Friday, December 28, 2012


Our first Aussie Christmas was an unforgettable one to say the least.  We celebrated with about fifty others, who were all so welcoming to us.  Our friends' family has a huge gathering every year, with more food and presents than you could imagine!  It was so comforting to be around a family for the holidays and fun to see the different traditions they have.  We feel thankful that we didn't have to spend the day alone.  They even had a contest to see who could guess correctly "What dish will the Texans bring?"  Love it.  
The giant Christmas tree!! And all the place settings…about ten tables worth.  
The boys and I.  Look at that spread…turkey, ham, lobster, prawns, whole fish, and too many dishes to count! And if you were wondering, the Texans (us) brought southern cornbread dressing and pecan pie.  The dressing recipe is a classic from my grandma and the pie recipe came from my new cookbook!  R actually made the pie…and baked the crust from scratch.  Being the rule follower my husband is, you can bet he followed that recipe to the tee.
Jackie's adorable niece who is 3 going on 30.  
They also hooked us up with band gear so we can be true Aussie groupies now. 
Too bad it stormed all day..we planned to go to the beach after lunch, but the weather didn't want to cooperate.  Maybe next year.  Instead, we settled in at home with some holiday movies.  We also really enjoyed the midnight Christmas Eve candlelight service at church to celebrate.  
I could get used to R being around more during the day.  We have been trying to do something special every day that he's been off from work.  More time to play in the park and run around the neighborhood :)  Now that's what I call summer. 
More gifts and celebrating!  Even Teddy was able to join in on the fun.  Is this burlap "be merry" banner adorable or what?!  My sweet sis ordered it on etsy!  Such a great surprise as it was our only holiday decoration this year. Just wasn't worth lugging a tree home on public transport :)

All Teddy, all the time.  
Huge tree in the city.
R has time off from work= movie going.  Les Miserables and The Perks Of Being A Wallflower.  Both amazing…in different ways.  The first obviously a classic reinvented and captivating onscreen and the second inspirational, quirky, and real.  
Snag Stand for an "American classic" and "Spicy Cheese Kransky" haute dog as they call it.  
And so it begins…NYE madness.  Our neighborhood is one of the prime spots to catch Sydney's famous fireworks show over the harbour so we have been told.  We have also been warned not to leave our place the day of as the streets are too packed to leave!!  Looking forward to seeing what this is all about and having a few friends over to ring in the new year!


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Travelog: Hunter Valley

Tandem bike bells ring, are you listening,

In the lane, grapes are growing,

A beautiful sight, We're happy in the Valley.

Walking in a vineyard wonderland.

Cheesy, I know.  This about sums up our spontaneous trip to The Hunter Valley this weekend.  We have learned that little planning and no expectations is the way to go when traveling…we always end up having the best time! This mini vacay was no exception.  Equivalent to Napa Valley (or close there to), this gem is only a two hour drive north from Sydney.  Once we arrived, we forgot where we were.  It was easy to get swept up in the quaint town with many local cheese, chocolate, and specialty shops among the picturesque roads lined with vineyards.
Our last minute hotel accommodation deal was a success.  Prime location, free breakfast, perfect patio, and pet friendly!
Our first day was full of adventures…on a tandem bike!!  Good deal for me, not so much for R.  This ain't flat land Texas, y'all.  Although I would like to think we worked as a team conquering the hills and bumpy terrain, I know in reality I was just extra weight for R to pull along.  
We rented the bikes from a local winery who also does bike rentals, called Grapemobile.  Super cute. A trail took us along the main road and through the vines to different boutique wineries.  
Boy, were we in for a special treat at the end of the day.  After a few sips of wine and many miles pedaled on this hot summers day, we were tempted by a sign for "fresh lemonade and preservatives" near our returning point.  As we were cruising down a few hills towards this mysterious place, I saw something out of the ordinary in my peripheral vision.  "Stooppppp!' I yelled, as we parked our bike in the middle of a dirt road to find nothing but us, the sun, a path to nowhere, and….a family of wild kangaroos! Pinch me moment.  Probably not that exciting for Aussies, as it's like seeing a Longhorn on a drive through Texas.  But, it was definitely a first for us.  They were so frightened by us so we proceeded with caution and decided not to get too close, as they are wild you know.  One of them even had a little joey in it's pouch!!  
Our organized wine tasting tour the next day was nice to let a knowledgable guide pick the wineries and drive us around!  Hassle free.
Yummy dinner at Restaurant Botanica.  I had the Heirloom Beetroots and Sticky Pork Belly.  Fresh produce from their kitchen garden and this charming location made for the perfect evening.  
Christmas Lights Spectacular at the Hunter Valley Gardens.  Pretty sure we picked the busiest night to go, but it was worth it!  
It was about an hours worth of trails of lights and such to get us in the Christmas spirit. My favorite was the Twelve Days of Christmas song playing, with each day lighting up as the song went on.  I took a picture of each "day" but I thought I would spare you the whole song.  Here are the eight Geese-a-Laying and the seven Swans-a-Swimming.
Our favorite vineyard spot for it's rustic and down home feel, Blueberry Hill. 
Helicopters and tractors, oh my!
Here is the dirt road to nowhere and the kangaroo sighting spot. Magical.  Teddy loved his time in the Valley, too!  He especially loved (and misses) hanging out the car window and catching the cool breeze.  

