Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Aussie life vs American life

It was really through sheer luck and circumstance that I ended up moving to such a wonderful place. Never did I picture moving specifically to Perth, when I first considered moving to Australia. I used to picture Australia as a relatively small country composed of Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane with The Great Barrier Reef somewhere nearby. I also knew that there were koalas and kangaroos, that the seasons were different, and that people drove on the opposite side of the road. But above all else, I knew that I always wanted to go. And so I did.

All I initially knew about Perth was that it was somewhere in Western Australia, and I wasn't about to pass the opportunity up. So I did a little research, saw that it was right next to the ocean, and I said to myself, "why the hell not?". And somehow here I am. If we're being completely honest though, I  actually live in Yangebup which is a suburb about a 20 minute drive to the city. But Yangebup is too hard for me to say most of the time and Perth is the most relevant nearby city, so I say Perth to make it easier on everyone :).

To say that I was once naive about Australia is a complete understatement, which is why I so highly encourage traveling, because it will undoubtedly broaden your view of the world. In fact, if i'm being completely frank, I think it's something every single person can only benefit from. There are different accents, different climates and a whole slew of different people all around the country. Much like a person from California has an entirely different life experience than a person living in Tennessee. You just don't know entirely unless you go...

And so far, I like what I see.

SO, if like me, you don't know a whole lot about Australia, imagine it being a slightly smaller version of the United States. In other words, it's pretty damn big. So for those of you asking whether I visit Sydney or Melbourne on the weekends, I really am sorry when I chuckle to myself. But most other major cities are practically on the other side of the country and thus a 4 to 6 hour plane ride depending on exactly where you are going. So unfortunately, a train ride or a long drive won't get me there for a weekend trip, unless by weekend you actually mean 6 plus days.

BUT for the record, I will be visiting both of those places in the very near future so stay tuned because I am uberrrr excited to add those cities and a decent chunk of New Zealand to my "have been" list.

ANYWAY.. incase you're wondering what life is like on the other side of the world, I'm here to happily fill you in.

Perth is located in Western Australia and has a population of about 1.9 million in the city and the greater area. It reminds me A LOT of what you'd see in rich California. The houses are both modern and expensive and there are beautiful beaches and palm trees just about everywhere. I still semi stop breathing every time I drive by the ocean while thinking about how lucky I am to be here.

What makes Perth unique is that it kind of exists in it's own little world away from all of the other major cities. This also makes practically everything here an imported item though, thus making everything extremely pricey. So, it's really no surprise at all that Perth is now officially ranked as Australia's most expensive city, and as the 11th most expensive city worldwide.

And when I say that, I really mean it. In fact, I now feel that I should've loaded up on those cheap $7 beers at miller park and lambeau field all of those years, because a pint of beer now costs me roughly $11 every time I buy one. A cocktail with exactly one shot in it? Somewhere between $15 and $22. And patron shots? $95 for 5 incase you were wondering. Don't worry though, tipping is not expected ;). Although I will say that it sure pays to be a girl in a town full of rich miners looking for an American girl to hit on. And for whatever reason (I hear it's because we're fun, outgoing and we smile a lot), they love American girls. So I will gladly accept the free drinks and continue to save everything I make for future travel, if for whatever reason you find my midwestern accent adorable.

Also weird is that some bars close at midnight, and others close at 7 am. I don't get it. I just pretend I know what's going on and why.

Oh, and never in my life did I think I'd be denied entry to a strip club based solely on the fact that I was wearing open toed shoes and thus I was a liability. And then I moved to Perth.

Then again, this may or may not be true. And this may or may not be about me. But that's another story. For another time :).

Other differences between America and Australia include of course: weather, holidays, driving, currency, measuring system, the people, the food, and of course the words!


Of course you all know the seasons are switched around here which makes summer here from December to late March. Although, if you ask me, the 88 degrees I saw today sure would have fooled me! I'd say summer for me officially started about mid October, once I saw 78 plus degrees consistently on the 10 day weather forecast. February is the hottest month averaging in the 90's! This then obviously makes May through September "winter". Although, I feel that the mildness of the climate change is hardly deserving of the word "winter". The lowest average temp all year reaches around 55 degrees. In Wisconsin, this is usually my time to bust out the shorts after a long and bitterly cold and snow filled 6 dreary months of me coping with seasonal depression by eating big macs once a week (or more). So really, it's not too shabby. Just some random rain spouts throughout the day and a bit of chilliness, but certainly nothing to whine (whinge) about. More random words below :).


Instead of a 3 month summer, Australians spread their time off throughout the year. The school year starts in late January/early February followed by 2 weeks off in April, in July, in October, and 6 weeks off in December for summer break, with various holidays in between. It seems to work well for people here, and it definitely works well for me. I had a trip to Cairns in October, am able to take 3 weeks off in December for personal travel, will be traveling again with the family in April, and will likely be leaving during one of the two weeks in July :(. But let's move on before I start crying about that...


