Tuesday, February 26, 2013


I've seen several of these "currently" posts going around recently.  And I thought it might be fun to jump on the bandwagon and try one of my own.


Reading: FINALLY finished Mockingjay in the Hunger Game series.  I read the first two books this time last year super quickly and was obsessed!  But then I kind of got burned out and apparently needed to take an almost year hiatus from Katniss and Peeta.  Loved the third book, although I was a tiny bit disappointed in the ending... but not really quite sure what I was hoping for as an alternative.  Now onto reading My Dyslexia- a very thoughtful gift (since I used to work a lot with children with dyslexia) given to me by my sister LAST Christmas.  I am SUCH a bad reader, but I'm resolving to try and read more. 

Watching: This may have something to do with why I'm such a bad/disinterested reader- I just have too many reality TV commitments (yes, they are commitments).  To name a few: Biggest Loser, Bachelor, American Idol...

Listening: I almost always listen to the "Today's Hits" Pandora station.  It keeps me current on what music is popular back in the US- I'm secretly afraid when I return I will be so out of touch. 

Wanting: Real Mexican food! 

Looking Forward To: My trip to New Zealand in just a few weeks!! 

Wishing: Time zones didn't exist. I've been working a lot more- which is great, but the downside is that it pretty much eliminates my "window of opportunity" for times that I can call the US and not wake someone up.  For example: It is about 7:30 PM here now.  The time zones below are where most of "my people" live, and as you can see, I don't think any of them would really appreciate their phone ringing right now. 


Friday, February 22, 2013

Looking Forward

Having something to look forward to has always been something that really helps me stay positive- especially when I'm feeling particularly homesick and missing familiar faces of friends and family.  That being said, I have some VERY exciting things that I'm looking forward to coming up! 

March 18:

Trip to New Zealand!  As if travelling to New Zealand wasn't exciting enough on its own... it gets even better.  I'm going to be meeting one of my very best friends there (who just so happens to also be my cousin), Lee Anne!  Obviously I'm excited to explore New Zealand, but I can't even explain how happy I will be to see Lee Anne! I've always wanted to travel somewhere fun with Lee, and I can't wait for the adventures I'm sure we'll have.  Plus, she will be the first family member or friend from home I will have seen in roughly seven months.  There may be tears when we're reunited, and I may never let her out of my sight the entire time.  Sorry, Lee :-) 

"We're not cousins, we're friends."

End of April:

Another one of my best friends/college roommate/hermana espanola (we were roommates while living in Spain) and her boyfriend are coming to visit Australia!  Jen and I became excellent travel compadres while we studied abroad in Spain, and I can't wait to be "abroad" together again!  I feel so honored that they're taking the time (and money) to come visit the other side of the world.  I'm excited to help them start planning their trip!  It will be the first time I get to play tour guide in Australia. 

Jen and I in front of La Alhambra in Granada
End of June/Early July:

My parents are coming to visit!  CANNOT WAIT!  I doubt they probably EVER thought they'd visit Australia, much less have a daughter that lives here.  I'm looking forward to helping them plan what I hope will be a very memorable trip.  I will also be excited to show them around little old Gladstone and introduce them to what life has been like here. 

I feel so lucky to have friends and family willing and able to travel completely across the world to see little old me!  Hurry up, guys- there are adventures to be had, koalas to snuggle, and kangaroos to play with! 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Tondoon Botanic Gardens

Despite all the crap I give Gladstone, there really are some gems in this town for which I really should give it credit.  One of these gems is the Tondoon Botanic Gardens.  The gardens are right in town, but you would hardly know that this little oasis existed.  I visited way back in October and went on one of the weekly free guided tours that they offer on Thursdays.  Although not advertised as such, it might as well have been a seniors event as I was the only one on the tour under the age of 65.  My life...   Anyways, it was pretty neat to see how different the plants, tree, flowers, etc. are in this part of the world.  I really enjoyed the tour- except for the part where we stumbled upon a giant Eastern Brown Snake (shudder...).  No one else on the tour seemed quite as alarmed as I was.  I'm pretty sure I more than made up for their lack of freak out.  At any rate, here are some photos of the beautiful scenery there. 

The most adorable tour guide

Eucalyptus trees (Gum trees) - Sadly, no koalas in these ones :-(

Australian Bottle Trees

Kookaburra spotting!

Japanese Gardens

Monday, February 11, 2013

America- Land of Butterfinger, Slurpees, and Pop Tarts

For the past few months, I've been doing some on-call relief teacher work here.  I really enjoy working with the kiddos and being back in the classroom a few times a week.  Usually when I show up, the kids are interested to know where I'm from, and they usually ask me a few questions about my accent (it still feels strange to hear people say I have an accent) or want to know about typical American things and then that's the end of it.  But most recently, one of the kids (I think he was about 13) practically put me through a full-length interview about being from America and things that he has heard about or associated with America.  His questions were pretty rapid fire- hardly leaving me time to answer most of the time.  It was pretty hilarious. 

