Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How to gain 5 pounds (each) in 1 holiday weekend

There is only another few days of the holiday eating blitzkrieg. A New Year's party at our house and then a burlesque party downtown, tomorrow.

When we got home from our Christmas trip today, we weighed ourselves and this is how we felt:

Nothing at all like when, on Saturday, our Scuba instructor took me back to the wet suit rack, looked me up and down and announced "SMALL". I was thrilled. Tom just shook his head, knowing he'd have to hear me relive that moment endlessly. Never you no mind that it took me a half hour to get in the thing (longer when it was already wet from the last dive). I couldn't bend my arms and my gate had this kinetic Parkinsonian thing not being able to bend my knees, I'd somehow just get momentum. At one point I fell down in the surf, wearing all my gear, and simply could not get back up. I think the shame from that, and the crowd that watched, drove me to the next size up. Still, the moment will always be mine. Small. Sigh.

The scuba school, where we went for 5 advanced dives (navigation, naturalist, deep water, drift and peak performance) made us fill out a lot of forms. At some point, with Tom's contact info, in case of emergency, it asked "Relationship:". I wrote "Hostage".

We blame these people, mostly. Our British expat friends, Tony and Emma, are hellaciously good hosts and chefs. Christmas dinner lasted something like 9 hours. It was like being hobbits, what with lunch, second lunch, tea, dinner, sevensies and supper, each with a dessert in between, all blended into one giant, crazy-perfect meal. I remember hugging my final eating effort for the night, a butter cream cupcake and insisting, "It's not you, it's me. I just can't go on."

These are potatoes grilled in rendered duck fat. Uh, yum.

My plate from just round 1. I think we jiggled the camera because we were hyperventilating.

A flaming yorkshire pudding...was that the dessert for supper or's all a happy gastronomic blur now. Clearly, heavy cream had to be liberally applied to squelch the fire.

Tom and I went to chocolate school for the last few weekends and built these. At dinner (or was it second tea?), we smashed them with a hammer and everybody gobbled them up. The chocolatiere kept asking if I was a chef, he was so impressed with my chocolate handling skills. I didn't want to admit that, like Mary Tyler Moore, I hadn't been "around" (chocolate) so much as "nearby". Let's just say it's a medium I'm happy to work with. Can you imagine if he'd given me a "small" apron and then asked if I was a chef?

This is actually a puppy. Not even a year old. He is doing bad things to Santa. We, Huckleberry and I, happen to weigh the exact same number of kilograms. If you could see him in real life, you'd want to curl up in a ball and cry too. Tony, his dad, told us that you aren't supposed to overfeed a great dane puppy or they'll grow too fast and it will cause them physical harm. There's a lesson in there somewhere?

Between our many feedings at our friends', we hit up places like Max's at the Red Hill Estates Winery. When they put it on one big platter, six gourmet desserts almost seems appropriate.

We didn't do a lot with gifts and traditional holiday hustle bustling this year...just really enjoyed being here and with the people we were with. I know that Melbourne feels like home to me, but really, Tom is my home. That's what I meant when I wrote "hostage", I just didn't want to get all emotionally squishy on a scuba folder.

We reviewed New Years resolutions from last year and did a lot of "ditto on that one", "and that"...

And our lifelong dreams of wearing paper crowns was realized. It was a great, great Christmas.

One Year of Immigration - Holiday Weekend of Celebrating

Australia pretty much shuts down from Xmas eve until mid January. In fact, the main reason we ended up living in our current flat is that the realtor for this building was one of the few people who returned our call when we immigrated at this time last year. Lucky for us though, cause we love it!

We talked about going to Antarctica over the long break, but that just seemed darned expensive. And cold. Wet. Possibly boring, crossing the Drake Passage for several days each way. Then we talked about getting camping equipment and roughing it outback, but when the reality of bugs, bats, snakes and dingos set in, well, meh. A couple possums visited us while we were at a holiday evening BBQ the other night and we (our Australian, Dutch and Iranian expat friends) were all torn as to whether they were more cat or rat-esque. They are marsupials, so technically they are more kangaroo-like than anything. Still, I was mildly frightened by them.

What we ended up doing was eating a ton of fabulous food with a few groups of really good new friends, and going to the Mornington Peninsula for a jaunt. It's about 2 hours south of us and one of those places that makes you wonder why you don't go EVERY weekend?