Of course the driving is something I alwayssss get asked about. And truthfully, it's actually pretty great and quite easy, although I do find myself consistently walking to the wrong side of the car and nearly getting killed every time I cross the street on foot. I'm still not entirely convinced that this won't be the way I end up dying, so there's your warning. But really, it's the exact same concept other than there roundabouts are everywhere and I've seen only one stop sign in the 2 months I've lived here. But really, follow traffic, use your brain, and you'll survive.


In Australia we have the following: $100, $50, $20, $10, $5 and coins worth $2, $1, 50c, 20c, 10c, and 5c. I only had a 50, 20 and a 2 dollar coin to show. Sorry. But look at how pretty it is!

Measuring System

I still have noooo idea why we haven't converted to the metric system. Honestly. It makes SO much more sense. Remember all that time we spent converting our crazy, illogical measuring system to the metric system back in science classes? I suppose at this point, it's too much work to convert, but it sure would be useful to have the entire world on one measuring system that actually makes sense.

1000 meters equals 1 kilometer. Easy. Makes sense.
5280 feet equals 1 mile. Not easy. Makes no sense.

And luckily for me I have a specialized converter app on my phone which lets me convert degrees, currency, lengths, volumes, etc., because for whatever reason, I was taught to use the most confusing measuring system on earth. I know that as Americans (and human beings), we have this incessant need to be stubborn and always be right, but really, this is one of many things that we could all benefit from by changing.

The People

The people here remind me so much of the midwestern friendliness I often see back home, which is so extremely refreshing. I have always heard that Australians were super easy going, which made my decision to make this my home that much easier. But boy, were you all right! Maybe it's my accent, or the fact that I strike up conversation with everyone I meet, but the people are sure nice here. And what I find incredibly endearing is how beautiful everyone seems to find the world here. Really though, this might be a big generalization, but in my experience, everyone and everything we see, eat, and drink here is "beautiful". It's an adjective that people use for everything. The curry is beautiful. The beach is beautiful. The beer is beautiful. And I agree!

The Food

In my family we eat much of the same things I'd eat at home, with somewhat of a twist. A few things I'd never touch again (okay, just vegemite). And a few things I'll be buying by the jar full (aka nutella).

Breakfast and Lunch are simple. Toast, Cereal, Sandwiches, Fruit, etc. And for dinner a typical week looks something like this: spaghetti bolognese (meatsauce with veggies), tacos, curry, soup, chicken and veggies, lamb and potatoes, etc. And although I'd never had curry until I moved here, I'll definitely be quickly adding it as one of my favorite meals once I get back home. And through lots of trial and error, I've become quite the master chef at this point. In reality though, I just follow the directions, but still, it tastes good and I haven't killed anyone yet. So, it's a win in my eyes.

BUT if you think all of your pinterest meals will be possible over here forget it. I went to the store asking for italian breadcrumbs and ranch and italian seasoning packets and the store clerks looked at me like I had a third eyeball. So be prepared to get creative or to learn to cook different things. American pinterest recipes will do you no good unfortunately :(. And bye bye crockpot cooking. I miss you and my beloved pot roast and chicken tacos.


And the best for last. Words. I still laugh daily at the funny things people say here, or maybe it's because I now catch myself saying them in sentences without even flinching. Or maybe it's because my brutal American accent is rubbing off on little Emilie. She said "water" the other day and we all burst into laughter tears over the fact that she sounded just like she was from good ol midwestern USA. So here we go.

  • jumper = sweatshirt
  • whinging = whining/complaining
  • how are you going? = how are you doing? (still mess this one up daily) 
  • heaps = a lot
  • bogan = white trash
  • shires = counties
  • holiday = vacation
  • knickers = underwear
  • hair lackies = pony tails
  • nappies = diapers
  • chips/chippies = fries
  • no dramas = no worries 
  • rubbish bin/bin = garbage/garbage can
  • cheeky/cheeky monkey = goofy?? still can't figure this one out. although I use it all the time.
  • arvo = afternoon
  • sunnies = sunglasses
  • brekkie = breakfast (seriously.. they shorten everything)
  • lollies = treats
  • biscuits = cookies or special yummy crackers (still don't really know what fits into this category and what doesn't)
  • thongs = flip flops
  • mcdonalds = mackers
  • son of mac = mac jr. hahaha. still laugh at this one. 
  • petrol = gasoline
  • mate = friend
  • bloke = guy
  • pardon = what? I have horrible manners here apparently. Just feels too cutesy for me to use.
  • toilet = bathroom. For example, "Do you need to go to the toilet?" vs. "Do you need to go to the bathroom?"
  • uni = college
  • chewie = gum
So that's what I have so far as far as differences go. Note: I've only been here just over 2 months and have quite a bit of time to get more accustomed to life as an Aussie girl. It's been quite the amazing ride so far, and I'm looking forward to the many adventures ahead in this happy, beautiful, and wonderful life of mine.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Weekend holiday to Margaret River

Andddd it's friday, and we are officially headed on another getaway, this time down south to Margaret River for a company related party via Ben's work. Aka he works, while Julie and I eat and drink copious amounts of free food and wine, and socialize. It's pretty great.

