Thursday, December 31, 2009

My American Holiday

Wow- time flies! We've been back in the U.S. for 2 weeks and are having a wonderful holiday. We survived the economy class flight and, in truth, it really wasn't bad. The jet lag was bad- really bad- especially for the kids. But everyone has adjusted and we are all enjoying a beautiful California winter. I love the warm sunny days and crisp cool nights. California winter is the best.

Of course, seeing our friends and family has been the highlight of our trip. It's so wonderful to see all the people we've been missing for the past 9 months!

I've also been shopping like crazy. Costco, Nordstrom, Trader Joes, Target- oh, how I've missed you. On my first trip to the grocery store and found three 12 packs of diet coke for $6.00. Seriously that's 36 cans of diet coke for $6.00. Anyone in Australia will understand my excitement at this amazing find.

Two weeks down, two weeks to go. Still on the agenda: visiting, playing, lunching, shopping, and Disneyland!

Two of my favorite Christmas photos- because I just can't post without photos.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving Top ten

The top 10 things I learned by hosting an American Thanksgiving in Australia

10. German engineering isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Our apartment has these high-end German appliances. The oven is slightly larger than a shoebox. No self respecting turkey could possibly fit in there. That's why we had to take it outside and throw the turkeys on the barbie. That evil oven persisted to heat unevenly and burn a beautiful pan of Pioneer Woman dinner rolls. Even the fancy microwave-that-also-doubles-as-a-second-oven cooked at warp speed but luckily no damage was done. In the battle of me vs the German appliances I think I came out on top. But oh how I miss you, Viking range.

9. Don't be afraid to substitute.
So what if they don't sell evaporated milk, Crisco or pumpkin puree at Woolies? A dedicated American baker like my awesome friend Cristina won't let that stop her from making the most delicious pumpkin pie you've ever tasted. Really, it's not Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie.

8. eBay + IKEA + my friend's cupboards + the internet = a lovely Thanksgiving table.
It's true that as of last month I had exactly 8 dinner plates, 5 glasses and not a single tablecloth. But somehow I managed to host a sit down dinner for 20 people yesterday. And it was quite lovely, if I do say so myself. I made the table runners with this gorgeous Amy Butler fabric and found these cute printable decorations at Paper and Cake.

7. Native Australian flowers are beautiful.

6. Having a back-up meat thermometer (or helpful neighbors) is a good idea.
Grilling turkey is a nerve-wracking experience. Keeping the temperature steady and dealing with the wind was challenging. Right at the critical moment our electronic meat thermometer malfunctioned. We were all so thankful when our neighbors showed up with not 1 but 2 meat thermometers! And the turkeys were cooked to perfection.

5. They don't eat turkey in the Czech Republic.
I employed a lovely young woman to help with the prep and clean up during our celebration. She's from the Czech Republic and here on a work-holiday visa. She had never tasted turkey before! Her verdict? "Like chicken but drier." I think she liked the pumpkin pie better.

4. Celebrating Thanksgiving in Spring is strange, but has its advantages.
After standing over a hot barbie with a cold beer all afternoon and stuffing ourselves with rich Thanksgiving foods, we headed down to the beach. The dads tossed the football around, the moms had a chat, and the kids splashed in the waves.

3. Be prepared to spend a small fortune if you want a fresh turkey.
Aussies love ham. Ham on the bone, champagne ham, honey roasted, you name it. They do not seem to have the same fondness for turkey. Most delis don't even have sliced turkey. You won't find a fresh whole turkey at the supermarket. I ordered 2 turkeys from our local butcher- at $17.95 a kilo. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Costco will open in Sydney and I'll be able to get a turkey there next year for one tenth the price!

2. Include a little taste of home.
We put this candy corn my mom sent to good use. You can never have too many desserts!

1. Having wonderful friends makes it a little easier to be so far away from family.
I have so much to be thankful for!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Missing my Sissy

I am one of those lucky people who is blessed with an amazing sister. I don't deserve her, but I got her! And for the past 2 and a half weeks I have had the pleasure of having her and my fabulous brother-in-law here in Australia. I LOVE those two!

We had so much fun. And now, things seems a little empty, a little lonely, a little too quiet.

So glad we're going home for Christmas- because I am already missing my sissy!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sunday Morning Aussie Style

Recently the Little Princess began what seems to be a rite of passage for Aussie children. She had her first day of Nippers.

