The Wizardess of Oz

An American's Adventures in Australia and Beyond

Author: thewizardessofoz (page 1 of 13)

And We’re Off…

My sister arrived in Australia on the 3rd of January, and instantly we launched into the frenzied, rapid type of sightseeing I’d been told to avoid.

I started off showing her around Sydney, able to see a familiar city through the fresh eyes of my little sister. We stayed at a friend’s apartment in Bondi the first couple of days, proudly flaunting to a jet-lagged Beth the beautiful blue-green water and golden sands of the Eastern Beaches of Sydney. The weather had come out in force, rising up to the 80s and pressing into us with its humidity. We soldiered through it on the Coastal Walk to Bronte, catching a light sunburn by staying on the sand a little longer than we knew we should. It was fun to play host to a family member again, since the only other relatives to come visit had been my parents over two years ago. We capped off our weekend with an ocean view BBQ on the deck and a visit to the famous Gelato Messina on Hall St.
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As the clouds blew into Bondi, we blew out of it, back to Paddington to see some of the city the following day.

And see it we did, walking from the peaceful Botanic Gardens to the Opera House and refreshing ourselves with a quick white wine at the Opera Bar. From there we waded through the tourist throng in Circular Quay, through the Rocks, and onto the Harbor Bridge. We’d been told about a way to see great views from the first pylon of the bridge, getting essentially the same experience as the pricy Bridge Climb for a fraction of the cost. So we walked toward North Sydney, and sure enough there was an inconspicuous sign announcing the Pylon Lookout</acceptancn.
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After a butt-burning 200 stairs, Beth and I were high above Sydney Harbour, with an incredible view of the Opera House just as the last of the clouds blew away. We enjoyed the breeze 87 meters above the water for about an hour, trying to recover from all of the walking we had done already that day, and starting to feel the pressures of our old lives slip away.

It was the first day back to work for most of my former coworkers after the Christmas holiday, and here I was, stretching in the sunshine and getting more exercise than I had in the last several months combined. The acceptance that I had shed the life I’ve always known was slowly seeping into my consciousness, and trepidation was slowly being replaced by the delicious feeling of freedom.

Not a bad start to this adventure at all.

Up next – the Cockatoo Island Glamping adventure!

One Chapter Ends

Seven years ago next month, I sat nervously in a sunny conference room in an office in a business park in Irvine, California, wading my way through an interview. I had no idea what I was really interviewing for, the job description a jumbled mess of jargon I didn’t yet understand, but the kind smiles on the faces of the interviewers were encouraging, the office looked super cool, and it sounded like a real career job. Plus, their website showed dozens of offices all over the globe – this was my ticket to living abroad again! When they offered me the position, I took it without hesitation.

This is how I stumbled into the world of advertising, planning and buying media space for Fortune 500 companies. I was surrounded by smart, motivated people, and I was learning in a way that my college education never could have taught me. Anyone who has worked with me knows I’ll harp on and on about the amazing transferable skills a job in media can give you – client management, team management, sales skills, financial management skills, profit & loss management (see how jargony I’ve become, too?), creative thinking, etc. But what’s really painted this journey for me has been the people. From my eager, recently-graduated peers at that office in Irvine (who are all now incredibly successful director/owner/CEO-types all around the world), to the cast of characters in Seattle who were a huge part of making that city home, to the great friends I made here in Sydney that became my surrogate family, I think about the people that my career has allowed me to collide with and I know that they are the absolute best thing about the past 7 years of long hours in an office.

And on Friday, I went through a slightly familiar routine. I wrote my farewell emails, had my final team lunch, and almost cried in front of the entire agency when I said my farewell speech. I packed up the few things from my desk, lingering behind a little later than the rest of my team. And as I walked down the hallway toward the elevator one last time, I unwittingly had a movie-style montage of the people and places that my advertising career had taken me, and nearly was in tears again.

And now here I am, writing the end of this chapter. I don’t think that media is going to be in my future, though nothing is certain. But I think we’ve outgrown each other, and I’ve been hanging on longer than I should have like an overly-dependent girlfriend. But I couldn’t let the moment pass without a little tribute to that young girl in Irvine, and everyone who’s turned me into who I am today.

Now onto the next adventure!

