Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why did you go to college?

This question is pretty straight forward: Why did you go to college?

Was it because you craved the expansion of knowledge, or the "experience," wanted to try it away from home, or simply wanted to come out on the other side with more opportunity than the other Average Joe next to you?

As I was slicing my umpteenth loaf of bread yesterday - I believe it was white, of course, because the majority of block loaves we sell is plain, unhealthy, unnutritious white bread - I had a moment of clarity. I love college. I love non-fiction books and preparing to discuss them with my peers. I love going out to dinner with my friends and regurgitating the information that I had consumed during the day, about baby development, about the Middle East, about psychology experiments. But when I was in college, I did not love college.

It takes a while outside of the box to see why you were in the box to begin with. I was in college because everyone else was doing it. That's right, I'm a college chain smoker. High school said "You have excellent grades, what college are you going to?" so I went through the motions and wound up, thankfully, at somewhere with a good fit. That doesn't account for my first quarter, where I came home crying every weekend and by the time Christmas rolled around, I never wanted to see a UC again. But standing outside the situation now, I love that I stuck it out.

And yesterday, as I was serving my umpteenth customer a cheese and bacon roll (they obviously didn't read my blog post about why they shouldn't eat cheese and bacon rolls), I had another moment of clarity: I went to college so I don't ever have to sell cheese and bacon rolls again. It's true. I have no desire to return home every day and talk about how many customers didn't say please or thank you, how many babies had tantrums in the mall, how much wastage we had at the end of the day or how burnt the wholemeal loaves were. I have every intention of directing my life differently, to discuss politics, history, science and interesting popular culture around the dinner table, with my friends, with my family, and even with total strangers.

It has taken a year away from university, doing completely different things, learning completely different skills and people, challenging myself not intellectually but in mental strength toward the world - it has taken all of this to finally think: Thank you to everyone who helped put me through college. Thank you for my officially notarized Bachelor's degree. My entire life is definitely going to be better because I went to college.

I made motel beds, for goodness' sake. I now wear a work uniform comparable to Hot Dog On A Stick, catching a glimpse of myself in the mall mirror is like seeing a stranger. But not worries, mate! Work ends Monday, and then I can continue looking forward to life, love, intellectual development, travel, and helping everyone I know do the same.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Change Is As Good As A Holiday

Of all the odd and senseless Australian sayings and idioms, one very special one is "Change is as good as a holiday," (And of course, we mean "holiday" in the British sense, like a vacation, and not like having the day off on Martin Luther King's birthday.) Speaking of which, I heard the Stevie Wonder "Happy Birthday" song the other day in a dollar store and couldn't get over how weird it was.

Everything seems to be changing bit by bit. The season has changed from...tropical summer to something a lot like Davis winter. All of a sudden it's socks, sweatshirts, wood fires, scarves and tea - which I do enjoy, especially because I missed out on most of winter this year. But I'll be honest: The thought of only being in the cold for another two/three weeks tickles me. I only hope that cheating the seasons doesn't come back to bite me some other time in my life.

Toby the dog has gone to bigger and better pastures - and by this I mean to a new home with a huge family, and not the other pasture. Gone are the days cooking with his giant face next to the stove, but the upside is that he is with possibly the best family for him ever. So, the change: less trips to the dog park, less nose in the bum.

The house itself is all but gone. That's right, I am no longer over on Bognuda Street, rather, I now find myself completely moved to the Stalker family home (which I absolutely love). It doesn't hurt that it's only a ten minute walk from the gym and a five minute walk from work, or that it has a fireplace, or a completely stocked kitchen for me to play around in, or a new friend to play with (James' sister.) We're still technically moving out, as I will spend my day off tomorrow moving the last of the furniture, wiping out cabinets and cleaning windows.

I told work and the hospice about my plans and got a lot of "We'll miss you!" but no major trouble beside that. Thank goodness. Work has nearly worn out its welcome and I now am positive that retail is not my permanent calling, though a good way to save up cash. Hopefully my last day will be June 3rd, which gives plenty of time to pack up and ready myself for the best change: seeing my family and friends.

