Archive for May, 2011

Respect

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

I know I haven’t written in awhile… and I’m currently in the process of writing a nice long write-up about the epicness of my school’s Sports Day, but I have to break that for one of the nicest comments I’ve received from a student.

Thursdays are my horrible days. I have my two worst classes back-to-back first and second period. In most of my classes my students are fairly low level but I don’t mind… while it does make certain aspects of classes difficult, it also makes me feel more needed and like I’m making more of an impact. However if a student can’t understand anything that I’m saying, that means that they really have to try and focus. There’s only so much I can teach, if my class is sleeping, constantly chatting, throwing socks, making paper airplanes, getting into fights and throwing each other into headlocks, or having screaming tantrums (this has all happened). I can deal with low levels, and I can deal with behavior problems, the issue is when students have both and also don’t respect me as a teacher.

This morning I went to my first class (who seem to alternate from week to week between comatose and pixie-stick-injesting kindergarteners) to find that not only were they incredibly active today but the computer was missing. That’s right, not broken, but missing. I’m still not sure where it went and if I’ll ever get it back. Good thing my lesson was mostly tech-free this week…

After that super special class I was on my way to my other difficult class which normally consists of 25 hyper-active  first-grade boys (today they were practically catatonic, very strange. Also the computer was broken. Not missing, just broken) when I ran into one the “I miss you so much(e)” boy, who is one of my favorite students (I mean what? I don’t have favorites, hrum hrum hrum) and the class captain for my advanced second-grade class.

I Miss You So Much(e) Boy: “Hi teacher!”
Emily Teacher: “Hi!”
IMYSM(e): “I miss you so much(e)! I have not seen you for a long-long time”
ET: “I know! It is sad. However I will teach your class tomorrow!”
IMYSM(e): “Yes I know. I am inspire by your class. I wish we have your class everyday.”
ET: “You know what? I wish I had your class everyday too. Thank you, I needed that.”
IMYSM(e): “Bye teacher!”
ET: “Bye! Have a good day!”

Soft, Cuddly, and Tasty

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

On top of Justin’s Australian to do list:  pet a kangaroo.

In a first attempt of meeting this goal we had gone to the Aquarium and Wildlife Park in Darling Harbor.  The animals they had there had all looked very sad, and the only ones you could actually interact with were the koalas, and you could only do that if you purchased a 15$ photo which we were not inclined to do. The kangaroos there looked especially cramped as there were about nine of them in one habitat that was quite small. After seeing that I told Justin that for a real marsupial experience we needed to go to Featherdale Wildlife Park, where I had been during orientation. So on Sunday and took the train from central station to Blacktown, a suburb of Sydney that is about 30 minutes outside of the city to do this.

Once we arrived we bought our tickets, the first exhibit we walked through was the wallaby habitat. Justin was absolutely elated to see these hopping critters and immediately wanted to feed them. Anticipating this I had brought a few pieces of stale bread so he could get the full experience, because of course once you have food to give away you make fast animal friends.

Making the wallabies jump for food

Justin: totally excited. Wallaby: couldn't care less

After a good 20 minutes of playing with the wallabies we moved on towards the koalas and met a grumpy looking owl along the way.

Grumpy looking owl perched on a happy looking Justin

Koalas sleep 18-20 hours a day. I think Justin only gets about 6 hours a day if he's lucky, so this happy face might be masking a good amount of jealousy.

After we had cuddled with some koalas it was onto the main event: kangaroos!

Feeding a very small kangaroo

Attracting some bigger kangaroos

Within each habitat there are no fences or roped off areas, the safer animals are able to roam free and interact with people as they choose. This means that they have gotten very used to human presence and they know that people mean food. By making a $1 donation you can get an ice cream cone of kangaroo feed, so after the bread ran out I got some so Justin could make some kangaroo friends. Kangaroos are very sloppy eaters and since there is no fence overtop of the enclosure the local pigeons have figured out that they can swoop in and pick up the leftovers. At one point there were so many pigeons crowding the kangaroo that Justin was trying to feed that he kicked one. I think he had anticipated the birds moving as soon as he made a sudden movement but they did not, so he quite literally kicked a pigeon. Once he figured out they would tolerate this and continue to come back to eat it became a game, kick the pigeon!

Attracting a few more pigeons than kangaroos, little do they know what is in store for them

45 minutes and three ice cream cones of kangaroo feed later I finally managed to pull Justin away from the kangaroo enclosure and we spent another hour wandering around the park looking at exotic birds, dingoes, tasmanian devils, snakes, one very sleepy crocodile and a small colony of fairy penguins.

We made it a point to catch the fairy penguin feeding and both proceeded to geek out over the cuteness of the penguins.

