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Bars, Brothels, and the Wild West

I haven’t blogged for ages for one simple reason — it has been too hot to leave the house for weeks and weeks. Temperatures over 100F for many weeks have removed my adventurous spirit and replaced it with an exhausted one. Even checking the mailbox requires too much effort and I stumble down there every few days.

Yesterday I was forced to venture out as I need to get an American driver’s license. The American licensing department is nothing like Australia’s. Here, you can wait for 7-8 hours at the Department of Public Safety and still not get seen. And you can wait for months and months for an appointment. As I’m on a time limit and need a license for my job, I had to book in the earliest appointment I could find and that’s just for the written test. It meant a six hour round trip for a test I ultimately failed and now have to rebook. But that aside, I decided to treat it like an adventure to remove the sheer annoyance and inconvenience of it all. 

We booked the test at Woodward, which is North West of OKC, and left at 6 pm last night. We accidentally went the wrong way (talking instead of focusing on the GPS), which added an hour onto the trip and when we backtracked and made it onto the correct route, had missed any food stop opportunities. At 9pm we finally found a Subway in a tiny town called Seiling, and it was hot and delicious. It also could have been because we hadn’t eaten for about nine hours and were famished.

I loved the countryside. I was warned that it was a boring and ugly drive, but I disagree. It was lovely. The rich red soil and rocks of Oklahoma are stunning, and we were able to watch the hues of purple, pink, and blue in the sky as the sun went down. I find the Oklahoma landscape to be a thing of beauty, and struggled to find anything ugly or boring. 

We arrived at our hotel in Woodward at 10 pm and pretty much went straight to bed. The license written test was early in the morning and I wanted a clear head. It didn’t help — I still failed, and I can’t blame it on exhaustion or anything else. Just being unprepared and struggling with the imperial system. I was upset for the first half hour or so afterwards, and hated that 15 year olds can pass the test but I can’t. I decided that being miserable was annoying me so I perked up and enjoyed the trip home. We looked around a few of the little towns we passed by, bought cold brew, and kept going. 

I need to tell you a little bit about Woodward before I go further. Woodward has a very interesting history that needs to be shared. When we arrived at our hotel there was a booklet on the local area and it told the story of Woodward. It used to be known as “one of the wildest and woolliest towns in the Outlet. At one time, 23 saloons and 15 brothels lined the red-dirt streets.” It was a dangerous place to live, but soon went on to be an important shipping point. Ironically, Woodward is now recognised as one of the friendliest towns around, and is thriving. I can vouch for the fact that every single person we came in contact with was incredibly friendly and kind. It has that lovely small town vibe you don’t find everywhere. It was so hard to imagine it as a wild western town when it’s so friendly now. I would have liked to have spent more time exploring Woodward and getting to some of the local nature spots, but we had to head back.

We stopped at the Cherokee Trading Post at Calumet on the way back to the highway as we needed to eat. It was very touristy so I loved it. They had real buffalo there, wall art, some teepees, totem poles, a restaurant and a store. It was fun to look through all the knick-knacks, buy a tourist t-shirt, a jar of local honey, and eat chicken fried steak fingers in the Cherokee Restaurant. My husband is part Cherokee so he really enjoyed looking through the history books and paintings in the store. It was a really fun stop. 

Even though it was just a trip to try to get my driver’s permit, it was good to get out again. It forced us to leave the apartment and the city, and visit places we wouldn’t normally go to. The weather should be cooling down in the next month or so and I can’t wait to get outdoors again, and hopefully see a lot more of this city and some of the lakes. Until then I’ll stay inside and just think about all the exciting places I can visit.

We were able to see more of Route 66 on our drive
Mural at the Cherokee Trading Post
Greeted by this chief at the Trading Post
Cherokee Restaurant at Calumet, OK
Saw this big guy in the restaurant foyer

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Cool Change

After a few weeks of sweltering heat, I awoke to a chilly Oklahoma morning. I had planned a day in, but the cool weather was too good to stay indoors.

We kept it simple. A trip to the Farmer’s Market at Scissortail Park, joining the local library, and a tasty lunch at Chipotle. The wind and drizzle kept most people inside, but for me, it was perfect Saturday weather.

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A Myriad of Gardens

I’ve been wanting to check out OKC’s Myriad Botanical Gardens since I first heard about them. Jim has raved about the Crystal Bridge Conservatory which is the centrepiece of the garden, however, the Conservatory has been closed for renovations for a while. 

I spent the day working and as Jim had taken the day off, I suggested an afternoon stroll in the Gardens. They’re only a short drive from our apartment and right in the city. Even pulling up out the front of the Gardens was breathtakingly beautiful, and I knew we were in for a treat. 

My mood was dampened the moment we stepped out of the car. It was hot. Actually it wasn’t just hot, it was all levels of scorching. Molten hot lava scorching, but the shady trees beckoned me in. 

We headed down a path surrounded by lush green lawns, beautiful trees, and plants, to a carousel. The lights were flashing, the carousel music played, and small children squealed with joy. So too did a few adults, but that was probably from discomfort as they straddled the hard carousel seats next to the fruit of their loins. Just opposite the carousel there stood a stunning, multicoloured water feature that poured out water while kids ran through it, soaked to the bone. I was tempted to at least stick my head into it in an attempt to cool down. 

Despite the lava-like conditions, I was in awe of how beautiful and lush the gardens are. They are pruned to perfection, watered, and absolutely breathtaking. Behind the mature trees with their willowy leaves, the glass and steel buildings stood silently in the unrelenting heat. The juxtaposition of the skyscrapers and city skyline behind the green gardens was not lost on me. I am crazy about parks in the city, especially when they’re surrounded by high-rise  buildings. I am constantly amazed at how perfectly the skyscrapers frame the gardens, offering a sweet oasis amongst the glass and concrete. 

Fat orange Koi swam in the large pools, and ducks paddled on top. Boulders and water features made interesting focal points, and turtles sunned themselves in the shallows. I took off my shoes so I could feel the springy grass under my feet, and enjoyed connecting with the earth for a short time. It was blissful, until I started to overheat. Then I just felt rotten and wanted to get back into the car and blast the air conditioning on my glowing purple face. I couldn’t. We’d walked to the other side of the gardens and down the steps to the Koi pond. To get back to the car meant scaling the steps in the heat. We opted for a seat in the shade and drank a bottle of water until I felt ready to tackle the steps. I was recovering from a middle ear infection and didn’t realise how much energy it had zapped from me.

We slowly made our way back to the car, and again I resisted the urge to lie under the water feature in a heap of sweat and stringy hair. I noted the different shades of purple my face had turned, ranging from aubergine to crimson. It was nothing an hour under the air conditioning couldn’t fix. 

I’m going to go back, but not until fall. It’s just too hot. I guess that choosing to visit the Gardens in 96 degree weather while recovering from an ear infection wasn’t the best decision I’ve made, but besides the sunstroke and heat exhaustion, I have no regrets. Myriad Botanical Gardens are absolutely stunning and they gave me a taste of home — I was transported back to Roma Street Parkland in Brisbane City, and it felt magical.

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Burgers, Heat, and Migraines

Saturday was the 34th Fried Onion Burger Day Festival in El Reno, Oklahoma. It was a really hot day and I chose to wear black and not take a hat. So un-Australian of me. 

The Fried Onion Burger Day Festival is a big deal in Oklahoma. They were expecting a crowd of about 25,000 people and had streets blocked off, and food trucks and stalls lined the streets. There were people everywhere despite the midday heat, and the lemonade stands and shave ice were a welcome sight. Our first stop was to buy a hat and some icy cold lemonade, and then we followed the smoky haze and the crowds to watch the cooking of the giant fried onion burger. A mariachi band played on center stage and it was so upbeat. I was the crazy middle-aged woman dancing on her own.

We arrived just as the monstrous fried onion hamburger patty finished cooking, and a team of volunteers topped the meat with a thick layer of pickles and mustard. As much as we wanted to stay to see the whole burger put together, I was battling a migraine, and standing in the heat and smoke were not helping at all. 

We didn’t want to leave straight away so we checked out the food trucks and stalls, and dropped in on a few of the local stores that were open. The air conditioning was a treat, but so was the classic car collection that lined one of the main streets. 

We were only there for a couple of hours but it was a lot of fun. I think that what stood out the most was the strong sense of community. El Reno is about 30 miles from downtown Oklahoma City, part of the iconic Route 66, and it’s really just a small town on the outskirts of the city. The Fried Onion Burger Day Festival has put El Reno on the map and they’ve turned it into a fantastic day out for the whole family. I’m looking forward to visiting next year to see how it continues to evolve, hopefully without a killer migraine. Classic American small town fun.

Enjoying an icy cold lemonade
The giant Fried Onion burger patty
Lively mariachi band
Burger cook up
Pony rides
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I’d Sooner be in Oklahoma

We arrived in OKC at our new apartment late on a Friday night. Jim drove the uHaul and I drove our car up from Texas. I’d never driven for more than about 20 minutes since arriving in the US, so it was an anxiety-ridden drive for me that stretched on for hours. I made it with only two minor panic attacks. Driving in the city at night when you normally only drive to Walmart during the day is a big deal. I managed to stay on the right side of the road the whole way, and that’s spectacular. 

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind. Unpacking, setting up, Jim starting a new job, finding our way around, trying to remember which box the hair dryer could be in, tracking the tornadoes, and exploring new surroundings. We live a few minutes from downtown so we are close to the Arts District, Asian District, galleries and restaurants. Did I mention tracking the tornadoes? Yep, busiest tornado week of the year. 

I think that Oklahoma City is largely overlooked. It’s a great little city with a fantastic downtown area. So much work has gone into upgrading OKC and the variety of places to eat and things to do is surprising. 

Last night was taco truck night and we ate plates of delicious tacos. Tomorrow is the El Reno Fried Onion Burger Day Festival which is a huge experience. Jim has been telling me about it for years and finally I’ll be able to experience it. I don’t actually like fried onion burgers but I like festivals. There will be car shows and artists and all of those good things. Oh, and a massive fried onion burger cook up. El Reno attracts thousands of visitors to the festival, from all around the country, and world. 

We have slipped in so much in our two weeks. We ate fried chicken and waffles at Nash Bird in the city, which was a taste sensation, and shopped for organic foods at Trader Joes and Whole Foods. We even had a meal at the Cheesecake Factory late on a Monday night, and checked out some of the local murals. We took a look around the stunning Capitol Building and marvelled at the architecture. It’s absolutely beautiful. There’s just so much to do and we haven’t scratched the surface. Living in the city makes things so accessible. 

The tornadoes aren’t cool. The week of tornadoes, torrential rain, and thunderstorms are unsettling, but where we lived in North Texas was worse in my opinion. And I Googled it, and apparently Texas gets almost 100 more tornadoes a year than Oklahoma. In fact, Texas, Kansas, and Florida all receive way more tornadoes than Oklahoma, so that’s another myth busted. It seems that living in the midwest means that you have to live with the threat of tornadoes, but it’s not a daily occurrence. We do get periods where the risk is minimal. We have installed weather apps on our phones so that we can receive warnings and track the tornadoes. At least we are aware and when we are on tornado watch, we stay home. 

Another very good thing to mention is that I’ve finally received my permanent residency so I really feel like I can settle. I have so many projects to do, and places to visit. So much excitement.

The Oklahoma Capitol Building
Incredible fried chicken and fries
One of the many mural covered buildings
The cutest candy store
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The Sounds of America

I’ve now been in the US for over a year and I can no longer imagine being anywhere else. That happened quite suddenly. I went from being constantly homesick to finally feeling I belong here now.

America has become familiar. I never thought I’d get to a place where I felt at home anywhere except in Australia, but I feel like this is home. 

It’s funny that this has happened as we make the move to Oklahoma City. There’s a few reasons we are leaving Texas, but it’s a move we know to be right. There’s a lot of really appealing things about Texas, but I don’t love it here. Being here has made me more homesick for Australia. 

Dallas roads and traffic are a nightmare. I grew up in Sydney, Australia, and I learnt to drive in the city. When I moved to Brisbane I worked right in the city and lived close to work. I’m used to city driving and city life. I love the city. But Dallas city driving is a big no. We attempted it once and it was a nightmare of mammoth proportions. Dallas has these massive highways that loop over one another in this roller coaster looking thing. Dallas drivers are used to it and as they do not like to use their brakes, they charge full throttle around these loops in trucks, cutting in and out of the traffic, almost ramming you. We had never driven in the city and were lost and stuck on a highway we couldn’t get off. No one would let us merge or change lanes and as I was in charge of the GPS, I was yelling at my poor husband to cross fifty lanes of traffic to get off at the next exit. Jim had just about shut down and retreated into himself from the chaos. The more I directed him to change lanes the faster and more aggressive the other drivers around us became. They smelt blood and were in for the kill. That was our first and last Dallas city drive. 

