Friday, 29 May 2015

Tumbleweed and efficiency...

I'm going to be honest with you. This is a bit of a cop-out post - it's been deathly quiet around here, because in an attack of the fainting goats, I've been running around, then freezing and falling over any time I/Jan/anyone else says the word 'wedding'.  And so, commensurate with my usual efficiency level, nothing much has got done.

I was actually rather hoping wedding planning would provide a mine of blog-worthy catastrophes and mishaps, but apparently, if I had wanted that, I shouldn't have married a German. Because the whole thing is proceeding in a timely and orderly manner. Vorsprung durch Leistungsfรคhigkeit, so to speak.

We've basically outsourced the wedding to Jan's parents, who have done a mind-blowingly marvelous job of just calmly sorting out quite a complicated day of events and surprises (which Jan's dad has apparently ruined, by including all the surprises in the Official Spreadsheet of What's Happening on the Big Day. But, hey, he was just trying to be EFFICIENT, people). So from our end that has really limited my ability to bugger things up.

People have asked us how we feel about having our wedding so far away and not being so involved in the planning. And it's a really mixed reaction. I am partly wistful and a bit sad that we haven't been looking at venues, trying menus and cakes*, nipping out with my bridesmaids for dress shopping and the like, talking to florists, and bands and generally actually organising. But, given my chronic fear of using the phone, and my complete inability to send anything other than overly polite emails, it's probably all for the best. Plus, hey! I trust Jan's parents 100% and now I don't have to be stressed about any of that stuff! And I won't accidentally order 100 - JAN HELP!!!  And, guess what, now we get to have a fantastic day with lots of surprises*!
* Ok, let's be honest - it's all about the cakes and food. And me not eating said cakes and food. Screw the rest of it.
* As long as we don't read the spreadsheet...

Plus, I can shut my eyes and imagine it all. We've been on lots of holidays to the area, and I can see all the beautiful lakes and woodland, taste the amazing coffee and cakes we'll be having (as well as Jan's mom's cooking which is worth the trip all on its own), and know all the generosity we will experience from everyone who will be there.  And really, at the end of the day, that's what it's about. We are dying to see our family and friends, and catch up and have fun, see what everyone has been up to since we've been gone, and marvel at everyone's children and how much they've grown, or meet them for the very first time. Because we've been in Aus for 18 MONTHS now. EIGHT-EEN! And in two weeks we will be on a plane home again. And I CANNOT WAIT.



Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Advice for Brides on the Big Day

No, not the wedding day, silly!  The auspicious day where you pick up your wedding dress from the shop and it officially becomes yours.

So, here is how to do it:
1) Get up nice and early, have a shower, get ready to leave.
2) Leave in plenty of time, get there early, maybe treat yourself to a coffee while you wait.
3) Arrive at shop fully relaxed and ready to be fussed and cooed over, as is your bridal right.

And here is how I did it:
1) Get up nice and early, faff around the house, watch box sets until you suddenly realise you have 15 minutes to shower, dress and leave.
2) Rush around the house in a pre-shower panic, after breaking your only hairband, and finally tie your hair up with a pair of swimming goggles so you can shower without turning your hair into a ridiculous afro.
3) Leave the house 10 minutes late, with a 30 minute car drive ahead of you.
4) Rely on the sat nav on April Fool's Day, even though it has CLEARLY DECIDED TO SEND YOU ANYWHERE BUT THE RIGHT DIRECTION.
5) Ring the bridal shop ten minutes after you were due to arrive to tell them your sat nav says you will still be another half an hour, whilst stifling down the sobs.
6) Arrive at the shop 7 minutes later, because YOUR SAT NAV IS A F*@%ING LIAR.
7) Park the car and realise you've forgotten your damn shoes you need to try the dress on with.

Yup. Although after having burst through the door in a sweaty mess, the lovely ladies at Kylie J Bridal were very sympathetic and wonderful and fussed and cooed and were very excited for me when the dress fit and looked beautiful, and so all was not lost.

