Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Observations of a Legal Alien

I now have a social security number and a bank account. Americans still use cheques regularly, so I’ve got a cheque book for the first time ever. I have yet to use a drive through ATM. They make sense when it’s snowing (so do the drive by coffee kiosks.) There are those vacuum tubes they have in Kmart so you can make a deposit (at the bank, not the coffee kiosk). Apparently they don’t like coins. Sinead recently tried to deposit coins and the bank contacted her the next day to let her know they had managed to fix the tube and retrieve her money.

I’ve been feeling like a slow learner, more than usual. The main reason is probably that my first driving attempt during this trip went so disastrously and Kelly has declined my offers to drive again since. I started driving down the left hand side of a road that had a concrete median strip and he got a bit excited at me, not in a good way. I later realised that my main problem was being on a one way street before the turn, so I was legally on the left hand side of the road. When I went to turn left it just felt normal to stay left. There are a lot of one way streets in the down town area, so I will have to watch that and have a little chat to myself at every intersection.

I also felt particularly dumb when I went to cross the road last week and wasn’t sure whether the sign said ‘cross’ or ‘don’t cross’. It was a lit up, white man and he looked like he could have been walking or waiting. When the sign changed to a red hand I felt more confident that the white man meant ‘cross’. (He would have been green in Australia). So now I know that the sign means all white men may now cross the road. Or something like that.

Similar confusing situations arose when I went to Europe after uni but it has been so long that I forgot what it feels like to be so incompetent, and you really think you’re past that at 42, and in another English speaking country. I am also disappointed to find out that it will take months to process my teaching qualifications and translate them into something recognisable to American employers. That could make banks look on us less favourably too, when we apply for a home loan. Relief teachers get paid a lowly $65 a day. Never mind. My qualifications should be evaluated for the next school year, and I will cross my fingers that there are still some positions.

Kelly and I have been driving by lots of houses with the hope of buying something and there are plenty of options.

Tangent: I have almost got used to the American way of numbering streets so you could, for example, be looking for a place on the corner of 6th street North and North 35th Street. It's all about your numbered grid, although there are anomolies. What's more, if you have numbered streets and you are looking for a house at number 1235, that tells you it is on the block after 12th Street. Yet another thing I worked out is that there is not necessarily a house to correspond with each number, so you might live in 1303 Datura Street and your next door neighbour is number 1308. It's like they take a number line they want and stretch it out to make the house numbers cover it.

Back to my story about house hunting: We have mainly been looking at mid sized houses on tree lined streets. (I am really looking forward to Autumn, or Fall.) That way we will have room for us, Casey and Sinead, who is moving back to Billings soon for a few months, and a guest room. We are looking for a house that will rent out well so when Casey goes to College next August we might live in the shed at Blue Creek while we build, and the house hopefully pay for itself.

Supermarkets here are huge with so many choices, especially in canned and frozen goods. The only thing I am still trying to source locally is tea leaves without going to a designer boutique. There is now a great Thai restaurant which sells good curry paste so I have already made a good laksa which went down well with Casey. When the weather warms up we will go to the famers’ markets and buy all the local fresh fruit and veg we can, but that won’t be for a month or more. Clothes are cheap and the op shops are amazing. We bought a really good iron for $3, and it seems that a lot of stores dump their out of date stock, as well as lots of quirky finds. We got some great dress ups for Casey’s 17th birthday party; the theme was ‘Thrift Store Chic.’

We celebrated Anzac Day on the 25th with a Big Aussie Breakfast at dinner time. There was a quiz on Australiana (spot the frustrated teacher!) covering topics from vegemite to our flag. They had to translate “I hope your chooks turn into emus and kick your dunny down.” Casey was the only one who got it right but there were some amusing interpretations that got the spirit of the curse right.

Update …

Today we picked out a Subaru Forrester for my car from a good second hand dealer. Subarus are reliable all-wheel drive vehicles, much safer on icy roads and snow. Kelly is looking for a ute (pick up) that will be helpful at Blue Creek, hopefully one with a couple of dings in it already so we won’t mind if it gets a couple more in it. Mike and Mick have plans to build a bridge over the little creek and name the creek Alice Spring.

