Christmas & New Years
I know it’s a little late to be talking about Christmas & New Years now, but since this is a roundup of the last two months, it’s hard not to mention it. This was our second Christmas living away from our families, but we made the most of it by celebrating with some Aussie friends who moved to Toronto earlier that year. We all cooked delicious food and watched Christmas movies and had a great day together.
I had a tonne of work events (mostly food-related) before the office closed for the year so there was lots happening throughout December, and overall it was a really good month. Mark finished up work for good just before Christmas and I had that full week in between Christmas & New Years off, so we made the most of it by ticking a few things off our to-do list each day, combined with a whole lot of doing nothing and relaxing. We also found vegan eggnog (coconut based) and for the record it’s actually pretty good, much better than regular eggnog at any rate! Eggnog isn’t a thing at all in Australia but we’d heard about it on the Simpsons, so when in Rome!
Over New Years we went to our friend Chelsie’s parents’ cottage in Port Dover and spent an obscene amount of time playing board games in our tracky-dacks (that’s the technical term) and it was glorious. We went ice skating and visited her parent’s farm nearby where she grew up as well. Chelsie’s parents make maple syrup for fun sometimes (isn’t that the most Canadian thing you’ve ever heard?) and her dad gave us a jar to take home. Naturally I had to make pancakes so we could try it out, and Chelsie suggested using a bit of syrup to sweeten your coffee, and I can confirm it’s delicious both ways.
Update on the move
December & January have definitely been bittersweet for me because I’ve loved living in Toronto so much and it’s hard to say goodbye. I had a great job that I was really happy in, and I made some wonderful friends through it that I’m really going to miss. So many people have taken the time to say that they’ll miss me too and that they’re sad I’m leaving, which has been so sweet. I finished work on January 11th, and since then Mark and I have been in the process of tying up about a million loose ends before we leave.
Mike & Chelsie, who are in pictured in this post, are our best friends here. We’ve travelled with them several times and have seen each other basically every week since we met, so we’re going to miss them immensely. We’re basically insisting they move to Sydney because we can’t live without each other.
I’m also going to miss the lifestyle we currently have living right in the middle of the city. Just about everything we need is within walking distance, and although some things were difficult when we first moved here, we managed to set up a pretty great life for ourselves. It’s such a shame to have to leave it behind, but ultimately all of our family and most of our friends are based in Sydney, so when we have to choose between our two lives, Sydney comes out ahead, which is why we made the decision to move back. I know we’ll both always have a soft spot for Toronto, and we haven’t ruled out ever moving overseas again in the future, but for now it feels right to move back to Sydney. I’m really going to miss it here a lot though.
I’ve mentioned that we’ll be travelling through Mexico & the US for six weeks starting on January 31st, so I don’t think I’ll get much of a chance to blog while I’m travelling, but I will definitely be back once we’ve settled in a bit in Sydney. Blogging is my favourite hobby so even if I go quiet for a month or two, I’m not going anywhere!
My new tattoo
For Christmas this year Mark and I got each other tattoos. Because we’ve got our holiday and the move coming up, and because we have a joint bank account anyway, we didn’t really see the point in buying each other presents this year. Since we both wanted to get tattoos we decided to make our bookings and call them our Christmas presents.
Mark’s tattoo was his first, and mine was my second. I was spurred on by the fact that I loved my first one so much that I wanted to get another done by the same artist while I still had access to him. This one is for Leonard Cohen and I could probably list about 8 reasons for this tattoo being exactly what it is, but it also just speaks for itself. I love him.
I hinted at this in my 2018 roundup post, but I’ve had a LOT of dental work done in January. I’m talking fillings, root canals, wisdom teeth extractions, crowns (multiples of everything) - the works. I said it in that post, but basically I’ve always been one of those idiots who takes their health for granted and who only goes to a doctor when there’s something wrong, and otherwise pretty much ignores things.
Of course it’s a huge privilege to be healthy enough to have been able to do that for 30 years, there are so many people who struggle with their physical and/or mental health on a daily basis and don’t have the luxury of not giving it a second thought like me. This has been a major wake up call because I got SO lucky with the timing and I can’t imagine how I would have paid for everything if I only realised I had a problem after I’d already moved back to Australia.
