Happy Thanksgiving!

This year has brought lots of changes to our lives. With all the excitement, adventure, and new experiences it isn’t difficult to think of so many things to be thankful for. But here is a list of the top 10 things that have made this year so very special.

I’m thankful for:

1. Melbourne coffee for tasting so damn good EVERY TIME.

2. Pumpkin puree brought back from the states by me hubs for giving me a small taste of Thanksgiving in Australia.

3. Mom and Pa for loving and taking care of our babies (and basically being super rad parents).

4. Google phone and Skype for making it easy to stay in touch with our friends and family.

5. Early morning power vinyasa class for working out my body and mind.

6. 10 minute walk to work for NOT being LA traffic.

7. 30 years of unbelievable experiences for setting me up to handle anything life throws at me.

8. All my amazing friends both new and old for bringing laughter into my life.

9. My free-spritired brother for teaching me life is best lived when you do what you love.

10. My loving life partner for making every moment so special.

Pilon (one bonus one): Roo, our Aussie fur baby for giving no lick kisses and cuddles when we need them most.

Para Para Paradise: 6 Days of Whitsundays

Joe and I were long overdue for a couple’s vacation. We realized that we haven’t gone away, just the two of us, for longer than an extended weekend since our honeymoon three years ago. We left work on Tuesday and geared up to start the celebration by watching the Coldplay concert in Melbourne. Their “Para para paradise” song sent us on our way with our pasty skin and beach bags ready for the wonders of Queensland, Australia to celebrate my 30th birthday and our first out-of-Victoria excursion together.

Colorful wristbands lit up the energy filled stadium at the Coldplay concert in Melbourne

Day 1

Our trip to the Whitsunday Islands started at Hamilton Island where we flew in just to catch a ferry to our first destination: Daydream Island. Upon our arrival, a bottle of birthday bubbly and some chocolate along with a note reading “Estas son las mañanitas…” (Joe thinks of everything) awaited us in our ocean front room overlooking the other islands nearby. Napping on a hammock is one of my favorite past times (not that I have many hammocks around my life), so luckily hammocks are easy to find along every corner of the island. Joe and I cozied up in a nice spot to watch the sun set on our first night of our much-awaited vacation. Some long legged birdies and wallabies even joined us for the fantastic view!

Arriving at the Hamilton Island Airport

Hammock time

Our sunset viewing party

Day 2

I met two sea turtles while paddle boarding in the ocean! Hard to believe our trip could get any better than this… but it does, just wait… it does! Joe went out on a kayak and I tried paddle boarding for the first time (LOVE!). While out on the water we burned some calories and saw some sea turtles come up for air. The small island had plenty of activities to go around including put-put golf, several pools, a nature hike, water sports, cricket, beach and pool lounging, and of course… hammock naps. Hammock nap No 2 happened on day 2! Elevated above the ground, feeling so light and unattached to any worries on earth, our vacation was doing exactly what it is meant to do. At least it was until a kangaroo running by at what seemed like 30mph interrupted our peacefully swaying hammock. No kangaroos or humans were harmed, but it was a close call.

Coral beach on Daydream Island

Stingrays at the live reef on Daydream Island

Sharks at the live reef on Daydream Island

Day 3

Nothing but gold skin and smiles as we boarded a “Cruise Whitsundays” boat, “Seaflight”, to the Great Barrier Reef. The cruise took 250 people out to the reef to snorkel, scuba and sightsee around the Reef World Pontoon floating just above the Great Barrier Reef. Scuba diving was the highlight of the morning while the 248 passengers departed in the mid-afternoon; leaving just Joe and I on the pontoon was the highlight of the afternoon. The ocean breeze kissed our sun drenched skin as we watched the tide drop on the reef, leaving the coral that was once below the crystal water visible above the ocean. Looking around we could see nothing but the horizon. The sun eventually met the sea and the stars shone brightly on what was a bright blue canvas throughout the day.  After the sun disappeared and the stars showed their bright lights, we had an amazing dinner in the pontoon’s underwater viewing room. Our butler babe (aka Nina) did an amazing job looking after us, cooking for us, and ensuring we had nothing to worry about during our overnight stay as the only “Reef Sleepers” that night. As a 400kg Grouper (largest boney fish in the Reef) watched us dine in style, we could not believe we were out in the middle of one of the 7 Wonders of the World. What an incredible life this is!

