Saturday, January 24, 2009


Happy Australia Day everyone!

Flag waving and fireworks for the Aussies, and a long weekend for us. And boy is it hot. Not so much hot, but sticky gross humid. I know, we can't complain when it's in the minus twenties in Fredericton, so I won't. Just know that we are now forced to go to the beach regularly. Okay, that was unfair. But think of Edie, who gets to show off her new hot pink bikini bottoms. She allows about four waves to crash around her before she gets upset; the controlled environment of her bathtub is much more to her liking.

I've been watching a fair bit of cricket lately, it being mid-season and all. The Aussies are engaged in a series with South Africa, and I must admit, it is a bit intriguing. Plenty of strategy involved that kind of makes up for the lack of excitement. I'm sure Laura is thrilled to know that I've adopted yet another sport.

So the title of this post is actually the subject as well. I have always been a bit of an obsessive about on-the-street greetings. Growing up in a small town (Miramichi), we learned that it was impolite to pass someone on the street without saying hello. Since then I've lived in Halifax, Fredericton, and Brisbane, and you might be surprised, but the largest city (Brisbane at >1 million) has people that are more likely to say hello to you than Halifax or Fredericton, the latter city having a deserved reputation as being a bit snooty.

To me it's also not only the frequency with which people greet others on the street, but also how they do it. Miramichiers and folks from other small Atlantic Canadian communities (Fredericton excepted) give the short nod in a downward direction, often accompanied by a "how's she goin'?" (to which a Miramichier would reply "the very best!"). While living in Halifax during my undergrad days amongst people from "away" (i.e. southern Ontario), I learned that Upper Canadians do not nod at you the way Maritimers do. Instead they give an upward thrust to the head, in a way that always came across to me as a bit arrogant. Where the Maritimer gives a downward nod that speaks of humility, perhaps mixed with a bit of shame at our collective poverty, the Upper Canadian's nod speaks of pride and confidence. Who knows, maybe with Ontario becoming a have-not province, the frequency of upward head nods will decrease.

Of course, it is likely that these head movements as greetings are borrowed and altered from other cultures. In the 1000 page epic novel "Shantaram" (highly recommended by the way), author Gregory David Roberts, an Australian hiding from the law in Bombay, writes about the Indian head wiggle:

"No discovery pleased me more, on that first excursion from the city, than the full translation of the famous Indian head wiggle...........What I learned, on the train, was that a universal message attached to the gesture, when it was used as a greeting, which made it uniquely useful........Gradually, I realised that the wiggle of the head was a signal to others that carried an amiable and disarming message: I'm a peaceful man. I don't mean any harm."

So there you have it. The subtleties of human behaviour. No doubt wherever you are reading this there are unique body movements that carry social messages. That brings us to Australia. Just when I thought there were no other ways to move your head in greeting, I began noticing that Aussies do yet another variation, a sideways jerk of the head. Not up, not down, but sideways. The message it sends is reminiscent of the stereotypical Aussie persona, carefree and bold.

So when you see someone on the street, give them a hello (or in Bermuda, a "y'all right?") and a head nod, preferably one in the downward direction.

Monday, January 12, 2009

We're back in the land down under

Oh where to begin. First of all, we hope that you’re all finding that the first 13 days of the New Year have treated you well. If they have, lets hope that the remaining [rooting around for a calculator] 352 are the same. Things are good here in Brissy. We arrived back here last Friday afternoon, slept for 14 hours and have since been working our way to some kind of routine normalcy. Crazy enough, I think that Edie is the least affected of all of us by our travels, perhaps because out of guilt for traipsing her across the planet we are catering to her every whim. Who knows? We do see a difference in her since we’ve been back though. She’s always been a pleasant baby, but she’s in pleasant hyper-mode these days. Handing out smiles left, right and centre to anyone who pays attention to her and showing huge interest in pretty much…anything. Where she would protest being left on her own while I tried to squeeze in a 4 minute shower, she now hangs out with all of her friends (i.e. her toys) cooing for insanely long periods. Long enough I that sometimes feel the need to interrupt their sessions to remind her that we’re still here. She just gets more entertaining everyday.

So, our trip home. The original reason for going home in the first place was so that Tim could defend his PhD work. In 2007 Tim was approached to take up this research fellowship at Griffith University while he was still working on finishing up his PhD at UNB. So with some coaxing, he was able to convince his supervisor that he would still be able to finish up his work in Canada while beginning this new research position in Australia. Somehow, through moving, starting this new job and having a baby, Tim pulled it off and so we found ourselves back in Canada in December to ensure that the last PhD formality (i.e. the oral defense) was taken care of. Now the sign on his office door at Griffith will have Dr. on it, and that’s about all that really changes. He did a bang-up job on his defense and had a great night of celebration following. Due to travel issues, Edie and I weren’t there, which was probably for the better. A crying Edie in the background might have thrown Tim off of his game a little bit. It would have been fun for us to reconnect with all of the people who showed up at the defense though. Edie and I spent that time partly hanging out with Bob and Debbie (Tim’s parents) and Chris, Kelly and Maddie (my brother and his family) in Nova Scotia. Wherever we were, we were having fun. Chris told me following Tim’s successful defense, that he was secretly hoping that Tim would botch the whole job so that he might ‘fail’ his defense and have to come back. I got a good chuckle over that one. There are probably better and more realistic things that will make us come back, one of which I’ll discuss later. All that being said, Tim is now officially a doctor of philosophy in the sciences. A very scary sounding title, but he’s the same down to earth guy that we know and love.

