Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Postcrossing: Everywhere!

I've been a bit slack with blogging about my Postcrossing activity.  This is a really busy time of year at work so I come home and just zone out.  But I've received some really cute cards so I wanted to do a mega-Postcrossing post!

Top row, left-to-right: Finland, Poland, Finland
Middle row, left-to-right: Switzerland, Ukraine, Russia
Bottom row: Netherlands

The top-right card with the cats is so sweet, and she had the same birthday as me, which was really neat!  The Swiss card with the picture of Luxemburgerlis (the Swiss name for macarons) is also great.  The bottom card is a New Zealand postcard sent from the Netherlands!  The sender has friends and family in NZ and has visited several times.

I always get excited when I get a Postcrossing card, because I always learn something new.  It really makes me happy to come home to a new Postcrossing card!

Monday, December 3, 2012

OOTD: Bag Lady

When I was growing up, Mum's handbag was like a Magic Bag of Holding.  Mum always favoured fairly conservative, medium-sized black handbags that were small enough to tuck under her arm but large enough to hold everything.  And I mean EVERYTHING.  Mum's handbag needed to carry a vast array of items - purse, chequebook, glasses cases, hankies, tissues, painkillers, loose change, snacks, keys, pens...Whatever you wanted, Mum could produce it from her handbag.  She was also very particular about the style of the bag.  If she needed a new handbag, it wasn't something we could buy for her as a gift - she needed to choose her own.  Her criteria were a mystery, but when she found a bag she liked, she knew immediately that it was her new bag.  I always associated handbags with grown-ups, and thought I'd never get one of my own.

I resisted (and am still resisting, to a point) for a really long time.  Up until a couple of years ago, my bag of choice was a backpack or messenger-style bag that I could fit everything I needed for class or whatever I was studying at the time.  When I stopped studying, I kept using my messenger bag until it fell apart.  I bought a very basic cloth bag while we were in Malaysia in 2010 - not a handbag, per se, more a sack-style bag.  When that wore out (which happened fairly quickly - it *was* a very basic bag), I had to find a new bag, and the replacement was the most handbag like of bags I've had to date - a tan, embossed, fake leather zip-top bag with a long strap that I could wear across my body messenger-style.  It was a cross between a messenger bag and a handbag, I suppose - still casual enough that I could wear it with my every day jeans and t-shirt outfit, but nice enough that it wasn't *too* out of place if I dressed up a little.  Sadly, it was cheap (and fake) and also didn't last particularly long.  As it was on its last legs, I started hunting for a new bag.

I carry around a lot of stuff, just like Mum - toiletries, notebooks, a Kindle, a purse, a mobile phone, keys, glasses, pens, an umbrella, sometimes Dave's stuff too...A remarkably similar list to Mum's!  But a business-style handbag just isn't me.  It would be out of place with my every day outfits.  I prefer to wear my bag messenger-style so my hands are free but the bag is secure and can't be snatched.  I started looking at satchels as a possibility, and when I saw this post by one of my favourite Australian fashion bloggers I made my choice - a satchel from The Leather Satchel Co.

I ordered my bag on 13 November and it arrived on 30 November, less than 3 weeks later - pretty impressive for a bespoke order, I thought.  I chose their largest basic size, the 15 inch, in chocolate brown.  I also customised it by asking for a wider  and longer strap and removing the address window pocket.  The service was really fast and helpful and the shipping was with DHL so was easy to track.

When I opened the box, the bag was in it's dust cover:

It came with an envelope that contained important care information (and had a neat Lewis Carroll quote on it!):

The bag is deep, rich chocolate brown and smells fantastic.  There are no pockets or anything inside, just the plain leather, but it's tanned to a beautiful smooth finish.

The leather isn't too stiff but still feels sturdy.  The wide strap and strap-buckle, the rivets, and the stitching all feel very strong.  The buckles on the main flap do feel a little bit light to me, but I'm sure they'll still last for ages and can be easily replaced.  The pocket on the front is big enough for my Kindle and a journalist-style notebook.

All my stuff, including my umbrella which somehow escaped this photo, easily fits inside it with room to spare for extras if I need to fit in anything else.  It doesn't feel overly heavy and is really comfortable to carry.  All up, including the custom options I chose and the shipping, my bag was £112.  I ordered directly from the factory because it meant I could choose my own options, although ASOS also sell pre-made bags from the same company.

T-shirt: RedBubble
Jeans: ASOS
Thongs: Havaianas

I realised when I went to use my new bag for the first time today that I should have specified I was left-handed and wear my bags on my left side, because they way the shoulder strap is attached means the buckle is on the front.  I actually don't mind it, I think it looks neat, but I'm a little concerned it will wear out faster that way.  Still, I love the bag and know that I'm going to get many, many years wear out of it.  In fact, I'd like a mini one, in red or another bright colour, for special occasions!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Jen's Drunken Christmas Fruitcake

I've written about my Christmas Fruitcake before, but I get so many requests for my fruitcake each year that I thought I'd share a step-by-step recipe, with photos and a FAQ!  It's tough making the best Christmas Fruitcake in the world, but somebody has to do it...And maybe, if you follow this recipe, you too will become famous for your Christmas Fruitcake :) So, in honour of Stir-up Sunday, I give you...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Postcrossing: China

Unfortunately this card didn't scan too well because it is solid white with the gorgeous kite picture and the text in the middle.  I assume that the Chinese characters say "Kite".  The rest of the text reads:
Kites were used approximately 2,800 years ago in China, where materials ideal for kite building were readily available: silk fabric for sail material; fine, high-tensile-strength silk for flying line; and resilient bamboo for a strong, lightweight framework.  The kite was said to be the invention of the famous 5th century BC Chinese philosophers Mozi and Lu Ban.
On the back, she shares her contact information and writes my name in Chinese characters, and she also drew a small anime-style smiling face.  I really like the interesting facts and clean style of this card.  The stamp is just a printed postmark stamp.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

NaBloPoMo: 10 November

I didn't blog yesterday, and I'm not going to beat myself up for missing a day.  Instead, I'll use yesterday's topic for today's "free choice"!

"If you could change one thing about your life right now, what would it be?"

I know it sounds terribly cliché, but I'm really not sure I'd change anything.  Sure, I'd like to be rich and be able to retire, but if Hollywood has taught me anything, it's that changing things with wishes can have disastrous side affects!  Also, while I'm certainly not 100% deterministic, and definitely not "God has a plan for everyone", I do to a point believe that everything happens for a reason.  Every day we make choices and decisions that have consequences that we may never see or understand.  Looking at where I am in my life right now, and looking back at the path that brought me here, I can see how faint that path is - how there were so many branches and other paths that I could have taken.  I'm content.  No, I'm happy.  And yes, there are things I want to do or change, but those are things I want to change myself, not just wave a magic wand and have changed for me.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

NaBloPoMo: 8 November

"If you could have any job (and instantly have the training and qualifications to do it), which job would you want?"