I should be ready to start some relief teaching next week, and I’ve got my head around the process for getting my Aussie qualifications evaluated. If there are not teaching positions still available for the next school year starting in August I’m sure something will turn up. The Karma Fairy is being pretty good to us at the moment.

And here's a squirrel because I think they're great, and I like they way they sound with an American accent; sqrrrl

Thanks for emails and phone calls. It helps keep the homesickness at bay. It’s good to know the blog is still useful and what might be interesting to friends and family. Love you all biggest mobs.
Glennie xxx

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Life in Billings

It’s normal that I don’t feel settled. Naturally, we have spent most of the first few days with family. When I have a social security number, a bank account, an American driver’s licence etc, my presence here will feel less like a holiday and more real. At least we have received our stuff. It’s now stored in the shed at Blue Creek (our property) thanks to Mick and Mike who helped Kelly move it.

Kelly and Mick at Blue Creek

The weather is rather erratic. I just went for a walk and it is lovely; it feels like 22 Celsius. However, yesterday when we were out a Blue Creek it was so cold it snowed! I’m sure it is the last remnants of cold weather as the grass is already turning green, although the trees still have their baldy winter look.

Nieces Emma and Kristen with me at Blue Creek

The temporary rental house we have is great. A charming historic house on the edge of down town, it has been nicely renovated. Casey has been here with us this week and it’s so great having him around.

See Ya Later, Australia

The last few days in Sydney were surreal. Both of us felt a little unnerved leaving Gypsy in a Newcastle van dealership. Homeless and in limbo. The salesman put us on the train and we shot down to the northern suburbs of Sydney where Ally picked us up. Wahroonga with Ally and the kids felt familiar and homely after our previous visit to organise my visa. Their house is fantastic, backing on to bush land and frequented by lorikeets, rosellas, cockatoos and possums.

This time Enzo made an appearance too. Kelly was just about ready to start digging up the back yard in search of his remnants when he showed up, freeing Ally of our suspicions (husbandacide). Between work, business trips and training for a corporate triathlon he had plenty of valid explanations.

We also managed to catch up with Kellie and Macka, both doing amazing creative things. Kellie is directing her first production since graduating from NIDA, called Bumming with Jane at Belvoir Theatre (that’s in addition to running the youth program at NIDA). Macka is about to graduate from AFTARS, and then goes to Beijing to work on his first payed film production gig. I wish I could see Kellie’s play and I can’t wait to see Macka’s animation ‘The Red Kite’. Both of them and Sally totally spoilt us with a slap up dinner and the big, fat love of old friends.

Major bummer – we went to Darling Harbour for a wonderful lunch and ferry cruise, but my hand bag was stolen from the ground between us at a nice cafĂ©. The police were not surprised. We lost my money, cards etc, but worst of all the video camera and five weeks of magical holiday footage.

The other catch up we had was with my Sydney rellies for Sunday lunch. David treated us all, and Ree was there from Sydney as well as (the original) Glenda, Jim and the kids and of course, Uncle Merv. Who should crash the party but my Mum! She flew from Adelaide to surprise us, which would have been more surprising had she not established a pattern of similar surprises over the years. It was so lovely to see her, and she stayed in the same hotel as us for our last evening.

So with huge love in my heart, a series of farewell phone calls, text messages and more teary hugs from Mum we boarded our flight to San Francisco with connections to Seattle and Billings. About 24 hours later we were greeted by little sister Lori and her husband George who delayed their return to Belgium to hook up with us. Tera also made it up to the airport to join the welcoming committee.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Gosford and Ballina

Having heard that my Mum’s sister, Aunty Glen, was in hospital recovering from a broken hip, we thought we’d head straight to Gosford and see her before doubling back to Sydney. We set up headquarters in her unit and made friends with the little old folks who neighbour her. They were very welcoming even after Gypsy busted the eave off one of their homes; we discovered the hard way that she is too tall to fit in the parking bays : / oops … Aunty Glen was doing well, considering. She is an inspiration with all her activities, including University of the Third Age, scrabble club, the Social Justice Group of the local Catholic Parish and the Greens Political Party. We also enjoyed chokos and tomatoes from her lovely wild vegetable garden, which takes up her entire small courtyard.

