Friday, November 28, 2008

Get behind me santa!

The title of this blog is the song title for one of my favorite Christmas tunes off of the Sufjan Stevens Christmas Album boxset. We unfortunatley left our copy in Canada and I miss it so much, but will soon be reunited with it. If anyone is looking for a good Christmas album, this is it!


The time has come at last, we’re packing up our bags and will be flying out of Brissy on Thursday morning. Apart from the fact that Tim will be defending his PhD thesis, it’s full-on party time! As in a let’s meet Edie party! The very best kind. She tells me that she’s dying to meet everyone.

So, I think that our house might be on a Jehovah’s Witness target list. They’ve been faithfully dropping by (and when I say ‘they’, I mean numerous people, and different from the other visits leading us to believe that it’s not a coordinated effort) and making our lives interesting. Almost since we got here I’ve been dreading Tuesdays a little bit just because they usually show up on that day. It wasn’t so bad when I was pregnant, but now that we have Edie running around, the dread is more strongly felt as energy is just so precious. But I just can’t answer their questions in good conscience without drawing myself into further discussion. I try everytime, and everytime I fail. I was thoroughly impressed with my husband back when Edie was probably 6 weeks old or so and I, having opened the door to the visitors and having been again unwillingly engaged in deeper conversation, was wishing I could just go to sleep. In mid-conversation Tim came out from the kitchen and nicely told them that I needed some rest while firmly pushing them out of the doorway. I had hearts in my eyes for Tim that day. Meanwhile, last week I was feeding Edie out in our rocker in the front porch and I heard a knock at the door, I was closest so I answered the door, and it was a new batch asking if we were interested in the Bible. Tim swooped in again and told them yes, we were interested in the Bible, and also that we’d take a look at the literature and again gently shooed them out the door. It was after I sat down again that I realized that I hadn’t pulled up the strap to the dress that I was wearing (that I had lowered to breastfeed) and thus, for that entire visit my right side was ‘exposed’, but thankfully I had my undergarments fastened. I wonder if they’ll come back.

A lot has been happening on the Edie front in the cuteness department. CBA code red now has people running for their shelters. She giggles and smiles probably 75% of the time that she’s awake and she really melts Tim’s heart when he comes through the door after work. It’s so incredible to see her grow and develop. I’ve been attending a new parents group on Fridays and it’s been good for both Edie and I. Edie gets to gaze at and interact with other babies and I get to talk to people. At first I thought that the group was a bad idea because it’s tough not to compare your child to all of the others when they’re all roughly the same age, and in our group, happen to be mostly girls. I found that it brought out the monster in all of us…I didn’t like myself in that setting. But at the 2nd meeting things settled down and I actually found that for the most part I would hang out with these women even if we didn’t have children. We’re going to keep meeting up in the new year. That’s exciting as with having been pregnant and then having Edie, social time for making friends in Australia hasn’t been high on the priority list. I must say that I’m starting to feel human again, more like old Laura, which is nice. Old Laura plus new Edie is a fun combination.

So, I know that everyone is talking about the economy being in shambles, but I really hadn’t fully appreciated what that meant until recently. We’ve made friends with a girl here through EWB who is terrific. She’s passionate, driven and just really refreshing to hang out with. She’s been involved with some big EWB projects that are developing with indigenous groups in Australia and has been talking for a while about leaving her stable government job (which she doesn’t really like anyway) to start working in another job which would more directly involve working with indigenous peoples in an educational function. It’s something that’s been a bit of a dream for her and we’ve been talking a lot about it. We’ve been meaning to meet up over the past month but it hasn’t happened, but I was in touch with her last weekend and asked how the job situation was. She answered that she’s thinking that she’d better stay with the government job on account of the economy. I think my heart broke a little because if there is anyone who should be in a job where she thrives, it should be her but she won’t take the chance in these uncertain days, understandably. It got me thinking about something that Tim mentioned in one of his blog entries about how our generation thinks that things should be improving as we get older, i.e. financial stability, job satisfaction, etc. I’d add that our generation (or at least me) feels deep down that we are also entitled to choose a career path and should be able to be what we want to be without being limited by anything (especially money). This entitlement I’m starting to see as the enormous luxury that it is. Choice is actually quite extravagant, and in our case, I believe may be an illusion that we’ve come to accept as reality because we’ve really never lived through grand-scale economic hardship (i.e., more than me feeling the pinch). I think it’s becoming obvious that when people stop spending money, people start losing jobs. So, how long will it be before Tim and I discover that our research isn’t top of the list of priorities in slim times? Budget cuts hit research hard. But it’s not just us. The guy next door owns a construction company. What happens when people stop building because they can’t afford it? And so on. It’s becoming so plain to see just how reliant we are on this economic system, and it scares me a lot. Oy. Enough economics talk. There’s sure to be too much more to come on this front.

