Sunday, 7 December 2014

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

Just kidding. It's really not. There are a few decorations up around the city, but because of the weather and how light it is in the evening, it all just seems so wrong! As do the Christmas songs playing in the shops. It makes me a bit sad... Is it weird that a big reason I don't want to stay here forever is because I want to have Christmas in the winter again?!

Massive Christmas wreath outside Stonnington Council
I've been a bit slack with writing on the blog lately. Work has been busy, busy, busy. It's the end of the school year, the students finished on Friday and we only have 5 days left... not that I'm counting down... Ha! Of course I am, every teacher is counting down at this point! You would think that these last few weeks would have been nice, easy weeks, winding down to the summer holidays, but not at my school. We have an Early Commencement Programme (ECP), which basically means that we start the new school year for the last 4 weeks of term. So that means that I have got all my new classes for 2015 already, and have had to go through the exhausting task of setting up new routines and culture for my new classes. I have to be stricter than usual and on the ball with checking homework, following up lateness, etc. so that the students don't develop bad habits for the rest of the year. Normally all this is done at the start of the year, when you've just had 6 weeks off for summer, so you have lots of energy, but at the moment I just feel tired all the time. The school does this so that learning time is maximized, mainly for Year 12 students who have their high stakes exams to prepare for, so they get an extra 4 weeks of lesson time due to ECP. It is the best thing for student learning, so I am on board, but it is totally exhausting and I am ready for a break.

I also did exam marking this year for the exam board. Very good professional development, but not fun to come home to a few hours of monotonous marking after a full day of work. As I had to spend a few weekends getting this done, Andy had to amuse himself with various activities... including a "Boys Weekend" in Lorne. 

Cycling along the Yarra River
Kayaking along the Yarra
Beer Tasting at Matlida Bay Brewery
Other than that we have just been preparing for our upcoming trip with my family. My parents arrive next Sunday, I am SO excited! Only 1 week to go until they get here and school's out for summer! (Dad shout-out!)

These signs are up all over Prahran. Home is coming to me this Christmas! Yay!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Once the Musical

For Andy's birthday a few weeks ago, I bought him tickets to see "Once", a musical playing at The Princess Theatre in Melbourne. We used to go to the theatre quite a bit in London, but haven't done at all since living in Melbourne. Partly because a lot of the bigger shows we've already seen, and partly because it can be pretty expensive. But I'd read some good reviews about Once and didn't know anything about it (I didn't even know that it was based on a movie), so thought it would be nice to get tickets for us.

We made it into a bit of a date night, with dinner and drinks at Melbourne Supper Club first. It was a beautiful night so we were able to sit outside on the rooftop garden, called Siglo, which was busy even when we arrived at 6pm. (I'm not sure why it has a different name as it's the same place). We had some delicious tapas: the prawn wontons were my favourite, and Andy just had to order the gourmet sausage rolls. Unfortunately the service was pretty poor - our waitress seemed pretty out of it, she never smiled and would take plates away or put things on the table without saying a word. The kicker was that she took my wine glass away while there was still wine in it - unforgivable! She was so fast about it I couldn't even say "I'm not finished with that!" and was just left stewing about my unfinished wine. I had read some really good reviews about Melbourne Supper Club so it was disappointing to have such bad service, but we did leave with full bellies and the atmosphere was really good so maybe we will give it another try sometime.
Siglo, Melbourne Supper Club's rooftop

The Princess Theatre is just a few meters down the road from Melbourne Supper Club. We had tickets in the Dress Circle, which was the first level up. Those that had tickets in the Stalls (the floor) are invited on stage before the show and in the interval to have a drink with the cast, as the stage is set up like a bar. (Those tickets were pretty pricey though... I settled for a more moderately priced ticket for us! I actually considered getting a restricted view ticket as they were REALLy cheap, but thought that might be a bit of a rubbish birthday present!) The whole cast can play a musical instrument, and they are onstage playing throughout the whole show, which was pretty cool. The story line is simple: A Czech girl meets an Irish boy in Dublin, and she recognises his talent as a musician and songwriter. He is about to give up music, but she pushes him to pursue his dream. It's a romantic comedy; the two are both nursing respective broken hearts whist falling in love, and there are a lot of laugh out loud lines. The main difference between this musical and others is that most of the songs don't advance the plot much, they are actually songs that the main character wrote, but of course the lyrics have meanings parallel to the storyline. Also the music isn't really cheesy-musical like music, it's got more of an Indie/pop/folksy feel to it.

I really enjoyed it, although the second half was a bit of a let down compared to the first. Also the theatre was freezing, we had air-conditioning blowing right on us, and the seats were pretty worn and uncomfortable! It was worth seeing though, and I think it would appeal to people who don't like traditional musicals as well as those that do.

Monday, 3 November 2014


Escape Rooms have been popping up all over Melbourne since about April of this year. I read an article in last month's Time Out magazine reviewing 6 different Escape Rooms in the city, and promptly forwarded the article to Andy with an excited "Let's do this!!!" at the top. An escape room is basically a live, interactive puzzle, where you are locked in a room for a set amount of time, and you have to work out different codes and puzzles in order to get out of the room. 

Yesterday we went to Escapism, which is located in Strike Bowling Alley at QV in the city. There are 3 different rooms to choose from here, each with a different scenario. We went as a group of five, and chose the "Forensic" room to solve. This is the scenario given about this room:

You are part of a team of investigators on the trail of a serial killer. You are close to identifying him and he knows it. Can you catch him before he gets to you?