I'm the sort of person that really, really likes learning new things.  As a teenager, I decided I wanted to be a high school guidance counselor.  But my Daddy told me to aim higher than that and wanted me to be a psychiatrist.  So I took the subjects I needed to get in to med school, but unfortunately didn't do well enough.  So I fell back to my original plan and started studying Psychology and Education.  Then I didn't enjoy psych.  So I switched to English and Classics thinking I'd be a high school teacher.  Then after my degree and before I got my teaching qualification I got a full-time job and never did my teaching qualification.  Then recently I started studying Small Business Management with the idea of owning a second-hand bookstore.  Then I started studying Creative Writing with the idea of being a novelist.  Then a friend recommended I look into IT so I've been looking at that.  Then I realised it's not as expensive as I thought to return to tertiary studies in Oz so I started looking at other options, like doing my Masters...You get the idea.  I want to learn EVERYTHING.  And do EVERYTHING.

So.  If I could have any job?  It's really hard to choose!  I'm still too young to have decided what I want to do with my life...aren't I?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

NaBloPoMo: 7 November

Sorry for the post spam, this is the last one for today!

"Talk about the last compliment you received."

Hmm.  Probably the last compliment I received was on my outfit for our office Melbourne Cup party yesterday - I got a lot of positive comments about my dress and shoes, which was nice.  It's always nice to receive compliments when I put effort in to an outfit.

I can't really think of a standout compliment I've received recently.  I get little ones fairly regularly.  I generally try to not be one of those people who practices false modesty - if I do something good, I'm proud of it, and I'll happily take a compliment.  Something I've been working on though is my habit of justifying my compliments - if someone says "that was good work on that project", while I don't say, "oh thanks but it was really nothing", I do say, "thanks, I really tried to focus on meeting the criteria and while this aspect needs more work I think this part went really well" or whatever.

It's really hard to just say "thanks!".  I think this is partly a female thing - we're always taught to be modest and self-effacing and so on, and it's a really hard habit to get out of.

Postcrossing: Netherlands

On my profile on Postcrossing I ask for rugby cards and this person helpfully sent me this card that she thought met my request!  It's American Football, not rugby, but I still loved that she put some effort in to finding what I requested and I still like the card.  I don't know who the teams are though, they might not even be American.  She wrote me quite a long letter and enclosed the letter and postcard in an envelope so I won't quote her here.  She did say she has seven Jack Russell Terriers, including one named Phoebe, which I thought was pretty awesome!

Postcrossing: Belarus

This appears to be a custom-made card!  There is a Postcrossing message on the front, and the same icon on the back with space for the ID.  I'm not sure if she created it herself.  The picture is cute, in any case.

On the back:
Hello Jennifer! Greetings from Belarus!  Recently I read a quote and I liked it very much: "The one who is out of step, hears another drum." (It's from Ken Kesey Over the Cuckoo's Nest).  Yesterday we had the first snow.  I like snow.  Have a good day!
She drew stars around "I like snow" so I guess she really likes it!  It's been a really long time since I've read One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, maybe it's time for a re-read.  The stamp is an abstract flower design.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

NaBloPoMo: 6 November

"If you were President of the United States, what would be your first act in office?"

My friend (the same one who will be whinging about Obama for the next four years if he wins, as mentioned yesterday) suggested "stop broadcasting military plans" and just shutting up in general about and not telling everyone everything you want to do and when, which is probably a good plan but is more of a acting-by-not-acting deal.  So I looked up what the President can actually do, and the short answer is "not much".  The Wikipedia article on presidential power lists "numerous powers" but they are mostly things like "receiving other foreign heads of state" which is a formal way of saying "throw a party".  So that's what I'd do.  I'd throw a party in the White House.

Postcrossing: Hungary

A baking card, of women baking bread, and my first card from Hungary!

On the back:
Hello Jennifer, My name is Zsolt, I'm 34 years old boy and I live in Budapest, Hungary.  I work in a sales of car parts as an administrator.  I hope you like this card.  Nowadays village women bake their breads.  Happy Postcrossing!
He also had a personalised Postcrossing stamp with his details and a space to write the card ID, so he's clearly been doing this a lot!  The stamps are of Budapest architecture and an antique chair.

Monday, November 5, 2012

NaBloPoMo: 5 November

"What are your thoughts about tomorrow's election in the United States?"

I'm not from the United States, nor am I a political pundit, but it's impossible to avoid election talk even in Australia.  I haven't really read a lot of election coverage - most of what I've read has been in the form of memes.  I do know who the candidates and their running mates are and that it's going to be close.  I also know that US politics do have far-reaching international consequences.  But ultimately, it's not an election I have a specific vested interest in.  Unless you count my friend whinging about Obama for next four years if he wins ;)  Frankly, I'm more excited about the Melbourne Cup tomorrow (more for the party than the race itself) than I am about the election.  On that note, I'm going to leave this remarkably short blog post as it is and go figure out my outfit for tomorrow's party!

Postcrossing: Portugal

It took a bit of digging, as most of the information I could find was in Portuguese, but I finally tracked down where the quote on this card is from.  Delmar Domingos De Carvalho is a Portuguese philosopher and member of the Rosicrucian Fellowship, an international association of Christian mystics.  The highlighted quote on the left reads
Solidarity? No and yes.  Fraternity? Yes.  
The smaller quote text reads (according to Google Translate):
The time shall come, sooner than many think, when the word fraternity and brotherly dynamics will be increasingly widespread, and in time universal, with a force and activity that definitively replaces solidarity.
It's a really interesting choice of card to me, and I enjoyed doing a bit of research into the source.

On the back:
Hello greetings from a very hot autumn Sunday afternoon in Portugal.  My favorite quote is from a poem by Fernando Pessoa: "Oh sacred sea, how much of your salt are tears from Portugal?" Happy Postcrossing.
Bonus quote!  I'm ashamed to admit that I hadn't heard of Fernando Pessoa, who is apparently one of the most famous Portuguese poets and philosophers.  I really liked that this card made me think and research and wasn't just something cute, and that the sender had read my bio and sent me a quote like I ask.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

NaBloPoMo: 4 November

Today is "free choice" so I'm going to tell you about a dream I had last night.  I dreamed that Dave and I had a water cooler, one of the types with bottles that you have to swap over, and there was a service you could arrange where a guy would come and refill your used bottles with the special water, instead of swapping them over for new ones.  So I called the guy to arrange it, only to find that he would only accept cheque payments, and that there was a $100 "cheque processing fee".  Well, I don't even have a chequebook, and the fee seemed bullshit to me, so I refused.

The night before last I dreamed that we went to Melbourne and found these amazing houses for sale for only $30 a week!  The catch was that they were still being wrangled over in court so we had to wait until that was cleared up.  Also one of the houses was on a fairly big section on the outskirts of the city next to a farm, but the house itself was really tiny because the owners had wanted to position it so they could see the cows on the farm, and you weren't allowed to build a bigger house or move that house or anything like that - you had to keep the tiny house on the huge section.

That same night I dreamed that Dave left the garage door open about a foot and both our cats escaped - they're 100% indoor cats so this was a Bad Thing.  We had to go out and find them and chase them down to catch them and bring them home and they were freaking out.

