Saturday, 26 December 2009

A Bonza Crimbo Down Under

As Boxing Day draws to a close, I am pleased to be able to report that our first Australian Christmas lived up to all expectations – the shrimps were barbied, the beach was visited and the Yute was driven. Ok, not the last part, but our festive celebrations had a distinct Australian flavour at least.

We were a party of seven for the day – Tom and I, plus his parents Sue and Peter, their ‘adopted’ (not legally) daughter Emma, and finally Emma’s friend Lynne with son Jake. We were determined to take this opportunity to add an Australian flavour to Christmas, but our day still reflected some well know British festive traditions - we ate excessive amounts, went for an afternoon walk and opened presents. Instead of the Queen’s speech and the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas special, we shared a game of rounders on the beach, and a quick paddle in the bay – with the copious amounts of floating jelly fish and a strong wind dampening my desire to take a Christmas Day dip.

Secret Santa visited the Lister-Hague household and each of us bought a present for under $10 to exchange with another guest. Tom and I thought this would give a focal point to the day, and little did we know that Peter would get hours of enjoyment guessing and then second guessing who was buying for who. Of course he had worked it out by the time we came to exchange presents, but hadn’t spotted that I had bought his gift whilst out shopping with him! Tom and I also exchanged more significant gifts, and with Tiger Woods leaving a gap on the world golf circuit, I bought him some golf lessons to brush up his skills (on the golf course only!).

Food wise, there was no turkey in sight and we served a meat and fish direct from the BBQ on our balcony, with a selection of salads and breads on the side. We were so excited about cooking “shrimp on the Barbie” that I queued for 30 minutes at the fish market to buy the little blighters! Pudding was a choice of strawberry and Turkish delight trifle or mini-chocolate puddings. See photo of trifle below – I didn’t take a photo of the chocolate puddings because none of us made it past the trifle! We all really enjoyed the meal, and so did our neighbours across the road, who we caught trying out their new binoculars in the direction of our flat! We all started waving and before long they were waving back and we all got on with our Christmas meals undisturbed!

As our Christmas Day drew to a close, the UK woke up to their Christmas morning. We Skyped Tom’s sisters, Claire and Anna, so that we could watch their children open their Christmas presents from us. It was so lovely to see the looks on their faces as they opened their gifts, and it really made us feel a little bit less than 10,000 miles away. Rosie (aged 6) was, as usual, particularly expressive!

Today the men + Emma have been to the Boxing Day Test, and Sue and I have been to a place where we feel more at home – the sales! I had a fantastic haul and got some great bargains – proof that shopping skills can traverse the world!

Fun on the beach near our flat

mmm... trifle!

Part of the Christmas Day spread...

Secret Santa has arrived!

Our homemade tree, adored with gifts!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Let the festive preparations commence!

Whilst the UK enjoys / suffers freezing temparatures and snow in the run up to Christmas, we are also busy preparing for the festive period. I feel like I need to make an additional effort in order to get into the festive spirit this year, as the warm weather, whilst beautiful, doesn't contribute (and in fact rather detracts!) from that Christmas feeling!

This is the first year that Tom and I will be hosting Christmas Day, and there will be a party of seven of us here in Melbourne. I have been decorating the flat and have had lots of fun creating our own Christmas tree from twigs collected from the Dandenong forest. I spray painted them silver and added red and silver baubles, which I think creates quite a nice effect, albeit rather different from a traditional green tree. I hope the landlady doesn't notice the slightly silver sparkle that our balcony now has after my spray painting episode!

In what Tom could only describe as his nightmare before Christmas, I visited Melbourne's only 22,000 square foot Christmas Warehouse to purchase our decorations. Luckily for him I went alone, and whilst this was good for Tom's sanity it wasn't so good for his bank balance! He has been very tolerant of my obsession with scouring Melbourne for the best red baubles available, only to go and buy the tackiest ones possible from the warehouse of Christmas nightmares.

We have a large collection of Christmas cards that many of you have sent from the UK - thank you so much for making the effort to send cards to Australia and we really appreciate you thinking of us at Christmas. We are planning a BBQ on Christmas Day, and I hope you're thinking of us then too as you're all cold and stuffed with turkey!

I have also stepped into baking overdrive and made lots of Christmas edible-indulgences to see us through the festive period. I never really realise how much I like mince pies until I take my first bite, then after Christmas is over I promptly forget about them again for another 11 and half months. Christmas baking is of course just really an excuse for me to re-stock our kitchen with lots of new kitchen gadgets. I wish I had shipped more from the UK, as I do feel as if I'm buying duplicates of things that are sitting in a box back home, but given my love of kitchen shops I don't mind! Tom thinks I'm attracted to anything plastic.. I wish he thought I desired more sparkly things however!!

