Foreigner in a Foreign Land

trip to Manly Beach (7 of 18)
I wondered when it would happen, when I would hit that wall of culture shock and homesickness. Three and a half weeks, that’s the point when I became frustrated with the foreignness of every action, every unintelligible phrase picked up by my American ears.

For three and a half weeks, this new world was bathed in a magical, golden glow of newborn awe. Sun and sea breeze, colorful birds and fragrant blossoms, friendly, outgoing people, eager to talk and welcome us to their country. I found the differences charming; the little peculiarities – peculiar to me simply because they’re different from what I’m accustomed to – were nothing more than minor blips in my day, more learning moments. “Oh that’s different, too.”

You don’t realize until you’re here how many things you have to re-learn. Something as simple as where to buy a broom becomes a mystery to be solved. Not only do they drive on the other side of the street, but the latches in our new house have to be turned the opposite way from what you’d think in order to open the doors.

Being on vacation in a foreign country is different from living there. You bring what you need to get you through your stay. You go out to eat and don’t have to think much about electricity, water, internet, or how to clean your lodgings. You know that you’ll soon be returning to all that is familiar and comforting to you.

Taking up residence in a new place makes you realize just how much one takes for granted, especially if you rid yourself of most every worldly belonging and are starting from absolute scratch. Use to, if I wanted to mail a package, I went to the drawer where I kept packaging materials and wrapped that package. I had paper, tape, a black Sharpie. I don’t even know how to ask for a Sharpie, much less who might sell such a thing. And I’m in an English speaking country. Just imagine how hard it is for a person who moves to a country where no one speaks your language and you don’t speak theirs. Like those poor people running through the hall outside my door right now because they didn’t understand the announcement that the fire alarm was only a test and they should disregard it.

The glow started to wear off for me probably this last weekend, when I started to question if we’d made a bad choice on our rental property. Then on Monday, I started having trouble with my prepaid public transport card. My bus rides were costing 3 times as much as they ought to. When I got online to look at my card activity, I found that even with being charged the wrong amounts, the math wasn’t adding up to the balance they reported on my account. Are common and accepted rules of mathematics different, also? I called and talked to a person; he fixed the erroneous charges, but I was not able to articulate, in an understandable manner, the problem with the math. Today, I looked at my account again. I started yesterday with $66.00 on the account; I spent $4.20; my balance today is $58.16.  Is it just me?  Do I need to take a remedial math course?

I’m still questioning our rental choice. It’s a lot dirtier than I realized. I really should wear my glasses more often. In my effort to clean, I became not only irritated with the property management who swore that the cleaning crew was there on Friday (maybe they were there but they didn’t clean), but with the cheap tools I had to work with. I don’t know where to purchase quality, sturdy mops and such. I went to the Australia version of K-mart and Target, and all I could find were dollar store quality cleaning tools. Where is the Bed, Bath and Beyond of Australia? Where are my perfectly good cleaning tools that I gave or threw away when I left the U.S.? Why did I leave my pretty little bungalow to come here and rent a dirty, cockroach infested, townhouse with vinyl “wood” floors?

I know that I’ll get past this. It will all become easier as the days go by and I figure out a new way of living. I’ll walk down to the harbor and watch the boats go by. I’ll listen to the cockatoos carry on, and I’ll breathe in the aroma of frangipani.

It will be ok. It will be ok. It will be ok.

Still Letting Go

I had terrible nightmares all last night. I dreamed we were still back at the Utah house, the plane was leaving in a couple hours and we hadn’t finished packing or clearing out the house. There was so much stuff there! Piles and piles, and I wondered where it all came from; I thought I’d finished packing. I kept finding old family keepsakes and objects from my childhood that I thought I had shipped to my mother’s, things I didn’t want to lose, but had no room for them in the luggage.

I’d wake up, wait for my eyes to adjust, then breathe a sigh of relief. I was here in Sydney; the house in Utah is empty. Then I’d go back to sleep and start the same dream, but this time the buyers had already moved in and they were following me around as I tried to clean up, waiting for me to get my stuff out. This went on all night.