Neither Jim nor I are overly confident drivers. For me it’s more that I’m still reasonably new to driving on the other side of the road on the other side of the car. Jim hates chaos. Dallas traffic is chaotic. We can’t manage it. What this means is that we are cut off from all of the inner city stuff I thrive on. Dallas has some incredible restaurants and galleries which I can’t get to. We stick to the outskirts of Dallas. 

Oklahoma City is a whole different story. It’s a city but it’s not huge like Dallas or Atlanta or Chicago. It’s pretty chilled and Jim grew up there. There’s been highway upgrades since he left, but he still knows where he is even if the roads are more complex now. We are going all in and are moving into a gorgeous city apartment. We will be surrounded by galleries and museums. We’ll be minutes from the Paseo Art District, downtown, the restaurants and stores. OKC really has a beautiful skyline, lots of parks and dams, and a vibrant city. A lot of money has been put into upgrading it. 

I initially balked at moving to OKC when my husband first suggested it a year ago. No way, I said. I’m not moving to tornado alley. Not long after that I had to bunker down for our first tornado warning in NC. Then we moved here to outer Dallas and guess what? We are in tornado alley. We have had numerous tornado warnings and have had to move to a safer place occasionally, but so far the tornado hasn’t hit us here. That doesn’t mean that this area won’t get hit. It has before and there was a great deal of damage and destruction. But what it does mean is that this idea I had of living amongst daily deadly tornadoes is a figment of my imagination. Because OKC experiences a lot of tornadoes they have good warning systems and people know what to do in the event of a large tornado. I don’t ever want to experience one I must say, but I am learning what I can about them and my husband grew up with them. 

Another thing I realised is that in Queensland we had so many tropical storms. Bad ones. Several times I thought we’d lose our roof if not our house. When I first moved to Brisbane the storms were relentless and wild. But I learnt how to manage them and stay as safe as possible. The same goes for bushfires when I lived in the Blue Mountains in NSW. We educate ourselves and try to stay prepared. But life must go on. 

The title of this blog post is The Sounds of America, and while it may seem I am off track, this all fits in. I realised this morning that there are sounds that have become so familiar that they make up part of my life here. Here are a few of them, both good and bad. 

  • The sound of the coffee machine each morning 
  • The trucks and cars flying past our house and almost breaking the sound barrier 
  • Birds—such different sounds to Australian birds 
  • Amber alerts on my phone constantly for abducted children and storms—I hate this sound 
  • The American accent which is normal now
  • My husband’s tender and gentle voice
  • Feral cats fighting down by the lake at night 
  • Wild wind storms which seem constant 
  • The HVAC system which is a MUST in the US
  • The dryer. We don’t have clothes lines in the US and if we do, I’m yet to see one or know someone who uses them 
  • The flushing of a toilet which is different to how it sounds in Australia 

It’s funny how sounds become as familiar as sights and smells. 

I love living in America now. I miss my friends and the beauty of Australia, but things finally feel familiar here. I think that will increase even more when I’m back in the city. Many of us dream of going off grid, or homesteading, or just shutting out the world. I’m the opposite. I’m an extrovert and I love city vibrancy. Maybe not the crime rate or traffic, but I’m a city girl through and through.

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Tornadoes, Immigration, & Panera

I’ve had a big week. I’ll start at the beginning.

Tornadoes:

I live north of Dallas and we get the occasional tornado. The last serious one was in 1993 and there was significant damage. I didn’t realize I was living in tornado alley but according to Google, I am.

On Monday night we had a tornado warning which annoyed me as I was cooking dinner. I didn’t think it was a big deal, to be honest, but I have been known to make silly decisions. We had guests staying over and they convinced me that we really should evacuate, so I packed a small bag of my immigration documents and we headed for safety.

Thankfully the tornado bypassed us and turned into a series of violent thunderstorms, but other towns were hit hard. I shudder when I watch the footage of the tornado ripping through nearby towns and I am so grateful it passed by us. Tornadoes are just so frightening and I am not used to them. This was my third tornado scare and it was the worst by far. 

Immigration:

Today is the one-year anniversary of my arrival in the USA. There have been so many changes–both good and bad, and I can’t believe that I’ve been here for a year. 

On Wednesday Jim and I finally had our Green Card interview and it went well, but there has been a small delay on their part, which is in the process of being rectified. It means I have to wait a little longer for my approval which is a bit disappointing. 

I was so nervous about the interview. I just didn’t know what to expect and the thought of being deported and having to leave my husband was overwhelming. I was sick to my stomach for days. The official we saw was professional and really pleasant, and she explained everything to us appropriately. We were so relieved to have it over and done with. Compiling the paperwork had taken days of work but being prepared was worth it. I was so crabby in the lead-up and unable to sleep or relax. I guess it was the culmination of the last couple of years of the immigration process that were wearing on me and I am quite exhausted by it all. 

We were so relieved that a good friend offered to drive us into Dallas for the interview. Dallas roads are crazy. Our friend is from Chicago and she is not even slightly perturbed by the craziness. After it all, we wanted to take her out for lunch to say thanks, and to decompress, and that takes us to the last point.

Panera:

Wednesday was cold and windy and we were ravenous after the interview. I had been unable to eat much in the morning, so by lunchtime, I was ready to eat a horse. Jim is always ready to eat so that was a bonus. There are lots of great places to eat in Dallas but Cathy suggested a hot, soothing lunch at Panera, and as I haven’t been there before I gave it a thumbs up.

The only thing I’d heard about Panera is that it is delicious but expensive. Admittedly, it wasn’t cheap but it was delicious and of good quality. Cathy ordered the chicken and broccoli bowl, and I ordered the cheesy broccoli soup, and Chipotle chicken and bacon flatbread for Jim and me to share. We always enjoy sharing so we can try a couple of things. 

All I can say is yum. It was so good. The soup was adequately thick and cheesy and delicious. The flatbread was light and tasty with the perfect amount of toppings. We really enjoyed our lunch and it was perfect for the cold day. I am looking forward to going back to Panera and I think we’d probably eat the same things again, but I want the whole flatbread to myself next time. It was hard to share. 

I’m glad it’s Friday and this week is just about over. So far it’s ending well. The weather is true spring weather at 78 degrees and up to 90 by Sunday. Ahhhhh …. I love it. Coming from sunny Queensland I have found the winter here in North Texas to be bleak and a bit miserable. Everything looks dead. But now, at the end of March, there are a few trees with tiny pink blossoms growing. Blossoms make me hopeful and excited with the promise of warming weather. Now you wait. In two months I’ll be whining about the inferno that summer is in this part of the world, but until then I will be happy.

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Food For Thought

I’ve now been in the US for a year and in that time I’ve done a great deal of eating. I have also gained weight and while I’m not surprised, I’m somewhat annoyed by it. 

Food is important. Obviously we need it to stay alive, but food is such an important part of life, culture, and memories. As an Australian I’ve had to adjust to American food and some I really like and some I don’t. 

What I know for sure is that I’ve had enough time to review a range of restaurants and fast food places. This is my list so far, in no order.

Applebees

I don’t like it. I’ve been twice and tried a range of different things and I haven’t liked any. The first time the food was a bit cold so that was an instant dislike, but the second time everything was hot and I still didn’t like it. I won’t go back.

Olive Garden

I’ve also been to Olive Garden twice and I have mixed feelings. The first time we had a couple of really good seafood appetisers and they were tasty. The salad and bread were also good. The salmon we had for the main was dry so I didn’t like it.

The second time I tried the eggplant parmigiana and it was average. Jim had a shrimp pasta and it was good. 

Overall I found the food to be okay but I don’t think I’d go back.

Carrabba’s Italian Grill

I know that I was really hungry when we went to Carrabba’s in Tennessee on a road trip, but the food was incredible. I had the most delicious veal dish with capers and it was so good. Jim had chicken breast and he said it was the juiciest he’d ever had. I cannot believe how good the meal was. I can’t wait to go back.

Cheesecake Factory

I’ve now been to the Cheesecake Factory three times and it’s wonderful every time I go. I struggle to choose as there are just so many choices but everything I’ve had so far is fabulous. I think my favourite so far is the Thai curry with so much flavour and colour. It’s exceptional. I’ll definitely be back.

Cracker Barrel

Cracker Barrel is another favourite. We’ve been there three times and each meal was good. My favourite is the fried chicken with honey. It’s crispy and moist chicken on the bone and extra good with the honey.

I’m not a breakfast person at all but we stopped in for a quick breakfast while on a road trip in Arkansas. I ordered the kid’s pancakes as I didn’t want much and I was surprised by how good they were. And the coffee wasn’t as nasty as I’d expected. I will be back.

Buc-ees

Quite simply, Buc-ees has amazing barbecue at a decent price. The brisket is utterly delicious whether chopped or sliced. It’s impossible to stop eating once you start. Well it is for me, hence the weight gain.

Chipotle

I am a fan of Chipotle. It reminds me of the Australian chain called Zambrero. So fresh and delicious and you can make up your own bowls. This is one of my favourite places to eat for Australian food memories.

McDonalds

I love Maccas. What more can I say? I don’t even care that it’s bad for me. That $3 menu is magnificent.

Taco Trucks

I’m yet to find a taco truck I don’t like. Tacos are spectacular in America and the meat is so tender and delicious. Can’t get enough.

Schlotzky’s

Schlotzky’s is well known in Texas. I have only been once and had pizza. It was okay.

Mod Pizza

I’m surprised by how much we like Mod Pizza. You can choose the toppings you like, in any combination. Everything is so fresh and it’s prepared and cooked in front of you, quickly. They also make great salads. This is a favourite of ours.

IHOP

I’m not a fan. I’ve tried to be but I’m not. I’ve had it twice now and ordered two different meals, and they were average at best. The coffee isn’t hideous. That’s the positive. I don’t think I’ll go back. 

Jim and I have found a really good local Indian restaurant that we can’t get enough of. The food is fresh and delicious and we are slowly working our way through the menu. It’s certainly fun trying it all. 

I’ve been to lots of other independent places that have been both good and crappy, but overall I’m enjoying trying different things. If we were closer to the city we’d have access to a huge variety of great restaurants but I don’t fancy navigating the busyness of Dallas. Dallas has the reputation for having some fantastic restaurants but I don’t think I’ll get to try many unless I can find a way to manage the crazy traffic. 

Food can always be relied on to give us an experience. Both good and bad. I really miss some of the great food I had in Australia, but I’m slowly finding places that make me happy. Food has a way of doing that.

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On Route to Route 66

Driving Route 66 has always been on my bucket list and Jim and I had gone as far as to plan it for our honeymoon. But with Covid making everything more difficult we gave it up as a honeymoon idea.

At the end of September last year Jim had a week off so we made last-minute plans to drive to Oklahoma City and have a look around. Jim was born and raised on the outskirts of OKC and although he left years ago, he has always wanted to return. I’m not a fan of tornadoes to be honest, so the idea of Oklahoma left me cold. We had done a couple of day trips to little towns on the Texas-Oklahoma border, but no more than that.

The drive to OKC is easy and scenic. Not North Carolina scenic, but still beautiful in its own way. I love a variety of landscapes and I find it fascinating that America is so different from state to state. 

I loved OKC. There is so much to see and do. I’m from Brisbane, Queensland’s capital city. Brisbane is like a huge country town. It’s beautiful and really relaxed. I found OKC to be really laid back as well. It’s not massive like Atlanta or Dallas and that appealed to me. I want city vibrancy without the massive population. Oklahoma City gave me those same relaxed city vibes that I had in Brisbane. It’s not as beautiful as Brisbane but parts of it are quite charming. 

We visited the Cowboy Museum in the city and it was phenomenal. I had no idea a museum about cowboys could be so fantastic. I’ll definitely be going back. 

We ate great food, went shopping, did a lap around the city, and drove out to El Reno which is about thirty miles west of the city. El Reno is not my favourite place by a long shot—it had a bleak, sad feel to it, but there were a couple of reasons I wanted to go. Well three actually. 

Firstly, I wanted to see Lake El Reno. It’s a huge man-made lake. Nothing overly spectacular but I like lakes. My daughter is a photographer and she came along and took some great photos of us. It was a lot of fun. Cold and windy, but fun. 

