I heard about a new kind of yoga at work. Two different people told me about it on two consecutive days. They both said it was like no yoga class they had ever experienced. Naturally, my curiosity was peaked.
They told me that it used gravity to access joints and create greater mobility. From the brief descriptions they gave me, I got the impression that it was a 'less it more' philosophy of movement. It sounded like something that might be good for my chronically tight husband whose hands, shoulders, and even feet have restricted range of motion. He also gravitates to slow, purposeful living, simplicity, and minimalism. So I mentioned it to him one evening. As I suspected, he was immediately onboard with the concept and signed up for his first class.
Personally, I was skeptical. My background with a masters degree in kinesiology and 20 years of working in an industry that preaches 'no pain no gain' caused me to doubt the effectiveness of this program. Admittedly, I had already begun to reject the 'punishment' philosophy of fitness that requires you to push your body beyond your limits, but this new (mostly passive) yoga was a bit too far outside of my comfort zone.
To gain a better understanding, I read, talked to participants, and even took a class myself. The yoga is called Kaiut Yoga, and it is named after the Brazilian founder Francisco Kaiut. His yoga journey started when he was 5 years old with a serious injury to his hip that inspired him to seek integrated modalities of treatment to control his chronic pain and dysfunction. He became a chiropractor, studied yoga, and developed the Kaiut method over the last 20 years.
The Kaiut International website, stated, "It has been designed to work through chronic pain & injuries, general aches & stiffness, and work for the inflexible, hyper flexible and the aging body." As an educator about the negative impact our sedentary lives have on our bodies, this was a philosophy I could get behind.
My husband became a member of a local yoga studio called Yoga Loft here in Boulder where he began attending Kaiut classes 3 times a week. After every class he came home and told me about the positions they did, and I would scratch my head and wonder how a few positions held for a long time were beneficial. But then I started to see a transition in my husband.
This 47 year old man who had always had a forward head position began standing taller. He had greater range of motion in his shoulders. His middle back pain that he complained of daily became a non-issue. In the past when he would lay flat on the ground, he couldn't stay there long without a pillow under his head. It always looked so uncomfortable for him, almost like his head was in a hole. After a few months of Kaiut Yoga, he could lay on the ground comfortably without a pillow.
One day my husband said, "Watch this." Then he proceeded to stand without shoes on and lift his toes several inches off the floor. At first I didn't understand the significance of this milestone. This was something I've always been able to do (as a hyper-flexible person), but it was something that Troy had never been able to do as long as he could remember. To me, it was proof that Kaiut Yoga was impacting the ligaments, fascia, and neuromuscular pathways between the brain and the joints. It was a breakthrough moment for me concerning the value of this yoga practice. Kaiut Yoga was halting the rigidity that comes with aging, and it was making my husband's body more supple and functional.
Now my husband is enrolled in teacher training for Kaiut Yoga. It's a year-long program taught by Francisco Kaiut himself. He still goes to class 3 days a week and practices at home. He continues to make improvements and hopes to teach his own students someday soon. This is the first Kaiut Yoga teacher training in Boulder which makes me extremely thankful to live here. New programs and products related to wellness tend to launch in Boulder because it is known as "ground zero" for wellness.
After every training event, I learn more about Kaiut Yoga from my husband. He reminds me often that Kaiut Yoga is about FEELING the sensations coming from the joints in the different positions. It's a mindful connection between the brain and the joint so that the natural intelligence of the human body can address any dysfunction. Participants who are both young and old can do this kind of yoga. It doesn't matter if they are overly tight or overly loose (like me). All body types and ages are finding new levels of body awareness and trusting gravity and the brain to correct joint imbalances.
The results speak for themselves with testimonials from long time yoga teachers finding rest and healing for their joints. Francisco's clients that have been with him for year regain and maintain movement in spite of aging.
Together, my husband and I hope to help spread the word about the benefits of Kaiut Yoga. I encourage you to find a class, open your mind, and give it a try. #
Winter is coming.
The first snow fell on brightly colored leaves this year. It surprised me because I hadn’t mentally prepared for winter to come, yet. This was my wakeup call to dig out hats and gloves and decide if we are going to get ski passes this year. It also triggered another wakeup call - a bigger, more important winter is coming someday. (No, it doesn’t involve white walkers.) The winter of our lives is coming in the form of old age, and I wonder if we are preparing for it?
While winter can be as beautiful as all the other seasons, people usually fear it because aging means pending death, possible sickness and pain, and lost independence. According to the CDC, there has been a major shift in the leading cause of death over the last century from infectious disease, to acute illness, and now to chronic disease and degenerative illness. They report that “Two out of every three older Americans have multiple chronic conditions.” Some of that is inevitable, but like Dr. Andrew Weil said at the recent International Council on Active Aging conference, the aging process can be separated from disease. Therefore, our goal shouldn't be anti-aging, but anti-diseasing.
Whether you are like my parents and quickly approaching your winter, or like my children whose winter seems far off, there are things you can do now to prepare. Just keep in mind that preparing for seasonal winter is different than preparing for the winter of life. Because nobody is getting out of this life alive, the goal is not to survive until spring, but rather to enjoy our winter with a body that still functions and is relatively free from chronic disease.
I know it’s hard to think about the pending winter in the midst of our spring or summer years. When we are young, our bodies are flexible, functional, and disease free. I watch my children and see strong, vibrant lives preparing to bear good fruit, and it's difficult to imagine that they won't always be this healthy. Most of us only start to contemplate our exit plan from this earth when we approach our autumn. Like brightly colored leaves, we shine with confidence and life experience during this stage, but we also begin to notice the slightest hint of brittleness around the edges. The culmination of inactivity, poor diet, and bad habits tend to show up in this season.
Here are 6 ways we can start today to prepare for the pending winter of our lives. We don't have to wait until we are near winter. The sooner we start, the better prepared we will be.
The pending winter of our lives does not have to mean pending disease. Instead, we can improve with time just like cheese, whiskey, and leftover chili. Winter is coming. Embrace it. Prepare for it. Welcome your winter with open arms and a warm heart. #
Click here to read the article I wrote for Varier's blog "Sit down. Move on." It is also posted on my LinkedIn feed. However, if you don't have time to read it, here are the main points:
Not only is this one of the lines to my favorite song right now, but this song is also the motto for my move to Boulder, CO - not so much because people are going to miss me, but rather because of this line:
"I've got a ticket for the long way round - the one with the prettiest of views. It's got mountains. It's got rivers. It's got sights to make you shiver, but it sure would be prettier with you." (Cups, by Anna Kendrick)
I, too, wish all my people could come with me because it would make the mountains and rivers of Colorado that much better.
This is a 20 year old dream of mine. When I was 22, I decided that Denver, CO was the place for me. Recently graduated from college with a Recreation Leadership degree, I figured Colorado was the place to find work, adventure, and people like me who liked to sleep outside and rock climb.
But - I couldn't do it. I couldn't move out there by myself. It took me 20 years to marry my husband and birth two beautiful children so I would have people to move to Colorado with...
Frozen is not just a popular Disney movie. It is also a condition that can affect your shoulder, especially if you are a woman between the ages of 40-70. (Medscape source) Frozen shoulder, or Adhesive Capsulitis, usually has a mysterious onset and causes considerable pain for a long time. Some suspected triggers are diabetes, menopause, systemic inflammation, or hormonal changes. It can last from 12 months to 2 1/2 years.
I am 42 and dealing with a frozen shoulder as I write this. The picture above is my shoulder x-ray that was taken last week at the orthopedic surgeon's office. Even though the joint looks fine from a structural point of view - it's not fine. I have been in all types of pain with very little range of motion in my arm. I cannot move my arm above my head, lift it out to the side, or do any internal or external rotation. That makes putting my hair in a ponytail awkward and painful. I can't hook my bra strap in the back. Even just putting my hand on my hip is impossible. Sometimes the pain is stabbing. Sometimes the pain is aching. Always the pain is stealing my daily joy of moving.