In Australia, our public health care system (Medicare) doesn’t cover dental work, and dentistry seems to be quite a bit more expensive there as well, since Canada has standardised fees and Australia doesn’t. I’m SO lucky that one of my teeth started hurting back in mid-December and I made a dentist’s appointment that started this whole thing, because it meant I could max out the $5,000 annual coverage I had through my work’s insurance policy and only had to pay out of pocket for the work I’ve had on top of that (which was still several thousand dollars).
If I’d discovered all these issues after we’d landed back in Australia, I easily would have been out of pocket about $10,000 so I’m pretty relieved to have saved most of that money by a matter of a few months. I’m also very relieved my tooth didn’t start hurting during our holiday as I can’t imagine trying to get emergency dental work done in the US, or how much that would cost.
Things I’m looking forward to
Mexico! I’ve never been to Mexico before and aside from generally being excited to travel and explore a few new cities, I also can’t wait to have some warm weather and feel the sun on my skin again, lol. After hearing that we’d booked flights to Tulum, Mike and Chelsie decided they wanted to come along, so we’re all super excited to swim in cenotes, check out some Mayan ruins and relax in the sun together.
While Mark & I are in New York, we're staying in Brooklyn for a few nights and then booked our final night at the Library Hotel. I never stay in fancy hotels because they’re so expensive and I generally find you get better value for money at an AirBnb, but Mark wanted to stay there to (belatedly) celebrate my 30th which was back in October. We’ve also made a reservation at Dirt Candy in New York for a vegan degustation dinner which is going to be incredible.
Mardi Gras in New Orleans! We went to NOLA together for Mark’s cousin’s wedding two years ago and loved the city so much that when we were planning this trip we wanted to revisit it. Once we realised Mardi Gras would be happening during our trip we made sure we would be in the right place at the right time. I’m so excited to eat King Cake and po-boys and beignets! (Yes, most of my life revolves around food.)
Harry Potter World! I’ve been to the one in Orlando a few years ago but we decided to add a couple of days in LA at the end of our trip and we’re going to spend one of them at Harry Potter World. One of Mark’s friends that he used to work with now lives in San Francisco and she’s going to fly down and hang out with us for the weekend and it’s going to be great.
Of course I’m looking forward to seeing our family and friends when we get home, that goes without saying. My sister in law is also due to give birth to their second baby within a few days of us arriving, so that’s very good timing on everyone’s part! We have a family wedding to attend (on Mark’s side) on our second weekend home, which is in the Hunter Valley, so it’ll be nice to have a long weekend away with Mark’s family right off the bat. We’ve also got another wedding in Brisbane in May that Mark is going to be in, so it’s nice to have some domestic travel planned before we even get back.
Movies I’ve Seen
We’ve seen SO many movies lately because we get rewards points through our bank so we get to see movies for free, and we’ve been trying to use up all our points before we leave. We watched a few movies over the Christmas break as well, and now that we’re both unemployed we’ve had more time on our hands to watch a few on Netflix too.
