Monday, February 6, 2012

Holidays in the Land Down Under

Yes I know what each of you are thinking and I will admit that I am plain horrible at this blogging thing. I have to say I think about it just about everyday and come up with ideas on what I should write about (How the toilets work here....Learning Australian slang...Grocery shopping with little to no brands you know...etc) but then I don't sit down and do it. I can't make myself sit at the computer and type it out. I come up with something else I need to do (i.e. Facebook, read a book, go hang out with roomies...). I of course then feel guilty because I know there are several people back home wanting me to do this on a regular basis. I have this constant voice of my older brother in my head telling me I will regret it if I don't do it. I get some sort of comment, friendly reminder, or joke about once a week on how my blog has only two entries...I said I would update once a week...I have now been gone over 5 months....I will now try my hardest to post something, anything even small on here every two weeks. See how that works out for me.

I do have loads to catch everyone up on about end of New Zealand trip, first few months living in Sydney, and then my move and new adventures in Melbourne. I will however skip that for now and give you for your reading pleasure my holiday happenings here in Australia.

As we all know, or I hope we all know, is that Thanksgiving is purely an American holiday that many people abroad do not understand or appreciate. They do not understand it which is fine and expected as I do not understand some of the holidays here. I have discovered holidays I did not know existed (i.e. Boxing Day, Melbourne Cup Day, Australia Day etc). I however get the chance by living here to get to know more about their holidays. This is what some of this adventure is about for me to live in a country, be part of it, learn more about it, and appreciate it all the more. 

I got asked several questions about Thanksgiving: 
What is Thanksgiving? 
What are you celebrating? 
What are you thankful for? 
Your Thanksgiving is like our Christmas right? 
What do you eat? 
You get together with your families at Thanksgiving and Christmas? 
What do you do on Thanksgiving day? 
I thankfully knew how to answer all of these!! I hope each of my fellow Americans can as well.

I made some grand plans to host my very first Thanksgiving dinner. It was to include my roommates, neighbors, and whom ever else we decided to invite. I made my list of dishes. I got recipes from my Mom. I made my list of groceries to buy. The hunt began for not only a turkey but the American products I would need to make dishes. I found a fully cooked turkey, since I would not have the time or means to cook it, for a mere $80. Yep that was not going to happen. My Mom pays around $20, granted not cooked but still $80 was too much for this poor, backpacking lifestyle girl. Slices of turkey it would be! I began looking in grocery stores for items on my list. Yes, you can find onions, lettuce, apples, cheese (not orange though) etc in any store but some of the important things I could not find. I mean it is just Australia peeps, the country most like the United States, so things can't be that hard to find?? There are TONS of areas in Melbourne that provide food stuff from different parts of the world. I have been able to find such places here for American products but most are American candy, drinks, etc and not actual items we cook with. I couldn't find cornbread mix for my stuffing, I could not find pumpkin puree for my pie, I could not find cranberries or cranberry sauce, and I could go on. I began to discuss my need for American food items and I got a tip that there was a USA food store in the area. Awesome!! I looked it up and discovered it would take me 3-4 hours round trip to get to said store with 3 different change overs on public transport.

I finally came to the conclusion that celebrating Thanksgiving this year without all the food was going to be okay for me. Thanksgiving food is wonderful and every year I look forward to eating some of my favorite dishes and baking some as well but it is simply not the most important thing about this holiday. I realized that more this year than I have any other year. It is about giving thanks and rejoicing in all of the wonderful people and things in my life! I sat down instead to make a list of the things I was thankful for this year in my travel journal and I got well over a 100 listed. I am one lucky girl and I am living a dream right now. I am doing things others will never even get a chance to do and that is one amazing gift. I am going to keep this tradition going and make a list every year to look back on. I do know though that wherever my travels lead me to this year that I will be back in the states sitting down at my Mom's table for Thanksgiving dinner!

Since there is no Thanksgiving here the festivities and decorations for Christmas were started in November as seems to unfortunately be the trend now in America as well. Australia was going into summer at this point in time so while not as hot as Texas spring and summer it still had a few hot days by this point. While I had noticed Christmas decorations around the city it was not as festive as we are in America. You know what I am talking about. Every where you look there are Christmas decorations up, items to be bought, and a Santa every where. This is not the case here. It is much more subdued. I therefore did not fully feel like I was heading into a major holiday without the usual festivities with my family until Christmas Eve.

Christmas decor around trees

These banners were on just about every street in downtown Melbourne

Loved this decor on a building in the city

In the Christmas village they had set up ~ I was happily surprised to find this.

Nativity scene that has a video playing telling the story of Jesus's birth

I was going into the holidays planning on working Christmas Eve and then would have 3 days off because the restaurant where I am working would be closed. I began trying to figure out what I would be doing for actual Christmas day and if I could find someone to adopt me for the day. I did not look forward to being alone on this day and definitely did not want to feel like a burden on anyone. I was fortunately invited to go home with my roommates, Janita and Lisa. They are cousins and most of their family still lives in the same town in Leeton, New South Wales.

