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Monday, September 11, 2017

Treasure hunting at its finest!

Twice a year our council (local government, kind of like a county but a bit bigger I reckon) does bulk pick-up, called council collection. The first time I saw it in March I thought loads of neighbors had been tossed out and evicted. Despite my family's insistence that mass evictions couldn't be possible, I awaited confirmation from a school parent that this was a normal occurrence and one to be celebrated!

So the idea is that twice per year on a designated day in each neighborhood residents can toss out bulky items and the council will collect them and take them to a landfill. What's so amazing about council collection, though, is that sweet spot between when residents have dumped their goods on the footpath (kerb? curb?) and when the council has come around to collect them.

When we arrived home from the US college football game a few Sundays ago, the hunt was on!

The boys joined in and we had a blast!




There were heaps of junk, but also some great treasures. Junk pics (in our opinion) immediately below:





We have an amazing outdoor space that we haven't been using because we didn't want to invest in much past the basics during our short time in Sydney. With spring and summer approaching, I've been pining for some outdoor furniture -- checking Gumtree (like CraigsList), the local buy / sell / swap message boards, etc. So when I had a look around our neighborhood at all the goodies people tossed out, I was hopeful I could piece together a nice set-up for our expansive balcony.

Wow! Check out this cute table I found; the next morning on our way to school the boys spotted the chairs and they're perfect!

Found these two wicker chairs with footstools that tuck under + that adorable colorful "egg" chair that the boys love!

Found this well-loved but still very functional scooter that M adores!

Found a nice basket to store some sports balls in.

Perfectly good condition split rubbish bin; I was going to use it for our recyclables but the boys wanted it for organising sports equipment. 
All in all, we found great stuff that our neighbors were chucking. We saved it from landfills (yay!!), repurposed it for our needs (wants?) and will pass it along when the time comes.

I'm a huge fan of council collection! Imagine how much old stuff could be saved from landfills if other municipalities adopted this 💚.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Aussie politics

I've been halfheartedly trying to understand the Australian electorate and political system since we arrived in January but figured it was time to really get a handle on it. There's a local election taking place on 9 September so I wanted to understand the similarities and differences between Australian and US elections and political systems.

This is in no way an all-encompassing list:

1. The US is a republic. Australia is a constitutional monarchy. This means in the US the president is the head of state and head of government. The president is elected by the people. Australia's head of state is the British monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. QE2, if I may be so bold as to call Her Majesty, is represented in Australia by a Governor-General chosen by the Prime Minister.

Queen Elizabeth II, the head of state in Australia.
Photo courtesy of cnn.com

2. The Australian Prime Minister, currently Malcolm Turnbull, is chosen by the elected members of the political party that has won the majority of seats in the House of Representatives. So voters choose a governing party and that party chooses the prime minister. In the US we directly elect a president (except for that whole electoral college thing).

3. Voting in Australia is compulsory. Aussies can be fined for failing to vote. Reports vary, but participation of registered voters is often above 90%. Whoa!


Thank you for this nice graphic, José Santiago of the World Economic Forum

4. In Australia the Prime Minister can dissolve Parliament at any time and call for an early election. In the US elections are on set days for fixed terms.

There are several other distinct differences as well -- things like party allegiance (not as 'tight' in Australia as compared to the US); cabinet appointments (drawn from parliament in Australia).

In a country that seems at least as forward thinking as the US, I was surprised to learn that same-sex marriage is not legal in Australia. There have been many attempts to legalise (<-- do you like how I spelled that ala Aussie?) but none have passed.

There is an upcoming postal vote on marriage equality. This isn't a compulsory vote so its up to each registered voter to decide if they'd like to participate and then vote. If a majority of voters approve same-sex marriage, a bill would go to parliament for passage.

Since 2009 "de facto" relationships (domestic parternships) have been recognised by the Australian government.

Love is love, people. Its time to amend the Australian Marriage Act of 1961.

Thank you Kim / 28blogstreet.com

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Thailand: Did we achieve the unthinkable?

Until we moved to NW Arkansas, I didn't know I was an adventurer. I traveled the US quite a bit as a teen on organized camping trips. In college I went to Israel on a true whim and continued on to Europe for a few weeks with my bestie (all booked ~3 weeks prior to departure, rush passport and all!).

When we bought our house in Washington, DC, in June 2011 I joked that I wanted to be buried in the backyard. This was our forever house. Our dream house. And I hoped never to move again.

Love this house! I hope our renters do, too.

Joke was on me.

Something about moving to Arkansas struck a chord with me and brought out my adventurous side. Going off our expected path showed me how possible, good, and educational it was for us.

So with a long school holiday, some banked vacation time, "close" proximity to Asia from Sydney, and many English speakers, it seemed like Thailand would be a good place to vacation. Somehow I convinced Aaron. The kids were happy to oblige as they could tick another continent off their list and get new passport stamps. (For some it is about the destination in that moment, and that's okay. My hope is they look back and remember the journey.)

This kid loves the journey!


