Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How to gain 5 pounds (each) in 1 holiday weekend

There is only another few days of the holiday eating blitzkrieg. A New Year's party at our house and then a burlesque party downtown, tomorrow.

When we got home from our Christmas trip today, we weighed ourselves and this is how we felt:

Nothing at all like when, on Saturday, our Scuba instructor took me back to the wet suit rack, looked me up and down and announced "SMALL". I was thrilled. Tom just shook his head, knowing he'd have to hear me relive that moment endlessly. Never you no mind that it took me a half hour to get in the thing (longer when it was already wet from the last dive). I couldn't bend my arms and my gate had this kinetic Parkinsonian thing not being able to bend my knees, I'd somehow just get momentum. At one point I fell down in the surf, wearing all my gear, and simply could not get back up. I think the shame from that, and the crowd that watched, drove me to the next size up. Still, the moment will always be mine. Small. Sigh.

The scuba school, where we went for 5 advanced dives (navigation, naturalist, deep water, drift and peak performance) made us fill out a lot of forms. At some point, with Tom's contact info, in case of emergency, it asked "Relationship:". I wrote "Hostage".

We blame these people, mostly. Our British expat friends, Tony and Emma, are hellaciously good hosts and chefs. Christmas dinner lasted something like 9 hours. It was like being hobbits, what with lunch, second lunch, tea, dinner, sevensies and supper, each with a dessert in between, all blended into one giant, crazy-perfect meal. I remember hugging my final eating effort for the night, a butter cream cupcake and insisting, "It's not you, it's me. I just can't go on."

These are potatoes grilled in rendered duck fat. Uh, yum.

My plate from just round 1. I think we jiggled the camera because we were hyperventilating.

A flaming yorkshire pudding...was that the dessert for supper or's all a happy gastronomic blur now. Clearly, heavy cream had to be liberally applied to squelch the fire.

Tom and I went to chocolate school for the last few weekends and built these. At dinner (or was it second tea?), we smashed them with a hammer and everybody gobbled them up. The chocolatiere kept asking if I was a chef, he was so impressed with my chocolate handling skills. I didn't want to admit that, like Mary Tyler Moore, I hadn't been "around" (chocolate) so much as "nearby". Let's just say it's a medium I'm happy to work with. Can you imagine if he'd given me a "small" apron and then asked if I was a chef?

This is actually a puppy. Not even a year old. He is doing bad things to Santa. We, Huckleberry and I, happen to weigh the exact same number of kilograms. If you could see him in real life, you'd want to curl up in a ball and cry too. Tony, his dad, told us that you aren't supposed to overfeed a great dane puppy or they'll grow too fast and it will cause them physical harm. There's a lesson in there somewhere?

Between our many feedings at our friends', we hit up places like Max's at the Red Hill Estates Winery. When they put it on one big platter, six gourmet desserts almost seems appropriate.

We didn't do a lot with gifts and traditional holiday hustle bustling this year...just really enjoyed being here and with the people we were with. I know that Melbourne feels like home to me, but really, Tom is my home. That's what I meant when I wrote "hostage", I just didn't want to get all emotionally squishy on a scuba folder.

We reviewed New Years resolutions from last year and did a lot of "ditto on that one", "and that"...

And our lifelong dreams of wearing paper crowns was realized. It was a great, great Christmas.

One Year of Immigration - Holiday Weekend of Celebrating

Australia pretty much shuts down from Xmas eve until mid January. In fact, the main reason we ended up living in our current flat is that the realtor for this building was one of the few people who returned our call when we immigrated at this time last year. Lucky for us though, cause we love it!

We talked about going to Antarctica over the long break, but that just seemed darned expensive. And cold. Wet. Possibly boring, crossing the Drake Passage for several days each way. Then we talked about getting camping equipment and roughing it outback, but when the reality of bugs, bats, snakes and dingos set in, well, meh. A couple possums visited us while we were at a holiday evening BBQ the other night and we (our Australian, Dutch and Iranian expat friends) were all torn as to whether they were more cat or rat-esque. They are marsupials, so technically they are more kangaroo-like than anything. Still, I was mildly frightened by them.

What we ended up doing was eating a ton of fabulous food with a few groups of really good new friends, and going to the Mornington Peninsula for a jaunt. It's about 2 hours south of us and one of those places that makes you wonder why you don't go EVERY weekend?

Really our only complaints are the volume and voracity of flies (note Tom's biodegradable fly fan, a common accessory in the park). Sadly, our sunbrella blew off a cliff and we accidentally littered. We felt badly about that. And we missed our sunbrella the rest of the day.
It was also quite sunny and hot...a bit hard to find the moderation between "overdressed / sweating like a beast" and "destined to fry / melt quickly". But how fabulous to be outdoors in this incredible setting! I'm concerned about my exposed fingers here and thinking they really should make long sleeved summer gloves:

"Draw on Tom's daypack"...a quick game for the kids:

The only way to cool him down was to get him a Bubble-O-Bill, seen here being eaten "Easter bunny style" (ears first, retains the nose):

This was a little concerning. We wondered if we could / should make a donation to limbless wallabies and what the long range bomb explosion plan is?

