Sunday, October 26, 2008

Life as an opportunist

Hello friends,

Edie is sleeping for longer than expected which means that I have some time to write/eat/shower/put laundry name it, I've pounced on the opportunity to do it as she slumbers.

Another week and…actually, for me, all weeks are kind of the same. Yesterday while having tea with our neighbors (yes, there is actually a standard tea-time here and we do partake occasionally), we were discussing life as new parents and both Nikki (the other mother) and I have definitely felt like there have been weeks that our lives were like the movie Groundhog Day. I’m sure every parent has felt it. Feed, change, settle, repeat over 24 hours. Nonetheless, Edie, Tim and I are happy and healthy and looking forward to a nice trip home in December.

Again, since my life revolves around feeding, changing nappies (that’s Aussie-speak for diapers) and calming storms in the wee one, there’s not a lot that I’ll talk about that isn’t influenced by Edie. She likes it that way. Actually, I’m not sure whether this is common in all children, I suspect not but I may be wrong, Edie is the sweetest, most pleasant baby EVER when she’s in the company of other people. You know, some babies are just unpleasant all the time (we’ve all seen them and felt bad for mom or dad)…With Edie, it’s just with us. Maybe that’s a good thing come to think of it…I certainly caused my parents embarrassment in front of other people with my cranky moods as a child, teenager and adult. But it’s hard not to tell people when they’re cooing over how well-behaved she is, just how manipulative she seems when she’s wailing in her crib until you pick her up, and then starts wailing again when she’s put back down…And then works her way into our bed (most of the time on top of one of us) because we’re just too tired to keep playing that game in the middle of the night. I realize that she is only 7 weeks old now, and probably hasn’t mastered the art of consciously manipulating people, but I have to keep reminding myself of that. Good thing she’s cute.

So, you may or may not be wondering about how our experiment in public transport has been going. I’m going to tell you about it anyway. For those who don’t know, when we decided to move to Australia, we had this great idea that because we were going to be living in a huge city, that we should be able to get by without having to buy a car by using the public transit system. We were both sick of the amount of driving that we were doing in Canada anyway. Of course at the time we had no idea that we would have a child on our hands so soon, or at all for that matter. But, given our stubborn nature, we decided to see if we could still hack it out with public transportation even though we’d found out that we’d have a baby with us 8 months after we arrived in Australia. Our reasoning originally was because we shouldn’t need a car in a city this size, it has since become a financial incentive for us as well…Losing an income and gaining a child hits the bankbook eventually. Thankfully there is a good bus system here and equally as thankfully, we have met friends with cars. For almost 2 months we had access to a car lent to us by our friend Peter while he was away overseas, and thankfully that was during the time that Edie stormed her way into this realm. We had to give that car back eventually, so we’ve been without for the past 5 weeks. Having had that car we realized that we should probably have one even if it just sat in our garage for the most part. It’d just good to have it as a backup in case of an emergency or if a bus decides not to show up (which happened to me twice in this past week). SO, reluctantly, we’ve contacted a guy who deals second hand cars and is on the lookout for what we want.

The nice thing is that used cars here can be super-duper old and still be in great shape due to the no winter factor. Our friend Peter (who’s car we’d borrowed) is driving an ’89 Toyota Corolla which is in great shape still. So that’s exactly what we’re looking for. What is also nice is that there are copious amounts of used Toyotas out there for very reasonable prices. I’ve been told that people are not allowed to own new cars for longer than 5 years in Japan and so lots of these 5 year old cars are exported to other countries. Apparently lots end up here. If you watched any street in Brisbane for 10 minutes you would be guarenteed to see at least 1 white Camry or Corolla pass by. So, in a short while our experiment in public transport will have come to an end with our purchase of a car. I’m sure it will be parked for much longer than it will be driven. I like the fact that Edie has already spent way more time in a bus than she has in a car. We’re working on keeping her ecological footprint small…That long-haul flight in December not taken into consideration. Actually, if you take a look at Jay’s blog (Tim’s brother…The Freeway to Serfdom…always an interesting read) he talked recently about a study which showed that people that would consider themselves “Green Idealists” are more likely to take long-haul flights which are absolutely terrible for the environment in terms of carbon emissions. I guess we’d like to think that we’d not label ourselves at all, let alone with a pretentious title like “Green Idealist” and we generally don’t buy into propaganda out there of which there is scads in terms of environmental issues of the day, but we do care about being good to the earth…And we’re taking one of the longest long-haul flights possible in about a month. And we’ve already done it once. So there you have it. That study is probably bang-on. It’s taking me a while to digest that one. Jay is a great source of brain-food. Check him out.

