Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 - A Year in Review

As 2012 comes to a close, and we are on the cusp 2013, I’d like to take some time to reflect on the passing year and take a look at the one yet to come.
I had a truly blessed year. 
Some highlights:
1)      After years of talking about moving and doing something with our lives, Shawn and I took the leap and moved abroad to Australia.  It’s not something I ever imagined we’d actually do, and I can say honestly, it was one of the best decisions of my life.  And although I miss everyone from back home, I wouldn’t change this for anything.
2)      After several months of interviews and waiting, I was offered an amazing job.  It’s not ever something I thought I’d be doing, but it combines everything I love and I’m so happy to be able to do what I do. Even my first temp job here was great, and it was nice to see how the other side of the world does business.  (It is also pleasant to not be a constant ball of stress and anxiety.)
3)      Shawn and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary.  Though it seems silly to start back at one when we were at 6, it was nice to reflect on our first year being married. (which is remarkably similar to not being married, FYI)
4)      I really did get to snuggle a crap load of animals this year.  And had some amazing animal experiences!
5)      We had some great guests this year!  From our first guest Alyssa, to our last Barry & Jesalyn and everyone in between (The Sponheimer and Cinderkins!), I had a wonderful time showing everyone around my temporary home and I hope you did too.
6)      I’ve gotten to do so much traveling, around Victoria, to the nations capital Canberra, to Sydney and to the Sunshine Coast, Australia is a diverse and wonderful place!
7)      I’ve loved adding new people in our lives to those who have been around forever.  It’s nice having such a supportive group of friends and family both near and far!
8)      I kicked butt in school this year.  Three A’s and 1 B (in stats…but hey, that’s PRETTY DARNED GOOD!)  I’m glad I made the decision to go back for my masters and glad I chose GWU to do it with.
9)      Thanks to my commute, I read A LOT this year.  It’s really a highlight, because I haven’t been able to do that much these past few years and it’s nice to get back into it.
In 2013 we hope to travel more (our wishlist: More Aussie Travel, including the Great Barrier Reef, the Outback, and maybe even WA, New Zealand, Thailand and hopefully, back to Japan for Tokyo Disney, Mt. Fuji and Hotsprings!), to keep being awesome at school (someone’s set to graduate!), and to keep having as much fun as we possibly can, doing things we’d never thought we would.  Oh! And naturally to complete my Aussie Animal Bingo Card. 
I hope I’m as lucky in 2013 as I’ve been in 2012, and it’s my wish that you all have an amazing new year, that will bring you joy, love, happiness and continued awesomeness. 

Here’s to a prosperous 2013!
Hugs and Kisses to all!  I love you bunches!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Thouroughly Emused! Friday Flashback

Because we think everyone should get to pat some native animals (also eat them, but that’s another post, and I think it’s just me that thinks that), we took Shawn’s parents to the Healsville Sanctuary for a day of animal pats.  Since I have pretty much patted almost every animal there in my quest to complete patting every native animal that is possible while living here*, I decided it was time to brave my fears and attempt the Emu encounter.
A few facts about Emus: (that may or may not have any truth to them)
1)      Emus crave human flesh.  They have been known to rip out a mans’ heart and show it to him before he dies.
2)      They might as well be a velociraptor, due to their scary emu clawed feet.
3)      The Emu is on Australia’s coat of arms along with the kangaroo.  (actual fact)
Anyway, besides facing my fears of emus we did want shawn’s parents to get some time snuggling wildlife, so we booked them a kangaroo feed/pat, and then a dingo encounter for shawn’s dad and a koala encounter for his mom.
When we first arrived, we saw a sign by the door.  This innocent little sign read “DINGO PUPPY PLAYTIME.”  Because Healsville is probably the most excellent place ever, and because they wanted to get their new dingo pups socaliazed, they were offering a whoooole ½ hour of dingo baby puppy cuddles.  To encourage myself to live through my emu encounter, I ALSO booked one of those for myself.  Because c’mon.  Dingo puppies.
Am I right?
First up was the kangaroo encounter.  I think the sponheimers were tempted to take one home.  Or at least shawn’s mom may have been. 
I know what someone's getting for the holidays...
 We then went to the dingo encounter.  Shawn’s dad is a dog person, so we think he liked it.  The dingo may also have licked his face.  They do that. 

