Life Lately: March 2019

Hi friends! It has been a while over here. As you may already know we spent this month moving across the country.

We arrived back from Texas on the 12th of February and by the end of the month our house was all packed up and we were saying our good byes (see you laters!).

We spent our last two weeks in Brisbane spending as much time with all of our friends and visiting our favorite spots. Our sweet friends even threw a going away party for our whole family at the Victoria Park golf club restaurant. It was perfect because there was a playground and plenty of room for the kids to run around while we caught up. Leighton misses all of her sweet friends so much, we talk about them everyday. Continue reading

Christmas in Texas: Part Two

When I left off we had just celebrated Christmas in Victoria with Trav’s family (our fourth city on the tour of Texas).

The next day a lot of us piled in the cars/trucks and headed out to their family ranch. We hadn’t been out there since last Christmas when Leighton was so tiny.

This time she was much more excited about seeing the cows and feeding them.

I can’t believe next year we will be showing another Alkek babe the ranch!

Travis ended up working out there most of the week, so Leighton and I did lots of relaxing with his mom which was just what we wanted. One day we went up to the Children’s Museum with my sister in law and her two kids.

The weather has been so much colder than our Texan bodies are used to, so it was nice to find some indoor activities for the kids.

That weekend we packed up and headed back to Houston to celebrate New Years with our friends. Unfortunately Leighton decided to end our two hour drive puking all over her car seat (she gets motion sickness), so that was fun.

We went to dinner with three other couples and then rung in 2018 at a local bar, while Leighton hung out with her grandparents.

We spent the rest of the week catching up with friends and spending time with Trav before he left Friday. One of my favorites was going to lunch with my group of teacher friends. Only half of us still work at that school, but we all keep up in a group text/snap chat group.

So many babies, plus two on the way and one not pictured. In case you are wondering, I didn’t realize I was matching Leighton until we were walking out of the door.

Leighton and I spent the last three weeks of our trip in Houston (Travis had to go back to work after a week). I’m pretty sure Leighton’s favorite part about staying at my parents house was hanging out with the dogs. I think it’s safe to say they were ready for her to go home by the end.

We had lots of playdates since most of my friends are also moms now. I can’t wait until they are older and can really play together.

We also had a blogger baby date with Ashley from the Wandering Weekenders. It was so fun to her tiny, precious twin girls. We spent a few hours chatting, chasing Leighton and feeding/rocking the babies. I can’t believe next year when we see them all three of the girls will be running around (and there will be another baby to rock).

Before we headed back to Australia, we took a quick trip to New Braunfels to see one of my best friends and her son. Last year when Leighton and I were there she was about to pop and we were anxiously waiting to see baby Reed would make an appearance during our visit.

Unfortunately we had to cut our trip a day short because of some crazy weather coming in. Since the road were going to be icy and pretty much all of Texas was going to shut down, I hit the road late Monday evening.

Since it was soooo cold and icy we spent our last week laying low and keeping warm. I also had a prenatal massage courtesy of my brother and his girlfriend (my Christmas present). It was amazing to be pampered and I could definitely get used to it.

Friday evening Leighton woke up with a cold just in time for our trip back across the world. Poor girl projectile vomited all over me within the first hour of our 15 hour flight. I wasn’t sure what to do but luckily I had spare clothes for both of us and we chunked the clothes we were wearing away. After we (and our seats) were cleaned up, she fell right asleep.

Enjoying a smoothie (her fave) on our layover in Auckland.

The rest of our journey was pretty painless and she was a really good traveler, earning compliments from lots of fellow passengers. Even though the journey wasn’t as bad as I thought, I still will not be attempting it solo with two kids next year.

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Christmas in Texas: Part 1

Hello from Houston!

We have been in Texas now a little over three weeks. In that time we have covered over 1,000 miles and visited family in four different cities. Travis is now back in Brisbane and Leighton and I will be joining him on the 19th.

Here’s a little recap of our trip so far…

The journey from Brisbane is a long one, three hours to Auckland and then 12 hours to Houston. Don’t less this picture fool you- this lasted a good ten minutes.

