Saturday, November 1, 2014

Dos Baby Girls

I hadn't been back home since my baby sister got married in October 2012. Since I only seem to go home when she has a big life event it was time for me to head back home because she got knocked up – twice!

Well, knocked up once but two babies came out.  Isn't the human body grand?  And I guess it's no longer considered 'knocked up' when you're married.  Whatevs.

Audrey and Bianca were born 29 June 2014, and I got my grubby little hands on them exactly 7 weeks later. When twins are in the womb they call them Baby A and Baby you get the joke with their names? I was rooting for Baby A to be Bianca and Baby B to be Audrey, but alas nobody listens to the childless, spinster aunt. As soon as I found out there were 2 fetuses instead of just one (at 20 weeks! Doesn't that sound late to you?) I took to calling them Dos Baby Girls, which I still call them today. I suspect I will be calling them that for the rest of their lives (or more accurately, my life).

I spent just shy of 3 weeks in my homeland North Dakota, with very little on my itinerary except to snuggle with infants. We did a select few other activities besides the usual buy a whole new wardrobe and eat ourselves into obesity.

We had a baby shower for my sister and Dos Baby Girls:

This was held at the church and, as such, painfully devoid of booze. But the babies were in attendance for everybody to paw, so that made up for it. They held the shower after the babies were born, instead of before like normal, because there was a slight chance that Dos Baby Girls would actually be Uno Baby Girl and Uno Baby Boy. But it was not to be, and in keeping with our 30+ year family tradition no boys showed up.

We went to Minnesota:

I know that sounds anti-climactic, but to me Minnesota is synonymous with “the lake”. Which lake, you ask?  I forget which one, exactly, but it's not far from Bemidji.  There are 10,000 of them to choose from.

Our friends Aly and Shawn, who we met when Aly and I were studying abroad in Norway, bought a lake cabin on a little lake. You aren't Minnesotan if you don't have a lake cabin!

We also went to Itasca State Park and the Mississippi headwaters, which is where the Mississippi River starts:

They had this super funny fake plastic bear poop, to show people what it looks like.

We played Bingo:

I LOVE playing Bingo! I'm like an elderly chain smoker with my own dobber and a row of lucky troll dolls; I take my Bingo playing seriously.

One of the several bars in my hometown (population: 1,000) has Bingo every Tuesday night, with a cash prize if you can get a blackout in 56 numbers or less. The pot was over $4,000 but sadly nobody won the big prize. Had I won we could have come home again next play more Bingo!

We ate Chinese food:

Admittedly we ate a lot of different kinds of food, but this stuff is special. It's the best Chinese buffet on the planet according to me. It's in Winkler, Manitoba, Canada, so this buffet requires a passport to access! I love, love, love this Chinese and would gladly get type 2 diabetes, lose my feet and die if I could eat it more often. It's so delish!

Martin loves the pick-up trucks of America so there were multiple photo ops.

The gun I'm holding is a BB gun or something, it's not dangerous. Martin just thought it added to the American-ness of the picture, and I tend to agree! Nothing says 'merica quite like firearms and gigantic gas guzzling vehicles.

My favorite thing about the trip home, besides spending every possible second holding Dos Baby Girls, was watching Martin interact with Dos Baby Girls.

That's my favorite picture of him, it's like he's petting a dog.

It was so precious watching him hold them. He's had almost no interaction with a baby since my 9 year old niece was born.  The babies, while adorable and innocent, can be quite vicious:

When he'd hold them like this they would grab onto this chest hair and pull, which he claims is super painful. Teeny, tiny babies hurting a grown-ass man! The cuteness kills me.

After all these years living abroad (I'm up to 7 now!) the only thing I legitimately miss about living in the USA is my friends and family (and their dogs!) especially my nieces, the headcount of which went from 1 to 3 overnight.  I'm sad I don't get to see them very often, or be a bigger part of their lives, but this is the choice I've made.  Therefore it is my duty, whenever possible, to mess with them as much as humanely possible!

Audrey, I'm pretty sure
Bianca, I'm pretty sure
And here is me with my 3 best gals in our jammies:

I can't wait to see them all again - I love them!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sydney Part Deux (Day 2)

I dubbed Day 2 of Susanna and my time in Sydney "aquatic day".  It was all underwater adventures, all the time for us on this day.

Due to my "slight" obsession with sharks Susanna knew damn well I would accompany her to the 3D IMAX showing of Great White Shark 3D.  I didn't realize before agreeing to see this show that the Darling Harbour IMAX cinema is the biggest theater screen in the world!  It's 8 stories high.  Eight stories of shark.  In 3D!  Hell yes!