As we're driving down, I'm thinking to myself, where the hell am I? This sure feels a wholeeeee lot like Wisconsin, aside from the few kangaroos in the wild that I FINALLY got to see, of course :). But really, there was farmland and cows everywhere, and it was sooo quiet, peaceful and green. It was quite the refreshing little taste of back home, and yet oddly weird how just an hour north we're surrounded by palm trees and beaches everywhere. What an incredible balance I have here in good 'ol Western Australia.

Friday night, we entered at what I first assumed to be a pretty upscale party. And then I saw the bar, lined with pitchers of beer and bottles of wine, and felt even more like I was back home during a pretty typical night out. As I proceeded to eat everything from stuffed mushrooms, to pizza, to prawns, to lamb, to squid (unknowingly), to chippies, I got to talking to sooo many lovely people, many of whom told me about their extravagant 2 plus month long trips to America seeing stuff that many of us who actually live there haven't even seen yet (blog about this coming soon). A few drinks, and some worn out kids later, I offered to take them to the room so the Ben and Julie could continue catching up with friends, while us kids could all get some sleep before what I knew would be a long day tomorrow.

Saturday, after a morning of me enjoying a lovely continental breakfast, swimming with the girls, and recovering from last nights drinks in my lovely spa tub, we embarked on yet another day of drinking and sightseeing. We started with a brewery where I sat with my pint of whatever pale ale they had, while Ben insisted that I get both the fish and chippies and chicken wings, because I couldn't choose between the two. After all, I had been searching for wings for the past 2 months and finally found them, but who can pass up batter fried fish and chippies? And so we settled on getting a little bit of everything, and by a little, I mean a lot. And thus, we created a pretty nice base for all the day drinking that was about to be had.

For the record, the wings are nothing compared to Sports Nut in La Crosse, Wisconsin. If you want 'to die for' chicken wings, and are ever passing through, that would be the place! But anyway...

So we headed out and basically hopped from one winery to the next, which was great since they were all so close to each other. And since it was all free wine tasting, you better bet your ass I had a little bit of everything, at every single place. Don't worry (mom), we had a sober driver.

And then we headed to the chocolate factory, which is the closest thing to heaven that I'll ever see, and proceeded to again stuff my face with spoonfuls of chocolate chips. But there were samples, and they were free, and they were sooooo goooood. Here, I made a pretty irrational decision to spend $12 on a cookies and cream chocolate bar, which I am currently eating for breakfast as I type this sentence. Worth every penny (or 5 cent coin, which is the smallest currency they have here) :). But no good for getting my bikini body ready for summer, which is quickly approaching. Oh well. Better luck next year, I guess.

That night, I watched the girls while mom and dad attended a company dinner. I invited along 3 other kiddos who would have otherwise been spending the night alone in a hotel room, and I just didn't feel quite right about it. Instead I felt much better about offering them the opportunity to spend the night with me and the girls. And so, we had an apartment full of kids ages 3, 4, 6, 9, 11, and 25 (me :)), and had such a good, chaotic time, ordering in fish and chippies and watching movies. My girls fell asleep willingly and on their own at 7:30 as usual, and the others were out well before 9. I spent the next two hours watching "Dirty Dancing" before Julie and Ben came home. It was fabulous.

11 o' clock was wayyyy past my usual bedtime, as I've now officially made my way to Grandma status, so I was pretty eager to sleep in the bed that I offered little Xavier just 3 hours earlier. Any guesses as to the problem I found when I went to move him to the couch?!? You got it. The poor little guy wet my bed. So we moved him while we waited for his parents to arrive and tried desperately to save my precious sleeping space. We did the best we could, but after tossing 5 layers of blankets and sheets, we realized it was a lost cause. And so, I created a barrier, and salvaged the last available space. Yes, I was desperate.

On Sunday, we headed to breakfast where Ben forced me to try vegemite for the first time. They aren't big fans, so it was more for their pleasure to watch me gag and nearly vomit all over the table. Seriously though. I wouldn't recommend this salty, piss water tasting "food" to my worst enemy. Sorry Aussies. This is one thing you don't have right.

