Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A series of lists


Wow, it's 2015. How did that happen? I feel like I'm living in the future just by the year alone.

So, New Year's Resolutions.

Last year, I opted out of them and said that I was going to "Live My Life". I think what I meant was to live fully, with passion and happiness. I took great strides in that, which lead me to where I am now. I applied and was approved for Australian Citizenship. I quit my job to live an adventurous life. To prepare for said life, I sold 80% of my belongings including my furniture and car and then moved in to a friend's flat (renting a room). I reconnected with old friends (mended relationships I had broken - by far the best thing I did in 2014). I visited friends and family in the US.

This year the resolutions need to be more specific. A target is easier to reach when the path and goal are clearly defined. I will stick with the overarching goal of living life with passion, giving special focus on happiness which eludes so many people (myself included). Here are some specific goals for 2015:

  • Obtain my Australian Citizenship
  • Get an Australian Passport
  • Spend quality time with my parents in Florida
  • Visit a very important friend in Seattle, someone I haven't seen in 8 years
  • Stay with friends in Copenhagen
  • Get to know the best of Paris (my very good Parisian friend has offered to show me around)
  • See the Pieta, The Sistine Chapel, Gondolas in Venice
  • Eat pasta and pizza in Italy
  • Go to a country that is not on my top 10 list
  • Spend the night somewhere interesting (for example:
  • Write more (blog and personal) - I know this isn't specific..."more" is good enough
Here are some optional goals - things I'd love to do this year if possible:
  • Drive across the northern states in the US
  • Visit my family in Cleveland
  • Go to Las Vegas
  • Get a job (but later in the year)
  • Read more books than I did in 2014 (10)
  • Reduce my belongings
    • I have items stored all over the world. I'd like to consolidate and shrink.
  • Exercise/Workout every day from Jan 1st-Feb 18th (the day before I depart Australia). This is not necessarily gym only. I'm basing this on Elizabeth Gilbert's view of exercise...getting the heart rate up and muscles really working for at least 20 minutes each day. Could be a bush walk, yoga, swimming, etc.
  • WWOOF (volunteer on an organic farm)

I hope you're not sick of lists yet, because I'm a huge fan.

In other news, I am back home from dog/house sitting which is both a little sad and a little awesome. I miss Jake-the-dog and sleeping in and generally pretending like I'm on vacation. Now that I'm home, it's crunch time! Even though I don't have a job and could sleep in an lounge around all day, every day, I have a lot to get done.

Leaving a country for another one is no small feat. Leaving a country to be a nomad for 6 months is another thing all together.

With the first leg(s) of my adventure booked, I now have a very real timeline. Let me give you a sample of what needs to be completed/done/sorted in the next 49 days.

  • Reduce my belongings to fit into two suitcases and one carry-on bag
  • Cancel my gym membership, eToll pass and Health Insurance
  • Buy travel insurance
  • Get my iPhone 4S unlocked
  • Go to the dentist
  • Get my and haircut
  • Attend a Citizenship Ceremony
  • Apply for my Aussie Passport (expedited)
  • Catch up with friends
I told you I love lists. And here's one more. The last one of the day. Here is a list of what I was able to accomplish today. 1 Jan 2015.
  • Went to the gym
  • Emptied 1 suitcase and sorted 1/2 of my closet into piles (keep/sell/toss or give away)
  • Put 11 items on Gumtree (the Australian version of Craigslist)
  • Become aware of just how many little pieces of s%&t I have. 
Seriously, what was I planning on doing with a bag full of brochures and receipts from Vietnam? Am I ever really going to use The Bedford Writer's Guide again? That is one heavy ass book. Should I keep the 5 extra pairs of converse I own but NEVER EVER? 49 days, lots of mini-goals, tons of tchotchkes to sort through.

Tick. Tock.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Baseball and Bucket Lists

At some point, I made the decision that I wanted to see every sport Australia had to offer. I wanted to see them all live. I've been to NRL (National Rugby League), Rugby Union, Super Rugby (yes, that's a thing), Tennis, V8 Supercars, Basketball (NBL), AFL (Australian Football League - the ballet of rugby), Cricket (T20), I recently won tickets to Soccer, which I will see in 2015. Tonight, I was lucky enough to go to Baseball. 