After that it was time to head to the dingo encounter.  Naturally, I sort of felt like I was going to vomit.  I gave Shawn a verbal will.  (I’m not kidding about this, I really thought I might be killed.)
Once I got into the enclosure with the keeper (who was AMAZING and my new favorite person by the way), the emus immediately came over.  It may have been they smelled my fear and wanted to take advantage of this by disemboweling me OR, it could be because we had a large bucket of emu feed.  Emu feed, as it turns out, is fruits and veggies and some seeds.  The keeper took me over to the middle of the enclosure and the was like “LET’S DO THIS.” 

You can't run in terror if I'm holding you....
He handed me two bowls at once to feed the two emu boys.  This was terrifying and I was desperately trying not to freak out.  Since I was blessed with height, emus are at my eye level.  So having a scary dino bird pecking away at its’ feed a few inches from your eyeballs is pretty unnerving.  Thankfully, I know if it DID peck out my eye, I would look adorbs in an eye patch.
Cute Pirate Award.
To my utter shock and surprise, the emus turned out to be one of my favorite encounters of native aussie animals.  Despite their ravenous eating habits,  (much like me at dinner) they were pretty chill.

Family Resembalence?

I even got to pat them a bit, and feel their tiny, unusable wing.  I learned that emu society is run by female emus (which naturally makes them the coolest), and when she has the egg, she peaces out and makes him sit on it and raise the chick.  Shawn, this is a glimpse into your future. 
Since the emu enclosure is right at the beginning of the sanctuary, we had drawn quite a crowd.  I imagine I’m prominently featured on China facebook right now.  Anyway, the keeper was talking to the crowd and then he felt bad that he was just ignoring me, and took me away for a quiet moment of question answering and emu patting.  (They are pretty soft, fyi).  Since no one ever does the emu encounter (which is sad now that I’ve done it), he asked why I had decided to.  I told him I was scared of emus and I wanted to face my fears. 
And that ladies and gentlemen is when I got my SECOND “Good on ya!”.  Australian Zoo Keepers are so impressed with me.  So impressed with me that he asked me if he could inform everyone watching that I was scared of emus.  I gave him the go ahead, and he pretty much told an epic tale of how I’m facing my fears and how everyone watching should be impressed with me like he was.  AND Just in case are wondering, you should be impressed with me as well. 
It was pretty excellent.

Next we wandered around the zoo and bumped into some baby wombats.  So we patted them.  NBD.
Sometimes Baby Wombats Gotta Eat A Shoelace
Shawn’s mom then had her koala encounter.  It was sad that in Victoria they don’t really let you touch them, but she did get to get up close and we snapped some cute pictures.  She does love koalas the best.  So it’s nice she got to visit with one up close.

After koala, it was time for dingo puppy playtime.  This is just as awesome as you are thinking.  Dingo puppies are so fluffy.  AND CUTE.  AND RAMBUNCTIOUS.  AND PUPPY-LIKE.  We got to play with two different puppies, an older one and a younger one.   The younger one was just a big poof.  But he was better behaved.  We sat on little tree stumps and the puppies walked up and down the line and we gave them pats. 

Then we got to do a photo op.  Shawn was outside the enclosure snapping faithfully away.

Well, he's a bit cheeky.

It was fun to help train the pups some.

This pretty much ended the Sponheimer adventure in OZ.  The next week we were moving and whatnot, so it was busy packing and getting organized.  BUT!  I hope they had a good time and got to do everything they wanted.

And I hope those of you who are following and plan to visit are taking notes on what animals YOU’D like to pat!

*And don't forget to fill out your "Shawn and Devon Australian Animal Pats Bingo Card", as of 10/3/2012:
Common Wombat – S & D
Emu – D
Dingo – S&D
Dingo Puppy – D
Red Kangaroo – S&D
Hawk Owl – D
Enkidna – D
Frog Mouth Bird – S&D
PS did I mention baby koalas are stupid cute?
STUPID cute.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Here today, Dugong Tomorrow.

Friday Flashback: Sydney

Since I still want to talk about what’s going on currently and I don’t want to do a Mega Post with everything I’ve done since the end of September, I’m going to start doing these Friday Flashbacks.   Problem solved.

Shawn’s parents (el in-laws Casa de Sponheim) wanted to see something other than Melbourne while they where here, so we decided to take a quick weekend trip up to Sydney.  Everyone seems to get the impression that they haven’t seen Australia at all until they’ve been to either Sydney or the Great Barrier Reef, so the take away from this is the city of Melbourne needs a better marketing department.  Question for those of you in the US, would you feel weird if you had visitors and they only wanted to see NYC or LA?  I’ve gotten really protective about Melbourne, BUT I do completely understand wanting to see as much as possible here, as this really is a once and a lifetime trip.    