We then did shopping in Margaret River which had markets and little boutiques, which as you all know, I sort of live for. I made it through with no purchases and felt like I had just made a serious stride in my addiction to making impulsive buying decisions (hence the $12 chocolate bar mentioned earlier). By the way, I was almost attacked by a fellow American once she heard my accent. Apparently she could spot it from a mile away, which is not at all surprising since there is a comment about the way I speak almost everywhere I go. Great conversation starter too, I might add :). I didn't catch her life story, but she must have some sort of understanding of what it's like to be in a country full of people with beautiful Aussie accents, and to be the outsider with a terribly boring midwestern accent from the U.S.

We headed lastly to another brewery with the big time bosses. We ordered pizza, chippies, and more and more wings. Ben insisted on the 5 beer tester, and I wasn't opposed at all except for the fact that I worried about how I'd make it the now 2 1/2 hours back home without pit stops to the toilet. "Whatever, I'll deal with it later", I thought, and so, I politely agreed. So he came back with those and two specialty beers that weren't included, but that he insisted and forced (using the word lightly here) me to try anyway. Apparently you have to start from lightest to darkest, but since I'm known to be quite the street rebel, I did lighest, darkest, and finished with my 3 favorite, pale ales. AND I got all of my peeing out of the way at the restaurant and had to bother no one with annoying pit stops on the way home due to my increasingly small bladder. Big, big day y'all.

And so, after another wonderful trip home with my Aussie family, filled with enjoyable talks about our families, love, and my future, I gave them my thanks in the only way that I knew how... through my words. I told them how incredibly thankful I am to have found a family who makes it their priority to make me feel welcomed in any and all circumstances. I am thankful for a family who takes me on amazing holidays with them, instead of leaving me at home. I am thankful for people who treat me like an extended member of the family, and never as a person who simply works for them. But most of all, I am so thankful to have people who so easily fill the gap in my life, that I otherwise would have left with my beautiful family back home in the states.

Again, a special thanks to all of you who continue to show me love and support unconditionally, who share your stories, trials, and tribulations with me, and those of you who believe in this blog, and more importantly, believe in me and what I'm doing. I'm so incredibly blessed to have you as a follower, an acquaintance, a friend, a family member, or as one of many in my incredible army of supporters. love to you all <3.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

