Sunday, December 6, 2009

HFDU - Farewell Australia

Originally sent: February 16, 2006

Hello everyone, Well I must start this email out by saying that this will be the last HFDU to come your way. Maybe a bit sad for some of you, maybe a relief for others! Either way, it has been fun sharing all of my experiences with you over the past 2 1/2+ years and thank you for encouraging me to do so.

I'll start by talking about the various good-bye and farewell celebrations that I've had over the past few weeks. The Aussies have really sent me off in a grand way! There have been lunches upon lunches upon lunches, but I can't say that I mind at all, really. The managers and partners from my group took me out for lunch, as well as a separate lunch with just the female managers and partners. I've also had farewell lunches with several of my clients, and most recently an end-of-audit lunch that turned into an all afternoon affair. I had my official "Leaving Drinks" this past Saturday night at the Flying Duck pub with all of my friends and it was a great night. A bit awkward knowing that everyone had gathered there because of me, but it was my first real experience having to say goodbye to some. This is my last day in the office and the entire group will go out to lunch to see me off and have drinks afterwards. I've had a few big days over the past few weeks, but I wouldn't send off Australia any other way!

My group of best buddies and I went down to B's holiday house for a weekend to hang out together one last time before I leave. It was really the perfect weekend - lots of sunshine, fishing, knee boarding & tubing, swimming and hanging out by the pool, B's lamb roasted on the spit, and 2 nights full of Texas Hold Em' poker and the mass consumption of Corona. It was very special to get to hang out with my favorite people for an entire weekend :-)

This weekend is full as well……a close friend's wedding tomorrow, the Yarra Valley Grape Grazing Festival on Sunday, and then packing for the next couple of days getting ready for the movers to come next week. It still seems a bit surreal, but I'm sure it'll sink in when I leave work today and realize that I won't see most of these people ever again.

Well, this has been a short goodbye. Can I just leave you all with this: This has been the most amazing adventure and experience of my life. I realize that not everyone has the opportunity to do something like this, but even so, get out and explore the world. It's a great big place with lots to offer and there is no excuse to not see any of it! Book a holiday and go for it because you have no idea what the world has to offer if you don't venture out into the middle of it!

I'm hanging around for another week in Melbourne until I fly to Thailand and Egypt for a bit of a vacation. I don't start back to work until the 3rd of April, so in the meantime please keep in touch as I'm not far away.

Thank you all again for being such good "listeners" over the past couple of years and I look forward to catching up with you again real soon!

HFDU - 27th Edition

Originally sent: January 26, 2006

Hi everyone, I'll start by saying that this is likely the second to last HFDU to come your way. My time in Australia is winding down quickly, but there still seems to be so much happening! I'll start with pre-Christmas……..

We have moved up in the trivia night world, officially earning the title of 2005 Bar 9T4 Trivia Champions after winning the last trivia night of the year the week before Christmas. It was a great win for our team, affectionately known as "The Dunderheids" ( a Scottish term as almost half the team is Scottish). Not only did the winning team walk away with a battery powered electric scooter, but we proudly carried home a championship trophy as well. No matter that it was made of plastic, it made us proud! As a twist, the winning team was required to participate in a skull off (drinking a glass of beer as fast as you can) to see which individual gets to claim sole ownership of the scooter. The boys decided to let the ladies have a go at the win, knowing that if they participated they would blow us away. I took the early lead, but lost momentum half-way through. My Scottish friend KD ended up claiming the prize after barely edging out HE from England. What a competition, and we all took rides on the scooter, that night, and many nights afterwards….

Speaking of scooter rides, Christmas Day was spent down in Port Melbourne at the home of fellow Dunderheids SR & KR (also from Scotland). We had a good old fashioned Aussie BBQ, played a bit of beach cricket, and took the scooter for rides in between. It was a good gathering of friends from around the world, spending the holiday with each other in the absence of family. It was the perfect last Christmas for me here in Australia!

My company again put on a spectacular event with the 2005 Christmas Party. The themes were a bit random this year, as there were 4 completely differently themed rooms (think pirates in one room, matadors in another, etc.) which made for an interesting conglomeration of food, games, and decorations. I stuck with the food in the matador room as it included freshly cooked paella, calamari cooked several different ways, chorizo sausages, sangria, and other yummy Spanish goodies! The "Glacier" room had bucket loads of fresh sushi and raw oysters (neither of which I touched with a 10-ft pole) and there was themed entertainment in each room as well. I took my turn at the "Dunk the Partner" competition, but unfortunately missed dunking the partner whom I primarily work for, which in retrospect is probably a good thing :-) We finished off the night at the nightclub downstairs and enjoyed looking at all of the amusing photos for days afterward.

On Boxing Day (December 26th), B & I flew to Western Australia for a 10-day trip. This was the last of the Australian states that I needed to visit so I had a sense of accomplishment when the trip was over. We spent some time in Margaret River, which is one of the most popular wine regions in Australia, and stayed in a fabulous guesthouse in the bush, with wild kangaroos and our very own spa! Margaret River also has many caves in the area, so we took a tour of one and got some amazing photos. After that we headed up to Perth for the next 4 nights. I had booked a hotel online based on photos, that seriously had to have been taken 30 years ago when the hotel must've first been opened. It was a dump, but B & I took it in stride and just laughed at the fact that the walls were thin and there was a neon flashing sign out the front of the hotel.

Perth is known for it's perfect summer weather, consistently being in the 90's and sunny for the entire season. Despite the fact that Perth had it's coldest December on record (mid 70's - which when you want the beach is a bit cold!), we improvised and kept ourselves entertained. We took a day-long deep sea fishing tour off the coast. We got up at 5:00 am in order to be at the dock by 6:10 am to head off on our adventure by 6:30 am. We drove straight out into the Indian Ocean for an hour and a half (about 25 miles), then fished for 6 hours before heading straight back in for another hour and a half (that's 9 hours on the water!). I'm honestly surprised that I survived and didn't get seasick. The skipper said that is was one of the roughest days that he's seen in a while (4 meter swells in the afternoon), and I came back bruised and battered from getting thrown around the boat, all at the same time that B was sitting down fishing and reeling in the big fish with a huge smile on his face. Not my idea of an optimal day, but it was his treat and I just stayed drugged up on seasick medication the entire day. B grilled the fish the next day at a public BBQ at one of the parks in Perth - yummy!

