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..."
My name is Stevyn. I am a wife, mother, and exercise physiologist with one foot in the world of travel and one foot in the world of fitness. Learn more about me here.
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