The ‘other’ reason for coming home was obviously to introduce Edie to our friends and family. And that we did! For those who we didn’t get to see, we’re sorry about that. We quickly realized when we got home that our capacity for winter travel and our recovery time from traveling to Canada from Australia were big limiting factors on who we got to see and for how long.

I’ve been dying to write about the flight to Canada ever since we lived through it. I’ll say that our learning curve on that trip was as steep as a learning curve can be, and then some. I guess the important part is that we did live through it and no body was hurt or injured in the process although there are probably close to 500 people who got less sleep than they’d hoped for on their flight from Sydney to Vancouver that night.

On the morning that we left, we were up at 4:30am in order to get to the Brisbane airport for a 6:45am flight to Sydney. Our friends Ian and June picked us up at 5:00 and drove us to the airport so that we wouldn’t have to leave our car there. Although we’d packed relatively light, we had no idea how annoying lots of carry-on baggage would be throughout our journey. So in general, I was in charge of Edie while Tim toted our 5 carry-on items which were all full, awkward bags...he looked like a pack-mule for the most part.

First lesson- we needed much less carry-on than we thought.

Once in the airport, our first fun experience was waiting in the check-in line with Edie screaming to be let out of the carrier that we had brought specifically for standing in lineups at airports.

Lesson two- carriers aren’t all that useful when you’re just standing around.

We never used the carrier again on the trip, and actually, we ditched it at mom and dads so it’s still in Canada never to be used by us again. So once we removed Edie from the carrier, things went a bit more smoothly. We got on to our 1.5 hour flight to Sydney and found that we were sat with a lovely Canadian man who travels to Australia quite a bit for his job. He was FULL of helpful tips as he and his wife travel by plane lots with their 2 kids. We also discovered that Edie doesn’t seem to mind the whole ear equilibrium thing that throws most babies into crying frenzies on planes. She slept through the first take-off and landing without making a peep and wasn’t fussy during any of the take-offs and landings that we went through on the entire trip. So over all, that short flight was a great first flight for Edie.

The next lag of the journey started off nicely enough. But wait! I forgot to mention that we found out the day before we left, that the bassinette that we’d reserved for this flight wasn’t available. There wasn’t much we could do about it at that point, but we knew that it was going to be tricky. So, we got on the plane and settled in to our isle seat and middle seat, hoping that there was no one in the window seat. Shortly after settling in however, a young chap strolled up to our seats and told us that he had the window seat. We let him in and things were fine. A stewardess came over to us and informed us that there was an empty seat elsewhere in the plane if we wanted one of us (either Tim or I) to move to make more room for Edie. In retrospect, it was weird of her to ask Tim and I to split up because if Edie were freaking out at some point, I’d think it would be better for all of us if she could at least recognize the two people sitting next to her. I sensed that at the time and elbowed Tim saying “why doesn’t she ask him to move?”, the guy, guessing at what I was suggesting said “I know what you’re suggesting, I’ll move”. Not wanting to inconvenience anyone, we told him to stay put and Tim went back to the other empty seat. We took off, Edie had a couple of snacks and I had a great chat with this guy, who happens to be a young entrepreneur from Toronto who started up a company in Sydney which has been so profitable that he will be able to retire next year. He’s also in his early 30’s. He was an interesting chap. About an hour into the flight (which would have been about 6:30pm Brisbane time, remember that we’d been up since 4:30am that day), Edie started to get restless and started to cry. She’s always a bit cranky at night so we weren’t surprised. Tim came back and we started our night routine to try to settle her down. This consisted of feeding her, rocking her, walking with her, changing her…Basically whatever we could do to make it feel more like home for her. Unfortunately, all of these things seem to get her more geared up and had the opposite effect. That was when the mothers of the plane started to drop some helpful hints:

- Have you tried wrapping her up in a blanket?

- Have you changed her diaper?

- Have you tried any other way to get her to sleep?

- Have you ever tried a soother?

- Maybe your baby wants to look at my baby

- Is she hungry?