We also spent New Year's Eve in Perth, but considering that we were heading off on a ferry at 8:30 on New Year's Day morning, we took it easy and just enjoyed the street celebrations in the city. Lots and lots of drunk Aboriginals who were creepy, but entertaining at the same time! Rottnest Island lies a few miles off the coast of Perth and is an island that is only 7 miles long and 2.5 miles wide. There are two "settlements" on the island where vacationers can stay, but during the holiday period there is a 7 night minimum and a lottery drawn in August to see who actually get to stay there. Needless to say, we just took a day trip over on the ferry on New Year's Day and hired bikes to get ourselves around, as do about 90% of the rest of the visitors to the island.

Our first vision once off the ferry was the hung-over British backpackers that were lying all over the lawns. What a sight to see! Apparently the New Year's Eve celebration on the island is quite large, and we definitely saw the remnants of that! Despite that, Rottnest was one of the most beautiful places that I have been in a long time. The water was so amazingly clear and turquoise. We certainly got in our exercise for the day, cycling a total of about 20 miles through the hills throughout the day. It was one of the highlights of our trip!

Our last stop in W.A. was a small town called Cervantes. This town has only about 500 residents and is only know for 2 things: lobster and the Pinnacles Desert. We knew about the town because of the latter, but were pleasantly surprised to get freshly caught lobster at the local pub both nights that we were there. And it was reasonably priced since it was local. As the best time for photos of the Pinnacles Desert is sunrise, B & I got up before sunrise both mornings to see what the hype was all about. It was gorgeous, and the colors completely change from those at mid-day and sunset. Probably the most exciting part of the early morning adventure was the amount of wildlife that was on and around the road to the Pinnacles. We must've seen 2 dozen wild kangaroos, mostly in families of 3-5 hopping all over the place. I got some great video footage of them and some good pictures as well. It was really amazing to see them that wild and doing what they do best - eating & hopping! We also saw a pair of wild emus right off the beach, which is a rare find. Got some video footage of them as well. That would have been one of the highlights of our trip!

We came back to reality, which is Melbourne, just in time to head back to work. Luckily, January is an exciting month as we host the Australian Open, have a public holiday (Australia Day), and get lots of sun! B & I managed tickets to one of the quarter final sessions of the Open and really enjoyed it. The hype is so big down here right now because the unranked Marcos Baghdatis from Cyprus has made it to the finals, and with Melbourne having a massive Greek community, it's a bit wild. We got to watch him in action at the quarter finals and can't help but cheer him on for the finals! The heat has put a bit of a damper on the tournament, with officials having to call off the games on the outside courts. The main arena has a retractable roof, but that doesn’t really compensate enough for the heat when you're playing tennis! We also got to watch Lindsay Davenport in the quarter finals, although she didn't make it through to the semis. The tournament finishes up this weekend, when the city will go back to normal with all of the tourists gone.

Enough jabber from me. The next email you get will likely be saying farewell to this great country. Until then, I have lots of packing, celebrating, fishing, and cleaning to do to get ready for my departure. Not to mention getting organized for Thailand and Egypt…..

I hope all of you are well and I look forward to catching up with many of you in just a few weeks!

HFDU - 26th Edition long overdue

Originally sent: December 19, 2005

Hello everyone! This update is looooong overdue, as it's been almost 3 months since I last sent one. My intentions have been good, but the reality of it is that I have been too busy to get it out. I figured that it was about time to email all of you so please read on…….

Way back at the beginning of October, at the end of B's footy season, they had the annual Presentation Night. It was a bit bittersweet for me, because I was saying goodbye to a lot of the people at the club that I would likely never see again. B was awarded 2nd Best and Fairest, which is comparable to MVP in the States. He was very proud, and I was even prouder! It was a good night and I will definitely miss my involvement in that fantastic footy club! Shortly after footy season ended, one of the older ladies from the club called me and said that she wanted to organise a farewell luncheon for me and invite all of the ladies from the club. Because my schedule is going to be extremely busy after Christmas during my last few weeks here, we decided to have it a few weekends ago. So it was basically me and all of the old ladies from the club having a luncheon and afternoon tea and gossiping, as only old ladies can do. I ended up staying there all afternoon, sipping champagne and opening the nice thoughtful presents that they had given me. It was such a sweet gesture!

I spent the entire month of October in Sydney on an internal audit secondment at a large international bank. It was a really good experience, and was a nice break from the normal routine. While I was up there, I took advantage of it and saw a bit more of Sydney that I had not seen before. B came up for a weekend and we caught up with some friends, ate at our favorite Spanish restaurant, took a trip to Bondi Beach (the famous beach in Sydney), went to the fish market for the best fresh fish & chips, and then I took myself to the Taronga Zoo. The best part of the zoo was actually the views of the opera house and the harbour bridge rather than the actual animals, but it was a good way to keep myself busy on a bright & sunny Saturday afternoon.

I spent a bit of time with a U.S. coworker and her Australian husband, as well as a U.S. partner and her husband, who are all living in Australia right now. It was a Houston office reunion! After my time up there, it really confirmed the fact that I am a Melbourne girl and am quite happy to have spent my time down here. Sydney is too touristy and quite fast-paced compared to easy going and laid back Melbourne.

Softball season is in full swing and as always, our team is doing really well. I'm having to train up another couple of girls at 1st base to take over for me during the playoffs as I'll have left the country by then. The weather has been really good for us so far. Each Wednesday night after softball B & I head over to the local pub for our ritual trivia night. The only bad part is that I have to sit in the pub at trivia wearing my softball uniform, but everyone says that it just makes me look more American! Our team is still doing really well at trivia and we've won drinks cards and a couple of free pizzas lately. There have been lots of American questions lately, and I've managed to do myself proud by getting most of them right. It's really amusing when I think one thing, and M from New York thinks something else, and we are trying to decide who's right. While at the same time, all of the Scots and English folk are laughing hysterically at our indecisiveness!

