Monthly Archives: November 2014

6 Unique Gifts They’ll Actually Use

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I’m not a Black Friday shopper.

But I do like to buy gifts. Sometimes I stress myself out because one of my favorite things to do is to find the perfect gift.

While I don’t always come up with the perfect ones, I definitely try to come up with some ideas that are either unique or something my gift recipient will actually use!

In past years, I’ve posted:

Top 5 Gifts for the Hard to Buy for Person Who Has Everything

His & Hers Gift Guide – What They’ll Actually Use

I still stand by those lists.

But I came up with a few more ideas that I’d like to share with you this year, as well as how to make them unique!

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Nuts

This may sound silly or unoriginal, but my in-laws requested their favorite Virginia variety from Costco this year.

Peanuts

If you’ve never had blister roasted peanuts, then you are missing out!

Make It Unique: Choose a variety or flavor you love, not just something generic: Blistered Virgina Peanuts or Marcona Almonds {one of my faves, find them at Costco or Trader Joe’s}, Blueberry Almonds or Bloody Mary Peanuts. Or, make your own! Of course, when giving nuts, consider allergies.

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Sports Fan Gear

This is my first year as a Packer Season Ticket Holder. It was 90 degrees at our first game in August (a preseason one). I realized I had no gear for this! Our last game was just above zero. I didn’t really have much to keep me warm and show I was a Packer fan. I did happen to have a gold scarf, a cute {but not warm} hat and borrowed some gloves from my mom. Rob on the other hand had nothing to signify his loyalty!

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Make It Unique: Buy something that they can wear to the game! Or make it classy. I love scarves, so I wish these NFL infinity ones weren’t sold out! And I just saw these in a magazine:

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Bubbly

I’ve mentioned how true Champagne is always a great gift because it is festive and most people wouldn’t normally spend that kind of money on a bottle on a regular basis.

Make It Unique: Try a lesser known region. And if your budget is limited, get something unique like a special prosecco or a bubbly from New Mexico {one of my faves!} Then, add a list of festive cocktails to make with it!

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Books

Rob saw this book and just had to have it! Why? Well, if you haven’t read Missing Missy yet, where have you been? You will just die of laughter. Books can be personal or already read, so a gift receipt might be a good idea. Or…

Make It Unique: Give a humorous book to keep ’em laughing. Try to relate it to your gift recipient’s hobby or something they did this year. I’d recommend anything by Bill Bryson for the traveler. I’m currently reading this:

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Shark Tank

Okay, so not an actual tank with sharks in it. Who would want that? But have you watched the show Shark Tank? Every time we watch it, I think of someone who would love the product they are pitching!

Make It Unique: You can find the entire list of products pitched on Shark Tank here at AsSeenOnSharkTank.net. I’ve always thought these Coffee Joulies {which keep your coffee hot} are pretty cool. Plated was also featured on Shark Tank, although I don’t know how you’d gift that. And I’ve been eyeing DDP Yoga for ages now. It’s through this program that this disabled veteran, who was told he’d never walk unassisted again, became strong and can even run.

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Subscription Boxes

I’m still huge on giving these, though they can be expensive depending on how many months you decide to give. All you have to do is a simple Google search of your gift recipient’s favorite hobby.

Make it Unique: Type into Google the hobby + subscription box. For example “fishing + subscription box” just might yield TackleGrab“Get a box of baits delivered to your door every month.”

One of our favorites is BarkBox because it means we never have to buy treats. And Shamrock loves every time he gets a new toy.

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My Subscription Addiction has a great list of nearly all of the subscription boxes out there, along with reviews and coupon codes!

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Looking for more ideas? Try these links:

Share the love! Help give ideas!

What’s a Unique Gift You’ve Received and Loved?

What’s a Unique Gift You’ve Given?

Cheers~
Carrie

Be Thankful Everyday

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It’s this time of year when Americans tend to stop to give thanks. But shouldn’t this be a practice all year round?

