Monday, December 31, 2012

What A Year It Has Been, 2012

It blows my mind that today is the last of 2012. Feels like it went by just like that...but then it was also a very full year for me. One of the best.

It started off with fireworks and music, when I was Seeing NYE in in Sydney. Not long after that I was part of a Roadtrip to RADelaide, which was such fun.

My sisters and I then headed back to Sydney to see Roxette and dine at Est, which was a pretty special weekend away together.

One of the biggest things for me this year was the lead up, and the finalisation of quitting my job. Freedom, true freedom, began.

Getting back to the West Indies was a very big highlight, and getting around Barbadosfalling in love with the Magnificent Seven in Trinidad, our daytrip to Tobago, and then everything about Dominica!

In Florida on the way home, visiting the Kennedy Space Center and then the Wizarding World of Harry Potter were definite highlights of the year.

And then I headed off to Toronto for my MSW placement, and a Summer of fun, new friends, a great work experience, and loads of side travels. Exploring a new city by making it a homebase it the best kind of travel, where you get to know a place and it's idiosyncracies.

Side trip highlights included Quebec City, more roadtrip fun to Banff and Lake Louise, Washington DC and a wedding, Memphis to visit the land of Elvis. On the way home I popped into one of my favourite cities in the world, NYC, and completed my Grand Slam of tennis at the US Open. Something I have wanted to go to since I was young.

Since being home I have managed to string a host of housesitting gigs together, which has got me through up until I plan to fly off again in a few weeks. I experienced the highs and lows of the AFL Footy Finals, had a surprisingly great weekend in Canberra (yes, really!), and got a second RADelaide test match in. Then I finished my MSW and graduated, which I am most proud of.

What a year, indeed! Great places, great new friends, finished uni, and detangled from work and possessions. Very ready for any and all new adventures!

This morning I have been emailing a few people in relation to plans for the first portion of 2013, which is already shaping up to be pretty exciting.

Hope yours has been a good one, and you have a tops night bringing in the new one. Thanks for reading, it's also been a massive year for the blog!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Lady Liberty

The last stop for our visit to NYC this year was to see the Statue of Liberty up close - something that I had not done on any previous visits to the city.

Katie and I lined up and took the ferry across, which gives you a great view of the Lady, and of the city behind you. The ferry is crowded, and was very hot on the day we were there, but you have the choice of battling the crowd on the top deck, or resting weary feet inside with the few benches around. Same view, out the window!

Once on the island the size of the Lady is impressive, and the view of Manhattan is magical across the water. From the Brooklyn Bridge, to seeing the Peace Tower, and imagining what the skyline will look like once the WTC buildings are complete.

The ferry sells the obligatory, silly Statue hats for a photo with Lady Lib, which had to be done!

The ferry then takes you back, with a stop at Ellis Island which we skipped, being Aussie and feeling like US Immigration wasn't really part of our story. We then made a mad dash back to our accommodation, and off to the airport to finish off our trip together - both flying off in different directions.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Red And Stripy Black And White Laneway Beauties

This gaggle of enchanting and mysterious ladies can be found tucked away in Finlay Avenue, just off Little Lonsdale, between Elizabeth and Queen Street. They bring a bit of lovely to a very dingy alleyway.

Carly took me to find them one night when we were out in the city, and she tells me that they are the work of Urban Cake Lady.

This figure, with her unravelling tights and red hoodie, can be spotted in a few places around the city, apparently, and I will have a keen eye out. So lifelike and such detail. So gorgeous!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

MSW Graduation

Last week I closed the chapter on another academic achievement, by collecting my Master of Social Work at my Graduation ceremony. This one is the one I am most proud of, as it solidifies my work experience into something recognisable all around the world, and gives me that professional title. I am now a Social Worker!

Being gowned up with the coloured hood and trencher at the University of Melbourne, and taking my seat with my fellow MSW graduates felt so special. Inside the grand Wilson Hall on campus, the Academic procession arrived and took their place on stage, including some of the staff that have been part of our MSW journey within our School.