On the fun front, we purchased a car a couple of weeks ago. It’s a ’92 Corolla (manual) and runs like a dream. It’s also probably the most popular model in Brisbane. There are replicates everywhere, and actually our landlord drives one, his is a ‘93. Having a car definitely helps out with the entertaining Edie department. Last weekend we took her to the coast to watch wind surfers which we never could have done without a car. We also were able to attend a birthday party for one of our Kiwi friends. Edie loved it! She got to watch kids break open a piniata, and eat cake and jump on a trampoline. She actually got in on the trampoline action with Tim (see photo). This week I’ve been trying to teach her about airplanes. With our longest flight on the way home being 14 hours from Sydney to Vancouver, we’re wondering if we’re going to be the couple that everyone hates because their baby won’t keep quiet. We’ll see. It seems that over the past year I’ve thought more than ever that we’re just crazy…or perhaps just keeping life interesting...I hope that’s what people on the plane with us think.

We won’t be posting again until we return back in January, so until then, have a great, great Christmas season. For us, the cost of going home and all of the huge changes in our lives over the past year has forced us to forget about spending on presents, etc. this season. It’s pretty refreshing actually. I, more than ever before, am simply craving the company of family and friends.

We can’t wait to see you all!


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lots to Talk About

It's been a busy week and a half, so I'll try to bring everyone up to speed on recent developments in the lives of Tim, Laura and Edie. Some of you may be wondering how we are dealing with the pressures of child-rearing while far away from home, and if we've reached the breaking point yet. Well the other night there was a moment when I thought Laura may have found the end of her tether. It was the middle of the night, probably around 3:00 a.m. Edie was awake for her 2nd feed since we went to bed, and both of us were low on sleep and energy. Laura finished feeding Edie and rocked her to sleep, leaving her in her crib. I was dozing at the time and didn't notice when Laura left the bedroom. A few minutes later I woke and realized Laura was not in bed (where she should have been since Edie was fast asleep and it was the middle of the night). I got up and checked the office - not there. I checked the bathroom - not there. All the lights were out. I was starting to think that perhaps I would find her sobbing uncontrollably in the kitchen when I came across her in the living the dark..........munching on a peanut butter and jam sandwich that I had made for her earlier in the day. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to parenthood!

On the weekend I spent my first nights away since Edie's birth. I flew north to Cairns to attend the Mitchell River Indigenous Forum. This meeting was a chance for all of the different language groups that have traditional ownership over the land in the catchment to come out, meet us, and tell us what they would like us to work on in terms of environmental and socioeconomic issues. It was a fantastic experience. It was held at a campground with bunkhouses, which were shared between us and the local people. There were about 70 Aboriginal people and half as many children. We had only about a dozen in our own team so it was nice to be in the minority for once. We presented our work (15 minutes to talk without any of the usual visual aids such as powerpoint) and took some heat from a few of the younger individuals who believed we were undervaluing traditional knowledge and overvaluing white scientific knowledge. Point taken. Overall they were pleased with what they heard from us so we now have a foundation on which to build as we continue our work trying to understand ecological and cultural processes in tropical rivers of Australia. I've written in this space before about Kowanyama, the community located near the mouth of the river. Well recently some UN people were there doing some filming for a feature on Aboriginal perspectives on climate change. Luckily the video is available online. Check it out! In it you'll see some footage of Kowanyama as well as shots of the Rangers (Philip, Stanley, and Anzac) with whom we work when we are there.