25 ways to become the happiest version of yourself

I wish I had the perfect recipe and could douse you all with a concoction of a timeless and magical potion for lifelong happiness. I'm hoping that many of you already live happy and fulfilling lives, but in my opinion, there's always room for improvement. So since I can't provide miracles, but can instead provide experience, I've come prepared with some interchangeable core essentials. Here's a list of what I've come up with when drinking a bottle of wine on a Monday doesn't work: 
  1. Discover your sense of purpose and your relevance to the world. Use it wisely and live your daily life with this in mind.
  2. Pay off your debt. You have no idea the freedom it will bring you! For many of us, student loans are inevitable, but drowning in bills as you begin your adult life will undoubtedly eat away at your soul. A second and third job might mean a lack of sleep and social life for awhile, BUT it sure beats drowning in money problems and selling your soul to the devil (or the government in this case) for the next 10 years. Here's how I paid off $40,000 in just 18 months. 
  3. When it comes to family, friends, and significant others, don't forget to love whole-heartedly. If you find yourself unable to, then you're investing your time in, and spending your time with the wrong people. Get away quickly rather than trying to convince yourself.
  4. Be thankful. Every single day. Every time you open your eyes to a new day of life on this earth. And learn to appreciate every moment of the beauty surrounding you. 
  5. Realize that people will undoubtedly hurt and disappoint you. It won't bother you as much if you have substandard expectations of people ahead of time.
  6. ...And... learn to forgive those who have wronged you. Not for them, but for yourself. You'll rest easier by loving more and hating less. 
  7. Embrace your independence. Know how to survive on your own mentally, emotionally, and financially. Know that there is a BIG difference between being alone and being lonely. And know that contrary to popular belief, there is more to life than always being in love. (Back to back relationship'ers.. I'm talking to you).
  8. Save and spend wisely, but be a little reckless at times too. Remember... you can't take your money with you when you die. SO.. go ahead and splurge on a the #1 combo at the movies, on a fancy anniversary dinner, on jumping out of a plane or on that long-time imagined vacation overseas. Don't let all of your hard work sit in a bank for years to come for no apparent reason. Get out there and enjoy the life you've worked so hard to create while you are young enough and still physically able to do so. *Note: this is much easier once you pay off that high interest debt that keeps accumulating by the second. Something to keep in mind :).
  9. Try to be as non-judgemental as possible. It's human nature to judge, but at least be mindful of this quality and try to be open-minded and accepting of those different from yourself. Believe it or not, we all have similar wants, needs, hopes, and dreams for the future, and you're only limiting yourself by discriminating based on race, sex, age, ability, religion, education, sexual orientation, etc. And I can personally guarantee that you're the one missing out on a wholllleeee lot of amazing people by being a self-centered, self-righteous, and ignorant asshole. 
  10. Never EVER let money be the driving force of your life. You'll be amazed at how freeing a life without this need will be. There is a whole lot more to life than stressing over finances. 
  11. ... So... don't feed into consumerism. Fancy belongings will only give you temporary happiness and will never fill the emptiness like good experiences and good people will. For me, nothing beats a (many) good beer(s), good food, good football, good music and good company. Find out what yours is and make it happen.
  12. See the positive in every negative. Being negative not only affects you, but affects those around you as well. Try to be the person that lifts people's spirits, instead of shatters them. 
  13. In the same respect, be realistic. Life isn't a constant succession of endless rainbows and butterflies. The earlier you accept the ups and downs as an inevitable part of life, the quicker and easier you'll be able to move along. 
  14. Shatter societal norms. Live life to your own accord. Dance to the beat of your own drum. Traditional American lives aren't for everyone and that's okay. Do it anyway. 
  15. Remember that being overworked and unfulfilled will get you nowhere. Live in a way that you'll look back on and say, "I had quite the amazing life".
  16. Let go of those who have let go of you, and hold on like hell to those who haven't. And never ever settle in your quest to find people who truly deserve to be a part of your life. 
  17. Travel, explore, and truly experience new cultures. You owe it to yourself to see what life is like somewhere else. And you owe it to yourself AND others to broaden your view of the world. 
  18. Trust that most people in this world are good and let this be your driving force to meet new people and constantly learn from them. 
  19. Take risks and do things that scare you often. You will never learn, change and grow otherwise. You will simply adapt to a boring life of comfort, and that's not really the point of life now, is it?
  20. Surround yourself only by people who help to make you into the best version of yourself. Look for: The people who bring out your wild side. The people who make you cry from laughing uncontrollably. And the people who love and support you unconditionally. 
  21. Get an education. Not for the outcome of a life sucking corporate job afterwards, but for the education itself. Never underestimate the power of learning and how it will change your life. 
  22. Donate your time, money, and/or your skills to those less fortunate than yourself. It will give you a wake up call you so desperately deserve. 
  23. Never rely on anyone for your own happiness, but instead be willing and able to create it for yourself. But always, always accept the help of friends and family when you need it. Pushing people away in times of sadness will only make your life more difficult. Trust me on this one. Just open up.
  24. Eliminate the things that make you unhappy. Seems simple, but it's easier said than done. Don't like your job? Quit. Don't like your relationship? Leave. Don't like your home? Move. It really is as simple as that. Be strong enough to move on and push forward from the things that no longer serve your live purposefully and positively. 
  25. And last, but DEFINITELY not least, be driven, be motivated, and find something in this crazy world to live for. Be humble, be kind, be thoughtful, be intelligent, be understanding, and be UNIQUE. And always, always dream big

Friday, October 11, 2013

Everything happens for a reason...

The clichest of the cliche's. And yet, the truest of truths, in my opinion. 

I've been asked a lot lately about how I ended up here, and really the simplest response I can give is, "Well.. because.. everything happens for a reason, I guess". But if you're really curious as to why I'm such a believer in the idea, keep reading. 

So how did I get here exactly? If we're being at all truthful here, it was through a lot of success and failure. Through a lot of love and heartbreak. But really it was through the path that I, and I alone, ultimately created for myself. It wasn't fate. It wasn't destiny. And I don't believe that it was "God's plan" either. It was me, my choices, and a whole lot of random circumstances that brought me to certain people and certain situations at any given time. And a whole lot of people and opportunities coming into my life just when I needed them. 

So if you're really that interested, here's the shortest play by play of the last 25 years of my life. It started at first with my dad's job which moved us from Montana, to Colorado, to Wyoming, and to finally to Beaver Dam, Wisconsin where we finally settled for the remainder of my childhood. It was relatively safe, and the majority of people I knew were smart, practical and made relatively good decisions. We had our fun, but we (mostly) had our shit together too. This helped to mold me into a decently intelligent, well-rounded, and friendly kid, which was a pretty good start. Thanks class of 2006 for being awesome. 

It was then through devastating high school break ups, that at the time, felt like the end of the world, that taught me to never rely on anyone to fuel your own happiness. I didn't know it then, but I became infinitely stronger and more independent because of this. Also good... in retrospect. 

