Sunday, 1 January 2017

TwentySucksTeen

Well, what a year. As so many people have stated on t'interweb already, that's another trip around the sun and what an horrific, traumatising, nightmarish, sh*tstormy, craptabulous interesting trip it's been.

Usually, I'm one of those people who looks around at the end of a year everyone else has found horrendous, and apologetically says, "Well mine was rather good, actually". But nope, this year has pooped on my head too.

That's not to say it was all bad! It actually started off quite well!


Friends visited us...


..and we visited family and friends (and watched them get married <3):




But after that, well... things took a turn. Brexit happened. Trump happened. Countries turned their backs on innocent people needing help. Other innocent people died at the hands of those who would spread fear. People we've grown up with died (and so many so young!). Well, you all know the global horrors we've been through and thanks to having to caption the whole sorry mess every single day at work, I'm slightly world weary as we slip into 2017.

Things in our own smaller world took a tumble too. My parents were involved in a car crash in July - and it was a bad one. Dad was mercifully unscathed thanks to the airbags*. Mom was not so lucky, and spent nearly 4 weeks in a coma. It's amazing how one voicemail message instantly shows you exactly what living on the other side of the world means. We'd always comforted ourselves that if anything happened we were 'only' 24 hours away. But boy, that's the longest 24 hours you'll ever spend. I'd never been to an airport feeling nothing but dread before, never flown somewhere not happy to be going on a new adventure, never sat sobbing in Singapore as my friend insisted she was coming to meet me at 6am in the morning and drive home with me to face everything because people were worried about me driving alone. Never sat in a hospital, watching someone's life being held more in the machines around them than in their actual bodies. Never seen so many darn plug sockets to keep all those machines going! Never been to my parents' house before without my mom being there. Never been in her kitchen, with all the pots and pans and spoons and forks from my childhood**,  and no-one to tell me where to find things, or what to do. But we got through it, with much help from family and friends, and I really learnt how wonderful and special support like that is - from kind words and thoughts, to coffee sent from my favourite place here, to all those people who've helped my dad get around and not kill himself from food poisoning!

* Or 'hairbags' as he likes to call them - one of the very few things that made me smile about the whole episode.
** I had a favourite teaspoon as a child. Seriously. And they've still got it!

More importantly, mom got through it all too. She's still in rehab, but wow - watching her get better has been amazing. I see a determination in her I kind of knew was there, but never expected to see so much of - she was scaring the nurses pulling herself up on the bed and trying to get off when she couldn't even walk! She's got straight back on the computer to re-teach herself, instructed my dad about all things household, insisted on still writing all of her Christmas cards and even made a Christmas cake for all the nurses! Fingers crossed, early next year she will be home again properly.

I guess from there, things could only get better! And they have, towards the end of the year. We made a promise to ourselves to get out there and do 'stuff' this summer - and we have been doing. I'll post more about some wonderful summer December* weekends soon!

* December = summer. Still can't get used to that 3 years on!

And Jan turned 40! Again, a whole other blog on that, but suffice to say, he's still lookin' mighty good:


For now I'll just say... TFI 2017!

For all of us who've had a tough 2016 (and also for those quietly saying "actually mine was rather good"), may 2016 be like this ice sculpture and slowly melt away into a misshapen lump that no-one will remember - and may 2017 prove to be the year we all win the lottery* and live happily ever after!



* We actually have won the lottery already this year! And we'll be getting the best bottle of vino $14 can buy...

Monday, 31 October 2016

Uhm...

Hello?! Hellooooooooo..... *dusts off (seasonally appropriate) cobwebs and sneezes in the dust*

Uhm.... so much for my new year's pledge to write more blogs! I do believe resolutions are death to intentions....

Well, I'm lying in our new swinging chair, in our freshly-gardened garden, basking in the first real bit of sunshine I've been able to expose myself to this summer. And I feel like writing again*!

* Actually, I feel like not doing the washing, or deciding what's for tea, then going shopping for it, but potato, tomato...

