  I was sure I would make it through the day without tears... but once I saw this, it was insta-tears.  No I hadn't been at this school for long, but it was long enough for the school and students to make a real impression on me.  The students are just incredible... and have so much love to give, and gosh are they resilient... and I will miss them so very much. 

Field trip to the Botanic Gardens

Not to get all doom and gloom, but you know what's a strange feeling?  To know with 99.9% certainty that when you say goodbye to someone that that is the last time you will ever see them.  And unfortunately, this was in the back of my head this day as I said goodbye to the staff and students.  Sure, I guess you never know what will happen.  But in all seriousness, there is a very slim chance that I will have the opportunity to return here.  Which made leaving that day even harder.  BUT, I am so very grateful to have had this opportunity.  These students will always be in my heart, and they have made a big impact on me.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Aussie Photo Shoot

... Just in case you weren't already sick of photos of David and I after my Anniversary post yesterday :-) ...

We have been lucky enough to make some amazing friends here in Gladstone.  Granted, it took several months for me to make these connections (which makes me even sadder that we are leaving sooner than expected), but either way, I am so glad to have these friends.  One of these friends, Katie, is an extremely talented photographer.  She and I also worked together at the same school here, which was a blast- but that's a story for another day/post. 

I had really wanted to get some photos of David and I (that weren't of the extended arm selfy genre) to help us remember our time here in Australia.  When Katie offered to do the job, I was thrilled!  We met up at the Tondoon Botanic Gardens in Gladstone for a little photo shoot before heading to our going away party last Saturday evening (also a post for another day). 

I had told Katie that I only had one request.  And that request was that we get some shots with Eucalyptus trees (gum trees) in the background.  I love these beautiful trees, and for me they are the ultimate iconic Australian tree- they're everywhere here.  So I am SO happy that she got these amazing shots!  Now if only we could have caught a koala up in one of the trees and some kangaroos hopping by in the background.  I think I might have died...


Here are some of my other faves...

Can we just pause for a moment and note how crazy long my hair is?!  Who let that happen?! I think I've worn it down ten or less times in the past year, so I was even surprised.  Don't worry, I have an appointment to chop it off on Dec. 29!


I am so thankful to have these photos.  Katie did a great job, as expected.  Man, my friends are talented :-)

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Three Years

Three years ago (December 18, 2010), I got to marry this guy.

Happy 3rd Anniversary to my wonderful husband!  I can't believe it has been three years already- it has truly flown by!  While each year has been full of love and adventures, I do have to say that this past year has been my favorite yet.  We spent our entire third year of marriage living in Australia, working very hard (mostly you), and traveling more than some people get to in a lifetime.  I feel like during our third year of marriage, we learned to depend and rely on each other more than ever.  And because of that, we became a team that I am really proud of.  Thank you for another amazing year, David!  I can't wait to see what (and where) year four brings us! 

And in case you just happened to want to see more wedding photos :-) ...

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

In Paradise...


For the next five days, David and I will be living up our last week in Australia (and celebrating our third Anniversary) in the Whitsunday Islands.  If we have to leave Australia, then we will go out with a bang!  Great Barrier Reef, sailing, Whitehaven Beach.... HERE WE COME! 

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Expat To Expat Q&A {Holiday Edition}

Expat Q&A
Linking up today with Found Love Now What and The Hemborg Wife for this month's Expat to Expat Q&A which is all about the holiday season!

Has your idea of the holiday season changed since becoming an expat?
It was really interesting to experience Christmas in Australia last year.  And this year, we will be here until Dec. 24... so I basically will have two Aussie Christmases under my belt.  There are a lot of things I observed from being able to compare the way a big holiday like Christmas is celebrated in two different places.  But what stands out most is that for what I'm sure is a multitude of reasons, Christmas is very very VERY North American-ized/ European-ized.  I mean sure Australia has their fair share of Santa's depicted in board shorts surfing, but even still, the majority of the images/ideas surrounding Christmas are still very "western."  They still sing Jingle Bells and Let It Snow... you see snowmen in the stores... kids read books about Santa coming down the chimney, etc.  Guys, it is SUMMER here.  Most people in Australia have never seen snow, you would have to be crazy to have a fireplace here, pine trees do not exist here, and hot chocolate?  No way!  It is just so strange to me.  But it also makes me realize how powerful the images and ideas that North America and Europe project about something like a holiday (among other things) really are.  Sure, people here do have their own Christmas traditions that are better suited to their weather and lifestyles (grilling and hanging out at the pool or beach with a cold beer), but it almost makes me a little sad... that "our" culture has to be so overwhelming even on the other side of the world. 

