Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Never fear...I shall return...

This here blog and my blogger buddies have not gotten the attention they deserve in the last couple of weeks.  I'm heading to Texas at the end of this week, and I'm working long hours to prep before I go.  The blog is going to take a backseat until I return.

Book Challenge by Erin folks, don't you worry...I've already got my post scheduled to go live with the categories for BCBE 7.0 on June 1st. 

During this mini blog hiatus, I'll be most active on instagram, probably posting pics of Texas food and family photos.  Follow me there (if you don't already.)

I will miss y'all.  Actually, I miss my interaction with you already.  You are a great source of support, positivity, inspiration, humor, and knowledge.  Keep doing you, and I will catch up with you when I return.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Swappin' Countries: Going Home

For anyone new around these parts, Erin is an American who lives in Australia, and Kristen is an Australian who lives in America.  The two of us regularly talk about our experiences and lives swapping countries. 

Well, not sure if "regularly" is the correct word because we both admit to being pretty inconsistent, but we have the best intentions to keep this series going.  (Is it a series if we've only had one post and one guest post?)

Both of us are traveling to our original homes in the next couple of months, so we thought we'd share our thoughts, feelings, and anticipations about that visit.

Erin's story:  It's been exactly two years since I've last been to Texas.  I am suffering from some serious homesickness, I ain't gonna lie about that.  Two years is a long time to go without a hug from my daddy, a laugh with my mama (in person), and the taste of chile con queso in my belly. 

Two years ago, my trip was planned around niece #1's high school graduation and a cousin's college graduation.  This year, my trip is planned around niece #2's high school graduation.  I will also get to spend Memorial Day in the good ol' U.S. of A.  As a bonus, my mom, my niece, my sister-in-law and I are having a quick San Francisco getaway together.  And, as a further bonus, three of my bestest girlfriends are meeting me in Northern Cali after the relatives go back to Texas, and I'll complete my trip with a couple of days in the Sonoma Valley with my girls. 

When I go home, there is no time for rest and relaxation.  I am constantly on the go, doing all the things and seeing all the people and eating all the food.  I love Texas food.  I may have an unhealthy relationship with it, but seriously, when I'm home, I gorge on alllll those things that I miss when I'm in Australia.

Neither of my parents live in Houston anymore.  I split my time between Huntsville (with my dad and stepmom) and Tyler (with my mom and her guy), and I squeeze in a little College Station time where my brother and his family lives.

Often, I get overwhelmed because I never get to see all the people I want to see or do all the things I want to do.  I have to prioritize, and in this situation, as cliché as it sounds, it's family first for me.

So, this might sound bad, but I also see the folks who are willing to be flexible and put effort in our relationship.  There are folks that I was really close to when I lived in Texas, yet I never hear from them anymore.  That's fine.  Our lives have gone in different directions.  So, I see the folks that are currently a part of my life, and not the ones that were once upon a time.

There is always some feelings of guilt.  I feel guilty by the pain in my father's voice, and the tears in my mother's eyes.  They support my happiness here, but we miss seeing once another more frequently, and I'd be lying if I didn't say I feel guilty about it.

And, when I visit Texas without my guy, I miss him.  Three weeks without your partner in life is a significant amount of time to be apart.  But, it's something we knew would be a part of our relationship with the reality of me living on the other side of the planet of so many of my loved ones.

The most difficult part of the trip?  Saying goodbye.  Especially when I don't have an exact plan of when I'll be there next.  So, so tough.  I get on that plane.  I sigh.  I reflect.  I may cry.  But, I head back to my second home where my husband, stepkids, fur babies, and life awaits. 

I feel fortunate to call two places home.  To have people that love and value me.  To love and value others.  Through the hardships, the feeling of gratitude for that love and appreciation outweighs all.

Kristen's story:  It has been almost 3 years since I last went home, and almost 5 and a half years since I left for good (though, I didn't know that at the time).

Like Erin, I am suffering from some pretty awful homesickness as well. I am very excited that I will be back in my home country, eating all the food I miss, hearing people talk like me, seeing words I recognise, driving on the side of the road I learned to drive on... all those things. But I am obviously most excited about seeing my family, especially my mum.

My mum and I have always been extremely close and living on the other side of the world has been so hard. Sometimes I wish it were different, but you can't help who you love. Mum loves America and has visited a few times since I moved here (only once to Louisville though) and her last trip was September 2016. I met up with her and a friend in LA & Vegas and we had a ball (and of course, fought a ton). The next plans were for KC and I to come home in June 2017, and then mum wanted to go to Graceland sometime in 2018.

my mum loves Toby Keith
We booked our flights for this June back in December. December 30th to be exact. As most of you know, my mum had a stroke early January. If we hadn't just booked our flights, this trip may not be happening. I probably would have hopped on a flight home immediately. I almost did, several times, but she was surrounded by family and I was able to talk to her immediately after the stroke and she told me not to come. Things got a bit worse before they got better, but she is doing really well. She is not home yet, and she is not back at work.

