Monday, March 30, 2009


I hope this post finds everyone well. We’ve made it through another week or so and are happy to say that for the most part, it’s been a non-eventful stretch. Tim is home, Edie seems to be processing food at a reasonable rate and I’m still kicking. All in all, we’re making it I think. It’s an amazing time of year to be in Queensland right now as the scorching heat of the summer months is over but we’re still enjoying 25-28°C days, the nights are cool now as well. It’s kind of like the perfect September days that we get in Canada where everyone just wants to be outside, but unfortunately are supposed to be in class...I also associate this weather with playing soccer as it was always a fall sport for us…It’s a lovely time of year. We don’t get the fall colours here though, I suppose it doesn’t get cool enough in QLD. They do enjoy a change of colour in the leaves further south though.

Having been through our first full summer in Brisbane (aside from December, when we were in Canada) I must say that I think it’s probably my least favorite season here. It’s pretty dang hot, but that’s not the worst thing. It’s the ants. Yes. Ants. When we first looked at this house to live in back in February ’08, I remember asking the landlord if ants were common in all houses. I come from Canada. Ants should be outside, not inside. In fact (and this might be why I dislike ants so much), when I was younger, the wood providing the foundation for the front sunporch in our house became infested with carpenter ants. You couldn’t tell by looking at the surface, but when we started tearing out the walls the beams were all bored out and there were (I’m sure) thousands of ants just going about their daily business of destroying. Hughhhh, it gives me the willies just thinking about it.

I understand that not all ants make homes in posts and beams, but it’s hard to shake that image of teeming ants just everywhere. In fact, in the summer of 2007, Tim and I noticed (what we thought were) carpenter ants in our kitchen on Wesbett St in Fredericton. There might have been one or two ants/day that we saw there. I was so nervous that they were eating away at the structure of our house that we called an exterminator and paid almost $400 to get rid of them. It turns out that the treatment was not that effective, but removing the kitty treats that had been pushed under the fridge by Tictac our kitty, was. So they weren’t after wood at all, just seafood medley kitty treats. I wish I could get that $400 back. I actually think that had I lived in Australia before living on Wesbett St, I wouldn’t have been so nervous about a couple of ants in the kitchen. There have been hundreds of ants in this house almost everyday this summer, with no way of getting rid of them. The ants we see in our house aren’t carpenter ants though, they’re actually called black house ants (Iridomyrmex glaber) and they’re much smaller. They will clean anything up so if we’ve left any kind of food scraps/crumbs/drippings at all, there will be a long line of ants marching to it by the end of the day if we’re not on top of it. They also will go for the laundry basket if they happen to scout out food on clothing, hence, doing the laundry is a big part of my day. If I happen to find the hole that they entered the house in from (there are lots of holes in Aussie houses) and plug it up, guaranteed they will find a new way in within a day. Actually, I used to be quite diligent in trying to keep them at bay…I’ve now realized that there are many more of them than me and they will find a way no matter how hard I try to keep them out of our stuff. So now we do what we can to keep them out of the important things (like laundry and the pantry) and co-exist with the ones that want to hang out in less important areas. There is actually a group of them who are working on a piece of foam which is located within the strap of a bookbag we brought from Canada. Go to it ants.

So the house ants have become a part of our daily lives, and we more or less co-exist happily. It’s the nasty greenhead ants (Rhytidoponera metallica) that get my goat. They lurk in grass and gardens and they inflict a nasty bite that, I kid you not, can keep you in extreme pain for over an hour. They suck the fun out of being outside pretty quick. I’ve gotten bitten on my feet a number of times and I’ll say that it’s nothing like being stung by a bee…It’s a hundred times worse. And when the pain stops, you get a nice welt that itches like the worst mossie (aussie-speak for mosquito) bite you’ve ever had for 3-4 days non-stop. Greenhead ants have no redeeming qualities in my books. Last week I was bit on the knees 3 times and I’m just getting over the itchy welts (see picture, mind the knobby knees). Grrr. After reading up on greenhead ants, I’ve learned that it’s not their bite that is so painful, it’s the stuff they spray onto the wound from their abdomen after biting. Not cool. Try to avoid them when you come and visit us!

So, our Saturdays of late have been spent at various soccer pitches (which the Aussies call ovals) for my league games. Edie and Tim have been faithful followers despite our teams’ poor standing (we’re 2 and 4 now). I’m working on making games more fun to come to by winning. Here’s hoping. Our season lasts until the end of September, so we’ve got lots of time to turn on the jets. Our major hurdle is the fact that the team itself has moved into a higher division this season, where for years prior we were on top of the division two standings, we’re now at the bottom of division one due to this move. It’s quite a mixed bag of girls, probably the most unique group I’ve ever met, but it’s fun. Overall though, women’s sport in Australia is sadly unsupported. My first taste was going to buy cleats at a sports megastore. The store carried probably 60 different styles/brands of men’s cleats and 4 women’s, and only 2 of those women’s came in my size. I’m not that much of an anomaly, I’ve got big feet I know, but I know lots of girls that play soccer who’ve got bigger feet than me. It seems that despite the fact that lots of girls do play sports, there really isn’t a big push for stores to carry women’s gear. I didn’t realize that we’d had it so good in Canada. It may speak to a larger phenomenon of general chauvinism here in Australia, but I’m not equipped to support my niggling suspicions with empirical data so I’ll leave that one alone for now.