We chose Koh Samui, a large island in the Gulf of Thailand, for its promise of "luxury resorts and posh spas." And it being the rainy season in mainland Thailand from May to November, Koh Samui would be in the hot season during our July trip.

Thank you for the map, TeachingEnglishInThailand.net


Koh Samui did not disappoint! We stayed at a wonderful resort in our own villa at the southwest end of the island. We had our own infinity pool. Whaaaaat?!?



View from the master bedroom

Our days pretty much went like this: breakfast, relax, swim, lunch, swim, bath (in swimsuits), relax, dinner, sleep. We did go into town and explore a bit. And we did go jet skiing. Otherwise, see above. Eight days of that and we are refreshed!

Swimming!


Jet skiing!
Don't worry, E wore a life jacket!

View of our resort from the jet ski.


The Thai people are brimming with hospitality. The smiles, the greetings, the insistence of assistance.  The food. The coffee (yes!). The fruit.

Durian. We tried it several times. It did not suit us.

Surely durian cheesecake would be delicious. This also did not suit us.


Freshly cut pineapple snack at the market.

Golden watermelon!


I believe we may have achieved the unthinkable on this trip: we vacationed. When the kids are traveling with us, I usually say we are on a trip -- not a vacation. That is an important distinction. As Aaron explained it to the boys, a vacation is abdication of all responsibilities. Even with two kids in tow, we may have achieved the unthinkable. And the boys never once stepped foot in the kids club.


Virgin pina colada.

Delicious daily breakfast

Fire show!

Fish eating dead skin off feet. We did not try this.


Carousel in Central Festival. The boys really wanted to ride but were ultimately not amused.

Indian lunch.

Dairy Queen!!

Green tea flavor Dairy Queen.

E waiting for his blizzard.
This is not why the coffee was good on Koh Samui. I just found it fascinating how westernized the island was.

LOL


Sunset + beverages. Yes, please. 

Off to dinner at Hemingway's On The Beach.

Delicious fresh honey at breakfast!


Though 2/3 of our luggage didn't arrive with us, we had no major disasters and no one got locked in a bathroom stall. We had a wonderful time in Thailand and I'm so glad we had this adventure.

Mid-way through the trip I began researching where we might venture to in December. The negotiation is on, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Vivid!

For the past several months, Aussies had been mentioning a light festival and saying we had to check it out. "Oh! And don't miss the light festival. The boys will love it." So when we started realizing this was A Thing, we looked into it a bit more.

Vivid Sydney started in 2009 as a way to bring attention to energy efficiency. The first year projected light paintings onto both sides of the Opera House.

Vivid has grown steadily and has been a huge success for Sydney. This year there were 12 major installations around the city, including the Opera House, Darling Harbour, the Harbour Bridge and the Taronga Zoo. In addition to spectacular light displays (some of which are interactive), the 23-day festival sought to bring together music and ideas.

A boat lit up for Vivid

We were so fortunate to have an awesome friend visiting from NY who was excited to check it all out. We made a booking (translation: got tickets) for Fleet Foxes at the Opera House, hopped aboard a ferry and made our way to Circular Quay. Holy moly -- there were a ton of people! Sydney is a big city by Aussie standards (about 5 million people in the Sydney area) and Vivid expected to draw about 2.5 million people to the festival.

At 6PM each evening of the festival, as the sun had set (remember it's winter here now!),  the lights came on! A 15 minute continuously moving light show illuminated the sails of the Opera House. It was like a really cool screen saver morphing from image to image. Wow!

The artist, Ash Bolland, titled the work Audio Creatures and said it featured a cast of fantastical land and sea creatures.


Most of the city gets into Vivid. Below is a picture of the Harbour Bridge and some boats lit up. The energy is awesome!


Harbour Bridge

Later during the Vivid festival, after our trip to Uluru, we went with another family to the Taronga Zoo. The zoo creates enormous light displays from recycled materials highlighting animals it is working to conserve -- Port Jackson shark, marine turtle, bees and more. It was great fun and we really enjoyed the zoo.

The Taronga Zoo ferry decorated for Vivid

Light display at the entrance to the zoo.

Riding the zoo's sky tram for an aerial view with our friend!

Sumatran Tiger

Honey Bees

Port Jackson Shark and marine turtles.

E said, "Vivid was awesome. I liked seeing vivid." M said, "Nothing. I don't want to work on the blog, mommy." Sigh.

I've been slacking a bit on the blog. This might seem bad, but I think it's really good! I've passed the homesick stage and sometimes forget I live in Australia so far away from everything I knew before. We're just into life, and it feels really awesome! I was volun-told / coerced into co-chairing a huge event at the boys school and that has been taking up a lot of my (blog writing?) time. I'm co-chairs with one of my dear friends and I'm so thankful for that. It has also been a great way to meet new people and use my skills for something really great.

The boys are on school holiday for the next three weeks. They'll be doing some camps for the first two weeks, then we're jetting off to THAILAND! More then...

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

We adventured Uluru!