Before my mum's stroke, we had lots of plans - I wanted to take KC to see the Blue Mountains and the Hunter Valley. I wanted to do more touristy stuff because I didn't know when I would be back. I thought about doing another mini trip, like to Uluru or something. Busy busy busy, doing all the things and seeing all the people. Like Erin, I had friends that I was 'so close' with before I left, but they don't put any time and effort into the friendship when I am gone, so unfortunately when I am home, I don't make an effort to see them - time is far too precious for that. Moving across the world sure shows you who your people are.

Now, after my mum's stroke, we probably aren't going to go to the Blue Mountains or the Hunter Valley. We won't go to Uluru. We will probably spend most of our time at home. We had already booked New Zealand before my mum's stroke, and I don't want to waste any of the time I have with her. We will be in Australia for 2 weeks, and we are spending a few days in Melbourne like last time.

I am excited. I can't wait to see my mum, my nana, my cousins, uncles and aunties. I can't wait to see Pacey, my beautiful golden retriever. My cat Agatha couldn't give two shits about me and wouldn't come near me last time, which is definitely more than a little heartbreaking. My little brother is somewhere I'm not going to be able to visit him more than once and that also breaks my heart.

Saying goodbye is stupid hard. Flying home is crazy expensive, KC and I want to start a family soon and won't be able to travel as often. The thought of more long flights makes the butterflies in my stomach go crazy. My mum probably won't be able to travel for quite some time. The unknown, the I don't know when I will be back, when I will see my mum again, it's so freaking hard. I feel so guilty that I am not there. That my dog, Pacey, gets SO excited when she sees me (will she remember me this time?), but my cat Agatha could not care less. They are both getting older, and I am not there for them. Yes, I realise they are animals, but I'm not there for my mum, little brother or nana either.

Like Erin, I do feel fortunate that I can call two places home and that I have people who love me enough to miss me, and I them. Sometimes I have to work a little harder at my appreciation and not turn into a sulky child, but at the end of it all, there's no real solution. I am who I am because of where I've come from and where I am today. My heart - as corny as it sounds - is forever split between the two places. Instead of sulking about it, I will appreciate the visits home more than I ever appreciated actually living there.

As I'm sure you can tell, being an expat going home is all sorts of emotional. But I'm sure I speak for both of us when I say excitement about going home and doing all the things definitely outweighs all the not so great feelings. And of course, I am making Erin see me when I am in Sydney, and who wouldn't be excited about that?

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

I show you my books, you show me yours... vol.28

It's Show Us Your Books Day!  The day hosted by Jana & Steph, the day that makes my goodreads "to read" list grow, and the day I interact with a blogging community of readers.  I love this day (or week because it sometimes takes me a week to read all the links) of the month.

What I've read since last link-up:

1.  Bird Box by Josh Malerman - What did I just read? I have no idea, nor do I know how I feel about it. Did I like it? Did it annoy me? Do I feel like I have more questions than answers? This was a step out of my usual reading comfort zone, and I'm glad I read it, but I don't know if I liked it. 3/5

2.  The History of Love by Nicole Krauss - I really, really wanted to love this book, but I spent too much time confused by the connections of some of the characters to say I loved the overall reading experience. When the connections were all revealed, I still felt confused about a couple of things. The premise was lovely, as were Alma and Leo. I could've done without a couple of the support cast. 3/5

3.  We Ate the Road Like Vultures by Lynnette Lounsbury - Such a ridiculous and glorious book.  I gobbled it up.  This book is an example why I enjoy participating in the Aussie Author Challenge year after year.  I find little gems like this one that I might not have discovered otherwise. 4.5/5

4.  Missing Pieces by Heather Gudenkauf - I hate to use Girl on the Train as an example (the go-to book that other thrillers are compared to) but you know how some readers didn't like that book because they didn't like the lead character?  Well, that's how I felt about this book.  I was annoyed with Sarah and rolled my eyes at her more times than I could count.  But, the mystery plus small town-setting, family-secret dynamics was enjoyable enough to keep me reading. 3/5

5.  We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo - What a debut from a talented young author! This spirited book is full of darkness and light, pain and humor. It examines personal identities and cultural clashes through the experiences of a young narrator. Thought-provoking about the challenges of immigrants plus gains and losses of leaving home and the expectations of opportunity. 4/5

6.  Ghost Girls by Cath Ferla - I attended school for a few years that is aimed at international students and located in the Haymarket/Sussex Street/Chinatown area of Sydney. So, many of the locations described in this book and the requirements of student visa holders were known to me. Even the cover photo, I know that exact street.  I thought the author did an excellent job painting the picture of this area and these students. And, sadly, it seems very real to me that students could go missing the way the plot plays out. 4/5

7.  The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel - Not exactly sure what this says about me, but I enjoy reading books about dysfunction, and this book is filled to the brim with it.  I felt the author did an admirable job writing a riveting book that included some severe, dark, and extremely unhealthy relationships.  4.5/5

Currently reading:  Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich (and, it's fantastic, so far)
I've shown you mine...now, you show me yours...