This room is meant to be the most challenging out of the 3, with a difficulty rating of 9/10. In fact, when we got there we were told that less than 10% of groups had been able to solve the puzzle! You have a time limit of 50 minutes, which goes by super quick. It's not a cheap activity, on weekends the room costs $150, but split between 5 people that wasn't too bad. 

I won't go into too much detail as that would ruin it for anyone else going. We were blindfolded and led into a room, the door slamming shut behind us. Taking off the blindfold, we looked around and were in a police station. There are clues and information all around the room, but in the beginning we had NO IDEA where to start. We were given a phone so we could call and ask questions if we were stuck, but they wouldn't just give us information, rather they just sort of confirmed whether or not we were on the right track. We were encouraged to call before going in actually, as this room had such a high failure rate. 

Anyway it probably took us 15-20 minutes before we cracked the first clue. But what an amazing feeling we had when we did it! I actually solved it in the end (although the whole thing was a great team effort) and jumped up and down for joy when I opened a locked drawer that gave us another clue. We got a bit of confidence from that, and worked pretty solidly for the next 45 minutes. There were actually 3 different rooms that were opened with different clues, and ultimately we had to work out who the murderer was in order to escape the room. With about 5 minutes left we were SO CLOSE, we were in the last room and on the cusp of figuring out the clue that would lead us out. Andy phoned them and asked if we could have more time... I thought they would definitely say no but there was no one booked in after us so they said we could have 10 extra minutes. Shortly after we ESCAPED THE ROOM, so I'm not sure we actually used that extra time, but it did give us some breathing space. 

Oh man, the feeling when we got out of the room! It was such a buzz. The whole thing was super fun and engaging from start to finish. It was such a great way to spend an afternoon with some friends, and when we went for dinner later on we could not stop talking about it. We were of course super proud to have actually escaped given the failure rate. I think we will definitely be doing another one of these sometime soon, and this looks like a possible activity for when my family comes to visit in December (only 6 weeks from now!) Anyway if you are in Melbourne, or here on holiday, I would highly suggest doing one of these Escape Rooms.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Crazy Thunderstorm

Last night Andy and I woke up around 2am to the loudest thunder I have ever heard in my life. We went out on to the balcony to watch the most spectacular lightning completely light up the sky over Melbourne. The thunder was so loud, you could tell exactly when the storm was right above us and when it had travelled further inland (it seemed to come from the bay and work its way inland). 

We stayed up watching it for about half an hour and got a few pictures, but they don't do the enormity of the storm justice.

When we woke up this morning there were still passing thunderstorms. Of course the trains were a mess - I considered tweeting metrotrains but plenty of other people were already doing that for me:

I ended up calling a colleague who lives nearby who picked me up thankfully, as when I tried to journey plan my route it was saying it would take nearly 2 hours to get there. Public Transport Victoria has actually issued an apology today, saying it failed commuters. Obviously this was an extreme case today; it would be nice to get an apology from PTV every time it rains and it's trains are delayed! (Actually it would just be nicer if the trains could cope with heavy rain, seeing as this is a place where rain is pretty frequent)

Other people were without power, flights were all delayed this morning, and a house in Prahran was hit by the lightning and burnt down. Crazy.

Here's a video of the lightning from our balcony:

I found this video on Youtube which captures the storm quite well, and has some funny subtitles as an added bonus:

In true Melbourne fashion, the skies were clear and blue by the late afternoon. 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Healthy Eating

So about this time last year Andy and I decided to try to change our eating habits so that we were eating more whole foods and less junk food. (Well, let's be honest... I decided we were going to do this and Andy reluctantly agreed seeing as he didn't have much choice). I was inspired by the website '100 Days of Real Food' which I 'liked' on facebook about a year prior and so constantly see updates on my news feed about Real Food.

The aim wasn't really to follow any sort of diet, but just to try and avoid highly processed foods and eat more natural, whole foods.

The general guidelines we tried to follow were:

- No refined/added sugar. 
- No white flour, bread or rice
- Full fat foods instead of low/no fat
- Use natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup
- Coffee, tea, water, milk as beverages
- No pre-made foods with more than 5 ingredients listed

In terms of alcohol we've tried to stick to wine and beer, and I've pretty much cut out cocktails completely, which I used to LOVE. (Here in Australia this also has the added benefit of saving you a lot of money!)

This is all the food we got rid of when we first started our Real Food Challenge. 

The first step was to clear out our cupboard and hide all food on the banned list. As you can see from the picture there was quite a lot! Mainly white pasta and rice, white flour, sugar from baking, and sauces that have sugar added to them. Since this clear out the HP sauce has somehow found it's way back into our cupboard... Hmmmm who could have done that? 

We originally spent a lot of money buying some staples - real food is expensive! Things like raw cacao, all natural honey, organic fruits and veggies, quinoa, chia seeds, nuts, and all things coconut: flakes, oil, milk and butter. We actually found most things we needed in Woolworths. We have tried a few times to shop in Prahran Market instead, but have found it to be much more expensive than Woolies. Which annoys me, as I would like to try to shop more locally, but it is hard when you are also trying to stick to a budget. I also don't get this, why is local food at markets MORE expensive? Shouldn't it be cheaper?! 

Since trying to eat better dinners haven't really changed for us much. Partly due to the fact that when we eat dinner at home we generally cook from scratch, so that meal was pretty healthy anyway and we can continue to eat most of what we were already eating. For example, for dinner the other night we had a favourite from 'Jamie's 15 Minute Meals', the Blackened Chicken San Fran Quinoa Salad. (I love Jamie Oliver, and I don't even mind that none of his meals take anywhere close to 15 or 30 minutes, because the recipe instructions are so clear and everything always tastes amazing.)