Having a female Chancellor for this occasion felt important and meaningful, and she started off the official proceedings. The Occasional Address was delivered by Professor Thomas Kay, whose focus was very medical. He mentioned some work he was linked with with the University of Toronto, which was a serendipitous element for the evening to my own MSW journey. He also spoke about how a counterpart of his was delivering a similar address in another state and uni, but to a business graduation, whom had to admit to them it was not the best time to be graduating into the world of banking. But concluded that it's never a bad time to graduate from a health field.

Some 200 people then had their achievement recognised, as part of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences. Starting with a group of undergraduates, the new Psychiatrists, Clinical Audiologists, Epidemiologist, a new Physiotherapist, a group of new Clinical Psychologists, and us as newly crowned Social Workers, collected our degrees on stage.

The Valedictory Speech was given by one of us, a MSW graduate, who spoke about the values we have gained through our Masters journey, and how we will each now take these out into our working endeavours.

Catching up with my fellow classmates, from across my three years of this degree, was pretty inspiring. People have gained some amazing jobs, and have amazing plans.

I must admit, I was a bit inspired by those getting up and receiving their PhDs too....

Thanks heaps to Melissa and Jessica for enduring another graduation ceremony of mine. The fun photo booth photos are actually my favourite part from the night, which was a quirky addition to the event by the Uni.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas Melbourne

Christmas in Melbourne, and of course we have had the full four seasons in the build up - sweltering heat, rain and storm clouds. The usual!

Here are some of the festive sights that have caught my eye around town this month:

Federation Square has been covered in plastic trees for the month - an installation called In The Pines, it contains 250 recycled plastic Xmas trees. Walking in among them is really something else - a little forest in the Square!

Flinders Street Station has been the boldest, with it's message. This lettering features a lit

City Square has had a little Christmas Village, with Santa and toy soldiers all around - and this massive Xmas tree.

The Town Hall has been the canvas to a spectacular light show, which I have only seen photos from other people, but it looked pretty impressive.

Bourke Street has taken on a Jingle Bells theme, which for much of the month simply meant the banners calling it that. But finally the canopy of bells was completed along the full length of the Mall.

However in my lengthy daily commute during the month, I have seen some pretty horrendous Xmas decorations.  The tree in QV with it's construction zone-type flags wound around it as it's only decoration. Yuck!

The tacky red Xmas tree in the middle of Whitehorse Road in Box Hill is pretty ugly, and surely seen many years by the look of it. The mammoth tree above Santa at Doncaster Shoppingtown, with it's out of proportion lights and trail of reindeer floating around it was also a strangely disturbing sight.

But that's Christmas, isn't it!? Some lovely bits, some tacky, over-the-top bits. The good bits, and the stress and excess...

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it today. I hope it has the  right amount of good bits for you!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Melbourne Food Trucks

Housesitting in the Northern inner suburbs of Melbourne has let me track down the food trucks with some ease, something I have been keen to check out as the popularity of them grows.

I love the idea of these little pop up food stalls, and watching as their wares are prepared right there in the truck is very impressive.

Both the Taco Truck and Beatbox Kitchen pop by very near my current location on a regular basis, so I have managed to sample both.

The best way to plan your trek to hunt them down is to keep an eye on the Where The Truck At website, which updates a couple of times during the day, with lunch and dinner time locations. Plus the map lets you see exactly where you are aiming for.

Both times I visited for dinner there was a little line at each of the trucks, but with friendly staff buzzing within who informed each customer how long the wait was, no one minded.

These gorgeous Summer days saw people popping over from a cricket match in the nearby park, and also saw groups of people gathering around the grass in front of the trucks, picnic rugs and drinks brought along for the perfect dinner.

Beatbox Kitchen serves two burgers, a meat and a mushroom one, and also a side of fries. The flavours of the sauces for the burger was amazing, and made it well worth the walk to find the truck's location.