I dream a lot and they are always weird.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

NaBloPoMo: 3 November

As I mentioned in yesterday's OOTD post, I'm going to do the second NaBloPoMo prompt today after a bit of reshuffling.

"If you could live anywhere, where would it be?"

This is actually a tricky one, because I'm torn between three different places.

My parents live in Kawakawa Bay, east of Auckland and nestled between the Hauraki Gulf and the Hunua ranges.  At first glance, on a bad day, if the tide is out, the bay is nothing special.  The beach isn't nice and sandy and the bay is very shallow and flat, so when the tide is out it's one big mudflat.  But on a good day, when the tide is in...You drive out past Clevedon through the hills, steadily climbing, and then suddenly you come around a bend and over a crest and the bay is just there, all of a sudden below you, like a blanket of jewels.  I can't express how beautiful it is in words, it really has to be seen to be believed.  It's one of my favorite sites in the world.  We've had a beach house in Kawakawa Bay since I was a child, and we used to go out there a lot on weekends to go fishing.  It's taken a long time, but my parents have finally built their beautiful Lockwood dream house on a huge section at the end of a street a couple back from the waterfront.  I'm yet to get over there to see it but I will at some point in 2013.  The Bay is where my parents are, and so that will always be home for me.

On the other hand, I've always called Wellington my "spiritual home".  I left Auckland and moved to Wellington when I was 18 and stayed there for 6 years.  I grew from a teenager into an adult in Wellington.  I love the cafe scene, the compact CBD, the culture, and the people.  I support Wellington sports teams.  I have plenty of friends in Welly and I miss it a lot.  Wellington is so pretty and has some fantastic sights.  It's definitely my favorite city in New Zealand.

Finally, the Gold Coast is where I currently call home.  When I first moved to Australia, I fully expected it to be a permanent move.  But I quickly realised how homesick I was and how much I missed New Zealand, and I went through a phase of hating Australia and wishing to just be gone.  When we moved from Hobart to the Gold Coast, we always agreed it would be a temporary thing - just a few years, until we were financially ready to move to New Zealand.  Well, we're still not financially ready, and the Gold Coast has grown on me.  It's tacky and flashy and cultureless and touristy, sure - but it also has great weather, great friends, gorgeous beaches and hinterland, a pretty good standard of living, and easy access to the rest of Australia...or back to New Zealand, or to South East Asia.  I've now been on the Gold Coast longer than I lived in Wellington, and picked up some Gold Coast sports teams to support too.

I finally realised this year that I really am a product of two countries, not one - and while I still describe myself as a New Zealander, I'll happily claim Australian in some situations too.  When I'm talking about a national "we", Dave sometimes gets confused which "we" I'm referring to - although of course, in New Zealand vs Australian sporting competitions, it's  always New Zealand!  Both countries have their good points and bad points - no country is a perfect utopia, and I'm not going to get into the institutionalized rivalry between the two countries here.  I guess the answer to the blog prompt question is, "I can't choose!"

Friday, November 2, 2012

OOTD: Swan Lake

I'm going to cheat a little with NaBloPoMo, because weekends are "free choice" and I want to do an OOTD post today because I was wearing the cutest outfit I own!  So the second NaBloPoMo prompt will become tomorrows post.

Dress: ASOS
Clogs: Wittner
Belt: Free with a dress from Best & Less

I bought this dress last week after some enabling from @mimbles and @shonias on Twitter.  The print is tiny swans and it has a crossover front like a ballet dress and I love it.  The fabric isn't too hot and doesn't crush, and it was comfortable to wear all day.  The only issue is that today was extremely windy on the Gold Coast and the skirt is quite full, so I had to hold on to it pretty tight when I was outside.  The shoes are my favorite Wittner clogs which I really should wear more often, and the belt came with a different dress but coordinated great with this one.

You can't really see the gorgeous print or the bright color of the shoes, so here's a different angle:

The reactions I get when I wear a dress and heels, even a fairly casual outfit like this one, are always amusing.  Because I'm so much a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl, people always assume I have some reason for dressing up.  Usually I don't though - I just want to wear a cute outfit!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaBloPoMo: 1 November

Inspired by Miss RBit at Legally Alien, I have decided to do NaBloPoMo (aka National Blog Posting Month) this month.  Every year as November approaches I think to myself, "I'm going to do NaNoWriMo (aka National Novel Writing Month) this year!" - but I never do.  So I figure if I can do NaBloPoMo, at least I'm writing something, right?

I'll be (loosely) following the prompts from BlogHer.  So, let's get this started, shall we?

"Tell us your favorite quotation and why."

I've always been a bit of a quote freak.  I have dozens of notebooks filled with quotations, several quotation books, and whole libraries of movie and book quotes in the shadowy recesses of my brain.  So it's a bit hard to choose a favorite.  At first I thought of
For in dreams we enter a world that's entirely our own.
which is of course a Harry Potter quote.  Then I thought of
Hello.  My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die.
which is of course a Princess Bride quote.  Then I thought of
Our galaxy has billions of stars.  Each of those stars could have many worlds.  Every world could be home to a different form of life.  And every life is a special story of its own.
which is of course from the Mass Effect 3 epilogue (and spoken by Buzz Aldrin, which makes it even more awesome).  Then my brain kept helpfully coughing up dozens and dozens of quotes from all over the place...You get the idea.

Finally, I settled on the quote I want to get as part of a grand plan for a full back tattoo piece, which is:
Nature laughs last.
This is my favorite quote because it speaks to me on a lot of different levels:

  • Ultimately, us humans are really very small
  • Don't get caught up in every day minutiae, just enjoy what we do have, because eventually it will be gone
  • No matter how much we think we have conquered the world, nature has far more power than we do
This quote is featured in the second X-Men movie, X2, on the wall outside Nightcrawler's church, where it's also particularly appropriate given that nature has given humans super powers with which they are attempting to destroy each other.

For such a short quote, it sure packs a punch.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Postcrossing: Germany

My first Postcrossing card in nearly a year!  I took a break but I've been getting back into it with a vengeance.  I like the cute picture and the quote - more on that quote in a minute.

On the back:

Hey Jennifer,
Today you are getting a card from Germany!  I  am living close to Jena, where I am working as a lab assistant!  Besides this I am a mom and love spending time with my son!  He loves playing cards or draw pics.  I rather enjoy taking pics.  Mostly of friends.  Besides this I love to go dancing and listen to German music.  Do you know the band Blumentopf?  They are my fav's atm.
Take care
The stamp is a pretty purple flower, like a crocus perhaps.  I hadn't heard of the band she mentions but they sound interesting.  Perhaps a German reader can comment :)

The quote on the front of the card is interesting.  I believe it translates roughly as "Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it! Boldness has genius, magic and power in it."  It's attributed to Goethe, but after some digging it appears that it's wrongly attributed, or a re-translation back to German of a very loose translation into English from the original lines in Faust.  This link has more information about the history of the quote.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sometimes I Just Don't Understand People

Let's say you're bored at home on a Saturday night.  What's the first thing that comes to mind that you could do to entertain yourself?  If it's not "attack someone on the internet" then congratulations, you're not a dickhead.