So, sshhhhhh.... no-one tell Jan what's hiding in the closet.....


Those may or may not be my recovery macaroons in the shot there.... Come on, a gal needs something after all of that!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Forging of the Rings

Cast your mind back, if you will, to that "design and technology" class you did at school, where you had to do metal work, but really all anyone ever wanted to do was play with the flamethrower at the back of the classroom that the teacher wouldn't let you near.  Now imagine the epic Lord of the Rings, as the One Ring To Rule Them All is pulled triumphant from the forging fires of Mount Doom by Sauron. Now combine those two images - and you have exactly what we did last Wednesday. Yes, indeed, we forged our own wedding rings, with fire and ineptitude*....

* actually Jan was pretty nifty with the tools. Me however....

We'd already had a consultation with the wonderful folks at Larsen Jewellery to decide on our rings. It was meant to last an hour, but, come on, this is us we're talking about! We were still there two hours later - Jan couldn't decide what metal he wanted OR which ring finger to use* and I couldn't decide on sparkly versus plain. Eventually the long-suffering staff said we could decide on the day, just please get out already.

* German tradition favours the right hand, as opposed to the left.

So last Wednesday, we arrived keen and ready to go - and still completely undecided on what we were going to opt for. Which didn't immediately matter as all we had to work with was this:


Note the giant hunk of platinum for Jan's ring, versus the, ahem, slightly more modest amount of white gold for my ring. Jan had decided he wanted an unusually wide ring*,  which even had the jeweller slightly worried, as she'd never made one that big before and warned us we would have to be careful as we rolled out the metal, as platinum is not so easy to manipulate as some other metals. But like the optimistic fools we are, we weren't going to let making a stupidly large ring out of difficult-to-work-with material stop us - we like a good challenge! So off we went!

*ooh er missus. Sorry, couldn't help it.

First, you put the metal bars through some bloody great rollers...


Ok, ok, Jan's hamming it up here - it's not really that difficult! Although his platinum did take a lot of squishing. After a few goes through the rollers the metal becomes hard and difficult to work with, so you have to anneal it, which basically means heating it up to release the pressure and make it more pliant again:


Then it's back to the roller for another round - then rinse and repeat until you have the width and length you require*:
* Hahahahaha. Sorry.


I think you can guess whose is whose.... Suffice to say, Jan's took about FOREVER to get to this stage and mine took about five minutes. Well, ok, maybe more than that, but still. We had to roll Jan's ring sideways as well as lengthways, use both a vice and a hammer to straighten it out and repeatedly anneal it to get the right dimensions. Basically, I'm calling Jan high maintenance here.

From this, mine was then cut in half, as there was more than enough metal for my tiny finger. Then it was time to get it into shape:


This is one of numerous photos where the look on my face is in a kind of, "Oh god, why are they letting me be responsible for this, I'm totally buggering up an expensive piece of metal here - and I have to wear it for the rest of my days, oh god, oh god, smile for the camera" expression. Naturally Jan got his ring into a lovely shape*, whilst mine had to be take away to the vice to be straightened out.

* Honestly, I am really fighting not to have this turn into an innuendo-laden mess, but... it's.. just... so...difficult...

After this, it was time to saw off any extraneous metal:


Then you finally have an actual ring! Well, a piece of metal in the shape of a ring anyway. The next big task is to solder the two ends together to join them. For this, you need highly specialised equipment:


Nothing to say about that. Moving on.


This is me soldering my ring. I got 'normal' glasses because my ring, being gold, didn't glow so brightly as Jan's when heated, so it wouldn't burn the retinas out of my head.

After a mere FOUR HOURS of work, you finally end up with this...


..coupled with a rather large sense of achievement. I made dis - all by my own self! And yes, now you can really see why Jan's took so damn long. IT'S HUGE! In fact it's so huge mine fits snugly inside his!

Now you have the basic shape, it's time to fancypants it up a bit. We start with the filing:


 Basically, it's sandpaper on an electronic stick.


