Thursday, December 15, 2011

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like...

Summer! So as you can imagine, it doesn't really feel much like Christmas here in Oz. Last week it was sunny every day with temperatures in the 80's, but this week has been slightly cooler and hasn't blessed us with quite as much sunshine. There are still Christmas decorations out and the mall is mobbed with crazy Christmas shoppers, but it does seem that the smell in the air is just not the same.

Holiday parties are in full swing, and I was lucky enough to be invited back to my temp job to join in their Christmas celebration yesterday. It was certainly a festive and enjoyable afternoon, and tomorrow night holds two additional parties in store, one cocktail-style "unofficial" party for my old job, and Erik's work party, which involves dinner, bowling, and lots of booze. Speaking of booze, there is lots of it flowing as the temperature rises, and consequentially summer is known as "silly season" here in the land down under. I think that's a term that I'd like to take back to the States. :)

In other news, I'm a bit more than 4 weeks post bike crash, and while I am back on the bike for commuting purposes I haven't felt ready to venture out on any long exploration rides. I have been spending lots of time in the pool using the jog belt but no actual running yet. I'm hoping to head out for a run sometime in the near future. No job yet, but I did finally receive my criminal background check from the FBI and I'm officially registered to teach in Melbourne! Unfortunately it's a bit too late, as most jobs for the next school year were filled in September and October, but I haven't completely given up hope. If a permanent job opportunity is not available, I will likely end up doing some substitute teaching when the school year begins, which pays fairly well and would allow for more flexibility for traveling with Erik.

And remember that break in that occurred back in September? Yesterday the last thing was fixed, and nearly 3 months later, we have our house back together again. It certainly is a good feeling and now I'm excited to start preparing for our first guests, whoever they may be. Any takers?!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


When my birthday rolled around back in October, Erik surprised me with tickets to Sydney, and this past weekend we took the trip! Flying domestic within Oz is rather cheap compared to the US, and we flew Tiger Airways, considered a budget airline, for about $100 per person. I do remember being able to fly from RDU to BWI for that price back in 2005, but I'm not sure that is do-able anymore!

We arrived on Friday evening around 7pm, checked into our hostel, and grabbed some dinner nearby. I was a little concerned about what might await us in our room at Eva's, but it was very clean and about half the price of most area hotels, so I couldn't complain. We had our own room (with 2 single beds...a screw up on their part which they did handle well upon check-out by charging us a slightly lower rate and providing us with free transport to the airport), and 3 shared bathrooms in the hallway. After dinner, Erik led us on a walk. I wasn't totally sure where we were going because it was really dark and their weren't many lights or people around, when all of the sudden I saw this:

This was an absolutely unforgettable way to see the Opera House and Harbour Bridge for the first time. Such an amazing view and we were the only people around to see it. The next day there were hoards of people in that same spot, which made it even more surprising to me that we were so secluded on Friday night. After some self-portrait taking and a bit of walking along the water, we headed back for a relatively early night in.

On Saturday we did a big walking tour of Sydney. Starting at our hostel in the Potts Point/Kings Cross area, we walked through the Botanical Gardens on our way to the Opera House.
No, these are not bats. They are flying foxes and they are actually killing the trees in the Botanical Gardens!

From the Opera House we walked around Circular Quay to The Rocks, both bustling areas with lots of people and a street market with handmade items. We then headed across the Sydney Harbour Bridge for some amazing views of the Opera House. We did not pay the $200 to do the bridge climb, though we did consider paying $11 to go to the top of the pylons, but we thought we had a pretty sweet view from the bridge already.

After that we went in search of food on Pitt Street, where there is some serious shopping galore, complete with a brand new Louis Vuitton store with storefront displays of animals made out of purses! I didn't get a picture of the crocodile or kangaroo in the window, but I did find a picture of what one looked like.

Pitt Street was rather exhausting, and from there we went to Hyde Park to hang out and rest. We watched a chess match take place on a life-size chess board in the park, which I now realize I should have photographed! At that point we met up with two of my friends, Joe and Pete. I met Joe and Pete on a Contiki Tour of Europe back in 2004. Joe made it over to our wedding, but I had not seen Pete since Europe. It's actually amazing how much a trip like Contiki can bond people that when you see them many years later, you catch up just like the trip was yesterday. Pete drove us out to Bondi Beach for a cool view of the city.