We had to improvise for Thanksgiving this year. A group of about 8 of us, mainly Americans, decided not to cook this year, but instead took ourselves to one of the most American places that we could think of for dinner - the Hard Rock Café. It was actually a good idea because the Hard Rock has all-you-can-eat ribs on Thursday nights, and we definitely ate all we could. I had not had ribs (or really good ones at least) since I've been in Australia, so it was definitely a welcomed meal.

My friend KG from Boston had her parents over from the States for Thanksgiving and her mom cooked a proper Thanksgiving meal on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. That was the same day that I had the luncheon with the footy club ladies, so I only made it in time for the pumpkin pie. It was nice to be around a family though and sit around chatting for a few hours.

In recognition of the holiday season, the partners and managers in my group have been enjoying some well deserved celebrations. We had our Partner/Manager Christmas Party during the Spring Racing Carnival in November during one of the big horse races. It was a perfect day - complete with a marquee, catering, and plenty of betting on the races. The Aussies call betting "having a flutter", which I really find quite amusing. I think I was up about $90 on the day, so not too bad of an effort. I really enjoyed going to the races again, as girls get all dressed up in fancy dresses and wear either large (sometimes quite obnoxious yet classy) hats or what they call "fascinators", which are basically just clumps of feathers and/or flowers attached somewhere to your hair. Hopefully I can get some photos loaded on the website of the day soon - but no promises!

The partners and managers also had a Christmas dinner at one of the partner's houses. It was a lovely affair, and a good chance to catch up with everyone less formally. The house was huge and had a backyard fit for a wedding or reception, or whatever! One of my good friends here is getting married in February (just before I leave) and she never had an engagement party, so a few of us girls rented a beach house a couple of hours away and went away for a girls weekend to celebrate her engagement. It was great to relax, play Scrabble, read trashy chic magazines, drink champagne in the hot tub, and generally just laze about without the boys. We did manage to put on an authentic and very successful Aussie bbq without any boys around! Her and her fiancé just bought a house as well and have spent heaps of time renovating it and getting it ready to move in to. They threw a housewarming bbq a couple of weeks ago which was great.

The weather is getting so fabulous that bbq's are just popping up everywhere. I made my famous chocolate chip cookies and brownies and B took control of the grill, as he always does!
We had our group Christmas party last weekend and it also involved horse races. We took buses out to the "country races" way on the outskirts of Melbourne. We had a similar set up as the other race day that we went too with the partners and managers, complete with marquee, catering, and an occasional flutter. The only difference was that there were about 120 of us rather than 30 of us so there was definitely plenty of people to catch up with. My company sponsored a race that day too, so a few of us ladies got to go on to the race track and present the owner of the winning horse with the trophy and prize. The buses then took us back into town and we finished up at a local bar that we had booked out for the evening. Overall it was a fantastic night and a good one to remember as one of my last big company outings in Australia!

I just spent a weekend in Queensland in a town called Noosa. I went with my girlfriend HK who is another American in secondment in the Melbourne office. We took last Friday off and relaxed all weekend. We took a trip the Australia Zoo, home of Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter - the same guy that you see on tv in the States. It was like no other zoo that I have ever been to. The first sight that we saw upon entering the zoo were the dingoes being walked, then a wombat being walked, then a zoo keeper carrying around a kookaburra. You are able to get photos next to all of these animals - but the real treat will be in my Christmas cards, whenever I get around to sending them out. So those of you whose addresses I have updated will hopefully enjoy the card in the mail this year, even though it'll be a bit late :-)

The biggest attraction of the zoo is the main show. It includes a snake show, tiger show, bird show, and then the famous crocodile show all in one - about 1 1/2 hours long. It really was a sight to be seen! The area where the kangaroos are located is an open area, similar to a meadow, where all of the kangaroos hang out. The difference between this zoo and any other zoo is that you get to buy a bag of kangaroo food and walk right up to them. They are very tame, very soft, and very photogenic. I will try to get some photos loaded up soon from this latest adventure. The Crocodile Hunter himself was not there, but I don't think he is there very often with all of his commitments over in the States.

This week before Christmas will prove to be very busy too. The girls are doing a Kris Kringle dinner tomorrow night (similar to a Secret Santa), I have major client commitments that must be finished before the break, and the firm-wide Christmas party is this Friday, which basically means that everything has to be done by Thursday. But Thursday is a Christmas lunch with a client, and in the meantime, I have to pack for my trip to Western Australia with B that starts the day after Christmas. So, I wanted to take this time out now to say Merry Christmas to all of you and your families. I horribly miss the spirit of Christmas, which doesn't really seem to exist in Australia, but I try to create it with my 1 Christmas CD and my favorite gingerbread lattes from Starbucks :-)

I will be spending Christmas day having a bbq with my closest friends here in Australia, but I will think of all of the ones that I love and miss back home. I hope that Christmas is perfect for each of you and that you all appreciate being around your families!

HFDU - Silver Anniversary Edition

Originally sent: September 30, 2005

G'day everyone! My oh my, it has been ages since my last email, and I think about some of the things that I will be including in here, and they seem to have happened so long ago. I have been meaning to send this silver anniversary edition for well over a month now, but the author in me has just not felt up to it lately. So like the procrastinator that I tend to be, I find myself sitting here at 3:30 on a Friday afternoon in my office with a mound of work to do, and I suddenly have the urge to write to all of you. So be it, I must follow the author instincts in me and type on……

Well, as most of you probably know, I am winding down my tenure in Australia. I have just under 5 months to go, and look with great sadness upon my future departure from this land down under. My valiant attempts to cheer myself up about returning to the States have consisted of booking my flights/tours to/through Thailand and Egypt, but these efforts have not been able to overcome the magnetic pull of the southern hemisphere that has kept me here for almost 2 1/2 years now. I still feel such a bond with this place, and feel as if I'm returning home upon the announcement that we have commenced our descent into Melbourne on a flight home from Sydney, or as I drive over the Westgate Bridge and see the sparkling city of Melbourne looming in front of me. At the same time, I feel helpless when I hear about the trials that Hurricane Rita has put everyone in Houston through, and grateful at the same time that it missed a direct hit on my American home. I spoke to my family each morning and evening as new events unfolded, but in between, I was a bit lost and wondering what was going on. In the end though, I hear that my cat behaved well throughout the evacuation and it was another example of why family is so important.

