Thursday, June 25, 2009


this is post number 100... woohoo!

A while back I mentioned how we scanned all our old photographs and put them on a DVD. I was looking through them for a friend of mine in college and came across this gem

I would guess this is summer of 1993 after my freshman year of college. That's me on the right and on the left is my high school friend (different friend from above) Kendra Tgettis/Hutchins. I was visiting her and her husband Peter in Massachusetts.

She used to write for my literary magazine, The Outer Fringe. She was a great writer and I was a big fan and had some of her poems memorized. She had an inspirational story too. Her parents were Jehovah's Witnesses and her father wasn't going to let her go to college. Eventually she broke off from her family, worked at several jobs at once (one of which was a bakery if memory serves) and was eventually able to pay her own way through Bennington College. I think at one point she moved to England.

Sadly, we haven't kept in touch. This photo was taken by Peter when we went to an outdoor Shakespeare festival. Before the play started we were wandering around in the woods in the background. That's the day I discovered what stinging nettles are, never heard of them before. Our legs were itching like crazy, which is what's going in the photo.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

towering clouds

Today I worked from home trying to finish up a major report. I'm really pretty stunned that I've been able to bang out 50 single-spaced pages in just under 10 days, most of which were either spent at scuba, bollywood, at a workshop downtown at the Bureau or losing at Killer Bunnies to Christine. I think now the tedious part starts, formatting references, table of contents and all that. I heard a story that Kerouac wrote On The Road on one giant scroll in a three week tear- I can't imagine what it'd be like to have to type all this by hand.

One nice thing about today was working near a window with a view. I searched around for the camera with no luck, but the clouds have been laughingly pretty today. They could be straight out of a hudson river valley school painting. Now, at sunset, the convective towers have blown out the top, the low angle light is filtering through the virga. Long bands are turning the pastels of sandstone deserts.

No doubt, everybody goes in for the giant cauliflower-head clouds. But I think after seeing time-lapsed videos of the skies over Tucson, I can appreciate how graceful cirrus clouds can be. They're just moving too slow to have that wow-factor.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Last night was our last Bollywood class. We went every Monday night for 10 weeks with our friend Diane to class at a local rec center. She graciously took me shopping in a suburb of Melbourne that has a retail district called "Little India" and we had a lot of fun getting what I call my "sari for dummies" - it had a skirt built into it so I wouldn't have to figure out how to wrap it around and keep it on while dancing. We also got some bedazzling bindis for our foreheads, bangles and a hilarious hat for Tom. It's comforting that, should the hydrologist thing fall through, he now has the gear for doorman work at the Taj West.

There are so many ethnicities of people here, no one pays much mind to different kinds of dress or the dozens of languages you hear people barking into their cell phones on the train. We sure got noticed last night though. You could almost hear people wondering, "What's this now?" as they tried to piece together what were up to.

When we got home, we were playing cards (actually a card game we are obsessed with called Killer Bunnies) and talking about Tom's mother's upcoming visit. He has always been close with her and we knew that immigrating would hard in terms of only seeing each other once a year or so. His mom is a real "do-er". She doesn't sit around and complain. She doesn't yack about what she would/could/should do - she just gets out there and gnaws at every morsel of marrow from the bones of life -always in school, travelling, even still working in daycare, because, as a retired pediatrician, she likes kids.

Knowing we only have a finite amount of time to spend with people we care about gives us a different perspective than when we can be around each other all day/every day. Or a limited amount of time to experience everything there is to do out there - and isn't that the case for everyone? At least, shouldn't it be? I waited so long to find Tom - now that he's finally here, I need to remember what it was like without him and keep my torturing of him to a duller roar.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


In a couple weeks we're going to Cairns near the great barrier reef. Today I took my first class towards a PADI open water scuba certification. I'm taking it at Aquatic Adventures' Academy of Scuba. Whenever I say the name, I keep picturing Plato signaling to ascend where Aristotle is gesturing for a safety stop.

There's four classes in total over two weekends. One (today) in the classroom, tomorrow in the pool and next saturday and sunday out at the ocean. I did pretty good in the class, got 47 out of 50 on the final exam. I do have to say though, I was sitting next to the class-star Renee, a beauty therapist originally from New Zealand. I've taken grad school oceanography courses and could tell you about Ekman pumping and all that... but she could bark out the answers to dive-table questions like Rain Man.

Everyone was quite friendly and excited about what they're doing. People seem particularly excited about diving now in winter because the visibility is so high (pay no mind that the water's 50 degrees).

I read a lot that the secret to getting over culture shock is to join clubs. Who knows, this might be the good thing I need. I'm totally knackered from work. I've been reading, researching, analyzing, writing, reporting, etc all day all night for what seems like weeks now. It's all coming to a head in about 10 days when my first big deliverable is due, a huge report that I'm still trying to get results for while I write it. I think I'll be amazed to make it through all in one piece. Christine's been a real trooper putting up with all of it.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

I'm a big girl now.

(Kitty here) - I turned forty.

On my actual birthday, Wednesday, we stayed out late, riding the Colonial Tram Car around town. You eat a five course dinner in a cute little velvet lined trolley car as it makes its way through all the inner suburbs.

The meetup spot for the tram was across the street from the casino, where we went to kill a few minutes and won enough money to pay for above mentioned tram dinner cruise. Sweet.

Tom played hooky from work the next day - we rented a Prius, loaded it up with booze and party foods, he (finally) got his Australian driver's license, we both had facials and we went out for tapas. The next day, his boss asked how his flu was (it's going around here) and Tom says, "Oh. I didn't have the flu. I stayed out too late celebrating my wife's birthday." Shameless bad boy, he slays me.

