Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Kangas, Koalas and Wombats, Oh My!

I am officially going to Tulane Law!!! After weeks of research and decision making, I finally decided that I think I will be happiest and most successful there. I am so excited to move to New Orleans and begin a new chapter of my life.

The last few weeks have been pretty uneventful. I have been babysitting heaps more, mainly because the five year old is on school holiday. I have also babysat for a different family, for Zay Zay's girlfriend's daughter and for the little bubba. Granny, the aunt and the bubba just went to Richmond, VA for a few weeks, and will be stopping in NYC for a few days, where Brooke will babysit for him! My girls want to skype with Brooke and bubba that night.

The rest of the days have been spent on very long walks, doing law school research, and exploring Perth. I have been trying to go on new and interesting walks each day, for about an hour, so I have been to King's Park a few times, Hyde Park a few times, down to the CBD, etc. My ipod died, so its been a bit difficult to last for an hour, so switching up the location is totally necessary.

Pesach was such a neat experience. I am so glad I got to be a part of a South African/Australian Passover. Shul was very interesting-its an Ortodox shul, so men and women are separated, but there is a bimah in the center and a choir sings all of the prayers instead of a cantor. Zayzay is the lead of the choir and it sounded almost like a barbershop quarter in the way it was all sung. I loved the sound of it.

The seder was very similar to ours: read the English around the table, and did approximately the same amount of Hebrew that we do at home. I helped Granny make some of the Pesach food, just to see how it differs from home. We made boiled and FRIED (weird!!) gefilte fish. I had never heard of fried gefilte, but they are basically just fried little fish ball thingies. We made the matzoh balls with her, but she made the soup herself.  I thought it was pretty awful soup (compared to mommy) but everyone else loved it. The soup had just shredded chicken in it (no veg) and was very very oily (I didnt eat any at all really). The matzoh balls were okay (I ate one small one to be kind) but were made with vegetable schmaltz and tasted pretty fatty. They weren't fluffy and airy and incredible like my mother, the amazing cook! The rest of dinner was delicious-yummy brisket/tsimmes, veg tsimmes, pickled veggies, a huge salad (that I made), and roasted potatoes. For dessert I made coconut macaroons, and granny made halvah ice cream, fruit salad, weird almond cookies and stewed apples. Overall, a yummy dinner, but a pretty noisy atmosphere. The kids (my girls, bubba, plus bubba's 3 cousins on his dad's side) were running everywhere, kids were being taken home periodically, some of the adults were a bit unattentive, etc. which made for a very disorganized seder (ironic, no? doesn't seder mean 'order'?). The only songs that sounded the same were dayenu and hadgadya. Anyway it was very nice to feel part of the family, though I missed home a lot.

The next night's seder was at Zay Zay's house. His food was MUCH better and I really enjoyed the more intimate seder that we had. I made matzoh crack for the family, and the uncle basically proposed marriage to it. He said it was the best thing he had ever tasted! (Melt 1 cup butter, 1/2 cup brown sugar in micro for 2 minutes, spread over 4 sheets of matzoh and bake until bubbly about 12 mins, let cool for 1 minute then spread 1 cup of chocolate chips over the top and refrigerate for an hour).

I had such a long week this week. I babysat several of the nights and most of the days, and went out with m friends to an Allied Health (all of the uni's medical students) social on Thursday night at Metro City night club. It was pretty fun! On Friday, the parents went to stay at a hotel for the dad's birthday this weekend, so I stayed home alone with the girls for 2 nights. It is hard work being a single mother! We did all kinds of SciTech activities (which we picked up last week at SciTech, before lunching at Wagamama and drinking hot chocolate at SanChurro Chocolateria...mmmm!). We made bouncy balls, had touchable bubbles, strawberry cream smelly bubbles, bath crayons, painted easter eggs, etc. We also made icing and then decorated a birthday cake for the dad. It was so much fun being with the girls non-stop and I love them even  more now. They behaved so well for me and even slept til nearly 8:30am one of the days!! That never happens when their parents are home, so I was very happy about that. On Sunday I took the girls to the hotel to swim with the parents, and I went home to go for a walk, go look for birthday presents for the dad, and straighten my newly short hair. I went back to their house in the arvo for my very first easter egg hunt. It was so cute and there was so much chocolate. The five year old was HOARDING it and then devoured a huge chocolate bunny. This shop, Chokeby Road, sells beautiful chocolates, and the mom went all out. The mom got me my own teeny tiny easter basket, and I had a lot of fun watching the girls hunt for the eggs. The parents even got me a lovely bracelet for taking such good care of the girls. Since it was the dad's birthday, he invited me to go for drinks at the Queens with a few of his mates. I knew them already and it was a lot of fun.

