Friday, 26 December 2008

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

talk to you again in 2009 when I actually have a regular internet connection!
Until then, Happy Holidays!!

Thursday, 18 December 2008

A Few Quiet Days At Queenscliff

We have been in the lovely town of Queenscliff this week, staying with my sister and her family in a beach house. Despite the rain, the wind and the cold mornings we still managed to get red rosy cheeks and noses. The kids still managed to swim in the sea, build sandcastles and eat fish and chips. We still managed to take the ferry over to Sorrento (one of my favorite places), spend some time with my older sister and two of her kids, and play, play play with their cousin closest in age. It was a precious few days, despite me being sick with a tummy bug.....

Nothing beats the beach.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

The Great Australian Dream

It is again 5am and I am sitting in bed watching the sun come up, the view across the new suburbs and listening to the magpies warble. My early mornings give me some time before the little ones wake for the day. It is my time to do some work, some writing and some quiet contemplation.

Like most western cities Melbourne is plagued by disease, one that is slowly and quietly sprawling across the country – a disease called urbanisation. The land that lies before me was once farmland, forest before that. Today it is the home of countless Australians in their quest to live a good life.

Owning your own home is the great Australian dream, almost a right rather than a privilege. While we have a reputation of being a country of convicts, those who have emigrated to Australia have mostly been those in search of a better life. The definition of a better life may have changed over the last couple of hundred years, but in essence it is the same. One of the original attractions was the promised land – many of those who arrived in the early days were granted a plot of land, emancipated convicts were granted land, squatters were granted the land after 10 years – people who would never had the opportunity to own land in their home country. 200 years later land is still an important part of the culture, and is still being granted by the government- all first home-buyers are eligible for a government grant – to help them obtain that Great Australian Dream. And it is not just about buying a home, Australians also want to own their own home, and many work hard to pay off their mortgage, enabling them to retire debt-free.

Compare that with Swedes, 50% of whom live in apartments, 30% of Swedes rent and comparatively few aspire to pay off their mortgages the way people do here. The hot topic in Sweden is the slowly diminishing right to live in rental property with occupants taking over ownership and reducing the supply of rental property (more about this another time).

The Australians I meet struggle to understand the concept of bostadsrätt – or owning a share of the building rather than the walls they reside within. They struggle with our lack of right to invest in property and rent it out as we choose, with communal laundries and gardening days. They struggle to understand why people live in apartments, why they make that life-long choice.

Values, goals and life choices are different – it is in the history, it is in the culture, it is in the lifestyle, it is in the climate.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Aussie Expat Returns Home

But not without much contemplation and it seems I am never to be freed from it. Our trips to Canada just don’t get me thinking the way coming back home does.

I’ve been gone since 1995, plus the 15 months I spent away before that, and right from when I check In at Arlanda thoughts about my homeland start. I see another Swedish-Australian family lined up to check-in beside us, they remind me of so many others I have met over the years…..
I guess my first thoughts go to categories – and fighting the ones that people box us into. I don’t want to be like anyone one else, I never have and I can chuckle and think of many who would laugh and say – don’t worry – you never will be! But I am glad I don’t live in the U.K. – like so many Aussies do. And I’m not just another expat who has spent a few years abroad – I’m kind of more lost than that – am I one of those that has been lost to another nation, another life. Was Australia never good enough for me? Never the way I wanted it to be? Or did it just happen this way.

Entering the airport and going through the motions – customs etc brings me tface to face with my contemplation of my own national identity – who am I? Where do I belong?

As we drive from the airport my mother asks if it feels good to be at the end of our journey, yet sitting in the car that last hour is probably the hardest bit. And as the city and the suburbs whirl past me I am struck by what I like least about this place – the sheer vastness of this city, its urban sprawl and the roads. They are adding another lane she informs me – that’s great but what are they doing about the infrastructure – public transport?

And the overwhelming feeling of coming home to my city – to a city I no longer know. Staring at her face and seeing so much that is familiar, but so much that is not. It fuels my irritation over the building that is going on, developing, exploiting – business is big in this part of the world – money will buy you anything you want. Or am I just overcome by the strange and empty feeling of not feeling at home in the very place where I am supposed to feel at home?

It’s now 4am in the morning, I have slept a few hours but the awoke and my mind started spinning, my thoughts racing. My children sleep peacefully beside me, their stimulation is of a different kind to mine. I’m grateful they are sleeping and not disturbed by that now.

It is funny, moreover, interesting to read the thoughts of other bloggers that reflect my own. The Hairy Swede wonders if you ever stop translating prices into your own currency. I stopped a long time ago, and in my head Australian prices are still where they were over 15 years ago – when I left.

I know I am not the first to contemplate my own national identity, and I will not be the last. My own children probably have it ahead of them. Belonging is central to our needs as human beings – what an alienating feeling it is to come home and yet not belong here…..

Yet I smell the eucalyptus as I come out of the airport and I lie here listening to the birds and their first early morning calls, and I know I am at home. And it feels good!

Monday, 8 December 2008

And the long journey is over...

Well, 33 hours later we have arrived. 33 hours door to door!! It is a painful trip and I asked myself countless times both before and during it why I was doing it on my own. I watched those with babies and thought – ahhh they were the days – it was so much easier then.

