Monday, December 5, 2016

Weekending | Christmas Lights Edition

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, minus the fact that it's 60 degrees and has been raining for three straight days. I may or may not have casually looked into buying a boat today, you know, just in case.

Despite the weather, it DOES feel a bit more like Christmas than it has the past two years when we celebrated during the summer in Australia. I absolutely loved being able to go to the beach in December, and grilling on Christmas day in Melbourne with friends, but it's nice to be back Stateside where at least it's winter.

I ordered some Christmas gifts last week, which is wayyyy ahead of schedule for me. Actually, anything before December 23rd is way ahead of schedule for me. I had this elaborate plan to order Peter's gift off of Amazon in Ali's name because I knew if he was home during the day and a package was delivered with my name on it, he would open it right up. So, as expected, Ali and I were out of the house when the UPS guy dropped it off, and Peter thought nothing of it and set it in Ali's room. The issue was that I had only mentioned my plan to Ali in passing and she didn't remember to pretend the package was for her when she got home from work, so she forgot to play along and I ended up having to tell them both that it was Peter's Christmas gift, and he knew what it was immediately. One of these years I'll pull off a surprise, but this year is not that year!

On Saturday Peter and I headed to Target to get a small artificial tree to put up and were kind of surprised to find the cheapest one was $80. We decided that was a little ridiculous, so we headed over to Walmart and found an acceptable six-foot tree for $20. We put it together and then met Ali over at work and made our way to Mozart's Coffee Roasters for their annual light show, which is supposed to be a pretty big deal. Unfortunately, it was raining so only parts of the show were able to run, but it was actually kind of fun that way and we enjoyed our first Mozart's experience! Note: I am well aware that the following pictures are horrible quality, but turns out it's not easy to take pictures of Christmas lights, especially with my nice ol' iPhone 5...

So ya, as you can see, Mozart's goes all out. We might even head back in the next couple weeks when it's not raining to see the whole show.

Afterward, we went home to decorate the tree, of which I took zero photos other than this one from Snapchat. Please note and praise my caption for its trendiness.

Sunday was rainy again and we only really left the house to get ramen for lunch at a really popular place near our apartment. Sometime during the afternoon I stumbled across a list of Austin neighborhoods with the best Christmas displays. After dinner, we decided to head up to the northern suburbs of Cedar Park and Round Rock, where the bulk of the houses on the list were located. The first culdesac was one huge display with every house absolutely covered in lights. There was even a big tent-like structure in the middle with a place for donations.
We left wondering what would happen if one of the neighbors moved and the next owner wasn't into participating. Maybe they vet potential buyers?

The second house was just one family, complete with their own radio station to go along with the lights and give instructions for viewing in the least annoying way for the benefit of their neighbors. Nice gesture, but I can't help but think it would be a total pain to live next door to these people! Maybe I'm just a scrooge, but having my neighborhood be a sort of tourist destination might not be all that great?

We tried to swing by one final house with a display titled "Elfvis" but they had turned off their lights early due to the rain. We might go out another night this week and see it if it ever stops raining!

In an effort to continue the Christmas-themed weekend we just had, I made this peppermint bark this afternoon and am currently waiting for it to harden in the fridge. We have a pretty normal week planned, with a visit to Waco on Friday for Christmas at the Silos, which should be tons of fun.

Have a good week!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


We had a really fun Thanksgiving last week complete with all of the usual festivities despite the fact that it was just Peter, Ali and me here. Ali and I watched the Thanksgiving Day Parade, during which we recognized next to zero "celebrities", followed by the dog show, while Peter watched football. I'm sort of loving that we have two TVs now.

It was a beautiful 75-degree day, so Ali and I drove down to the river right across from Downtown and went on a short walk. There were tons and tons of people out walking their dogs and/or jogging. I decided people who jog on Thanksgiving are the worst kind of people. I felt overachieving even going on a walk and then they come and put me to shame. I did take this picture of a fun little map on the top of a hill in the park where we were walking. It shows the distance to notable Texas destinations from that exact spot.
Part of the reason I didn't really take any photos was because my phone freaked out and starting freezing every five seconds and then randomly deleted all 5,346 pictures on my phone. So that was fun. I actually recovered them via iPhoto so all is not lost, but it was highly annoying and I almost bit the bullet and bought a new phone on Black Friday. See, I still have the iPhone 5, which I'm aware is archaic, but it came free with my phone plan in Australia and I don't want to sign on to another contract until I absolutely have to. That is, until I need a new phone and don't want to buy it outright for 8 bajillion dollars. So, until then, I'll stick with my iPhone 5 and my Straight Talk Wireless plan.

