Sunday, November 30, 2008


In a few weeks, 2008 will come to an end and just like everyone else, I'll be looking back at the year gone by and taking stock--high points, low points, where to from here? It's all part of the yearly ritual that leads to the often ill fated New Year's resolution. I know I still have a month left to mull this all over, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say now that Halloween and Thanksgiving were two of my proudest moments of this year. The reason being, in both cases, I was able to successfully recreate an authentic American holiday experience for my children by sharing my traditions with my friends and neighbours.

Halloween and my neighbourhood trick-or-treating project taught me the overwhelming power of ONE. It's true what they say (whoever they is), one person really can make a difference. I was just a girl with a dream and a plan. Last year I put it on paper and handed it out to my neighbours with a small amount of success. This year I persevered, built on my idea and the payoff was huge. I truly felt that my children got to experience the same type of Halloween celebration that I did as a kid. It was probably as authentic as I'm going to get here in Australia. Not only have I been able to give that experience to my children, but that little pebble I chucked in the pond has sent ripples through the whole neighbourhood. Judging by the enthusiasm on the day, Halloween trick-or-treating is going to become an October tradition around here.

As for Thanksgiving, I think I finally nailed it. This year I was able to gather all the necessary ingredients, and single handed, prepare a truly traditional Thanksgiving feast for my family and friends. I must admit, I got a lot of inspiration from Pioneer Woman and the wonderful recipes she shares on her blog. (If you haven't visited her site, you must. She's truly a Wonder Woman) Recipes aside, I've cooked Thanksgiving dinner many times since I've lived here in Australia, but for some reason, this year's meal was probably the best. You might put this down to practice--I've done it enough times now that I should have a handle on it. Yes, that is true, but it's more than that. I think, like Halloween, it's the idea of introducing a tradition and watching as it's slowly embraced by the group you are introducing it to. The smiles on the faces of our guests (mostly Aussies) at yesterday's Thanksgiving celebration was all the thanks I needed.

I'm already looking forward to 2009 so I can watch these seeds I've planted continue to grow and flourish.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Down Under

During my time here in Australia, Thanksgiving is one holiday that I've managed to celebrate in one way or another each year. The tradition has taken on even greater importance to me after the birth of my children. This year is no exception, the preparations have begun and I've started putting together the bits and pieces that will make up our Thanksgiving meal. As my daughter gets older, she's becoming more aware of my preparations and of the tradition itself. As we were out shopping today picking up a few things for Thanksgiving, we had the following conversation:

Her: "Mum, does everyone in Australia celebrate Thanksgiving?"

Me: "No darling. In fact, Australians don't celebrate Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a holiday that people in America celebrate and because you are half American and your Mommy is American then we celebrate it."

Her: "Mum, I'm not half American."

Me: "You're not? What are you then?"

Her: "I'm ALL American."

Me: "Really?"

Her: "Yeah, listen..CUCUMBERRRRRR!"

Me: "You're right. You are ALL American CUCUMBERRRR!!"

Then we both laughed.

Why is that funny? Well, my daughter speaks almost exclusively in an Australian accent. It makes sense because she was born here and has lived all of her four years here in Australia. My accent has become very Australian as well, so she doesn't get too much exposure to the American accent. There are still certain words that I say, however, that carry the American emphasis and accent and "cucumber" is one of them. So whenever my daughter wants to be funny, she'll say "cucumber" and really stress the "r" at the end because Australians don't pronounce the "r". They would say, "cucumba". Then she falls on the floor and kills herself laughing. Essentially she's poking fun at my American accent. She's four, folks. I didn't realise the mocking would start so early...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Aussie Jingle Bells, oh wait...there's more!

I'm not sure how I've lived in Australia for 8 years and missed this little gem until now. As I mentioned yesterday, my preschooler is learning the first verse of Aussie Jingle Bells for her Christmas concert. I just assumed that was all there was to the song. Oh no, my friends, there is more!!!

Inspired by loyal reader, Scintilla, who mentioned seeing a video of the song, I went searching on YouTube and found plenty of Aussies belting it out. To my astonishment, there were two more verses! I'm not sure if the newly discovered verses increase the classy factor or not, in fact, I'm sure they don't, but they are amusing nonetheless.

Have a listen as this bloke sings all the verses in a very colourful Aussie accent (and because I know most of my American readers will have no idea what he is saying even though he is speaking English, I've included the lyrics below with a few words explained--you can thank me later)

Dashing through the bush
In a rusty Holden Ute
Kicking up the dust
Esky in the boot
Kelpie by my side
Singing Christmas songs
It's summer time and I am in
My singlet, shorts & thongs



Engine's getting hot
Dodge the kangaroos
Swaggy climbs aboard
He is welcome too
All the family is there
Sitting by the pool
Christmas day, the Aussie way
By the barbecue!


