Virtual Gramma – Look Her In The iPAD!

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As a genealogist, I come across many family migration stories. Several generations ago, many people left everything and everyone behind for a new life; often to never communicate again.

Women sometimes left small children behind, men left entire families, with the intent to one day bring them over to reunite with him. There are many happy endings to these journeys; there are also relatives who were left behind posting in newspapers, searching for loved ones who they hoped made it to the promise land. The heartbreak that occurred would be insurmountable I imagine, regardless of how tough and brave our ancestors were.

If they did connect again, it was through the postal service and what we call “snail mail” now. And the letters traveled on ships and took what must have seemed a lifetime to reach home. And then traveled by plane. I’ll spare the history lesson right there; it took a long time by todays standards. I myself recall buying special air mail paper to correspond with friends who left for Europe after college.

Now for my own family’s migration story which I never could have foreseen. It’s been a year and a half since our small family including three pets (two cats and a dog) boarded a plane for Australia. This decision was a big one, especially in the sense of being an only child and taking the only grandchildren away from their Gramma in the States. She was devasted when my husband had a job offer in Pittsburgh, but this? We ripped her heart out, but we took it with us.

Gramma is with us virtually now. She’s on Facebook and I am a super poster with her and the rest of family and friends we left behind in mind. We FaceTime on a near daily basis. She joins us for breakfast, sometimes lunch, occasionally dinner (during daylight savings) because she’s sleeping on her side of the world. She joined us just today when I brought my eldest daughter to lunch. Good thing I have a great data plan on my iPhone! She is there with us at swim lessons, our hotel stay this past weekend, and we are there with her when she travels to Colorado to see her sister, and when she sings with the band on a night out. Gramma even gets captured in family photos while on the iPad.

PiperGramma

Things you hear around our house:

“Look her in the iPad when she’s talking to you!”

“Take Gramma with you upstairs to watch you play.”

“Don’t moon Gramma and Papa!”

“Talk to Gramma first and then you can play on the iPad!”

Gramma has watched them grow in height and vocabulary and she hears the ruckus of us trying to get them ready and out the door for school on time. She’s there for the yelling, the tears, the injuries (although she was spared of the head getting cracked open on a rock because we were FaceTimeing with her Colorado sister at the time!!) and the living room dancing, plays, and songs.

When we ask our kids which country they like best to live in, the lightning-fast response is the U.S.. Why? Because Gramma and Papa are there. They don’t mention other reasons like friends or places they miss (no offense folks!). And it’s not just because they are family and visited for 2 weeks last year. It’s because they are a constant in their lives and share stories every day. Maybe it’s also the care packages…

Technology is our lifeline and I don’t use that term lightly. It is the bridge between us and family in the States. Our own iPads and iPhones, and all of our Apple products really, are worth every pretty penny. In pennies-per-use and the family glue as a result, these devices pay for themselves again and again. The best thing is being there and we will see Gramma when we travel to the States next month!

No doubt you have your own virtual stories, so feel free to share!

As American As… Ruffles Potato Chips

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Today was Cultural Day at my daughter’s primary school. 10 months into our tenure here in Australia, and I am still learning…

The kids were to dress in an orange shirt to appreciate cultural diversity, or they could wear something from their culture. They could also bring in a cultural plate of food to share with their classmates.

What was I to do? My daughter doesn’t have any orange shirts, except as it dawned on us as we walked to school, she does! Halloween is next week and didn’t she just wear an orange shirt a few weeks ago with a pumpkin on it? Now THAT would be both orange and American, but no, mommy wasn’t that smart to think of that prior to the day. Ugh. She also doesn’t have an American flag t-shirts, well that fit her any more at least. Most of her cultural shirts are from England, Spain, Scotland, and yep, Australia. She is half English thanks to her daddy, but again, that light bulb never switched on. She went to school in her uniform and made the most of it by saying, “At least I’m wearing blue!”

As I stood at the school, it felt like we were at the United Nations with delegates parading in their country’s regalia. Little girls from China in full silk dresses, a girl in an       I ❤ Malta t-shirt, teen boys in football (soccer) jerseys from Macedonia and Barcelona, Indian girls in saris, and kids draped in Italian and Aussie flags. And the food? Trays of Somalian and SriLankan casseroles, exotic desserts, and ham and cheese croissants wafted by me; even our neighbors carried Lamingtons with Aussie flags on each one. I just said 2 words to myself: Parenting Fail.