So, with the trip coming up we’ve been scrambling like mad to get Edie’s documentation up-to-date as infants cannot travel without a passport any longer, nor can they just be added to parents’ passports like they once could. It’s been a titch stressful. In order to get a passport for Edie, we need a Canadian proof of citizenship (because we’re not yet permanent residents in Australia), in order to get a proof of citizenship, we need her birth registration which we received last week. So, tomorrow we file our application for proof of citizenship and her passport application crossing our fingers that we’ll get everything back before we’re supposed to leave (the 4th of December). For normal Canadian passport applications being filed from Australia it’s supposed to take 15 working days, which is cutting everything pretty close. Thankfully they do make consideration of the fact that we already have our tickets purchased and our dates of travel, etc. But it certainly makes us aware of just how much control the government has over us. We can’t just travel at our own whim despite the fact that we shelled out cash for our not-so-cheap tickets already. And the whole thing about infants needing a passport...There are so many reasons why I’d consider that at the very least, entirely ridiculous. She changes in looks from day to day and even by the time her passport is actually processed theoretically her eye color could even be different. But her picture is awfully cute and we really just want to get home with all 3 of us for Christmas, so we’re sucking it up this time.

So in order to get pictures for her citizenship papers and passport we had to take her to a special studio which could meet the requirements for the picture specifications. I took her on Wednesday (huge bus trip) and ended up spending the afternoon in a shopping mall waiting for the pictures to be developed and stamped. I did discover the “parent’s room” at the mall which is like an oasis in the desert…Couches, TV, a microwave, no people…That was a bonus. Eventually I got the pictures and came home. I had to print Edie’s name on the back of the citizenship photos and neglected to tell Tim that the ink needed to dry before they were put away. He put them into a folder while they were still wet and I almost cried when I saw that there was ink all over one of the pictures the next day. So, on Saturday we had to go back to the studio. This time Edie wouldn’t wake up for the photographers, so again, it was a couple of hours before we were able to get out of there. But we got it all in the end. Everything will be sent to the Consulate tomorrow. If you’re the praying type, if you could plead on our behalf we’d appreciate it. If you’re not, we’ll take whatever you’ve got for making things beyond your control happen in your favour.

Edie’s hair has been falling out lately, especially in the sideburns region and at the back. She’s still got a nice thick strip of long hair on the bottom though. Kind of like the seasoned professor who’s got no hair on top but is clinging to the youthfulness of the long wavy stuff that still grows on the bottom. Now, let’s think of who that might be in, say, 15 years…Edie has also learned how to poo in the last week. We had it good there for about 5 weeks of no poo at all, which is common in breastfed babies. But she’s making up for it now. Thankfully we’ve made the transition to using cloth nappies which, with a biodegradable liner, work really well to contain poopies. They’re also so much cheaper to use than nappies. The really nice thing about cloth (that I’ve noticed) is that you can make them fit the baby, which I found really frustrating about disposables. Edie has a small rump and a large belly (pear-shaped, we like to call her, which is also Aussie-speak for a situation gone bad), the disposables never did quite fit right. So we’re all a bit happier I think.

And I think I’ll end things there but treat you to a few more pictures. I know that’s what you really want to see anyway! Edie is calling.

