Friday, December 30, 2011

Camping on Christmas Eve

One thing that we kept hearing over and over is that as expats, it's a good idea to have a "plan" for Christmas if you're not going home. That way, you won't be sitting around feeling sorry for yourself and/or missing your family. So our plan was to camp along the Great Ocean Road for a few days, and that's exactly what we did.

We rented (hired) a car, threw our surfboards on top, packed our camping gear and lots of food, and headed out on Saturday morning. Zack hadn't been very far down the GOR, so it was fun to drive on the curvy roads and see the beautiful beaches and scenery with him. At one point, we even saw a big turtle doing some flips out in the water.

We checked out a few of the free campgrounds along the way, and we finally settled on Johanna Beach, mostly because it was right next to the beach, and it was gorgeous. We picked a little campsite in a corner, set up our things, and headed to the beach. We had beautiful, sunny weather on both Saturday and Sunday (Christmas Eve). It rained in the middle of the night, but that just made for better sleeping! Zack tried some surfing, but the rips were strong and the waves were too big for us beginners. So we stuck to boogie boarding and playing on the beach. This next shot gives you an idea of how deserted (and beautiful) the beach was. Zack is running along the water with the soccer ball.

Here is a picture of our Christmas Eve dinner. We had some Frito pies. Zack calls them pepperbellies. Basically it's chili on top of corn chips with cheese on top. Since they don't sell Fritos here or anything that resembles corn chips, we used corn tortilla chips. It worked. With some wine, it made for a pretty decent meal. There were plenty of Tim Tams and other chocolate treats for dessert. 

After dinner, we watched the sunset and each opened one gift. With a view like the one seen below after a day spent on the beach in the summer sun, Christmas Eve wasn't too shabby!

Tomorrow morning we're headed to Tasmania for the Falls Fest, a music festival. So I'll have to catch up on more Christmas camping posts and Taz posts when we get back. I guess this is my last one for 2011; I hope you keep reading in 2012!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Our Christmas Card

Well, this card should look familiar to most of you by now. This is our Christmas card for 2011, and you should have already gotten it in the mail if I know you and have your address! Each year, I write a limerick and include pictures of places we've been. Obviously, this year includes mostly shots of places in Australia.

Anyway, the annoying thing about Shutterfly (and normally I love everything about Shutterfly) is that they don't have lots of options for cards with several pictures on them. This is one of the only ones where I could fit nine pictures, and it causes the font formatting to be squished and my limerick lines to not all fit where I wanted them. Oh well.

So we're back from our camping trip along the Great Ocean Road. It was awesome, and I hope to catch up on some pictures and blogging tomorrow before we leave for Tasmania on Friday. Did everyone have a great Christmas?

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Melbourne Merry Christmas

It really doesn't feel like Christmas. Today it was nearly 90 degrees outside, and while I'm loving the heat, I'm a little bit jealous when I hear that Denver got almost a foot of snow. To try to get myself into the Christmas spirit, I walked around Melbourne's CBD (downtown) yesterday and took pictures of the holiday decorations. Though an Australian Christmas is much tamer and low-key than the American version (sadly), these pictures will give you an idea of how Melbourne celebrates the holiday.

This bridge over the Yarra River has a giant mistletoe contraption hanging in the middle.
Federation Square is full of fake trees. Kids play hide and seek in them.
Stars hang above the street in front of Flinders Street Station.
I don't think you'd see this in a United States downtown display!
No, I didn't wait in line to sit on Santa's lap. I've been a good girl though.
Flinders Street Station from another angle-this looked pretty cool.
Myer's (basically the Australian version of Macy's) has an elaborate window display.
It was jam-packed in front of these, so this is the best shot I could get without waiting in a big line.
Merry Christmas Melbourne indeed.
Zack and I are heading out tomorrow morning to camp for a few days along the Great Ocean Road. We figure it will be nice to get away and just spend some time surfing and relaxing on the beach. It will be sad not being with our families, and I will especially miss the "Christmas House." Schultz Family-eat lots of venison and walleye for me and let me know who wins the euchre tournament! But we will make the best of it; sleeping under the stars on a beach during an Australian summer isn't the worst way to celebrate the holiday after all. Merry Christmas to everyone who reads this blog!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Our Australian-American Christmas