I realize this blog is more of an update than insightful, but it's what I needed to do! Insight later: for now, back to the bread world (UGHGHGHGHGHGH), and the moving world, and would you believe that I have been cooking soup like crazy because it is just that cold...

Love to everyone. I am SO excited to see you!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Next Move: Mine

I've been putting in some serious brain hours thinking about what I'm going to do with my upcoming days. Sure, I could stay here and sell bread and attempt to grow vegetables, but I'm beginning to itch for a little education. I'm ready to learn something new.

This is what lead me to China. No, I'm not in China, but I will be (I think.) If I think hard enough about what I know nothing about, the answer 9/10 times is China, Chinese, Chinese history. What's more? It turns out China is a hotbed for teaching English, with or without certification. DING. I'll take a number.

I spend most of my free time now (when I'm not slicing bread or kicking my own hiney at the gym) researching different programs to teach with. It takes a lot of analysis: how much do they pay, who are you teaching, do they provide housing, airfare, health insurance, holidays, etc.? You can literally pick any city you want, if you look hard enough, except that I hardly know what any of the cities are. The sky is literally the limit, though possibly a polluted sky, since China isn't exactly the world capital of clean air. Coincidence that I want to live in another "communist" country? Perhaps not... I am unbelievably excited. You should be too! You know why?

Caitlin's coming home!!! (Eventually.) Yes, before I embark on my next journey, I will be coming home for a stint in my home land. I speculate this will be some time in late May/early June. I love surprise parties, I love Mexican food, hint hint.

That is all for now. I am too busy planning my future.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bacon Rolls, Wine Tasting, and How I Am Becoming Awesomely Healthy In One of the Fattest Cities in the World (and how you can too!)

Please don't let me ever catch you buying your child a bacon roll for breakfast.

For that matter, please don't let me ever catch you buying yourself a bacon roll for breakfast, or a mustard-pickle swirl, and for goodness' sake, ignore the Cheesymite scrolls.*

These are not healthy, they are do not contain sufficient or productive amounts of energy, and they will certainly make you fat if consumed on a regular basis. And your children? They will probably grow up to be bacon roll craving cretins.

I say all of this in a more or less rant because I currently live in the fattest nation in the world: Australia. According to this article, there are 9 million overweight people in Australia...and there are only 22 million people in the whole country.

To add to this statistical excitement, I currently live in one of the fattest cities in the fattest country in the world. Ipswich apparently admits to having over 62.4% of its residents overweight or obese. I know this first hand because most of them probably walk (sometimes more slowly than others) past me at the mall where I currently work. Many of them buy bacon rolls. I love that spinning roll animation action.

This is a blog to talk a bit about my job, a bit about nutrition, and a bit of practice doing hyperlinks on my blog. You like? It's a new experience, like most of my experiences.

About my job: It is a job, and it allows me to pay for my gym membership. It also allows me to practice my Australian jargoning, such as saying "How ya goin'?" as a standard greeting. I generally stick to a cheery "Hey there!" but it never hurts to practice. Hot cross bun season is over (Australians use Easter as an excuse to eat billions of sticky hot cross buns because they can't justify drinking to excess over a Christian holiday weekend.) But I also have an excuse to observe the crazy behavior of mall patrons. My favorite quote was a mother saying to her child "It's too early for a Fun Bun, you have to have something better like McDonald's first." Whoa, absolutely whoa.

Therefore, about nutrition: I have started a bit of a health binge to combat the effects of living in a country where a healthy breakfast is a Happy Meal followed by a meat pie, followed by a Coca-Cola, followed by a custard filled donut. We buy insane amounts of produce. At the moment, we are stocking zucchini, fennel, tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumber, mushrooms, rocket and spinach, jalapenos, cabbage, carrots, red and yellow onions, avocado, oranges, apples, bananas and a giant bag of limes (possibly for Cuba Libres.) The challenge for me is this: how can we possibly eat all of this before it goes bad? So I set out of put vegetables and fruit into everything I can get my hands on. Tonight for dinner is pumpkin/potato soup and bell pepper/avocado/tomato/red onion/greens/cucumber salad. Lots of slashes for lots of deliciousness.