Cruise Whitsundays Boat

Exploring the pontoon

Ready for scuba diving!

Enjoying the view

Enjoying the sunset with the best compliments of wine, cheese, and Joe

Blue sky turns to gold as the night falls

Birthday dinner in the underwater observatory

Our friend George, the Queensland Grouper

Day 4

On our first day out at the Reef I noticed that most of the tourists didn’t look as excited as we were feeling to be out experiencing such an incredible place. Ticking off boxes is life’s way of tricking us into thinking we’re enjoying our experiences. Scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef, sitting back and watching the sun set over the horizon, enjoying dinner in an under water observatory with a 400kg fish as our dinner guest, star gazing over the ocean and waking up to see the sun rise over the blue horizon, coloring all the clouds in the sky 50 shades of purple – no boxes ticked there, just memories engrained in my mind forever. The beauty and serenity out at the Reef is impressive, at least it was until the mid-morning when the cruise arrived with a new set of noisy tourists who were there to “tick off their box”.  Despite our disrupted silence out on the pontoon, we were able to escape the chatter for a quick helicopter ride to see the famous heart shaped reef.  No words can describe how surreal the experience was. All there is to see are endless miles of expansive bright turquoise reef and crystal clear water. The water is so clear you can see straight through, revealing even the stingrays hovering over the sand.  Truly incredibly natural beauty.

Sunrise over the Reef

Coral above the water during low tide

Ready for lift off

Heart shaped reef view from the helicopter

No wonder it’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World

Our amazing crew helped make the Reef Sleep trip super accessible

Day 5

The best kinds of vacation days are those filled with absolutely no commitments… and great ocean views. We checked in to our last destination of the trip: Reef View Hotel on Hamilton Island. Our room on the 14th floor dawned over breathtaking views of the Whitsunday Islands and welcomed us again with a bottle of bubbly wishing me a happy birthday (Oh that Joe!). Our lazy day on the island consisted of lounging poolside, more paddle boarding – this time mixing it up with some yoga moves balancing on the water, drinking at the swim-up bar, and an afternoon snooze on the pool chair. We ended the day laughing our socks off at each other’s ridiculousness at dinner together.

View from our balcony at the Reef View Hotel

Lounging poolside enjoying some live tunes

Delicious and laughter filled dinner at Romano’s

Day 6

Whoever said all good things must come to an end must have gone on a lot of really great vacations. We made use of every last sunshine filled moment on our last day on the islands, but doesn’t it always seem like you could use just one more day of holiday? Heading to the airport we must have looked like the long faced tourists we saw in the departure lounge upon our arrival. Our fate caught up to us and the tables had turned – now envying the pale-skin, happy-faced new island dwellers just getting off the plane that was about to take us away from the lovely sun and sea we enjoyed all week.

Can’t we just stay?

Off to the Races

Glamour, funny hats, champagne, and oh yea… horses too. The Spring Racing Carnival arrived in Melbourne! November is full of excitement with the sun coming out and the horse races under way. The Carnival lasts for a couple of weeks, and Victorians even get to enjoy a day off work for Melbourne Cup Day.

The festivities start with planning the most important accessory of the season… a fascinator! In the search for my perfect one, I came to find that these accessories cost a fortune! Especially if you want a statement piece (and why wouldn’t you?). Designers create incredible art works out of tulle, flowers, and feathers to adorn race goers noggins. Unwilling to dish out $400+ for a fancy headband I found the nearest craft store and loaded my basket up with some essentials and a hot glue gun. And voilà, a one-of-a-kind fascinator for Oaks Day (Also know as Lady’s Day… so now widely recognized as Blokes Day).

Joe’s office organized the Oaks Day outing at the Nursery Car Park. It is similar to a very long tail-gating party, except people dress up and pay top dollar to get in. The day was filled with sunshine, bubbly, and horse bets (no winners this time).