Mine took forever to file, as I was basically terrified of letting the sandpaper touch the ring in case I inadvertently filed the whole thing apart*. Jan's took forever because... well... you know.

* This is IMPOSSIBLE. But still, it's me we're talking about here.

Next, if your nerves haven't been tested enough with all the responsibility of rolling, melting, bending and filing your ring, it's time for the real white-knuckle activity - the stamping. Although this time, my fear wasn't for damaging the ring. Rather it was for damaging the fingers of the poor, poor lady holding the stamp:


LOOK AT THE CONCENTRATION, PEOPLE! "Please God, let me hit the stamp, the stamp, please, let it be the stamp...."  My ring now proudly bears two stamps (one identifying the type of metal and one the stamp of the jeweller) and no-one broke anybody's anythings. Success!

Finally, it's time to bling the ring:


Putting the polish on was one of the most enjoyable parts for me - partly because this piece of drab-looking metal you have been working on all day slowly metamorphoses into a beautiful, shiny piece of precious metal before your eyes, but mainly because it was the one machine I could damn well operate.

And finally, after all the rolling, annealing, hammering, filing, soldering and polishing, you go from this:

To this:


Real shiny wedding rings that look like actual rings even though you made them yourself!

We were super pleased with the results and more than a little bit proud. Wedding rings are obviously of highly sentimental value anyway, but to make your own just feels that little extra bit special. And we had such a lovely, skilled and patient person helping us with each step, and lots of interest from everyone else in the workshop as to how we were going, that it made it for a really enjoyable and interesting day. Jan has decided to opt for the traditional German style of wearing the ring on his right finger, and I have opted to have a bit of bling on mine. So there you are! Wedding rings in 20,000 easy to follow steps!

And just to finish everything off on a high, the jewellers give you a bottle of champagne to celebrate. Which clearly, being people who just love to overstay our welcome, we drank until after the workshop shut!


Dear God, just get these people out of here already!

Many, many thanks to Larsen Jewellery for giving us such a special day. We truly enjoyed all of the experience and would highly recommend it.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Tropical Adventures, part 2

Alright, everyone, I think I have left you stewing over that cliffhanger from the last post for long enough. So strap in for part two of the Oates Family Adventures!

When we left off we had made it through high seas and terror to the tiny Heron Island, which is directly on the reef. This means (1) you can walk into the sea from the beach and immediately start snorkelling on the reef, (2) "the beach" is literally the whole island, and (3) it's rather pretty:

Hello tropical island!
So how, I hear you ask, did you lose your mother on such a ridiculously tiny island? Well...

Not wanting to waste our short time there, we went for a walk to the nearest beach and Jan and I decided to go snorkelling while mom and dad went for a longer walk. So off they went. Ten minutes later, my dad reappears asking if we've seen mom. He had nipped to the loo and then carried on walking but couldn't find her anywhere. We laughed at him - how could you lose someone on this tiny island?! Go and look again, silly daddy. 40 minutes later and he still can't find mom, and has enlisted the help of the staff to perform what must be the Guinness Book of Records tiniest hunt for a human ever. It's at times like this, however, that all those "interest" stories we cover on the TV at work start creeping into you head ("Woman abducted by merman! Sharks grow legs to eat people on land! Jurassic dinosaurs found on tiny island!) and you start to get a bit nervy. Ten minutes after that, the missing mother was found sitting peacefully on another beach wondering what on earth all the fuss is about. It turns out she hadn't heard dad saying he was going to the loo and thought she had just lost sight of him round a corner. So she merrily wended her way around the whole island, before realising what must have happened. She knows only too well the amazing propensity of my father to lose anything and everything (including an incident which involved throwing both rubbish and car keys together into the local tip) and so she had sat down to wait for him, before being "rescued' by a bemused staff member. On the return journey we overhead said member of staff saying it was "the most exciting thing that had happened all week". And that is the sort of thing we cheerfully chalk up as an Oates Family Adventure.