Secondly, Jim took me to Sid’s Diner. Sid’s is famous for their fried onion burger. Guy Fieri featured Sid’s Diner on his show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and raved about the fried onion burger. I was able to try one. I didn’t like it. I know that sounds awful, but it was just too onion-y for me. Makes sense—it was an onion burger. I’m so pleased I had a chance to visit, and Jim loves their fried onion burgers. He has eaten there many times and never tires of them. 

Thirdly, and most importantly for me, is that Route 66 passes through El Reno. There’s a fantastic Route 66 memorial across the corner from Sid’s Diner and I was able to take photos and enjoy the experience. We drove part of the Route but plan to go back and do as much of it as we can. 

It was a really nice little break. A few days exploring Oklahoma City was all I needed to fall in love with it. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I like it. The inner city parks, skyline, and restaurants give me a small taste of home, and if that’s all I can have at the moment, I’ll take it.

The famous Sid’s Diner, home of the Fried Onion Burger
Jim and me at the Cowboy Museum in OKC
My love at Sid’s Diner
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Stupid Things

Sometimes I do stupid things. Yesterday was one of those days and I both regret it, yet don’t. Let me explain. 

I live in America. I’m Australian. I’m used to spiders and snakes and gross things like that, and even though I hate them, I’m used to them. I’m not used to squirrels or skunks or raccoons or mountain lions, coyotes, armadillos etc. I’m not used to them but I’m getting more acquainted with them.

I have a squirrel that lives in the pecan tree in my backyard, leaning over the back deck. He is a noisy and messy little critter, but cute. He gets angry at me if I dare go out my back door, and until recently I didn’t care. But then I did something stupid. 

I watched a video on rabid animals in America. The first was a rabid squirrel. Poor little thing. Then a rabid raccoon. Then a cow and pretty much any other video I could find. But I didn’t stop there. I watched a documentary on the effects of rabies on the human body. It was not good. Not at all. 

I learnt that American bats are often rabid and they are small with tiny little teeth. They can bite you and you wouldn’t know. Until the rabies sets in of course. So now I’m too scared to go outside. What if there’s a rabid bat or squirrel? 

When I contemplated my fear I realised that I’m stupid to go outside at all. The rabies is one thing but do I really want to risk a face off with a coyote or a mountain lion? No. I’m not equipped. I wouldn’t even know what to do if a raccoon or squirrel lunged at me. This is not Australia. I know Australian wildlife. 

So what am I to do with my new rabies fear? I’m not sure really. I do know that rabies isn’t a thing in Australia but it sure is over here. I had covid and it was crappy, but what about rabies? Between one and three Americans contract rabies from an animal bite every year. The good news is that the deaths aren’t nearly as high. The last guy who died of rabies over here was bitten by a rabid bat and died, ironically, on World Rabies Day. That story is terrifying. 

There’s so much to dislike about rabies and rabid animals. There’s so much of me that wants to go back to rabies-free Australia and wrestle with a huntsman in my shower every second day. But I won’t do that. I’ll learn to live with my new fear and try to limit my contact with rabid animals. Well any animals really. It’s not worth the risk.

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The Dollar Tree Dream

Now that I’m in America with Dollar Tree a few minutes away, and dozens of YouTube videos on how to declutter, I have been busy. I decided that the first thing I wanted to organize was my pantry. My favorite Dollar Tree YouTubers recommended which storage tubs and baskets are best, so I made a quick trip up to Dollar Tree.

It’s no secret that the US economy is in turmoil and inflation is ridiculously high. This has meant that Dollar Tree in many states has become Dollar and a Quarter Tree; everything is up 25 cents. Still, $1.25 for storage is a bargain in my books.

I wanted the pretty muted pink or grey plastic storage tubs but my local Dollar Tree didn’t have them. I could choose from white, bright green, or bright blue. I chose six white square tubs, and four bright blue baskets. I thought it best to start small, work out what was most practical, and then go back and buy more storage once I had a plan.

I started by pulling out a few pantry shelves and sorting them into baking, pasta, spices, nuts, etc. I threw away anything a bit cagey looking and started filling the cubes and baskets. Once I’d made a good dent in it I put the filled baskets and cubes back into the pantry and had a look. It doesn’t look that good. I don’t have a walk-in-pantry so that could be the first problem, and things now just seem to be even harder to find. Maybe the cubes are too big or bulky for the pantry, and I may try some smaller ones. I’m not sure. I feel like it was a bit of a fail overall. Also, if I’m truthful, I didn’t really enjoy it at all. The YouTubers make it look fun and it wasn’t fun. It was boring and messy.

There’s a reason some of us are writers and some are YouTubers. I love YouTube. I watch travel vlogs like there’s no tomorrow. I love van-life vlogs and local eats. I can’t get enough. And I am even inspired to try renovating some furniture. But I think that I need to be realistic about what type of person I am. I like the idea of having a super organized, everything in a basket or storage cube type of house, but I’d prefer to do some research or write a chapter or two of my novel even more. Maybe this Dollar Tree YouTube lifestyle hasn’t been a dismal failure. Maybe it’s just helped me understand myself a bit better than before. And really, who cares if I have three or four containers of baking soda in my pantry that I can never find? Not me. 

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Cold Brew—The Best Of America?

From the moment I hit American shores, I have been criticizing the coffee, and rightly so! It’s mostly horrible. I’ve had the occasional good coffee at a cafe, but it’s been almost as rare as hen’s teeth.

As I drink most of my coffee at home, I bought a beautiful French Press and also, a single coffee pod machine that also takes ground coffee. After a lot of trial and error, Jim and I finally found that our local health food store, Sprouts, has its own brand of Organic Dark Roast Coffee and it is utterly delicious. My at-home coffee problems had been solved, and when we had visitors and I made them a coffee, they were blown away by how good it was. And don’t get me started on the amazing coffee creamers you can buy here!

My daughter discovered cold brew quite a few years ago. She particularly liked the Starbucks Cold brew and we’d often catch a ferry into Brisbane City and head to the Starbucks there. Starbucks has been a dismal failure in Australia—we have much better coffee just about everywhere else, including at our gas stations. But cold brew was definitely mastered by Starbucks. I was never a fan; I just loved strong, hot coffee too much to drink it cold and black. It seemed pointless until I came to America.

Enter cold brew. Well, I must admit that I first became a fan because of the nasty hot coffee being offered everywhere. Out of sheer desperation I started buying cold brew and found that if I added the Coffee-Mate Sweet Italian Creme Creamer to it, it was knock-your-socks-off good. I’m talking next-level good. And then I discovered that you can buy amazing cold brew in every grocery store and gas station (servo), and I was sold. It really did solve the coffee dilemma.

I thought it couldn’t get better, but I was wrong. Coffee-Mate does a huge range of flavored creamers, many being seasonal. Think pumpkin spice (ugh), but also Snickers flavor. I bought the Snickers creamer as they are my favorite chocolate bar, and that creamer was like drinking liquid Snickers. A mix of chocolatey, caramelly, peanutty goodness, in a bottle, and unlike a lot of creamers, it’s not overly sweet. It really is the perfect creamer for cold brew. I have become so obsessed with my little cold brew habit that I even take a flask of it when I go out. You never know when that cold brew craving will hit.

Cold brew is so good that it reminds me of all that is good in America. Despite living in crazy times, the cold brew is very good, and while it’s only such a small part of life, it’s a sense of normality. That might sound a bit strange to some, but when you consider how much change immigrating has meant, finding something like a really good cold brew, or a place that sells fantastic tacos, or a lovely walk by the lake on a cold day, you’ll understand how little it takes to help you feel grounded. 

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Who’s Gonna Drive Me Home?

When I visited Hawaii last year, if I couldn’t walk to where I was going, I caught cabs or UBER’s everywhere. My American son-in-law did some of the driving, but no way would I attempt to drive on the opposite side of the car, on the opposite side of the road, from what I was used to. No. Way. 

When my friends arrived in Hawaii from Australia, they hired a car from the airport and drove it all around the island without a moment’s trepidation. I could not understand how they could attempt such a feat. Everything was just so backwards to me. 

One thing I was really sad about when leaving Australia, was selling my beautiful car and knowing I would be giving up the freedom of driving for a while. If I couldn’t ever adjust to the change, it may be forever. That may sound a bit exaggerated, but I have found that having to re-learn a skill like driving is not easy. I think it’s because once you are driving, it comes naturally. You don’t even need to think about it—you get into a car and you know exactly what to do without deep concentration or effort. 

Jim and I bought a new car not long after I moved here and even sitting in the passenger seat on the opposite side of the car was confusing. Jim suggested we start some training in a large, empty car park, and that sounded like a good plan. I sat in the driver’s seat and instantly felt dizzy. It was set off by simply sitting in the car and trying to reestablish where I was in the car. I was tempted to just forget about it, but Jim encouraged me to give it a go. I managed to drive around the car park a few times but needed reminding to get onto the other side of the car park. It seemed like I was just making no progress and gave up for a while. 

I had just about given up hope of ever adjusting, when I woke up one day and felt ready to drive. It had taken six months to get to that position, but once I did, I knew I’d be okay. From that point on, I’ve been driving. Not too far mind you—and nowhere that needs GPS as it’s too distracting, but at least I’m driving. 

There’s been three near misses which have helped me be more careful. I am now used to driving on the other side of the road, but some road rules are different. And honestly, Texan drivers are insane! They drive ridiculously fast at all times, and it makes me nervous, but it also means that I have to be more aware of how I drive. While I am okay to drive around, because I still need to really concentrate on staying on the right side of the road, I’m not able to drive defensively. That will come with time, so I fight the discouragement. 

I still have no idea how people hop into a car in another country and manage to drive confidently on the opposite side of the road. And while it’s taken me nine months to gain the confidence to drive on my own, I’m so glad I have come this far. For me, it’s a huge milestone and one I can only get better at.

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Oklahoma Beach Vibes

America continues to surprise me, in a good way! I can’t believe that a couple of hours drive can take me to so many different landscapes, and different experiences. 

We recently took a day trip up to Ardmore in Oklahoma, to meet up with my daughter and her husband. Wanting to experience some Oklahoma barbecue, we met at Swadley’s Bar-B-Q in Ardmore, and had a really delicious lunch. Jim and I shared the pork spare ribs, fried okra, and fries, washed down with huge glasses of icy cold sweet tea. It was an unexpectedly hot day, and we wanted to go and sit in the shade somewhere, and enjoy some cold drinks. We decided to make the short drive to Lake Murray, just south of Ardmore, to have a look around. 

The drive took about half an hour, and although we weren’t expecting much more than a lake in the middle of nowhere, we certainly were in for a treat. Lake Murray is beautiful, and a huge 5700 acres. It’s a man-made lake, and what is even more interesting, is that Oklahoma has more man-made lakes than any other state in the US. There’s about two-hundred of them across the state.

The main area of Lake Murray Water Sports & Mini Golf which we went to first, has a resort lodge water-slide and trampolines, and there’s kayak hire available. The waters are crystal blue, much like a lagoon, and it has a real beach vibe. We were so shocked that seemingly out of nowhere, there was an aqua coloured lagoon with golden sand, and families picnicking and kayaking all around. 

On the eastern side of the lake is Sunset Beach, which is about half a mile long, and it’s a great swimming spot for families. There’s also restrooms and picnic tables so it’s really family friendly. Despite the heat, there was a lovely breeze and we took a nice long walk, stopping for photos and swigs of water. 

After bidding farewells and starting to head out of the Lake Murray State Park, we drove past some really cute log cabins which are available to rent. They’re only small, but enough for a couple of nights as the days would be spent enjoying the lake. 

Having moved to the US from Queensland in Australia, I miss the beach. Lake Murray isn’t quite the same as the beautiful coastlines of Queensland, but it still offers a measure of tranquility. I’ve really enjoyed getting to see more of Oklahoma, and it has its own kind of beauty. Having found the gem that is Lake Murray, I’m looking forward to visiting more of the lakes in both Oklahoma and northern Texas. At least I don’t have to travel far to experience a beach-like getaway.

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Thankful For Thanksgiving

My first official Thanksgiving here in the USA has come and gone. In the lead up, I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. Hailing from Australia, Thanksgiving is totally new for me. I made sure I learnt a bit about why Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, as it’s important to me to understand why we do things. I also very much miss the Australian public holidays and different days we celebrate, but I wanted to make every effort to enjoy Thanksgiving.