Green Book - I hadn’t really heard anything about this movie, but we saw the trailer while watching another movie and thought it looked good. I really enjoyed it - obviously there are some pretty heart-wrenching moments if you know the subject matter of the movie, but they do manage to make some aspects of it more light-hearted so there’s a nice balance of funny and poignant moments. Of all the movies I’m going to mention, this is definitely in the top three. 5/5
The Mule - Another one we decided to see because the trailer looked good. This is Clint Eastwood’s latest effort, and after seeing Gran Torino and Million Dollar Baby in the last few years, I’m quite impressed by his directing & acting combinations, and this one is no exception. It’s very tense in parts and I think it’s a really good story. 4/5
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse - I wasn’t really expecting much from this as I’m not especially into superhero movies, and honestly I thought it would be aimed at kids because it’s animated. But when Mark told me it was about Miles Morales and gave me some backstory, I gave it a go and really enjoyed it. It does help to see it with someone who is really into comic books (or be that person yourself), but either way I thought it was a lot of fun. 4/5
Bohemian Rhapsody - I forgot to mention this in my last post but we did see it when it first came out and although I’ve heard there are lots of factual inaccuracies, I can see why they made certain choices as it helps the story flow better. In any case, I’m not a die-hard Queen fan, so for me it was just a good, entertaining movie that I think anyone would enjoy. 4/5
The Death of Stalin - This was one of Mark’s picks, and when he said we were going to watch it I definitely raised an eyebrow because it sounds like it would be dry as hell, but I was completely wrong. It’s a very modern, comedic take on what happened immediately following Stalin’s death, which is an area of history that I was ignorant about until seeing this movie. Apparently it’s very historically accurate and I think it does an incredible job of making something really dark and serious very entertaining. Despite the fact that Stalin was an absolute monster, and died in 1953, apparently it’s still a sore point in Russia as the film (which was released in 2017) was banned there! This is also in my top 3 of this group of movies, and I really recommend watching it. 5/5
Vice - This is a biopic about Dick Cheney and his vice presidency under George W. Bush, and all the fucked up things he did. It’s in a very similar style to The Death of Stalin, so if you like one you’ll certainly like the other, although I don’t think the pacing of this was nearly as strong. However, the information and contents hit even closer to home as all of this happened in the previous decade and we were all alive while it was going on. Dick Cheney is a horrible man and I would recommend seeing this to understand why. 4/5
Annihilation - This was a sci-fi Netflix movie we were recommended, and while the concept is quite interesting and creepy, and it was compelling without being scary like a horror movie, I think the ending made no sense at all and that was a letdown for me. 2/5
Bird Box - This has gotten a lot of attention since it’s been released, and while it’s like Annihilation in that it’s creepy and suspenseful without being too scary, there were certain parts of the movie that were pretty implausible that broke the tension for me. But overall if it seems like the kind of movie you’d enjoy then I’d still recommend it - for me it’s good but not incredible. 3/5
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch - I stopped watching Black Mirror after the first few episodes because I just found it unpleasant to watch, but we’d heard the movie was really good and the choose-your-own-adventure concept is pretty cool, but after about an hour Mark and I were both pretty bored by it and we turned it off. Again, the concept is cool but it was meh for me. 2/5
Aquaman - This is one only saw because it was free with our points, I don’t really know anything about Aquaman as a character, but this was a completely standard action/superhero movie, and if you typically enjoy those then you’ll probably enjoy this too. It wasn’t anything life changing, but it was entertaining and sometimes that’s all you’re after. 3/5
Destroyer - We saw the trailer for this one and had heard Nicole Kidman’s performance was incredible (it was), but ultimately it wasn’t what I was expecting from the trailer. It made it seem as though the movie would be really action-packed, but I found it was slower than I thought it would be, and it takes quite a while for the story to unfold and for you to understand her motivation. Ultimately, it was pretty good but I think I had my expectations up a little too high. 3.5/5
If Beale Street Could Talk - We heard this had the same director as Moonlight, which both Mark and I liked but didn’t love, but we wanted to check this out. I think it’s better than Moonlight, although it’s still slow in parts, but that seems to just be the director’s style. It’s not an overly complicated story but it’s well-told and unlike Destroyer, I think the trailer under-promised and the movie over-delivered. This is the other movie in my top 3 picks from the bunch. 4/5
TV I’ve Been Watching
Mark and I just finished washing the final seas of The Wire, which is an incredible show and I’m really going to miss it now that it’s done. However, there’s a new season of The Punisher up on Netflix so that is most definitely what we’ll be watching next, and I can’t wait!! Aside from that, the only other show I’ve been watching is Please Like Me, but I’m obsessed with it. It’s funny most of the time, sad some of the time, and overall I think it does a really good job of addressing real life problems without dumbing things down or shying away from uncomfortable situations. Plus it’s Australian and the characters feel really authentic and remind me of home - hugely recommend!
Music I’ve Been Listening To
Bruce Springsteen - The River
Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited
PJ Harvey - Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea
Kwame - Endless Conversations.