Having located my mother, we then set about trying to calm our nerves by feeding my dad a Margarita cocktail and laughing at the look on his face. Suffice to say he is not a fan. We stopped overnight on the island and had a lovely morning, with more snorkelling time, and a guided walk by mom showing us exactly where she had gone the previous day. Here is me doing my best Ursula Andress impression - or as dad likes to call her, "Ursula Undress".


Please also note the snorkel mask I am wearing. I have indeed inherited my father's genes - I had forgotten my contact lenses, without which snorkelling is an impossibility. Although they had masks with prescription lenses at the resort, my eyesight is so very bad that in the end Jan and the man in the shop had to stick two sets of lenses together with masking tape and then tape them into the mask for me to be able to see anything. It's a really classy look, let me tell you. Jan went scuba diving and maintains it is better than the more traditional barrier reef diving sites, as it's a mere ten minute boat trip and there are way more fish to see. He saw four sharks, turtles, a giant manta ray and a groper fish as well as all the multi-coloured smaller fish.

After a much less eventful return to the mainland, we were off to our next island destination - Fraser Island (K'gari is the Aboriginal name). It is an amazing island, made entirely of sand and yet still supporting a rainforest on it and a dingo population.

Look at the fluffy wuffy ickle doggy
Dingoes are controversial on the island as they have attacked and killed people in the past, since tourists did the wrong thing and fed them, so they became unafraid. Their population was culled almost to destruction, and they suffered greatly (one dingo was found starved, with nothing but a chocolate bar wrapper in his stomach) but they bounced back and the natural balance has been restored. Just don't get out of your jeep to pet them, or - as one rather foolish chef did - go onto the beach at night in the apron you've just finished cutting meat in. Doesn't work out well.

The best thing to do on Fraser Island is drive:
Ahhhh, the open road...
This is us with our tour group for the day. With a choice of all of the stunning views, dad picked outside the toilets for this:


The next best thing to do is swim - in "champagne" if possible. This "champagne" was in fact rather smelly seawater that splashes up behind you and into the rock pool, which has a jacuzzi effect:


What do you mean, look out behind you?!
Oh.
And much fun we had, too. We also swam in a stream and a lake that consisted of rainwater. It was really really soft and pure.
Also, the shipwrecks here are quite pretty. This ship is slooowly sinking into the sand and the bit you can see is only the top deck:


We stopped overnight on Fraser Island, before heading back to the mainland and further down the coast to Noosa, which was a culture shock to say the least. After a week of being surrounded by the peace and beauty of nature (minus the odd screeching cockatoo), suddenly we were in a town full of designer shops, fancy cars and trendy parents. Yack.

We did manage to find a nice nature reserve and were rewarded with our first sighting of a koala in the wild! It was quite a spot, as we were informed only two lived in that area, and it was a pretty big area. But some intense staring at trees finally paid off:

A koala in the wild!
But then it was time to bid farewell to sunny Queensland. We had a fantastic trip, made lots of good memories and stayed in lots of wonderful places. It was great to spend some quality time with my parents and have some Antipodal Adventures with them too. But for now, it was back to the airport and down to Sydney (with some losses of passports thrown in for good measure, of course).

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Tropical adventures

So, after all that non-chronological Christmas craziness, it's waaay back to October and our trip to Queensland with my parents.

We had a lovely trip, starting in the Whitsunday Islands, where Jan and I have been before - on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, where we basically bankrupted ourselves on helicopter rides and boat trips because we were never going to visit there again.  Ahem.  

After a mere hop, skip and two plane rides, we were there and enjoying some serious sunshine. Airlie Beach is a chilled out town, with some nice restaurants and beautiful views to the islands, provided you are willing to sweat out every tiny droplet of water in your body to climb a steep hill to look.  We were most definitely NOT willing to do that - only... well... I managed to book us a hotel at the top of one of the steepest hills in town. Way to go, me! Welcome to Australia, 70-year-old parents! Let's go street hiking in 35 degree weather! It was kind of worth it though:

Chilling out in our hotel pool

We took a taxi up after the first trek. 