Love to everyone, can’t wait to see you in December!


Saturday, October 18, 2008

News and notes from the sleep-deprived

Hopefully our two-week hiatus hasn't dropped our readership after the major boost brought on by our superstar daughter. Those of you still surfing by for a read will find that I am not going to focus this post on the trials and tribulations of parenthood. Rest assured that it is going as well as we could hope, and Edie is looking forward to meeting her family and Canadian friends when we come home for a visit at Christmas. That's provided Canada Customs allows her into the country - getting a passport in time is a bit questionable at the moment. If you get a phone call saying that the only way you can see Edie is by visiting her in a quarantine room at the Vancouver airport, you'll know why.

So it's been back to business for me this past week. I've slowly been increasing my time back at the office, even though I can be just about as productive (sometimes more so) when working at home. Although grinding up fish tissues in our front room seems a bit weird. I've been able to get a few papers written which is always nice. Under normal circumstances, I would be in northern Australia right now for our “late dry season” sampling; we have a crew of people up there right now braving 35 degree temperatures every day. Instead, I'm sitting this one out and planning for a big wet season trip in January. Part of the challenge in working in the north during the wet is that there is water everywhere (see pictures at the bottom of this page) - hence you have to helicopter or boat in to the river to do your sampling. Driving in just isn’t an option. So we are planning on chartering a vessel that will sail down from Aurukun or Pormpurraw (two small Aboriginal communities north of Kowanyama) into the Mitchell River, and anchor there for a week while we make forays out onto the floodplain. I’ve been told that we can expect plenty of mosquitoes, extreme heat and humidity, angry crocodiles, and everything that lives on land (e.g. snakes and other crawly things) to be wanting to be on the few patches of dry ground that are available. So that’s what I have to look forward to after a cold December at home.

I must admit that I paid little attention to the recent federal election back home, just enough to realize that nerdy professors (as I hope to be some day) don’t make for good politicians. Kind of reminds me of the Simpsons episode when the intelligentsia (the Mensa crowd) are given the reigns to govern and they make a big mess of it. The Dubyas of the world will always defeat the Al Gores, and the Tanker Malleys will always beat the Harold Fleigers. When people’s brains hang over the room like a cloud, they open the door for someone with a little more charm to connect with the people. Does this mean that Stephen Harper has charm? That might be a bit of a stretch, but I think it is fair to say that he could more easily have a conversation with the average voter out there. So that’s how it is. I am happy for the academics to sit in a corner and grumble about the “popular guy” who has all the power. Seems more natural that way.

The global economic crisis is being felt here as it is everywhere, with plenty of people under mortgage and rent stress, stock market volatility, and growing numbers of families requiring assistance of food banks and other support networks. Australia’s banks, however, are apparently better positioned than those in most countries and hence are expected to be able to weather the credit storm. Perhaps we’ll be hiding out here a little longer than we anticipated! Believe it or not, but the Australian government has no national debt. Read that again – no national debt. Compare this with America’s debt of 10.3 trillion, and Canada’s debt of 450 billion. (Note: this refers to government debt only, not debt in the private sector owed to foreign interests, which turns out to be quite high in Australia). I was shocked when I heard of Australia’s lack of government debt, but apparently prudent spending over the years and the strength of the country’s export market has meant that they have been able to avoid the temptation to overspend. It’s still too early to judge whether their social programs are suffering greatly from it; after all, we were just given amazing (free) care at a public hospital for Edie’s birth. Granted, from what I have read, support for seniors and the unemployed is pretty weak here, so perhaps things aren’t as rosy as they might seem. I will say this though, there is a fully endorsed two-tier health care system here, and I don’t believe the quality of the public system suffers as a result.