A good friend of mine, the fabulous Fat Heffalump, was subjected to a dickhead attack last night.  Someone created a fake account on Twitter that is similar to her Twitter name, used a photo of her without her permission, wrote a hateful personal bio, and linked the account website to the "thinspiration" tag on Tumblr. Then spent their evening replying to everything the real Fat Heffalump tweeted with abusive messages.  To get this abusive account removed as an impersonation, she has to send Twitter a copy of her passport to prove she is the real person.  Her friends and supporters can't even report the account as an impersonation because the report has to come from the person being impersonated.  The best I can do is report them as spam.

The media in Oz recently shone a spotlight on trolls and online abuse in the wake of the Charlotte Dawson incident.  I'm not going to go into that in-depth here (and I only reluctantly link to that article - I disagree with the Laurel Papworth commentary), but some good points were raised about how social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr need to take more responsibility for their content.  They have hid behind the "We don't create the content" shield for too long.

This is a tricky topic for me, and I'm sure for many other people.  I'm anti-censorship and pro-freedom of speech, anti-regulation and pro-personal responsibility.  Where do you draw the line?  Who decides what is offensive?  It's a fine line and I'm still not convinced that censorship is the way to go.  The better solution, the grander solution I suppose, is societal change.  Social media has given people a platform to publicly say things directly to their target instead of just hurling abuse at their TV, while still being anonymous and in the safety of their own home.  For them, there are no repercussions.  There is no friend saying "dude, not cool."  They don't see what happens to the person they are abusing.  And when they see articles in the media saying that the target of their abuse deserved it because she's not a nice person anyway, that their abuse doesn't matter because their target can choose whether or not to be offended, that the victims of abuse should just follow the old adage of "don't feed the trolls" - they're not getting the message that what they are doing is wrong, are they? They're being told what they are doing is just fine, and that it's the victim's problem if she can't handle it!  (I say "she" because it's overwhelmingly women who are targets of this sort of abuse, and I'm not trying to sideline the men here - I know this happens to men too, but it's certainly more prevalent for women.)

This isn't good enough.  Everyone - me, you, the media, everyone - needs to stand up and say "dude, not cool".  Online abuse is never okay.  It baffles me that people can't think of anything better to do with their spare time than systematically abuse someone simply for who they are.  There are much better ways to spend your time, people.  Why don't you try enriching your own life instead of throwing someone else's life in a hole?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Roadtripping Part II

We're home again (have been for several days in fact) and have had an amazing holiday.  Taking up from where we left off in Part I, here is a recap of the second half of the trip!

Still based in Cairns, we agreed in the end to do Mossman Gorge / Port Douglas / Daintree / Cape Tribulation as a day trip and so we took off north for a day.  We decided to drive up to Cape Trib first, and then visit the other stops on the way back...But a little bit south of Cape Trib on the Daintree River is a car ferry which was really expensive ($28!) and only took cash, and we had no cash - talk about bad planning!  However, conveniently located right next to the car ferry were several croc spotting tours so we pulled in to check them out instead.  They all looked a bit sketchy, but there was one leaving in 20 minutes that took credit card and I didn't want to have driven all that way for nothing!  So we decided to do a croc spotting tour with Solar Whisper.  It was a really excellent tour - the guide was really knowledgeable about not only crocs but all the other wildlife in the area and had an eagle eye for spotting crocs and birds (although unfortunately we didn't see any snakes).  There were only 6 of us in total on the tour so he could give us all attention when we asked questions.  It was quite early in croc season and a fairly cool day so we were lucky to see crocs out of the water.  We saw several adult crocs and even a "creche" of baby crocs!  He also shared several anecdotes about croc attacks and how to stay safe around crocs which was really interesting.

After the croc tour we drove down to Mossman Gorge, which has recently had a new visitor's centre built.  We had lunch in the cafe which was really good and very reasonably priced, then took the (paid) shuttle up to the gorge area.  Apparently you used to be able to drive up yourself but since the visitor's centre opened you have to walk the 2km up or pay around $5 each for a shuttle, which seemed reasonable to me but apparently has caused some outrage.  The gorge was very pretty and the walks were very well-developed.  Afterwards we decided there wasn't really a reason to stop in to Port Douglas so we headed home.

The next day we did the first of our two reef trips, to Green Island, which was fun.  The boat ride out was quite rough and there were a lot of seasick people on the boat (although we were fine), and the island itself is very pretty.  Unfortunately low tide was right in the middle of our snorkeling time and the lagoon is very shallow, so it was quite awkward to snorkel.  The island is heavily touristed and the reef was pretty but there were patches where it was clearly struggling.  We still had fun exploring the island and experimenting with our hired underwater camera, but we were happy we had booked a second reef trip the next day.

Our second reef trip, with Seastar, was just amazing.  We chose them based on the low numbers and excellent feedback they had received and we weren't disappointed.  They take up to 35 people, but on our cruise they only had 12, which meant we all had personalised service.  The crew were all great and the two spots on the reef we visited were both beautiful and had varied corals and fish.  We even saw a turtle!  It was again quite rough which did make it a struggle at times to snorkel, and I had some issues with my masks leaking and had a bit of a freak-out, but the staff were great and I felt very safe.  Another highly recommended activity!

After Cairns, we turned around and started the long drive back home.  We saw several waterfalls (including the excellent Josephine Falls, and had Devonshire Tea at the tiny cafe nearby) and did plenty of bushwalking.  We stopped a couple of times at the same place we had visited on the way up, but we did do a few different things on the way back too...

Our first new thing was Paronella Park.  We didn't know much about it other than that it was RACQ's Number 1 Must Do! in Queensland, and that there were Spanish castles involved.  It was actually really interesting and a very intriguing story.  We stayed in their teeny campground overnight which got us both the day and night tour as well which was the best value.  The tours were different enough that it was worth doing both, and having two different guides meant that we got different views on the story of the place which was interesting.

The second new thing we did was the Capricorn Caves.  The Caves are about half an hour north of Rocky and again have a tiny campground attached, so we did the tour and camped overnight.  The tour was really cool, it was really interesting to see the caves and the different rock formations.  They have one cave called the Cathedral Cave which often hosts weddings and also hosts opera performances due to its excellent acoustics.  During the tour they play music in the cave to let you appreciate the acoustics.  The Caves were excellent but the camping ground was disappointing, with very basic kitchen facilities and no unpowered sites for vans.  I'd recommend staying in Rocky instead, as there's no night tours of the caves or anything, so no reason to be there outside of the middle of the day really.

As we'd hoped, we stayed at 1770 instead of Bundaberg on the way home.  Several people had said 1770 was beautiful and it certainly was.  The 1770 Camping Ground (warning: ridiculously Flash-heavy website!) is absolute beachfront and we managed to snag a beachfront site which was just gorgeous.

Finally, in the middle of the home stretch we stopped at the Abbey Museum just north of Brisbane.  It's a small, private museum that was excellently curated and had some really interesting pieces.  They host a medieval tournament in July each each year so I've already made plans to go to the next one!