The truth is, we let the buyers move in last Thursday, because we thought everything was all but wrapped up after extension upon extension had been granted to them. When we got word yesterday that it still hadn’t recorded, it looked like Craig’s fear of squatters in our house was becoming way too real. Finally today it recorded.

Relief. It’s done. Hopefully no more dreams.

In real life, back when I was sorting and purging, I came across a box of my childhood stuffed animals and dolls, lovies as my granddaughter calls them. They were disintegrating from decades of storage in a box, not something I’d want to display, yet it was hard to let go of them. It felt like throwing a piece of my childhood away.

I remembered reading somewhere, I don’t remember now where, a suggestion of photographing your keepsakes, then keeping the photo and letting the physical object go. So I did that. Yes, I took portraits of my lovies. Here they are.

childhood toys (16 of 20)

childhood toys (18 of 20)

childhood toys (14 of 20)

childhood toys (13 of 20)

childhood toys (12 of 20)

childhood toys (11 of 20)

childhood toys (10 of 20)

childhood toys (6 of 20)

childhood toys (3 of 20)

Countdown

sky

Darlene from the moving company is in the kitchen packing up my world.  The muscle will be here later.  I’m drinking an extra caffeinated coffee, trying to wake up enough to process thoughts; sleep is no longer my friend.  I’m not doing very well, so forgive any poor sentence structure or wandering, incomprehensible thoughts.

This house selling business has been a nightmare.  We accepted an offer on December 15, and were supposed to close tomorrow.  The buyers’ realtor and lender are husband and wife, and not very forthcoming with information.  Deadlines were slipping by and they didn’t bother to say why or to say anything at all.  Finally, after we had our realtor hound them, they came back and said they needed an extension.  They wanted to close on on the 23rd.  We will be on an airplane, over an ocean somewhere between here and Australia.   The 23rd doesn’t actually exist for us; we will leave the U.S. on the 22nd, and arrive 14 hours later in Sydney, on the 24th.

We did give them an extension, until the 21st, the day before we leave.  At this point it is still questionable whether we’ll actually manage to close before we leave.  It could still happen.  Think positive thoughts.

There were many other horrific episodes in this nightmare, but I’m not going dredge them up again.  At this point I’m looking forward only.

Overcoming Inertia

dec 6 2012_8

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my need to continue living during this limbo period that I’m in. I have to say that in between house showings, I’ve really struggled with moving forward with those personal goals that exist outside of selling the house and moving to Sydney.

Inertia is a problem I’ve struggled with for years and my biggest fear in moving is that I’ll just pack that inertia in my suitcase and take it with me. I know that I’ve been guilty in the past of trying to find geographic solutions to my problems, and that doesn’t work. Wherever you go, there you are, right? I do believe that a big change can shake a person up and reset things to “go”. And that’s what I’m hoping will happen in my life.

And here I sit, not acting, not moving forward on what I know I want. What I want so bad I can taste it.

I did some thinking and journaling to try to determine what my problem was and to brainstorm some possible solutions.  First of all, it’s not like I actually just sit here all day every day. No, quite the contrary. I consistently give myself huge to-do lists that I can never succeed in completing in between being kicked out of the house up to three times a day for house showings, then I feel like a failure for not getting everything done. The thing I want to do most, which is write and to build a successful writing career, just keeps getting pushed to the end of the list, and off the list. See it falling on the floor there? Over there, in the corner.

So my first step was to drastically cut back on what I expected to accomplish each day. While whittling down that to-do list, I moved writing to the very top, but instead of an unrealistic “write 1000 words” I set myself a very minuscule goal of 100 words a day on a short story I’m working on. Very doable. I know that I need to set achievable goals and give myself opportunities to feel success, even if it’s a tiny success. It’s so easy to write 100 words that I raised it to 150. I usually go over, but if I don’t, I don’t feel bad about myself.

The other thing I did was set aside some time to work on my goals and objectives, knowing that I can’t possibly make any forward progress on this path if I don’t know where the path is leading me. Again, I broke the action items into small steps, and set due dates for the accomplishment of those steps.

Setting achievable daily goals, and working on a plan for short and long term goals has helped tremendously. Allowing myself to feel successful makes me want to do more, makes me feel like my long term goals are achievable! One task I set for myself was to write this blogpost and to research what other folks do to battle inertia. In researching and writing about inertia, I’m overcoming it. See how tricky I am? And so gullible; I fall for my tricks every time!