The Point Neapean National Park was gorgeous. We hiked in about 5 kilometers (listen to Miss Metric here!) and took a tractor-pulled people hauler back to the rental car. It was exciting to visit the site where Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared while swimming in 1967.

We don't have a fancy-pants camera with changeable lenses, but this is what you get when you shoot a picture through your sunglasses. It was a great trip.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Camel Cull

There are over a million feral camels running amuck in Northern Australia, and this number doubles every 8 years. Lately, due to the drought, 6,000 of the camels have started marauding the small town of Docker River - because, get this, they're thirsty. Gack! Marauders!

They say tourists come to Australia to see "the bridge (Sydney), the reef (Cairns) and the rock (Ayers Rock in Uluru, which is about 500 miles from Docker River...that's relatively close in the perspective of the mammoth dessert landscape out there).

Apparently the parched camels are breaking water mains, knocking in air conditioners and posing a threat to "children running around and wanting to play with the camels".

So Docker River got some emergency funding. They're going to coral them all into a pen outside of town, gun them down, and leave the camels' bodies to decay there in the desert. By definition, a "cull" is when a herd or group reject certain members. I'm not clear why this is being called a cull. It just seems like a slaughter to me.

This has upset a lot of people. Some people from the UK want Australia kicked out of the G-20, which I thought was more of a financial strategy group than validation that anyone is particularly keen on human, let alone animal rights.

Never let it be said that I think I have all the answers, but I'm leaning towards spending the emergency funds on first getting the camels something to drink and then handing out some good camel family planning pamphlets.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Public Service Announcements

Public Service Announcements hold a special place in my heart. My montessori school teacher wrote this one and I have been singing this song in my head, yeah, almost daily, since I was 3.

The first time we went to a movie at a theater in Melbourne, the previews included an Australian Public Service Announcement. I was about "asking questions at work". A teenage girl didn't know how to use the bread slicer her first day on the job and thought it would make her "look dumb" to ask for help. So she cuts a finger off and bleeds all over the place. I was stunned. We eventually got used to them. Here's poor Josh getting a broth bath.

We put some money aside for a car and are ready to get one any time, probably a hybrid or something fuel efficient or maybe a compact that doesn't have the long term toxic effects of a hybrid (from the batteries). That is all a little confusing, the short vs. long range economy and environmental impact of cars. I also have a recurrent premonition that Tom and I are going to be killed or severely maimed in a car accident. And we've been doing okay without one so far.

Road safety is a big deal here. There are clearly plenty of resources put towards campaigns and enforcement....speeding cameras and booze bus's (mobile alcohol/breathalyser check stations) everywhere. Tom told me about this PSA about speeding. Apparently "No One Thinks Big of You" has won a lot of awards and is credited with saving $264 million in accident-related hospital a lot of lives. According to this article, it has "lead to the widespread practice of people wagging their little finger at speeding male drivers". Okay I'm sorry, but that just cracks me up.

Anyway, my point being...there is a kind of irreverence in advertising here that I rather like. Let's not gloss over it, whatever it is. Australia is just gonna put it in your face. If you have time, do take a few minutes to click on these - they're pretty impactful:

Though we don't get exposed to a lot of overt homophobia in Melbourne, we've noticed a lot of undertones of it in popular culture. Australian stand-up comedy, TV and movies are an anachronism to the way things were in America in maybe about the 80's. There are a lot of gay jokes and we don't get why they're supposed to be funny.

This permeates the (lack of) consciousness or the way kids talk these days. I swear, to ride the train around the time school is letting out, you'd think EVERYTHING is just SO incredibly "gay".

Here's one from America. I wish we had more like this here:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Speak Australian!

Last night, we were walking to the train station, downtown in Melbourne. An unkempt old guy heard either Tom or I talking to an Australian pub quiz team mate. He looks up from what appeared to be some kind of roadside-sorting-garbage-from-recycling project and, with a gravely voice, hollers, "Speak Australian!".

What could this mean?