Yes, there are actual people who use Straight Talk Wireless in their actual lives and not just for burner phones and I am one of them.

Anyway, we had an amazing Thanksgiving dinner complete with tons of turkey, potatoes, stuffing, corn, green beans, gravy, and an apple pie. We were extremely full after dinner, but that didn't stop us from venturing out to witness the madness that is Black Friday. Around 6 pm we headed over to the mall and wandered around Macy's. I'm sad to report we didn't see any fist fights. One year, Ali and I witnessed an actual fight between two grown women over bedding at Walmart that was discounted like 20%. No joke. Macy's was slightly classier but still pretty hectic. We checked out a few other stores, bought a total of two things, and then headed home. Worth it.

On actual Black Friday Ali had to work, so Peter and I had the totally original idea to drive down to the ridiculously massive outlet mall in San Marcos to do a bit more shopping. Turns out, several others decided to hit up the outlet mall as well, and it took us approximately an hour to make it into the parking lot and find a spot. We ended up doing one of those things where you spot someone walking to their car and relentlessly stalk them. Again, we left with approximately four items, mostly purchased at the Old Navy outlet, which in itself is a somewhat unbelievable concept. How do you discount a $4.00 shirt? Let me just say, you haven't lived until you've been to the San Marcos outlet mall. It is insane.

On Saturday, we still had a bunch of Thanksgiving leftovers so we invited some friends over for a retroactive Friendsgiving. One of my college roommates has an old coworker who is in Austin for a few months with her husband working as a traveling nurse, so we have gotten together a few times with them, given that they don't know anyone here either! We had a really fun little dinner and got to finish off the last of our Thanksgiving feast.

Sunday was the 50th anniversary of the Zilker Christmas Tree Lighting, which is supposed to symbolically kick off the start of the Christmas season in Austin. Later in December, there is a Trail of Lights spanning Zilker Park that's rumored to be really cool, so we will definitely go to that when it opens. I took a few photos of the tree and it really did feel pretty Christmas-y with all of the festivities going on in the park, minus the 70-degree weather of course.

I apologize for the super-grainy low-quality iPhone pictures, but here's the tree before it was lit:
 And after:

And a video:

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Weekend Festivities

We had a super-quiet weekend over here after enjoying having visitors last weekend. On Friday morning, Peter and I ran over to the bank to open up a new checking account (our old bank doesn't have any branches in Texas) and get a few other things set up. I swear I'm technology cursed, because Peter had no problems logging in and out of his account, but we had to reset my password multiple times and then I got locked out, of course. I feel like this happens to me daily. Don't ask me my security questions because chances are I won't know the answer. Anyone else have this problem?

Anyway, we waiting until Ali was done with work and then got dinner at Home Slice Pizza, which is basically the best pizza I've had in a long time. Afterward, we walked across the street to Hey Cupcake! which is quickly becoming our favorite food truck. Dessert trucks are the best.

On Saturday, we pretty much lounged around until after dinner, when we decided to be somewhat social and head out to find dessert. We tried to go to Bananarchy, which is the best name for a food truck ever, but it wasn't in its usual place. That's the issue with food trucks...they move. And have really freaking weird hours. So instead, we drove to East Austin to Prohibition Creamery, which specializes in boozy ice cream. I had a really good- albeit strong- sangria sorbet and will definitely be back to try one of their milkshakes. This was the sign outside the shop, which I thought was pretty hilarious:

We drove around East Austin a bit and were surprised by how many restaurants and bars were there that we hadn't ever heard of.  I actually didn't know there was anything over there worth checking out. The east side is up-and-coming, so you weave between sketchy-looking areas and newer construction pretty rapidly. However, if we were to buy a house at this very moment (we aren't), I think that would be the best place to buy. It's fun to live in a fast-growing city and witness all the renovation happening!