SO. ADORABLE. DO WANT!

I know I posted a bunch of pictures of peacocks the first time I went to featherdale, but they are so stunning I thought it merited another photograph

On our way back out of the park we had to walk through the kangaroo, wallaby, and koala exhibits again, so of course we stopped to play and feed them once more.

Me with the kangaroos, still just as docile and soft as I remembered

so fuzzy

We managed to catch this koala during one of his four waking hours on our way out of the park

Justin staring down the grumpy looking owl

The owl was very reluctant to leave Justin's arm but eventually coaxed him into spending a little time with me

As the sun was going down we caught the train back to central station and then walked back to Glebe, making a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up materials for dinner. Ever since I had taken Justin out to dinner in Darling Harbor at the Black Bird Cafe  he had become obsessed with kangaroo steaks. In the wake of that experience he had been on a mission to find affordable kangaroo filets to cook for himself. We had been to several butcher shops and speciality food stores, but we eventually found them at the lowest price at the Bi-lo, a discount grocery store in the broadway shopping center.

Kangaroo is a very lean red meat that has to be cooked rare due to its low fat content. Kangaroo is not commercially raised or farmed meaning so all meat comes from kangaroos caught in the wild. Kangaroo harvest is supported by a wide range of professional ecological groups in Australia.  Since there are over 45 million kangaroos on the continent and in rural communities they are considered a pest because they eat farmers crops and bush vegetation, hunting of kangaroo is encouraged.  Unlike beef, kangaroo meat has a very high proportion of polyunsaturated structural fats, so kangaroo can be included in a cholesterol-lowering diet. Studies have shown that low-fat diets rich in kangaroo meat are associated with a reduction in important risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Typically it contains less than 2% fat, about 40% of which is long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid molecules which are believed to improve blood flow, reduce the blood’s tendency to clot and thereby reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. So it is red meat that does the exact opposite of what red meat normally does to your body.

Also- according to Justin it is quite tasty, tender, and slightly sweet like a good quality filet mignon.

Since I don’t eat meat he had asked Seth, another hardcore carnivore in Glebe to join him, and Jordan had agreed to donate his charcoal grill to the cause even though he didn’t want to eat.

I suggested we also purchase steak fries and grill some veggies in a marinade to round out the meal. Justin and I purchased the filets, coals for the grill, matches, veggies and fries and headed over to Seth’s apt to get grilling. While I chopped up the veggies, soaked them in marinade  and watched the fries in the oven the boys stood on the balcony and puzzled over the charcoal grill. They managed to get the coals to light but couldn’t get the temperature of the grill high enough to cook the meat. At one point the coals were burning fairly well and so Justin separated them out to try and get an even heat distribution and once he put the lid back on the grill they all promptly extinguished. This came at the end of a 45 trial and error period, so this effort was abandoned and all meat preparation and cooking operations were moved to the stove top. I guess Seth and Justin will never be stereotypical suburban husbands.

Once the meat was cooked Seth and Justin sat down to their man meal of kangaroo while I had a chili lime thai style veggie burger with tomato and cheese.

Justin grilling up the very same animal he had pet earlier in the day.

So to recap: Justins fondness from kangaroos has morphed into a full fledged (slightly creepy) obsession. Not only did he spend upwards of an hour petting and feeding them, but hours later he was grilling them up for dinner and delighting in their tastiness. O and he also drinks coffee every morning out of a souvenir mug he purchased at Featherdale with a kangaroo  on it. Like I said, obsessive, borderline creepy. He is also going home with some packaged kangaroo jerky. I think he is determined to find it in the states.

Justin and Seth's dinner. I contributed the fries and had a thai lime veggie burger that was quite good.

Soft, Cuddly, and Tasty

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

On top of Justin’s Australian to do list:  pet a kangaroo.

In a first attempt of meeting this goal we had gone to the Aquarium and Wildlife Park in Darling Harbor.  The animals they had there had all looked very sad, and the only ones you could actually interact with were the koalas, and you could only do that if you purchased a 15$ photo which we were not inclined to do. The kangaroos there looked especially cramped as there were about nine of them in one habitat that was quite small. After seeing that I told Justin that for a real marsupial experience we needed to go to Featherdale Wildlife Park, where I had been during orientation. So on Sunday and took the train from central station to Blacktown, a suburb of Sydney that is about 30 minutes outside of the city to do this.

Once we arrived we bought our tickets, the first exhibit we walked through was the wallaby habitat. Justin was absolutely elated to see these hopping critters and immediately wanted to feed them. Anticipating this I had brought a few pieces of stale bread so he could get the full experience, because of course once you have food to give away you make fast animal friends.

