Monday, December 21, 2009

Missing.....

In honour of our first official overseas Christmas (after making it home in time last year), we present a top ten countdown of our favorite things about the Christmas season in Canada.

10 – Snow and cold weather are still “quaint”. It’s easy for us now to see footage of a frozen landscape and feel nostalgic about the onset of winter. But let’s face it, most of winter just plain sucks (note, this is Tim writing, Laura loves winter). However we can all agree that prior to Christmas, everyone is in good spirits and the harsh reality of another four months of winter hasn’t yet set in. The warm looking Christmas lights adorning people’s homes add to the charm. Of course, those same lights are often still up in May, but who cares, it’s Christmas!

9 – Real fireplaces. In the absence of any need for a fireplace in this part of Australia, ever, we miss the coma-inducing heat kicked off of by the blazing hearths back in Canada at this time of year. There is nothing like waking up too early on Christmas morning after no sleep that night, overindulging on chocolate and turkey during the day and passing out in front of the fireplace for an afternoon siesta. We find ourselves slightly embarrassed by the fact that a DVD of a burning yule log with cheesy Christmas music in the background has got us through a number of evenings here over these past weeks.

8 – Tim again. Saturday NHL hockey, Sunday football, World Junior hockey. I’ve tried to watch North American sports on my computer, using some handy internet links, but it just isn’t the same. I really miss wasting a whole day on the couch with the NFL, especially dozing off around 4:00 (usually late in the third quarter of the early games), then summoning the energy to go and have supper, overeat and then return to the tv for the late games.

7 – Christmas movies. Not sure what it is about Aussie TV networks, but they don’t feel the need to bombard us with the Christmas classics until Christmas day. They seem to be more in favour of the Christmas day marathon, rather than the November/December marathon that we enjoyed back home. So, in vain we’ve been searching the TV guide practically every night trying to find a good Christmas movie to drown our homesickness with, to no avail. So, despite our broke-ness, we’ve gone for the rentals. We’re currently enjoying watching John Candy and his polka band as they drive Kevin Mcallister’s mom back to NY to find Kevin. Ahhh, Home Alone. Christmas goodness. Last week it was Elf. I will say that both of these movies evoke more emotion than they ever have…There’s a lot of eye sweating going on around here.

6 – The collective decision by society to shut things down for a week or so. This doesn’t happen often enough. After all the eye-opening realizations of the global financial crisis, particularly that we’re married to our jobs and don’t spend enough down time with family, shouldn’t this become even more important?

5 – Christmas plays. Given our infant situation, we miss out on the school play scene, and because Edie’s typically asleep by 6:30, pretty much any other family Christmas gathering is off. I’m guessing we’ll get our fill of Christmas plays in the years to come, though I think that Edie’s a bit sad that she didn’t get invited to be baby Jesus this year. She thought she was a shoe-in for the role, though apparently Jesus didn’t cry (see "Away in a Manger") and well...we don’t promote lying on the resume.

4 – Work Christmas parties – most notably the Canadian Rivers Institute annual party and the UNB Biology party. Both were always memorable, including good food, bad karaoke, excess alcohol, and even the occasional violation of the Christmas tree.

3 – “Silent Night” at the end of the Christmas Eve church service. Gets me every time. Although we may get this one here as well. We'll know in a couple of days.

2 – The food! Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, chocolate, potato chips, egg nog (Laura only, Tim hasn't forgiven egg nog since an "incident" at Terry Leggatt's a few years back). All the things we routinely deny ourselves during the year, we turn loose in late December. Today we had cinnamon rolls and After Eight mints for breakfast.

1 – Family and friends, of course. Regardless of how you feel about Christmas, there's no denying the power of loved ones at this time of year. It's the reason people fight their way through crowded airports, drive on icy roads, and endure all the other frustrating elements of late December to share the moments with people you care about. And you really start to appreciate it when you're away from it. So enjoy it while you have it. Merry Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Miss E, Dad and Mr. Dylan

video

So sorry for the sideways orientation...I can't seem to figure out how to change it, but I think you can get the idea. WE LOVE CHRISTMAS!!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Oh the weather outside is frightful...

Hello everyone,

It’s our 92nd week of living in Australia and it’s also the first day of summer down here. The 92 weeks have been good and have passed very quickly, the first day of summer brings with it the sad anticipation of 80%+ humidity and 30-35°C temperatures for the next 6 weeks at least. We spent the month of December in Canada last year so we had it easy, December being the BEST winter month in Canada and being the WORST summer month in Australia. Already I’m willing to admit that I’m unreasonably cranky these days due to the temperature, and this is only the beginning. We do have air conditioning in the house, thank goodness, and I’m at least aware enough to recognize that our family life is a lot better when we just turn the darn thing on, energy costs aside. Another factor that makes family life better is being able to cook on the barbeque. Anything that requires an oven to cook these days needs to be done first thing in the morning unless we’re going to be out of the house that day, it’s just too hot otherwise. We’ve discovered grilled veggies kebabs (pronounced kee-baabs in Aussie speak) over the past few months and just last night were exclaiming to each other about how crazy it was that we’re both extremely happy to mow down on a plate full of veggies for supper…our past carnivorous and/or very picky eating habits certainly wouldn’t have led us to believe it possible.

The Jacaranda trees have shed their purple flowers and have started to bud leaves, meanwhile everything else has come into full bloom. Especially lovely are the Poinciana trees right now, with incredibly vibrant red flowers. Our neighborhood has a few nice ones. The birds are all back in full force now as well, making for many early mornings in the Jardine household. It’s quite a chorus at 4:30am…Edie likes to join in too. Christmas lights are also starting to make an appearance, but I’m just not sure that I can get too into it. I’ve had way too many Christmas lead-ups where the main thing that I wished for was a white Christmas, I’m an old dog and new tricks are rough on me. Every ounce of Christmas Laura wants to have snow. I guess I should count my blessings in that I won’t shovel snow for the following 4 months though. Once we get around to putting up a Christmas tree (i.e. dragging our potted plant from the backyard into the house) we’ll start to get in to the decorating thing. Also notably absent from our Christmas in Australia is our Christmas music, most of it being stashed away in our various storage places back in Canada. I don’t think Tim minds as much as I do, since I would have had it playing since oh, probably October, and he’s more of a December only kind of guy. I shouldn’t say that Christmas music isn’t available here, but a) we’re broke and b) I think we’d have a tough time finding what I miss the most- the Sufjan Stevens Christmas Box Set…If anyone has a spare and wants to send it our way…do it quick!

I’ve been getting Miss E out in the jogging stroller more and more these days. There was a long period where she didn’t want anything to do with strollers other than to push them along so we did most of our transporting with the backpack carrier. Now that she’s ~20 pounds (yup, she’s a small fry) it’s not so much fun to tote her around that way. Actually, last week I ended up having to run ~800m with her in the backpack during the middle of the day after carrying her around all morning. While she absolutely loved it, my body did not. I spent the next two days thinking that I was either pregnant or had Dengue fever because I was so tired (I have neither of those afflictions, just to reassure you). Either way, the early morning runs with the stroller have been good. Miss Edie just loves, loves, loves to go fast and to get a glimpse of all of the early morning traffic. She especially loves to wave at all of the busses and trucks as they pass by.

November, other than being the month where lots of men grew creepy ‘staches, was Australian music month. The radio station that we’re tuned into was playing all Aussie music all month and I’m happy to say that it was enjoyable! Making things especially easy on the ears was the fact that there was a big tribute weekend for Paul Kelly on the 13th and 14th of the month. I heard/read a number of interviews with Mr. Kelly (most humble musician out there I think) and there were rave reviews of the show and they’ve played scads of his stuff all month. He’s been making music here for 30 years here and has quite a back catalogue. If you haven’t given him a listen, we highly recommend it.

Tim came back from the Australian Rivers Institute annual forum telling me of a conversation that he’d had at the forum party about how every parent thinks that their infant is a genius. It’s funny, hey? Such simple things like being able to point to a ball and say “ball” make Tim and I go nuts with how smart and clever we think our little gal is (and she is clever and smart!). It’s always shocking to me when I see another child who exhibits the same traits as Edie, I somehow have them pegged as specific to our special little girl. The reality is that children develop at very predictable and similar rates and in theory we know this, but we still think that our child is somehow unique and special in the things that she accomplishes (like walking…how many adults do you know who never learned how to walk? Or teething for that matter). I find it fascinating to think about this effect, as if it’s somehow ingrained into parents when that baby pops down the chute. It’s probably very good for children that we do feel this way. We’re still just so insanely proud of Edie. I can’t wait until we can share her with the rest of you back home.