After the museum, we pushed on for home and made it back a couple of days earlier than planned.  We were both ready for our own bed (and bathroom!).   We had an excellent trip and saw some really amazing things, but it's always good to be home!  I'm still working through the 1600-odd photos we took (!) and hopefully will have some up soon.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Roadtripping Part I

We've been on the road now for 13 days so we're officially halfway through!  It's been amazing so far, we've had some fantastic experiences, and have plenty more still to come.  Unfortunately I somehow left the cable to connect the camera to the laptop at home so I haven't been able to share any camera photos.  I've taken plenty of photos with my phone though and shared those on Facebook and various other social media places.  Once we return and I can compile all the photos together I might do a post here with the best.  I will definitely have Facebook albums in any case!  In the mean time, this post is going to be photo-free and just a summary of the highlights so far, for those people not on Facebook (or Twitter).

We took it easy for the first couple of days because I wasn't sure how much driving I could handle and how well the van was going to go.  We stayed a couple of nights on the Sunshine Coast and went to Australia Zoo, which was much better than I expected.  I was never a fan of Steve Irwin but his passion for nature shows through in the Zoo and it was quite good.  We also went to the Eumundi Markets which were really cool, and bought a neat wind ornament for our patio.

After the Sunshine Coast we stopped at Hervey Bay for a whalewatching tour with WhaleSong which was completely mindblowing.  I'd never experienced anything like it before and would highly recommend it.  We got to see plenty of whales that came right up to the boat to check *us* out. WhaleSong were great - the numbers were small, the food was good, the staff were friendly and helpful, and the price was very reasonable.  Highly recommended experience!

We'd changed our mind about which whalewatching operator to go with, and because the tour we did left a bit later and then also ran late, we got halfway to 1770 then realised we were never going to make it before the reception at the caravan park closed.  So we had our first deviation from the itinerary and went to Bundaberg instead, staying at Bargara Beach which is just out of the city.  We might still do 1770 on the way back now that we don't need to do Bundaberg.  We did the Bundaberg Rum Factory tour, which was really interesting (and included free rum!), and then the Bundaberg Ginger Beer tour, which was in a cool barrel-shaped building but wasn't as interesting as the Rum Factory (but also included free ginger beer!).  On the way from Bundy to Rockhampton we stopped at the Mystery Craters which were overpriced and very disappointing.  They had so much potential to be interesting but were just tacky.

Once we got to Rocky it was pretty late and the YHA had no beds so we splashed out on a hotel room for the night at the Criterion Hotel, a Rocky icon.  The hotel rooms are period rooms and quite old-fashioned, with really high ceilings, but ours did have an ensuite with a toilet and a shower so we were set.  It was actually kind of inconvenient, sleeping away from the van, because we kept remembering things we'd wanted to bring up.  With the van we have everything in one spot, its very convenient.  Between Bundy and Rocky we also ticked over our first 1000 kilometres and at Rocky we officially crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and arrived in the tropics!

After Rocky we had a very long drive to Airlie Beach.  The Bruce Highway fatigue-busting signs are hilarious and included suggestions such as playing trivia games to keep your mind alert (they even asked the first question: what is Queensland's floral emblem?).  We finally also spotted some kangaroos each, but no live ones on the road, and thankfully didn't hit one (and thus avoided carrying on the family tradition of taking out a kangaroo on Aussie roadtrips).  There is a LOT of sugarcane in North Queensland, it's EVERYWHERE.  It smells like molasses when you drive past even.  The Airlie Beach Nomads had a deal where we could pay $5 a night each to park our van in their "caravan park" spots and use the hostel amenities.  It was really cheap, but the Airlie Beach Nomads is very much a party hostel and it was pretty noisy.  We didn't do anything in Airlie Beach other than chill out before moving on to Townsville.

Once we got to Townsville, we realised that the Adventurers Resort backpackers $5 a night deal was literally parking in their carpark and so we ditched that idea and stayed in a caravan park instead.  It turned out to be an excellent idea, because we met this great old fella who was doing an extended roadtrip all over Oz on his Honda Valkyrie touring motorbike with nothing but a little bike trailer and his swag - and a pipe and several bottles of whisky!  He'd been on the road for 4 months so far and still had a long way to go to weave his way back to Perth.  It would have been awesome for my Daddy or some of my uncles to meet him, they would have had a great natter.  While in Townsville we did a day trip to Magnetic Island and rented a moke for the day.  It was great fun to hoon around in.  We also did a walk to the Forts which was a military base in World War II and I saw a snake but Dave (thankfully) didn't.  We went up to a couple of lookouts on Castle Hill and Mt Stuart which had amazing views.  Townsville was a great stop and much nicer than I expected.

On the way out of Townsville we notched up 2000km and headed to Girringun National Park, our first campground and first night away from civilisation.  The road through the national park to Wallaman Falls runs through a cattle station and there were plenty of the weird-looking NQ cattle (brahmans) on the road.  The falls, which are the highest single-drop falls in Oz, were really spectacular and the campground was surprisingly busy and practically full.  Another JUCY campa turned up which was a huge surprise also, and I'm sure it was the same trio of German backpackers we had also seen at Airlie Beach!  The night away from civilisation passed peacefully and on the way back down through the rainforest we saw a wild cassowary which was amazing!  There had been plenty of warning signs saying they were in the area (along with warning signs about feral cattle!), but we still never thought we would see one in the wild even though we were so hopeful.  It was just such a moving experience and we were so excited.

Once back on the highway we decided to skip Mission Beach for now (because we didn't really have anything planned there) and shoot straight through to Cairns, so we arrived in Cairns 2 days earlier than planned, on Thursday, and checked in to the Cairns Holiday Park which is a very backpacker-oriented caravan park and really convenient.  There's many more foreign tourists here instead of just Australian grey nomads so its a bit more interesting.  So far in Cairns we've done a daytrip to Kuranda on the Scenic Railway and the Skyrail (a gondola) which was lovely (although Kuranda itself is overrated), and a self-driving daytrip to the Atherton Tablelands where we did a Skybury Coffee Plantation tour and had Devonshire Tea at Mungalli Creek Dairy.  Dave is really not keen on going to Cape Tribulation so we may just do Port Douglas and Mossman Gorge as a daytrip (or trips) and stay in Cairns a bit longer before heading back south.

Stay tuned for Part II!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Holiday Planning Part II: The Panicking

Last week we ticked over into August and I realised our holiday was this month! and I started freaking out.  Dave bemusedly said he was just surprised it had taken me so long to go into panic mode.  The time from initial planning back in April had gone surprisingly fast.  I started my Lists - one of things to buy before we left and one of things to remember to pack/prepare, bought a couple of things, and felt much more in control.  But I still didn't have a finalised itinerary, so that's how I spent today.  We decided to go north and do the Reef.  The itinerary has a good mix of caravan park, camping ground, and hostel accommodation, with plenty of rest days with no or minimal driving.  We get to see everything we wanted and have plenty of cheap or free activities mixed in with a couple of more expensive trips out to the Reef.