Here are some photos of us getting into the festive spirit:

Christmas tree looking a bit spindly! (I promise it looks better in real life!)

A little bit of tinsel goes a long way in Australia!

Mince pices in front of the tree

Chocolate muffins which got turned upside down and smothered in icing to look like little Christmas puddings! They looked better than they tasted if I'm honest.

Getting good use of my silicone bakeware - expensive but it did three rounds of baked goods this Sunday alone!

Monday, 14 December 2009

Full House

Today I’ve moved one step closer to becoming a ‘local’ – by driving without the sat nav! I made it all the way to work and back without the need for directions, and even managed a detour to Bunnings Warehouse (that’s B&Q to you) without getting lost. Given my car park antics of three weeks ago, this really is progress in my automotive abilities! In another driving first, I was also pulled over by the police and breathalysed on Saturday night – thankfully they weren’t testing for Diet Coke consumption. (Note from Tom: Katie was not pulled over due to the quality of her driving, it was a random Police check!)

Right now we’ve just finished what I hope will be a very typical Aussie day for me and Tom. A good day at work for both of us with a prompt finish, home for a snack then off to the gym to get in some time on the treadmill before returning home for a dinner whilst the sun sets. Unfortunately today we are running a bit behind and the sun has already set, so instead of cooking the shrimps on the BBQ, Tom is cooking them on the griddle on the hob (I blame my Bunnings detour for this tardiness, and given my mum’s obsession with Homebase I’m afraid I just can’t help shopping for home improvement items – it’s in my blood!).

Anyway, more about the past week – it’s been a great one! Firstly my ankle recovered – after much rest on Monday and Tuesday I was limping around and then back to normal in no time. Secondly, this week marked the arrival of our first (and second and third!) set of visitors, which we’ve been looking forward to for weeks.

Sue and Peter (Tom’s parents) arrived on Tuesday evening, and we were really pleased to be able to go to the airport to meet them. They had already been travelling for 10 days by the time they reached us, having taken in Singapore and Perth. We were really excited to show them our flat and catch up on all their news – but before we could blink, the next set of visitors arrived! Peter’s cousin Merryl flew in from Brisbane the same night, and the next day Tom’s almost-sister Emma (long story) arrived via train from Perth. Ironically she left Perth two days before Sue and Peter and arrived one day later (moral – take a plane, not a train).
So, on Wednesday night we had a houseful and cooked dinner for the whole clan. We were blessed with a fantastic sunset and the food went down a storm – a really great evening.

On Thursday night we all went for dinner in Lygon Street – the Italian district. The pasta was fantastic but it was the desserts that really caught my eye. Tom and I shared a very elegant ice cream swan (see photos below), and the menu also included a rather dubious reference to a fruit dessert, served with “an appropriate sauce”... as opposed to what? An inappropriate sauce? Sue ordered it out of the curiosity, and just so you know, she didn’t rate the sauce!

Tom and I were flagging by Friday, by there was no rest in sight! We took Sue and Peter to the airport for the Tasmanian leg of their trip (they’ll be back with us next week) and in the evening Tom went for drinks with Emma and I had my work Christmas party! It wasn’t lawn bowls this time, so there was no health and safety assessment required for fear of me repeating my ankle injury. This time it was a big boozy night out at the famous Crown venue in the city. We had a fantastic ballroom, wonderful food and a great band – the fact that I only knew about 10 people out of a 1000 made it a bit difficult, but I’m sure it will be easier next year!

At the risk of this sounding a bit repetitive and diary-like, I’m now going to tell you what we did on Saturday.. we drove to the Dandenong ranges with Merryl. This trip is worth a mention just because I had the best pizza that I’ve found to date in Australia, and it is a real shame it’s a 50 minute drive from our flat. On second thoughts, it’s probably not a shame for my hips. By taking a walk in the forest, Merryl demonstrated that she is at least ten times fitter than me, despite being a generation older. Perhaps that has something to do with her volume of pizza consumption compared to mine. She took Tom and I to the most fabulous Greek restaurant in the evening – we will definitely be returning there and I thank you very much for the recommendation Merryl!

This week is my last week at work and I will be decorating the flat for Christmas. I still haven’t taken proper photos when it’s tidy so I’ll have to wait a bit longer before I post some. Here are a selection of pictures from the week however...

One of our sunsets

Merryl walking in the Dandenong Ranges

Tom and I taking in the view to the North in the Dandenongs

Station Pier is usually host to the Spirit of Tasmania - on Saturday the pier was shared with two huge cruise liners however!

Dinner with the Lister/Peterson/Roache clan


Our dining area, sea in background, blinds halfway down

Our lounge/dining area

Yachts on the water on a summer's evening

Ice cream swan!

One more sunset...

Friday, 11 December 2009

Thank you on this special anniversary!