On Sunday, Peter watched the Vikings game (of course) and then we headed over to the Barton Creek Greenbelt for an afternoon walk. The weather was amazing, with temps in the 60s, and there were tons of people out. We only did the mile-long walk since we didn't have a ton of time before sunset, but it would be fun to do the whole 7-mile loop at some point!

We don't have any exciting plans for Thanksgiving, other than attempting a turkey and some side dishes for our little party of three. Since Ali works in retail, she will be pretty busy this whole week, but we might squeeze in some Black Friday shopping on Thursday evening if we're not too full after our feast.
Thursday, November 17, 2016

Day Trip to San Antonio

We had a really busy, fun weekend over here showing my mom and stepdad around Austin. We even had time to fit in a day trip to San Antonio, which is just about an hour south of us. I've only been to San Antonio once before this trip when I was about 13, so it was fun to be back and see everything again as an adult.  Actually, all I really remember from my first trip was that it was really, really, really hot. This time, the weather was pretty much perfect- high 70s and blue skies. We visited three major destinations and made it back to Austin all before dinner time! 

The Alamo

Our first stop was the most famous of the sights in San Antonio- The Alamo. We walked around the grounds a bit, read up on the Battle of the Alamo, and visited their extensive gift shop- complete with fudge and a bunch of stereotypical Texas merchandise. Shockingly, we resisted and didn't buy anything. There was an older man giving a history talk in one of the courtyards, and he deserved an Oscar for his engaging (and perhaps unintentionally hilarious) performance. I recorded a bit of his talk on Snapchat but sadly forgot to save it to share here and now it's gone forever. RIP. 
My mom and me by the fountain on the Alamo grounds.
San Antonio struck me as much older than I remembered it 15 years ago, probably because I was so young, and there were tons of beautiful old trees around the city. The Roomie and I unintentionally matched this

The security guard in the non-ironic cowboy hat in the bottom left of this picture is my favorite.

The Riverwalk

Next, we headed a few blocks over to the Riverwalk. Because it was a Monday, it was pretty quiet and some of the restaurants were closed. We walked down the river a ways and caught one of these boat cruises. My most vivid memory of visiting San Antonio as a kid was sitting on one of these boats and being so unbelievably hot that I wanted to jump in. 
I didn't know this before our boat tour, but a few scenes from Miss Congeniality were filmed on the stage to the right. Our guide's two daughters were scheduled to participate in dance recitals later this week on this stage, which is pretty much the cutest thing ever. An outdoor dance recital in November is not something we ever could have had in Minnesota! We always got stuck in high school gyms and the recitals lasted the better part of a century.

We ate at this cute Mexican restaurant with the colorful umbrellas, which are pretty much synonymous with the Riverwalk. There was a mariachi band that serenaded a table near us, but unfortunately never made it to ours.

Mission San Jose

Before heading back to Austin, we stopped at Mission San Jose, about five miles south of the city. This historic Catholic mission was finished in 1768 and is one of the most beautiful churches I've ever seen. 

Photos were prohibited inside the sanctuary, but here is a picture I found online of the front:

The doors to the mission were so pretty. I was scrolling the tag on Instagram and saw some AMAZING wedding photos in front of these doors. I love that such an old and historic building has been preserved so beautifully over the years!

That about sums up our day trip to San was definitely worth a visit! 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Weekend Festivities

Hello, friends!

We are settling into life in Austin, which includes doing some exploring on the weekends. On Friday, we decided to start fulfilling our personal mission to eat and rank all the BBQ restaurants in the Austin area and headed over to Terry Black's Barbecue just south of downtown. It. Was. Amazing. Granted, it was only the second stop on our BBQ bucket list (first was The Salt Lick) but I think Terry Black's is going to hold onto that #1 spot for awhile ;).
Here's our food:
I should add that earlier in the day, the exterminator paid us another visit (he's truly the best friend we've made thus far) to investigate the wildlife that has graced our apartment. To no one's surprise, he told us we are the first people in our entire complex that has had a scorpion inside. Figures. He also got excited when I produced the scorpion (that had been out on our balcony in a plastic bag) and let us know that it was a rare breed that he had never seen in person and was almost never found inside houses. So that's cool. And terrifying.  He even asked if he could bring it with him to show his coworkers. We gladly obliged. We've luckily been bug-free since then.