Really our only complaints are the volume and voracity of flies (note Tom's biodegradable fly fan, a common accessory in the park). Sadly, our sunbrella blew off a cliff and we accidentally littered. We felt badly about that. And we missed our sunbrella the rest of the day.
It was also quite sunny and hot...a bit hard to find the moderation between "overdressed / sweating like a beast" and "destined to fry / melt quickly". But how fabulous to be outdoors in this incredible setting! I'm concerned about my exposed fingers here and thinking they really should make long sleeved summer gloves:

"Draw on Tom's daypack"...a quick game for the kids:

The only way to cool him down was to get him a Bubble-O-Bill, seen here being eaten "Easter bunny style" (ears first, retains the nose):

This was a little concerning. We wondered if we could / should make a donation to limbless wallabies and what the long range bomb explosion plan is?

The Point Neapean National Park was gorgeous. We hiked in about 5 kilometers (listen to Miss Metric here!) and took a tractor-pulled people hauler back to the rental car. It was exciting to visit the site where Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt disappeared while swimming in 1967.

We don't have a fancy-pants camera with changeable lenses, but this is what you get when you shoot a picture through your sunglasses. It was a great trip.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Camel Cull

There are over a million feral camels running amuck in Northern Australia, and this number doubles every 8 years. Lately, due to the drought, 6,000 of the camels have started marauding the small town of Docker River - because, get this, they're thirsty. Gack! Marauders!

They say tourists come to Australia to see "the bridge (Sydney), the reef (Cairns) and the rock (Ayers Rock in Uluru, which is about 500 miles from Docker River...that's relatively close in the perspective of the mammoth dessert landscape out there).

Apparently the parched camels are breaking water mains, knocking in air conditioners and posing a threat to "children running around and wanting to play with the camels".

So Docker River got some emergency funding. They're going to coral them all into a pen outside of town, gun them down, and leave the camels' bodies to decay there in the desert. By definition, a "cull" is when a herd or group reject certain members. I'm not clear why this is being called a cull. It just seems like a slaughter to me.

This has upset a lot of people. Some people from the UK want Australia kicked out of the G-20, which I thought was more of a financial strategy group than validation that anyone is particularly keen on human, let alone animal rights.

Never let it be said that I think I have all the answers, but I'm leaning towards spending the emergency funds on first getting the camels something to drink and then handing out some good camel family planning pamphlets.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Public Service Announcements

Public Service Announcements hold a special place in my heart. My montessori school teacher wrote this one and I have been singing this song in my head, yeah, almost daily, since I was 3.

The first time we went to a movie at a theater in Melbourne, the previews included an Australian Public Service Announcement. I was about "asking questions at work". A teenage girl didn't know how to use the bread slicer her first day on the job and thought it would make her "look dumb" to ask for help. So she cuts a finger off and bleeds all over the place. I was stunned. We eventually got used to them. Here's poor Josh getting a broth bath.

We put some money aside for a car and are ready to get one any time, probably a hybrid or something fuel efficient or maybe a compact that doesn't have the long term toxic effects of a hybrid (from the batteries). That is all a little confusing, the short vs. long range economy and environmental impact of cars. I also have a recurrent premonition that Tom and I are going to be killed or severely maimed in a car accident. And we've been doing okay without one so far.

Road safety is a big deal here. There are clearly plenty of resources put towards campaigns and enforcement....speeding cameras and booze bus's (mobile alcohol/breathalyser check stations) everywhere. Tom told me about this PSA about speeding. Apparently "No One Thinks Big of You" has won a lot of awards and is credited with saving $264 million in accident-related hospital a lot of lives. According to this article, it has "lead to the widespread practice of people wagging their little finger at speeding male drivers". Okay I'm sorry, but that just cracks me up.

Anyway, my point being...there is a kind of irreverence in advertising here that I rather like. Let's not gloss over it, whatever it is. Australia is just gonna put it in your face. If you have time, do take a few minutes to click on these - they're pretty impactful:

Though we don't get exposed to a lot of overt homophobia in Melbourne, we've noticed a lot of undertones of it in popular culture. Australian stand-up comedy, TV and movies are an anachronism to the way things were in America in maybe about the 80's. There are a lot of gay jokes and we don't get why they're supposed to be funny.

This permeates the (lack of) consciousness or the way kids talk these days. I swear, to ride the train around the time school is letting out, you'd think EVERYTHING is just SO incredibly "gay".

Here's one from America. I wish we had more like this here:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Speak Australian!

Last night, we were walking to the train station, downtown in Melbourne. An unkempt old guy heard either Tom or I talking to an Australian pub quiz team mate. He looks up from what appeared to be some kind of roadside-sorting-garbage-from-recycling project and, with a gravely voice, hollers, "Speak Australian!".

What could this mean?

