Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Sporting Life: Tennis Anyone vs Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Since we were bums last year and didn't make it to any AFL games (Australian Rules Football), I thought we should be taking advantage of more sporting events.  Much like the food of a country, you can tell quite a bit about any place by seeing what sports they play.

Shawn is a tennis fan.  And even though I played badminton* in high school (stop laughing, I was captain AND 2nd in the state of CT for doubles my senior year), I've never been into tennis.  This might have something to do with the fact that 1) I couldn't figure out how the damn thing was scored (and no one knows WHY it's scored like it is so it's not just me) 2) the racket seemed so heavy compared to my badminton one and 3) I always hit the ball directly into the net.

Nevertheless, I asked Shawn if he had any interest in going to the Australian Open, a Grand Slam Tennis Tournament held here in the fine city of Melbourne.  Since he likes and plays tennis, (and he actually knows some people that play tennis), he thought we should go. 

First we had to pick the day.  With my new job, I get off American AND Australian holidays (thebestever.) so we decided to go on MLK weekend.  This may or may not have been because I waited to buy tickets until the week before and couldn't get anything for the weekend of the final.  He was more interested in seeing men's tennis, so we picked the 3rd round men's, since that's when we could get the best seats at the best ticket prices.  We ended up being at the smaller arena, which was fine with me.  The only thing with tennis tournaments is since it's an elimination tournament, you have no idea who you're going to see.  We thought by the 3rd round, we'd be able to at least see some people he knew.

To try and school me on tennis, we started watching a few days before.  One match I watched, starred a sassy Frenchman named Gael Monfils.  I instantly liked Monfils because he is French and I am French Canadian, and he likes to dance during his matches.  I was happy when Monfils won his match.  And we found out the next day, that we'd get to see him play! YESSSSSSSSSSS.  We were also slated to see a classic doubles match, and all of those playing Shawn knew so that was exciting for him.
Are you ready for some tennis?

The Australian Open is held in downtown Melbourne.  It's not too far from where we are.  Our match started at 7pm, but we got there a little early so we could walk around the grounds and check stuff out.  We ended up getting a bite to eat and I got an official Australian open ipod holder.  I needed one and it was $10.  Done.

"Shawn you take the picture because you are tall"

The game prior to ours went a little long, so when we finally got in it was well after 7pm.  I was pretty happy with our good our seats were.  And even though they were marked as "obstructed view" it was only the judges chair and the cameras. 

Oh goddd, my view is too obstructed.

Playing Monfils was another guy from France, Simon.  So it was really a match of my people.  Sort of.  Justification: anyone who called their grandparents Memere and Pepere gets to be French and not French Canadian.  They had to arrive in Canada from somewhere and that somewhere was France.  My people it is.

I was pretty excited because Monfils was a fun player and Simon was a dreamy player, so this match was really the best one Shawn could have taken me to.  Tennis is not like other sports I've been to.  Other sports bore me.  Like baseball.  What happens in baseball?  Nothing.  Ever.  It's not like you get to run around the bases in a foam airplane or anything.**  I like baseball though, because I like hot dogs.  This is a good of a reason as any. 

In tennis, things happen.  And you have to be quiet while they are playing, so it makes me pay attention.  AND this match ended up being pretty epic, so that also helped the situation. 

In a tennis match, you are not allowed to get up from your seats while they are playing.  So sort of like a play, you can't exit while things are happening.  I guess unless it's an emergency.  Anyway, during the second game some guys came in and told the people next to us that they were in their seats.  The couple next to us pulled out their tickets and their tickets said they were in the correct seats.  The game was starting back up....they HAD to sit down. What's the solution?  Sit in my lap, naturally.

I'm trying to sit down, I have one guy crouching on my leg and the other in my lap.

Seriously?   That's what you came up with?  While the game was playing, they were whispering to one another about the ticket mix up.  Eventually, they realized that they had tickets for the 11am match.  How they even got in the door is beyond me.  This time, they just decided to be seat squatters and take the empty seats in front of us.  And without a word about the whole 'i'm in your lap' situation, they just sat up there.  I should have at least gotten a drink out of the situation, boys.

Remember me?  No?