We're only 2 weeks out now so the excitement is starting to kick in!

Day  1, 167km: Home → Dicky Beach, stopping at the Abbey Museum if we have time (or can do on the way back)
Day  2, 0km  : Australia Zoo
Day  3, 226km: Eumundi Markets, then Dicky Beach → Hervey Bay
Day  4, 292km: Dawn whale watching trip, then Hervey Bay → 1770 (yes, the town is really called 1770!)
Day  5, 0km  : Lady Musgrave Island Day Trip
Day  6: 233km: 1770 → Rockhampton, eat at the Criterion Hotel
Day  7, 482km: Rockhampton → Airlie Beach
Day  8, 0km  : Whitsundays Day Trip - possibly on the Camira
Day  9, 275km: Airlie Beach → Townsville, check out the Reef HQ
Day 10, 0km  : Magnetic Island Day Trip
Day 11, 163km: Townsville → Girringun National Park via Mutarnee (to visit Mango Mania) and Lucinda (to see the jetty)
Day 12, 175km: Wallaman Falls, then Girringun National Park → Mission Beach, possibly do a Spirit of the Rainforest tour
Day 13, 136km: Mission Beach → Cairns via the MaMu Rainforest Walkway, possibly do a Reef Teach
Day 14, 0km  : Kuranda Day Trip via the railway and cableway
Day 15, 0km  : Green Island Day Trip
Day 16, 0km  : Fitzroy Island Day Trip
Day 17, 64km : Agincourt Reef Day Trip from either Cairns or Port Douglas, and drive Cairns → Port Douglas
Day 18, 82km : Port Douglas → Cape Tribulation via Mossman Gorge (for a Dreamtime Walk) and the Daintree Discover Centre
Day 19, 305km: Cape Tribulation → Mena Creek and Paronella Park via the Waterfalls Circuit
Day 20, 428km: Mena Creek → Charters Towers
Day 21, 392km: Explore Charters Towers, then Charters Towers → Airlie Beach
Day 22, 0km  : Hardy Reef Day Trip
Day 23, 462km: Airlie Beach → Capricorn Caves
Day 24, 322km: Explore the Capricorn Caves, then Capricorn Caves → Bundaberg
Day 25, 311km: Bundaberg Rum Factory Tour, then Bundaberg → Dicky Beach
Day 26, 167km: Dicky Beach → Home, stopping at the Abbey Museum if we missed it on the way up

Total: 4682km

Phew!  That is a really long way!  There are a couple of things we can cut down if I'm just getting too sick of driving - we don't *really* need to go any further north than Cairns, but I'm quite keen to get up to Cape Trib and see the literal "end of the road".  We could also cut out the Charters Towers side trip.  We have several days in Cairns that we can expand or contract if needed.  All in all, I'm really looking forward to the trip.  15 more sleeps!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Double OOTD: Purple Haze vs Monochrome

I forgot to post my outfit on Friday, but that worked out well because it was such a contrast with today's outfit that you now get an OOTD Double Feature!

Friday's Outfit:
Tank & Cardi: Jay Jays
Mini: Torrid
Tights: We Love Colors (Gold)
Boots: Dr Martens at Platypus

Today's Outfit:
Tank, Singlet, & Cardi: Jay Jays
Mini: ASOS
Leggings: We Love Colors (Grey)
Shoes: Converse at Platypus

I love both outfits and can't pick a favourite!  What do you think?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Customer Service: Australia Post Gets It Right

As a Customer Service worker myself, I really appreciate it when I get good customer service.  Customers rarely contact you to simply tell you that you've done a great job - the nature of customer service is that the majority of customers you interact with have some kind of problem.  So I like to give credit where credit is due.

Last Friday I was getting ready to leave for work when a parcel was delivered.  The delivery driver saw that I was getting ready to back my car out and asked me if I usually backed all the way up to the street.  Our driveway is fairly long and shared between 10 units, and also has a dogleg and slopes uphill.  It's quite wide and I have no problem backing out every day but I can understand that if you were not used to it that it might be difficult.  I told the driver that sometimes I could back into the visitor parks but I normally just backed all the way up and onto the street.  She told me that she didn't think the driveway was OH&S compliant and that she would have to get it inspected.

I do a lot of shopping online, so this was a big concern for me - if the Australia Post delivery drivers would no longer deliver to my house, I'd have to make other arrangements.  So I wanted to make sure I'd be told the outcome of any investigation, but I wasn't sure who to contact to find that out.  I turned to my preferred first point of contact, Twitter, and contacted the @auspost Twitter account.  The account is very active and professional and I was confident they'd be able to point me in the right direction.

I was right.  Within 3 hours, a staff member named "Alysse" had replied to me with more information about why the driver might have been concerned, and given me a link to a web contact form to complete for further assistance.  I completed the form and asked to be informed of the outcome of the investigation into my delivery issue.  I received a reply to this form within 1 business day from "Bianca P" that was polite and helpful and explained the process of the investigation to me, and that I should expect further contact within 5 business days.  The follow-up, from "Natalie B", came within 2 business days, confirming that my driveway had been reviewed and that my parcels would be delivered.  I advised the Twitter account and received a thank you from "Nathan"  inviting me to contact Australia Post again if I needed more help.

At each point of contact, I was dealing with a different person, but I never had to explain my situation again: each person understood my issue and had information readily available.  All contact was prompt, informative, polite, and friendly but professional.  My name was used (even on Twitter), so I felt like a real person and not just a reference number.  The outcome of the investigation was in my favour, but even if it hadn't been I would still have been satisfied.

Well done to Australia Post for getting Customer Service right and leaving me a happy customer!

Friday, May 11, 2012

OOTD: Flower Power

Dress: ASOS
Tights: We Love Colors (Peach)
Boots: Wittner

After I bought my new boots I realised I needed more cute short skirts or dresses to go with them, so I had a mini shopping spree on ASOS.  I was tossing up over this dress and a couple of others and went with this one in the end because it was quite different from anything else I own and thought it would go really well with the boots.  I love the print - it's flowery (Dave can't stop going on about how flowery it is), but it's not super-girly.  I loved the way the outfit came together and just felt really happy with how I looked today.  But I suck at taking photos so the pic doesn't really do it justice.  Trust me when I say I totally rocked this outfit and will definitely be wearing it again!  I think this dress is going to get a lot of rotation.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

OOTD: Winter Is Coming

It's cooling down on the Gold Coast.  My beloved Betts boots (as featured in my first ever OOTD) fell apart before the start of last winter and I chose to replace them with my Docs instead of a long pair of boots.  So this season I decided I needed a new pair of knee-high boots.  I wanted flat black boots, but when I saw these boots in the Wittner $100 boot sale I snapped them up.  $250 leather knee-high boots on sale for $100 with free shipping? Yes please!

