Things I Miss in Australia

It goes without saying that I OF COURSE miss all my friends over there in Sydney!  Though, I have now said it, so I guess it does not go without saying…

My biggest pains of other-homesickness so far usually have something to do with cooking and eating.  Very similar to the homesickness I got for America when I was in Australia.  The grass is always greener.

I really miss cheap sheets of puff pastry.  I used to make lots of things out of puff pastry in Sydney.  Here in KC, it seems that Pepperidge Farms has the market cornered on puff pastry, and therefore thinks they can charge $4 for a box of two sheets.  Right out.

My pumpkin pies were far better in Australia, because I could buy sweet flan crusts instead of only the boring no-taste regular crusts they have here.  Sorry American friends and family, I am just too lazy to make crusts from scratch.  You don’t even know what you are missing.

I miss my electric tea kettle and being able to make tea very quickly.  According to my friend Dave, I am turning into an old English lady.  He says carrying a full-size umbrella and using it like a cane, wearing a giant straw hat, and having a bike with wicker baskets makes it so.  If he knew I missed my electric tea kettle and tea, he would start talking (actually shouting would be a more accurate verb) in his ‘british’ accent, which sounds like he’s auditioning for an off-off-off broadway role of Eliza Doolittle. ‘ELLO! ‘ULD ‘OU LIKE A SPOT O’ TEA?!?

I miss good scrambled eggs.  Australian cafes consistently make fantastic scrambled eggs, that were slow cooked with lots of butter and cream.  I’ve had good eggs here once, at the Classic Cup.  Everywhere else, they are dry and flavorless.  What it really comes down to, though, is I miss Sydney’s cafe culture.  I miss walking along the coastal path from my apartment to the next beach over to get the best yogurt in the world.  I miss the stylish but too trendy or try-hard design of the cafes.

I am glad to be back in the US at Christmastime, though.  Even after 4 Decembers in Sydney, I still couldn’t get over the combination of Summer and Christmas.

Leaving Sydney

Jacob leaves Sydney in 2 days!

I’m really excited for him to be here, and can’t wait to see what we get up to this year, but him finally leaving Sydney feels like my connections to the city are at last being severed.  And I don’t like that. I want to walk along the coast!  Be in a society that actually puts effort into their attire!  Go to cafes and have fabulous food!  Sit with my friends along the harbour and look at such a beautiful city!

I guess the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.  When I was in Sydney, I longed to be in Kansas.  Now I am in Kansas, I long to be in Sydney.  Be happy where you are, Carolyn!  It’s just so easy to remember the good and forget the bad.

My sister warned me about this before I moved.  I warned me about this before I moved, I told myself to not get all my hopes up, to be prepared for hardship.  And really?  It hasn’t been that hard. Yeah, I don’t have as much accomplished as I would have hoped by now.  And yeah, money is tight, but we’re doing ok.  I have a lot of irons in the fire. And I’ve got to spend some great time with my grandparents.

But we’re still leaving Sydney…for now.

Currency Exchange

I have been watching the currency exchange market for about 2 months now, in anticipation of moving money from the US to Australia.  Currency exchange is not for the faint of heart. Depending on how much you want to exchange, the exchange rate can change by o.01 in a few seconds and you can suddenly be out by hundreds of dollars. The forecasting is worse than weather forecasting.  They say up, it goes down.

At this point I am signed up with three different currency exchange companies,  for several reasons, and the difference in quoted prices is quite marked.

When I first moved to Australia I signed up with HiFX because they offered a great rate.  It was super easy to transfer money from Australia to the US, because Australian banks allow you to do an electronic funds transfer online to any other banking account in the country.  But moving money from the US to Australia?  NIGHT.MARE.  Mostly because of the American banking system, and my American bank in particular.

A little background on how an exchange works, using an exchange broker:  You first set up an account with them, providing information about how much you expect to exchange in a year, the purposes of the exchange, and identity information.  Once the account is set up, you watch their exchange rate on their website until it is what you are willing to accept.  You either then lock in the rate on their website through initiating a contract, or you call and are quoted a rate, which is then locked in by contract.  You then have to deposit the agreed amount of money in the exchange broker’s account.  This is where it gets complicated, but more on that in a bit.  Some brokers have the ability to direct debit your checking account.  Most require you to deposit the money in their account via wire transfer, at least in the US where our antiquated banking system doesn’t have a true electronic funds transfer system in place.  The broker then makes the exchange and deposits the exchanged currency in your nominated foreign account.