This is not (American) Halloween

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays back in the States. Since I was a little kid I’d get excited about dressing up as something different every year. This year was no exception. The Halloween culture as the US knows it hasn’t reached Australia in full force yet. Dressing up isn’t mainstream, so clearly my North American friends recruited our Australian and Irish friends and went all out anyway. The theme this year? Super heroes of course!

 Super Heroines!

Me as Black Widow from the Avengers

Joe as Professor X, also looking like a rasta man from the future

Strange stares and comments from people on the street reaffirmed that we were the odd balls here. Finding the only Halloween party around at the Espy Hotel was like the opposite of the Mean Girls Halloween party. In this case, it seemed that no one got the Halloween costume memo. Everyone was dressed half dead and creepy. Walking down the streets to escape the heavy metal and goblins galore, we were called sluts, turned away from a bar (the bouncer actually said, “Sorry, this is a private function”), and told by a homeless man to be careful with my guns. Although we made fighting the bad guys (in this case creepy costumes) fun, this was no American Halloween.

6 Months of Date Nights in Melbourne

Six months ago we said goodbye to the LA traffic and all our beloved family and friends. On April 24th we arrived in a new city, started new jobs (and a new job search for me), met new friends, and opened our lives to new experiences down under. Despite the exciting thrills of this new adventure, we’ve had our share of home sick moments. While longing for our friends, family, dogs, pink berry, Trader Joe’s, and sunshine we have also found new favorites in Melbourne.

Back in LA, Joe and I noticed that work-life, friends, and family commitments were taking over our once prioritized “alone time”, so we introduced a monthly date night, alternating months on who takes charge of the planning. Date night is usually a surprise, and can’t be overruled by that Brady Bunch favorite “something suddenly came up” excuse.

Our date night routine took a slight detour in our transition to Melbourne. But now that our only excuse not to go out and explore the city is that, “sorry, I’m lame today” our date nighting tooshies are on the prowl again. The only limitation… our budget challenge. Everything has to be under $100 unless otherwise previously approved (by the other half).

With a city with so much to offer, the possibilities are endless. Six months in to our stay here, we’ve been able to discover a few fun (and on a budget) date nights Melbourne has to offer:

Month: April
Planner: Joe
Location: Number 8, South Bank – Crown Casino
Activity: Dinner and walk along the boardwalk
Cost: $100
GTK: The South Bank fire balls go off every hour on the hour plus a great view of the city from the other side of the Yarra River.

Month: May
Planner: Ivette
Location: The Night Cat , Fitzroy
Activity: Live music and dancing
Cost: Free entry! $100 to spend on cocktails and appetizers
GTK: Limited seating available. Arrive early to score a spot on the comfy (yet grody) couch.

Month: June (date day)
Planner: Joe
Location: The Hardware Societe and  Royal Botanical Gardens, CBD
Activity: Delicious brunch and Botanical Gardens walk
Cost: $50 for coffee, killer atmosphere, and tastebud tantalizing brunch, Free garden discover walk!
GTK: The garden walks operates on a different timetable each month, check out their calendar for up to date events.

Month: July
Planner: Ivette
Location: Red Bennies, South Yarra
Activity: Burlesque Night
Cost: $19 (living social deal for burlesque night + two drinks), $75 (pizza and champagne)
GTK: The night ends with lots of dancing, bring your dancing shoes.

Month: August
Planner: Joe
Location: The Comedy Club at the Athenaeum Theatre
Activity: Comedy Show
Cost: $90 for dinner and show for 2 – we paid $45
GTK: The entertainment book has a 50% off deal. Book in advance if you want dinner too.

Month: September
Planner: Joe and Ivette (we share our anniversary month)
Location: Ezard, CBD
Activity: 8 course tasting menu
Cost: $300 (waaaay over our date night budget, but worth the splurge for a special occasion)
GTK: Don’t eat for about a week in preparation for this feast.