My first stop was over on Gretchen Rubin’s blog. She’s writing a book called Better Than Before, that I can’t wait to get my hands on, all about how we form and break habits. On her blog, she goes through a lot of the points she’s learned on habit forming and breaking. She has worked out a number of Strategies for working with habits.

If you google inertia, you’ll find a lot of references to Newton’s First Law of Motion, stating that an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion unless acted on by an outside force. This is where the Strategy of Accountability comes in. That’s great, but accountability can be difficult if you don’t have an outside force to act on you. I was intrigued by Rubin’s suggestion that using the Strategy of Thinking an idea can act as the catalyst for change. For me, the idea is that I want to be a published and paid writer. That idea is the force that makes me move.

Rubin also goes on to talk about defining yourself in such categories as Moderator or Abstainer, Obliger or Rebel. Understanding these personality traits can greatly aid you in your habit forming or breaking, and inertia fits into this.

Another important piece she delves into are the Loopholes we invoke to justify eating that donut or not doing what we need to do to achieve our goals. I’m most guilty of the False Choice, Moral Licensing, and Tomorrow Loopholes.

I found lots of lists of 10 or 8 or 20 things to do to combat inertia. Over on Daring to Live Fully, Marelisa had on her list using visualization to help you move. Visualize what you want and how it makes you feel; let that image pull you out of the state of inertia. This expands on using an idea as the force.

Steven Handel on The Emotion Machine put on his list to “notice the daily victories.” Make sure to acknowledge your successes, even the small steps you take toward you goals.

I was especially intrigued by Forbes contributor Sonia Kapadia’s two point list. She questioned why, when she had the desire and means to do what she intended, could she still not move. Kapadia found that this act of questioning herself, and coming up with the answer that there was no reason for it, was all she needed to get herself in motion again.

Curious, she set out to learn how others handled inertia. She found that people generally fell into one of two camps.  One group used deadlines and accountability as we’ve already looked at. It was the other group I found interesting; they actually broke their inertia by extending it purposefully. They took a break or a vacation even, taking time to clear their heads and refocus. Sometimes they used their rest period to create strategies to move forward on their plan.

I realized that in taking the time to step back and work on my goals and objectives, and also taking the time to research and write about inertia puts me in that second group. And it’s worked! I still may be putting too many things on my to-do list other than writing, but I am writing, and doing something every day that is in line with my long term goals.

What about you? Do you have some techniques for overcoming inertia in your life?

Life Is Precious

I needed to go to the store and buy bananas and Thai seasoning, and I wanted to take a walk.  I debated back and forth with myself, should I take a nice peaceful walk around the neighborhood and then drive to the store?  Or should I walk to the store, both saving time and not adding more emissions to the already nasty Salt Lake City air.  Walking out there in the traffic did not appeal to me, but I decided I’d be safer walking on the sidewalk than driving on the road.

And so I put on my walking shoes, grabbed my shopping bag and headed out.  I can’t walk and text at the same time, so I had to stop along the way to respond to our real estate agent.  As I crossed the street at the busy intersection, I thought of my husband telling me how many times he thought he was going to get hit there, walking home from the train, by people turning right.  So I was extra vigilant.  I coughed and choked from the exhaust in the air, and wished I were in my car.

I turned east and kept walking, lost in thought, dreaming about walking in Sydney, down by the harbor, or in the historic Rocks.  As I went along, a bicyclist passed me on the sidewalk.  Bicyclists don’t really belong on the sidewalk, but if I were on a bike, I wouldn’t want to be in the street either.  I walked some more.  I saw a group of police officers, gathered in a parking lot, having a good time.  I wondered if they’d shot anyone lately; according to the Salt Lake Tribune, police shootings have killed more people in Utah during the last five years than either drug or gang related homicides.

As I reached the next intersection, I saw a commotion.  There were cars stopped; one had been turning right.  Others were honking at the ones not driving fast enough.  I tip toed through the cross walk, hoping not to get hit.  When I reached the other side I turned to look and saw that bicyclist from before sprawled out on the side of the road, surrounded by people on cell phones.  He wasn’t moving.