Our little Christmas tree...
Ornament pack, garland, and 1/2 off tree from Spotlight: $50
 Lights and blanket used as tree skirt: Free (gifts)
A feeling of Christmas spirit in our Australian home: Priceless

Zack was asked to contribute a written piece about how his country/culture celebrates Christmas. It's going to be included in a newsletter at work, and because he's so busy actually working, I wrote it for him in the form of a poem. I thought it would work for a blog entry as well, accompanied by pictures of the Christmas decor around our apartment. Since we have so many nice decorations back in the US in storage, I've tried to keep things cheap and crafty while we're here. On the left, you can see how I filled a glass vase I got from an Op Shop with some bulbs and bows for a low-cost coffee table decoration.
An American Christmas

In the United States of America,
Christmas is a big affair.
Starting after Thanksgiving in November,
red and green are everywhere.

Every store has a Christmas sale
and is decorated from bottom to top.
Carols are played around the clock;
the commercialism just doesn’t stop!

Every home has a Christmas tree;
some choose and cut down their own.
An angel or star goes on the top;
garland and tinsel set a festive tone.

Stockings are hung on the mantle;
cookies are decorated with sprinkles.
Nativity scenes show the birth of Christ;
indoor and outdoor lights twinkle.

A white Christmas with snow’s the ideal.
We drink hot cocoa, preferably spiked.
There are concerts, plays, and shows galore.
The Nutcracker’s one people have always liked.

A Christmas Story is on TV all the time;
Ralphie wants a Red Ryder BB gun.
His mom warns, “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
Feel-good movies are part of the fun.

Holiday parties fill the month of December,
and Christmas cards are lovingly sent.
Salvation Army workers ring bells near red kettles
seeking donations of dollars or cents.

Advent calendars count down the days;
kids can’t wait for Santa to appear.
They share their wish lists sitting on his lap
at the malls for a picture each year.

Some families attend church at midnight
or open gifts on Christmas Eve.
Others await Santa’s arrival,
so cookies and milk out they leave.

Christmas Day is spent with our families,
unwrapping presents and eating great food.
Eggnog and turkey or ham are served;
everyone’s in a jolly good mood!

It’s usually not until New Year’s
that the decorations are all put away.
And that’s how we celebrate Christmas
in my home country of the USA!

Rice Krispies are called Rice Bubbles here, and marshmallows only come in packs of pink and white ones. 
I painted a $4 canvas with $2 green glitter paint and glued on some shells I found on the beach. Go crafty me!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Aubree's Observations About Australia Part IV

Aubree (me) observing Australia!
Well, these are always popular posts, so I figured it was time for another round of observations about Australia. Several of these are seasonally or holiday-related. Enjoy!

1. The sun is stronger here. Though I'm not advocating this (I know it's bad), I rarely ever wear sunscreen. I've always been one of those people who maybe gets a slight burn at the start of summer and then just gets darker for the next few months. Not the case in Australia. I've gotten burns on top of tans (that's never happened to me!) on cloudy days. Craziness.

2. Serviette (try to pronounce that!) is the term for napkin here. A napkin is a feminine product. Go figure.

3. There are some Australian terms we definitely plan to use for the rest of our lives. Some of my personal favorites include "heaps" and "full on." For example, we saw heaps when we went to Wilson's Prom. The wildlife sightings were full on!

4. Holidays are much less of a big deal in Australia than they are in the United States. I knew this at Halloween, but I really realized it with the upcoming Christmas holiday. This makes me kind of sad, because I like to decorate and get in the spirit of things, but it's not really easy to do over here. I especially miss Christmas lights (called fairy lights over here-and they're not used much).

