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Aussie Christmas Cards

20 Dec

This year, I wanted to make some Christmas cards that would be a little different than the standard fare of snowflakes, angels, and trees. I found some really neat Australian Christmas scrapbooking papers by Feature Art that I thought would be perfect for making Christmas cards out of.  What could be cuter than koalas and wombats in Santa hats or a sleigh pulled by kangaroos? So I stocked up on their entire line of Christmas papers and some cardstock and went to work. Here are some of the finished cards:

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It costs $1.60 to mail cards from Australia to the US and Europe. When I went to get some stamps for the cards, I was thrilled to find these super cool Christmas Island stamps that matched the theme of my cards perfectly. How cute are these???

The whole process of making the cards was pretty simple, as it was just a lot of cutting paper and gluing or taping it together. As much as I like the neat things you can do with rubber stamps, they are a major hassle and can be really messy. It’s much easier not to use them. So I saved quite a bit of time by avoiding stamps, other than the occasional “Merry Christmas” stamp. Most of the time, I just used the stickers, which I think look nicer, anyway.

I started out using Bazzill Basics cardstock because I liked the texture of it, but it really curled up badly when it got wet with glue (I prefer glue to double sided tape- it just seems easier to work with), so I switched to sturdier, non textured stuff for some of the cards.

Anyway, hope you like them! Let me know if you have a favourite. 😀

Melbourne Christmas Square

20 Dec

Welcome to Christmas Square!

Nutcracker sentries

I’ve been surprised by the number of public Nativity displays in Melbourne, considering the country’s overall obsession with political correctness.

There is an animated display of the Nativity story for children to enjoy.

A random Christmas wombat?

A beautifully decorated tree stands out among the surrounding high rise buildings.

People enjoying the little hedge maze, looking for all of Santa’s reindeer.

Santa’s reindeer are hidden throughout the maze. Here is Cupid, along with a short story on how he got his name.

Here’s Blitzen. According to his story, he is electrically charged!

These nutcrackers are stationed at each entrance.

A quiet respite among the hustle and bustle of the city.

The square was packed with people enjoying the nice weather, or perhaps just taking a break from Christmas shopping.

Giant sized ornaments!

I noticed the hedges had Christmas lights running through them. Maybe worth visiting at night time when they are all lit up.

Schoolchildren out enjoying the day, maybe an end of term celebration. They are so cute in their little hats.

The Melbourne Christmas Square is located at the corner of Swanston and Collins in the CBD and runs through January 3.

This blogger has posted some nice shots of the Square at night time.

Myer Christmas Windows

13 Dec

Every year at Christmas time, the Myer department store in downtown Melbourne puts up a big animated window display. This year, the children’s book “Russell’s Christmas Magic”, by Rob Scotton, was chosen for the Myer Christmas Windows.

If you find yourself in the area, you should stop by to check it out. The large storefront windows have all been converted into animated displays, telling the story of Russell the sheep, who comes to Santa’s aid when he crash lands his sleigh. Santa, with his sleigh broken, thinks he will have to cancel Christmas, but Russell saves the day by converting an old car into a magical gift-carrying machine.

Myer also has a short little “making of” video here: http://www.myer.com.au/home_christmas-windows.aspx

The display runs through January 6th, so you still have plenty of time to go see it if you haven’t done so yet.

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An Expat Christmas

7 Dec

Celebrating an Australian Christmas on the beach (Image from ShadyTravels.com)

One nice thing about Australia is that there is no shortage of people who have recently immigrated here. It’s easy to find other people who can understand what the expat experience is like. It also means that, as an expat, you’ll never be the only person with no family nearby with whom you can celebrate the holidays.

I initially thought that Christmas for us might be like a repeat of Thanksgiving- just a nothing holiday. But Thanksgiving isn’t a holiday here and Christmas is. Pretty much everyone celebrates Christmas.

And pretty much everyone we know has moved to Australia on their own or with just their immediate family. We’re definitely not the only ones without relatives nearby.

I was prepared to say, “screw Christmas” and just not celebrate at all this year because I was feeling bitter about having Christmas in the summer with no snow, among other things. But in the last week, we’ve gotten two invitations to celebrate Christmas with other expats who are hosting parties for all their family-less friends, which has boosted my Christmas spirit.

So instead of planning to be a Scrooge all month like I was going to do, I’m getting all my Christmas baking essentials ready to make treats to share with our friends and I managed to get most of my Christmas cards made over the last two days (they are Australian themed- I’ll share them with you later).

It won’t be the same as celebrating Christmas with family in the northern hemisphere, of course. That’s hard for me, because I like my holiday traditions and I like doing everything the same way every year. But at least we will get to celebrate (and I’m told both families that invited us have Christmas trees, yay!) and not just sit at home like it’s some random Saturday.

I hope all of the rest of you expats have people that you can celebrate with, too. Expat Info Desk and Monkeys and Mountains both have some nice tips for celebrating Christmas as an expat.

Never Thought I’d Miss Thanksgiving

22 Nov

As holidays go, I’ve never cared much about Thanksgiving.

When I was a kid, Thanksgiving was a day we got off school, which would have been cool, except my dad also had the day off work and he’d stay home and yell at us for playing too loudly and he’d hog the computer all day. Although some years, if it wasn’t too cold, he’d spend the day outside putting up Christmas lights and my mom would let us kids cut up paper grocery bags and construction paper to make pilgrim and Indian costumes.

