Monday, November 28, 2011

Paper or Plastic?

The ACT (Australian Capital Territory) government recently passed a law banning plastic bags b/c they believe they are detrimental to the environment.  It's fantastic that Australia is trying to look out for the environment.  They do this in many other ways as well - like asking everyone to limit their showers to 2 minutes and encouraging people not to use their dryers.

But back to the plastic bags.  So what does this mean to me?  Well, it means no more spontaneous trips to the grocery store without a very large purse.  Gone are the days when I think to myself, "Oh, I need milk...oh, I should pick up some bread too...oh and maybe some ice cream."  Cause now when I do that, it means that I have three choices:  1) buy the legal, biodegradable plastic bag for $0.20 each, 2) buy the reusable plastic bag for $1.00 each, or 3) carry it all in my purse.  My purse is already heavy enough so that option is out.  I already own a million reusable bags, I don't need another one.  So, I guess I'm paying the $0.20 each for a couple of bags.  That adds up with enough spontaneous trips to the grocery store.  Adam and I now leave about 4 of the reusable bags in his car so that we never get stuck without them.

But this got me thinking - are plastic bags really that bad for the environment?

I've read around on the internet and it seems like there's a split decision.

It's generally agreed that while it's easier to recycle paper bags, the energy and cost to the environment is too high.

The energy and cost to make a plastic bag is quite low and they're very inexpensive.  But apparently, even though they're recyclable, people don't generally put them in the recycling bin.  Instead, they reuse them for other purposes and then throw them in the trash bin, thereby clogging up the landfills.

The reusable bags on the other hand, again don't take alot of energy to make and, obviously, they're reusable.  The one thing that I did find interesting is that there's a concern around bacteria growth with the reusable bags.  For instance, lets say you put ground beef in your reusable bag and it hasn't been put into a separate plastic bag because those are illegal, and the blood from the beef gets all over your reusable bag....there's a fantastic opportunity for bacteria growth and germs.

Hmmm...i think I need to go clean out my reusable bags.  What do you think..paper or plastic?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Baby Brooks

On the second half of my trip home, I spent about five days in Phoenix.  I went to check on the house, to get some warmth (Canberra has been freezing), and to attend my friend Kim's baby shower.  Kim found out she was having a baby back at the beginning of the year and she has been so excited.  I think she was even more excited when she found out it was going to be a girl (look out Cooper Tew!).  She's going to be a fantastic mom and Blaine...well, Blaine is going to be in for an interested ride with two Brooks women in the house.

I've been slowly building my portfolio of portrait photography (you know, in case I ever decide to quit my high-paying corporate job that flys me all over the world).  I've done an engagement, a family, a baby, and now, thanks to Kim, I've had the chance to do maternity pictures.

It was around 114 F in Phoenix the day we decided to do pictures and I couldn't talk Dad Brooks into heading out to the park for pictures.  It was just far too hot.  So we settled on their backyard so we could go inside to cool off every now and then.  As it turns out, we got a fantastic sunset and fantastic light.  

I hope you enjoy the pictures!  I think the pictures came out pretty well.  Thank you Kim and Blaine for letting me capture this precious time for you!

Hello Cooper Tew!

During my last trip home, I made a special stopover to North Carolina to visit with my friend Merritt and her husband Morgan.  But the real reason of the trip was to meet the newest member of the Tew family - Cooper.  I missed most of Merritt's pregnancy so when an opportunity arose to get to see her and the new bub, I did what I could to make that happen.

I got to meet Cooper right away - they brought him to the airport to pick me up but it was midnight and he slept through the whole thing - already a good sign.  As it turns out, Baby Tew is one of the most chill babies I've ever had the pleasure of hanging out with.  He hardly ever cried, he let me hold him without being freaked out that I was a new person.  He was the best kind of baby -quiet, chill, and not mine.

If you follow this blog, you know that I've been trying to get into this photography thing.  Lately I've been focusing on food photography b/c I've suddenly become very domestic.  I think it's a need to nest that I can't fulfill b/c I live in a fully furnished apartment where, when I decide to move home, have to fit is a 5x5x6 crate.  But I digress, this blog is about Cooper.

Mert was cool enough to agree to let me photograph her bub as I hadn't done babies before.  Thankfully, the day we decided to do the session was gorgeous and we happened to catch some beautiful light.  I'm not completely happy with them but the colors in them are very pretty and I think we were able to catch just how chilled out the kid really is.

Love the hat!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Honey Beer Bread

For this week's baking experiment, I decided not to go with a sweet dish like I have the last couple of weeks.  Instead, I decided to go for what looked like a very easy bread.