We hit the beach bright and early with hundreds of other kids all geared up in their blue rashies and swim caps. And since Australians love competitive sports there was no since this is the first day we'll take it easy on you kind of attitude. Not at all. They jumped right in with paddle boards, steering their way around the dads positioned in the water. (Have I mentioned there are sharks in Sydney Harbour? We had to sign a wavier . . seriously).

It was only after the paddle boards that the dad-in-charge asked, "Can everyone swim?" A couple girls clung nervously to their parents but the rest of them, including the Little Princess, got right into a swimming competition. Four at a time they waited at the starting line, took off in a sprint for the water, swam freestyle around the parents positioned in the harbour, and then sprinted to the finish. We clapped and cheered as the Little Princess won her heat.

Next up: Flags. In this event, they take foot long pieces of garden hose and stick them in a line in the sand. The girls line up 20 yards away and lay belly down in the sand. After a "Ready, Steady, Go" they jump up, turn around and dash to grab one of the "flags". Each time, a few kids are eliminated musical-chairs style, until it's down to the winner. I think the Little Princess surprised herself making it into the top 5. What she lacks in speed she makes up for with focus and determination.

The day ended with a hearty game of tug-of-war. Girls verses the parent helpers. The girls won. Really. Fair and square. That's the only way they do it here.

Nippers: a very cool thing about living in Australia. Dads in Speedos: well, you take the good with the bad.

Halloween Review

Back in the U.S. my neighbors are still handing out candy but here in Australia Halloween has come and gone.

For my kids, Halloween isn't just a holiday- it's a season. We spend months pouring over costume patterns, choosing just the right one. I haul out my sewing machine and work frantically until the last minute. For weeks leading up to the event there are parties, school parades, carnivals, pumpkin patch trips, and costume contests. When the big night arrives, we join the masses in our neighborhood and collect enough candy to last until Christmas.

But this year it was a bit different. First of all, it's Spring here. No pumpkin patches in sight, and a small pumpkin at the green grocer costs $40. So no pumpkin carving. As far as I can tell, the celebration at school consisted of a Halloween word search. No costumes, no eating a donut off a string, no pumpkin bowling. But no worries because our sweet Australian neighbors organized trick-or-treating for the neighborhood kids.

About a week before Halloween, they did a letterbox drop informing everyone that the local kids would be coming by at 5 pm. Everyone willing to hand out candy was asked to put out something orange.

We met up with the neighbors at the designated time (in broad daylight in 80 degree weather). I immediately noticed that Aussies have a totally different approach to Halloween costumes. It is a widely held belief here that costumes are meant to be scary. So lots of kids just wore their regular clothes with a scary mask. We also had several kids dressed as witches in everyday black clothes with pointy hats. (These witch hats also doubled as treat bags. Turn them upside down and voila- a place to put your candy)! Some kids didn't dress up at all. One kid was a ghost- Charlie Brown style in a sheet with oddly placed eye holes. I can confidently say that I am the only mum in the neighborhood who blew a fuse on my step down transformer sewing away on my kids' costumes. No one really knew who my kids were dressed as (I guess the Disney channel hasn't completely taken over the lives of all children here). I think most people assumed the Little Buddy's costume was his crazy red hair. But nevertheless, my kids were thrilled to be dressed up and didn't really notice what everyone else was wearing.

Of course the big thrill of Halloween is collecting candy (or lollies, as they say). Sure, I was a little bit grossed out at the unwrapped gummy worms being handed out at many houses, but there were also plenty of lollipops, Freddo Frogs, and fizzers. We walked 5 streets and probably hit around 20 houses. While we were out around 30 kiddos came by our apartment where my sweet husband threw candy down to them from the balcony.

All in all it was a wonderful Halloween. Lots of friends, fun and candy. Just what Halloween is meant to be.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween Preview

Last year we lived a block away from the busiest trick-or-treat street in our city.
We had over 300 kids come to the door for a sweet treat. And luckily for us- no tricks!

This year we're in Australia where Halloween is a little more . . . low key.
My neighbors assure me that there will be trick-or-treating. Since the only kind of candy they seem have here is gummy worms it ought to be interesting.

I finally finished the kids' costumes. The Little Buddy was so excited about his he wore it to his sister's school for pick up. No one knew who he was. Do you?

Check out more Halloween cuties over at I Heart Faces.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Port Douglas and The Great Barrier Reef

Highlights from our recent holiday with Nana and Papa.

We sailed aboard this:

To this:

Spent some time on beautiful 4 Mile Beach doing this:

Cruised the Daintree River where we spotted this:

and swam in this:

Took a ride on this:
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

To the village of Kuranda

Where we saw this:

At the Butterfly Sanctuary

And we all enjoyed this:
(Yes, even me- who hates birds)
Rainforest Habitat breakfast with the birds

Tropical far north Queensland.
Beautiful holiday with people I love.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Three Years Ago Today

We became a family of four.

