Sunday, December 28, 2014

Koala Scouting

This morning I was doing some reading on Phillip Island and it turns out it's not quite what I thought it was. I thought the little penguins just kind of lounged about on the island all over and you could just go look at them, but apparently they spend all day at sea and then come back at dusk (which in the summer is quite late, around 9 p.m.) where they emerge from the sea and run along the sand, something they call the Penguin Parade.

Not only can you really only see the penguins then, but you also have to pay to see them. Since Phillip Island is a couple hours away from Melbourne we decided it would make more sense to do a trip there in the winter when the penguins come at an earlier time and also during the winter you can see the whales. Overall, I think that would be a much better time to go to the island and it'll also not be jam packed with tourists and people on summer vacation.

However, we have a very good alternate plan. There's a branch of Melbourne's Royal Botanic Gardens in Cranbourne, which is about an hour away, and rather than being very green and flowery like the one in the city, it's the red rock, red dirt landscape of Australia which looks really awesome so we're going to go there first. About 40 minutes from there there's this place that has vineyards and looks really pretty and they have this walk where you can see wild koalas and kangaroos.

The walk is about 4 km long in total, but it looks like it's going to be a really nice day and all the reviews I've read of that walk people say they all saw wild koalas so it seems a promising place to see them. About 20 minutes from there is another place I read about close to the water where people say they've seen quite a lot of wild koalas as well so we may check that out too.

Once we do those things we'll see where we're at in the day and will explore some other areas, maybe by the ocean or maybe more countryside, but I'm pretty excited for all of it and not just to see some more wild koalas.

We've rented the car for Tuesday so I'm just counting down the hours until I can (hopefully) see some wild koalas and get some pictures of them. Maybe I'll bring one home with me and it can be my pet and it can be friends with Colin the koala, my koala slippers and other various koala-themed things I have.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Merry Christmas To All, And To All A Goodnight

Merry Christmas everyone! We celebrated our Christmas yesterday since Michael had to work on Christmas and it was great. We woke up and had some coffee, spoke to my family briefly and then started to make Christmas dinner all the while playing Christmas music. Everything went really well except we accidentally cooked the chicken upside down, oops. We didn't realize this until we went to cut into it and didn't have a breast but rather just hit bone. It didn't make any meaningful difference, we just had to flip it, but then it didn't look as pretty.

We also made stuffing, roasted potatoes, honey roasted carrots and parsnips, peas, gravy and bread sauce. We also had Christmas crackers, but I got a crappy bent mini photo frame in mine so I wasn't very impressed.

The bird with some bacon

Dinner

Set table

All the food

Then Four Weddings and a Funeral was on TV so I watched that since I had not seen it before, but I'm still not sure what I think of it. I liked it, but I was expecting something a bit better from the director of Love Actually.

Overall it was a really good Christmas, even though it wasn't what I was used to. Today, we went into the CBD and other places to look at after-Christmas sales and came back with a massive quantity of stuff for not very much money. For about $25 we got 6 champagne flutes, 4 bars of chocolate, a bunch of chocolate covered soft gingerbread cookies, Scottish chocolate covered shortbread, a big tin of roasted nuts, a huge bucket of caramel popcorn, 2 polka dot mugs and some additional much-needed hangers. 

I was pretty impressed with everything we got and it's all awesome, and except for the hangers none of it was needed, but you really can't beat all of that for $25. 

Polka dot mugs and champagne flutes

Some of our food

Once we had dinner and I finally digested all of the leftovers I dug into my popcorn.

Me with my bucket of popcorn

And no I haven't eaten all the popcorn yet, but I'm afraid I don't think it will last too long. 

We've had a pretty successful few days. Although I think I'm going to struggle letting go of my Christmas tree and Christmas decorations, I think I'll just keep them up a little while longer! 

In other news, we think we're going to rent a car one day this week and finally go to Phillip Island and see the penguins so I'm really excited. Phillip Island is in the general vicinity of Melbourne but it's still a couple of hours drive away. We might look for some wild koalas in some places I read about and then go see the penguins, so whichever day we end up doing that I'm really excited for it. There will be many pictures! Although nothing will beat holding those koalas at the wildlife park, but maybe I can finally take a picture of a wild koala.