Baseball was a bit of a passion of mine when I lived in the Bay Area. I was a huge Oakland A's fan, but have been a baseball fan since before I can remember. I played in little league, collected baseball cards from a very young age...I remember going to a St Louis Cardinals vs Baltimore Orioles game when I was about 8-years-old. I believe it was my first live game. I dug up my Cal Ripken Jr card and brought a pen just in case I could get his autograph. We were sitting in the second deck, so no autographs were given out that day, but my dad bought me a baseball with all the player's signatures on it. I'd stare at the Ozzie Smith signature for hours - trying not to handle the ball and smear the names. For my whole life, I dreamed of catching a home run ball, or a foul ball. When I was in my 20's, and could tell you every stat, every personal detail about each Oakland A's player, my boss at work had season tickets in the 2nd row by 3rd base at The Colosseum. I was gifted or purchased off him at least 20 games in those seats. Ron Washington, who was the 3rd base coach at the time, tossed me a foul ball one day. I couldn't have been happier.

I digress.

Tonight, I was given a ticket to see the Sydney Blue Sox. I was lucky enough to spend about 1/2 the game talking to a bit of a sports legend, and chief advisor for the team. I learned that the ABL (Australian Baseball League) are actually owned (75%) by MLB (Major League Baseball). And most of the players on the team are signed players, who play or have played in the big leagues. They'll play in Australia during the MBL's off season and be tracked by the scouts to see if they should move up or down in the grades (AA, AAA or The Bigs). One of the relievers played for the New York Mets ten years ago - he's 45-years-old and still has heat. It's a quality team with past and future MBL stars. But the field reminds me of AAA in the states. First of all, its so far outside of Sydney, it doesn't even feel like the suburbs. It's a regulation field, but the stands are small. There are no outfield seats. It honestly feels like watching Field of Dreams. Even if the stadium were sold out, the players would be able to hear anyone yell "Watch out for in the ear!". 

The Blue Sox won tonight. It was a pitchers duel for about 6 innings. And there was everything you could want in a game (except for a home run. Sydney has this problem because center field is like 410ft and left/right are still 390ft or something...hard to get out there). There were bases loaded, a pickle, stolen bases, getting picked off trying to steal, pop-ups, blocked balls (great catcher, really), wild pitches....I'll stop, but I loved every minute of it. I'm going back tomorrow. And the next day. 

But let me get back to my original point, which was my decision to see all possible sports in Australia. I'd consider it a bucket list item, if I had such a list.

I've tried to write a bucket list several times in my life, but it always turns into a page of notes and scribbles that eventually ends up in the trash. Don't get me wrong, there are things that I set as goals and chase like the dickens. Getting my Australian Permanent Residency and then Citizenship, for example. I've also been skydiving, walked on hot coals, been married with (step)children (but that's a story for another time). I've done a lot of things that I can be proud of and consider bucket list worthy, but I've never had a written down/posted/check box bucket list. And this bothers me.

My ex-brother-in-law was the king of bucket lists and planning. He had spreadsheets of what he wanted to accomplish in his life and when and how. It was an impressive thing to see. And, by God, it works for him and his family. They've done more, seen more than most.

Then there's Danny Dover, who I only know about because of I've mentioned it before, but seriously, go check it out.  He decided not to make a bucket list in the traditional sense. He'd make his lists of things he'd like to do (start a business, have six-pack abs), see (every continent) and experience (learn to fly a plane) but he also set a timeline. Why not accomplish everything while he was young enough to enjoy it? So, he picked May 25th 2017 arbitrarily and has been nailing it ever since.

I want to do that. I want to figure out what I want and go get it. So, maybe I'll put some serious thought into it over the next couple of days and come back to you with a checkable list. 

It's funny. I've been planning this travelventure (yeah, I just made that up) with no bucket list in mind. I've done most of the "cool" things in my life without planning for them, but I believe that I can see/do/accomplish so much more WITH a plan than without one. Just look at my sports thing. 

I have seen/done/learned so much about the Australian sports culture because I made that decision. I've immersed myself in all sorts of different crowds (tennis vs rugby...very different). Somehow it's fulfilling to me. I love knowing how a crowd feels, getting swept up (or away) by their reactions, hearing the different accents (or languages in the case of AUS vs FRA Rugby Union). It is the most connected to a people that I can get. Maybe this is the way I choose to experience the world. Through large crowds rather than trying to understand a culture one person at a time. 

I wonder which other bucket list items could have such an impact on me. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

It's Christmas here in Australia. I took Jake for a walk in the afternoon. The sky was grey and the humidity was stifling. It's been about an hour since then and there is a thunderstorm raging outside. Rumbling, rolling, raining. There is nothing in this world I enjoy more than lightning and thunder (except maybe Disneyland...maybe).

I sat down a few weeks ago to write Christmas Cards and only finished half of them. Now I'm stuck with about 12 stamps for the US at $2.25 a piece. Maybe I'll send the cards late, or maybe I'll keep them and see if I can't send a postcard from Europe to the US with an Australian stamp. I'd so much rather send a letter or a card to tell someone I care.