The Wizardess

Endings

A Different Kind of Extremist

Yesterday morning, I woke up to a gorgeous Sydney summer morning. It was the kind of day that made you grateful you lived here, perfect temperature, finally free of the oppressive humidity from last week’s storms. I was running late, as is my usual Monday routine, waiting for the bus and getting increasingly frustrated with each minute that ticked me closer to being really late for work.

The bus finally came, and as I walked up the steps to my office, a man walked into a cafe in Martin Place, took out a gun, and proceeded to take several cafe workers and patrons hostage. At 2:10 a.m. this morning, several hostages took advantage of their sleepy captor and rushed the door, awakening the hostage-taker, who fired his weapon and killed one of the hostages. Police swept in, and as the turmoil subsided three people were dead, including the gunman.

Rogue gunmen (with or without religious affiliations) are a much more common occurrence in the US, but in virtually weapon-free Australia, these events really shook everyone. By early afternoon, trying to get a taxi home was next to impossible as office workers streamed out of the city and back to their homes in the suburbs. There was little else on TV other than coverage of the hostage situation.

Listening to the news yammer on about ‘lone wolf’ terrorism and religious extremism whenever things like this happen is exhausting. Seeing racist reactions on social media is depressing. The men who commit acts such as these are hoping only to foment more of what they peddle: hatred from human beings toward other human beings. They want us to look at our differences, to blow them up to be so big that we could never connect with each other. To isolate ourselves from each other, to make it impossible to see the beauty within others.

We have a choice to react one of two ways: Give them what they want and approach life with fear, or choose to meet hatred with love. Overwhelming, all-encompassing, unconditional love.

Even those who hurt us should be met with love. Even this man who killed innocent people should be met with love. The only way to truly achieve peace amongst each other is to drown out all the hatred with its counterpoint. To accept that misguided people will always try to provoke hatred, and to simply love them anyway. To look past the horrific things they do and say and see the humanity in that person, and love that. It’s a tough pill to swallow, to be sure. And it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to prevent senseless loss of life. But if we can put enough love into the world, if we can look at every single human being that we see as just that, a human being created for love, then I have every hope that this kind of energy can drown out the hatred and fear that has created so much pain. Let’s do things like the #illridewithyou movement that started last night, instead of allowing acts of hate to beget more hate.

Let’s be extremists of a different kind. Lets be fanatically devoted to loving the people around us, known or unknown to us. Let’s show the world what a devotion to kindness, understanding, and peace looks like. Let’s bomb the planet with compassion for our fellow human beings, no matter what they try to do us. That’s a cause I can get behind.

Love

As seen in my neighborhood a couple of months ago

Thankful

A couple of weeks ago, I hosted my third and final Thanksgiving as an expatriate (at least an expatriate in Australia). Having the opportunity to bring this American tradition to foreign shores has been an annual highlight of each holiday season I’ve spent here in Australia. It’s been an opportunity to take a step back and reflect, and benchmark upon which I can measure how my life and social circle have grown and been enriched.

My first Thanksgiving was a harried and hurried affair, cooked on a hangover and with a few friends and a few people I had only just met, the day after an all-day music festival.

My second Thanksgiving stood out in stark contrast to the last – surrounded by new friends, a new love, and an overwhelming gratitude that my first year in Australia hadn’t been quite as bad as I’d let myself believe.

And this Thanksgiving was a fitting cap to the tradition. The turkey was a success (whew!), all the necessary accouterments were laid out, nearly everyone who had been at that first small table in my apartment in Bondi was able to make a reappearance, and many of the friends from last year’s feast had been able to attend as well.

TurkeyDay3TurkeyDay2

As we went around the table of 18 and said what we were thankful for, I couldn’t help but get a lump in my throat as I told everyone the story of the small table at my first Thanksgiving, and how more than anything I was thankful that I had been put in the path of so many amazing people who wanted to share this tradition with me. I was thankful for a partner who had been nothing but supportive about packing up my life, leaving him with my dog and taking off without him for 6+ months, and to my first friend in Australia, Annie, without whom that first year would have been drastically more difficult.

American Girls!

American Girls!

