Saturday, December 29, 2012

Hello from New Zealand!

We are having an amazing time out here! Tonight we are in Wanaka, and this is the view from our campsite. We're going to see The Hobbit, and tomorrow we spend the day canyoning. Then it's on to Queenstown for bungy jumping, skydiving, and more craziness! So many blog entries to do when we get back...

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Card

Well, if I know you and know where you live, you've probably already seen this, but here's our Christmas card for this year. I continued the tradition of including pictures of the two of us in various locations we've been throughout the year, along with a limerick. You can see last year's card here. I made this pretty quickly on Vistaprint, so the unequal size of the fonts bothers me, the cropping isn't great on the edges of some of the pictures, and I forgot to write "Merry Christmas" on the back. Oh well-that's what I get for procrastinating!

As you read this, Zack and I are hopefully in New Zealand, where we'll spend our Christmas holiday caravanning around the South Island for just over two weeks. I know I'll have tons of posts when I get back, but hopefully we'll be able to upload a few phone pictures to the blog while we're there. We have a pretty full-on itinerary planned...whitewater rafting, hiking, swimming with dolphins, mountain biking, bungy jumping, kayaking, jet-boating, canyoning, and skydiving! I'm SO excited!!! Merry Christmas to everyone-enjoy your holidays.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

You Know You've Been In Australia For Awhile When...

Unlike many expats, I haven't been back to the United States at all during our stint abroad. Even Zack went back briefly last November for his brother's wedding. Some friends and my family have come out here to visit (my parents are even coming again!), and I use Skype a lot, so I feel pretty okay about not going back, except for missing my dog.

When you've lived in a place for nearly two years, you get pretty acclimated to its culture, character, routines, etc. In no particular order, here are the 25 ways you know you've been in Australia for awhile...

1. You don't even bat an eye when somebody says "ta" instead of "thank you."
2. You judge/critique every coffee (or in my case, chai latte) that you consume.
3. You actually ask people, "How you going?"
4. You get excited when a package of raspberries is "only" $5, because it's usually $9 or more (though you still remember they were $1 in Denver!).
5. Seeing a kangaroo is like seeing a deer was to you back in the US.
6. You spell favourite, colour, and behaviour like that.
7. You can't even pick out an American accent among Australians anymore.
8. You write today's date as 19/12/12 without even thinking about it.
9. American money (when you see it on movies) looks strange to you.
10. You can't remember the last time you left a tip.
11. You "go for" a footy team and own pieces of apparel to prove it.
12. Riding a tram is an everyday occurrence, and your Myki (transportation pass) is on you at all times.
13. You talk about the temperature in Celsius, and you get excited that it will be above 20 degrees the next day.
14. Your fridge is filled with produce from a local market.
15. You ask for purchases and weigh yourself in kilograms.
16. A normal weekend activity involves hanging out on a beach somewhere.
17. You measure distances in kilometers.
18. When you spell your husband's name aloud, you say, "Zed, A, C, K."
19. You compare all snorkeling you do against the Great Barrier Reef.
20. You drink wine from places you've actually been.
21. You know the current currency exchange rate between AUD and USD.
22. You have a jar of Vegemite and a package of Tim Tams in your cupboard.
23. You not only know what a vanilla slice is; you are always on the lookout for the best one.
24. Kylie Minogue, Julia Gillard, Ned Kelly, Phar Lap, Banjo Patterson, and Captain Cook are household names.
25. You start (only start!) associating palm trees and warm weather with Christmas.

