Showing posts with label Expat Life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Expat Life. Show all posts

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Remember Me?...

Tap, tap.  Is this thing on?...

Remember that time I moved back to the US from Australia right before Christmas, and then fell off the face of the earth blogger?  Yeah... oops...

I'm actually quite disappointed in myself for letting that happen.  It's not that I forgot about blogging or documenting this major transition in our lives.  In fact, I thought about blogging quite often... but I guess I just never really got any further than that.  I had plenty of "mentally composed posts" floating around in my brain over the past nearly three months... important moments in our lives that I don't want to forget like our last day in Australia, stepping foot on American soil for the first time in a year and a half, Christmas, New Years, moving back to Houston, forgetting how to drive on the "right side" of the road, things I miss about Australia, things that now overwhelm me about America, a few fun weekend trips we've taken, and the many other interesting experiences in this process of repatriating... but I guess I dropped the ball. 

If I'm being honest, it started out that I was avoiding blogging because everything was just a bit too overwhelming, and I didn't want anything else added to my plate.  At that time, it sounded stressful to me, instead of fun, like it had before. But then it kind of turned into me being sad about leaving Australia- in denial, really.  And I think somehow I thought that blogging about it would make it more real.  It's actually still pretty hard for me to read all of the expat blogs I had been such a loyal reader of just a couple months ago (Sorry to some of my faves- Jen and Jenna).  I guess having to leave Australia much sooner and more quickly than we anticipated... and essentially having to leave my expat identity (and all the wonderful experiences I had) behind made it somewhat painful to read about others doing the fun expat things I used to do.  Yeah, serious denial.  So I just avoided it all together.   Makes sense, right?... (totally doesn't...)  And the longer I avoided blogging, the harder and more overwhelming it seemed to start up again. 

But here I am.  I want to continue blogging and documenting our lives.  I want to remember what it was like to move back to the US after living abroad.  And I want to record the experiences we have in our "new again" home in Houston.  So this is my first effort at putting a stop to the avoidance, denial, and procrastination.  It will surely take me a while to get caught up, but that will be my goal.  So please bear with me over the next several weeks as I try to get back into my groove.  And I hope you won't mind some seriously outdated recaps while I attempt to get caught up. 

And because no post is complete without a photo, here's one of my last views of Gladstone as we said goodbye for the last time. 

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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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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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Thursday, December 05, 2013

Change Of Plans...

In case you haven't noticed... things have been pretty quiet around these parts lately.  That seems to happen here every so often.  I get into blogging funks and just don't feel inspired to write.  Or it may just be a super busy time of year, and blogging just gets demoted down my priority list.  However, this time this little blogging hiatus has a different explanation. 

You see, literally less than a week after I published THIS post about how I was in a bit of an expat funk and was wishing time away to just get out of here for a while, we got some news that changed my tune in an instant. 

That news being: David will be moving to a new role with this project.  And that new role is a Houston-based role.  And they want him (us) to report there in January. 

So I guess my blogging silence was a combination of denial about this major wrench that was being thrown in our plans for the next few years and the fact that from the day we got that news, things shifted into high gear since we suddenly had less than two months to make another international move happen.  Probably mostly just denial though if I'm being honest. 

I wish I would have blogged during that time... so that I could better remember exactly the mix of emotions I was feeling and how I processed everything.  But I think I really just didn't believe it, and I felt like if I "put it on paper" it would make it more real than I was ready to acknowledge at the time.  But I guess now I'm finally ready (and finally have a spare moment) to document this event and some of my feelings surrounding it. 

I remember very clearly exactly when David told me the news.  I just leaving work on a Friday.  We had kind of known that this was a vague possibility for a few days, but I really hadn't thought anything of it, as I had kind of gotten used to these somewhat regular talks of assignment changes and then nothing ever coming of them.  But it just so happened that this time, something did come of it.  The moment I read that text saying that we would be heading back to Houston, my heart sank and tears filled my eyes.  I remember driving home and all of a sudden this place and everything I was driving by just seemed different- more special somehow.  My "this may be the last time I (fill in the blank) mindset started from that very moment I think.  It's funny how just days earlier I was just so ready to get out of this place.  I needed a break, and I wanted that break NOW.  And suddenly that all changed.  Now I wanted more time here, and I wanted the time I did have left here to pass by as slowly as possible.  I went from having my "Countdown 'Til Home" app front and center on my iPhone home screen, to deleting it entirely.  I couldn't stand a daily reminder that my days here were now numbered.  What was originally going to be our first trip back to the US in nearly a year and a half was now going to be our demobilization trip.  A one way ticket...

I was very sad.  I cried a little bit pretty much every day for that first week.  This change was very sudden and unexpected- especially since only back in September we had been told that we would likely be here until 2016.  So I had really only recently wrapped my head around that and then this news.  I sort of felt like someone pulled a rug out from under me.  But I guess it's just part of being in this industry- you go where they tell you and when.  We had to wait about a week before telling any of our family or friends while we waited for everything to be official.  Even then, I found myself hanging onto the chance that something might fall through.  It didn't. 

It is official.  We have one way tickets leaving Australia on December 24.  It's funny... I basically came to Gladstone kicking and screaming... and now I feel like I will leave the same way.  Who would've thought? 

Honestly?  If you would've told me this news only six or seven months ago?  I probably would've been thrilled.  It took me a long time to feel settled here, to find my niche, to make a solid group of friends (something I didn't really even have in Houston before we came here).  It's only been in the past 6 months or so that I had really been enjoying the life that we have here... and looking forward to what was ahead of us here (oh the amazing trips I had planned in my head!).  I guess I just feel like we weren't quite ready to leave quite yet.  Sure, 2016 was a little much for me to take, but I would've at least liked another year.  That's obviously not in the cards for us though. 