We are growing a cute little veggie garden which hopefully will include carrots, leeks, broccoli, bok choi, salad greens...and something else I can't remember. We also fertilized the garden with home compost which accidentally contained tomato and pumpkin seeds...so those are also growing. We got this great perennial cilantro plant at a farmer's market which works great, even with Mom's black beans, and a huge basil plant that I'm still figuring out how to preserve. It is absolutely amazing to bring yourself a teeny bit closer with the things you eat. Being as it is now Spring at home, I challenge each of you to plant something, watch it grow, and eat it.

I love cooking. Taking time to cook keeps me sane, and healthy. Heck if I'm going to eat lunch at the mall. Heck if I'm going to take the bus if I can walk.

And walk, I do. This weekend I walked up a mountain. Mount Warning to be exact, the first place in Australia to see the sun, and because it is the first place to see the sun, you must hike at night if you have any chance of seeing that sun too. So we hiked at 3:30AM (!) up the mountain to find it smothered inside a cloud. Though a bit disappointed to miss what I'm sure was a glorious sunrise, I was absolutely ecstatic to have bounded up a wet, muddy mountain (9km roundtrip) in the dark (though I did fall twice on the way down, nicely banging my knee, shin, and ass). So I challenge you, find a mountain and climb it.

Finally, as a celebration of mountain climbing, having the day off from work, and a gorgeous sunny day, James and I took a quick romp around the "Scenic Rim" wineries - that is, the wineries within an hour of our house. James as the chauffeur, me as the tasting narrator, we spent a fantastic day in the country. As both of us are relatively new to the experience, I was lucky enough to start piecing together some patterns: I like chardonnay, especially wooded chardonnay, especially chardonnay that somehow tastes like creamy nuts. I also like shiraz (so does James), and I have somehow developed a taste for fortified shiraz. We also like oddball vineyards, like the one that served up wine on the lawn with their giant husky dog sitting in our laps. I came up with a half-witty saying about wine tasting:

"Wine tasting is the way classy people can get intoxicated for free."


In conclusion, eat sensibly, love veggies, and drink good wine for as cheaply as possible. And these are my lessons from Australia this week.

*Cheesymite scrolls are pastries similar to a savory cinnamon roll, but smothered in Vegemite and "tasty" cheese. "Tasty" cheese is the Australian equivalent, though not equal to, cheddar cheese. Vegemite is disgusting.

Cheesymite is not to be confused with Cheesybite, a new Vegemite product that adds Vegemite to something like Cheese Whiz.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Flat Out

I finally have an excuse for not keeping up with my blog: I got a part-time job.


I know what you're thinking. Caitlin is awesome! I bet her job is great! Well, it's certainly better than what a lot of backpackers end up doing. I could be door knocking, trying to sell people cheap electricity. (Heck no.) I could be delivering newspapers. (Heck no.) I could be picking fruit, which sounds great, especially because I love fruit, but when you consider that most jobs involve 8-10 hours of outdoor work per day, in 30 degree heat, it really starts to stink.

So where do I work, I know you're wondering. In a shopping mall.
Caitlin works in an Australian shopping mall? In a bakery? Selling people bread and scones and hot cross buns? Does she have to wear a baseball cap? YES! Does she have to wear 2x too big khaki capris? YES! How about a nice polo shirt? OF COURSE!

In short, my vanity is getting a nice vacation and my bank account is getting a lot of stimulus. And of course, malls are excellent places to people-watch. On Monday, I saw a little boy pull his pants down and run around for at least three minutes before his mom noticed. I love watching the tweens come in after school and practice social hierarchies.

I serve bread, I get paid. And this is why my blog is neglected.

There is a short sad story I would like to tell about a situation involving potato chips and native Australians, otherwise known as Aboriginals. Australian Aboriginals are certainly some of the most marginalized and neglected peoples on the entire planet. The situation makes all of the sympathy you have for Precious and her cranky mother completely silly, and definitely reminds me of the United States' own forgotten natives, shoved away to remain social welfare cases because our government simply does not now how to reconcile centuries of wrongdoing.