We left on Friday night after work, and took Tiger Airways.  Currently several Aussies are groaning at this.  You know how in the states we use Southwest when we want to go somewhere on the cheap?  It’s not like that.  It’s like….”Joe’s Discount Airplanes/Tacorria”.  But in all honesty, Tiger wasn’t that bad.  I mean yeah, it’s a sketchy little airline and no, we didn’t exactly know if being over .2kgs would ban our bags from the plane, but we DID get to Sydney on time.  Thanks to pro-tips from my co-workers, we didn’t take the train into the city, but instead took a cab, which ended up being cheaper.  I don’t know what it is about airports, but seriously, there needs to be some AFFORDABLE way to get there.  Stop charging 5 million dollars to get there. 

The very first thing we did was check in the hotel.  The thing is, I am usually picking hotels based on price and not on…quality when I’m on vacation.  This proves to be a bit of a problem when you are traveling with others who you don't know what their hotel preference is.  So I while I was thinking of the Morgan’s Boutique hotel ending up something like this: 

(why does that cat have an eye patch?) It actually ended up being nice and livable.  I also will relish the day when I’m staying in a nice hotel instead of just staying somewhere because I am being cheap.

After that we jetted down to the Quay* to go to the Aquarium.  We were pleasantly surprised to learn that we were staying right by a train station.  Since I was feeling rushed and flustered, I accidentally thought we were supposed to be at the Melbourne Aquarium.  I actually started telling the guy at the desk that we were at the wrong aquarium and then STUPIDLY realized I am an idiot.  Whoops. 

The Aquarium was okay.  Well it was just okay until we got to the part about the Dugong.  Oh the gentle dugong.  Much like Mungo the Manta Ray, I thought maybe I could get the Dugong into my tub.  First off, dugongs are like, the coooooolest thing.  They are so cute!  They are like manatees with pointed tails instead of rounded ones.

Battle of the Sea Cows:  FIGHT!
I like their cute faces, and how they eat romaine lettuce to keep that sexy dugong figure. 

Nom, Nom, lettuce.
I also liked that when looking up these majestic creatures on the internets, I learned they are named PIG AND WURU!  <3  There are also only 5 captive ones in the world!  So I'm pretty jazzed I got to see them. 

While shawn dragged me away exploring the rest of the aquarium, I saw there is a place called this:

What the…?  WHY DIDN’T WE MOVE HERE?  It’s pretty much my dream to go live with the dugongs now.  Let’s see how that pans out.

The rest of the aquarium was okay, I saw some nemo and dori fish.  And they had a neat exhibit where you walked over an aquarium.  Shawns’ mom was not a fan.

My feet over (troubled) water.
Size of a White Tip Reef Shark
I'm Smooth. A Smooth Dogfish.  ZING!

After the aquarium, we headed to the mall for a late night dinner at the food court.  The best part of that being, I found DANISH ice cream.  I immediately knew I must consume this for nothing more than to embrace my Scandinavian heritage.  (can’t you see it?  I’m tall and blonde…seriously where were those genes?)  I decided on Baileys and Burnt Almond.  And yeah, that’s as delicious as it sounds.

Dugongs have lettuce, I have Danish Ice Cream.
The weather was supposed to be kind of gross that whole weekend, so we decided just to go to the zoo since it was most likely going to rain both days.  Because Australia is the best, we had to take a ferry to get to the zoo.  For anyone who’s read anything on my blog, we all know I’m struggling with buses here.  So please imagine what it was like for me to get on a ferry.  I envy anyone who doesn’t get motion sick.

Fine and Dandy
Yo Quiero A Vomitar, por favor.


Once we got to the other side of the bay, shawn and I took the sky ride up to the zoo, while his parents took the shuttle bus. I also took this opportunity to buy a sweet poncho.  In retrospect, I could have saved 5 dollars and bought the child sized, because adult means ‘giant’ here in Australia/the world. 

Side note, a Sun Bear could also wear this poncho.
When we were purchasing said poncho, we saw that you could have an owl experience after the bird show for the low, low price of $25!  Of course, I was immediately game.  I loooooooooove owls.  I have always wanted to hold one! 