Her new tricks of the day- spitting (I’m talking projectile) and biting her toys and screaming at them when they don’t do what she wants them to (most notably her sesame street vacuum cleaner). If anyone has any tips on how to nip these habits in the bud, we’re all ears. In the meantime, I'll be quietly repenting of all of the biting and spitting I did as a child. Sorry mom.

I’ll leave things there. Have a great week and maybe some nog on our behalf.

Love,

Laura

Friday, November 20, 2009

Things that go "oink" in the night

No, it's not Edie, it's those pesky wild pigs that have invaded outback Australia.

I was up in Kowanyama last month working on a new project we're developing in collaboration with the Ranger Office there. It is an attempt to determine just how badly the pigs, cattle and horses are mucking up the waterholes at this time of year, when they are the only remaining water sources in a very dry land.

To do this, we've set up a dozen cameras, some on time lapse, others on motion detect. These cameras take pictures of all the animal activity around the waterholes, including pelicans, corellas, brolgas and more. Note some of the temperatures recorded in the photos and you'll get a sense of the conditions we work in up there.





We then make measurements to see if the places that get visited most are the ones that are in the worst shape. This will help the community to decide if they should continue to invest money and time into placing fences around some these of sites to keep the animals out.

The waterholes are places of great cultural significance for the community and they also serve as seasonal sources of food (for example, one of the sites is called "Crayfish Hole" for obvious reasons). Before the introduction of pigs, cattle and horses, it is believed that the waterholes had clear, drinkable water and were covered with lilies. Now many of them are turned into glorified mud puddles. The community's vision is to see things returned to the way they used to be, so our job is to find out what is natural and what is caused by large foreign mammals. It's nice to know that our research is actually having an impact on the on-ground management of these special places. Too often we scientists bury ourselves in our self-directed research that may result in a journal article or two but has no real relevance to the community at-large.


So not long after I got back from that trip up north I was able to get in touch with an old friend - the pride of Sudbury Mr. Russell Vance. Turns out Russ and his fiance TL have moved to Brisbane. The great southern migration continues! There's plenty of room for more of you! Either way, it was great to see him again and catch up on our movements over the past five years. To sum up, he is youthful and stress-free as ever, and I have less hair and a child that wakes up at 5:00 am every morning. And let's not forget a loving wife of course.

Oh and before I go, here's a good story for you. I haven't written about Australia's slim water pickings in this space in awhile, and that's partly because of the good rains (at least in southeast Queensland) in the last year that have taken the pressure off the government to secure more water for a growing population. This has led to a bizarro scenario in which the following happened: 1) My boss wrote a report that was commissioned by the federal government; the report determined that a proposed dam on the Mary River (about 3 hours north of Brisbane) that was planned by the State government would have unacceptable consequences for some threatened native species of fish and amphibians, including the Australian lungfish. This was after the state government had already spent millions of dollars buying up land and paying consultants to plan the dam. 2) Based largely on the report, the Federal government used its sweeping powers to squash the dam proposal, which will presumably lead to higher water and power rates for us in the future. But here's the kicker - 3) The federal environment minister that made the decision? None other than former Midnight Oil lead singer Peter Garrett! You've gotta love Australia.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Edie takes a spin

Not too much to say. Enjoy the video!
video

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cold November Rain

Howdy Doo everyone.

Pardon the month-long hiatus, (insert whatever excuse will make you happy here). Given that blogging has been a good way to keep our friends that we don’t get to talk with very often up to date with our lives, and a number of you keep reminding us of that (thank you so much), and on the whole we’re writing about living in a place that’s pretty foreign to most of you, we’ll try better to keep up.

Tim is back from a week spent in Northern Queensland. Overall, I think he had fun, but he’ll have to tell more about it when he gets his butt in gear and actually writes a post. From my perspective, his being away is getting easier to manage. For one thing, he’s rarely gone for more than a week at a time anymore (no more 3-4 week stints) and secondly, Edie is a whole lot more entertaining to hang out with 24 hours a day. She’s also way more social so we can go out with other kids and she’s pretty happy to play with them rather than hang off of my hand or hip. There are three of us (‘us’ being new (relatively speaking) moms) living on our street, our kids are all under the age of 2 and we can now rotate shifts of watching 2 or 3 kids so that one or two of us moms can take a break while husbands are at work/away/whatever. That’s a big help when Tim is gone. So, while Tim is away the missing Tim factor is still quite high, but it’s more because I just really like him and his company rather than because I’m going to scratch my eyes out in frustration due to too much mom overtime.

Well, it’s coming on summer here in Australia, and despite the fact that we’ve been here for almost 2 years, it still feels weird to think that we’re in November right now. It’s just not right. Thankfully we’ve only had a few scorchers so far, but they’re getting more and more frequent. Soon we’ll have to start implementing the 30 degree factor again; when the day’s temperature is predicted to climb over 30 degrees, Tim goes to work between 5 and 6 am so that he can get home mid-afternoon and we can get out to the coast to cool off. A nice attribute of the summer coming on however, is the abundance of rain that comes with it. Our 5000L raintank which we use only for laundry and watering plants was empty as of a month ago (ummmm, we do a whole lot of laundry around here). It’s already half-way full once again. The best part about all of the rain is that the majority has been falling at night, with Mr. Sun out nice and smiley during the day. The best of all worlds!

And speaking of watering plants, I’m sure the question that is burning in all of your minds is this- how is that lasagna garden coming along? And I am so happy to report that it is thriving! We planted basil, cilantro, oregano, dill, and lemongrass seedlings and took in a refugee garlic plant from a plant-propagation lab at the university. Unfortunately the cilantro couldn’t handle the heat, it croaked, but the rest took very well and they are now quite happy at home in our garden. I did have an incident with something attacking my dill plant overnight while Tim was away. Every morning Edie and I would go out to take a look and all of the branches would be broken off. I’m not sure why it stopped happening, but it has, and the plant seems to be recovering well. So I’m finally getting my green thumb back, all it took was planting stuff in a pile of poo and rotten food (honestly, if this experiment hadn’t worked I would have really started to question what I’ve learned (learnt, in Aussie-spell) in my mazillion years of schooling). So, Miss Edie and I put on our gardening shoes (my flip-flops, her pink rubber boots) every morning and late afternoon to go and give the garden a drink. Edie likes to carry the empty buckets back and hook them over the faucet. She is SOOOOO cute. She also likes to pull of Basil leaves, which is not as cute.



Oh yes. I almost forgot. Given that we were in Canada last Christmas, we’re rather wondering what to expect this year, it being our first yuletide season spent in Oz. We’ll keep you updated as the season progresses but the weird thing that we’ve already noticed is that if you go into a shopping mall right now, you’d never know if you were in Australia or North America. It’s the exact same! Did someone say Christmas decorations? Yep, the same. Santa’s workshop? Check-check; the same. Crowds of nitwits? Heck ya. The same. Outside, of course, you’re sweating buckets, but as soon as you enter a mall it’s like you’ve walked into this alternate universe this is attached to no specific hunk of ground or climate. Oddly enough, it seems that Christmas in Australia draws the same imagery as it does in North America, and lots of it is associated with snow and evergreens. Is this weird to anyone else? I’m certain that given too much time in malls here at Christmas time (something I hope we don’t actually experience), we’d forget where we were. It’s a weird, creepy and altogether unsettling feeling. Bah humbug.


To counteract our grizzlies over malls at Christmas, sadness about not being home and general malaise in dealing with commercialization of this holiday (Linus said it so well), we’ve decided to decorate a potted plant for our tree this year with homemade decorations that Edie has promised to help us out with. We’re looking forward to building some new family traditions into our new family this year. We’ll keep you all posted on those...We've also been invited to spend the actual holiday with friends about 4 hours north of us, we've accepted and are excited to spend Christmas with people we really like.


I’m going to keep this post shortish and catch you up on some pictures. Enjoy! I hope that you’re all doing well. And congratulations to Jen and hubby on the arrival of your new boy Marko! Welcome to the other side. You’ll never look at a screaming infant the same way.

Love,

Laura

PS. We don't have any way of showing how many times each book on our reading list is read by us. I would just like to point out that these days Miss Edie is requesting Bud The Spud at least 4 times a day, in our best Stompin' Tom voice to be sure.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Turkey lurkey

G’day friends.

Well, I hope that this post finds you well. It’s been over a week since Sarah (my younger sister) left for Canada and Tim got back from his trip to Alice Springs last Friday night. You might say that we’ve been busy trying to sort our lives back out this week since everything has been up in the air since Edie and I left for Canada at the beginning of August. As fun as all of the adventure has been, I guess I’m enjoying a little low-key routine again. I sure do miss Says though. And the rest of the family (cough cough).

