Sunday, August 23, 2009

Trivia Night--Fundraising Aussie Style Continued

If you've come late to the party, you can read the first half of our Trivia Night adventure here.

Once we arrived inside the Church Hall, we were greeted by the excited committee of Mums who'd organised the evening. There was a door prize drawing that needed entering and a seating plan posted on the wall indicating where our table could be located. We'd been assigned table 12. Lucky table 12!! Right? Well, we were feeling lucky anyway so I decided it would be referred to as lucky table 12 for the remainder of the evening.

We made our way to our table, carefully dodging the various eskies scattered about the aisles. Judging by the size of the eskies, this was going to be a BIG the Hall...of the Church. Pushing my puritanical American sensibilities to the side, the Handsome Australian and I began to unpack our drinks and nibbles and set them out on the table as our friends arrived to join us. A quick glance around the room and it was clear that if nothing else, our table took catering very seriously. While other tables were breaking out Tupperware filled with carrot sticks and pretzels, the Handsome Australian and I were putting together Antipasto platters, arrays of homemade dips and freshly toasted Turkish bread. It can't be helped, it's the Lebanese in us.

We were pretty proud of our offerings and appreciated the oohs and ahhs from our friends as they indulged in the nibbles. We took quiet satisfaction in the fact that no other table would be outdoing us with their food. That's when one of my friends pointed to the next table and said, "Have a look at that woman. She's brought some beautiful cupcakes and even has them displayed on a cupcake stand." What??? Cupcakes on a cupcake stand?? I'd thought about making cupcakes (they are one of my trademark baked goods) but I'd run out of time. Our friends wanted to know where our cupcakes were. I had to explain that I'd only brought brownies. Brownies that had cooked a bit longer than they should have because I was busy. Busy making heaps of tasty homemade dips. Sorry, I apologised. I needed to lift my game I was told.

The fact that we had heaps of dips and some overcooked brownies but no cupcakes was an early indicator that we had not come fully prepared for this Trivia Night. At our table of 8, we had a talented list of people. There were 2 Engineers, 1 Accountant, 1 Chef, 1 Photographer, 1 IT Professional, 1 Secondary School Teacher, and 1 Ultrasound Technician. The nationality breakdown was this: 1 American, 6 Aussies (five of which are first Generation Aussies hailing from Lebanon, China, Italy and Malta) and 1 Czech. Sounds like a pretty versatile and formidable team. We certainly thought so. Then the questions began...

Each table is given an answer sheet that they use to record their answers. There is a host with a microphone that asks the questions, you discuss them amongst your table and record the answers on your sheet. At the end of each round, you swap your sheet with a nearby table and correct each other's answers as they are read out by the host. Once you tally up the correct answers, you pass the answer sheets up the front where they are tallied by one of the administrators of the evening.

There were about 6 rounds with 13 questions in each round. Each round had a theme. The first theme was, "Bit of this, bit of that". It was predominantly pop culture questions with a heavy emphasis on Australian music. Umm, yeah, count me out on that. Lucky I'd brought along my brain trust of Aussie mates. We thought we'd done reasonably well until we swapped our sheet with the table next to us. They'd absolutely rocked the round and gotten a near perfect score. They were pretty nice about it though and didn't gloat too much to us. I guess table 12 wasn't that lucky afterall!

The night went on and the rounds continued with themes like "Australiana" (which had a heavy emphasis on Aussie music), "Famous Faces", "Music across the decades" (which had a heavy emphasis on Aussie music through the decades). Our answer sheets got worse and worse and our scores for each round got lower and lower, and the table next to us got better and better. So good that they began to make fun of our answers really obnoxiously (don't forget those eskies weren't filled with lemonade!) during the correction period at the end of each round. We ignored them, but were getting slightly annoyed with the questions. It was obvious that no one at our table had a strength in obscure Aussie music and if you didn't, there was no way you were going to win this game.

Our performance didn't disappoint only us, it garnered sympathy from the host who was roaming the room with his microphone while asking the questions. When he'd walk past our table, he'd look over my shoulder and read our answers. Then he'd turn the microphone off and whisper a couple of answers to me. I watched him carefully through the night and didn't notice him helping any other tables. We really were pathetic!! I felt bad taking his answers, but we needed all the help we could get.