The bread recipe was really pretty easy - flour, a little sugar, some baking powder, beer and honey.  Mix it all together and throw in the oven.  Can't get much easier than that.
All the ingredients

Bake it up in the oven for an hour

Enjoy yummy warm bread!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Banana Oreo Peanut Butter Cupcakes

While pinteresting the other day, I came across a recipe for Oreo Peanut Butter Brownies.  They looked heavenly in the pictures and I decided I wanted to make them sometime.  This afternoon while HA was playing some war game on the computer, I decided I would give the brownies a go.  Unfortunately, I didn't have any brownie mix and the closest grocery store was already closed for the day.

After rummaging through my pantry, I found a banana cupcake mix I had bought a while back and decided that banana goes with PB and oreos, so why not give it a try.

The ingredients and recipe are pretty easy.

Cupcake ingredients
Mix everything together to create the cupcake batter
The next part is about figuring out how much peanut butter you want to use.  The original recipe I found said to put PB between the oreos and on top.  Australians aren't as fond of PB as Americans so I chose to only do half of the cupcakes with the extra PB.

Here's all the oreos ready for cupcake batter.
Now you have to add in the cupcake batter.  Because the oreos take up most of the cupcake holder, I had to put the batter in, let it sit so gravity would fill in the gaps, and then refill it until all of the cupcakes are full.

Put the cupcakes in to bake for 20 to 25 minutes and then let cool.

They smell really yummy.  I'm thinking the banana cupcake was a good idea.  After a bit of cooling, I hand them over to my taster - more commonly known as HA in this blog.

I got a thumbs up from HA and a comment that more peanut butter could have been used (I'm slowly turning him into an American!).  I was pleasantly surprised with my experiment.  I would definitely make these again!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Two more passport stamps!

HA's brother turned 40 in August and to celebrate, he and his wife hosted a party on the Indonesian island of Batam.  HA and I were invited to the party back in June when I originally thought I was moving back to the US.  I was very disappointed because I had been wanting to go to Singapore for quite some time.  Thankfully, I was extended in Australia and was able to make the trip with HA.

Singapore is an island in Asia which has a total land mass of roughly 249.5 sq miles or about half the size of Phoenix, AZ.  The average temperature is about 80 F with about 85% humidity.  The island of Batam, Indonesia is about an hour's ferry ride from Singapore.

HA and I arrived in Singapore on Thursday evening.  The one thing I will remember about the Singapore airport is that they have the EASIEST immigration I've ever encountered.  On both departure and arrival, I did not have to wait in line and not once did I feel like I was going to be arrested (unlike when I come in Australia where I'm constantly afraid I forgot to declare something). 

On Friday, HA and I took a later ferry to Indonesia so that we could explore Singapore a bit.  Unfortunately, nothing opens in Singapore until after 10am so we had breakfast at Starbucks and then enjoyed walking around Little India to admire all the closed shops. We eventually gave up and went out to Orchard Road to do some real shopping.  Orchard road is 6 km's of stores - including a number of American stores.  The prices weren't any different than what you'd pay in Australia so HA and I didn't really buy anything.

My observations on Singapore:

1.  It's super clean - like anally retentive clean
2.  It's super quite - you never hear sirens or construction
3.  It's significantly more green than I thought it would be.  I had it in my head that it would be all high-rises with no green space - I was wrong.
4.  You can get anything you want - there were a number of American and Australian stores and fast food joints (there was even a Long John Silver's!).

Rooftop garden on Orchard Road
From there, we hopped the ferry and headed out to the island.  This Indonesian experience was very different from my Bali experience.  There weren't as many people up in your face and it was a much more relaxed experience.  The resort we stayed out was quite nice and right on the water.  Our room had a view of the ocean and of the pool right in front of us.  We spent Friday evening hanging out by the pool and having a nice dinner with all of the guests.

For Saturday, all of the boys went off golfing while the women stayed back to watch the kids and have massages.  A good portion of GW and AW's friends have children as well so this meant alot of time hanging out by the pool to make sure they didn't drown. Once the boys were back, everyone started getting ready for the evening festivities.

AW, HA's sister-in-law, arranged for the party to be held on the pier which is a beautiful location.  The party was fantastic.  Everyone had a really great time.  AW did a brilliant job with the organization!
The pier during the day

The walk out to the pier

Beautifully setup

On our way to the party

Lots of dancing

And even a little karaoke
On Sunday, we headed back to Singapore and had dinner with HA's family at a beautiful Japanese restaurant.  On Monday, HA and I didn't have to leave until the evening so we spent the day doing a bit more exploring of Singapore.  We rode in the Singapore Flyer, took a Duck tour, visited the Terracotta Warrior exhibit and tried to buy some electronics (but the prices were not any different from Australia).
The Watts family in the Singapore Flyer

The famous MerLion

Terracotta Warriors

Pop Art Exhibit

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A big warm welcome to Costco Canberra!