I'd be interested to see if fellow expats have any to add, as I'm sure I'm forgetting some. How do you know you've been in Australia awhile?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Mornington Peninsula Weekend Part II

On Sunday morning, we all went out for brunch and enjoyed some delicious scones with cream and jam. Scones are basically what we would call biscuits. Here a biscuit would be more like a cookie. Anyway, we then we headed to Arthurs Seat, which is a lookout area with some trails and viewpoints and such. The water is a beautiful shade of turquoise down in Mornington Peninsula. It reminded me of the Caribbean (though much colder) or the view from the gondola in Cairns
Some of the views from the lookouts on the drive up to Arthurs Seat were actually better than the view at the top (in my opinion). But we didn't do any of the hikes, so that could have made a difference. It's hard to believe that this is only just over an hour away from Melbourne!
The whole gang at the top-Zack, Alena, Todd, me, Kristy, Nigel, Emily, and Adam.
After taking some pictures, we headed back down the "mountain" for our next stop.
Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm was our next destination. I enjoyed a huge chocolate covered strawberry (seen here) and a sampling of strawberry wine while some of our group picked their own strawberries. The little store had every possible strawberry-themed item you could imagine!
Strawberry fields forever!
Next we headed to Red Hill Winery. This is a pretty famous winery (the restaurant is supposed to be especially good), and the grounds were some of the most beautiful we've seen. With the grapevines in the foreground, and the gorgeous water out in the distance, we relaxed on the lawn in the bean bag chairs for quite awhile. Some of us did the wine tasting, and we had some snacks such as cheese from the local Red Hill Cheese shop. Though it wasn't as warm as Saturday, the sun was still out, so it was a good day.
Red Hill Winery-gorgeous setting!
We headed home after the winery, though I know there's so much more to see down in this area. I guess we'll just have to go back! However, I don't think we'll be renting from Europcar, or at least not their Hyundai i20 car. We had all sorts of problems with the key and getting this green monster started at various points throughout the weekend. What a nightmare! But thankfully, our friends helped us out, and we ended up having a wonderful time in the Mornington Peninsula.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Mornington Peninsula Weekend Part I

The Mornington Peninsula is Southeast of Melbourne, about an hour and a half away. We spent the weekend camping there with friends (Adam/Emily, Nigel/Kristy, Todd/Alena), and we had a great time. For $30 a night, you can reserve a campsite on the foreshore, which means that this was our awesome view when we set up camp on Friday night.
After setting up camp, we brought some drinks and music down to the beach (a one minute walk from our tent!) and watched the sun go down.
On Saturday morning, we headed to Portsea Surf Beach on the ocean side of the peninsula (we were camping on the bay side). We had a nice hot day, so we practiced our surfing and hung out on the sand.
We also had some beach games going, such as cricket. Todd is showing off his baseball skills here (six of the eight of us on this trip were Americans!).
The whole reason I originally organized this trip was because I had bought a Groupon for a boat ride that lets you swim with seals and dolphins. So on Saturday afternoon, Zack and I headed to Sorrento Pier to catch our boat. We first stopped at a snorkeling spot where you can sometimes see leafy sea dragons, but we couldn't find any. I did find this big carp at the bottom though.
There were some other fish, like these black and white ones (I don't know what type they are), but overall, the water was pretty cloudy and didn't have much.
Next, we headed out in search of the dolphins. I was excited about this part of the trip, because I don't think I've ever actually seen a dolphin (maybe one at a distance once-I forget).
They couldn't find the dolphins, so they took us to view these birds (called gannets) in the Pope's Eye area. They were pretty, but they weren't dolphins!
The fuzzy one in the middle is a baby.
Then we boated around some more, looking for the dolphins. They still couldn't find them, so we went to go check out the seals. Less than five minutes after I had gotten in the water, they decided the waves were too choppy and called everyone back to the boat. I got close to this structure, but only for a minute or two. We never did find the dolphins, so they gave us a voucher for 50% off our next visit. Major bummer. The whole boat trip was kind of a bust, and I wish we had just stayed at the beach with our friends!
On Saturday night, we all headed to the Dromana Drive-in Cinema to see Pitch Perfect. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset, some drinks, and a few ice cream treats while waiting for the show to start. Wrapped in a sleeping bag while sitting in a camp chair and drinking a cider was the perfect way to watch this cheesy (yet funny and cute) movie.