I also found out this week that I'll be receiving funding to do some supplemental research. It's my first ever research grant, and I'm going to use it to determine if mercury is an issue in the Mitchell River. There's plenty of gold mining in one of the tributaries of the river, and gold mining causes mercury pollution in places ranging from the Amazon to northern New Brunswick. Since Kowanyama sits downstream from where the gold mining takes place, there is concern that the traditional diet consumed by the community (including fishes such as barramundi and river sharks) could be leading to unsafe levels for human health. So I am going to test some of the fish for mercury. Hopefully it will turn out to not be a problem. A nightmare scenario would involve me having to recommend avoidance of certain elements of the traditional diet, since our Western diet does not generally agree with Aboriginal people.

Given the amount of work remaining to be done (by our research team) in northern Australia, Laura and I are considering moving up there. We've enjoyed our time in Brisbane, but there are several reasons why a move north would be a good idea. The place we are targeting is a village called Kuranda, west of Cairns, about 1700 km north of Brisbane. I would try to describe it here but it might be better just to click on this link. It'll tell you everything you need to know. Needless to say, it might make visiting us even more desirable, hint hint. Hard to argue against an area where the Great Barrier Reef meets World Heritage Rainforest.

One other note before I go. There is a new feature in google maps called street view, where you can move a cursor over the map and be shown an image of the street. They've achieved this by sending a crew around in a vehicle with a camera mounted on top, recording still shots along the way. Because this has been done in Australia (not yet in Canada though apparently coming soon) you can actually go online and view our current house and street. Just go to google maps and type in 29 Yarranabbe St, QLD. Then click the "street view" icon at the top right. Viola. You can even rotate around for a 360 view. Pretty cool stuff, but apparently it has the privacy police up in arms. Some people were photographed in compromising positions during the drive-by, so you can actually request that your property be taken out of service if you don't want billions of people to, for example, be able to see you passed out drunk on your front lawn. Keep an eye out for it Canada in '09.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

And there was great rejoicing

So, I know it's not my week to post, and I'm not going to say much, but I'm so excited and Tim is away and it's too late to call family...Edie's passport arrived today!!!

We're REALLY going home. Legally and everything! YAHOO!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Hello friends,

Can it be November already? When I stop and think about how much has changed in one short year, I’m floored. At this point last year we had no idea that we would have a child on our hands, and it might have been the furthest thing from our minds. And since then we’ve packed up a house, said goodbye to our friends and families, changed jobs and continents, lived out a pregnancy and had an Edie here in Australia. It’s crazy to think that when we get back to Canada in December that I’ll look pretty much the same as I did when I left back in February…But that I was almost 30 pounds heavier in between February and now. And just so much is different. Life has definitely been happening at a whirlwind pace for Tim and I, and Edie now. Actually, I had a thought the other day that I have no recollection of any events in September or October (other than Edie’s arrival). None whatsoever. What a weird and incredible time in our lives.

For those interested, Edie tipped the scales on Saturday at 5 Kg. That’s a whopping 11 lbs. She’s also 59 cm long. We’re so proud of her! Not that she’s had much choice in the matter, but she’s growing so well. She also had her 2 month immunization shots today. Ouch! She didn’t take to the needles very well but compared to my tumultuous history with needle getting (a few freakout sessions of my own), she handled it like a pro. She seems to be sleeping it off at the moment.

On Saturday we also participated in a community-wide shading initiative where the council arranged for volunteers to plant young trees along the streets in our neighborhood. The council already had holes dug and the trees ready to go in the ground, so we all went around with shovels to put the trees in during the early hours this morning. It was fun! And quick. There were a lot of people who showed up to plant so in the end it became a bit of a race to find trees that weren’t planted yet. We got a message notifying us about the event in the mail this week and we’re glad that we got out to it. The trees will be maintained by property owners and it seems that this type of event has been quite successful in the past. The people we spoke with told us that there is generally a 5-10% mortality rate. Given the heat here and the poor soil conditions generally, that’s a great success rate. We were surprised to find that as we made our way back to our house, some land owners had already removed some trees. I’ll admit that it angered me to see this, but I’m not a landowner, and don’t know the motives were for doing such a thing. Because it was an event planned by the Council, I’m sure that the by-laws are such that the Council can plant trees at the roadside (I’ve looked into the by-laws and I get the sense that the “frontage” on property here is 3 m, although that information is buried in heaps of legal mumbo-jumbo so I’m not completely certain…I also learned that no person shall expectorate OR emit any nasal discharge onto the footway of any street in the city). Either way. Taking the trees out seems…sad. The event was supposed to be a community building event, so the tree-removers would have missed out on that aspect, and more trees just seems like a good idea. Especially for shade here in hot, hot Australia.