Over a year ago, I started writing in a gratitude journal nearly every day. I have filled over five and a half journals now. It has changed my life.

We’ve all heard people brag, “I’m a glass-half-full kind of person!”

I’ve never been that person.

Somewhere along the way, I learned how to think of the negative. Only the negative. I learned how to put myself down even though I would never treat anyone else I know that way. I’d think of something wrong in my life, which caused me to think of something else related, which in turn snowballed until I convinced myself that my life was a complete mess.

Why couldn’t I think of anything positive?!

It was because I wasn’t accustomed to it. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know where to start. Even if I thought of something positive, my first instinct was to think of something negative to contradict it.

Pretty sad, isn’t it?

That was until I read The Magic by Rhonda Byrne.

I wanted to change the way I was thinking. I wanted to be happier. So I adopted the practice of keeping a gratitude journal.

Every day, I write in it ten things for which I’m grateful and why. That way, I can truly feel it.

Yes, some days it’s still tough, especially if I’m going through a difficult time. But there are so many simple things we tend to overlook. There are simple things that we feel entitled to that we all take for granted sometimes. Like these.

No matter what, I can always come up with something to add to my journal.

And then, you know what?

The gratitude is what snowballs!

Generally speaking, the more I write, the easier it becomes.

But will it ever become natural for me? I’m not sure. But what I do know is that this practice reminds me on a daily basis of what is truly important.

I’d always heard that attitude is everything. I was the one to roll my eyes when people said that to me. I thought it was just cliché. I didn’t truly understand what it meant. All of those people knew something I didn’t. I didn’t know how to change my attitude. And other people telling me to just made me angry.

But I do now.

The practice of writing in my gratitude journal daily forces me to think of all of the positives in my life, which in turn changes my attitude, and in turn makes me happier.

Since I’m expressing my gratitude every day in my journal, maybe Thanksgiving should be the day that I skim through those past journals and let the joy overflow.

How do you express gratitude?

Happy Thanksgiving.

Cheers~
Carrie

A Little Italian in Melbourne

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One thing I loved about Melbourne is that it is a melting pot of people and cultures. The same goes for the food. You can find just about any type of cuisine your heart desires – Mediterranean, Malaysian, Indian, Argentinian, Moroccan… The list is practically endless. We enjoyed a wonderful Greek dinner with Barb and Tony at Kyma one evening. And they even found a little Southern American joint called The Collection that reminded them of New Orleans!

However, it’s Italian food that always seems to capture Rob’s heart taste buds as evidenced here, here and here. He enjoyed some Pasta Carbonara at Abbey Road on our first afternoon in the city.

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His favorite dish of the trip was some pasta at Pino’s Trattoria on the way home from the penguin parade. (No photo of that one.) That restaurant was recommended by one of the guides and Rob was in heaven.

When we first arrived in Melbourne, Rob’s first question to the front desk clerk of our hotel was, “Do you know where we can get some really good Italian?”

Itali.co was recommended; but for some reason, we ended up at Rococo on our first night. We got there early and ordered some drinks. It was the first cocktail Rob ordered in Australia – and the last.IMG_0656

Cocktails are just so expensive in Australia – usually about $15 to $20 each. His tiny drink didn’t wow him. I am all about quality over quantity. So if this cocktail knocked his socks off, it’d be a different story. But that wasn’t the case.

We also quickly learned that all of the other diners knew something that we didn’t. This amazing aroma kept wafting toward us each time a plate was delivered to a nearby table. It was some garlicky bread of some sort. It made our mouths water while waiting for our so-so pizzas:

It wasn’t the best experience, but it wasn’t the worst.

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But we did get to enjoy our last dinner in Melbourne at Itali.co. We arrived early, at opening, because we still had to pack and had a semi-early flight the next morning.

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We were seated in a little corner of the restaurant, which we enjoyed just fine. You can tell how early we arrived by the lack of other diners in the restaurant:

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Rob knew he was going to order pizza when he read this:

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However, the pizza oven was being repaired. So it wouldn’t be ready for another 30 to 40 minutes. *Pout.*  At least we could still order it!