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sunday's Seven Snapshots vol.121

Spent a little time in the sunshine, reading a book, and chillin' with my homegirls

This is Dolly's version of whispering sweet nothings in my ear

I interrupted my husband in his home workshop to draw a name from a hat for my wild card winner of Book Challenge by Erin.

I headed into work early a couple of days this week and the autumn winds were blowing which reminded me that hoodies are my favorite article of clothing.

Our family loves the drive-in ~ we went Saturday night to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2

I tried to get some blog reading done this Sunday.  I meant to get some email replying done too, but that didn't happen.  Forgive me because these blue skies were calling out for me to get outside......

Happy Sunday to you and yours!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Book Challenge by Erin 6.0 Wrap Up

You all know that I am a sucker for book challenges.  Also, you know the one that is nearest and dearest to me is the one that I host ~ Book Challenge by Erin (yes, I know, those creative juices were really flowing when I came up with that name.)

Most of the challenge's activity occurs on the facebook group.  Selfishly, it allows me to interact with book lovers from every era of my life ~ family, high school friends, college friends, co-workers, adult friends, blogger buddies, friends of friends and more!  It is an open group.  I try to be a stress-free, no-pressure host.  I encourage as much (or as little) participation as a reader wants to give. 

I did add a goodreads group this challenge as well.  But, the activity was lacking there (something for me to work on in the future). 

This group enriches my life.  The support, the participation, the interaction, and just sharing the love of books is something that I could have never predicted would bring me so much happiness! Yes, I keep a score, a tally of points, and I give prizes, but those don't matter to me nearly as much as the engagement with each other and the passion for reading that is evident among the group members.   Thank you to all who participate! I probably get greater pleasure out of it than any of the challenge participants. 

How did we do for the sixth challenge installment?  Take a look...

Book Challenge by Erin 6.0 is complete! For all who participated this challenge:
  • The most books ever read for one of our challenges - 605! (compared to 566 in the previous challenge) - this total has increased with every challenge
  • The most to finish all 10 books - 33!
  • The readers that finished BOTH rounds (20 books total) - 6
  • Readers from USA (25+ states), Canada, Scotland, Switzerland, Germany, Australia participated
I appreciate each and every one that gives to this group. I read every book list, review, comment, and I am grateful for all of the support and encouragement shown for the love of books!  It is a happy place for me, and I hope I've created a happy place for others.  I've received some amazing feedback from participants this time. 

Winners!  I gave *small* prizes to four participants: the first person to finish BOTH rounds & the first person to finish the first round were the same person, the second person to finish the first round, the person that accumulated the most points, and a "wild card" draw between all the ones who finished the challenge. 
Let me brag a little about more of our blogger friends...the following completed the challenge by reading 10 (or more) books:

Megan at Can I Decide Another Day?

Heather at Heather's Hurrah

Karen at Run Wright

Tanya at A Mindful Migration

Bev at Confuzzledom

Ericka at A Quiet Girl's Musings of a World that Talks Too Much

Jamie at Whatever I Think Of!

Mattie at Northwest Native

Jen at It's My Life

Jenn at Quirky Pickings

Olya at The Siberian American

Christina at Easily Entertained

Thinking about joining us for the next challenge??  Join the facebook group.  If you have any facebook friends that you think would enjoy the challenge, recommend them to join the group.  Some of the most enthusiastic readers in the group are friends of friends...and I love that!  Again, this challenge is open to more than just bloggers.  We have a lot of non-blogger participants.  If you know anyone who may want to dabble into the world of book challenges, share this page with them:  Book Challenge by Erin.

Or don't.  Some bloggers don't do facebook, and I'm cool with that too.  Of course, I announce stuff here on my blog too.

JUNE 1st - category announcement for Book Challenge by Erin 7.0

JULY 1st - OCTOBER 31st - BOOK CHALLENGE by ERIN 7.0 - tell your friends! Invite them to the group.  The more book lovers, the better!

I repeatedly say it (because I mean it): I don't care if someone reads one book or 20, as long as my challenge has encouraged reading, that's a win for me.