Come the afternoon
Grandpa has a doze
The kids and uncle Bruce
Are swimming in their clothes
The time comes round to go
We take a family snap
Then pack the car and all shoot through
Before the washing up


So what do we think now? I told you, it doesn't get prettier, but it is amusing. For an explanation of the 1st verse, see yesterday's post. Here are the words I think worthy of explaining in the 2nd and 3rd verses:

Swaggy = short for Swagman. What's a Swagman you ask? I asked the Handsome Australian the same thing. He's familiar with the term "Swagman", but was unable to define it. Hmm...lucky my friend Wikipedia took my call. Here's what he said, "A Swagman is an old Australian term describing an underclass of transient temporary workers, who travelled by foot from farm to farm carrying the traditional swag." I think in America we'd say, "Hobo".

family snap = family photo (you probably already knew that one but just in case)

shoot through = depart quickly, or escape

So just in case you weren't paying attention, this is a Christmas song about a sweaty man and his dog in a rusty car who pick up hitch hikers while dodging kangaroos only to arrive at his family's Christmas gathering where the Esky from the boot is obviously unloaded and its contents consumed (how else can you explain Uncle Bruce in the pool with his clothes on?). Then when it's all said and done, he takes off and leaves the mess for everyone else to clean up.

Like I said, it's a gem!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Aussie Jingle Bells

My preschool aged daughter came home on Friday with a list of songs they are practicing for their Christmas concert in December. She's been telling me about the songs for awhile and kept mentioning one called, "Aussie Jingle Bells." I kept singing Jingle Bells as I know it, and she kept protesting, "No Mum, that's not the one. It's the Aussie Jingle Bells." Then I would ask, "So how does it go then?" and she'd reply in typical 4 year old fashion, "I can't remember, but that's not it."
This afternoon, I finally got a chance to look through the song list and there was indeed a song called, "Aussie Jingle Bells". The lyrics are as follows:

Dashing through the bush
In a rusty Holden Ute
Kicking up the dust
Esky in the boot
Kelpie by my side
Singing Christmas songs
It's summer time and I am in
My singlet, shorts and thongs

Oh, Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells
Jingle all the way
Christmas in Australia
On a scorching summer's day
Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells
Christmas time is beaut
Oh what fun it is to ride
In a rusty Holden Ute

Somehow it doesn't have the same ring to it. Personally, I wouldn't be trading a one horse open sleigh for a rusty Holden Ute, but that's just me.

For those of you who struggle with the Aussie turn of phrase, here is a helpful list of translated words:

bush = forest or country (rural area)
Holden ute = type of car (Remember the El Camino? This is a similar car.) In my opinion, highly unattractive


Esky = ice chest or cooler (I'm guessing in this case, it'd be filled with beer. This is Australia after all)

Kelpie = breed of dog (see photo below)

singlet = tank top

beaut = short for beautiful

So there you have it my friends, this is apparently what Aussie children sing at their Christmas concerts. I admit, I'm proud of the Aussies for coming up with their own season appropriate song as it does seem weird singing all the Northern Hemisphere Christmas songs here (which reference snow and such), but they could have made it a bit more classy. Just sayin'.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Whale of a Tale

About a week ago, I got up in the morning and fired up the old lap top. This is a morning ritual for me as the new day in America has dawned while I was sleeping and the American news cycle is in full swing. My computer is set to open the Yahoo homepage initially when I connect to the Internet. As soon as the page opens, I scroll down to the news section and read the day's headlines. Lately the headlines have been dominated by Iraq, Pakistan and Obama. There are often a few sports stories or other "light" news items thrown in for good measure. (I think it's important to note here that I'm looking at the USA version of the Yahoo website so the news stories are mostly USA related)

On the particular morning in question, I was greeted with the following headline, "Australian Kite Surfer Struck by Whale". Of course I immediately clicked on the story and saw the following video.

Not long after, the Handsome Australian walked in the room and put the television on. The same story was running on the local morning news program.

HA: "Hey, have a look at this."

Me: "I know, I already saw it on the net. The headline is Australian Kite Surfer Struck by Whale. It made the US Yahoo site."

HA: "Of course it did."

Me: "Yeah I guess getting struck by a whale is a pretty big deal."

HA: "It's not that, it's that Americans love this kind of a story. It fulfills all of their stereotypes of Australia."

Me: "Oh yeah, and those would be?"

HA: "Well, firstly the guy was surfing. We're all surfers didn't you know?"

Me: "Kite surfing. He was kite surfing."

HA: "Kite surfing, surfing, whatever--the guy was surfing in some form."

Me: "Okay, what else ya got?"

HA: "He got struck by a whale. Americans love a good Australian wildlife story. People think that only in Australia would you ever come into contact with such bizarre wild life, or have a close encounter with it. Americans think we are all wrangling crocs or riding kangaroos all the time. We are all the Crocodile Hunter."

Me: "Aren't you?"

HA: "No."

Got that folks? Australians are not surfing wildlife wranglers. They are that and so much more. Unfortunately, that's the only type of news that ever seems to make international headlines. Lucky these wacky Australians are out there kite surfing over whales--that way Chris Cuomo can make his goofy, "New South WALES" jokes while Diane Sawyer and Robin Roberts chuckle like school girls in the background.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Christmas Fun in the City

On Friday, I packed the little people in car and headed to the city for dinner and a concert. As we are nearly half way through November and there is no Thanksgiving to think about here in Australia (they don't celebrate that), Christmas preparations are in full swing. The Melbourne City Council has already hung the Christmas decorations in the city and slated Friday evening for the offical Tree Lighting Ceremony and Concert. The event was held in City Square in the City and it was free!