Beatbox is decorated to be a little sound system with themed menu items, and the extra touch of an old radio cassette player adding to the experience.

The Taco Truck also had an impressive menu for a truck kitchen, with single tacos ranging from chicken and fish, and potato varieties. A combo of two of any combination, plus chips and guacamole, was the perfect dish for an evening meal, road and park-side.

There are new truck ideas popping up all the time, and more of them mean that they are collectively getting to more suburban locations. The perfect spontaneous answer to the evening or lunchtime meal this Summer around Melbourne!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Plain Of Jars

Visiting the magical site of the Plain Of Jars in Laos raises more questions than it answers. What are they doing here in the seemingly middle-of-nowhere? What were they used for? Were they made here, given their size, or did some ancient civilisation cart these around with them.

The Jars can be visited, on a few specific sites, from the fairly remote town of Phonsavan. I took a flight to get there, from Luang Prabang, risking life on Lao Aviation - but then the bus ride out of Phonsavan to return to the capital was the most frightening, harrowing road journeys I have ever taken. Single roads along windy mountain sides, at speed, with all manner of human and animal seat-mates you can and cannot imagine. I will leave the decision about how to get there to you!

Many theories abound about what these jars were for, out here in the middle of this expanse of space. But it seems that since my visit, the notion of it as a burial site seems to have been supported by archaeologists working in the area.

Although traditional Loatian stories of the jars being carted up here to be used to make and store rice wine to celebrate a battle victory, or the idea that they were used to collect monsoon rainwater where free flowing water was hard to come by, could equally be true!

This region is also one of the most bombed areas of South East Asia. Massive craters dote the sites of the Jars - and the town of Phonsavan is littered with re-fashioned artillery bits and pieces. Quite a sight to see!

The Plains are also dotted with UXO, and so taking a guide is needed, to ensure your safety. Traveling alone at this point, I am certain I was massively ripped off, but at the same time got a personalised guide and tour of several sites, at the time I wanted. Travel is a balance of options, sometimes!

After my day checking out the Jars, I met up with Ash who was travelling around the area at the same time, and we had dinner at one of the few places at the time, and then many beers to see into the night. I still remember our conversation as I boarded that scary bus, before he waved me off.

Very remote, pretty isolated from the trappings of Westernisation and excess tourism, the Plain Of Jars and Phonsavan is a bit of work to get to, but the mystery is worth the trek.

I wonder how much it has changed since I was there?

This post is part of a series marking 10 years since I travelled to Cambodia to work as a volunteer. Laos was one of my side-trips.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Brunswick Beauty

She watches over the comings and goings at Brunswick station, and is so eye-catchingly enchanting! The examples of the rat race she must see from her vantage point!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Key Of Sea

The Key Of Sea, Volume 1, has been a favourite album of mine since it's release a couple of years ago - for the songs, but also because of the amazing collaborations and messages. The concept album is a collection of songs where an Aussie band or artist has been paired with a refugee or migrant music talent to write and play a track. The result is magical.

The second Volume has been released just this year, and when an opportunity to go to the live show came along I grabbed at the chance to see some of these collaborations live on stage.  Carly and I took our seats in the New Hamer Hall, ready for the music on Friday night.

Brain Nankervis was the MC for the night, to fill the space between the stage set ups, which was probably unneeded really. His personality was too big for these bits, and did detract from the music.

The first act was Tim Rogers, with Polyxeni, with Greek musical influences, which was a strong and commanding start to the night. They played a handful of songs they had worked on together, with Tim on vocals.

Next for the night was Sophia Brous with Awazi, who also played a collection of songs, with Brous standing out on impressive vocals. The collaboration was a great fit, the large band behind her.

The Tiger And Me with Afghani Murtaza Jafari was the next collaboration and were very impressive together, and individually. The Melbourne band could indeed be one to watch out for.

Chet Faker hobbled out next, after the MC bit, after The Royal Swazi Spa had taken their positions. Chet was on crutches, with his lower left leg in a cast, but he managed to maneuver himself onto the stool in the middle of the stage.  This bearded lad was the musical stand out for me on the night, and again the collaboration was mesmorising.