This Thanksgiving celebration was the first time it really hit me that I’m leaving. I’d been happily plunking my head into the sand, in denial that anything was really going to change. And now here was the end of a tradition in my new home that I’d started, ready to be passed on to another of my American friends who was staying. And as much as I’m looking forward with excitement to whatever is coming next, I’m also desperately sad to be leaving behind such wonderful people and such a beautiful place. And though my feelings about my time in Seattle and Sydney are very different, I can still echo the sentiment I felt  in one of my earliest blogs about leaving the city I’d called home for a while:

How Lucky I Am

Til next time, xoxo

The Wizardess

The ULTIMATE Guide to Sydney

One of the most common questions I get is, “What should I see while I’m in Sydney?” I’ve decided to write up a guide, in case anyone stumbling across the interwebs happens to Google: What should I do in Sydney? This is my own personal guide, so if you love amazing food prepared by the masters, a good drink, and nature and the outdoors, read on!

In and Around Sydney:

Cockatoo Island:
Just in the middle of Sydney Harbour is Cockatoo Island – a quick ferry from Circular Quay. On weekends in summer they have The Island Bar – an outdoor bar where you can day drink and enjoy the sun. You can also go glamping if you’d like to stay overnight!

Sydney Harbour Bridge:
You can walk over this for free, or pay hundreds of dollars to do the Bridge Climb. If you walk from North to South, you land in the Rocks – grab beers at Lord Nelson Brewery.

Museums:
Sydney doesn’t really have anything on Europe when it comes to art, but the Art Gallery of NSW usually has some decent exhibitions.

St. Mary’s and the Royal Botanic Gardens:
You can check out the impressive St. Mary’s Cathedral in Hyde Park if you like old churches, then walk north from there to the Royal Botanic Gardens & Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair. It’s a huge park right on the Harbour, really beautiful and great views of the Opera House with the Harbour Bridge behind it.

Beaches:
The day itineraries below have all the beaches you could ever want to see around Sydney. If you don’t have a whole day, you can still get to these within 20/30 minutes from CBD. The main beaches to see are: Bondi, Manly, Bronte, Tamarama, Balmoral, Watsons Bay. Secret Beaches are: Red Leaf Beach, Milk Beach, Store Beach (reachable only by kayak/boat!). Note that beaches in italics are Harbour Beaches, which means no getting your surf on here.

 

Special Events Worth Checking Out:

Sculptures by the Sea:
Usually in late October/early November for about 3 weeks, Sculptures by the Sea gets PACKED on the weekends. If you’re able, go on a weekday and take your time looking at art in the most beautiful gallery in the world: the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk. If you are caught in the crowds, I recommend starting in Bronte and ending in Bondi with a meal or a Gelato Messina on trendy Hall St.

Good Food Month:
Put on by the major newspapers in each major city, Good Food Month for Sydney is in July and October, usually. This means you can go to some insanely expensive restaurants for lunch or dinner, and pay a flat cost for a 3 course meal at a fraction of what you normally would pay. The menus are more limited, but the chefs are the best in Australia, and arguably the world. It’s a great way to try some five-star dining on a budget. This also hosts the Night Noodle Markets in Hyde Park – a great evening of cheap food stalls worth exploring.

The Sydney Royal Easter Show:
Set in the 3 weeks surrounding Easter in March/April, the Sydney Royal Easter Show is a spectacle that you can’t miss if you are a lover of fairs. There is something for everyone here – petting baby farm animals, checking out the best livestock in the country, carnival rides, rodeos, dirt biking competitions, all sorts of horsemanship competitions – it’s really something to behold.

Festival of the Winds:
If you’re able to time your visit to Bondi with the Festival of the Winds [usually in September], you will be treated to a sky full of incredible wind-borne colors and creatures. I stumbled across this on accident my first few months in Australia and was delighted!

Sydney Festival:
Art installations pop up in the city after the New Year, and you know the Sydney Festival is on its way. Theater, circus, opera, modern music, and more, this is where Sydney does what she does best: Preens in all her glorious, artistic and hipster glory.

Vivid Festival:
Light, Music, and Ideas is what this festival is all about. Usually held in May or June, you’ll get to see iconic Sydney landmarks lit up with incredible light projected art, there are musical performances, TED-like talks and panels, and the whole city comes alive at night.