After seeing an ad on a tram advertising Melbourne as the "City of Christmas" with reference to the City's helpful website, I decided to have a look and see what was on. Lucky I had a squiz when I did because this free concert was on the following night! I couldn't believe my eyes when I read the list of performers that would be on hand to entertain the kiddies: Bob the Builder, Angelina Ballerina, the Christmas Divas, Christmas Rappers, Greg Page (the former Yellow Wiggle), the Australian Children's Choir, and wait for it...HIGH FIVE!! Oh yeah, and the big man himself--Santa Claus. An unbeatable combination of all my kid's favourites. It was obvious where we'd be on Friday night.

We started with dinner on Swanston street at Meekong Vietnamese restaurant. This used to be one of my old haunts when I first came to Melbourne as a poor student. The food was always really good and reasonably priced. Since then we've discovered another favourite Vietnamese place on Victoria Street in Richmond. So dinner at Meekong was a bit disappointing in comparison to what we've become accustomed to on Victoria Street. The kids loved their spring rolls though and we were in and out quickly. Those were all positives.

We made our way down Swanston St to City Square where a crowd had already assembled in anticipation of the concert and tree lighting. There were lots of families with small children and heaps of International students who attend the City's various Unis. I think they were as keen on the concert as the three and four year olds in the crowd. It was an interesting mix.

The large Christmas tree towered behind the stage and waited patiently for dusk when it would be lit. In the meantime, a whole flock of Santa's helpers ran out from behind the stage and began to work the crowd. They were all jolly little characters with plenty of enthusiasm. The kids loved them.
Then an elf on steroids emerged from behind the stage.
He was literally larger than life. I think the kids were a bit spooked by him. But folks, I'm here to tell you, the ladies LOVED him! I saw no less than 10 or 12 different attractive 20 or 30 somethings stop and ask him to pose for a photo with them. Amazing. Who would have thought the Michelin man of the elf world would be such a chick magnet?Look at the ladies lining up to have their photo op with the big guy in the elf suit. Or little guy in the big elf suit? I'm not sure.The large elf man certainly wasn't a Brad Pitt lookalike or it must have been the suit. Yes, the ladies love a man in a suit.

After the giant elf drama, we were treated to a bit of moving and groovin with Mr. Fix It himself--Bob the Builder.The kids went nuts for Bob and his sidekick Wendy. As they all sang along, "Can we fix it? YES WE CAN!" I started to wonder if Barak Obama had stolen a bit of inspiration from the king of the hard hat. Hmmm...something to ponder.

Next it was Angelina Ballerina's turn to wow the crowd. If there is something four year old girls love, it's a mouse in a tutu. Ours is no exception. Angelina was warmly welcomed.It couldn't be all about the kids though, they needed a bit of entertainment for the adults as well. Enter the Christmas Divas looking very much like bright sparkly Christmas baubles themselves.
Apparently four year old girls also love pretty young women in sparkly dresses. So do two year old boys. Ours was flirting shamelessly with the Christmas Divas when they later left the stage to mingle with the crowd.

Following the Christmas Divas we were treated to a bit of Christmas "rapping". I was a bit put off by their puffy vests, but these guys could hold a tune.There was an intermission. It was nearly 9pm. The Handsome Australian began to wonder if they were ever going to light the tree. The kids were hanging out to see High Five. They weren't going to leave until they'd seen them in all their glittering wonder. So we waited. Then finally, they took the stage and the crowd (who should have probably all been in bed an hour before) erupted! They were so excited.Unfortunately I got caught up in the excitement as well. So this is the best photo I got. Sorry to all the loyal High Five fans out there. I'll try to do better next time. After High Five performed, they brought on a recent finalist from this season's series of Australian Idol. She had a beautiful voice, but we were spent. The kids used their last bit of gas to dance and sing with High Five. We had to pack up and go. It was a quarter past nine and the tree still sat in the dark.

Not sure when they were actually going to light it. As we walked to our car, our four year old declared, "That was the best night in the City of my entire life."

It was a pretty good night. That's Melbourne for ya--fun, free and festive!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Free Friday

This afternoon I packed the little people in the car and drove them to the big smoke (that's Texan for the City). We had a date with Daddy (that's the little people's code name for the Handsome Australian), some spring rolls, a very large Christmas Tree and plenty of free entertainment...another magical night in a magnificent city. Stay tuned tomorrow for the full details, but here are a few photos as a sneak peek:

Very large tree, as promised

Laugh all you want, wait till you hear his story...

See y'all tomorrow!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Magnificient Melbourne: the dessert edition

After a lovely dinner at Trunk, the Handsome Australian and I were looking for something special to finish off our night of indulgence in the city. The dessert menu at Trunk just wasn't doing it for us, so we got our bill and headed elsewhere. At this point, the Handsome Australian was really missing the Good Food Guide and was kicking himself for leaving it in the hotel room. We were faced with two options: we could roll the dice and try a place we found along the way, or we could head to somewhere we'd been before and were familiar with.

