Friday, November 13, 2015

Our trip to the Camberwell Market

Spring has sprung in Melbourne and the weather has been really...interesting. It vacillates between amazingly beautiful sunshine and blue skies, and apocalyptic rainstorms. But there have been enough wonderful sunny days lately that I'm beginning to think Melbourne's reputation as a perpetually grey, rainy city is a nasty rumor.

One such wonderful weather day was last weekend and since the Mister and I have been spending a LOT of time just sitting around our apartment since the school semester ended, we decided to get out and see something. A friend of ours had booked a stall at a Sunday market so we thought we'd pop over and say hello.

The Camberwell Sunday Market is an institution among Melbournian flea market enthusiasts. It is sponsored by the local Rotary Club and is held in the parking lot of a shopping center close to the city. It is easily searchable on Google maps, but after Ty and I got off the tram, we were maybe 10 feet from the red locator on the map but all we saw was a busy street. Till Tyler spotted an unassuming sign spray painted at the opening of an alley. "Market."

"Think it might be that way?" Tyler said.

I must confess that the Mister and I are not big flea market/garage sale/consignment sale/clothing swap patrons. None of the clothes will ever fit us (especially me, who hasn't seen a single digit on her clothing tags since seventh grade), and since we pack up and move every two to three years, unless the interesting tchotchke is so unique that it can't be resisted, I just don't get a rise out of finding a one-of-a-kind fridge magnet or hair barrette.

I completely understand the appeal, and if I had a permanent residence I would Pinterest the crap out of this souvenir spoon collection and find a way to work the dismembered doll leg in there, too. 
Having immunity to used goods came in handy on Sunday because Ty and I need to be pinching our pennies until we can find more steady work, so this outing was a temptation-free interaction with the outside world. And boy did the outside world ever show up!!

I was very impressed with the hubs and how he handled the whole situation. He normally doesn't like to be around big crowds, but he was indulging me because I love markets like this and just looking at all the cool stuff, especially when it is people's collections. I like to see the kinds of things people hoard collect and this market was not short of eclectic collectables.

We did find a couple of stalls that had these ADORABLE kangaroo and koala bear bookends that they were trying to pass off as vintage treasures. I immediately found at least 4 boutiques selling the same mass-produced-last-week-but-made-to-look-old marsupials online through a quick google search, so I'll keep that knowledge in my back pocket as a post-first-big-payday gift to myself. Although one stall was selling them for $75 like many of the websites I found, but another stall had them for $25, so here's hoping that second guy is there the next time I hit up the market. I think that's what flea market shoppers call "the joy of the hunt," but frankly this is why I usually stick to stores: I know what I can find and where I can find it when I want to find it.

But I digress. I'm making it sound like we had a miserable time at the Camberwell Market, but that's not true at all. I love people watching and window shopping and, on days like last Sunday, being outside so it was a delightful morning outing.

There were even buskers, like this trombone quartet called "The Mel-bones."
At the end of the morning, we saw our friend who had rented a stall from afar, but she was super busy with shoppers, so we just said hi in spirit. We left the market with a $1 book purchased by Tyler and headed to the Target at the nearby shopping center for a glamorous purchase of shampoo and cat litter. It doesn't get more thrilling than this, folks. I'm sad to disappoint those of you who imagine our lives to be exotic and exciting in the Land Down Under. Sometimes the expat-turned-grad-student life finds you as a thirty-something discovering joy in a Sunday spent at the flea market with the man you love.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Vicariously yours,

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The race that stops a nation

Last week I got to experience a uniquely Melbourne event: The Melbourne Cup.

The grand entrance to the Flemington Racecourse, where the Melbourne Cup is held. 

I'd never heard of the Cup before we decided to move to Melbourne and all I really knew about it when we got here was that it was a horse race. We have those at home, and while I am not in the target socioeconomic demographic for the sport, I understood all the pomp and circumstance that goes along with horse sports. It's a sport with a rich history and even more rich patrons and frankly I didn't understand the appeal. Here, the Cup is a huge deal, so much so that half the country gets a day off from work to watch it, and folks come from all over to attend the events.

Tyler and I haven't miraculously struck it rich in this gold town, so I didn't attend the Melbourne Cup as a patron. No, no. I was serving the food to the rich patrons. I got a job working with a catering company that hosts one of the marquees at the racecourse, but it got me a front row seat (well, really it was more up-the-hill-and-in-a-tent seat) to the action and I didn't even have to worry about my outfit!

Actually, I was a little worried about my outfit because the catering company had very specific requirements for our uniform, the most stressful of them being the required "donut bun" my hair had to be in before arriving to the job site.

