My Invisible Disability


A word cloud comprised of many invisible disabilities. Credit: Invisible Disability Australia

I have been a pretty much open book most of my life. I share myself honestly, give my opinions (even if unsolicited), and welcome tough conversations. I am an introvert and enjoy mostly one-on-one or small group socialisation. I have the tendency to put on a tough, resilient, independent image to all, so it’s been very difficult to contemplate sharing my invisible pain. But as I say to my daughters, “you have to name it, and claim it”, I need to honour my own mantra now; I see no other choice.

For those friends who knew me way back in high school and mid-twenties, you undoubtedly remember me (somewhat) as an athlete. I ran varsity track; competed in the high jump. I was in alpine ski club. I moved to Lake Placid after university, where I prided myself on not having a car, and getting around and to my 5 part-time jobs, on foot, wheels, skis. I frequently ran around and swam in Mirror Lake. I rode my bike to and from work where I sold bikes, skis, and outdoor gear. I rode my bike up Whiteface Mountain toll road, and went back country and XC skiing with my friends. I tried many of the olympic sports like speed skating, luge, and biathlon. I even took up snowboarding, albeit that was short lived. 

I had an episode where I couldn’t walk for 3 days due to severe muscle spasms in my mid-back. It was a long recovery and felt like it never really went away. I called it where I carried my stress. I saw a chiropractor at the time, and he noted I had arthritic changes happening in my lower back, but there was nothing I was too worried about, as I was young. It wasn’t until my thirties with severe lower back issues keeping me down that I got properly diagnosed with degenerative disc disease (DDD) in L4-S1 if you speak spine. I have always had good and bad days, but it has always plagued me. I think I just got used to the pain, sucked it up, medicated as needed. I have missed social gatherings, weddings, my kids’ events, and for the last couple years of my tenure at GlaxoSmithKline, I was mostly working from home. My work colleagues may remember when I was at my worst, unable to sit, so I put my laptop on a box in my cubicle and worked standing up all day, or kneeling on the floor while at the table during group meetings. It was exhausting.

Fast forward to Australia. I have been here since 2015, and miraculously due to life and work changes, I have been able to avoid having regular treatment for the DDD. My girls were having trouble coping with me having to work long hours in the city, so I started what became Sandee Rain Boutique in April 2017, and will celebrate 5 years as SRB on 17 Dec. I wanted to be there for the girls, and it’s certainly been the only thing allowing me to still do so. In early 2018 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I think I handled that on my own as well as possible because I had to get through it for my girls. It coincided with my marriage ending, so cancer was a catalyst and a distraction; I had to live to be with the girls. Thankfully, even though stressful, it resolved with the girls and I staying and creating a life in Australia. We are dual citizens.

Much later after cancer treatment, I was literally flying high. I enjoyed my adventures with the girls, and worked the Boutique around our lives. I began to accept the changed body form, the scars, the radiotherapy tattoos, the numbness in my armpit from 2 tumour and 1 lymph node removal surgeries. Once I accepted myself, I knew I was in a better to place to be in a relationship again. When Greg and I met 3 years ago, I was enjoying life, I was upbeat, I was strong. I was also about 63 kilos.

About 2 years ago, the strong nerve pain increased around the surgery areas. Although both my surgeon and oncologist said it was normal as the nerves healed in a jagged way from surgery, it would pass. It didn’t. I went for my regular mammogram and nearly passed out from pain from being pressed against the machine. On top of the never ending fear of cancer’s return, my body wouldn’t even cooperate with the machine that saved my life. There was covid in the mix, and I wasn’t able to follow up on this except over Telehealth with my radiology oncologist. I got an MRI of the chest, and there was inflammation around my rib where the radiotherapy was targeted. If it weren’t for this one doctor, I would still be trying to smile through the pain. Apparently, I have developed a late, rare toxicity from radiotherapy causing rib osteitis. Apparently I am in the 1% of patients post breast cancer radiotherapy to develop this. I was referred to the Peter Mac pain clinic last year, and have received 2 nerve blocks to date (including a sneaky injection to my SI joint the first time). I had a follow up MRI this past October, and the inflammation is still there as well as affecting surrounding muscles. This, coupled with my DDD has exacerbated the pain. I am on medication to calm the nerve pain, and reduce inflammation. Due to fatigue and pain while resting, I don’t sleep very well, or do much activity. I am now 85 kilos.