During one of the last rounds, one of our friends spotted something at the table next to us. The table that had been performing so well and making fun of all of our answers. She spotted not one, but two iPhones. They were looking up the answers on their phones!!!! So perhaps that's why the Host had been sharing answers with us. Were we the only table that wasn't using our mobile phone to google the answers?? What is the world coming to? First the alcohol and now wide spread cheating at the Trivia Night, for the religiously affiliated Kindergarten, in the Hall next to the CHURCH!

When the final scores were tallied and the winners announced, we had to hang our heads in shame. The average score was about 140 points. Our team had managed a measly 115 points. The only positive thing about the final scores was that the obnoxious table next to us came in 2nd place.

Yes, this event was certainly like no other I've attended. The competitive spirit inside me was disappointed that we'd performed so poorly. The American in me was confused by the alcohol (at a school event) and scandalised by the cheating. The Aussie in me was happy to be amongst my friends enjoying some good food, a few drinks and plenty of laughs. The Mum in me was proud that at the end of the night, our shenanigans had contributed to a successful event which raised nearly $8,000 for the Kinder.

Next year, I'll have cupcakes and perhaps a professional DJ at our table.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Trivia Night--Fundraising Aussie Style

Even though I've lived here in Australia for about 10 years, there are still events that I attend that make me feel as if I've just arrived. The Trivia Night at our daughter's Kindergarten (preschool in the USA) was one such event. This is how it went...

Several weeks ago, we got a flyer from the Kindergarten announcing the Trivia Night would be held as the major fundraising event of the year. Since most Kindergartens here in Australia are community operated or at the very least, underfunded by the Government, they must do a significant amount of fundraising to stay operational. The Kindergarten our daughter attends, while exceptional, has been under poor financial management for the past few years and is really struggling. This Trivia Night was to be the main source of supplemental income for the school during this calendar year. As such, the Handsome Australian and I wanted to do as much as we could to help make the event a success.

Tickets to the event were available on a pre-sale basis only and you were asked to book a table of 8-10 people. So I sent out an e-mail pleading our case to some of our closest and most intelligent friends--because we planned to win!! I was pleased to see there was a bit of enthusiasm amongst our peeps and we organised what looked like a very promising brain trust. I booked our table and then started to think about the catering.

The instructions for the night were that the event was BYO drinks and nibbles. As an incentive to our friends to come along on the night, I promised I'd provide all the drinks and nibbles. As this was an event taking place in Australia, I assumed by drinks they meant of the alcoholic variety and I was pretty sure this is what my friends would be expecting. Then the American in me crept in and pointed out that this was a fundraiser for a preschool--a religiously affiliated preschool at that--and perhaps it wasn't appropriate to bring alcohol along to the event. I was a bit perplexed. So I asked the Handsome Australian what he thought and he was pretty certain that alcoholic drinks were indeed acceptable beverages for the evening. No worries then, we'd stock up on beer and bubbles and I'd put together some chips and dips and maybe a brownie or two.

On the evening of the event, it occurred to us that in order to provide drinks for our entire table, we were going to need a large esky (that's an ice chest or cooler for those of you in the USA) to transport and cool the drinks through the evening. So again I asked the Handsome Australian about the protocol of lugging an entire esky of alcoholic drinks into the Hall at the Church that is affiliated with our daughter's Kinder. Would that be too over the top? Was it wrong? I had so many doubts that the Handsome Australian began to doubt the process himself. Perhaps an esky full of alcohol was a bit too much--it wasn't a frat party or a cricket match after all, it was a fundraiser for our daughter's Kindy.

So we hatched a plan, we decided that we'd take the esky full of drinks and leave it in the car. Once inside the venue we'd assess the situation and see what other people were doing and if it was appropriate, we'd rescue the esky from the car and if it wasn't we'd leave it there and every one would be none the wiser.

As we pulled into the parking lot of the Church, we saw blokes carrying eskies. It wasn't just one bloke carrying one esky, it was two blokes per esky. In other words, the eskies were so laden with beverages that they were too heavy for one man to carry. It was on for young and old folks, on for young and old. The Handsome Australian was pleased to see he wouldn't be making multiple trips to the car, and was disappointed that he'd doubted himself.

"What was I thinking?" he muttered. "This is Australia, of course there will be eskies full of beer."