Other than a good cleaning day last Saturday there really hasn’t been too much adventure to speak of. And when I suggest that Saturday’s cleaning was an adventure, I really mean that it wasn’t an adventure as much as a whole heck of a lot of work. We never did post about the dust storms that passed through southeast Queensland about two weeks ago but we should have...Never in my life did I ever envision living in a climate where dust would actually be in great enough quantities that it could become the precipitation part of a storm. There were reports that 16,000 tonnes of dust were being dumped over Sydney (hit the hardest) every hour of the storm, and of course, there hasn’t been a storm like it in over 30 years. The morning of the first storm the sky just seemed a little hazy but as the day went on it got hazier. In the sunshine state (Queensland), haze is pretty much unheard of, so it seemed unusual. I checked it out online and it seemed that the dust storm that had slammed Sydney that morning was being blown up the coast. At this time of year, winds can be quite strong coming across the interior (outback), and if they’re strong enough and long-lasting winds, they can carry the dusty topsoil/sand over hundreds of kilometers from the outback to the coast. So, all we could do (all anyone can do) is close up all of the windows and doors while crossing fingers for minimal damage. After the first storm blew through everything in our house was covered with red dirt. After the second one blew through three days later, our house was disgusting. You couldn’t walk across the floor without leaving a trail. Given that we hadn’t really given the house a proper clean since before Edie and I left for Canada, I declared last Saturday to be a cleaning day. And it was. We still haven’t got around to all of the dirt, but at least we’ve made a dent. The rest we can chip away at a little at a time. All a part of life in Australia, I gather.

So, back in August, I had the chance to speak with one of my favorite aunties who I hadn’t caught up with since well before Tim and I exchanged snow storms for dust storms in Feb of 2008. We got talking about Edie and the fact that she’s been suffering from chronic constipation, and Auntie Eve suggested I cut dairy out of my diet as her newest grandchild had suffered the same kind of symptoms that Edie does, and it turned out that dairy was the culprit. I had earlier tried to stop eating/drinking dairy for the same reasons, but made it only half a day before I gave into the cheese craving. I decided after talking to Auntie Eve that I should give it a real go since it really could have made things a lot easier for Edie if it really were the problem. Having grown up on a dairy farm I have all sorts of reasons why I think that cutting dairy out of a diet is not an idea that I’m comfortable with. Alas, I was trying to think of Edie and the potential benefits that she might have gained from my going dairy-free. So, gone was my nightly glass of milk with supper, any hint of cheese and pretty much all good baked goods. Dairy is such a huge part of food! I was sure that I would spend this whole period just miserable for lack of being able to consume any milk product. But you know, it really hasn’t been bad at all. Sure, there have been moments where I’ve wished that I could tackle a kid in the park to steal their ice cream, but for the most part, I’ve really, really been enjoying the non-dairy alternative…Well two of them at least. Big number 1: there is a lady at the west end market who sells homemade vegan cupcakes (also gluten free), they are absolutely the best cupcakes that I have ever tasted. I will continue to buy them and eat them whenever I can (unfortunately I can only get them on Saturdays when the market is running…I've already put in a request to the baker to change this). Also big number 2: We’ve discovered a dairy-free brownie recipe of which the resulting brownies smushed into chocolate soy-scream taste like a million buckazoids. The rest of our diet kind of looks like lots of fruit and veggies and no cheese. I took Miss E to a pediatrician appointment last week and was told that if I hadn’t seen any changes in Edie over the six weeks that I was dairy-free, that it probably wasn’t the problem. The doctor also mentioned that Edie and I should go back on dairy and earned a few points in my books for doing so. We’re back on the moo, though not likely to the extent that we were before. There are a lot of nice alternatives to dairy out there. Oh, and if you’re looking for that brownie recipe (it’s vegan too), just let me know and I’ll send it your way.

A few weeks ago I picked up a book at the Salvos (Sally Anne) for twenty cents. It’s called lasagna gardening and explains a form of sheet composting, using different layers of compost/mulch to create an above-ground garden bed. I spoke to my landlord about building this garden and he was all for it, especially because he’s got heaps of compost that he doesn’t know what to do with, and so do we for that matter. So, Tim and I without really stating the fact, decided that it would be a good challenge to build this garden with the materials that we had kicking around the house (i.e. no excessive purchases of commercial gardening mulches, kits, etc.). So over these past few weeks I’ve been collecting information and materials to get this garden going and one evening last week Tim and I put Edie to bed and the tackled putting this garden together under the cloak of darkness. It was really fun. We had all of our materials held in our garage and our compost was still in the bin in the yard next door. So, with shovels and buckets in hand, in complete darkness, we set on collecting compost from the bin…It’s a rotary composter so the really juicy stuff is on bottom…Our shovel was a bit too big, and did I mention it was dark? I got slimed on and Tim commented that he felt like a grave robber. Regardless, we got what we needed and went back to put the garden together. Problem number two; how to contain the garden. The book never really explained how the garden that you build actually stays together (i.e. in the event of a rainstorm…or duststorm…it’s just layers of dirt really). We didn’t have a solution to the problem until we started rooting through the garage and found a low and flat cardboard box. We cut the bottom out and voila, we had our garden-innards-stabilizer. We filled in the box with all of our layers and were finished. It looks like we have a big cardboard box full of dirt/compost/poo/grass clippings in our backyard, and we do. I covered it in plastic to retain heat and moisture throughout the days this week until we pick up some plants on Sunday at the market to get things started. We’re excited! If all goes well, we’ll have a few more of these gardens as the year goes on. I think the real fun was taking on an outdoor project together again, all while the Edester was fast asleep. She does like to dig around the cardboard box full of dirt and I’m excited for when she can help us out (free labour anyone?)

This Friday will be our first attempt at daycare for Miss Edie. We’ve found a Somalian lady who lives nearby that runs a program from out of her home. We visited with her last week to get an idea of how comfortable we were with leaving Edie there (only every Friday for 6 hours to start)…We’re quite sure that she will love it. In the meantime, I’ll be getting back into the research assistant job I held prior to Edie and also will be preparing to start a PhD (part-time for now) in January. I’ll tell more once I get into it, at the moment I’m hammering out a proposal with my new supervisor. Exciting days ahead.

And I should say that Miss Edie is changing so much so quickly! She’s taking much more confident steps on her own and I discovered this week (to my delight) that she would prefer walking alongside me rather than being carried in the backpack. On our nature walks she likes to hold on to my finger with one hand and leave the other hand available to pick stuff up with. The other day over the span of our walk she had a piece of bark, then a stick, then a dead butterfly, then another piece of bark and then a large rock which she liked to pretend was a telephone to talk on. She’s so funny. These days she’s keen on pointing to herself and saying ‘dee dee’, on calling herself a good girl and making many animal noises (most notably the snake, lion and best of all, the puppy complete with panting…and today she figured out the cow noise). She’s also figuring out ‘no’ and willful defiance…Funny right now, but we’ll see how long that lasts.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sunny Days

G’day friends.

Yep, Edie and I are back in Brisbane and very, very happy to be reunited with great produce, beautiful days and most of all Tim, a.k.a. Dad, some refer to him as Dr…He can’t tell you what that growth is but if you want to know anything at all about foodweb ecology, he’s your guy!

So we had an excellent trip back to Canada during the month of August. Edie was an A-1 traveler and I wasn’t so bad myself. Traveling alone with an infant for such a long distance forced me to accept help from strangers, and you know what? Strangers aren’t so bad. I actually met a lot of really great people. They ranged from a nun who lives and works in Paupa New Guinea who had the pleasure of flying for 14 hours with Edie’s bassinette in her face (forcing her at times to crawl under the bassinette to the isle so that she could get to the washroom) to a lovely Asian woman who had to guard her food during meals so that Edie didn’t snatch anything off her plate, to a geologist who wouldn’t stop talking about the amazing properties of fault-lines. The geologist being the worst that I had to deal with made travelling on this trip easy, easy, easy. Unfortunately, Edie didn’t quite adjust to the time difference and unfamiliar surroundings in Canada, so it was a bit of a tough month sleep-wise for me and the family I was visiting once we finally got to Canada. Thankfully everyone we stayed with was able to get used to Edie’s pre-sleep and middle of the night scream-fests, and I can’t say for sure, but I think that maybe Nanny and Poppy J along with my family kind of miss those scream-fests. They somehow breathe life into a place. Oh, I got my first taste of flying first class for a short leg of the trip over (LA to Phillie), what another planet first-class is. Best $200 I’ve ever spent, definitely made the overall trip a gazillion times easier.