Donut bun!? I didn't even know that was a thing! I googled it and found all kinds of YouTube tutorials and let me tell you this is not a hair style for curly girls, especially the way this company wanted it: smooth, sleek, no bumps or fly-aways. They do not speak my hair's language. So a few days before the Cup Carnival began I had a practice round. 

nailed it. 
Eventually I got the hang of it and with the help of approximately 17 bobby pins, the hair portion of my uniform was a success. The other funny part about the uniform was that the company wanted all the girls to have the same "signature" look, so make up artists did our make up every morning before going on the floor. 

Tyler says this photo makes it look like I got a DUI in my minivan on my way to soccer practice. He loves me.

Yikes. I personally thought I looked like a tired Vegas lounge singer with the heavy eye liner, orange-y bronzer, and bright red lips...but what does it matter, I got paid.

Anyway, while the Melbourne Cup is just one single race, the whole event lasted a week and incorporated four days full of racing: Derby Day (pronounced "Darby Day" like some kind of pirate...sadly no pirates were involved in the festivities), Cup Day (the Big Day), Oaks Day, and Stakes Day. Each day had its own theme, signature flower, and color scheme for the race-goers to observe. Tired Vegas was my theme for all four days. 

Oh how I wish I could have taken photos of all the hats and the fancy outfits and the less-than-fancy outfits, but I was running around like crazy the minute the doors opened until the last guest was escorted out. Each day of the Carnival brought very different groups with unique dynamics. Derby Day's crowd was young, fun-loving, and not shy about the bottomless drinks and open bar. They were well behaved and the friendliest of all the groups, but while the rest of the Carnival involved groups coming in and making polite conversation while snapping posed photos, Derby Day's group beelined it to the bar. They were really fun! 

Cup Day was the oldest crowd and as such they were more focused on propriety. The weather on Cup Day was AMAZING, so the crowd was amicable, just not overly friendly. It was really cool to get to be at the racecourse for the Cup because this year the winner was a horse that was completely unexpected to win (100 to 1 odds) being jockeyed by the first ever female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup. Her strapper (which I learned is the word for the guy that looks after the racehorses and is a term primarily used in Australia) was her brother, Stevie, who has Downs Syndrome, so the media wasn't short on inspirational stories that week. 

The amazing view of downtown Melbourne from the tent. The racecourse is in the foreground. 

The other two days, Oaks and Stakes, were relatively uneventful with the exception of the massive downpour and apparent tornado that supposedly "struck" Melbourne on Oaks Day, though I was none the wiser because I was in the middle of entree service when it was happening. The crowds were grumpy on Oaks Day (likely because of all the rain) and just rowdy on Stakes Day, which is funny because it is supposed to be the family-centered day at the races. There were no kids in our tent, but lots of childish behavior! 

By the end of the day it was a little less classy and a little more horse's-ass-y. Ba-dum-cha! See what I did there?
I enjoyed being back in the food & bev scene, having taken about 10 years off since I started teaching. Being an American in Australia is a major ego boost because, funnily enough, Australians love our accents just as much as we love theirs, so I had a lot of guests strike up a conversation with me just to hear me talk. I was really happy with the number of people that said, "Oh I love Nashville!" when I told them where I am from. Thank you, Mayor Dean, for putting our city on the map for international travellers! I no longer have to say, "Umm...have you heard of Miley Cyrus?" when people ask if any famous people share the same hometown. 

Hopefully all these shifts will result in the catering company booking me on for more events because, frankly, Tyler and I could use the cash and we have four long months before grad school starts back up and boredom is quickly setting in.

Vicariously yours,

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

AFL Grand Final 2015: A Very Australian Afternoon

I apologize because I am way behind with informing my tens of readers about this very Australian event that the Mister and I "attended" several weeks ago.

On October 3, Australians were tuned to their sets for this year's AFL Grand Final. Australian football (footy) is NOT like American football, not even a little bit, but like American football, Australians have a team and they are fiercely loyal to that team throughout the season. Unlike American football fans, though, footy fans don't necessarily choose their teams according to their geographical location or the location of their hometown. As soon as we landed we were asked "How long have you been here? Which footy team do you support?" by almost every Australian we met. Since I had no clue Australian football even existed before July 19, and Tyler had only just started his research before we moved, we had no idea which team we went for (though we quickly learned not to say we root for anyone because here "root" is colloquial for a VERY different activity). Essentially you choose your team at random. Some people support the underdogs, some stick to familial ties, other just like the team or a key player and that's how they choose.