I have had 2 visits with my pain specialist recently, and he’s told me what I don’t want to hear, I have to stop physical activity, focus on myself, rest, and heal. I have become a champ at doing this boom/bust thing where if I feel good one day, I overdo activity, and then pay for it the next several days. The only person that sees what’s happening to me is Greg. I have only recently shared with the girls because I can’t put up a front anymore with them, or anyone really. I have had to cancel plans with people I care about, and it depresses and saddens me. I have been under tremendous pressure running the business which now has to take a backseat, as well as undergoing unfathomable stress and court costs of current proceedings for over a year, on behalf of my girls. All of this adds up and affects my entire nervous system. So, for now, I need to get worse before I get better, and get out of the downward spiral. I have an amazing team of specialists who truly listen, and who truly care about my health.

In all of these years, I have tried to be brave, stoic, and manage through pain. It’s invisible, so people only see what I want them to. I’ve been hiding myself from my children and others I love. I have to say it’s truly a mindfuck to deny the pain, or even accept the pain, and accept my disability, and ask for help. So, this is me, sharing my truth and going on this journey so I can be the best Sandee possible. 

I am not the only one suffering in silence with an invisible disability, so as I say to my children quite often, “it’s important to show people grace, because you don’t know what they are going through.” 

Image of a word cloud with various invisible disabilities listed.

Change The Phrase, Change The Date

Uluru Sun – Sandee Allen

12 Mar 2021

A year ago yesterday, my children and I became Australian citizens. US born, we are truly being raised in Australia, all of us. A year ago tomorrow, I took my kids out of school in advance of the advancing pandemic. I’ve been quite reflective of this time, listening to a mix of Midnight Oil  a la Amazon music as I type. It will be our first concert since we went into lockdown.

As I listen, my heart stirs with memories of the past. I was a bit more of an activist as a younger me; I was one of the few in my small, country high school who was listening to the likes of Midnight Oil, R.E.M., Elvis Costello, pulled in by the music but staying for the lyrical lessons. Those songs, over 25 years ago are as relevant today, politics, climate, war, racism, corporate greed, guns, and what have we learned? Are we better off now, or did it take Mother Nature stepping in to save herself, so maybe, just maybe, we would learn to save ourselves? 

Memory lane conjures up moments when I was in grade school in Utica, New York, insulated by my white privilege (for not knowing otherwise), a friend to all, no matter what country or colour we were made of. High school in a small town, was less of a melting pot, and more close-minded. I craved being out in the world, including studying French, yet had to settle for my time in Rotary Club where I got to meet foreign exchange students, who became my teachers and friends, more than I was gaining in the classroom. I was also a member of Greenpeace, Amnesty International (with dreams of being president of the organisation when I “grew up”, PETA, and even became a vegetarian, which lasted for six years until I realised it wasn’t sustainable for me health wise. At my university, I joined Club International (a group mostly comprised of foreign students) and eventually succeeded my graduating Nigerian friend as president. This worldly view I was acquiring would translate to advocacy for the voiceless, oppressed; human or creature. My motivation was always putting myself in someone else’s shoes or fins, wondering how they would feel to be victims of injustice, discrimination, violence, poverty, environmental toxins, inequity.