Day Itineraries:

Eastern Beaches:
Go to breakfast at Three Blue Ducks in Bronte (go early or on a weekday, very popular), then make your way down to the beach. You can hang out there for a bit, or jump on the coastal walk to the left of the beach when you’re facing the ocean and walk past Tamarama Beach and up into Bondi. If you do this in the beginning of November you’ll be able to catch the Sculptures by the Sea art installation along the walkway. It ends in famous Bondi Beach; grab lunch/dinner at Bondi Hardware on Hall St and finish off with a Gelato Messina about a block away.

Northern Beaches:
Take a ferry from Circular Quay (right by the Opera House) up to Manly Beach. Best and cheapest way to see the Opera House and Harbor Bridge from the water. Once in Manly, take a right out of the ferry building and go to Four Pines Brewery for lunch and local beers. Walk down the Corso to the beach and spend some time there. They do beach volleyball if you happen to play. You can also do a hike around the point; the pathway starts on the right of the beach when you’re facing the ocean and goes all the way around to harbour.

Blue Mountains:
‘Mountains’ here are kind of a joke (more like big hills), but it’s an interesting way to see some of the wilderness around Sydney. There are a lot of tour companies that will pick you up in Sydney and take you around; I went with Oz Trails on the Blue Mountains Special Tour and it was a good day. Their itinerary covers off pretty much everything worth checking out over there. Here’s my trip to the Mountains if you’re interested.

Hunter Valley:
This is a famous wine region outside Sydney famous for its Semillion and Shiraz. You can do a day trip here, but a weekend would work as well. If you go, you have to make sure you stop at Tallavera Grove for a tasting. The wine is good, and the view is one of the most amazing in the valley. If you go with a tour they will probably drop you off at Tempus Two, but it’s not really that great – just a lineup of tasting rooms and restaurants & a bit of a theme-park vibe. I’m a wine snob though so I like to taste it where they grow it – you may not mind! If you do an overnight, go for brunch at Peterson’s Champagne House. Click here to read about my trip to the Hunter.

Palm Beach:
About an hour north of Sydney is Palm Beach and Summer Bay. They film a show here called Home and Away that is very famous in Australia and the UK, but no one from the US has ever heard of it! The beach here is great, as is the bay. You could rent Kayaks, SUPs, or a boat in the bay and hang out there during the day. The restaurant up there is the Boathouse.

 

Restaurants:

If you want to splash out big:
Rockpool Bar & Grill on Hunter Street [NOT the Bridge Street one]:
Famous for their burger and steak, amazing food all around, wine list that will blow your mind. In an old bank so the architecture is pretty cool too. Ask for a table on the second level.

The Cut in the Rocks:
Also amazing steak, some say better than Rockpool. It’s hard to pick a winner so just go to both.

Aria or Quay:
Both white tablecloth, internationally renowned restaurants from some of Sydneys best-known chefs. Pick the one with the menu that appeals to you more.

Guillaume in Paddington:
This guy was running the restaurant in Bennelong at the Opera House and just opened up a new place in my neighborhood. I haven’t made it in yet, but it’s high on my list.

The Bridge Room:
Best lunch I’ve ever had in Sydney [and I work in advertising, I go to a lot of lunches!]

Tetsuya:
Famous Japanese food in a really cool heritage building in the city. Go for the degustation so you can get a taste of everything.

If you want good food but not as big of a bill:
Movida in Surry Hills:
Tapas; I’m told their Melbourne location is better, but not sure how that’s possible.

Felix Restaurant:
French; Great value for money; oysters are amazing, the wine list is long, and everything on their menu is good.

Apollo:
Greek; Some of the best Greek food you will ever have. If you go with a group, ask for the chef’s table in the kitchen.

Toko:
Japanese Fusion; Really interesting menu – combines flavors you wouldn’t think about and manages to pull it off. A little pricy so you could put it in the ‘splash out’ list.

FourFourteen:
Australian; A friend of mine works in the kitchen here – just really good, hearty food in the heart of Surry Hills.

Mr. Wongs:
Chinese; A classic for a good advertising lunch, amazing Chinese food. Duck pancakes and pork dishes that will make you very, very happy.

If you aren’t in the mood to splash out:

Hamburger Mary’s:
Burgers; Booze, burgers, and live music. A very fun place in a cool neighborhood most tourists don’t usually see [Newtown].

There are so many great smaller cafes/restaurants it’s hard to pick; I’d suggest checking out Broadsheet Sydney or TimeOut Sydney for their recommendations.