And with that, he and his handsome brother pulled the esky out of our boot and lugged it inside where the evening got off to a promising start...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sweet, sweet lullaby

It was the summer of 2003-2004 (here in Australia) and I was heavily pregnant. The Handsome Australian and I lived in a small rented flat that had no air conditioning. It wasn't a particularly hot summer by Australian standards, but when you are in that stage of a pregnancy, even a mild day can be unbearable. The temperature of our apartment and the size of my growing belly made sleeping at night extremely difficult. I was up and down, up and down all night long. I had ice packs, cold drinks, fans and still I couldn't manage to knock out a good night's sleep.

As luck would have it, I didn't have anywhere to be during the days as I'd finished up work several weeks beforehand. This meant that each day was mine to fill as I'd choose. I would generally have a leisurely breakfast before heading out to a shopping centre, cinema, cafe or anywhere that had air conditioning. I'd spend a few hours in the cool air and then I'd return to our flat for a late lunch and a bit of time on the couch. When I'd sit down and put my swollen feet up, I'd put the television on hoping to catch a bit of mindless entertainment--an episode of Oprah perhaps or maybe a really trashy soap opera. Anything really to take my mind off the discomfort and the heat.

Unfortunately, summertime television offerings in Australia are generally sports related and more specifically Cricket related. Each day I'd put the television on and find there was nothing except Cricket, Cricket, Cricket. Nearly five years had passed since my initial introduction to the game, and I'd learned a lot more about the rules, the rivalries and the players (not willingly mind you). I still wasn't a huge fan of the game, but at least I could make heads or tails of what was going on...kind of. So there I'd sit, on our couch in the heat, and watch a bit of the Cricket. Ten or twenty minutes later, I would be fast asleep. I slept for hours at a time with the Cricket in the background. The commentators quietly discussing the play and forever replaying vision of the one and only wicket that had been taken in the last four hours.

The days went on and on in the same fashion. No sleep at night, outings in the morning and Cricket in the afternoon. The Handsome Australian would return home from work and find me fast asleep in front of the Cricket. He was always keen to see how Australia was faring in the Test and would watch more of the match while we ate our dinner. I'd bring him up to speed on the day's play as I'd subconsciously heard it replayed dozens and dozens of times during my nap. He couldn't believe how much I knew. I was naming players, talking about batting averages and throwing in an LBW or two. This lead him to doubt the results of an ultrasound that indicated we were having a girl and he began to predict I was indeed carrying a boy--a son that would play Cricket.

I knew the truth, though. I needed the Cricket. It was the only way I could sleep. I needed to hear the quiet commentary and the sudden bursts of enthusiasm from the crowd. This little cocktail was my key to a few hours of rest. The more I watched, or slept through, the Cricket, the more involved I became in the game itself.

This was an important time for Australia as they were about to bid goodbye to one of their most successful Test Captains in history, Steve Waugh. I'd watched him all summer. He was an excellent batsman and had a very calm and cool demeanour on the field. He had a rugged handsomeness to him and a penchant for sentimentality--wearing the same baggy green cap for his entire career. He was a very likable character. I was very hormonal. I got sucked in.
So there I found myself on the edge of my seat as Steve Waugh took to the pitch of the SCG on the 6th of January 2004 as the Aussies faced a formidable Indian side. I hung on every ball bowled. Each time he had a crack with his bat, I cheered along. When he was caught out by Sachin Tendulkar for 80 runs, I cried. This was the end of an era in Australian Test Cricket history. The Australians ended up losing the Test to India, but it didn't matter because this was Steve's day. His teammates carried him on their shoulders for a lap of honour around the field and I cried some more. I never realised it was going to be so hard to say goodbye to Steve.

Never before and never since have I watched the Cricket as intently as I did that summer. My love affair with Cricket was a brief one, but the knowledge I gained has served me well ever since. Not to mention the respect from the Handsome Australian who was very jealous I got to see Waugh's last innings live and is still amazed to this day when he's got the Cricket on and I come along and remark, "Gee, that Billy Bowden. What a funny little umpire he is. Glad to see they put Stuart Clark back in the side. He might be just the answer we need to retain the Ashes." Then I cuddle up beside him on the couch and fall into a deep, deep sleep.

Friday, August 7, 2009

About the Cricket...

Australians are a sport loving people. True to his nationality, the Handsome Australian loves sports. He really loves any sport that's going, but among his favourites are Aussie Rules Football and Cricket. I'd say these are the two sports he follows the closest and the ones that the children and I are subjected to watching most frequently.

