Giving Thanks

Change is hard for most people, some more than others. As an expat for the last 11 years I have been through my fair share of countries and changes. Recently my belly button contemplations have centred around when the change becomes the norm. When things that used to stand out and confuse, surprise, unsettle or just plain irk you, don’t any more.

When using an everyday greeting or words in another language that used to make your tongue twist in circles or make you cringe a little bit on the inside in case you were saying it wrong comes out feeling perfectly normal – to you and to the people you are using it with.  When you stop getting headaches from concentrating so hard from driving on the wrong side of the road and the turns you make across traffic are reflex rather than strategically planned maneuvers. When someone says ‘Wow, you really walk a lot in this city’ as they duck and weave following you along a crowded footpath that you used to find overwhelming and you forgot you ever did, like you also forgot you never used to press the close lift button in the elevator (recognizable by being the only button you are unable to see the symbols for). When checking the local paper for the upcoming power outages (should they feel the need to list them) is as natural as using terms that drive you crazy but you now feel the need to spread the crazy – see use of ‘just now’*. You get the idea.

To me giving thanks on Thanksgiving was always ‘too American’ to contemplate. I certainly was an interested and engaged participant the past two Thanksgivings we have been lived in the US, watching friends post on all forms of social media what they were thankful for, even those Americans (and Canadians who do it a month earlier) living overseas, but I always thought it was ‘for them’. Now on our third Thanksgiving in country while preparing some tasty traditional side dishes for our own Aussie / Austrian (the one with no kangaroos) Thanksgiving feast later in the day, I popped a cork and posted my own spontaneous thanks. It felt quite normal and probably something I will do from now on, wherever we live as we incorporate it into our multi-cultural lives and rituals. A nod to when the change became the norm.

thanksgiving

When was the last time you realised a change had become the norm?

*just now is one of the most used and most difficult terms to define in South Africa. It means, not immediately, but that could be a time between 5 minutes and 8 hours (or lets face it three weeks) . After the initial shock telling me that the repairman would be there ‘just now’  used to drive me crazy, almost as crazy as it drove my children and family when I used it with them.

Expat ouch AKA the toughest snip

What makes you wince, sends a shiver down your spine and wriggle around a little uncomfortably? Is it fingernails down a blackboard, you know when we had blackboards in classrooms and not just chalkboard paint on my kitchen wall? Is it the sound of paper ripping (yes yes YES Mr 11 screams from his corner of the room)? Or is it what happened to me today at the Australia Post Office in Runaway Bay, the sound and sight of scissors to my passport, cutting off the computer read strip?

The cutting away of the strip means until my new passport arrives in my hot little hands I am country bound, a very uncomfortable feeling in my world. Even though the country I am in is my homeland, it is not my current country of residence or the country where my husband is right now. It just feels weird, and I don’t like it.

Ouch!

Ouch!

After recently consulting my passport I determined if all goes to plan flight wise, I will land back in the US with six months and four days on my existing precious and battered document. Most countries require six months validity to accept you through their immigration queues, so if there is a delayed flight or a change of plans I could be in a very sticky situation. Then there is that I actually have no long term residency rights in the US beyond my visa, valid for another year right now, but I really want to be really sure that I can get on a plane anytime, anywhere and go if I need to.

There are so many stories of passport problems I have heard over the years that you would think I would be more on top of things, but I wasn’t. I am flying next Friday, and a priority passport takes 4 days according to the Post Office guy, 2 days processing time after receipt according to the very friendly and helpful customer service Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade representative I spoke to this morning.

So this afternoon with greasy hair and no make up I rushed around trying to find somewhere to take a passport photo of me that will take me INTO MY 50’s! The current one was taken when I was 33 and living in Hong Kong, where I was obviously doing a lot more work on the maintenance side of my life.  I was wearing make up, had reasonably done hair and appeared very calm in my photo.

Today a lady in the Sanctuary Cove pharmacy took my photo and I nearly cried. Literally (as my kids say all the time and it drives me nuts) tears were welling in my eyes. Although I should have had a clue to the outcome when she was lining up close – ish to my face about a foot below my chin line.

Don’t worry love, they all look like mug shots.

No, no they don’t. My last photo is almost beautiful compared to this.

Well, if you don’t want to take it…..