Because of my frozen shoulder, I was not able to go on a long-awaited canoe trip with my sister and our sons. I could not swim at the river this year. No more yoga. No more bike riding. No more moving my arm without fear.
When the pain started over 6 months ago I thought it would just go away on its own like most of my other middle-aged ailments do. But it didn't. The pain was almost unbearable at times. In the beginning, it hurt to do anything with my arm and the pain woke me up frequently at night. Little did I know, I was already in stage two of a frozen shoulder.
A frozen shoulder has four distinct phases:
Right now, I am in phase four...the thawing and final phase. In this stage I am able to start regaining some of the range of movement that I lost in the first three phases. The only pain I feel now is when I am purposely stretching my shoulder into the pain zones to eek out more degrees of movement. It will likely be several more months of therapy and working on it at home before I have full usage back.
The reason I am writing about my experience is because I waited too long to get help. I have a master's degree in kinesiology and knew about frozen shoulders, yet I still did not pick up on the initial symptoms of this syndrome. I certainly didn't take it seriously enough when I realized what it was. I thought I could recover quickly on my own. I had no idea that it would negatively impact my everyday life to the depth that it did.
I hope that you will read this and be able to recognize the symptoms to take action sooner than I did if it happens to you or to one of your clients. It is my hope that you won't have to go through this. Please listen to the advice of Dr. Vad from the Hospital for Special Surgery in NY:
If you have pain in your shoulder, and there was no specific injury, and the pain is getting worse, and you’re beginning to lose range of motion, you should get to a doctor immediately. If you feel you might have a frozen shoulder, don’t sit and wait—take charge.
The key to shortening the duration of each stage is to recognize the start of a frozen shoulder. Mine started as a result of an emergency hysterectomy I had while still living in Australia (I will write more on that later). I became septic which means I had systemic infection and inflammation. If you combine that with my sudden hormone change (removal of the ovaries) and 5 days in the hospital without moving my left arm very much because it was full of IV's, then it was the perfect storm for a frozen shoulder to set in.
My shoulder doctor, Tameem Yehyawi, MD, at Columbia Orthopedic Group said that seemingly unrelated events (like my abdominal surgery) can act like a match to initiate a frozen shoulder. There is also a 30-50% chance that it will happen in the other shoulder. If it does, I will be ready this time with my exercises, an anti-inflammatory diet, and my over-the-door pulley. (I will write more on my therapy regimen soon.)
As the title of this article mentions, I think there is evidence for Dr. Vad's statement below. Frozen shoulder appears to be a women's health issue. My case could be used to support his claim because I am a woman over 40 who went into surgical menopause, and my frozen shoulder set in almost immediately.
...it’s a ratio of 4 to 1, women to men...The Women’s Health Initiative has helped raise awareness around these important health issues affecting women after menopause...This condition should really be studied as a women’s issue. Dr. Vad, Hospital for Special Surgery, New York City
Bring on the studies and build the awareness. Please share this with women you know who have been complaining about shoulder pain. It is possible to shorten the severity and the duration of the frozen shoulder.
Be on the lookout for frozen shoulder if you have shoulder pain along with any of the risk factors below:
This was a lazy rainy day...so unusual for sunny Brisbane that we welcomed the dripping leaves and cloudy sky and spent the morning inside playing Lego and colouring. After lunch we decided to walk to the library during a break in the rain. Silas carried the bag of books, Morgan carried her baby doll, and we walked hand in hand enjoying the cooler breeze.
The library was about 2 blocks from our apartment so it was a perfect distance for me to go while (Aussies would say 'whilst') still recovering from surgery. We walked past the 7 Eleven on the corner. Then we passed the little Hamilton post office. Beyond that was the new retail construction site that was recently just a parking lot. We were always surprised how Brisbane had so much new construction going on with a dozen cranes on the skyline.
We crossed the street to get to the library, and that's when it started sprinkling. So we all ran to the safety of the library door, happy that we made it before getting soaked. The kids, familiar with this surprisingly small library, instantly spread out to stake their claim on books while I headed to see if the next book in my historical fiction series was available.
Twenty minutes later, we checked out and headed home, but it was still pouring. So what else was there to do but stop at the little corner restaurant and get baby chinos...and a couple slices of banana bread...with a mountain of whipped cream on top.
I had never heard of baby chinos before coming to Australia, but that may be because neither my husband or I are coffee drinkers. That is next to blasphemy in Australia because these Aussies take coffee culture to a whole new level. Sometimes you have to do as the Romans do and just embraced it. So we did.
In case you are like us and don't know, baby chinos are a tiny cup filled with the milk froth that would normally be in a cappuccino. It is like a little coffee without the coffee. Then they sprinkle the top with chocolate and serve with two marshmallows on the side. The Aussie marshmallows are different than what we have in the States, but the kids still ate them after several exploratory squeezes. At the end they were smiling with chocolate noses and powder-covered hands. Morgan was sure to thank the waitress after she introduced herself and told her that she was 5. Then, as if on queue, the rain stopped and the sun came out, so we headed home. Thank you, Australia, for another day of memories.
While my parents were visiting us in Australia, we headed up the Queensland coast to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef for 5 days. Graciously, my parents offered to watch the kids on the last day there so Troy and I could hop on the ferry for a 45 minute boat ride to Fitzroy Island. The day trip started off beautifully. We enjoyed the breeze and the sun. There were no crying kids wanting a snack or needing to go potty. Then as we approached the island we saw a whale mother and her calf playing in the bay. The island itself was picture perfect. It was a small beach island with one resort and great boulders and snorkeling right off the beach.
We got our snorkel gear and headed to the beach. Within the first 5 minutes, I saw a woman come out of the water with her foot bleeding. I mentioned it to Troy and suggested that he take it slow through the coral. Within 2 minutes of my warning he tripped in the shallow water. His flipper flipped off his foot, and he nearly fell. Instead, he stepped hard on some coral which cut his foot in 4 places. Blood was dripping off of his foot, but he still wanted to snorkel. "Great," I thought "not only is he hurt, but now we are going to attract sharks."
cAfter snorkeling for about 30 minutes, we carefully made our way back to the beach and realized that Troy's foot was still dripping blood. So, we headed to the resort in search of first aid supplies. Once he was all patched up, we grabbed lunch, and headed to the beach on the other side of the island. It was about a 20 minute walk up and down a steep, rocky path. Breath-taking views, but not nice to Troy's foot. When we arrived, I was like a school-girl, wide-eyed and smiling from ear to ear. It was a dream come true for me. Huge smooth boulders partially submerged in crystal clear water with coral mounds scattered along a sandy bottom. I was wishing we had come here first. Maybe Troy would not have gotten cut.
By this time Troy's foot was really hurting, so I went snorkeling by myself while he took pictures. I could have stayed in all day, but we had a boat to catch back to Cairns in 45 minutes. So I climbed out of the water and took a few pictures of my own. I had a perfect idea for a shot, so I asked Troy to walk out on a rock to get a picture of him with the ocean in the background. On his second step onto the rock, his feet slipped out from under him and he fell flat on his back hard on the rock. It was a full body whiplash kind of fall. I was sure he had hit his head or broken a rib. But he got up without further injuries, just piping mad.
During the fall he lost his Crocs flip flops in the ocean. They were both floating in and out with the tide while he hobbled around on a cut foot trying to catch them. He would almost get one and then the tide would pull it back out. Just as he got out there, the tide would push the shoes into the shallows again. This went on for several repetitions while I sat helpless on top of a big rock. Just when I thought his head might spin in circles and fly off in frustration, both shoes simultaneously were flung out on dry land by an incoming wave. Finally, he could get his shoes on and protect his foot. That is when he checked his pockets and noticed that his iPhone was missing. A quick sprint back over to the rock he fell on revealed his iPhone still bobbing around in the ocean beside the rock. This was quickly turning into a really bad trip.