The most difficult part has been packing lunch and snacks for work. We need to plan ahead for that, something we are both not great at. Also we need enough snacks to keep us from getting hungry and then eating sweets or biscuits - things that are always around from other people that can be tempting during that afternoon slump! One of my colleagues who I share an office with has a constant stash of 'lollies' ('sweets' in England, 'candy' in Canada) in a container on his desk, in full view. The lollies are for the office and prior to our Real Food eating plan I ate my fair share every afternoon. I am pleased to say that over the course of this year I have almost always resisted the afternoon biscuit or lolly. The one main exception is "Friday Tea", which we have at morning break every Friday (duh) at my school. It's used as informal staff briefing, and there is always an amazing spread laid out, and I've decided that Friday Tea is my one free pass every week!

I've done a lot of reading about food over the past year, and although sometimes some of the advice is conflicting, I've come to some overall conclusions that seem to be shared among lots of the experts:

1. Sugar IS EVIL. Fructose, more specifically. It should be avoided, even in fruit in the opinion of some. I don't think we will ever be that extreme, but we don't ever have white sugar anymore, and try to avoid as many products as possible that have sugar of any form added to them. I still use honey and maple sugar in my baking, which I know have almost as much fructose as table sugar. I'm not sure why I think that is ok, maybe because they are more natural or something. I have also tried things like rice malt sugar which has less fructose, and coconut sugar (not sure why... it seems like the in thing?) but have definitely avoided agave as a sugar substitute as it has more fructose than table sugar.

2. White bread/pasta/rice are ALSO EVIL. Again, some people also advocate for avoiding grains altogether, but we eat whole wheat bread, pasta, rice etc. Although it is VERY difficult to find bread that has no white wheat in it at all. I've tried to cut down on bread but it is hard, as Andy loves it and actually I do too!

3. Counting calories is not the answer! I've just read the book "Why we get fat, and what to do about it" by Gary Taubes and although I'm not sure I agree with everything in there, he discusses why the calories in/ calories out theory is not quite right. Our bodies metabolise calories from fat, protein and carbs differently. Basically he says that simple carbs turn right into fat. He says a lot more, in a very scientific way that I have no desire to try to summarise here, so I recommend reading the book if you are into this sort of thing.

4. Fat will not make you fat! Fat is good for us, and fills us up, so stop buying low-fat products that often have added sugar in them. We now drink whole milk (no more skinny lattes for me!), eat full fat yogurt, full fat cheese, and love things like avocados and nuts as filling and healthy snacks.

Both of our families have asked for some recipes and examples of the food we've been eating, so I thought I'd list the blogs I frequent along with some of our favourite recipes so far. These blogs have been so incredibly helpful, especially when trying to find some healthy treats to satisfy cravings for something sweet. I am so impressed with how creative people are with food. Unfortunately I am not one of those people. Fortunately we have the Internet and I'm able to follow a recipe so it doesn't really matter!

Good Blogs:
Iowa Girl Eats (delicious recipes, not all totally healthy but good home cooked meals)

Our favourite Real Foods:
we take a jar with natural yogurt and frozen blueberries to work every day!

Very filling, this is one of my go to green smoothie breakfast recipes, although I use plain almond milk and plain Greek yogurt

Very yummy, filling cookies. A bit of a cheat as I add dark chocolate chips, but cacao nibs could work if you wanted no sugar at all.

Almond Joy Cookies

I use feta cheese instead of the cheese listed in this recipe.

One of my favourite dinners, this is so easy to make, cheap, and really, really tasty. It's one of Andy's favourites too. Also good as it makes enough for leftovers for lunch the next day.

Very yummy with coconut butter on top!

Cheesy Biscuits
Very filling, a good alternative to bread. We had these with avocado, tomato and a poached egg for breakfast the other day and it was so filling!
You can't get the recipe online (I have her cookbook) but they are made of LSA, coconut flour, eggs, cheddar cheese, salt and paprika.

This is perfect for when you want a bit of a treat after dinner. I prefer it to 'real' chocolate now! It is equal parts almond butter, cacao powder, coconut oil, a half measure of maple syrup, and a little bit of vanilla extract. Melt together, pour into muffin molds and freeze. They only take about 10 minutes to freeze and then are ready to eat! Keep them in the freezer or fridge as they will melt otherwise.

I use Parmesan cheese instead of nutritional yeast in this as I'm not vegan, also don't use a lot of apple cider vinegar as it overpowers.

(I wish I had some more pictures of these foods we have cooked but I'm not a great food photographer. Something to work on!)

We still go a bit off the rails at times, caving and buying chocolate as an after dinner treat. And when we go out to eat or have dinner at a friend's house we just enjoy ourselves and not worry about whether we shouldn't be eating something. I do enjoy preparing and eating (ok, mostly eating), healthy meals for us. Sometimes it is time consuming and I'd much rather just get a take-away,  but I do notice a big difference in my mood and energy levels when I eat properly, and so the time invested is worth it. Interestingly TIME magazine had an article out this month by Mark Bittman on the rise of convenience food in the 50s and 60s and how home cooking can improve our health. Mark focuses on making healthy home cooked meals easily and fast... I might have to pick up his cookbook! You can read the article or watch an overview of it here.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Typical Melbourne Weather

We are experiencing some typically crazy Melbourne weather this week.