5. There are different types of desserts over here. Pavlovas are big, as are puddings and custards (especially at Christmastime). Also, it seems like fruit mince pies are Australia's equivalent for the Christmas fruitcake. Christmas cookies aren't really a thing at all.

6. Eggnog is not the same here. Zack "must" have eggnog at Christmastime, and I was happy to find some at the store. But it's kind of a watered down version, which is actually how I like it (not so thick). Zack's not happy. I might try making our own.

7. Nobody runs with their dogs here, at least that I've seen. Maybe it's a Colorado thing, but we always saw people exercising with their dogs (not just walking them) back in the US. When I run with the dogs I take care of here, I feel like I'm the only one in the whole country doing it.

8. The post office is not open on Saturdays. Regular stamps cost 60 cents. International ones cost $2.35-ack! This is why if I'm sending you a Christmas card, it's going to look like it came from Michigan. It was cheaper to send the whole box of them to my brother to have him send out using US stamps. And the St. Nick package my mom sent me over two weeks ago has STILL not arrived here-argh!

9. Summer is not really summer like I'm used to (where it was nice and hot for several days in a row), at least not in Melbourne. Yes, some days are gorgeous and sunny and warm, but the very next day it can be gray and miserable and rainy. And some Australians will claim that last summer was unique or this much rain is abnormal or other such nonsense. I've stopped believing it and have come to terms with the ever-changing weather over here.

10. Australia isn't as concerned about being politically correct, at least compared to the United States. I was surprised to see a nativity scene prominently displayed as part of Melbourne's downtown Christmas display. That would cause an uproar in the US; I remember a controversy in Denver where they wanted to change a downtown sign that said "Merry Christmas" to "Happy Holidays."

11. The change in the price of bananas has been an interesting phenomenon to observe over the past few months. At one point, they were $13 a kilo, which is like paying over $3 for one little banana! It was because of a cyclone that hit part of Queensland and caused a shortage of the fruit. Now we're down to around $2-$3 a kilo. I can handle that!

12. There aren't really any advertisement billboards on the sides of the roads in Australia. There also aren't really rest stops or lots of fast food places to stop at while you're driving. Every now and then you'll get a McDonald's and maybe a KFC, but that's about it besides gas (sorry...petrol) stations. The only "billboards" are more like public service announcements about not falling asleep while driving, slowing down, not drinking while driving, and motorcyclist crashes. And those are some graphic signs!

13. The United States does not have reciprocity with the healthcare system in Australia, so we don't have access to Medicare, which is their free national health insurance for citizens. That means that we US expats have to take out private health insurance, which doesn't really cover much unless you pay a pretty high monthly premium. I think we'll be hoping to limit our visits to doctors while we're here!

14. It stays light outside until past 8:30pm nowadays, which is awesome. We even had Daylight Savings Time back in October, which I didn't know existed here. On the days when it actually is warm and summer-like, it's pretty nice to hang out outside until late at night. And it also means that even when Zack works late (which is always), he doesn't always come home in the dark!

15. Speaking of work, pretty much every expat we've met who has gotten transferred here for his/her job mentions the incredibly increased workload in Australia. We all thought that Australia would be more laid back and people here would work less. Definitely not the case. Zack has never worked so late so often (with some weekend work), and he's not the only one doing it. Pretty stressful.

16. You don't hear too many Christmas carols over here. In the US, you can easily get over-saturated with them playing at every store, on every radio station, etc., but here, I've barely heard any. I kind of miss me some good ol' "Frosty the Snowman" or "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer."

Well, that's all I can think of for this round of observations. Stay tuned for Part V in a few months when I've collected some more in my brain!

