Reflection: Kick Off 2012 with Project 365

English: Upper Yosemite fall with reflection

Image via Wikipedia

It’s that time of year for reflection and renewal. In 2011 I started this blog. I was so excited about blogging a few weeks later I committed to WordPress‘ Post a Week 2011. Truth be known, I fell short of my weekly commitment and now I’m wondering what I can commit to in 2012. If you’re a blogger, you’re probably thinking about your blog too…


So to get us all started, WordPress has kicked off the year with Project 365. They’re asking you to write something that you’re passionate about EVERY DAY!!!  The challenge was posted on Freshly Pressed and I’m reprinting it because it’s really timely and worthwhile for all of us who blog.



Erica Johnson, Editor at WordPress (aren’t they a great provider?!) is documenting the challenge, so if you want to add your ideas to the WordPress challenge, you can do so here: Kick Off 2012 with Project 365

English: The logo of the blogging software Wor...




Since I haven’t been successful at even a post a week challenge, I will not be signing up for Project 365 (and my hat’s off for those who do!). However, I wanted to think about what I can honestly write about and how often. So to get both myself and readers started, here are some things to think about (and may also apply for non-bloggers too):

  • What are you going to commit time to in 2012?
  • What are you REALLY passionate about? (What can you get up early in the morning for or lose sleep over at night?)
  • What hobbies or interests do you want to pursue?
  • How much time do you have to blog? Or do new hobby, etc? (Try to be realistic here!)
  • What things inspire you to blog about?
  • How are you going to build community and inspire others? (For example, do you Tweet? or can you get involved locally if you’ve got time?)

I’ll be curious to see what you come up with…I’d like to get the year started off with some creative ideas. As I come up with things myself, I’ll post too. Thanks for your support in 2011 and looking forward to writing and reading with you in 2012!

Here are some additional articles to get your thinking started:

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Tips to Overcoming Fear in Social Situations

It’s the holiday season and whether you’re at HOME or at home, you’re bound to be put into uncomfortable situations. Being an expat is similar to being around family you haven’t seen in many years — it seems familiar, yet you keep asking yourself how you really fit it. You wonder who these people are, you perhaps don’t make the most of the time and possibly regret it later.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this video epitomizes how it feels (and if you do, you must take 1.30 minutes to watch — you might recognise yourself).


Regardless of the time of year, many of us get plain scared in unfamiliar situations or in situations when we feel like we’re being forced to participate in something we don’t want to. Here are some tips to survive these difficult circumstances (as is evidenced in the video as well):

  • Go with a person you feel safe with
  • Bring food or something to share
  • Reserve your judgements of others as much as you can
  • Recognise that the other people may be nervous too
  • Ask questions and share stories
  • Smile if you can — it makes you feel confident
  • Breathe (you usually take it for granted and fear limits this normal function)
  • Avoid overindulging in alcohol or food
  • Focus on the bigger picture, why you’re there in the first place
  • Be open to being surprised

In the video you’ll notice the shock, surprise, delight and gratitude that the poor couples being set up have on their faces. Sometimes taking risk has great rewards. May you experience this for yourself over the holiday season and beyond.

New Orleans: Neigborhood holiday season party ...

Image via Wikipedia

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Membership Has Its Benefits for Buying US Products in Australia

Despite the title, I’m not talking about the American Express slogan. I got roped into going to the new Costco here in Sydney. My brother-in-law was born with the American consumer gene, belying his Chinese-Malaysian heritage. He was one of the first people in Australia to get a Costco membership well before one opened here in Sydney. According to their website the Costco Auburn location opened 21 July 2011 and my brother-in-law was one of the first of those 5000 customers in the door.

costco feeding frenzy

Image by jovino via Flickr

I do not like large crowds and have avoided the lure of this American club all this time until those of us responsible for Christmas dinner were lured into a tour of duty to buy supplies for the upcoming festivities.

I’m not trying to spruik Costco. If you have tried to buy American products here in Australia, your options are either overly expensive, limited options, out of stock and/or you’ve conned a friend or relative into mailing you your desired goods. Look no further as Costco may have what you’re looking for.