Switching gears a bit, spring officially arrived on September 1st, but I think that someone forgot to tell the weather that. It's a bit confused, but I suppose as long as it doesn't rain on me on my way to work, I can't complain too much. The normal annual company events (of which this has been my 3rd go round) have been in full swing. I've attended my 3rd company Ball, and not unexpectedly, it was an affair to remember. The theme was "Bollywood", and although B & I had a bit of an issue getting to the Ball, once we were there, we felt as if we were at a large family feast. The entire room was very "cozy" and the Bollywood dancers were phenomenal! One of my best friends here, CT, just returned home to Scotland with her husband BT. They were two of my favorite people and it was hard to see them go. We had numerous going away parties from them, from all afternoon affairs with the office, to intimate drinks with our close group of friends at the local pub. I definitely have some great memories of times spent with CT & BT, and at least I have someone to go visit when I make it over to Scotland!

I've recently spent a few weekends away, especially since B's footy season has finished. We took my other Scottish friends, KD & CD to B's holiday house at Lakes Entrance. I hadn't been there since Easter weekend, so I was due for another fishing trip. I caught a nice 50cm tailor and fed the family on Saturday night with it. The boys took advantage of the fact that they didn't have to drive anywhere at night, and consumed a stockpile of beer, while KD and I worked on the wine. We also spent a weekend at Mt Buller, trying to hit the slopes, but it was the end of the season and the snow was crap, not to mention the weather. We left Melbourne about 4am one Saturday morning, drove about 3 hours to the mountain, had a nice breakfast, and then discovered that there was no electricity on the actual mountain itself. This meant that the lifts weren't running, the ski hire place wouldn't hire out anything (in the event that someone wanted to be adventurous), and we were forced to spend the better part of the day at the one pub on the mountain that had a generator. I wouldn't call it B's best 1st skiing/snowboarding experience, but a memorable one at least!

We have become the team everyone loves to hate at our weekly trivia night at the local pub. It's because we're so darn good! Not really, but we did win an unprecedented 3 times in a row (receiving a $50 drinks voucher each time), and the pressure must have gotten to us because we've been 4th the last two weeks in a row. The trivia team is very diverse, including 4 Scots, 3 Americans, 2 English, and poor B, the lone Australian. It does provide us with an edge that most teams don't have. And often when we don't know an answer, we just offer to buy the host a beer. It usually works :-)

B & I have booked a trip to Western Australia during the Christmas Break. We are leaving the day after Christmas and will be gone for 10 days. It's the only state that I have yet to visit in Australia, so I definitely had to get there before I head back to the States. I lured B over there with the promise of a deep sea fishing trip as apparently monster-size fish happily jump on the end of your fishing line! I on the other hand, will drag him along with me to the highly regarded Margaret River winery region and a few areas around Perth. We’ve also recently spent a day on the weekend in Daylesford (the spa country) for our 2 year anniversary. Although we just went up for the day, it was nice to get away and still managed to leave us feeling refreshed and like we'd been away all weekend.

I've definitely been enjoying the perks of being a manager with my company - it seems that there are excuses to have lunch every week, there was a partner/manager dinner for the entire audit division, one for just my group, and numerous "just because" lunches and Friday night drinks sessions. I suppose that these perks are well-deserved after putting in 6 years with my company, and having to put up with the perpetual annoying client while holding their hand during the audit. I don't feel guilty, I just tell everyone that they need to put in the time and they'll be rewarded too. Managerial duties also include interviewing the new "grads" who are coming out of university, which proves to be an ordeal in itself. Sometimes I think that I would never make it past an interview for this place if I had to do it all over again. Lucky I got in early…...

We've recently had a couple of large celebrations - my friend HE's 30th birthday party and the AFL Grand Final party, also hosted by HE and her husband LE. HE & LE are from England, and they are two of the most entertaining people that I have had the pleasure to hang out with. HE is famous for the things that she says after having a few beers, and LE is just pure entertaining. At trivia, I reckon HE knows the answers to more music questions than the number of songs that I have in my entire repertoire. I must have been a musically-retarded child, having never developed the passion for off-the-wall musicians, or many of the mainstream ones for that matter. This has to be due in part to the fact that parents made us listen to the likes of the Statler Brothers in the car on road trips.

Anyway, due to the vast amount of trivia knowledge as alluded to above, we have won various gift packs of liquor from the pub, most recently the Jose Cuervo and Jagermeister gift packs. If anyone needs to borrow a Jose Cuervo beach ball with matching flip-flops, or a pair of Jagermeister ski gloves, just let me know! Needless to say, we have been well-supplied with liquor at our parties, most recently having finished off BOTH bottles at the 2005 Grand Final Party this past Sunday, also hosted by LE & HE. Their apartment has become the favorite for get-togethers as they have a massive balcony for the bbq activities that typically take place. Long afternoon, long night, a drunken run-away, and a trip to the emergency room summarizes that party quite well. I am happy to say that I was perfectly sober through it all, primarily due to the fact that I had the flu, which automatically designated me as the "ambulance driver".

Well, as if this isn't already long enough, I feel obliged to tell you all that Australia does have up-to-date movies and the like, and that I am still a huge advocate for assigned seating at the cinema. I've recently seen Wedding Crashers, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory (not to mention all of the Wonka bars that I've been buying trying to find a golden ticket!), and the Dukes of Hazzard. No Oscar winners, but some amusing scenes if nothing else. I've also spent a night at the theatre with the girls watching the on-stage version of Dirty Dancing, which was actually quite amazing. It's really sad when you can rehearse almost the entire performance from your seat in the audience, and how I sat there and critiqued the actor for not putting the right emphasis on "Nobody puts Baby in the corner".