In another life (before he married an American girl) the Handsome Australian was actually a talented Cricket player. He played with the same club throughout his youth and, if you believe the braggings of a proud father, was asked at some stage to play for Victoria. Turns out the Handsome Australian wasn't involved in Cricket for the fame and fortune--he just liked playing the game and wasn't interested in taking it any further than his local club. So play on he did, filling his summer weekends with bats, balls and beers.

When I first turned up in Australia, the Handsome Australian was still very much involved in his Cricket club. His weekends were consumed with matches and I was left to entertain myself. At some stage, I decided I should take an interest in his Cricket playing and attend some of his matches in a show of support. So I organised to have one of the Handsome Australian's Handsome brothers deliver me to the Cricket pitch one Saturday morning to see my man play. To his credit, the Handsome Australian's brother tried to warn me.

Handsome Australian's Brother: "Are you sure you really want to go and watch a match? Grass growing is often more interesting than Cricket ya know."

Me: "It can't be that bad, it's probably a bit like baseball. I'm sure it will be interesting. Besides, it will be nice to see him play."

HAB: "Okay, look I'll drop you off, but I'm coming back in an hour or so just in case you change your mind. That way you won't be stuck here all day."

Me: "If you insist, but I'm sure I'll be fine to watch the whole match."

HAB: "You do realise the match won't be finished until TOMORROW afternoon right?"

Me: "Um, yeah, tomorrow, yeah. Look just drop me off, I'll be fine."

I got out of the car wondering what the heck I'd signed myself up for. As I made my way over to the Cricket pitch I noticed something straight away. There were NO SPECTATORS!!! Absolutely no one was watching this game besides the players from each team that weren't currently on the field. I imagined a small crowd of people would be gathered and I'd be able to meet and chat to a few of them. No such luck. Not only that, I was probably the only female in a 10km radius. I felt totally out of place.

As I approached the club house, some of the boys took notice of my presence and asked if they could help me with anything. Our conversation went something like this:

Cricket Dude: "Hi there. Can I help ya find something?"

Me: "Oh I'm just here to watch HA play."

CD: "Oh, righto. You must be that American bird he was telling us about."

Me: American bird? Huh? What had he told them? "Yes, I guess that's me."

CD: "Well there he is. He's out there bowling at the moment. He just took a wicket before, but you missed that."

Me: Not recognising the foreign language being spoken to me "I see. Is that a good thing?"

The entire group of boys laughs.

CD: "They don't play a lot of Cricket in America do they?"

Me: "No, no they don't"

CD: "That's not obvious at all."

More laughter from the boys

Me: Laughing nervously. If you can't beat them join them I thought. "Yes, I clearly have a lot to learn. Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'll just go and sit in the shade of that tree and see what I can glean."

Oh my God I thought, what kind of boy's club was this? I sat under the tree watching balls being bowled back and forth, back and forth and the Handsome Australian took another wicket or two. Although I had no appreciation for what that meant at the time. Then, after awhile, I heard the toot of a car horn from the car park and looked up to see the Handsome Australian's brother waving to me. I got up and literally ran to his car. I'd had enough of this rubbish to last a lifetime.

HAB: "So what'da think?"

ME: "What a colossal waste of time! And those guys--they are a bit rude really."

HAB: "I tried to warn you."

ME: "I know, I'll take your advice much more seriously the next time."

HAB: "What'da wanna do now?"

ME: "I think I need a stiff drink."

HAB: "Now, that, that is a good idea."

Off we went to the pub to try and erase the memories of my one hour foray into the world of Cricket. It wasn't until much, much later that I actually began to appreciate the game...

(Did I just say 'appreciate the game'? Uh oh, this can't be good)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

It's the guilt really...

When I first settled in Australia with my husband 8 years ago, we lived in a small flat close to the City. We had no laundry facilities inside our flat itself. Instead, there were communal laundry facilities on each floor of the three floor building. There were top loading washing machines and large clothes dryers just like the ones I was accustomed to back home in the USA. For the first couple of years in that flat, the use of these machines was free. Well, I'm sure it was somehow calculated in our rent, but we didn't have to put coins in the machines or anything. We could just walk into the laundry room and put a load on. So the Handsome Australian and I washed and dried all of our clothes in these machines. We didn't really have much of a choice. We did have a balcony, but there were strict rules about hanging clothes out to dry--this was a bit of an old school chic area and the neighbours--mostly very wealthy widows with lots of time on their hands--weren't afraid to point out the rules to anyone who dare break them.