Next Saturday it's going to be 100 degrees (38 celsius), so we're definitely getting into the height of summer now, but I'm hoping it doesn't get quite that hot. Perhaps we'll need to invest in a fan, although the apartment never really gets unbearably hot but not having had a hot hot day like that yet I guess this will be a test for it.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Chaos

I've been in the CBD the past few days and I have never seen such craziness in my life. This wasn't just typical city craziness, there were so so many people and of course a lot of people had bags full of what I presume were to be Christmas gifts so everyone was way wider than usual, making walking a nightmare. Then stores, such as the department store Myer, literally had lines over a block long. I can't think of anything worse, standing outside waiting to get into a department store. It was ridiculous, I'm not sure if there was some event going on or something to do with pictures with Santa or something or if it really was people simply trying to shop.

Obviously I don't know, but I'd be inclined to say that because Australia's online shopping is so bad it drives people to shopping more in-store. I honestly don't know how they really do it, with no eBay or Amazon or anything, might as well be living on Mars. We popped into H&M briefly just to see and it was so jam packed with people I think we lasted about a minute and a half before high-tailing it out of there like a deer running away from a car. 

Well merry Christmas everyone! Today is Christmas for us even though it's not quite in the US yet and it's still very early in the UK, and it is a very bizarre Christmas that's for sure. Clear blue skies and very warm, but I guess I shouldn't complain since everyone I know is complaining about the cold! Since Michael is working today we're going to celebrate our Christmas (with dinner and everything) tomorrow instead when he's off. 

Today I made some gingerbread cookies and went into the CBD to take some pictures of the Christmas decorations before they get taken down and just see what was going on. It was pretty cool because in Federation Square (one of the main squares in the city) they were playing It's a Wonderful Life on the screen and people were laying out in sun chairs like you'd find on the beach decked out in Santa hats and everything. Apart from that it was really just me and a bunch of Chinese. I think every 9/10 people I saw were Chinese, which of course made me feel a bit weird, but it was a pleasant busy rather than just chaos busy like it has been in the lead up to Christmas. 

Movie in Fed Square

A candy cane in the Christmas Square

The tree in the Christmas Square

Decoration-lined streets

A nice wreath with a giant toy soldier

Just a nice view of the CBD from the river

Overall it's been a really nice day even if it hasn't been cold or really feel much more like Christmas, despite it actually being Christmas. I'm looking forward to our Christmas dinner tomorrow, but it's really no different than every other Christmas I've celebrated since we always traveled to family on Christmas day so we always did Christmas at home on Christmas Eve. We're just doing the opposite this year, Christmas the day after, so it's really no different to any other year! 

On the bright side, my peppermint bark that looked like dog poo actually tasted really nice and like it was supposed to, despite it looking crap, so at least there was that. I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas and enjoy the cold for us! 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Gordon Ramsay Would Be Ashamed Of Me

Yesterday I was in the op shop again and had a great time, I met some new people since I've been working different days and each day has a different set of volunteers. Now that the people know me they're letting me do more stuff which has been great, so now I get to help price items but I also, excitingly, get to use the tag gun. I shouldn't find this as exciting as I do but I find them really fun to use, even if they do break every five minutes. They're pretty old so they jam a lot and half the time it's so forceful it breaks the tag and you have to start over.

Except for that though it was great, and I've been on the register more so my math skills are being further tested. I was getting so confused yesterday because these people had so much stuff, I think their bill eventually came to over $100 in the end, and they just kept piling more stuff on the counter, and in addition to that some of the items were missing the tags so I had to go ask someone how much they were supposed to be, all the while the people trying to talk to me. I think even a math whiz would get confused with all that going on because each time I'd figure out the price of one of the items with a missing tag I'd forget what number I was up to and have to start again. On the bright side, if I ever go back to working somewhere with barcodes it'll be a breeze.

We've acquired a new bit of furniture, small but helpful. Michael found it in front of an apartment to go in the trash but it's actually in pretty good shape so we brought it back and cleaned it off and it looks pretty good if I may say so myself. The dark wood gives the room a nicer feel since everything in it is pretty white, gives it a bit more dimension I think.