What is different (as far as I can see) about Australia is that many Aboriginals live in urban/suburban areas, and while there is obviously native land - Arnhem land in the Northern Territory - I feel like I've seen more native Australians in four months than I've seen native Americans. And white Australians are damn racist about it. I'm not going to name names or specifics, but it's simply not pretty.

So the potato chips. I was waiting for the bus when I spotted a little native Australian boy, no older than three and wearing only some tiny thugish denim shorts with a diaper hanging out and some tiny sneakers, holding a bag of potato chips. He smacked the bag repeatedly until it burst open, all over the dirty sidewalk. He was very pleased. He was so pleased, he decided to stomp all over the potato chips as if they were a big sheet of bubble wrap. He then proceeded to eat them. At this point, I became excessively disgusted. I look around for mom. Mom? She was either the woman staring vacantly at the street or the one staring vacantly at her shopping cart. Eventually, mom or mom's accomplice with the cart sees the little boy eating sidewalk chips, and joins him in stomping them into chip dust. Stomping and eating the bus stop sidewalk chips.

I couldn't help thinking, God, these people need HELP. Sure dirt doesn't hurt too much, but this is a dirty city. This kid has no shirt. This woman is pushing an empty cart.

What do I do?

Not a clue, but it sure makes me think just a bit more about urban poverty, and how no one can escape it.

PS. Went to pig races. Did some wine tasting at pig races and was very happy. Pigs were very cute and wore sparkling vests. Coo-ee!

PPS. "Flat out" is an Aussie expression meaning "Very busy".

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lost In Metric Translation

Well hello again! I suppose we haven't connected in a while because I've been too busy with my grubby mitts busy in the kitchen. That's right, Caitlin is pursuing self-guided culinary excellence Down Under. And sometimes, like today, I fail miserably.

I like to blame the metric system for my issues in the kitchen. But this is not particularly usual. To date, I have managed to satisfyingly create my own pesto, ratatouille, curry with self-soaked garbanzo beans, minestrone soup, a yellow cake with chocolate frosting, profiteroles, sticky date pudding, and about half a dozen banana/carrot/zucchini inspired bread/cake/muffins. (This list does not include my failures, including berry muffins that tasted oddly of vinegar, vegan rice krispie treats and a botched batch of royal icing). Today's adventure? BREAD MAKING!

I was given some wonderful baking books to borrow from Michelle, my "boss" at my Hospice volunteering gig. Yes, I've decided to not get paid to hang out in a dying home. This is actually much more uplifting than you think, and as I told my mom this morning, it's somehow spiritually satisfying. Where do I happen to work? The hospice kitchen, of course! And boy, you should see how pureed convalescent lamb looks.

Moving on, Michelle has taken to me (who wouldn't!) and we chat each other's ears off about baking and cooking all day long. She has so far inspired me to try this very strange dessert thing called Sugo and to try making my own ricotta cheese - stay tuned for that disaster. But today was all about bread.

Let me say that so far, I have adapted quite well to some parts of the metric system. A pleasant afternoon is about 23 degrees C, sunny. An oven for baking muffins is about 180 degrees C. An acceptable speed for a car, on the wrong side of the road, on the highway is about 100-110 km. I walk about 1.5km to the train station. A bottle of wine is 750ml, and everyone should drink 2L of water per day. Impressed yet? I'm haven't even begun to learn. What the heck is a gram? Who cares about a centiliter? And this is where the bread making comes in.

I read the intro about making a simple white bread recipe. I don't have a bread cutter, I don't have a stone tablet, and I don't have a scale, but I figured, people have been making bread for centuries without this stuff - of course I can do it!

