Koala Cairns Australia

Poking Things in Australia

Growing up, my mother constantly had to tell me not to touch things.

Don’t touch the cookie jar (too high), don’t touch the remote (too loud), don’t touch that counter (too unsanitary), don’t touch the stove (too hot), and don’t touch that mud puddle (oops, too late). In fact, I think it might’ve been easier for her to outline the things in life I was able to touch, as opposed to keeping up with my desire to stick my hands in places they didn’t belong.

Fast forward a decade or two, and I’m well into adulthood. Years of social conditioning have taught me that touching random stuff is generally frowned upon—I do it anyway.

I love poking things: buttons, soft leaves, the pristine surface of a newly opened jar of peanut butter. But my true addiction is poking animals. Fortunately for me, this isn’t usually an issue. In DC, the only animals close enough for me to poke on a daily basis are rats and pigeons (aka rats with wings). Ain’t nobody got time for that mess.

Then there’s the non-issue of pets. I’ve had pets my entire life: dogs, cats, birds, a chicken (once), and all of them were mostly OK with/didn’t hate a gentle tummy poke. (Hey, I said I’ve had pets my whole life, not that I was a particularly good or savvy pet owner.) The animals I live with right now, which include two cats and a tall, hairy man, are trained really well/trapped in a long-term Stockholm Syndrome-type situation. Both ways, it works for me.

Yup, things were going pretty well on the poking front, but then the Significant Other took me to Australia, the land of extremely poisonous, vicious, murderous and pokeable animals.

*We were there for two weeks. Now’s the time to place your bet. Exactly how many of my fingers ended up in some exotic animal’s digestive tract?

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What to Eat in Australia

My favorite part of traveling is sampling the local fare. I’ve learned far more from my searches for national cuisine than I have from any tour. The people I’ve connected with over a meal (or while hunting for that meal!) are always happy to chat about their love of this-or-that dish, and oftentimes, the conversation lasts much longer, and goes much deeper, than my original inquiry.

I once spent an hour chatting with a Japanese woman who was fascinated by this foreigner’s obsession with trying puffer fish. I’ve made friends sipping a fermented spit drink with Amazonian locals. I got a good-natured laugh out of South Africans when I told them I really wanted to try termites (they taste like popcorn btw!).

Food connects us. That’s why I think it’s so important to be open-minded and go for the gusto when I’m in a new country. Here’s my list of foods you have to try in Australia:

Vegemite

Vegemite

You can find this at any grocery store. Anywhere. It’s not my cup of tea, but it’s a must-try if you’re visiting Australia. Just don’t buy the big jar if it’s your first time sampling. Photo: StephenMitchell

Lamington

Lamingtons

These taste just like Zingers, but they’re usually chocolate with raspberry filling. You can eat an entire box in one sitting. They’re that addictive. Pro tip: Read the package before you buy. Sometimes there are other flavors, like orange, and that’s just WRONG.

Crocodile

Crocodile

It’s a white meat, but it was tougher than I expected and tasted just like (you guessed it) chicken. It needs to be marinated with something acidic like lemon, and I’d recommend sprinkling it with fresh dill. Overall, I wouldn’t get it again.

Camel

Camel

This was DELICIOUS. It’s sweet like lamb, buttery almost. It’s not too tough and not too tender. Goldilocks would’ve gone bananas for this dish. I give it an A+! You can pay for it online at Sam the Butcher in Sydney and hop on a bus to pick up your order.

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Sydney Opera House

Top Things to do in Sydney

One of my life goals has been to visit all seven continents—before I turned 30. WELP, it took some convincing, a LOT of planning and, not one, but TWO hellish plane rides, but I made it happen! The Significant Other and I spent four days in Sydney. You can definitely do it in two, but we wanted to go slow, take it all in and spend some time recovering from jet lag before we continued on our journey. Here are our recommendations. Enjoy your time Down Under!