Yes, his phone was dead. We eventually found out that he lost everything on it. The corrosion from the salt water set in almost immediately and we could not recover any of his data or pictures. Defeated, we began our walk back to the boat. As we stepped onto the trail, my sunglasses fell off my head and landed on the ground. In almost the same second I stepped on them with a crunch. So, with a cut foot, sore body, dead phone, and broken sunglasses, we headed back. The day ended with a trip to the urgent care center for good measure.
I have concluded that we only think that we are young and able to have fun. The reality is that the 'slow down' our kids demand of us has actually protected us from ourselves. Left alone for a few hours, we almost self-destructed. I'm not sure we know how to function without them anymore.
Living in Australia this past year was the first time we had lived away from family since having children. I didn't realize this lack of family support would be such a hardship. We were used to grandparents and my sister a short walk or drive away. Since we homeschool, the kids were with one of us 24/7. If we wanted a night out, we took turns and went out alone while the other one stayed home with the kids. We made it for 9 months with no support, but by the time my parents came to see us in Australia, we were ready for some adult-only time.
The kids were ready for some Grammy and Papa time, too. We held them off for one night so my parents could recover from jet lag. But the kids were dying to spend the night in my parents' apartment, so we agreed that they could sleep up in their 17th floor apartment the second night. To understand the scenario I am about to describe, it is important to know that we have key fabs that we swipe to gain entrances to all doors and elevators (or 'lifts' as the Aussies call them) in our apartment building.
At their regular bedtime of 8:30pm, we took Silas and Morgan up the elevator to the 17th floor of the building where my parents were renting an Airbnb apartment for their 2 week visit. It was so convenient for us all to have our own space, but for them to be in the same building rather than a hotel off-site. We made their pallets on the floor of my parents' living room and the kids went to sleep easily. Troy and I were downstairs in our ground floor apartment.
At about 12:30am, Troy happened to still be awake and heard a light knock on the door. He opened it to find a dazed, lethargic Silas standing there. After a few questions, it was obvious that our 8 year old son was still asleep. Silas slowly woke up and began to cry because he didn't know how he got there. He didn't remember leaving my parents' 17th floor apartment, coming down the elevator, or knocking on our door on the ground floor. Without a key fab, he was able to come down the elevator by himself in a sleep walking state. Fortunately, Troy heard him. Otherwise, he would have been trapped in the lobby with no way to go back up the elevator or come around to the patio in the back without a key fab. The thought of what could have been if Troy hadn't heard Silas knock on the door - him alone, confused, and with nowhere to go trapped in the lobby all night - scared all of us.
About the time that we discovered Silas, my dad woke up in the apartment on the 17th floor and found an empty bed where Silas had been sleeping. The panic only lasted a few minutes before we were able to let him know Silas was safe and that his homing pigeon instincts kicked in during his sleep and brought him back to us. Morgan slept through the whole thing, but rest assured, when the lights went out for the second time that night, there was a chair wedged in front of the door in case she decided to take up sleep walking, too.
Here is our story about our hunt for the exotic and elusive wild platypus while we lived in Australia. This first part is from my husband's perspective. He wrote this recap to my parents the same evening. Since he rarely gets involved in the writing on this blog, I thought it would be fun to hear it first from his perspective. I elaborate a bit at the end.
After our hike to the Natural Bridge in Springbrook National Park, QLD, we took a left out of the parking lot to travel through the valley. Up ahead, I saw a sign for a camping location where you can rent out a log cabin. Inside the driveway, the owner approached us and we inquired about any other tourist sites in the area. He provided some brochures and then invited us to park and hike along a trail on the property down to a creek where platypus live. Naturally, this sparked everyone's excitement, except mine. I half-heartedly attempted to wait in the car knowing it was going to be a REAL hike. It was a rocky, slightly muddy, and a gradual descent down. You know that feeling you get when traveling down an unknown road and your gut tells you maybe you should turn around and go back? Well, that's how Stevyn and I were about 3/4 of the way down. Nevertheless, we persisted, only to be rewarded by the absence of platypus, Silas getting both shoes soaked, Stevyn's 'hitchhiker', and the best of all....Morgan had a breakdown. The poor little thing was dealing with a runny nose and was exhausted. She cried for every bit of twenty minutes and we almost needed to have her airlifted out. Fast forward 30 minutes down the road and Stevyn looks down at her hands to see they are covered in blood. "That's bizarre" she says, "I must have cut myself, but I don't feel any pain". She bled and bled until we reached the petrol station. I went in to the toilet and upon returning she got out to help the kids. That's when she noticed the fat leech squirming in her seat....and these are the days of our Australian lives. Troy"
While I love that we did this hike and have this memory, if I was faced with it again, I would not do it. The property owner told us it was a 700 meter walk down the trail to the platypus pond. Keep in mind that we are Americans which means that we had no concept of the metric system and how far 700 meters actually was. To me, it sounded exciting and romantic to see a platypus in the wild, and 700 meters couldn't be that far, right? So we went for it. Little did we know that 700 meters IS far on a trail so steep. Troy called it a "gradual descent" above, but he understated the grade. Check out the rope tied to the trees in the picture above. It was to help pull yourself up! It was steep, rocky, and full of tangled roots to trip over. Add a crying 5 year old and it is not a scene I want to repeat anytime soon. Plus, knowing what I know now about Australian snakes and other critters, I bet there are 30 things hidden in this picture that could have killed us instantly. (shiver) Fortunately, the only critter that got us was my leach.
I will admit that the stream and rock pool at the bottom of the ravine were exquisite (and probably peaceful if Morgan hadn't been crying). Unfortunately, it was either too early in the day to see the platypus since they tend to come out at dusk, or maybe Morgan's bellowing scared them off.
On the way home I found random blood all over my hands, and when I finally found the "cut" between my fingers, I was sure I had a blood disorder since it would not stop bleeding. Little did I know that it was just your friendly Australian LEACH! The picture below is the leach sitting in the seat of the car. Once it got full of my blood, it must have dropped off my hand and wanted a little snuggle time with me in the seat. I never even knew it was on my hand. YUCK! How did I get a leach if I didn't go in the water?
Even though we didn't get to see the elusive platypus, we did learn a piece of trivia during our research. The male platypus is venomous. The males have a spur on their hind leg that injects venom into its victim.
So here are my take aways from this adventure:
I don't really remember you as parents of small children. Yes, I know I lived under your care as a small child, but I only have the limited perspective from my 7 year old self. I don't know very many specifics of how you supported me, disciplined me, or what you fed me for lunch. There are a few snapshots that come to mind, but they are all from my childish viewpoint. As a parent of my own small children now, I wish I could remember you as a parent...from a parent's perspective.
You took me to a junk yard that sold used bikes so we could buy my first two-wheeler. I knew that the bike was a little beat up, but I still loved it. What I didn't know were your thoughts and feelings about getting the bike. Did you feel guilty that I didn't have a bike and that prompted you to go get one? Did you have to work extra hours to afford it? Did you have to come up with rules for riding the new bike in the neighborhood? Did I pester you to frustration asking you to help me learn to ride it over and over? Did you hurt your back holding onto the back of my seat and running alongside, cursing your decision to buy the bike? Did you fight to hold back the words "you ungrateful child" each time that I cried when you told me to come inside or to put the bike away?
When I broke the rules and left the yard, did you struggle with what punishment to hand out? Since I was normally the compliant child, did you consider letting it slide or did you come down hard on me as a warning for future behavior? Did you feel sorry for me and wish that you weren't the parent so you didn't have to be consistent with discipline? When I cried in remorse, did you secretly cry with me?
Lucky charms for breakfast and cold hotdogs for lunch were fine by me, but did you struggle with pre-planning meals or work long hours so you were too tired to cook? Did you stick to my bedtime or let me stay up too late just because you wanted to keep snuggling on the couch? You taught me to swim at an early age, but I couldn't write my own name for the longest time. Did you compare me to other children's milestones and feel proud or embarrassed, or were you confident in my progression despite the "norms?"
