Moving Ahead

It was recently brought to my attention that I had left my blog in limbo in the midst of our dispute regarding our household goods.  I want to wrap up the last few months of the year here in this post.

Thanks to the involvement of the global head of tax for EY, we got our shipment of household goods delivered.  The delivery was a welcome relief after an inordinate amount of stress over our belongings.

Since the arrival of our goods, we have settled into life here in Atlanta.  We continue to challenge ourselves, living in a third-floor walk-up apartment with three children, for example.  We have made friends and learned our way around, the children have adapted very well to a great school, and life is generally good.  We are now beginning to shop for a house to call home for many years to come.

Our Boldliving saga will continue, though probably not so much on this blog.  Writing about life in our own country just doesn’t seem as interesting as writing about life overseas.  Plus, I have largely accomplished what I set out to do with this blog, which was to push my own limits and find my true self beneath all the layers that influence of others and life in general had piled upon my soul.

In large part due to this massive experiment we undertook, I now feel completely comfortable in my own skin.  I am taking risks and putting myself out there in business — I started my own law firm defending attorneys in disciplinary actions.  I don’t think anyone would describe me as shy anymore, and I am a co-director of social activities at our new school.  I know so much more than before what I want, and I actually see clearly how to get to where I want to be.  All in all, this experiment has been a grand success, and when I look back at myself pre-adventureand myself now, I am oh-so-happy that when dh came home and asked, “Would you move to Australia?” I didn’t say no.

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The Fat Lady Has Sung

Today, the Australia Senate passed the proposed reforms to the Living Away From Home Allowance, ending nearly a year of upset and angst among expats living in Aus.  As of October 1, all foreigners on temporary work visas who are receiving LAFHA will find their paychecks slashed by approximately 1/4.  Australia is losing great talent over this, and it’s a sad day because the government really has no idea what it has done.

There are lots of arguments that are about to go on between employers and employees.  I wish the employees the best in these fights.

Throughout this hellish ordeal, employers around the country have been hostile to employees who dared to balk at losing a quarter of their pay.  We certainly found that Ernst & Young, the employer who took us over to Australia, reacted angrily and with great personal offense when we asked how they would help us after having recruited us over based upon a specific take home pay.  Changes to the reforms in the last weeks may have shifted some of the tax-paying burden to the employers, but most employers seem to be shuffling their feet toward a strategy that bypasses any burden landing on them.  That is consistent with the way employers have treated their expats since this issue surfaced last November.

As for us, despite having left Australia two months ago, we are still battling with EY to get our shipment of household goods.  In a scheme that sounds like a classic moving scam you’d expect a couple of thugs to carry out, EY had our house full of possessions shipped and then demanded we pay several thousands of dollars or our shipment would not be delivered.  When we balked, EY and the movers stopped responding to us.  Now our shipment is being held for ransom.  Again, the behavior is consistent with how vindictive employers have treated their expats in the last year.

For us we hope the LAFHA drama is nearly over.  For our expat friends who will now begin their journey back home, we wish you Godspeed.  May the wind be at your back, my friends.

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Post-Australia Me

Never in my life had I imagined living in Australia until it was suddenly proposed in late 2010.  Now that our time living there has come to a close (for now, anyway), I can’t imagine not having lived there.

Our experience in Aus changed me deep down in ways that I never imagined it would, and I am deeply grateful for the lessons I learned there.

When I look at myself now compared to how I was when we left California, I see a stronger, more self-assured woman, partner and mother.  Never before have I had so little concern for what others think of me.  I recall clearly the feeling I experienced so many times in my life, of feeling nearly naked in a new setting – unsure of myself, feeling a hitch in my step as I walked, believing completely that everyone was staring at me, sweating with insecurity, nervously playing with my hair, replaying conversations over and over in my head after-the-fact, beating myself up over what I had or hadn’t said.  Over my time in Australia, these experiences dissipated, and now that I am here in another new place, I find that I simply never feel that way.  For the first time in my life, I found a place in my heart where I am truly comfortable in my own skin.  For this alone I am grateful to Australia!

I also see a stronger wife and mother than I was before.  Being in unfamiliar territory but having to take care of our family brought the four (now five) of us closer than ever.  Dh and I relied only upon each other for everything, with no outside help (or influence).  This made us stronger people, parents, partners.  I look back at situations we had initially in Australia and how I handled them, and how I’ve handled similar situations more recently.  Yes, I definitely became a Tiger Mama, and I’m good with that!  It took some extreme situations, but I absolutely realize that no one else is going to look out for my family the way I will. 

The other massive change I see in myself is my now deeply-held belief that anything truly is possible.  I have always dreamed big, and I’ve achieved some pretty cool dreams, but in recent years there’s been a rather depressing part of me that meets new ideas with an initial “can’t be done” attitude.  I think it stems from my time in the overly stressful environment of big law firms, where as a litigator everything I dealt with was the falling out of some situation where no one expected it to end badly; everything I handled was a problem of some kind, not a possibility of great things to come. 

Our time in Australia gave me a very different perspective.  For one thing, I saw the US and its business successes and failures from outside the snow globe, and it all looks much clearer from out there.  Plus, I met people who had done all kinds of amazing things.  We have friends who have migrated halfway around the world in search of a better life for their children, who have escaped incredibly dangerous cities, some who came to Aus on rafts.  We know a family who own their home, have children in school and jobs that depend on them, who one day packed it all up in their Winnebago and spent six months traveling around Australia.  Their world didn’t fall apart because they took an adventure!  I have a stronger conviction than I’ve ever had that we can accomplish whatever we please, so long as we put our minds to it.  I no longer feel a victim subject to the whims of a world beyond my control, nor do I feel in my own ventures that I am knocking on a door desperately hoping that someone will buy my chocolate bar.  We each write our own stories, and I’m writing a different one now than I ever pictured before – a much cooler one! 