What could I drum up that would be considered culturally American? Baking an apple pie was out of the question on a weeknight (and hubby out of the country), plus we needed to give thought to potential allergies in the class. It couldn’t be anything that needed to be served warm. I can’t seem to find many American items here, except on my visits to Costco. And that’s just what my daughter brought in today (and sure to be a crowd pleaser), Ruffles potato chips.

All-American Ruffles

All-American Ruffles

Aside from the obvious takeaways here and knowing better for next year’s event, it really has occurred to me as the token American immigrant, I’ve never lived in a more culturally diverse place, than here in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia. Not a day goes by that I don’t overhear different languages being spoken around me or meet someone who is only first generation Australian. Our nearest neighbors are Armenian, Filipino, Maltese, Asian, and… the token Aussie.

Australia – The Unexpected Bucket List

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I’ve never been one to have a determined “bucket list” except perhaps for the long list of musicians I’d always wanted to see perform live. I’ve steadily fulfilled most of that list. As far as checking life adventures off of a list, well I’ve always let it happen naturally.

My husband reminded me not long ago that I had always been saving my Delta SkyMiles up for a big trip, Australia. I have my American Express card linked to earn SkyMiles on purchases, and well, over 10 years of loyalty (and shopping for everything with that card) I’ve certainly saved enough for a round-trip to Australia. Except that as life and work would play out, we now live Down Under.

I sometimes have to pinch myself that we now live in this amazing country that I’d been saving up for years just to visit for a couple of weeks!

In our short time here, I’ve already become the travel agent and tour planner for our family. Our first big holiday was at a popular bucket list destination, the Great Barrier Reef. I still marvel at the beauty we soaked in at our stay on Hamilton Island, and the vast and precious marine life of the Reef. Due to the environmental concerns that may obliterate the reef within the next few decades, I highly recommend checking this one of the list sooner than later.

Heart Reef, Great Barrier Reef

Heart Reef, Great Barrier Reef

Hawk Owl, Healesville Sanctuary

Hawk Owl, Healesville Sanctuary

As animal lovers, our family swiftly became Zoos Victoria members and has since visited the member wildlife parks, Healesville Sanctuary and Weribee Zoo. Keeping with this theme, we’ve held a koala at Wild Life Hamilton Island, been to SeaLife in Melbourne, Bundoora Park Farm, and this current school break, we are off to Phillip Island to see penguins, seals, dolphins and go whale watching!! It occurred to me that whale watching would readily be on someone’s bucket list, and here we are fortunate to take a short drive, and a boat out to catch a glimpse of humpback whale migration, as well as the march of the penguins.

Willy the koala, Wild Life Hamilton Island

Willy the koala, Wild Life Hamilton Island

Where to next? Uluru, Sydney, Gold Coast?

We don’t know how long we will live here in Australia, but one thing is certain, this country is a bucket list unto itself.

http://www.theurbanlist.com/brisbane/a-list/the-ultimate-australian-bucket-list For inspiration…

Going, Going, Gone

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Slowly but surely, I know I will surrender, and adapt to and adopt a few Aussie words and phrases, while some of my own may become extinct (like so many things in Oz). My six year old comes home from school with her new lingo each day; we all want to speak in ways we can be understood here, and some things they say, well just make sense, literally. Here are my current favorites:

“Chook” for chicken because I like the way it sounds and it’s quick

“Toilet” for bathroom/restroom because it gets straight to the point of what you really need and there often aren’t baths or rest happening in them anyway. I wonder in the U.S. why we’re so delicate about using that word when it’s what we’re really asking for?

“Tomato sauce” for ketchup/catsup, heck we don’t even have one spelling for the U.S. word, let alone where did it derive from? And although I probably never will pronounce tomato like they do here, the least I can do is ask for tomato sauce instead of ketchup in a restaurant.

“Dibby-Dobber”, this is short for dibber-dobber, but when the Woolies deliveryman called my oldest daughter this after she grassed up her sister for something, well it just stuck day one.