 

Best Pubs/Bars:

The Clock in Surry Hills; fun for a night out right in the heart of Surry Hills.

The Royal Hotel in Paddington; best for day-drinking. Go to the roof for a great view.

Cliff Dive in Darlinghurst: late night; go here for a Sydney version of a dive bar.

The Glenmore in the Rocks: arguably the best roof deck in Sydney

The Beresford Hotel in Surry Hills; a massive bars-within-a-bar complex, this has a pub, a restaurant, an outdoor bar, and dancing on the second floor. You can spend an entire evening in here and feel like you’ve been on a pub crawl.

Shady Pines Saloon: down an alleyway in Darlinghurst/Surry Hills border off Oxford St.; a fun way to see how Australia does an American bar. They have PBR signs on the walls but sadly don’t sell it. However, they do have an impressive local beer list.

The Baxter Inn: Whiskey and Bourbon heaven, with really knowledgeable bartenders. In a basement and full of dark wood and green velvet; free peanuts for all. A really cool spot.

Four in Hand: On Sundays they do a Sunday roast [pork belly or roast beef, usually] with a full plate of really good food for about $24. They also do Toss the Boss, where you flip the bartender heads or tails to see who pays for that round of drinks.

Palmer and Co.: A bit pretentious, but classic speakeasy style where the bartenders and waiters/waitresses all dress in 40s style. Good prohibition-era cocktails too. Also in a basement.

The Opera Bar: right next to the Opera House, a bit touristy but kind of a must-do if you haven’t been to Sydney before.

 

Weekenders Near Sydney:

DRIVES:

Jervis Bay & Hyams Beach:
Rent a house in Hyams Beach for an overnight and stay at the whitest beach in Australia for a couple of days. There isn’t a ton to do other than relax, but the beach is incredible and you’ll feel like you’re on a tropical island. There is a national park with a hike/walk at the right end of the beach when you’re facing the ocean. It’s a 3 hour drive south of Sydney.

Seal Rocks:
An on-beach campground with campsites and cabins you can rent, it’s a great place to surf and hang out on the beach. I camped there last year and saw my first wild dingo! It’s about 3 hours north of Sydney.

Kangaroo Valley & Berry:
The epitome of Aussie countryside, there are some stunning outlooks and a very cute small town in Berry to explore. Check AirBnB for adorable farmstays; we stayed at the Dairy at Beauridge Farm for a weekend and absolutely LOVED it. This is a 2 hour drive south of Sydney.

FLIGHTS:

Cheap airlines in AU are Jetstar and Tiger Airways, but Tiger tends to have an unexpected cancellation problem & isn’t as reliable. Virgin Australia also sometimes has deals. Follow them on Facebook or sign up for their emails if you want to know when they have sales!

Some suggested places:

  • Byron Bay [airport: Ballina Byron]
  • The Whitsundays [airport: Hamilton Island, Mackay Island] You can see the Barrier Reef from the Whitsundays
  • Uluru/Ayers Rock [airport: Uluru]
  • Noosa [airport: Sunshine Coast/Maroochydore]
  • Melbourne [airport: Tullamarine and Avalon]

Okay friends and fellow travelers, what have I left out of this Ultimate Guide to Sydney?

xoxo, The Wizardess

It’s All Happening…

Flights are booked!

Suddenly I know what January and February are looking like, at least abstractly. I’ve booked the flights I needed to book that will get me all around Oceania and into Asia. From there, plans stop and the REAL winging it will begin.

I’ve broken all traveler advice: “Don’t plan too far ahead;” “The worst thing you can do is over-commit yourself and have to rush off when you’d rather stay,” etc. I’ve done it for a few reasons:

  1. My sister is on a timetable for some reason and doesn’t want to spend too long in any one place [silly!]
  2. I know how lethargic/lazy I can be, and I’d probably be happy to just plop myself down in the first place I love and stay
  3. New Zealand has already proven itself to be a black hole, with a gravitational force all its own, and if I didn’t pre-book my flight to leave I might have just stayed forever

So right now, here’s what it’s looking like:

Australia: 3rd January – 28th January: Sydney – Melbourne – Great Ocean Road – Uluru – Whitsunday Islands – Sydney
Fiji: 28th January – 5th February: Nadi – Mamanuca Islands – Yasawa Islands
New Zealand: 5th February – 22nd February: Auckland – Bay of Islands – Waitomo – Wellington – Nelson + Abel Tasman Park – Queenstown – Milford Sound – Auckland
Quick Stopover Back in Sydney
Indonesia: 25th February – 5th March: Seminyak – Ubud – Komodo
Thailand: 5th March until ??: The plan is spend at least 3 weeks [or more] exploring the Islands, the North, and volunteering at an elephant sanctuary!
From here: Cambodia, Vietnam, possibly Laos, the Philippines, Hong Kong, then Europe [just in time for summer]!