A play on the shameful Aussie turn of phrase 'Go Back To Where You Come From', the energetic boys from Jinja Safari gave us things to think about, whilst playing with Kinfe Geshu. Joined on stage by a choir of Sudanese children, this final act was really amazing.  The Silence Of The Gun brings the African sounds and beats of both musical acts together, and was so powerful.

I think it's such a shame we were prevented from taking photos on the night, because some of the scenes of the mix of cultures, musicians and instrumentation, was magical. These coming together of these pairings was the very image of what the Key Of Sea project is all about - our refugee and migrant population here in Australia is rich with talent and skills, if only we appreciate them, and take the time to let them be part of our "lucky country". This night showed that it didn't matter where people were from, music is a powerful cultural glue.

All proceeds of the albums sales go to support the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, who continue to work towards the very integration that these musical collaborations illustrate. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Best Free View of Melbourne

One of the best views in Melbourne is free, and seems to be a bit of a secret - I took two out-of-towners there last weekend.  It's perhaps a bit cheeky to access it, but it's worth it!

The bathrooms on level 35 of the Sofitel has a full length window, and faces out to the east. It's easy enough to get to it, just walk through Collins Place off the Paris End of Collins Street, and one of the entrances to the hotel is at the back towards the left.  The escalators will take you up to the elevator banks, where you can board and ride to level 35.

Once here, turn left and keep following the far wall, and the bathrooms are at the end. Of course, you could stop at the Atrium Bar 35 for drinks, and the view, if you felt so inclined.

The view shows off the gardens just alongside the CBD, as you can see the vastness and greenery of Treasury Gardens and the Fitzroy Gardens. Beyond this sits the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Out on the horizon are the Dandenong Ranges, collecting clouds, and running as far as the eye can see.

And then to your left you can see the Yarra River winding it's way down to the city, and further out, the edge of Port Phillip Bay.

I have not been to the top of the Rialto for the Observation Deck nor to the Eureka Skydeck 88 or 89, but for the budget traveler this view from the loo is undoubtedly the best free view of the eastern expanse of Melbourne.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Images Of Angkor

The detail around and on the temples of Angkor, in Siem Reap, Cambodia, are an element that makes the complex all the more intriguing. Imagining the workmanship needed to carve out this door, for example, completely out of the stone....amazing.

These faces are along the inside wall of the Terrace of the Elephants, between Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, of the Bayon temples.

The feeling of magic when walking around these massive temple complexes, taking in this detail, is unavoidable. So many aspects to catch you eye, and wonder about the ancient civilisation that made these lasting monuments to their way of life.

These ladies are apsara, and are found within Angkor Wat itself. There are so many of them, all along the top layer of the temple, all unique and so beautiful.

This post is part of a series marking 10 years since I travelled to Cambodia to work as a volunteer.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Aging And Childless

Working in aged care again, even just dabbling in a locum role as I am at the moment, often smacks me in the face with the reality of aging, and aging alone.  I speak to many clients, or carers or kind neighbours, of people out there, living and aging and declining on their own.  And I wonder if that is what is ahead for me.

I feel like I am surrounded by people getting engaged, announcing they are pregnant, or have just had babies.  My social circle seems to be going through this cycle yet again, and my youngest sister's social circle the same.  The middle siblings could very well be joining that cycle.  And our mother's constant reminders of her anguish about not being a grandmother rings in our ears.

This article last week seems to have hit my screen at the right time, some stories sad and painful, some important and meaningful and they leave a message for me.

My closest friend and I have been joking recently that we are at our mid-life crisis now.  Having both quit our over-bearing and demanding jobs for the freedom to choose something better for ourselves, given our wealth of work experience and expertise, and over-abundance of educational standing to allow us to do anything we want.  We have joked that perhaps now is the time to buy silly sports cars and date hot men half our age.  That's how a mid-life crisis goes, right?