My German friend is back in town now, so we had planned to go to Caversham Wildlife at Whiteman Park on Anzac Day. Caversham charges a single all-inclusive fee, and you get to cuddle and pet all of the animals that you want. (The rest of the zoos in Australia will charge an entrance fee plus cuddle and photo fees). We even got a free clip-on koala with our admission. Anyway, we high tailed it straight to the kangaroo pen, which was a massive area with maybe 100 kangaroos roaming about. We immediately started cudding the cute and friendly kangas and even found a mommy kanga with a bulging pouch. The joey wasn't visible yet, but the mommy loved us and followed us around. We held hands with another baby joey and just really loved being with all of the kangaroos. Since it was early, they were all hungry and wide-awake, so they were a lot of fun to be around. We heard that later in the day they are so full and tired that it just isn't as exciting. We were glad to have been one of the first visitors inside! We then headed to see some kookaburras (unfortunately, NOT sitting in an old gum tree, but instead in a large cage). The koala enclosure didn't open until 10:30, but we wanted to be first in line, so we headed over and lucked out by being let in early with just three other people. We got to play with the mommy koalas (all of whom had joeys in their pouches). We learned that all marsupials have pouches and their babies are all called joeys. The joeys are born and move straight into the pouches, where they grow for about 6 months. I learned a lot and loved petting the koalas, though they were much more interested in their fresh eucalyptus plants than us humans. After the koalas we decided to get in line for the wombat show. I didn't expect a wombat to be so large, but it was 30 kilos (~60 pounds)! It was so cute and looked like Phil, my pug. We were first in line, so we got to go on the stage for pictures first. We also got to touch some blue tongued lizard, a weird possum bushy tailed thing named Luna, and a wallaby joey. We got to look at this carnivorous owl wich a dead mouse hanging out of its beak and a large snake. After the show we headed back to the kangaroos to play some more. This time we actually saw a joey emerge from the pouch! It kept going back to nurse from the pouch and I got to look inside a kanga pouch. The joey kept trying to climb back inside, but the mommy kanga kept walking away. The joey then walked up to this large male kangaroo and it reminded me so much of the Dr. Suess story "Are You My Mother?". Anyway, I took a million videos and pictures of the joey and the mom, so if I can figure out a way to post them here, I definitely will. After another hour with the kangas, we headed to the farm area to pet some donkeys (one kept making silent heehaws!), llamas, rabbits, pigs, guinea pigs, ducks, turkeys, goats (one fell off a rock and onto my left foot), sheep, cows, camels, etc. I love animals, so this was another amazing morning in Australia.

After nearly five hours at Caversham, we decided to head to the nearby Swan Valley to check out a few wineries/breweries. On this one road are dozens of them, so we figured we would just stop at any that looked interesting. Well, being easter weekend (or maybe its always like this?), there were many places offering free tastings, so we decided to hit up as many as we could. We first went to the Margaret River chocolate factory, where we tasted delicious mini chocolate buttons (dark was my favorite, followed by the milk. The white was way too sweet). Then, we headed to Lancaster Wineries, where we got to sample at least half a dozen wines, as well as this incredible creamy spicy cheddar. We also walked through the vines and took pictures. This was a beautiful winery and I am so glad we stopped. We then headed to this brewery, but we weren't impressed, so we left without buying a beer. I did climb this incredibly large, gnarly tree outside though. I have never seen a tree like this, with one trunk, but each huge branch fanning out and touching ground, creating huge natural archways. It was so cool. After monkeying around, we headed to this coffee sampling place. We got to try 3 different coffees, each made in a French Press.The coffee (or koffee, as they called it) was so watered down from the French Press, it was barely drinkable. We did sample some yummy chocolate covered espresso beans, but even they were weak.The atmosphere at this place was kool though, and they roast their own beans on site. Not worth purchasing any koffee, but it was an interesting place to stop. Our last stop was at this honey farm. The owner couple was so sweet and attentive. I ended up purchasing a jar of honey and some lip balm. I liked supporting the locals, and also the honey in the super market here is horrendous, and this was delicious! We finally headed home, full of delicious samples, and very happy with such a lovely day. The weather was perfect, our timing at Caversham was perfect, the samples were all perfect-I'd call this day one of my top days in Australia so far!