Image by coolmikeol via Flickr

I was so gobsmacked by all that was on-offer that I forgot to take photos so I will try to provide a summary of some of the American products I saw (that we cannot get in the stores here):

  • Ivory bar soap
  • Skippy peanut butter
  • Reese’s pieces, peanut butter cups (1.5 kg package of minis, king size packets of normal size and 1/2 lb individual serves)
  • Bounce dryer sheets and Downy fabric softener
  • Lay’s potato chips varieties (Ruffles, BBQ and plain)
  • Otis Spunkmeyer frozen chocolate chip cookie dough
  • A&W Rootbeer, Cherry Coke and Dr. Pepper
  • American hot dogs (both cooked to eat there or uncooked to take home)
  • French’s mustard
  • Pop Tarts
  • Pre-made pumpkin and apple pies
  • Monterey Jack Cheese (1st time I’ve ever seen everywhere in AU!)
  • Ghirardelli Chocolate and Chocolate chips for baking
  • Snyder’s of Hanover Pretzel products
  • Levi’s jeans for under $100
  • KitchenAid small appliances like food processors
  • Mr. Potato Head and friends
  • And for the Canadians — real maple syrup in 1 KG jugs

We were in a bit of a rush and overly crowded (mid-week at 11am!) so I don’t remember seeing some other often requested US goods such as

  • Tide
  • Fried onions for green bean casserole
  • Ranch dressing
  • Pumpkin pie filling
  • Marshmallow cream
  • US cereals

If anyone else can add to this list for others, please do.

There is part of me that has resisted companies like Costco because I am a strong supporter of small business and supporting individuality of the country’s local brands (who want to buy Gap/McDonald’s/Starbucks, etc as their only option?).

However I also know that sometimes a candy bar from “home”, the smell of soap or making your mother’s recipe can bring back fond memories, so I have been known to plonk down three times as much as you’d pay in the US for an particular product as a treat.

I was pleasantly surprised that many of the items above are at a comparable or lower price than what I would buy for similar Australian brands — albeit the sizes are American: multiples, 3, 6 or 12 packs and/or king-size — so be prepared to share or store. Don’t be taken in by price alone. My personal Costco expert also advised me to check the quality of the goods as price may not be your only motivation.

If you want to have a taste of home and/or stock up on Australian household brands there are currently 3 locations: Docklands VIC, Canberra ACT and the Auburn NSW store that I visited this week.  you have to buy a membership in order to shop at Costco. Depending on your needs, the membership varies from $55 – $60. Or perhaps you can call my brother-in-law and he can take you…

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Documents You Might Need to Establish Yourself in Australia

I recently came across a blog called “Waggadventure” written by a Canadian couple documenting their adventures relocating to country Australia. Today I read a post entitled “Permanent Residency” (Click here for full post) which inspired me to write my own experiences of trying to get myself set up in Oz and perhaps give you some pointers as well.

One of the first things you need when you move is access to money. I was fortunate when I moved that I had savings in my US bank account and the exchange rate was US$1.00 to AU$.50 so I could use my US money and get double value here using my US credit cards, even with the transaction fees it was still cost-effective. Today I wouldn’t be so lucky as the exchange rate is roughly dollar for dollar, so this would be an expensive option.

Stacks of Money Courtesy Wikipedia

As I started earning Australia Dollar, I needed to set up a bank account. I couldn’t get a credit or debit card, despite the fact I had US credit reports, an employer who had sponsored my Visa to work here, I had money in the bank in two countries and I was considered a resident for tax purposes. Because I wasn’t a permanent resident it was risky to allow me to have this sort of debt object. Given the GFC, perhaps a wise choice, albeit inconvenient for me.

However, I went to a party with my partner at the time who was on the Partner track at one of the big accounting firms and was sharing my woes with one of the Partners there. He thought he could help me. The next day he marched me to the bank manager where I banked and said he would vouch for me and I got a credit card on the spot! No additional paperwork needed. Obviously a case of who you know!

Another must-have modern convenience is the mobile/cell phone. I went into the mobile phone provider’s shop to get one of these coveted devices and was told that I could not get a mobile phone and/or plan because once again I wasn’t a permanent resident. However if I could fax a letter to them on company letterhead with “permission” for me to get a phone from the company who was sponsoring me, I could then get the phone. Problem sorted.

I could go on for pages about funny stories about getting settled, but I wanted to provide some broad advice for those of you who might be considering living here.

1. Get letters before you leave. Any documentation such as proof of good driving signed by your insurance company, letters from your bank stating that you have been a good customer and have a good credit rating and/or proof that you’ve owned a house previously or letters from previous landlords stating you’ve been a good tenant, especially if you’ve had pets in their property beforehand. Letters go a long way to show someone is willing to vouch for you.

2. Have original birth certificates, marriage and divorce certificates, driver’s licenses and other important documents with you when you move. Think about what you’ll need to show you are who you say you are and share your history with others.

