Vegas strip

Vegas – a place where one of the first sights when you step off the plane is bright flashing gambling machines. Vegas is a place of over indulgence, excess and a multitude of fake Elvis.

Vegas was our homebase for about a week, with a few days on the Strip staying at the infamous Imperial Palace. While this hotel may be famous for its bad reviews, rabbit warren layout, Deal Entertainers and slow lifts, I discovered that if you go with extremely low expectations, you’ll be (mostly) pleasantly surprised.

We took the opportunity to watch a number of shows, including the very enjoyable Penn & Teller and the Mac King Comedy Magic Show, both of which we have watched before on our last Vegas holiday but wanted to watch again as they’re one of our favourite magicians.

We also discovered a number of Vegas buffets, courtesy of our accommodation package which gave us access to seven buffets over a 24 hour period. In order of good to the not-so-good, we managed to try:

  1. Caesar’s Palace – good food, but even lovelier desserts
  2. Rio – the noodle bar was good, desserts were great with prettily decorated cakes and gelato
  3. Paris –lots of crepes (not as good as a certain little place in Melbourne, Australia), food was generally good
  4. Harrah – ordinary to say the least, but the fairy floss made in front of your eyes was pretty cool

We explored The Cosmopolitan, a newish hotel that was in its early construction period on our last visit (2008).  Wandering through the lobby and various floors, we discovered an eclectic range of art, from steampunk devices, to giant stilettos, to abstract pieces. What I love about this place is the various themed lounging areas that can be found around the place, interesting interior design, free wifi in some areas and interactive pieces (such as  an “altered art” foos ball table).

Early on in the trip, I thought I may have to experience the US health system, due to intense pain in my left arm. I was having trouble using my left arm and had trouble feeling some of my fingers. We stopped passed a Walgreen to pick up some pain killers and found that they had an on-site doctor! He asked a few questions but determined that it was likely to be a pinched nerve and I just needed rest. Thankfully, the pain subsided over a number of days, in time for The Amazing Meeting!

Goodbye Dallas, Hello Vegas!

Dallas – 9th & 10th July 2011

Desert, cactus, cowboys (or cowgirls), country music and boot scooting. That was the stereotype of Texas that I had in my head before we touched down in Dallas, Texas. After a longer than expected wait to be cleared through Immigration and Customs, we were greeted by our host, Bob, who had been very patiently waiting for us.

After kindly driving us around to locate certain electronic goods, we settled in before heading out for some Tex Mex where we got to try some local Mexican food (fajitas - including a sizzling chicken on a hot plate with flour tortillas - and drink yummy margaritas of course!). The restaurant even did an extra hot salsa with habanero chillies instead of jalapeños, for my dear hubby who can never get enough chillies. Although the sauce didn’t cause hiccups (a good tell sign if it’s too hot), it was still quite yummy. We got to hear happy birthday in two part harmony for a family behind us, and experience the famous friendly American service (a stark contrast to the surly Aussie service found in many cafes and restaurants, particularly in Canberra).

The next day, we got up early – a huge achievement for hubby – to hit the road before the heat got too overwhelming. The heat is very similar to a hot Canberra summer; it’s dry and the sun burns the skin like it does in Australia (I know it’s the same sun, but the feeling of the sun on the skin was just like home).

Bob took us to see the Denison Dam where we saw the Red River, located between Texas and Oklahoma. The drought that has plagued Texas was evident through the low water line. There were the remnants of an old pier, sticking through the water, causing a minor obstacle course for the people cruising slowly around, fishing for striped bass and bream.  We people watched for a few moments, seeing people wading knee to waist deep, and seeing the Great Blue Heron out fish the surrounding humans.

Next stop was Eisenhower State Park where we did a bush walk (or hike as it’s known locally), to fossil hunt. We spent over an hour wandering a trail in the woodlands, spotting a range of fossils such as sea worms, snails, and lots of clams. We even found a few whole rocks that split apart to show some very awesome secrets. The woodlands were lovely – I could hear the loud calls of the cicadas, Lake Texoma where we spotted more wild life and house boats, sun flowers and a number of other flowering plants and lots of spiders wearing horizontal webs.

On the way to the Hagerman National Wildlife Reserve, we took an fortunate accidental detour where we saw a mockingbird (the state bird for Texas), a scissortail flycatcher and a great little mounted aircraft marking a local airport. When we got to the Wildlife Reserve, where we did a quick drive around. This is a funny place. There’s lots of working oil pumps among all this lovely birding areas. We spotted Great Egrets, Snowy Egret, and even a young coyote!