Okay, enough of my rambling. I hope you are all well and safe from the treacherous Gulf of Mexico. I'm about to venture off to Sydney to work for 4 weeks, but will be on email regularly, so don't let that keep you from sending me a hello. I'll try to get around to updating the photos on the website this weekend, but no promises. I've just recently decided that I really should put together a photo album of my time here in Australia, so I've been sifting through all of my digital photos to select the ones that I actually want to print. What a chore! And I thought that spring cleaning was time consuming.

HFDU - 24th Edition & Highlights from Hawaii

Originally sent: July 11, 2005

WARNING! It's a long one…….
Hi everyone - this is a bit of a combination email to talk about the last month or so in Australia and my trip to Hawaii with my sister. First of all, I hope this email finds all of you well and enjoying summer. I was spoiled by the perfect, warm weather in Hawaii and have had a bit of a shock to my system the last few weeks as Melbourne is well and truly in the middle of winter. So here goes…..

Maui - what I loved:
  • LOVED the place! A & I stayed in a cute old town on the west coast, Lahaina, and enjoyed every minute of it. The weather was perfect, the people were laid back and friendly, and we had a great time exploring the island. I spent most of the time walking around in my bathing suit.
  • I got to drive again! It was such a sense of freedom that I didn't realize I had missed over the past months without a car.
  • Cheap cocktails - we definitely spent plenty of money on mai tais and other yummy cocktails, and had to take full advantage of $2 happy hours. I also came home with a bottle of Malibu pineapple rum and Captain Morgan spiced rum, neither of which are available in Australia.
  • Snorkelling - we went lots, along the coast by ourselves and on an organized day trip in the ocean. Swam alongside sea turtles and the most beautiful little fishies.
  • Haleakala - left at 2:45am one morning to drive to the top of this crater to see the sun rise up over the clouds. It was an amazing sight….and not surprisingly, amazingly cold! Not many people come to Hawaii prepared for 35 degree weather so the makeshift outfits people were wearing were quite amusing. (A was wearing a pair of socks on her hands!)
  • Old Lahaina Luau - a true luau experience complete with a pig cooked underground, fresh leis, unlimited cocktails, and authentic Hawaiian performers. We really enjoyed this, and it was only a few minutes from our hotel. FYI - we had to book in 2 months in advance due to popularity, but it's the best luau on the island, so if you want to go - get in early!
  • Some of our fav places to eat - Cheeseburger in Paradise, Maui Tacos, Kimo's, and Kula Lodge (at the bottom of Haleakala).
  • Road to Hana - most amazing drive ever. Over 600 turns and 54 one-lane bridges. A true driving experience! We loved the quaint little, and some not so little, waterfalls on the side of the road. I especially loved the pools (some with fresh water from the volcano, some with salt water from the ocean), and taking a dip. Got some amazing photos. Stopped on the side of the road and bought fresh plumeria leis for $3 from a little girl. VERY Hawaii!

Honolulu - hmmm….

No offence, but I was not a fan of the big city. Too many people and not enough space. The shopping was ok, but it didn't make up for the lack of the "island feel" that we had in Maui. Waikiki Beach was beautiful but overcrowded.

We did enjoy Pearl Harbor and quite liked Duke's Canoe Club at the Outrigger Hotel.
Our favorite pastime in Honolulu was sitting by the pool at our hotel, drinking mai tais, and chatting with the locals. The hike to the top of Diamond Head was also a good adventure and rewarded us with the most beautiful views of Oahu and the surrounding waters.

It was frightening to me that a handful of people in Honolulu thought that I was Australian because of my "accent". Australians laugh at that, but I guess I sound different enough to the typical American that they assumed I was from down under. I can't say that I mind though. I quite enjoy the Aussie accent!

Now, let's move a bit further south to my favorite island, Australia…..

I'm still in love with this place, so I probably speak about it with a bit more adoration than other places. I feel at home here, but I guess I should after 2 years (yes, I celebrated my 2 year anniversary with Australia on July 2nd!). I'll get the chance to explore a bit more of this country when I head to Sydney for 10 weeks to work on a special project for my company. Although it's a long time away from home, I thought that I should take advantage of the opportunity to really get to know Sydney, and maybe take a few weekend trips to the east coast to sunnier, warmer places than Melbourne. I'll get to come home every 2-3 weeks, and will be up there with one of my best buddies from the office, so it should be a good experience.

For those of you who remember that I was taking belly dancing classes, I had my first official recital just after I got back from Hawaii in mid-June. It was really enjoyable for me, although I was a bit uncomfortable at first about bearing belly in front of a few friends. At least I was tan from the Hawaii trip though! I had my own costume and all. The next semester of classes starts up this week after a couple of weeks off. I have finally found something that I really enjoy, and it gives me a different form of exercise. I did try a sample Bollywood class that my dance school offered, but there was a bit too much hopping and bopping for me. Might have been handy though as the theme for the company Ball this year (in just over 2 weeks) is "Bollywood Ball". Hopefully my last ball will be a memorable one…..

I hosted the second big event for the Starlight Teams for Dreams initiative with my group at work - a Wine & Cheese Tasting evening. A company graciously offered up their time to host the event, which included 6 wines with matching cheeses, and a lesson to explain it all. It was a very enjoyable evening and we were able to raise money for our Starlight wish child in the process.

Another group project that we have going is the "Fun At Work" program. Our group was basically divided up into 6 teams of about 20. At each group meeting, we have activities and competitions, and we also have a budget to spend on whatever we like. It has been a great way to meet other members of the group whom I would normally not be exposed to. And our team won the last competition! Another aspect of this is getting assigned a "Secret Buddy". We filled out short questionnaires about ourselves and drew names to get our Secret Buddy. So after reviewing the questionnaire, I'm supposed to do little things for my buddy that relate to his hobbies, fav foods, etc. or just nice things in general. I love spoiling people, so am having a great time with this!

Now that I have officially been promoted to manager over here, I have already been invited to or have attended several Partner/Manager dinners. We had one a couple of weeks ago for all of audit, we have one this Friday night for my group only, and we have a welcome lunch for new managers within my group next week. It really is a different world, and it's a bit of a wake-up call for me, but I've enjoyed it so far. I'm sure I'll enjoy it even more when I get my first pay check this Friday with a manager's salary…….