Making the wallabies jump for food

Justin: totally excited. Wallaby: couldn't care less

After a good 20 minutes of playing with the wallabies we moved on towards the koalas and met a grumpy looking owl along the way.

Grumpy looking owl perched on a happy looking Justin

Koalas sleep 18-20 hours a day. I think Justin only gets about 6 hours a day if he's lucky, so this happy face might be masking a good amount of jealousy.

After we had cuddled with some koalas it was onto the main event: kangaroos!

Feeding a very small kangaroo

Attracting some bigger kangaroos

Within each habitat there are no fences or roped off areas, the safer animals are able to roam free and interact with people as they choose. This means that they have gotten very used to human presence and they know that people mean food. By making a $1 donation you can get an ice cream cone of kangaroo feed, so after the bread ran out I got some so Justin could make some kangaroo friends. Kangaroos are very sloppy eaters and since there is no fence overtop of the enclosure the local pigeons have figured out that they can swoop in and pick up the leftovers. At one point there were so many pigeons crowding the kangaroo that Justin was trying to feed that he kicked one. I think he had anticipated the birds moving as soon as he made a sudden movement but they did not, so he quite literally kicked a pigeon. Once he figured out they would tolerate this and continue to come back to eat it became a game, kick the pigeon!

Attracting a few more pigeons than kangaroos, little do they know what is in store for them

45 minutes and three ice cream cones of kangaroo feed later I finally managed to pull Justin away from the kangaroo enclosure and we spent another hour wandering around the park looking at exotic birds, dingoes, tasmanian devils, snakes, one very sleepy crocodile and a small colony of fairy penguins.

We made it a point to catch the fairy penguin feeding and both proceeded to geek out over the cuteness of the penguins.

SO. ADORABLE. DO WANT!

I know I posted a bunch of pictures of peacocks the first time I went to featherdale, but they are so stunning I thought it merited another photograph

On our way back out of the park we had to walk through the kangaroo, wallaby, and koala exhibits again, so of course we stopped to play and feed them once more.

Me with the kangaroos, still just as docile and soft as I remembered

so fuzzy

We managed to catch this koala during one of his four waking hours on our way out of the park

Justin staring down the grumpy looking owl

The owl was very reluctant to leave Justin's arm but eventually coaxed him into spending a little time with me

As the sun was going down we caught the train back to central station and then walked back to Glebe, making a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up materials for dinner. Ever since I had taken Justin out to dinner in Darling Harbor at the Black Bird Cafe  he had become obsessed with kangaroo steaks. In the wake of that experience he had been on a mission to find affordable kangaroo filets to cook for himself. We had been to several butcher shops and speciality food stores, but we eventually found them at the lowest price at the Bi-lo, a discount grocery store in the broadway shopping center.

Kangaroo is a very lean red meat that has to be cooked rare due to its low fat content. Kangaroo is not commercially raised or farmed meaning so all meat comes from kangaroos caught in the wild. Kangaroo harvest is supported by a wide range of professional ecological groups in Australia.  Since there are over 45 million kangaroos on the continent and in rural communities they are considered a pest because they eat farmers crops and bush vegetation, hunting of kangaroo is encouraged.  Unlike beef, kangaroo meat has a very high proportion of polyunsaturated structural fats, so kangaroo can be included in a cholesterol-lowering diet. Studies have shown that low-fat diets rich in kangaroo meat are associated with a reduction in important risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Typically it contains less than 2% fat, about 40% of which is long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid molecules which are believed to improve blood flow, reduce the blood’s tendency to clot and thereby reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. So it is red meat that does the exact opposite of what red meat normally does to your body.

Also- according to Justin it is quite tasty, tender, and slightly sweet like a good quality filet mignon.

Since I don’t eat meat he had asked Seth, another hardcore carnivore in Glebe to join him, and Jordan had agreed to donate his charcoal grill to the cause even though he didn’t want to eat.

I suggested we also purchase steak fries and grill some veggies in a marinade to round out the meal. Justin and I purchased the filets, coals for the grill, matches, veggies and fries and headed over to Seth’s apt to get grilling. While I chopped up the veggies, soaked them in marinade  and watched the fries in the oven the boys stood on the balcony and puzzled over the charcoal grill. They managed to get the coals to light but couldn’t get the temperature of the grill high enough to cook the meat. At one point the coals were burning fairly well and so Justin separated them out to try and get an even heat distribution and once he put the lid back on the grill they all promptly extinguished. This came at the end of a 45 trial and error period, so this effort was abandoned and all meat preparation and cooking operations were moved to the stove top. I guess Seth and Justin will never be stereotypical suburban husbands.

Once the meat was cooked Seth and Justin sat down to their man meal of kangaroo while I had a chili lime thai style veggie burger with tomato and cheese.