Not wanting a lovely evening to end on a sour note, we went for option 2. Better the devil you know we thought. So we headed to a really fun and exciting restaurant, Gingerboy. We first ate at Gingerboy almost a year ago with our good friends Azza and Kylie. We were so impressed with our dinner that night that we vowed we would return. As I said before, Melbourne simply has too many restaurants to choose from so it's hard to get back to your favourites because you are too busy trying something new. So, the fact that we vowed to return means it must have been really, really good. We remembered lots of tasty dishes from that night last year, but what was of particular interest to us now was the dessert platter. If memory served they had a tremendous dessert platter with a beautiful selection of desserts. There was something there for everyone.

So Gingerboy it was. When we first arrived, the hostess told us there were no tables in the dining room, but we were welcome to sit at the bar. We weren't completely satisfied with our posie at the bar, but when a place is as busy as Gingerboy is, you really can't be that picky. Luckily, the same hostess approached us only five minutes later and told us she'd had a table come available in the dining room that could be ours in 5 minutes. Yes, please!

We didn't need to spend time pouring over the menu because we knew what we were having. The Gingerboy dessert share plate and 2 lattes, please. The dessert share plate is a fantastic way to try all the delicious desserts on the Gingerboy menu. There were five or six different desserts on the platter--all in miniature. I'd love to name them all off for you, but I was too busy drooling over the plate to take particular note of the descriptions being offered by our server (Lucky for you they have their dessert menu online so you can read them for yourself) The standout of the platter was the sticky black rice with mango and jasmine tea ice cream. You have no idea. Once I tasted that one, I hinted to the Handsome Australian that one of the other desserts on the platter was the tastiest so I could devour the sticky black rice all on my own! Shh...don't tell him. He didnt' suffer--there were five other desserts on the platter. It wasn't like he was without a choice in the matter.

I didn't think we'd be able to polish off the platter. In reality, I think it's best shared between four people, but we were happy to put forth the sacrifice required to finish. Then we were done. Well and truly done. Luckily we didn't have to drive home, we had a short walk around the corner to our lovely serviced apartment.

Once there, we only had one thing on our mind...where would we go for breakfast?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Magnificient Melbourne continued

The Handsome Australian and I spent a night in Melbourne's dazzling CBD recently and it reminded me once again, what a truly amazing city we live in--especially when it comes to food.

When I informed the Handsome Australian that we'd been granted a weekend pass out by one of our dear family members, he began his research into our dining destinations almost immediately. Good Food Guide in one hand and a nice glass of red in the other, he poured over the pages looking for somewhere special to go.

Meanwhile, I was busy online (imagine that) trying to book accommodation. As much as the Handsome Australian loves the Good Food Guide when it comes to choosing a restaurant, I equally love the Trip Advisor website when it comes to choosing accommodation. If you haven't heard of Trip Advisor before, it's certainly worth a look. It's a website that allows users to leave reviews about hotels all around the world and rate them on their performance in different categories. Since I've discovered Trip Advisor, I haven't been disappointed by my accommodation. Their moto is "get the truth. then go." I love the no holds barred reviews people leave and the site is busy enough that there are generally multiple reviews for each place so you get a good feel about what it's like. In Australia, I use that site in combination with the wotif website (which offers last minute deals on hotels) to find good places to stay. When used in conjunction, the result is usually value for money and who doesn't like that?

Who knew a simple night out in the city required so much preparation? Well, when you've got two little people hanging about, you don't get these opportunities very frequently so you have to make the most of it. Here's where our research took us...

The Trip Advisor and wotif cocktail led me to book The Oaks on Lonsdale. These are serviced apartments that are virtually new and very comfortable. We've tried the five star accommodation in the city before and I have to say, for the money I was disappointed. The Oaks is listed as 4 star accommodation on the wotif site and the price tag was about half what the five star places were asking. So the price was right, and Trip Advisor rates it in the top 10 user reviewed hotels in the Melbourne CBD (#5 to be exact)--a winning combination. We were very happy with The Oaks on Lonsdale. The location was brilliant. A stone's throw from Chinatown in Little Bourke St, a short walk from the Theatre district, and minutes away from the Victorian Parliament (that's the state capitol building). Our apartment was modern and clean and very, very comfortable. It was also a very quiet place to stay. Somewhere to consider if you ever find yourself in Melbourne. It's got my stamp of approval.

As for the Handsome Australian, he had big dinner plans. He had chosen a restaurant called Longrain from the Good Food Guide and given them a call during the week to make a booking. Apparently, they don't take bookings for tables of 2. They told us to turn up on the night, have a drink at the bar and when a table was ready, we could have it. Or something to that effect. I couldn't understand why they wouldn't take a booking, but the Handsome Australian assured me this was SOP so I went with it.

Once we had checked into our hotel, I pulled out the golden book and had my first read of the review for Longrain. I wanted to know what I was in for. The Handsome Australian had told me it was Modern Thai and I was keen because I love Thai. The first two sentences of the review are the following, "Looking for a romantic table for two? Look elsewhere." Apparently the restaurant has mostly large communal tables and a very noisy buzzing atmosphere. Did I mention the Handsome Australian and I were in the city to celebrate a wedding anniversary? So I began to wonder what made him choose a place with communal tables that doesn't take bookings for tables of two because clearly they don't have tables for two!! I questioned him on this.

