Thank you, Julia.

As the week is coming to an end, it felt like it was time to acknowledge the sad week we’ve witnessed in Australian politics. In a shock twist, Julia Gillard was forced to let go of the prime ministership on Wednesday night, after Julia herself had called a ballot the same day. Of course we all understand that the pressures internally in the Labor party to conduct such a ballot at this point in time would have been strong. So about as sudden as she had risen to power, she was gone again, and Kevin 07 wasn’t slow to make himself comfortable in the power chair.

While countless articles and opinion pieces have been written on the things Julia did wrong as the prime minister well as the things she did right, I’d like to pay tribute to her for the extraordinary resilience, strength and professionalism she portrayed while she was time and time again subjected to extreme bullying and vicious harassment by her peers, the media as well as the people of this country, primarily because of the fact that she was a woman. Australia might like to look at itself as a progressive, forward thinking and highly developed country, however when faced with a woman as the prime minister the real issues around misogyny and inequality suddenly revealed its ugly head. The sort of descriptions that emerged in the public debate made you wonder if people would ever call their mothers or daughters similar things, and if the answer was no, why on earth the prime minister of the nation should the target of such cruel abuse?! The lowest of the low occurred a few weeks back when radio host Howard Sattler suggested on national radio that Julia’s partner of many years, Tim Mathieson, must be gay. Even when she politely answered that of course he’s not, Mr Sattler kept at it and wouldn’t let it go. It was only due to Julia’s extreme resilience and professionalism that she didn’t just walk out of the studio right there and then. What Mr Sattler was essentially insinuating was that it was hard to believe that any man could be in a sexual relationship with Ms Gillard. Why? Because what kind of man could be attracted to such a strong, independent and unbreakable woman? What kind of man wants to lie down next to a woman who doesn’t cry, who isn’t a mother and who never shows any signs of weakness? Only a gay man, of course.

Julia Gillard, you will be remembered for your courage and guts, and most importantly for your commitment to making life better for all Australians.

Like she said in her final speech, let’s just hope “it will be easier for the next woman and the woman after that and the woman after that….”

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Pass me the guilt, please!

My favourite television show at the moment is ‘Little Paris kitchen’ (SBS, Thursday nights @ 8 pm), where a young lady from the UK is living it up as a cook and food writer in a tiny apartment in Paris. I’m completely obsessed with the show, and so are a lot of people around me. So, apart from the whole living in Paris scenario, what makes this show so good?

  1. Rachel Khoo (the cook and food writer) is wearing her excellent collection of vintage outfits, which includes funny coloured knitted socks. Of course everyone loves vintage, so it’s sure to be a hit.
  2. She’s got a fringe extraordinaire going on (from one fringe queen to the next).
  3. Apart from a super cute British accent, she speaks perfect Françoise, enough to make me embarrassed I ever tried to learn it for five years in school only to end up with a half dodgy ‘tu t’appelle comment?’
  4. She lives en PARI! (Ops, already said that).
  5. She cooks in a tiny kitchen, with one stove top and a tiny oven, which should make any poor student living in dire conditions ashamed of their baked beans on toast diet (ashamed, I tell you!).
  6. She gets to eat all the baguettes and cakes she wants because quite frankly, it tastes too damn nice to resist and besides, she lives in Paris for God’s sake.
  7. And staying on the matter of eating, the absolute BEST thing about this show is that Rachel is cooking with…drum roll please…. cheese, cream, sugar, chocolate and BUTTER!! (iiiikk).

Now, can I please at this point be allowed to have a nervous breakdown about all the guilt that exists in my life…….I mean, I eat BREAD (in fact I love bread so much I tend to have it for breakfast AND lunch!), I eat butter (oohhh), I eat cheese (Greek feta, goats cheese, brie, cheddar, you name it and I eat it, several times a week), I eat cream, I eat eggs (why hello cholesterol, and by the way: how un-vegan of me!), I eat potatoes after 7 pm and I eat pasta whenever I see fit (ravioli, spag bol, carbonara, sometimes even a cheeky mac and cheese however always homemade, not the processed stuff…ehhh). So please allow yourself to point the finger at me, because I have already declared myself well & truly guilty! I have absolutely no knowledge of any super foods; I have a dodgy old blender which hardly blends, inherited from my mother in law; my favourite drink is red wine (no healthy juices here) and every day, I eat a big, fatty avocado, as if it was some kind of healthy fruit! (duuuhhh..)