Though imitating an Australian accent still escapes us, we're starting to understand our new tribe better. Sometimes we even answer the phone, assuming we'll catch about half of what's said and can knit the rest together in context. Anyway, I've noticed we have actually adopted some basics of Aussie slang:
  • You put trash in "the bin".
  • One should have a "proper" dinner (apparently, according to Tom anyway, smoothies are "improper").
  • When there is plenty of something, you have "heaps" of it.
  • A combination of reasoning facts with a feeling is when you "reckon". I love this has a nice way about it...who doesn't want their opinion asked...for example, "Do you reckon I should wear a sweater tonight?"
  • Wear your "bathers" in the pool and "trainers" on your feet to do "sport" (it's not plural, unlike "maths". Go figure.)
  • Men who are friends with other men are "mates", but if you don't like someone too much, he's more of a "bloke".
  • When you're really happy with your mate who does something especially brilliant, tell him, "you're a legend", or if you're in a hurry, drop the a and just say, "you're legend".
  • If you're surprised, you're "gobsmacked".
  • Drank too much, you're "pissed". Tired? You're "stuffed" or "nackered".
  • Paint your mouth with "lippie".
  • If it's candy, but not chocolate, that is a "lolly".
  • A convenience store is a "milk bar".
  • You can buy second hand items at an opportunity shop, aka "Op shop".
  • Gifts are "prezzies".
  • When you buy the next round of drinks, it's your "shout".
  • Don't be nosy, or you'll be a "stickybeak". And don't brag about your good fortune, either, you "tall poppy".
  • A small pup truck is a "ute" (utility vehicle).
  • The last letter of the alphabet is "zed".
Frankly, I feel like an impostor when I use any of these. Do the real Australians know we are just pretending to fit in when we use these words? Do they even know we don't say these things in America? Are strangers on the street going to hear us trying to use these phrases and shout us down, like Trashman? Cause that really hurts you know.

I still order a "pop" to drink (met with blank stares). I dig through my wallet for "nickels or dimes". Australia doesn't even bother with "pennies" anymore...they just round off. I might still ask you to hold the "elevator". And if I ask you over for "tea", best to clarify if you're going to get a piece of meat and some "veg", usually around early evening time, or just a "cuppa" hot water steeped with leaves.

Chances are, and only because I'm still learning the lingo, you're just getting the beverage. Maybe a Reese's if there are any left.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Asphyxiation pneumonia & Addiction

Let me just quickly sum up the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup saga:
  • I gobbled my favorite food item in the world, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, late at night
  • Went to bed
  • Woke up choking on the peanut butter
  • Either cracked a rib or pulled a muscle in my chest
  • Laughing, couching, sneezing and taking deep breaths became unbearably painful
  • Went to the doctor. Was told it will likely take months to stop hurting. Was told I needed to take heaps of pain medication, because if I walked around continuing to take only short, shallow breaths, I would get a lung infection.
  • Didn't take much pain medication
  • Got pneumonia
It's called Asphyxiation Pneumonia, to be exact. Thank you, I would like my Darwin Award now, please.

Walking home from the doctor again today, I had a couple of realizations....

1) As far as we can tell, our income taxes is almost identical to what we paid in the US. Yet our (free, federally-sponsored) healthcare is obscenely good here. Our last plan was Kaiser, which Tom got from working for the US government. We could tell horror stories about them all day. Sometimes it was like we were characters in a movie, where you go to a hospital and one of the mental patients poses as a doctor. You don't go away from a medical appointment feeling so much healed, but more confused, wondering, "What the heck just happened?.

Here, our doctors' office is a block away from our flat. We pay $8 per visit because it's (by Melbourne standards) in a quasi-fancy-pants suburb. We could probably walk five blocks and see someone for free. Not a mental patient either.... a real doctor. We call them by their first names, they take their time explaining things. We'd kind of like to be friends with them...have them over for dinner or to play cards sometime. It almost seems like they want "our business" or for us to "have a positive experience and come back". I know. Talk about wacko.

I've sort of fallen behind on the details of what's going on with the whole healthcare deal in the US. I'm just saying:
  • Taxes - same.
  • Government regulated healthcare - want to give it tender kisses.
So I have really high hopes that it all gets "sorted" for you guys (that's Australian for "worked out").

2) I also realized that a good portion of the Reese's cache is still in the pantry. Tom got them up north somewhere, on a business trip. I found out he gave some away to the flight attendants on his way home...("What?! There were MORE and you let STRANGERS have them?!").

Apparently the flight attendants were so thrilled they gave him a pallet of mini-wine bottles in return. ("What are we going to do with THOSE? HOW many did Reese's did you give away again?! HONNNEY....WHY?!!). I regifted that damn wine the next day for a house warming.

As aversion therapy goes, I can highly recommend the cracked rib / asphyxiation pneumonia cure. I have no desire to ever eat another Reese's. A friend suggested would could be on to a whole new treatment for addicts of other sorts...Shooting heroin? Smoking meth? Cracked rib, pneumonia, cured. Sadly, most drug addicts go through much worse and there's still no bottom deep enough to save them.