Though imitating an Australian accent still escapes us, we're starting to understand our new tribe better. Sometimes we even answer the phone, assuming we'll catch about half of what's said and can knit the rest together in context. Anyway, I've noticed we have actually adopted some basics of Aussie slang:
  • You put trash in "the bin".
  • One should have a "proper" dinner (apparently, according to Tom anyway, smoothies are "improper").
  • When there is plenty of something, you have "heaps" of it.
  • A combination of reasoning facts with a feeling is when you "reckon". I love this has a nice way about it...who doesn't want their opinion asked...for example, "Do you reckon I should wear a sweater tonight?"
  • Wear your "bathers" in the pool and "trainers" on your feet to do "sport" (it's not plural, unlike "maths". Go figure.)
  • Men who are friends with other men are "mates", but if you don't like someone too much, he's more of a "bloke".
  • When you're really happy with your mate who does something especially brilliant, tell him, "you're a legend", or if you're in a hurry, drop the a and just say, "you're legend".
  • If you're surprised, you're "gobsmacked".
  • Drank too much, you're "pissed". Tired? You're "stuffed" or "nackered".
  • Paint your mouth with "lippie".
  • If it's candy, but not chocolate, that is a "lolly".
  • A convenience store is a "milk bar".
  • You can buy second hand items at an opportunity shop, aka "Op shop".
  • Gifts are "prezzies".
  • When you buy the next round of drinks, it's your "shout".
  • Don't be nosy, or you'll be a "stickybeak". And don't brag about your good fortune, either, you "tall poppy".
  • A small pup truck is a "ute" (utility vehicle).
  • The last letter of the alphabet is "zed".
Frankly, I feel like an impostor when I use any of these. Do the real Australians know we are just pretending to fit in when we use these words? Do they even know we don't say these things in America? Are strangers on the street going to hear us trying to use these phrases and shout us down, like Trashman? Cause that really hurts you know.

I still order a "pop" to drink (met with blank stares). I dig through my wallet for "nickels or dimes". Australia doesn't even bother with "pennies" anymore...they just round off. I might still ask you to hold the "elevator". And if I ask you over for "tea", best to clarify if you're going to get a piece of meat and some "veg", usually around early evening time, or just a "cuppa" hot water steeped with leaves.

Chances are, and only because I'm still learning the lingo, you're just getting the beverage. Maybe a Reese's if there are any left.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Asphyxiation pneumonia & Addiction

Let me just quickly sum up the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup saga:
  • I gobbled my favorite food item in the world, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, late at night
  • Went to bed
  • Woke up choking on the peanut butter
  • Either cracked a rib or pulled a muscle in my chest
  • Laughing, couching, sneezing and taking deep breaths became unbearably painful
  • Went to the doctor. Was told it will likely take months to stop hurting. Was told I needed to take heaps of pain medication, because if I walked around continuing to take only short, shallow breaths, I would get a lung infection.
  • Didn't take much pain medication
  • Got pneumonia
It's called Asphyxiation Pneumonia, to be exact. Thank you, I would like my Darwin Award now, please.

Walking home from the doctor again today, I had a couple of realizations....

1) As far as we can tell, our income taxes is almost identical to what we paid in the US. Yet our (free, federally-sponsored) healthcare is obscenely good here. Our last plan was Kaiser, which Tom got from working for the US government. We could tell horror stories about them all day. Sometimes it was like we were characters in a movie, where you go to a hospital and one of the mental patients poses as a doctor. You don't go away from a medical appointment feeling so much healed, but more confused, wondering, "What the heck just happened?.

Here, our doctors' office is a block away from our flat. We pay $8 per visit because it's (by Melbourne standards) in a quasi-fancy-pants suburb. We could probably walk five blocks and see someone for free. Not a mental patient either.... a real doctor. We call them by their first names, they take their time explaining things. We'd kind of like to be friends with them...have them over for dinner or to play cards sometime. It almost seems like they want "our business" or for us to "have a positive experience and come back". I know. Talk about wacko.

I've sort of fallen behind on the details of what's going on with the whole healthcare deal in the US. I'm just saying:
  • Taxes - same.
  • Government regulated healthcare - want to give it tender kisses.
So I have really high hopes that it all gets "sorted" for you guys (that's Australian for "worked out").

2) I also realized that a good portion of the Reese's cache is still in the pantry. Tom got them up north somewhere, on a business trip. I found out he gave some away to the flight attendants on his way home...("What?! There were MORE and you let STRANGERS have them?!").

Apparently the flight attendants were so thrilled they gave him a pallet of mini-wine bottles in return. ("What are we going to do with THOSE? HOW many did Reese's did you give away again?! HONNNEY....WHY?!!). I regifted that damn wine the next day for a house warming.

As aversion therapy goes, I can highly recommend the cracked rib / asphyxiation pneumonia cure. I have no desire to ever eat another Reese's. A friend suggested would could be on to a whole new treatment for addicts of other sorts...Shooting heroin? Smoking meth? Cracked rib, pneumonia, cured. Sadly, most drug addicts go through much worse and there's still no bottom deep enough to save them.

Once I figured out how to download American TV onto our computer, Tom got concerned that I was watching too much of that show Intervention. You know, the one where people have addictions and their loved ones try to get them into treatment? I'm a human cliche'.

I really do wonder what could happen if I automatically came down with kidney stones and a middle ear infection every time I maxed out our metered bandwidth, getting us cut off from the internet for the rest of the month. Please, nobody mention the idea to Tom, okay?