The reason I stopped midway through my card writing this season was because on my list of recipients was "Grandma?". I wasn't sure she would make it to Christmas and the thought of that stopped me cold. I couldn't muster another card, another "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year". Every time I saw "Grandma?" I'd stop and start to reminisce.

When I was 10-years-old, my parents (who I will forever forward refer to as "my folks") were traveling around the US. My father was interviewing for a job, which he'd eventually get in Florida. It was winter and they placed me in Cleveland (my city of birth...and theirs too for that matter). For a few weeks, I stayed with my Grandmother and Grandfather. I remember playing Lego (it was a ranch scene, with horses). I remember waiting at a snowy bus stop with my Grandmother before heading off to school. I remember giving my Grandma hell about something, though now I can't remember what. I just know that I was sitting on the stairs, which ran from the bedrooms upstairs into the living room. I refused to move. I remember wondering why I never saw anyone use these stairs (they all used the other set from upstairs to the dining room). It distracted me from my resolve and before I knew it, Grandma was winning the argument. She was a strong woman and wasn't going to give in to whatever my demands were. I'm sure she made me cinnamon toast for breakfast one of those days, cut diagonally. At night, we'd watch a movie and she'd make popcorn on the stove. She'd always add Jujubees to the bowl of popcorn for a secret surprise. In the dark, you never knew what flavour you were going to get.

I couldn't help but think of the audio tapes she sent me when we'd first moved out of Cleveland. I listened to one a few years ago. She said that she was so glad we could keep in touch this way. Hear each other's voices. At one point, she said that my Uncle (a musician - excellent guitarist) and my Grandfather were working on a song. She wasn't sure how it was progressing but she'd let me hear a little. The next thing on the tape was a Neil Diamond song she'd spliced in. "I don't know. It's ok. They're still working on it," she said. Always the comedienne.

Once, when I was very little, probably 5 or 6, she got an old reel-to-reel and played me a video. I remember she set it up in the closet because it was daytime and that was the darkest place we could find. She said something like, "This is your Grandfather and I before we had children." And flying across the sky were these figures, spinning and soaring between trapezes. I couldn't believe my eyes. What amazing skill they had. I looked at Grandma and believed her, but of course I later learned it was The Flying Wallendas. Always the kidder.

No matter where we moved, or where I moved when I was old enough to live on my own, Grandma would send me a Christmas Card. She'd tell me that she loved me and was proud of me. The card would be short and sweet and at the bottom she'd write xoxoxo and draw two figures. Just stick figure heads. One of my Grandma and one of my Grandpa (with a hat). When he passed away, probably close to 10 years ago now, she stopped the drawings, but always signed with love xoxoxo.

I will not be getting a Christmas card from my Grandma this year. She passed away on December 17th. The last of my grandparents. The only grandparent I felt that I got to know. I'll speak for myself, though I think the whole family would agree, the way my grandmother slowed down and passed away was the most anyone could hope for. Of course, I wasn't there but I kept in contact with her and those around her. She went from living on her own, to living with my Aunt, to living in a Nursing Home. From getting out and about, to staying in her room, to staying in her bed. From talking with everyone, to sleeping most of the time, to stepping over. Out of this world and into the next.

Though I miss her, I am not sad this Christmas. I know she's up there at a big birthday party in Heaven. That Jesus invited all his friends to celebrate and enjoy everything. I hope that my grandma is young again and dancing her heart out. Maybe that's what the lightning and thunder are about today. They're really partying up a storm in Heaven.

I love you Grandma. Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Today I:

  • Called the Lane Cove Council about a job I applied for (two weeks ago). "Junior Shelver" at the local library was the official position. I have ALWAYS wanted to work in a library and was hoping they'd hire me on for some casual work until February. The woman in charge of hiring only just returned from leave, so I'm not out of the running yet. As instructed, I'll call again after Jan 5th, if I haven't heard anything. 
  • Mailed (via International Express Post) my US taxes to H&R Block in Kansas City. A word here about the US. I'm not impressed that they make their ex-pats file taxes and potentially owe money not earned in the US. I file my Australian taxes - why should I have to also file with the US. Because it's the law. So, ok, I'll do it. The least they could do is make it easy, but NOOOO it's the most complicated thing I've ever seen. I'm thankful to H&R Block for offering ex-pat services, even if at a hefty fee. 
  • Booked some Gold Class movie tickets for Christmas week. I was given two expired tickets by the owners of my house sitting house in the hopes that I could sweet talk my way into the cinema. Job done (only it didn't really take any sweet talking because they had a one month grace period). For those of you who don't know, Gold Class movies are in reclining, over sized seats. You can order food and drinks to be delivered throughout the movie. I always order a drink at the beginning and coffee towards the end (usually with dessert) but regret it at the end of the movie when I'm busting. Still, it's a great Christmas treat!
It is a gloriously warm day. I think I'll read a book and take a nap. Ahhh. Now this is a Monday.
My adventures begin by house/dog sitting for three weeks in Colebee NSW Australia. The house (and dog) belong to very good friends of mine. The dog is an amazing 8-year-old black lab named Jake.