So here I was, looking at websites where women had substituted bread with dust, pasta with quinoa and coffee with something green and slimy (gives you great energy, apparently! Well, so does coffee!!!!!), thinking that ‘gee I must be half dead already’. As it that wasn’t enough, I also visited some strange online airwaves where super skinny women were photographing their super toned abs (steroids?), and their firm bums in the latest Nike run wear, whilst proclaiming their love for the gym (at least 7 times a week everyone, oh wait does that mean every day of the week, hmmm oh well who has a job and a life anyway!). The same women were cooking their gluten free, wheat free, dairy free, and hold on, sugar free foods, in other words food without the nasties, ‘the horrible stuff’ (i.e. flour) and at this point I felt just about ready to curl myself into a ball and rock back and forth whilst singing a hymn from my child hood.

But please, don’t get me wrong, I own both a gym membership AND a cookbook by Michelle Bridges. I also make a lot of wholesome home cooked meals, but I am not prepared to die of shame the next time I discover I don’t have much in the fridge because I work hard and catch public transport, and instead end up devouring boiled pasta with butter and parmesan cheese (and a maybe tiny bit of cheddar…!) for dinner. Or for enjoying sitting down at a street cafe with a cappuccino and a croissant, and for putting the finger up at the buckwheat chocolate cake. For me, life is all about give and take. I go to the gym, I love working up a sweat, and I love getting strong & fit. However I also cut myself some slack at the same time. Meaning I don’t always eat five a day (although I try my best) and I don’t need to be slaving in the kitchen for hours to make every tiny ingredient from scratch (and quite frankly, who the heck has the time to do that anyway)!

So here I was, feeling beyond guilty about my ‘crazy’ lifestyle: involving anything from coffee first thing in the morning, to a sandwich for lunch, and wait for it, roast potatoes and pan-fried fish (in butter of course) for dinner! And then Rachel came along, rosy cheeked and all smiles, cooking with beautiful French cheeses, cream and more than a dollop of salty, French butter! Can I just say….THANK YOU RACHEL! Not only for preparing and endorsing mouth-watering dishes on telly, but for being normal, and by that I mean having a normal body weight and cooking with simple, old-fashioned ingredients like white flour, caster sugar and filo pastry. I will not proceed to have a nervous breakdown then, after all, because at least now I know that there are two of us out there with our crazy, normal ‘eat everything in moderation’ diets!

Now, where is that smart phone so I can get a photo of those abs……..

#guilt #nervousbreakdown #howaboutsomechocolatecake?

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breakfast (638 ways)