We had dinner and beers along the beach and then headed back into Kings Cross to end the evening. It was SO great to see Pete and Joe and it was totally random that we were able to meet up because Joe lives all the way up in North Queensland and Pete lives about two hours south of Sydney.
The boys told me to dedicate this to you, Tandi.
On Sunday we took the ferry over to Manly Beach to meet up with a childhood friend of mine.
View from the back of the Manly ferry
Manly Beach
Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate, and a few minutes after we arrived at the beach it started pouring. However, we had a fabulous lunch with my friend Brian and his wife Amy, followed by drinks at his place and a lovely ferry ride back into the city that evening.

It would have been a cold and windy bridge climb for these folks!

It was awesome to catch up with Brian and to meet Amy, and I hope that we get the chance to see them again soon! After the ferry ride back to the city, we headed to the Australian Heritage Hotel for dinner to meet up with Erik's friend from college who happened to be on his honeymoon (can you believe how popular we were in Sydney this weekend?!) with his lovely wife Nicole. It was great to hear about their trip, as they had been to New Zealand and also to a few other parts of Oz before arriving in Sydney. They were on their way to Fiji for the last few days of their adventure. The restaurant had decent pizza, but more importantly an amazing beer selection, and we really enjoyed trying some different beers that evening!

On Monday we checked out of the hostel and caught a bus back out to Bondi, where we did the Bondi to Coogee cliff walk. Talk about gorgeous scenery! It actually started to rain at one point on the walk and we had to cut it a bit short due to timing for our flight back to Melbourne, but it was totally worth going back to Bondi for the walk.
Bondi Beach
How would you like to do your swim workouts in that pool?

Another pool right on the beach, and I think this one was free!
Overall we had a stellar weekend filled with lovely friends, good food, and beautiful sights! This will certainly be a birthday trip to remember.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Giving Thanks

We have been away from the States for nearly 16 weeks now, and this week was the first time I've actually felt homesick. Thanksgiving is such a wonderful time of year at home, with the crisp weather, leaves changing and falling, time spent with family and friends, delicious fall foods, and Christmas on the horizon. Of course the 2.5 days off work are really nice too. :)  A few weeks ago I RSVP'd us to a Thanksgiving picnic for Americans living in the area, held in the Botanical Gardens of Melbourne, thinking it would be nice to meet some new people and to share some traditional Thanksgiving foods. However, as last week progressed, the weather forecast looked terrible for Saturday, the day of the picnic. I had been in touch with the organizer of the other American "Meetup" that we attended a few weeks ago, and she decided that after looking at the forecast she would host a small Thanksgiving at her place and we were invited!

Saturday rolled around and indeed it rained the entire day (which is a shame because just about every day during the week last week was beautiful), so the decision to opt out of the outdoor picnic looked like a good one. Kristen, the Thanksgiving dinner hostess, did a fantastic job with the turkey, stuffing, green beans, and an amazingly yummy pumpkin pie. We contributed mashed potatoes (my Uncle Bill's famous family recipe made by Erik) and these apple pie cookies that I had seen earlier this week and thought would be a fun addition to the feast.
These were tasty but they needed more filling and less crust in my opinion!
We were thankful to be able to celebrate one of our favorite American holidays while living "Down Under", and perhaps next year we will host a Thanksgiving dinner ourselves.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Wasn't I just blogging about how much I love being able to commute to work via the bike?! On Monday I was having a great start to the morning...beautiful day, good lift at the gym to start the week...then it all came crashing down on my ride to work. I was only about a half mile from our house where I was building up speed to get through the green light at an intersection when a cyclist came from the sidewalk (riding on the sidewalk is illegal, by the way) into the road in front of me. He was riding significantly slower than I was and he basically pulled right into the middle of the lane. So I frustratingly moved towards the outside of the lane, but not too far out because I am aware that there are tram tracks towards the outside and if you get stuck in a tram track on a bike you are in big trouble. What I was not so aware of was a big metal plate that I presume is screwed into the ground, but in looking at this picture it looks like it's out of place.
This is kind of a crazy intersection, and I was making a right turn (basically following the tram tracks) onto the left side of the road where you see the red light, but trying to keep to the left due to cars and trying not to be TOO far to the left because of the tram tracks. Are you confused yet? Anyway, all I remember is losing control of the bike and sliding along the pavement. My helmet has a good little dent in it and right pedal ripped my shoe and tore into the skin on my right foot pretty good. The worst part was that my knee got twisted into a horrible position I had excruciating knee pain, so much that I could not get up without assistance. So I was in the middle of the intersection screaming in pain and yelling for help and when the light turned green cars just started driving around me. Lovely. After what seemed like an eternity but was probably only a minute or two, a few very nice people came over to help me up and get me and my bike to the sidewalk. At that point I was running on pure adrenaline and thinking that I would just hop on my bike and ride to work. Ha! Then I started to get dizzy and feel sick to my stomach, so like the good athletic trainer that I am, I propped my feet up on my backpack while lying on the sidewalk. At this point the nicest man came to help me! He had been in the car in front of me, had seen the cyclist pull out in front of me (ummm, that cyclist just kept on biking after I crashed), and came back to check on me. Gave me some fluids and some stuff to clean up my cuts, put my bike in his boot (aka the trunk), and drove me home. Even called me later that day to check on me. There are still good people in this world. :)