Justin grilling up the very same animal he had pet earlier in the day.

So to recap: Justins fondness from kangaroos has morphed into a full fledged (slightly creepy) obsession. Not only did he spend upwards of an hour petting and feeding them, but hours later he was grilling them up for dinner and delighting in their tastiness. O and he also drinks coffee every morning out of a souvenir mug he purchased at Featherdale with a kangaroo  on it. Like I said, obsessive, borderline creepy. He is also going home with some packaged kangaroo jerky. I think he is determined to find it in the states.

Justin and Seth's dinner. I contributed the fries and had a thai lime veggie burger that was quite good.

Hello world!

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

In less than a month I’ll be on a plane on my way to Italy…which seems ridiculous!  I’m nowhere near being ready!  Still need to buy my textbook, an outlet converter, figure out what to do when flying internationally, and keep studying Italian.  Wish me luck!

Getting Ready

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Will my first post work?

Being an Australian Tourist

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Before landing in Sydney Justin seemed very convinced that he could conquer the 15.5 hour trans pacific flight with ease due to his frequent travels on airplanes. No matter how many times I told him that regardless of any kind of flight experience that flight knocks everyone on their ass he continued to insist that he would sleep most of the way and be fine once he got here. He arrived in Sydney looking like he had champed it through, so I took him down to the Rocks to see the iconic Sydney sights, the Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. After we bused down there and walked around for less than an hour he was really beginning to drag. I never hate to say ‘I told you so’ so I did and we headed back to the apt so he could nap off his jet lag.

Since getting being in Sydney time he has done a good number of Sydney attractions and museums during the days while I have been in class, but there were a few things I hadn’t done that I wanted to explore with him, and some shopping errands he wanted some female assistance with. So we worked it out so that on a few of the days where my classes ended around 1 we would meet at the bus stop and venture into downtown.

On the first day when we had spent a little bit of time walking around the rocks Justin had noticed the abundance in opal jewelry stores, and out of sheer curiosity he had popped into a few stores to check out products and prices. Intrigued by the low prices of the rare and precious gems we decided to do a bit more research. We started in downtown Sydney inside the Queen Victoria Building off of George Street. The mall inside is absolutely gorgeous and the stores inside are very swanky. This did not prevent us from finding some really great deals on Opals though, since over 97% of the worlds opals come from Australia, they are very cheap to purchase here, plus being tourists to Australia all opal purchases can be made tax free. There are many different types of Opals we learned. White ones, purple and blue ones, and they come in all different shapes, sizes and cuts. We shopped around all afternoon and even made a few purchases.

Ceiling of the mall

Super swanky mall

Pretty stained glass window

On a different day we explored some of the big historical Sydney sights downtown. First stop- the Anzac War Memorial in the center of Hyde Park. The memorial, which was completed in 1934 is the main commemorative military monument in Sydney. It sits on the eastern edge of Sydney’s central business district and is the focus of the commemorative ceremonies on Anzac Day, Armistice Day and other important military and patriotic holidays.

It was built as a memorial to the Australian Imperial Force of World War I. Fund raising for the memorial began on April 25th 1916 on the first anniversary of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landing at Anzac Cove for the Battle of Gallipoli. It was opened on November 24th 1934 by His Royal Highness Prince Henry, Duke of Glocuester.

During my Sydney orientation we had walked through Hyde Park and past the memorial but hadn’t had time to actually walk through it, and now that I was walking through Sydney with a history buff and a military man, I finally had a reason to explore it.

The picture I took of the outside of the Anzac War Memorial during Orientation

Inside the Anzac War Memorial. This is a solider being supported by three females who represent the wife, daughter, and grandmother of the solider, who are also representative of the past, present and future of Australia. Australia was the first country to grant woman's suffrage and have always been supportive of women's rights.

Memorial to lost soldiers

Justin contemplating the Sydney skyline from the steps of the memorial

Views from the inside of the memorial

Cheesin

Next up on our itinerary was the Sydney Mint and the New South Wales Parliament building. We started with the Mint which is the oldest public building in Sydney Central Business District. It was built between 1811 and 1816 as the southern wing of the Sydney Hospital, but it was then known as the Rum Hospital. In 1854 a mint was established on the site with the hospital building used to house mint staff as well as providing a residence for the Deputy Mint Master. A coining factory was built at the rear of this building.

The British Secretary of state gave acceptance to the colonial government to establish a mint in Sydney which was to be the first branch of the Royal Mint outside England. The rear side of the building became the coining factory. There were frequent major upgrades to the mint during the late 1800s and the early 1900s. By 1926 the Melbourne and Perth Mints had installed much better technology and thus become more profitable, so the Sydney mint was closed.