I’m hoping that once I’ve set the pace I’ll be able to keep myself from lingering for TOO long, but can also slow down a bit and spend the time each place demands. It’s probably for the best that the more expensive destinations will be “in n out” trips, since staying for too long could quickly deplete my bank account. In Asia, I should be able to travel at a much more leisurely pace.

So while I am still in a place of limbo, and the planner in me is a bit panicked about the lack of a detailed itinerary in New Zealand and beyond, I’m forcing myself to kick back and let the universe take care of the rest of the plans.

Now who want to join?

Until Next Time! xoxo

Not Quite Here, Not Quite Gone

I’ve been living in a place of limbo for the past several weeks. Not quite here, not quite gone.

Preparing to make a major move usually brings about a flurry of activity: things to pack, clothes to donate, boxes to ship. But I’ve been in super-slow motion, because my decision was made months ago, but each step to get to action was preceded by such an extensive amount of waiting. No, I can’t quit my job just yet, I need to save more money and the EM isn’t ready to leave his new job. No, I don’t really need to pack quite yet since I’m not leaving the house for 3 more months. Yes, I’ve turned in my notice, but my contract requires 12 more weeks of work, so there are still plenty of projects to be done. Even the act of checking out of the life I built here has been a slow one. At first, I panicked: There are so many things I still haven’t done! I must get to Palm Beach, I must spend a weekend in Jervis Bay! All those long weekends we put off can’t be put off any longer!

And then I ticked off all the weekends I wanted to spend. I started to clean out the closet and got bored after two bags of clothes were filled for sale/donation. And because procrastination is a skill I am particularly proficient in, I just sort of… drifted back to the routine of living, even through I’m leaving. With the exception of pulling out Southeast Asia on a Shoestring and meticulously planning what I will do in each country, I haven’t really done much else to prepare for this glorious sabbatical I have organized for myself.

I’m sure this is partially so I can avoid thinking about the hard parts: being separated from the EM for such a long time, saying goodbye to my pup for another exceptionally long stint and entrusting his care to someone else, trying to hold it together while I say goodbye to friends and co-workers. And I’m sure some of it is the nervousness of traveling alone for the first time, even though I will have sisterly support for the first few months. And I bounce between this reticence and a boundless excitement about the things I will see, do and discover. But to actually pack it up and make it real?

Terrifying, even now.

But I’m reaching a point where I’ve procrastinated as long as I can. Only five more weeks of work. Time to start getting my stuff organized, jettisoned, shipped. Time to start finalizing the itinerary. Time to mentally prepare to say goodbye to many people I’ve come to rely on heavily for support. Time to rush headlong into an adventure and expect (not just hope for) the best.

Strange

Meet the Parents… and 50 More Family Members

“We’re not paying for your wedding.”

I raised my eyebrow at my mom, annoyed but not surprised. My parents are very traditional, and very religious. They’ve never been happy that I don’t impose the same rules on myself that the Catholic Church does. In this case, cohabitation with my partner.

“Well then, don’t expect one.”

It may not have been quite as snappy as that, but that was the gist of the conversation. My dad had taken the English Muffin onto the patio of their serviced apartment in Queenstown to give him the “what are your intentions for my daughter” speech – something that grates on me as a independent adult capable of having my own intentions for myself, but that I understand is something my dad just can’t not do with any of my boyfriends.

Having never dreamed about my future wedding, I wasn’t too bothered by it. I’ve never gone out of my way to live with my boyfriends, it’s just he way life worked out. I moved interstate with one [“What do you want us to do, Dad? Get separate apartments?”], and happened to fall in love with my roommate [“Was I supposed to kick him out of the house the moment we realized we had feelings for each other?”]. Most times, I’d probably have preferred not to have lived with them! I like my space, and don’t mind being alone, so it wouldn’t have been huge loss as long as we lived near each other. But regardless of any qualifying circumstances, this was a line my parents had decided to draw.