New side table

Fits in well I think

I'm pretty happy with it and since we didn't pay a penny, you really can't beat that. Plus, I think it matches the blinds really well and gives the room an overall really nice feel. We also now have something to hide the horrible mess of cables by the bed that's the lamp and a bunch of chargers, which kind of neatens the room up as well.

On another note, if you've been following the news you know that hostages were taken in a Sydney Lindt cafe and two were sadly were killed. Today when I was walking in the CBD I passed a Lindt cafe and it had dozens and dozens of bouquets of flowers in front of it with notes from people expressing their sadness and how they felt about it, in addition to a large sign about #illridewithyou. It was obviously really sad and it's always kind of strange being somewhere where stuff like this happens, but it was really nice to see that even though we're not that close to Sydney people were still showing their compassion both for the families of those who were killed and for the people who feel afraid to be Muslim.

Now on a happier, though annoying note, I decided tonight I was going to make peppermint bark and I was convinced it was going to be perfect and awesome and I couldn't wait. Oh how wrong I was. Finding the candy canes proved to be rather difficult, but once I tracked down all the items I needed to make it I came home and began. Now, simply put, it's not that hard. You melt some chocolate, put it in a pan, melt another kind of chocolate, put in peppermint extract and pour on top then add crushed up bits of candy canes. Sounded easy enough. I got my first layer of chocolate in (the milk chocolate) no problem and then I started on my white chocolate and that's where things went very wrong. The chocolate melted and was all runny and perfect, then I went to add my peppermint extract.

The second my peppermint extract touched the chocolate it immediately started to congeal! I have no idea why or what happened but it was the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen in my life and nothing I seemed to do could rectify it. Finally I resigned myself to having destroyed peppermint bark, but I figured since chocolate isn't super cheap here I'd still try and make it. It's still cooling but I'm really really hoping it tastes better than it looks because it looks like dog poo to be honest.

Sad looking peppermint bark... 

In the words of Gordon Ramsay, "You should be ashamed of yourself! You wouldn't even serve it to a pig!" (I may have deleted a few colorful, Gordon carefully-selected words from that.) I am Gordon, I am. I'll never amount to anything, I know. This is not the best thing I've ever made, but as soon as I try it I will let you know how it turned out, and hopefully it won't be as bad as it looks.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Transformed Apartment

I've had an exciting week because we've acquired many new things. We'll start with what we got on Tuesday. Michael saw a dining table and chairs listed for really cheap on Gumtree from this Indian family who was moving so we got in contact and said we'd come pick it up later that day. Luckily they only lived around the corner so carrying it all home wasn't a huge problem.

They're in pretty good shape with just a few nicks and scratches. The only thing was they stunk of curry, which was unpleasant, but we cleaned them and now they're fine.

Our new table and chairs

We then got a TV, which was really exciting since prior to this we've just been watching stuff on our laptops. It was a great deal and on top of that we get almost 30 basic channels for free. We brought our Apple TV over so we can still stream stuff to the TV. We've been watching it quite a bit now, for better or for worse.

The new TV

We had to go to Ikea to get the TV bench for it, but those are only $20 and not too heavy, although it was a bit of a pain to assemble, but aren't all Ikea items? 

Lastly, we finally got lights for our tree. I was really excited and at first I thought they were kind of ugly because they're really bright and they didn't give off that warm, cozy feeling Christmas lights should, but they've grown on me and now I'm quite pleased with them. Since we're so close to Christmas they were half off, so we were winning with the bargains that day. 

The new lights

This was earlier in the day, before we got the TV, but
you can see where it goes

Our apartment feels much fuller now and it's a bit weird but I'm really happy and it makes it feel more like home. And who doesn't like Christmas lights, honestly, so that just made everything even better. 

Now on an unrelated note, for my family in Pittsburgh, you'll never believe what I say in the store the other day. I had to go to this shopping center to get a cable for our TV and while walking to the store I needed I passed this one and I was totally in shock. No I won't say it, I'll just show you the picture. 

Yes, you're seeing that right

All the way down in Australia they know who the Steelers are, who would have thought. I was laughing and was in disbelief, in Australia of all places, you can buy a Steelers shirt. You'd probably struggle to find a Steelers shirt in DC (although that's probably for other reasons) but you can get one in Australia! 