So I'll turn over a fresh (virtual) page on the blog. I may talk about stuff I blatantly should have blogged about at the time (WEDDING, anyone?!) and tell you about all the exciting things coming up (when there are some!) and generally just waffle a bit. Cos I've weirdly missed this little space of ramblings! (Plus, I'm really scraping the barrel on the Netflix boxsets, now, and it's getting embarrassing, and I'm way too cackhanded to take up crocheting things off Pinterest).

But for now I'll leave you with a picture of our beach. It was hit by a storm in June which left it battered and feeling changed. I'm sure a lot of us feel that way about 2016.  But it has come through and been repaired and actually now has times of complete calm that I don't remember from before (it was all crashing waves and glasses-stealing malice). May we all make it through so well!


Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Of senators and sausages...

So we're heading into officially Politically Interesting Times here in little old Aus. Due to some machinations involving cheeky senators using certain issues to get their own way, it looks like we will be in for an election in July. I think. It's... complicated. But more on the senatorial shenanigans later.

 First, I want to introduce you to the Democracy Sausage.

Photo by Alpha (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Which is an honest-to-god thing over here.

In Australia, you are legally required to vote - you can actually get fined for not doing so - but in order to sweeten the bitter pill of participating in democracy, they reward you with a Sausage Inna Bun*. Or as evidenced above, a Sausage Inna Piece Of Bread.

* All hail Terry Pratchett and Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler...

The Democracy Sausage is a very important thing - so important, in fact, there is actually a website dedicated to helping you find your nearest meaty treat... It even has a 'deliciousness' rating. No, really. And I'm pretty sure it's not the only one.

This is all part of a larger cultural event - the legendary Sausage Sizzle. It has long been known here that the best way to get people to amass in one place and hand over their hard-earned money is to crack out the barbie and throw a few 'snags' on it. Glam them up with some cheap white bread, your choice of sauce* (and maybe even go crazy and add onions), charge a buck or two,
and - boom! Bona fide charity event!

* Tomato or BBQ. This ain't no fancy middle class famers' market with your aiolis and such.

Sausage sizzles are mainly held for local charities and community groups like sports clubs, or the surf life savers, and the Aussie version of B&Q (Bunnings) holds them for charities at the weekend too - cos everyone needs a hotdog with their hardware.

Sadly, as mere temporary visitors to these golden shores, we are not allowed to vote in anything. However, come election day, I might still attempt to sneak a snag! After all, we're living in a democratic society, no? SAUSAGES FOR ALL!!

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Sashimi, slippers and snow...

So we're nearly four months into the year already and the New Year's resolutions from my last post are going really...uhm... not well? I've done NO exercise, been ever more vocal with both TV and computer at work, and have written precisely zero blog entries. But, dudes, is it me? What just happened to January, February and March?! I've barely finished stuffing my face with BBQ Christmas prawns and the darn Easter Crocodile* has been and gone!

* They had an Easter bunny here too, but he went for a swim and, well, you know... he wasn't seen again. They've named a swimming pool after him, though...

Although the 'no exercise' part of the above isn't entirely true, as in February, we over-excitedly dusted the cobwebs off our winter clothes and got ready to go skiing! And those of you who have ever been will know that one week skiing = all the exercise you'll ever need to do for the rest of the year.

Having seen the Australian snow already, we decided to pack everything up and go and see what Asia had to offer. Squeeeee - our first big trip together to Japan! When we first got to Australia, we were under the stupidly mistaken impression we'd be a whole lot closer to Asia than we had been in the UK and could do all our 'Eastern' travels whilst here. Uhm..... no. The only benefit with flying from Sydney to Japan is that, although it's a ten hour flight, there's only a two hour time difference - so no jet lag - a great boon if you're about to spend the next week on an intensive exercise program...

So off we went to the airport, full of pep and vigour. And wine, of course:


We had a bit of an 'incident' when we arrived in Tokyo. When I'd booked the flights, I'd clearly not paid enough attention, and we had only one hour to get off our international flight, collect our bags and board the domestic flight to our final destination, Niseko. It all might have worked, if only the damn international and domestic terminals weren't two different buildings separated by a 10 minute bus drive - which we discovered only after 10 minutes of following rather misleading signage in the international building. After a very tense, "We've already missed it, it's too late, alack and alas" bus journey, followed by an actual real-life 'mad dash' through the airport we made it onto our plane, mostly intact but very sweaty in our winter jackets.