Me: "You failed to mention this place has communal tables. Why did you choose this exactly?"

HA: "When I read the review, the food sounded different and really interesting. I didn't give much thought to the seating arrangements."

I think he was referring to this part of the review, "And the food has as much spunk as the venue, with chilli, ginger, basil, mint and lime turned up to full volume" or perhaps it was the mention of "bombastic" desserts. I'll never know. I can't explain the way the Handsome Australian's mind works, but I do know this--it's decision making capacity is very closely linked with his stomach organ.

We decided to stick with our plan since it was a bit late in the piece to get a table at any of the other restaurants we might have chosen otherwise. So we walked the short distance to Longrain and spoke with the helpful hostess who informed us it would be a 1.5 hour wait for a table but we were welcome to hang out at the bar. We decided 1.5hrs was too long and so went for a walk. Only problem was, the Handsome Australian had left the bible back at the hotel. So we had to go from memory and the place I remembered from the map was an Italian restaurant called Trunk.

We walked the short distance between the two and walked into a very quiet looking restaurant. I was sure there would be a table available for us. A quick chat to the bartender and he informed us the dining room was booked out but we could have some drinks at the bar and choose some food off of the smaller and more casual bar menu. While we were pondering our choices and looking over the bar menu, the bartender returned and said, "I've just spoken to the dining room manager and he told me that if you are happy to hang about and have a few drinks for half an hour then a table should be coming available in the dining room." So we jumped on the opportunity. We parked ourselves at the bar and decided to order a few entrees along with our cocktails. The bartenders were friendly and made a mean mojito. The entrees arrived quickly and were fantastic. Half an hour flew by and before we knew it, we were shifting to the dining room. The food in the dining room didn't disappoint either. I had a lamb shank and the Handsome Australian a Scotch Fillet. Both were very tasty. We looked ahead to the dessert menu before ordering mains and had both agreed there was nothing there that caught our fancy. We'd have to relocate for our last course. There was bound to be a more exciting dessert menu elsewhere in the city. We just had to put our heads together and think of where...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Magnificient Melbourne

Is it possible to love a city? I certainly hope so, because I'm about to declare my undying love for the city of Melbourne. Here it is people--I LOVE MELBOURNE!! What's not to love? This city has it all and it has it in spades. The amazing food scene, however, is definitely the jewel in Melbourne's crown.

This weekend, the Handsome Australian and I were lucky enough to have someone mind our children over night so we could have an evening to ourselves in the heart of Melbourne. Even though we only live 16km (roughly 10 miles) from the CBD (Central Business District) we don't go into town too much for pleasure. The Handsome Australian spends plenty of time in the City for work purposes, but it's rare that we find ourselves unwinding in the city as we did this past weekend. What a weekend it was...

If I haven't mentioned it already, Melbourne has an incredible food scene. If there is a heaven for food lovers, Melbourne is it. There are so many restaurants here that I reckon you could dine in a different one for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day and it would take you years before you tried them all. The restaurants here tend to be smaller than your average American restaurant and are for the most part locally owned and operated.

Not only do we have a large quantity of restaurants here, but we are spoiled for choice. The variety is endless. I can't think of a particular cuisine that Melbourne doesn't have covered. You name it and there will be someone here flying the flag for that particular culinary faction. We've got absolutely everything under the sun.

What this all means practically speaking is it's almost impossible to choose a place to dine here in Melbourne because there are so many tremendously good places that offer truly unique experiences that you can never be sure you've made the right choice. The Handsome Australian and I have been to plenty of fabulous places here in Melbourne, but we've been back to very few of them. Why? If it was so good, wouldn't we go back all the time? We can't because everywhere you look, there's another place to try. We often talk about returning to certain places, but then we decide that if we keep going to the same places, we'll never discover anything else. What a problem to have. This was the very problem facing us this weekend in the CBD.

Melbourne's CBD is a groovy maze of little lane ways and major streets all jumbled together. You really never know what you might find around the next corner. In some cities, these lane ways would be dark alleys that no one would enter, but in Melbourne, they serve as the hiding places of some of the hippest, liveliest places to dine. The CBD at night has a very warm vibe and the possibilities are endless.

The Handsome Australian likes to do his homework before a big night out. He is a huge fan of the Age Newspaper's Good Food Guide. This book is written by many of the food writers that work for the Age Newspaper. They review a selection of Melbourne restaurants and give them ratings. The Handsome Australian loves the The Age food critics and refers to the The Good Food Guide as the bible of the Melbourne restaurant scene and its co-editor John Lethlean as "the oracle". If John doesn't like a place, you'll be hard pressed to convince the Handsome Australian it's somewhere worth visiting. That man's opinion carries a lot of weight in our house.