We basically visited friends and family in NB and NS for the month, and on the whole, it was a very relaxed trip. I’m glad we did it. A great highlight for us was a minivan road-trip that we took with my brother and his family from the Valley to Yarmouth, NS to visit our grandparents. Three kids in three car seats and three adults made for cramped quarters, but it was SO MUCH FUN. At one point I looked back at Edie and noticed that she had orange all over her face and chocolate all over her hands…Cousin Maddie was being a good girl and sharing her smarties with Edie. Given that Edie had never tried orange dye number 245, I was a little wary, but it was so darn cute to see those two interacting. It will be nice to be living closer to all of our family someday for those kinds of moments.

So, my sister Sarah came back with me to Australia. She’s here until the end of the month and it’s been amazing having her around. We’ve been doing lots of interesting stuff together, but the coolest thing so far was surfing. She really wanted to try it and I’d been looking for an excuse to do it, so last Monday we packed up the car and drove 2 hours north to Noosa. Tim took Edie for the afternoon and Sarah and I took surf lessons. It was awesome. There are no words to describe how cool it feels to ride a wave, nor words to describe how much harder it is than it looks. Neither of us could move the next morning but we both now understand how all surfers are cut (i.e. the epitome of fitness). The hardest work was getting out to the waves to actually surf, that alone left us exhausted, but then you had to get up on your board and try to ride. I can’t wait to take another crack at it, and I think that we might try our hand one more time before Sarah leaves. I might be hooked and I think I now have my carrot to dangle in front of Sarah’s face in order to lure her back (that is if we let her leave!).

Tonight we’re all going to a Broncos playoff game. What a life hey? The 6th seeded Broncos play the 1st place Dragons (who consequentially lost to the 8th seeded Eels last weekend) but what makes this a real nail-biter is that the new head-coach of the Dragons was the head-coach of the Broncos for the past 17 years and won 3 Championships during that time…For a lot of Bronco players it’ll be like playing against their dad, or maybe grandfather even. A very fun game to be attending I’m sure. Again, what a life!

Edie turned 1 on Sept 6th. We’ve basically been celebrating her birthday since the end of August and officially stopped celebrating last Sunday (the 13th) with a big backyard BBQ with our friends. It’s been fun. Edie’s been around for a year! That’s hard to get the head around. She’s now taking steps on her own and loves to repeat sounds that we’re making. The other day at the doctors office she said ‘doctor’ after I told her that’s who the man at the desk was (he even heard it and was impressed), she’s like a little parrot. She also likes to pick up the phone and pretend she’s talking on it (with one hand on her hip), stack blocks, and is quite keen on running her comb through her hair. She’s so much fun to be around and we just love her so much! She got a lot of books, blocks and dolls for her birthday and she’s having fun with all of them.

I also came home (Aussie home) in September to find that our soccer team (who just eeked our way into the playoffs in 4th place) had beat the 3rd placed team while I was gone, and the day after I got back from Canada was the semi-final game. We won that game as well (I played and paid dearly for it with crazy jetlag over the next couple of days). The finals were last Saturday against Beaudesert, the 1st placed team that lost only one of their regular season games. We lost 2-0 in probably the best game we’ve played all season. It was pretty exciting for all of us to play so well in the playoffs. The season starts up again in February and I’ll be playing in a 6-on-a-side league for the interim with a few of my teammates. I’m so happy to be back into competitive sports again.

And finally, it’s mulberry season here. Our landlord has a mulberry tree on his property that I’ve been raiding over the past two weeks. They are so good! The juiciest berry that I’ve ever tasted, also making them the messiest. Edie loves them but we pretty much have to give her a bath every time she gets into them by herself though we don’t really mind too much...It turns the bath water blue. We gorged on blueberries while in Canada because they just aren’t as good here, so having mulberries now is a nice compliment to the blueberry fest we had back home. Life is good.

With that, I’ll bid you a good day. Love to all.

Laura

Oh ya, in the spirit of lovin’ that this summer was, two good friends of ours got hitched in August (unfortunately we weren’t there to witness either event, but that seems to be the norm lately)- Congrats to Suz and Jason and Sally and Cheex! Long may your big jibs draw...together...

PS. It's now Sunday, the Broncos game was last night, the Broncos won 24-10 and it was AWESOME! It's a lot of fun to be in a crowd (50,225 strong) where the majority have a common and generally peaceful goal of seeing the hometown underdogs win.

Monday, August 31, 2009

And......we're back!

The circle is once again unbroken, as all the Jardines (and one Sweeney) are under one roof. Laura, Edie and Sarah made the long trip from Bangor without incident, arriving on Friday. Since then we've been catching up on sleep and trying to get Edie back in the groove. Laura will bring you up to date on her trip to Canada before too long, but for now, I'll give you an update on my travels.

I spent three weeks in the bush during August, starting with ten days in Kowanyama and finishing in some new country for me, the Flinders River in northwest Queensland. The Kowanyama trip was great. We stayed at a guest house that is owned by the local council which meant we didn't have to camp. Camping is fun but it has its downside (for example, lack of showers and no electricity to power freezers that keep our samples from getting ruined). Plus by staying in town we were able to spend time with Viv (the manager of the Kowanyama natural resource office) and his wife, so we got plenty of fish and crocodile stories. Viv also took us to one of his favorite spots close to town, a waterhole where he camped when he first arrived in the community 30 years ago. We sat at this waterhole for almost two hours watching birds. There was a slight breeze blowing and the coolness of the late day was setting in, which made it a very comfortable (and its fair to say almost spiritual) experience. Definitely one of the nicest places I've seen in Australia.


At the site, we were treated to an aerial display by some rainbow bee eaters, one of Australia's most brilliantly colored birds. They do loop de loops as they chase after insects over the water. Even though I am the worst wildlife photographer of all time, I was still able to get a decent shot.


Later on in the trip we came across a bower. These are structures built by male bower birds. They consist of a nest-like assemblage of sticks and twigs with an avenue of eye catching items out front. The birds basically explore the forest looking for shiny or brightly colored items with which to attract the ladies.


The result is modern art - some might say it looks like a trash heap. This one had mostly aluminium foil and bottle caps. A colleague of mine recently lost an ocular lens (a small magnifying glass) while he was out in the field and a few months later it turned up in a bower! Yet another of Australia's interesting creatures.

From Kowanyama it was off to Normanton to meet Steve and Dominic to do work on the Flinders. Normanton is home of the statue of Krys, the largest crocodile ever measured (8.63 meters, shot in 1957). The statue is apparently estimated from Krys' actual dimensions. But many of us are skeptical (and frightened) that a croc could get this big. Judge it for yourself - the 2nd photo has my boot included for scale.



The Flinders flows through true savannah country, with very few trees except those that grow close to the river. The River itself is brown and muddy with steep banks, so it is not the most pleasant place to work.


However, there were plenty of interesting creatures turning up in our nets, including a small freshwater crocodile (pictured below).



This guy was not happy about being in the net. He was about a meter long and not too dangerous. Nevertheless, we happily released him without any handling and he dashed off into the water. This species of croc is very timid, it's rare to get that close to them.

We also managed to catch a sawfish in our nets. In the spirit of the unusual hybrid species of Australia, this one takes the cake. It's basically a ray with a big saw for a nose. It slashes back and forth to wound its prey and then goes back and collects it. We took some video of us releasing it back to the water but unfortunately I don't have access to it at the moment. You'll see it in due time.

On the way back to Brisbane we stopped at a few outback towns, including Winton, the home of the Waltzing Matilda museum.
Apparently the song (which is now Australia's unofficial national anthem) was first performed at a local pub in the town. Winton is also in dinosaur country, as evidenced by the rubbish bins.

All in all it was a fun trip, and I returned to Brisbane in plenty of time to get things ready at home for the arrival of my girls. It's good to have everyone back together again.

Oh and congratulations to brother Jay and new sister-in-law Michelle, who recently tied the knot in Hawaii!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

And the cheese stands alone

The cheese would be me, as Laura and Edie left today for their journey to Canada. And in case you're wondering, being alone here ain't all it's cracked up to be. So much for the return to bachelorhood. The house feels empty, there's no giggling baby, and I made too much for supper tonight without the other 1.5 appetites to help out. And it's only been 8 hours.

We parted ways at the new international terminal at Brisbane airport, as she and Edie were flying to LA with Qantas. Departing travelers leave their families at the top of a set of stairs and walk down to clear customs and go through security. The people who have seen them off can then get another glimpse of them from the upper floor through large windows overlooking the departure gates (same as Moncton airport if you've been there). So after saying our goodbyes, rather than leave straightaway I decided to check if I could see them going. So I hustled over to the window but realized I may have missed them go by since people traveling with infants often get sent to the front of the queue.