No, I don’t want to take it, but I have to, my passport interview is in thirty minutes, at a location twenty minutes away.

I don’t think I can re-visit the Sanctuary Cove pharmacy, ever. My terrible passport photo is probably on the wall with a big red mark on it, chances are though if I returned to purchase some big earrings or very expensive sunblock that they wouldn’t recognize me, because I didn’t.

It sounds so vain even to me, but it’s not like I put it in a drawer and forget about it for years at a time. As an expat I kind of use it quite a bit. I began to understand why I had make up on in the current shot and had perhaps even blow dried my hair that day.

As I drive onto Runaway Bay for my Post Office interview I thought about my options. If I got there ahead of time I could find another pharmacy and try again, as luck would have it – there was one just around the corner. I rushed in, bought some oversized clips to prop up my hair a bit and asked if they did passport photos.

Yeah, we do, but the camera’s broken.

Of course it was.

Beaten I trudged to the Post Office where the line was lengthy but I kept getting closer to the photo from hell on my passport until I am IN MY 50’s, did I say that already? When I got to the front I asked, in  a very small voice…..

Do you do passport photos?

Yes we do, $14.95.

Sold.

The lighting was better, the man was taller, I have 2-3 less chins in the second shot. It’s not perfect but it’s so much better than what could have been.

1st photo, 2nd photo and the TOTALLY fake passport photo on the front. Smiling is verboten.

1st photo, 2nd photo and the TOTALLY fake passport photo on the front of the envelope. Smiling is verboten in passport photos.

 

So all things going well – next Friday we will be returning to the US, 3 travelers with 5 passports between us. The old elastic band on the second passport for the visa trick, an expat oldie but goodie.

4 of the 5

4 of the 5

Sunday Funday

Today is Father’s Day in America, and a great part of the world it turns out when you look at Facebook feeds (see – still a relevant social media tool). Not so in Australia, when Father’s Day is the first Sunday in September. For all the people that didn’t know that already, you’re welcome.

Yesterday the ‘father’ in this house started making some noises about going for ‘brunch’ for Father’s Day.* The mother in the house did some searching on the web about the ‘best brunches in Atlanta’, ‘best breakfast locations in Atlanta’ etc etc. Turns out, surprise, surprise that most of them were booked out and the ones that weren’t were a first come, first serve situation, and about a 45 minute drive. That scenario in our house is fraught with danger; first the driving part ‘are we there yet?’ could be asked as many as 65,000 times in that time period; and three members of our four member family do not like waiting in lines. I envisioned 45 minute drive, arrive frazzled, long line, look in my phone for for ‘next option’, 20 minute drive, arrive frazzled, long line, look for ‘next option’, 15 minute drive – some threats of violence in the enclosed space of the vehicle to anyone who asked ‘are we there yet?’ OR announced ‘I’m hungry’.

The best option was clearly breakfast at home because ‘don’t forget Dad you told us you’d take us to the movies tomorrow, we haven’t been to the movies yet this holidays’. Also, I had just watched the Holderness family Father’s Day video (remember them from Christmas Jammies and Snow Day?) and I was guessing that while traveling to brunch was a nice idea, it probably wasn’t what he really wanted.

So at 8am I arose from my spot in the spare bedroom (I had given up my own bed at around 1.30am due to a scenario involving a nightmare monster squashing 7 year old girls), and dressed in yesterday’s clothing to walk to the local supermarket in the ‘cool’ morning air.

The cooler morning in Hotlanta these days is around 25 degrees celcius or 77 F and 100% humidity, the walk is short but hilly. When I arrived glistening (East Cobb ladies don’t sweat, we glisten) to procure my breakfast needs I discovered many a mother with child in tow doing the same. I even found some of them in the card aisle. Phhhht. I totally had that down, I had downloaded from PINTEREST – yeah, that’s right, a full booklet that my children could use to creatively describe to their Father in words and pictures how much he meant to them.

Only one small problem.

blogpic4

Not daunted I pressed on. I am sure there is a website for Pinterest fails I can attach this to later.