I didn't witness your struggle of being a parent. I'm sure it was there, but through my childish eyes, you always did the right thing. You always knew what to do. I never saw you cry in frustration or fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day. What did you try to remember to say to me every night when I went to bed, but forgot to say because you were at the end of your rope? How did you wake me in the morning? Was it calm and loving or rushed and stressed? Did you get enough sleep at night? Did you long for invitations to sleepovers so you could have an evening to yourself? Were you worried about my shyness, proud of the way I brushed my hair, or frustrated with the messiness of my room? How did you mediate our fights over who's turn it was to sit in the big chair and hold the channel-changer for the TV? I just don't know these details. I wish I did. My childhood felt perfect, safe, and loving. How did it feel to you, my parents? The way I parent my children doesn't always feel perfect, safe, or loving from my adult perspective. Will it to my children? Will the struggle be hidden from their memories, like it was from mine?
Despite all of the things that I wish I could remember, there are some parenting moments that I feel that I am still living as I watch you with my children...your grandchildren. I see how your patience outlasts my own when Silas talks about every detail of his dinosaur dream last night. I notice the openness you have for considering the wants and whims of the kids. Morgan won't drink her breakfast smoothie unless you move her arm up and down to 'pump' the shake into her body. Silas wants to wrestle...again. You are always there with a hug, a smile, and special surprises to make them feel loved. You pray for them without them knowing it. You ask to be a part of theirs lives and find little ways to connect with them. By loving them, you are loving me. By grandparenting them, you are still parenting me. But this time I will be able to remember the details. As an adult, it isn't the feeling of perfection, safety, or love that I treasure most from you. Instead, it is witnessing the struggle, through both failure and success, that I value most. At this stage in life, the parenting is indirect, but still relevant and powerful in equipping the next generation. Thank you for continuing to parent me by grandparenting my children.
To all the parents, young, old, grand, step, foster, and spiritual - share your struggles and successes, uncertainty and courage with the next generation. Leave a legacy of openness, growth, and transparency to those of us who will seek solace in your journey as we try to wanderwell through ours. ~ Stevyn
I just returned from my first vacation since arriving in Australia 8 months ago for work. My husband and I, along with our two young children, took two weeks off to visit Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef while my parents visited us from America. As I reflect upon this vacation, my previous suspicion that Americans have a very different view of vacation than Australians has validated. The 6 reasons below paint a picture of the very different attitudes I've witnessed about work and play of the people and employers in Australia compared to America.
1. Full-time employees get 4 weeks of paid vacation.
Australians don't get 4 weeks after they've worked at a job for a few years. They get 4 weeks from the very first year of permanent employment. In contrast, Americans typically get 2 weeks, but some American employees don't get any paid vacation. Because they have more paid leave, Australians will often take 2-4 weeks off at one time which means that they have more flexibility than Americans to become global travelers. I'm astonished at how many Australians have been to New Zealand, Bali, Hawaii, the United States, Europe, Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, the Cook Islands, etc. Even more incredible is the number of young Australians in their early twenties who have traveled extensively. I met a young cashier at Target the other day who has been to America twice and is currently planning her third trip. People at the YMCA where I work are always going somewhere exotic, just like Bec and Alana below.
2. Employees are not expected to touch their email or phone while on vacation.
Vacation is seen their time. Others will pick up the slack while a colleague is away, or it will just get addressed upon return. Employees who are on vacation don't check their work email while they are on the beach in the South of France or sitting in a gondola in Italy. They completely sign off. While I was on vacation for these 2 weeks, I forgot all about work and it was such a freeing, restorative time for me. In America, I've been made to feel guilty for taking my vacation. I know other Americans who don't take their time off because they know it will put them too far behind or put a potential promotion in jeopardy.
3. Managers tell employees to schedule their vacation because it's good for them.
I don't know about you, but I have never had a boss in the States encourage me to schedule time off. I may have negotiated time off as part of my work package, but it was still looked at as a necessary evil from the employer's point of view. A general American sentiment seems to be "It doesn't matter if it's good for the employee, it's bad for business!" A general Australian sentiment is "What's good for the employee is good for business." The attitude starts at the top of an organization. My manager's manager told him he should schedule some more time away, and manager demonstrated the same attitude towards me. In fact, I can't find much evidence that even encourages working overtime in Australia. The 'work/life balance' concept is commonly referred to as an encouragement for employees to go home and spend time with their families.
4. Australians get paid extra while on vacation.
I'm still not clear why, but after talking to a variety of Australians and my human resources department, they confirmed that employees get paid at a higher rate while on annual leave. It feels a little like Australia is a kind 'father' giving his kids a little extra cash for their big date so they can be guaranteed a good time. (I'm sure it has nothing to do with the extremely high tax rates here.)
5. After a number of years in a certain position, Australians qualify for long-service leave.
The number of years may vary, but generally 6-10 years will earn an employee extended leave. Long service leave means employees are rewarded with a super long vacation AT FULL PAY for staying with a particular company. It is typically for 3 months at full pay or 6 months at half pay. The job is guaranteed to be there upon return. Australians use this time to tour the world. They don't just go to London for a week like Americans might do. They go to London, Paris, Rome, and Venice. They don't just go to LA or New York for a week. They TOUR the United States and go to more places than most Americans have been. Granted, they typically hit the big tourist spots and skip my home state of Missouri, but at least they have enough experience with America to know Missouri is somewhere in the middle. They use their long service leave to get married and go on two-month honeymoons, or they use it to start a business...all while getting paid. Most employers in the States would laugh someone out of the country if they asked for this perk. Perhaps pastors or university professors can get away with an occasional sabbatical, but it is not the norm for the typical employee. When I was 21, my college roommate and I backpacked through Europe for a month. We didn't know anyone else who was doing that at the time and 20 years later, I still don't run into many mainstream Americans who have had that kind of experience. In Australia, it's a common 'thing' for people to do. They want to travel the world before they settle down and start a family. This requires enough vacation time from work and enough money to finance the travel. Australians appear to have plenty of both.
6. Australian parents don't have to save up vacation time to stay home with their newborns.
Australians typically receive 3 months of maternity leave at full pay or 6 months at half pay. They can even take up to a year off and their job will be waiting for them when they come back. I get looks of disbelief when I tell friends in Australia that the standard maternity leave in the United States is 6 weeks, and that is only for the mother, and it may or may not be paid. They can't believe that daycare centers would actually take infants that small in full-time care or that parents would feel comfortable with it. All evidence points to Australians placing more value on a longer mother/child bonding period as well as a father/child bonding period...enough to finance it. They also don't circumcise their baby boys, but let's save that discussion for another blog post.
Is there something to learn from the Australians? Although, some American employers give their employees 4 weeks of vacation and a few give even more, paid time off, it certainly isn't the law as it is in Australia. Whether it should be law in America is debatable, but I think there is room to put more value on time away from work. Australian workers seem happier and more relaxed to me than their American counterparts. I encourage any American reading this to fight for your right to take time away from work. Vacation provides perspective, offers renewal, triggers creativity, and expands our horizons. Traveling puts our own cultures into clearer focus and teaches us that there are other ways of doing things. We will not only be better employees, but happier and more fulfilled version of ourselves. If you are an employer, consider the long term benefits of implementing more vacation time or even long service leave for your team. What's good for the employee might just be good for business, too.
Well done Australia. Travel on America. ~ Stevyn
In true Guinnip fashion, we waited until it was almost too late to go to the beach. It was Mother's Day, and Troy said the day was mine to spend as I wanted. The problem was that I didn't really know what I wanted to do. The weather predicted a cloudy day, but that was not proving to be the case. We should have figured this out by now, but it seems that Brisbane weather often calls for clouds or rain that rarely materialize. So, with a sunny day in front of us, I decided that stand up paddle boarding (SUP) is what I wanted to do. It was an hour drive north to the beach, so we packed a cooler, threw on our cossies (Aussie lingo for swimsuits) and hopped in the car.