Lap sitters aside the game was really great.  It ended up going into 5 sets.  And I loved every minute of it!  It also (at the time) was the longest rally ever in the Australian Open.  They boasted 71 shots in two minutes.  Nail biting. 

Monfils serves

Simon returns

Monfils wins the 4th set!

But....Simon won the day.

Five hours later the game ended.  Both players were completely exhausted, and luckily, we caught the last tram of the night home. 

The one take away from this is now not only do I like tennis I 1) Understand the scoring! and 2) have now purchased a racket!  Okay, it's a juniors racket because the grip is smaller, but when Shawn and I played the other day at the courts near our apartment, I was able to get the ball over the net, and serve correctly!  I also have a standing tennis date with a friend.  (Side note: i have not deserted my badminton past, I also insisted we buy badminton gear ---YOU CAN BUY REAL RACKETS IN AUSTRALIA!! --- and have been teaching Shawn in anticipation for a game with one of his friends here)

The NEXT day (seriously when I put my mind to something, I commit), we headed down to see the Melbourne Aces take on the Adelaide Bite in the Australian BASEBALL league.  Another work perks, they gave us some free tickets to take advantage of for the last game of the seasons.  (They're trying to make it a winter league to encourage some American and Japanese players to use it as training).  Not many from work took advantage of it, but Shawn and I are always up for free things so we headed down.  The stadium is a little ways out of the city an it's not much of a stadium.  But then again, the Aces don't have much of a following.  

When I arrived we were learned our seats were on the ground level, right on the first baseline.  Pretty awesome. 

Seriously good seats.
We were ALSO given some free coupons for food and drinks.  We got hot dogs and fries, but SO DISAPPOINTINGLY no peanuts.  The reason?  They don't want to clean up after the shells.  Right.  Who needs authenticity when you can have clean-ish floors?

My co-worker, who had a contact at the Aces, had signed us up for participating in some hyjinx during the 4th inning.  When I found out that I had to run the bases in a race against her, I was busy stuffing my face with American food.  I'm pretty sure that was part of her plan.  Belly full of hot dog/french fries isn't really conducive to going for a sprint.

And to make things more challenging, I needed to wear a foam airplane to run the bases in.  Joy.

Should I make the plane an everyday thing?

Because Shawn is a super genius, he filmed it for me!  So now I present:

That time I ran the bases during the Melbourne Aces Baseball game!

Let's just deal with the obvious here.  That first baseman clearly lost it for me. 

Also let's deal with the second obvious thing here, I am a completely awkward runner.  And I did  pull a hamstring during this.  Old lady body, ftw!

As much as I complain about it, I'm sure I never, ever would have this opportunity in the states.  So even though it was something where I had to run, and wear a weird foam airplane that was made for giants, and i lost (but did so with a bit of style) it was still a cool experience.

The game itself was uneventful.  Well uneventful for the Aces, they lost 9-0 to the Bite.  (ouch.)  We DID meet a guy wearing a Baltimore hat just like me so we chatted with him for a while.  He used to live not too far from where some of my cousins live now, and since Shawn went to school in Baltimore, they talked about that.  So funny that you'd meet a fellow Baltimore fan at a baseball game in Melbourne, Australia.  I've turned into my dad.

On the way home, we met a guy wearing a sox jersey with an aces hat.  He talked with us the whole way to Melboure about sports and the differences.  I learned a little bit about cricket (should I go to a game?  vote on that), and we talked about American football (or gridiron as they call it here) and baseball.  The MAIN difference in fans from here and fans from the states, is they are cheering for their teams, not against the other team.  The utter hatred (and seriously the gross language) at baseball games in the US is baffling.  Here, I really think you could bring kids to games, it's a family environment.  And there's just something about cheering for your own team instead of bringing all this negativity that's really great.  I wonder if it's the same for all Aussie sports.  It certainly has been at tennis and baseball.

This upcoming year, we'll definatley got to some AFL games (go CATS!), maybe some rugby, and we're up in the air about cricket.  Think we should go?


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Holidazed: Covering 4 Holidays in One Super Post!


If you know anything about the two of us, you know that Shawn and I are very into Halloween.  If you know anything about the rest of the world, you will know that they are, decidedly and very unfortunately, not.  This is a bummer for people who like to dress up as things.  Good things.  FUN things.  But this year, I wasn't going to go through the trouble of making awesome costumes with no one to appreciate them. 