I had heard about a restaurant here in Melbourne where you eat in the dark. The concept began with a blind man somewhere in Europe who wanted to prove that people form opinions about how things taste when they first see them. So he wanted to take away the ability to see so that people could enjoy the smell and taste of the food without regard to how it looked. So, a few of us ventured off to "The Dark Side" restaurant and had quite an adventure.

You start out in "The Light Side" by looking that the menus, ordering, then preparing yourself with a cute little bib. You then hold on to the waiter and form a chain to walk into the dark side. And let me tell you - it's pitch black! We thought that once our eyes adjusted we would be able to see at least a little, but we learned quickly that if there's no light at all, your eyes can't adjust. So, once we figured out where everyone was sitting, we managed to locate our place settings and order some drinks. When we got our food, the first thing I remember one of the guys saying was "I think I just put my beer in my chicken". Followed by, "I just stuck my fingers in the tomato sauce (ketchup)". It was nearly impossible to eat with a knife and fork, so most of us picked up our food and managed quite well eating with our fingers (although I think half of my potatoes ended up on the floor when I was trying to find my lamb). B was determined to eat with a knife and fork, and was actually quite successful, though very slow going. When we needed something from the waiter, we had to raise our hands. As they had night vision goggles on, they could see everything that was going on. Kind of a scary thought, but you didn't even really remember that they were there. The waiter asked if we were done with our meals and we said that we thought so, but asked if there was any more food on our plates. It was overall a very good experience. If anyone comes to Melbourne to visit me within the next 8 months, I'll take you if you want an adventure!

A couple of other quick tidbits of information:
- I had a mini 4th of July celebration with KG from Boston, M & L from NYC and B. It involved cheeseburgers, milkshakes, apple pie & Budweiser, and having fun with sparklers. It was a bit of a bummer that it was on a Monday, but we had a nice little party anyway!
- One of my friends, LR (the wife of a co-worker) from the Cayman Islands, had a little boy on the 5th of July. We haven't been to see him yet, but I'm sure that he will be a spoiled little one with all of us here at work who know KR & LR. Especially since they are away from home during KR's secondment with my company.
- I've seen Mr & Mrs Smith and War of the Worlds recently - didn't like either one all that much, but I'm still a huge advocate for assigned seating at the cinemas.
- B's footy team has now won 4 games this season. Looks like they'll get to stay in the same division next year. And they have their foreign beer night coming up where everyone pays an "entrance fee" with a six pack of foreign beer (I'll be taking Budweiser to support the good ole USA).
- I'm shocked at what is allowed on Australian television. Big Brother Uncut comes on at 9:30pm and shows full on nudity! I couldn’t believe the first time that I watched it. You definitely get to see a different side to the housemates then during the regular show. There is a lot of controversy about this show but it still manages to stay on TV in the meantime.
- I gave blood again last night but they would only take my plasma because I had been in Hawaii. Apparently they think that I may have some exotic island disease. Whatever…..

Ok - I think I've exhausted my typing ability for the moment. And I'm sure that all of you need a break from reading. So with that I'll say farewell for now, but not before I remind you that there are new photos on the website. Enjoy!

HFDU - 23rd Edition

Originally sent: May 30, 2005

Dear all,
As I type this, I'm just remembering that I'm missing out on yet another U.S. holiday (Memorial Day), but I've grown accustomed to all of the Australian holidays, such as the Queen's birthday, Anzac Day, Australia Day, and Melbourne Cup Day. However, we go through a dry spell without any holidays between mid-June and early November, which makes the winter seem even longer! So I hope all of you have done something exciting over the long weekend and relaxed a little bit.

Speaking of long weekends away, B & I went on a road trip over Anzac Day weekend from Melbourne to Sydney, stopping in Canberra (the nation's capital) along the way. The trip from Melb to Syd is typically about 10 hours, but we added a few hours on the side trip to Canberra. Because B had his footy game on Saturday, we didn't leave Melb until 1am!! And, with the 8 hour trip to Canberra, if we had left at 8pm, we would have arrived at 4am and there would have been nothing open. So, needless to say, we were a bit delirious for a while after the long drive in the middle of the night. B was fasting for Greek Easter, so he made a "homebrew" which was basically REALLY strong coffee with rice milk instead of cow's milk. I never tasted it, but it certainly smelled lethal! He was so wired the entire trip up, I didn't worry at all that he was going to fall asleep.

Once we got to Canberra, we made a quick stop at Parliament House and went on a guided tour. It was interesting to be able to park underneath what would be the equivalent of our Capitol Building, and walk straight in with minimal security checks. I enjoyed learning more about how the Australian government works and have posted photos on the web.

We also took a trip to the War Memorial, which was also interesting, but by that point, I just wanted to sleep! When we finally made it to Sydney, we crashed at the hotel for a few hours before going out for a nice dinner. On the way back to Melb, we picked up B's best mate G who was up visiting is girlfriend in Sydney, and he rode back with us. We stopped in the Blue Mountains for a quick peak at the Three Sisters lookout and also drove through Bathurst, which is a country town that is home to Australia's biggest road race. The track is actually a public road, so of course B had to take the car for a few laps around just for the thrill! Overall a memorable trip - if not for the sights that we saw - definitely for the delirium that we were experiencing with minimal sleep!

There have been several birthdays over the past month or so since my last email. And continuing with our tradition, we go out for girls nights when one of the girls has a birthday. The last one involved about 15 of us going to a Spanish restaurant for tapas & sangria (yum!) and then to a club for some dancing. It was good fun :-) We had another impromptu girls night that involved dinner, drinks at the Vodka Bar, then dancing at a venue that is probably meant for 18 year olds. But all of us, being in our upper 20's, had a ball anyway, and my friend KD even won the podium dancing competition!

B's birthday was also in May, and I planned a surprise party for him at a restaurant. He had never had anything like that done for him, so I thought it was about time! It was good because I was able to gather all of his mates from the different "areas" of his life - footy mates, uni (college) mates, his brothers, work mates, and others. He had absolutely no idea and was genuinely surprised when we walked into the restaurant and there were 20 of his closest friends & family there for him. I scored big points for that one :-) B & I actually went to see Star Wars on the night of his birthday and were both pretty happy with Episode 3. B especially loves Yoda so was very excited every time he saw him with the light sabre!