These current economic times, combined with our recent life experiences and the book I just finished (The Barrytown Trilogy by Roddy Doyle) have really got me thinking about family, finances and happiness. In the book, Doyle paints a brilliant picture of 1980s Dublin through the family of Jimmy Rabbitte. Jimmy loses his job, bums around on the dole (pogey as we would call it) for awhile, before finally partnering up with his buddy on a chip wagon. The make decent money for awhile but their friendship suffers as a result. The book is written in several short segments (no chapters), and many of the sections come and go without ever getting resolved. For example, Jimmy listens to his daughter, who had earlier had a child without a father, crying inside her room. He wants to go in, but hesitates at the door and eventually leaves. We never find out why she was crying, but she reappears in other places in the book seemingly in good spirits. There is no happy ending to the book, but it isn't sad either. It just kind of ends. And I think that's the way our lives are these days. Not always getting better, but not bad either, and filled with plenty of enjoyable moments. Our generation was raised on the "American Dream" idea, that there was always going to be improvements to our livelihoods - more money, more opportunities. And to a great degree that is true. We have opportunities our parents never had, including financial stability. But I think we are all starting to realize that there are limitations, and perhaps there isn't always something brighter around the bend. What that means is we need to appreciate the moments of joy when they arrive, much like Jimmy Rabbitte enjoys a pint with his friends, a win by Ireland in the World Cup tournament, or a walk with his granddaughter.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Rantings and rambling from Oz - Laura style

Hello friends,

Well, Edie has been extrauterine for a month today. It’s been a great month at the same time as it’s been probably the most trying month of my life. Anyone who’s had children will know exactly what I’m talking about and there are probably a few out there who would be qualified to tell me “I told you so”. I was speaking with my sister yesterday and she mentioned that she wished that she could be here to witness Tim and I “do this” (“this” being raising a daughter)…Were she here she would definitely have lots of entertainment with the clown-show that we’re running. The most entertaining aspect I think would be how little Edie has succeeded in mastering the battle of the wills. Both Tim and I would consider ourselves strong-willed and determined people, willing to put up a fight. We have totally met our match, if not our superior. For instance, at the moment I am writing this blog entry with one hand while Edie is sleeping on my lap because she will not stay asleep anywhere else right now and the kicker is that this morning if she’s not sleeping, she’s crying. This is because (we suspect) that she’s overtired as nothing else has been able to calm the storm other than sleep on my lap. This is hilarious in itself because when I was a child I required a lot of sleep and if I didn’t get what I needed I was a crank (not much has changed there). If anyone were brave enough to point out the fact that I was cranky because I was overtired they would have heard “I AM NOT TIRED” in my tantrum voice, if not worse (i.e. a bite or a pinch).

Either way, I think that Edie’s got the edge on us in determination. It may be because she’s got that youthful energy that we’re lacking bigtime right now, or maybe it’s evolutionary somehow- a new generation with a new drive? I’m sure that I gave my parents a run for their money when I was pint-sized…and longer perhaps. I just can’t imagine what it would have been like to deal with me and 3 other children. Newfound respect for Mom amd Dad is being gained everyday.

With this month has come lots and lots of time for contemplation and reflection on life. While meeting the needs of Edie we usually have our hands tied up with her and are left with no other alternative than to exercise our brains as they are all that’s left free. So I’ve been thinking a lot about what to write about this week. I haven’t really left the house except to go for walks with the Edster, so there are no real events to speak of, so my thoughts are next on the list. There’s your warning, you can stop reading here and I wouldn’t be terribly offended. Another warning, I tend to ramble and rant if you didn’t already know. See earlier offer to stop reading here.