It's the thought that counts

It’s the thought that counts

Once I returned from my morning walk, across a neighbour’s back yard to avoid the last little crushing hill, I set about making a world class brunch worthy breakfast. There are no photos in case of food critic / cholesterol police but it did feature, poached eggs, organic bacon, breakfast sausage, mushrooms, onions and  grape tomatoes with a square of onion and fetta bread.  There was coffee and orange juice, flowers from our garden and the paper. Not bad I say.

blogpic1

After a sufficient food coma break for the father and time of course to joyfully read his Dad, World’s best booklet, there were plans made to attend the 2.45pm session of How to Train Your Dragon 2.

Mr 11 was very difficult to get out of the house, he doesn’t like movie theaters, they are cold (bring a long sleeved top – no thanks) and loud (bring some headphones – no thanks). We had to promise this was the ‘last movie he would ever have to go to’  in order to get him off the front step. Miss 7 loves the movies, she loves the popcorn and icee ordering and then forgets that she too finds it a bit loud. I had to sit between them at their request to calm any situation that may arise. All seemed to be going well, I had minimal bumps from elbows, all four held high when pushing hands to ears to dampen the noise. Then a request ‘can you pass me your icee cup – I think I need to barf’ Mr 11. A few minutes later I had the ‘all clear, false alarm’ and I turned attention to Miss 7 who at this point had tears streaming down her face – SPOILER ALERT – I thought because of the death of a character in the film. I started to tell her, it’s OK I cry all the time in movies and when I read books. No such luck, it had been too loud for her so in pushing her fingers into her ears she had scratched the inside of them with her fingernails. The apparent pain from inner ear scratches was causing the tears, that didn’t stop flowing until the movie finished.

Don’t you wish you were having my day? I sure wished I was having one of the perfect father’s day I could see scrolling through my Facebook feed. Smiling kids and dads, lovely meals prepared by OTHER people.

As we rolled back into the garage the father and I decided that we hadn’t seen a non-animated film at the movies together for over 11 years. We estimate it could be 11 more before we do.

Upon entry to the house everyone scattered for quiet time, golf  on tv for dad, building on the Kroger in her minecraft game for Miss 7 ( because every minecraft world needs a supermarket right?) and Mr 11 back with headphones and YouTube videos.  Peace at last.

Happy Father’s Day!

*before the apostrophe police who quite rightly keep a close eye on me and my many grammatical errors jump in, the interwebs told me that US law adopted the term Father’s day with the apostrophe right there.

Axis of Imperial aka learning about Gallon land

Who does not love a good story about Queens, Princes, Princesses and many many cats?

My son has recently completed CRCT testing. What is CRCT testing I hear you ask? Great question, let me copy and paste something from the internet for you. Thank you as always Wikipedia.

The Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) are a set of tests administered at public schools in the state of Georgia that are designed to test the knowledge of first through eighth graders in reading, English/language arts, and mathematics, and third through eighth graders additionally in science and social studies.*

The thing is this, for Fifth grade, you MUST pass two of the exams administered Reading and Math (oh look I’ve gone all local and used no ‘s’ on the end there) to move into middle school.

The teachers don’t expect parents to spend a lot of time on these as it is based on work they cover during the year. However there are some, do at home pre-tests that I had to assist in administering.

It was then, looking over a Maths pre-test, I discovered the horrors of the imperial system. Seriously, for someone born and raised on the metric system, which really, just makes sense with its whole 1 to 100 or 1000 stuff and move the decimal place backwards and forwards – the imperial system is a house of horrors.

I would have preferred option e

I would have preferred option e, in fact I may have added it myself

I spent the next few weeks moaning and ranting to anyone who wanted to listen (and many who did not) about the ridiculousness of it all. Who uses this system I asked? Turns out there are three world powerhouses still married to the British Imperial System and none of them are Britain. The USA, Liberia and Myanmar, or as I prefer to call them, the Axis of Imperial. Although to be fair Britain still partially uses it – which kind of makes sense ’cause they invented it and all.  Apparently it’s used for very important things such as sizing for beer and cider glasses but schools, government and most sane other people use the metric system for the whole measuring thing.

Then I began to rethink. Was I just being old, crotchety and closed minded? Did I need to be more open and embracing of a system or cultural norm of a country I am living in? I asked my son about it, he explained it to me, and I discovered a magical place called Gallon Land.

Gallon Land can be seen in this VERY amateur video as described by me. There is a giant G, Queens and a lot of cats – complete with poor commentary and shaky screen.