I am lucky enough to have the use of my friends' car, which is fabulous for getting around, since I sold my car back in September and have been using public transportation ever since. To be honest, Sydney has great public transportation options. You can get nearly anywhere by train or bus - even way out to Colebee. But having the car for a few weeks is a luxury I am happy to have. I will end up using the car tomorrow to go Christmas shopping, and on Christmas Day to join another friend's family Christmas dinner.

For the most part, I plan on staying in the house, except for regular long walks with Jake. It's the perfect place to unwind after years of work routines. I can curl up with a book or watch Cricket on TV. I even finished the LOTR trilogy (for the first time). It took me 8 days, but I did it. There's also no shortage of good weather, it being the start of summer.

Today, I caught up on - a brilliant website. If you've never heard of it, go check it out. It is great for travel advice and inspiration for setting and reaching goals. The gem today was a video on how much it costs to travel the world. Of course it depends on which continents you go to, or how you decide to live when you get there, but it was a great baseline to familiarise myself with.

Also, I've been looking into WWOOFing. Volunteer work on organic farms. Usually, one works for 4-6 hours a day in exchange for a room and meals. The thing that appeals to me about it, other than the obvious "free" room and food, is that WWOOFing would give me more time in another country with guaranteed interaction with the locals. I love the idea of putting in some hard work, getting to know people and maybe even learning some new skills (and/or languages - at least phrases).

I have about two months before I fly out of Australia and start my travels. Two months feels like a long time to be without income, if I'm not out exploring the world. I know I'm only two days in, but I'm already antsy. Perhaps that's the residual work/job routine still in my blood, but I hope and plan on relaxing into this sabbatical of sorts.

p.s. As a writer, I feel like I haven't found my voice for this blog yet. I guess I'm feeling entirely out of sorts, but I'm happy to be writing again.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

For the month of July in 2008, I was willfully unemployed for the first time in my adult life. It was actually the first time in my adult life that I was unemployed for more than 2 days (a weekend between jobs). I had sold all of my belongings - bar a few boxes of bits and bobs - and had grand plans of moving to Australia for a year. At the time, I was 29 and able to apply for the Work & Holiday Visa. This particular Visa allowed travelers under the age of 30 to work for no longer than 6 months at a given job and be in Australia for no more than a year. My (well practiced) story goes like this:

On 8/8/08, I boarded a plane in San Franscico. Thanks to the International Date Line, I landed in Sydney Australia on 10/Aug/08 (the opening ceremonies to the Bejing olympics were on a TV in the airport bar as I walked by). Two days later, I took a bus to a recruitment agency, having made an appointment prior to leaving The States. While at the agency, I was in a room alone filling out the basic paperwork. A recruiter came into the room and said, "A fax just came through that might be perfect for you." And it was. Within 6 days of landing in country, I had scored a job with Wella (A Procter & Gamble company). It turned out to be a pretty good job too, because 6 months later they wanted to keep me on. So, with some fancy paperwork they hired me through a different legal entity. Six months after that, they still wanted to keep me, so they sponsored me with a 457 Visa (Employer Sponsored Visa). Thanks to this job, I also met my (now) ex-spouse. I was able to apply for and get Permanenet Residency (de-facto relationship) and after much anicipation, I am about to become an Australian Citizen (dual American/Australian citizenship) - And on Australia day, no less! 26 Jan 2015!

All of this story telling was my preamble for what is happening this Friday. For the second time in my adult life, I will be willfully unemployed. Over the last 18 months, I have worked for Samsung Electronics and the 19th of December 2014 is my last day. It is my sincere intention to go all Walter Mitty and travel to my heart's content - or until the money runs out.  

I have grand ideas, imaginations, fantasies, hopes and dreams. But if I've learned anything in my years on this Earth, it is that the future is a mystery. I don't know what's going to happen next. Everthing could fall in line with my plans - travel through Europe, drive across country in the US, settle down here or there. But the day-to-day experiences will take me by surprise. And I am looking forward to sharing it all with you - my friends, my family.