We decided to stick it out and sip on some vino and nosh on a little foccacia to tide us over. I loved the fresh rosemary. Dredging that perfectly crunchy-yet-chewy bread in the olive oil drizzled with balsamic is something that no one can argue with being anything than utterly satisfying.

The oven repair gave us more time to peruse the rest of the menu:

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And you better belive that this is what I ordered: 

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Rigatoni Burrata – Rigatoni with “bronte” pistachio pesto, cherry tomato and burrata cheese – $21.50

How could I ever say, “no” to burrata?!

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Look at that creamy cheesy goodness and the olive oil drizzled atop it. This pasta was sensational. It was well seasoned with the prefect balance of creaminess from the burrata which mixed in to create a lovely sauce with the olive oil. My adoration of tomatoes had me swooning and the slight crunch of the pistachios gave it another layer of texture. What’s not to love?!

Rob’s choice:

BUNGA BUNGA Fior di latte, tomato, berkshire sausage, porcini mushroom & parmesan (Awarded best pizza 2013) - $22.50

Bunga Bunga – Fior di latte, tomato, berkshire sausage, porcini mushroom & parmesan (Awarded best pizza 2013) – $22.50

Rob was in heaven. He repeated, “Bunga! Bunga!” most of the rest of the night to show his admiration. Sausage and mushroom pizza just happens to be my favorite kind, too. So he was kind enough to share a slice with me.

It was the perfect meal to end our last night in Melbourne. Rob got his Italian fix. Or did he?! He just may have ordered more Italian later in the trip…

Is there a type of cuisine of which you just can’t get enough?

Other posts on our trip to Australia:

Cheers~
Carrie

 

There’s More to Travel Than What You See

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After I return from a trip, I kind of laugh at what things I decide to photograph and what moments I do not. I look back at my pictures only to find that some fond memories haven’t been captured on film.

Like our visit to the Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, for example, which is probably the biggest market I’ve ever been to in my life. I’ve read that it is the largest open air market in the Southern Hemisphere.

I could have roamed around the stalls of organic produce, fresh meats, honeys and cheeses for days! A photograph could never have captured the smells and sounds of the busy market filled with such shoppers from diverse backgrounds. If I lived here, this is where I would pick up my groceries.

But the foodstuffs only represent part of the market. There are also eateries and shops with crafts. You’ll find clothing and touristy souvenirs, as well. We stopped in one shop filled with Aboriginal Art {which I love!} and spent time talking with the owner. We bought an inexpensive piece of artwork that I regret we packed in our luggage {what was I thinking!?} because it didn’t make it home with us.

We wandered for a few hours through that market and still didn’t cover the entire thing. It was a perfect day for a walk and for browsing.

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We also had to be sure to walk the St. Kilda pier since we were staying so close to that beach. We read that Little Penguins may show up here at night and that there are volunteers who point them out. We walked along the pier one sunny afternoon. This is one place were we did get photos:

But we photographed nothing of the comings and goings of all of the people along the shore. It was a beautiful day, so the beach was hopping.

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Still one of the most moving things we did in Melbourne was completely free:

Visiting the Shrine of Remembrance.

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The Shrine of Remembrance was originally built for the Australian soldiers of World War I.

 

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It was a place for where grievers could visit to honor their loved ones who perished in combat and whose bodies were not returned home.

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It’s appropriately located on a hill. It just feels right to be walking up to building like this.

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We walked the steps up to the entrance.

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Then we looked out from the top of the steps toward the city of Melbourne.

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I have no photos of the interior. I’m not sure if photography was allowed; but it just didn’t feel appropriate when we went inside. Instead, a guide immediately stopped us because a short ceremony was taking place in the Sanctuary.

When it was finished, he proceeded to give us a free tour of the Sanctuary, explaining the history and what everything symbolized or represented on the walls. I found it all absolutely fascinating.