We booked ourselves on a boat trip for our second day there, which took us around the islands, stopping off at Whitehaven Beach for a BBQ picnic and Whitsunday Island for some scenic views:

Views from Whitsunday Island

We came, we saw, we took a commemorative photo

Whitehaven Beach - the sand squeaks between your toes, it's so fine!

No, my dad isn't wearing a shirt in the last picture - it's the English complexion abroad! 

On Sunday, we took our once-in-a-lifetime (again) flight over the islands and out to the reef. I have to say, this is the best way to really get excellent views of the Great Barrier Reef, although typically the men were way more excited about the landing and taking off in the seaplane side of things:

Someone is rather excited.... Can you guess who it is yet?!

This is Heart Reef. Romantic innit. 

Views from the plane

We have a bazillion more pictures of these views, so click here if you want more eye-boggling imagery. Suffice to say, no one was disappointed with that excursion!

In fact some of us were so excited, we had to go up again! Although less for the stunning views and more for the stomach-churning, goggle wearing, 70-year-old plane flying aerial trickery:

That magnificent man in his flying machine

Here we go loop-de-loop!

I mean, just cos you have to wind the plane up by the front propeller and a rubber band, it doesn't mean it's dangerously out-of-date or anything...

After three days of fun it was time to leave Airlie, and head down the coast in search of another island. So we packed up, hit the road and 20 mins later, I navigated Jan in the completely wrong direction and we ended up on a coffee plantation. Which is completely the RIGHT turn of events, if you ask me...

Coffee fresh from the plantation

We stopped at a fantastic old bed and breakfast that night, in a small town called Gladstone, and next morning, we set off by boat to our next destination - Heron Island:

No idea what's coming...

Pay attention to the completely innocent, unsuspecting looks on our faces. This was approximately half an hour before we were subjected to the most traumatic boat trip I have ever taken. Have you ever seen the movie, The Perfect Storm? Yeah. If you haven't, then imagine, if you will, being stuck in a catamaran on open sea in the middle of a HUGE storm for TWO HOURS. With really high waves hitting the windows. And schoolchildren*. Vomiting. And your 70-year-old parents. Who came to see you and enjoy the SUN and BLUE SKIES and not TO DIE AT SEA. Me? I buried myself in my seat and gripped the arm rests for all I was worth. My mom? Took out her teeth in case she was sick. My dad? Tried to cheer us up with jokes. Jan? Sat on the UPPER DECK for the ENTIRE trip and thought it was ace.

* Inside the catamaran with us, I mean. Not hitting the windows.

Shaking and weak, we arrived on Heron Island, and wished all the poor souls booked on the return trip good luck. We rushed to the bar for the complimentary cocktail we had been promised. I finally broke down when I realised that, after managing to brave two hours of maritime mayhem, THERE WAS NO ALCOHOL IN THE GODDAM COCKTAILS.

Next time on the blog: how we lose my mother on the smallest island ever! Will we make it back to the mainland without dying? How we bathed in pools of champagne! Our rarest animal spot yet!

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas!


Deck the halls with boughs of fake tree, 
Fa la la la la, la la la la.



Tis the season to be (a bit too) jolly, 
Fa la la la la, la la la la.


Don we now our gay apparel, 
Fa la la, la la la, la la la. 


Troll the Coogee Christmas carol, 
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

I feel this needs further info - there was a carol concert by the beach in our suburb of Coogee.  Just so ya know.

See the blazing Yule* before us, 
Fa la la la la, la la la la.
* Sun 


Strike the harp and join the chorus. 
Fa la la la la, la la la la. 


Follow me in merry (wine) measure, 
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

While I tell of Yule tide treasure*, 
Fa la la la la, la la la la. 

* Food. Food is precious, like treasure.

Christmas couscous! I realise it's not exactly the best food photo ever, but I was too busy eating it to care...

Fast away the old year passes, 
Fa la la la la, la la la la. 
Hail the new, ye lads and lasses, 
Fa la la la la, la la la la.



Janta Klaas says you'd better have a good 2015, or he's coming at you with the Blue Steel...

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!