I’ve been thinking about zoos, kind of…All sparked by a conversation that I had with my supervisor when I was still working prior to Edie. I walked into her office one day and she was shaking her head because a student had come into her office and told her that she wanted to study zoology because she wanted to be a zoo keeper or work in zoo. Obviously the student had made the logical, yet incorrect, connection that the study of zoology was the study of zoos or at least the necessary pathway to get into zookeeping. Apparently my supervisor gets this at least once a year when new students are coming to the university to have tours and such prior to deciding where to invest either their parents’ money or the governments’ money in their undergraduate education. Of course I laughed at the idea that students might think that there are enough jobs in zookeeping that an entire branch of science might be devoted to it…Oh the academic superiority that we (I) can feel over such people. It’s such a stupid game and here are a few reasons why (I could list many, many more). 1) In my first year of my undergraduate degree I didn’t know what botany was until I got through my first botany lecture. 2) Zoology actually happened to be the second lowest mark that I made in my entire undergraduate degree as a close runner-up to calculus. 3) When I really stop and think about it, I had no clue about the wider fields of biology at all prior to going to university, I still only vaguely know anything about the fields that I had little interest in (i.e. botany!). I guess in my late night thoughts recently I’ve been able to see just how futile it is to feel good about being in a better informed position than someone else with less experience, because in my case I could easily have been that student in my supervisors office. And I have been that student in many other situations when I ended up looking like an idiot. Ahh, late night thoughts. They’re good at revealing our humanness. As a side note, the thing I remember the most about my zoology class was sitting next to my friend Mark, who, although for the most part spent lectures talking to me, still managed to pull off great grades in that class. It was always so frustrating. Perhaps he’ll be a zookeeper someday. I think he’d be a good one.

I’m reading a book right now by Peter Singer and Jim Mason called The Ethics of What We Eat. I picked it up in the local library because I remembered the authors from a bioethics class that I took in undergrad. It’s an interesting read. In a brief summary, the authors state that if we really knew how our food was being produced we’d think and choose differently what we ate, and the fact that many people do know how food is produced and continue to consume it reveals a sad state of morality in our society. The authors border on casting judgement on people for making food choices based on economics and painting farmers as evil villains, but you’ve heard it all before- factory farming is replacing the family farm and there are consequences. This book outlines these consequences in the way that only animal rights activists can. And for that reason I find myself feeling the need to keep reading, but also to take it all with a grain of salt. It’s so easy to make a case for anything these days and I feel like my own upbringing has had more influence on my eating choices than any book has.

So, as I’m explaining the concept of this book and perhaps revealing that I think that certain types of food production can be considered unethical (I can’t bring myself to purchase chicken), my brother is in the process of buying a chicken farm. Chicken farms have been under scrutiny by animal rights groups quite strongly since the 70’s as again, fewer and fewer farms are growing chickens non-intensively. If anyone has ever had the chance to walk into a barn containing chickens grown intensively (i.e. thousands of chickens in cages stacked on top of one another), you’d know without a doubt that there were serious problems with how our chicken is produced. I don’t know anyone who could walk away from seeing this type of farming and not question at what expense we are getting cheap chicken. But there are so many other ways to look at the situation and how things have gotten to where good people (like my brother) are getting into the business of mass production of animals where animal rights are in question. For that matter, I’ve worked in the aquaculture industry for the past 6 years, another form of intensive farming under scrutiny from many groups for animal welfare and environmental impacts. So how are both my brother and I sleeping at night? I can’t speak for my brother, but this is my take.

We grew up on a small dairy farm in rural Nova Scotia. We milked roughly 40-60 head of dairy cattle and had other animals that each of us took care of, chickens, sheep, pigs, dogs and cats. It was strictly a family operation and the farm was originally purchased from my mother’s parents back when Mom and Dad were just starting out as a married couple with 2 kids back in the late 70’s. Every animal in our barn was named and was considered a being with a personality and with the right to be cared for properly. For the kids, productivity of the animals wasn’t even really a thought, but in retrospect it was apparent to us all along that having happy and well cared-for animals was very important for the business. I suppose that made them more productive and hence, profitable in the long run, but I think that our parents were more concerned that living beings deserved to be cared for properly. My parents were forced to sell the farm in ’97 as it couldn’t pay for itself any longer. And although we children would like to have taken the farm over or started a new one as adults, there is no way to do that in eastern Canada without having the ability to invest millions in a farm large enough to sustain itself economically by remaining competitive. This trend of going big or going home is apparent across North America, here in Australia too. I personally think that things went downhill once the North American Free Trade Agreement was put into place, but there were probably warning signs before that ever happened. Either way, large-scale, generally intensive farming is now what is typically required to remain in business for farmers in Canada. There is no way that a person running a large-scale operation can care for animals the way that one could in a smaller operation. So young and ambitious people like my brother don’t have much of an option in terms of how they’re going to survive if they should choose to farm, nor how well the animals are treated in the end. I suppose the poultry operation that he’s purchasing will offset the cost of the dairy production that he would like to continue with (he’s got a small herd of which he takes great care). I take solace in the fact that if there were a person who could farm chickens well and thoughtfully, even under intensive conditions, it would be my brother. It still won’t make me buy chicken though.