Boots: Wittner (Style: Bryce in brown burnished leather)

So brown with a 6.5cm heel, not quite what I thought I wanted but I'm allowed to change my mind!  I wore them all day and they were super-comfortable although they are a little bit loose around my feet, so I think I'll get some nice padded insoles and that should solve the problem.  They are pull-on boots which haven't had before but they were surprisingly easy to get on and just the right size.  They will wear to be quite slouchy around the ankles I think, but the brown rough leather is a bit more casual so I think they will still look good.

Here is the rest of the outfit:

Top: Jay Jays
Mini: Torrid
Tights: We Love Colors (Hunter Green)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Holiday Planning

Dave and I have booked 4 weeks of leave in mid-August to mid-September and hired a JUCY camper for 26 days.  We went with JUCY because of their excellent customer service - Blayne at JUCY has really gone above and beyond to help get us a great rate and give us advice, and was ultimately the deciding factor in us choosing JUCY over a competitor.

I love roadtrips.  We had at least one, usually two or more, roadtrips a year when I was growing up - to Awakeri for Christmas, and often to Wellington for a family event, or somewhere else for a holiday.  I still sometimes get seized by an irrational urge to just get in my car and drive.  The open road in front of me and the freedom to turn off whenever a road sign catches my fancy is absolute bliss to me.

So.  The leave is booked, the camper is booked, the kennel is booked, the cattery is booked...But where are we going to go? The freedom of the camper means we can basically hit the road and go where our fancies take us.  At first we were thinking we would do a loop of the southeast corner of the continent, but I'm increasingly leaning towards going north and seeing the Great Barrier Reef instead.   There are also some other slightly more far-out options, like driving across the Nullarbor to Perth!

Here are my 4 draft itineraries.  Each one is fairly flexible - we might condense some legs or expand others, depending on if we see a nice place to stop or want to keep on driving, or need an extra break.  Can you help us choose?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Jen Does PC Repair

A week or so ago Dave's PC suddenly crapped out.  It was running super slow and basically unusable.  Dave has this kind of aura that seems to magically break electronic goods and it's a running joke with us that he's not allowed to touch anything electronic.  This kind of problem is a pain in the butt to diagnose, because there's no error or anything to indicate what's wrong.  It was also intermittent, so when I got home and booted his PC up again it worked fine for about 10 minutes before crapping out again.  In that kind of situation, it could have been any number of things: a virus (least likely), his RAM, a motherboard hardware issue, his hard drive (most likely)...I tried a few different things, running a check disk (which wouldn't complete), pulling out his RAM and booting from one stick at a time, and I was leaning towards it being caused by his hard drive failing...then suddenly it wouldn't even POST and I feared that it was a motherboard issue after all.  I unplugged the PC from the power completely and left it for half an hour and tried to boot again, and this time it completed POST, so I was back to my initial theory.

The next day I tried running check disk again, with Dave under strict instructions to not touch anything and just leave it, no matter how long it took.  After running all morning, check disk finally completed after finding several bad sectors.  I swapped out the suspect hard drive for the one from his old PC (the benefits of keeping a stack of hardware in the cupboard), installed Windows and ran check disk on that one also just to be safe, and it came up clean.  The PC ran fine with the substitute hard drive so I was satisfied the problem was caused by the original hard drive failing (a Western Digital Caviar Green, and serves me right for buying a lower performance drive), and I ordered a new Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB from Computer Alliance who I'd never used before but were significantly cheaper than Tech Buy.  The drive was shipped and delivered within 2 days which was very impressive.

It arrived bare boned so today I hunted through the hardware cupboard and found a spare cable and some rails so I could install it as a secondary drive.  That would save me the hassle of installing and patching Windows yet again and would give Dave a bit more space.  It was also an interesting mini-challenge because it meant I couldn't just swap over the drives - I had to plug in the extra cables and ensure everything fit together properly.  We purposefully built our PCs to be expandable so it wasn't too difficult, but it was a new experience which was fun.

The new drive is now installed, initialised, and formatting as I type this.  I feel quite satisfied with myself for managing to diagnose and resolve the problem without calling in a tech.  And that's how I spent Good Friday!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Baby Love Cupcakes

Yesterday I attended a surprise baby shower organised by some of my friends from work for our pregnant co-worker.  Her husband (also a co-worker) took her out for the morning and we went to their place and set everything up for when they came home.  We somehow managed to keep it a complete surprise and she was so thrilled when she arrived home to find us all there ready to celebrate with her.  We had a pot-luck lunch with lots of delicious food and I made cupcakes of two sorts - caramel mud and chocolate mud.  By popular demand, here are the recipes I used.

Caramel Mud Cupcakes
Makes 12 regular-sized cupcakes
From Classic Cupcakes, in The Australian Women's Weekly Collection

125g butter, chopped coarsely
100g white eating chocolate, chopped coarsely
2/3C firmly packed light brown sugar (I used dark)
1/4C golden syrup or treacle (I used golden syrup)
2/3C milk
1C   plain flour
1/3C self-raising flour

Pre-heat oven to 170C.  Line 12-hole muffin pan with paper cases.

Stir butter, chocolate, sugar, syrup and milk in small saucepan over low heat until smooth.  Transfer mixture to medium bowl; cool 15 minutes.

Whisk sifted flours into chocolate mixture, then whisk in egg.

Drop 1/4C of mixture into paper cases.  Bake about 30 minutes.  Stand cakes in pan 5 minutes before turning, top-side up, onto wire rack to cool.

Dark Chocolate Mud Cupcakes
Makes 8 regular-sized cupcakes (recipe is for 18 mini cupcakes)
Adapted from Classic Cupcakes, in The Australian Women's Weekly Collection

30g   dark eating chocolate, chopped coarsely
1/3C  water
45g   butter, softened
1/2C  firmly packed light brown sugar (I used dark)
1     egg
1/3C  self-raising flour
1tbsp cocoa powder
2tbsp ground almonds

Pre-heat oven to 170C.  Line 8 holes of of a 12-hole muffin pan with paper cases (or 18 holes of two 12-hole mini muffin pans).

Stir chocolate and the water in a small saucepan over low heat until smooth.

Beat butter, sugar and egg in small bowl with electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Stir in sifted flour and cocoa, ground almonds, and warm chocolate mixture.

Drop 1/4C (if making regular-sized cupcakes) or tablespoons (if making mini cupcakes) of mixture into paper cases.  Bake about 25 minutes for regular-sized cupcakes, or 15 minutes for mini cupcakes.  Stand cakes in pan 5 minutes before turning, top-side up, onto wire rack to cool.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
Makes enough for 24 cupcakes (according to the recipe; in my opinion, could be halved and still have enough!)
From The Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook, by Jennifer Graham

200g     butter, softened
1/2C     milk
1tbsp    vanilla extract
8C       icing sugar, sifted

few drops food colouring (I used blue)

Cream the butter for 1-2 minutes until light and fluffy.  Add the milk, vanilla extract, and half the sifted icing sugar, and beat for at least 3 minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy.  Add the remaining icing sugar and beat for a further 3 minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy and of a spreadable consistency.  Add extra milk if the mixture is too dry, or extra icing sugar if the mixture is too wet.  Add the food colouring and beat until evenly mixed.  A few drops goes a long way - add as much or as little as you like to get your chosen shade.