Courtesy Wikipedia

3. Research to find out what proof of identity you’ll need before you go to the organisation. Each company/governmental agency, etc will ask you for different items to prove that you’re living here. Get on the web or call them BEFORE you waste your valuable time queuing to understand exactly what they require. Also find out if they need originals such as birth certificates or will they take either photocopies or notarised copies.

4. Give notarised copies of your important documents to a trusted family member or friend in the country you moved from with a letter that you give them permission to act on your behalf. As much as you try to plan ahead, there will be something you forgot and/or didn’t know you’d need. This person can typically go into the organisation in your “home country” and get the necessary documentation and mail it to you when the organisation won’t take something from you via email/fax/snail mail.

5. Get the organisation to write you a letter documenting that you’re working for or studying with to document that you’re in the country for a stated period of time and that they will take responsibility for you while you’re in the country.

6. Be a creative problem solver, ask questions to better understand what the person/organisation needs from you and look for solutions to get a good end result. Oftentimes the person is simply doing their job and cannot give you alternatives. However, being resourceful, patient and looking for ways to solve the problem can be a way forward for everyone.

If you have some helpful suggestions or stories to share, please do so…

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Change of Seasons

One of the many things that is common for Northern to Southern Hemisphere expats is that the seasons are opposite from what you’re used to. So Christmas is HOT when it’s supposed to be cold. As it is spring here in Australia now, I see this when I walk outside:

Author's own

However, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, it is fall or autumn (as the rest of non-American‘s call it). So you’re reality is something like this:

Author's own

Both are equally beautiful. Both have significant changes involved. With spring, the hope of new beginnings.

Author's own

With autumn, reflective moments as crops have been harvested and vegetation is dying. Children have only recently gone back to school and the rhythm of life is perhaps more structured.

Author's own

It has been a long, cold winter in Sydney and we’re oh so ready for sunshine, warmth and being outside. For kids it is only a few short months until summer break and going to the beach, so this time of year signals the gateway to freedom. The pace is picking up.

Author's own

The differences are diametrically opposed, just like the seasons. When you talk with family and friends from ‘Home’ then you may get a big case of homesickness at change of seasons because of these radical opposites. Somehow it takes years/decades to adjust to this opposite reality.

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Last Day to RSVP for Thanksgiving Dinner in Sydney

Celebrate America’s family holiday with other expats — act now today is the last day.

The American Australian Association cordially invites you to the annual

Thanksgiving Feast

Thursday, 24 November 2011
6:00pm Cocktails │ 6:30pm Dinner

Postales Restaurant
GPO Sydney
Ground Floor, 1 Martin Place

Enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving buffet including:

carved turkey │ carved roast beef + all the trimmings
stuffing │ mashed potatoes │ butternut squash purée
pumpkin pie │ pecan pie
…and first drink free!

$80 AAA Members │ $95 Non-members

RSVP by Thursday, 17 November

Posted in Expat News, Food | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Embracing Your Inner Goblin

One of the things I miss about living in the US is Halloween. Yes REALLY! You see we don’t really celebrate it in Australia and although I don’t eat much candy these days, I loved it as a kid.

I can’t complain too much this year as I’m in the US and tonight it is the big night. Whoot! We’re about to do that favourite tradition of carving pumpkins (not the kind you make into soup, my fellowAussies). The squash look like this:

Author's own

It is simple traditions like these from your childhood that bring back fond memories. I remember running from house to house (many years in the snow covering up my costume, much to my dismay!) to fill my pillow case with the precious loot every American kid dreams about: candy corn, M&M’s, Snicker’s and the coveted Reece’s peanut butter cup.

Author’s own — now eaten!

My best girlfriend had a sensible Mom and somehow her candy would disappear sooner than mine, so over the years we learned to go to my house and stash some of the hers so it would last as long as mine. To this day I’m not sure if this mother ate them or threw them away, but as 10 year olds this seemed unconscionable.

Normally this time of year is lacklustre when it comes to Halloween. Once because this family knew I was American, they sent their 9-year-old son to our house for trick or treating, but other than that no parties, no door bells ringing, no costumes.

So I’m living it up. We carved pumpkins:

Author’s own
Author’s own

And I pretended that I’m ten once again

Author’s own

Trick or treating brought in lots of goodies

Author's own

So that when I’m in Sydney next year this time missing Halloween, I can relive these memories.

What have you done recently to bring back your childhood memories?

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