Once I figured out how to download American TV onto our computer, Tom got concerned that I was watching too much of that show Intervention. You know, the one where people have addictions and their loved ones try to get them into treatment? I'm a human cliche'.

I really do wonder what could happen if I automatically came down with kidney stones and a middle ear infection every time I maxed out our metered bandwidth, getting us cut off from the internet for the rest of the month. Please, nobody mention the idea to Tom, okay?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Email from "Marney, the Crazy Thanksgiving Hostess"

I thought this was funny....does anyone have a Marney in their family? I don't, thank goodness. Wonder if that means I'm Marney. - Kitty

From: Marney

To: Everyone

As you all know a fabulous Thanksgiving Dinner does not make itself. I need to ask each of you to help by bringing something to complete the meal. I truly appreciate your offers to assist with the meal preparation.

Now, while I do have quite a sense of humor and joke around all the time, I COULD NOT BE MORE SERIOUS when I am providing you with your Thanksgiving instructions and orders.

I am very particular, so please perform your task EXACTLY as I have requested and read your portion very carefully. If I ask you to bring your offering in a container that has a lid, bring your offering in a container WITH A LID, NOT ALUMINUM FOIL! If I ask you to bring a serving spoon for your dish, BRING A SERVING SPOON, NOT A SOUP SPOON! And please do not forget anything.

All food that is to be cooked should already be prepared, bring it hot and ready to serve, warm or room temp. These are your ONLY THREE options. Anything meant to be served cold should, of course, already be cold.

HJB—Dinner wine

The Mike B Family -

1. Turnips in a casserole with a lid and a serving spoon. Please do not fill the casserole all the way up to the top, it gets too messy. I know this may come as a bit of a surprise to you, but most of us hate turnips so don’t feel like you a have to feed an army.
2. Two half gallons of ice cream, one must be VANILLA, I don’t care what the other one is. No store brands please. I did see an ad this morning for Hagan Daz Peppermint Bark Ice Cream, yum!! (no pressure here, though).
3. Toppings for the ice cream.
4. A case of bottled water, NOT gallons, any brand is ok.

The Bob B Family -

1. Green beans or asparagus (not both) in a casserole with a lid and a serving spoon. If you are making the green beans, please prepare FOUR pounds, if you are making asparagus please prepare FIVE pounds. It is up to you how you wish to prepare them, no soupy sauces, no cheese (you know how Mike is), a light sprinkling of toasted nuts, or pancetta, or some EVOO would be a nice way to jazz them up.
2. A case of beer of your choice (I have Coors Light and Corona) or a bottle of clos du bois chardonnay (you will have to let me know which you will bring prior to 11/22).

The Lisa B Family -

1. Lisa as a married woman you are now required to contribute at the adult level. You can bring an hors d’ouvres. A few helpful hints/suggestions. Keep it very light, and non-filling, NO COCKTAIL SAUCE, no beans of any kind. I think your best bet would be a platter of fresh veggies and dip. Not a huge platter mind you (i.e., not the plastic platter from the supermarket).

The Michelle B Family -

1. Stuffing in a casserole with a serving spoon. Please make the stuffing sans meat.
2. 2.5-3 qts. of mashed squash in a casserole with a lid and serving spoon
3. Proscuitto pin wheel – please stick to the recipe, no need to bring a plate.
4. A pie knife

The June D Family -

1. 15 LBS of mashed potatoes in a casserole with a serving spoon. Please do not use the over-size blue serving dish you used last year. Because you are making such a large batch you can do one of two things: put half the mash in a regulation size casserole with lid and put the other half in a plastic container and we can just replenish with that or use two regulation size casserole dishes with lids. Only one serving spoon is needed.
2. A bottle of clos du bois chardonnay

The Amy M Family (why do I even bother she will never read this) -

1. A pumpkin pie in a pie dish (please use my silver palate recipe) no knife needed.
2. An apple pie in a pie dish, you can use your own recipe, no knife needed.

Looking forward to the 28th!!



I'm in Newcastle this week, giving talks at the Hydrology and Water Resources Symposium. By a semi-fortunate mixup, I got here a day early.

Today I took the bus out to the Blackbutt Wildlife Reserve (strangely enough, the buses come once an hour and both buses came about 5 minutes early).

From the looks of it, almost no one strays very far from the front parking lot. They had big wombats, some dark maroon kangaroos and lots of birds in enclosures. Peacocks (above) roam the grounds freely. You could see, pet and take photos of a koala for $3.50, which I passed on.

Lucky for me, the bus driver decided that he'd let me off at the back entrance of the reserve rather than the front, making me walk through the wild part of the reserve. It was an easy walk and downhill most of the way. There was a bit of trail blazing and brush scrambling at the start when I took a wrong turn.

