There’s a Barbie–Where’s the Shrimp?

18 May

On our second night in Bateman’s Bay, we decided to make use of the big grill and picnic tables by our cabin and got all the fixings for a big communal dinner. For me, these kinds of dinners make the best memories. From the grocery shopping to doing the dishes, the entire process is completely enjoyable because you’re a group of five separate people and here you are building something together. Sure, it’s just a meal that you’ll end up consuming, which means after a day (including leftovers for the breakfast burritos), the tangible elements have disappeared. However, the sense of community you’ve built in those few hours remains–along with the knowledge that Susy knows her way around the BBQ and Panti makes a mean breakfast burrito.

Communal dinner starts with a trip to the grocery store, which is a highlight for me on any trip. When I travel, I like to see how other people live, which means knowing what they eat. In a different country, it’s fun to see how American brands are marketed (smaller bags of Doritos, for instance), and it’s interesting to see regional food differences. In Australia, the grocery stores are a gateway to Tim Tams, unusual flavors of potato chips (camembert and quince, anyone?), ginger beer, and Australian yogurt.

This dinner meant the opportunity to sample some kangaroo meat, which is probably easier to find in the grocery store than it is to find on a restaurant menu. The meat tastes a little gamey and can dry out quickly if you cook it too long, so marinade and quick cooking helped. We also had sausages, potatoes, corn on the cob and salad. Panti, who mainly eats vegetarian but does have fish now and then, decided he wanted to make shrimp shish kabobs, which Susy obligingly tossed onto the grill, much to our stupid American delight. We ate like royalty but still had leftovers for the next day’s kangaroo breakfast burritos.

Our little feast helped take the rest of the edge off of what had been a lousy morning, and I hope the memories will eventually completely overshadow that time so that I only remember the goodness of this trip.

Postcard from Bateman’s Bay

13 May

When you’re traveling, you can take a couple of tactics:

  1. Create a tight schedule and try to see everything.
  2. Don’t have a schedule, but also only try to do a couple of things a day.

Not having a tight schedule meant that when we saw how relaxing our hotel in Bateman’s Bay would be, we could add a second night. Susy, the Australian member of our traveling contingent, proved to have many talents on this trip. one of which was Hotel Discoverer. In Bateman’s Bay she found this resort on the bay and booked us a nice little cabin with a living room, kitchen and porch. I bunked out in the kids’ room (probably a good thing, since the bunks were pretty short). The place came with laundry, which was good, since I still had blood on my jeans from our first-day hike, where Panti, Kill C and I  climbed down and up a muddy Sublime Point. When we got back to our hotel, Panti and I discovered leeches all over our ankles. The jeans, of course, were the only pair of long pants I’d brought with me, so it was great to get them muddy and bloody on my first day in the fall weather of Australia.

At any rate, when we found out our digs were pretty good, we decided to stay an extra night and relax. The place came with easy-access wifi (at our Wollongong hotel, we got Internet access in increments of 30 minutes and had to use coupon codes to log on every half-hour. Great for getting work done. Even better when it’s 4 AM, you can’t sleep, and you’ve discovered that you’ve left your stack of coupons in the car and the key is locked in someone else’s room). We could buy food and cook it on the BBQ in front of our cabin. We could chill.

This also worked nicely because I was trying in vain to wrap up a project that was a good eight weeks overdue and had been causing me no end of frustration due to unending rounds of edits, document conversion and document merging. I’d been working on them the entire week–proudly saying, “I’m done!” after every time I shipped them out. Then I was bummed when they came back twice for more work, and by Wednesday morning I was in tears over document inconsistencies and pdf files that refused to merge.

wpid-img_20150506_140556123.jpgOf course, tears and Australia don’t mix (and they make your traveling companions mighty uncomfortable), so I wandered down to the bay where I walked over the piles of boulders that made up the revetment. I prefer this kind of walking along the water versus walking on the beach, partly because your shoes don’t fill up with sand, but also because you have to pay attention to where you walk, and it’s challenging to balance on the rocks. Focusing on the task at hand definitely helped take my mind off my troublesome morning. As a bonus, I ran into these pelicans who were chilling out on the rocks with some other little birds. I watched them sit for a while. Surprisingly, they didn’t seem to mind me–even when I got pretty close to take their picture (or tons of pictures, as someone with a digital camera is want to do). Then it was back to the revetment walking, which kept me busy and calmed me down a bit.