I was pretty happy with this laundry arrangement. It was a bit inconvenient, not having the machines in our own flat because we'd have to babysit the laundry for fear that it might disappear or some 'helpful' neighbour might chuck all of our fine washables in the dryer (which wasn't always our preference) in a bid to make room for their clothes in the washing machine. For the most part though, it was pretty satisfying. We could do multiple loads at a time (as there were multiple machines) and we could dry most things quickly in the dryers. In a couple of hours, we could knock out all of our laundry for the week.

A few years later, we had a baby. We needed more space. So we bought a little house in the suburbs and moved. Owning our own home was a very exciting prospect--especially the part about having our very own laundry facilities! We would be able to put some wash on and actually leave the house without worrying what would become of it. Yes, these were exciting times!

My mother-in-law and I went shopping for the washer and dryer to fit out my brand new laundry. I was dead set on getting a top loading machine. That's what I'd always known. They were big and easy to use. My mother-in-law had been using a top loader for years and she agreed with me--we both liked their capacity. So off we went to the shops.

We were greeted by a friendly salesman who did nothing but sing the praises of the front loaders. They washed clothes better he told us. They were gentler on your clothes. They were more water and energy efficient. The top loaders seemed clunky dinosaurs in comparison. We were sold. We selected a very pricey front loading machine and then moved on to choosing a dryer.

This is when things got interesting. We had selected a 7 kg capacity washing machine and the salesman suggested I should get a 5kg capacity dryer. Why would I want a dryer that held less than my washing machine I wondered. So I asked. He said I really wouldn't be using the machine that much as I'd put most things on the line so it would only be for smaller items or on a rainy day. Oh really? I'd be putting things on the line would I? Yes, my mother-in-law agreed. That's how she used her dryer--rarely and generally for small items like socks. Well, maybe that's okay for you I thought, but I'm American and I do things differently. I'm going to dry my clothes in the dryer.

Of course, never one for confrontation, I accepted the advice of the salesman and my mother-in-law (hey, can you think of a more powerful combination?) and bought the 5 kg capacity dryer and resolved that what I did in my own home was none of their business and they'd never know if I used the dryer every day or not.

The machines were delivered and I washed and dried to my heart's content. My mother-in-law asked me how the laundry was coming along and I said, "Very well thank you." Then she started to ask me about using my clothesline and telling me how lucky I was to have such a large clothesline already installed in my back garden. Um, yeah, really lucky I thought. That thing was just an eyesore as far as I was concerned.

Then one day she came over and offered to help me with my laundry--I was a lactating new mother and needed all the help I could get. When she took the clean clothes out of the machine she asked me where my clothes pins were for the line. Oh sh*t! The clothes pins. I didn't have any. So I had to come clean. I confessed that I put everything in the dryer. Not a problem, she'd just pick up some clothes pins for me and bring them with her when she visited next. And she did.

I let my mother-in-law hang our laundry on the line when she'd come to help out, but I still used the dryer quite religiously. It wasn't until our little girl began to sit and crawl and loved being outside that I started to consider the clothesline. We were outside all the time and while it was fun playing with my little one, I did feel a bit unproductive. So I started hanging clothes on the line while we were 'hanging out' together outside. Each time I put a load up, I felt a sense of accomplishment. Not to mention all those little baby clothes looked so cute blowing gently in the wind. My little one loved watching the patterns on the fabric and delighted in sitting in my laundry basket. So very cute.

Slowly but surely, I converted to the clothesline and used the dryer less and less and less--except when it was raining and then I dried everything in the dryer. Then the ideas of global warming and climate change started gaining importance and it became clear to me that hanging clothes on the line was really a very practical way to save energy. That's what my grandparents did after all--before everyone owned a clothes dryer. If it was good enough for my grandparents I thought, it should be good enough for me.

If all of these reasons weren't enough to keep me in my clothesline habit, then the State Government started running these ads:

And now every time I think of using the dryer, all I can think of is these black balloons. So I trudge up to my clothesline and hang another load. I do like the idea of the clothesline now, but honestly, it's the guilt from the black balloons that keeps the laziest part of me wearing down the path between the line and the laundry, the laundry and the line.