It wasn’t until I was much older, my thirties perhaps, and I don’t recall the exact moment it happened, but the phrase “Treat people how you’d want to be treated.” just stopped making sense. I thought I was doing my part all my life to be inclusive, to learn from others, take everyone at face value, not by the colour of their face, treat people with respect, and on equal footing. It was then I realised that all that was well intended, but clearly treating people how I wanted to be treated, wasn’t working out for them. And warped by my own white privilege, I couldn’t understand why. As open minded and evolved as I believed myself to be, even into my corporate years, I still never understood affirmative action quotas. 

A pivotal moment, I will confess, was not me at my finest, but I believed I was the best qualified candidate on my team to be the lead of the team, and was distraught when my colleague and friend, also a person of colour, became my manager. I honestly don’t know what went on behind the scenes of the decision or even if this was AA in action, but several coworkers told me the company had to maintain quotas. So I struggled with why the hiring managers wouldn’t treat us the same and promote the most qualified for the job. But guess what, we have to learn at some point, and often painfully to our whiteness, what perpetuates the institutionalised racism that exists in most businesses and governments. And if she’s reading this, I want her to know I am sorry for my behaviour, and I love and have the ultimate respect for her (and she was a great manager!). 

A flash forward and full circle in Australia, where I live now. I live in a community of diversity, the first generation kind that I grew up with in Utica. Different country, same problems, yet the response to what ails us and the planet, while not always perfect, is different. Mass shooting: turned in guns. Climate change: solar panels, wind turbines, and battery farms. Racism: ongoing reconciliation and advocacy for changing the date of Australia Day, at the very least. Coronavirus: mask wearing and lockdowns. These things all boil down to respect, for each other and our way of life. 

So next weekend, when I take my kids to the Midnight Oil concert to relive my musical youth and renew life lessons, it’s most importantly to attend an event in support and celebration of our First Nations people. And my kids will take my phrase with them on their journey through life, “Treat people how they’d want to be treated.” Maybe if we only thought and did this simple thing, we’d be a better people, and planet.

Uluru Sunrise from Kata Tjuta – Sandee Allen

The Happiness Compass Points South



If you’ve followed my personal migration story, you know that I moved abroad exactly four years ago today. Dissatisfied with previous jobs and their lack of opportunity, coupled with the desire for the children to have a more worldly life experience, we moved to Australia.

I started my life’s journey gradually, and subconsciously from my birthplace of upstate New York. I had a brief stint from age eight to eleven, living in Colorado with my single mother. My maternal grandmother started ailing with what we believe was Alzheimer’s and several other health issues, so we moved back to New York to be closer to her. I finished out half a year of sixth grade, and stayed with my Aunt for a while (over Gramma’s place) in a two-story house in Utica, New York. There’s something about Utica, and the extended 315 area code that is a part of the blueprint of who you become.

I’d be remiss if I skip over my childhood in Utica. It’s not the same place anymore from when I grew up there in the seventies. My recollection of my time in Utica, through the lens of a child, was that there were a lot of different cultures somehow seamlessly integrating into the fabric of daily life. My family, proudly Irish with never a mention of our French Canadian/Scottish ancestry, lived next door to Rocco “Rocky” and Marion Paniccia (their love for us “grandkids” knew no bounds). We were always invited over for Italian feasts complete with Sambuca and Limoncello, and in summertime, Rocky would bring out a fiberglass pool for us to splash around in while he sang songs to us like “Pistol Packing Mama”; these lyrics stay with me 40+ years later:

“Lay that pistol down, babe
Lay that pistol down
Pistol packing mama
Lay that pistol down”

Or we played Rocky’s Jarts game in the backyard field that was Utica College property while the waft of lilacs filled the air. We were diagonal from the Spanish-speaking Basualdos, of whom their daughter, I was best friends with in elementary school. The dinner table there consisted of heaps of spicy food, Spanish words I didn’t understand, and jokes about artichokes and how they could kill you if you “choked” on one of the leaves. And the Zogbys, the Lebanese family a couple doors down, where I played Donkey Kong for the first time in their basement. Reconnecting via Facebook with these last two families has been amazing. In elementary school, I had friends that were Polish, Persian, Greek, and African-American, and well, we just didn’t care about that stuff. Other than the yummy food and experiences we had when visiting each other, we were all just friends.