Books I’ve Been Reading
Blues People by LeRoi Jones
I picked this up after spotting it in a second hand bookshop in Chicago and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d been meaning to read something by LeRoi Jones because I knew he was a civil rights activist, and he was also loosely connected with the Beat Generation. Published in 1963, this is the first book written about blues and jazz music by an African-American. Of course, that’s awful because African-American people invented both genres several decades before this book was written. It covers a lot of topics beyond music, and given that it was written in the ‘60s, it feels a lot closer to the source than something written today. It was hugely informative and gave me a lot to think about. I was so impressed with it that I bought a copy for my boss for Christmas and he was very happy to receive it.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Honestly, I didn’t know anything about this book beyond the title, but it was compelling enough to make me want to read it. It was surprised to find that the author is actually British, as so much of the conversation we see surrounding race comes from a North American perspective, so it was really interesting to see these issues discussed within a different cultural context. If you would like to consider yourself someone who is sensitive to/informed about contemporary racial issues this is a great resource to learn from.
The Flame – Leonard Cohen
Published posthumously, this is Leonard Cohen’s final book of poetry that he was working on right up until his passing on 2016. Obviously I had to pick this up once it came out because he is one of my favourite people in the whole world, and there are some gems in here that I absolutely loved.
Green Girl by Kate Zambreno
This was a quick read but it left an impression. I came across this recommendation through Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, and her thoughts on it made me want to read it. The Green Girl is Ruth, who is a tragically self-destructive, lost young woman who seems to be unable to take control of her life and situation. I found it quite heart-wrenching at times, and we probably all know someone who could fit the narrative, or we may have been there before ourselves. I haven’t read anything else like it, but I read this analysis recently which says a lot of things I don’t have the space to say here.
The Town and the City by Jack Kerouac
Despite being a die-hard Kerouac fangirl, I only just got around to reading this, which was his first published book. I had always put off reading it because it was written before he developed the writing style that I love him for, and I didn’t think I would enjoy this as much. Stylistically, this is widely considered to be influenced by Thomas Wolfe, and after I read one of his books last year and was thoroughly bored by it, I was even more apprehensive about reading this. Yes, compared to Kerouac’s works that I love, this missed the mark, but it did get interesting towards the end when he started introducing characters based on his real-life friends who were easily recogniseable to me. Not his best work, but it was worth me finally reading it.
Collected Poems: 1947-1980 by Allen Ginsberg
This was my first book of 2019, and while I’ve read several of Ginsberg’s poems before, I hadn’t read a substantial amount of his work until now. He has a few more books of poetry that were published between 1980 and his death in 1997, and I plan to read through those as well (I did read one a few years ago) and then I will have read all of his published poems. Some highlights for me in this collection were the ones dealing with friends of his, like Kerouac and Neal Cassady - The Green Automobile in particular, as well as the poems he wrote around the time of their deaths. Howl, of course is one I had read before, and Kaddish really stood out to me when I read it this time - it’s a huge poem of mourning for his mother after she passed away, and it details her life-long struggles with mental illness.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
I don’t really go for young adult fiction, but given how moving I found the film, I wanted to give the book a chance. Ultimately I did prefer the movie, but I think it’s important for people who may have grown up in a similar situation to the one depicted in this book to have representation and to see themselves reflected in what they consume, and I can’t think of another example that does this in a positive light like this book does.
Minimalism: How to Live a Meaningful Life by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus
Man, this book sucked. I watched their documentary on Netflix a few year ago and thought a book on minimalism would be a good way to start off the new year, but I was wrong. Most of it focused on things like health & fitness, building relationships and following your passions in life, and while all of those things are important, I knew that already and didn’t need this book to tell me. Not to mention the fact that they write like an infomercial and hugely over-simplify things that are actually very complicated. They go on and on about how they were trapped in the corporate machine and how they saw the light and broke out of it, but of course only people who are in the privileged position of having a bunch of money can choose to walk away from it. People who don’t have the same resources, or who have children or sick family members who depend on them can’t walk away from a high paying job to follow their dreams (if they have a high paying job to begin with, which most people don’t). There are lots of other things that irritated me, but the bottom line is skip it - I wish I had.