Month: October
Planner: Ivette
Location: Romantic and secluded lake at the Royal Botanical Gardens
Activity: Picnic in the rain
Cost: $20 for some vino and nibbles from our pantry
GTK: Don’t trust the Melbourne weather forecast. Always bring an umbrella!

Bonus Aussie 6 month Anniversary Date Night: October 24
Location: Our balcony
Activity: Grilling on the barbie
Cost: $25 for salmon and veggies, $35 for some Moet Chandon bubbles
GTK: 6 months in… so far so good.

6 months down… 18 more to go!

Failure isn’t failing

What happens when we fail? This is a question that came up a lot for me a couple of weeks ago as I sat in on my first leadership conference experience at my new company. The chair I sat in hadn’t been reserved for me, but the spot opened up out of an eagerness on my part to be involved in broader activities at lululemon. I reached out to the conference planning committee (putting my past life as a conference planner to good use) and offered to help with anything, small or large, that they had coming up in anticipation for the conference.

All the heavy lifting was done… and they had done a damn good job at that. They planned the agenda, sent out the invitations, booked the speakers, reserved the venue, and ordered the catering. The conference had all the perfect elements to result in a huge success, but there was still a spot for me. I was thrilled to help make drink cards (new-found love for pixler by the way), order copies, and organize transportation of supplies to the conference venue. After completing all the to do’s for the committee, I thought my part was done, but they asked me to continue helping and come to the full two and a half days of the conference to coordinate the presentations. “Easy peasy,” I thought… I’ve done this before and am happy to be involved at any level,  but I could not have dreamed up what treats were in store. From inspirational stories to real deal leadership skill building, I learned that this company walks the talk… and does it in style!

A co-worker and friend, Lindsay and I, decked out for the futuristic closing party (apparently people wear blonde bob wigs in the future)

Being at the conference didn’t feel much like work. It felt more like the treat that I allow myself to have once a day. It seemed to be the treasure I take as a reward for doing something good. Working on my personal growth after doing a good job felt similar to treating myself to dessert after a good workout at the gym. But in any case, the personal growth from the conference was nothing short of brain indulgence.

How can it feel like work with a fun photo graffiti wall and these babes?

So what does failure have to do with any of this?  Failure is the elephant in the room we choose to ignore most of the time, but without failure, we would never learn how to succeed. In one of the conference sessions, we were asked to write out our failures and pin them to the “Failure Board”. Posting my failures up on the wall for everyone to see (even the CEO) was daunting,  scary, and seemingly shameful, but celebrating failure takes it into a new light. Although this may seem like torture, the action of sharing our failures was in a sense celebrating them. When we celebrate failure, we open ourselves up to vulnerability – and it is so liberating! The vulnerability of letting others see us for who we are, the vulnerability of saying, “I’m not perfect either.” If you haven’t already, I would highly recommend watching Brene Brown’s talks on vulnerability and shame on Ted Talks. Do it now! and if you’ve already watched it, watch it again!

So here it is, posted for the world (literally) to see… I have failed at:

–       Sharing my pain, letting others hold me up

–       Over performing under stress (again, failing to rely on others)

This matters because it impacts the people around me. My hubs, my co-workers, my family and friends. I fell (a long long time ago) into playing a role of strength. Strong when things get tough, strong when Joe got paralyzed, strong when family members pass away, strong for friends going through tough times, and strong and reliable in a work environment when shit hits the fan. I realize now that this is my strength, but in my strength also lies failure of letting others take the reins. People around me need to be there for me just as much as I need to be there for them. Letting go of the reins is something I have to work on.

The move to Australia sparked a tremendous change in our lives. It removed us from our comforts, physically separated us from our loved ones, and opened up a whole can of life I never knew existed. In recognizing my failures, I am committed to opening myself up for vulnerability, sharing my failures, and not showing only the glowy amazingness that Australia is offering us. I am committed to be real and show the real feelings and experiences moving so far away offers, both the good and the bad. But most of all, I’m committed to working towards creating a life I love. I’m happy to be well on my way!

So, what happens when we fail? We learn how to succeed! We learn about what we truly love.