“Chicken Schnitzel” instead of chicken parm. I grew up in upstate New York and there’s no denying authenticity. However, here I was sadly disappointed with the parm as it’s a very breaded, fried piece of chicken with just a splash of red Napoli sauce and a sprinkle of cheese often served with or on top of fries (chips), and a salad. No pasta, or loaded in sauce and cheese like I like it. My workaround has been to ask for the schnitzel instead of parm and done as a sub sandwich, it’s more to my liking. Better yet, I just make it myself at home with schnitzel.

Now for the ones that so far are the hardest to get my brain around as far as rolling them off my tongue with ease:

“Dressing gown” for bathrobe. This is where the literal use of things makes me start reasoning with myself. Typically you put on a bathrobe upon exiting a bath, shower, or in my case needing an extra layer of warmth during this cold Melbourne weather. Most times it’s just a towel I put on. Dressing gown makes me thing of housedresses or housecoats my grandmother used to wear but didn’t go outside in. Now when I see little kids bundled up in dressing gowns at swim lessons, they start to make sense as gowns you get dressed in. I’m still not ready to let that one roll.

“How ya going?” for “How are you doing?” Now, this has got to be one of the most endearing Australian sayings I have encountered, makes literal sense, is translated similarly in languages like French “Ça va?” and yet I have a hard time making it come out naturally upon saying hello to someone.

Not so hard for my three year old who heard her older sister tell us on the walk to school that that’s what you say to people. Immediately she repeated it to one neighbor and then others, all the way down the street.

“Going” implies a lighthearted journey, being in motion. Unlike “How are you doing?” which seems a rather personal thing to ask and no one really wants to know the answer. It is also used by Aussies to gently ask you if you need help with something, “How ya going with that?”

How am I going? Some words as I know them are going, going, gone.

My six year old meeting a kangaroo.

How ya going?

The Mummy Factor

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The Walking Dead, I’ve never seen the show but I have played the part.

Many times over while undertaking our move to Melbourne, I’ve felt battered, bruised, exhausted, sometimes debilitated, frustrated, bleary-eyed, confused, jet lagged, and much like I felt during those first few months after giving birth to my two girls.

I had myself mentally prepared for what was to come down under. Yes Australians drive on the other side of the road, money is different, yes they have funny sayings that you typically don’t want to be on the receiving end of, and yes there will be general adjustments to how we live. Prior to our arrival, I even joked with folks back home about how our kids would come back with Aussie accents.

I was even looking forward to this linguistic adaptation, however was not prepared for the Mummy Factor.

One month into her new school, my 6-year-old came home with her class work assignment. She wrote my name as always, “Mommy”, and the teacher with her checkmarks went in and checked the correct part of the sentence, correcting Mommy to Mummy.

I wasn’t upset with the teacher at all; she knows we’re from the U.S. and she didn’t mark her work incorrect, just pointed out we’re in Australia now.

Mommy Mummy

Our entire family has easily acclimated to our new world. We embraced the summer temps when we arrived in January, we’ve shed our winter coats and regrown them (ok, the cats and dog have), and we are prepared for all seasons whenever we walk out the front door.

Unbeknownst to me, the thing I was not conscious of or prepared to adapt to, was the disappearance in the Southern Hemisphere of the one word that mothers can’t wait for their babies to utter, “Mommy”.

That classwork was only the tip of the iceberg that would eventually bring me to instant tears upon the realization that I would now be called “Mummy”, and with an inflection at the end typically reserved for satirizing Valley girls, or up-talkers (thanks Jerry Seinfeld for coining the term).

It’s a good thing she’s cute and we’re in Australia, because this had been a hard thing for mama bear to swallow.

I brought this up with one of the mothers I’d met at the kids’ swim lessons. She’s from Sydney. I told her it’s been a hard adjustment being an American mom who is losing her child to the Australian vernacular, just on that word alone. She thought about it for a moment and said, “I don’t know how mother became mummy, but it’s a perfect word don’t you think, mummy, the walking dead?”

We both burst out laughing in amusement and somehow the whole mummy factor lifted from a once heavy heart.

