Sunday, 24 March 2013

Yoga for Dummies

I am the opposite of the stereotypical zen-like yoga person.  I'd like to think that I'm a very positive person, but I'm opinionated, impatient and rather easily annoyed.  I'm like the anti-yogi.  Or what some of you are thinking - someone who really *needs* yoga! 

I play basketball.  I love cornhole and Miller Lite, not green tea smoothies and wheatgrass shots.  I knew what downward dog is only because I loved the show "Sex and the City".

I had tried it before.  Once.  I tell people I tried it twice, but that is actually a lie as the second time was officially mat pilates.  To a yoga person's chagrin, it's all the same to me.  Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtonga...I might have made that last one up.  I am (was) clueless.

So when my friend Rachel here in Singapore told me that she goes regularly to a local yoga studio, I told her I wanted to try it.   For relaxation?  To find inner peace?  To buy cute yoga clothes?  NO.  I was willing to suffer through BECAUSE NOTHING ELSE WORKS ANYMORE.  See, I'm not sure about you, but when I hit my late 30's, my body decided it just wants to look a certain way.  Walk, run, sit-ups, Turbo Fire, Jillian Michaels, you name it.   So much effort for such little results.  I live in a condo overlooking a pool.  I desire to wear as little clothes as possible in this god-forsaken humidity.  I have seen those yoga women.  Yoga must be the answer.  Right?  Right? 

So I found some old stretched out cotton yoga pants (that I wear to bed) and an unmatching spandex top and met Rachel (and another newcomer Carrie) at Pure Yoga in Ngee Ann City.  Luckily, Rachel had gotten us mats in the back of the room, so my less than limber body did not have to be on display to all of the perfect ponytailed yoga-bodied Lululemonites.

The class started with some breathing and the requisite "Ommmmmmmm".  It took EVERYTHING I had not to bust out laughing.  Are these people serious?  I thought that was a myth, but apparently the Om is actually important.  So for 60 minutes I tried to keep up and keep from throwing up.  I survived, not quite sure if I "liked" it but vowed to try it a couple more times before deciding if dusting off the bikini was just not worth the absurdity of it all.

So here I am, two months later and a full-fledged member.  I still want to laugh at the Omming but am actually enjoying the classes.  Of course it's partly social...Rachel and I have fun.  Too much fun to be honest.  While barely whispering before class started one day, a very, very grumpy old man got up, picked up the "Please respect the silence" sign and placed it right in front of us.  I proceeded to stare  him down for the next hour.   I am improving, but still in awe of the pretzel ladies all around me (and men!).  Not sure if I will ever be like them, but I can now see what all the hype is about.

I am now the proud owner of three pairs of Lululemon yoga pants and two shirts.  I haven't gotten the bikini out of hiding yet, but check back with me in a few months :-)

If anyone wants to join me in my bikini quest, visit the Pure Yoga website.  Sign up for a free pass!

P.S.  The same day I wrote this my visiting in-laws generously gave me a new Athleta yoga top AND matching headband as a belated birthday present!  I am queen of Hatha 1 this week. 

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Out and About in Melbourne

So as much as it sounds like all we did on our Melbourne trip was sit around, enjoy cocktails and feed swans, we actually did leave the house and see some of this exciting city.  Here are a few of the things we did:

Southbank Promenade:
One sunny afternoon, we headed down to the Southbank Promenade for lunch and a stroll.  The riverwalk is adjacent to Melbourne's CBD (central business district) along the Yarra River and is home to many restaurants, pubs and street performers.  We stopped to watch a comedian/magician and two guys doing the whole throw swords while on stilts kind of thing.  The kids were of course enthralled, after the second one, us adults were admittedly itching to move on!

We had a great meal at the World Restaurant & Bar (seriously, I cannot get enough of the Fish & Chips in this country) and sampled some James Squire beer.  It was a delightful lunch with our delightful companions!

Werribee Mansion and Park:
Located just a few minutes from our friends' house, Werribee Mansion is a 19th century Victorian mansion built by the Chirnside Family and now open to the public for tours.  With over 60 rooms, many of the family's original items such as furniture and clothing are on display.  The most interesting yet disturbing room was the billiards room.  It displayed many of the family hunting trophies, notably rugs made out of tiger, jaguar and lion, a stuffed dog, a hippo head end table and a rhino foot stool.  As you can imagine, Sophia was horrified.  Really, really horrified. 
The grounds of the park were beautiful, and the kids all enjoyed running free.  We wandered through the Victoria State Rose Garden and circled the Italian Grotto (the signs warning of snakes freaked me out of course!).  Many people were around, busy setting up for what we found out was a beer festival scheduled for the next day.  Alas, we couldn't attend, but were still impressed with what looked to be a great event!


Shadowfax Winery
Also located in Werribee Park is the Shadowfax Winery.  Deb had never been there, so we stopped on our way back to the house (obviously that's the ONLY reason we stopped).  The winery had a really lovely lawn complete with bocce, picnic tables and ample shade.  We didn't stay for long though, so just opted for a tasting inside.  The winery also has a restaurant with an impressive menu - I have a feeling there will be a girls lunch in Deb's future! 