  • Watch the sunset “over the Sydney skyline. Ah, that famous Sydney skyline. There is nothing quite like watching the sunset over the harbour bridge. Head over to Darling Point for the best views over the city during golden hour.”
    • You can also hike to the top of the bridge! We didn’t opt for hiking because it’s pretty expensive, and we wanted to save up for a diving trip at our next stop. But, if you do it, let us know how dizzyingly terrifying it was in the comments!
  • Take the Ferry to Manly: “No trip to Sydney would be complete without taking the ferry over to the beach town of Manly. A return ticket costs around $13.20 and the ferry departs from Sydney Harbour, taking around 30 minutes each way.” 
    • Manly is a really cute little beach town. We went when it was windy and rainy so the only people on the beach were surfers. It was still a LOT of fun to take the ferry—sit on the upper deck at the front of the boat, and prepare to be splashed by the waves! Plus, we got some great photos of the Sydney Opera House. Walking around Manly was relaxing in the drizzle. I’m sure it’s a packed tourist trap in sunny weather! If you do make it over there, check out their aboriginal art store. It’s right on the main path from the ferry to the beach, on the right-hand side. You can’t miss it!
  • Art After Hours (Wednesdays) 
    • Rub elbows with the locals and enjoy cool art! We were way too jet lagged to do this when we first got in, but we’ll definitely attend on a future trip.
  • Free walking tour
    • 2.5-3 hrs
    • 10:30am and 2:30pm Every Day from Town Hall Square.
    • “No need to book. You’ll find your guide wearing a bright green ‘I’m Free’ T-shirt on George St between Sydney Town Hall and St Andrew’s Cathedral.”
    • If you’re well-traveled, this might be a bit of a bore. Everything in Sydney is so new that there’s not too much in the way of history. I’m glad we took the tour because I enjoyed learning about the culture and history that does exist, but I could’ve skipped it if we’d been crunched for time.
  • The Hayden Orpheum: Cinema in operation since 1935
    • It’s a trek to get out to the theater, but I’m glad we did it. We got to see neighborhoods we wouldn’t have otherwise explored. Plus, the theater really is a lot of fun to check out, and you can’t beat an action movie on a rainy afternoon!
  • Paddy’s Markets
    • This is where you go to get all your souvenirs. The prices are over-the-top for clothing so head to a thrift store instead. Paddy’s Markets is really all about the boomerangs (made in Indonesia) and cute koala keychains. It’s a tourist trap, but it’s been in operation forever and, well, you are a tourist, aren’t you?
  • Sydney observatory
  • Museum of human disease
  • Wendy’s secret garden
  • Lawn bowling
  • Ground of Alexandria

    Day Trips

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Clouds

If I Die

Let me make this clear, NO this is NOT a cry for help. I just like planning. That includes talking about and planning for my inevitable trip to that great cat cafe in the sky (hey, you have your version of heaven, let me have mine!).

If you’re tasked with planning my funeral, that sucks. It must be like planning a wedding but worse because of all the sad and awful. Sorry you got stuck with the short end of the stick, m’dear. Here, this should make it easier(ish) for you. I present you with my LAST Buzzfeed article, How to Plan My Funeral in 13 Easy Steps:

  1. No one is allowed to wear black. (Well, my mom can wear whatever she wants because she definitely took one for the team popping me out. But, other than that, no exceptions!) My peeps should wear only bright colors or the weirdest clothes (feather boas, fake fur, tutus). Think Burning Man meets Candy Land. Sequins are also very much appreciated.
  2. Please play ’80s and/or ’90s music. If anyone even THINKS about a pipe organ, I’ll know, and I’ll haunt them.
  3. Y’all are welcome to tell stories about how great I was (or wasn’t. I don’t know what old me is all about, but I’m sure she can be a jerkface sometimes!) but there’s no pressure. Short and sweet is just fine.
  4. Everyone gets a goody bag upon leaving. It will include Journeys Greatest Hits and a unicycle (or something quirky like a taxidermy kit). You can decide.
  5. There should be condoms with funny slogans on them for free in the bathroom. I hope this will scandalize half the attendees and encourage the other half to have safe sex.
  6. I don’t plan on having an open bar at my wedding, but y’all, seriously, if I’m dead, please feel free to use my money to get plastered at my funeral. All I ask is that everyone takes Uber home and that drinks include: Dark and Stormies, Amaretto Sours, Russian Mules and Piña Coladas. There must also be a frozen margarita machine. That last one is non-negotiable.
  7. There should also be cake. REALLY GOOD CAKE. And vegan and gluten-free options. Be considerate, funeral planner!
  8. Someone has to give a PSA about menstrual cups, IUDs, male birth control (because that shit should be a THING by the time I die!) and the benefits of going braless. If you’d like to throw in some talk about how to be a good ally/not a sexist asshole, that’d be cool, too.
  9. I really don’t want a tombstone ’cause I’d like my organs to go to people in need and my body to be donated to SCIENCE! But, if it’ll make the family happy, please turn the tombstone into a stone bench and table. I’m going for a picnic table vibe. And you must picnic on said table. Preferably on Dia de Los Muertos. Please have something odd and unsettling inscribed on the table along with my name, date of birth/death. If it turns out I can’t haunt people specifically, I want the table to do the job en masse.
  10. No flowers. My Significant Other is allergic, and the poor guy is going to be having a rough go of it anyway without having to deal with coughing and sneezing. Instead of all that, everyone should donate money to Planned Parenthood or (here’s looking at you, conservative family members) the ACLU. C’mon, I’m dead, just do me this last kindness, yeah? It won’t KILL you! (Just a little gallows humor from the grave.)
  11. My obituary should be exceptionally well written considering I have about a billion writer friends so NO PRESSURE. Please make sure all or at least some of it is in haiku format. Thanks.
  12. To end the funeral, please read this poem. Then, everyone must sing Bohemian Rhapsody with as much emotion as possible, preferably out of key.
  13. And, finally, if you wanted to rent a dinosaur bouncy house and offer childcare for funeral attendees, I’ll put in a good word for you with whomever is in charge of this whole “life” thing. I know all of you, and y’all could use the bump in karma points! Think about it.