We invited guests over on Saturday afternoon for a oceanic tub of sangria and cascading mountain range of hors d'oeuvres. About thirty people came by - my girls group, reading clubs, other expats, Bollywood dance buddy, neighbors, half a punk band, friends, friends of friends of friends, a few people we'd never met, a dog and two babies. My girlfriends lent us dishware, cooked, kept the shrimp dumplings steamy, cleaned up, and made sure that all these fabulous and different individuals felt welcome. It's scary to "let your beams cross", but everyone seemed to have a fun time, even/especially Tom.

There were a lot of banner moments this week, a few where I was so moved, grateful, at peace or overcome with happy that I lost my breath for a spell.

Tom started his scuba course today and will be certified for open water diving in Cairns ("The Great Barrier Reef") this time next month.

Today we found out that there is a wickedly lovely apartment down the hall from ours that is on the market. I'm going to the mortgage agency tomorrow and see what it will take to qualify. I'd imagine that will end with "You. And a job." After doing a little research, I'm not optimistic. Even if I can't have what I want, it's not like some random ephemeral force is holding me back....kind of nice to have such a direct connection between one's choices and the associated outcomes.

It's winter but palm trees are everywhere, I'm driving a car that makes no noise and barely uses gas, people came to our house and saw my art and said they'd like me to do some pieces for their homes, and they gave me gifts even though I begged them not to and Tom has even taken to sleeping well again.

So many people rue the day they turn forty... Not so much, me.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Plant a tree

Paul Hawken gave an interesting commencement address at University of Portland recently. It was mostly about the environment, in particular climate change, and a call to action. Funny enough, he has honorary degrees from Portland and Melbourne.

Two passages stood out for me...

"There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is ending and the Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then see if the story is true. Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it resides in humanity's willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover, reimagine, and reconsider. "One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice," is Mary Oliver's description of moving away from the profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the living world."

and then there's

"Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would create new religions overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television."

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Flood warning and communication

This friday I was able to sit in on a training class for the Bureau of Meteorology's new flood forecasters. Earlier in the week they talked about the nuts and bolts of product generation and running models. This day however was on communication and working with users and so on. Senior managers also talked about what makes a good forecaster and what they can expect on the job. I find the psychology and sociology of forecasting and disasters fascinating. Everything from little tidbits (e.g. during power outages ATMs don't work so people can't get cash to buy food/water from stores) to the broader more philosophical aspects.

One of the talks was on the myths about flood warning. So, myth: people want information from one source. Emergency managers want an authoritative source for themselves, but the public wants to confirm their beliefs from multiple sources (even if it's the same info). You hear it on the news, you get an email from work, you talk to a neighbor, all to triangulate the truth. But if you hear "A" from one source, and "Not A" from another, your chance of doing nothing goes way up.

Myth: people respond to the first warning. It usually takes people about 3 hours to get their act together and get moving, and further reinforcement can build their momentum but they're likely to spend a good amount of time trying to confirm what's going on.

Myth: people will follow recommendations in warnings. People will follow warnings if the basis for the warning is given and the basis makes common sense. The obvious one here is to never drive through water. Doesn't matter if you have 4 wheel drive or it looks shallow to you. You'll never know how deep it is (even if you've driven there before, you don't know how eroded it is on the bottom). And it doesn't help when the media goes out and films cars driving through water anytime there's a flood, or people on the pier anytime there's big waves. Like this:

forget you ever saw that.

Myth: warnings cause panic. Actual panic only occurs in closed physical spaces when there's an immediate and clear source of death and an escape is available but inaccessible. Indeed, many peoples reaction to hazards is to freeze up, gawk at the disaster. Another example of an inappropriate knee jerk reaction that stuck in my mind is that when boiling water gets on a child, the first instinct of the parent is to rub the area to relieve the pain...while tearing away the skin. Yikes.

There's lot of other things they discussed, like door knocking during floods. Always explain who you are and leave them with a piece of paper with the relevant instructions (so they don't need to guess later what you said). Be positive in warnings ("Say in your home" rather than "Don't leave your home"), invite sociability (e.g. advise your neighbors, see if they need help) and so on.

The panel on what makes a good forecaster was interesting too. Multi-tasking ability, time management, intuition, team playerness are some of the obvious ones. Knowing when to ask for help or say you don't know are important also. Know yourself and recognize when you're tired and not making good decisions (there was mention of people having worked 36 hour shifts in the real heat of battle... my work was never that critical and I usually found I was useless after about 14).

I think the reward partly comes in comradeship and reaching that point when you can say "alright, this is it, the big one we've been preparing for" and have at it. Not to romanticize it too much but I imagine it's like when one marine meets another and says "semper fi"; it's only two words but volumes are implied.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

vision of humanity

A bit of news that was recently in the top lists of digg and drudgereport... New Zealand is the most peaceful country in the world according to the Vision of Humanity index. Australia's not doing too bad at 19th. The United States was 83rd (out of 144, 61th from the bottom), right between Kazakhstan and Bolivia.

B- history student here, all I remembered of Bolivia was that La Paz was the highest capital (did a report on it in 3rd grade) and it was a narco-state (no report on that one). Some quick googling turned up some neat pictures of Bolivia though. Check this out:

And La Paz's skyline:

The Salar de Uyuni, the world's largest salt flat:

Will have to put that on the places to go...

Off topic, but in case you were ever wondering, here's the difference between Australia and New Zealand's flags. First Australia:

And then New Zealand:

Australia's flag has the commonwealth star on the left (6 points for the 6 states and the territories). Then on the right is the Southern Cross (only seen from the southern hemisphere). New Zealand only has four stars because it marks the four directions of the compass.