So I spent Monday doing what I've told so many young athletes to do over the years...RICE. I was seriously worried about my ACL because I had so much instability, though I didn't have a massive amount of swelling like is usually (but not always), the case with an ACL tear. So on Tuesday I got in with a physiotherapist (similar to a physical therapist, but also similar to an athletic trainer), who was able to rule out an ACL injury but confirmed what I already knew...a grade 2 MCL sprain. Over the last 7 years of working in the high school setting I have had almost 10 athletes with grade 2 MCL sprains, and now I know exactly how they were feeling. At this point I'm almost a week post injury and while I can walk, I do not have full range of motion and I certainly don't have full strength. It will probably be about 4 to 6 weeks before I can resume normal activity, though I might be able to bike sooner once I'm mentally healed from this crash.

Erik and I had planned to do a long bike ride to Bells Beach this weekend, but that was out of the question. Saturday it rained all day anyway, so it was one of those days that you love to hang out and just do nothing. Today was spent similarly, though I did get out for a short walk around the neighborhood. Hopefully I'll be getting a bit better each day, though I really need someone to force me to do rehab because it's much easier to tell someone what exercises to do than to actually do them yourself. :)

Lessons learned from the crash:

  1. Do not come remotely close to anything metal while on a bike.
  2. Always wear a helmet (definitely saved me from a concussion and potentially worse head injuries).
  3. Do not be afraid to lend a helping hand to someone who looks like they are in trouble. I am very thankful for the strangers who helped me and it definitely made me think about what I would do if I was on the "other side" looking at the person who was in the middle of the intersection. Don't be the person who keeps the person that offers assistance!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Life in the Slow Lane

On one of my early morning runs this week I came across literally hundreds of snails. It was the morning after a big rain and they were out in full force. I can remember seeing lots of slugs after rainstorms at home, but never snails. I was sort of fascinated by them and during my cool down walk, I decided to document a few of the little guys.

Unfortunately many of the snails moved too slow to survive the feet of other early morning joggers or commuters, and I saw quite a few smashed shells on my run. It's strange how when you move to a new place, you tend to take in your surroundings much more than you do in a familiar place. As I become more comfortable with life in Oz, I try to remember to notice the little things and not let things become so familiar that I don't appreciate them anymore.

Yesterday was a beautiful day in Melbourne and Erik and I took advantage of the weather by heading on a long bike ride down the Eastern side of the Port Phillip Bay. We live on the West side of the bay, which is less developed and more industrial, so going over to the East involves seeing an entirely different part of the city. After we watched the Carrier Classic live in the morning (Go Heels!!), we took off on what turned out to be a 35 mile bike ride. Nearly the entire ride was completed on bike paths! Our destination was Brighton, because I had seen a picture somewhere of the Brighton Beach Boxes and wanted to see them in person.
58c is up for auction. Starting price between $160k and $180k. Anyone want to buy a Beach Box with me?!

Apparently these are used as shelters from the sun or places to change or even cook with a camping-type stove, and they are all individually owned, though I get the impression that friends and/or families often go in on them together. They sell for around $200,000 each. From the Brighton Bathing Box Association,  "The 82 Brighton bathing boxes are unique because of their uniform scale and proportion, building materials, sentry order alignment and a Planning Scheme Heritage Overlay on a beach owned by Bayside City Council. As simple structures, all retain classic Victorian architectural features with timber framing, weatherboards and corrugated iron roofs. They remain as they did over one hundred years ago, as licensed bathing boxes. No service amenities such as electricity or water are connected.  Licensees choose to differentiate their bathing boxes with minor structural, artistic and colour variations. When viewed together they turn the beachscape into a collective work of art that can change by the hour according to season, light and colours. ". They really make for cool beach decor just a few miles from the CBD. I found this picture on Wikipedia that captures the Beach Boxes with the city in the background. If you enlarge the pictures you can see a bride and groom having their picture taken on the beach. :)