However, I do believe that I will be the fun aunt.  Like the notion of the "small mothers" in that article, and travel blogger's Ottsworld's amazing and inspiring Niece Project - that I can be a mate, and sounding board, a neutral influence, the holder of hopes and dreams and facilitator of crazy plans. THAT is more what I can imagine.

There is no real guarantees that having kids will mean that we don't while away our old age alone anyway. There are no guarantees in life.

Never say never, sure, I believe that.  But it looks less and less likely for me within my big dreams for the next few years.  And by then I will probably be too old to have babies, and ride the journey of parenthood all the way through.  I am almost too old now. I just cannot imagine it for myself.

All my friends are getting married....yeah, they're all growing old....
Growing up does not actually look like something I would enjoy.

** This piece of street art is just before Brunswick Station, and signed off as the work of Baby Guerilla **

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Bertie and Gotye

Fresh off receiving Grammy nominations during the week, Gotye returned home to Melbourne for an amazing show.  With Bertie Blackman supporting, I wasn't sure which set I was most excited for in the lead up all week, being the authors of my favourite albums for 2011 and 2012.

Opening with the first track from Pope Innocent X, Tremors gave us the correct impressive that she was going to deleiver a powerful selection of thus awesome album.  Boy and Mercy Killer were punchy and brave, and two of my other favourite tracks from the album featured, being the sexy Growl Howl and Maps.

Bertie moved from drums, to keys, to guitar, she was powerful and chatted to the building crowd as the light faded outside of the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.  She dedicated Shadow Chaser to her Dad, and her new release Stella was brought to life.  I love seeing an album transported live like this.

Gotye and his 10 piece band landed on stage, and opened with 2 tracks from earlier albums, The Only Way and then What Do You Want? It felt like a homecoming right there, playing the tracks for people who have watched his career from the much smaller shows.

Mary and I were very close, being in the front section, seats second row from the stage.  It afforded a great view of the energetic Gotye, bouncing from the front and centre mic, to the drum kit at the back, to the samples to the side.  He appeared so happy to be playing to the home crowd, and seriously loving what he was doing up on stage.  The detail he puts together in terms of the sounds on stage is just incredible.

A favourite of mine, Easy Way Out, was next, before the ode to the telcos in Thanks For Your Time.  He has his animated visuals running for various tracks, on the big screens around the venue, and at the back of stage, with Smoke And Mirrors being very mesmorising.

State Of The Art was a bit of fun, with a big and little cotillion brought out on stage, one of them reportedly from Gotye's own living room, and the organ specialist himself from Adelaide, Barry Morgan.  All a bit of silliness, Barry instructed Gotye through the art of the sound maker, and the message was delivered with the samples guy echoing the sounds of the great beast. Such a great song!

Don't Worry, We'll Be Watching You followed, and then a track that Gotye introduced as one he worked so hard on and then ended up discarding from the album list, Dig Your Own Hole.

Talking about The Thin Green Line before giving us Eyes Wide Open and then Giving Me A Chance, which the whole crowd sang along to.

The quieter Bronte had the lower sections silent, whilst we could hear much noise from the grass crowd - which Gotye called them on at the end of the song - for such a moving number, the girl next to me was sobbing through it.  So powerful and sad.

Then, the song that has been inescapable for the last 18 months, Somebody That I Used To Know was amazing, with Bertie Blackman returning to stage for the Kimbra part of the track, giving it her own edginess.

Gotye set up the crowd parts for Save Me, before giving us Heart's A Mess - heart-stoppingly good. And back to the detail, he even included the single chime intermittently.

Encore started with a rousting Seven Hours With A Backseat Driver, before Gotye invited us to fill the little section in front of the stage to dance.  I Feel Better, and then Learnalilgivinanlovin finished the night in infectious joy and fun.