A Rooster in the city

Life has settled and the minimal gripes and struggles of our overseas move are long behind us. We checked off our settling list: apartment… check, job… check, some friends… check! However, one, or should I say two things were still missing. Gouda and Bella, our four-legged, furry, full of love girls. We moved leaving open the possibility of shipping them out to Australia, but reality set in quickly. A long trip for the pups, a month-long quarantine, and the thousands of dollars it would have taken didn’t seem to add up to much logical sense… especially with the thought of turning around in a year and a half to send them back state-side.

But with our lives in order here, we noticed the furry friend void more than ever and we started entertaining the idea of having Bella, the smaller (and easier) of the two dogs sent over the Pacific or possibly adding to our doggie troop by getting a dog here. The latter of the two ideas won. Presenting Roo (aka Rooster) Guintu:

Roo is a 5-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who was a breeding dog in her former life. The breeder had to give her up when she became infertile and we happily became her adoptive parents. She has added so much love and laughter to our lives. I can’t wait for her to meet her sisters back home some day!

She really has helped complete our lives here. I can say with all confidence that life is good. Life is complete… for now.

Bike, rain, and wine

We ventured out of the Melbournian box and took a short little trip out to the Yarra Valley with our bikes and buddies, Gerardo and Diana, last weekend. The Yarra Valley is about 45 minutes outside of Melbourne and is home to a beautiful country side filled with rolling hills, delicious vineyards and vast farmlands. The area serves as a much-needed escape from the bustling city and concrete jungle.

In theory, biking on a trail from winery to winery sounds like a great way to spend a weekend, but the weather and steep hill variables were not considered before making these plans. If you are considering biking the Yarra Valley bike trail, hope for sunny and dry weather and plan your wine tasting tour on a separate trip. Joe and Gerardo rode up on the train to Lilydale with Joe’s wheelchair and hand cycle while Diana and I drove up in the torrential rain with our luggage and three other bikes. As the rain kept pounding on the windshield, we questioned our intentions to bike around the valley. The warning signs didn’t scare off the boys. From the Lilydale station, they found the Warburton Trail and headed through the mud to our first stop at the Whispering Hills Cellar Door. Soaking wet and covered in mud, the adventure seeking men dried up next to the cozy wood stove chimney and we all enjoyed some incredible Persian Feta (among other yummy cheeses) and a great selection of wine. The Chardonnay is a must try at Whispering Hills! We ended evening with a warm, delicious dinner at the Innocent Bystander in Healesville. Known for their Moscato on tap, the Innocent Bystander delivers multiple gastronomic treats from the cheese room to the artisan bakery and everything in between. Be sure to check them out if you’re in the area!

Joe booked us into a bed and breakfast home to some friendly pets: mini ponies and lambs, Baaarb and Baaart! Sue and Graeme at Woodhaven Park provided a comfortable and lovely home away from home.

The second day we rode on praying the rain had made its way out of the valley.

Joe back on his bike, working on those biceps and staying dry on day 2.

Gerardo toting along Joe’s wheelchair on a questionably reliable milk crate. We’re classy down under!

It turns out that although the Warburton Trail doesn’t actually take the bikers, pedestrians, horses and pets enjoying the trail sights to the wineries’ front doors, a biking winery tour in Yarra Valley is possible… hard work, but possible. Engaging our powerful quads (and biceps), we muscled our way up steep hills to enjoy the free wine tastings the wineries have to offer (Free Alert: most things in Australia aren’t cheap, much less free, but all the wineries offer free tastings of their deliciously fermented grape juices!). The first stop was a bust with only two wines on the tasting menu, but at the second stop: Seville Estate a friendly winery dog welcomed us to wine room with a stunning valley view and big, bold award-winning wines. Home to some of the best wines I’ve had in Australia, Joe and I came home with a 2008 Shiraz and an Old Vine 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. After wetting our palettes and working up an appetite, we headed for winery No. 3 for the day.

At Seville Estates.