30 degrees and sunshine all day. Everyone in Melbourne was either at the beach or on a rooftop, loving life (see below). 
St Kilda Beach
Enjoying a few colds ones at Republica

Absolutely freezing. It's like the middle of winter. Rain, high winds and a high of 14 degrees. Don't put your winter clothes away yet!

Here's a look at the rest of the week:

At least the weather seems to be behaving for the weekends.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Birthday Cards - Are they really necessary?

We went to a friend's birthday lunch in the Yarra Valley this weekend. On the way to pick up one of our friends, he called us to ask if we had gotten the birthday boy a card. We hadn't. Big surprise - I am THE WORST at remembering to get birthday cards for people. Andy has given up on expecting cards on time for his birthday, although I have made a significant effort to improve in this area! I think it's because I personally feel like they are a waste most of the time. Yes, they are nice to receive if there is a thoughtful message written in them, and I have kept a few cards over the years as they are sentimental. Mainly cards from my parents who write lovely messages (that often make me tear up!), and these do mean a lot when you are living far from home. My best friend from home also sometimes randomly sends me a card with lots written in it, like an old school letter instead of an email, and these are also really exciting to get and read as they are an unexpected surprise. 

So I am not against the idea of cards if they contain thoughtful written messages. But just getting someone a card for the sake of it and then hastily scribbling "Happy Birthday Love Andy and Wendy" feels a bit forced and wasteful. Waste of money and a waste of paper... if everyone STOPPED buying birthday cards (and Christmas cards while we're at it) that would have to make a significant difference to not only the amount of paper wasted, but the amount of fuel and energy spent on delivering these cards through the post. Surely the fact that we were driving up to the Yarra Valley to spend the afternoon with someone on their birthday means more than getting them a card?! Maybe I am just a very thoughtless person with bad manners, but if you asked me to choose between spending time with people or receiving a card on my birthday, I'd choose the former, as I'm sure you all would too. I guess I am just not really offended if someone turns up to my birthday without a card, but I do understand that some people feel that this is rude. (PS Mom and Dad this does not apply to you).

Anyway, in the end we DID end up buying a card, as our friend's wife (who was on a business trip and so wasn't coming to lunch) told him it would be bad manners to turn up without one. (Who decided that giving cards was good manners anyway? Hallmark? It's all a scam...) So we stopped at IGA on the way, picked out 2 pretty crappy cards (selection was VERY limited), signed them and gave them to the birthday boy at lunch. I am sure he appreciated them, but I would bet he appreciated that we had come to his surprise birthday lunch much more. 

Ok, rant over, we had a very yummy lunch at a winery called De Bortoli. On weekends lunch is either a 2 course ($55) or 3 course ($68) Italian themed menu. I'd say it would be classed as a fine dining establishment, white cloth napkins and a bit on the pricey side, although they had a good selection of their own wines for reasonable prices: $9 glass/$36 bottle. Andy and I decided I would order an entree and a main, and he would get a main and a dessert, but we would share our entree and dessert with each other. I had a pheasant and duck terrine to start with, which I was a bit "meh" about, and I think Andy then decided he regretting saying he'd share his dessert with me! It was just a bit bland. I then had baby snapper fillet for a main and it was delicious. For dessert Andy obviously chose the one that featured lots of chocolate, called a Chocolate Marquise. I have never heard of a "Marquise" before but basically it's a very rich chocolate dessert, like a very heavy mousse. Maybe like a ganache. It was good but very rich - which meant at least he was willing to share with me as there is no way you could eat a whole one yourself.

After lunch we sat outside the winery catching up with everyone - the view was beautiful and the weather perfect, about 22 degrees and sunny. Overall, card debacle notwithstanding, we had lovely afternoon with wine, sunshine and friends. What more could you want?

Monday, 6 October 2014

$107 to find out I have a weak bum!

So about a week and a half after the marathon my knees were still bothering me, especially when doing a lot of walking. I decided to go see a Physio to see what was wrong as I would like to be able to run again sometime in the near future - preferably before our Triathlon on 19th October! A physio is pretty expensive here, $132 for an initial 45 minute appointment where I went, but we have private health insurance so I thought the majority of the cost would be covered.

Australia's health care system is based on Medicare, which covers a lot of basic medical costs. Australia has a reciprocal health care agreement with the UK, so we were able to get Medicare cards as soon as we got here. However, it was a requirement of the 457 visa, our original visa, to have private health insurance as well. We had the Overseas Visitors cover from Bupa, which was a pricey $200/month for the two of us, for things like hospital and ambulance cover. When we became Permanent Residents here we were able to switch over our health insurance to a cheaper plan that also gave us some 'extras' coverage, like eye glasses, dentist, physio, etc. Anyone over the age of 31 has to have private health insurance in Australia. If you wait until you are older you pay a premium on the cost, depending on how long you waited after your 31st birthday. It is a way to encourage people to take out hospital cover at a younger age.

On our overview of our extras from Bupa it says that 70% of the cost of physio is covered. So I thought, great, I'm going go the the physio and pay about $40 for my appointment. WRONG! Unfortunately I neglected to read the fine print and that 70% coverage only applies if I go to a Bupa Members First Provider, which I did not do. (I basically just picked the closest physio to our place). Because I didn't go to one of their providers, they only cover $25 for your first visit, and $17 for every subsequent visit. I didn't find this out until they handed me my bill of $107 after my appointment. Yikes! Moral of the story: Always read the fine print!