I must say due to my avid documentary watching there really wasn't anything in the show I didn't already know, but that's the price you pay for being a certified sharkologist, I guess.  It was still awesome to see sharks in lifelike 3D, and 8 freaking stories big!  It was awesome.

After the movie we went to the Australian National Maritime Museum, which was still on Susanna's To Do list, because it was featuring life-sized photography of whales.  Turns out "life-sized" was some serious bullshit - we were expecting 100 foot long photos - but there were some very artistic/pretty totally-not-to-scale whale photos.  And a theater where we could relax our tired feed, veg out and watch Finding Nemo.  And this!

A life-sized (for real this time) replica of hump back whale.

I had really wanted to check out the Sydney Fish Market because I had heard it was nuts (busy) and cool to see.  True on both accounts!

It was an easy walk from Darling Harbour and, ever so conveniently, Messina Gelato was right on the way.  Three (double) scoops of gelato in 48 hours: CHECK!

We weren't in the market for any fish, either ready-to-eat or grocery style, but if we were this is definitely the place to find it.

If you're a fish-ivore this would be a good lunch spot, but you'll have to wrestle gaggles of Chinese tourists for a picnic table.  This appears to be a reoccurring theme in Sydney.

Our final aquatic-themed activity for the day was Sea Life Aquarium.  Martin and I are big aquarium goers, and I am not one to turn down a shark sighting, so I was happy to help Susanna tick off yet another item on her Sydney bucket list.  They had a penguin feeding session just as we got there, so we made a beeline through the place to witness the adorableness of teeny, tiny penguins begging for food like Oliver Twist.

So tragically the aquarium was undergoing a bit of construction, so the resident dugongs were not on display.  What is a dugong, you ask?  It is a fabulous, big-ass sea cow:

They are crazy marine mammals, similar to a manatee.  They are super rare so I honestly don't know if I'll ever get a chance in my life to see them again.

The tragedy of the missing dugongs aside, there was lots of fun fishes and sharks to see.

And platypuses (platypi?):

Quick buggers are not easy to capture on film
And this fine creature of the sea:

Earlier in the semester Susanna did an aquarium shark dive in Sydney, and you better believe I plan to do one someday.  They may not be great whites, but when it comes to swimming with sharks I don't discriminate!

By this time we had exhausted all of the fun aquatic things Sydney has to offer, so I headed to the airport to head back north and Susanna went back to studying like the good little student she is.

I'm very glad I went back to Sydney because I definitely hadn't fully experienced it on my first, rainy Christmas trip.  I know I barely scratched the surface of it compared to Susanna, who spent the past 4 months tirelessly taking in all this country has to offer.  I must admit I am sad to see her back to real life, in Norway, not posting action packed blog posts anymore.  I'm afraid that the end of one person's Australian journey might mean the end of mine, and that's a thought far too harsh for me to consider right now.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sydney Part Deux (Day 1)

The first and last time I was in Sydney the weather was atrocious, so I knew I had to go back one day to get the full experience.  When Study Abroad Susanna planned her trip up to Brisbane I thought, with a free place to stay, this was my time to go back.

Susanna was in my first group of students when I worked in Norway back in 2007-2008.  She's five years younger than me, and I feel positively geriatric in comparison.  OK that's a bit of an exaggeration, but this girl knows how to seriously live life to the fullest in a short period of time!  We had roughly 50 [awesome] things to do in the 48 hours I was there, and Susanna saw to it that each awesome activity was accomplished.

This list can serve as a handy travel guide for anybody low on time in Sydney who wants to maximize their fun/sightseeing.  I'll split the two days into two posts, because I'm lazy and you don't want to hear me droning on for too long, anyway.

To build our energy for the day we started off with breakfast, right in the center of Sydney's universe, at the Sydney Opera House.

Opera Bar is one of the food and beverage establishments located in (actually under) the Opera House.  Usually dining at such a major tourist attraction is expensive, filled with clueless tourists, underwhelming and above all else, ill advised.  But I was so impressed with Opera Bar!

The food was perfectly fine and the prices were no more than you'd pay at a brunch spot in Brisbane.  Heck, I'd argue even less.  We were there about 9 a.m. and we virtually had the place to ourselves.  I don't know why the heck it wasn't packed!  It was raining a bit, so outdoor seating wasn't an option for us.  This is what the outdoor area looks like in good weather:

So nice!