So that was the start of our weekend in the Mornington Peninsula. My next post will be about our Sunday activities.

Emily, Alena, Kristy, and me (the gals on the trip). I think our husbands were busy eating ice cream (at least mine was!)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Party in NYC

Zack's company had its end-of-year party last weekend, and the theme was "New York City." As Americans, it was pretty interesting to see which parts of our culture and food they chose to highlight at the event. When we got off the shuttle bus from the CBD, we walked a red carpet while the "paparazzi" took our pictures and tried to interview us. They acted like we were Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie-ha!
The setup was incredibly impressive. There was a jazz band at a cafe-type setting in front, and on the main stage, there was a gal singing songs such as "New York State of Mind" and Broadway show tunes, accompanied by dancers. We were encouraged to dress for the theme (hence my sparkly dress and tights), but some people went all out with NY Giants football jerseys or Statue of Liberty hats and such.
The whole place was decorated with subway signs, flashing pictures of stores and icons of NYC, and other themed items. And the food was fun too...a deli section with sandwiches; a diner section with fancy hot dogs, burgers, and fries; a taco stand; and a dessert stand with cupcakes and chocolate covered pretzels. We kept wondering where the New York style pizza was, but at the end of the night, they brought around slices! All of the caterers were dressed in I Love NY shirts.
Later in the night, a live band came on stage, and the atmosphere became more club-like. There were even club-type dancers performing above the stage; it was kind of crazy!
We talked with various folks throughout the night from Zack's previous and current project and eventually found our friends Klem and Vesna. They were dressed for the theme-Vesna was the Statue of Liberty and Klem looked like one of the Newsies! It was a great party with a fun American theme.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Perfect Presents

I've received a few early Christmas presents from my family. You never know how long the mail will take to get here, so they sent them in late November. My parents sent me a whole box of goodies, but here are a couple of my favorite items.

My mom and dad recently got back from a trip to the Holy Land, and they got me this nativity scene made of olive wood from Bethlehem. Pretty cool! It's especially nice to have because I couldn't bring the special nativity set my grandma made me over to Australia. They also got me a Jerusalem cross necklace and some pretty cashmere scarves. Hooray for souvenirs!
Among some of the other fun items, they sent, my mom got me two huge packages of real American BACON! I have no idea how this got through customs, but you put this stuff in the microwave or in a pan, and it turns out crispy and perfect. I know I've mentioned before how bacon here is not really's just undercooked pieces of ham. I've been missing the real stuff so badly, and now I have 144 slices of it. We'll see how long that lasts me!

I got a really unique gift from Justin and Cindy (my brother and sister-in-law). They are the ones watching Molly while we're in Australia. They went through my Shutterfly albums and chose over 400 different pictures of Molly to send to this company that makes collage pictures. We hung the poster on our bedroom wall. From a distance, you can see just a regular picture of our dog in front of their fence in Michigan.
When you get up close, you can see that the whole picture is made up of individual pictures of Molly! There are some repeats, because the collage is made of about 1200 pictures, but it's so fun to sit and stare at this poster and smile at all of the fun memories of our dog. There are pictures of everything...puppy years, swimming, snow, at home, trips, camping, wrestling with Zack, playing with toys, etc. It's so fun! We can't wait to get back to the States to see her.

I sent off my gifts to them just a few days ago, so hopefully they like their Christmas presents as much as I like mine!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Camping and Rock Climbing in the Grampians