As for my aquaculture work, the same type of thing has happened with the commercial fishery in eastern Canada where fishermen have had to diversify into other operations to remain financially afloat. Over the years the general trend in aquaculture has also been go big or go home. So people are going big in order to survive.

It seems like as consumers we’ve bought into the idea that food should be cheap, and I believe that this creates a force which drives the food production industry to more intensive, integrated and large-scale operations. And ordinary people run these operations, whether they are the Bert Racoons of this world or the Cyril Sneers. Enough of this rant.

So we’ve discovered a lot of things about babies that we didn’t know prior to the arrival of Miss Edie. Here are a couple of them:

- Going for a walk with the baby sounds like a nice relaxing thing to do. It was only when we strapped Edie into the stroller for the first time that we started to feel a little apprehensive about the fact that we’d just strapped our offspring into a stroller that meets “Australian standards” but that really is not much more than a fabric box on wheels with a flimsy harness. Not only that, you push the thing in front of you, so it seems that it would be most likely the first thing to be hit if someone in a car wasn’t paying attention. And sidewalks here were definitely not built for today’s stroller. And then there is the issue of roads with no sidewalks of which there are a number around here. We’re getting better about it all, but I didn’t anticipate the number of scenarios that would be running through our heads on a simple thing like a walk. Edie likes going for walks though. An instant sleeping pill

- Babies can’t read. I’ll admit that I knew that they couldn’t, but my expectations were maybe off when I thought that our infant would like to be read to. I’ve had to scale back on Dr.Suess and the Nursery Rhymes and increase the “Rooby Roo’s Book of Friends” readings. Rooby Roo is a bit more colourful and has some sound effects. But the content is weak. Our compromise is a book called “One Lucky Duck”, although I still think that she prefers Rooby. Given that she is a month old, I can be patient with the content thing. The Chronicles of Narnia can wait until next month.

- Breastfeeding, although better for baby and mom, is cheaper, etc., etc. than formula, is hard work. I find it toughest on my head as Edie is very particular about just how she is fed, and it changes all of the time. If she’s not happy with how things are being done she lets us know by a freakout session. You can imagine how much fun that is in the middle of the night (not my finest moments in motherhood).

- As tough as breastfeeding can be, the boob can solve almost any and every problem in Edie’s world. If it can’t, a diaper change can.

- Babies make funny noises. When Edie is waking up especially, it sounds like what we imagine a baby elephant might sound like. Grunts, snorts, smacks, yawns, farts, burps, growls…Pretty much all of the unpleasant sounds associated with sleeping (especially as one gets older) are concentrated in her wakeup routine. But it’s so awfully cute.

- Babies re-establish their cuteness on a daily basis. That is, at a 3am feeding session freakout her cuteness is questionable. And then when daylight rolls around and she flashes those big blue peepers, we melt all over again even though she sounds rather like a hungry pig at the trough.

And that is that. It’s the end of the day now and Edie is asleep for the moment. We miss home like crazy these days so we’re really looking forward to December and the trip back. Hope everyone is well and taking care.

Love to all,