Some of the police officers I had seen around the corner were approaching, asking people what had happened.  I watched for a minute but didn’t want to be a gawker, so went on to the store.  I kept thinking, maybe I should have taken the car.  I thought again of my husband’s warning of people turning right, so I felt the need to call him and warn him to be careful.  It didn’t occur to me until I got home that if I had left the house a couple minutes earlier, if I hadn’t stopped to text our real estate agent, that could have been me sprawled across the street.  Of course, I wouldn’t have been traveling at quite the clip the bicyclist was, wouldn’t have entered the crosswalk so quickly, could have stopped, or the guy in the car would have been more likely to see me.

I’m just grateful to be here right now.  I’m worried about the bicyclist.  He was gone when I came out of the store.  His bike was still there, and the police officers, and the fire truck blocking the road.  The guy who hit him was gone.

Persimmon Memories

persimmon pudding and fabric (11 of 11)
I’m going to tell you a twisty turny story that started with this fabric I found when I was out shopping with a friend the other day.  I was immediately smitten with these prints.  Had I known then that the name of the line was called Persimmon, the deal would have been doubly sealed.

persimmon pudding and fabric (1 of 11)
It brought to mind a favorite memory, of a bright autumn afternoon in 1973 or 4.  You know the kind, with the sky a clear blue, the air as crisp as a tart apple, the afternoon sun low and golden.   My grandparents lived in southern Illinois and we were there to visit.  We drove down the rolling gravel road, through the country to a place my uncle knew, where we could pick persimmons.

persimmon pudding and fabric (2 of 11)
I’m sure my father would never have allowed me up the ladder, but some how my mind has placed me there, biting into a perfectly ripe persimmon and tasting the sweet, creamy pulp.  And then another that was not quite ripe, my mouth puckering with the astringent juices.

persimmon pudding and fabric (5 of 11)
Continuing my persimmon reverie, I got to wondering if persimmons grew here in Utah.  I’d never heard anyone mention them, and the only ones I’d seen were the grocery store variety.  Then on Saturday morning at the farmer’s market, standing in line waiting for carrots, the woman next to me had a plastic container with little red things that didn’t quite look like tomatoes.  I asked, “are those persimmons?”  Yes!  She pointed in the direction where they could be found and I took off as fast as I could in that crowd of locally-grown-Thanksgiving-meal shoppers.

persimmon pudding and fabric (6 of 11)
Those persimmons from long ago became pudding, and that was what these were destined for as well.  I used this recipe as a guideline or a suggestion.  I switched out the regular flour for almond flour, honey for sugar, and I was very flexible on the quantities of ingredients.  I used closer to 1 1/2 to 2 cups pulp, a glub or two of honey, 4 eggs, cream instead of milk, baking soda instead of powder, and I think about 2 cups almond flour.

persimmon pudding and fabric (8 of 11)
I did want whipped cream, but would have had to make a bigger mess in order to do that.  As it is, I have to fit any cooking, and the cleaning up of that cooking, into little windows between home showings.  The pudding was yummy, even without whipped cream.

persimmon pudding and fabric (3 of 11)
Happy Thanksgiving!

The Waiting Game

I feel like I’ve wasted a year of my life. That’s how long it’s been since this moving to Australia business began. I spent all year frozen, unable to function in the moment because I didn’t know what my future held. Throughout the summer, I struggled with wondering if I should bother to plant peonies or grapes, not knowing if I’d be around when they blossomed or fruited. As summer dwindled down, I didn’t know whether I should put up tomatoes or freeze berries to get us through the winter.

As hard as I try to be mindful and live in the moment, I just do not handle this limbo well. I’m back in the same place, not knowing how long it will take this house to sell. I’m trying really hard to convince myself that this IS real life and I don’t need to wait until I get to Sydney for life to start again. I feel like the pause button has been pushed and it got stuck.