So I broke my cardinal rule.

I went as a cat.


Before you start thinking, I was some skank cat in a body suit:

1) that would be completely unnecessary for the world to see.  My (forced) bodysuit days stopped when I stopped being on stage. (It was COLD in those haunted houses, the bodysuit was an unfortunate necessity...and there was a costume over it - re: rationalizing.)
2) I still have issues with girls going as 'less then proper ladies' for Halloween.  That's not a costume.  Get an original thought.

So I found a picture online of the Cheshire Cat and I said, okay, yes.  This is what I will do.  I also wanted to do this because the costume required little materials, and without my hot glue gun, I'm basically a useless human being.  (let's not argue that fact, at least costuming wise)

I managed to find a costume shop down here, that was open past 5pm.  (this is a feat in and of itself).  So after work I took a little work adventure down there to see what I could find.

It has been YEARS since I've actually purchased a costume.  I am so used to making everything, so I had a bit of sticker shock when I went into this store and had to pay exorbitant prices for things.  Also without my makeup kit with me (i had to leave shoes behind, i certainly wasn't taking stage makeup) I had to restock.  For one thing, I needed a injury stack (this is my FAVORITE thing ever.  I make a good bruise).  I spend the allotted amount of money for that, because 1) I use it so frequently and 2) it had a lid.  Most of the stuff they had for sale didnt' have lids and I wasn't going to pay $20 for a tube of makeup that I could only use once before it dried up.

Halloween was during the 'time of guests', Cindy left that morning and the party was on that day (no rest for the wicked).  I was naturally working this day, so by the time I got home (Shawn started the party at 6pm), I was scrambling around like a mad woman trying to set up, trying to do my makeup AND trying to do Shawn's.  I managed to get Shawn and the house mostly ready before his friends from school came over, and then I just hid in the bathroom and did my makeup.

It certainly wasn't the best job I've ever done (I was rushing and had 15 minutes) but it was okay.  Kudos to Shawn for going down to the beach and getting real seaweed and weirdly an abalone shell for his costume.  Of course, he smelled like dead fish and it made me gag a lot, but y'know, kudos. 

Seaweed.  Ew.

Since the majority of Shawn's friends were from Asia, they didn't know much about Halloween.  Naturally, it was left to the two Americans to explain it.  Have you ever tried to explain Halloween to people who know nothing about Halloween? 

1) they wanted to know the origins:  I think we went with some malarkey about All Hallows Eve, and witches, and demons and added in that bit that carved pumpkins used to be that used to be carved turnips.  I think we also should have given an honorable mention to Ichabod Crane and the great pumpkin of charlie brown fame, but we did not.
2) Shawn wanted this to be 'authentic' with real traditions but i was not going to spend THIRTY dollars on ONE pumpkin.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  I have a conniption when i have to spend $10 on one.  (note, here since they call what we would consider squashes 'pumpkins', they call the large orange ones 'halloween pumpkins'.  it's  cute.)
3) Explaining about WHY people give you candy, is now even confusing to me.
4) we did want to include SOME Halloween activities so we....bobbed for apples.

Bobbing for apples is hard.  It's hard if you don't know the trick of pin it against the wall and THEN sink your teeth into it.  We made Shawn go first to demonstrate.  I may have given the instruction of pin it against the bottom of the bucket, soooooo it took him like 3 minutes to get the apple.  People started using the cheat of grabbing the stem with their teeth so we had to remove all the stems as well.  I think by the time I went, I set the record with under 3 seconds.  Pinned it right against the side of the bucket.  LIKE A PRO.  (I am now accepting sponsorship deals.)

At the end, we filled everyone's bags with Halloween candy including skeleton skull ring pops (a personal favorite find)

Halloween Crew
 Fakesgiving: An American Thanksgiving in Australia.

After Halloween, I really look forward to Thanksgiving.  I mean, what red-blooded America does not?  Although the Aussies are just starting to really get on board with Halloween, there is no such hope for Thanksgiving.  For one thing, it's getting pretty hot here at that point, and part of the charm of thanksgiving is it's cold then and using your oven is not a torture device.  For another thing, if it's not ingrained in your being, cooking a turkey for a holiday that's not Christmas, seems a little silly to the Aussies.  (turkies are also very hard to find here.)