Janita is the girl that I met on my tour in New Zealand in August. She was on the tour for only 7 days (I did the tour for 19 days) but in the first few hours of meeting each other we hit it off. She offered for me to come and live with her in Melbourne after I had been in Sydney for a while if I wanted to. My plans for Australia were pretty much up in the air at the time but I told her I would plan on it at some point. I ended up moving to Melbourne at the end of October, Lisa and Janita had just moved in together about two weeks before, and happened to move into a place with an extra bedroom! It all worked out perfectly. I should say the Lord worked it out perfectly.

I was fortunately able to get off work Christmas Eve. Thanks to having a wonderful boss! I then got the few gifts for Janita, Lisa and Janita's parents. I woke up Christmas Eve and it hit me. I was not going to see my family for Christmas this year. No trip to Colorado. No hugs from my Ammaw. No putting out my stocking Christmas Eve for Santa to spoil me with riches. No food made by my Mom. No making my toffee everyone loves. :) No board games. No Christmas Eve service at my church. No snow. It hit and it hit hard. I had to Skype home. I got to 'see' both parents but of course cried. It was hard. I am close with my family and it is hard going this long without seeing them much less at Christmas time. Skype is a great invention and has been such a blessing to me.

We headed out for Leeton in the sweltering heat at about 2pm. It was a hot day and we were headed into an even hotter area of Australia. We had a 5 hour drive with a fully loaded car of girls stuff and presents (I know you can imagine). It was a quite uneventful ride for me as no (live) kangaroos were spotted the entire trip. I was bummed. This was the one thing I was hoping to see during this adventure. The girls were kind enough to make a few stops for the American to get her touristy photos! These were stops the girls had made years ago when little. We arrived in Leeton and I immediately felt at home. It looked like any small West Texas town you drive through and I loved it immediately. 

All packed and jammed in the back seat!

Getting my touristy photo op at the big strawberry!

Classic town sign

Beautiful sunset as we were coming into town

I met Janita's immediate and extended family and was welcomed with open arms. This was my first real experience of being greeted by everyone with a kiss to the cheek and small hug instead of the normal firm Texas handshake or BIG, Texas-sized hug. I have to admit that I was awkward at this and probably hit air or almost lips a few times!  I was not sure who would and who would not greet me this way so had to work on the people reading skills. It did not work. I had big, manly men coming up to greet me with a kiss hello and this was unexpected. I have now become accustom to it and find it a very endearing way to greet someone. I am not backing off my big hugs and strong handshake though friends so no worries!!

I stayed with Janita at her Dad's, George, home on his vineyard. He grows grapes for Yellowtail wine. I know Americans know this wine. This is a widely distributed Australian wine in the United States. The crop he had this year was for Shiraz, Chardonnay, and Semillon. I must admit this was an exciting opportunity for me to get to stay here and get to know more about the workings of a vineyard. The house was an older style home and very beautiful. He had rose bushes out the front which brought up the sweet memories of my Granddad, my Mom's Dad, who grew rose bushes at his home. The smell enveloped and comforted me.

George De Paoli's beautiful home

One of many gorgeous rose bushes

Grapes are close to harvest!

Road leading to the house with vines all the way

I was given gifts to open with the family on Christmas morning. I got to eat some turkey!!  I got to try my first pavlova (Australian dessert). I got to eat some good fresh prawns (shrimp). I went to my very first trots (horse races). I got to see my first kangaroo!! George had became determined to find me some kangaroos so we spent one late afternoon on the hunt. He found me not one but a whole mob (herd) of them! It was a blast! I was stoked to get to see my first kangaroo in Australia in the wild and not in a zoo. I got to Skype again with my parents on my Christmas day and their Christmas day. I then got the added surprise of seeing wild emus on the way back to Melbourne!

First set of kangaroos we saw - they were hanging out eating
George's amazing eyes saw this Mama and Joey (kinda blurry sorry)

A night at the trots!

Myself, Kylie (Janita's cousin), and Janita

George, Janita, Jenny (George's partner) and  (Janita's Aunt/Kylie's Mom)

Wild emus!!!!

I felt like I got to experience a genuine Australian Christmas. I was welcomed into this family and adopted as one of their own. If I can't be with my family at Christmas I would gladly go spend Christmas with the De Paoli clan again. They were quite simply amazing!

I hope everyone's holidays were magical! 

Much love to all from Oz! 




  1. Great blog, Sweetie! Sounds like a lot of fun. So glad you were able to be with friends for Christmas. Dad

  2. way great fun! love you! MOM

  3. More! More! Great job sis!