The show fitting the man who is king of Australian music right now after bagging four ARIAs and receiving three Grammy nominations. He seemed so happy to be home, and really loving his work right now.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

NYC's Flatiron District

After the tennis in New York City, Talia and I met up with Katie again, and got the subway down to the Flatiron District.  Here we met Rich, and had a little Medley Hall catch up under the fairy lights of the Shake Shack.

Beers and burgers seemed to be the best fare to help up cover the years since that year at uni, and the last time I saw the two of them in NYC - and this little eatery was awesome, outside at the edge of Madison Square Park.

The opportune catch up also meant that Katie got to see the famous Flatiron Building.  The younger version of Toronto's lesser famous one, it loomed up on it's narrowing corner as we emerged out of the subway, and is one of the icons of New York City that is a must see on a visit.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Gingerbread Village

Now that it is December it is perfectly ok to delight in all the Xmas stuff all about.  Not November, and definitely not October!  And so today I took Michelle and Dee on a little wander among some of the Melbourne festive sights, including the Gingerbread Village.

Located at the Town Hall, I first read about it on Carly's blog last year, and was keen to have a look this year. Entry is via a gold coin donation for the Starlight Foundation, and there was a little line up to get into the room of sweet display!

Many of Melbourne's icons are constructed out of gingerbread and all the trimmings - including the MCG, complete with an AFL Grand Final set up from this year, and Luna Park, full with people riding the rollercoaster and walking in under the big mouth.

The detail of the street scenes is pretty impressive, with the Sunday market next to the Art Centre and it's lit spire, including a butcher with a string of sausages, a fruit stall, cakes and treats, and even a kebab stand.

The detail was impressive. Little people in the scenes up to all sorts of everyday things, and then some quirky things for the very observant. There is a wedding party near the big church, and a skier on the pond on a bit of trouble.  More than one, really, but I suspect the headless man may be repaired for tomorrow!

In among the Melbourne landmarks was a windmill, and a castle, which didn't seem to have much to do with Xmas, but there were enough Xmas trees to pull it all together.

Open everyday until Christmas Eve, it's well worth the pop in for a peek.

The ball hitting the post at the MCG is a bit of cruelty really, but the detail in each feature of the room is very well done. I wonder who gets to eat all the icons once Xmas arrives!?

You can see more of my photos of the displays here on my Facebook page.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Margaret Fulton: Queen of the Dessert

On another sweltering Melbourne day just over a week ago, Carly and I ventured over to St Kilda to see a musical about an Aussie icon - Margaret Fulton The Musical was billed as Queen Of The Dessert

Arriving into the tiny and unassuming Theatre Works in St Kilda on the hottest day in November in Melbourne for some 6-7 years, the whole crowd was treated with icy-poles as the cast started in with very Aussie chants and songs, to set the scene as 1988.  A lovely touch, and much needed to distract from the heat outside.

As we took our seats, I spotted Quyen from The Good China making up the mini-orchestra, adding violin and backing vocals.  Very cool spotting!

This setting of the scene was a little lost at the start of the show, as the story dropped back to wartime Australia and the introduction of Margaret and her farewelling her solider betrothed. At home is Australia, she stumbled into jobs and was soon approached to feature in wartime advertising teaching the women of Australia that it was perfectly safe to cook with gas.  And then perfectly safe to cook with a pressure cooker.

The songs, each performed with the full cast of five, were funny and clever, all portrayed around the kitchen-style set, and associated props. I learnt that through her love of cooking, and her influential and high profile jobs of cooking teacher and demonstrator she introduced elements such as exotic things like eggplant and olives to Australian cookery!  The sheltered and over-conservative environment of our culture back then took some time to warm to this icon, who changed the way we eat and cook indefinitely and for the better.

A life honoured by the Medal of the Order of Australia, and even declared an Australian Living Treasure by the National Trust, twas a sad story, really, of a woman moving from love and heartbreak to love, and then finding “The One” after an 8 year courtship…only to have him die.

The final song was the highlight for me, such an uplifting and inspiring performance drawn from the lessons of love, doing what you are passionate about and following your heart before it’s too late.
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