At any rate, my sister will probably have to deal with this before I do, since she and her [now live-in] boyfriend just celebrated their 5 year anniversary. I’m sure she will find a way to break my parents resolve; she’s always had better money-extraction skills than I have.

Other than this uncomfortable exchange, the “Meet the Parents” episode of my relationship with the English Muffin was a nice one. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful place for it to happen [Queenstown, NZ], and we spent much of the 6 days we were all together being outside, exploring New Zealand [also known as Heaven on Earth].

See? All Friends Here!

See? All Friends Here!

The ridiculousness that is NZ

The ridiculousness that is NZ

Same

Same

Fast-forward six months, and the EM and I were preparing for a trip to the USA to celebrate two weddings that were fortuitously planned 4 weeks apart. So naturally, I decided it was important to cram in meeting most of my aunts and uncles [of which there are 15], about 2/3 of my cousins [of which there are 30, not counting spouses], and my siblings [of which there are 4, including my brother’s wife] into those 4 weeks. Oh and maybe 50 or so friends.

Did I mention the English Muffin is an only child with a tiny extended family?

However, the EM works in recruitment, and he’s developed social skills that include being able to talk to anyone, make people like and trust him, and be a good listener. This is also why he makes a good romantic partner, as he’s pointed out to me [darling, why are you on eHarmony?]. Plus he’s English, which means that if nothing else at least he’d be polite.

Thus, he was not only able to rock the family get-togethers, he actually was a bigger hit at BOTH weddings than I was! I had one of my aunts swooning over his accent [“What did you call it? A bin? Say butter again!”] and he after-partied at my university friend’s wedding long after I had collapsed in a heap in our hotel room. At the end of the first wedding, my Seattle friends’ boyfriends were hollering, “Someone get this man a green card! Come to America!”

Repping the Afterparty with the Bride

Repping the Afterparty with the Bride

Cheers!

Cheers!

All in all, a pretty successful trip home for him, even if I was feeling a little bit like chopped liver. Just because I don’t have a posh English accent!

I did have the chance to meet his dad, who happens to live in Connecticut after falling for an American woman [apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…], so for the two people I had to meet, an exchange of 90 or so seems fair. Right?

Til next time, xoxoxo!

BIG News…

Oh blog. I’ve completely abandoned you.

Though there are only a dozen or so people who missed it [and thanks to those of you who told me that, it really does make me feel like a rockstar in a little corner of my mind], I’m back in action with some explosive new news.

I’m leaving Australia. Permanently.

Big news, and I’ve fielded lots of the same questions, so I thought I’d list them out with corresponding responses below.

FAQs

Why?
There’s so much that has gone into this decision that it’s hard to know where to start, so maybe I’ll just lay bare a few facts and you can connect the dots:

  • Early in 2014, things at work weren’t exactly amazing. I would go home every day miserable and feeling like I was treading water with a 30-lb. weight strapped to my waist.
  • In March, my grandmother passed away.
  • In April, the English Muffin and I met my parents in New Zealand for a holiday. While we were there, we got the news that my other grandmother passed away quite unexpectedly.
  • Around this same time, an old friend from high school shared with us that she had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, and had 6 months to live.

This confluence of facts set me about seriously examining my life. My grandmothers had both lived long, full, productive lives. Losing them was difficult, and highlighted to me how far I was from my family, my strongest support system.

But my high school friend’s sudden diagnosis was a gut-punch. She is so intelligent, accomplished both academically and personally [Masters degree, volunteered at orphanages in Asia, traveled everywhere you could imagine], recently married, and incredibly beautiful. My mind kept telling me: People like her don’t face this sort of thing. Because she could have been me. We battled the throes of Junior year together: high-school parties, getting our driver’s licenses, generally just being 16 and thinking we had it all figured out. Neither of us were supposed to die before we turned 30.

But she is.

And so I started to think about what I was doing with my life. I wasn’t exactly happy, and it was pretty clear to me that life is too damn short not to be. And while I understand that 90% of happiness comes from within, that 10% that comes from without is a pretty big 10%. I had tried and tried to change my attitude, and decided it was time to change my circumstances.