I had a good talk with myself this morning. I like routine; it makes me feel like things are normal. I can make a routine. This routine involves keeping my house cleaner than I’m used to, and doesn’t allow for mess making. I can handle this. I hope.

this is not my home (3 of 5)
I’ve been cooking meals ahead so I’m not as frantic when house showings interfere with dinner time.  Cooking on my brand new gas range.  That’s something I’ve learned through all this; don’t wait until you’re ready to sell your house to make it the way you want it.  All these years I could have been enjoying this wonderful appliance.  Instead I made do with that awful ceramic top thing that didn’t heat evenly and had a broken element from a very cold morning last winter when I turned the burner on to heat up the tea kettle, and…. CRACK!!!  Yeah, heat and cold glass don’t go well together.

I’m loving cooking on this for the short time (I hope it’s a short time) that I have it.  I’m still not used to all that live fire though.  I can’t tell you how many times my head has come near to igniting.

We also finally got a new light fixture in the kitchen.  Sorry, no pic.  There were two fixtures when we moved in, one just a typical, round, flush-mount light, the other was hideous, decades old, rectangular, fluorescent, industrial type lighting .  That one quit working about three years ago and we’ve just lived with a dimly lit kitchen.  So of course, one of the first things we did before putting the house on the market was to replace the ugly, broken lamp with a beautiful, functional one.  It’s amazing how much I can see in there now!  I can see what I’m cooking on that pretty new gas range!  I told the husband that there is just no telling what may have been in his food all these years.

This Is Not My Beautiful House

this is not my home (1 of 5)

I’m sitting here waiting for the photographer to arrive.  The house listed on Monday evening, this house that already no longer belongs to me.  It’s beautiful.  It’s gorgeous.  It’s a beautiful, untouchable woman with her makeup and hair done just so.

I wrote awhile back about existing within this space but not actually interacting with it.  Now I feel like I can’t even breathe here for fear of messing something up and having to quick clean it before the next people come to see the place.

Years ago, I watched a movie, Steel Magnolias I think, in which the main character lived in a big, beautiful house full of shiny, dark woodwork.  She moved through the house serenely polishing all that wood.  Out of the entire story of love and loss, that’s what I took away from it.  Woodwork.  It wasn’t just the woodwork; that was a metaphor for a beautiful home that was all mine.

this is not my home (2 of 5)
In the years following, I dreamed of having my own home with woodwork to polish.  I’ve lived here in this house full of gleaming wood trim, mantel that stretches across the room, and original hardwood floors for five years.  When we first moved in I pulled out the furniture polish and soft cloth, and starting tenderly caressing that woodwork.  Weekly, I would move through the house, dusting every surface, admiring the trim that goes all around the living and dining rooms.

For awhile, a short while, I continued with regular polishing of the mantel – forget the door frames – once a month.  I kept up with the weekly dusting.  Over time, polishing sessions became farther and farther apart, until finally it was a once a year thing.  I’m embarrassed to say that the dusting, too, became rather infrequent.

Now that we are about to move to the other end of the planet, I feel regret for not polishing and dusting more.  I recognize that part of my housekeeping failure is completely attributable to the depression I’ve dealt with off and on during these years.  That and apparently a lack of sufficient lighting, but that’s another story.  Still, I have to ask myself, do I really believe I missed out on an opportunity to dust?  Seriously now.

this is not my home (4 of 5)
The woodwork is once again polished and gleaming.  As I write this, I realize that I was more comfortable in that dusty house with the unpolished mantel than I am in this sanitized, void-of-life, environment.  Like I said, it’s beautiful.  It is not my house.  Gone are my books, my needlework, my crocks of fermenting vegetables.

I thought that once I got the place cleaned and staged that I would have some time to sew or do some art journaling.  NO!  I can’t do anything that might make a mess, and still my every moment is spent removing all signs of life from this place.

In many ways, this is reminding me of losing my Rose.  Just like with Rose, I thought I was prepared to go through the loss.  But in reality the loss came so sudden and unexpectedly, before I was ready, before I thought it was going to happen.

this is not my home (1 of 1)
And yes, I am aware that I am sitting here whining about giving up my house so I can move to Australia and live near the beach.  As much as I want to go live near the ocean and be surrounded by people who say, “g’day” and “mate” I love this house.  This house is not just a bunch of polished wood nailed together.  It is the first beautiful home I’ve lived in, and definitely the first house that was really mine.  These walls are the bones of my friend and I am reluctant to leave this friend behind.