Within minutes, the forest was alive with sounds, buzzes, clicks, zaps, chirps and so on. All of a sudden I looked up and saw an entire tree full of large bats. The above pictures don't do it justice, but they looked like flying possums, with big orange eyes and furry bodies. They were just hanging out, scratching and stretching and climbing around, mostly hanging upside down. Occasionally a "fight" would break out (who knows what was really going on there) and sometimes they'd take flight like in an Indiana Jones movie. I'm no bat expert, but a little googling suggests that they're flying foxes, like so (not my pic):

I was pretty gobsmacked. But then I kept walking and soon realized that every tree for probably about 10 minutes of walking was totally full of the bats. Neat!


Short of the mammoth "American Expat Desserts and Candy Eating Picnic in The Park" we went to a few weeks ago, we accidentally forgot about Thanksgiving. Of course we each gained about five pounds in just that one day, so it's probably good we didn't delve in any further than that.

This time last year, we were at Tom's brother's wedding in New York. The saucy brisket his new wife, Rachel, and her mother makes still haunts me. Ah, yum. We went to Avenue Q on Broadway and got to know her awesome family, who live on Long Island. It was also around that time that we were remodeling the house, taking medical exams for immigration, telling our families we were leaving and I was finishing finals for school. My hair started falling out exactly three months later. I had what was called Telogen Effluvium, which is delayed stress-related hair loss. Now, make no mistake, I love, love, loves me a bald person, but that was getting a little scary. I do not have Sinead Oconners delicate bone structure.

Anyway, back to the holiday talk.... Short of the overt gluttony, shouldn't every day be Thanksgiving? I know I'm extremely grateful for all the precious gifts in my life and I'd like to think I express it, at least occasionally. I don't necessary need pecan pie as part of this picture, though it's certainly a welcome smudge on my "I have a great life" dance uniform.

So let's talk a little about Thanksgiving here. As wee American pups we are told about the "Pilgrims" (people seeking asylum from religious persecution). I don't know if it's the Separatists or Puritans whom we are to empathize with, but I can't reconcile this part. Sure, they were religious fundamentalists that needed a place to set up shop, but does anyone know who exactly was being persecuted and by who? I don't get it.

There is some debate as to when and how the first European refugee + indigenous American eating extravaganza first was somewhere between 1619 to 1621. I think it's likely that the native Americans may have been a harvest celebration or two prior, but who knows...they were probably so busy getting crop harvests stowed away that they were too pooped to party.

Wampanoag accounts tell it like this: the tribe heard gunfire, thought the colonists may be preparing to attack, so their leader, Massasoit took about 90 of their men (no women or children) to investigate. When they realized it was actually a celebratory festival going on, the Wampanoag contributed venison and turkey.

Apparently the Wampanoag joined in an alliance with the settlers to defend them against other, less diplomatic, tribes. This after, themselves, nearly being wiped out over the previous six years by smallpox epidemics brought over by the English. The dinner conversation was probably more about the alliance and their defense strategies than anything.

Only three other countries celebrate Thanksgiving: Canada, the Netherlands and Granada. Granada's is less about eating or religious freedom - it celebrates what happened in 1983. Again, another political event where I wasn't there and I don't fully understand it. I know the United Nations vote was 122 votes for "We deeply deplore the armed intervention in's a flagrant violation of international law and the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of that state." to 9 ("Invade").

In grad school, they taught us that the UN is fairly limited in it's ability to make member countries abide by trade agreements or sign treaties or really do anything they don't want to do. I'm just trying to figure out why I keep stumbling over all these examples where the US went a different route than most everybody else.

Some of our best friends are English expats here. I'd really like to continue to mock their imperialism. It's fun! You guys don't think there's any way that could make me look hypocritical, do you?

Thursday, November 26, 2009


A squall line just came through Melbourne. Here was the view from my office:

It was like we were going through a car wash.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Where are the videos!?

Hi all -

As much as we're fans of the "get new Peacock Feather Dance" posts via email, we've just realized that the videos we embed on to blog will not show up in your email you have to go to the actual blog to see them.

And this is a big week for them....the Southeast Asia Kitty-O Video is now posted for your viewing happiness!

Mary and Max

We rented this DVD over the weekend, Mary and Max and loved it. It's about loneliness, mostly. I mention it on our immigration blog because it's set in Melbourne. The voices are Toni Collette and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Heaps of spoilers in the trailer, so watch at your own risk:

Also, and especially if you're a dog lover, rent Up. It's from Pixar.

Movie theater tickets are $17 each here. Kind of makes you want to rent and watch shows on your 11" laptop, huh? Us too.