Today we attended our first "Meetup" of Americans living in Melbourne. I joined this group a few weeks after we arrived here, but this was the first event that was close to our house. It was at an Ethiopian restaurant called Africa Town, and it was a small group of  friendly Americans (and a few of their Aussie partners, too). The food was very different, but good, especially the lentils! It was a great chance to meet people who have experienced similar frustrations and challenges of moving from the US to Oz, and I'm really glad that we went. The group is having a big picnic in a park for Thanksgiving, so we are thinking about attending that as our next "Meetup". Hmmm, do you think I can find Stovetop stuffing at the USA Foods store? I hope so!!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cup Week

Cup week is a week of big horse races, and actually starts on a Saturday with the Victoria Derby, followed by the "big " Melbourne Cup on Tuesday, then Oaks Day (ladies' day) on Thursday, and finally Stakes Day (family day) on Saturday. Melbourne Cup day is a public holiday, so no school is held and no one goes to work. Many people don't go to work on Monday either, and some people don't go to work for the entire week! We spent Cup day at an Aussie BBQ, enjoying great company, food, and beverage. On the way home from our party we saw many race attendees dressed up in their fancy dresses, hats, and/or fascinators. It seems that everyone dresses up for races here, which is a bit different from the way people dress for Preakness in Baltimore! Hopefully we'll attend the Cup once while we are here so that I can enjoy picking out my "race day" outfit.

Friday night we headed out to dinner on Lygon Street with a big group of people from Victoria University. Lygon Street is filled with many fabulous restaurants and bars, so it's quite a lively place on a weekend night. We enjoyed our second Thai meal since arriving in Oz, though we stuffed ourselves full because there is a new restaurant rule in Melbourne about not being able to take home your leftovers! Apparently someone got sick after re-heating the rest of their meal and proceeded to sue, ruining leftovers for all of us. After dinner we went to a bar down the street to preserve the enjoyable night a bit longer.

The highlight of our weekend for me was a trip to the Melbourne Zoo. I have been dying to see a kangaroo since we arrived in Oz and since seeing one in the wild requires a car to get "out" of the city, we took our bikes and headed to the zoo. I was really impressed with the quality of the zoo and it was surprisingly not crowded for a nice, sunny, 85 degree day. The place where the 'roos are located is actually an "open" area, so they can roam around and could come up to you if they wanted to (emus were freely wandering close to us in the same area). However, it was so warm that the kangaroos wanted nothing more than to lie in the shade (though Erik says this is what they do most of the time anyway!), so no great interactions with the 'roos this time, but I was still excited to see them. :)

The Melbourne Zoo has an impressive display of African animals. One of the highlights was watching the elephants. We witnessed an elephant go to the bathroom and then proceeded to watch other elephants "clean up" the mess. Apparently the elephants only partially digest their food, so what comes out still has a lot of nutritional value in it. I could not believe the amount of liquid that came out of that elephant's bladder! 

We also watched a male elephant eat two entire watermelons in a span of about five minutes.
Reaching for it...
Got it!
Watermelon #2. These watermelons size-wise were larger than basketballs.
The orangutans were also fun to watch! Because it is Spring here quite a few animals had babies, and it was amazing to watch the mother orangutan swing around with her child attached to her.

Can you spot baby holding onto mom while she swings around?
Another orangutan was solving a difficult puzzle.
If you click on this picture to enlarge it I'm sure you will see the determination in this guy's eyes!
And I'll leave you with a few more of my favorite shots from the zoo. :)

Sunday, October 30, 2011


In the last week, I have been rejected from two different teaching jobs. I was not even selected for an interview for either of these jobs, which was really disappointing. Granted, I do not have teaching certification (they call it 'registration' here), because I am waiting on my criminal background check from the FBI in the United States (which was mailed from Oz in early September and according to the FBI will still take another 3-4 weeks to process!), so I'm sure that is not helping matters. As I reflected on my situation I realized that I have NEVER been rejected from a job or school related application, so I'm sure that could be one reason why this is so hard for me. Salisbury was my number one choice for undergrad, UNC for grad school, Riverside for my first job, and Mt. Carmel for my second job. Looking back, it seems I have been very fortunate in the past, and clearly it will be different this time around. With my degrees, experience, and recommendations from former employers I expected to be a very competitive candidate for teaching jobs, but it seems that my American education and work experience might not interest the principals in Australia.