After our breakfast and tiny coffees (my one gripe about Opera Bar) we took a hike through the Botanic Gardens so we could get a view of the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge together.  When Martin and I visited previously we took a shot of us with just one of them:

Had I known a better angle existed I would've made the hike for our iconic shot!

The best view of both the opera house and bridge lies in the Botanic Gardens, close to Mrs. Macquarie's Chair (a.k.a. rock formation surrounded by Chinese tourists):

That view is only about 10 minutes walk along the harbour if you're not doddling.  Such a spectacular view!

We saw a bit more of the gardens in search of more coffee.  They're nice - and freaking huge!

Sus is obsessed with the Sydney Opera House, so it's a miracle she's been there 4 months but hasn't done a tour of it yet.  But she hadn't!  So we did it.  Yay!

Every Opera House tour is different, because where you can go depends on what events are happening in each theatre at the moment.  I didn't know before the tour that there are five theatres within the opera house, two big (Concert Hall and Joan Sutherland Theatre) and three small (Drama Theatre, Playhouse and Studio).

We got to see two of the theatres - one big, one small - but couldn't take pictures in either one because there were people warming/setting up on stage.  So here are some pictures I pilfered off Google of the two we saw:

Big: Concert Hall
Small: Playhouse
One of the foyers had hilariously hideous purple carpet:

But I loved it!  I thought it spoke to the era when it was built (it opened in 1973).

We also got to go into a small, private function room called the Utzon Room (after the dude who designed the building, Jørn Utzon):

I would get married today if I could do it in this room!  It was amazing!  And can you imagine saying you got married in the Sydney Opera House?!  It's my new goal in life.

One last thing I will say about the Sydney Opera House.  This is what it looks like up close:

1. It essentially made of bath tiles (but only 1 tile falls off every other year)

2. It's not really white (because if it was it would blind you when the sun hits it)

The area where the Opera House and bridge is located is called Circular Quay, inexplicably pronounced 'key'.  After our tour we left there and headed to Darling Harbour, another pretty, tourist-friendly, must-do area of the city.  When Martin and I were in Darling Harbour together we didn't get a single picture of it because it was raining so hard we literally couldn't take our camera out of our pocket for fear it would get ruined.  But not today!

Thankfully the light rain from earlier had stopped by this time so I could enjoy Darling Harbour in all its blue sky glory!

After a leisurely lunch (with wine!) we indulged in what can best be described as a Sydney (and Melbourne, but not Brisbane) institution: Messina gelato!

I don't want to embarrass anyone here, but one of us (ahem, not I) ate gelato three times in the 48 hours that I was there.  Now that's love!  I tried three flavors: salted caramel & white chocolate, milk chocolate with chocolate peanut fudge and pecan pie.  #beetus

Messina is located in The Star casino, but we didn't do any gambling while we were there.  We came back later that night, for Susanna's second fix of gelato for the day (and other reasons, I suppose).

After putzing around Darling Harbour for a while the sun was preparing to set so we prepared ourselves for the best sunset vantage point in town: the Shangri-La Hotel.  On the 36th floor they have a restaurant/bar called Altitude with an amazing view of the Opera House.

The sun sets in the opposite direction of this vantage point, but it's still an awesome view.  Pro tip: The elevator to that floor doesn't open up until the bar opens (5 p.m.) but there were already people up there when we got there right at 5.  I recommend trying the elevator every minute starting a 4:45, even if you look like an idiot, so you can be, as the Aussies say, "first in, best dressed".  That means the early bird gets the worm, and in this case the worm is sweet window seats.

After our fancy drink with a view at the Shangri-La it was time to hike back to The Star for more gelato...and our evening entertainment:

I had never heard of Strictly Ballroom the movie before.  Was I living under a rock in the 90's?  It's a 1992 movie directed by Baz Luhrmann, who also directed the Claire Danes/Leonardo DiCaprio version of Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge.  These three films together are called The Red Curtain Trilogy, but the only connection I see between them is that the same dude directed them.  The other two movies were huge in America, but I don't know if this one ever made it big.

Anyway, they've turned Strictly Ballroom into a musical and it's been all over TV, billboards, buses, you name it, even in Brisbane though it's only showing down in Sydney.  When I told Susanna this she suggested we go, and I've never seen a musical I didn't like, so I agreed.  It was campy, over-the-top, theatrical fun with ballgowns flying all over the stage in perfectly choreographed manner.  They even had the theatre itself decked out, which I'd never seen before:

Sequined seat covers!
So much fun!  From what I can tell by hearing my colleagues talk Australians love their Strictly Ballroom, so I'll count this show as a cultural immersion experience.