I still don’t love gallons, quarts and fluid ounces, but I don’t know how many more years we will live in one of the Axis of Imperial countries so I’m just going to suck it up for now. As long as no one asks me to embrace fahrenheit I think I’ll make it.

* The Georgia Department of Education website has a note to say that due to budget restraints there is no testing of first and second graders in Spring 2013 (we’ll assume they were saving website update funds and apply that to Spring 2014 as well)

Promposal

It’s called a Promposal and it’s a pretty big deal here. There are hashtags on every sort of social media you can imagine to seek out the best and the rest in the #promposal world. Instagram, tumblr, youtube and Pinterest #promposals are everywhere.

We’re racing to the end of the school year here in Murica, which means Prom time, and promposals are flying thick and fast. It doesn’t matter if you have a girlfriend or boyfriend, apparently it’s not a given they will attend Prom with you.  No longer the assumption that you will go together or an idle conversation at lunch. The new normal is a slightly elaborate and more formal request of some kind, generally filmed or photographed by your friends or others standing by.

No. pressure. kids.

Last week my own 7 year old daughter was thrilled to be involved in such a scheme. Her Under 9 lacrosse team was playing at our local high school in an exhibition scrimmage (5 minute game amongst her own team) between the Varsity (Grades 11 and 12) and Junior Varsity (Grades 9 and 10) games.

One would imagine this would be an excellent opportunity to watch the bigger and much more experienced girls playing lacrosse and looking at ways to improve their own game. Not so, the U9’s were under the bleachers fighting over who would be the P,R.O and M. My own junior LAXer* was at first the M, but was later reassigned to O. I’m not sure of the difference but apparently all letters were debated over at length.

The coach’s son had a girlfriend in the Varsity game. After that match finished the U9 team ran on and this happened

#PROMPOSAL (click for video)

Thankfully for all involved – she said yes. We must also have some respect for the U9 team who followed coach instructions and dropped and ran back to their game immediately.

Notes on the Promposal

- The team in purple were the visiting team. They had just been beaten 17 – 2, so that may be why they were not so enthusiastic about the exciting on field events.

Heard in the bleachers

- High School girl ‘I want that relationship’

- U9 Father in attendance ‘Glad I never had to do that, I had enough trouble with the marriage proposal’

I hear you, U9 dad. Amen to that.

Additional general notes

- Every teenage girl in Georgia has waist length hair apparently

*LAX being the accepted shortened form of Lacrosse

The 'after' shot

The ‘after’ shot

Snowmaggedon – Tales from the ‘hood

The snow event-  pretty if at home

The snow event- pretty if at home

If you don’t know about our little ‘snow event’ in the ATL  (formerly known as Hotlanta-  new name pending)  you must be living under a rock. Or not residing  in America, although I know it has hit the news internationally as several Aussie friends have posted screen shots from the local news to my Facebook wall.

There will be many stories written,  because there are so many to tell. It was  almost the perfect clusterf#ck*.

Picture this

Atlanta a city of endless suburban sprawl, 6 million residents, no public transport system to suburbia, no winterization of roads or cars (because it NEVER** snows) , sends EVERYONE – schools, businesses and government employees, home the same 30 minute time slot on a road system that already has one of the worst reputations in the country, experiences snow that drops 2-3 inches everywhere in below freezing conditions and pretty much turns immediately to ice on the roadways.

The result – mayhem, that included too many car accidents to count, children stranded overnight on school busses and in schools, people sheltering in service stations, supermarkets, cars and homes of friends and strangers, commutes of up to 18 hours and many abandoned vehicles, giving the producers of the Walking Dead and anyone planning on filming the next post apocalyptic movie some free perfectly staged shots.

When the lady slammed into the back of my car after failing to stop on ice that was barely there, a mere 20 minutes after it had started snowing and 200 metres from home (after I had taken a cheeky trip to the supermarket less than a mile away to stock up for Snowpocalypse) I called my husband perched in his office watching car accidents happen out the window and told him to not come home. Stay in the office overnight, we didn’t need two damaged cars, or worse.

It was then that our neighbourhood sprang into action. Our ‘hood that I often make fun of for it’s Home Owners Association rules and regulations, welcome cookies and being more manicured than Wisteria Lane amongst other things is really a genuine caring community that dived head first into assistance mode.

There are many amazing stories from all over Atlanta, these are a few from our ‘hood.