When I look at myself then and now, I also see how much less burdened I am by possessions.  We purged and purged and purged before heading over, and for a year and a half we barely acquired anything beyond basics (like a couch, a grill, a TV).  When we left, we purged even further.  Now that our 2/3 of a container of goods is on its way here, we think about things like “oh, we don’t have…..” and my inclination is to NOT buy whatever it is.  I love owning less than I have in my entire adult life.  Rather than feel less fortunate because I don’t have something, I feel unburdened, uncluttered.  As we get ready to put a home together again, I balk at buying furniture or anything we don’t really NEED.

Finally, despite the initial stresses, and boy were there some doozies, somewhere along the line I found myself really adopting the Australian attitude of “no worries.”  Things that used to really irk me and eat up much of my time and energy simply don’t anymore.  I actually reached a point now where I see others wasting their precious energy of matters of no consequence, and I wish I could transport them to Australia just long enough for a better mindset to set in. 

My biggest fear in leaving Australia is a fear that I will lose these great gains.  I want to maintain the strength and certainty I’ve found in myself, as well as my perspective on the importance of things, my belief in possibility.  We did a bit of souvenir shopping before we left Sydney, and as we get a home where we can display our items, I hope that they will remind me each day to sit back, sip the cappuccino, imagine the waves breaking, and shout out “Aussie Aussie Aussie!  Oi oi oi!”

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Where In The World?

We are just starting to pull our heads up above water after a certifiably insane past six weeks.  Forgive me for my blog being a bit behind and soon to be out of order, but it’s been like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs around here.  Now that we have some basics down (ok, it’s not quite as bad as finding food and shelter, but it’s close!), it’s time to update the story.

So where are in the world are we?  Atlanta, Georgia, USA! 

We headed out of Australia near the end of July.  It was a choice we felt we had to make in light of the government’s proposed changes to the LAFHA regime.  Anyone reading my blog with a particular interest in LAFHA knows what I’m talking about – the government proposed changes to the Living Away From Home Allowance tax concessions which mean a massive hit to expats’ take-home pay.  For our family, the change meant a net loss of $2000/month – something we simply could not afford.  While the changes were merely proposed and not passed when we left, it had become increasingly clear that the government was not at all interested in hearing about the immense impact of these proposed reforms on real working families, and that instead of making any changes to the proposal as it went through Parliament, the government would instead insist that no accommodation be made for expats already in-country and relying upon their income to meet their expenses.  So far the reforms have passed Parliament and are awaiting a Senate vote, but since the Senate already has the votes to pass them and no serious opposition working against them, I see no hope for the reforms to be defeated.

So, with this as our backdrop, we decided to head back to the US.  My dh found an exciting position with a new firm in Atlanta, Georgia, a city we’d never visited.  We had long ago said that if we moved again, it would be just once, and that the new spot would be our long-term home.  We want a place to raise our kids, for them to forge life-long friendships, a place where we learn our way around and can stop having to think so hard about how to get to simple places like the grocery store.  So, without ever having been here, we decided that Atlanta would be that place for us.

Leaving Aus was bittersweet.  While Atlanta holds a new adventure for us, we had an incredible experience in Australia.  It certainly had it challenges and surprises, but in the end we only really remember the positives.  I have much to say about what we’ll miss about Aus, but that will come in a separate post. 

We arrived in Atlanta four weeks ago after a visit to California for a cousin’s wedding and lots of time with friends and family.  Starting over was a little easier in our own country, but still there was much to do!  When we arrived, we didn’t know our way around, we didn’t own a car (sound familiar?), we hadn’t chosen a school for our children, and basically we had nothing except dh’s employment firmed up.  We have stayed in a hotel for the last four weeks, and during this time we did manage to buy cars (despite our vagabond lifestyle causing our credit reports to get flagged as fraudulent), find a great school and get the kids started, meet a chiropractor that will be a wonderful addition to our wellness network, rent an apartment (soon to be ours!), and begin to figure out our way around.  Re-entry to the US lifestyle has been a little tough, but again that’s the subject of another post.

For now, know that we’re here, we’re surviving, and soon we will be thriving once more!

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The Picture Says It!

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Our Adventure to Tallong, NSW

Part of our great Australian experience has been making fantastic friends.  Sara has a good friend from school who is all of 1 day older than her, and her family graciously invited us to join them out in the bush for a holiday.  Since Tommy had to work (boo!), the kids and I headed out to the beautiful countryside for four days of much-needed R&R.

Here are some of the pictures from our adventure.  We went bush walking, tossed rocks in the lake, had hot chocolate at a cafe in the next village, made sushi and pancakes (not together!), celebrated American Independence Day with burgers and potato salad, and we women stayed up late chatting and drinking wine.  Ahhh…it was lovely!  A huge THANKS to our great friends who brought us along!

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Australian Financial Review Article on LAFHA

Aus Fin Review

For a PDF of the article appearing in today’s Australian Financial Review (featuring my family) discussing the impact of LAFHA reform on families, click the link above.

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