Jason wasn't thrilled with the wine, but as usual, I seemed to like everything I tasted.  I have never pretended to be some wine conneisseur.  It always amazes me that there is a bucket for spitting out or throwing your wine away - what a waste!  The only negative I could find about the place was that it was named for a horse in "Lord of the Rings"...possibly the worst movie ever made.   Well at least I think it is, I couldn't get through the whole thing.  The kids sat at a table and chatted the entire time, drinking water the staff offered them.  Love those kids.

Melbourne Zoo
Of COURSE we had to go to the Melbourne Zoo.  Sophia's life would not be complete without visiting every zoo on the face of the Earth.   Highlights of the zoo included the always adorable Meerkats, the Asian Elephant Trail (Sophia especially loved the baby elephant), Wild Sea exhibit and the Orangutan Sanctuary.  But by far the coolest moment of the day was the HUGE brown bear.  When we walked up to his habitat he was standing about 30 feet away in an alcove in the rocks stretching tall.  I swear he looked over at us immediately (Sophia to be exact, she was the first to get there) and headed straight for us.  He came up right to the wall like he was a dog.  It was CRAZY!  I will never forget that big guy.  After spending a couple of hours, we capped off the trip with the required ice cream for all!

Another interesting spot Deb and John took us to was Williamstown.  Originally Melbourne's first sea port, it has recently been renovated into a popular family and tourist destination.  Surrounded on three sides by water, the main street is lined with shops, restaurants and bars.  The adults sat down at an outside table and enjoyed a beer and a chat, while the kids ran and played at the playground across the street.  Before we headed out the kids got yet another ice cream and I eyed up some clothes at a cute boutique, but ultimately resisted the urge.  We didn't have time, but any potential visitors take note - there is a railway museum located in North Williamstown as well as the HMAS Castlemaine, a restored warship, available for touring at Gem Pier.  And on the third Sunday of every month, there is a 100-stall craft market open from 10am-4pm.  Lots to do!

Melbourne Cricket Ground
No visit to Melbourne, especially during the Christmas season, would be complete without a visit to the Melbourne Cricket Grounds for a Boxing Day Test Match.  This year, Australia faced off against Sri Lanka and Jason wasn't about to miss an opportunity to check out the event.  Part cricket match, part fraternity party, Boxing Day was a "boy's only" event during this visit, and John and Jason were joined by John's brother, Tom, and their friend Graham.  Australia played very well, as they both bowled and batted on the first day of the match (very uncommon, apparently).  Jason ate the obligatory "meat pie", drank pints of mid-strength, participated in the wave (booing at the MCG Club section) and actually managed to squeeze in some time to learn a bit about the game.  By the looks of John and Jason upon returning home, however, it was obvious the meat pie and mid-strengths were the top priority.

Campbell's Cove 
Finally, as our time wound down in Melbourne, and we prepared to leave Australia and our friends behind, we visited a lesser known area of Melbourne called Campbell's Cove.  Only a short drive from John and Deb's house, and just a few miles from Werribee Mansion, Campbell's Cove is a small coastal area on the Port Phillip Bay, and is apparently recognized as Melbourne's "first nude beach".  Honestly, we stopped because Deb thought the houses were interesting, and she didn't even know it was "clothing optional" (yeah right).  She was right though, it truly is a fascinating little area.  The coast is dotted with small shacks, nearly one on top of another, with the sand and surf just a few feet away.  We didn't stay very long, as the "wildlife" quickly showed itself (and I mean, "showed itself").  Luckily the kids stayed in the car as we walked down to the beach, so only the adults were exposed to the show.

So that's it for Melbourne, folks!  Until next time...thanks for the memories Deb and John!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Making Memories in Melbourne

Many years ago (AKA many wrinkles ago)
My friends, this is looooong overdue.  I seem to go through phases with my writing -  I write a lot, then take a long break.  It's really like everything else in my life and it's always been like that - all or nothing.  I'm 40 and it's never going to change.   So I apologize in advance for all future erratic posting!

In 2003, Jason and I moved from our small rented rowhome in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, to our first purchased home in the Philadelphia suburb of West Chester.  Whenever you move into a new home you cross your fingers and hope you win the big gamble - your neighbors.  In this case, we hit the jackpot.  Some friendships are just meant to be, and we became fast friends with Aussies Debra, John and their young son, Josh. Sophia was born just three months after we moved in, and as it turns out, Deb and I took turns being pregnant for the next two years.  Deb with her son, Ryan, and then me with Cooper.  Can't a couple of fun ladies share a bottle of wine!!??   It was torture I say!  (like pregnancy isn't torture enough)

The townhouse where it all began!
So for four years, we traded weekend nights at our respective homes, shared many holidays and get togethers with them and their gaggle of international friends (with a few random Americans thrown in - it was quite a group!) and even vacationed together in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  Life was good (and even better when Deb would come home late from her retail job and knock on my walkout basement door with a bottle of wine and two glasses, thus relieving me from my late night sewing).