How do you build new holiday traditions, while keeping ones that remind you of “home”?  
Last year was the first Christmas away from home for both David and I.  It was hard for both of us, although probably a little more for me since Christmas isn't AS big of a deal in his family.  I knew I would be sad to be so far away, so last year I made sure that we made our house feel as Christmas-y as possible.  We bought a fake tree and decorated it, put up lights, I made a big Christmas Eve dinner, and we had stockings and presents on Christmas morning followed by a big breakfast.  Doing these things definitely helped make being so far away a little easier.  It was also fun to incorporate some new traditions.  On Boxing Day last year (Dec. 26), we spent that day at the beach.  Now THAT is something I can definitely get on board with and would love to be able to make that a Christmas tradition.  Aussies also do a lot of vacationing around Christmas time since this is their summer and the long break from school for the kids.  So we also took part in that tradition and traveled to Melbourne just a few days after Christmas.  Again, I could totally partake in a post-Christmas vacay each year! 

Decorating our tree in shorts, bare feet, and tank top/short sleeves
This year has been a very different Christmas season again, but for other reasons.  We knew months ago that we would be visiting home for the holidays, and I was SO  looking forward to getting to feel those "American Christmas feelings" and be near friends and family.  However, once we found out we were moving and that our flights were now one way flights, I got a little scroogy about Christmas.  I'm just taking my frustration and sadness out on Christmas.  Sorry- nothing personal.  Basically what happened was Christmas began to be associated with a move that I was sad about, so I just kind of have avoided doing much of anything Christmas-related at all this year.  How scroogy is that?!  But I know that once we leave I will be fine, and I'll be able to put my displaced anger at Christmas aside.  And at that point, I fully intend on soaking up every last ounce of Christmas that I can on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day! 

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Pack, Pack, Pack It Up!

Today our big move got very real.  Today was packing day... or "uplift day" as they call it here.  David and I spent all day the previous day breaking things down, separating our belongings from things that stay in the house, packing our three bags each that will be our worldly possessions for the next couple months, etc.  It was rough.  We were up until 1:30 AM.  And hungover for most of the morning and early afternoon, but that's a story for another day :-)  It was late, and we were exhausted, but we got everything done.

Moving truck is here!
Three movers/packers knocked on the door at 8:00 AM on the dot.  And in a matter of about fifteen minutes, the house was filled with boxes, packing material, etc.  It's amazing how quickly your home can start to look very foreign.  One of the positives about doing an international move with your company is that (in most cases), they arrange for the packing, customs paperwork, etc. to be taken care of.  We actually were not allowed to pack any boxes, because they had to itemize and record everything for customs.  So our work was put in the day before.  Today I mostly just got to sit and supervise, answer questions, direct traffic, etc. 

This was when they barricaded the fridge with boxes.  I was STARVING, and the only food we had left in the house was in there. 
That's all our stuff all packed up behind the yellow rope. 
And before I knew it, everything was packed up and loaded in the truck.  It's a strange feeling to watch most of your possessions being driven away to begin its journey overseas.  It's even weirder to walk back into your house and see it empty for the first time. 

I definitely wasn't as much of an emotional wreck as I was on move/pack day when we were leaving Houston to come here.  I guess it helps that we're going somewhere we are familiar with this time around.  That day feels like a million years ago and just yesterday all at the same time.  Although it's looking like we will be in Houston for "at least a year or two" (in the words of my husband), I couldn't help but wonder when/if I might be doing this same thing all over again. 

At any rate, our "stuff" has officially begun its journey back to the US.  Now it's our turn I guess.  But not for another week still! 

