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.