The good news is I haven't done any damage to my knee joint, and what I have is ITB Friction Syndrome. Apparently it is a common cause of Runner's Knee, due to a tight IT Band and overuse. Training for a marathon will do that. The IT Band runs down the outside of your thigh from your butt to your knee, and can become tight due to a muscular inbalance or weakness - in my case it is due to weak gluts (my butt). The physio gave me a few exercises to do based on the 'Clam' as demonstrated here:

Hopefully a few weeks of the clam and I will be back on my feet! I am supposed to go back to the physio next week, but that will be about another $100 and I'm not sure it is worth it. She said I would only have to go 3-4 times as the injury is not that serious, which to me means that I don't really need to go back, as long as I keep up with the exercises, and no running for a few more weeks :(

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Brisbane Ranges

Last weekend Andy and I went on a little camping trip. I say ‘camping’ but no tents were involved, there was running water and proper toilets, and we ended up at a winery for dinner… so maybe camping is stretching it somewhat. Ok, we were glamping.

Sunday morning we drove to Andy’s school’s campsite. He was here a few weeks ago with his Year 9 form group, and was told by the caretaker that he could come and stay at the camp over the school holidays, when it wasn’t being used. Andy had a great time with his Year 9s when he came, and was especially excited about doing some more mountain biking, so I said I’d give it a go.

The cabin we stayed in

Cool entrance to to the bike shed
We were in Torquay on Saturday for a 30th birthday party, so needless to say I was not in the best of shape when we arrived at the campsite. I was tired, headachy and generally in a grumpy mood. The weather didn't help - it was 29 degrees (good) however the wind was crazy strong (bad). After getting settled in our cabin we went down to the shed with the mountain bikes and Andy fitted us out with bikes and helmets. It took me about 5 seconds to decide that I hate mountain biking. Basically, I was being a major wimp, but really I just didn’t find it that fun. I lasted about 10 minutes, which consisted of me going super slow both up AND downhill as I was pretty scared of going fast. Andy finally gave up coaxing me to keep trying and was happy enough riding on the trails on his own while I took some video footage.

Not to sure about this whole mountain biking thing...
After the mountain biking we decided to get something to eat. As the camp is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and we were under-prepared for cooking at the campsite (standard) we had to drive about 20 minutes to get to the nearest town, and on the way we discovered Clyde Park Vineyard. The winery was closing in about half an hour when we arrived so the kitchen to the restaurant was closed, but they said they could make any of the pizzas on the menu for us. We debated whether or not to stay, as the pizzas were quite pricey (about $25-30 each) but decided to stay as we didn’t really know what else was around. Also, I really liked the feel of the winery. Inside, where we opted to sit due to the heavy winds, was very rustic looking, with the walls lined with oak wine barrels and long wooden tables to sit at. As it wasn't very busy when we arrived we got a very cute round table in the corner with big wing chairs to sit in. Outside the winery had an amazing view over vineyards and fields. Even though this place was right off the motorway, you couldn't really tell, it was a very calm and peaceful environment. We were really glad that we stayed in the end. We ordered 2 pizzas, a Sticky Pork and a BBQ Chicken, and both were delicious. I had a glass of their 2013 Pinot Noir as it was the recommended wine with the Sticky Pork pizza, which was enjoyable. Andy stuck with his favourite wine, Sauvignon Blanc. I don’t think he ever orders anything else, even though he claims he can’t tell the difference between different wine varietals. When asked about how his wine is, his reply is normally “Good. It tastes like wine”.

Much happier now that I'm in a winery!

We went back to the cabin, and after seeing the most amazing sunset (which of course didn't look nearly as impressive in the pictures), we spent the evening chilling out, reading, and watching a bit of TV (ya, not really camping). The movie American Reunion was on, which is a pretty awful part of the American Pie franchise, but fun to watch anyway as it made me feel like I was back at uni.

Sunday night was ridiculously windy, we’ve been having some crazy weather here lately where it will be hot and sunny for a few days, and then we’ll get these windstorms and it will rain and/or cool off for a few days. Monday we woke up and it was a lot cooler. In the morning we went kayaking down the river… There is something really nice about being on the river, the viewpoint that you get is completely different to just being on a river bank.

After kayaking we saw a wallaby hopping along on the opposite side of the river. I think it was coming down to get a drink but stopped when it saw us. It stayed hidden behind a tree before hoping further away down the river. I still get a huge kick out of seeing kangaroos and wallabies. They way they bounce along looks almost cartoonish, and you can't quite believe that this is a real animal.

We went back to Melbourne on Monday afternoon, stopping for a walk around Albert Park and a coffee with some of my work friends. I looooove school holidays!

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Our Balcony

One of the main reasons we moved to this flat in Prahran in May was that it had a decent sized balcony with a great view all the way to Port Philip Bay. Our last apartment had no outside space or view, which, in my opinion, is essential when you live in country that is actually warm for a large part of the year.

As we moved in to this place at the beginning of winter we haven't had much of a chance to enjoy our balcony yet. Aside from a few herbs, my new bike, and our drying laundry, we didn't have anything out there. Nothing to sit on or make it inviting. So this week we made the trek to IKEA to get a few outdoor basics. I always dread trips to IKEA as they inevitably lead to some sort of dispute. An English guy I work with has moved back and forth between England and Australia with his Australian wife 7 times. They have now decided to settle in Australia, as "there are only so many times you can go to IKEA without getting a divorce". Totally agree. Also, no matter how well intentioned, there is no such thing as a 'quick trip' to IKEA. We actually did this one in about an hour and a half which is probably a record, and only that fast as we had a birthday dinner to get to. Plus, being on school holidays meant we could go during a weekday, which... what a difference an empty IKEA makes! It's almost pleasant to check out all the design spaces without thousands of other people also in search of cheap Swedish furniture. We actually got through so fast that Andy thought we must have skipped a section. 