And then it was the seemingly unimportant decision at the time that dramatically influenced everything: My decision to attend UW- La Crosse for college.  Here I met lots of outgoing, party loving, intelligent, happy, adventurous and independent young people. Here I had professors and other mentors who pushed me to be spontaneous, to be adventure seeking, to write purposefully, to learn continuously, to question the world, and to always be a free thinker. And here I met my very best friends who saw me at my very best, and who unknowingly, were at one point, witnessing me at my very worst, and yet loved and supported me whole-heartedly in any and all circumstances. (Thank you!!!)

And then there was of course that random meeting of strangers in which I experienced the closest thing to love at first sight that I will likely ever believe in, that made me realize that I was undeniably unhappy and unfulfilled and that I needed to move on. And so.. 

Roughly 1 year ago, I came to terms and had accepted the fact that my 5-year relationship was failing, and that I had truly fallen out of love with the place I’d been calling home for the last 7 years. Nothing I knew was serving my life in the way that I needed it to anymore. I was bored, sad, and longing for adventure, but had no idea what to do next or how to start over. I had no sense of direction, and at the same time, I had the entire world at my fingertips.  My original plan of moving to Minneapolis to be closer to my sister and friends was still an option, but on a whim, I decided to search for international au pair jobs instead. I’ve always loved traveling and taking care of children, so maybe this would be my opportunity for a real life change, I thought. Maybe this was my escape. The good news is that many families saw something special in me, and I was so grateful for that. The bad news is, there was only one family that really caught my eye, and only one family that I completely fell in love with.  My future was now riding on the unlikely chance that THEY would choose ME.

*More information on the full process of applying for au pair jobs here in one of my previous entries.

The Pieyre’s from Australia, contacted me with pages full of pictures and information about their wonderful family. After chatting for a while, doing reference checks, and deciding we could potentially be a good fit, we set up a Skype interview. Of course, flustered over the chance for this dream opportunity, I felt I came off very nervous and uneasy about the whole situation.  Afterwards, like most interviews (or fights with former boyfriends), I sat there thinking about all of the “better” things I could have said, and was left feeling not all that confident about the whole thing. I undoubtedly thought they would choose somebody else and I grudgingly started planning my next move. So, I was back to convincing myself that a move to Minneapolis would be just as adventurous as a move across the Pacific.

Quite to my surprise though, I woke up on Easter morning to an email from the family asking ME to be their au pair! I was in complete shock and felt like I had just been offered the opportunity of a lifetime.  I also smiled more on that day than I had in months, quite possibly even years. If I said yes, I would be committing to moving there for up to a year and leaving my life in La Crosse, WI, behind forever. I thought about it for a mere 5 minutes, and then I terrifyingly, yet happily accepted. I then applied for a temporary work VISA and booked my plane ticket that very week, before I had the chance to be rational and back out. Leaving everything I know and love to live with strangers? Putting all of my trust in people I met online whole-heartedly? People said I was crazy, and I agreed.   But, “No risk, no reward”, I kept telling myself.

Reality of course began to set in as I said goodbye to that long-time boyfriend, my three jobs, my friends, 95% of my belongings, and the place where I grew from a scared college Freshman to a hopeful 25 year old. I shed many tears as I started to really comprehend all that I was leaving behind, but decided to be brave and take the leap of faith anyway. After all, the biggest growth in yourself comes from doing the things that scare you the most, right?

So, roughly 6 weeks ago, I hopped on a plane feeling completely isolated, sad, terrified, and excited, all at the same time. I arrived and was greeted by my new family, and somehow, from 10,000 miles away, I instantly felt at home!  Of course change is difficult on everybody, but making the decision to uproot my entire life for the chance to live and work abroad, took change to a whole new level.  It was a bold move, but one worth making in my opinion. After all, everything in my life, good and bad has brought me here, to this very moment. The moment where I get to write about how happy and fulfilling my life has become. The moment where I realize that just one year ago I was at one of the absolute lowest points in my life. And the moment where I realize just how far I've come in such a relatively short amount of time.

Thank you to those of you who broke my heart. Thank you to those who taught me lessons (in school and in life). Thank you to those of you who helped me grow from a girl who once lacked a passion for life to a girl who now appreciates and dwells on every single moment. And thank you to those of you who helped mold me into someone I am now so happy and proud to be. I wouldn't be here, in this amazing situation, without each and every one of you. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Appreciating the beauty of life: Cairns and Palm Cove trip!

Far too often we get caught up in life's daily stresses and forget to appreciate the sheer beauty of the world around us. I promised I wouldn't let moving here turn me into a complete "softie", but it appears that I have already failed quite miserably in my quest to stay cold and emotionless.