I babysat last night for Zay Zay, uploaded my pics and named my videos. I came home and woke up this morning feeling totally exhausted. I guess this week was so go-go-go that I wiped myself out. I relaxed while my friend went to Freo Markets, and then mustered up the energy to go for a long walk to the CBD. I wandered in and out of some of the Asian Markets and some of the shops, but most were closed since it is a public holiday (which makes it a 5 day weekend-Good Friday kicked off the public holidays, Sunday was easter, Monday was Anzac Day and I have no clue why today was also one). I then came home so that my good friend could pick me up for a spontaneous arvo of lazing by the river. We picked up coffee (me) and ice cream (her) and then lounged in the grass by the Swan River. It was a gorgeous afternoon. I came home very ready to cook dinner (Pesach ended tonight!), so I first had a teeny taste of peanut butter (oh how I missed it for 8 days!) and then made this amazing pasta dish. I boiled 1.5 cups of orrechette spinach pasta, then drained it and mixed in 4 tbs of non-fat cream cheese, 1 can of artichoke hearts quartered, 1 can of cannelini beans, minced garlic, and then a few handful of spinach to wilt at the end. I then added a small sprinkling of garlic basil cheddar to finish it off. I also heated up a bit of a frozen seafood mix and stirred it into my portion of the pasta. I LOVED this meal (alongside some roasted asparagus) and cannot wait to eat the leftovers tomorrow.

Me and my friend have just been relaxing and watching the Harry Potter dvds that I have. Its been storming on and off this evening, so its nice to just sit inside watching movies and writing this post. She goes back to Germany this week, which makes me want to go home too. I am loving my time here and am very excited for the next few months, but I do miss a lot of things about home! I think I will end it here. Hope you all are well and thanks for reading such a long post!

Dana xoxo

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rotto, Uluru, Rotto again

Hi! So I am back from a very exciting few days away that was bookended by two trips to Rottnest Island.

Last Sunday we woke up early to catch the ferry over to Rotto. I loved the ferry ride and feeling the breeze from the water. We road along the Swan River and saw beautiful homes before cutting out to the Indian Ocean and crossing over to Rotto. We got off the ferry and walked toward the most famous (and most beautiful) beach called 'the Basin'. The water was unbelievably clear and we even saw some dolphins. We had packed a picnic because we were warned how expensive Rotto can be. After lying on the beach for a while we went in search of the pub and some quokkas. We found a small group of the quokkas which are like extra-large rats or very small kangaroos. They have a rat-like body (thats how Rottnest got its name-the settlers thought the island was overrun with large rats), but hop like kangaroos and use their hands like the kangas. Anyway, we tried going to the main pub, but it was closed due to a concert later that evening. We found a different pub and just relaxed until the ferry was set to leave. It was such a nice day and watching the sun set on the water was beautiful.