I have this idea in my head that our balcony is going to be this lovely little sanctuary, where I can peacefully read my book and have a coffee while gazing out to the sea. I've even started a Pinterest board with ideas for small balconies, which actually just makes me covet other people's homes. Pinterest is evil like that. Andy is more practical about the whole thing, probably because the balcony is not THAT big and also we are only renting this flat, so no point in putting too much effort into a place we will never own.

So we decided on just a small table and chairs for now, so that we could at least sit outside for a few meals or a glass of wine as the evenings start to get warmer. Best part about the table and chairs? They came already put together! No allen keys required! We also got a few plants and herbs which I will be adding to - I love growing fresh herbs, they are such a ripoff to buy in bunches in the supermarket.

I love our balcony! (And, I actually love IKEA. Here is a link to a post on the TED Blog with some hilarious parodies and homages to IKEA)

About to enjoy some Avo Smash out on the balcony

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Sydney Marathon

I made it though the marathon, woohoo! Now I can say 'I run marathons', plural, as I've done more than one... two to be exact!

We flew up to Sydney early on Saturday morning, feeling pretty exhausted as Friday was the last day of term for us. We stayed this airbnb place, which I would definitely recommend as an alternative to a hotel in central Sydney. Our host was a guy named David, who also happened to be running the half-marathon on Sunday, so it was nice to stay with a fellow runner. It also meant we didn't have to worry about making noise when we got up at 5am to have breakfast as he was up making his breakfast quinoa as well. His apartment was super close to Milson's Point train station, which was also where the start of the race was. It made for a much more relaxing morning prior to the race as we just had to walk around the corner to get there. I can remember a super stressful half marathon start we had for Run to the Beat in London. The tubes were delayed that morning, and the roads closed around the start of the race. We had to jump in a cab at the last minute that could only drop us off about 2 miles from the start, meaning before starting the race we'd walked 2 miles. After stressing that we would miss the race, the organizers decided to delay the start time because of the transport issues. We ended up standing around in the freezing cold for almost an hour waiting for the race to start.  That was not fun! This was much, much better.
Relaxing at the Opera Bar Kitchen with some seagulls
Once arriving in Sydney we met up with Dave, Charlotte and Adam. Dave and Charlotte were also doing the marathon, and Adam, along with Andy, made up our support crew. We stopped by the marathon expo to pick up our racing bibs and some Gu gels. My new favourite flavour of Gu is 'salted caramel'. Sounds like it would be gross but it actually tastes pretty good, for an energy gel. We got some lunch at the Opera Bar Kitchen, and then hopped on a ferry to Manly beach for the afternoon. At Manly we met up with Lauren and Steve, other friends from Melbourne who were doing the half marathon on Sunday. For dinner we ate at Fratelli Fresh, an Italian where we all loaded up on carbs in preparation for the race the next morning.

Race bibs collected!
The start point was under the Harbour Bridge and seemed pretty well organized. I didn't have to queue to long to use the toilet just before the start, which is a key priority for me before long runs! It was overcast and drizzling in the morning which made the start a bit cold, but frankly I'd prefer a cold start to a hot one.

Milson's Point where the race started
I really had no expectations for myself in terms of getting a good time, due to the knee problems I've been having. I hadn't done any running in the 2 weeks leading up the race, and my last long run was 30k, about 5 weeks ago. Over the last week or so I've been googling 'Runner's Knee' like crazy hoping I would find some magical overnight cure which would help me run the race pain free (I didn't). I did stumble across this youtube video of a way to use physio tape for runner's knee, so the night before the race Andy taped both knees for me. That, combined with my horse gel (Rapigel) and the anti-inflammatory Voltaren, were my weapons to combat my knee pain. And I must say, they did work pretty well! I had almost no knee pain the whole race and even now, two days later, my knee doesn't really hurt at all, and I haven't taken any more anti-inflammatory medical or applied any Rapigel. So really, I think the physio tape must have done a really good job of holding my knee in place.

Anyway, I started the race near the 4:30 pacer and thought if I stayed around him I'd be happy with my time. The course starts with a run over the Harbour Bridge which was pretty spectacular. The rest of the run is on the south side of harbour, where the Opera House is. We went through the Botanical Gardens, Centennial Park and then back towards the Opera House. There was a lot of looping around, so in many parts you were passing runners either ahead or behind you. This was kind of nice as it meant I could look out for Charlotte and Dave, and I did end up seeing them once each. It always gives you a bit of a boost when you see people you know during a race.
Running over the Harbour Bridge

I thought the course was pretty good, except for the 34-40km part, which was basically up part of a moterway towards Darling Harbour, and then back. This part of the run was pretty boring, with no shade, and by this point the rain and clouds had cleared up and the sun was out. Nice for the spectators, not so nice for the runners! My friend Dave, who did a 3:30 marathon, also thought parts of the race were too narrow. I didn't find this too bad but it was much more crowded where he was running, along with everyone doing a faster pace, so I can see how it would have been annoying.

I was really impressed with how many aid stations there were along the way, they seemed to be every 2-3kms and were well sign posted. HOWEVER there were meant to be 'Gu' gels at a couple of stations from 20km onwards, but by the time I got there they had run out! That really annoyed me! I had brought two of my own gels with me but had planned on getting at least one more from one of the stations. I know I am slower than the 'elite' runners, but us slow runners need energy too! I really think that if they advertise that they are going to have energy gels at a race they should make sure they have enough to last for all the competitors.