Breakfast. It’s the new dinner. All over Melbourne, people are ditching the old classic ‘toast with vegemite’ for a deliciously cooked breakfast, and I’m not talking about the traditional bacon and eggs. The varieties are endless, and it seems the more unconventional, the more exciting. What may have started out as a bit of sassy avocado on the side, has now evolved into breakfast on steroids. There are Middle Eastern breakfasts, Spanish breakfasts, Mexican breakfasts and Singaporean breakfasts. There are croissants and baguettes, straight from the boulangerie, and various 1950s inspired fruit buns and scones from the hipster bakery around the corner (and yes, that is an apron from your grandma’s collection they are wearing). You can order the crocodile and emu sausage, cooked in a skillet with spinach and melted Yarra Valley cheddar, or the haloumi stack with potato hash, poached eggs and Egyptian dukkah. Or how about poached eggs on a lemon infused roquet salad with parmesan cheese, Tasmanian smoked salmon and smashed avocado (I once got a lemon wedge on the side of my breakfast, and got scared and chucked it on the floor because I didn’t know what to do with it). In fact, it shouldn’t really be necessary to eat anything else on the day of your chosen brekkie, because you’ve already covered lunch and dinner IN the serving (not to mention at least 5 of the essential food groups). Don’t get me wrong, I’m always happy to step away from the dry piece of toast first thing in the morning. I’m just really curious to see what’s next in the world of over the top (otherwise known as OTT) breakfast varieties. Perhaps it will be meatballs (3 ways) on sourdough with creme anglaise and a touch of peanut butter caramel sauce? Or twice cooked pork belly with poached eggs and fried porchini mushrooms? Every day of the week, and it doesn’t even have to be the weekend, people cram themselves into tiny inner city Cafe localities, containing more tables than they can really fit in, to enjoy the comfort of a fabulously cooked breakfast and barista quality coffee (btw, it’s no longer good enough to drink coffee from your $1000 coffee machine at home, ok?). Young families throw their kids into retro, vintage high chairs and tell them to save the crying for later, as the parents are on a quest for the perfect breakfast. While the kids are hanging off their chairs and whinging for brekkie at Maccas, their parents are frothing in whipped avocado, sourdough bakery goods and double smoked Italian pancetta, (organic of course), and free range, and ethically sourced and produced and, and hang on, if it’s made in Italy, doesn’t that mean a massive carbon footprint..?…Anyway, moving on, if you are one of those people who dare to whip up a brekkie at home, make sure you hide under your bed whilst consuming it, as the monster Cafe brekkies will point the finger at you and laugh in that ‘muahhhaaaahaaaaa’ kinda way. It could almost make you go nostalgic on instant coffee and toasted crumpets!

Meanwhile, my husband is still trying to supress his memory of breakfast in Norway, where he was forced (he says forced, I will only account for coerced) into downing liver pate on untoasted rye bread before 9 am on Sunday mornings, whilst nipping at the cold meats selection on hand (I think the special Christmas meats he referred to as ‘Frankenstein meats’ were his favourite) and getting thrown the occasional piece of mustard infused herring (or rotten fish as he so fondly nicknamed it). However by the way things are going, maybe this could be the latest trend to hit Melbourne? After all, that’s just what this city needs: another breakfast variety to make your head spin before 10 am on an otherwise peaceful Saturday morning!

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talking, small scale

When I first came to Australia as a young gal, I remember so well how confronting I thought it was when shop assistants asked me ‘how are you?’ Or ‘how’s your day going?’ and I immediately had to resist the urge to run out of the shop and hide somewhere. Born and raised in Norway, I just wasn’t used to this random chit chat. What was I meant to respond? What did they want from me?

Later on, this obviously became the norm even in my life, and I found myself asking people the same questions, forgetting that I was once so intrigued by the real meaning of such phrases. I now understand that these types of questions work as a social lubricant – meaning that they make it easier for us to approach each other, making strangers into another version of you. It cuts through our scepticism and fear of other people when we look into a stranger’s eyes and realise that we are both making the same effort to have a conversation about something relatively ‘empty’, like the weather. In other words, it’s not about the content of a conversation; it’s about the people, and our willingness to communicate with those who share a part in our day, whether it’s at the super market, the coffee shop or whilst waiting for a tram.

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‘Phatic communication’, or small talk, is still something I’m learning to master. Aussies, on the other hand, are excellent at this art form. Whether in country towns or in Melbourne CBD, at restaurants or shopping malls, people often strike up a chat just for the sake of a chat, and there’s never any time to be offended. ‘Where did you get that skirt from?’ ‘What’s that dish you’re eating?’ ‘Can it get any hotter?’ ‘What are you up to on the weekend?’ and the list goes on. Ahhh, the small talk and its associated gestures. What a brilliant way to make a society run more smoothly. The laughter when the 5 pm commuters are all crammed into the loaded train carriers. A situation that could make anyone ‘go off’ so to speak, suddenly becomes so ridiculous that all you can do is giggle, like an ‘oh well, it could be a lot worse’ kinda scenario. It seems to me that one of my greatest lessons learnt whilst living in Australia, has turned out to be the ability not to take people and situations too seriously, to be able to giggle at most things, and be less afraid of strangers. I now realise that most people are really only a reflection of myself, with their similar lives and ideas and wants. Who would have thought??!