On the plus side, I'm really enjoying my temp job. The first week was a bit rough...getting used to working 9-5 and not being able to be outside while working made me realize why I enjoy being an athletic trainer. I'm working for a non-profit and was even invited to their Annual General Meeting last week, which made me feel like I'm really part of their "team". The people I work with are fantastic and they have created a variety of tasks for me to work on in order to prevent boredom, which is much appreciated! I am biking to work now as well and I'm learning to LOVE it. On warm days it's a little annoying to be sweating when I walk into the office but not sitting in traffic or waiting for the late tram makes up for it. 

Another exciting highlight of this week was buying tickets to head to Sydney for the weekend in a few weeks. This was a birthday surprise from Erik and I'm super excited to see the sights of Sydney!! It will be my first visit to an Aussie beach too, since we are a bit far from the coast here in Melbourne. We are also still debating our Christmas destination. We were pretty set on Thailand, but with the crazy flooding in Bangkok we have yet to pull the trigger to buy our tickets. Bali is an option but it's rainy season there, and we haven't ruled out just flying to one of Thailand's islands, most likely Koh Samui, and saving Bangkok for another time. Malaysia and Fiji are on our list as well, as we can get there relatively inexpensively from Oz.

The only picture I have to share this week is our bargain produce from a trip to the Footscray Market yesterday. A 10 lb bag of potatoes for $3, apples for $1.49/kg (that's $0.67/lb!), and zucchini for $0.99/kg ($0.45/lb!) were the highlights. $19.15 for all of these yummy fruits and veggies!

Of course the expense of other foods over here compensates for the wonderfully cheap produce. We were going to make a trip to the USA Foods store today, which is a least a 2 hour round trip adventure from our house, but the weather did not cooperate. Fortunately our parents have helped in that regard, as we received lots of goodies from the States last week including Crisco (finally proper cookie baking can commence!), Franks hot sauce & Ranch dressing packets (so that I can actually make a REAL buffalo chicken dip), Nestle semi-sweet chocolate chips, peanut butter M&M's, and a bag of my favorite chocolates in miniature form. After learning how much they've paid to ship things over though, I think we'll sacrifice the long trip to the store or even pay to have things shipped from the store this time around. If we had known that shipping would be so expensive and that some of our favorite foods would be so hard to find, I think we would have put a LOT more food in our container. :)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Baking, Birthdays, Beer, and.... SNAKES!

When Erik's birthday rolled around in late September, we were living with very limited kitchen items, so I could not make a proper birthday cake for him. I wanted to find a rainbow chip birthday cake recipe (his favorite), because I knew for SURE that I wouldn't find the rainbow chip box cake mix or frosting here in Oz! With my birthday arriving last week I decided to make the cake to celebrate both of our birthdays together. The cake turned out pretty well, though it was a bit buttery, and I think that butter here might be stronger or more concentrated than the butter in the States. It was the most intensive baking operation I've undergone in a while, and it reminded me how much I've missed baking the last few months!
In honor of our surname!
Erik is excited to FINALLY get a birthday cake.
Mmmmm, rainbow chip deliciousness!
The day after my birthday (much of which was still my birthday in the good 'ole USA), we went to a Microbreweries Showcase in Federation Square, which is basically a big indoor/outdoor area in the center of Melbourne near the sporting complexes. A few of Erik's co-workers told him about the event and I was on-board right away! One of the things I've struggled with here is picking out the "right" beers to drink, so this was a chance to taste MANY different beers for a reasonable price. Tickets were $25 and that included 20 samples of beer (sample sizes were very generous and several places did not even ask for our tickets) from the various breweries. The $25 also included a ticket for a free meat pie (an Aussie staple)...don't worry it's not as gross as it's actually quite good. Apparently this event occurs twice a year and we will definitely be going back. Erik actually enjoyed several of the beers as well, and I think he just might be on his way to discovering the goodness of beer! :) 
Fed Square

Yesterday was our first really warm day here in Oz, and as we were about to go off on our respective running adventures (no, we do not run together...he is too fast and I am to slow!), we saw a gecko peeking out of some bushes near our house. In my head I thought "hmmm, if he's out then other reptiles must be starting to come out as well," but I didn't say that out loud (if you are unaware, Erik is a little bit afraid of snakes).  Low and behold, about 20 minutes into my run, I saw a slithering creature about 10 feet ahead of me on the path. He had no interest in me though and headed straight from the path into the grass on the side of the trail.  It did cause me to pick up my speed a bit, but overall I wasn't adversely affected by my first encounter with an Aussie snake. Let's hope the rest of my snake encounters are just as boring. :)