Alas, we moved a little farther away from West Chester and eventually they returned to their home city of Melbourne.  We've kept in touch via Facebook but admittedly that is all.  An actual visit to Australia was something that seemed so far out of reach, but sometimes it's just funny where life takes you...

So fast forward to this year.  We were too far from home to spend Christmas with our actual families, so what better time to visit friends (who feel like family) in a country we've always wanted to see?  So the plans were made to spend Christmas in Melbourne.
A very popular pasttime!
After a wonderful four days in Sydney, we took the short flight to Melbourne (and you must pronounce it "MELBUN" or the locals will look at you like you have one eye) and drove our rental car out to their resort neighborhood of Sanctuary Lakes in Point Cook (about 20 min from the airport, and Jason was thankfully a much better driver at this point in the trip).   The neighborhood gave off a lovely first impression, highlighted by a large lake and golf course with an eclectic mix of homes.  This would definitely be a nice place to spend ten days!  When we arrived at their house (with Josh and Ryan in the driveway awaiting our arrival!) it just got better.  Their home was situated right on the water, with a large outdoor patio area, both covered and uncovered.  The kids were delighted to find a trampoline, basketball net and most of all...a ton of black swans, ducks and a couple of pelicans. 

Feeding the swans and ducks became a daily occurrence, actually more like several times a day.  And I admit I took part in many of these feedings. How often can you feed a black swan right out of your hand?  Thank goodness Deb is the most prepared and organized person I know - she had a never ending supply of bread in her freezer!  
We arrived on December 23, and spent the first day just reconnecting and relaxing.  We felt no urgent need to get out and see much of Melbourne, instead we really just wanted to hang out and enjoy being together.  The kids just played and played, we barely heard a sound out of them (the entire 10 days).  Even though Cooper didn't remember them at all, you never would have known by how they all got along, and even though they ranged in age between 7-12, everyone found plenty in common (Minecraft for Cooper and Ryan - of course).

Yes, we were quite "happy" at this point!
You may be wondering when I'm going to get around to talking about Melbourne, but honestly that's the least important thing on my mind now.  The best part of visiting the Vogers - their friends and family!!  I got to hang out with one of my favorite people - Deb's mom Barbara!  This chic lady not only has a knack for great conversation and great shoes, but she also showed up with the world's biggest water guns as gifts for every child.   Best part about that - they couldn't fit into our luggage -  tons of fun for future Voger guests and none of the hassle for us!

We also got to spend time with Deb's dad, Ray, sister Michelle, her son, Sean, and her boyfriend, Geoff.  And let's not forget about Aunt Pat!  What a demure, shy lady from the outside, but once you got talking to her....quite the firecracker!  Who doesn't love hearing about the shenanigans at the local assisted living facility!? So between the family members and the special kangaroo and koala stockings Deb and John bought for us...we were right at home.  A special shoutout also goes to John's dad, Slavko, for being a good sport about the silly hat we made him wear at Christmas dinner.

Geoff, Slavko, John, Deb, Michelle, Sean
Jason, Barbara, Ray and Pat
Cooper, Josh, Ryan and Sophia
(Love the shirt choice Coops!)
Speaking of Christmas dinner, neither Deb nor I had ever made stuffing before (real stuffing, not Stovetop...because that would be a travesty at such a special meal).  So we embarked on the great stuffing experiment.  And I must say it was the greatest stuffing ever made.  It all comes down to one ingredient - BACON.

Jah, Pania, me and Deb
And as usual, there was no shortage of friends at the Voger house.  Pania, Jah and Owen (and their daughter Narissa) joined us for a very fun New Year's Eve (gotta love discovering the pics on the phone the next morning, I'm still trying to figure out who hijacked my phone), and came back for an equally fun New Year's Day!  Card games, dice games, pool games, dart games...anyone see a theme here?  The biggest surprise was the New Year's Eve neighborhood fireworks - a fitting end to a fantastic evening (well it was the end for the kids, us adults kept it going for quite a while longer).

Our hangout for most of the day.
At least we got some exercise!

One of the more amusing moments was our New Year's Day breakfast.  We were woken up by all of the kids offering us a menu.  They had spent the early morning hours planning, typing and printing quite the comprehensive menu for us - check it out!  My selection was a grilled cheese sandwich.  The best value was definitely the prawn platter for five cents!  Even little Narissa got involved in the food preparation, and believe it or not, someone really did order the pasta bolognese (nice work on the spelling kids!).

So after drinking almost the entire Voger inventory of wine and beer (including John's homebrews), it was time to go home and regenerate some liver cells (and begin "no wine January" for me).   We had a lovely time in Melbourne, but more importantly we renewed our friendship with great people.  Hopefully they will make it to Singapore, but even if they don't, rest assured, we will be back to visit them! 

Next post - proof that we just didn't sit around drinking the entire time.  All about some of the fun things we did in Melbourne!

See you next time, Voger Family!  Miss you already!