Homesickness

I used to feel homesick a lot when I was first living in Montana.

I would kind of dive into the feeling, longing so hard to just feel fine sand beneath my feet and smell fishy, minerally sea air.

To walk across dry, crackling good smelling eucalyptus leaves and be in the harsh Australian sun, mildly wary of snakes and feeling the skin on my neck crisp.

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Now the homesick feelings have tapered off, partly because I’m pretty used to coming and going, and partly because I have two kids and a lot less time to think!

But it still sneaks up on me sometimes …

We were in Missoula visiting friends and picking my father in law up from the airport last weekend and I walked down to the Good Food Store, a huge organic grocer down the street.

It took me long seconds to figure out that the cashier was Australian. She just sounded funny – I thought maybe she was deaf.

When I realized, I asked her “are you Australian?” and she said, without looking up, and in a tired voice “yep, good guess.”

And then I said something, a simple communication: “I have some bags” and her head bolted up and she said “are YOU Australian?” and we looked at each other for a second. I was so happy in that moment. To see yourself in someone else – a stranger. What a powerful force national identity is.

I wanted to hang around and listen to her talk to people, but that would have been weird, so we quickly established that she was from Tassie and I from the South Coast of NSW and I loaded my bags and walked away.

I do, of course, talk to my family sometimes. And every year, we have had at least two visitors from Australia, so I hear the accent. But it’s different when it’s people you know, and know well.

So sometimes I call our Australian bank or the mortgage company. Usually, there is a reason, like a blocked bank card, but sometimes I call for an account balance I can access online in two seconds.

And when the recorded ad reel begins in a broad Aussie accent, I relax. When the sales rep answers, I melt further, allowing my voice to flatten, the ends of words to run into one another.

I cut my words in half and relish it. I say ‘dodgy’ and ‘I reckon’, try to work in ‘shed’, ‘ute’, ‘relo’s’ and ‘veranda’. For a five minute conversation with Kirsty from St George, I am so Australian it hurts.

Then I hang up and step out into early spring.

Sleet/snow/rain is falling – what the weather stations quaintly call “a wintry mix.”

Thin slashes of icy slush hit my face and I breathe in the grey light. I am here, I am choosing to be here with Haak and our Montana family and I know now that even this wintry weather will soon bring spring.

 

 

 

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Can we imagine better social media?

I started this blog partly because social media was leaving me unsatisfied – Facebook, long my stand by for messages, video chat and getting basic soul feeding news about the place we are not living, seems to be be giving me less and less of what I want.

What do I want? I want what I think everyone wants from social media, and from relationships in general – to be connected, acknowledged and appreciated.

But with our back-and-forth lifestyle, keeping up with social media takes on a new importance – heck yes I want to see pictures of my cousin’s brand new baby, or know that someone I know moved into or out of the area.

I want to know who’s building a house, who lost a parent and who is receiving awards at work.

I also need to see those casual snaps of your dog which show a corner of town I’m missing, a tree or shrub, something normal from the other place, to sooth my homesickness.

But Facebook feels like it’s going down the tubes.

Although this is not the first time Facebook has been in the spotlight for breeches of privacy, CEO Mark Zuckerburg’s appearance in US congress in April to address his social media companies role in the presidential election felt different.

Zuckerburg faced accusations that he allowed a data firm used by Trump during his campaign and election, Cambridge Analytica, to use information from 50 million Facebook users without their permission.

You get the sense from Zuckerburg’s comments and interviews throughout the scandal that he has no idea how to control what he has created [a feeling parents of two year old’s can relate to!].

Most of us know that Facebook has our basics – age, gender, location, occupation, and that it targets ads towards these factors [which is why I get bra ads that say “do you have relaxed breasts?” why yes, I do!] and makes stinking zillions of dollars – a business model known as ‘surveillance capitalist’.

But what feels different is the possibility that our info was used for political influence. US politics is messy business, and if Facebook influenced the results of the last presidential election in any way except one user sending another user something [meme, article etc] then I’m very uneasy.

If something we think is absolutely our own – our political beliefs – has actually been twisted by timely, and possibly untrue, information, then Facebook has become the monster Zuckerburg fears.

Un sure about Facebook, I recently re activated an old Instagram account.

Glossier than my life is, Instagram all the same has its strong points – mostly that it seems to not breed the kind of contemptuous political memes as Facebook. It’s hard for people to start an online brawl over a close up shot of dandelion fluff.

But fluff or politics, it’s all the same in the end – many people don’t know that Facebook owns Instagram [since 2012], and despite the apparently different ways the two sites engage their audience, the end result is that one company owns all our information.

There is, however, a clear demographic split between Facebook and Instagram.  Facebook is hosting more and more of my parents generation, even their parent’s generation, while if you want to keep up with your teenage or under 30 year old friend’s, you’ll find their Facebook account exists but is not active.