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the wedding

When Matt & I got married in January this year, we approached the wonderful Melbourne-based Luma Photography for our wedding photos (http://luma-wedding-photography.com.au).

Luma are Luke & Marieke, a young couple who are renowned for their natural approach to wedding photography, in contrast to the traditional, more formal style of photography.

We couldn’t be happier with the way they captured our wedding day, and to show you what they’re all about, I’ve uploaded a few photos here.Sandra-Matt-58

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norway in a nutshell.

Once upon a time, the man and I packed up all our stuff in Melbourne, downed our last decent skinny latte, waved goodbye to the lane ways and moved to Norway. Drastic, I know. However at the time, I had spent the last seven years down under and the family at home was feeling terribly neglected. So, with Matt knowing absolutely no Norwegian what so ever, except for a few cheesy lines I had taught him once we were drunk, we set sail for Norway. The plan was to find employment and kinda set up our lives there, which seemed like a pretty straight forward task at the time……but gee were we mistaken.

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We started out in Oslo, renting a short-term studio from a friend. We had two months to get sorted with our own accommodation, and started straight away to peruse the rental sites and real estate agencies. We went to inspection after inspection after inspection, but there was never any good news for us. Even the places we didn’t really want, was unobtainable for us. I’m still not 100% sure what the issue was, because no one ever said it to my face. However I now realise that it might have had something to do with the fact that we didn’t have a rental history in Norway (I hadn’t lived there for almost a decade), and because we didn’t have any past income information (in Norway, everyone’s income is published online for everyone to see), and possibly also because we may have come across as “randoms” (me with my Bergen’s dialect, appears it is super RANDOM to come from another place in the country, and Matt with his English only scenario….crazy). As for the job market, the experience was similar, if not worse. I never heard back from most of the positions I applied for, so I went to a couple of recruitment agencies. The treatment I received was nothing but appalling, with one recruiter looking at my CV, then shouting at me “what is that you’ve done her…I don’t understand anything of it, what have you done?’  At the time I had worked for one of the world’s biggest international humanitarian organisations, and had a degree from a highly recognised university in Melbourne, a world-class city with a population the size of Norway. What exactly was it that she couldn’t get?

After two months, we moved to Bergen as our short-term lease in Oslo ended. Luckily we quickly found a half decent apartment to rent (I guess the dialect was a plus in this instance), and we both needed work A.S.A.P. Matt is qualified architect with years of experience working in a sought after Melbourne office on a wide range of projects, however by now he had sent his resume to literally all the architect agencies operating in Oslo and Bergen. After two months in Bergen he finally heard back from a Canadian architect operating in the area, and started shortly after. As for me, jees louise, moving to Bergen really stirred up my plans. One of our main reasons for moving to Oslo was that I wanted to work for one of the international humanitarian agencies located there, either in programs or communications. In Bergen, there is just no such thing as humanitarian agencies. So I took up a job via recruitment agency, working in a market division of a bank. It was definitely the furthest away from my dream job I had ever been, but at least it paid the bills.

Over the next 8 or 9 months, I worked at the bank whilst applying for a range of jobs in Bergen relevant to my education and experience. I got a couple of interviews here & there, but mostly I got ‘we apologise, you have not been short listed for this position’. You might think that I applied for roles that required a whole lot of experience etc. but I didn’t. I read the position descriptions thoroughly and always knew I could match it to my degree and work experience.

Someone told me later that ‘you can’t get a decent job in this town (Bergen) without knowing someone who knows someone.’ In other words: contacts, network. People getting their degree from the local university and schools, and recruiting similar souls when they ended up in leadership roles. People sticking to what they know, instead of opening up to something new. Out of fear, out of inferiority, out of habit. Suddenly it was like I was head to head with the local students out of the sheer difference that we had studied in different countries. Team local students versus team international students, and the bell went off. A recruitment agent in Bergen commented ‘how was your Bachelor of surf & sun?’ Envy, a need to ridicule, implying that somehow I wasn’t competent, not like they were.