I walk around every single day with my head in the clouds, continuously counting my blessings, when I suddenly realize I just spent my whole day living in a complete dreamlike state wondering yet again why the universe is working so positively in my favor. Somehow in just a short 6 weeks, I've morphed from a somewhat sad, bored and lonely girl who never actively appreciated the beauty of life, to a person who can barely get through the day without being moved to the point of tears. Happy tears.

I just spent the week on the east coast of Australia in Cairns and Palm Cove, courtesy of my new au pair family. It was, quite literally, a dream come true for me. This was the one and only vacation I had been dreaming of since I was a child. The only vacation I never expected to happen in my wildest dreams. And here I am, with yet another incredibly amazing experience under my belt. 

I have no idea how to even start, but here goes nothing. 

We arrive in Queensland and I immediately feel like I'm back in Hawaii. It's tropical, mountainous, and sooo gorgeously blue. Okay, so it's going to be a pretty good trip I assume. 

And boy, was I right. 

We spent the first two days in Cairns where I was blessed with a beautiful hotel room with a king sized bed and a balcony overlooking the pool. We walked all around the city doing some shopping, swimming and sightseeing. Ben tried desperately to find me a place with chicken wings and we finally found one. The bad news? They ran out of wings :(. He's been on this impossible mission since I arrived in Australia, and he's such a trooper for trying to bring a little bit of America back into my life. Little does he know though, I hardly even miss them. But like a typical man, he wouldn't listen anyway, so I just let him keep searching!

The next day Ben offered to take the girls for the day and let Julie and I go on a Great Barrier Reef tour by ourselves. It was a weird reality not having the kids around and a little eerily quiet, but quite the amazing opportunity for him to let us have. I know what you're thinking. You work for these people? They take you on vacation? They pay for everything? They give you high class accommodation? And somehow, above all that, Dad is offering to take care of the girls so his nanny can have a kidless chance of a lifetime? Yeah. If I forgot to mention it, he is quite amazing. So, like women in typical fashion, we gladly accepted his credit card and were on our way!

Let me start by saying that the trip there was far from glamorous, even though the view was breathtakingly beautiful. Keep reading. If you don't know this already, the reef is quite a ways a way from shore (about an hour and a half by boat). Every single one of the 200 ish seats were taken, and I witnessed more sea sickness than I'd ever like to remember or discuss again after writing this entry. It corrupted at least 50% of people on board and poor Julie was one of them. Luckily I kept myself busy once the inevitable nausea started to hit me, envying the life of a family from Florida whose 3 year old has a passport I can only hope to recreate someday! 

I was almost one of the fallen, but held myself together enough to make it to the platform upon arrival somewhat decently intact. We decided to start with the semi-submersible boat, which takes you under water (obviously) to see the reef. It was a short, laid back, informative, 30 minute ride through the water and we got to see some pretty amazing things that way. Plus, it helped us to recover quite successfully from being jolted around at sea, and excited enough to jump right into the water once we made it back.

Few times in my life before I moved here did I really appreciate every sight, smell, and feeling as it was happening. I used to be the type of girl who lived in the past or waited for the future. I used to be the kind of girl who sped through life crossing things off of my very long to- do lists. I used to be the kind of girl who had no true sense of what living in the moment really felt like.

But not anymore. 

It was as I was swimming alone through the Great Barrier Reef, that I realized I am a completely changed person. I was once a girl who had no sense of purpose or direction, and am now a girl who has the entire endless, and beautiful world at her fingertips. And so, instead of documenting every seemingly important moment as it was happening, I opted to ditch the underwater camera and for the first time, to truly live in the moment, experiencing that moment for myself, and myself entirely. And though I'll never have pictures of the pretty underwater life, I'll never regret experiencing the Reef in that way. 

I was swimming amongst thousands of sea creatures and was, for the first time ever, taking in and appreciating every single second of me alone out in the open water. Instead of waiting for the next best thing to come along, I was truly savoring and cherishing every moment. I saw animals, colors and coral that I can't even attempt to recreate with words. I was so completely blinded by the beauty in fact, that I even had a bit of a rough encounter with some coral. And as I watched the blood trickling down my leg as I tried to disinfect myself, I could only wish that the coral cut would have been a little deeper and left a scar, because I thought it would be a cool story to tell one day. No such luck though, just a few harmless and boring scratches. Bummer! *Update.. it did scar, and I'm quite thrilled about it :).

I somehow got talked into doing the adventure snorkel tour complete with a tour guide and a group of what I assumed were highly advanced swimmers. Okay, it wasn't that hard to talk me into it, especially since we still had Ben's credit card ;). But still, I was a bit worried I would drown in the middle of the ocean after being undertaken by the outrageous waves and swimming for an hour straight. But boy, I held my shit together pretty well, and I was pretty damn proud of myself for easily keeping up and staying alive. Big day! 