But we survived. K slept quite a bit, M about 2 hours and me – none! Thank goodness for the on-demand movies in the back of the seats!!

Friday, 5 December 2008

Bags are packed & we're ready to go

Alarms are set, taxi ordered, the most essential things have been done. I've stocked up on cough medicine, cough drops, panadol/alvedon, and nasal spray. Hopefully we won't drive those around us crazy with our coughing and sniffing.

They carry-ons have cars, books and a possum (stuffed toy) in them. I've got candy stashed for when I have to wake them at 4am to get them onto another flight and extra food in case they get hungry or won't eat the aeroplane food - because it is the wrong time of day or because they don't like it.

Got the passports, ticket info, Kieran's visa (poor thing is not yet an Aussie citizen) and extracts from the population register in case I need to show he does not have a double surname even though the Swedish passport makes it look like he does.

And we have glögg and pepparkakor.We take off here at 7am Saturday and we touch-down at 11.30 Sunday morning. Australia here we come!!

Bye bye to all those I didn't get a chance to speak to - will be back online in a few days.
Take care!!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Tired, sick, but almost ready to go home

The boy has had a temperature for the last 24 or so hours, a cough all week and a bit of an earache today - none of these are a good recipe for 30 something hours of travel. We'll see how he sleeps and how he is in the morning - might be a trip to the doc's tomorrow.

I feel a kind of burning in my chest - as soon as I slow down it will pounce on me too.

Last day of work tomorrow, then to finalise a few things before we prepare for a 5am taxi ride on Saturday morning.

We're almost there.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Försäkringskassan, SGI & Swedish Sickness Benefits

Well it is not too often that I get a full week of work with the one company, but this week I managed to land some work, only to be at home with a sick boy today.

His dad took him to work with him yesterday, and said that he could tomorrow and the rest of the week, which left today. We had thought he'd be ok, but that razor sharp cough woke me each time during the night, compounding my stress and contemplation of what to do. When I woke this morning, a few minutes after 6am, just before my alarm, I listened to the rain knowing I could not push him. He could not spend the greater part of the day outside in the dampness. Today was going to be a home-day.

So I kept both of them at home and we had a quite day, watching tv, building train tracks and embroidering. And I got the packing done - finalised! Complete! That takes a load off my mind. While my attitude to packing is fairly casual I still have to do it for 3 people, 2 of whom have grown out of some of their clothes, and account for temperature variation between 16 - 40 oC.

Kids are sleeping soundly and I have had a couple of glasses of wine since dinner, hoping to drug myself into a state of sleep. After all - I have nothing left to write on my list e at 1am tonight - there is nothing more I need to remember - it has all been done. Here's hoping I get more than the 5 hours of anxious restlessness I have had the last couple of nights.

Anyway, as ruthless as it sounds it is tough to give up a day's work to care for a child, and I understand there are often heated discussions in families to determine who will stay at home - whose job is the most important? Who will lose the most financially? As in so many places in the world the husband usually earns more, so it is most often the wife who stays at home to care for the sick child.This is despite the fact that Sweden has a very generous system where the parent who stays home and thus loses a day's pay, receives 80%of their salary back from the government. Now this might sound like a fair system that encourages highly paid parents to stay at home, but there is a ceiling on the payment which in turn discourages highly paid parents from attending to their little ones. Still, I can't help but think we are lucky. While I have no idea what the system is in Australia, I still can't believe my Canadian in-laws do not get paid to stay at home with sick children. What a lot of pressure that must put on a family, not to mention a child who may be unwillingly pushed out of bed and off to school if there is any doubt. Or if finances are tight.While my personal sickness benefits mean that I do not get paid for the first day I am at home sick (hence who only takes 1 day off??) caring for a child gives me coverage from the first day. And even as newly launched business owner I am still entitled to benefits. I have a right to send in a budget for 2009 (with 2008 being the start-up year) and a calculation is done based on that. That calculation is called my SGI and is the basis for my sickness benefits for the first two years of my business - whether it be for myself or for my children. Försäkringskassan is the government body that handles these payments and they not only require a budget but also a information about what salary someone doing the same job would receive, what background you have in the industry and what your calculations are based on - and you don't compile all this information in 10 minutes.

Once upon a time a new business owner's salary or SGI was calculated based on the salary of a person in a similar role, but that is no longer the case. It is almost entirely based on your budget, so be aware of that when you submit it - it will hold for up to two years if you don't provide evidence that you are doing better than you budgeted for.

All these things are worth knowing - friends of mine running their own business have been going without for years - every time a child was sick and they had to employ someone to work they took it as a loss in the business - and all this time they could have been claiming - just as every other employed Swede does. After all, that is what we pay tax for, even those of us who run our own business!

Time for me to get to bed, and hopefully sleep more than five hours!

Monday, 1 December 2008

A busy week

Not sure how much I'm going to be around this week - wish I could say I was just hanging about like this bear but that is not quite the case. The countdown is on - we fly 7am Saturday morning and I have a full week of work until then - plus a number of lose ends to tie up and offers to do some extra work. I'm just crossing my fingers and holding my thumbs that the kids stay well this week and are fit and healthy to go Saturday - 30 something hours of travel along with 2 kids is not something I look forward to.....