The real winner of the flight was putting pom poms in her old formula container. I got the idea from Emi (she used a blender bottle instead) and it seriously kept her still and quiet for sooo long.

Getting her to fall asleep on the long flight was not easy at all, and when she finally gave in she was in my lap so I got no sleep.

Of course we both fell back asleep right before landing.

We hung out in Houston for a couple days and saw quite a few friends before having our first Christmas celebration in Victoria.

This was also when we finally shared the news with Trav’s family, including his mom. Everyone was so surprised and excited!

From there we moved on to my dad’s hometown of Breckenridge (Texas not Colorado). We enjoyed the slow paced small town life for a few days and spent lots of time with my grandpa and his wife.

Leighton became especially fond of her Papa and stealing his cane. This is also when we got Leighton’s picture with Santa (at the same mall as last year).

We walked into downtown Breckenridge one afternoon to check out some local shops and had to get Leighton’s picture in front of this mural.

From Breckenridge we drove three hours to my other grandparents house in Midland. Our first day Travis and I went exploring and found George Bush’s childhood home, where we took a tour.

While we were there, we celebrated my cousin’s son’s first birthday. It has been so fun getting to watch these two grow up so close in age.

We have a group text with our parents and my grandma so we both send frequent pictures and videos of the kids, so I felt like I already knew Luke so well even though the last time I saw him was last year when he was a tiny preemie newborn.

And just for fun, here’s a picture of my cousin and I when we were toddlers.

Leighton enjoyed passing out gifts to everyone regardless of who they were intended for. She was really excited to get her own camelbak water bottle when we celebrated Christmas a day early.

After opening gifts and saying our farewells, we left the car with my mom and headed to the airport to go back to Victoria (by way of Houston). Leighton was over traveling at this point, and thought it was fun to lay down randomly in the airport. Also, we didn’t think to bring our passports and only had our Aussie driver’s licenses with us. Luckily they reluctantly let us fly after giving us additional security screenings.

We made it Victoria (after Leighton screamed the whole two hour drive) just in time for the annual Christmas Eve party we always attend at the neighbor’s house. Leighton made her own friends at the party.

Christmas morning was fun with all the kids and family at Trav’s mom’s house. Leighton got so many fun gifts and we were all very spoiled. The cutest thing was watching her and our niece run around in their matching santa outfits (they are only 3 weeks apart).

That evening we went to visit some friends and meet their babies. Leighton loved the tiny babies and wanted to help take care of them. Hopefully she will be as enthusiastic when she has her own baby at home.

I am going to stop here and finish recapping later, since I already have so many pictures. I hope everyone is having a great start to the new year!

2017 in Review

I am sure everyone says this, but seriously- where has the year gone? I remember someone telling me when I was younger that time seems to fly by so much quicker the older that you get and it is so true.

As I’m starting this post, we are due to leave for Texas in four days, and it feels like yesterday we were there celebrating last Christmas. If babies didn’t change so much in a year I probably wouldn’t even believe that much time had passed.

Without further ado, here is a look back at 2017.

We started the year in Texas, where Leighton and I spent a whopping 9 weeks total. We had lots of family and friend time and it was so great.

Not long after we settled back into life in Brisbane, we had some visitors! Our good friends came all the way from New Orleans to visit for two weeks.

We took a trip to South Australia, where the boys went shark diving and the girls stayed at a cottage in the wine country. We loved having Allen and Ashley here!

We caped off their trip by celebrating my 30th birthday at the lawn bowls!

In April we celebrated Leighton’s first Easter at Sirronet Wines with friends.

The next weekend we had an eventful family vacation to Fraser Island.

The next couple months were a blur of Leighton starting to crawl, lots of day trips, play dates and cups of coffee (due to a month long sleep regression).

In May, I celebrated my first Mother’s Day and Leighton and Trav spoiled me with gifts and a yummy brunch.

By June, we had another set of visitors! My nephew and mother in law come to see us for a month.