Today, 11th December, is exactly one year since The Big Pink Ticket draw. This was a charity raffle organised by me and Tom, along with his sister Anna and our good friend Sally. Hundreds of you bought tickets, dozens of you sold them, and a few of you won a prize! With all of this help, we raised £9,000 for Cancer Research UK - a totally unexpected sum.

Just before we left for Australia, we were delighted to be recognised in the annual Cancer Reseach UK Flame of Hope awards. Obtaining a 'highly commended' certificate in the awards category for 'Oustanding Achievement'. I wanted to share this with you all - without whom we would never have raised so much money!

One year on, we'd like to thank you all for your generosity when supporting The Big Pink Ticket. We will continue to support Cancer Research UK, but promise not to ask you to hand over any more of your hard earned cash for a little while!

Saturday, 5 December 2009

It's hard to look good on crutches

I have somewhat more time than usual to devote to my blog readers this week, due to an injury of unknown cause to my right ankle. As a result I am under doctor’s orders to “ice and elevate” and consequently am missing out on a lot of the fun things (shopping!) that I had planned for this weekend.

I believe that the mystery injury may have occurred during my office Christmas party on Thursday afternoon, at Albert Park Lawn Bowls Club. Rather ironic really, given that bowls is probably the most sedate activity that could have been selected for the “do”, but it was shortly after my few games on the green that the pain arose. Two days later and I have very limited movement in my foot and can’t put any weight on it. Anyway, to cut a long story short after 4 hours in A&E and 3 x-rays, I find myself with inflammation but no broken bones, and instructions to ice my ankle and keep my weight off it. To help me with that part, the hospital took $285 from my purse. How kind?!

Anyway, on to some better news – our new apartment! After moving in last Sunday we have really enjoyed our first week here. The most exciting time fell on Tuesday when our shipping was delivered! We waved goodbye to several boxes of our clothes and household items on 11th September, and were very happy to receive it safe and sound on the 1st December. When I saw the huge dent in the side of the TV box as it was unloaded from the lorry, my heart sank a bit. I knew it would be rough on the seas but had high hopes for our indestructible Panasonic . I need not have worried, as it was only superficial box damage and all was well inside. This allowed us to discover the fact that UK televisions can’t actually pick up Australian audio transmissions! Who needs sound on their TV shows anyway... (Tom might argue that we actually don’t need sound, given my ability to talk through anything he wants to listen to!)

After a mammoth unpacking session, the only item that was broken was a single wine glass. We were very lucky. Tom was the luckiest though – he left for work one September day and when he came back everything was packed and gone. Similarly, he left for work last Tuesday and when he came home everything had arrived and been unpacked. Lucky man I say!
Seriously though, we both worked very hard to get everything straight and looking nice. We’ve made a few shopping trips to buy essentials and uttered a few expletives trying to build the cheapest chest of drawers Ikea could provide (missing our Malm drawers Di!). We now have a clean and tidy two bedrooms, two bathrooms, laundry and kitchen/lounge/diner. We also have a nice big sunny balcony and the piece de resistance – a walk THROUGH wardrobe! The corridor from the master bedroom to the en-suite is lined with hanging rails and it’s like a girls dream come true for me. For all of you Michael Macintyre fans out there, you'll be pleased to knew that Tom already has a well established 'man drawer'. I believe the contents were shipped directly from the UK, so will be of even less use here!

The views from our bedrooms and living space is gorgeous – out across Port Philip Bay and as I type this I’m watching the sailing boats lapping up the breeze and sunshine glistening on the water. There are two downsides to our location however – firstly we are on quite a busy road and so get traffic / pub noise. Secondly we are 5 floors above a pizza restaurant and the smell is INCREDIBLE! Those of you that know me well will recognise that this presents a huge temptation for me! Pizza is the only food that I can eat in unlimited quantities, and I’m using all of my willpower to resist the temptation right now!

After the excitement of last week, this week is going to be even better, because we have family arriving! Peter and Sue (Tom’s parents) are now officially on Australian soil – currently in Perth, but arriving in Melbourne on Tuesday evening. I hope my ankle will be better so that I can drive to the airport as chauffeur! We also have Merryl arriving on the same day, and then Emma Roache the following day. It is sure to be a great week. Oh, and we are getting broadband installed too!

I hope that many of you have received our Christmas cards with our new address details. Thank you to all of you who emailed when you got them! It was also really lovely to speak to Em and Marc this week and I look forward to Skyping again soon!

Until next week, happy December to you all!

My x-rays! Tom won't let me frame them :-( Probably a good thing...

Tom demonstrating that he's much better on crutches than I am!

Katie at lawn bowls... right foot looks fine there to me!

The chaos that descended upon our apartment when our shipping arrived.

The removal guy wanted to pose for a photo!