We never had relatives over for Thanksgiving, but my mom did her best to cook us a nice dinner. We were poor back then, though, so Thanksgiving dinner consisted of a Jennie-O turkey loaf (not a real turkey), canned green beans, and instant mashed potatoes with powdered gravy. And maybe a frozen Sarah Lee apple pie. The best part about the meal was the brown & serve rolls, topped with margarine. Personally, I always preferred the menu the next day, when we made our gingerbread houses, because we got to munch on all the candy bits for the houses all afternoon.

As an adult, my ex-boyfriend’s family celebrated Thanksgiving and we always spent the holiday with them. But other than his parents, his family didn’t like me, so it was always very awkward. I literally just sat in a corner the whole day being ignored or glared at. The food was great, the company not so much.

This year, it’s been hard to miss the constant updates from my friends on Facebook about their Thanksgiving plans. I know my family will be celebrating. These days, they’re not quite so poor, so they do a proper Thanksgiving now. I’ve actually never celebrated one of their proper Thanksgivings with them.

H asked if I’d like him to take the day off work so that he could stay home and make me a roast turkey. Isn’t he just the sweetest? I told him no, because I don’t like turkey all that much and because he’s already taken a lot of time off lately. Besides, we don’t have anyone to celebrate with. Neither of us has family here and Australians don’t care about Thanksgiving, anyway.

I don’t know why all of a sudden I miss Thanksgiving now. Maybe it’s the finality of knowing I won’t ever be part of a Thanksgiving celebration again. And that my kids will never experience it. Maybe I just miss my family. Maybe it’s just glorified homesickness. But for some reason, I find myself wishing we could have Thanksgiving in Australia.

Halloween is More Fun in a Blizzard

30 Oct

Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat! If you don’t, I don’t care; I’ll pull down your underwear!

As a kid, my favourite holiday was Halloween. After all, what’s not to love about dressing up in a costume, running around in the dark, and getting free candy from all the neighbours? It was great fun!

I always said the only reason I would ever want to have kids myself was so that I would have an excuse to go trick-or-treating again. It’s not really socially acceptable to dress up and go beg for candy as an adult unless you have a small child in tow. And of course, I would be bigger, so I would just take all my kid’s candy from him and eat myself. … What? Candy is bad for kids. I’d be doing him a favour.

So imagine my disappointment to be living in a country now that doesn’t celebrate Halloween appropriately, where trick-or-treating is not shown the proper respect, and where the selection of fun-size candy is, well, pretty lame. A lot of Australians are actually quite vocal in their displeasure at this “American” import and refuse to acknowledge the holiday, which is admittedly a hurdle in bringing the joy of Halloween to the southern hemisphere.

But I’ve been told that Halloween is becoming more popular in Australia than it used to be and that some neighbourhoods with large populations of small children do organise small-scale trick-or-treating now.

Australians, take notes! This house is properly decorated for Halloween. If your house doesn’t look like this by tomorrow, you’re doing something wrong.

Halloween decorations seem a bit scarce, though. Where I grew up, everyone covered their front porches in jack-o-lanterns, fake cobwebs, animated skeletons, and all manner of ghoulies and ghosties. That’s kind of half the fun, you know?  I haven’t seen a single decorated porch yet and Halloween is tomorrow. Maybe people underestimate how much time you need to set up adequate Halloween decorations?

I sincerely hope that by the time I have kids who are old enough for trick-or-treating that proper Halloween celebrations have become more commonplace here. It would also be nice to be able to find good Halloween candy in the stores, too. Like fun-size Butterfingers or Three Musketeers. I also happen to really love those peanut-flavoured chewy things that come wrapped in the orange and black wrappers. I know I’m probably the only person on earth who likes those (they always seem to end up on “worst Halloween candy” lists), but it would be nice to see those make an appearance in Australia, too. Oh, and candy corn. Can’t forget the candy corn.

Another downside to Halloween in Australia is, of course, the weather.

I know what you’re thinking: “But it’s nearly summer there in October! The weather must be great!” Yes, in face, the weather is great. It’s about 32 degrees Celsius right now and sunny with a light breeze.  No doubt you think I must be crazy to complain about that!

Especially when you consider that I grew up in North Dakota and countless Halloweens were ruined by snow. (I feel really bad for the kids on the East Coast who probably won’t get a Halloween this year because of Hurricane Sandy.) Of course, being the hardy northerners of Viking extraction that we are, we did still brave the wind and snow and ice to go collect our candy. It was sort of a matter of survival, since we’d need all those calories to help us build up a layer of fat to get us through the six month winters and all.

One particular year that we had a terrible blizzard, my grandmother had made me a beautiful princess costume. I was so excited to wear it! But because of the heavy snowfall, school closed early and we missed out on our classroom Halloween party, so no one at school saw my awesome costume. Then I had to wear a snowsuit over my costume to go trick-or-treating and the weather was so horrible that we had to turn back by the time we got to the end of the street because my dad was sick of listening to us whine about how cold we were.

“I’m dressed as a kid in a snowsuit!”

A few years later, I think in 1995, there was another blizzard. That time my grandmother had made me a really awesome “I Dream of Jeannie” genie costume. Guess who had to wear a snowsuit over that costume, too. The following year, I wisely requested a costume that would fit over a snowsuit.

So the way I figure it, if I had to suffer through bitterly cold Halloween trick-or-treating, my kids should have to, too! I don’t want them going all soft and getting spoiled by the pleasant Halloween weather Australia has to offer. It’s bad enough that they’ll never have to shovel snow out of the driveway. And besides, chocolate candies melt in the heat.

Labour Day

13 Mar

Difference between American Labor Day and Australian Labour Day (which was on Monday):

American Labor Day: Everybody works. All stores are open extra long having huge sales.

Australian Labour Day: Nobody works. All stores are closed.