During the ride north, we listened to a podcaster named James Altucher. He has a podcast called Ask Altucher. As with all podcasts, we eat the meat and spit out the bones. Sometimes we just like to be challenged in our thinking and try to imagine another way or option. This podcast happened to be about why a 401K is a scam, but that's for another discussion.
An hour later we arrived at the Noosa River that flows into the ocean at Noosa Beach on the Sunshine Coast of eastern Australia. It is a calm area perfect for water sports. So we ate lunch under a palm tree and then rented a kayak and a paddle board. I hopped on the SUP and the kids and Troy got in the kayak. The plan was to let the kids take turns riding on the front of the SUP, but not until I got some sea legs first.
Our goal was a sandy island in the middle of the river. It looked like it only became an island in low tide, so there wasn't much on the island except thousands of crab holes and a few mangrove trees. While Silas, Morgan, and I began exploring the area, Troy decided to give the SUP a try. A few minutes later, he was paddling up to us soaking wet. To our dismay, we all missed his fall.
Silas and Morgan both took their turns paddling the board around the shallows...until I saw something. It appeared to be an eel-type creature that was moving from crab hole to crab hole eating. We had never seen anything like it and didn't know if it was dangerous. I kept the children back at a safe distance, but we all wanted to watch it feed so we would lean in and then jump back as it got closer to us. This mixture of intense observation mixed with the fear of death went on for about 5 minutes until I bravely reached out to touch it with the paddle. It didn't move or change in any way. In fact, it suddenly looked strangely like a stick. After a few more pokes from my paddle, I lifted it out of the water and confirmed that it was not an eel-like creature feeding on crabs. It was a stick. To our credit, it was a hollow stick that appeared to be a root of a mangrove, so it made it float in a life-like manner with it's 'head' down in the sandy floor. Before you roll your eyes at our naivety, remember that we are a family from the tame Midwest of the US now living in the land of the most poisonous creatures on earth. This alone sets the scene for adventure everywhere we go.
We braved our way back through the killer, man-eating sticks, and returned safely to our car before heading to the ocean to play at the beach for a while. The kids hunted for pumice while Troy and I relaxed on the beach. Morgan had packed her bubbles, so with the setting sun, we chased iridescent bubbles as they danced along the beach. The light caught Morgan's silhouette and the bubbles just right, giving this mother a magical moment I won't forget.
The walk back to the car was almost in the dark. An owl swooped past us and perched on a branch, beyond which was a view of the bay that is forever etched in my mind. We tried to capture the beauty with a photo, but the light wouldn't allow it. From my mind's eye, I remember a single star in the orange sky and a single sailboat silhouette on the ocean. The waves were crashing against the rocks and white foam caught the last light. Troy and I both stopped and stared, breathless with the beauty we beheld. The scene provoked longing and emotion that is hard to put into words. Reluctantly we felt ourselves dragged away by whining children who were tired and hungry. Thus continues the delicate marriage of joy and struggle when traveling with children. Happy Mother's Day to all my kindred spirits who travel to places of beauty with their children in tow, whether it be the beaches of Australia or the backyards of the Midwest. - Stevyn
Finding a place to live has proven to be challenging. Cost, location, and availability are all factors, but at least Australia is an English-speaking country, so we don't have that added challenge.
The cost of living is reportedly about 20% higher in Australia compared to the United States, so we find ourselves comparing what we could get for the same money in the US. That's a discouraging game that I don't recommend. Couple that with the fact that cities are typically higher priced than the countryside or smaller towns. We are moving from a small town in the Midwest to a city the size of Chicago. That's two hits against us in the price category.
Let's talk location next. If we were moving to Chicago, I would have a fairly decent idea which part of the city I would want to rent an apartment. Even if I didn't, I would a least know someone who could point me in the right direction. Researching areas to live in Brisbane felt so far away while we were in the States. I only know 2 people in Brisbane and they tell me that all the areas are safe, so anywhere we pick will be fine. That's comforting to know that it is a safe city, but it doesn't help us narrow down the search. Like Chicago, there are little towns/neighborhoods in every direction. But in Brisbane, the names don't even sound like real places. Fortitude Valley (sounds like a spiritual journey), Kangaroo Point (isn't that a ride at Silver Dollar City?), Moorooka (sounds like the noise an antique car horn makes), Fig Tree Pocket (definitely need to name a children's book after that area), Indooroopilly (that's what I would name an indoor trampoline park), and we can't forget Wooloowin (that's just fun to say three times fast - try it).
Availability is also an issue. We have been using several websites to search furnished rental property. One is www.airbnb.com. Another is www.vrbo.com (vacation rentals by owner). Yet another is www.gumtree.com.au which is the Australian equivalent of Craigslist in the States. And finally www.aussiehousesitters.com.au. Already booked, too expensive, not enough bedrooms, too far from work, etc. The last website I mentioned is our most recent endeavor. Thanks to another one of Troy's discoveries online from another blogger, he suggested that we look at house sitting. I never would have thought about it, but it sounds like it has potential. Here is an example...a family from Brisbane is spending a month in England and needs someone to watch their house, get their mail, and feed/walk their family dog while they are away. If the location and dates fit, we could live rent free as a house sitter. Very tempting.
I will provide an update on living arrangements as more information becomes available.
We are finally settled in an apartment. We went from a hotel for a week, to a temporary Airbnb unit for 2 weeks, to an apartment. If I were to do it again, I would choose temporary housing for at least a month to allow more time to look for an apartment. 2 weeks wasn't enough and made us feel pressure to settle and just get in a place.
We must have toured 20 or more units until we finally narrowed it down to 2 units, both in the same suburb. Do we choose the larger one with a view or the smaller one with a better pool?
We ended up choosing the larger one with a view. But it was the wrong choice. After about a week of living there we started to regret our decision.
Since we are homeschooling the kids, there is a need to get out of the house daily. Since summer is hot in Brisbane, the pool was a big part of that 'something to do' plan. However, it was over the kids' heads, so they just wanted to hang on us the whole time. Not fun. Also, the view from our deck came with a wind tunnel. Yes, this had its advantages when hanging laundry out to dry, but it was impossible to enjoy any time out there. Everything blew away and our grill wouldn't even stay lit.
Even though we had a 6 month lease on the unit we began looking for something at the other place that we liked down the road. After 6 weeks we found the perfect unit on the ground floor next to the pool. However, we knew we would have to break our lease and lose some money if we wanted to make the move. In the end, we were able to break our lease, find a new renter for our unit, and secure the new unit for us in the other location. It all happened in less than a week. So we moved in and couldn't be happier. As I write this, I hear the kids playing outside on the patio which connects to the pool area. There is a hot tub (which isn't really that hot), so the kids have a place to swim even when it is too cool to swim in the big pool. The kids have made some friends, and we love that the whole area is very active and social.
We are finally 'home' in Australia.
Here is a 5 minute summary video of our first month in Australia.
We had our first home cooked meal tonight since we left home. Our new friends from the YMCA, Suz and Chris invited us over for BBQ. No, it wasn't 'shrimp on the barbie' but it was sausage and chicken and beef on the barbie. In Troy's words 'it was the best meal we've had since we arrived.' Potato casserole with bacon, slaw, salad, deviled eggs, and a double helping of Aussie culture.
We learned that they have mozzies after a rain. (Mosquitos). They are big Cricket fans. Every girl plays net ball (like basketball but without a backboard) at some point growing up. AFL (Australian Football League) is popular in Queensland (the state we live in). It is similar to our football, but they don't wear pads or helmets and they always kick the ball for a goal. The ball is a lot bigger, too.
For dessert we had pavlova, a traditional Aussie cake. I told our hosts that it was like eating a sweet cloud. Very light and fluffy. It was such a beautiful evening in a Brisbane suburb with new friends.