Southeast Asia Kitty-O Video

Hi all -

I've been promising pictures from Asia for weeks now. is cracking down on copyright infringements. The Nickelback song I synchronized the images to doesn't look like it's going to get approval any time soon. This is a great song too, Breathe Me by Sia. It would be thrilling if the editing matched the music. It would also be thrilling to just get it posted and put my time towards job hunting.

As for the Hmong refugees and action items....comments encouraged....wish I had any of the immigration answers.

I know that not a day goes by when we aren't grateful for being granted permanent Australian residency within 6 weeks of applying. We haven't met anyone who has had that positive of an experience. Tom's employer is expanding his team and there is some concern around how long it takes for Visas to get approved for their new hires from Asia. It should take longer, why?

Hey, did you know that non-Caucasians were restricted from entering Australia until 1975? Also, refugees arriving in Australia without visas have historically been held in mandatory detention camps, though Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is apparently now working towards expediting requests for asylum. There is a good documentary about this, and a 15 year old Afghan boy seeking asylum from the Taliban, called Letters to Ali.

In 1951, the United Nations passed the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which defines what constitutes a refugee seeking asylum and the responsibilities of nations in granting asylum. Though they did get on board several years later when it was amended, there is one little country who declined to sign at the time.

Sample pub quiz questions:

1) Who was that country?

2) Where can you find the words, "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

3) What's another name for the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees?
(Answers at bottom of post)

And here's Nickelback's If Everyone Cared. Mainstream folk rock tends to make Tom break out in hives, but donations go to Amnesty International every time this is viewed so I try to do my part by playing the heck out of it.

1) The United States
2) The Statue of Liberty
3) The Geneva Convention

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Snack attack

I love these things. If our building were on fire, and we had any one hand (which we usually don't as they are had to find in Australia), this might be one of the top three items I would consider rescuing:

The dimensions of the chocolate sidewalls are simply above reproach. And the consistency is of the peanut butter filling, divine.

So when Tom brought home a modest cache of them from his business trip last week, of course I was thrilled beyond measure.

Now, as a kid, my parents didn't have a lot of random rules. They were less concerned about hair color experiments or dabbling in oh-so-cool teenage cigarette smoking...basically it boiled down to "not doing things that could permanently mess up your life".

As I recall, the biggies were: "No motorcycles, no trampolines, no skateboards and no eating peanut butter directly from the jar". That seems reasonable, right? The last one was mostly advocated by my dad, who, as a physician, knows a lot about asphyxiation. If you accidentally get peanut butter down your windpipe instead of your esophagus, there is no way to dissolve it and your lungs can stop working quite quickly.

I think we can all see where this is going.

Fortunately, it wasn't a lack of oxygen to my brain that did me in the other night, when I raided the Reece's stash just before bed. When I woke up choking, I think I was able to draw from all those years of anti-peanut butter sentiment and my body kicked into adrenaline overdrive. It knew to do whatever was necessary to cough it up. After a good half hour of retching, I lay there gurgling and lightly coughing to myself for the rest of the night while poor Tom excused himself to the couch.

My doctor says I either pulled a muscle in my chest or cracked a rib. The treatment is the same for both: essentially that's "buck up and live with the pain for between 6 weeks to 6 months".

It hurts the worst when I sneeze - that almost made me black out. That, followed by laughing, coughing and, of course, breathing. I try to take shallow little innocuous breaths, but she said that can lead to a lung infection, so I need to stay on enough pain medication to try and take deep breaths and use my full lung capacity. Let's just hope this is all sorted out by our Christmas scuba trip next month.

Tom got debriefed on the whole situation last night. You know him, he's seldom prone to hyperbole and, anymore, the odd happenings of being married to me don't tend to render him as incredulous as one might imagine. It was pretty cute though....

"So, let's just sum this up here; you cracked a rib, snacking?"

I did.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Last week I went to Bateman's Bay for a CSIRO science retreat. The location we were at, the Murramarang Eco Resort was pretty and far away from everywhere. In the middle of the night, I walked out on the beach and saw more stars than I can remember seeing since, perhaps, camping in elementary school. It was a new moon and the stars were bright right down to the horizon.

I enjoyed the wildlife. There were kangaroos everywhere on the site. Apparently they rummage through the trash for food. I confess to feeding them apple slices, which would allow me to get close enough to pet them. The above snap was from my cell phone. Eventually this guy got tired of me but was too lazy to get up and walk away-

One night I came up to my cabin and a mother kangaroo and her joey were on my porch, blocking my door. I wasn't quite sure what to do, but before I knew it a possum jumped onto the railing. It looked cute enough to pet, but I've heard it's bad news to feed possum. I just hung out for a bit and when they realized I didn't have food, they wandered away.

Down at the beach, I saw crabs and snails and small red sea anemones. The rocks reminded me of what we saw on the great ocean road.