The water was quite rough, and we were falling quickly into the trap of seasickness again, but this time in the open water. We wondered if that was really possible, but from the sight of our pale faces and the feeling of our stomachs turning, it was pretty clear that it was indeed very possible. In the meantime though, we saw many other exotic fish, baby sharks and right as the tour was ending, we FINALLY saw Nemo and company. I literally shrieked in excitement. My day had officially been made.

We took a bus home to our new destination: Palm Cove. We arrived to the villa perched directly across the beach and I'm pretty sure I stopped breathing for a few seconds. Or minutes. I might have fainted even. Tough to say really. But seriously... was I really going to be living in this amazingness for the next few days? We walked into the place and closed the door quickly thinking this can't really be our place, can it? And then hear a little, "Yoohoo, in here", from inside. Welp. Guess we are that lucky. Or again, have a well traveled Dad, who takes realllyyyyyy good care of his girls. 

He says, "Jerrica look! I went shopping today and found you some of that chocolate chip cookie dough icecream you like so much", and then proceeds to show me to my fancy new room. Surely, it couldn't get better than the beautiful hotel room back in Cairns. Wrong again. It could. He showed me to the master suite complete with en suite bathroom, king size bed and a perfect, flawless view of the ocean. And wait? Were those waves crashing on the beach that I heard with perfect clarity? Yep. It sure was. If there is a heaven, it would look a lot like this I'd imagine. 

We spent the next two days discovering waterfalls, touring the rainforest by skyrail and train, seeing my beloved kangaroos and koalas, and eating and drinking more than we'd like to admit to the general population. The rainforest is much like you'd expect. A bunch of trees. Everywhere. Sounds a little boring eh? It wasn't. It was really, truly breathtaking! Hundreds of miles of trees and wildlife was just another excuse for me to sit back, relax, and take it all in. 

I shrieked again pretty loudly when I saw the Aussie animals, and I'm pretty positive everyone knew who the weird American was in the group. Ben said the look on my face when I first saw the koala was absolutely priceless, and made the slightly outrageous price for the entire rainforest day tour worth it. They also promised that once it gets nice out in Perth, they will be personally taking me to hold one, and believe me, I can't wait!!

Eating and drinking gets it's own paragraph, because it damn well deserves it after the number we did on it this week. I tried every type of seafood imaginable, which is pretty courageous as I really am not a big seafood fan. And the bad news? I haven't been entirely convinced that it's something I'll get over, despite Ben's eager persistence. The greek food was absolutely incredible though, and I will definitely be adding that to my extensive list of things I love after this week. Again, Ben pushed us to our limits by nicely forcing drinks and desserts upon us at every meal, even when we were insistent on water and a small entree. Again, not the worst case scenario. Drinking alcohol and eating loads of chocolate and cheesecake is not the worst form of punishment I've ever encountered, after all. 

On my last morning there, I woke up to the sounds of ocean, which if you're wondering does sound quite different from the sleepy sound app I use to drown out the noise of the children running around at 5 am. These were REAL waves. From the REAL ocean. And I was really getting too used to this paradise. Anyway, I dragged my normally lazy, not a morning person, big butt out of bed before sunrise, hoping to catch one last truly serene moment before heading home that afternoon. And boy, was it worth it. I could sure get used to this life, I decided. Midwest, USA might just not cut it for me.  

Overall, it was a dream holiday that I can only hope to recreate with my own family someday. The girls were absolutely wonderful travelers and Ben and Julie truly treated me like their awesome, older, 25-year- old daughter. I spent a total of $25 dollars on the entire trip on a round of drinks for the family and two postcards for my travel collection, and had the perfect once in a lifetime opportunity. 

I, like many of you, have an infinite number of things to be thankful for. Life is the greatest gift we are given and living in one of those fantasies that most people only ever dream of, helps me to reaffirm this. At one point or another, many of us dream of a life free from daily stresses, money problems, relationship troubles and ties to anything substantial really, and the hundreds of emails I’ve been receiving is pure proof of this. Keep moving forward guys. Eyes on the prize of travel!

Take the time to enjoy and truly experience your life. Fancy cars, handbags, jewelry and other meaningless stuff will only ever give you a temporary happiness and eventual emptiness that you'll be constantly looking to fulfill with the next big purchase. But truly, these things have little to no real purpose or value for bettering your life, and definitely do little for your heart and soul in the long run. A life like this however, filled with an infinite number of opportunities and experiences, gives me a greater happiness than I could have ever hoped to have in a lifetime, and I wish the same kind of happiness for you---whatever that may be! 

It's your life. cherish it. experience it. love it. and LIVE IT. And remember: the world is yours! 

So slow down. take a deep breath. and notice the world around you. Stop living for the weekend and start living for today. After all, in the case of life, there's no rush to the finish line.