Yeah, I dunno. I felt like you needed some sort of picture here.
I think this is my attempt at a handstand on the beach. Don't judge me.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hiking Near a Deadly Snake

On Sunday morning, we awoke with our sunburnt faces and shared our breakfast (of cookies) with some pretty birds. Then we packed up our camping gear and decided to head out for a hike.
The campground is next to Tidal River, which connects to Norman Beach. There was a huge flood at Wilson's Promontory in March of this year, so several trails and such are closed for repair. But we were able to hike to Norman's Point from the beach, and it was beautiful.
Here I am checking out the beautiful blue water of Norman Beach.

As we were heading down the trail, we ran into an Australian couple who warned us about a tiger snake they had seen along the path. Being an ignorant American, I asked if tiger snakes were dangerous. Um, yes. Apparently they are aggressive and their venom can kill you. Welcome to Australia!
When we found it along the trail a few minutes later, Zack quickly took a few pictures with my zoom lens while I tried not to freak out, and we ran past it quickly to continue our hike. Apparently this one was "only" a baby; I would not like to come in contact with its mother!
This is looking down from the end of the trail at Norman's Point. The churning water looked like shaving cream, and yes, some of the rocks are really that orange. I was surprised at how many islands there were out in the ocean and how mountainous (hilly) this region of the country was in general.

Wilson's Promontory is a beautiful area of Victoria. I definitely want to come back once more of the repairs are finished; it seems like there could be a lot to explore. We had a fabulous weekend with so many awesome Australian experiences: a kangaroo hopping across the road, sharing Shiraz around a "barbie," wombats walking through our campsite, boogie boarding on white sand beaches, and hiking near deadly snakes. It's weekends like this that make me realize and appreciate the adventures we're able to have in another country. Until next time...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Wombats at Wilson's and Other Aussie Experiences

Squeaky Beach's orange colored rocks.
Last weekend, we went camping at Wilson's Promontory with Alena and Todd (from Chicago), Orla and Ben (Ireland/England), and Kate (Australia). We all met up down there on Friday night (it's about a 3 1/2 hour drive from Melbourne), set up our tents, and enjoyed Orla's bolognese sauce and pasta for dinner.
On the drive down there, we saw lots of wildlife along the road. Zack spotted the first wombat, and I almost hit a wallaby. The coolest part was when a huge kangaroo hopped alongside our car down the road. I would stop when it stopped and then drive when it started hopping again; it was acting like it wanted us to follow it! After a few minutes, it did some pogo stick-like jumps across the road and bounded away. Very cool. Very Australian.

Hanging out at camp-notice it's called Sultana Bran instead of Raisin Bran here!
A little bit cramped compared to Colorado!
We stayed at the Tidal River campground, which had great facilities but was kind of jam packed with tents and people. You also weren't allowed to have a campfire. Maybe we're a little spoiled with the Colorado camping we used to do. We sure did miss having Molly there; she was the best camping dog ever!

The sand really squeaks!
On Saturday, we went to Squeaky Beach, which is aptly named because the gorgeous white sand actually does make a squeaking sound when you walk on it! We did some boogie boarding, played some beach games, walked among the rocks, and got sunburnt even though it was pretty cloudy all day.

Enjoying a boogie board ride.

Poor Pacific gull!
In the afternoon, Zack and I saw a bird flapping around in the water. We watched it for a bit, and as it struggled onto the sand, we noticed that it was bleeding and had fishing line wound around its neck. It was also dragging a small weight from its leg. We found someone with a phone, and he called a ranger. When the ranger came, we tried to help him catch the bird, but it flew away (and lost the weight in the process). The ranger said as long as it could fly and feed, the hook that it probably swallowed would eventually rust out and it would be fine. He also said it was a Pacific gull, and they are notorious for stealing fishermen's bait. I hope the poor thing is okay!

Part of our spread!
For dinner, we cooked up some burgers. We had another Australian experience around the BBQ. Zack and I crowded around the meat with other Aussies and shared one guy's homemade Shiraz wine and swapped stories. It was really fun, and we brought back the yummy burgers to our hungry fellow campers.