Another "To Do In Australia" checked off our list.  I enjoyed it so much that I might have to take my sis back next week!  Three days until her arrival!!!  Before then, I will make sure to share our first Aussie Christmas experience.  I hope everyone appreciated their day with loved ones and has safe travels back home.  

Friday, December 21, 2012

Hip Hip Hooray...

...R turned 25 yesterday!  And it's almost Christmas Day!  

Anyone who was born in December knows the "combining gifts" idea all too well.  When R and I started dating, I thought that by combining his birthday and Christmas gifts, I could justify getting him a really cool present. Wrong.  Apparently everyone else had the same idea…and anyone born near him can relate with getting "duped".  Now I'm making it sound as if my husband is ungrateful and throws temper tantrums…which is not the case.  I just want to make him feel extra special on his birthday. 

For the big 2-5, R and I chilled on the balcony for a quiet evening in...just us two three per his request.  We usually do big birthday celebrations with friends, but he wanted to appreciate this rare occasion in Sydney soaking it all in.  And that we did.  
After work, we cheersed with his coworkers at Opera Bar happy hour!
  Later that evening, we watched a storm roll over us into the city over a glass of champagne and strawberries.

No birthday would be complete without Teddy hugs and kisses xoxoxo
Homemade cheesecake and gifts!
Inspired by my new cookbooks (xmas gifts), I made my first attempt at a cheesecake for the birthday boys favorite treat.  I chose the classic Sarabeth's Bakery in New York for my creation, which I must say was one of the most thoughtful gifts from my father-in-law and step mother-in-law as it was a special place to my mother.   
For the crust, I took the recipe from Sarabeth's shortbread cookies.  After I kneaded, rolled, and baked the dough, the fun part was crumbling them into the pan (and sneaking in a few bites for myself..I couldn't let perfectly warm cookies go to waste).  From there, I followed her cheesecake filling recipe to the tee…or so I thought.  Turns out, when I made the conversion from pounds to grams at the grocery store for buying enough cream cheese, I underestimated.  Converting recipes can get tricky, especially when weight is a factor.  And the golden rule of baking is to always be accurate in your measurements…no guessing or eyeing like with other cooking.  Good thing I double checked my math as I was adding the cream cheese because I was short half of what was needed…and already too far into the recipe to turn back (and too short of time to run to the store).  I just halved all the other ingredients and it turned out scrumptious…just a little thin!  
Not only did we get to celebrate four christmases in Texas, but R's parents both surprised him with a mini birthday celebration!! Can you say spoiled?!  
 Besides unpacking, celebrating, and recovering, we are appreciating the summer vibe again.  I hope many picnics like this are ahead for us…

This week in the kitchen:
Whole Wheat Fettucini Pasta with Simple Basil Pesto Sauce and Shaved Parmesan

Tomorrow we are headed to Hunter Valley, aka the wine country for a weekend getaway!  It's only a 2 hour drive north from the city and one of Australia's best known wine regions.  We are looking forward to some wine tasting, bike riding, and xmas lights displays to celebrate the holiday.  