What goes up, must come down and (in the case of winery hunts on this trip)… must come up again. After a few kilometers of tough, calorie burning hills, our welcomed wine happiness started wearing off and muscle fatigue set in. Turns out that normal business hours aren’t necessarily standard in the valley, so winery 3, Ainsworth Estate, had no wine or cheese to offer us that day.

Diana and Joe owning the road (this was a nice hill).

Friendly tip: Call ahead of time to ensure tasting rooms are open (and serving food if you’re hungry).

With a 1 for 3 track record for the day we were hoping to break even with our last stop at Brimfield Winery.  We struck gold with the homey tasting room and café. Treated to a special home-made Dukkah (a delicious Egyptian spice and nut mixture) with olive oil and bread, the small family run winery provided the much-needed fuel we needed to bike back to the car and train station to begin our trip home.

Accessorizing with our helmets, we headed back after a nice, short weekend getaway.

I finally dyed it!

I’ve highlighted my hair since high school (that’s a long, long time for those who don’t know) and I’ve spent the last 10+ years not really knowing what my natural hair color looks like. Finding comfort in blonde and avoiding not being washed out to a hepatitis-y look, I was fearful to find out what that natural color had in store.  So… after over a decade, I’m back to brunette… well kinda. I’m ombre! In an attempt to cut hair maintenance costs, a wise and very fashionable friend suggested I ombre my hair. After “researching” any possible DIY techniques (ala YouTube) and consulting with the said wise friend, I opted to go professional dye job (always a good choice since I have never been happy with DIY hair results)… and in 1 hour, I went from roots in need of some love to ombre. Have a look!

The ombre (or balayage in Aussie) technique blends hair color from dark roots to light ends. I know there are a lot of different ways to achieve this look, but my stylist added three different colors in my hair and it all  blended pretty nicely. Hope this helps make my transition from blonde to brunette a little easier to bear. We’ll see if brunettes can have more fun!

Aussie is the new normal

We define new normals all the time, but when things like stores closing at 6pm on weeknights, saying “how you going” to greet people, and incorporating about 50 “no worries” into daily speech became more normal than not, I realized that I am home. I jump on the tram or train without hesitation (and actually know where I’m going). I don’t even look at wines from other countries on the wine lists anymore… local Aussie wine only for this lady please! Melbourne and the Aussie way are my new normal. Stress free, easy going, amazing food, city living, normal.

With a new normal set comfortably into place, I’ve also sinked in to a bit of nostalgia for the old normal. For outdoor wine nights with friends (with California wines), sunny beach walks, daily catch-ups with family (especially my drive home calls to mom), and slobbery kisses from my four-legged girls as a welcome home from work. The blog and facebook updates are also less frequent because of this normalcy. As exotic and adventurous as living down under sounds, the fact is that our day-to-day lives don’t differ much from when we were in L.A. Our lives have adopted the local culture and we’re considered… scoff… normal (but still totally rad of course). We work, eat out, grocery shop (not using the granny cart as much these days… must be learning some city living tricks of the trade), have poker nights, work out, do yoga, watch movies, check out live music venues, entertain with dinner at our place… you know, the norm. I miss miss miss all the amazing people we shared those lovely “normal” things with back in L.A., but it hardly seems like the daily activities are something to write home about… or a blog post at that (but here it is anyway).

 Dinner with me, Joe, Geoff, Vish & Emma. Mexican feast and blood orange margaritas on the menu!

Lazy dinner night with Jimmy and Colleen… wine, pizza and a very special cutie pattutie!

Did you pick up on the similar camera angle? Thank goodness for bar carts and self timers to help capture memories!

New normal or old normal, normal or not, life continues to roll on with amazing people coming in and out of it giving us exactly what we need in that moment. I miss my amigos back home more than I can describe, but love the new ones I’m making in Melbourne. We’re so lucky to have amazing people to pick up along our journey! I wish we could carry each amazing friend in our pocket like lucky pennies (or 5 cent coins for my Aussie friends) and never be so far away.

Fun fact: The lowest monetary denomination in Australia is the 5 cent coin. So if you buy something at $9.96 the change gets rounded up and you end up paying $10… although few things in Australia actually costs $10.