But before you imagine young people have realized the fundamental flaws of social media and are joyfully living life free from the bounds of social media, check Instagram – where under 30’s post every day, and it’s a beautiful glimpse, hungrily eaten up by grandparents who joined Facebook to keep up with their young people, only to have the young people jump ship.

This demographic shift has happened gradually, and it’s hard to remember now that Facebook was started by a college aged kid, and designed for college aged kids.

When I first opened a Facebook account in 2006, I was working at a summer camp in Maine. I don’t remember any Australian friends being in Facebook to start with – it was designed for the people I was working with, American students in their early 20’s – but it sure did take off fast.

Since Facebook’s business plan depends only on having information to mine, it may not matter if the average age of it’s users is 20 or 60, as long as it still has a critical mass.

I’m not convinced either Instagram or Facebook has what I’m looking for – which makes sense, since my age neatly places me between the two loose age groups [almost middle aged!].

Instagram specializes in aesthetically pleasing images, macro shots of the items or experiences we value, enhanced with filters to give a glow.

And perhaps there’s something in it – I stepped away from a party to take this shot of poppies in the late evening sunshine. But although I was away from what was happening, somehow that action of taking a photo helped me be more present [this picture is not edited – at all. And nor did I post it on Instagram].

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So maybe it’s not the beauty of Instagram that intimidates – maybe one of the reason’s I’m uncomfortable with it is that it neatly knocks a few layers of people in my life out: those who don’t have smartphones – older people who haven’t figured out smartphones yet, and people who can’t afford a smartphone, or don’t live in a place with reliable cell service.

I’m not quitting yet though – I love the connection I get sometimes from my social media sites, and, like a rat receiving random rewards, I keep coming back for more!

Thanks to all who are reading, following and engaging with this blog. These interactions have deepened my social media experience so much in the last few months.

Tell me, what do you want from social media?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being a tea drinker in the US sucks

I just got back from a mother’s day tea party at Atticus’ kindergarten. It was adorable, and Atty”s kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Root, and her helper’s had laid out plastic table cloths and real cups and saucers for mom’s [I’m a M-o-m now, not a M-u-m, as I always expected], dixie cups of lemonade for the kids.

[An aside: Australian readers are thinking wait a second, her son’s teacher’s name is MRS ROOT? this would be the worst name for a teacher in Australia, because root is slang for sex. If you were being very crude [or funny] you would say to someone: wanna root?]

I was super impressed with the effort that Mrs Root had put into this party. She is an awesome teacher. But was I expecting to actually drink tea?

Absolutely not.

I have long ago adjusted my expectations around tea when we are in Montana.

Early on, I tried every brand of black tea I could find. I ordered it online, I bought it in bulk in fancy health food store’s. I don’t know what it is, but American tea just tastes bad to me.

I’m kind of mad about the Boston tea party, although still shady on the details, because I suspect we are still tasting the repercussions here in the US. We could be drinking great tea, like they have in Ireland, Australia, New Zealand: basically, all the western countries that didn’t chuck a bunch of tea in the sea.

I think that the countries that grow tea [India, Pakistan, Kenya, Turkey] give American tea suppliers all the dregs at the bottom of the tea chest – tiny specks of tea mixed with grass and sheep poop and other things that don’t taste like tea.

One of my closest friend’s here, Shawna, stopped drinking coffee last year. And when tea was her main vice she finally understood what I’d been complaining about all these years.

So I started slipping her some of my gift tea, sent from Australia. Mum is my main supply, but it’s become common knowledge for Australian’s visiting that a few packets of Aussie tea will always be welcome.

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Australian tea is strong, but somehow still sweet. Many people drink it with a bit of milk, some with a lot of sugar. Because it’s not as caffeinated as coffee, it’s served more often: when you go to someone’s house anytime of day, you’re often asked: wanna cuppa?

My cousin Lily always has a weak, milky cup of tea before bed. I love her sleepy dependence on the routine: even in the days we were out drinking together, she would come home and make tea at 2 am.

When I first had Atticus, and my friend Lulu had a baby at the same time, she said to me once, sleep deprived and frustrated with babies: “It was a five cups of tea day today for sure.”

Although I usually have just one cup, and thankfully my baby days are over, sometimes I still use Lulu’s measure. Hangover days. Jet lagged days. Days after everyone had a stomach bug all night.

One of Haakon’s cousin’s, Amanda, once took us to an amazing tea house in Boulder, Colorado. It was early in my time here, and I remember that cup of tea being very special, especially that I could ask for milk with the tea and be understood [American’s usually drink black tea black].