We showed them around Brisbane and took a trip to New Zealand to see Hobbiton. We ended their trip in the Granite Belt. Sometime in there Leighton started to walk!

July 27th we celebrated 4 years of marriage, and we both forgot to buy anything or make plans.

A week later the Rhoads (my family) clan began to arrive. First was my sister and parents and then my brother and his girlfriend.

We hung out in Brisbane, battled a stomach bug and then prepared for Leighton’s big birthday.

August 5th our baby became a toddler. We had the best day ever with friends and family celebrating.

Later that month after everyone left, Travis and I ran our fourth annual 10k.

We kept busy in September and October chasing our wild woman and taking lots of day trips around Brisbane. Oh yeah and finding out we were having another bub (and the normal first trimester fun).

November came and we moved into our 4th home together (3rd in Brisbane).

We started to get ready to share our news, and took my favorite pictures ever (sharing more next week!).

We celebrated Christmas in Brisbane, where Santa came early to give Leighton her own kitchen.

December 14th marks the day we survived 15 hours of flying with a toddler. Enough said.

We spent the holidays in Texas with our friends and family, sharing our exciting news!

Hope everyone had a wonderful new year celebration. Cheers to 2018 and all it brings!

Surprise, Baby A 2.0!

I hope everyone had a very merry holidays with their loved ones. As you might have seen on my social media posts over the weekend, we are expecting our second little Aussie baby in May.

We are so excited to finally share the news publicly and as always, are so appreciative of all the love and support we have received so far.

I already have several pregnancy update posts drafted, but I thought I would quickly answer a few frequently asked questions first.

How far along are you?

I am 18 weeks pregnant (as of Sunday). We are due May 27th. We waited a little longer this time around to post anything because we wanted to tell our friends and family back in Texas in person while we are home for the holidays. It was hard keeping the secret for so long, but so worth getting to celebrate the good news with everyone in person.

How did you tell Travis?

I took a test on a whim one morning. I was late and although my cycle wasn’t quite back to regular, I just felt a bit off. I honestly didn’t think it would be positive so I took the test (that I already had) at 8am one morning right before a repair man was due to show up. I was quite shocked and knew Trav would be even more so. Since the last time I didn’t get to tell him in a cute way, I wanted to do something. Also, I couldn’t just call him up at work and tell him such big news. I immediately called my bff back home (who had just made the same call to me a month prior) and one of my Brisbane bffs. I decided to get a big sister book for Leighton to give him that night.

Ideally I would have loved for her to hand it to him that evening since he always reads to her before bed, but I knew there was no way I could play it cool that long (like an hour). Well he got home later than usual, so Leighton wasn’t in a very cooperative mood. So, I ended up just awkwardly handing him the book with the test inside (while trying to discreetly video his reaction). I am doing the most uncomfortable, nervous laugh the whole time. It’s on video, but no one needs to see it. Needless to say, he was pretty shocked and I finally successfully surprised him for the first time in our over 6 and a half year relationship.

Do you know the gender?

We do not. With Leighton we didn’t find out until her anatomy scan at 19 weeks. This time around though, we are opting to not find out! Travis wanted to be surprised with Leighton too, but I just couldn’t do it with my first child. This time around I am feeling much more relaxed about waiting until the birth. We have a boy name picked out but not one for a girl, and just like with Leighton, we won’t be announcing it until the birth.

Does Leighton know what’s going on?

She will point to the baby in my tummy and loves to give it kisses (sometimes licks), but she does the same for Trav’s tummy and hers. So apparently she thinks everyone has a baby in their belly! She loves taking care of her baby dolls and stuffed animals, so I know she will be a great big sister.

What will their age gap be?

Leighton and the new baby will be 21 months apart. We are a bit nervous for those early months with two under two, but I think it will be so fun for them to grow up close in age.

Will this baby be born in Australia too?

I love, love, loved my birth experience here with Leighton (read about that here), so I will 100% be choosing the same path this time around. I have already been seeing my same OB from my first pregnancy and I feel very comfortable with him taking care of us again.