The last 5-6 kms were the hardest for me. My quads were aching (probably to let me know that they were not quite prepared to carry me as far as I was pushing them!) and then at 37km a blister on the bottom of my fourth toe popped! That was pretty gross, and ridiculously painful. I hobbled along wondering if I should stop completely and put a band-aid on it. Then I basically just told myself to suck it up and keep running, it was only a blister! It hurt for a few hundred meters and then felt ok again, the fact that it popped was probably for the best in the end. At least it took my mind off my sore quads for a few minutes.

The last few months I've been doing a lot of yoga, which I think helped in a way as I was able to stay 'in the present' during the race, instead of thinking ahead at how much I still had to go before finishing. Instead of thinking things like 'there is no way I can run 15 more km the way I am feeling right now' I thought things like 'I can keep running right now. I am in a bit of pain, but not enough to need to stop right now'. I think that really helped me focus on what was happening in the moment and not worry about what was going to happen later on. I think doing a marathon is both a physical and mental activity, and the moment you let doubts start creeping in, it becomes so much harder to continue on. (That said, it is still VERY physical and you need to listen to your body - nothing is worth causing yourself permanent damage to joints, muscles, or even your organs.)

I ended up finishing with a time of 4:19:14 which I was very happy with. It's a PB for me by 8 minutes, and I paced myself well, averaging about 9:40 per mile until about 22 miles in, where I then dropped back to about 10 minute miles...around the blister popping time! I know I keep switching back between kms and miles; I got used to measuring my pace in min/mile when living in the UK and that is what my Nike watch is set on! When I'm doing a race measured in km now I sometimes distract myself by calculating back and forth between my pace and distance in kms and miles... yes that's right, I do maths while running!

Dave, Charlotte and I celebrated our marathon success with a few beers at the Glenmore Hotel in The Rocks before Andy and I flew back to Melbourne last night. Andy has made an awesome iMovie video of race day, where at the end you can see me hobbling up some stairs at a train station in Sydney. That's pretty much how I felt all day yesterday! My legs were VERY sore and I spent a lot of yesterday 'resting' (ie surfing the internet). I am very happy we are on school holidays right now, as I was very tired yesterday morning and getting up for work would have been painful. Last night I went for a light swim in Prahran pool followed by a hot tub and sauna, and my legs are feeling a bit better today. Still no knee pain which is a good sign I think.

All in all I enjoyed the marathon and am glad I did it, although the lack of training at the end was frustrating and meant I couldn't aim for my original goal of 4 hours. I guess that just means I will have to do another... there is always Melbourne Marathon in 3 weeks time...

Monday, 15 September 2014

Hello Spring!

Over last few weeks we've been having some lovely spring weather here in Melbourne, and last weekend was no exception. Blue skies, no wind and temperatures around 20 degrees, making it seem more like summer to those of us used to UK weather! 

We took advantage this on Sunday by taking my new bike for a ride along the bay to Brighton. We started out slowly, heading south from our place, down Chapel Street to Balaclava. Chapel Street is, according to this article, one of the 10 most dangerous streets to cycle down in Melbourne! I think that is more based on the author's opinion than hard facts, but I would not be surprised if it were true. One lane of traffic each way (including tram lines), cars parked end-to-end along the curb, and a cycle lane squeezed in between, mean that you are constantly on the lookout for drivers opening their doors onto your and/or pedestrians stepping out into traffic to cross the road or board a tram. I have to cycle up and down Chapel and Church (which is what Chapel turns into once you cross the river North to Richmond) 5km everyday on my ride to work, and I breath a sigh of relief everyday I get home with no accidents!

St. Kilda beach
Once we made it, cautiously on my new bike, to the beach in St. Kilda, we headed East along Beach Road. Well, we actually stuck to the bike path as Beach Road is reserved for hard core cyclists in head-to-toe lycra, training for their next triathlon. Novice and casual riders take note: the ROAD part of Beach Road is not for you! Luckily the path along the beach has it's own cycling lane in some parts, and although there are some congested areas where you have to dodge pedestrians, the scenery on the way more than makes up for it. I got used to my new bike on the path and really enjoyed riding it - it was quite smooth and easy to ride, and soon I will hopefully get used to changing gears on drop handle bars. I've drawn the line at clip in pedals and shoes for now... perhaps I will upgrade to this once I've gotten used to the bike. 

In Brighton we met up with some friends for brunch at The Deck on Bay Street. Our friends have a new puppy, a chocolate lab named Maisie, who is very cute and every time we see her Andy begs me to get a dog. I am not a dog person, and am not sure I ever will be... is it horrible for me to admit that seeing the new puppy makes me want a dog even less? Yes, I am a terrible, heartless person. It just seems like a lot of work to own a dog!

Anyway, after lunch we wandered around Church street in Middle Brighton, which is a cute main street with lots of little shops and cafes. I have been looking for a cool backpack (rucksack for the Brits) that I can wear when riding my bike but that will also look ok when I am walking around, off my bike. I am not sure this type of thing exists, well at least not for under $100 it seems. That seems like an excessive price to pay for a backpack! The search continues...