The planning began weeks prior. My daughter and son-in-law were coming down from Oklahoma, and as it was to be my first Thanksgiving (my daughter’s second), it needed to be done properly. My husband loves Thanksgiving, so he largely set the menu, and the only thing we really balked at was turkey. Turkey is eaten in Australia but it’s not widely popular. Some Australians have turkey at Christmas, but growing up, I rarely ate it. I also have never cooked it. I did ask my husband if he could choose something else as he’d be the only one eating turkey, and it seemed so wasteful. He agreed, and chose Swedish Meatballs, which may sound bizarre, but he loves them. They are cooked in a creamy sauce which is similar to a white gravy, and as I don’t have any lingonberry jam, I serve them with cranberry sauce. We had the meatballs with mashed potato, green beans with bacon, steamed asparagus, a brown-sugar-glazed baked ham, and eggnog. That was followed up with mini pecan pies. As is the way, there was a lot of food leftover, and it’s perfect for lunches.

I even decorated the table, which is something I normally don’t do. I figured that if we were going to the effort of making Thanksgiving a real celebration, then the table needed to be decorated. Miniature pumpkins and matching napkins, with pretty Pioneer Woman glasses, all done as minimally as possible. It added a nice feel and it gave the meal a special touch. After the meal we played Scrabble (which is my happy place), and enjoyed each other’s company. It was such a pleasant and relaxing time.

While the food was really lovely, we made sure to remember what we were celebrating. We went around the table sharing the things that we are thankful for. We found it hard to narrow it down as there really is so much to be grateful for. We live in strange times. Political uncertainty, a world deeply divided, and for many, the fear of covid and the variants, but regardless, there is much that is good. For me, Thanksgiving is a time to remember what is good, and what brings joy, and to look forward with hope.

Our Thanksgiving table setting
It’s not Thanksgiving without cranberry sauce
We live by a lake and enjoyed a long, cold walk after our huge Thanksgiving meal. The landscape has totally transformed into Fall colours.
I was so cold my husband gave me his jacket to wear.
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I Don’t Have An Accent!

I’ve been living in the USA for eight months. I still cannot believe I live here, especially in Texas y’all (no, I do not say that out loud)! It blows me away every time I remember. As humans, we settle into new situations and circumstances very quickly as we are so highly adaptable. I’m really happy here, despite having the occasional bout of intense home-sickness. Some days I’d do just about anything to be back home in Queensland, but it only lasts for a few days. Life is pretty much normal here.  My husband gets up each day and goes to work, I tidy up and settle into a day of writing or editing work. I chat with friends, people drop in, my husband and I enjoy $1.00 tacos every Taco Tuesday at our favourite taco place, we go grocery shopping or sight-seeing on days off; all the normal stuff people do. My surroundings are different than what I was used to in Australia, but the daily routine I have established just makes everything seem normal.

However, something strange has happened and I only realised it yesterday. When I first arrived, the American accents everywhere were really entertaining. It took me a while to be able to understand everyone and to not be shocked everytime someone spoke and an American accent came out. Making phone calls was so bizarre, as I just could not fathom an American accent answering the phone. It was so strange. Small children in stores speaking to their parents with cute little American accents, and the cashier calling out for assistance on the PA, with an American accent. It was just weird. Now I have come to expect it and barely notice it. But yesterday a news report came up on Twitter, and the reporter had an Australian accent. It sounded so strange. I realised that I am no longer used to hearing Australian accents and I can now hear what Americans hear whenever I open my mouth. I don’t even notice my accent anymore, so when people excitedly tell me how much they love my accent, I say, “I don’t have an accent,’ but I really do, and it’s still novel to many over here.

I asked my husband last night if I still sound Australian and he assured me that I do. I asked if I sounded slightly American to which he laughed and insisted that I do not. How is it that I no longer notice the accent differences but yet I still sound so foreign? 

There’s a really lovely lady at the Mexican restaurant that we see every Tuesday ($1.00 tacos my friend), and she loves my accent. The first time we met she exclaimed, “I have no idea what you’re saying but I love your accent! She gets just as excited every time she sees me which again reminds me of how different I sound. When I speak to my Australian friends on the phone I notice how starkly different they sound to me now, and it makes me laugh.

What hasn’t changed is the different words I use to Americans. They think it’s hilarious when I talk about the letter-box, or the boot (of my car), or the power point (I can never remember what they call it here), or the kitchen bench (which they call a counter), or the lounge suite (which they call a couch). My husband and I actually had a full-on argument when I asked him to get me something from the ensuite. Apparently they call an ensuite a restroom or a bathroom. What if I don’t want to rest in that room, or if there’s no bath? Most ensuites don’t have a bath anyway. My husband honestly had no idea what an ensuite is, and I thought he was just being silly. 

It’s funny how quickly we adapt. There will always be things I dislike about America and so many things in Australia that just make sense, and I now have to live without. But one of the things I know I’d miss if I left to go back to Australia, is the American accent.

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Roma Street Parkland Wonderland

It’s mid-November and North Texas is starting to cool down. Finally, the spiders are hunkering down for winter, having been replaced with wasps. I dislike wasps as much as spiders, but at least the wasps tend to stay outside. Unlike the Black Widow spider I found in the bathroom who was looking for a fight. I had thought I’d left hideous insects behind when I left Australia, but I was wrong. Texas well and truly has its fair share of spiders; well more than their fair share. They seem to be everywhere. 

As it cools down here, Queensland has well and truly heated up. My friends regale tales of how humid it is, and I am thankful for some cooler weather. I moved to the US after a stinking hot Queensland summer, only to arrive at the beginning of a North Carolina summer. In North Carolina summer is humid but short. As the days started to cool we moved to Texas and a heatwave. After another two months of heat, it’s finally a lot cooler. I feel as though I’ve been through four years of summer, but I do like to exaggerate! The nights and mornings are quite cold, but the days are pleasant with a lot of sunshine. I’d forgotten how nice it is to need a quilt at night or a snuggly blanket on the lounge. I’m really enjoying the change, and despite North Texas not being as strikingly beautiful in Fall as North Carolina, the trees are changing colours and the landscape has turned various shades of orange and yellow.

My iPhone photo app sends me memories each day, of this day last year, or two years ago, or even five years ago. Today the memories were photos of Roma Street Parkland, a ten-minute walk from the CBD, in Brisbane City. I’d forgotten that day. It was a very, very hot Saturday, exactly two years ago. My daughter and I lived in the city and we wanted some outdoors, but it was way too hot to do much. We chose a short drive to Roma Street Parklands, which is a subtropical oasis covering eleven hectares. It’s such an amazing place. We walked along the nature paths admiring the variety of plants and trees, the lake and fountains, an amphitheatre and a large picnic area with restrooms, with a backdrop of skyscrapers and tall buildings. It’s hard to fathom that you are actually in the city. Roma Street Parkland is reputed to be the world’s largest subtropical garden in the centre of a city, and it is absolutely spectacular. We would walk for a while and then need to rest because of the sheer humidity. We had sweat pouring off us, so we’d stop in the shade of the trees and chat, and say hello to fellow outdoorsmen as they ambled past us, sweating profusely. Such a hot day, but wonderful memories.

It’s impossible to remember each and every enjoyable outing or new experience we have. I have come to enjoy the memories my iPhone sends me as not only is it a reminder of a particular day or place, but because they are photo memories, I can relive the experience. Little things I would have otherwise forgotten without photos jogging my memory. Wonder which memory will pop up tomorrow?

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I’m Dreaming Of Buc-ee’s

Before I moved to the USA, I heard of this mystical place which originated in Texas, called Buc-ee’s. What is Buc-ee’s you may ask? Quite simply, it’s the largest gas station and convenience store in the whole universe. Well, maybe not the universe, but it’s very impressive, and Buc-ee’s has broken a number of world records; firstly for being the largest convenience store, and secondly, for having the longest car wash. They also won a contest for having the cleanest restrooms in America, and that’s remarkable considering how many people use them!

For my birthday this year, all I wanted was a trip to Buc-ee’s and now that I’m living in Dallas, my darling husband took me. I can’t even tell you how excited I was. It may sound crazy, but I was watching travel vloggers visiting Buc-ee’s over the last few years, and they made it look amazing. I just had to go!

Driving into Buc-ee’s, the first thing I noticed was the staggering amount of gas pumps.There was row upon row of them, but honestly, I wasn’t there for the fuel. I was there for pretty much everything else. The convenience store itself was like a massive warehouse, and it was hard to know where to start; it was also jam packed with shoppers and lookers. Pretty much hundreds of others like me. 

Jim suggested we make a plan of how to tackle Buc-ee’s, which was an excellent suggestion, so we started at one end and worked around the store in a clockwise direction. Walls of nuts, candy and a zillion other things. I can’t even begin to list how much stuff was there, and I gave up trying to photograph it all. We grabbed a few bits and pieces as we walked through, and then we reached the coffee section. Now this is something spectacular. There’s a huge counter of coffee machines — and also coffee grinders. You choose what type of coffee you want, the size, and off you go. But then!! And this is amazing— once you have your coffee you turn around, and there’s two islands of creamers, syrups, and every other imaginable thing you could want to add to your coffee. And these are all included in the price of the coffee! I could not believe the choices. It was a beautiful sight for a coffee lover! 

A lady stood at a cart giving away samples of pulled pork (cooked onsite), so we made a beeline for it. Delicious! That made it simple for us to decide what to have for lunch, but as there’s nowhere to sit and have lunch, we grabbed pulled barbecue pork sandwiches on the way out, and they were piping hot and tasty. We perused the on-site bakery with the huge cinnamon rolls, the beef jerky counter with all flavours on earth, and then walked through the clothing and gift section. Jim chose a fluorescent Buc’ee’s mug (which I’ve since claimed), I chose a Texas key ring, and then back to the food section. We watched as almonds and cashews were coated in a buttery cinnamon glaze and roasted. The smell was amazing so we bought a small cone of hot cinnamon cashews to share. I chose an ugly Buc-ee’s reuseable drink thing for my daughter, as I knew she’d love how hideous it is, and a few boxes of animal crackers and finally, a packet of the famous Beaver Nuggets. 

It’s not all barbecue and Beaver Nuggets though. There’s a fridge section with the most amazing, fresh looking salads. They also have fruits, cut-up veggie snacks, cheese etc. There are so many healthy options that it’s hard to choose. They even sell raw meat you can take home and cook. It would be impossible to visit and not find something to buy. 

What an experience! Another thing crossed off my Buc-ee’s list! See what I did there? But in all seriousness, it was worth the visit. Buc-ee’s really does have so much to look at, and despite the crowds, it was a lot of fun. The food is really delicious, the atmosphere is upbeat, the premises are really clean, and yes, those rest rooms are spotless. That in itself is worth the visit!

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Guy Fieri, Queso, And A River Of Tears

I love travel vlogs and food shows. Travel vlogs with food are even better. One of my favourite food shows is Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins And Dives. Guy’s excitement for food makes me happy, as I love food too. Don’t we all? My favourite episodes of DDD is when Guy’s son is with him, as watching them both share a passion for food, and they way they tease each other is heartwarming. I think it’s always made me so happy as I would watch DDD with my daughter. During covid lockdown in early 2020, in Brisbane, Australia, we sat on the lounge and binge watched them. We’d plan all the different diners we’d try once covid restrictions lifted and we could travel again. 

I moved to Texas a few weeks ago and after days of unpacking and settling in, right before Jim was due to start his new job, I suggested a day out was in order. Something fun to get out of the moving and unpacking cycle. It felt as though all we’d talked about and done for six weeks was the move. One of the many great things about where we live in Texas, is the accessibility to other states. We are not too far from Oklahoma and Arkansas. As we’d recently driven across the entire state of Arkansas to move to Texas, I suggested a trip to Oklahoma, but just to a border town. With a little bit of a Google search, we decided to drive to Durant in Oklahoma. Jim was born and raised in Oklahoma, but I’d never been — I was incredibly excited. 

We looked for reviews for places to eat, and via FaceTime, my clever and beautiful daughter informed me that Guy Fieri has one of his own diners in the Choctaw Casino near Durant! I almost fell over with excitement. It was settled — Choctaw, here we come! 

The drive to Durant was pretty. A vastly different landscape from the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina that we’d moved from, but I like to see beauty in every landscape. Once we’d driven across the border we stopped at the information centre to look around and use the restrooms. It’s beautifully set up and worth the stop. A lot of state information to pick up and a really pretty rest stop. From there it was full steam ahead to Durant. 