Honestly, those were the kinds of things that people felt that we needed to hear while Edie was screaming her head off. I know that they all meant well, but I would think that even the least maternal person on the planet might think to try feeding their baby if it was crying. Poor Edie cried off and on (but ever so heartily) for pretty much the first half of the 14 hour flight. She was not happy and she definitely let all of us know. At about hour 6, I was at my wits end trying to calm Edie down while feeling like I was going to burst into tears myself when –ZAZAM!- I thought about how Edie likes to eat (both of us lying on the bed). So…I’m slightly embarrassed about this now…I put Edie down on her back on the middle seat and tried as best I could to feed her lying down. I felt like a dairy cow, totally exposed, and I pretty much had to have my head in the lap of the guy sitting next to me. But it was successful! That poor fellow however, he’s probably written his story down somewhere all about how people who take babies on planes are irresponsible, and perhaps he dropped by the vasectomy clinic on his way home. Either way, being on her back seemed to settle Edie down a bit, but there was still no room for her to do that with guy in the 3rd seat. So finally, after talking with the stewardess, I asked our young rich friend to move seats. He was perfectly willing (go figure), leaving us a seat to put Edie down in. She slept in the seat between Tim and I for the remaining 7 hours of the flight. I wonder what it would be like to run in to that guy again.

Lesson three: Don’t be so Canadian. We needed an extra seat for Edie and were too nice to ask for one, or inconvenience our friend. In retrospect, it would have been kinder to all involved (including the other 498 people on the plane) to have been straight up with this guy and asked him to move to begin with.

Lesson four: 3 month old babies need to hang out on their backs. Edie was being carried for that entire day without a break until we realized that she needed to be horizontal. That was a huge lesson. I must say that we’re actually kind of proud of how resilient Edie was in her ~ 6 hour tantrum…The determination in this little one is incredible!

Suffice it to say that all flights following this one were a piece of cake. We learned a whole lot. We were also able to reserve a bassinette for the Vancouver to Sydney flight on the way back to Australia. That made all of the difference in the world.

We had a blast catching up with our friends Brian, Erin, and their son Sam for a 2 day rest in Vancouver before flying to the east coast. One of the first things that we did once we woke up in Vancouver was to go to Swiss Chalet for a Festive Special. Oh, how I love the chalet sauce. There was snow, cheesy Christmas carols on in the background and nice waitresses, and chalet sauce, and friends…It was a perfect first thing to do in Canada and finally felt like Christmas to me despite the fact that I’d been singing Christmas carols since October. My friends Andrea and Suz both stopped by for a visit and we also got to see brother Jay and Michelle over those 2 days. It was SO nice to see everyone…I still get kind of weepy thinking about what it felt like to sit down with people that we have known and loved for so long. We were able to catch up on some sleep as well. It was great.

The rest of our trip was well spent between my family in New Brunswick and Tim’s in Nova Scotia. Edie took about a week to adjust to the whole time change, but was very pleasant in adjusting. There were minor freakout sessions every now and then (an unexpected visit from St. Nick started one of them), but nothing like I had imagined. She’s such a trooper. As expected, Edie loved meeting the families and vice versa, making it terribly hard to leave again. We got spoiled, she got spoiled…we celebrated Christmas about 3 times I think…it was such an amazing month to have spent. And oh boy did we eat. There was no shortage of traveling in terrible weather and changing plans on the fly, but that was expected and it was still worth it all in the end. Oh how we miss you families!

All in all, we accomplished what we went to Canada for (i.e. Tim got his defense out of the way) and we had an amazing time with everyone we got to spend time with. It was so hard to say goodbye in the end but perhaps that goes without saying.

Oh ya! Over the holidays my older sister became engaged…I actually walked into the “he’s asking her parents if he can have their daughter’s hand” session with a screaming baby in my arms. Talk about a mood killer. Either way, hopefully it means a trip back later in the year though probably for just Edie and I, as Tim can’t keep taking month long breaks from work. We’re excited for Heather and Scott and I’m excited about being home again. Our doors are open to visitors any time between now and then!

The trip back was pretty uneventful, which was up our alley as we didn’t have a lot of energy to spare. It took me about a week to get over a cold that I picked up on the way back to Australia, but other than that, things have been pretty normal since we got here. I know that Edie misses her grandparents and aunts and uncles, and cousin Maddy…I feel like I can’t fill that void since it’s just me and her in the run of a day here but it’s nice to be able to talk to her about family and friends and know that she knows them now. We’re also taking her to lots of places these days. It’s summertime here and it’s beautiful out! Tim’s able to get to work by 6am and leave by 2pm most days so we’ve been checking out beaches and parks in the afternoons. Edie’s first day at the beach ended up with her becoming upset about waves in general and with a mouthful of sand when she got hungry. Her first trip to a park also ended up with her being upset, this time about how many scantily clad teenagers were hanging out and jumping off of cliffs at the falls we visited. We’re learning a lot about where to go and what to do with a child these days.

I should also mention that it’s the most abundant fruit production time right now here in Queensland. There’s an amazing and endless supply of fruit…the mangoes are back, nectarines, plums, apricots, grapes, cherries, passionfruit, dragonfruit, lychees, kiwis, papaya, pawpaw…So much more. The fruit bats & lizzies are back too. It’s a good time to be in Australia.

Have a gander at some Christmas pictures, our little Beetroot is growing like mad! We found out yesterday that she’s now 6.1 kg and a whopping 65 cm long. She also has taken a liking to sucking on fruit and has maybe tried a bite or two of some mashed potatoes. She’ll be driving before we know it! I've tried a new trick with pictures to make things easier.

Tell us if this works!

Love to all. Laura.