There is a Stone of Remembrance in the center that is sunk lower than the floor so that all who visit must naturally bow their heads in respect. It was designed so that light shines through at 11am every Remembrance Day.

As Americans, we learn a bit about our own military history; but we don’t often learn about the military histories of other nations.

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You see, Australia was a rather new nation when they participated in WWI. Australians were searching for their own identity, as a people. We were explained that equality was a huge part of this identity. For this reason, you can find books throughout the Shrine of all 89,000+ Victorians who served in the war, listed alphabetical, without rank.

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Some things you can photograph while on vacation. Others you experience by smelling, hearing and tasting. Some things you learn about and expand your knowledge of the world. But some things you can just feel.

What have you found moving in your travels?

Other posts on our trip to Australia:

Cheers~
Carrie

Along the Great Ocean Road

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If you are ever in the Melbourne area of Australia,

a trip along The Great Ocean Road cannot be missed.

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There are several ways that you can explore The Great Ocean Road. There are one-day {quick!} tours, three-day {more relaxed, covering more ground} tours or you can do it yourself. Because we were not renting a car on our own, hadn’t stopped to research what to see and why and only had two weeks in Australia, we opted for a one-day tour (approximately 13 hours including pick-ups and drop-offs).

There are so many tours to choose from and they all run around the same price. So I went to my trusty TripAdvisor for some, well, Trip Advice.

The most highly rated tour was by Outback Billy. What seemed to set him apart was not only his personality, but also the fact that he is a zoologist. He could point out everything along the way. {Did you know that 80% of all of the plant and wildlife in Australia can’t be found in any other country?!} But alas, after emailing him, we learned that he was not available the dates we’d be in Melbourne. {For the record, and your own planning purposes, I emailed him on July 22nd and the our trip was in the beginning of September.}

However, he did recommend that I try Escape Discovery Tours. And I did book with them that same day. They were a little bit more expensive than the other tours; but what I liked about Escape Discovery is that they only do small groups – allowing only up to ten people. They also stopped for a nice dinner (included). All of the other tours I read about made a quick McDonald’s stop on the way back (not included) – NOT what I’m in Australia for!

On August 7th, I checked the status of my confirmation {a minimum of six passengers is required for the tour to take place} and saw that my booking had been canceled. I emailed to inquire about this and was told that they were switching systems and it should have be fixed by the end of the day, that they did indeed have my reservation. We never heard anything again. I did know that most tour bookings are booked at the last minute. So, while in Melbourne, the day before our tour was to take place, I wanted to confirm the reservation was still a go. I opened up my email to find an apology email from Escape Discovery. There was a mechanical issue with the vehicle and they would have to cancel. They recommended another tour company.

That is how we ended up with Go West! We called immediately and luckily, they had just two seats left. The benefits of this company: a small group size {not as small as ten, but not as big as a large coach!} and free Wi-Fi on the bus! At the time of our tour, no other Great Ocean Road tour company offered this. Here is what we could expect:

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Like most of the other companies, Go West picked us up at our hotel. I can’t imagine getting back after such a long day and then having to try to find public transportation back to our home base. I was grateful for the pick-up and drop-off!

This is the “Awesome Bus” that carried us along The Great Ocean Road. Well, that is what our knowledgeable guide, Travis, called it. So who could argue if it wasnt?!

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We had another beautiful day in Victoria! We had been told many times how lucky we were because the weather around Melbourne can be cold and windy or even hot and windy and unpredictable! But because of the mild weather, there were no surfers to watch (very little wind at Bells Beach). Nor did we see any fur seals nor whales which can sometimes come into view. But despite all of that, the views were beautiful!

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WARNING: I took a ton of pictures of Rob on this tour. So be prepared. This is going to be fun! Haha!

 He, on the other hand took photos of Asian tourists taking pictures of other Asian tourists. I will NOT be posting those!

Travis let us know when it would be a while until our next restroom toilet stop. No, Rob did not pop into these trees to relieve himself!