Now I don’t want to be harsh, but Durant was incredibly underwhelming. It was very run down and looked sad, but the Choctaw Casino (which was actually in Broken Bow) was absolutely enormous and you could tell that a lot of money has gone into it. It also has a resort attached so it has lovely gardens and pools, and excellent parking. I’m not into gambling at all, but despite that, and having to walk through a smoky haze to get to Guy Fieri’s diner, nothing could dampen my spirits. 

The casino itself was actually really well finished. Flashing lights and loud music, lots of eateries and some little boutiques, and loads of really well maintained restrooms. They really managed to make it upbeat, and the staff were friendly and helpful — nothing seedy which surprised me. 

We wound through a maze of poker machines and bars, and there in front of us (thankfully in the non-smoking area) was Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen and Bar. It was ridiculous how excited I was. Jim and I were given a table by the window, so we had a great view of the palm trees and resort pool. I looked at the menu, then became utterly overwhelmed and burst into tears. It’s going to sound stupid, but the memories of sitting on the lounge in Brisbane city, my daughter and I joyfully planning our next overseas trip, and then all hopes being dashed when the lockdowns kept going and going with borders still closed, and no end in sight, became too much. Despite all the craziness of the world, I was sitting in a Guy Fieri diner in Oklahoma, with my husband, and I was so happy I couldn’t contain it. I felt really stupid being so emotional, but Jim held my hand, and reassured me that I was not even slightly stupid. It was a moment of pure joy and gratitude. Despite the lockdowns and craziness, I was still experiencing new places and new foods and new experiences. I was still travelling, and that blew my mind!

The lunch menu wasn’t huge but it was good. Jim encouraged me to order for both of us as this was ‘my thing.’ He’s such a sweetheart. I ordered a Farm Stand Salad, Queso Dip with pita chips, and Bourbon Brown Sugar BBQ chicken wings, to share. As expected, the servings were enormous, and they were starters. The queso dip was next level delicious. Hot and cheesy, spicy and creamy, with hand made pita chips. Some were crispy and some were slightly chewy, and all seasoned perfectly. We couldn’t get enough of it. The wings were good but nothing came close to the queso. It was so decadent. The salad was huge, and really fresh. It had avocado, tomato, chick peas and a load more. So tasty. We couldn’t finish everything so we took half the salad and a few chicken wings home.

On the way out Jim bought me an autographed copy of one of Guy Fieri’s new recipe books, and the waiter gave me some decals. It was such a great experience and so unexpected. It reminded me again, of how wonderful local travel is. There’s always something to see and do. I have so much to see here in Texas, and a weekend trip to Oklahoma City is also being planned. We are hoping to also get to Eureka Springs in Arkansas soon but for the moment, I’ll keep settling into my local area and discover all the hidden treasures around me.

Me on the way in
One of the bars in the Casino. A real Oklahoma feel.
Guy Fieri’s! What we’d come for.
The decadent queso and pita chips
The salad!
How about these sticky chicken wings? Mmmm
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Amish Aspirations

I don’t claim to know much about the Amish community, and that’s probably how they want it. What I do know is that they are a large community of over 350,000 in thirty-one states in the US, and they make fantastic food. Really fantastic. 

I think there will always be some fascination for the Amish as they manage to live so differently. Maybe we romanticise it? They live in their own largely self-sufficient communities, they work together, grow their own food, keep their own animals, build their houses and furniture, and school their children. There’s something that seems so organised and stable about their lives. But while I love the sound of their lifestyles, I love the city and conveniences more, so I’ll stick to visiting their stores, and eating my way around them.

Before we left North Carolina, Jim took me to the Shiloh General Store in Hamptonville. I was so excited as I had heard so much about their delicious home made food. We’d already visited a beautiful Amish furniture store in West Jefferson, NC, but not the general store. When we arrived, on a Saturday around noon, it was packed. People were spilling out from everywhere. The large verandah was filled with people enjoying lunch and a cold drink on what was a really hot day. We made our way through the crowds, into the store, and it was like being in Wonderland. There was so much to look at — small goods, cheese, dairy fridges, fresh baked goods, nuts, dried fruits, herbal tinctures, kitchen tools, and so, so much more. We easily filled our basket and then made our way to the sandwich counter. The store is run by people from the Amish community, the women resplendent in their aprons, long dresses and bonnets. The food counter was so busy, but they had a really good system where you ticked boxes on a piece of paper of what you wanted to order (it was a set sandwich menu), and you handed the order in at one counter, and in less than ten minutes your order came up on the other end of the counter. All sandwiches were served with a packet of chips, which is a pretty standard thing in the US. You took your lunch and basket of goodies to the front cashiers, where two men served cheerfully and efficiently despite the crowds and long lines. The wait was minimal.

The first time we went we lucked out on finding a spot to eat on the verandah as it was so busy, so we ate in the air conditioned comfort of the car. It was in the nineties so such a relief to be out of the heat. Now let me tell you about the sandwiches! I ordered chicken salad, mayo, relish, mustard, and salad veggies. The bread was slightly warm as it was freshly baked, and so fresh that it was falling apart as I scoffed it. Jim ordered the pulled barbecue pork with a range of condiments and salad, and it was hot, and melted in his mouth. The sandwiches were quite honestly, amazing. The best sandwiches we’d ever eaten. We went back two weeks later and I also ordered the pulled barbecue pork sandwich and it really was outstanding. So much flavour, and I ordered a bit of raw onion and every condiment I could get, and it just worked! Every combination works because the food is so fresh and well made. We had bought a huge cinnamon roll as well, which we ate later that night.

Now that I’m in Texas I don’t have to miss out on the goodness of Amish General Stores or their amazing sandwiches, but I do have to drive over four hours to get to one! I’m hoping there’s one tucked away around the corner from me and I’m just yet to discover it.

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Culture Shock in the USA

After thirteen months of the immigration process, I made it! I am now living in beautiful North Carolina, USA, with my loving American husband, Jim. I am so happy to be here with him, but it would be remiss of me to not mention the culture shock before anything else. So here is a list of the things I have noticed so far.

  1. Rabies: On my third night here there was a rabid fox trying to attack people walking their dogs around our apartment complex, so the police came out and shot it. That absolutely terrified me. Australia is one of the few countries in the world, free of rabies — something I had assumed was the same all over the Western world. I was wrong.
  1. Portion sizes: It’s going to take me a while to start ordering the correct portion size at restaurants. Even an appetiser is too big for me, and the food wastage is something I’m uncomfortable with. Jim and I have taken to sharing an appetiser and a salad, and ensuring we minimise waste. The upside? Food is so cheap that it costs less than $12 for Jim and me to eat out as we share.
  1. Recycling: In Australia we are crazy about recycling everything. The council provides recycling bins which are picked up fortnightly so we don’t fill up our garbage dumps with products that could be recycled. Here, where I am living in North Carolina, there is no recycling. Everything goes into the one bin. I am struggling with that, so Jim is trying to find some way we can take our recyclables to have them dealt with appropriately.
  1.  Thank you: I have been using the word ta, in place of thank you, from the time I could speak. Ta. Americans don’t use the word. They say thank you, which is a no-brainer, but I cannot stop saying ta. It’s a default constantly, and no one understands it except Jim. He often uses it to thank me, which I really appreciate.
  1. Accent: I know, I know; I live in the USA, but I cannot tell you how strange it is to hear an American accent everywhere. I find it especially alarming in stores over the PA system, or coming from little kids, as I just don’t expect it. I’m so used to hearing Australians speak, that to hear the deep southern twang throws me every time. When I am at home, writing away in my little office, I could be at home in Australia. But once I leave home and I am anywhere else, the accent is a constant reminder that I am a little displaced.
  1. Groceries: I cannot find the products I’m used to. Especially lamb. There’s no legs of lamb or cutlets in the supermarkets. And when I am homesick, I want lamb.
  1. MSG: It seems that there’s MSG in just about everything here, and they don’t need to declare it. It gives me a headache and nausea. In Australia, food containing MSG needs to be clearly marked so it can be avoided. MSG was largely phased out in Australia in the 1990’s, but some products contain it as an additive. I just need to be more diligent in checking for it.
  1. Landscape: This is not a bad thing by any means. Yes, I miss sunny Queensland, but North Carolina is absolutely stunning. The vibrant colours are gorgeous; bright green grass, pink and white blossoms, the sky is as blue as I’ve ever seen, and trees in a myriad of hues. The countryside is breathtaking. Photos just don’t do it justice. Well not with my photography.
  1. Weather: I was a bit frustrated after a long, humid summer in Queensland, to be heading to another summer in the south of the USA. But despite having some lovely warm days here, we’ve had quite a few cool ones. It’s been so refreshing. I also need to remind myself that here in the south, I will get to experience four seasons, rather than one boiling hot mess for nine months, and then three months of milder weather in Queensland. It’s been years since I experienced all four seasons and I’m really excited about it. 
  1. Driving: Jim and I bought a car together. A sleek, black sedan, which I can’t drive. I am struggling with being on the wrong side of the road as a passenger, but when I hopped into the driver’s seat to consider a test drive, I was so dizzy from being on the opposite side of the car, I gave up. I have been assured it’s just a time thing, and I really hope so. I love the freedom of driving and I’ve always had a beautiful car for myself. At the moment Jim has to take me everywhere and when he’s at work, I am  pretty much stuck at home. I don’t mind the down time to write and relax, but when you realise you don’t have a grater and the recipe you’re cooking requires grated ginger, well, a quick trip to Walmart would be helpful.

Really, those things are minimal. There’s so much I already love about living here. The people are friendly beyond belief, and that’s coming from someone who loves the Australian laid-back friendliness. People are so polite, and because I’m Australian and obviously, have an accent, they love to talk to me. I’m discovering so much and I’m trying to learn as much as I can about this amazing country. Jim and I have so many weekend trips planned so I will have so much to share. Can’t wait!

Our wedding day
Enjoying trying some local foods
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Viva BrisVegas

Brisbane is my favourite Australian city. It’s beautiful, has great opportunities, is relatively safe, packed with great things to do, and has a laid back, country vibe to it. I never tire of Brisbane city. However! After over a year of navigating through the visa immigration process, I am finally in America. I am still in shock that once my actual visa arrived in the mail, everything was so quick. I had planned to make a last trip to all of my favourite places before I left, but I only had twelve days between receiving my visa and flying out, and that was a mammoth task. With moving out of my place, shipping everything to the US, trying to get all the paperwork I’d need so I could apply to leave the country, and having COVID swabs etc, I simply could not do anything other than pack up and leave. It took every ounce of strength I had to actually get onto that plane to fly out of the country I love, and I sobbed hysterically as I boarded the flight, nervous about what was to come, and sad about what and who I was leaving behind.

But rather than reflect on the sadness, I want to focus on the things I have loved most about living in such an incredible place. And because we all love lists (research proves it), here’s my list of favourite Brisbane (and beyond) things. These are not in order— I love them all the same. 