Speaking of heat, summer is here. Full-on. Il fait chaud mes amis! Guns n’ Roses would find no cold November rain here in the Southern hemisphere. How are we handling it? Well, the AC has been on this week and there’s been lots of hanging out in the knickers (Aussie-speak for gitch). It’s a bit brutal for Edie and I because it means that walks are pretty much out of the question unless we go first thing or at the end of the day. This makes for a long day of sweating it out inside the house. Once we have a car on our hands I’m hoping we’ll have a bit more flexibility in that respect. I’m glad that we’ll be in Canada for December. Apparently that’s the hottest month here, but I’m sure that January and February will be up there as well. A common thing to do here is to celebrate Christmas in July so that people can roast their turkey and ham in their ovens and not die of heat-stroke. Right now the oven being on adds so much extra heat to an already too hot house. I’ll say that I’m very happy that I was pregnant during the winter here, summer would have been unbearable. But it’s nice to see the summer leaves, flowers and animals back out. Apparently Brisbane is known for the abundance of Jacaranda trees which bear a purple flower at this time of year. They are everywhere and are so pretty to look at. The gekos are back as well. Yay! We missed seeing them around. It also rains more frequently in this season, which is nice to break up the humidity. We’re having a cracker (Aussie-speak for a good thunder storm) right now.

I was asked this week what I do when I see someone on the street begging for change (money change, we do have friends that hit the street begging for social change, just to differentiate) and it got me thinking. The first thing I thought was that I usually either mentally or physically check my pockets to see if I do have change, and if I do I usually hand it over. I must say that I’m a bigger sucker for people that are playing music (especially the harmonica, particularly old men). It made me think though, of how many conversations I’ve had about this topic with people, and how many different ways that people respond to begging or panhandling in general. I think that it’s safe to say that the big reason for being hesitant to give money to people who are asking for it on the street is how that person will spend it. I guess there is also the feeling that if I’ve earned my money, I shouldn’t be asked to give it to others, but I’ll leave that one alone for the moment. Tim and I have had a number of heated discussions about what responsibility lies with giving a panhandler money. I think that my feelings lean more towards the idea that if I give money to someone, it’s not up to me as to how that money is spent as the small amount of change won’t greatly change their situation (assuming that the person earning a living this way due to battling addictions or not being able to hold a stable job for other reasons). Tim has argued that it is. The classic argument for this one is “I won’t give it to this guy/girl because they’re just going to go spend it on alcohol or drugs, etc. instead of food”. I understand this to a point, but by not giving the money and simply passing by, I’m not solving any problems for that person either. It’s not helping them to not get alcohol or drugs by some other means, or to kick their addictions. Then again, my giving them change doesn’t solve any problems either. I guess I feel like it just makes their day a little easier since I’m not addressing the larger problem…But that’s a guess on my part. I have a friend from undergrad who I witnessed take a beggar to McDonalds to purchase a meal instead of handing him change. It’s an interesting way to get around the way that people spend their money thing, but again, doesn’t get to helping out with the reasons that the person is panhandling anyway.

Getting to know the people who are asking for money is probably the best bet…But it takes time and not everyone is comfortable with this approach. It is definitely one of the most rewarding things that I’ve ever done though. Actually, getting to know people is generally always rewarding to me in some way, no matter who they are. But that’s me. I don’t have to look very far to see that we’re not all people people. While on the subject of poverty though, the Homeless World Cup is being held in Melbourne in December. Homeless World Cup, you ask? Yup. 56 countries have national representation at this tournament this year. Teams are made up of the homeless and unemployed and most countries have both a women and a mens team. These teams train throughout the year and for a lot of the players, this training is one of the only sources of stability in life. Since soccer is so easy to pick up, and requires minimal equipment, and is so well known worldwide, it makes getting players out easy as well. If Tim and I were here in December, we’d definitely be trying to figure out how to get there. The most recent spectator numbers for this tournament is over 50,000 fans, which is pretty remarkable given that the whole thing only started in 2003.