So where did the Handsome Australian choose to go on our night away in the'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out! Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The times they are a changing...part 2

I wrote in my previous post about the Expat perspective on the lead up to the recent Presidential Elections in the USA, today I'd like to talk about Election day itself and the reactions here in Australia. With no further ado, here are my observations:

1. Several days before the election, nearly every Australian I spoke to asked me for my prediction on who would win the race and by what kind of majority. I personally always believed Obama would win. I know that's what the opinion polls said as well, but I was basing my belief on what happened here in Australia last year. Australians went to the polls a year ago to decide who would be the next Prime Minister of Australia. The incumbent was Prime Minister John Howard who had been in office for 12 years (there are no term limits here) representing Australia's Liberal party (here, the Liberals are actually ideologically conservative and would be the equivalent to the Republicans in the USA). Howard's opponent in the election was Kevin Rudd who represents the Australian Labour Party (think Democrats in the USA). In the previous two Federal Elections I've witnessed here in Australia, John Howard didn't have to blink an eye lash. He was easily and quite convincingly re-elected. Last year, however, was different. There was a growing sentiment here in Australia that it was time for a change. There was a great deal of disillusionment with the Iraq war and Australia's role in it. Many people were skeptical of the close relationship Howard had with George W. Bush. There were also environmental issues such as the non-signing of the Kyoto protocol and John Howard's reluctance to admit that climate change might actually exist. Rudd ran a very tight campaign and seemed to energise people in a way that former Labour candidates hadn't been able to. There was a feeling that Rudd could bring much needed change to Australia. He was leading in the polls going into the election, but not by a large amount. Most people thought it was going to be a tight one, but Howard would win in the end. That's not what happened. The Labour party won the majority of seats and John Howard actually lost his own seat in parliament. That's been virtually unheard of in previous elections here. The mandate for change here in Australia was overwhelming and the voters sent their message loud and clear. Several weeks after the election day, Kevin Rudd became Australia's Prime Minister.

Seeing the people here in Australia speak out for change after 12 years of the same party in power, gave me the belief that a similar thing would happen in the USA. So my theory was an Obama victory. I was confident in it.

2. Australia is about 16 hours ahead of the USA depending on where you are. We woke up on Wednesday morning as Tuesday was winding down in the USA. There weren't many poll results early in the morning. The Australian television networks generally began their election coverage at about 10am our time. The coverage was a mix of local coverage with Australian correspondents reporting live from the various locations in the USA and live feeds from the US Networks. One channel was feeding us CNN and another was broadcasting the American ABC network. Personally I was glued to my television and was constantly checking the Internet for updates as well.

I thought the Australian correspondents made some interesting observations about the election process in the USA. One reporter was commenting on the lengthy waiting times at the polls. They were reporting that in some places in the US people were waiting for several hours to vote. The reporter remarked that because the turn out is generally much lower in the US, the polling places simply weren't prepared for the numbers. Australians found this interesting because here in Australia, voting is compulsory. That means you HAVE to vote. Everyone must vote. If you don't vote and you can't supply a legitimate reason why you failed to do so, you'll be fined. Polling here is done on a Saturday so it's quite easy to get to the polls. The Handsome Australian tells me that in his experience, you generally just walk straight in--no waiting. The longest he can remember waiting in a line to vote is 20 minutes.

3. Another observation that I found humorous was an Australian correspondent who was covering Obama's supporters gathering in the park in Chicago. He was reporting live from the park before it had been announced that Obama had won. The crowd was buzzing with anticipation though and he remarked, "There is actually no alcohol being sold here tonight. This crowd is just excited." To which the Australian anchor here in Australia added, "It's just political ecstasy then?" Then they both had a laugh. I found it really odd that he felt the need to point out there was no alcohol there, but the more I thought about it, that would indeed seem unusual to an Australian. It goes against their nature to have a gathering that large where alcohol is not involved.

4. Once Obama was pronounced the winner of the election, my phone began to ring. Many of my Australian friends rang to congratulate me on my country's new president. They used words like, "momentous" "historic" "unbelievable" "proud" "impressed". It seemed most of them felt Obama was the right choice, but they weren't sure that Americans would actually elect him. I think they were quietly relieved.

My 4 year old daughter and I sat down to watch Obama's speech. I felt the need to impart to her the importance of such a historic moment in the history of my country and the world. My daughter is an American citizen too and this moment is now a part of her history. Little did I know my neighbours were sitting down with their children and doing exactly the same thing. My neighbours who are Australian citizens were sitting down with their children and trying to explain why this election in a far off country was so important and why this man, Barak Obama, was do different to all those before him. They related their stories to me when I saw them later that day and later in the week. I was astounded. I'm not sure people living within the USA can actually appreciate how closely the world watches all that happens there. If you didn't know better, you'd have thought it was the Australian President that was being elected.

5. On the whole, Australians have reacted very positively to the election of Barak Obama. I haven't come across anyone yet who has indicated otherwise. The Australian Prime Minister added his positive view of the election the following day by saying he plans to work closely with the Obama administration to maintain the close ties the two countries share. Several people here even commented to me that Obama's election has almost instantaneously changed the feelings people here have about America and Americans. It wasn't until Obama's win that I fully realised just how extremely unpopular the Bush Administration has been here in Australia and I'd dare say in the wider world too. I was reading an Associated Press article about an American Expat's perspective on the election (he lives in Austria) and it truly summed up how I felt here in Australia. He remarked, "Suddenly, it may be cool to be American again."

It will be many years before time will judge the performance of Barak Obama as president, but his mere election to the office of President has left a tremendous impression on the people here in Australia.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The times they are a changing...