This is the day that I met my new place of work. My KettleWorX office is located within the YMCA of Brisbane. We hopped in a taxi from our hotel and headed over to the YMCA. It was all on the second story with parking below. The YMCA has a large gymnastics program and a fitness center, but I was surprised to find out that it wasn't a family-centered facility like YMCA's are back home. We had expected to sign the kids up for swimming lessons, soccer, and homeschool groups and basically have a place to hang out as a family and plug into the community. Living so far out in the country for the last 8 years meant that we were too far away to participate in these types of activities. We had hoped this move would allow us to experience these things. However, we quickly realised this was not going to be the case.
We didn't dwell on our disappointment too long, though, because we were also here to pick up our new car. We had been in Brisbane, Australia for about a week now and hadn't left the city business district (CBD). This is the day we got our wings.
After showing us around, the General Manager handed us the keys to the red Outlander and said, 'See you next week for your first day.' Troy and I just stood there with our mouths open. Didn't we need to sign our lives away? Have a lesson in liability procedures in the case of an accident? Go to Aussie driving school? Anything? Nope. The GM bid us farewell and walked away.
We quickly decided to head to Deception Bay, about half way between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast. But first we had to learn how to drive in Australia.
We sat in the car park for a good while just looking at the GPS and becoming familiar with our route. Troy took the plunge and decided to be the first driver. He pulled out of the car park and up to the first stop light. We needed to make a left turn, but Troy pulled too far into the intersection instead of turning sharply into the correct lane and ended up having to go right instead. So, mistake #1 in the first turn. After that we began saying a chant when it was time to turn...'small left, wide right.' Overall, it went pretty well and we only got honked at once. The steering wheel has permanent dents where Troy's hands were, but we did it.
On the way to the bay, we stopped at Costco for sight seeing. We were curious to see if the Aussie Costco was the same as the United States Costco. We found it to be extremely crowded. More crowded than we've ever seen a Costco at home. The immediate differences we noticed were that they sell crumpets next to their English muffins, they don't sell any alcohol, music, or dvd's, and you enter and exit on opposite sides than in the US. After a hot dog and pizza for the kids, we finished the trip to the bay.
After that we took a drive along the boardwalk and stopped in our tracks when we spotted this playground. Silas is always talking about building his own zipline, so this was a must do. Morgan wouldn't do it, so she played in the shaded playground set to the side.
Thus began the first of many day trips out from the city to go exploring.
We arrived in Brisbane at 8am on Christmas Day. The sun was shining, there was a cool breeze, and we had just survived the 14 hour flight from LA to Brisbane. We were all a bit drunk from poor sleep and excited about what the first day in Australia would reveal.
We had already secured a hotel for the first few nights at Royal on the Park. The transport bus took us to the hotel, which we discovered was directly across the street from the Botanical Gardens. Unlike St. Louis, they are free to enter and open to all. We quickly decided to add a walk in the gardens to our afternoon agenda, and then headed out to the pool to eat lunch and wait for our room to be ready.
Lunch was a club sandwich, cheeseburger, fish and chips, and a small pizza and cost us nearly $100...the first of many price shocks in Australia.
We waited by the pool for about an hour and then headed up to our room. Perhaps seasoned travellers would advise the opposite, but we all laid down for an hour nap. The hard part was getting up. But I had the enticement of the pool to drag the littles out of their slumber. Troy, however, slept on. He had gone the whole flight with no sleep and was dead to the world.
The sun and pool did the kids and I some good. After that we all walked over to the park, not knowing that our minds were about to be blown. We had never seen trees with trucks supporting each branch or large lizards sunning around every corner. Everything was new. We walked along the river and saw mangroves with their straw like roots poking out of the mud. We saw the striking black and white magpies and then the signs warning about magpie attacks. We laughed at the idea of these pretty birds attacking someone, but later learned that they are quite aggressive and repeatedly attack long after you have left their territory. There are some reports of them even taking people's eyes out!
The next day we walked across the foot bridge to South Bank and discovered the parklands along the river. Amazing. I could not believe how nice the river walk was a how long it meandered along the shore. There were shops, flower canopies, a ferris wheel, the Streets Beach lagoon, playgrounds, vegetable gardens, and more. The lagoon was filled with rocks and sand and was completely free.
By the end of the South Bank parkland walk, we were pooped. To our delight, a motorized cycle cart came at the moment we were beginning our trip back across the bridge. He took us all the way to our hotel and only asked for the payment that we felt the trip was worth. Unique business model, university student. Best of luck to you.
Brisbane is a beautiful city to explore. It is one of the cleanest and safest cities I have ever been to. Check it out if you ever have the chance.
It's only been a short time since we left America for Australia, and there are many things and people that we miss. However, I think my dad had a good idea to reflect on a few things that we don't miss.
1. We Don't Miss The Gravel Road to Our Old House
The gravel road to our house in Central Missouri was 3 miles long. It may not sound that long if you have never lived on a gravel road, but it took us 10-12 minutes of bumpy, dusty, muddy, snowy, pot-holey, washboardy driving to get to black top, which means that we went through tires more quickly than ever before. We also never had a clean vehicle, and when the roads were really bad, we had to deal with mud getting packed under the wheel wells which created a vibration at high speed. The video below was taken on the way to the airport when we were leaving for Australia. Keep in mind that this vibration is not happening on the gravel road, but on the interstate. We had just stopped to wash the car and try to improve the ride. Not only did the ride not improve, it got worse. So we had to stop a second time to wash the car. Who does that? Who stops TWICE on the way to the airport to wash their car? People who live on gravel roads, that's who.
2. We Don't Miss The Cold
This one probably goes without saying, but we don't miss the winter. It's been in the mid 70s and 80s here. Although it is the rainy season in Brisbane and we've had constant rain for the last 2 days, we are loving the temperature. Sure, Christmas seemed a little strange with palm trees and a warm breeze, but we like it a lot and don't miss the Missouri cold...yet. For the record, Morgan disagrees. She said she prefers to be cold.
3. We Don't Miss The Uneven Price of Things
An ice cream in Brisbane is $2. A muffin is $5. We have not seen any pricing that is $1.87 or $4.79. Maybe it is because we are in a touristy area, but we really like the even pricing. Strangely, we still have to dig around for coins, because they have $1 and $2 coins and no paper money less than $5. While I'm on the topic of money, we don't miss American money either. The Australian money is so much more sophisticated than ours. Their paper money won't tear and it can get wet. It even has a see-through security feature built into it.
4. We Don't Miss Grumpy Service
Again, maybe this is just because we are still in the touristy area, but nobody in the service industry is grumpy here. Everyone we have dealt with from the hotel staff to the city bus driver to the kid at the toy store checkout counter has been, not only pleasant, but helpful and friendly. We must look ridiculous as we stand there in shock when waitresses or store clerks talk to us. They smile, are engaging, helpful, and generally seem happier than Americans. Our bus driver took us to the South Bank for free. The waitress helped me off the floor when I fell out of my chair at breakfast. The toy store guy gave me the name of a great beach to visit on the Sunshine Coast. Troy asked the KFC worker for a cup of ice water, and the guy gave him a bottle water at no cost. Could it be that the workforce is valued and appreciated so they feel happier? Are they just better trained? Is it just Brisbane or is all of Australia like this?
To be fair, when I talk to Australians about their experience with traveling to the United States, they think the opposite of me. They think the service is better and the people are friendlier in the US than Australia. So, maybe it is just that the country of origin treats visitors better because they have a different accent or because they look helpless. Either way, it's nice to be on the receiving end of service.
If any of our kid-friendly families are planning to visit Australia, this might help, but mostly this post is for us to remember on the way home at the end of our year here.
The only complaining I heard in our family was from my husband. He is a big guy and was on the aisle. We thought it would be best to have the kids in the middle so we could get out when we wanted, but we will not repeat that mistake again. Other passengers and the ever roving flight attendants kept hitting his shoulder or elbow as they passed by. It was just often enough that he didn't sleep at all on the plane.