That's right folks - there is a Costco Canberra.  And yes - that is an American Costco.  Canberra has been introduced to the goodness that is Costco.  In fact, Costco also opened in Sydney this past weekend as well.  They've been getting all kinds of press coverage as Australians try to figure out exactly what Costco is.

Looks like an normal American Costco
This morning, HA and I decided to go out to Costco and have our first visit.  This was HA's first visit to a Costco but he's heard about it from me, Max, and LB.  Of course, I have let my membership run out as I didn't think I would ever be able to use it in Australian and it seemed silly to pay for a membership that I wasn't going to use.  So, this meant that we had to get a membership first thing this morning.
This was the line to get a membership
Adam and I got there to what looked like at least an hour long wait for a membership.  However, as we were standing there, a woman came around saying that if you had gotten your membership online, you could go to the front.  So, I pull out the Iphone and promptly do our membership and we get pulled to the front of the line.   Gotta love the Iphone. I don't understand why other people weren't doing this.

The one thing I wasn't counting on is that you have to have the same address on your driver's license that you do on your application.  Of course, HA's driver's license hasn't been updated in years so we had to scramble to find a bill we could produce on our phones to prove that we lived there.  I don't remember having this rule in the US but either way, the Iphone came to the rescue once again!

Once inside, it's exactly like an American Costco - exact same setup and variety of stuff to buy.  The prices may be a bit more expensive but they are quite a bit cheaper by Australian standards.  We shopped mostly for everyday stuff that you can buy in bulk and it won't go bad - razors, brita filters..things like that.  The best line of the day was at the table which had bagels on it.  For the non-Australian's reading this blog, you should know that it's very hard to find bagels in this country.  Which led to an Australian man being overheard to say "Bagels?  I've never had one.  I wonder what they taste like."  WHO has NEVER had a bagel?
Buying Australian wine from a Costco in Australia doesn't feel as exotic as it did at home.
The one thing I was super excited about was Stacy's Naked Pita Chips.  These are my favorites and you can only get them at Costco in the US.  I was secretly hoping they would be here but I didn't want to get my hopes up as they're an American product.  But, happy day, they had them!! We bought two big bags!!  They also have some other American products like Skippy peanut butter....and cheese....

Now you may be asking yourself what's so special about this cheese.  Well, let me tell you...there are two very special things about this cheese.  1) on the far right, you will find a Pepper Jack Cheese.  I have been unable to find Pepper Jack anywhere in this country. To my Australian friends - if I'm wrong, please let me know. And 2) there is ORANGE cheese!!  All Australian cheddar cheese is white, which is natural - I won't argue that.  But I will argue that their white cheese does not melt properly.  We now own this particular cheese packet.  Hopefully HA will agree about the tastiness (not to be confused with Tasty cheese).

We ended up spending quite a bit of money - as you do in Costco.  But it was a fun day - like a little piece of America in the middle of Canberra.  I suspect I won't have to go again for awhile but it's nice to know its there if I ever need a taste of home.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


As part of the Project 52, one of the activities was Self-Portraiture.  I've attempted it twice now and I've learned quite a bit.  Self-Portraiture is much harder than you'd think it would be.  I learned a few things that are applicable to both self-portraits and portraits of other people.

1.  Lighting is key.  This is important for any picture, but after my experience trying to take a picture of myself, I understand even more.
1a.  I've learned my apartment does not have good lighting - especially at night when you have to use the overheads and the flash.
1b.  Overhead lights do nothing to flatter a person in a portrait.  It causes very odd shadows.

2.  You have to figure out your good side.  I always thought this was a figure of speech but, alas, it's true.  You have to be able to understand a person's face to make sure you get them at the right angle.

3.  Backgrounds are important.  In my first series of self-portraits, I just used our wall as the backdrop.  It's a white wall so I thought it would be ok.  Unfortunately, with the lighting, the wall looks gray and gross.  The next time, I used a chair as the background and it turned out better.  You can buy special backgrounds for your studio or use nice fabric.  It's important to look at all your surroundings when out take portraits.

4.  Make-up is important.  No amount of photoshopping will fix an oily face (or maybe it will and I just don't know how to do it).

5.  Be creative.  When you're behind the camera, it's easy to be creative because it's not you in the picture.  You're not putting yourself out there.  With self-portraiture, it's much more personal.  You want to make sure you look good (especially if you'll be sharing on your blog) but sometimes that impedes you from experimenting.  I didn't experiment as much as I could have.  Maybe one day I'll talk HA into taking me out of the apartment so I can experiment in some fun locations.

I've include below a few of the pictures I took.  I'm not happy with any of them but I've learned alot from them that I can hopefully carry forward into some other shots that I might do.

No Make-up, bad background - not good

After some post-processing.  I look like I've been fake baking.

This one is for Mom so she can see I do this even when I'm by myself.

Lesson learned - do NOT lean back.  Chin always up - I'm not 18 anymore.