Currently the Mint is little more than a few plaques detailing the history of the location, a tiny upstairs art gallery, gift store, a coin press located behind glass, a research library, and a bunch of event spaces that are off limits. In other words, Justin and I were very glad we did not have to pay any admission to get in because it was kinda a wash. I expected far more out of the oldest public building in Sydney. We spent all of 15 minutes within the mint, 5 of which were spent using the bathroom. The hospital located next door is still used as a hospital, so we couldn’t really tour that but we did walk by it. I have no photo documentation of this incredibly underwhelming experience.

Next we headed over to the Parliament building. This building, much like the US capital is still in use so in order to gain entry you have to go through metal detectors and have your bags searched. Once inside there isn’t a whole lot to do/see. The front lobby features very grand paintings of English crowns, but I since they were hung over a staircase I couldn’t get close enough to read about who they were. The reception area looks a lot like an upscale gentleman’s club with lots of rich reds, dark greens, leather and brass. Since we were there on a weekday most of the rooms were closed off because they were in use so all we were able to really wander around in was the main lobby/reception area. In the middle of the building there is a very modern looking fountain and inside there are paintings all around the glass windows that enclose it.

Fountain inside the Parliament House

Gentleman's club sheek

To end our day in the city we took a stroll through the Royal Botanical Gardens and Justin attempted to feed some of the feathery locals.

Justin gets friendly with a cockatoo in the Botanical Gardens

We walked around there for about an hour and finished our day watching the sun set over the harbor. On our way out of the gardens we were waiting to cross the street to walk back to the bus station and Justin stopped short before crossing. Once I noticed he wasn’t standing next to me I saw that he was talking to a group of guys. I walked over to find out that he had run into a 2011 citadel grad from his class who was also an army contract. What are the statistical odds of that?! Out of 400 citadel grads in the class of 2011, only 85 of whom are going into the Army and Justin happens to end up not only in the same hemisphere, continent, and city as one, but in the botanical gardens on the same day. WHAT. ARE. THE. ODDS?!

All the way back to the bus stop I was humming “It’s A Small World Afterall”

Sydney harbor by twilight

Being cute

Lies My Orientation Leader Told Me

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

As the semester is winding down to a close and I am finding myself more and more busy with school work and preparation for the onset of the windstorm that is the final exam period. This accounts for my recent lack of blogging and my lack of blog worthy activities. As much fun as I have doing research deep in the bowels of the reserve section of the library it certainly doesn’t make for a very fascinating blog entry.

In the little downtime I have found in between stressing and procrastinating I have caught my mind wandering back to my first few days here in Sydney. One of the first things we did during our Sydney orientation was to take a walking tour of the city. We stopped in Hyde Park for a few minutes while our orientation leader Russ described the War memorial in the middle of the park and the museums surrounding it. It was a hot summer day in February (I will never get used to Feb being hot and summery) and as we walked through the park Russ talked to us about the different types of trees in the park. As we all stared up into the trees Russ told us that the Autumn season in Australia was fundamentally different from Autumn in the states in that the trees in Australia did not loose their leaves all at once like ones in the states, but rather lost a few leaves year round, so there would always be some leaves on the ground. The explanation he gave for this phenomenon was that the soil in Australia was too nutrient poor for the trees to be able to pull up enough nutrients to be able to replace all their leaves all at once, so they instead replaced a few throughout the year as they lost them.

Russ talking to us during orientation

Russ talking to us about trees and pretty birds in the Botanical Gardens

This seemed very odd to me, but I was fresh off the plane and willing to believe just about anything I was told about this strange new continent I had found myself on. I thought this fact was so interesting that I began telling everyone who engaged in a discussion with me about the differences between Australia and America. I told everyone about the odd Autumn they have here.

When I went to Melbourne I was talking to a guy I met at a club and I shared my interesting fall fact with him and he almost laughed at me before asking “Who told you that?!”

This was my first indication that something was amiss. I began to make further inquiries of Australians in my classes, and I was consistently met with the same confused glances and chuckles. A boy in one of my tutorials even said

“Yeah its always tempting to mess with the tourists and tell them ridiculous things, my favorite thing to tell them is that I have a pet kangaroo, hahaha”

Despite all this evidence staring me in the face I just didn’t want to believe that I had been lied to by the very person whose job it had been to help orient me in Australia. I was thinking that perhaps I just hadn’t remembered correctly exactly what he had said. Maybe he had been talking about one specific tree and I had misheard and thought he meant all trees? I don’t know. But I do know that the fall season is in full swing in Australia, complete with all the traditional signs of Autumn I am used to in the Northern Hemisphere.

Moral of this story: either I’m a moron or my orientation leader is a liar. Either way, Autumn totally happens here in the same way it happens in the United States.