Monday I worked, then packed for our trip to Alice Springs/Uluru (Ayer's Rock). Tuesday we woke up and cleaned then took a taxi to the airport. It was an easy 3 hour flight, and Qantas was a great airline to fly. We took a shuttle to the hostel, which was super funky, but very clean. We quickly put our stuff down and headed out with our cameras to Anzac Hill to watch the sunset. We passed so many aboriginals (who smell terrible, its so unfortunate) and this was my first real encounter with them. After the sunset we headed back to the hostel, which is known for its cool bar and cheap menu. We then packed smaller bags for the tour and headed to bed early because we had to be on the bus by 6am. We woke up and got on the bus, along with four German girls, two 18 year old Dutch boys, an older German couple, an Italian man and eleven Taiwanese tourists. It was the tour leader's second tour ever, but everyone at the hostel raved about him, so we were pretty excited. During the drive, I saw a Red Kangaroo about 50 meters from the bus window! It was massive, but I was thrilled to finally see my first wild kanga! We also passed a rock that tourists always think is Uluru, but it isn't, so it is nicknamed Fuluru (fool-uru). Anyway, after a 700 kilometer trek, we arrived at King's Canyon for a 4 hour hike. The first leg of the hike is called 'heart attack hill' because it is so steep and takes around 20 minutes of constant climbing to summit. My friends and I led the pack, with the Italian and the Dutch behind us, the Germans just behind them, and the Taiwanese a good 15 minutes behind at all times. The views were gorgeous. At the halfway point there is a water hole called Garden of Eden, that is literally just an oasis in the middle of a very dry canyon. We swam in the water and cooled off before continuing the hike. Eventually we made it back to the bus and headed to Yulara. We set up camp and I helped the tour guide cook dinner while some of the guys built a fire. When the sunset and it grew dark, the stars became visible and were unbelievable. It was unreal how well you could see every constellation, some planets, and even the Milky Way Galaxy. Everything was so clear, it was truly outrageous. I take the five-year old to the Planetarium all the time, so I was really good at pointing out and naming a lot of the things in the sky, so it was fun to share that with the group. Anyway, after dinner we got into our swags (an insulated sleeping bag), with no tent, and were supposed to go to sleep. The only trouble was, I didn't expect to be surrounded by so many hard-shelled insects, so I started to panic. One crawled across my face (luckily I was wearing a fly net on my head) and I scrambled up and out of my bag and didn't lay down again. I was too freaked out (I even kept my sneakers on in the swag for a quick getaway). The Dutch boys and the tour guide thought this was the most hilarious thing they had ever seen and made sure to make fun of me for the rest of the trip. I stood up for the next few hours and finally tried going back to sleep, but my heart was racing and I pulled an all nighter. It was a good thing that the stars were so beautiful, or I would have been really really bored. The group was woken up at 5, so we watched sun-up and ate breakfast, then got back on the bus and headed to the Olgas (Kata Tjuta). This is a really impressive rock formation, comprised of 36 domes. It is 16 miles from Uluru, but all in the same Kata Tjuta National Park. We went on a 10 kilometer hike, which was much more gravelly than the day before, so you had to be more careful about how you stepped. Also, the flies were horrendous at the Olgas. Thank goodness for a fly net!!!! This was also a nice hike, and my friends and the Dutch boys sang Christmas and Disney songs (I have no idea why) to pass the time, and finished the hike almost an hour before some of the others. We then headed to a new campground to shower, eat lunch and set up camp. Then, we headed back to Uluru to do a quick walk, see the cultural center, cook dinner and watch the sunset. Unfortunately, it was cloudy, so we didn't get to see Uluru light up in the sun, but we were able to see a pretty nice sunset. We went back to the campgrounds to sleep, and again there were so so so many bugs. One of the German girls said that she heard I didn't sleep all night, and wondered if I wanted to sleep on the bus with her. So, to the laughter of some of the guys, we packed up our sleeping bags and set up beds on the bus benches. I slept so well!! I didn't get to see stars, but it was cloudy, so sleep was very nice. We woke up at 5 again to go watch the sunrise at Uluru. It was cold and buggy, so I had my flynet over my hoody, and the hoody pulled shut so you could only see one eye. The tour guide didn't stop laughing for an hour at how stupid I looked, but I didn't care, as long as I wasn't eating flies for brekkie!! We then made our way to the Uluru base again for a 10 kilometer base walk around the entire rim of the rock. It was a bit anticlimatic after the exciting hikes we had done the two days before. The actual climb was closed due to windy conditions (as well as the Aborginals having strong dislike of people climbing their sacred and spiritual rock-the visitor guide says "the climb is not prohibited, but we prefer that, as a guest on Anangu land, you will choose to respect our law and culture by not climbing."). I wouldn't have climbed due to insensitivity/guilt and due to the difficulty of the climb (30+ people have died on it due to heart attacks or falling!!) and you aren't harnessed to anything. Anyway, our reward for the base walk was a hot brekkie of baked beans, toast, sausages (for those who eat pork), tinned peaches, yogurt and spreads. The other days had just been bread and spreads. It was nice to taste fruit again (even if it was tinned), as I had craved it after each hike. After breakfast we knew it was time to head back to Alice Springs and had a 4 hour bus ride to look forward to. Everyone else can sleep on the bus rides, but I have trouble, so I just looked out the window and relaxed. It was a lot more green than I was expecting in the 'Red Center'. Apparently, since December 2009, they have had a wet season that has lasted far longer than ever expected. I had also finished my book on the first day (Ape House, by Sara Gruen-also author of Water for Elephants. I liked Ape House much better, and lent it to my friend on the trip, who also devoured it in one day!), so the bus ride felt like forever. Luckily, we stopped after 2 hours to look at this spiky lizard dragon thing on the side of the road, and then again at the 3 hour mark to make lunch and go for a camel ride. Me and my friend road a camel called Helly. It was $6 for 3 minutes, and the camel ran with us on it for the last part of the ride. It was histerical and so worth the small amount of money. We also got to see llamas, a dingo and three little kangaroos. This was my first time seeing a kangaroo really hop. I loved it, obviously! We soon arrived back in Alice Springs, where we checked into our rooms (they had accidentally overbooked so they had to give us private doubles instead of the 6 person dorm style rooms we had paid for. This was a lovely surprise!). We then walked around Alice Springs and then headed back for a final tour dinner at the hostel bar. It was so nice and we all drank cider and beer before calling it an early night. The next day, one of the German girls and I shared a cab to the airport. She was coming to Perth and didn't know anyone here or where to stay, so my family offered her to stay at my house for a few days. It is always nice having company here, because sometimes it can be lonely in my house at night. The dad picked us up from the airport and then let us borrow the car for the rest of the day.