Will he or she be an Aussie citizen?

People are always surprised to find out that Leighton is not an Australian citizen even though she was born here. In order for a baby to obtain citizenship at birth, the parents must have permanent residency or citizenship themselves. Since we are only on a work visa at the moment, Leighton is just an American citizen born abroad. We have applied for our permanent residency and if it is approved before May, we will have one Aussie in the family!

Will you have help in Brisbane after the baby is born?

Oh yes! There is no way we could do without our family coming down. My parents will be here for a month around the birth and then more family will follow. Living far away from family in times like this is hard, but luckily we are fortunate that they are able to come to us. I also have a wonderful network of friends here that I know will be a great help too.

I think those are all the questions I have been getting lately! But if you have any more feel free to ask in the comments. I will be posting a first trimester update next week and then monthly updates after that.

Life Lately

Hi friends!

Hope you enjoyed Alex’s guest post earlier this week. It’s been a little while since I have done an update on what is going on around here, so I figured today would be a good day for that.

Riverfire 2017

Two weeks ago we celebrated our 4th Riverfire in Brisbane. Every year at the end of September to cap off the month long Brisbane Festival, the city puts on a massive fireworks show in two spots over the river. One of the spots in over the Story Bridge. The show starts off with different fighter pilots doing tricks and then continues on with the biggest display of fireworks I have ever seen. The trick every year is finding the best vantage point. People pay top dollar to book in at riverside restaurants or even take party boats down the river to get a good view. This year we got really lucky and one of my friends just moved into a house right by the Story Bridge. We went over that afternoon and enjoyed food and drinks in their backyard before watching the show.

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Life Lately & Thoughts on Harvey

Hi friends! I have been trying to sit down and post for a while but I have been a little (a lot) distracted by what is going on in my hometown of Houston.

For those of you that don’t know, my family and I grew up mostly overseas and then settled in Katy, Texas in 2001 (with a brief stint in Houston in between). After college I moved back home and then into the big city where I lived until we moved over here. Katy and Houston are the only places I have ever been able to call home, real home. Watching what is happening in both of those places right now is breaking my heart.

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Let’s Talk Expat Taxes: A Q&A with an Expert

As you know from this blog there are lots of wonderful things about being an expat and living in Australia. There are tons of places to visit, new foods to try and people to meet. One thing that is not so wonderful though, is dealing with taxes in two countries. Even though we don’t have an income in the United States, as citizens we still have to file every year. This is cause for lots of confusion and questions, especially for new expats.

Just the other day I was having lunch with a friend who just moved here and she was asking me questions about taxes that I unfortunately did not know the answer to. Then later that week on a playdate, a different friend had tax questions. That same week I got an e-mail from Taxes for Expats wanting to work together. We decided to have a question and answer session with the president of their company that hopefully new expats will find helpful. These are all questions I have sourced from my fellow Americans living in Australia. If you are an American expat and have further questions, you can contact Taxes for Expats or check out their very informative website.

  • What is the most overlooked refund/benefit opportunity for expats?

The most overlooked benefit is the ability to claim spousal exemption ($4K off your taxable income) when spouse is a non-resident alien. Your foreign spouse does not need to become a US tax resident and report her income. As long as they don’t have income from US sources you can take exemption for spouse while filing Married Separately.

  • Can expenses in host country be used as write-offs for US taxes? If so, are there any limitations? (eg. pregnancy, work, moving to/from US)

Certainly — moving expenses are one of the most beneficial. Please see https://www.taxesforexpats.com/articles/financial-planning/using-moving-expenses-to-reduce-expat-taxes.html

Separately for deductions, please see https://www.taxesforexpats.com/articles/tax-saving-stategies/standard-vs-itemized-deductions-on-the-us-tax-return.html for my article on breakdown beteen standard and itemized deductions and which you should use depending on your personal situation.

  • How will cash outs from Super Accounts be taxed on return to the US?