As we could feel the countdown upon us, we decided to make one last dash north to spend some time with Julisa, Craig and the kids, some ex-Alice friends. They live in Ballina just south of Byron Bay and one of Sinead’s favourite places on earth. The weather is always beautiful, the people are a bit alternate (hippies welcome) and the beaches are superb. I could not believe how much their kids had grown. Brianna is taller that me at 14 and way too cool. Jalan is the star ruck rover for the local footy team and Charli is as yummy as ever – just bigger. I think it was a close call as too who talked more, Julisa or I, as we crammed months of catch up over coffee and sushi etc, during swims at the beach and while waiting for Bri to finish riding her horse, River.

Kelly speaking: Glenda, Julisa and I were having lunch one day at Shelly’s Beach. As the conversation turned girly – emotions, tampons, Tupperware etc. – my attention became consumed by the surfers down the beach. As I was watching one of them riding a glass curl from left to right, four other surfers came up from the water underneath him and joined him on the way in. The four other surfers were dolphins having a play. It was one of the most incredible sights that I’ve ever witnessed.

(Sad story in the news – a couple of the kids near Ballina took their boogie boards down to the beach this morning and one of them was attacked by a shark. Hiis friend went back to help him but the poor kid had lost too much blood by the time the got to shore. We swam nearby last week.)

We returned to Gosford past the sugar cane fields and lovely, wide, coastal rivers of New South Wales. As we did, we happened by a few roadside stands selling fresh oysters. Being a fan (Kelly only), we stopped at the first stand only to find out that due to the heavy rains, the river was closed to oyster collection. The lady operating the stand muttered a warning that if any oysters were on sale down the road, she would be suspicious of their safety. I stopped at the next stand where they were more than happy to accommodate.

I ate the oysters raw with a shot of Tabasco and a beer chaser. The first signs of food poisoning hit around midnight and lasted for the better part of a day. It turns out that the rains wash down pesticides, manure and a host of other nasties into the brackish river. Normally the river is salty enough to kill anything unwanted, but after being diluted by rain water, the oysters are bathing in something not too unsimilar to raw sewage.

Back in Gosford Kelly and I were able to catch up with cousins Judy and Ray, Auntie Glen’s kids. It’s good to realise that years can go by and you can pretty quickly get back into a comfortable conversation and laugh about old times.


Canberra, Australia’s capital in the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) is totally surrounded by New South Wales. It is a relatively short drive from Mount Koszciusko and was our next stop. Canberra is also known as the “bush capital” surrounded by farmland and bush rather than metropolis. It is well planned around a man made lake and boasts some great architecture. A case in point was our first stop, the Australian Parliament. It is built into the landscape with a grassy green roof, signifying that the people are above the parliament, and topped with a gigantic flag pole. We were able to park right underneath for free!!! Parliament was not in session, but we enjoyed checking out the houses, art galleries, halls and displays.

Our chosen caravan park had a pub right in the middle of it, made resistible by a very bogan (redneck-ish) set of local residents. I truly thought I had walked through a time warp back to the 80s with the number of mullets on display. Next morning we woke to celebrate The Festival of Kelly. Yep - he’s caught up to me again and I am no longer sleeping with a younger man as we are now both 42. Then we headed off to The National War Memorial Museum, a very moving tribute to Australia’s participation in conflicts since the Boer War. Mainly we focussed on WWI and WWII, to which the bulk of the Museum is devoted. The Anzac and Gallipoli displays are very emotional for me, and those associated with the Japanese massacres and the Nazi death camps in WWII. I anticipated Kelly, with his military background, would want to spend more time, but after two hours he was, like me, ready to go. I love visiting the museum and I love leaving it. Tragic stuff.