I remember the first time I was served my own cup of tea: I was about ten, and I was on holiday with my family, visiting some good friends of my parents who were staying at Scott’s Head in northern NSW.

It was late [for me] and dark and a salty warm wind blew off the ocean. My friend, Meredith, the daughter of mum and Dad’s friend’s, and I were given warm, milky cups of tea and what seemed like a generous amount of scotch finger biscuit’s for dunking.

We took our treats to the upper deck of the rental, looking out into the darkness where we could just barely see white waves rolling in; but we could hear the roar.

The wind blew, and I remember getting kind of crazy, jumping and holding our arms out. Was it the tea? the lateness of the hour? the thrill of feeling like adults?

Whatever it was, addiction set in, and tea stills feels like home. It’s the first thing I do when I wake up: put the kettle on, drink tea with milk.

Back in the kindergarten classroom, Tracy [a teacher’s aide] came around with an ornate tea pot: but what would be in it?

Turns out, tea.

And really tasty tea. Some kind of lightly sweet, iced tea with an earl grey flavor.

And Atticus asked me for a sip. So I gave him one.

Atty

 

 

 

 

Hunting culture, guns and the rural Montana town I love.

When Americans think about increased gun regulation, probably what they don’t think about is this – my Australian dad, strolling through a paddock with his 22 rifle. My Dad’s name is Ian and he is likely wearing short shorts and a worn wide brimmed hat. There is a herd of kangaroos under a big eucalyptus tree on the hill and he is heading straight for them.

My dad had the rifle before the notorious 1996 gun laws passed after the Port Arthur, Tasmania massacre which killed 35 Australians.

And he has it still.

Right now Americans can easily purchase the kind of gun used at Port Arthur, but most, like my dad, need only one gun.

Here in Troy, Montana, where I live with my American husband and our two kids, September brings hunting season and our tiny supermarket is packed with people wearing camouflage, toting rifles and buying fried chicken under the watchful eyes of taxidermied deer and elk.

Even after 12 years of living in Montana, the visibility of gun culture is a shock. I’d never directly asked my 900 fellow townspeople about the guns they own, but with a son in kindergarten and the frequency of school shootings, it was time.

I chose to talk to people I don’t know well.

There was a feeling of breaking social barriers when I asked how many, and what kind of guns people owned – one of the reasons gun violence often comes as a surprise, especially in small communities like ours, is because like sex, money and politics, guns are a taboo subject in American culture.

We don’t know who has an AR-15 in their closet next to the yellow umbrella, because it would be impolite to ask.

But according to our chief of police Katie Davis: “almost everyone [in this town] has a gun.”

A gun – yes – but how many own just one?

According to a 2015 study, three per cent of American adults own half of the civilian guns, an average of 17 each, to hunt, defend their homes, or protect themselves from government takeover.

Just two blocks away from me lives Mike Peterson. Peterson is in his early 50’s and has the average 17 guns in his collection, including some assault rifles.

Peterson and his wife have a strong Democratic lean, and support gun control, but Peterson said he loves how easily he can buy and trade guns now.

Jennifer Meyer is 34, and not your average gun owner – she was shot when she was 12 by a peer and shows me the mottled white scar above her right hip.

Despite her shooting, Meyer is a passionate advocate for gun rights and is currently petitioning our school district to arm teachers.

I have a rifle in my truck,” Meyer said, “and a pistol in my purse. It’s not loaded but I have the clip in there with it.”

Meyer, like so many in our town, uses her weapons to hunt. When I ran into Meyer last fall, she told me she had shot a deer from her car while on the school run.

I saw this nice buck in a field and I knew I could take the shot,” she said, “so I did and then I thought: ‘what now?’.”

Mayer laughs as she tells me she hauled her baby, strapped in her car seat, into the field where she gutted the animal and called her brother to help lift the animal into her truck. And then this badass mom picked her kids up from school on time. 

Gary Britton, a retired military man, will not disclose how many, or what kind of guns he owns, but said he owns “multiple” weapons which would be sufficient to exercise his second amendment right to hold off the government.

But for now, his gun collection is used only for putting meat in the freezer, and on any weeknight, he and I, and hunters everywhere open our freezers and take out packages of meat to thaw.

I could tell you what it’s like to live where it is inconceivable that my kids would experience what Meyer did as a 12-year-old: “I woke up on the ground, and my ears were ringing. That sound is so loud when it’s coming right at you,” Meyer said of her shooting.

But how do I explain the absence of fear?

Let’s legislate for what people use guns for every day, not for that faraway hero scene – hiding from the military with a cache of guns. This image is used in Hollywood but nowhere else. Hunting culture, on the other hand, is something to cherish.

On the hill, my dad lifts the rifle and brings down a kangaroo. The meat is lean and dark like venison and he needed only one gun to provide for his family.