Unless you've been living in a cave, you are aware that this week, Americans went to the polls and elected their next President. I don't think there is anyone among us who wouldn't call this particular election campaign and subsequent result momentous, regardless of your personal political persuasion. During the last year as the primaries were settled, candidates were chosen, conventions held and elections anticipated, I've had the unique perspective of sitting on the outside and looking in. Witnessing this election as an Expat has made for a very interesting experience and it's one I'd like to share with you. What follows is a list of my personal observations during this historic period:

1. Even in the primary stages, there was a great deal of interest in the election process in the USA here in Australia. I think because the Democratic nomination was so hotly contested, it got lots of media coverage and people began to take an interest in this drawn out first stage of the nominating process. This is my second US Presidential campaign to witness as a resident here in Australia, and I can't remember people being that interested in the primary process during the 2004 election. I suppose in 2004, there was an incumbent to consider and on the whole it never looked like much of a contest. Even still, I was surprised at how much media coverage the primaries were given here considering it is the politics of another country we are talking about. In many cases, I think Australians were really keen to see who would get the nomination--would it be Hillary or would it be Barak? During this period, I fielded a lot of questions about the US political process and how the system works from friends and acquaintances. Australia's government is a parliamentary one based on the British system and is quite different to the way things are done in the USA. So people were curious. I did my best to explain it (I did study politics at Uni so at least I had the background). What I found during these conversations with people is that Australians generally have a pretty good handle on the major players in US politics. They also have a good knowledge of what's happened historically in the USA. If you are sitting in the USA reading this right now, ask yourself this--what are the two main Australian political parties? Who is the Australian Prime Minister? Can you answer those questions? I'd venture to say that 9 out of 10 Australians could answer those same questions as they relate to the USA.

2. Australian media outlets sent correspondents to cover the nominating conventions. Many of the major news outlets here had special coverage of events from the conventions. I don't recall seeing any live convention coverage, but there were certainly plenty of media packages being presented about the comings and goings of each party during the convention weeks. Here in Australia we were kept abreast of the election news as it became a two horse race finally. I feel confident in saying that similar coverage of a comparable political event in any country outside of the USA has never been given so much coverage within the USA as these conventions were given here in Australia--certainly not in the mainstream free to air television anyway.

3. As the election neared, it became important as an Expat to make sure you had requested an absentee ballot or that you were indeed registered to vote, etc. I'll confess, I've voted in every Presidential Election that's happened since I've been eligible to vote with the exception of 2004. At the time, I had never been abroad during a Presidential election before and so I didn't put a lot of forethought into getting an absentee ballot organised. Once I decided to look into the possibility, there wasn't much time left before the election and I found it difficult to work out how and where I was meant to request my ballot. It just seemed like a lot of red tape and contradicting information. In essence, I gave up. I wasn't really that fussed because in my opinion, the writing was on the wall and it was pretty obvious that Bush was going to be re-elected. This time however, was very different. When Hillary and Barak were fighting it out in the primaries back in April and May, I decided I should look into organising my ballot. Again, the media coverage here was such that it was always in the headlines and it served as a good reminder that I needed to organise myself early. So I did. It was the easiest thing ever. I did everything online and completed the process in less than 10 minutes. Before I knew it, I was receiving ballot materials from my state. I think the online processes have come a long way in four years. If memory serves, four years ago I was being asked to submit everything via fax. So thank goodness for the Internet.

The interesting thing about this is, my story is not unusual. Amongst many American expats I've spoken to or blogs I've read, their behaviours were very similar. Didn't bother getting ballots for 2004, thought about it, but never got there. This time was different though, they didn't want to miss out. They really wanted their voices to be heard. I think it's fair to say there was an electricity amongst the Expat community in regards to this race for president. I think people recognised whatever the outcome, history was in the making and they all wanted to be part of it. At least that's very much how I felt.

Stay tuned, this list will continue in tomorrow's post! See you then. In the meantime, please feel free to leave comments or questions you might have about the Election that I can answer from an Expat perspective if you are curious.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Halloween Haul

Thought some of y'all might be interested in seeing the haul of lollies my children collected during our neighbourhood trick-or-treat on Saturday. There were probably about 50 houses participating. We didn't make it to all of them, but we got to quite a few. As you will see in the photos, they collected plenty. So what types of lollies do Australians hand out on Halloween...see for yourself. There are a few surprises there!
This is my son's trick-or-treat bag sent to him by his American Grandma!

This is my son's lollie haul

Look closely, can you spot the candy cane? Interesting.

There were also some Halloween themed lollies which I was surprised to find in his bag. Didn't think such a thing would exist here. Learn something new all the time!

This is my daughter's lollie haul.

If you look closely, you will see a "Cars" themed goodies bag. This was full of all sorts of different lollies. A few houses handed out little bags of lollies like that. The bag is all that's left in my daughter's stash--she's eaten all the lollies that were inside of it.

My approach with Halloween lollies is to let the kids have a bit of it on the trick-or-treat day (basically as much as they can get into them before I take it away) and then I put the lollies away and dole them out each day. I generally only let them have one or two a day tops. I know, I'm mean like that!