  1. The Brisbane River: I lied. This is my favourite. There is nothing as wonderful as a trip into the city on the River Cat. Undoubtedly, every trip has brought me joy; even when I was lost and ended up a few stops away in the opposite direction, in the dead of night, waiting for a River Cat back to my stop. That did not lessen my joy one bit. 
  1. Queen Street Mall: This is also my favourite. I love Queen Street Mall— so many hidden arcades, gorgeous shops, restaurants and cafes. After four years I still get lost in Queen Street Mall, but I love it so much I don’t care. Every time I go to Queen Street Mall I find a new shop or cafe I hadn’t noticed before. It’s like my birthday every time.
  1. Southbank: This is definitely my favourite. How could it not be? Shops, restaurants, parks, a man-made beach, and a board walk alongside the beautiful Brisbane River. There are markets, gift stores and so many places to eat. The Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art are there as well, and I’ve spent countless hours frequenting them. A quick trip on the River Cat from Milton takes you to Southbank and it’s quite easy to spend an exhausting, but fun day just at Southbank. Southbank at night is really special too; the colourful city lights reflecting on the water, fairy lights hanging from the bougainvillea vines and trees, kids swimming in the little beach area, and alfresco dining. Ah … so much lovely. 
  1. Redcliffe: A lot of people in Brisbane would scoff at Redcliffe but I love it (it’s not my favourite but close). The council has done a brilliant job of transforming Redcliffe into a vibrant, beachside, tourist destination. Alfresco dining, beachside markets, live music, a gorgeous boardwalk that stretches from Scarborough to Margate, and an aqua blue, man-made lagoon with bbqs and picnic tables. Redcliffe is so family friendly and Sutton’s Beach or the lagoon are the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon in the heat of summer. I spent the first eighteen months in Brisbane living in Redcliffe by the beach, and I would start the day with a run from Margate to Scarborough. Doesn’t get much better than Redcliffe. 
  1. Eat Street: Now this place is special. Eat Street is a massive market place that is everything food. Almost every kind of food truck and food stall you can imagine is at Eat Street. There’s live music, park benches and a dynamic vibe, with food vans stretching in every direction, by the Brisbane River. You can catch a River Cat there, or drive.
  1. Bribie Island : Bribie Island is north of Brisbane and is one of my favourite spots because of its sheer beauty. Aqua blue waters, lots of sunshine, white sands, and a permanent tourist vibe. The island is connected to the mainland by a long bridge, and pelicans sit perched on the street lights silently guarding it. There’s not much better than a fish and chips picnic at one of the many beaches on Bribie Island, and even in winter it’s a fantastic place to walk for miles on one of the sandy white beaches.
  1. The accessibility to the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast and the hinterlands: Being so close to such gorgeous parts of the world is remarkable. The Gold Coast is more commercialised and touristy than the Sunshine Coast, but with so many fantastic restaurants and cafes, and spectacular beaches, it’s certainly worth the trip. The hinterlands of both the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast are simply stunning. Gorgeous cafes and markets and the scenery is amazing. So close to Brisbane, but a whole world away also.   
  1. Sunnybank BBQ Duck: This is just a new thing for me. I really only discovered it recently, but as soon as I knew it was there, I was a regular. Sunnybank has a large Asian population and we all know what that means— great food! I’ve always loved Asian BBQ pork, but the crispy skin BBQ duck is utterly delicious. You can buy the whole duck with its cute little head intact, and although you find yourself apologising as you eat it, it doesn’t lessen the experience. 
  1. The Story Bridge: The Story Bridge may not attract international tourists like the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but I love it. From Eagle Street Pier, with some of Brisbane’s best restaurants, the view of the bridge at night, all lit up, is iconic Brisbane. It’s actually breath-taking at night, and cruising under it on a River Cat is really special. There’s also a fantastic view of the bridge from the Howard Smith Wharves. I loved a lazy lunch at Felon’s Brewery, gazing out onto the water, admiring the beautiful Story Bridge, and I think it’s my favourite place.
  1. Indooroopilly Shopping Centre: Ah … this is everything retail. Designer boutiques, cafes, book stores, our favourite retail and food chains, and a glorious fresh food section. I love Indro Shopping Centre; in the heat of summer it’s a fantastic way to cool off and drink great coffee in comfort, and it’s also the ideal place to meet up with friends over lunch. I have spent so many lovely shopping hours (and unspeakable amounts of money) at Indro, and also eating at Betty’s Burgers. Apparently they are based on In-N-Out Burgers here in the US, so I will try them as soon as I can find one to relive the beautiful memories. 

Realistically, with COVID having changed everything, I am unsure when, or if I’ll ever get back to Brisbane. I dream of moving back there one day, with my American love. There is so much to do and see in Queensland, and I have seen so little of it. But until then I’ll settle in here in the USA, and slowly discover new and exciting places to satisfy the travel bug. Stay posted …

Looking over to Southbank from a River Cat on the Brisbane River
The beautiful Story Bridge at night, from Eagle Street
Sunshine Coast Hinterland
Brisbane city at night, taken from Southbank
Sutton’s Beach Redcliffe
The aqua waters of Bribie Island
Me sitting at the art gallery, admiring the views of the Brisbane River
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Unintended Sydney

I flew down to Sydney despite the COVID lockdowns, for a highly anticipated consular meeting. I would only need to be in Sydney for a few hours for the actual interview, but with the canceled flights and strict quarantine rules once I flew back to Brisbane, I had to stay in Sydney for three days. But sometimes the unexpected happens and our plans change.

On the day of my departure from Sydney, to head home, I woke up sick. Really sick. I was struggling to get out of bed, I was weak and tired, and had vertigo. Not severe, but enough to make walking tricky. I phoned a friend for help, and we decided that I’d have no choice but to cancel my flight home and extend my stay. It was announced the same day that mandatory quarantine in Brisbane would be lifted on the 1st February, so I decided to extend my stay by four days. It would give me time to recover and rest.

I spent the first couple of days in my room and then made a few short trips out each day to buy food. There was a lot I would have liked to have done in the time, but I thought it would be wise to not wander too far away from my hotel.

I stayed in a budget, but very comfortable hotel opposite the Queen Victoria Building, right in the city. I was close to Town Hall Station, the tram line and loads of arcades and shops. Each morning I’d cross the road to a little coffee shop called Workshop Espresso which made a nice flat white, and served simple take out breakfasts like croissants and banana bread. As I had a late breakfast and wasn’t well, I either skipped lunch and had an early dinner, or had a late lunch and skipped dinner. 

Much of George Street from Town Hall Station down to Haymarket is now Asian food places or shops, which is very different from the eighties and nineties in Sydney. So many different types of food— Korean, Japanese, Thai etc. I ate some delicious Thai street food and had mouth-watering thinly sliced Wagyu beef in teriyaki sauce in an underground sushi restaurant. I found a little cafe in World Square that made a nice coffee and a toastie for brunch, so I’d sit quietly over my small meal and watch people go by. As COVID restrictions were still in place, a mask had to be worn in most enclosed places, like shopping centres and arcades. 

On my first night in Sydney, before getting sick, I managed to catch the tail end of the Australia Day fireworks at Circular Quay with a dear friend. Sydney Harbour Bridge was lit up, and green and gold lit catamarans sailed through the waters against the backdrop of the Sydney Opera House. It was intensely humid, and the drizzle did not help at all. It was a fantastic night but the humidity was very uncomfortable— every time you’d move you’d sweat, and that included breathing! But as it’s possibly my last Australia Day in Australia, it was worth every minute. I haven’t been to Sydney Harbour for years, and to actually catch the fireworks on our national day was exhilarating. 

Sydney has changed so much since I was a child. I miss the city I grew up in, but forty years have passed and things change quickly. I don’t dislike all the changes; they certainly add a different dimension to the city, but I do miss a lot of what made Sydney so iconic. Homeless people are still there, some have set up actual beds in George Street, and they are still up for a conversation over a free cup of coffee. The things I don’t like about the changes are feeling like I am now unwelcome in the city I grew up in. I can’t speak the Asian languages or read the signs in shops. I can’t read the menus and I don’t recognise the city I once felt such a part of. That saddens me. However, I still enjoyed the time I spent there, and the changes allowed me to rediscover the city all over again. While I no longer live in Sydney, or even in the state, Sydney will always be a part of me. My family on my father’s side have been there for generations, and most of my childhood was spent there. I think I’ll always be a city girl at heart.

The QVB on the right, and Centrepoint Tower in the distance.
Sydney Harbour celebrations on Australia Day
The Asian culture which has become very much a part of Sydney city
One of the beautiful old arcades in the city
The statue of Queen Elizabeth guarding her iconic building

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And The Winner Is …

An unexpected sickness delayed my flight home to Brisbane, and saw me staying for six days in Sydney, rather than three. After a few days holed up in my hotel room, I knew it was time to get down to business … cheese tart business.

I am a fan of the Hokkaido Japanese Baked Cheese Tart— so much so that I have blogged about them before. But I also read claims that Uncle Tetsu makes the best baked cheese tarts, so I knew I’d have to find out.

I bought some of the original cheese tarts from Hokkaido in World Square, first. Delicious. I was tempted to try the salted caramel cheese tarts, but then I wouldn’t be able to do a comparison with Uncle Tetsu. The next day I went to Uncle Tetsu’s for morning tea, and alas, they don’t open till midday. I was a little sad about it. However, I had my chance to get there and bought two of the original cheese tarts so I could do my research.

Firstly, there was a queue to get in. That’s always a good sign. Secondly, Uncle Tetsu’s cheese tarts are a bit bigger. The consistency didn’t look much different— similar texture, with a paler colour than Hokkaido, but it was all down to the taste.

The first bite into Uncle Tetsu’s was an explosion of delicious. Creamy, slightly lemony, utterly decadent in every way. It was in my opinion, superior to the Hokkaido cheese tart, and that’s a huge claim considering I really like them both. Now that I’ve had an Uncle Tetsu’s cheese tart I have to say that they will go down as the ultimate cheese tart for me, unless there’s a better one out there …

Uncle Tetsu’s Baked Cheese Tarts
Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tarts
Continue reading “And The Winner Is …”
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USA … I’m on my way. My favourite things about America

It’s January 2021 and COVID is still in full swing in Brisbane. As I write this, I am home due to a three day stay-at-home order. However, I’m still forging forward with my immigration process and hoping for some good news in the next few weeks (but who knows what will happen between now and then?).

The USA has featured heavily in the news over the last few months (well forever really), and when people find out I’m immigrating there, I get the same shocked responses, “Why would you go there?” “ Are you crazy? Do you know what’s going on in the US?” “Why doesn’t Jim come here?” etc etc. And it would fill me with trepidation all the time. Yes guys, I do know what’s going on there, and probably better than you as I have a fiance there remember? I’m not entirely stupid. 

Yesterday in lockdown I watched a heap of youtube videos of a British man who married an American woman and he’s been living in the US for over a decade. He loves it, and watching his experiences gave me a fresh excitement for the move, and it reminded me that yes, there’s a lotta crazy going on over there, but America is still pretty awesome. I’m choosing to focus on the awesome and here’s my list of the things I am most excited about once I reach the US. Naturally Jim and my daughter are the best things, but this list is other American awesomeness.

  1. Biscuits: I have been thinking about biscuits a lot since I was last in the US. That fluffy, buttery goodness— can’t wait to try one with a piece of good old-fashioned fried chicken.
  2. Walmart: If you don’t understand this it’s because you haven’t been there. Walmart has everything— from tyres to guns to salad. Everything. There’s about six aisles of just breakfast cereals (well confectionary if we’re honest), and it’s my favourite aisle to ogle. I’d never actually buy or eat any, but the range is awesome. Added to this, you cannot leave Walmart not having bought something you don’t need.
  3. Restaurants: I’ve written about this previously, but I’m still shocked every time I think of it. You can change up the meals as much as you want everywhere you go, and they accommodate you with a smile. In Australia they ask you to leave!
  4. Cost of living: sure, wages are a lot lower, and in some chain restaurants I’m sure the wait staff earn less than child labour in China (be a decent human and tip big!), but the cost of living is affordable. Maybe not in New York, but I don’t want to live in New York. A small town in one of the southern states is enough for me. There are many small towns all over the US where you can buy a house under $100,000 and still have a local Walmart (see number 2 for clarification).
  5. The incredible landscapes: I will always consider Australia one of the most beautiful countries on the planet— from the stark countryside to the mountains and the breathtaking coastlines, we have it all, but don’t discount the USA. America is filled with such beauty, in a way that is different to Australia. Every state has its own unique beauty and I can’t wait to visit every state and experience what they alone offer.
  6. Small town America: The Hallmark movies— pretty little towns with that American pride which I love. Old Glory flying in the breeze, restored old homes, the colours of fall and cosy coffee shops. That’s the America I’m moving to. 
  7. The food: America has great food, there’s no two ways about it. You don’t become one of the world’s fattest nations without having some great food (and a lot of high fructose corn syrup). But in all seriousness, it’s not just about the fried stuff. America has some outstanding food. Some of the foods I expected to be hideous were actually delicious. There is a booming market for organic, natural, and locally produced and grown foods and there are many restaurants and cafes with menus offering the best of locally sourced foods. Every state has its own special dish and I plan to work my way through all of them, even the deep-fried bull testicles just because I can.
  8. Choices: Where do I even start? From groceries to clothes to furniture, the choices are seemingly endless. Don’t like one store? Try another one of the six billion, and unlike Australia, they all have really different stuff. Jim took me from store to store in his little town and I was surprised that the range in every store was so different. I wasn’t expecting that at all, and it was wonderful. 
  9. Road trips: Yes, road tripping in Australia is awesome too, but I want to road trip from Florida up to Alaska, cruising through Canada. Not at the moment though, as Canada is currently closed because of that COVID thing, but one day I will. Well Jim will, because of that driving on the other side of the road thing. And me taking photos and videos out of the car window. It will be a long trip though— Jim doesn’t like to drive for more than five hours per day, and I need to stop and go potty every fifteen minutes (yes, an American term which makes me cringe but I’m practising so I don’t physically recoil when someone says it)  so it may take a while …
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Finding Fraser— Island that is!

I’d spent a rainy week in Hervey Bay before making a last minute decision to stay a bit longer so I could head out to Fraser Island. When people think of islands they mostly conjure up images of resorts, palm trees and tiki bars, and that’s pretty much how I imagined Fraser Island, but I couldn’t have been more wrong— pleasingly so.