Meanwhile, statistics from the World University Rankings 2011-2012 saw Australian universities ranked as high as 37, while the highest ranking Norwegian University was the University of Oslo, at 181, followed by the University of Bergen, ranked 191. Food for thought perhaps?

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Norway sees thousands of students travelling overseas to study each year, and with a population of just under 5 million, you could only imagine what a great opportunity this is for the country. The country’s youth are now living in all corners of the world, snapping up different ideas and techniques, and ways of living, all of which should be flowing in to the country upon their return. International students are the modern society’s explorers and adventures. They become anthropologists, studying their visiting country and the local people’s customs and culture. There is so much to learn as an international student, and it can be challenging in so many ways. There are languages to be learned, culture shocks to be overcome, and emotions to be controlled when the loving memories of family become too strong. Also equally important, there are survival skills to be developed and financial management to be practiced.

The Norwegian student loan institution Laanekassen, gave loans to just under 24,000 international students in 2012, and reported that the amount of students choosing to study overseas was only increasing.

After 12 months in Norway, the man and I both felt this ridiculous situation had been going on for long enough. The winter had been long and dark, and the positive outlook had been lost along the way. So we packed our bags and returned to the city of great food & coffee, mild winters and Australian Open. We knew that we’d always be welcome here, in Melbourne, a city which has become a great example of the amazing things that can happen when diversity is embraced and change is happening all around, every single day.

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I hope I will begin to see something similar take place in Norway as time goes by, and for the sake of every international student out there returning home with a backpack and a half full of important learnings, life wisdom and booming enthusiasm, I really hope it does.

fringe away

I have been wanting a fringe FOREVER, however somehow it all just seemed too drastic, too hard. I’m usually the kind of person who needs to think things though, so I really took myself by surprise when I found myself in the hairdresser’s chair 30 minutes ago. If they hadn’t said they could do it straight away when I was walking past, I’m not sure when it would have happened. Nevertheless, I present to you la result. I’m actually pretty stoked!

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The Creature…

Our cute & and funny kitty cat!

Our cute & and funny kitty cat!

She likes to hang out in random places like suitcases....maybe she'd like to travel more?

She likes to hang out in random places like suitcases….maybe she’d like to travel more?

She opts for central positions, like ON TOP OF US! ...never a dull moment around here!

She opts for central positions, like ON TOP OF US! …never a dull moment around here!

The Expat……

I love living in Australia, and I reflect on this every single day I’m here. I think in many ways you have to be an expat living here to be able to fully understand and/or appreciate the beauty of this place. Recently, I found that I kept running into this British born guy from my work every time I went to the park for a walk on my lunch break. Like me, he would marvel at the sky, at the trees, at the ground, watching the mild and subtle seasons change from summer to autumn, to winter, and to spring again. Like me, he would fill up his batteries with the sensational colours of tropical flowers, gumtrees and that bright, blue sky, before heading back to work for the second half of the day. And that’s my absolute favorite thing about this place; no matter how hard things get, there’s always that bright, blue sky waiting for you whenever you need a break from it all.

A part of me set root here before I even knew it myself. I now feel deeply connected and bound to this place, and every time I see something beautiful, like a sunset in Byron Bay, or the Margaret River wine region in WA,  it feels like I’m seeing it all for the first time again, and the experience is both visually and emotionally as beautiful as it could ever be. This is a place of great mystery and complex stories, it’s a place that makes you wonder about your own existence, every day, because you wonder how you got to be here, in the world, and access all of this for free. It’s a planet of its own, a breathing and living organism, far way from a noisy and political Europe. It’s a quiet place in the world, even when it’s loud, and I am so grateful this Norwegian gal was able to find her way here some 11 years ago……….

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Brookwood Estate, Margaret River WA

Brookwood Estate, Margaret River WA

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The beaches of North Stradbroke Island, QLD

Lorne, VIC

Lorne, VIC