On Saturday, Ali worked and Peter and I got a few errands done before heading to the driving range. Peter used to golf a lot but the lack of a car made it a bit of a challenge to keep up with the hobby in Australia. Since we've lugged those clubs from Minnesota to Missouri to Melbourne and now to Austin, I'm adamant that he actually puts them to use ;).

While Peter golfed, I downloaded and started reading Mindy Kaling's book Why Not Me? and it's absolutely hilarious so far. I loved her in The Office, but haven't really followed her much since then, so I'm looking forward to catching up with what she's been doing.
After Peter finished up golfing, we decided to check out the view from Mount Bonnell, just a bit outside the city on the Colorado River, which is also called Lake Austin. Which is potentially also the same thing as Lady Bird Lake? I'm confused about all the different "lakes" in Austin because they're actually all just sections of the Colorado River as far as I can tell. Anyway, it was too foggy to see much, but you can make out the skyline in the distance.
We then met Ali at Nordstrom and headed to the Cheesecake Factory next door for some dessert. It was super crowded and took forever to get a table, despite spotting about 238032 empty tables waiting to be cleaned off that sat untouched for 15-20 minutes. I think this might actually be my biggest pet peeve. I was minutes away from volunteering to bus the tables myself if it meant we could order our cheesecake faster. Maybe I'm just super impatient, but I cannot stand when restaurants make you wait and then let open tables sit.

After dessert, we headed over to a new rooftop bar called Backbeat for a drink. There was a really unique selection and I honestly don't even remember what was in the one I finally settled on, but here it is in all its artistic glory:
On Sunday Peter streamed the Vikings game from his computer, I lounged around a bit, and then we ran a couple more errands. Fascinating stuff, really.

We have a low-key week planned, with our first visitors arriving on Saturday! Since we won't be going home to Minneapolis for Thanksgiving, my mom and stepdad are going to come down this weekend to check out our new place and celebrate Thanksgiving a little bit early.
Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Encounters With Texas Wildlife

Okay, so everyone knows there are huge scary bugs in Texas, right? But for some reason we assumed we could avoid them by a) moving into a brand new building b) not living on the first floor and c) being deathly afraid of them and willing them not to enter our apartment. FALSE. So false.

The first encounter happened about a week after I drove down with Ali, when Peter was gone on a work trip, of course. I couldn't sleep, so I got up around 2 am and turned on a light in our bathroom. Two seconds later, something scurried along the baseboard and into the linen closet. Great. I knew enough about cockroaches from our Australian apartment nightmare to know one when I saw it, so I did what any self-respecting person would do: I ran into Ali's room, flipped on the light, and started screaming. Poor Ali assumed a relative had died or something, so she shot out of bed before she even realized I was screaming about a bug. We decided we couldn't sleep knowing it was in our apartment, so we went back to the linen closet and searched. We couldn't find it (of course), so we just Raid-ed the crap out of the closet and then shut the door and I went to Ali's room to sleep, with the kitchen and living room lights on. In the morning, we made our way back to the battle zone and wouldn't you know it...the stupid little thing was dead as a doornail on our bedroom floor. HA! Victory.

Because I am slightly insane, I had already joined an online bug identification service (only $1.99/picture upload people!), but I didn't even need to use it this time to know it was a cockroach. Luckily, it wasn't the little kind (German roach) we had in our apartment in Australia that multiply by the second and are next to impossible to get rid of, thankfully. This was the larger but less likely to infest kind (American roach), that probably wandered in from outside and isn't *hopefully* plotting a takeover of our entire apartment. We called the exterminator, who came and sprayed down our apartment, and he was extremely helpful and patient with us. I'm sure he thought we were completely insane. Anyway, he let us know that the one we found was "tiny" compared to its full-grown size, so to not be alarmed if we see one much bigger than that. Great! Luckily, we haven't seen one since. I know more about the various cockroach species than I ever wanted to, that's for sure.

That bring us to our second, somehow more traumatic encounter. What is more traumatic than a cockroach, you ask? Read on!