Pretty straightforward, eh?  Not if you bank with my American bank.  They refused to do the wire transfer to my exchange broker’s account in New Zealand without also doing the currency exchange themselves.  There is NO point for me to transfer money to my broker’s account if my American bank does the exchange.  (And FYI, your bank is not going to give you a great exchange rate, that’s the point of exchange brokers). Apparently the $45 they were going to charge me just for the wire transfer wasn’t enough.  And by the way – to get the money to the exchange broker when transferring from Australia to America is free. I ended up having to use a different exchange broker (and why am signed up with three brokers) who doesn’t have as competitive of an exchange rate just so I could avoid the wire transfer.

I highly suggest Currency Online for exchanging money.  They have an American  bank account for wire transfers, they offer a better exchange rate than XE Trade, their website has a great exchange rate tracker and graphs, and it’s pretty easy to exchange (other than the whole not doing direct debit thing).  If you want direct debit capabilities, XE Trade does them for US accounts.

If you are looking for a bank in Kansas City, I highly recommend staying as far away from my bank as possible.  I’m not going to actually name them here, but let’s just say the initials they use as their name are in the word dUMB.

Things I do when I don’t want to be in Sydney

(Ed note: This is my husband’s first post from across the world! Have at it.)

Dear reader(s), I hope you don’t mind this long-ish post. It’s all necessary, trust me…

Anyway, it is truth that at some point I’ll be joining Carolyn in the US. Just not yet.

In the meantime, I’m very consciously trying to occupy my time when I’m not at work or renovating. These spare-time occupations I divide into two classes: wasting time, and being overly inefficient.

Wasting time can include checking news websites repeatedly. Kudos to Google for Fast Flip, by the way. I also watch catch-up TV online, so that I don’t miss shows that are on different channels at the same time. I regularly run out of gossip to read from gossip blogs. Unfortunately, it seems that the internets do come to an end.

Luckily, I am well practised at being very inefficient in how I do things that I do otherwise need to do.

For instance, instead of eating a quick meal I’ll make a stack of blueberry pancakes (from scratch of course). Delicious and time consuming. I’ve had pancakes 3 or 4 times in the last week.

I’ve also made it my business to know all the deals on the market for a portable hard drive. ALL the deals. (And might I say, why would you have on the same page of a catalogue, a 750GB hard drive of the same model line as a 500GB hard drive, for only $1 more? Why would you bother stocking the 500GB model??) I’m dreading actually buying the thing, though, because then the research will be over. On the other hand, I’ll buy it right before leaving Sydney, so that works out fairly well.

There’s one thing I steadfastly refuse to research, though: what I’ll do when I’m in the US. Before the delays in my departure, that would have been fun – now it’s a little depressing. I’m hoping Carolyn will provide some advance inspiration by the time I get there. For now, I’m not only trying to make the internets longer right here, I’ve also signed up to the handy email subscription that Carolyn has added on the right side of the page. That means I’ll be able to write posts, and then log into my email and read them at my leisure as they get sent back to me. Handy, huh?

It’s the Little Things (or more accurately, the Big Cheap Things)

When we decided to move back to the US for the year, I knew there would be some cultural differences to get used to again, like driving on the right side of the road, saying sweater instead of jumper, and Wal-Marts and McDonalds Drive-Thrus everywhere.

It’s not like I hadn’t been back to the States in the past 3 1/2 years, I had.  Way too much for my checking account to handle.  It’s just that visiting a place and living in a place are two very different things so I hadn’t really bought food or toiletries here in years.

So the more subtle things of everyday living that have ended up throwing me off the most.  Like how cheap a huge punnet of strawberries is at the grocery store (causing me to exclaim multiple times in the store), or how cheap 44 oz. of Diet Coke are at Quiktrip (again, exclaiming multiple times in the store), or how big shampoo bottles are in the US that are still cheaper than the same shampoo in Australia (yep, more exclaiming. I’m embarrassing to shop with).

Trumpet Man

In Martin Place in Sydney’s CBD there’s a guy who rides his bike each Friday (every day?  I only went through Martin Place on Fridays) to play his trumpet for the morning commuters.  His song choice is quirky and his playing his sublime, but his music transforms the space from an area I just want to get through to a place I want to linger.  With just one trumpet.

We urban designers and architects tend to think that we can create great places just through pavers and trees and facades.  Sometimes (most times?) maybe a place is great because of the people and activities in it, not because of how it looks.  So what does this mean for those of us in the built environment industry?