Well, to sign off on this one, in the spirit of a favorite movie of ours, I give you Edie’s top 10 tunes of the first 9 weeks of extrauterine existence.

10. Pop Goes the World – Men Without Hats
9. Burn Baby Burn – Bruce Cockburn
8. Grade 9 – Bare Naked Ladies (they called me Eddie!)
7. Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes – Paul Simon
6. Wondering Where the Lions Are – Bruce Cockburn
5. Louisiana Man – Charlie Pride
4. Cold Heartbreaker – Petunia and the Loons
3. Kiss an Angel Good Morning – Charlie Pride
2. Doggie Bounce - Crazy Dogggz
1. Just a Bum – Greg Brown

Edie has also learned how to vocalize this week, so she can actually communicate without crying, which is lovely. She has what we call CBA’s, which are code-name for cute baby alerts, and the scale ranges from code yellow (some smiling) to code red (smiles and full-on baby talk). It’s true, we really are “those parents”. The kind I used to make fun of.

We can’t wait to get home. Love to all until then!


Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Soundtrack of Our Lives

I came to the realization today that few, if any, of our posts since we arrived here have been about music. This despite the fact that both of us have a healthy appreciation for it, and one of us (that would be Laura) can actually play it. So, from the guy who once created an all-time top 250 song list, this post is going to be about music.

I've been thinking about what kind of music Edie is going to listen to when she gets older. Each generation tends to stray from the musical leanings of the one prior. That's how we go from The Beatles, to Led Zeppelin, to Guns n' Roses, to Pearl Jam, and so on. Each set of parents sneers at their children's music (as well as their haircuts). I must admit, I don't enjoy the current crop of bands that are popular with teens (Linkin Park comes to mind), but no doubt they resonate the same way G n' R did for us. Normally children will slowly learn to appreciate their parent's music as they get older. That is, if their parents have any taste in music! So, assuming that Laura and I have taste in music (and remember I define taste here simply as a preference of one type of music over another; I have always argued that I'll take bad taste over no taste any day), we might expect Edie to one day listen to Ryan Adams, Bright Eyes, the McGarrigles, and, I daresay, even Bruce Springsteen. Here's to hoping. For now, she's getting a healthy dose of Dan Zanes, Greg Brown, and (gulp) Charlie Pride.

One of the things we enjoyed a lot pre-Edie (we'll call this prEdie for short) was going to folk shows in Fredericton and other northeast destinations such as Portland and Portsmouth. Recently we made a vow to try and re-discover that fun, so I purchased tickets for Laura and our neighbour Nikki to go see Martha Wainwright when she is in town next month. Derek (Nikki's husband) and I will be on child-care duty that night. Also, we just got word that Leonard Cohen has added an Australian leg to his world tour that kicked off in Fredericton in the spring. Since we just missed out on that show, it'll be sweet retribution when we see him here in Brisbane in February. The bonus is that a great Australian artist, Paul Kelly, will be opening for him.

Another good Aussie act that we've discovered here is Angus and Julia Stone. They're a good singer-songwriter pair, and are starting to gain popularity here and in England. But the best find for me so far has been Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, a blind Aboriginal artist from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. Gurrumul grew up in a landscape that is very similar to the places where I work when I go in the field, and his connection to country comes through strongly in his songs. Normally I don't enjoy songs that are sung in other languages, because I like to know the lyrics, but this is certainly an exception. You can really feel the 40,000 years of oral tradition being channeled through his music. Think about how strongly we identify with our own hometowns. Why is that? It comes from forming memories there, having family and friends there, and carrying on the legacy that our parents, grandparents, and in some cases great-grandparents forged in that town. Now imagine that your family history stretched back thousands of generations in that same part of the world. Add the fact that your life depended on that land; whether the rains were good, and fish and game were plentiful. Then throw in the passing of stories about that land from mother to daughter, and father to son, and you have this Aboriginal culture that is more tied to the land (with the exception of Africans) than any other in the world. Imagining the land getting taken from them simply breaks your heart.