Ali got home from work the other day to discover a dead (thank you, exterminator!) scorpion on her bathroom floor. Now, our friend the exterminator assured us it was highly unlikely we would get any scorpions INSIDE our apartment, so we weren't exactly prepared for this one. It was much, much smaller than I imagined, but still pretty terrifying. So, we've requested the exterminator again this Friday and we'll see if he can work his magic. We did notify the leasing office and they seemed to indicate that scorpions weren't a huge issue in our area, and it was a bit unusual we had one in our unit. I think they thought we were just hyper Northerners who had found a large ant or something and freaked out, so they wanted me to send them a photo to confirm that it was indeed a scorpion. I'm convinced these creatures seek us out because they know we are absolutely terrified.

Avert your eyes if you don't want to see a picture of our little friend...

I'm predicting a tarantula sighting next week. SEND HELP!!!
Friday, October 21, 2016

San Diego

Two weekends ago, after unpacking and settling in as much as possible in Austin, Peter and I headed off to San Diego to attend his grandpa's wedding. It was a really quick trip, but neither of us had ever been there before, so we made sure to check out a few sights. In  hindsight, I wish we would have brought our real camera (aka not my iPhone), but it was packed away somewhere and that was pretty much the last thing on my mind after the move! 

We arrived on Friday afternoon and went straight to check out Torrey Pines Golf Course. Peter loves to golf (I can't for the life of me hit the ball off the tee) so he wanted to look around and grab a souvenir in the gift shop. He picked up a bag tag, which Ali saw sitting around the apartment the other day and thought was a large metal bracelet. Shows how much we know about golf, I guess!
Afterward, we checked into our hotel and then walked around downtown La Jolla, which is pretty much the cutest little city ever. Being by the water with the beautiful cliffs in view reminded us a lot of Australia and how much we miss it!
The weather was perfect the whole time we were there, which apparently is pretty typical of San Diego.

This beach had a big colony (pack? herd? IDK?) of seals living on it. They were super cute but smelled horrendous. There were people swimming with them, despite signs that warned of high bacteria levels, which was pretty repulsive. People will do anything for a good selfie, I guess. 
I wasn't sure how close you could get to the seals without being attacked, or whatever seals do, so we kept our distance. They looked nice and friendly but then a few started fighting pretty aggressively, so I decided to keep my distance. Plus, some of them were massive. Like, monster seals. Another reason not the wade into the bacteria-infested waters, if you ask me.
We got a drink at this cute rooftop bar and watched an amazing sunset before dinner. The weather, the sunset, and the scenery were all pretty idyllic.
The wedding took place on Saturday morning and was held at the beautiful Melrose Ranch in Escondido. The weather was perfect, of course, but you could definitely feel the difference in temperature between the coast and inland. We were pretty warm by noon. 
I took a picture of the ceremony, which was attended by about 15 immediate family members. It was such a nice service, and Peter's grandpa Ed and his new wife Jean looked great!
We took a few pictures after the service and then had some brunch before exploring the ranch a bit. 
There were a couple rescue donkeys on the ranch and they came right over to us when called. So cute! This place got me dreaming of the farm I'd love to own someday, which Peter isn't exactly on board with....yet! He's convinced I would play with the animals and he would get stuck doing all the non-fun barn chores. This is probably true.
We drove up one of the hills and got a great view of the ranch. It was pretty much the perfect venue for a fall wedding, complete with a large renovated barn (for weddings and other events) that I didn't take a photo of apparently.
On Saturday evening we stayed in San Diego and got a chance to explore the downtown area. We had an awesome Italian dinner in the Little Italy neighborhood followed by gelato, of course.
I had a 6 am flight to catch Sunday morning, so it was a fairly quick trip, but Peter and I definitely enjoyed our first visit to the San Diego area. 

For the first time in years, we don't have a trip on the calendar. We're focusing on getting settled in Austin at the moment, but we do plan to take some weekend trips in the coming months, so stay tuned!


Welcome! I started Laura and Peter Down Under in July 2014 when my husband and I moved from the States to Melbourne, Australia for his job. I blog about expat life, our travels, food, and whatever else comes to mind. Follow along on our adventures Down Under!




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