The decorating idea was taken from the same Classic Cupcakes book as the cupcake recipes.  You will need jellybeans and writing icing in the same shade as your jellybeans.  I just bought a bag of regular jellybeans and a mixed pack of writing icing in red, blue, green, and yellow, and picked out a few jellybeans of each colour, but you could buy specialty jellybeans that are all one colour and just one tube of writing icing if you prefer.  Frost your cupcakes with the buttercream frosting - I simply used a butter knife and smeared on a big dab, I didn't worry about making it smooth and even, but you can smooth it out or pipe it on or whatever you wish.  Cut the jellybeans in half and place a pair on each cupcake, then pipe on toes using the writing icing.  Simple and very cute!


The caramel cupcakes were definitely a better recipe for decorating.  The chocolate ones ended up with a brownie-style crusty top and some crumbs came off into the frosting.  The chocolate ones are also much sweeter, so with a mound of buttercream frosting on the top they were almost too sweet.  The caramel ones were moist and dense and delicious and perfect for decorating.  This buttercream frosting is the best recipe I've ever found but it makes a HUGE amount.  I could have easily frosted another 20 cupcakes, or a whole cake, and I was pretty generous with the frosting on each cake.  You could easily halve the recipe for 2 batches of cupcakes and have plenty, although if you are wanting to do something more fancy like piping or sculpting or something like that, you might need a bit more.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

FotoFeb: Day 29

Big Brother is watching you

Well, that's the end of FotoFeb.  I only missed one day, for which I am extremely proud.  I still have a blog project about reading on hiatus which I definitely plan on finishing at some point.  I've really enjoyed this project, and sharing my every day life.  I'm also a little sad that it's over, because I have some very exciting stuff happening just in the next week alone - a trip to Byron Bay for our 2nd wedding anniversary, and then my new tattoos.  But I suppose I can always blog and share photos of those events too!  Thanks for reading and I hope you've enjoyed this window into my life :)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sunday, February 26, 2012

FotoFeb: Day 26

How I spent my morning: working on a secret craft project for Dave's 2nd wedding anniversary present.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

FotoFeb: Day 25

Just another rainy day on the Gold Coast.
(In stark contrast to Day 4)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

FotoFeb: Day 22

Four photos for the price of one today!  When I went out for my lunchtime walk there was an aerial dancing troupe doing a little exhibition in the courtyard of our office building complex.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

FotoFeb: Day 21

Got to the end of the day and realised I hadn't taken a photo, so here is tonight's dinner

Monday, February 20, 2012

FotoFeb: Day 20

Check-up and vaccination day for Jeddah

This morning we took Jeddah to the vet for her check-up and shots.  It took us a few tries to get her in the carrier and she was not impressed with us at all - she meowed all the way to the vet and then was perfectly quiet and well-behaved once we got there!  I'd been a bit concerned about an intermittent limp she's developed recently so the vet checked that while we were there.  She said Jeddah's muscle tone and weight are both fine, her teeth are good, and she seems generally healthy, which was good.  With the limp, she said one of her kneecaps is a bit loose and probably has been her whole life, which probably contributed to arthritis setting in a bit earlier than you'd expect (she's nearly 7).  So at least the limp is just arthritis and nothing else.  She said because everything else is good, we should just make sure Jeddah doesn't have to jump very high, so we put a stepladder next to the washing machine to make it easier for her to get up to her food (food can't go on the floor or Phoebe would eat it!).  All in all a fairly routine visit, which is always a relief.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

FotoFeb: Day 19

Tonight's Dinner

(Yes, I know I missed a day.  I still had a migraine and hadn't left the house for 2 days and had nothing to share.  I'm sure you all coped)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Thursday, February 16, 2012

FotoFeb: Day 16

Stairway to Tattoo

I've been talking about getting a new tattoo for ages.  Yonks.  Forever.  A really, really long time.  And over the past couple of months I'd gradually formed in my mind what I wanted - a twin pair of tattoos reflecting my New Zealand and Australian heritage.  I decided on a stylised, All Blacks-style silver fern for the NZ one, but couldn't settle on anything equivalent for the Oz one.  I tossed around a few different ideas but got stuck, until the always-fabulous Kath suggested gum leaves and I realised it was exactly what I wanted.  I tossed out the All Blacks silver fern and settled on a still fairly stylised but slightly more realistic koru and fern leaf for the NZ tattoo, and gum leaves, nuts, and flowers for the Oz one.  Then I booked a consultation with Victoria at Wild at Heart (also on Kath's recommendation) to settle on the basic design, size, placement, and price.

So today I got an early mark from work, and Dave and I trained up to Brisbane for the evening.  I met Victoria, who distilled the essence of what I wanted from my vague description and a few photos into a pair of little sketches in about 30 seconds.  So I'll be getting a pair of simple, sketch-style tattoos on my inside wrists.  She said it would be better and cheaper if we did both tattoos at the same time, and would only take 1-1.5 hours total, and that way it would be easier to get them to be a matched set, and I readily agreed!  So on the 7th of March (the day we get back from our long weekend at Byron Bay for our wedding anniversary) we are making another trek up to Brisbane for me to get inked.  I am super-excited and so happy its finally happening!  It's been years since I got tattooed and I'm really looking forward to it.

After my tattoo consult we met up with Kath and had a pub dinner in the city which was delicious, then we had the long train journey back home.  It's been a long, busy, exciting day and now I'm happy and sleepy and feeling very content!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

FotoFeb: Day 14

My lunchtime ritual - Lemon Green Bubble Tea from the Hazel Tea Shop

Monday, February 13, 2012

FotoFeb: Day 13

This afternoon's reading

We're currently in the process or organising quotes for paving, because the yard of the little home unit we rent from Dave's parents is basically just rocks and mud and impossible to maintain.  There's significantly more work involved than I thought, and way more options to consider too!  So far we've received two quotes, had two more guys come and measure and are waiting on their quotes, and have two more guys booked to measure, bringing out quotes total to six, which seems like overload but at least gives us plenty of options.  Some tradies have been cowboys and some have been professionals, and I think we'll end up with a good range of prices and options.  The front runner for me is Fernando from Doctor Paver because come on, just his name is awesome.  But he was very professional also and gave us a few options and explained how he would deal with each little issue which I thought was good.

This morning we also visited the Carrara Sandstone Works and ABC Landscape Supplies to take a look at paver options, and we had the Paver Trader come to us with his truck full of samples.  We've determined the size and style of paver we think will look best and it's really just a matter of choosing the type - my preference is a limestone paver but that's also fairly pricey so we may end up with a mid-range concrete paver which I think will also look quite nice.  We got plenty of brochures to browse through so that's how I spent my afternoon while I sat around waiting for tradies to turn up.

It's already been a bit stressful for me, dealing with all these tradies and having them in my space, and it's going to get worse before it get's better, but it will definitely be worth it in the end.  It will open up the whole area and make it feel much more spacious, and give us a lovely area to have barbecues and put down a little potted herb and vege garden.  So hopefully we can finalise the decision-making process soon and get it started!