It wasn't long before I snagged: I had a sachet of yeast with a quantity of "7g", but the recipe called for 10g. Furthermore, I had dried yeast, while it was talking about wet yeast. It called for 500g of flour. This is where my reading skills failed me. I interpreted 500g as "500ml". Are you still with me? If you know anything about metrics, of which I know very little, you might remember, as I did not,, that Liters are for liquid (CRAP). I should have used about half of my bag of flour and ended up using only about 2 cups. No wonder i was mixing and mixing..and mixing...a ball of goop for about 10 minutes, as it did not change at all. Ii realized my mistake too late. I added some more flour (no idea how much), but somehow it ended up simply making one of the strongest glues I have ever encountered. So I threw up my glued hands, put a tea towel over my bowl, and resigned myself to a ball of adhesive, which is still stuck to my arm hairs. We'll see how it goes in an hour, but I don't have high hopes for anything rising.

I actually think I owe the success of my first bread ball to the United States education system. Get with the program, people! No wonder we're neurotic and annoying travelers - we can't understand anything, from the temperature, to the time (21:45, oh come on), to the quantity of a stick of butter or a Coca-Cola.

Off to try my hand at lasagna. At least this doesn't require any measuring.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Australia Day and Increasing Encounters of the Insect Kind

So I'm sitting here munching on some celery, basking in the 35 degree heat*, which is a nice and healthy 95 to those of you in Farenheit land, reminiscing about Australia Day: a day that all Australians look forward to as a day to drink many beers, grill many snags (sausages, of course), get very sunburnt and run around with Australian flags tied around their necks like superheroes.

This delightful day falls annually on the 26th of January. Wikipedia dutifully reminds us that Australia Day commemorates the first landing in Sydney Cover in 1788, which is about as accurate of a "discovery" as Columbus Day in the USA. But they LOVE it, and I love it too.

For my first Australia, I was lucky enough to start the day with a nice big helping of housekeeping (back up in Kippa Ring.) I cleaned like lightning, took a very quick shower, and then embarked on a nice long bus/train ride, about two hours in total. (Considering my past history with trains, this is fairly simple and time is easily passed.) Riding the train from Kippa Ring to Bundamba is practically the entire train line. I watched beer drinker after beer drinker board and disembark, until finally, I came HOME!

Of course by 12:30, the party was in full swing. Wading pool, cricket, sausages and lamb and white bread (because the Australian way to eat a sausage is to wrap it in a slice of white bread...), and the radio is playing because they do a Top 100 countdown, and everyone sings and plays cricket (they even let me take a couple swings, even though I still don't get the point), and makes merry. So all in all, such a successful holiday.

But the big shock came at 3:00 AM, when I woke up wrapped in a bathtowel on the couch and a giant red splotch on my arm. The splotch was itchy and the circumference of a baseball. Upon further inspection, it was revealed that this was no mosquito bite, but a juicy spider bite gone wrong.

I have no problem with insect bites. At the moment I have about a dozen itchy mosquito bites, mostly on my feet, hands and arms, and I hardly feel them anymore. But a spider bite? A spider bite? That requires a spider crawling onto me, without permission, and sinking its disgusting venomous teeth into my skin, without having been provoked. I fretted over it for a while. What if it were a redback spider bite, which could have latent effects that would put me into a hospital? What if I lost my limb? I circled the bite and watched it increase outside of my lines.

Well, after many hours of scaring myself into thinking I had met my journey's end, the bite began to regress (not after itching so bad I could have chewed my arm off.) And all was well, and I continued to make beds and scrub toilets.

That is, until I came back to Bundamba last week and awoke to yet another spider bite (this time smaller). Then, I start seeing baby spiders around every corner, and somehow, the bigger cockroaches start perching on the walls - have you ever had a cockroach waggle its 2 inch antennae at you? Gross! - and ants suction onto my feet, and heck, I feel like a regular Bear Gryllis except I'm not willing to eat them, embrace them, or promote them...or kill them. I just tend to run away or shake hard to get them off. I was weeding yesterday and had no less than three multicolored arachnids on my arms, which provoked a dance of award-winning performance to shake them off.

Tomorrow, the bug spray men are stopping by.

* 35 degrees and humid is pretty much enough to make me want to throw everything I own, including all the dried food goods, my clothes, and myself, into the standard size freezer.