Top 10 ways Australians are badasses

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This blog generated from observing several things while living in Australia as well as being short on time for a full-on blog. Note, the term badass is subjective.

They:

  1. Do not wait for cars to pull in or out of parking spaces and will risk their lives including children to walk behind or in front of your moving car.
  1. Have the most tattoos per capita than anywhere I’ve seen.
  1. Talk like New York mob bosses with sayings such as “Yous(e) guys”. (Last time I heard this phrase outside of living in New York was going to a show for the Long Island Medium)
  1. Live without solid Internet service and are just fine with 5 Mbps.
  1. Have co-ed parent rooms in public places and baby changing tables in men’s bathrooms. (I told you badass was subjective but I think it’s a pretty badass thing as are the men who change nappies, and especially those with tattoos, changing nappies.)
  1. Elect politicians such as Tony Abbott who eat raw onions on TV without flinching.
  1. Turn in their guns after one mass shooting, instead of stock piling them.
  1. Install built-in bars, theatre rooms, and barbeques in their homes. (This is very common and adds to resale value of home)
  1. Allow the ginormous tarantula-looking spider called a Huntsman to cohabitate with them to deal with smaller creatures.
  1. Leave cause of death notes while they are dying in the outback from snakebite.

What next Top 10 would you like me to provide commentary? I am always open to suggestions!

When In Rome, Err Melbourne

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Coffee at home courtesy of Nespresso

Coffee at home courtesy of Nespresso

Italians arguably have it mastered. Espresso, any way you like it; with more milk or water in the creation, it’s just the perfect cup of “Gio”.

Since my first trip here a year ago, I have become enamored by how well Australians make a cup of coffee. I had a lovely “Flat White” times two in Chinatown at The Mess Hall www.themesshallmelbourne.com, at the Café Bar Mile on Flinders Lane http://espressomelbourne.com/cafe-review/mile/ (amazing and pretty food, see below), and each morning at the hotel which had a push button machine to spit out your favorite brew (which was surprisingly decent). Honestly, the only way to mess a good cup of coffee up is, well, to make it yourself.

Avo and egg on sourdough toast at Cafe Bar Mile

Avo and egg on sourdough toast at Cafe Bar Mile

Once we moved here in January, it became evident we needed a decent coffee maker as the auto drip one my husband initially purchased just to get by wouldn’t suffice. You become a bit of a coffee snob once you’ve experienced reeeeaaalllly good coffee.

We acquired our first Nespresso right off the bat and shortly thereafter, double-walled espresso glasses. We had an experimental phase of buying the intense capsules and using lungo vs. espresso settings, which had us buzzing. Now we’ve sorta got it down. Hubby prefers running the same capsule through twice and adding light milk, and I prefer 2 capsules on lungo setting and adding my full cream milk. Note: this is not (nearly or ever) a substitute for half and half but it’s all about adapting to change, right??

We’ve kept our auto drip for the mornings we both need to get as much volume of coffee in our systems as quickly as possible. We still buy the Italian ground coffee for this purpose. Coffee is simply dominated by Italians. Lavazza, Vittoria, L’Or, they’re all the best part of waking up.

So my unspoken (until now) theory of the Italian migration here is starting to make sense. There are a lot of Italians in Melbourne and the surname such as Azzopardi is nearly synonymous with Smith back home. I know this as we have a teacher at my daughter’s school as well as our rental agent who share this last name in our suburb, yet are not related. I’ve since heard this surname several times. While I have yet to discover the reason behind the migration, which has clearly permeated Australian society and beverages, I will for now, embrace the joy of drinking a luxurious cup of coffee. Side note: I’ve been to Italy and traveled to Venice, Florence and Rome but unfortunately coffee was one thing I gave up while seven months pregnant!

As we were leaving the States, it was of no surprise to me that Starbucks announced the “Flat White” debut on their menu. I look forward to “giving it a go” when I return. If you happen to venture down under, here is a blog guide to getting your favorite cup of Gio upon your arrival, as Starbucks cafes are NOT on every corner. http://sydneymovingguide.com/coffee-in-australia/

Double walled espresso glasses. Look closely you'll see "Australian Design" at the bottom of the glass.

Double walled espresso glasses. Look closely you’ll see “Australian Design” at the bottom of the glass.