Student: You're American, aren't you?

Me: Yep!

Student: Where are you from?

Me: Well, I've lived in lots of places- Arizona, California, ....

Student (immediately latching on to California): Have you ever seen any celebrities? 

Me: Actually, no not really.  Well not really any major celebrities.  (This was pretty disappointing to him)

Student: Do you like to eat Butterfingers?  I had Butterfinger BB's once. 

Me: Yes, sometimes. 

Student: What about PopTarts?  Do you drink slurpees a lot?  Do you eat Cap'n Crunch for breakfast?  We have Oreos here, but not those double-stuffed ones.  Do you like the double-stuffed Oreos?

Student: Do you listen to Ryan Seacrest on the radio?  Do you watch American Idol?  You know Keith Urban is a judge on that show, and he's from Australia.

Me: Yes, I did know that.  And yes, I love watching American Idol!

Student:  What's the last letter in the alphabet?

Me: Z (Zee). 

Student (laughs and calls out to his classmates): She says the last letter of the alphabet is "zee"
(Australians say "zed"- so weird to me)

Student:  Say banana.

Me: Banana (pronounced "buh-nan-uh")

Student (laughing again): Americans say it so funny.  You're supposed to say buh-nah-nah.

It was so funny to hear all the things he associated with Americans.  Who knew we were known for Butterfingers and double-stuffed Oreos?!  He also asked me if I had ever taught in a school where there had been a shooting.  That was definitely sobering... I guess they hear about them so much, that to him he probably thought it was pretty likely that I had experienced that.  Sad.  But that's a story for another day...

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Another Aussie Extreme- the SUN!

Although I tend to poke fun at many parts of Australian culture and customs, there's one part that I've really come to appreciate- and admire really.  And that is their culture and attitudes regarding sun protection. 

While I don't know the exact statistics, I do know that Australia has/had historically experienced some of the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world, even highest in the state of Queensland (where we happen to be living).  Australia in general, and especially Queensland, has very high UV levels year-round due to the fact that the sun is almost always directly above throughout the day (which is also why there aren't really seasons here).  This map shows the typical UV levels in the country:

See how pretty much the whole country is in that 11+ Extreme area?  Yikes!  Honestly, though, you can FEEL that extreme sun even without having seen this map- you can just tell that the sun is super strong here.  I mean, I've lived in areas known for sun/heat (Arizona, California, Texas), but they truly don't compare to the sun's strength here. 

However, in recent decades, Australia has really made a big social shift in their attitudes toward sun protection and skin cancer prevention.  There are tons of campaigns, commercials, etc.  There's even a whole government council dedicated to this cause.  It's really pretty cool if you ask me. 

Uniforms are worn in almost all of the schools here, and part of that uniform is a sun hat- even in high school.  Seriously.  Kids are not allowed to play at recess if they don't have their hats.  They're kind of silly looking hats, but the kids look cute in them in my opinion.  Also, the playgrounds tend to have many more constructed areas for shade than schools in the US. 

The hats usually look something like this. 

Even adults are usually seen wearing sun hats when out even for short periods of time in the sun.  Aussie's still love their beaches, but you're much more likely to see people with hats, wearing swim shirts/rash guards, and/or sitting in sun tents.  It's much more "socially-acceptable" and pretty much a norm here to protect yourself from the sun.  Which I find very refreshing- and different from "sun culture" in the US. 

Of course, I admit that I do sometimes still think that tan skin is more attractive, I enjoy sun bathing at the beach as much as the next person, and (unfortunately) I have had my fair share of bad sunburns (which I SO regret now).  However, because of a strong history of skin cancer on both sides of my family, and my own incidence of skin cancer about two years ago at just 26 years old, I really have to be very careful with the sun.  And my attitudes have really begun to change.  So I really appreciate the sun safety culture here.  It makes it much easier for me to be "proud" of my fair fair skin and to remember that it actually just means my skin is healthy.  It's just not worth it to me anymore. 

So, Australia, even though I may poke fun at many aspects of your culture like your tendency to abbreviate everything, your obsession with neon colors, your affinity for beet root (oops, I'm doing it again!), I do appreciate and really admire this element of your culture and attitudes.  Take note, America! 

Monday, February 04, 2013

Recent Baking Adventures

It's no surprise that my "Sweet Tooth" board on Pinterest has the most pins out of all my boards.  I admit, I have a major sweet tooth.  And it doesn't help that I really enjoy baking (much more so than cooking).  Good thing I don't actually let myself bake all that often, or I'd really be in trouble.  Recently, I've tried two new Pinterest-inspired baking recipes that have become immediate favorites.  I'm sharing the links to the recipes below, and I highly suggest that you add these to your "must bake" list.  You won't regret it. 