Ten minutes passed and no sign of them. I was convinced that I had missed them but since the plane was boarding in 15 minutes I figured I would wait until it left, just to be sure there were no delays or anything. Another 15 minutes of scanning for them and by now boarding had begun. I tried to imagine what they were up to, perhaps already on the plane, readying for the 14 hour flight. Yet a small part of me was thinking that maybe they still weren't there. After all, the Sweeney genes code for lateness - not outright lateness - but more like cut-it-closeness like no Jardine possesses. And sure enough, with about 10 minutes left to board, she appeared, a bag slung over each shoulder and Edie strapped into the Baby Bjorn on her front. They were in enough of a hurry that they didn't look up and see me there.

Watching her walk away today reminded me that she is my hero. Ever since she fought through that difficult labor, almost a year ago now, and pushed Edie out like a champion, I've been in complete admiration of her. And it doesn't stop there. There's the way she's given up her short-term career goals to stay home and raise Edie, and doing it so far away from her family who she cares about so much. And now this crazy cross-planet journey with a squirmy 11-month old. Right now, they are somewhere over the Pacific, hopefully catching some zzz's after a good supper. They still have 16 hours to go (via Philadelphia and Bangor), so if you're the praying type, send one up for her and Miss Edie. If you're the wishing type, we'll take all the shooting stars, birthday candles, and wishbones that you've got.

The payoff? A month at home with two eager sets of grandparents and other family members and friends. That's followed by Edie's Aunt Sarah making the return trip with them and staying here for a month. More visitors! It should be great.

In the meantime I've got three weeks of field work scheduled up north. I'm trying to get as much done as I can while I they're away. It'll be fun and it'll be warm, but I'll still be looking forward to the return of my girls.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

We like Australia this week

G’day friends!

My how my tune has changed since last week. I kind of came to a realization lately that since we're here now and since it's a very cool thing to be living where we are, I'm going to try to be more positive about it all. Jenn's comment about Austrian bacon last week was helpful. Thanks!

Not too much action this week to speak of. It’s still cold and we’re still happy and healthy. We’re getting lots and lots of hiking in, which is so incredibly cool. The more we’re out the more I think that if you don’t come and visit us while we’re here, you’re missing out on so much! For one, Edie is just changing everyday and she’s such a funny child, and for two, nature here is just so very different than what we were used to at home. For instance, the other day I had Edie on my back on a hike in yet another koala sanctuary and was keeping my head up to see if I could spot any sleepy koalas when I heard a thump-thump-thump sound. I looked up to see a wallaby (very similar to a kangaroo, about my height) speeding towards us obviously unaware that we were in its path. It stopped short about 10m away and froze. The wallaby and I both stood frozen for probably 5 minutes and then I quietly kept on the trail. I can now tell my grandkids that I stared down a wallaby! Unfortunately Edie was asleep on my back at that point so she didn’t get to enjoy the action, so she can’t boast the same. She’s already enjoyed many a wallaby encounter though…We’re so glad that she has and I think that she’s quite happy too.

We were ambitious this week. It’s the middle of strawberry season here and they’re cheap, cheap, cheap, so we bought a huge box of them at the market in order to freeze some and also to make our own jam. I vaguely remember jam making at our home when I was a kid, and also at my grandmothers. My memories are far more pleasant than what we experienced. It wasn’t all bad, we have ended up with some lovely jam, the bad was more like the boiling pot of sticky sweetness splattering all over the kitchen, the multiple burns I incurred and the fear that it’ll all be spoiled if we did it incorrectly, oh, and the infant at our feet taking it all in. It was a whole lot of work! In the end, we’ve now got lots of yummy jam but aren’t quite sure that buying homemade jam at the market for 2.50 a bottle isn’t a better deal. I’m a big, big fan of making our own food from scratch, Edie and Tim accommodate this very well. I like knowing what went in to what we’re eating, I love to cook and bake, and I like to know that actual hands prepared the food we eat and not a machine, so the idea of making our own jam was promising…After our jam making episode though, I think that I can settle with trusting someone else to do the work for us for now. We’ve got 6 more jars to get through anyway, so it’ll be some time before we have to cross the jam buying bridge. Maybe it’s like labour, when mothers forget the agony and end up churning out more and more kids (where we would churn out more and more jam, if you follow)…We’ll see I guess*.

Tomorrow arvo (Aussie-speak for afternoon) we are going to take in the Street Soccer National Championships being held here in Brisbane. We’ve talked about this program before, when the world championships were being held in Melbourne last year. To refresh, the street soccer program is based on using sport to change people’s lives, the particular target group being the homeless and marginalized in Australia (the program is also run in scads of other countries). So, the street soccer program here is run by the Big Issue Australia, and they organize weekly training, camps, tournaments, national championships and the annual international championships. For a lot of the target group, street soccer has become a needed stability in otherwise very unstable lives. We’re pumped to check out the action tomorrow. We’ll tell you all about it next week.

So…It’s now Monday morning and I haven’t posted this blog yet. Works out well because now I can give you the lowdown on the street soccer which we saw yesterday. First off, our idea of what street soccer looked like was way off. We were imagining people from the streets playing soccer on a pitch like regular soccer is played on. This isn’t the case. Street soccer is to regular soccer what 3-on-3 basketball is to regular basketball, it’s a cut down, more intense version of the more standard game, probably made more cool by the fact that you can play it anywhere (hence, the street). If we’d really thought long and hard about it, if you were really playing soccer in the streets, you’d have a lot less room than if you were playing on an open field. Right.

Either way. The courts were set up on an open field in Southbank, which is the main sports and recreational area within the city of Brisbane. You’ll see them in the pictures, but in order to provide walls which you can play off of (like you would encounter if you were playing soccer in an enclosed urban area), they had air-castle like enclosures. It was a pretty interesting set-up. The teams played 3 people plus a goalie on each side and the games consisted of two 15 minute halves. Both men and women played together. I absolutely loved watching the games. First off, the Queensland team was fun to watch anyway, they were skilled AND they were nice. And it was so fun to listen to the banter from the sidelines…Lots of trash talking from the guy standing next to us who was rooting for Western Australia (WA). It was also fun to see people’s quirks come out in their playing (the same could probably be said for what it’s like to watch me play soccer). I loved that the goalie from WA wore a bike helmet.
All in all for me, it was an awesome event to encounter. I hid it well, but I got really emotional watching (I can’t really explain why, it just happens sometimes…). Much to my dismay, ever since I became a mother the tear ducts have become much more leaky. My mom cries when she hears marching bands or sees horses in a parade, I think I’ve come by my unexplained tears quite honestly.

Yesterday also became the first day that Edie resisted all sleep…That’s not entirely true, but jolly close enough…She had a 30 minute nap while eating at 5pm and that’s it. Not cool. It’s getting near impossible to get her to shut her eyes during the day. Rather scary for her parents who would like to shut their eyes more. She’s also got her top teeth coming through, poor darling. At the very least, she’s pleasant even though she’s had no sleep, let’s cross our fingers that this never changes. For the most part it’s a blast having her awake. Edie also made me chase her for the first time today. She loves picking up leaves off of the lawn and eating them, I usually can just pull them out of her mouth when I catch her and we move on. Today when I noticed that she had a leaf in her hand, she met my eye and then turned and bolted (as fast as a crawling infant can bolt). The cheeky little thing! I think we've crossed a big threshold today. Yikes!

It’s two weeks before Edie and I get home. I can hardly believe it. If you want to catch up with us let me know in advance and we’ll see what we can work out. As for now, the plan is to be in NB for most of the month with my family, with a week or so in NS. Sounds nice and simple. Problem is that I want to see EVERYBODY! A month is such a short time really…

Enjoy the catch-up on pictures. Love to all. Laura

*Please note, this is NOT an indication that there’s another baby for us in the near future. Don’t read into it too much, it was just an appropriate analogy. If it helps you to get a timeline in your head of our family progress, I’ll be making jam way before I’ll be popping out another wee one (hopefully I won’t be eating my words on this one).

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bacon and beavers

Blog time again!