The leaves are not only changing color, but they are also all falling off, and its still warm enough for short sleeves.

Also during Orientation we were sat down and given a quick briefing on the major differences between American and Australian culture. One of the things we were told is that Australians had an international reputation for being drunkards, but this was a complete misconception. Russ told us that if we went out to a bar and got completely plastered we would be branded as the sloppy Americans, because this is not how Australians behaved. There are three campus bars at the University Of Sydney, which the university administration is actively trying to get rid of, and the students are fighting it tooth and nail. There are also no open container or public intoxication laws. So yeah, Aussie’s like to get drunk and they make it very public knowledge when they do. Alcohol can be consumed when you turn 18, and many of the museums in Sydney become clubs after hours. I have been to quite a few karoke bars since being here, and  have seen more belligerently drunk people than I am capable of remembering. Aussie’s love to drink just as much as Americans if not more.

The other thing we were told about bar culture was that as a woman if you allow a man to purchase you a drink it will be expected that you will put out for him. I think this was just Russ’s way of discouraging us American girls from taking advantage of the Australian guys because I have known many people who have been on the receiving end of alcoholic beverages from Aussie men and have no had to provide any lewd acts in payment for the gesture.

In other unrelated news, the hens of Apt 18 welcomed a rooster into our midst this weekend. Justin arrived early on Friday morning. Poor guy flew in around 6:30 am and I had set an alarm for 7:30 so I could meet him at the train station and walk him back to my apt, and of course I slept through it and he was left waiting for an hour. Oops. Welcome to Australia!

The Citadel graduated rooster invades Australia to stay in the apt 18 hen house

Courtney’s Birthday In Argyle

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Saturday was Courtney’s Birthday, and Kaela and I had made up our minds that we were going to make her favorite dessert for her birthday. A red velvet cake. Kaela had wanted to do it from a box mix, but I have never prepared anything that tasted better out of a box than it does from scratch. Plus when you use a box mix you get all these nasty unnecessary preservatives and additives that are easily avoided if you cook it yourself. Of course I was not this tactful when discussing this with Kaela and Jill. The conversation went something like this:

Me: What are we doing for Courtney’s birthday this weekend? Did we want to make a cake or something?

Kaela: O yeah, I was going to make a red velvet cake because its her favorite.

Me: O cool, you going to make it from scratch?

Kaela: No I thought I would just pick up a box mix.

Me: Well thats lame!

Jill: VALERIE! You are so mean! Kaela is trying to do something nice for Courtney what does it matter?

*Open mouth insert foot*

Me: I’m just saying that box mixes are lame, not that Kaela wanting to contribute to the birthday festivities is lame. Look, I can help you and we can do it right.

Jill: Valerie! Could you be nicer?! There is nothing wrong with a box mix!

This is pretty much par for the course in terms of how conversations in our apt go. I say something that comes off more harsh than I meant it, Kaela, being the sweetheart she is says nothing, and Jill being fearless, verbally knocks me over the head. Its a good balance. If our apt were an episode of Sex and the City I would be Miranda, Jill would be Samantha, Courtney would be Carrie and Kaela would be Charlotte.

I really don’t get why everyone goes nuts over red velvet cake. I don’t think people realize its just a chocolate cake with red food dye in it. The first time I ever made one was for a friend’s fathers birthday. I foolishly thought it was a raspberry or strawberry flavored dessert, and that the red color was due to some natural ingredient. How young and naive I was. I was very disheartened when I started looking up recipes and saw that the magical crimson ingredient was nothing more than a dye. I spent about twenty minutes researching recipes thinking that maybe that was just a cheap substitute for the actual ingredient that would turn it red. No dice.

So then I thought well why does it need to be red? It doesnt! It’s  just a color. So to satiate my appetite for humor and irony I bought blue food dye instead and made a blue velvet cake, because that was going to be a fun moment. When someone cuts into a red velvet cake and finds that its blue. That messes with your head for a minute. Plus the recipient of the cake was an Elvis fan and I thought once the initial moment of shock was overcome he would find it funny.

Anyway, Sat morning Jill was at work and Courtney was at a friends so Kaela and I compiled a list of ingredients and then trekked over to the grocery store to do our shopping. Once we returned to the apartment it was getting later in the afternoon and we didn’t want Courtney walking in on the cake making mid progress, so we went down to one of the boys apartments and used their kitchen instead.