**Nutella-Stuffed Brown Butter and Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies**

I've made these cookies twice and I was equally impressed both times.  I'm not going to re-type the recipe here, because I think the original recipe author deserves the credit (and I'm just too lazy for that).  Plus, her pictures and explanation are way better than mine.  Here is the link:

Nutella-Stuffed Brown Butter and Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies

A few tips from my experience baking these:

-It DOES seem like an annoying step to brown the butter, but ohmygoditmakesahugedifference!  So worth it!  I am seriously considering using browned butter every time I make any kind of cookie from here on out. 

-Speaking of browned butter- just like the recipe says, it seems to take a long time, and I started to think maybe I didn't do it right or maybe I waited too long.  Then all of a sudden you do notice that the butter starts to turn an orange-y color and it really does begin to smell nutty.  Watch it carefully, or you'll miss/burn it. 

-I found that chilling the dough did help, but for me, the time she suggested made the dough much too difficult to work with.  The second time I made these, I chilled it just for an hour and that seemed to work better for me. 


**Cabernet Ganache Swirled Brownies**

I made these just this past weekend for an "Afternoon Tea and Cake" party I was invited to.  With brownies, I am usually pretty loyal to a homemade family recipe that I've used forever, but when I saw that this recipe incorporated wine, I had to try it out.  They turned out great- so delicious!  If you didn't know there was wine in the brownies, I don't know that you would necessarily identify wine as the flavor in the brownies, but there is definitely a notably different (good!) taste to these brownies. This recipe just added more evidence to my argument that wine really does make everything better.  Here is the link:

Cabernet Ganache Swirled Brownies

A few tips from my experience baking these:
-My batter didn't seem to be as thick as it looked in the recipe pictures, but the brownies still turned out fine.  Looking back on this, it probably had something to do with me being a little heavy-handed when I poured the wine.  Oops :-)  I will measure more carefully next time. 

-The recipe author says to let the brownies set for at least a couple hours.  I didn't listen, because it was late and I HAD to try these before I went to bed, and the brownies were pretty gooey.  I like gooey brownies, but these had me a little worried.  I stuck them back in the oven for about 5 minutes (yes, with a piece already cut out), and then exercised better patience and self-control and let them set over night.  They were perfect by morning!

Happy baking!  Enjoy! :-) 

Saturday, February 02, 2013

The Bachelor Watch/Text Parties

I'm just going to come right out and say it- I am an avid Bachelor/Bachelorette watcher.  I'm not even going to try and make myself feel better about it by calling it a "guilty pleasure" or a "vice."  Because I don't feel bad about it- I downright enjoy it.  I look forward to it each week.  If you've known me for very long, you'll know that reality TV is my favorite genre of television, but I won't get into the giant list of shows on my must-watch list- for now.  I also have to admit that after I got over the initial shock that we were moving to Australia, one of my biggest concerns was truly, "How will I watch my reality TV shows?!"  But, gotta love my technology geek husband, he figured out a way for me to still have access to these shows from down under even before we moved.  Phew! 
*If you find yourself in this predicament while overseas, I've included a link at the bottom to the website that we use to "unblock" these typically US-only websites.

Anyways, I digress- back to the Bachelor.  I was truly disappointed when I learned that this season's bachelor would be Sean.  To me he's pretty boring, but of course I still feel obligated to watch each episode.  Don't worry, I don't take the show too seriously.  One of the best parts of watching is poking fun of the ridiculous situations, crazy amount of tears, and excessively dramatic situations among the contestants.  However, this is a much more fun activity to do with other people watching with you!  Every once in a while, I can get my husband to take part in this fun-making with me, but that's pretty rare.  I'm still trying to make friends and make a good first impression around here, so I figure it's probably in my best interest not to reveal my affinity for The Bachelor quite yet.  Which is why I am SO glad, that my sister watches "with me."  It is so fun each week to coordinate a time to "watch" together (one in Australia, one in Seattle) and exchange commentary via excessive amounts of texts throughout the episode. 

Here's a look at some of our exchanges. 

First episode commentary: 
Neither of us are really all that impressed with Sean:
On Sean's tendency to begin each episode half naked.. aaaannndd another shattered rose foreshadowing:
Excitement at the prospect of TWO episodes next week... and some more Tierra hating:
Oh! And if you watch the Bachelor too (Come on, I KNOW we are not the only two!), you should check out this blog.  She does hilarious recaps after each show (they are often times more entertaining than the show itself).  Beware: she's pretty vulgar in her recaps, but she is so spot-on with her evaluations of the ridiculousness of it all. 
*If you're living abroad and want to get access to US website such as Pandora, Hulu, Netflix, etc., check out this website called Unblock US.  Basically, for about $5 a month, you register with them and they somehow assign you a US IP Address so you can use those websites just like you would if you were in the states. I'm not sure of the technicalities of it, but it works- trust me!  You can use it on multiple devices- we have ours on our laptops and our Roku.  Life changer for sure!