I hope this entry finds you all happy and healthy and soaking up the rays in the northern hemisphere. It’s jolly cold down here. As Joy can attest, it’s unbelievably cold for the weather that we generally associate with Australia. It beats the stifling humidity of summer here though, and so I won’t complain much more. Speaking of Joy, she was a great guest and we miss her lots! Edie picked up a particular fondness for Joy while she was here. She often gazes into the guest room longingly and also points at the empty space at the dinner table where Joy used to sit. I also miss Joys fondness for homemade soup…Tim’s getting tired of my soup offerings. I argue that it’s such a good time for soup, it’s the best warmer-upper there is! But alas, we move back to the more solid meals that the rest of our seasons are full of. And speaking of seasons and food, when we first arrived in Brisbane, Tim’s parents had an order of organic (and seasonal) produce shipped to our house from an online company here in Australia. We’ve finally got our act together and have been ordering our groceries from the same company for the past few months. Not to be a salesperson here, but the food just tastes so darn good! And delivered? I can’t tell you how much easier that makes our lives. So once again I’ll say “here here! Australia, you have lovely produce and that you deliver it to our door??? We will miss you greatly when we go back to our less tropical homeland”.

And this brings me to something that’s been on my mind for quite some time. So, if one were to search back through our archives, they’d find that we’ve definitely had our ups and downs with this whole move across the planet. We’re happy, we sad, we’re grateful, we’re complaining…The whole spectrum has been covered I think. Way back in the early days of our arrival in Brisbane, we were invited to morning tea with our neighbor. Her daughter-in-law and granddaughter had spent a year in Fredericton on an exchange a year or two prior, and they wanted to reminisce with us about their memories of Canada. It was a fun meal. We, insanely enough, had friends in common, and it was nice to hear things from their perspective. But I distinctly remember feeling that the longer we talked with these two, the more negative their descriptions of Canada and Canadians became. In the end, I remember feeling a bit defensive about things that they were describing as ‘weird’ (the way we pronounced ‘house’ for example). It certainly didn’t turn into a brawl or anything, but I remember coming away from that gathering wondering if they really had enjoyed their time in Canada. I can distinctly remember the lady telling us that the one thing that Canada had up on Australia was our bacon (and it well should…Australian bacon is a sloppy mess compared to Canada’s crispy goodness). But ya. I just remember thinking to myself that their enjoyment in Canada was hampered by the fact that things were different than Australia, and that was sad…I’m always inclined to being rather harsh on people who see things differently than I do, and I’ll admit that I felt that they had a narrow outlook on things. A year and a half later, I’m finding myself in the same seemingly narrow boat as they were.

Tim describes it as bizarro world, a place where things are just different enough from what we’re used to that it’s extremely noticeable. I’ll give you one example. ‘Cream soda’ is called ‘creaming soda’ here. The fact that if I were speaking in the past tense I would say “I spelled the word incorrectly”, here, the proper thing to say would be “I spelt the word incorrectly”. You wouldn’t think that these things are anything to make a fuss about, but I tell you, when little things like that are in your face all of the time, agitation creeps up. Such small, dumb things have a tendency to grate on a person. Or maybe just people like me. So I now find myself comparing things like Canadian and Australian bacon and feeling like the fact that Canadian bacon is more crispy makes Canada a more livable place. And I wonder if this patriotism runs as deep in others as it does me. The general feeling I get is that it does. All of the ex-pats that we know here in Brisbane (and we know a lot) seem to have their little gripes as well, despite the fact that we all like living here and choose to do it! I’m reminded of a Stompin’ Tom song about patriotism which went something like “if you don’t believe your country should come before yourself, you can better serve your country by living somewhere else.” Such wise words from Stompin’ Tom. So, since we actively decided to leave our homeland, maybe we should just shut up about how different things are in this different land (the phrase no-duuuhhhh (popular in my teenage years) comes to mind). It all comes down to this for me, I’m quite sure that no matter where we lived on the planet, if it wasn’t our home (i.e. our Canadian home), we wouldn’t be ‘at home’ there. So yes, we should just shut our yaps about the things that are different that drive us crazy every now and then…Or move back home…where I’m sure that we’d find lots more to complain about.

Speaking of Stompin’ Tom, his Australian equivalent has been found. Slim Dusty is his name and he was a true-blue Aussie who traveled the land singing songs of the folks he met and the places he saw. His most popular song here is called “A pub with no beer” but he’s had many other hits such as “G’day G’day” and “Cunnamulla fella”..y’heard ‘em? He passed away recently and was given a state funeral. Quite a big deal. Tim brought home a greatest hits CD the other day and I must say, it evokes the same sentiment in me that Stompin’ Tom does…somewhere between ‘turn that off!’ and ‘oh! The good ol’ hockey game, is the best game you can name…’ Ya. Makes me feel warm inside. Just like warm homemade soup on a cold day.

Well, Edie and I are preparing to head back to Canada for the month of August. I’ll say that I’m looking forward to being home, but am not at all looking forward to the trip to get there and back. I’m so wishing that a supersonic jet or warp-speed travel were real options (that is, if they bore no ill side-effects). It’s going to be tough, but worth it. Miss Edie is a very well-traveled gal!

Miss Edie is also keeping us well entertained these days with her new favorite pastime of pulling everything out of where it should be. Drawers, laundry baskets, coffee table, toybox, wallets, etc. It’s a very fun time. Both Edie and I are over our respective colds, and things are a lot happier around here. She and I have been getting out quite a bit for hikes lately and we’re having a blast spotting lots of wildlife, including wallaby and our very first koala in the wild. It’s pretty awesome! Enjoy the new pictures, I’ve got lots more on the way.

Love to everyone,

Laura

PS. A big shout-out to Team Beaver! Our great friend Rach G. Parker got hitched this past week to a great baritone named Paul (Beaver, hence, Team Beaver). We're bummed that we missed that party, but we'll make it up somehow quite creatively. Congratulations! We love you lots!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Miss Edie takes a stroll

video

Made in China

Well there’s a lot to catch you up on, given that we’ve been slacking in our posting lately. The whirlwind travel we’ve been taking has finally caught up to us, with Edie coming down with her first cold and Laura following to the sick ward soon after.

So what have we been up to? After our Vietnam experience we laid low for about a month, after which I left for China to attend the 9th Internat. Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant. And it truly was an international event, with attendees from over 40 countries, including many that are often poorly represented at these types of meetings such as eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia and southern Africa.

It was easy to be impressed with the Chinese eagerness to please their international visitors, as this conference could be considered a microcosm of the spectacle that was the Beijing Olympics. We attended banquets and rock concerts, dances and acrobatics shows.
Near the conference venue, every door was opened for us by smiling staff, when it was raining we were escorted under umbrellas across the parking lot, and our hotel rooms were cleaned every time we left them (not just the standard once a day). The Chinese certainly do possess people power.

After the confidence we gained from our Vietnam trip, I ate most of my meals on the street.
Typical cost was about 5-10 yuan (1-2 Australian dollars) for excellent food that included fried rice, pancakes, fried dough and of course the ubiquitous and delicious dumplings. Coincidentally, one meal I had was a kebab in a small market of Chinese Muslims, known as Uighurs, the same ethnic group that was recently in the news after Bermuda accepted former Uighur prisoners that were moved from Guantanamo Bay.


The best part of each day was early in the morning and late in the afternoon, when the throngs of schoolchildren would be on their way to and from their day’s lessons. Often accompanied by grandmothers, they appeared very cheery and in general are very adorable.

English is spoken very little in that part of China, but every so often I would hear someone call “Hullo!” and turn around to see giggling youngsters. It was all very endearing.

So my impression of China probably sounds pretty positive, and it’s fair to say that it was. However there were a couple of things that I must note to give a more balanced view. First of all, I was unable to access certain websites while I was there – namely this blog that you are reading. It was a gentle reminder that the Say Anything culture that we take for granted has not yet caught up to China, and information does not flow as freely as we hope that it would there and in other parts of the globe, a point driven home by recent events in Iran. No doubt there are ways around it, mobile phone cameras being one of them, but the authorities make you work for it, and there are risks involved in defying Big Brother.

The 2nd low point came from my visit to a park that contained a zoo.
The park was fascinating, mainly because it was less National Park and more Amusement Park. There was a Chinese rock band singing Bon Jovi on stage, and I got to see a macacque running wild, the first time I’ve seen a primate outside of captivity.
However, the zoo portion was depressing, with sad looking animals in bare concrete cages. Although my prejudice towards zoos was tempered after reading “Life of Pi” a few years ago, this was clearly an example of animals being used solely for the amusement of humans. Because I remain a meat eater, I have a very tenuous position when it comes to promoting animal welfare; I am aware of the hypocrisy of simultaneously being an animal lover and a carnivore. However, eating is at least a little more necessary than entertainment, and we try our best to buy meat from animals that were raised in humanitarian conditions. The Chinese have a very utilitarian view of animals, as noted repeatedly in Theroux’s book “Riding the Iron Rooster” and will cage and eat just about any animal, including the small and the rare. Is it cruelty? Perhaps. Certainly PETA would have more to work on there than they do in North America, where a President swatting a fly draws their ire.