Mo money

This blog has had a long history of posts about Australian coins. I think I've found all the ones in circulation except the rather rare ones (i.e. less than 10 million coins minted). It make it all the more of a thrill when I find one I didn't know about. Here's some of the ones I found recently.

50 cent coin for the visit of prince charles and lady di in 1981.

50 cent piece commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II in 1995. It has a picture of "Weary" Dunlop, a prisoner of war and a surgeon, took care of other prisoners, got Australian of the year a couple years ago.

This one though was a great one:

$1 coin for the 100th anniversary of the age pension by the government. Back when it started, one got the equivalent of 22% of the average annual wage. Today it's about the same.

That coin though is a 2009 issue, meaning that it's a new coin that's been created since we arrived last year! How neat is that? It feels a bit like a close relative's has had a new child.

migration in australia

Today we went to an american meetup group in the park. I ate so many Reese's Pieces I just about fell down.

But it all got me curious about the numbers behind migration in Australia. There's a news story about Sri Lankan asylum seekers who came over in a boat in April. Some of the tone of the coverage is anti-immigrant, i.e. that unwashed foreigners are overwhelming public services. There's a good program called Media Watch that did an interesting exposure on how some of the numbers floating around were confusing the total amount spent on all immigrants (a big number) and those that came on protective visas (a tiny number).

In 2008-2009 about 13 thousand asylum seekers arrived in Australia, coming in equal parts from Africa, Europe and Asia. This is compared with the 171 thousand skilled migrants and the 670 thousand temporary workers/students allowed to enter per year. From the government's website

"At the time of the 2006 Census, Australia's population was 19.9 million, with nearly one in four people [~5 million] living in Australia born overseas. Some 45 per cent of all Australians were born overseas or have at least one parent who was born overseas. Of those born overseas, the United Kingdom is the largest overseas-born group (23.5 percent), followed by New Zealand (8.8 percent), China (excluding SARs and Taiwan Province) (4.7 percent) and Italy (4.5 percent)".

Note those last numbers are not country of origin but rather ethnicity, so you could only be considered american if you were Native American Indian.

Compared to other countries, there's a lot of migrants in Australia (24.6% of the total population). Of the 77 countries with more than 20 million residents in 2000, only Saudi Arabia has a higher migrant-to-total population ratio (25.8%). Interestingly enough, Saudi Arabia and Australia have almost identical population size (~20 million). Truly, Australia is small; more people live in North Korea or Nepal.

In terms of proportion, Canada is pretty high (18.9%) and America is up there (12.4%) although America's size means that the actual number of migrants (35 million) is far and away more than anyone else, practically three times the nearest competitor (Russia).

Germany has 9% migrants, the UK has 6.8%, Japan has 1.3%, and India has 0.6%. Again for countries with more than 20 million population, at 0.04% China is only beat out by Viet Nam (0.027%) for the lowest percent of migrants.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pub quiz

Today was a banner day.

As is regular on Wednesday nights, there was pub-quiz trivia-night at the Mitre Tavern, the oldest building in Melbourne (according to their website). Our team is called "Sheik Sheik Djibouti".

There are usually about seven or eight teams of four to six people each. There are six rounds of ten questions on topics such as entertainment, history, geography, sport. This week, I remarked that it was amazing that there wasn't a single question about royalty... However, I remembered that there was one question about which European country has had only female monarchs since 1890 (answer here).

There were also questions about which two (1, 2) european countries have flags that are blue and yellow. Actually there's a third.

I'm really lucky when there's questions where we need to name all the US states that border the Pacific Ocean. Or name the three US states that begin with "C". In the next round, the question was to spell Conneticuit. Ok, right the spell checker gets it now, but I was ready to go to my grave sure that it ended with cuit. I was wrong. Maybe that's why my mother (who lives in Hartford) never gets any of the letters I've sent. It's all terribly embarassing. Embarrassing even.

We had to name the five oceans and rank them by size.

The Australian actor that turned down the male lead role in the movie Ghost? This guy. Guess who else turned down the role?

Anyhow, we came in second place at the end! Or rather we were tied for second place. When there's a tie, there's a drink off. In Australia they call it "Skulling", which is something like the American "Chugging". Drink the beer as quick as you can and when it's finished you put the empty glass on your head.

Peta was elected to do the drink off for our team. She had to take down a pint. Her opponent was from england... Strangely enough, he visited last year and went to one pub quiz and had to do the drink off then and then this time it was his second time visit to the country.

It was an absolute dead heat and the room erupted. Many seasoned veterans had never seen a tie before so no one was quite sure what to do. So we had to elect a second person (Debi) from our team to drink a pot (a half pint... a jug is a double pint). Again, it was extremely close but sadly we lost by a hair.