These remain my memories, even after moving to complete middle school and high school an hour away from Utica. Maybe if I stayed in Utica, my path would be different. But an hour away in a small town, I was itching to get as far away as possible once I could. So I did. I chose SUNY Plattsburgh to go to college.

I enjoyed my time in Plattsburgh, but after a chance at a broadcasting internship failed, I decided to join the real world and get any job, which led me to Lake Placid.

Let me preface, my experience in Lake Placid was amazing for a recent college graduate. I skied, biked, hiked, or ran everywhere, had zero obligations, and hung out with Olympians. I played all day, every day, and wondered in the beauty of the majestic Adirondacks. I held jobs like working in a pizza shop, a jewellery and watch shop, I was a Top 40 DJ, barista at the best bagel place, bicycle/ski shop salesperson, and my coup de grace, I went on the road selling birdhouses! All told, the birdhouse gig was the best paying experience of them all and allowed me to travel six months out of the year. Until it ended. Then I had to get super serious about my next move, playtime was over.

I decided then to head South, as my parents had done years earlier, and where there was a lot of job growth. I packed up my cat and dog and headed down to Raleigh, North Carolina in a huge U-Haul truck with what little I had. I rode the public bus daily, to an advertising sales gig for a local entertainment newspaper, then graduated to sales for data storage company NetApp. I enjoyed the single girl tech-life, complete with the purchase of my first brand new Mercedes, tickets to all sporting and concert events, lush travel, and the ability to buy my own house.

After that, I worked for a digital presentation and marketing company, where I’m sure I’ve enjoyed working with the people more than the actual company or job itself. I made my mark there with my client portfolio and then the client hired me. After almost eight years of pharmaceutical marketing complete with massive layoffs year upon year, and bureaucracy, something had to finally give. So it was without hesitation I put my hand up to be let go during the latest round of layoffs.

This decision coincided shortly after my former spouse’s acceptance of a lucrative position in Australia; an opportunity he would never have had for his age and stage in his career in the U.S.. This also served as an excellent opportunity to raise our two small girls in a different culture and as part of our five year plan, gain citizenship for us all to expand our opportunities.

The job opportunities for an American, even in Australia with permanent residency have been few, at least those that match my skills coming from a bigger pond. However, the beauty of Australia is the “fair go” attitude, where everyone can just go for it and give it a shot. So that’s what I did, and extended my genealogy services business and started a clothing business where I could work from home and have flexible hours, to remain the nurturer of the family. Little did I realise that it would become so much more. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to lift and be lifted by incredible women across Australia. These women have become my tribe.

Australia has become my country. And in several a reflective moment, my surroundings and experiences here transport me back to the 315 of my youth. My neighbours are Filipino, Armenian, Vietnamese, Maltese, and Greek now (with a sprinkling of Aussies and Americans), and all just trying to do good work, and be happy.

Since I’ve adopted this country or it’s adopted me (still working through my application for citizenship), I’ve realised that following an internal compass leads to happiness in all ways; work and life. Coming to Australia hopeful for worldly opportunities, and starting a business to see where it led, ignited new passions, and brought new friends who I didn’t know I would come to rely so heavily upon as I battled breast cancer, a marriage breakdown, and a child custody battle. And while fighting so hard for what I believed in, and for my health, I even allowed a small opening to the chance of finding love, and I did.

Following that internal compass means facing challenges head on too, and remaining steadfast to what fulfils you. And for me apparently, the happiness compass was always pointing South.

Virtual Gramma – Look Her In The iPAD!


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.


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


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


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. For inspiration…

Going, Going, Gone


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


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


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.


  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


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, at the Café Bar Mile on Flinders Lane (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.

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.