Guizhou Province, where the conference was held, has the lowest GDP per capita of the 32 Chinese provinces, with a value (around $1,500) that places it on par with the African country of Djibouti. Yet there was plenty of evidence of wealth in the city. The main mode of transportation was the car (unlike the thousands of motorbikes we saw in Hanoi).
On the main strip downtown there were plenty of malls selling expensive Western goods – many of them made in China of course! And the hotels and higher-end restaurants have prices that are typical of Western cities ($100 per night, $10 for breakfast, etc.). So to balance out all this wealth, there is clearly a large number of Chinese that remain very poor in this province and elsewhere in the country. In the case of Guizhou Province, this would be the large number of gold and mercury miners – the reason we were here for the conference in the first place. In some instances the waste from these mines is used to irrigate rice crops and serves as a route of exposure to mercury, which in turn can cause health defects. In fact, small-scale gold mining is one of the major sources of mercury toxicity in humans worldwide (mercury is used to amalgamate the gold from the extracted ore and then burned off in gold shops), and gold mining areas are typically found in the poorest places – China, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Ghana, and rural Brazil to name a few. With China’s growing wealth comes the challenge of maintaining a healthy environment, something North America and Europe overlooked during their own rapid development stages. You only need to spend time in a few Asian cities and experience the smog to realize that human health may be compromised by industrial development. In China’s case, the more prosperous areas are on the threshold of being wealthy enough to exercise some pollution control, and are often seeking the advice of foreigners, including my supervisor here in Australia, to achieve these goals.

On the topic of Chinese development, my favourite picture from the trip is below.
It’s a WalMart superstore that’s built in an old bomb shelter – completely underground. If you look closely to the right, you can see a statue of the well-known communist leader Mao Zedong in the background. Nothing captures the tumultuous history of modern China than this photo, the conflict between the desire to maintain old Chinese ideals of isolationism and the emerging need to connect with the Western world. No doubt Mao is turning over in his grave right now. If communism/socialism is what it says it is, then as China continues to develop it should become a shining example of how a prosperous nation can effectively distribute wealth across the entire spectrum of its population. Somehow I doubt this will happen, as already an economic class structure is apparent. Those who are well connected are likely becoming fabulously wealthy, while the miners and peasants continue to toil.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Lune in June is a Big Balloon

Hi folks,

Soccer training was canceled for the evening, little Edie is asleep, so I feel the need to at least let those who only know that we’re alive (doing well, etc., etc.) through our blog, know that we’re alive, doing well, etc., etc. This one will be short, there’s not a whole lot of energy to spare these days in the Jardine household.

It’s been a busy, busy month. At the last posting, Tim was just leaving for China. Since then, he’s been to China, dropped by for a little visit home for a night and then left again for fieldwork up north, from which he returns next week some time. Edie and I are missing that guy something awful. However, in the meantime Joy (old Newfie friend from undergrad) has been here visiting. So despite missing Tim, I’ve been having a blast catching up with Joy again and playing tourguide. We’ve done more sightseeing in a week and a half than Tim and I have done since we arrived…It’s been kind of exhausting, but so cool. Australia sure has a lot of amazing stuff going on. Edie’s loving it all too, especially because she gets to ride in the backpack carrier for most of it. She squeals like a little piggy when she’s happy, and that’s all we hear when she’s in the carrier. Sadly, the carseat has the opposite effect, so we’ve heard our share of wailing as well.

The most fun thing that I think we’ve done so far is a trip to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. If you remember back when Edie was still an embryo, Tim and I took a trip there thinking that we would see Koalas in the wild (which is not the case, it’s a glorified zoo…I remember being kind of disappointed). My mind was totally changed by taking Edie there as an infant. She LOVED it (and thus, so did I). She just wanted to touch every animal we saw, especially the kangaroos. Her squeal factor multiplied the closer we got to them. I’ll be posting pictures soon (I have to pinch them off of Joy’s camera in the next few days). Other than that trip, we’ve mostly been hiking. I’ve got to say, I will miss Australia’s many, many parks, rainforest walks and hiking trails when we get back to Canada. If you haven’t been convinced to come to Australia for any other reason, you’re missing out big-time on the nature on this end of the globe. Especially in Queensland. Pictures just don’t do it justice.

I haven’t heard from Tim directly since he arrived in Cairnes on Monday, but got word today through the program coordinator that everyone is ok and things are going well. Joy, Edie and I will be meeting up with Tim and his workmate in the Whitsunday Islands (Airlie Beach) next week. For Tim and Dominic, it will be halfway home on the long drive back from up north. For Edie, Joy and I, it will be a nice trip up the coast before Joy has to leave. Joy’s going to be getting some snorkeling in on the Great Barrier Reef, Edie and I will be content to splash around the many beaches up that way.

Tim and I will both catch up with you once things settle down around here. We’ve got lots of pictures and stories to fill your heads with. My favorite Edie trait of the moment is getting her ready for her bath in the nursery (i.e. stripping her down), leaving her there so that I can go fill the tub in the bathroom, and hearing the pitter-patter of a naked little bubby finding her way to the bathroom to join me. Then I get the big Edie smile when she discovers that she found me and the tub (her favorite area these days). She is priceless.

Lots of love,

Laura

Friday, June 5, 2009

Stay tuned.....

Hey folks,

Don't touch that dial, we'll be back with a good solid and informative post in a few weeks. It's been a little hectic in the Jardine household these past couple of weeks, and there's more to come, including my pending trip to China (I leave tomorrow morning) and some more field work in North Queensland that culminates in a rendezvous with Laura in Airlie Beach. And our great friend Joy arrives on Wednesday! All this and the usual Edie adventures make for busy times.

I got myself psyched for China by reading another Paul Theroux travel classic - "Riding the Iron Rooster" - that chronicles his journey across the country by rail. I'll be in Guiyang, a "small" southern city of around 3 million people. At the thought of spending time in another large city (after our Hanoi experience), I had a look the other day at the world's most populous cities and came to realize that I have only visited six of the top 100 (not counting airport stopovers). I think I'll try to keep it that way. Small cities and large towns are fine with me.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Big Hello From Uncle Ho

Well we’ve been back from our Vietnamese adventure for about four days now so it’s time for a recap (Tim to start, Laura below). In just eight days on the trip we learned several lessons, most importantly about ourselves.

Lesson #1 Vietnamese people love babies, especially little white ones

We read about this phenomenon prior to heading over but no matter what you read it cannot prepare you for the its magnitude. Edie was an absolute rock star from the moment we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Everywhere we went she was showered with attention by complete strangers, with this attention ranging from pointing and giggling to friendly requests to hold her. We actually let many people carry her off (in confined places like the airport of course), which is a very disarming experience for a parent, but obviously something that happens all the time there. Luckily no one dashed off with her, but I had my running shoes on just in case. And of course Edie soaked up all the attention. Not sure where she inherited her love for the spotlight, it certainly doesn’t come from either of us.

Lesson #2 Vietnamese food is excellent but it helps to have someone order it for you

Luckily we had our friend Van Anh with us for most of the trip, so she was able to communicate with street vendors, tour operators, etc. She also knew all the best spots to get amazing dishes from vendors on the street where she grew up. Porridge, sweet dough balls and donuts, barbequed pork, and of course the famous pho (noodle soup) – we had it all. On the other hand, when Van Anh wasn’t with us, we made a few pathetic attempts at foraging, in one instance walking away from a vendor after she appeared more interested in Edie than serving us food, and another case where the host ended up bringing an extra main course instead of the mango drink we had ordered. Communication breakdown!

Lesson #3 Traffic and air quality are the least attractive attributes of Vietnamese cities

When we arrived in Ho Chi Minh we first thought that people wore surgical masks in the street due to fears about swine flu, since hysteria about it had just peaked. Instead, this is a common occurrence due to the poor air quality and the exposure one gets from spending any time outside, especially while riding on scooters. Of course, this problem is not unique to cities in developing countries, you need only look as far as Toronto to find a smoggy city in Canada. The severity of the problem, however, must be far greater given the population densities and the number of vehicles on the road.

That brings us to the traffic. It is absolutely legendary in Hanoi. Crossing the street is a life-risking experience. You slowly inch out into the street as scooters and the occasional taxi zoom around you. You have to have faith that all these drivers know what they are doing and aren’t going to slam into you at full speed. Add to the fact that I was carrying a baby on the front of me like a kangaroo with a joey and you’ll get a sense of the stress associated with this simple act. Strangely though, after awhile, you almost stop caring. It’s as if you enter this strange Zen-like state where you are at one with the traffic. Or maybe you just get high from the exhaust fumes.