I still wanted to have a Thanksgiving celebration though, because it was important to me that I learn how to do this solo.  See, back home, I'm my dads A#1 Thanksgiving assistant.  The A#1 Thanksgiving assistant gets the coffee in the morning, chops up the veggies, and assists with all things Thanksgiving (such as assuring that there is a crescent roll that I make inside out especially for my brother.) 

I've never been charged with cooking the turkey.  Sure, I have to stuff the cavity full of apples and onions and cover the whole thing with herbed butter, but the actual timing and cooking of the bird is MOST CERTAINLY NOT my job.  1) it scares me.  No one wants to be that person that messes up thanksgiving by overcooking/under-cooking the bird.  2) my dad actually rules at thanksgiving so watching and helping him cook is a delight.  it's like our holiday.  it's fun.

I did want to take the daunting task on myself, though.  Just to see if i COULD cook a turkey if need be.  Besides, I am that frontier gal who made her own applesauce last year.  This shouldn't be so bad, right? After taking a quick poll from my guests, I decided to cook just the bird with white meat and then a separate part of turkey thigh for anyone who wanted a bit of dark meat.  And okay, there were several panicked emails to my dad over the course of that week on all the things I needed to make and how to prepare them. 

Thanksgiving Reenactment.
My highest concerns (besides DON'T DRY OUT THE TURKEY) was stuffing and gravy.  These are the linch pins of Thanksgiving dinner.  I didn't think I'd be able to find either in traditional means.  Thankfully the American grocery store had a box of stuffing mix (seriously thinking about staling my own bread gave me nightmares) and my dad just told me to make due with chicken gravy and some gravy master.  Of course, my point of 'dad if they don't have turkey gravy, i don't think they're going to have gravy master.' was mute as i found a sort of gravy master substitute.  With the flavorings and baked goods.  BECAUSE THE GROCERY STORES MAKE SO MUCH SENSE HERE.

After finding the stuffing box, I felt much more confident in the rest of the meal.  I even was bold enough to make TWO pumpkin pies.  Please note, I've never had pumpkin pie.  I am an apple pie girl.  But, I've never MADE an apple pie.  Pumpkin pie seemed easier (once I ordered that can of Libbys) and less daunting.  I will say, no matter how tasty the pumpkin pie turned out (not for me though, I don't like it.), I missed my apple pie with a slice of cheddar on top.  Yup.  Cheese on apple pie.  It's LIFECHANGING.  don't judge it until you try it.

The morning of, we rented out the conference room in our swank new apt building.  it was nice because it has a full kitchen, and big tables so I didn't have to bother having things in my tiny apt.  It was also pretty warm that day and the conference room had a/c.  Unfortunately when we entered the room it was full of boxes and random furniture.  A conversation with the desk staff and about 1/2 hour later, the furniture was mysteriously gone from the room.  Problem solved.

Shawn went back upstairs to get ready for the day, and I stayed down in the kitchen, listening to meatloaf and making stuffed celery.  And while I'm busy, smearing a mix of cream and blue cheese with walnuts and a sprinkle of paprika into little celery logs, I actually got a little teary eyed.  So far, thankfully, I have been immune to homesickness. I don't know if that's because it's just so different weather wise that I don't associate these holidays with how they are back home...but something about making those little celeries (that my dad and i make every year and we forget about and leave in the fridge until 1/2 way through the meal when we go "oooohhhh the celery!") just got to me.  It's something so unique about my family holidays that even thought it was in the 90's that day, and i didn't see the macy's parade, and didn't wake up at dawn to start the turkey, I got very very sad.  Thankfully, the delicious smells of my currently roasting bird intrigued the desk staff into the conference room and I wiped away my tears and chatted about why Thanksgiving is the best.  (side note: upon seeing that I created the stuffed celery without the cheese we use in the states - Kraft's Roka Blue - my amazing Aunt Michele sent me TWO jars of it for Christmas.  I really do have the best family and must have laughed about this for a full 10 minutes.  Side note, Kraft discontinued Roka Blue a few years ago.  Thanks to an aggressive Martin Family Letter Writing Campaign to Kraft, it was mysteriously back on shelves the next Thanksgiving.  The world can thank us. Maybe Kraft decided they owe us because they stole the recipe for French Dressing from my Pepere.)