I'm also really excited because, thanks to my wonderfully generous and awesome parents, I finally have the camera I have been wanting for ages. It is beautiful and I'm totally obsessed with it and can barely put it down, so today when it was better weather out I took it out and took some photos with it. There are so many features and new things to learn that it's going to take me a while to be able to compose really good photos, but it's certainly a good start. 

St Kilda Pier

The CBD from the Pier

Waves against the rocks

Catani Gardens

St Kilda Pier again 

I love this single color feature

If you can't tell

And again



I think that's enough pictures for now, I love the detail this camera captures, it's really impressive. Hopefully with time my photos will get better and I'll be doing most of the work rather than the camera. It's been a really great week so far and Christmas is almost here, which is also kind of sad because it means I'll have to say goodbye to my tree soon, but maybe I'll hold on to it for a bit longer... tacky, yes, but love is love. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Op Shop Fun Times

Today I had another shift at the op shop and I had a ton of fun, probably more so than last week when I had my first shift. Like with everything, once you become friends with people you're working with it gets a lot more fun and I particularly enjoy the older British lady who works there because she cracks me up. Today she spent the whole time talking about her chihuahua Peanut and how she's "a naughty old bird" because she smokes all the time. I'm still not sure what her story is, why she's here, but she says she hasn't got any family here so I don't know, but curious as I am I obviously don't want to pry.

Today I was taught how to use the cash register, which is slightly different to cash registers I've used in the US. Part of the reason being they use chip and pin here, which we don't really have in the US, and also because their actual register is from sometime circa 1999. It's not confusing, just old and so you have to manually enter everything into it and then the cash drawer pops out so fast and with such force it kept smacking me in the stomach and winding me. Because it's manual, you just enter the amount of the person's purchase, so you have to do the change in your head. I'm not very good at math, especially when I'm dealing in a different currency that uses different denominations of money than I'm used to. I got the hang of it though and it's good practice anyway.

We had an interesting end of the day though, and not in a good way. We were just getting ready to close up and this woman was still in one part of the shop trying on jackets so Michelle, the store manager, told her we were closing and it was time go. She then was leaving and Michelle asked if the jacket she was wearing was hers and the woman got all pissed and said yes and hurried out, but once the door closed Michelle said she was pretty sure that was our jacket and she didn't actually come in with a jacket. Which is pretty likely because it was really hot today so having a jacket with you would be ridiculous. Obviously by the time we came to the conclusion she had in fact stole it it was far too late, but it does just shock me that people have the nerve to steal from a charity shop.

I picked up two more shifts for this week, one of Wednesday and one of Friday, and I'm looking forward to meeting some more people who work there rather than just the Sunday crew. When I asked Michelle if I could come in a few times during this week she was so excited she grabbed me and hugged me-- they really are low on volunteers. I have to say, even though it doesn't pay, I really enjoy working there and it's nice to meet some people in the community, all the while knowing you're helping other people.

Today at the grocery store I noticed samosas were on offer, half price, and I got really excited because I love samosas so I bought them and then promptly made a few as soon as I got home. I was so disappointed. Frankly, they tasted nothing like samosas. I guess they weren't bad as a food in their own right, but they sucked at being samosas. I'm glad to know that now though when I only paid half price for them, I'd have been really ticked if I paid full price for that.

My content writing for the World Literacy Foundation is going well and I'm enjoying working on that in addition to my volunteering at the op shop.

Now it's time to light my spiced mulberry candle, listen to some Christmas music and try to convince myself it's only 10 days until Christmas.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Beaches and a Little Bit of Arson

That got your attention didn't it? Well I'll start there since, well, it's fire. A restaurant by us, Republica, which is just on the beach was firebombed the other night and is now closed indefinitely. Apparently they banned anyone wearing the insignia of some biker gang from coming in and so officials think they retaliated by firebombing. Good solution obviously. You can watch the CCTV footage online. Definitely some bad luck for them.