Things have been full on for the past few weeks- organizing everything we need to sell here, quitting my job, sorting out having packers come, while at the same time trying to make sure we aren't living on the streets in Houston since we sold most everything we had there, too.  It got real pretty fast.  It's amazing how quickly your brain kind of just automatically begins to slowly detach yourself from things, people, places upon big news like this.  I guess that's just the mind's way of beginning the process of letting go.  I hate that I'm doing it, but I catch myself checking out, pulling away... in order to prepare for this big change.  However, I am trying to soak up and enjoy as much of our last few weeks here as possible.  I'm going to do my best to try and get caught up from old trips I still have yet to post while at the same time trying to do a better job of documenting this whole moving process and experience in real time.  I know that this will be important in being able to process this change, and find closure on my time here in Australia. 

Two international moves in less than two years?  Wish us luck...

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What Brought Us Here - The Work-Related Reason

What brought you to Australia?

That is a question we get quite frequently.  I wish we could say that we came just for the opportunity to travel and see the other side of the world.  While we have done a lot of that, that isn't why we are really here.  We came here on a job assignment with my husband's company.  My husband works for a large international construction company that does most of its work in the oil, gas, and chemicals industry.  One of their biggest contracts currently (we're talking billions and billions of dollars- something I can't even wrap my head around) is here in little old Gladstone, Australia.  Just off the coast of this small port town on Curtis Island, they are building three large LNG (liquid natural gas) plants.  So, that's why we're here.  David is working on one of those three LNG projects- along with close to 8,000 other employees (both international and Australian). 

For as little as I know about this type of thing, I've actually (surprisingly) found it really interesting to be so close to such a large-scale construction project.  Unfortunately, the island and the construction sites themselves have pretty heavy security, so you cannot normally access the sites unless you are an employee.  Luckily, I've had the opportunity to get pretty close to the constructions sites on two occasions. 

When my parents came to visit, we were able to go on an informational ferry cruise that cruised past the construction sites on Curtis Island.  It was pretty neat to be able to see how seriously massive these things are.  And also neat to see where my husband spends from 5AM to 6PM six days a week.

Our ferry for the "cruise"
This is a far-away view of just ONE of the THREE nearly identical plants they're constructing
The red/orange dome is one of the gas tanks
Another gas tank.  It's hard to tell from the photo, but these cranes were the most massive ones I've ever seen.

The coal ship in the photo below is not related to the projects at all, but it's an example of one of the many massive coal ships that are constantly in and out of the port here.  Gladstone is also a major coal exporter for the world (mostly China).  Those little "boxes" you see at the top on the crane?  Those are the huge containers that you usually see on semi trucks.  They look so tiny on this giant ship!
Then in early September, the company actually opened up the site for an employee family tour day.  We got to actually tour the island itself (by ferry and bus), which was really neat.  Unfortunately, with all the security, they were very strict about enforcing that no photography was allowed. 
Walking to get back on the ferry after the tour.  The only photo I was brave enough to sneak. 
So many cranes!  And tons of progress can be seen since the previous photos (2.5 months time)
Here's a short time-lapse video (it's only 30 seconds) that shows the roof on one of the tanks being lifted.  Kind of nerdy, but pretty cool, too! 

So, there you have it.  Not the most exciting story of what brought us here.  But this is it!  Really proud of my husband and his hard work here! 

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Thursday, November 07, 2013

Sewing Wannabe

It goes without saying that living abroad allows you to have many experiences you might never have had otherwise.  Most of the biggest new experiences I've had here revolve around travel and the incredible sights I've seen.  Oh, and koalas. 

However, I've also realized that there are quite a few other new experiences I've had that have nothing to do with travel.  While living here, I've had the chance to do things like: be a part of a book club, blogging, working in a completely different education setting than I'm used to, having a standing weekly Saturday coffee date with friends, etc.  These are things that for one reason or another, I never had the interest in or opportunity for before living here.  I think that living in a small town combined with the fact that there are plenty of other Americans here in a similar situation somehow created the perfect setting for some of these things to happen here. 

Another one of these new experiences that I've fallen into recently is sewing.  A few of the girls that I've become close friends with over the past few months had been going to a Monday night sewing class.  They'd been inviting me to come for weeks, and I kept turning them down.  Sewing wasn't something I ever really thought I was interested in taking up as a hobby.  Well, a few months ago, I finally went along with them.  And I actually enjoyed it. It's not so much a structured class, as it is a sort of sewing "study hall."  You can work on whatever you want while having access to a very helpful "instructor" and tons of sewing machines/supplies.  Most of the girls who go are making super fancy things like beautiful quilts and Christmas stockings.  I'm definitely the least skilled of the group. 

I started out by making a very simple pin cushion. 

From there, I decided to make a gift for a friend whose baby shower was coming up.  Growing up, my mom used to make these cute little hooded baby towel things.  I think I even "helped" her a few times.  I figured that would be a simple enough project for me to move on to next. 

I used this tutorial and tips from my mom as my guide:

My friend Alexa is having her second little girl, and she's not a super "pink" type of mom.  So I went with this coral fabric... although for some weird reason, it looks pretty orange in these pictures. 

This project ended up taking me a lot longer than I anticipated, but when it was finally finished, I was very happy with the end product!  It was fun to give someone a gift that I had made myself. 

And here's a photo of some of the girls I sew with at Alexa's baby "sprinkle." 

Nicole, Me, Jackie, Alexa (and baby Sawyer), Colleen, Katie, & sweet little Elise up front showing her belly to the camera :-)

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