After I did a section of rocks, I decided to head back to the cabin, but I took a detour along an area of the beach that was exposed due to low tide. As I strolled along looking at the scenery, it dawned on me that the beach was moving. Upon further inspection, there were hundreds of little crabs (likely poisonous, I’m sure) scuttling around. I don’t know if I provoked some kind of major crab freak out that had them trying to escape me by running down to the water’s edge or slipping down sand holes. I think a couple of them thought their little crab world was at the end of days because they figured they’d better have sex one last time before this massive human crushed them (or caught them and ate them). Made me realize how big and small different problems can be, and helped to minimize the big weight of the project that I was carrying on my shoulders into a parcel I could more easily carry.

Bakery Lamington Roulette

8 May

An aside from the travelogue to fill you in on the challenge that Kill C. and I are embarking on: Find the best lamington.

The lamington is a square of spongecake dipped in chocolate and coated in coconut. The better ones are filled with jam or cream. I know this, yet on our first trip to a grocery store, I purchased a six-pack of grocery lamingtons, much to the horror of the NSOs at our first clinic. They kindly informed us that grocery lamingtons are far inferior to bakery lamingtons and that jam and/or cream-filled laminations are far superior to the plain lamington.

We’ve yet to find a filled lamington, though it’s not for lack of trying. Almost every stop we make, if fresh lamingtons are available, one or both of us are trying. It’s quickly become a game of roulette–take a bite and see if you’ve hit the jackpot.

Oh, sure, at a bakery I could ask. And we could purchase a tray of grocery-bought jam-filled lamingtons (and maybe Kill C. did), but what’s the fun in that? Besides, a bit of really good sponge cake is hard to turn down, especially when laced with chocolate and coconut. I suppose I could claim that I want to learn how to make them at home, so I’m, um, doing research. This is partially true–I wouldn’t mind learning how to make them, but after the amount I’m eating, whether or I not should is the better question.

We’re a few days in and still haven’t won. We’ll keep trying though. Someday we have to win, no?

Postcard from Illawarra

7 May

We’re now traveling south to Melbourne and have quite a few days to get there. The rule in our packed sedan of five (we are mastering the game of Trunk Jenga, in which you have to fit five suitcases, five backpacks, three skate bags and assorted groceries in a Toyota Camry. We’ve made it work) is that because time is on our side, we’re abiding by the, “If you see something, say something.” Except for us, it’s, “If you see something cool, say something and we’ll stop.”

wpid-img_20150505_111238201.jpgOvercoming Monday’s disappointment, we did get into Nan Tien Temple and spent some time wandering around the temple and pagoda. My buddy Kill C. and I rang the Gratitude Bell. I read some interesting sayings from the Venerable Master Hsing Yun and said a prayer for wealth. I looked at the calligraphy and chanting rooms. I tried to comprehend who all the statues were. I accidentally went into places with my shoes on.

I don’t know much about Buddhism, so I can’t really tell you about the quality of the temple, but for me it was a nice, peaceful stop, my puzzlement about a specific prayer for wealth notwithstanding. I’ll let you know how that works out. Anyway, it was a nice way to calm down before getting into the driver’s seat and driving up an incredibly windy road (make way for trucks around curves) to get to Illawarra Fly Tree Top Walk.

Along with the windy road, we ran into some construction, namely, I made a left turn and had to stop for a “Road Closed” sign that a construction worker was manning. The car that had been in front of us had just made a U-turn and went another way. I roll down the window.

“Where are ya goin’?” asked the construction worker most jovially.

“The Tree Top Walk thingie,” I reply.

“Oh, go on, then. No worries!”

I roll up the window. Immediately, Kill C. says, “A few worries…”

We managed to make it up just fine though–the road was closed for real just after the turnoff to the park, so we did all right for ourselves.

wpid-wp-1430900324684.jpegThe Tree Top Walk is one of these places where you walk along a series of bridges located in the middle of a rain forest. You could zipline through the trees, but we opted for the (cheaper) walk and made our way along a windy path lined with wooden cutouts that on their own were worth the price of admission. Some of the bridges sway, which can be fun if you don’t mind heights. This park also had a big lookout tower something like 35 meters above the forest floor. The view was stunning, the trees were pretty damn impressive (so impressive that some of them were clearly marked as dangerous), and we caught a glimpse of some wildlife that wasn’t necessarily in wooden cutout form. All of it was pretty spectacular.


wpid-wp-1430900340373.jpegContinuing on our journey, we spotted the world famous Robertson’s Pie Shop, which some Aussies had told us about. We hadn’t yet done the pie thing, so we made a sharp turn in and stopped for a second lunch. I wasn’t supposed to eat my entire chicken, leek and camembert pie, but I scarfed it down. Light, flaky crust, delicious filling–totally worth the stop. Later on we drove by the “world’s best pie shop,” but how it could possibly be the best, we didn’t know. We’re sure someone’s just making it up because I can’t imagine a meat pie being much better than what we ate.