Lesson #4 The term “developing country” may be a misnomer in this case

For all you EWBers out there, we had a glimpse into life in an Asian city that makes for an interesting case study of development. Everywhere you look there is a buzz of activity – people selling, fixing, hammering, welding, etc. Road construction was ubiquitous. But I’m not sure this would be considered “development”. There doesn’t seem to be any progression towards something. Rather it appears as though all the work is being done merely to keep things from falling backwards. The best analogy I could think of is from Fraggle Rock. Do you remember how the Fraggles used to eat the buildings made by the Doozers (the little green construction men)? Well this meant that the Doozers were constantly working but they just couldn’t get those buildings finished because the Fraggles kept eating them. In the case of Hanoi, the people would be the Doozers (highly industrious) whereas the humid subtropical decay would be the Fraggles, wearing down all new constructions so that constant activity is required simply to keep pace. I think it is fair to say that climate very much dictates the likelihood of rapid, western-style development. Australia is one of the few “hot” countries where wealth is on par with the cold countries of North America and Europe, and even here the wealthiest, most developed places are in the southeast – the tropical north is relatively untouched. In Vietnam, I don’t believe the people could work any harder, and they certainly don’t lack the brain power to find solutions, yet I wouldn’t predict a Chinese-style surge in GDP anytime soon. But hey, I study fishes, not economics, so who knows?

Lesson #5 Vietnamese people also forget to take down their Christmas decorations

In more than one place, including the Hanoi airport, there were Christmas decorations still up and operational. I don’t know whether this represents laziness (a la Canadian suburbia, which could be excused by freakishly cold weather post-Christmas in Canada), forgetfulness, or a misguided Vietnamese view of “Western culture”. I’m going with the latter because Vietnamese people are far from lazy, and they obviously haven’t forgotten because they still turn on the little blinking lights.

Lesson #6 While Vietnam has great food and wonderful people, our grand plans for someday living there were perhaps ill-conceived.

There was a time when we had grand designs for perhaps living and working in Vietnam. The allure of the people, the landscape, and the interesting ecological and development work that we could potentially do there partly prompted this recent trip. We wanted to scope out the country, and get a glimpse of how we might cope if we lived there, particularly with a young child in tow. I think it is fair to say that although we spent almost all of our short time in a single city, and thereby have a limited view of life in the country, the thought of trying to live there is unfathomable. A combination of the difficulty in communication and our total “foreignness” (if that’s a word) would make for such a steep learning curve that we just can’t afford to have. That’s not to say it is totally off our radar screen. Maybe someday we’ll make it back for a longer visit. For now, Australia is exotic enough for us.

I think that Tim has summed up the major learnings of our trip quite well, I’m going to take a hack at the not-so-easily summed up stuff.

First off, Edie is a champion traveller. She loves planes and loves the proximity to people in planes. As Tim stated earlier, we’re not sure where she gets it from, but Edie is a little social butterfly. On the 5 hour flight from Brisbane to Darwin (our first flight of the trip), she spent most of her time looking over the seat behind us to see what the people back there were doing. Literally, head between the seats, non-ashamedly gawking at the couple behind us, much to their amusement (see photo in slideshow). Later on in our journey, she enjoyed examining an older Asian lady’s face at close range, all the while checking out what was happening in front of us and behind us of course. The only problem with such a curious traveller is the fact that with so much going on, Little Edie doesn’t want to miss a beat by boring old sleep. So it’s pretty much a constant battle to keep her out of the frantic-overtired zone. It’s rather funny that most babies are cranky when they wake up…With Edie, it’s the opposite. She just LOVES being awake so most of the time when she wakes from sleep while travelling (no matter how long or short it actually was), we’re greeted by “let-me-at-the-crowd Edie”. It’s at the least, much better than a screaming baby and at the most, very amusing.

So, when we arrived in Ho Chi Min city, it was late at night. I think that any city is more intimidating at night and this was no exception. The shock of being greeted by so many people that wanted to touch or hold Edie was a titch overwhelming and then we had to haggle with the cab driver to get us into the city to our hotel (quite unsuccessfully…we’re terrible at haggling). All I really recall of that long car-ride was that a) the cab driver made a mint off of us, b) the city was just so dirty and c) there was no rhyme or reason to how traffic flowed at all. There would be construction in the middle of a two lane street which would go on for blocks, and it seemed that people haphazardly chose which side of the construction to go around. Nothing like I’d ever experienced. We stayed at a great hotel that night and were somewhat rested when we got up in the morning. I’ll say that daylight makes a huge difference on outlook, so we were feeling a bit less antsy than the night before. We left the hotel at 5am I think, and were surprised on the way to see that the parks were full of people, exercising, talking, making out, you name it. It’s such an interesting place.

Our first stay in Hanoi was at a guest house, chosen for us due to the proximity to Van Anh’s family’s place. It had the bare essentials, which was fine with us. It was also located in non-tourist Hanoi, which we also liked. So there was no hiding the struggle-for-survival mode that is truly a part of this city. As Tim mentioned, people are very industrious and will try to sell anything they can to make a living. This means that there are oodles and oodles of street vendors who wanted our attention. We ate food from a lot of different vendors but got pretty good at saying no thanks to the constant slew of requests to buy. For the first couple of mornings there, Tim and Van Anh would find breakfast and bring it back to the guest house…Those breakfasts I will never forget. Vietnamese can do anything with sticky rice and mung beans…If you ever have the chance to try the more traditional fare there, do it. It’s amazing stuff. I forgot to mention as well, many of our meals on the way to Vietnam and in Vietnam were eaten in the hallway outside of our hotel room with little Edie sleeping in the room. I tell you, she’s got us so wrapped around her little fingers.

Sadly, with the location of the guest house (as real-city-life as it was), there were some real disadvantages to staying there. For one, the fact that we were the only white people in those parts was taxing after a while, especially when Edie attracted so much attention. It was an isolating feeling. The language barrier was also tricky. For example, if Van Anh wasn’t around to help us out, we didn’t eat (or ate quite poorly). Our first meals there consisted of bread and water. But perhaps the worst aspect of it all was the karaoke bar located not too far down the street. On the third night that we were there Tim and I woke to Vietnamese karaoke which sounded like it was being sung on our deck, and later were reawoken by a thunder storm which blew our door open. That mingled with the fact that Edie was already waking up multiple times during the night, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. That next morning we called it quits and moved our operations to the tourist-friendly Old Quarter. In the Old Quarter we got well-needed sleep in a great little inn on the 5th floor. Lots of Vietnamese speak English there and we were able to relax a bit more and explore a whole lot. We also found a French bakery from where we sampled many baked goods on Mother’s day. I hope I never forget how lovely my first mother’s day was.

As you’ll see in our photos, we did take a tour to a location about an hour south of Hanoi. It basically took us through the old capital of Vietnam and on a river-boat tour to the locations of three caves which were quite interesting. Since you can see it all in photos, I won’t say much more BUT, I have to mention what kind of adventure it was travelling on the highways to and from the tour. As Tim said, there is nothing like traffic in Vietnam. There are always at least three lanes of traffic (even on two way streets) and let’s just say that everything I learned in driver’s Ed, was thrown out of the window. It wasn’t so bad for us on the way down as we were sitting in the back of the bus and didn’t get to see traffic coming at us. On the way back we sat at the front and at least 5 times I had to close my eyes and not watch what was going on ahead of us. Most of the time it was when our bus would try to pass other vehicles when there was oncoming traffic, something that happens all the time there. I should also mention that no matter where we were, it was never quiet (except on the river). There was always the sound of honking horns no matter where we went. Like Bermuda, people drive with one hand on the wheel and the other on the horn. Also like Bermuda, horn honking is not necessarily a result of someone being angry, it’s more of a form of acknowledgement. For example, when a person crosses the street bikers will honk their horns to let the pedestrians know that they’re going to get hit if they don’t move. It’s all very friendly.

Despite what you might think based on the small stature of Vietnamese adults, Vietnamese babies are huge. Most people seeing Edie thought she was younger than 8 months, and one person thought she was 2 months. That was probably one of those miscommunication things…I hope?

To add to Tim’s thoughts about us living in Vietnam someday, it’s really having an infant that makes it seem like a bad idea to attempt right now. One week of having Edie in a developing country was enough for us. I think we were on adrenaline pretty much the entire time we were there, and it was super taxing. I’ll say we’re nowhere near recovered from this trip, but we’re so glad to have done it. As I anticipated!

So, our typically non-adventurous lifestyle was injected with enough adventure in the last week to last us a little while. We’ll keep you posted. Love to all.

I forgot to mention...If you look closely at the picture of me on the motorbike with Van Anh's mother, it would appear that I have the largest hand to arm ratio on the planet. They're huge.