By this time we had been out of the house for, oh, about 15 hours, so it was time to get on the bus back to Susanna's campus and crash hard.  Our feet and legs were killing us, and Day 2 would prove to be just as jam packed and fun filled as Day 1!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Team Fat Ass

You might be asking yourself, "How did she go from somewhat slim and svelte to that?"  The answer to that, my friends, is quite simple.  Allow me to take you on a culinary tour of Brisbane.

OMG I love Eat Street Markets!  I've briefly mentioned going there before, but I have since become obsessed with it.  Obsessed!  I want to go every single weekend, but Martin thinks that's a bit overkill.

It used to operate Friday and Saturdays only, from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. but they have recently extended into all day Sunday - and it is even more magnificent than it was before!  The crowds are non-existent and it's a good alternative to your standard brunch, a popular Brizzy weekend activity.  Going to ESM instead of brunch costs about the same and you can try a lot more variety of stuff.  I love this place!

This is lángos, a Hungarian dish consisting of deep fried flat bread covered with bacon and cheese and stuff.  Lord have mercy; so tasty.  This was merely one of many dishes Martin and I shared that day.  Do you see why I love my ESM so much?!

Martin was recently moaning that we haven't done a nice dinner in Australia - a fancy, nice dinner.  We've done them in lots of other places, but haven't prioritized the budget for a fancy feast here in Oz.  When I got an invitation in my work email to a "wine dinner" I knew I could shut the boy up by taking him to that.

Brisbane's Customs House is a heritage-listed, super pretty building on the river that once served as a place where people actually came through customs when they arrived.  Now it's a venue for weddings and events, with an awesome view of the Story Bridge.

Despite appearances, he is actually thrilled to be there
We got a 5-course meal, and a matched wine with each course.

I wasn't expecting them to fill up the wine glass after I'd finished the first one!  So I got nice and drunk on a Wednesday and had to go to work the next day.  Classy dining at its finest!

Now for a dining experience of Martin's choosing, here is how a Brazilian "churrasco" restaurant works:

You sit, a guy brings roasted meat to your table on what appears to be a sword, and cuts you off a piece of the meat.  Rinse and repeat with several different types of meat.

Needless to say it is an awesome, fun style of dining, and perfect for those with more self control than me who adhere to a low carb diet.  Churrasco is certainly meat-tacular (and not vegetarian friendly)!

Did you know that bacon, as it's known in America, doesn't exist everywhere in the world?  Both the UK and Australia suffer this same tragedy, and finding what we call "bacon" isn't as easy as it should be.  But I found some!

"USA Bacon"
What they call bacon is what I'd call Canadian bacon.  Basically, it ain't bacon.  Much love to Super Butcher for making this prize pig (literally) available at a decent price.

You know what else is cool about Super Butcher?  The whole building is refrigerated, so they give you jackets at the front door to wear while you're shopping.

Kindly note that bare legs kind of negate the usefulness of the jacket.  I can't imagine how the workers survive in there!

Super Butcher is a meat emporium; they've got everything your carnivorous heart desires.  Martin is cutely enamored with the dry aging room room:

In addition to stuffing my face with it, I also enjoy learning about food.  BrisScience holds public lectures on science-y subjects, and occasionally covers a topic that I'm interested in.  "Scientist in the kitchen: How science is changing how we cook" is one such topic.

I knew I could get my friend Laura to come with me, as she's the biggest foodie I know.  Her long-neglected blog is a fun trip (literally and figuratively) around the world through food.

This lovely shot is Laura with a mouthful of steak, and my piece that was seconds away from mastication.  The scientist/cook cooked the steak with a sous-vide machine, which he seems to think is the future of cooking.  I don't care how it gets cooked, as long as it gets in my belly!

Since I no longer have the Food Network for inspiration I'm not nearly as adventurous in the kitchen as I once was (sad but true), but I still like to have fun in there sometimes.

As far as I can tell apple butter does not exist outside of the USA, so if you want it (as I do!) you have to take matters into your own hands.

It's actually quite simple!  All you need is a shitload of assorted apples, a few other ingredients, a stand mixer and a crockpot.  If you've got time to let the crockpot simmer, you can have apple butter.

The finished product
Ultimately I would rather eat all this awesome stuff than be super slim 'n sexy.  At the risk of getting my head chopped off, let me eat cake!