Looking up and into the camera is always universally flattering.  However, the overhead lights creating shadows under the eyes is not.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Happiest Place on Earth

My little sister Gene got married in May.  HA and I flew out to Colorado to help her celebrate (which is another blog post).  We booked a flight back to Oz to leave Monday night after the wedding.  We booked a flight from CO springs to LA to leave at 7:30 at nigh and the flight out of LA then was scheduled to leave at around 10:15pm.  I've taken this series of flights before and never had any issues - especially since they were all United flights and you on't have to change terminals in LA.

Unfortunately, our flight leaving CO Springs left nearly an hour late which meant that we arrived in LA right at 10:15.  We jumped off the plane and the monitors said that they were still boarding so we hustled our way to the gate.  When we get there, the gates are closed and they're no longer letting anyone on the plane.  So after talking with the gate woman (we got a very nasty "Where were you?  Why didn't you board the plane?"), they booked us into a hotel and rebooked us on the flight for the next day.  Consequently, our from MayDay was meant to be on that flight with us as well.  As it turns out, he missed his flight in Indianapolis so he was still able to join us the next day. a whole day in LA?  What do you do with yourself?  Well, naturally, you go to the Happiest Place on Earth!  Especially when one of the folks in the group has never been!  Adam and I checked our bags with the bell hop the next morning and grabbed a tourist bus to Disneyland.

Because it was a Tuesday and school was still in session, there was no one there!  It was FANTASTIC!  We were able to hit all of the big rides with very minimal waiting time.  It got to the point where we were doing our bottom tier rides.  I highly suggest Disneyland in the middle of the week during school.

Jedi Training
Our celebrity sighting - Santa on vacation
HA trying to be Prince Arthur
Hmm..Should I be worried?

The lady behind us couldn't take very good pictures.

We had a really great time and then also got to meet up with MayDay at the United Red Carpet lounge for a few drinks prior to our 14 hour flight.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bali - Part 3

Alright, lets finish this Bali series. I've been slacking in the blogging department. We've only got three days left for the Bali trip. We left off on Sunday where we visited the south part of the island and got to see one of the temples on the island.

The rest of the week was fairly quiet. I decided not to organize anymore trips, and to be honest, the rest of the folks I was with are not organizers. On Monday, HA and Boris decided to rent mopeds to tour the island. I was a bit worried for them but they wore their helmets (I wish I had a pictures of HAs - it was hiliarious). HA did have a run in with the law however. Apparently, it's illegal to be over the white lines in Bali so at a stop light, he got pulled up by the police. It is apparently illegal to drive a moped in Bali without an International Drivers license. The police officer told HA that he could pay 750k rupiah or go to court. HA wisely (in my opinion) decided to pay the bribe...I mean fine. While the boys were touring the island, the rest of us hung out at the pool and then decided to do a bit of shopping. Later that night, HA took me to nice dinner just the two of us. You can get fantastic food for very little money in Bali - one of the perks.
HA and Boris at Potato Head
On Tuesday, we hung out at the pool at the house all day. Then HA booked me, Boris, and himself into a spa for a two hour treatment. When we got there, we were told that two of us would have to do our treatments together in the couples room and the other would be seperate. I promptly told Boris he was either on his own or with HA. Wisely, I think, the boys decided the didn't need to do the treatment together. HA and I decided on a massage and then a scrub. I had a coffee scrub which was fantastic. The experience was a bit different than I'd experienced before but good - I won't go into the details here. Later that night, we had drinks at a beach club called "Potato Head" which was very cool. Unfortunately, we weren't able to have dinner there as they were fully booked, so we decided to have dinner at "The Living Room" - which again, was fantastic.
Dessert from The Living Room
Wednesday was our last day. We woke up to breakfast from Made, hung out in the pool and then went to the markets in Kuta. The markets were disappointing and none of us bought anything. When we got back from the markets, we headed out to an early dinner at Sardine. Sardine was highly recommended by multiple websites and the Lonely Planet book and I can completely understand why. The setting was more than beautiful and the food was fantastic. If you ever get to Bali, I highly suggest making a booking.
Sardine Restaurant
After dinner, we headed to the airport to catch our midnight flight. In order to leave the country, we had to pay a fee of 50k rupiah a piece - yes, we had to pay to leave the country. We also had to go through security with our luggage before even checked in. As we were leaving and we passed inspection, they put a security sticker across our zipper. We were also told that we either had to lock our bags or wrap them in plastic. It was a very strange airport experience. This is because of the Schapelle Corby story - google it to get the details. Either way though, I now have a Bali security sticker on my suitcase that won't come off.

We then got back to Brisbane and barely made our flight to Canberra - but we did. We all went home, took a shower and then headed into work. I'm glad we went to Bali but I don't think I'd do it again. There are many more interesting places to visit and Bali just wasn't that special.
Rice Patties near our house
The street we had to take to get into town