Seriously so crazy to have a wombat come up to your campsite!

Some campers near us actually had one go in their tent!
As it started to get dark, the wombats came out. These guys weren't shy at all; they came right up into our campsite and walked under our picnic table and next to our tents! They were definitely looking for food. It was one of the strangest Australian experiences we've had.

Ha-it's CO for Colorado-we didn't even try to do this!

We ended the evening with a loud board game and sparklers, and we climbed into our tents just before the rain started. Next I'll post about the beautiful hike we did on Sunday.

Nothing like a little soccer on a white sand beach!

The Final Family Post

Only one suitcase got temporarily lost in Dallas!
So, I'm done with the posts about the Dill family trip to Australia in November. I still need to do the ones about visiting Uluru with my sister, but I'll get there. Anyway, in no particular order, here are the things I learned while my family was here (accompanied by some fun pictures that for some reason or another didn't make it into another post):

Morgan was just a TAD excited about coming to Australia to see koalas.
1. When you pick up international visitors from the airport, you may end up waiting SEVERAL hours for them to get out of customs. You'll think you somehow missed them, because it's crowded and they could come out of one of three doors (so you constantly turn your head from side to side checking all exits), but they eventually come out, and it's very exciting!

Ah, siblings. They bring out the best in you.
2. Never fly with Tiger Airways. I think another blog post covered this topic sufficiently.

Justin found a "broomstick" on St Kilda Beach.
3. Planning an awesomely jam-packed two week itinerary takes several hours of research, several phone calls and e-mails, several spreadsheets, and several months to do.

Zack and I underwater in the Great Barrier Reef.
4. When your mom stays at a place two doors down from yours and it has free use of a washing machine, she will do your laundry for you, and it will be awesome. Thanks Mom!

Mom picked her favorite bathing box at Brighton Beach.
5. Having dinner locations chosen and reservations made ahead of time makes life easier for everyone. The few nights I thought we would "wing it" turned out just fine, but it was a little stressful trying to find a place for a group of six, especially with a vegetarian (not naming names...Morgan!).

Dad makes friends with the locals.
6. Group deal buying sites can save you and your family TONS of money. Groupon, Scoopon, Cudo, Living Social, Spreets, Our Deal,, etc. I am addicted to these sites, and we used coupons to do so many things: jet boat ride, hotel in Sydney, several dinners and a lunch, putt putt golf, Phillip Island tour, and more.

Yes, I made my family throw "shrimps on the barbie," except here they are called prawns.
7. Having a detailed itinerary is super helpful, but it can turn out okay if you need to be flexible and not do everything in the order you originally intended.

Yes, I ruined Justin and Cindy's self-portrait at Bondi Beach.
8. You can never eat too many Tim Tams or see too many koalas. Trust me; we tried!

Checking out the 'roo tail that I got as a present for them to take back home to our dog.
9. Exchanging Christmas presents in November is okay. It sure beats the shipping costs from Australia to the United States!

Best Christmas present ever from Justin and Cindy-a blanket with pictures of our dog!
10. Catching up on blog entries takes a long time when you've done so many fun things and don't want to forget any of them!

Yes, my brother is strange.
11. It's fun to show your family places in your new home and pretend you know your way around. It's also exhausting to play "tour guide" for two weeks and always be in charge of getting everyone everywhere.

Cindy likes the cakes on Acland Street.
12. Having perfect weather wherever you go is a bonus that should be much appreciated. When I get to the Uluru posts, you'll see what I mean.

Yes, that is my dad at the top of this net at a Sydney CHILDREN'S playground.
That's all I can think of right now, though I'm sure there are many more things I learned. If you haven't seen enough pictures, you can always go to my Shutterfly site and get your fill (link in the upper right)! Okay Dills, you have an assignment. You have to comment on this post and tell everyone which part of the trip was your favorite. I think mine was snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef. It was awesome having you all here; come back any time!

The Dills have done Down Under!