Since we were expecting ten or so guests that evening our original plan was to make two double layer cakes with cream cheese icing and white chocolate shavings on top. We doubled the recipe and used just about every bowl and spoon in the kitchen in doing so. The mixing bowls we had were not large enough to hold the amount of cake batter we were dealing with so we ended up putting it in a giant plastic Tupperware container that looker more like a bathtub for a small child. We put our first two cakes in the oven and they burnt slightly on the tops but were still soupy in the middle. For some reason our Australian oven REALLY does not like to cook cakes, because this is what always happens to me no matter how I adjust the time/temperature/oven racks. Since the cakes came out kinda lopsided I decided to grab the muffin tins and have the second round be cupcakes instead. The cupcakes turned out much better. Since we didn’t have an electric mixer our icing turned out a bit runnier than I would have liked, but it all tasted great and Paula Deen would have approved of the amount of butter we used, even though I was mildly horrified.  Our double layered cake turned out a bit special looking and since the icing was runny it also kinda looked like it was melting, but the white chocolate shavings helped a bit and it all tasted decadently divine, so who cares.

Once we had cleaned up I went back over to our apartment where I found Courtney. Kaela returned fifteen minutes later to avoid suspicion. Once Jill returned home from work we sang, lit sparklers and presented our velvet creations.

Happy Birthday to Courtney!

For dinner we ordered take out from Baja Cantina, a wonderful Mexican restaurant in Glebe. Then we all changed into going out clothes, had a few people over for more cake and merriment and then headed out to a nightclub on the Rocks called The Argyle. Courtney and her friends that came over all wanted to take a cab, but since Kaela, Jill and I had bus passes we opted to meet them there and take the bus instead.

I had never been to this club before, but there was no cover charge, which for a Saturday night in downtown Sydney is damn near miraculous. Being that it is moving into winter here, it was a brisk evening, about 60 degrees or so, but still nice. Australians, we have observed, have absolutely no cold weather tolerance. This week on campus I have switched from flip flops and short sleeves to my sperrys and a zip up hoodie and felt perfectly comfortable, but all week I have been passing by people who look  like they are about to embark on an arctic expedition. People have been wearing huge fluffy down coats with hats, scarves, gloves and boots. Seriously? I used to think Virginia was bad about snow but I think if Sydney ever saw a snowflake they would declare a national state of emergency. When we entered the Argyle courtyard they had outdoor heaters placed ever ten feet or so. Really? It’s 60 degrees out. Come on people. Man up.

Outdoor courtyard

We walked inside to a very crowded room buzzing with activity. We were meeting everyone upstairs so we headed towards the stairs, but above the stairs looking down from the top floor were three tall European guys who were pointing at us. I tried not to pay any attention, but as soon as we got to the top of the stairs one of them grabbed my arm and yelled over the music “Can I buy you a drink?”

What I actually said: “Um, no thats ok. I’m here with my friends, its my roommates birthday, so we are trying to find her”

What I wanted to say: “You really think its that easy? You really think that you purchasing me alcohol makes me want to talk to you? How about try opening with something that actually shows me you have brain cells and not just a penis and a desire to buy your way into my pants”

Upstairs area

We keep moving and eventually find Courtney with all her friends hanging out in a corner by the bar. We mingled and danced a bit while some random girl we didn’t know puked into a champagne bucket in the corner of the room. I mean if you have to throw up I guess you might as well do so in style. Wanting to get away from the thick mass of people surrounding the bar we decided to check out some of the other rooms. On our way across the room this seven foot tall Armenian guy with two of his buddies in tow stops me and asks me what my name is.

Apparently my blonde head floats above the crowd as a beacon attracting  all manner of creepy untactful males. Talking to this guy I got a feel for what it must be like for short people to talk to me. Even in heels  I was craning my neck to look at him. I told him my name and he asked me where I was from. I said the states and then he told me he was from Armenia. I said that was cool. I mean what else can you say?  Then he asked me if I even knew where Armenia was on a map. I honestly didn’t. I had some vague notion of it being somewhere in between western Europe and the middle east, but beyond that I really had no clue. So after insulting me over my lack of geographical knowledge he asks to buy me a drink.

I found Armenia

What I Said: “No I’m ok thank you, I’m hanging out with my friends tonight, its my roommates birthday”

What I wanted to say: ” I know I am probably the only person who is even neck level with you in this room but I don’t respond well to being scolded about geography and then attempted to be bought via alcohol. Yeah, we are done talking now. Goodbye”

Jill pulled me in the direction opposite of where he was and as I walked away he shouted at me “Hey, we were talking here!” Astute sense of the obvious there sir. Maybe you should have also observed that not wanting to talk to you I stopped and started to walk away.

Am I the only girl on the planet that really despises being hit on? If someone wants to come up to me and actually talk to me then sure, lets have a conversation. Plus if someone buys me a drink I would feel obligated to hang around them while I drank it and carry on a conversation, and I don’t want to make that kind of commitment before I am sure that said person is worth talking to. But for someone to compliment me and then think they can buy me off with an alcoholic beverage in the vain hope that I will later want to make any sort of physical contact with them is an insult to my intelligence and a waste of my time and I don’t find it flattering in any way.