After our morning of wildlife and fossil excitement, we headed over to the State Fair Grounds for A Taste of Dallas food fair. Boy, are Texans a friendly bunch of people! A lovely couple drove past and offered us their unused tickets to the fair (saving us the entry fee). We appreciated this gesture of kindness – it’s made it an even more brilliant day. We got into the fair and spent the new few hours sampling a range of food, drinks and activities (like a petting zoo, spray painting t-shirt stall and more). One of my favourites was the S’more Cupcake (fluffy chocolate and marshmallow goodness), a steampunk jewellery store and an illustrator who did some lovely science/geeky drawings. Even hubby got a souvenir, involving a custom Make Hack Void t-shirt created.

We couldn’t ask for better hosts. Bob and his family were extremely gracious and welcoming, going out of their way to organise a range of really interesting activities that appealed to both s us. We had such a great time, taking very fond memories of our short but very fulfilling weekend.

So for now, it’s good bye Dallas and hello Vegas!

(Nearly) Hello USA!

In a matter of hours, hubby and I will be winging our way over to the United States of America for a much needed holiday!
This might be a great opportunity for me to start using this poor neglected LiveJournal, to document our travels. You're probably going to be reading about our adventuers in critical thinking (we're attending The Amazing Meeting in Vegas), Legoland, Comic Con, San Diego Zoo, Dallas and New York!

Chocolate Bailey’s Mini Cupcakes

Originally published at RuthEllison.com. You can comment here or there.

Skepticamp Sydney 2011

Bailey’s is one of my favourite alcoholic drinks, so when the time came to make cupcakes for CupCakeCamp held at Skepticamp in Sydney, I decided that I needed to do something with Baileys. So here’s my Chocolate Bailey’s Mini Cupcakes, adapted from Ellie’s Lovely Lemon Cupcakes and Maison Cupcake’s Chocolate Bailey’s Cupcakes with Chocolate Bailey’s Buttercream Icing.

Chocolate Bailey’s mini cupcakes recipe

Time required: 90 minutes including cooling time and decorating

Serves: 48 mini muffins

Ingredients

For the cupcake bases:

  • 180g butter, softened
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 450g all-purpose flour
  • 25g cocoa powder, sieved
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons Baileys or other Irish cream liqueur

For the buttercream:

  • 225g unsalted butter, softened
  • 6-8 cups icing mixture (use icing mixture instead of icing sugar, otherwise it will be too sweet)
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 100ml Bailey’s or other Irish cream liqueur to taste (I didn’t really measure this – I kept adding, tasting, adding, tasting and so on)

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 175 degrees C, and cream together your butter and sugar till creamy.
  2. Beat in the eggs, vanilla, salt and baking powder and continue beating till the mixture is light and fluffy.
  3. Add your milk and flour in 3 alternating batches, beating well after each addition. Once all the milk and flour has been added, beat at top speed for about 30 sec – 1 minute or till the mixture is smooth and shiny.
  4. Line your cupcake baking tray with cupcake liners and fill each liner about 1/2 – 2/3 full.
  5. Place your lined and filled cupcake tray into the oven, and bake for about 10 minutes. When the cupcakes are done, a toothpick inserted into each cupcake will come out clean. DO NOT overbake the cupcakes.
  6. Leave to cool in the tins for a few minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Allow to cool completely before covering with icing.
  7. For the icing, beat the butter till it is creamy, then add 3 cups of sugar, milk, vanilla extract and Baileys and beat at high speed for 5 minutes. Gradually add the rest of the sugar, adding 1 cup at a time and beating for 5 minutes after each addition.
  8. Taste the icing – if needed, add more Baileys. Once all the sugar has been added, continue beating at high speed till the mixture is extremely pale, light and very fluffy.
  9. Fill a pipping bag about 1/2 full. Pipe it onto the cupcakes in spirals.
  10. Eat and enjoy!

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Ria Authentic Malaysian Food

We're in Perth for a friend's wedding and like every other trip to Perth, I spent every free moment eating at a variety of Singaporean and Malaysian food spots.

I caught up with my sister and her partner at Ria Authentic Malaysian Food, located in Leederville. I've eaten at Ria once, a few years ago. It's a lovely central location, with simple but stylish interior. The service is great - staff are friendly and helpful.

We ordered a range of food, to cater for both the vegetarian and meat lovers (i.e. me) as well as dessert. On the whole, the food was good but slightly disappointing for the price (worked out to an average of $40/person). With a name that includes "authentic", I was expecting really authentic food, but after a week of hunting down authentic food across Perth, Ria just doesn't measure up. A good indication is the lack of Singaporeans and Malaysians, which could be due to the price but probably due to the authenticity of the food. It seems that Ria is aimed at non-Singaporeans/Malaysians.

Anyhow, here's a quick run down of the food.

Read the rest of the review...Collapse )

Have a Lovely day


Have a Lovely day, originally uploaded by mike-andrews.

Things that make me smile: signs that wish "have a lovely day".

One in particular is the parking machine at the local shopping centre, that says "have a lovely day" once it takes your parking ticket.

Street art


Street Art, Fitzroy, Melbourne, originally uploaded by laRuth.