Tonight as the Handsome Australian and I sat down with a warm cup of tea, I realised we had no biscuits (that's Aussie for cookies) left to go with our tea. It was then that I remembered the Halloween goodies and asked the Handsome Australian if he wanted to choose a treat from the trick-or-treat bags and he said, "No, I'm not really a fan of lollies." In his mind, lollies don't include anything of the chocolate variety. I had to explain to him that there was plenty of the chocolate variety in the bags and then he changed his mind. He robbed our oldest of a snack size Cherry Ripe Bar and a snack size Picnic Bar (neither of which I think exist in the USA). He then remarked, "I like the Halloween thing more and more each year."

Of course he does!

Monday, November 3, 2008

If you build it, they will come

As I've mentioned in my previous posts about Halloween, it's not something that is celebrated by the wider Australian public. There are pockets here in Melbourne where you might find some children trick-or-treating on Halloween, but it's remained a holiday that is seen as predominantly American and many people shun the idea for that reason. It's easy to understand in this global economy where McDonald's and Starbucks pop up everywhere, that Australians might be a bit sensitive about what they see as the Americanisation of their culture. I think this is the main reason that some Aussies seem to be so dead set against Halloween. That, and in my experience, it's not a holiday they completely understand and as such the fear keeps them away.

As an Expat, I've been torn between trying to hold onto my own traditions and trying to respect the desire of Australians to limit the American cultural invasion of their country. In my particular case, I'm in it for the long haul. My husband is Australian and we have thus far chosen to raise our children here in Australia. With the idea that my children may live out their entire childhood here in Australia, it's become all the more important to me that they learn about and celebrate the American traditions and customs that they are missing out on by growing up here.

Holidays like Thanksgiving are easier to create for them as it's a very personal holiday spent with family in your own home. It's about a good meal and being thankful. It's about being together. I can organise all of that.

A holiday like Halloween, however, is a bit more difficult to reproduce if you will. Anyone who's experienced the fun of Halloween knows that the great joy of it comes from wandering the streets in your costume, meeting friends and neighbours along the way and admiring their costumes and collecting a giant bag full of candy. To create an authentic Halloween experience for my children would involve the cooperation of an entire neighbourhood. How do you convince the skeptical and uninterested? Slowly, but surely. That's how.

With the support of my immediate neighbours, one of whom is an Irish Expat who also celebrates Halloween, I decided to organise a neighbourhood trick-or-treat last year. I made up a flyer explaining the ritual and history of Halloween, stressing the fact that it was an ancient ritual from the days of the Romans and Celts and I passed the flyer out to 3-4 neighbouring streets. After consulting my neighbours, they indicated it made more sense to do a trick-or-treat on a Saturday afternoon as more families would be at home and both parents would be around so one could hand out lollies and the other could take the kids around. So we chose a day and set a time and I included all this information on the flyer. I also included a small orange sign that read, "Trick or Treaters Welcome" with instructions for people who wished to participate to hang the signs on their front fences so the children would know which houses to go to. Then I crossed my fingers and waited to see what happened.

On the Saturday afternoon last year, I hit the streets with my children and to our delight, there were quite a few houses with orange signs. Looking for the orange signs actually added a new and fun dimension to the trick-or-treating as I knew it--it became more like a seek and find. The kids would try to see who could spot the next participating house first. The people in each house were genuinely happy to see the children in their costumes and of course the children were delighted with the lollies they were getting. It was fun watching our Aussie neighbours embrace the trick-or-treat ritual and in many cases, fumble their way through it. There may have been 20 houses out of about 150 that would have received the flyer that chose to participate. Not a bad result, just enough to make it worthwhile.

After the event, people talked as people do. Word got around the local Kindergarten and more and more people expressed interest in joining in the fun in the future. What a wonderful experience for the kids they'd say. Sounds like so much fun. Don't know why we don't celebrate it here. And so the comments went. So this year I decided I'd roll the dice again. I decided to increase the area of my flyer drop to include more neighbourhood families and subsequently create a larger event. I still included the streets from last year, but added some new ones. We stuck to the Saturday afternoon timetable but increased the time from 1 hour to 1.5 hours.

The result was amazing. This year there were probably somewhere near 50 houses participating and the numbers of kids on the street going house to house had increased two or three fold. Many people were participating for the first time and commented on the lovely atmosphere on the streets as neighbours greeted neighbours, in some cases for the very first time. The weather couldn't have been nicer as Melbourne served up a perfectly temperate afternoon. It wasn't too hot or too cold. It was just right.

As I watched my children run with enthusiasm from house to house and collect a lion's share of lollies I had a very special feeling. Here we are a world away from the dusty desert town of my youth, in a country that treats Halloween with nonchalance at best and in these most unusual circumstances, my children were experiencing an authentic Halloween. I'd done it. I built it, and they came. They actually came, and the smiles on their faces indicated they even enjoyed themselves. I can't wait for next year!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Halloween in Australia...

Halloween in Australia was extra special this year for more reasons that just finding proper orange pumpkins...I'll be back tomorrow to tell you all about it, but in the meantime I thought you'd enjoy seeing photos of Thelma and Louise in all their glory. They make a lovely pair don't they?