Today I decided to walk along the beach to look at Republica to see if you could see any of the damage, but you can't, not from the outside that is. The beach on that side was absolutely packed, much more than I've seen since we've been here. People were sunbathing and some were playing beach volleyball and others seemed to have a tent there, why I don't know.

Busy beach

Slightly less busy directly behind me, the tent guy is
just behind the tree

I walked along the beach on the side we've never walked yet so I saw a different side of it. It definitely wasn't as busy, it was actually pretty quiet, but I can see why. The sand isn't very soft and has tons of broken up shells on it which make it not the most pleasant surface to walk on. Not to mention while I was walking I saw a pretty crazy number of washed up jelly fish, which certainly makes me think twice about whether I want to swim there or not.

One of many jelly fish

It was pretty though and it was a gorgeous day, so I can't complain too much.




Lots of seaweed and other stuff as well

I sat down on the sand (far from the many jelly fish) and listened to some music for a bit but when I sat up I noticed all the girls around me were topless. I was kind of confused because this wasn't a nude beach and all the guys were wearing normal clothes and they were all wearing bottoms, just no tops. I looked it up and apparently St Kilda Beach is known for the occasional woman going topless. Who would've thought.

I then started to walk back but walked a slightly different way and came across a restaurant called Bathers Cafe, it was really busy and people were standing on the deck drinking beers and it looked like a really cool atmosphere so maybe we'll go there sometime. For some reason this part of the beach had scalding hot sand, hotter than I've ever felt sand be in my life. I put my flip flops back on but it didn't help, the heat just went right through them. I was practically running to get somewhere that wasn't like the surface of the sun.

I then came across this random bridge over a little creek that was connected to the ocean. Not to mention the sand was a normal temperature here so I was much happier.

Not a bad view

I then came across some bit of the beach and a bit of some garden fenced off with a sign saying it was the West Beach Natural History Project. Best I can tell from looking it up it's a project to improve the environment and create a safe environment for the penguins, which now have been relocated to Phillip Island (not far from Melbourne).

The sign, the beach is just behind that dune

I would love to go to Phillip Island at some point but it's a bit of a pain to get to because you have to drive an hour to get the ferry, and since we don't have a car it makes it a bit harder. We'll go at some point and I'll get to see some native Australian penguins!

I finally decided to walk back home and walked through Catani Gardens which is just at the end of the street and took a little break in the gazebo because it was just so hot out.

Beach off to the left and apartment off to the right

Panorama of Catani Gardens

It was a really good walk and I saw a lot of cool things but it would have been nicer if it weren't quite so hot, but going forward each day is only going to get hotter as we get more into summer. Still bizarre to me that it's summer in December.

I went into the CBD yesterday and came across this cute thing called the Christmas Square which had a Christmas tree saying "Merry Christmas Melbourne," some tall candy canes and elves (obviously not real ones) running around. It had fake turf and just looked very Christmassy so I really liked it.


I was in the CBD because I was at Target getting a few things and among those things I got a lovely scented candle, spiced mulberry. I lit it when I got home and it spread holiday cheer. Well, at least I felt very cheery.

The candle and our tree

I did some further decorating the other day by hanging up some handkerchiefs (with reindeer and Santas on them) and that towel I got from M&S along with some things I cut out from magazines and some spare Christmas cards.

I know it's hard to see

The bits of paper on the bottom row are things I cut from a Dymock's magazine (the bookstore) which say "on the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me..." "on the second day of Christmas" etc. I couldn't cut them all out and put them up though because some of them were directly on the backs of others so I improvised.

I'm happy with my decorations I might just leave it all up after Christmas is over. Maybe I'll just leave it up until Australian winter, since that's when Christmas is supposed to be, winter. Too much? We'll see.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Penguins

Yesterday I had my first shift at the op shop and it was a lot of fun. All of the people who work there are really nice, although not the smartest seeing as one of them asked me, after speaking to me for about an hour, if I was Irish. Irish? Really? Has she ever heard an Irish person before? Or an American for that matter? I told her no, so her next guess was Canadian, which I would have accepted had that been the first try. She's a lovely woman, but not very good with accents evidently.