With a long weekend for Queen's birthday a trip sounded like a good idea. (It should be noted that the Queen's birthday is actually in April but observed in June...because, as one Aussie suggested, "it would otherwise be too close to the Easter long weekend of Good Friday and Easter Monday and we wouldn't have any public holidays again until October...unless you're lucky enough to get Bank Holiday off in August.") We had originally planned to visit the Whitsunday Islands (more specifically Hamilton Island) for some serious Great Barrier Reef exploration. Cyclone Debbie swept through in early April and changed our plans. We checked our growing list of places we'd like to visit and decided on Uluru.

Uluru, previously called Ayers Rock by non-Aboriginals, is a massive sandstone monolith in the heart of the Northern Territory’s arid "red centre." Uluru is sacred to indigenous Australians, particularly the Anangu, and is thought to have started forming around 550 million years ago. It’s within Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which also includes the 36 red-rock domes of the Kata Tjuta formation (sometimes referred to as "the Olgas").

The nearest large town is Alice Springs, about 450 km away (about 280 miles). The population in Alice Springs is around 28,000. All this is to say: you don't just stumble upon Uluru.

Thank you for the map, Larry Rivera for tripsavvy.com

Lucky for us Uluru has an airport (two gates! even smaller than XNA in Bentonville) and two daily nonstop flights from Sydney. A lot of people travel to / from Alice Springs but we flew directly to Uluru.


You walk off the plane old-school style and into the airport baggage claim area.

One of my favorite signs in the baggage claim area.

Our first sights of Uluru were stunning! The world appears flat as far as the eye can see. The land has sparse desert vegetation and the dirt is red. But then a massive monolith emerges from seemingly nowhere. It's awesome!


We had a well-balanced three days and enjoyed all of the activities we planned!

Our first evening we toured Bruce Munro's art installation 'Field of Light.' According to the official brochure, "More than 50,000 slender stems crowned with frosted-glass spheres bloom as darkness falls over Australia's spiritual heartland." Visitors can walk among the art installation along a guided pathway. Groups of lights "dance" in color unison. It's challenging to describe in words, and pictures don't do it justice. The entire installation is connected by fibre optic cable and it's all solar-powered, making it even more amazing.

Iterations of Field of Light have been exhibited in other places around the world but Munro's 1992 visit to Uluru inspired the idea. It has been so successful in Uluru it has been extended until 31 March 2018.

Here are some pictures.




It was much colder than what we've experienced in Sydney thus far.

I tried...

E really wanted to take our picture. Luckily Aaron's head isn't actually cut off.

The next day we had a full schedule: AM camel rides; PM museum; late PM family astronomy tour.

Off we went to the camel farm. What a hoot! I (Julie) had ridden a camel once before in the Negev and it wasn't the most pleasant memory. The camels were stubborn and defiant. I'm happy to report this was quite different! From what we could tell, the farm takes great care of their camels and it showed in the experience we had.

Getting ready to mount the camel.
Lean back as the camel stands up!


E was terrified! We thought he was going to jump off but he stayed on and enjoyed the experience. So proud.


Mommy and M on Trevor

Riding near the National Park with Uluru over the shoulder.

All smiles by the end!

After our ride, we spent some time at the camel farm. They have a great petting zoo (?) and someone at our hotel told us of an emu that dances with excitement when she sees visitors with a $2 bag of animal feed. This is a true story, though our thunder was stolen a bit by it being lunchtime for the animals.


After a full day, we did a family astronomy tour after sunset. It was a full moon so our views were hindered by the brightness but it was still awesome! We learned you can see about 70% of the stars in the sky from anywhere in the world. We got to see the big dipper! We also saw the southern cross (and can now positively identify it back in Sydney) and if we sing anymore Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young we're pretty sure the boys will disown us.


It's not easy to get pics in the darkness, but here are two pics from the astronomy tour (Jupiter and the moon)!




Our final morning before departure was spent at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Out of respect for the Anangu (the traditional aboriginal owners of Uluru), they ask that no photography be taken. We spent our time at the park in the cultural centre learning about the Anangu people, their struggle to protect the park, the taboo of climbing Uluru, the land's native vegetation and wildlife, and so much more.

Archaeologists believe humans settled in the area more than 10,000 years ago. In 1873, William Gosse was the first European (non-Aboriginal) to discover Uluru. He named it after Sir Henry Ayers who was the premier of South Australia at the time. The name Ayers Rock stuck for a long time.

In 1985 the land, already part of the national park, was titled back to the Anangu. The Anangu agreed to lease the land back to the government for 99 years; they also requested that visitors be discouraged from climbing the rock. While you still can climb, it is strongly discouraged. The path crosses sacred land for the Anangu and the Anangu feel a great sense of responsibility for the safety of visitors. The Park visitors guide says "the climb is not prohibited, but we prefer that, as a guest on Anangu land, you will choose to respect our law and culture by not climbing." Many people walk or bike the base of the rock but I didn't hear of any climbers during our visit. I hope it stays that way.

The respect of the indigenous at Uluru really got me thinking about how the US has treated our Native Americans. Food for thought...

When we returned to Sydney we took the boys to Vivid at the Taronga Zoo. It was amazing! More on that next time 😉