Little Buddy, sometimes you make us laugh, sometimes you make your sister cry, sometimes you make me want to pull my hair out, but you always make me feel lucky to be your mother. When you wrap your arms around me and say, "Mama, you're my best buddy," my heart melts.

Happy 3rd birthday, sweet boy.

I hope all your wishes come true.

Friday, October 9, 2009

2 Great Tastes That Taste Great Together

I heart Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Really, really a lot. And I've done my fair share of whinging* about the fact that they are largely unavailable here in Australia.
And then I stumbled upon this:

Sugar Fix: an insanely overpriced store stocked with American confectionary goodness. And on display right in the front of the store was my own little Reese's Piece of heaven.

I stood there, drooling, for about 5 minutes whilst* deciding what to purchase. In the end I settled on the bag of mini peanut butter cups. It was $15 well spent. See that lonely bag of Hersey Kisses on the bottom shelf in the photo below? Guess how much those go for here?

Uh-huh. $44.90. And the 8 pack of Dr. Pepper? $23.20. Shocking but true.

It's days like this that make me so glad to be a Diet Coke drinker.

*Aussie word thrown in for fun.
**All Photos taken somewhat discreetly with my iPhone.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Stick Out Your Tongue and Say "Cheese"

Our family has been blessed with some wonderful friendships here in Australia. It is, I believe, one of the main reasons we have had such an easy adjustment to this life Down Under.

Seven months ago, on the Little Princess's first day of school, I met two women who have become quite dear to me. All three of us have 6 year old daughters, and (for the next month anyway) all three of us have 3 year old sons. These boys have become the Little Buddy's very best mates. And I am so thankful to have them in our lives.

In honor of the Little Buddy's 3rd birthday my friend arranged for the boys to have a photo taken with the giraffes at Taronga Zoo. If you know us in real life you know how the Little Buddy loves his giraffes! It was such a thoughtful birthday gift. I'm so glad we'll always have these photos to remember these precious friends we found here in Australia.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Seeing Green

Yesterday, my friend and I took our Little Princesses to see the musical Wicked at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney. It was her first "grown up" musical show. Such a wonderful girls day out- from the ferry ride to the curtain call- we enjoyed every minute of it. I'm so glad we have friends here in Sydney to share these special days.

They looked adorable in their "Popular" t-shirts, and on more than one occasion I caught the Little Princess singing along with the show.

Can't wait to take her to another one!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Seeing Red

This is what the sky looked like at 6 a.m. today (23 September 2009). I had fallen asleep in the Little Buddy's room after comforting him in the wee hours of the morning. (He had a nightmare about a broken birthday cake- but I digress). I rolled over and saw him standing on his bed, pulling up the blinds and marveling at the sight of the world outside. "Mommy, the sky is red." I could see the bright red-orange glow coming through the window. But I couldn't pull myself from his bed to actually take some photos. That's why I'm sharing some of my favorites found on Flickr.

I'm from Southern California. I've been through some bad brushfire seasons when the sun glowed bright red through a smoky sky. But this time the red haze covered everything. High winds and dry conditions caused a rare dust storm to cover the city. It was eerie, and beautiful too.

Photo by fabian-f on Flickr

We stayed home all day, and slowly watched the world come back into view. And then, tonight at 6 p.m. as if on cue, down came the rain. Washing away all that red dust.

It was an amazing sight to see- the day the world was red.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Here's to Love and a Beetle

On Sunday my neighbors Ivan & Beth celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in style. They hired the New South Wales Fire Brigade Band and the Precision Marching Team. They had a big sausage sizzle (that's a BBQ for you Americans). And they invited the whole town. What a celebration.

In 1961, when they were newly married, Beth & Ivan bought a new VW Beetle and drove it from London to Calcutta. Thirty-five years later they took the same trip in the same Beetle. They still own that car, and I occasionally see them cruising around in it.

Beth & Ivan know how to throw a party. Heaps of people turned out to enjoy the music, marching, food and sunshine. Check out Ivan's crazy pants. (Wish I knew the story behind those).

The kids, of course, had a great time practicing their marching skills.

(I think the horn players have higher kicks than the marching girls!)

Congratulations Beth & Ivan. You're an inspiration to us all. We're looking forward to your party next year. And I know exactly how I want to celebrate our 50th in 2047.
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