I spent most of the four hour shift just learning how things worked in the store and what went where. It shocked me how many donations they get because just during that four hour shift we got dozens of bags of clothes from people, so many that the pile we were making very quickly exceeded my height. Which made adding more articles of clothing to it very awkward and difficult. It was also interesting to see how they priced the items, and let me tell you it's not always very scientific. Such as, "How much for this TV show?" "I don't know, $8. $10. Just pick one."

I really enjoyed it though and I'm glad I've started volunteering there, not to mention it's good to just meet some people for a change since I've not really gotten around to doing that yet.

On another note, I was in the grocery store the other day and saw the most stereotypical, Australian-Christmas item ever: a gingerbread... outback shack.


Who needs cute little gingerbread houses when
you can have outback shacks

I was pretty amused by that, I couldn't say I was surprised by it, but it just made me laugh. Just one of those really small differences that just kind of hits you in the face because it's so similar but with a twist.

I took a nice picture on my walk to the grocery store as well.

Certainly can't beat the view

Today we discovered a new mall and it is the biggest mall I have ever seen in my entire life. It has over 500 stores and it's so massive that frankly it's pretty tedious to walk through or find anything. Some things that made it extra annoying were both the lack of directories and maps throughout as well stairs or escalators. I saw many stores while on the second floor on the first I wanted to go see but I had to walk another 10 minutes and then back track that same amount before I could get down.

However, we learned something very interesting today. In a country where most things are pretty extortionately expensive, it turns out Apple products are even cheaper than they are in the US, which is already one of the cheapest places to buy Apple products in the world. This is bad though because it now means I've got my eye on the iPad Air despite the fact there's nothing actually wrong with my iPad whatsoever.

I also looked at tons of Christmas decorations in the mall as well and fell totally in love with this adorable little koala ornament wearing a Santa hat. We didn't get it, but who knows, maybe I'll go back. It was seriously adorable. I did get a cute little felt penguin basket from a crafty type store.

Michael thinks it has crazy eyes

He is now living under our tree until I find another use for him, although I think he looks quite cute under the tree so maybe that'll be his new home.

Addition to the tree

I realized I don't think I mentioned the semi/part time-y job I currently am working on. I'm going to be helping the World Literacy Foundation rewrite and redesign their International Literacy Day website to look more modern and entice more schools and individuals to participate. I'm excited to work on this project because I enjoy writing (clearly since I write this blog) but I like what the organization does and I'm excited to help out. Maybe I'll use this money to buy myself an iPad!

On Thursday I'm meeting with the organization's people to begin discussing what we're going to do to change it and improve it so I'm really looking forward to that.

Still trying to wrap my head around the fact it's almost Christmas!

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Gift From Me to Me

Tomorrow I start my first shift as a volunteer at the op shop and I'm pretty excited. I won't get paid because I'm a volunteer, but it'll finally give me some retail experience for my résumé so finding a job in retail won't be as hard. Plus, this is the op shop we've been to quite a bit and I really like the people who work there, they seem fun, so I'm looking forward to it.

In other news I bought some fun stuff from M&S today and I can't wait for it to come. Both Michael and I got some socks (we both really need new ones), some snowflake coasters, and a cute Christmasy husky dish towel. I was going to get a dish towel that had Santa in his sleigh saying Merry Christmas, but then I saw the husky one and I couldn't resist because I just love huskies. I want to hang it up as a decoration on the wall but Michael thinks we should use it for what it's intended-- as in a dish towel. I argued we hung up another dish towel and he said that was a gift so I said this dish towel is a gift from me to me. We'll see.

I made some more gingerbread cookies last night, but they didn't turn out as gingery as I would have liked; still delicious though.

Yummy cookies

We've been having some severe thunderstorms the past few nights, just unbelievable lightning and thunder in addition to some extremely heavy rain. I've not heard storms like this in years and certainly not so many one right after the other. Today it's pretty windy and on the chillier side so I guess I'll take that for some December whether instead of sweltering heat.

I've been working through my (movie) Christmas classics, too bad I'm missing the ABC Family 25 Days Of Christmas! Although much as I love it, lets be honest, I've not actually watched the 25 Days of Christmas on TV in years. That doesn't mean I won't be watching those god awful movies made for them online though. I'm looking forward to it. They may be crappy, but Christmas isn't complete without them.