We have another showing tonight.  I keep accidentally calling it a viewing, like a wake or something.  It is a little death.  Oh there I go again.  Ok!  So!  I need to get out to the kitchen and make our dinner in a manner that doesn’t mess up the kitchen, then feed us, clean it up and get out the door.  I think I see a movie in my very near future.

Transient Roots

yellow rose on tablecloth (1 of 1)
The other day while looking at pretty pictures on Pinterest, I had one of those ah-ha moments.  Throughout this summer, I’ve been existing in a state of uncertainty, unable to plan even a few months into the future.  I didn’t want to talk about it earlier, because I was afraid of jinxing it.  Now, so much time has passed with still no answer as to what the future holds for us, so I might as well jinx away.

There is a slight possibility that we’ll be moving to Sydney for my husband’s job.  We’ve been dangling on the end of the line since – when? May? June?  I haven’t known whether I should dust my tchotchkes or pack them in a box.  I don’t handle limbo well at all.  I like to plan ahead, not just a month ahead; I want to know what the next five years look like.  But I would really like to know what the next 5 months are going to look like!  I can’t even go shopping for much-needed new clothes, because I don’t know what season is coming next!

All of this has left me feeling incredibly displaced; I don’t feel a sense of belonging in my own home and with my own possessions.  My ah-ha moment was in realizing that the primary reason for this feeling of displacement was that I am merely existing within this space and not interacting with it.  I do the bare minimum of housework to make the environment safe and liveable, but that’s it.  I don’t nest.  I don’t decorate.

With the big black hole of information we’ve been given, I’m thinking it’s time to just pretend or assume we’re staying here.  I feel like I’m waking up out of a long sleep.  I’m ready to engage again with my space (and life).  The approaching autumn helps also; a homey, nesting mood always greets me with the arrival of cooler weather.  I still can’t reinsert my roots into the ground, until I have a definite answer, and I’m curious how people who travel or move frequently attain a feeling of rootedness or home without filling their freezer full of food for the winter or planting perennials.

While I try to figure this out, I’m going to go put a tablecloth on the dining room table and arrange some candles on the coffee table.  Do you have any advice for me?

A World in Need of Hope

grasses against the sky (1 of 1)
It’s gotten to where I can’t bear to turn on the television or the radio, for fear of learning of some new tragedy happening in the world. War, disease, natural disasters, and police brutality. As long as the terror is happening in other countries, it’s easier to distance ourselves from it; there’s a buffer zone. Then you turn on the news and see police in military gear, armed with assault rifles and tear gas, and see armored vehicles driving down U.S. streets.

We find this police brutality and suppression of civil rights shocking; this denial of freedom of speech is something that takes place in the Middle East or China. We forget our own country’s history of oppression. We forget about the attack on the Bonus Army, a group of veterans and their families gathered in Washington DC in 1932. They were there to demand payment of their service certificates. Instead the police showed up and started shooting people, then Hoover ordered the army to clear them out. They were chased away with guns and tanks, their encampment full of women and children was burned to the ground.

Not as far back in our suppressed memories are the Kent State shootings, when the National Guard opened fire on students protesting the Vietnam war. Four students were killed and nine more wounded.

A few days ago, a young man, Dillon Taylor, was shot and killed by police here in Salt Lake, because he didn’t respond immediately to the officer’s orders.  Witnesses say he had headphones on and didn’t hear the officer, and that he was unarmed.

I am far and away not a criminal element, but I have to say I feel uncomfortable around the police. I used to work in a domestic violence shelter. I was followed, and not in a protective way, by police on more than one occasion as I picked up women to bring them to shelter, or left to drive home after work. I remember very clearly being verbally assaulted by an officer when I refused to tell him where the shelter was. I was scared. He had his hands in my car, white knuckle gripping the door, his face in mine screaming like a banshee and spitting, as he threatened and demanded to know where the shelter was.

I don’t feel safe in this world. I don’t feel safe in this country. I need some good news. I need to hear about people being good to each other. I’m going to avoid the news today and get lost in some stitching. If you hear any happy news, please share.