Anyway, Grand Final time comes around and I still have no idea how the game is played but we figured since the big game was happening in Melbourne we couldn't miss this opportunity to hang with the locals. Here's what I know about footy after watching the game:

1. It is played on a cricket oval. The game was held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG or "The G"), which is one of lots of stadiums in the Richmond area of the city. Cricket grounds are ovals, and I guessed since there was a plethora of cricket grounds in this British colony, the locals made use of what they had when they invented this game. Here's the confusing part: There is no standard size for cricket grounds, so some are larger than others which means each game of AFL looks different.

2. It is essentially an elaborate game of keep-away. That's the best I can get from the many minutes I watched. It honestly looks like a game that was invented on a playground by some kids with nothing but a rugby ball and a LOT of energy to burn. The players never. stop. running. And there is so much JUMPING! The players are Amazonian, their legs have to be so long to keep up with the competition!

And that's it! That's all I could surmise. Ok, I gleaned something about different points being awarded for the ball being kicked through one of the FOUR uprights as opposed to rolling through...and that none of the coaches are on the field, instead having guys in pink shirts run around on the field with the players yelling instructions sent to them through earpieces, but that's it! If you want the details and a bit of AFL history and have 30 minutes to spare, here is a handy video from the AFL.

What I really enjoyed about the day was the company we kept and getting to see the old familiar sight of sports fans in a bar cheering on their team. We were at a bar only a few blocks from the MCG, so the excitement of the game was palpable and it was really cool to be so close to the action. Even though the rules were impossible for me to decipher, sports fans are the same everywhere and easy to read. We stood around in this massive-for-being-in-the-city beer garden, yelling at the screen from time to time and just enjoying meeting new friends.

Just like many NFL fans, Australians like to drink with their sports, and the Grand Final was no exception. Everyone was very well behaved, and I especially enjoyed the group standing behind us that had their own version of a game of Wizard Staff going on where they collectively built a tower of their beer cups as the afternoon progressed.

Tyler and I aren't big drinkers, but we joined our friends for an obligatory post-binge meal of Mexican goodness at a restaurant around the corner from the bar before catching the train home with a bunch of sweaty, tired AFL fans.

Even though it was just over a month ago, so much has changed since the Grand Final in Australia. Summer is creeping up on us here and Ty and I have already finished our first semester of grad school! It's crazy how different things are, yet somethings are very much the same.

Vicariously yours,

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


I'm such a neglectful cat owner! I haven't blogged about Kitty's grand adventure to Australia! Well, as far as I know the actual journey was uneventful, even though I was so stressed about her flying by herself I imagined all kinds of mishaps that thankfully didn't happen.

Let me start from the beginning.

Yes, we are those crazy cat people that shipped our cat from the Middle East to Australia. We own it. Judge us all you like. We couldn't leave our sweet girl behind! There is already a surplus of cats that need a home in Kuwait and if we couldn't find friends to take her we knew an overcrowded shelter would likely have to put her down eventually and that is just silly.

Yes, is was extremely expensive, but she's my baby! She's worth it.

Yes, the process is very long and drawn out, but as everyone that heard the tale of Jonny Depp's pampered puppies can attest, Australia doesn't mess around when it comes to animal immigration so we were aware of what we were getting ourselves into.

Here's the breakdown of the cat immigration process for Australia:

Step 1: Get your cat vaccinated. Australia is one of a few countries that has never had a case of rabies, so they are VERY strict about your cat having immunity before arriving in the country. Seven months before she was even allowed to travel, Kitty had to be vaccinated, we had to wait 30 days to test for immunity, and once her blood tests came back positive (or negative? Whatever result we needed to get the green light), THEN we could apply for a pet import permit.

Step 2: Pay an ungodly amount of money for the import permit. Alright, so the permit itself was only a few hundred dollars Australian, but that's still a lot of money! This step was really stressful for me because the government website is very clear that if any part of the permit was incorrect or left blank, the cat would be euthanized on arrival! I physically gasped when I read that and was very paranoid about getting every detail correct.

Step 3: Pay another ungodly amount of money for your cat's flight to Australia for 6 months after the immunization tests have come back. I was a doofus and didn't get this process started early enough (partly because it took forever for us to get accepted to grad school so I wasn't sure if we were going to be shipping her to Australia or the US) so she got booked on a flight in September and didn't travel with us to Oz. Since we couldn't check her as excess luggage and she would be flying alone, we had to book her as cargo which was REALLY STINKIN' EXPENSIVE! Like thousands of dollars expensive.