Anyhow, guests arrived and one was toting a delicious Pavlova.  This is an Aussie meringue dessert, that I had never tried.  It's pretty heavenly, so when I'm back home, I'll add it to my baking repertoire.  Making a meringue is pretty daunting though....

Eventually the turkey was done.  And I will pat myself on the back for this one, it was delicious.  It was moist and tender.  and PERFECT.  I was pretty thrilled with myself.  And i actually really liked the dark meat better.  Maybe because it was cooked separate?  who knows, it was tasty.

In the tradition of Thanksgiving, we had one guest come late but we made her a plate.  And although we didn't have time for board games (SAD) we did have time to make some sweet hand turkies.  (My life here has turned into elementary school activities and projects.)

I'm dreaming of a White Christmas
To accurately describe Australian Christmas, I will begin with a song to the tune of "Walkin' in a Winter Wonderland"


"See the sun?  Ain't it glistin'?  In the street, my skin is blisterin'. A horrible site, why's it so hot tonight?  Burning in Australia's sunny land."

For real.  Hot Christmas, although sort of amusing, isn't very Christmasy, especially since I grew up in the "This looks like a Christmas Card" mecca of New England. I am used to gentle snowfalls and sleigh rides.  (or y'know the fact that i COULD go on a sleigh ride if i wanted to.)

 We had a little Charlie brown Christmas Tree, and an advent calendar.  I've never had one of these before, but i insisted that we get the freddo one, even though it was kinda pricey.  Confidentially, 24 days of freddos' SOUNDS awesome in theory, but I don't even think I can look that chocolate frog in the eye anymore.  Ugh.
The tree features Reindeer LED Lights

Getting the chocolate out of here was near impossible

 Since it was pretty warm here,  we tried to get in the proper Christmas mood by attending Carols by Candlelight, a Melbourne tradition.  We decided to go to the rehearsal night, because instead of 80$ for ticket, it's $10.  Much more reasonable.  UNFORTUNATELY, it was also 100 degrees that day.  At first, it wasn't so bad.  We got a picnic blanket and sat under the shade of a tree while we waited for the gates to open at 4pm.  (there's no reserved seating and we had thought it was all grass seating, hence the blanket.)  we sipped on cool drinks, and then SOME JERK in the crowd ran up to the gates, thus starting a stampede of people standing in a non-moving line.  This is where things got bad.  The sun had decided it didn't want to be behind the clouds anymore.  So essentially, there were hundreds of people in 100 degree heat, standing in a line that wasn't moving, under the very intense Australian sunshine.  People started passing out and vomiting.  It was horrific.  At one point, i just looked at Shawn and said, "I don't care, it's too hot, let's just leave, I think I'm going to die." Shawn had faith in my power to stick it out though, so we did.

Side note, being here in the heat, it really does feel like you're going to die.  The air is so hot, it's hard to breathe, and it's like you want to lie down and go to sleep forever.  I DO NOT know how early 'settlers' even survived.  But I do have a firm grasp about why most Aussie cities are on the coast.

In the worst event planning ever, they opened the gates 1/2 hour later than scheduled and people stumbled into the music bowl.  I think once people started dropping left and right and vomiting, they just should have opened the doors so people could sit down and get some of the free water they were offering.  This is why I will be an awesome event planner.

Luckily, there were some seats under shade and Shawn (immune to all temperatures, in his long sleeved top and jeans) was spry enough to snag us some while I shambled on.  It felt nice to be shaded and sitting, and we drank our gatorades and waters pretty much immediately.  One thing I do like about the Aussies is they know how to picnic.  They bring food everywhere.  Many families had a really nice spread set out and I was jealous and dreaming of eating cool fruits and chips and dips.  I think I have to get over the restrictions of bringing food into places that the US has.  Because they want you to buy their $45 hot dogs and hamburgers.  It's kinda BS when you think about it.

We watched the carols rehearsal which featured a bunch of B-D list Aussie celebs.  It was nice, but it was surreal, because it felt more like the 4th of July than Christmas time.