The rest of the trip was far more relaxed* and we met our friend Sophie (who had flown from Perth to join us) with no problems. We got the coach the rest of the way to Niseko, which, to my complete delight (you'll see it later...) was drowning in the white stuff. 

* Except for the moment I ventured off to buy tissues at the airport and, having to guess what to get because I know NO Japanese, came back with what looked suspiciously like sanitary towels to everyone else. This caused hysteria for at least five minutes, until I opened them to find they were tissues after all.

The hotel we were in was pretty nice, although it had a smell of sulphur about it, due to the natural springs in the area (at least, that's what we hoped). Our room was a lovely apartment with a kitchen, living room and two bedrooms - one with the traditional tatami (rush-covered straw mat) and futon. As part of the hotel etiquette, too, you get an outfit to wear and two pairs of slippers - one for inside your room and one for inside the hotel. That's quite a lot of slippers for a person who spends most of her time at home walking around barefoot and treading on sharp things.


I have no clue why all the Japanese people kept laughing at us... We look chic, no?! I am sporting the 'inside the hotel' slippers at this point. The white slippers are in the 'in room' slippers.

And now to the question I know has been on your minds since I mentioned 'Japan'. The toilets. The weird mystery toilets of buttons. You thought toilets were for numbers one and two only, but in Japan there are numbers three, four and five as well.


Full disclosure - we had a go at all of them. And... yeah, it's a bit eye-popping at first, to press a button, hear a grumbling of machinery, followed by a dreaded pause, then to have warm water shoot out at your, ahem, bits and pieces. But after getting used to it, I have to admit I kind of missed it when we left! Something I was more ambiguous about was the heated seats - awesome, cos your little botty is cold in the freezing weather, but not-so-great because you can't quite shake the feeling that in fact it was someone else's little botty that 'warmed up' the seat before you...

Well, now we've addressed that cultural hot potato, it's onwards to more palatable topics! One of the big things we were looking forward to was sampling all the food in Japan, We love going to Japanese restaurants generally, so were keen to see what was on offer. The first thing to say is Japanese people seem to LOVE LOVE LOVE weird desserts and sweets. The airport is chock-full of them (or should that be 'choc'-full?!). We tried one which was a sort of wafer thing with thick honey in between the wafers and covered in sesame seeds. It was quite yummy, but... I wasn't convinced. We also bought what we thought was chocolate in the hotel's snack shop - only to discover it was some sort of bolognese sauce. The perils of relying on the beautiful packaging when you don't understand a single word written on it... We were on safer ground with the Green Tea KitKats we found - sounds gross, tastes delicious. Multiple bags of those were eaten - all in the name of keeping our skiing energy up, of course.

In fact, one of the best things about skiing is it leaves you bloody starving - erm, I mean with plenty of stomach space to sample to regional delicacies. But first, it was always time for a small aperitif, post-piste and preprandial. And we found the perfect place:


It was a little van containing the friendliest man ever (although to be fair, EVERYONE in Japan is the nicest person ever. I've never bowed and said 'thank you' so much in my life!), serving hot sake, mulled wine and plum wine. Almost every day, we brushed off the seats and settled down to re-live our day on the slopes.

Then it was off to the restaurants. We tried as many as we could in the week we were there (although must admit to one lunchtime where we went French and stuffed ourselves with crepes - savoury for main and sweet for dessert. And, yes, they were huge and, yes, we all ate two each). But otherwise, we tried to keep it traditional and ate yakitori (meat on sticks), sushi, sashimi, gyoza, dumplings, ramen, udon (all the noodles, really), and hotpot.

The smile of hungry people about to be fed...
One of the restaurants we went too - wooden booths all the way!

I could wax lyrical for a very long time about all the YUM*, but I'll tell you about the hotpot. Basically, you get a bowl of home-made broth brought to your table on a heater, followed by a selection of raw meats, fish and vegetables and a small hourglass.