We spent a few more minutes mingling and dancing, but after only being there for an hour Courtney had decided she wanted to go home, even if her other friends did not. So we headed back out through the court yard, piled into a cab and zipped off back to Glebe for some late night pasta and bit more red velvet before going to bed.

Berlin…it’s been a little while but I’ll try and remember

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

Okay I went to Berlin with just one friend, Kelly.  We had a layover in London Stansted and spent the night there because our flight wasn’t until 6 the next morning.  ”Spent the night” is a tricky statement because we really didn’t sleep at all.  Kel had her computer so we watched some movies, and some gossip girl.  Then we hopped on our 6 oclock flight and got into Berlin around 9ish.  It was a bit of a struggle finding our hostel because we weren’t used to the transportation system but we figured it out eventually, after about 45 or so minutes of riding around.  So we find our hostel and find a lovely note on the door that says they won’t be back until 3 oclock. Perfect, we haven’t slept and we can’t even store our luggage.  Luckily there is a park right beside our hostel, so we pop a squat and try reading for a little, but then we realize we’re too tired to read.  So we try to watch shows on Kels computer, but find that the light is too bright.  We end up sitting a park table and playing gin rummy, listening to taylor swift and eating m&ms for about 3 or 4 hours.  It turned out to be a weirdly nice day.  Kelly was delirious because she was so tired so that was really entertaining for me.  It was also a really nice day out, sunny and probably around 60 degrees, turned out to be the only really nice day (weather wise) we had in Berlin.  Eventually we got into our hostel and took a really long nap before we got up for dinner and then basically went back to bed.  Most comfortable beds we have ever slept in by the way (including our beds at home).

After we recharged, the next day we went on a free walking tour of Berlin.  When we got to the tour we found out it was a 3 and half to 4 hour long tour which didn’t sound particularly appealing, but it ended up being an amazing tour.  The entire tour was so interesting and our tour guide was great.  Berlin isn’t the most ascetically pleasing city but I think it is the most historically interesting city I’ve visited.  I really didn’t realize how recent all of the history with Berlin and the Wall and all of that really is.  We saw this one piece of art that was on an East Berlin building that was just a mural of people living in the East and was supposed to show how happy and great life was there.  Almost directly in front of that building and the mural is a photograph of people protesting in East Berlin at that same time period, and it is the exact same size of the mural, to show the contradiction between what the government wanted people to think and what was actually going on.  All throughout Berlin there are acknowledgments of Germany’s mistakes, which I though was really cool.  Of course we also saw the Holocaust Memorial and on one of our days there we went to the Holocaust Museum and various other museums that talked about Germany at that time.

We decided to go see a concentration camp on one of our days there.  It was a very sobering trip to say the least.  I won’t go into the details but I am really glad I went.

On our last day in Germany we went on a day trip to a town called Potsdam.  We rented bikes and it was beautiful day.  We biked through this gorgeous park, unfortunately that park happened to be in bloom while we were there so there was SO much pollen.  My eyes instantly started to itch and swell when we entered the park so I popped some benadryl and just hoped it wouldn’t get worse.  The park was huge so we were probably in there for about an hour and when we left my eyes instantly stopped itching. It was crazy.  After we exited the park we were in the center of town sort of.  There was a cute little street with shopping and places to eat everywhere.  We just walked through the town with our bikes and found this cheap little pizza place to eat.  After that we headed back to the train station to go back to Berlin.  Biking around Potsdam was without a doubt one of my favorite days abroad.

Thats pretty much it for Berlin.  We had some trouble getting to the airport, we had another 6 am flight so we weren’t staying in the hostel and the metro system is supposed to be running all night but of course the one line we needed wasn’t running from our stop.  So we ended up riding around trying to figure out how to get the airport, of course we couldn’t find anyone that spoke English, for about 3 hours. Eventually we got there and actually didn’t have to spend much time at the airport so that was kind of nice.  And then we were off to Barcelona.

Picnic table that kelly and I spent the first day at (we tried to carve our names)

Window that Michael Jackson hung his baby from:

The Park in Potsdam (there were castle in it):

Lately,

Monday, May 9th, 2011

I’ve been in the worst mood, ever!

I think that I’ve finally gotten a lil’ homesick.  This is the longest I have ever been away from home and it’s starting to hit me.  It’s been almost 4 months!!

I really need to start focusing on my studies.  I only have two weeks of lectures left and then I have a week of study break before finals start!!!!

This has all flown by entirely too quickly.