For those of you who wondered where the guys were in all this, I'm not much of a drinker and had no clue what to expect. When I got home, I practiced on a tall glass of water and about two gulps from the bottom I spewed everywhere for what seemed like a half minute. I'm not even sure how long it's going to take to clean all this up.

So there it is, first time in the top 3 (prize was a $30 gift certificate) for team Sheik Sheik!

Friday, October 23, 2009

This and tat....

New 'to

I've thought of getting a tattoo for a long time. About 8 years ago, I did have a very light outline of permanent eyeliner put on. Talk about torture. But just think what I can now do with the 3.5 minutes I'll now save over the course of my lifetime, what with being able to skip that step in applying make-up everyday.

It would be hard to say that I've ever look at anyone else's tattoo and thought, "Hey, gee, wow. That looks really awesome. Wish I'd thought of that and had it forever emblazoned on my person." Never. Don't you more have the, "Now, with the pink dragon holding a skull and crossbones, shooting dice, on your neck, tell me about what you were thinking when you...". I've always been protected from myself, knowing that I'm fickle enough to eventually resent what I think is amusing today.

So who knows what Malaysian spirit moved me to get this today. A friend from my travel group took photographs through the process. If there's one thing I can't stress enough, particularly when getting a tattoo in a foreign country....scratch that....particularly when getting one that is visible to everyone you meet 24-7, on your neck, make sure you are really able to communicate with the tattoo artist. Like, say, speak the same language for example. There was some confusion on size (it came out about 4 times as big as I'd imagined), color (yellow with green outlines...wanted graduated shades of orange) and, well, shape. And I donno, the overall design?

At least I know no one else has one just like it.


Me with my "It's perfect. Just what I wanted" face and the artist.

I guess the only other piece of advice I have here is, like I did, get it done in henna. It should be washed off, or at least only resemble lightly smeared poo by the time I get home. It's been fun to watch people's reactions to it today, here in a highly Muslim country.

There was one lady at Penang Hill today, where we took a tram up that overlooked the city....she was eating Pringles, drinking a bottle of Pepsi and making videos with a really nice digital recorder from under her burka. I think we were both trying not to stare at each other.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

night frequencies

It seems that most cities with public transit have a program where poetry is displayed as a public service. Melbourne's program is called "Moving Galleries". Today I saw a poem on the train called Night Frequencies, included below. The opening line brought back some memories of how flying into large cities at night was one of my favorite things to do. Every city has a distinct color; Tucson Arizona was a dark bronze and I kind of remember Detroit being blue. One time I had a perfect window seat and flew down the side of Manhattan (obviously long ago). Incredible, really.

The lights in the street
are gold or white or blue.

The primitive grass says nothing
of what’s to come.

Distant cars whisper rumours
of other people’s lives.

A bird starts up then breaks off,
leaving communiqu├ęs to the darkness.

Inside, everything is tidied up,
as after a birthday.

The kitchen hums, while pictures
sleep upon the walls.

The dog is dreaming, silently barking
at the rabbit of morning.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Project Koh Samui

Trigger fish - Moray Eel - Me in lower left, with dolphin-esque steamlined form - Me making water angels

There's a funny bit in the movie "Meet the Fockers" where Ben Stiller accuses his new father-in-law, Robert DeNiro, of continuing his career as a special agent. He has overheard something about "Project Koh Samui" and seen DeNiro exchanging passports with a stranger. It turns out the new in-laws are sending the bride and groom to a resort island south of the Thai mainland for their honeymoon. This is the first most people have heard of the island, Koh Samui.

There's also a funny bit about Stiller accidentally killing DeNiro's cat, Mr. Jinx, then painting a stripe on a look alike and trying to pass it off as Mr. Jinx. Tom doesn't laugh quite as much as I'd hope at that part, but that's a long story about a cat he used to have and it doesn't end well.

I went diving at three different sites yesterday, mostly just hoping to meet a whale shark. We didn't, but we saw a lot of other good sea life and the visibility was great. This whale shark image was taken previously by our dive photographer. They served real American-style BACON on board the boat. Tom and I have been lamenting the loss of bacon since the moment we entered Australia. We can only seem to find something that resembles fatty parboiled ham ***cough cough***.

No equipment problems and my breathing and buoyancy control are improving. I went head to head with an aggressive trigger fish, not realizing what was going on until my dive companions pointed it out later. Does it count as declaring war if I meant to come in peace? Apparently you are never to swim over them or they will attack. It was a long (11 hour) day on the boat and we played backgammon and listened to island-quintessential Bob Marley on the cruise home.

Whale Shark I didn't see - Buddha on the Mountain from ferry to Koh Samui - Important to keep up caloric intake for the day - BACON!!!! BACON!!!! BACON!!!!