We will miss our loved ones this Christmas, but feel blessed we could all be together last week.  On Christmas Day, our friends invited us to their families yearly lunch gathering, which was super sweet of them!  We can't wait to celebrate Aussie style. While everyone is gathering this week, remember what it is exactly we should be glorifying and thankful for.  And while the holidays should be cheerful and a time of togetherness, a painful reminder of those loved ones we have lost will be felt in their absence.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Home For The Holidays

It wasn't that long ago we were packing up the family SUV to grandmas house, where our extended family would gather and Santa would stop by.  How my parents managed to haul all of "Santa's gifts" in our car without us knowing will remain a mystery.  Those giddy feelings of my sister and I wide eyed in our beds into the late hours of Christmas Eve have been traded for excitement when we can all actually be together.  And lets not get hung up on the date…with growing families and distance between, we will take what we can get!  Fortunately for us, our families were more than accommodating to "recreate"the Christmas festivities.  
Fresh off the fifteen hour flight, we headed to my Gappy's house where we consumed wonderfully home cooked meals and played our usual round of dominos.  Has anyone ever heard of Mexican Pile-On? Well, its our family tradition around the holidays when there is a large group around.  You have to start small because as the name hints, by the last ingredient it sure makes for a pile up! (i.e. picture on the bottom right is my cousins fully loaded plate).
Gift giving time!  We wanted everyone to have a piece of Australia, whether that be a linen tea towel or a bottle opener made of Kangaroo balls. Yes, they actually sell those here in Sydney.
Wow, I love my family!! Self timer pics are the best.  
We missed you, Leslie!  All the cousins with their significant others (minus Leslie, plus June).  Teddy has some catching up to do with this obedient pup who can do all sorts of fun tricks!  
After too many years of intense schooling and perseverance, my cousin opened his own dental practice last month specializing in Endodontics!  We got the grand tour of the very impressive office and even a free staged consultation by the doctor himself.  So proud of him to see this dream become a reality.

Of course, the second we moved away everyone else decided to start exciting things in their lives from jobs, graduations, weddings, babies, etc.  How dare they!  Hehe obviously i'm joking, but this visit gave us a chance to catch up on things we have unfortunately missed.
Then it was off to Comanche, TX where my Aunt and Uncle live to visit with Mema and Grandad and my other cousins who drove a long way to meet us.  One of my cousins and his wife had to miss out, but for good reason as the university he works for is in the NCAA playoffs!  
My Aunt and Uncle are always so kind and giving…they served all of us lunch in their "cooking claus" aprons! Such a treat.
Speaking of big events we missed, my cousin and his wife gave birth to the sweetest baby girl just a few weeks after we moved to Sydney.  As you could guess, I couldn't wait to lay my eyes on Ms. Molly.  We finally had the chance to meet at four months old and it was worth the wait!  She is seriously the cutest little bug I have ever seen and I had so much fun watching Molly's parents and DD and Pappy in their new roles!
Lots of new things to be thankful for in this family!  Another girl cousin married into the family, a college graduate, a worship director, a soon to be PhD, and a healthy baby girl to carry on the traditions.  