Fraser Island is off Australia’s eastern Queensland coast, and what makes it so remarkable is that it’s the world’s largest sand island, stretching over one-hundred-and-twenty-kilometres. Known for its white sand, turquoise water, dingoes, and a huge variety of wildlife, it’s a fifty minute ferry ride out there. What had kept me from visiting Fraser Island is my severe sea- sickness and concern that I’d spend the ferry trip over and back throwing up, and unable to enjoy the day. As usual, I was wrong, and I was very happy to have been assured by the receptionist at the ticket office that the trip was in the bay, and so smooth I’d barely notice. 

Rather than take my car on the ferry, I elected to travel by foot. The ticket to Fraser Island cost $60, which included not only the return ferry trip, but access to the Kingfisher Bay Resort. I caught the 9 am ferry from River Heads Boat Ramp and was impressed with how large the ferry was. It had a kiosk and bar, and viewing platform on the top. The journey was smooth and scenic, and I was so excited to see a dugong on the way across. I was glued to the front of the ferry, watching and waiting for Fraser Island to come into view, and finally, it did. It was nothing like I expected— glistening white sand and aqua waters to be sure, but rather than palm trees and hibiscus, it had a thick coverage of Australian native plants and trees. It was remote and wild, almost eerie in how empty it was, and I couldn’t wait to explore.

A small tractor-pulled train picked us up from the jetty and the ranger who was driving warned us about dingoes on the way over. There have been a number of dingo attacks on humans, including children, so the resort had fenced off a large area around its perimeter so that visitors would be safe. Large signs with dingo warnings were posted above securely latched gates so that you well and truly knew when you were stepping out of the protective fenced area.

Kingfisher Bay Resort is an eco resort, with the philosophy of “Ecologically sustainable tourism that fosters environmental and cultural understanding, appreciation and conservation”. I was fascinated by the gentle lines and almost camouflaged design of the resort, so I jumped at the chance of attending the eco walk, and learning more about it. After an interesting tour I set off on my own for a bit of a nature walk and then crossed the dingo fence to spend some time on the beach. There was no doubt that I felt a bit nervous of dingoes as the beach was quite empty, but there was no way I could spend time on Fraser Island without enjoying the spectacular coastline. It was the end of winter and a bit cool to swim, but I found a great place to sit and relax, and not too far from the safety of the fence. 

It was a bit unusual being on my own on Fraser Island as everyone was either in a couple, or a group. Especially as I was ever aware of the warnings about not venturing out on your own because of dingoes, but I had no option if I wanted to get the most out of the experience. I think I walked kilometres as I explored as much as I could, as safely as I could. I ate great fish and chips in the restaurant for lunch, wrote and posted postcards from the resort post-office, photographed some of the spectacular native plants, and drank great coffee whilst writing from the resort pool. Despite being the end of winter, and wearing my Alaska cap for most of the day, I managed to get a little sunburnt. The day grew remarkably warm and I watched a little enviously as a group of teens horsed around in the aqua waters. 

After walking for hours, I was ready to head back. The return ferry ride to River Heads was calming, allowing me to rest my weary body, and I knew I’d sleep well that night.

I’ve done a lot of travelling, but the day trip to Fraser Island was really special. When I reflect on what made it so wonderful, I recognise that it was being able to explore and enjoy it on my own. Maybe it was simply that I was so utterly alone amongst the spectacular Australian native plants, with that tiny hint of fear? Maybe it was being immersed in a landscape that seemed so primitive and untouched? Or maybe it was simply that I had finally ticked off another of my bucket list items, and it was so close to home. 

Dingo warning sign before stepping onto the beach
Sand paths through thick brush
Inside Kingfisher Bay resort
Australian native plants
Dingo warning sign
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Asleep In Transit

As I sit here and write this, I am waiting for a friend who is in an appointment. I’ve been waiting for three hours and I’m in need of a snooze. I don’t mind the wait— I’ve become good at it. 

I’m reminded of all the hours I’ve waited for a connecting flight. Sometimes for seven or eight hours. I was on a layover at Vancouver Airport for about that long, and I was exhausted. With the time change I had not slept during the long flight to Vancouver and with so long to wait, I had to sleep. I can sleep just about anywhere when I’m tired— ferries, trains, waiting rooms, even in hospital, and that’s a huge achievement! But I am always worried that when I’m sleeping at an airport, someone will take my stuff. It’s hard to sleep with your hand tightly gripping your carry on luggage. 

I was so exhausted at Vancouver Airport that I lay across a row of seats, and slept. The sun was shining through the huge terminal windows, and it was toasty warm. I slept for thirty minutes at a time, waking every so often to make sure my belongings were still with me. The short snoozes were blissful. 

I remember being just as exhausted in Hong Kong, and I slept the whole ferry ride from Victoria Harbour, sitting upright. If I’m that tired, I sleep! 

I think that as I spent so many years travelling as a child, I learnt to sleep just about anywhere. Some of my earliest memories are of me in transit, and I even took my first steps on a ship in the Pacific Ocean. I have many memories of planes and ships from my early childhood. 

Most of us have seen people sleeping on the ground at airport terminals and this is nothing new, but I know more people who need to be at home in their own bed to sleep properly. I don’t sleep particularly well on ferries and trains, but when you’re thoroughly exhausted and have no bed in sight, you take what you can get— a nanna nap in the upright position. 

I normally find that on the first leg of a long haul flight, I get very little sleep— I listen to audiobooks, music playlists, and watch inflight documentaries. But once I arrive at the airport and find my connecting terminal, I need to sleep. I snooze at the airport and then pretty much the entire rest of the trip, regardless of how many connecting flights I need to take. Generally the thrill of another trip has worn off and all I want to do is sleep until I get there, and sometimes even in the transfer to my accommodation. 

I think that part of enjoying travel is learning to sleep, or at least rest well in transit. From Australia, everywhere is a long flight, so it makes sense to train yourself to sleep. I suffer severe motion sickness so I have to take travel meds for it, and I make sure I always choose the tablets which have a slight sedative. Even if you can’t sleep, you can rest and relax, as opposed to having travel meds which keep you wired on a twelve hour overnight flight— please don’t be that person! I also make sure I take my travel neck pillow, which is revolutionary; you can sleep anywhere upright with those babies! And I take a shawl or a wrap as it’s always freezing on a flight. My other trick is a beanie. I won’t fly without a beanie— I cannot tell you how warm your whole body stays on a flight when you have a beanie on. It’s also comforting and blocks out some noise. After a documentary, a few chapters of an audiobook and a feed, I listen to some chilled classical music, kick my shoes off, pull on my beanie and wrap myself in a shawl. Even thinking about it now makes me want to sleep …

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The Ultimate Road Trip

I’ve always enjoyed road trips and weekends away. Nothing fancy, nothing planned, just a packed bag, pillows, a great playlist, and the road.

I moved to Queensland four years ago, from the Central West of NSW. The summers were hot and the winters were freezing, but worst of all, I was too far from the coast. Growing up in Sydney I spent every weekend in summer at the beach. We holidayed at either Forster or Vincentia, and it was blissful weeks of swimming, sunburn, and the occasional heat stroke— the eighties weren’t known for slip, slop, slap. When I left home I moved to Byron Bay and just about lived in the water. I have tried to stay as close to the coast as possible my whole life, so the seven years I spent in the Central West were very difficult.

There was a lot to love about the Central West— beautiful countryside, four distinct seasons, a laid back lifestyle and country hospitality, but no beach. A trip to the beach had to be planned, and involved hours of driving. I loved road trips to other towns for lunch or a few nights away, but as the years went by with only a handful of trips to the beach, I felt myself declining. I had enjoyed my time working as a writer for a tourism magazine, and later as the writer and editor for a small newspaper, but I needed the ocean. I look back at this part of my life with some sadness— I felt lost and very alone, and I knew that I had to make some drastic changes.

I packed my car with as much as I could fit in, quit my job, and started the long drive up to Queensland. I had no job to go to, but I had savings and would be staying with a friend until I could find a place to live. I had applied for a few jobs prior to leaving, and surprisingly, two of them called to offer me interviews as I was driving up. When I had left the Central West it was freezing. I was rugged up in a coat, jeans and boots, but I had a change of clothes ready. I drove for nine hours straight, stopping only long enough to buy coffee and use the restrooms. I was too scared to stop in case I changed my mind. I had planned to stop at Goondiwindi for the night; a small, pretty town on the Queensland side of the border. I knew I was getting closer when I had to pull over to let an emu cross the road in The Pilliga, and it was then I started to relax. I waved goodbye to the black dog who had been menacing me for the last six months, I turned the music up, took off my coat, and unwound the windows. Warm air filled my car and I finally felt alive. I had forgotten what it felt like to actually be doing something I wanted— travelling, having adventures, exploring new places. Everything was unknown, and if I knew then what I know now, I wonder if I’d have made the same decision. I’m really not sure.

I pulled into a hotel in Goondwindi and was happy they had a small, air-conditioned room available for the night. I removed my winter clothing, slipped into a cool dress, and went for a walk through town. I was exhausted from the driving, but incredibly happy, and I smiled as I ate Chinese takeaway in my room. Goondiwindi is one of my most favourite little towns. It’s so picturesque, with quaint stores, friendly locals, and surrounded by a breathtaking Australian landscape. The main street is very pretty, and rising early the next morning, I ran through the empty streets, towards the Macintyre River. Lined with gum trees the Macintyre Riverwalk is three kilometres of a walking track, or in my case, a running track, along the river. I enjoyed the humidity as I had felt like I had been cold for so long in the Central West. After a shower and a light breakfast in a cafe, I packed my car again and headed towards Brisbane. I only had four more hours to drive, and I’d finally reach my destination; I was so excited! 

It’s been four years, almost to the day since I arrived in Brisbane. Yes, I achieved what I wanted— I rented a small apartment by the water and every morning I would take a run along the beach running track, before work. I swam most days, soaked up the sun, and ate great food in little cafes by the beach. I’ve made great friends and had incredible experiences as I’ve explored Queensland and other countries. I still love road trips, and despite some very trying moments I’ve had since I moved away, it will still go down as one of the most important road trips I’ve ever taken.

Some of the Australian countryside I zoomed past
Macintyre River

Beautiful morning sky in the Central West of NSW
Miles and miles of bright yellow canola fields outside of Cowra NSW
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Simple Pleasures

Do you ever just stop in a moment, and realise that you feel utterly joyful? You know, that feeling of your heart being so full, it could overflow? I do, and it happens at the most unusual times. 

I love catching the ferry on the Brisbane River. I stand at the front, waiting until I catch my first glimpse of the city, and I feel as though I could burst with joy. I feel the same way when I’m at Eagle Street Pier at night, gazing awestruck, at the brightly lit up Story Bridge. It happens when I’m in the Art Gallery in Brisbane City, or floating on my back in the ocean— that incredible sense of fullness and contentment, and I love it. Simple pleasures. 

When we look back on our travel adventures it’s impossible to remember every detail, but I remember slices. In Hong Kong it was eating Mrs Fields choc-chip cookies while waiting for the ferry at Victoria Harbour. In Singapore it was eating the most incredible stir fry at Newton Circus. In Tahiti it was swimming in waters as blue as the sky. In Alaska it was drinking hot cocoa in the lobby of the Copper River Wilderness Lodge during Christmas in August, and the reindeer hot-dog at the food truck in Anchorage. In Malaysia it was a great pair of Italian leather shoes in China Town. In Egypt it was a picture hanging over a fireplace, and in Canada, it was two little kids laughing at my Australian accent. There are many, many more of these travel moments. Too many to record here in fact, but each memory holds powerful emotions. 

Travelling leaves each of us with more than just tacky souvenirs and a thousand photos. It provides us with wonderful memories that can ignite strong emotions and recollections that break through the mundane everyday. A dreary day at work can be picked up by the sweet memory of swimming under a waterfall in Byron Bay, or the bright pink flowers on Sentosa Island. So whether it’s a ferry ride into the city, or a bad coffee in an American diner, get out of the house and travel. Your well-being depends on it. 

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Spaghetti in Hong Kong

I had previously travelled to Hong Kong for a few short days, but as I wanted to explore a bit more, I decided to book for two weeks. I stayed at an average priced hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui and arrived at night. After a long, refreshing sleep, I decided to spend my first day exploring. I headed off with a backpack and map, and the moment I hit the street I reeled from the noise and the sheer volume of people. They were everywhere. Cars honking, people pushing past, and so many new sights and sounds I felt momentarily disoriented. 