Perth has such gorgeous, cloudless weather, so we decided to head up to King's Park to walk around and take pictures. She has an amazing Canon DSLR, and let me try taking pictures with it, so I had a great time walking around the cliffside park. We then went to Subiaco and drove around the river a bit. I had to babysit that night, but went to sleep immediately after I got home. I was so exhausted from not sleeping much on the tour. The parents best friend called them on Saturday morning and asked if they wanted to go to Rotto on her friends boat the next day, but they were unavailable, so their friend asked if I wanted to go (along with my friend). We, of course, accepted and got to excited when we heard that the boat owner is the fifth richest man in Australia!

Sunday we woke up and I drove us down to to Cottesloe beach for brekkie. I had amazing porridge (oats) with bruleed banana and toasted pecans on top. So yum! Then, we headed over to Fremantle to catch the boat. I was picturing a super-yacht, but it ended up being like a 39 foot older yacht. It was still nice, but not what I was expecting. We passed the guys house (I mean compound-10 million dollars at least!) on the river, so I totally expected a brand new, huge yacht. Apparently, the guy is just down to earth and has a lot of memories attached to the boat. Anyway, it was super nice of him to have us all on-it was a totally random mix of twenty-people. I was glad that not everyone knew eachother-it meant more mingling and less awkwardness. It was a gorgeous day and the ride out to Rotto was gorgeous and filled with champers (champagne). We anchored and I literally did not leave the water from them minute we anchored until we pulled up anchor a few hours later. I missed home boating a lot, but it was still fantastic to be back on a boat and in such clear, cool water. We then motored over to the pub side of Rotto and sat and watched the sunset and ate dinner. It was a perfectly lovely day and my friend who is staying with me said it was her best day in Australia in the 4 months she has been here. I agreed, it was amazing!

Monday it was back to the grind (if you can call playing with two adorable and sweet girls, 'the grind'). I work a very full day on Mondays, usually 7am until 10pm. I took the girls to the SciTech place after school, so that broke up the monotony of a long day. The little two year old knows every single word to Katy Perry's 'Firework' and this other song 'Hurry hurry hurry, now quick quick quick'. It is so so so cute and I could just eat her up with how funny she is. Tuesday I babysat then finally got to use part of my coupon for a haircut. It included dye, style, cut, head massage, etc and felt phenomenal. The hair dresser actually used to cut Isla Fisher's hair back when she grew up in Perth. He pretty much did whatever he felt like, and now I have really short hair. Its actually not that short, but in a ponytail it is so short and cute. I like it a lot!! Today I babysat for their business partner's daughter and it was the worst babysitting experience of my life. The two year old screamed for 5 hours straight and I wanted to pull my ears out of my head. I was never so excited to see a babysitter mother pull into a driveway as today. Then, I came home and my friend and I went to Grill'd for burgers. They were delicious as usual. Now we are watching Now and Then and relaxing before I go babysit for the bubba cousin tonight.

This was a very long post. I applaud you for making it through the whole thing! Does anyone have thoughts on Tulane versus UF law? Those are what I have pretty much narrowed it down to.

Kangaroo kissies and BHAPpy,
Dana xoxoxo