I love street art. I love the quirkiness, the clever use of space and the often political messages that is conveyed through this medium

This piece is one of my favourites on a recent trip to Melbourne. Found in a random doorway down a back alley, in the eclectic suburb of Fitzroy in Melbourne.

Yoink

I was fortunate enough to be at the launch of Yoink.com last year, as part of the international TweetsGiving event. Yoink is a great website that makes it easy to give away stuff. I use the iPhone app to take a photo of the thing I'm giving away, add a description and that's it - I just have to wait for someone to 'yoink' it.

I was using freecycle for a few years before Yoink came along but found that the emails got a bit unmanageable and the whole process was a bit unwieldy. While I love the concept of freecycle, I was pleased as punch to see Yoink, which embraces the recycling concept but with a much better user experience.

I've been using Yoink to move a lot of stuff as part of our decluttering project. Stuff that found homes last week included:
  • iPhone case
  • iPhone screen protector
  • 2 sets of speakers
  • Timtam squeezy thingy
  • Wire fruit bowl
  • Numerous new postcards collected over six years (I had a thing for postcards at once stage)
  • Set of new Star Wars collector cups

Items decluttered in the first week of June

Documenting the journey

I've recently discovered the blog 365 Less Things and it has inspired me to document our decluttering journey. In the past few weeks, we've gotten rid of bags and bags of clothes and various knick-knacks. Unfortunately it seems like we're hardly made a dent in the nightmare of STUFF that we have. Documenting the journey will help us realise that we are making slow but steady progress.

I've been madly putting things up on eBay, giving things away on Yoink, and giving things away to our favourite non-religious charities in Canberra. From now on, I'm going to document the stuff we're getting rid of and hopefully we'll be mostly clutter free by October 2010! The reason for the date? I want to hold my special birthday party in our house - I can't do that in the current state of the house, but with this goal in mind, it's given me a  huge motivational boost to get things decluttered!

Item #1 - TimTam Stress Relief squeezy thingy

This looks almost good enough to eat but please don't eat it! It's an official Arnotts TimTam squeezy thingy. You can grab it from Yoink!

TimTam stress relief squeezy thingy
(Note: I should really only be posting up pictures of things that have physically left the house but I wanted to give my self a motivational boost!)

An initial look at the Kobo eReader

Originally published at RuthEllison.com. You can comment here or there.

Yesterday afternoon, I received a provocative tweet from my husband. “I have a surprise for you”, stated the first tweet.

“Is it a good surprise?”, I asked.

“Depends”, was the answer.

“Do I get more clues?”, I asked.

“It’s white, and textured and not a cat” was the reply.

Shortly after, I was picked up from work and I got to see my surprise – it was a brand new Kobo eReader from Borders book store! Here’s a brief initial review of the Kobo eReader, based upon my short use of it.
An image of my Kobo eReader

About the Kobo

The Kobo eReader is an ebook reading device based on E Ink technology. The thing to note is that this is an eReader – it’s not an iPad. It does one thing – display books – and it does it well.

Things I like

  • The stylish and clean design
  • The lovely quilted backing – it stops the eReader from slipping from your hands
  • It’s lightweight at 221 grams and fits easily in my hands
  • Cheap – at $199 at Borders book stores, it’s one of the most affordable eReaders around
  • It comes preloaded with a hundred books and holds up to 1000 books (more if you use an SD card)
  • You don’t need any additional devices or chargers to charger this – just plug it into a USB port with a standard mini USB cable
  • It supports open formats – ePub! It also takes PDF and Adobe DRM.
  • I can drag and drop books straight onto the Kobo once it’s plugged into my computer (so quick and easy)
  • It retains the cover of the book when the device is off (just like a real book!)
  • The D-pad is located on the right hand side, similar position to where you expect to turn a page

Things I don’t like

  • It takes a while to power on
  • It takes a while to load each book
  • When the Kobo is plugged into my computer, I can’t use the eReader at all
  • There are very slight delays when ‘turning’ pages (I don’t think this is the fault of the Kobo, as it’s likely due to electronic paper technology)
  • I had some issues with the way I had to navigate the PDFs I transferred to the Kobo but I need to do more experimentation to determine if it’s the source PDF or whether it’s the Kobo’s interpretation of the PDF

Things to note

It doesn’t come with 3G or Wi-Fi but that hasn’t been a problem for me so far.

The battery life is supposed to last up to two weeks (I haven’t had it long enough to test this).

eBooks from Borders Australia look fairly affordable. Take one of my favourite books – Pride And Prejudice And Zombies – the ebook is currently available for $7.95 (Australian dollars).

The verdict

On the whole, it’s a good affordable device, with a few minor quibbles. It supports open standards and books purchased can be read on other devices that have the Kobo mobile app. Is it the Kindle Killer? Only time can tell, but it looks like a real contender. I’m liking it so far.

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