I crossed the road, which was a terrifying experience in itself, to visit the 7-Eleven store. I needed coffee and supplies, and headed to Nathan Road to do some shopping. I bought all sorts of bits and pieces, including souvenirs, shoes and clothes, and just enjoyed looking around. After hours of walking around carrying bags of goodies, I was pretty hungry. Hong Kong has so much great food, and I was looking forward to having a few Chinese banquets, and trying some of the little eateries and street food— egg waffles, curry fish balls, and the decadent egg tarts of course. But as I headed back towards my hotel, looking for food, what did I stumble across? None other than The Spaghetti House. Needless to say, I love spaghetti, so I was in. 

It probably seems stupid to make a beeline for a pasta restaurant when Hong Kong has so many great places to eat, but I wanted spaghetti, and I was going to have spaghetti! The menu was large, and although I initially planned to have spaghetti bolognaise, I changed my mind when I saw a bowl of spaghetti topped with a chicken schnitzel, Napoli sauce and cheese. Pretty much a spaghetti parmigiana (or spag parmy if you’re Australian). 

That meal started a life long love affair with spaghetti parmigiana, which I have since managed to recreate at home. The pasta was cooked perfectly and the chicken schnitzel topped with the Napoli and cheese was juicy and delicious. I actually couldn’t believe how good the combination was. I wanted to run through the streets waving banners and pom-poms, but instead, I went back at least five times. I still managed to try some fab street food and Chinese banquets, but I must admit, I was so hooked on the spaghetti parmi that even whilst eating other food, my heart was at The Spaghetti House.

Hong Kong lights at night
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Dreaming Of Alaska

I flew into Anchorage at the end of summer; mid-August, with a suitcase of summer clothes. Hailing from sunny Queensland, I couldn’t imagine needing a jacket. Yes, naive, but too late once I’d arrived.

It was instantly apparent I’d freeze, and as I headed toward Eagle River where I’d be staying in a cozy house on Fire Lake, the auburn leaves confirmed that fall was settling in. My friend, and guide, who has lived in Alaska for over thirty years, was resplendent in singlet top and cropped pants. I shivered just looking at her, wrapping my scarf tighter around my neck, begging for a jacket.

I’ve been watching the Hallmark Channel for years, with a secret love for American feel-good movies. You know the type; all-American families spending summer at the lake, bonding over shared traumas and joys. I found myself in a Hallmark movie.

Early each morning I woke to the sound of a small sea-plane starting its motor and bouncing the way along the surface of the water. I’m told it’s not easy for the planes to take off on Fire Lake. The water is so smooth and clear it’s like a mirror, making the lift off difficult. I could see every shade of green and amber from the trees reflected in the waters, the colours so bright it’s hard to tell where the shore ends and the water begins. Late afternoon the fog sets in, wrapping the mountains above in a misty veil. It’s overcast a lot at this time of year, and it rains on and off most days.

My hosts shared the best local Alaska had to offer, so naturally, freshly caught halibut and salmon were on the menu. I hadn’t tried halibut before, but was warned it’s a must in Alaska. The fish was topped with mayonnaise, garlic and lemon pepper, wrapped in foil and cooked on the barbeque. It was delicious; subtle and mild, taking on the flavour of its marinade. It reminded me of chicken, but doesn’t everything we haven’t tried before?

I wanted to do what the locals do, so I shopped at Walmart and Fred Meyer, ogling at the range of firearms on display, and the sheer variety of groceries. I couldn’t help but fill my trolley each and every time I went to a store, buying into the materialism that we all like to pretend we are immune to. There were so many different flavours in Oreos, Pop Tarts and breakfast cereals (which look more like confectionary than breakfast), and I spent hours in each store. Rainy afternoons were spent in a cosy coffee shop, drinking a flat white and chatting with friends in front of a fire.

We did all of the touristy things you’d expect— road trips to Valdez, the Alaska Zoo, visiting the bears at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre at Girdwood, weed shops and cozy lunches in Talkeetna, shooting practice at the side-of-the-road gun range, and a night at the Princess Lodge in Copper River. Each day grew colder, but we filled every moment with more memories, and I delighted in watching the trees change colour day by day. In Australia the changing seasons are so much more gradual, so I was astonished by how quickly summer moved into fall.

The timing of the trip to Alaska was perfect, as the Alaska State Fair was on. We spent a day eating loads of local foods, checking out all the stalls and exhibits, and we even managed to catch the pig racing event. I was constantly overwhelmed by the size and beauty of the snow-capped mountains everywhere we went. One minute I was sipping on a cool juice and eating curly fries, and then I’d catch a glimpse of the majestic mountain backdrop and be reminded of where I was. I probably looked like a crazy tourist taking photos of gas stations and apartment complexes, but I was actually snapping pictures of the incredible mountains in the background. Coming from sunny Queensland, I could not get enough of the snow capped mountains and glaciers everywhere we went. Queensland is beautiful, and one of my most favourite places on earth, but the starkness of Alaska is really special. There is an eeriness to it— I felt unnerved, but nature has a way of doing that to me. Even the plane trip from Vancouver to Anchorage is incredible as we flew over the Canadian Rockies, and I gasped as I looked down on the glaciers set high in the mountains. A beauty so startlingly different from the tropical coastlines and reefs of Queensland.

There was just so much to love about Alaska, and I think that staying with locals, and seeing the world through their eyes enhanced it. They know the best places to eat, drink, and visit. The vacation went far too quickly, and before I knew it I was on my way back to Australia. Alaska is a place I regularly dream of, and if I thought I could manage the cold, I’d move there. However, I now have the added bonus of my daughter living there as she married an Alaskan. I keep planning my trip back, making lists of all the wonderful places I didn’t get to see, and all the places I want to revisit. Now to wait until the borders reopen …

A frosty lunch in Talkeetna

Stunning glaciers flying over the Canadian Rockies

Those snow capped mountains!
A fall snapshot at Eagle River
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Uncle Bobo’s— Hawaiian BBQ

I’ve always tried to make it a habit when I travel, to eat where the locals eat. Whether it’s food stalls, markets, or hole in the wall eateries, I’m there. However, I am not a fan of food poisoning, so I always check reviews and ask for recommendations, and make a list of where I want to go. Travel Vlogs are also a great place to get local recommendations.

I stayed in an AirBnB house in Ka’a’awa in Hawaii, and as there were not a lot of places around to eat, we took most of our own food. A five minute walk from the house took us to a petrol station, post-office, and a little cafe called Uncle Bobo’s. Very unassuming looking, but the menu looked promising, and very reasonably priced.

Uncle Bobo’s specialises in BBQ, and they make all of their own sauces. I was really hungry, so I ordered a basket of hand cut fries and a huge salad with juicy chicken pieces and their special BBQ sauce. The meal was utterly delicious— the chips are actually made in house, and the salad was just so fresh. There were five of us eating that day, and considering everything is made to order, the wait time was not at all unreasonable. We sat outside at a table in the shade, chatting and admiring the ocean view just across the road. Huge palm trees and the salty air added to the experience. 

There’s nothing really fancy about Uncle Bobo’s, and that’s part of the reason I liked it so much. A few of us returned a few times over the next week, and the meals were just as good each time. There is an authenticity to the little diner that I appreciated. A husband and wife working together, doing something they love, and providing consistently great food at a reasonable price. I had a lot of really great food experiences in Hawaii, but Uncle Bobo’s has stuck with me. In fact, every time I think about my last trip to Hawaii I think of Uncle Bobo’s. The simplicity of great local food, incredible views, and those vacation vibes— what’s not memorable about that?

BBQ Chicken Salad at Uncle Bobo’s
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Loving Local

I had planned to spend the month of September in Alaska, but COVID happened, the Australian borders closed, and that took international travel off the table. So what’s a frustrated traveller with a bad dose of travel fever to do? Travel locally. 

So where to go? It had to be in Queensland as even though I could leave the state, coming back in would mean a mandatory fourteen day quarantine at my expense, and I didn’t have the time, nor the will for that. Next, I knew I wanted to drive as I like my own pillows, and I had to lug my laptop, a pile of books and my essential oil collection (necessary for my relaxation), but I didn’t want to spend days driving and reduce my relaxation time. I didn’t want to stay in a resort and all that entails, or skimp and stay in gloomy but budget accommodation, so Airbnb seemed my best option. Once I had worked out how far I wanted to drive and what kind of destination I wanted, I did a search on available Airbnb accommodation, and it was easy from there— I wanted water views, fresh air, a family-sized apartment with a good kitchen so I’d have plenty of room to cook and spread out, and something a little luxurious and pretty.  Within minutes I’d found the perfect destination and accommodation— Hervey Bay. 

I packed my car and headed up north in torrential rain— not a great start for someone who’s not a confident driver, but I was on vacay so I didn’t have to rush. The drive up to Hervey Bay took over four hours as the rain was so bad I had to keep pulling over, but I arrived safely. I located my accommodation, but before checking in I had to eat and have a coffee! I was reluctant to stop for long on the drive up as the weather was awful, so by the time I arrived in Hervey Bay I was famished. A gorgeous little cafe opposite the beach in Urangan made me the best coconut prawn salad I’ve ever had, and the coffee was so good I had two. I went for a short walk on the beach to stretch my legs, and just to connect with the earth for a while.

My accommodation did not disappoint! I’d splurged on a gorgeous two-bedroom apartment with water views from every room (even the bathroom). It was the perfect place to sit and write, or just relax, with so many little luxuries for me to enjoy, including a long balcony overlooking the water. It was a lot fancier than home, so I relished it, despite the rain! I actually found the rain enhanced my break. It meant I had to plan my outings carefully, but sitting in an apartment overlooking the water, snuggly inside (it was the end of winter), was incredibly relaxing. It was too cool to be sitting on the beach anyway, so I sipped coffee, wrote, and unwound from the busyness of everyday life.

Some people don’t enjoy doing things alone, but I’m not one of them. I am happy to travel alone, dine alone, do all the touristy things alone, and just explore! Each morning was started with coffee and a long walk, then back to the apartment for breakfast, some writing, and then an outing. I shopped, walked through the Botanic Gardens, took tonnes of photos, checked out different beaches, went for scenic drives, and ate great food at local restaurants. I cooked a few meals in my apartment so I didn’t have to go out every night, and even that is fun when you’re on holidays. I took long walks along the beach, stayed up late and slept in every morning. It was blissful— the best I’d felt in a long time. 

The day before I was due to leave I realised I just wasn’t ready to go, so I managed to book a couple of extra nights. It was more than just the relaxation, it was the realisation that once the borders reopened I would be immigrating to America, and this was possibly my last little trip before I go. There are many other places in Australia I haven’t visited, but the call of other cultures is very strong; I simply can’t wait to go. But while I’m here I want to experience everything I can, and make the most of this beautiful country.

Urangan Pier QLD
Coconut Prawn Salad— delicious!
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A fork of bliss

There’s nothing extraordinary about being someone who loves to eat— most of us do. I love food, but I can’t eat unless I’m hungry. I flew from Honolulu to LAX late in the afternoon, and American Airlines didn’t provide a meal. By the time the plane pulled in at LAX, I had an hour before my connecting flight, and I was starved. I’d never been to LAX and it was almost midnight when I arrived. I ran through the empty maze of tunnels from one terminal to the next, growing hungrier by the minute, but nervous about finding the right gate. With a little help I finally arrived at the gate, and had forty-five minutes till I could board. Perfect! Just enough time to source some food, or so I thought. So close to midnight, many food places had closed, but there was a bistro style cafeteria brightly lit up and smelling great. I selected a dry looking beef casserole with brownish coloured mashed potatoes, as most of the hot food had been sold, and I didn’t fancy a gutful of curry right before a six-hour flight. I sat down with my food and a bottle of water, warily eyeing off the people around me. I was nervous. Small time Aussie girl in Los Angeles airport alone, at midnight, and I was feeling a bit anxious. I couldn’t tell if those around me were male or female. Everything was different; clothes, style, accents, body language. I was exhausted and emotional. 

With the first mouthful of my dinner, everything changed. That was no dried out beef casserole and dodgy mash; that was bliss on a fork. The casserole was rich and meaty, and the potatoes were thick and buttery. I groaned at how delicious the combination was. I wanted to call out to someone, “You must try this casserole!”, but it wasn’t the right crowd. No one at LAX cared about how much the white, middle-aged, average woman was enjoying her dinner. Once I polished that off and boarded my flight, I remembered that I was in America, and food in America is good.