So I started saving up money. A month ago, I quit my job. I went home for a holiday and let my family and friends know I was coming back. And I started to plan 6 months of travel.

Where Are You Going?
Long-term: San Francisco
Short-term: I’ll be traveling around Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Bali, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and points to be determined in Europe.

WhereTo

Who Are You Going With? 
My sister Beth is at a bit of a cross-roads herself, having recently graduated from college and [like so many of her generation] working in retail without a clear idea of what would be a better option. So she’s joining for the first 5 or 6 of those countries listed above, and then I’m on my own [dropping in on friends here and there, of course].

Jenn and Beth

Wait, When?
I finish work on the 19th of December. Beth arrives on the 3rd of January. We’re spending a bit of time in Sydney then starting off to various points around Australia for a few weeks, before we head over to Fiji and New Zealand. I likely won’t be back in the US until June or July, unless disaster strikes or my bank accounts get utterly emptied.

What About the English Muffin?

He’s coming too! Not on the traveling bit, but on the San Francisco bit. He will be staying behind in Sydney while I go on my epic journey, looking after my dog and organizing himself financially and visa-wise for a move to the USA. He’s truly a gem.

EMandJuJu

What Will You Do When You’re Back?
I have absolutely no idea. There are vague and fuzzy plans about moving out of the advertising agency world into marketing, ad product development, or maybe even VC consulting. But I’m hoping that getting away from it all will help clarify for me exactly what I want to be doing. I really don’t know. I’ll be sure to update you when I do.

And that’s it! That’s my news, and my plans for the next 8+ months, as unclear as they are. Many a sleepless night was spent trying to figure out what to do, trying to be comfortable with flinging myself unknown to the mercy of the world without a safety net. It’s utterly against my nature, but I’ve finally warmed to it. In fact, once I’m used to it I might never go back.

Adventures What If

A Loss Abroad

I knew it would happen when I moved here. I did what I could to steel myself against the reality that at some point, tragedy would strike and I would be far, far away.

And yet, despite all my preparation, I still found myself collapsed in a heap, sobbing this morning after receiving news of the death of my grandmother. Her passing was merciful – she was immobile, in pain, ready to be reunited with my grandfather. But the sting is so much stronger when your first reaction is to hug a family member, and the nearest one is 6,000 miles away. When your father’s choked-up voice is cutting through a bad connection that’s stretching across an entire ocean. When you’re trying to call siblings and cousins and aunts and uncles and no one is picking up because it’s still work hours on a Friday in their time zone.

I was lucky that I had the chance to see my grandmother in July. I visited her a few times during my week on the East Coast. On the night before I flew back to Sydney, I stayed for a few hours, as she was more alert than my previous visits. We talked about a great many things as we watched the Trayvon Martin verdict. About love, the differences between my life at home and my new life in another country, about God and my interpretation of it. She told me how much she admired my courage and intelligence, urged me to write a novel, and as I said farewell so she could get some sleep, she made sure the last thing she said to me as I left the room was, “I love you so much.” I bawled my eyes out for 20 minutes in the parking lot of her nursing home after that night, because I think we both knew deep down that it was the last time we’d see each other.

My grandmother left behind a legacy – six children, 25 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren. She was a major part of our childhoods and adulthoods. An example of love, devotion, and forgiveness. She was sharp, and she was tough, and parts of her are now scattered in the 37 people she helped create, and dozens more she touched through her life.

MomMom

When my grandfather passed away in my early teens, I didn’t fly from California to Philadelphia for the funeral. I was afraid of seeing my dad and uncles cry, of so many people that I loved hurting so much. I had an excuse (final exams), but it was really just that – an excuse. I’ve always regretted not making the trip and feeling the love of my family and supporting my dad in his loss. And now here I am half a world away, stuck in a similar predicament. I have an expensive and time-consuming decision to make – do I go, or do I stay? My grandmother is gone, this trip wouldn’t be for her. It would be for me and the 36 other people she’s left behind – to lean on each other, remember her, and comfort each other. Twenty-four hours of travel on either end and likely only a few days to spend with them. $2000 I didn’t quite fit in my budget for this month. Closure and comfort I just couldn’t get from here.

Whether I make it back to pay my respects or not, I am proud to be part of my big, messy family, filled with such an array of personalities. A family founded and guided by an amazing woman with an amazing soul. 

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