I repeat: she. is. worth. it.

Step 4: Pay yet even more money to book your cat a 10 day stay in quarantine after she arrives. Again, it cost over a thousand dollars for this required stay, but I'm told that it is down from 60 days as early as last year, so I'll take it!

Step 5: Wait. We got the import permit and flights and everything booked way back in March, and we didn't leave Kuwait until June so we had plenty of time to prepare ourselves mentally for leaving her for the summer.

Step 6: Locate a cat nanny for the summer (Philo, our cleaning lady, was amazing and checked on her every day. Even when she was hospitalized with a sickness for a couple days she sent someone to make sure our Kitty was ok), then sucker a couple of friends into watching your cat after the summer is over (Thanks Jo and Megan!!).

The snapchat sent to us by our neighbor Jo right after we left for the summer. Kitty was hiding in the closet.
Step 7: Bawl your eyes out when you have to leave your cat for the summer and you won't see her for FOUR MONTHS. I think the emotions of packing up our lives and leaving our friends and amazing neighbor in Kuwait also had some influence on the waterworks, too.

Step 8: Obsessively track your cat's travel progress. She had to go for two more visits to the vet to check for parasites and something else, then she was loaded under a plane for her first leg to Dubai.

A picture sent to us from Emma who was so wonderful to take her to both the vet visits. I'm so glad she understood how desperate I was to see that sweet face. 
In Dubai she had an 8 hour layover where I am told she was checked in to a pet hotel where she had a private room to roam around in, including a litter box, and was able to have some food before the LONG 15 hour flight to Melbourne. When she arrived she was taken directly to the quarantine facility, and I was told I would get an arrival email once she'd been checked by a vet at the facility. Well she landed at 5:30 in the morning and by 9am I still hadn't heard anything from the facility so I went into panic mode: my cat had been lost, she had been forgotten in Dubai, she was dead and they weren't telling me, she was loaded onto the wrong flight and was somewhere in Africa....all the worst case scenarios popped into my head so I tracked down the number for the loading bay at the airport and was that crazy cat lady calling to make sure my girl had arrived.

"You're the lady with the cat? Oh yeah, she's here. She is making sure everyone knows she is here," the lady said. Tee hee. Kitty doesn't like to be in a carrier...and I imagine at that point she had to pee, so she was probably just asking to be let out to find the nearest litter box!

Step 9: Wait some more. There are no visits allowed at the quarantine facility, so I just had to wait for 10 days until we could spring her from kitty jail.

Step 10: Prison break. Ok, the entire pick up process was SO not difficult. I was afraid we would have a snaffu because the day of her pick up was a government holiday, but the facility was still open and we had a one hour window to arrive and pick her up. 

Step 11: Apologize several times on the train ride home for your vocal cat disrupting everyone's commute. Every time the train doors opened, Kitty would start another chorus of her pitiful little mews and people would look around bewildered.

Most people didn't mind her being so vocal and everyone knows about the quarantine process for this country so when we said we'd just picked her up they were very sympathetic.

Step 12: Give your cat time to get over it and stop punishing your for leaving her alone for four months.

She hid under the headboard of our bed for a couple of days before resuming her usual activities of sleeping in my laundry, scratching the couch, and waking us up in the morning by purring on our chests until we get up and feed her.

Everything is back to normal now, and I think Kitty likes her new home. Everyone here is really surprised when we tell them that she came over with us from the Middle East, but once they get their first snuggle they understand why we just couldn't leave this sweet girl behind.

Vicariously yours,

Monday, November 9, 2015

Kangaroo meat: Doesn't taste like chicken!

Even though it's available in the grocery stores, Tyler and I hadn't had kangaroo meat until the other day when our friend invited us over for a truly Australian dinner.

Any meal with our friend and her family is delightful and they all patiently endure our endless questions about Australian culture and comparisons of Australian English to American, so we were really excited when she proposed a kangaroo steak dinner. Kangaroo meat is very lean and doesn't need more than a little salt and pepper and a little grilling to be delicious.

Kangaroos are the metaphorical deer of Australia in that they are all over the place and are often a nuisance to farmers so 'roo hunting is licensed and encouraged to cull the herd. I half expected the meat to taste like venison, but it didn't! It is best cooked medium rare and was not a game-y as I thought it would be, in fact I think it would be a great substitute for beef.

In a couple week we're going with this same friend to a wildlife sanctuary to see some LIVE kangaroos! I'm so excited to get the obligatory kangaroo selfie that everyone who visits Australia has to have.

Vicariously yours,