At least 20 people stopped to offer assistance to the young lady and myself who were perched in our cars precariously close to the neighborhood entrance. After being able to get off the main road, her car was unable to be driven – cue neighbours walking down the hill and pushing her car deep into our ‘hood for safety purposes.

Gee, you’ve got a lot of friends she said.

Just a lot of super friendly, helpful neighbours I replied.

One of the car pushers insisted on waiting with me, until the Police had established due to a State of Emergency they wouldn’t be coming and we had concluded Insurance company reporting and other formalities. Thank you again Adam.

Just a little bit later when it became clear the hill outside our enclave was becoming impassable they went out by foot to help push cars and offer assistance to weary drivers deciding it was too late, dark and icy to get home.

Other’s with 4×4’s were heading out into the night to rescue those abandoning cars and bringing them home over the icy roads.

Our neighbourhood clubhouse, generally the location of birthday parties, book

Food arriving by the minute at the clubhouse

Food arriving by the minute at the clubhouse

club and Bunko nights was thrown open to keep stranded motorists warm, dry and safe.  There was a constant stream of people arriving with sleeping bags, blankets, food, drinks and toiletries to make those inside comfortable for the duration.

When it appeared there may be excess people to couches they just started taking them to their houses – total strangers, come on over. It was happening all over Atlanta, quite amazing.

The next morning people were quickly out to the road to find anyone newly stuck or who may have arrived later and direct them inside for bathroom relief, steaming coffee and breakfast casseroles.***

One woman had high heels on and didn’t want to leave the car for fear of slipping on the ice. No problem, the guy hiked home and took a pair of his wife’s flats back to the car and escorted her safely down the hill. S is now down a pair of shoes but to a great cause!

Abandoned vehicles on the road outside the 'hood

Abandoned vehicles on the hill outside the ‘hood

I was out taking photos and an acquaintance was walking past checking on her husband’s car. We had just heard one of our neighbours, with three under 5 and a husband away was nearly out of formula for her baby, she offered as it was on her way, to go and check if the supermarket was open and buy the formula (if not much left) and put it behind the counter or bring it back. For someone she didn’t even know.

Sometime mid afternoon my husband arrived home from a night on the office floor, no couches there either, and transitioned directly into a snowball fight with the kids.

Spot the snowball

Spot the snowball

Later that day the same neighbour, now with a fed baby, accidentally locked herself out of the house while stepping out to check on her bigger boys and their snow activities. Cue operation house break. I now know a local B&E team that includes an antipodean 7 year old who can make the climb in the window if you need. Doing her heritage proud declared another cheeky bystander. (I do have a photo but I don’t want to give away the identities or the point of entry)

The day was winding down and we just had one guest left at the clubhouse who was waiting for her husband to pick her up. She told us his name was Leonardo Di Caprio. We felt it was unlikely there was more than one around. Further investigation  discovered that while she had been taking shelter with us during the day, she wasn’t really sure where she was from or where she should be going. Earlier conversations had been put down to extreme tiredness and disorientation from being overnight in her car. A group of ladies stayed with her for a little while and attempted to calmly get some more information that could lead us to calling someone who would be missing her. Sadly, we were unable to so we called for professional assistance and the excellent first responder teams arrived and took her to at least overnight safety in hospital.  I have been wondering about her all day. I hope she and her family have been reunited.

The end result of such an action packed 36 hour period  can surely only be a wine party at someone’s house, so when the Bus Mother’s WhatsApp group buzzed with such an invitation that included hot chocolate for the under 21’s we were quick to accept. About 10 bottles of wine, several bottles of beer later it was time for bed which I gratefully crawled into.

I was just having a warm and fuzzy feeling about our caring and sharing neighbourhood when they went and cancelled school again tomorrow.  Safety first I guess…….

*technical term for when many things go wrong at once

**never being once every two to three years where anything hits the ground and sticks

***so much more on the American love of casseroles later

Plodding along…

While I am writing many blog posts, all the time, in my mind, sadly they are not getting to the magic publish button stage on this page.

This of course has nothing at all to do with the fact that I am training for the NYC Marathon in 24 days from now……  However my other blog One Mountain, One Marathon does have a few more recent posts than here. So if you want to follow along drop over and see how it’s all shaping up.

slowrunner