The kids from High-5

That guy from Australia's The Voice

The Carols by Candlelight Set

 They decided to take a break for an hour and Shawn and I decided it was best to head home at that point.  We were both pretty worn out, and yes, very, very sweaty.

The next day was Christmas Eve.  We got last minute notification that we got a bonus day off from work (Yay!) so I did some last minute shopping.  It hadn't really felt like Christmas so I hadn't really done any shopping.  Whoops.  I wanted it to be like my Christmas Eve back home, which meant Chinese food and Ben & Jerry's.  There's like one store that sells B&J and it was $12.50 a pint.  It's easy to ignore that I just spent $25 on ice cream when I rationalize it's a tradition.  Chinese food was less easy to find.  First off, Australia doesn't really have Chinese restaurants like we have them in the states.  It's more Thai and Malaysian food.  So that was the first compromise.  The second is, some where in this country, they've gotten it into their heads that people shouldn't be working on the holidays (go figure.) so pretty much every place was closed.  I was hitting major levels of depression here, but Shawn managed to find one Thai place open and got me some pad thai.  not QUITE like panda palace back home, but it would have to do.  We did our stocking presents, watched the ACTUAL carols by candlelight on tv and then headed to bed.

The next day we were slated to watch my friend's cat for her, since she and her boyfriend were traveling over the holidays.  Since we had to pick up Claude at her house, she invited us over for Christmas Lunch.  Her brother in law is a chef (yum) so we had so much Christmas deliciousness.  And naturally, it was cooked on the barbie.  After lunch, they brought out the slip n slide.  This is a thing here apparently.  The kids all joined in, and by that I also mean Shawn.  Yup.  Slip n Slide for Christmas, and not meaning breaking a leg on the driveway ice.  (this activity further brought into my mind that we were actually celebrating the 4th of July.) 

We brought Claude home, made sure he wasn't going to pee all over the apartment and then headed over to C&K's for second dinner/dessert.  We watched some awesome Christmas movies (mostly muppet ones) and Kendra's mom brought me some delicious jam from the states.  I was very excited!  Santa stopped at our house for Orson, so he got some kangaroo snacks and some rawhide sticks.  Yum.  I also go some swag I ordered from the US which is always good.  One was a new pocket camera!  YIPPEE!

We both go to talk to our parents on Skype, but honestly, it doesn't feel like I missed Christmas at home, because of the weather.  I guess that's one good thing about the heat.

I do like the differences in Christmas here, and its fun to see how others celebrate.  It's still all about family, but since it's summer, it's a daytime event and more about being time outside.  And nicely, all public transport was free on this day, so people could spend time with their families without worrying about the cost of the train.

Ringing in 2013. 
If warm Christmas is slightly depressing, warm New Years is decidedly not so.  I have always said that if I had the opportunity I would celebrate New Years in a warm climate.  And I was completely right, because it is SO MUCH NICER than being in New England.  Don't argue this.  I never want to have another cold New Years Eve again.

We had planned on heading out to the city to one of the parks to watch the fireworks.  But in a genius move of complete awesomeness, Metro closed all but two of the train stations around the city loop.  Naturally the two that were closest to us.  They thought they were being very efficient by making people walk to other stations, but that's just a really stupid thing to do during an event where people are pretty much plastered.  Annoying.

We decided that from the sky deck in our apt, we'd have a pretty good view of the city skyline and we'd just stay in and watch the fireworks from there. 

We played some board games, and in one game of Yahtzee Shawn got 3 Yahtzees.  that's just disgusting.

Third time: It's just insulting.

Around midnight, we watched the happenings in Sydney, got ready in our 'fancy clothes' and then headed out to the skydeck for the fireworks.






It may have looked like the city was exploding, but it was really neat.

Tiny bottle of Champa.

Exploding Melbourne

 As cool as they were, they did make me a little nervous that they set off the fireworks in the middle of the city from the highest buildings.  It seems like a country that is perpetually burning from December to February that this might not be a smart move.  but i guess we're still all here so it worked out.

Much like the rest of the year has been, the holidays here went by in a blur.  I will say one of the ultimate highlights was having Claude as a guest kitty.  It did make me miss my boys a little bit more, but it was great having an after work snuggle.

Leg Cuddlez

Cat Snugglezzz