One last note from driving: Since we’re American, we’re really stoked about seeing signs for wombat crossings (no wombats spotted–YET) and kangaroo crossings. The last time I was doing a road trip in Australia, we saw all of the signs and none of the animals. This time though, the Australian in our car mentioned that kangaroos tend to come out at dusk. Sure enough, we saw the kangaroo crossing sign, and BAM! Kangaroo spotted! Except that it was roadkill–poor thing had been hit by a car some time ago and was dead on its side. Hitting one of these is like hitting a deer in the States–you’re slamming into 200 kilos of solid animal that will screw up your car royally.

Before we could figure out whether or not that counted as a kangaroo sighting, we did see actual kangaroos in fields hanging out–probably contemplating whether or not to cross the road. Had I been quick enough with my reflexes, I would’ve pulled off the road at a turnoff so we could get out of the car and watch them in the wild. However, we also weren’t in the mood for potentially pissing off any kangaroos either. I haven’t practiced my left hook recently, and I’m sure some kangaroo would more than happily wallop me for merely looking at her joey. Better safe in the car, where we stayed until we got to our next stop: Bateman’s Bay.

Postcard from Wollongong – 2

6 May

One of the things we learned in Wollongong is that if Australia isn’t trying to kill you, it’s probably closed. We spent Monday in the city, and the one place on our list was the Nan Tien Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere. Closed Mondays.

OK, well, the backup plan was to hit up a comic book store, seeing as how in a couple of weeks it’s Comic Gong. Comic book store is non-existent–it’s just a kiosk in the mall right now. Open Saturdays.


OK, backup backup plan: Visit gaming store. This to me wasn’t much–a bunch of shelves of games you could likely find in the US, a bunch of tables with people playing something or other (probably Magic), and snacks. I should’ve asked if the store made more money on snacks than they did on games. That’s my theory.

On the way to the gaming store, we ran into a couple of other interesting places: The going-out-of-business costume shop that was full of costumes that seemed to have a layer of dust on them, like the box of 1980s style leotards that may, in fact, have been from the 1980s. Masks you might be afraid to put your face in:

wpid-img_20150504_141123620.jpgBut it did have decent deals:

wpid-img_20150504_141253842.jpgA few doors away from the costume shop was a leather goods store. After looking at the professional snake fighting display in the front window, I was afraid to see what was behind the door:


Dude, it’s two snakes going after a meerkat (display is for sale, by the way). The tiger referee (in snake fighting, apparently referees wear bow ties) is obviously calling a penalty, but no snake is slithering off to the penalty box, which should mean an insubordination, but how do you enforce an insub on a poisonous snake? It’ll just bite you, and you won’t be calling penalties anymore, that’s for sure.

Our big activity turned out to be going to see Avengers 2. I haven’t seen Avengers 1, nor do I really follow this comic series, so I ended up using it as a nap opportunity.

Still, the day ended nicely with a couple of happy hour beers from Illawarra Brewery, where I nabbed a coaster that had a picture of the guy who took me skydiving last year, and we watched the moon rise over the ocean.

Even though it wasn’t to plan, it was still a good day–though being on vacation and in Australia, how could it have been a bad thing?

Postcard from Wollongong

5 May

Greetings from Australia! it’s exciting (and always a little surreal) to be here, but the excitement has to battle the jet lag for a few days and jet lag usually wins. This means bedtime is 9:00 or 10:00 pm, with a first wake up at 4:00 am, followed by a trip to the bathroom and then lying in bed and hoping for a little more sleep until you have it’s a reasonable hour for getting up. At random intervals during the day you want to fall asleep, but you try to push through until what would normally be dinner hour. That’s not to say I mind it, but getting your body on a different time table can be difficult.