Prahran Aquatic Centre
When I got home I continued the triathlon training-themed day with a swim at Prahran Aquatic Centre. This is a heated, outdoor 50m pool less than 5 minutes walk from our house! I did 1.2km with our friend Dan - a pretty good effort considering that was my first swim in months. Apparently the pool is a gay hangout most of the summer, however it wasn't very busy this weekend. It's not quite sunbathing weather yet I guess. I did enjoy having a lane to myself the whole time! That night we went to Dan and Laura's new place in Albert Park for a BBQ - the perfect end to a lovely Sunday!
Driving around Albert Park Lake at sunset

After such a nice weekend it was such a drain to have to get up at 5:30am and go to work. Today's weather was classic Melbourne spring weather, in that it was cold and rainy in the morning, but brightened up and was a mild 20 degrees during the day. I made myself ride to work in the rain and was rewarded with a stunning sunrise this morning. Four more days of term left until our school holiday (and the marathon... gulp!)

Sunrise during my morning ride to work

Sunrise over the Yarra River

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

2 Week Countdown...

Until the Sydney Marathon! And... I'm injured! How could this have happened?! I have been having some niggling knee pain for a while, ever since I started doing my very long runs, pretty much once I started doing more than 20k. But I kind of figured that's just par for the course when doing marathon training (probably a stupid assumption to make, more like I just ignored it and hoped for the best).  It's always gone away a few days later, and its never been THAT bad. I did my last long run a few weeks ago, 30k, and since then have been taking it easy, just doing some middle distance and shorter runs, along with a lot of yoga. On Saturday I did a fairly easy 8k run around Albert Park and my knee started hurting once I started walking at the end. Really hurting. Like sharp, intense pain, behind the kneecap, really bad pain. I can not believe this has happened. All my major training is over, I've had so many weekends that have revolved around my long run, and now I'm in a bit of denial. I can't not do the marathon!!

Saturday night Andy and I met up with some friends for dinner at The Prahran Hotel, and someone there mentioned trying Rapigel for my knee. I had never heard of it... and for good reason - it's actually for horses and dogs. It's meant to reduce inflammation and swelling in joints and tendons, and ease muscle soreness. The girl who told me about it works in a pet store and said that most of her sales are for people buying it for themselves, not for their pets. Anyway, I was feeling pretty desperate, so after doing minimal research on the internet, and finding this Today Tonight article, I headed to the pet store and bought myself a container of it. It's a topical gel that you rub on, and you get that tingly feeling, like when you apply something like 'Deep Heat'. I have to say, my knee pain is almost non existent 2 days after using it (and I was limping around in some serious pain on Saturday). I'm not sure if it's just a placebo effect, but whatever it is I am SO happy that my knee pain has gone - or at least its being effectively masked by this magical gel!

I think I am going to take it easy and not run for the rest of this week, then maybe try an easy run next week before the marathon. I am fairly certain I am still going to at least attempt the run, and my strategy at the moment will be to take walking breaks at every water station. I'm trying to ride my bike to work all week to get some cardio in - although this morning we had a crazy windstorm and I thought I was going to get blown into traffic - pretty scary. I ended up jumping on a train halfway to work as I actually thought I might die.

After this marathon I am going to take a LONG break from distance running. Andy and I have already signed up for a sprint triathlon in October, so I already have a new goal to work towards. Oh, and at the weekend I bought my first road bike! I bought it used off Gumtree, from a girl who also got it just as she was getting into triathlons (she is now obsessed and has upgraded to a carbon fibre bike) so its the perfect beginner road bike for me as I am tired of doing triathlons on my hybrid - it's just not cool!

Ok 2 more weeks... I just need to stay healthy for 2 more weeks... I can do this!

Me and my new bike! 

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

10 Week Terms are LONG

Ok, I know this is not going to gain me any sympathy amongst my non-teaching friends, who think I am constantly on holiday. Which, I get it, we have a lot of holidays compared to normal working people. I’m not going to apologize for that, or try to defend it by saying "but we work  SO HARD the rest of the year that we need these holidays to recharge”. Teachers do work hard, but so do lots of people in other jobs. The long holidays are just one of the perks of teaching, sort of like the insane bonuses some of my friends get who work in the private sector, or the ability to put things on an expense account. I will never have those things, but it’s ok! I’m not bitter! I’m happy with my lower pay and more holiday time, not to mention that I (mostly) love my job.

But anyway. I digress. It is currently week four of the third term here in Australia. The school year is split into four terms here, each 9-10 weeks long. In between each we get a two week break, or three weeks in between terms three and four. So yes, I’m in the fourth week of work after having had three weeks off, which we spent in England and Spain. Boo hoo. Poor me. It’s just that, after working in the UK for so long, where there are three terms that are split into half-terms, so the most you ever work is six or seven weeks in a row before there is a week or two break. (And you will not believe how moany teachers get when we are in a seven week term. It is the worst.) So now, four weeks into term, I’m thinking, I would be more than half way through by now if I was in the UK. But I still have six and a half LONG weeks to go!

Ok. I’ll shut up now. It’s not that bad. Really.

What probably does not help things at this time of year is that it is winter, and dark, and cold. Yes, cold. I moved to Australia hoping for some better weather and yesterday it was 2 DEGREES in the morning! 2 degrees! Freezing! My colleagues always look at me like I’m crazy when I say I’m cold, like because I’m from Canada I shouldn’t get cold. I should just be used to walking around in the cold all the time, and enjoy it!  So yesterday was the coldest it has been in 16 years apparently, and by the afternoon it was about 14 degrees and sunny and actually quite a beautiful day. However London seems to be having the best summer EVER, and in Toronto summer is pretty much always nice, so it’s fairly annoying to go on Facebook and see everyone enjoying the nice warm weather, and of course all my teacher friends are on holiday and jetting around Europe, and I am here stuck in this LONG 10 week term.

Poor me.