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Never-Ending To Do List and Wise Words From A Good Friend

Because every post needs at least one photo... The Gladstone Marina
Today was one of the first days where the stress of our move and everything that needs to get done really hit me.  I didn't have to work today, so I had spent some time the night before making a giant list of all the things I wanted to accomplish the next day... filling out customs forms, delivering items people here are buying from us, bank run, grocery store run, cleaning out the pantry, post office, and on and on.  I started the day early and immediately began plowing through my list.  But it just felt like for every item I crossed off, I would come up with at least another one or two to replace it.  It's all around overwhelming.  I pretty much went non-stop- save for a surprise mid-morning visit from a friend that was a much needed break. 

Around 4PM I was driving home from doing some errands, and I suddenly realized that I was starving.  Then I realized I had forgotten to eat since the smoothie I made that morning around 8AM.  I have never forgotten to eat.  So this was a first.  Clearly I needed to just slow down for a while.  So I went straight home, made something to eat, and forced myself to relax for a bit while I watched a little bit of this week's "The Voice" episode. 

I've moved quite a lot so far in my life... but I think it just never gets any easier.  There's always an endless list of things to do... no matter how organized you are.  I just keep telling myself that it will all get done... it kind of just has to...  It's a bit sad though that when moving, your last few weeks/days always end up being so hectic and busy.  Because, really during this time, I wish I could spend my days relaxing, visiting places around town one last time... just soaking up this place I've called home for the past year and a half.  I'm trying to squeeze some of that in though when I can. 

One of my best friends from home, Kayli, sent me a well-timed email that arrived in my Inbox while I was eating my very late lunch today.  She's one of those people who, to me, always seems so wise and just knows the right thing to say and when you need to hear it.  Here's some of what she said. 

"Moving can feel like a lonely experience because it's not really an experience you share with many people. You have picked up your life several times and hopefully you'll finally have a chance to feel settled in Houston...Whatever decisions you make on what to do during your last couple weeks, what not to do, who to see, who to say "no" to... your decisions are all the right decisions. Do what brings you the most peace. You always consider other people but remember to think of yourself too!" 

She's totally right. How did she know that this is exactly what I needed to hear?... 

Tomorrow is my last day of work.  Fingers crossed for no tears!

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Makeshift Aussie Thanksgiving

I am completely aware that it is probably way too late to be doing a Thanksgiving re-cap post.  So please forgive me while I ignore Christmas and travel back in time a few weeks to Thanksgiving.  :-)

This year's Aussie Thanksgiving celebrations were very different from last year's...

Last year, we hosted Thanksgiving at our house with several of our expat friends.  We had a huge feast, and I cooked all day for basically two days straight.  It was a blast!  You can read about Thanksgiving 2012 HERE.  Last year, I was also extremely homesick around this time.  It was our first big holiday here, and it just felt extra far away that day. 

This year, Thanksgiving was nearly overlooked simply because it was only a week or two after we found out about our move, so things were just way too chaotic to really think much about Thanksgiving or homesickness.  We had been invited to a big expat Thanksgiving celebration, but we decided to pass.  We just felt like we needed a weekend to get things going for our move and just felt a little anti-social at the time I guess. 

But I surely couldn't let the holiday go completely unnoticed.  So on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, David and I had a small makeshift Thanksgiving meal for two.  I roasted a chicken and some vegetables and made two mini apple pies (my favorite Thanksgiving treat!).  We drank wine and just enjoyed a quiet evening.  It turned out really nice, and I think it was just the perfect way to celebrate given our situation at the time. 

This look burned... I promise it wasn't.
Our little Thanksgiving spread
Mini apple pies!

We will probably never have such a low-key Thanksgiving again.  But it was nice.  Different, but nice.  And it was fun to think that we will be back home for Thanksgiving next year! 

PS. The roasted chicken recipe is AMAZING.  I've made it several times, and it always turns out great.  I was intimidated to roast a chicken, but this is so simple!  The recipe is for two, but it's easy to just do one chicken.  I added carrots and onions to the veggies underneath the chicken. So good.  Try it the next time you want to make an easy meal that looks impressive :-)

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