xoxoM

Photo Credit: Billy Huynh

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Piggy Bank

it’s not cool to be poor anymore

please note: this post is all lowercase because i can’t afford uppercase. priorities, y’all.

this year, i’m turning 30.

i won’t miss much about my 20s. it’s been a minute since i last “partied,” and i can’t say i’m choked up about my inability to process more than one glass of wine. the college-aged crowd is welcome to take my place at the beer pong table while I head to bed at 9:30. peace. out.

i’m pretty sure i’ve actually been 30 for about 15 years, and i’ve spent all this time waiting for my body to catch up. my idea of a fabulous friday night has always been somewhere along the lines of binge-watching grey’s anatomy while eating copious amounts of pretzels dipped in peanut butter.

i hate bars. dating. roommates. house parties. “finding” yourself. basically all things that make your 20s, well, your 20s. but, i am pretty devastated about one tiny detail:

it’s not cool to be poor anymore.

remember when, if you were rich, you were kind of a jerk? like, if you couldn’t complain about your crushing student debt on the daily, you weren’t part of the “it” crowd?

remember when talking about vacations in xyz fancy-ass country was kind of a dick move? like, when going to florida for spring break was a big deal? now people take legit vacations and stay in hotels for chrissakes. (when did we start staying in hotels?!)

people in their 30s own real watches (and they didn’t buy them from target)! people in their 30s order wine at dinner—and not just the cheap house wine either. these folks have fancy gadgets that come in apple’s sleek packaging, loft apartments in parts of new york i’ve never even visited, and their furniture is not exclusively ikea/craigslist. what is my world coming to?!

and, if you’re rolling your eyes, i get it. i wouldn’t use “destitute” to describe my financial situation—even by a 30-year-old’s standards. the word “poor” comes to mind, but that’s not true either. perhaps, “monetarily unstable” is the more suitable term. as a freelance journalist, i make enough (look, y’all, i splurged for italics!), but not nearly as much as i’d like. everyone told us millennials to find our “passion” and, unfortunately, nobody mentioned i should consider take-home salary when i went searching. i blame overly supportive parents. *hi, mom! thanks sooo much for believing in me!

when being poor was cool, i truly rocked it. i remember:

  • doing my makeup solely with makeup samples
  • ordering the cheapest beer on tap
  • living with three roommates and their cats, dogs, ferrets (once)
  • smuggling in twizzlers, diet coke and tiny bottles of vodka into movie theaters
  • couch surfing
  • when my body could handle breakfastlunchdinner ramen without shooting my blood pressure through the roof from excessive sodium
  • wearing the same dress to three weddings
  • wearing the same shoes until they fell apart
  • bottomless brunches at the red derby, and just sitting there for five hours like a jerk
  • not tipping nearly enough (i know, i know, i was a booface in my 20s!)
  • walking around with a broken android screen because a new one was too expensive and my contract wasn’t up
  • living in a walk-in closet
  • buying dented cans to get the discount
  • sleeping on an air mattress on the floor until the day i moved in with my (older) significant other

with the big 3-0 fast approaching, i’ve decided to woman-up. it’s time to start paying for netflix* instead of mooching off my parents. it’s high time i order that headboard. time to get off the “family” plan on my cell phone. i’m ready to buy a wallet that doesn’t have hello kitty on it. and the second-cheapest beer on tap. and healthy groceries. and a watch.

AND CAPITAL LETTERS, BOOYAAAA! This is 30, folks.

 

*(Just kidding, Mom, I’m totally gonna mooch off your Netflix forever. Love you.)

Photo Credit: Fabian Blank

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Computer

The Do’s and Don’ts of Starting a Passion Project

My passion project is DiverseSources.org, a database of underrepresented experts in science, health and the environment that addresses the lack of diverse perspectives cited in news articles. The database is searchable by expertise, language, location, time zone and other fields to help journalists more easily find potential sources.

I co-founded Diverse Sources so I could work with news organizations to increase the diversity in their sourcing. I provide training and consulting to reporters so they can find more relevant stories and better report those stories.

But all of this didn’t happen overnight. It’s taken years of preparation and hard work to get this far. That’s because passion projects are a lot of work. If you’ve got a passion project in mind but just don’t know how to get going, here are my tips:

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