Another night out involved a secondee dinner with 7 couples (B was the only Australian!) at a nice Chinese restaurant where we had a feast and probably drank way too much. We then headed to a local pub to complete the evening. It must have been very interesting to other people to see a large group with 6 Scottish people, 3 Americans, 2 British couples, and 1 poor Australian. I'm sure that they were wondering what we were all doing together. Good ole work for bringing us all together :-)

One of the British couples (actually from the Cayman Islands) is expecting their first baby at the end of June, so a few of us from the office (we work with her husband) threw her a baby shower. Luckily, her mom is living in Melbourne at the moment, so she has a bit of family here. Basically the shower ended up being a time for all of us to eat, drink, talk about girl stuff, and watch LR open all of the great baby gifts! I'm sad that I have had to miss births back home during my time in Australia, but at least I don't go through too much withdrawal of being around kids.

B resigned from our company and as tradition has it, everyone who leaves has a "leaving lunch". They are typically held on Fridays, as those are most peoples' last day, and also a better excuse to not return to work from the lunch. B would have definitely not had it any other way but to go out big, so we had lunch, then we stayed at the restaurant/pub until about 4pm, then went to the bar downstairs from the office to meet up with the others that actually did go back to work for more celebrating. It was a loooong afternoon, and was then topped off with a co-worker inviting everyone to come to a club and listen his band perform that night.

B's footy team is not doing so great this season, but he has managed to get "Best on Ground" for a couple of games so far. He's playing really well this year and still manages to be the favorite of all of the old men at the footy club. That means that they love me, by default, so I get treated very well around that place! We had the Ladies Day Luncheon again a couple of weekends ago. Another great afternoon of hanging out with all of the ladies (I seem to do that a lot lately!) and voting on such things as which guys on the team had the "Best Arms" or "Best Overall Package". B came second place in the "Guy that you would most like your daughter to bring home" survey! I was very proud - and you should definitely like that mom and dad :-) The footy club also put on a "Booze Cruise", which means that they hired a boat to drive up and down the Yarra river for 4 hours while we ate, drank, and danced the night away. It was good fun as well!

My belly dancing classes are going really well, and we are putting the final touches on our performance that happens in mid-June. The costumes arrive this week, and I am getting very excited (and nervous) about showing off my belly in front of about 350 people! Luckily, only about 10 people will know who I am, as I have banned anyone from work other than my CLOSE friends from coming to watch. It would just be too strange……

I'm also leaving for my Hawaiian holiday with my sister this Saturday, so hopefully I'll have a bit of a tan by the time the performance comes around. I was just thinking - Hawaii is about as close to half-way that you can get between Australia and the U.S. It takes A about 8 hours from Houston, and me about 9 1/2 hours from Sydney, so anywhere closer to half-way would be in the middle of the ocean. We are both very lucky to be able to do this, and are definitely looking forward to it. I'm ready to get out of winter for a bit and soak up some sun!

I learned again what a small world it is when I was telling B about a Greek girl that works out at my client and whom I have to deal with for the audit. Once he heard her name, he instantly asked more about her, as he thought it was a girl that he went to Greek school with for 10 years. It turns out he was right! And even wilder than that is that she also knows B's best mate G because they are both from Crete and used to take Greek/Cretan dance lessons together! They were amazed that an American was the link between all of them, who had not seen or heard from one another in 10 years. So we all met up for drinks one night and they were able to catch up and talk about old times. What a small world indeed.

A few more tidbits:
- I finally made it to the Immigration Museum and the Melbourne Aquarium. The Immigration Museum was especially interesting as it taught me heaps about the history of Australia.
- The leaves have fallen and the weather has finally turned cold & dreary. I love it! On my (almost) daily walks around the local footy oval, I really enjoy the cool dry air and the crunching of leaves. Sounds cheesy I know, but I strangely reminds me of fireplaces and hot chocolate :-)
- We are currently planning a weekend away in the snow, so I'll keep you posted…...
- Have I mentioned lately how much I love Australia? Being that I only have 8 months left here, anyone else who wants to come visit better make plans soon! I haven't had a visitor since last September, so am definitely up for some company. And you really shouldn't pass up the opportunity to see such a wonderful place when you have a free place to stay! And if a trip to New Zealand, Egypt or Spain interests you at all in about Feb/March of next year - let me know!!

I hope everyone is well and even though I may not always respond with a personal email, I love hearing from all of you and keeping up to date with your lives. Enjoy the summer! (And sorry for the long email. If I was more diligent, they would be smaller and come more often!)

HFDU - 22nd Edition

Originally sent: April 20, 2005

G'day everyone! Well the past month has been pretty busy, both from a work and social perspective. There were 4 weeks straight where we had 4 day weeks due to public holidays and our FOS Group Retreat. Hopefully after the first 21 emails, I can still make this one somewhat entertaining :-)

As the "chairman" of our group's Teams for Dreams program, I coordinated a FOS Group Trivia Night that raised over $1,100 towards our goal of $5,000. It was a great night, with over 80 people participating, but it certainly was time-consuming for me and the lady that was helping me. I didn't realize how many trivia questions there are on the internet, and of course, I had to find the fun and interesting questions to use rather than the boring ones, so it took me ages to get just the right set of 60 questions to ask on the night. I'm currently working on a Wine Appreciation Night to also raise money for our Starlight wish child, so in the next HFDU I'll hopefully have some good results to report on that event as well!

Easter weekend is extra long for us as we get Good Friday and Easter Monday off. I spent the weekend with B & his family down at their holiday house at Lakes Entrance. The weekend consisted of fishing, eating, fishing, eating fish, playing cards with the oldies, and generally relaxing. It was a great weekend and I caught some great fish and spent come quality time with B's family. I learned how to make several Greek dishes and that when in doubt, always add more olive oil and garlic, as they apparently make everything better! We have another long weekend coming up for ANZAC Day, so B & I are taking a road trip to Sydney, stopping through Canberra (that nation's capital) on the way.