Firstly we recommend you check out our Australian Tax Guide — https://www.taxesforexpats.com/australia/us-tax-preparation-in-australia.html which has more info pertinent to you.

With regard to Superannuation accounts: Your Australian employer is required to put 9.5% of your salary into the SA fund. The IRS considers it as salary. Ie if salary = 100k, salary that is put on the return (from the IRS perspective) = 109.5K.

Any contributions that employee makes voluntarily have no consideration by the IRS (ie it’s the same as spending money on camping supplies).

  • When the employer makes the 9.5% contribution, the employee has to pay a 15% fee on that amount (1.425% of salary). This fee allows the employee to withdraw money from the fund upon retirement tax-free.
  • For the purposes of US tax reporting, the 15% fee (15% of 9.5% = 1.425% of salary) is taken directly from the employer contribution. So the actual contribution to the fund is 8.075%. Hence THIS is the actual amount reported to the IRS as income (i.e. 108.075% of actual salary) and which is used to calculate your US tax obligation.

Now – when you withdraw – the key question is  how will your withdrawals taxed by the IRS? The short answer is that these benefits are partially taxable on U.S. tax return. The taxable portion is be determined based on the history of your own contributions and employer contributions to the plan. Unfortunately it does get complicated, we’ll be happy to handle this for you during tax preparation

  • How will regular savings accounts be taxed when moving back to the US? Is there a benefit to moving smaller amounts over time (maybe a set amount each year) back to the US before returning?

You can move money to and from your own checking/savings accounts how you wish – there is no tax from this. Retirement withdrawals are a different story – but regular financial accounts have no restrictions.

  • What are the major differences filing taxes while living abroad on a temporary visa versus a permanent resident?

With a temporary visa you have low chances to claim yourself a Bona Fide resident of that country. You will have to meet the Physical Presence test to qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion. Other than that US filing requirements are the same regardless of your visa status in the country of residence.

  • If you have income in US and host country, how/where should taxes be filed and what should be taken into consideration? Does a US income effect the write-off options for US taxes?

If you are a US citizen or Green Card holder, you must file a US tax return declaring your worldwide income to the IRS annually, no matter where you live.  Tax reporting requirements in the host country vary and also depend on your immigration status. Some countries accept certification of US residency as a basis for tax exemption. However, most often must file tax return in both countries and claim foreign tax credit to eliminate double taxation of the same income.

  • Foreign Earned Income Exclusion: My husband, kids and I moved to Brisbane January 10, 2017. In order to take advantage of the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion on our 2017 taxes, can we use the “bona fide resident” test, or do we need to use the “physical presence test”?

For 2017 year you may only use the Physical Presence test as you need to spend a full calendar year (Jan 1 through December 31) abroad to qualify as a bona fide resident as far as the IRS is concerned.

There are additional options where you request an extension to file your 2017 return through December 31, 2018 – then you become a Bona Fide resident retroactively. If you meet the Physical Presence requirements for 2017 this option is unnecessary. You may switch to Bona Fide residence status when you file your 2018 tax return.

Ines Zemelman, EA is the founder and President of Taxes For Expats

This post was sponsored by Taxes for Expats.

Life Lately

Hi friends!

It’s been a while since I have posted a real life update on the blog. I feel like I always have lots of ideas for posts but then getting them from my brain to the computer is proving to be a little more difficult (especially while wrangling the busiest 10 month old). Oh well! Here’s a bit of what has been going on over here.

I posted here about our weekend trip to the Granite Belt. The weather in Queensland is absolutely perfect right now, so we had a great time getting out and exploring.

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Friday Favorites: Back in Oz Edition

Happy Friday! It feels like it has been such a full (but fun) week and I am so excited for the weekend to come because of my first favorite…

Visitors!!

As I am typing this post, two of our best friends are on a plan to Australia!! Travis is meeting them in Sydney to do a little sightseeing and then they will be flying to Brisbane on Sunday. We have lots of fun things planned for them and I LOVE getting to play tour guide in our home away from home. So here are some old pictures for memories sake…

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