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But… he must have forgotten that Australia Has More Things That Can Kill You Than Anywhere Else. His curiosity got the best of him. He did come out alive!

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We both did opt to use the actual rest stop next to where the Awesome Bus was parked.

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Look at this perched house along our route. I bet there are some pretty great views from there!

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Yes, as shown below, Rob does like long walks on the beach. Or, short ones. Hands off, ladies! He’s mine! 😉 {Notice how he is the only one wearing shorts?! He didn’t bring any pants for the entire trip. That would have made a cold night watching the penguins if they  wouldn’t have given us gear to wear!}

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And this might be one of my favorite photos from Australia. It just happened to be parked at one of our stops.

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There was a lot of hopping on and off the bus, which was good because sitting on a bus all day would have been miserable. Travis had a fun soundtrack playing in our Awesome Bus that went along with our tour. Like playing Please Don’t Call Me a Koala Bear when we were off to see some koalas and then when we got…. On the Road Again…

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We stopped for some morning tea and cake. Rob and I walked along the rocky shore. We found the shapes on the rocks quite interesting:

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On one of ours stops, another American on our tour said, “I can’t believe the color of this water. It’s not what I expected. It reminds me of the Caribbean!”

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We stopped for lunch in Apollo Bay. A menu was passed around before arrival so that Travis could call our orders in to be ready when we arrived. I wasn’t sure what to order but decided to go with the Pad Thai. I hadn’t yet had any Asian food in Australia. And I saw that Travis had written his name next to it, so it had to be good, right?

Nope. Probably the worst Pad Thai I’ve ever had. Rob didn’t really like his sandwich either. The bread was okay, but he found the beef in it to be pretty gross. Oh well, can’t win ’em all. I bet it’s difficult to service all the crowds that stop through on the Great Ocean Road tours. But we did see this cute little dog on the sidewalk. His one black eye and two black ears reminded me of Sophie Jean!

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There was also some koala spotting there. Later, I heard someone say, “Did you see the koala run across the road?!” What?! Apparently, another tourist had scared the koala down out of his gum tree and he ran across the road to a pine tree. I felt so bad for the poor koala. Everyone was looking at him in that tree now and he was stuck there. How would he get to his eucalyptus? I was angry. Why can’t we see wild life – in the wild – from a distance and give them their space?!!

Then it was on to the Twelve Apostles. But there is a controversy of how many there actually are.

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Nonetheless, the rocky shores and formations were beautiful!

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We also enjoyed a guided walk through a beautiful Temperate Rain Forest.

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And viewed the ocean from stunning cliffs.

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At one point, we could take these stairs down to Loch Ard Gorge, where an old shipwreck took place. But with my fear of heights, there was no way that was happening.

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Maybe it doesn’t look like a big deal, to you, but do you see how tiny those people are on the ground?

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Instead, we walked some trails in the area…

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And enjoyed the views from above…

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Travis is a great story-teller. He told us shipwreck tales as well as how this “London Bridge” fell down! (The two pieces used to be connected.)
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In fact, I could tell that Travis had been doing this for a while. It turns out, he has been a guide for every one of Go West’s Tours.

When we got out as far west as we could for the day, we made our way back on an inland road in the dark. Some people slept, others uploaded their photos from the day over the free Wi-Fi. And we did make that McDonald’s stop on the way back. There were other fast food and take-out restaurant options, too. I opted for Red Rooster. If I was going to have fast food, it was going to have to be from some Aussie fast food chain. I got it to go so that Rob could try a McMate at McDonald’s. Jealous of Aussies, I am, though because their McCafe has an actual espresso machine! Silly, I know, but I just can’t do coffee at McDo.

It was another grand day by the sea. Upon arriving back to our hotel, our heads hit our pillows pretty quickly. The next day would be our last in Melbourne and it was time to say good-bye to Barb and Tony. 😦

Other posts on our trip to Australia:

Cheers~
Carrie