* I will never forgive the school careers 'counsellor' for not telling me that 'food critic' was an actual career choice...

One of the plates of YUM to cook in the broth
With each type of meat/fish,  you get a guide as to how long to cook it for. Then you turn over the timer, grab a piece with your chopsticks and swish it about in the broth until it's done. Rinse and repeat for all the delicious things - and the bonus? You end up with an even yummier broth, full of the flavours from the veggies and meat juices.
My 'feed me NOW' face...
All in all, we ate very well for the entire trip, complementing the food with sake and plum wine, and following our main courses up with green tea ice cream where we could.

Another thing we had to try while we were in Japan was the onsen. These are thermal baths/hot springs, where you go to relax and get clean - in the nuddie. There are many rules to the onsen and most are single-sex. We did manage to find a 'mixed' outdoor onsen a few hotels down and went for our first experience there. When we arrived, we found out that because it was mixed, the girls had to pay for the pleasure of wearing a bright orange, linen 'dress' and Jan had to pay for a face flannel with which to cover his vitals. Obviously cameras are not allowed in or around the onsen, so the image of Sophie and I running through the freezing outdoor complex in our bright orange one-size-fits-none dresses to meet Jan, wading about in a pool, trying to hold a floating flannel to his privates is one you will have to conjure for yourselves.  Once in the pool though, it's lovely and warm  to lounge about in, and at one point it started snowing, which made it all poetic and beautiful and stuff.

Sophie and I ventured to our single-sex hotel onsen later in the week, This was slightly less 'touristy' than the mixed one. We immediately shamed ourselves by walking into the tatami-covered changing rooms in our 'inside the hotel' slippers, and incurring the wrath of a lady, who kept shouting 'NO SHOES' at us. Apparently slippers on the tatami is highly verboten - oops! Once inside the onsen, there are plastic stools in small, open shower cubicles where you go and wash yourself before and after going into the pools. You get a small hand towel whilst inside the onsen, which most people seem to wear on their heads, given the lack of pockets to carry anything in. We spent our time in the outside onsen, unsure of the rules, and slightly paranoid when a Japanese lady walked outside, took one look at us and walked back inside again. I do love a good hot spring though, and it's a great way to ease the aches and pains after a day of skiing.

And talking of skiing - which I realise I haven't done any of yet - it was awesome! So awesome, that words are just not enough - you should totally check out Jan's amazing video - behold the powder and weep! Then cheer yourselves up by watching us crash into trees! 


Niseko is famed for its powder snow and, boy, there was plenty of it. Sophie and I took lessons and both of us loved learning the new skills of off piste skiing, going through trees and into deep snow, while Jan also amused himself off the slopes:


We had heard rumours of a great volcano - Mount Yotei - opposite the mountain we were skiing on, but for three days it was so snowy we couldn't see it at all. Then came the sunshine, and.... wow.


So all in all, we had an AMAZING holiday in Niseko and will definitely be going back there for more! We learned loads on the slopes, and ate and drank loads off it - which adds up to the perfect skiing holiday if you ask me! 

Arigatou gozaimasu, Japan!

Friday, 1 January 2016

2015.

Another year Down Under has whizzed by! And although I still have about ten bazillion posts to write to cover everything that's happened, I thought I'd do a review of the year in pictures (mainly because I'm still too full of pavlova and prawns to do much of anything else...).

January 2015 got off to a rockin' start at the country music festival in Tamworth:


Pigs were raced and silly pictures were taken:

Last one back gets turned into a sandwich!
If only I'd obeyed the sign...
In February, we apparently had a quiet month. Pig racing will do that to you.

In March, we went all Lord of the Rings and forged our own wedding rings with metal, flame - and love:


These are NOT the finished product. I just like this picture...
In April, we stepped away from the furnace for a sneaky weekend away in the Blue Mountains - and I coined the phrase 'Prunnymoon*'.
* Pre-honeymoon, innit. You're welcome.

Relaxing on mah prunnymoon...