I’ve spent the first few days of my trip in Wollongong, remembering to drive on the left and watch out for massive spiders and their webs. I’ve taught a great clinic full of a lot of really cool officials. I’ve walked on the beach, made sure the Pacific Ocean is salty and tested out the exercise equipment that’s in an oceanside park.

There’s much more to say, but it’s bedtime now. I’m sure I’ll wake up a few hours from now, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for a little while.

The Other ANTM

30 Apr

One of the great things about flying Qantas is that you get to enjoy a pretty massive personal entertainment system that will entertain you for many more hours than your flight lasts. Case in point: It has four or five newer movies I’ve wanted to see, but it also had three episodes of “Australia’s Next Top Model.” Being a sucker for reality TV and having watched many a cycle of the American version, I couldn’t resist.

I’ve gotta say, it’s a little different than the American show. First off, during downtime when the models are just hanging around the house, many of them read actual books. For fun. I saw this happen twice in one episode and then again on another. When have you ever seen the American contestants read more than Tyra Mail?

Secondly, when an episode is teaching the models to face their fears by touching all kinds of strange animals, the Australian models have every right to be scared out of their minds because 90℅ of the wildlife in Australia will kill them–and the remaining 10℅ wants to but they’re just too lazy.

Thirdly, reality competition franchises get a bad rap when the judges aren’t as good as the original, and let me just say that Didier Cohen is no Jay Manuel. Didier is American (the Aussies can’t love our accent, can they?) and looks and sounds like he’s taken umpteen rounds of media training that’s designed to suck every ounce of personality out of him. I heard Miss Tyra summarily fired Jay, Nigel Barker and Miss J. Australia should snap up that motley crew (though I do like the Australian photographer guy) and put some life into the production.

Now, none of these differences made me stop watching, and I quickly went through the three episodes on the system–only three! They were just as captivating: posing, teens being teens, and in one, a contestant got sent home for choking another contestant.

OK, maybe it’s not so different from the American version after all.

Postcard from 50G

29 Apr


Big place, or, as I call it, home for the next day or so. I’m off to Australia to teach officiating–and drive on the opposite side of the road, eat Lamingtons, and have an adventure.

This leg of the trip is JFK to LAX, and after a short stop, it’s on to Sydney. As I look around at my fellow passengers, I don’t see a ton of excitement, but I hope like me, all the glee is just under the surface and will bubble up once we spy  the Sydney Opera House on our approach in.

For now though, we’ll just play it cool, like the road warriors that this journey turns us into.

It’s the Kingier-Size Snickers

27 Apr


This weekend the Boy and I stopped at a plaza on the Mass Pike to grab a drink and a snack while en route to a send off dinner for one of the Boy’s former co-workers. We grabbed our goodies, and the Boy went straight to the checkout line.

I, on the other hand, wandered around a little because you never know what you’re going to find. Lo, and behold, I found the biggest Snickers bar I’d ever seen. One full pound of chocolate, peanuts, nougat and caramel that was more loaf than candy bar. It’s meant to be cut up and shared, but you know there’s some trucker out there just gnawing on it for days.

“Hey, B!” I yelled.

He took one look at it and said, “Get it!”

I brought it up to the cash register, and this was where we learned one of the mysteries of pricing: It cost $14.99 for one, but you could get two for $20.

And this is why we showed up at a restaurant with two pounds of Snickers bar, which probably turned out to be much better than any dessert on the sub par menu.


It's the length of a 20 oz. Coke!

Q1’s Domestic Goddess Move

24 Apr

Domestic goddess I am not, probably much to Ma Jaracz’ chagrin. I can tidy up OK, and if I have time to lean, I know I have time to clean–though you could come over right now and say, “Been busy, huh, Jill? How’s your Candy Crush Saga going?”

“Oh, I’m stuck at level XXX [I actually don’t know what level I’m on], and it’s one of those stupid ones where you’ve got to bring down the ingredients and there are bombs and there’s–”


And I’d be forced to admit you have a point and that you’ve astutely noticed that I have issues with paper and books and putting away the laundry in a timely fashion, so I will scuttle off and take care of some of that right now.

Since I am not much of a domestic goddess, my idea of “spring cleaning” is also pretty minimal. Today though, my big move for this quarter of the year is tackling the coat situation. I’m declaring winter officially over, and we are not to wear the big, heavy coats again until late fall. I don’t care if we have a run of frigid weather around here. Layer up the fleeces and throw a lightweight coat over it. We’ll manage.

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