After the Dunkeld horse races, Zack and I spent the night camping in the Grampians with Todd and Alena. I was excited to have found American-style marshmallows at the South Melbourne Market, so we could make proper S'mores!
The boys went scrounging around the campground for some wood and came back with several dead trees. In no time at all, they had a huge fire going!
We enjoyed our S'mores and played with some sparklers before going to bed. We also enjoyed stargazing, as there were thousands visible from our campsite. And I finally found the Southern Cross constellation in the sky!
In the morning, I caught this kangaroo licking the leftover chocolate from our S'mores off the tray. Yum!
We spent the morning rock climbing. As usual, I was not very good at it, but I made it up every route I tried (just a lot more slowly than everyone else!). Here's a picture of Zack doing a climb, but the camera was on a weird setting, so that's why it looks strange.
After some climbing, we hiked over to where we were going to do some abseiling. On the way, we found an echidna, and our rock climbing guide said we could pet it (I had always thought they were too sharp to touch). It felt like running your hand over a bunch of little plastic knitting needles.
Then we did some abseiling in the same spot we had done it when we visited the Grampians in March. It wasn't scary at all this time, and I went a lot faster on the way down. That's me at the top of this picture!

It was a beautiful weekend for camping and climbing, and we ended our time in the Grampians with a delicious lunch at a little cafe at the Mount Zero Olive Grove. I bought some of their delicious oil, along with lentils and falafel mix. So yummy. Though it's more than a three hour drive from Melbourne, we love spending the weekend in the Grampians!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Dunkeld Country Cup

A few weekends ago, we went to the Dunkeld Country Cup horse races. It was less crowded than the Tatts Cox Plate we went to back in October, and a little more laid back in that we could get right up to the fence and see the horses run right by. Thanks to Alena for loaning me her fun hat/fascinator!

Nigel and Zack placing bets.
We went with our friends Adam and Emily (who had Colorado friends visiting), Nigel and Kristy, and Todd and Alena. Everyone brought food, so we had a nice picnic to enjoy between races. Zack and I would usually place $5 bets on each race. As usual, we won some and lost some-nothing too major in either direction.

Alena organized us getting an "umbrella package," so we had a table and seats reserved for us to use all day. It was nice to have a place to set our stuff and relax and eat.
Depending on the length of the race, sometimes they started right in front of the audience. In this particular one, a horse got pretty rowdy in the starting gate and the jockey fell off and hurt her wrist. She and the horse had to drop out of the race.

It was a beautiful Saturday in a very pretty setting, and we had a great time at this country race. Along with Todd and Alena, we spent the night in the nearby Grampians National Park, camping and then rock climbing the next day. But I'll leave that for my next post!

Nigel, Kristy, Scott, Cierra, Emily, Adam, Alena, Todd, me, and Zack

Friday, December 7, 2012

Jon Visits

The South Melbourne Market Tram 96 stop near our place-here I am sending Jon off at the end of his stay.
Back in September, our friend Jon came out to Australia for a three week trip. Before and after his tours of Sydney, Western Australia, and Tasmania, he stayed with us in Melbourne. I've known Jon for about seven years. He was one of the first people to join the soccer team I started back in Denver, and he keeps the Smurf team going today! The Smurfs used to do a lot of camping, karaoke nights, parties, and BBQs together back in the day. It was good to reconnect with a Colorado friend.

Jon and I biked down to Brighton Beach on the afternoon he arrived, with a stop in St Kilda. We got some takeaway from Bala's and enjoyed our lunch on the beach. Luckily, we had a nice, sunny day for our ride.
The next day, I drove Jon down part of the Great Ocean Road. 

He was lucky enough to get to see several Australian animals all in one day!

I spotted this echidna on the side of the road; it looks like it got its nose stuck in some sort of ring!

We saw plenty of kangaroos on the Anglesea golf course.

Jon has a pretty sweet zoom lens, so I used his camera to get this shot of a guy at Bells Beach.

We didn't go all the way to Cape Otway Road, but we saw plenty of koalas near Kennett River.

And while we were out of the car looking for koalas, I spotted a kookaburra!

So I'd say it was a pretty successful day trip down to the Great Ocean Road and hopefully a good start to Jon's Australian experience. He has some cool pictures of the other parts of his trip (and all his trips-he's quite the world traveler) on his website-check it out:
Thanks for the cool pictures Jon, and I hope you enjoyed your time in Australia!

It wasn't easy, but we found a place in Melbourne that serves kangaroo for dinner!