Funky bedroom

Technically it wasn't cold enough for a fire, but we opened all the doors and lit it anyway...

Bush bath.
In May, we celebrated Easter in the traditional way:


In June? Well, this happened*:

* Eternal thanks go to the marvellous Jay Emme who was just an absolute legend the whole day, and gave us the beautiful pictures below and many many more.


There was laughter and tears:


...so many tears:


 Also, some DIY:


(But that explanation is for another blog).

In July, we recovered - much like pig racing, weddings will do that to you...

In August, we went for our first trip to the Australian snow:


September saw me up my walking game, enjoying Coogee to Bondi in all its spring beauty:


October saw me turn 21 again. Just how does that keep happening?


In November we discovered some more of our adopted home on our honeymoon in Tasmania (with a brief stop in Melbourne to see friends - and the Lego Christmas tree!):

Our rolling wagon of love....

Tasmanian devil eating her dinner... It's the ciiiiircle of life!


It's made out of Lego! (The tree, not Jan's beard...)
And we finished the year with a real Aussie Christmas - sunburnt and having eaten too much - in the country (more on which soon):



And on that note, we wish you all a wonderful, prosperous and happy 2016! We'll be back with more exciting adventures then - promise*!



* It's one of my new year's resolutions to write WAY more up in here. But then again, my other resolutions are to do more exercise and to stop talking to the television at work... So, you know....

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Birthday.



Arggggghhhhhh! 37 is the first birthday I've hit where I've really felt like, oh crap, I am meant to be an adult by now. I AM SO NOT AN ADULT RIGHT NOW. SOMEBODY STOP THIS AGEING PROCESS MALARKEY!

As is tradition in our house, the day started off with the Official Birthday Table and Cake For Breakfast ritual. Also the Age Represented In Flames To Show You How Your Time On Earth Is Rapidly Burning Away, You Candle In The Wind, You...

That carrot cake is all miiiiine...
Also at this stage is the PREZZIE OPENING!! I had some lovely gifts from friends and, after much cajoling and hissy-fittedness, Jan got me what I wanted - a new camera. Those of you who know me well, will know my history with cameras is... uhm.... iffy. In fact the lake where we got married is currently in possession of one of my cameras, thanks to a boat trip that saw me drop it into the murky depths*. Enjoy your selfies, fish!

* In fact, we were a bit dubious about getting married at that lake, as I've also fallen into it fully clothed...

So Jan patiently tried to explain to me that my choice of new camera was probably a bad idea, as it was not a simple point-and-shoot jobbie, but involved me learning things such as 'aperture' and 'Focus' and 'F Stop' and I am more of a 'break down into full toddler tantrum when <insert any technology here> requires me to do anything beyond pressing one button'* kinda gal.

* iTunes is my nemesis and I will loathe it for eternity. WHY CAN'T I EVER JUST DO WHAT I WANT TO DO, DAMN YOU!!!

But I held firm to my choice, because why? Because it looked VINTAGE and that clearly trumps everything.

Oooooh, aaaaaah, look at the lovely VINTAGE, everyone!
I'm super pleased with it, and have even started to learn about all its functions, which I hope to work on more when we go to Tasmania next month. And it has already enabled me to take these super-artistic, highly professional shots:

Knobbly Knees (in all their glory)...

Breakfast Detritus (with NOTHING on any coasters...)

And my personal favourite - Top Of The Bottle.
Due to some shortsightedness on my part, I was actually working all day on my birthday. Although this totally eventually paid off in a whole extra cake - very kindly made for me by my lovely, lovely work friends.  Clearly, however, I don't have a picture of this, as I snarfed it down pretty much instantly - as a comfort for the fact it was 34 DEGREES outside and I could have been ON THE BEACH and not in the office casually know as 'Siberia. This was highly upsetting given that my birthday is usually conducted in cold, rainy autumn weather in England. Woe and alas - let me eat more cake to compensate!

However, it was still pretty warm in the evening,so  our friends came round for dinner and we ate outside on our balcony, which was really lovely, and the perfect way to usher in our next summer of Aus living!
Hmmm, maybe I need some more work on that Focus thang...