We walked around the zoo a bit, I played with my zoom lens and then we went to the bird show.  It was pretty neat.  But the whole time, I just was very excited for my owl.  They brought her out and gave me a glove.  The woman told me ALLLLLLL about her and I don’t remember a darn thing.  I was really just so thrilled to be holding this lovely creature.  She had been an injury, so she only had one wing.  At one point, she started making these weird cooing/gurggly noises.  I asked the keeper what they meant and she said, oh, she’s really excited to be out here, that’s her happy noise, like a cats purring.

I am making gurgly noises too.
It was really over too soon, and although I couldn’t give her any pats, it was really neat having her on my arm.  And now, my second new dream is while living on dugong island, to become a falconer. 

After that, we wandered a bit more.  They had several talks but the one that intrigued me most was…the Spider Talk.  Okay.  I know.  I mean, I knoooowwww.  They’re totally creepy, right?  But I was hoping that if I went, I’d be less scared or maybe I’d learn some fact that might make me not want to run in terror while dry heaving whenever I see one.  I will give the Spider Talk a bit of credit.  It did not, in fact, make me less scared.  But the guy giving the talk was SO great that I felt okay.  Even though I cowered in terror when they brought around the huntsman that was running around its container.   Once the guy saw the look of abject terror on my face, he said “wait, are you scared of spiders.”  When I answered with the obvious “oh yes.”, he said “hey, good on ya for coming!” 

I will pause a moment here to reflect that this was my first “good on ya” in Australia.  MILESTONE!

He was very impressed that I managed not to run screaming and shawn asked him some questions.  Some take aways from this experience:  When a huntsman falls on you in the middle of the night in your bed, he’s not trying to murder you.  He’s just a dumb clumsy spider and he probably feels pretty stupid about it. Even the fastest spider in the world cannot keep up with you, soooo, if by chance you are being chased by a spider, you can pretty much just walk away.  Also the last person to die from a funnel web spider bite was in 1981.  So if no one’s died in 31 years, I guess I can be okay.

My compliments to the Taronga Zoo for its wonderful spider program.  And even if I’m still pretty creeped out by them, I’m happy that I was able to laugh a little about it. 

Rest of the zoo was really cool, and I can’t wait to go back.

American Alligator
Genius Meercat

Tree Kangaroo

Devon Sized Sun Bear
View from the Bird Show: This would be pretty without the drizzle.

The next day we had planned to go see the Opera House.  Since it was an all indoor activity day, it was naturally gorgeous outside.  The day started off with an extremely aggravating experience with public transport.  The trains were down at our station, so we had to take replacement buses.  This was all well and good until you tried to get back on the bus, and weren’t allowed to.  Why?  WHO KNOWS.  I don’t understand a city where my ticket isn’t good on all forms of transport.  And it’s grossly expensive.  If going to Sydney did one thing, it made me appreciate public transport in Melbourne.  

With the Harbour Bridge
We got to the Opera House and were on the next tour.  It seemed like the tour meeting place was easy enough to find, but in all honesty, it was pretty well hidden.  And the people who worked there couldn’t even tell us how to get there.  There was tons of construction, and they don’t believe in signs apparently.  Anyway, when we got to the tour it was JUST about to leave, so we made it just in time.
Presenting the Opera House!

I think besides awesome animal learnin’ and owl snugglin', I really really enjoyed the Opera House tour.  I learned that it is the second most recognizable thing in the world, second only to Mickey Mouse.  AND the seats in the Opera House are made of a special kind of wood that mimics the acoustics of the human body so that even if the house isn’t full, the sound still sounds exactly the same. (THAT IS COMPLETELY COOL!) And of course, it’s lovely inside.   

With the largest pipe organ!
There are these cool rotating stages, and then it made me sad not to be on the stage anymore.  Naturally, I should take it back up and start off with starring on stage at the Opera House.  That sounds logical.

After we got out of the Opera House, we walked around and found a little museum that talked about Sydney’s beginnings.  We went to a market and I got a neat steampunk necklace-y thing made out of a watch from the 1940’s.  I also had real pink lemonade and popcorn for lunch.  If you know anything about me, you realize this is the best lunch ever.  After that, we headed back to the hotel, had dinner at a local pub and that was that!

Sydney was pretty good, and I know that other people will want to go so I’ll most likely be headed back.  Besides, at some point, I know I’m going to have to do the Bridge Walk…..

*it’s pronounced “Key”.  But, I don’t suppose you can expect much pronunciation sense from a country that says Adidas like “Add-did-dus”.