Our Bose noise-cancelling headphones were super awesome (make sure you don't forget the two prong adaptor). We will definitely find room for them on the return trip. We will take one bag for mommy, one bag for daddy and nothing will go in the overhead bins. I loved my eye covers and my neck pillow. Yes, it was bulky, but so comfy.
I do wish I had brought some powdered protein mix for a meal. The food was pretty bad in my opinion.
Overall, the flight wasn't as bad as I expected and the kids barely noticed any inconvenience. So, take them along and go see the world. Don't wait until they are out of the house.
I admit that I am about 3 weeks behind in blogging, but I justify it because I am doing this to preserve this experience for my children to read someday. So, by that time, it won't matter that it was a little behind real time, right?
After leaving St. Louis, we flew 4 hours to LA for 2 days. We debated for several weeks before coming about what we should do during our layover. Theme parks like Disney and Legoland were high on the list... until we arrived. Once in LA, we discovered that our minds were already on the other side of the ocean. We were excited to get to Australia, so anything "big" we thought we wanted to do in LA didn't seem that appealing anymore. So, we decided to do two simple things - go to Santa Monica Blvd on day one and go to Hollywood on day two.
We cleverly combined our banking needs with the Santa Monica trip and killed two birds with one stone. The US Bank in Santa Monica was amazing. Lernik (our banker) set us up to do wire transfers and they had a currency exchange right in their office. Perfect. The walk to the beach from the bank was only about 2 blocks so we spent an hour at the beach even though we weren't prepared with swimsuits.
The next day we headed up to Hollywood. Yes, we saw the sign on the hillside and drove down the middle of town with the walk of fame and all that, but we didn't even get out of the car because it was so crazy crowded. Plan B was an awesome accidental stumble upon the La Brea tar pits.
We had heard about them when we were in Arizona last winter, so we decided to check it out.
The La Brea tar pits are areas where thousands of prehistoric animals were caught in the thick, sticky tar bubbling up from the earth. They were preserved almost perfectly. All of the mammoths, giant sloths, camels, etc in the museum were discovered in the tar pits here at La Brea. The kids loved it and it gave us a chance to walk around and wear the kids out before getting on the flight to Australia that night.
To our delight, we found the Levitated Mass display in the park adjacent to the tar pits.
We are always late everywhere we go. I know that is a sign of rudeness and I desperately work on it, but we always underestimate the amount of time it takes our family to get ready to go somewhere. Until today...our Leaving Day.
The first leg of our trip to Australia was to leave at 5:20pm. We wanted to get to the airport by 3pm which means that we needed to meet my sister for lunch at 1:30pm and leave our house by noon. Normally, we would still be packing last minute stuff or the car, but much to our surprise, we were ready to leave by 10:30am. That's an hour and a half early. Do you know what happens when you are prepared and early? Life happens. Fun happens. Memories happen. Once again, I am reminded that if we protect the margins in our schedule and allow more time for life, the result is always good. So, with our extra hour and a half, we took some silly pictures in different parts of the house. We ran races through the house one last time (down the back stairs, through the bedrooms, up the front stairs, and through the living room). We ate a cookie and said goodbye to the dog. It was perfect, relaxed, and fun, just as I hoped it would be.
We arrived at the restaurant to meet my sister for lunch 8 minutes early and that is even after we stopped to wash the car twice on the way there. (see more about that in a post coming up). We ate and said goodbye. Then my parents dropped us off at the airport before our planned 3pm schedule. The absolute beauty in this is that we bumped into my cousins Lindsay and Matt while they were waiting to board their plane to Florida. I was beside myself with happiness to see them and say goodbye. It was the perfect send off for our trip. All because we were not running late....this time.
Andi and Stevyn. Two boys names for two sisters. Sisters who are similar in height, body shape, the sound of our voices, and fear of horse flies. We grew up as quarreling sisters until high school at which time we became great friends. We always knew that we wanted to live near each other and raise our children together, and until now, we've been able to do that. She's the younger sister but got married and started her family 6 years before me. So even though I'm older, she is wiser.
Despite our similarities, there are obvious differences between us, too. As my family uproots to move to Australia, her family plants roots a little deeper in the Illinois soil. As we sell our house, she is adding onto hers. We have no pets. She has chickens, two cats, and a dog. Every time I pull into her driveway and walk in her door, I have the feeling of everything good about my childhood memories. Her home is comfortable, creative, and decorated with children's art and smiling faces all over the walls. Andi has created a true home in every sense of the word and it has become a gathering place for family and friends, so I know I'm not alone in my opinions. She loves deeply and is extremely loyal. Her sweet and content disposition is a beautiful contrast to my restlessness and minimalist tendencies.
Our children are best friends. I have never seen a relationship like the one between her oldest daughter and my son. They never argue and their personalities are a perfect compliment to each other. Silas loves to talk silly and Lilia loves to giggle. Russia may have given birth to Lilia, but my sister brought her into our family and gave my little boy a best friend. It is a continuous joy for me to witness the happiness they find in each other. Andi's youngest daughter Georgia and my daughter Morgan are almost exactly 1 year apart. Georgia is naturally grown up for her age and seems to understand how life works better than the average 5 year old. So, she is older and wiser than Morgan and teaches Morgan all the ways of the world. Morgan looks up to her and argues with her and loves her deeply. Then there is Caleb, Andi's oldest son. I feel bad that I waited so late to have children because Caleb didn't have a cousin to grow up with. Instead he gets to be the cool big kid that my children look up to and adore. He plays Nerf guns with them, wrestles, and helps. I couldn't ask for a better role model for my children. I say all of this to illustrate why we make such an effort to drive the hour and a half to see each other for an afternoon of play.
Tonight I am spending the last night at her house until we return. This is the last time that Silas will tell all the other kids stories about Godzilla before they fall asleep. It's the last time I will catch the little girls having a dance party in their nightgowns. It's the last time Andi will pour out her hospitality on my family, for a year.
We came here today to make a special present for our parents for Christmas. What started as a simple project ended up taking all day. As tired as we both were, we stayed up far to late talking, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Since the children came along, our talks are interrupted and far too infrequent, but with our move to Australia, they will have to be put on hold for a year. I will miss Andi and her family more than I even realize at the moment of writing this. I asked the girls to promise to stop eating and put books on their heads so they will not grow and stay just the way they are until we return. They giggled, but I cried a little inside knowing that I am going to miss out on their transformation and they will miss out on ours. I feel the weight of separating beloved cousins and sisters across an incredibly large ocean and different hemisphere, but I pray that the bonds will not be broken...just stretched in a way that will rebound even stronger when we return.
Visas in Australia are complicated, requiring a lot of paperwork and time. We utilized a migration agent to help with our 457 visa details. He recently emailed us with the news...our visas have been approved.
This means that is it time to purchase flights and making solid travel plans. After doing extensive research for the last couple of days, I was pretty sure I was going to have to sell my beloved left and right big toes to afford our flights to Brisbane. You would think that one-way tickets would be cheaper than roundtrip tickets, but if they are, it's not by much. Add traveling during the holiday season, and you have a recipe for sticker shock. Thankfully, my web surfer guru of a husband read an article that suggested contacting a travel agent to assist with the flight research and purchase. My experience with travel agents was not very positive because I always was able to find cheaper flights on my own. But, I decided to trust this unknown author and give it a try. So I called an agent named Karen and told her what we needed. She found us tickets that ended up saving us $1200! We would have to fly out a little earlier than planned, and we would arrive in Brisbane on Christmas morning, of all days, but we could live with that. She was able to get a discounted price for the kids and found a Southwest flight to LA that was $200 less per person compared to what I found on my own. Moral of the story...try a travel agent for the big flights, or as my husband says, listen to the wise counsel of your husband.
