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!

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.

Handwashing To Handshakes


I am not the OCD hand washer. I follow a simple routine after using the bathroom, after helping my kids use the bathroom, handling raw meat or eggs, taking out the trash, cleaning the cat litter box, using the delivery person’s pen for my signature, petting animals, using public transport, touching surfaces many people touch like shopping carts or railings, holding my daughters’ hands after they’ve been touching all of these things, and shaking hands with people. Sounds reasonable right? Depends on the routine.

Using soap and water and toweling off, drive my routine. Again, reasonable?

OK, this is where I cannot get my brain around the hand washing (or lack thereof) in my new city of Melbourne, Australia. Since I arrived just over a month ago, I’ve had the opportunity to go to many places, widely public and also small intimate places. Some with animals, some with prestigious tennis players, some with food, some with books, malls, port-a-johns, train stations so the sampling is diverse! What I’ve witnessed in the majority of these places is varying degrees of the “hand wash”. At zoos and port-a-johns, there’s been no soap in any of the dispensers, forcing hand washers like me to resort to my always-on-hand antibacterial gels or wipes. At the Australian Open and some restaurants, I’ve seen several women do a quick rinse with no attempt to lather up, proceed to use the Dyson high powered hand dryer and then apply another coat of makeup. As much as I adore Dyson products, I will never use an AirBlade hand dryer again, on top of learning they potentially loosen gemstones in rings. I must be the outlier who insists my children wash their hands even if I have to hold them up to the sink. I have to date seen zero children wash their hands with soap after doing any activity, including bathroom usage. Maybe because the soap is always out?

Because my only perspective is the female hand washing routine, I dread to learn of the male habits. Which now brings me to handshakes with men. I’ve seen a fair amount of “tradies” (workmen) in our rental house for a multitude of repairs. Every single one of them must think I am a delicate flower that will be crushed under their massive strength of a handshake. That also goes for the car salesmen that sold us our 2 vehicles, the owner of our rental house, our neighbors, and new acquaintances. I really thought I was crazy until I brought it up to my husband. A strong, sometimes overly firm handshake was his data input to my study. Why not wrestle right then and there for the fair maiden spectator?

I’ve always given a firm handshake, both in business and personally. It’s the only one I know how to do and one that represents me as genuine. If it’s not firm, it’s not authentic. Doesn’t have to be a bone crusher, just direct and real or don’t do it at all.

Now that I’ve grasped the pattern and correlation here, I am now avoiding the handshake like the Plague; which considering the hand washing habits, looks like I can escape if it comes around again.

The Good, The Bad, and The Oz-one.


Since moving to Australia a short month ago, we as a family have undergone some expected and some not so expected transitions and experiences. While our Facebook posts boast of our fun adventures, it’s those very experiences that keep my husband and me sane during this time. I just haven’t had the heart to blog about it until now, Valentine’s Day.

While I miss people (and Amazon Prime), I’ve been embracing the walkable aspects of our new life and the convenience to kids’ school, activities, shopping, restaurants, my husband is still yearning for his lifestyle back “home”…and our house which is currently under contract…thankfully and fingers crossed.

My husband has fully entrenched himself in his new university professorship, in fact currently working on grants there as I type. It’s an important role that requires a lot of groundwork and overhaul. Once everything is functional, he will be more settled at least with his job.

My plan has been to get the family settled, however the rental house we are in sprung a bath leak and we’ve been 4 weeks into getting repairs done and me being somewhat housebound during the daytime as a result. The leak flooded what is to be the kids’ bedroom so carpet has been pulled, walls have been checked and painted (painted wrong as well as damaged) and we are awaiting the carpet install into week 5. Also waiting on plumber/tiler to fix their bath. We only have 2 baths, so we all use our master bath shower. So, kids twin beds are conjoined in what is meant to be the home office, their clothes are in our guest bedroom closet. We are hoping the repairs are done before our “slowboat” container of belongings gets delivered later this month or we will seriously have issues with the master plan.

The laid back Aussie attitude has been refreshing and we are keen to adopt some of it, but when you need to get something done, like these repairs, you start developing another kind of attitude. It’s not just the house repairs either; you just can’t get problems resolved at a quick pace. There’s always a form to fill (and physically return), a management chain to go through, emails and phone calls that go into a black hole, several self-initiated follow ups etc. When something does go smoothly, we are elated!

We also have a love/hate attitude for the sun. I realized week 1 that no matter how dreary/rainy/overcast it may be, the sun will find you and burn you. Wear polarized sunglasses as much as possible (sometimes indoors!). There’s a reason there are heavy and heavy duty blackout curtains in our house. Put on SPF 50 straight out of the shower each day, regardless of weather forecast. Always have a visor or hat on you. Polo shirts are best worn with the collar up (not as a fashion statement). Just about everything kills you here and the sun is no different. Not to be Debby Downer but with melanoma rates at their highest here (thinning ozone layer), it amazes me how much worship Aussies still have for the sun. On the flip side, some amusement parks offer free sunscreen at the door, it’s always for sale at outdoor events, and there’s so much product selection. Except (you knew this was coming), all of the products I have found, even those labeled safe for kids have the worst preservative chemicals in them, and forget about finding zinc oxide only unless I want them to have pink or green faces from the zinc sticks. I am prepared to buy in the U.S. and have my mom send them over; as something applied to skin daily (and for 3 seasons out of the year), I won’t compromise on this one. Back to the bright side, the sun dries your clothes on the line sometimes faster than a dryer would. Solar panels are widely adopted and on many homes here. All school kids must wear wide brimmed hats for outdoor play. Sunrises and sunsets are amazing.

So, while we continue to adapt and get tanned without trying, we are grateful to have these experiences good, bad, and ozone.