This past weekend was a busy one with our end-of-season softball party on Friday night, B's first footy game on Saturday afternoon, and the International Rodeo on Saturday night. Our softball team ended up losing the in the Grand Final, but spirits were certainly high on Friday night and lots of sushi and pizza were eaten! It was a bit bittersweet for me though as it reminded me that I would not be here for next year's entire season :-(

B's footy team moved up a division from last year since they won the Grand Final, so they will be up against more fierce competition this season, which of course, he is thrilled about. They lost their 1st game on Saturday by one point, but put forth a valiant effort. My Scottish friends, KD & CD, came along to cheer on B, and it was good to catch up with all of the wives and girlfriends of the players as I hadn't seen them since the Grand Final bash in October.

Saturday night I took B, KD, & CD to the International Rodeo that was in town :-) It was great fun, especially since none of them (and probably most of the other Aussies who were there), had never been to a rodeo before! It was complete with bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, and barrel racing. No calf roping or steer wrestling, but considering that it lasted for over 4 hours, we were relieved that there weren't any more competitions! The bulls were mean indeed, and only a few of the cowboys were able to stay on for 8 seconds. However, there was a ride at the end of the night that was not part of the competition, that involved a cowboy trying to ride the son of "Chainsaw", who was called "Chain Reaction" - who was a bull who had never been ridden and would earn the cowboy $100,000 if he stayed on. Chainsaw is apparently an infamous bull like Bodacious (for those of you down south who know him), and this was his only son. Well, the cowboy did it! So at least one cowboy walked away happy & rich from the evening, but I'm guessing it wasn't the one who got knocked out, then trampled by the bull that had just bucked him off! Anyway, no rodeo is complete without animal activists sharing their beliefs, and it even happens in Australia. About 5-6 of them ran onto the arena floor carrying signs before they were escorted off by the venue security and pummelled by one very angry cowgirl who thought that they were ruining her evening!

I just started my second round of belly dancing classes this week, and have actually registered for two classes a week so that I can maybe actually become good at it and be part of a performance. I really do enjoy it, and it's also great exercise and is providing me with a challenge. These classes are definitely more complicated than the beginners class, so they'll keep me on my toes for sure! KD & I took our men to a "Middle Eastern Night" a few weeks ago to watch our belly dancing teacher dance. We were all really impressed by the show, and were amazed that the men in the show could rival the women in hip movements! I would much prefer watching the women, but it was interesting anyhow.

The International Comedy Festival just ended and B & I managed to catch a couple of shows. I haven't typically been a huge fan of comedy (mainly because of the foul language involved), but some of these guys were actually really, really funny! For about 2 weeks, the city was full of comedians, both local & international, performing at theatres all over Melbourne every day and night of the week. It was a bit crazy for a while around here, but at least everyone was laughing :-)

What's been going on at work……we had our annual FOS Group Retreat a couple of weekends ago in a beach town along the Great Ocean Road. We went down on the Sunday morning and came back to Melbourne late on Monday afternoon. B & I actually took the bike down as it was only about a 2 hour ride from the city. It was great fun, as expected, and the theme for the dinner/dance on Sunday night was "The Decade You Were Born", which means that 95% of the group was dressed in 70's and 80's attire. It was hilarious to re-live our youth, especially seeing the 80's clothes that I used to wear! B dressed as "himself" in the 70's, so you can guess what he was dressed as, or check out the website for a photo. As part of this, within our various levels, we had to create a performance matching our decade, so there were such performances as Grease, Saturday Night Fever, Family Feud, Michael Jackson, etc. They were hilarious! We also did group activities (choice of golf, surfing lessons, mountain bike riding or horseback riding) and a scavenger hunt around the city. And we played team tennis, soccer, beach volleyball, and beach cricket. Try getting an American who has never played cricket before to "bowl" (cricket's version of pitching) without making a complete fool of herself! It was a good experience anyway :-)

We also had a firm wide social club event at a bar called "Backlot", which was designed after a Hollywood movie set. It was very cool, with different city scenes and set props. Speaking of movies, Nicolas Cage's new movie Ghost Rider is currently being filmed across the street from my office building. On the streets of Melbourne are American police cars, which look crazily out of place, but it was a bit nostalgic to see "Department of Public Safety" written on the side of a black & white Chevy Caprice! And maybe I'll actually run into Nicolas Cage…….

A few more tidbits:
- B resigned from our company and his 4 weeks are up the first week in May. I think he'll be much happier for it!
- I've become a train girl rather than a tram girl. I decided to start taking the train to/from work to change up my routine a little bit. It also means a 15 minute walk to the train station (so more exercise), and although Flinders Street Station isn't quite Grand Central Station, it still feels a bit more like America to me.
- I'm picking up two American secondees from the airport tomorrow morning who are coming over from New York for 2 years. It will be very exciting to have other Americans in this group as I've been the only one for almost 2 years now.
- Someone the other day told me that I didn't sound like an American. Oh yeah? So what do I sound like then?!?!?
- I bought Hooters wing sauce from the USA Foods Store the other day and can't wait to make them!

It’s not too late to come for a visit. Considering that I'm saving up for my travels on the way home, after Hawaii I won't be going anywhere so come over & see me!

Well, summer is fading away and autumn is creeping in. The leaves have started changing and the AFL footy season is upon us. This only means that winter is around the corner, which means that there are no more afternoons in the beer garden of the Belgian Beer Café, no more afternoons strolling along the Yarra River, no more weekend evenings spent sitting outside at a café for hours, and no more long rides on the back of B's motorbike. But, the good news is that in 5 1/2 weeks, I get to forget about winter and head to Hawaii for 10 days to meet up with my sister for her 30th birthday. Just the two of us, and we are both really looking forward to it! I have a few Aussies here that are very jealous, but then again, why shouldn’t they be?!?!? :-)

I hope everyone is well and not completely bored of this email. Because they are coming less frequently now, I find that they are longer, but you've at least got more time to read it :-) Keep in touch please and I'll see you all stateside in less than a year!