Now the real packing begins...if we would only get well. Our whole family has been sick with colds and deep, rumbly, think-you're-going-to-pee-your-pants kind of coughs for about 4 weeks now. Two of us are on antibiotics finally, so we hope for relief soon. There is much to do, and little ears need to be clear for the plane ride. So let the healing commence!
For those of you considering visiting us in Australia, this is for you...Our trip will consist of a 4 hour flight to Los Angeles followed by a two night stay to rest up for the big daddy flight. Then we will hop on a 747 at almost midnight for a non-stop 14.5 hour flight to Brisbane, Australia. We will land at 7am on Christmas Day. I imagine that this will be one of the most miserable, exciting Christmas Days we've experienced. Troy and I will be grumpy zombies with two little lunatic zombie children as companions. Hopefully the excitement will overshadow our exhaustion, and we will be granted an extra portion of grace.
Our plan is simple...walk the children's legs off in LA at Legoland, Disney, or some other over-the-top experience, board the plane late at night so they will crash and sleep for 8 hours. Then have 2-3 movies and a gazillion snacks ready when they wake up to finish out the remainder of the flight. Our challenge will be preserving Morgan's dignity among the other flight passengers, as she is a hot natured sleeper and likes to strip down to her skivvies for sleep. Silas will likely do well as long as he knows he is getting out of doing any school work that day.
As I reflect on these last days before we leave, I am reminded of how I felt before each of my children's births. Great expectation combined with the knowledge that life as I know it will never be the same. Everything from here on out will be new in 14 days. It's easy to let fear and doubt creep in. Did we make the right decision? What if we can't do this? The sadness of leaving loved ones also sits heavy on my heart. My children have been raised with both of my parents only steps away and both of Troy's parents only an hour away. Daily Oreos with Papa and overnights with Nana will be replaced with Skype calls and emails. How will this separation impact them? But if I sit still in my uncertainty, a peace gently fills the gaps and mutes the fear. This is where strength and faith are born.
We stole an idea from our friends, the Currens, who are traveling full-time in their Airstream with their 3 children. They had a House Cooling Party before they moved into their Airstream. We thought it was a great idea, so we threw ourselves a House Cooling Party, too. Think of it as the opposite of a House Warming Party. Instead of people bringing gifts to welcome you to your new home, they come to take some of your stuff away and say good-bye.
So that is what we did. We invited our friends and family to our home and enticed them to come over by offering food. Then we asked them to rummage through our stuff and take home what they wanted.
We are reducing our household (2 adults and 2 children) down to a 12x10 storage unit so we can move to Australia for a year. Anything that won't fit won't be kept. So, it is a matter of prioritizing what is most important and the best use of the real estate. Grandma's flour sifter or my high school yearbooks? Troy's cowboy boots he hardly ever wears or my dishes from Japan that I hardly ever use? Troy's Elvis memorabilia or my toe puppets? You get the idea. Lots of decisions.
The house cooling party was a lot of fun for us. We loved hosting our friends and watching them go through our stuff. There were stories to tell about some of the items, and we found joy in seeing people pleased with their loot as they left. As an added bonus, an impromptu soccer game broke out in our empty living room the next morning with the kids. Think of all the spontaneity and creatively that we've stifled by having too much stuff and not enough margins in the past! There is nothing in the way to break, so bring on the cartwheels and the sword fighting.
Since we will only be traveling to Australia with our suitcases, we still have more stuff to get rid of, but this event put a big dent in the pile. As Troy and I processed how the day went, we both felt the same way. Happy with our decision and more committed to the process than before. One thing we forgot to mention to everyone who attended - this work visa could still get denied by the Australian government. If that happens, we want our stuff back!
In all seriousness, purging our stuff, on top of a move around the world, seems dramatic to me at times. Then I think of the book I just finished reading that outlined the living conditions in other parts of the world, and I am reminded that there is nothing drastic or dramatic about anything we are doing from a global viewpoint. America has a culture of consumerism, but just because we do that here, doesn't mean it is the norm. Other people get by, and even thrive, on much less than what we have. Our children will not suffer, and we probably won't even be able to recall much of stuff that we once owned. We are thankful for the people who have given freely and abundantly to us over the years, and we've enjoyed giving to others now as we downsize.
'There is a time for everything...a time to plant and a time to uproot..."
Down Under is calling, and we are responding! Although our travel date is not yet firm, we hope that we will be moving to Australia in the next few weeks. It is an exciting time for our family, and we keep hearing the phrase "once in a lifetime" from our family and friends. They may be right, but I hope not. I hope that this trip leads us to many more "once in a lifetime" opportunities to follow.
It was a difficult decision to make since we will be uprooting our family with 2 small children and moving halfway around the world. Before we were even presented with this option, we were planning on selling our house and moving into our Airstream. We were going to spend the winter in Florida and travel the country for at least a year. So we called Australia Plan A and the Airstream travel Plan B. If Australia had fallen through, Plan B was still a great option. We considered a move to Australia from every angle. Would our kids thrive? How would they deal with missing their cousins and grandparents? How would our marriage change in a new environment with different roles? What would our support network look like? What would happen when we returned to the United States? How would this impact our finances? We even hired the life/business coach, Chris LoCurto, to help us work through some of these potential issues. In the end, we decided to go for it.
We will be living in Brisbane, Australia for a minimum of 12 months for my work. Brisbane is a city of about 2.5 million people which is a stark contrast to where we live now - in the middle of Missouri on an 80-acre farm with one neighbor that you can see when the leaves fall off the trees. The closest store is 30 minutes away. We plan to live in the city center in Brisbane so we can walk to the markets and parks. I only know 2 people in Australia, but we are Instagram friends with some Australian Airstreamers and the Australian Airstream dealer down in Sydney. Hopefully we will have a chance to meet up with our extended family of Airstreamers while we are there. Maybe we can even rent an RV and travel part of Australia at some point.
But first we have to get there. There is much to be done to plan a move like this. Paperwork, work visas, health insurance, passports, bank accounts, credit card changes, doctor appointments, goodbyes, etc. Plus, what do we do with all of our stuff?
STUFF. Let's just think about that word for a minute. Yes, the word can be a noun describing a multitude of items, but it is also a figurative word for the way we have been living our lives until recently. Our closets are stuffed. Our drawers are stuffed. Our garage is stuffed. We had expanded our stuff to fill every available space. If we had more space, I'm sure we would have found more stuff to stuff it with.
After our 95 day adventure in the Airstream last winter, we came home feeling even more confined and suffocated by our stuff. You would think the opposite would be true, that we would have felt confined and suffocated by four people living in a small travel trailer for 3 months. However, we found freedom living small with less stuff. So, when we returned home, the contrast was striking. Too many dishes to wash, too many floors to clean, too many bathrooms to keep stocked. In the Airstream, cleaning was done in about 15 minutes. That included the kitchen, bathroom, and floors. When we returned home, it took me an entire day to clean our house.
Although it doesn't always happen this way, Troy and I were of like mind and decided to start downsizing with purpose. It started with my closet the same night we returned from our southwest Airstream adventure, and it is nearing the end as I write this, about 8 months later. Looking back, it seems that our move to Australia actually began with our trip out West. That trip set desires and a lifestyle in motion that made Australia a plausible option in our minds. We know that we can live in a small apartment without all of our stuff for a year and be happy. We know that investing in experiences and people rather than things is where we will find joy. We know that home is wherever we are all together. And we know that for this season of life, security and tradition are being overshadowed by exploration and inquisitiveness. We look forward to this new adventure and hope to share it with you through this blog....'Mate'.
I am a wife, mother, and exercise physiologist with one foot in the world of travel and one foot in the world of fitness. This blog is a mixture of travel adventures and wellness topics that affect women and their families. We've travelled, first in our Airstream and then in Australia, while attempting to balance work, life, health, and relationships. It's been an amazing journey so far. Join me as we navigate new places, adjust to small spaces, and meet new faces.