In between our family visits, we crashed in Dallas for a few days and spent time with friends after R got off work.  While I enjoyed your classic southern meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, creamed corn, and biscuits with girlfriends, R was back into the swing of things at the Mavs game with the guys.  We sure do miss walking across the street to the stadium for all of the games!  
And the whole reason we were able to fly back for our trip..R's work holiday party!!  Have I mentioned that we feel incredibly blessed by his company to provide us with these opportunities?!  I know our family sure does appreciate them!  
Just like where we left off, we organized a dinner for friends at the same place we said "bon voyage" to them just five months ago...
…and it was as if we had never left!  So great to see everyone doing so well, although I don't know how in the heck they are surviving without us?!  Good luck to my nursing friend who is embarking on a new journey in AZ!
My visit wouldn't be complete without a stop to my beloved FW…not only to treat my sis to lunch at our usual spot for a finals pep talk, but to see my favorite growing boys.  They have so much personality and I can't wait to see how much they will change until the next time.
To reach our 1,000 mile driving mark, we headed to our hometown of Austin where we spent some quiet, quality time with R's parents.  It was nice to have them all to ourselves, although we missed everyone else around! R's dad and stepmom are great entertainers and I was able to catch them in action this time preparing a delicious meal when we arrived.
One of their gifts to us was a creative way to spend the day together, complete with massages and a lululemon shopping spree!  We couldn't resist a big slice of pizza in between either. O how we miss Austin…and these two special people!
More gifts!  My two mommies (R's mom and stepmom) coordinated and bought me fancy knives that I had been desperately wanting needing. Now the pressure is on to use them properly and with skill.  No promises there.  And a great way to end the night, chatting by the fire!  Like father, like son in their matching jackets.  We will soon be reunited when they, along with our step sister, come to visit in February!!  An easy goodbye knowing they will be in Sydney soon.  Can't wait!
Last but not least, our final stop was with R's mom and boyfriend.  All the Christmas trees and holiday decorations we saw through the week were enough to put us in the spirit.  I love seeing all the ornaments from R's childhood…so sweet!  Ours are awaiting us in storage somewhere.  Since we slept when we could between the visits, our body clocks were a little off. We took the first morning at their place to sleep in and were awakened with a great treat of breakfast tacos! Can you say spoiled much?  R is the baby of the family you know.  
We spent the day visiting, gifting, and playing games.  Later that evening, we headed to the Domain for dinner at one of our favorite Italian spots.  Charley's son and partner joined us, too!  We had a great feast and celebration of R's upcoming birthday thanks to them.  As we were getting ready to leave Austin, a special visitor stopped by to give me a hug!  I don't know what I would do without this angel in my life and am thankful she keeps me connected to my real guardian angel in Heaven.
Before we left Texas for good, R's mom took us for our BBQ fix and Rudy's.  My craving was satisfied! And then it was on the road again, back to DFW where we would fly out that night for our long journey back.  Lucky for us, my sis and bf were smart enough to realize we would be passing in opposite directions on the highway.  Why not meet at chick-fil-a for a roadside chat?!  

When you realize the plane is taxiing and no one has yet to occupy the seat next to you, it calls for a serious celebration...R and I literally high fived and hugged when this way the case with us on the way home. This meant more uninterrupted and comfortable sleep for us.  But, it was back to reality when we landed and R headed straight for the office and I was left with all the suitcases and dirty clothes.  Before messing with any of that, though, I headed straight for the vet to pick up Teddy.  The poor thing whined all the way home…probably in disbelief that I came back for him after that traumatic  experience the first time around in quarantine.  See, dogs have feelings too.  After some extra TLC today, he's right back to normal on his throne as prince of the house.  

Looking forward to settling back into the summer sun and the fun things ahead, like R's birthday tomorrow, Christmas, and my sisters arrival in less than two weeks! 

p.s.  Is it "cheesy" that I love Brad Paisley's song, Southern Comfort Zone?!  Because I do.  And it is so appropriate to our lives right now.  It started playing right as we got in our rental car when we landed coincidentally. Here are some lyric clips that I can relate with if you have never heard it...

"The first time you leave it can be strange, it can be shocking 

Not everybody drives a truck, not everybody drinks sweet tea 
Not everybody owns a gun, wears a ball cap boots and jeans 
Not everybody goes to church or watches every nascar race 
Not everybody knows the words to "Ring Of Fire" or "Amazing Grace" 

And I been away way too long 
I can't see this world unless I go 
Outside my Southern Comfort Zone 

I have walked the streets of Rome, I have been to foreign lands 
I know what it's like to talk and have nobody understand 
I have seen the Eiffel Tower lit up on a paris night 

I can see the ways that I grown 
I can't see this world unless I go 
Outside my Southern Comfort Zone 

I miss your biscuits and your gravy 
Fireflies dancing in the night 

I have since become a gypsy 
And I just can't wait to pack 
Cause I know the route I leave on 
It will always bring me back "