Edie’s turned a corner on the sleep thing, cross our fingers…Tim and I have been holding our breath because she’s actually slept through the entire night for 6 of the past 7 nights. We find ourselves waking up during the night just out of habit, which is a bit weird, but Edie doesn’t seem to be stirring. She’s sure to change things up again soon, but I must say it’s been a nice week. We feel, dare I say, almost normal. And she’s got the crawling thing almost down pat. Just today she’s been working hard on the pike. Now all she has to do is be able to lift those legs at the same time as moving her arms. She gets around either way. Rolling can be quite effective I’ve learned.

We picked up a 2nd hand jogging pram and a new mobile phone for Edie this week. Both will make life easier around here! Oh, and Edie’s new favorite thing is a carrot stick. She loves them. Her former favorite thing, Sophie, has been seen crying giraffe tears ever since carrot entered the scene.

And I’ll leave you with that for this week. Enjoy the pictures and keep in touch.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mission Accomplished

Sorry to bore you all with yet another work-related post, but I'm happy to report that our second attempt at sampling the Mitchell River floodplain was a (insert Borat voice here) "great success." Eight of us flew into the community of Pormpuraaw and met our new charter boat, the Eclipse.

She was a real beaut, offering accommodation for up to ten people. Big roomy cabin with air conditioning and an upstairs sitting area for meals - which were cooked up by someone other than us. The time and energy savings of not having to set up and tear down a campsite everyday and cook our own meals were huge, allowing us more work and discussion time. We sampled a variety of plants and animals from four locations on the floodplain, gathering pretty much everything we could get our hands on, from algae and mangrove leaves to crabs and spiders to catfish and sharks. It was all fair game.

We'll bring these tissue samples back to the lab where they'll be dried, ground, and run through a special piece of equipment that will spit out numbers that tell us something about who is eating who out there. Interestingly, there were lots of marine fish species that had come up into freshwater to feed and reproduce. But otherwise, the floodplain was far less productive than we expected, with fewer plants, insects, and birds compared to other tropical floodplains in northern Australia and South America. All told, I'm happy to have a successful trip under my belt.

It was really neat to be in a place where few others dare to venture. For the first four days we did not encounter a single other person on the river, and later in the trip the only people we saw were the renegade barramundi fishermen that I mentioned in my last post. Overall it is quite beautiful up there, as the pictures attest.

Perhaps the best thing about working up there was the chance to spend time "on country" with our friends Anzac and Raven from the community of Kowanyama. They have traditional ownership over the country where we were working, so they eagerly accepted our invitation to join us for the week. I think they had a good time with us, we certainly enjoyed their company. Anzac (pictured on a lovely grassland on his country below) and I had some down time while waiting for the others one day, and I learned that he is a fan of Rugby League, and roots for the Broncos. So there we were, two men from worlds away, talking sports. Anzac will also be travelling to Alaska in April to attend a conference on Indigenous perspectives on climate change. I've teased him plenty about the cold weather he'll get there, considering he has spent his entire life in Kowanyama and was shivering from the air conditioning on board the charter boat.

Oh and we saw a few crocodiles, including a 4 metre monster that came charging into the river one morning near our mother ship mooring site. He was big enough to create a wake in front of him and the slide he left behind in the mud, later inspected by the guys, was about the width of a car tire diameter. Not one to be trifled with. No snake sightings though.

Meanwhile back at the homebase, Laura and Edie were staking out territory on the battleground. Edie's willpower continues to impress. She regularly resists sleep during the day and pretty much has us working around her schedule.

Of course, she is a source of great joy in our lives, and she is sleeping better through the night. Also, I am not due back in the field until late May, so Edie will have her father around for awhile, and Laura will get a much needed break every so often, when I'm not busy watching cricket and footy.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Happy Anniversary!

Yup, it’s been a whole year since we arrived in this sun-scorched land, and what a year. I’m not going to pull any “let’s rehash the year” stuff on you, as it’s all in our archives anyway and rehash episodes are lame. Could I sum up how we feel after 1 year? Hmmm. Still new (does that feeling ever go away?)…tired? Kinda broke. Loving the weather and fresh, cheap produce, not loving being as far away as we possibly could be from our families and closest friends. So happy about the great new people that we’ve met here, we’d be lost without them.

The real question is would we do it again if we knew what we know now…The answer to that one is still up in the air but leaning much closer to heck no (pardon my French, as they say in Canada). Will we look back on this and think “I’m glad we did that- we were so cool once”? I think we will. I can only speak for myself, but I’ve known for a long time that I would be spending significant amounts of my adult life in far off places. I know that I’d be stir crazy if we were living comfortably somewhere close to home having never really ventured, so really I have no grounds for complaint. I think that Tim is on the same page with me there. Tim and I have also known that our chosen occupations were not going to be huge money makers, and after a year of living on a minimal budget (that seems to get smaller and smaller), we know that we can hack just about anything. I think that we can safely say that it’s been good to get this out of our systems at this point. Perhaps the time is right to be where we are and doing what we’re doing. We’re hoping that the time to settle down in Canada feeling will be as apparent when we decide to do that.

So what’s been happening in Australia? Well, bushfires and flooding are still major problems in the north and south of Australia. Everywhere you turn there are appeals for both of these tragedies…Sadly the fires are still raging and floodwaters are still a problem. Actually, there is a fire warning out today for parts of Melbourne as a shift in high winds, 3 more weeks of dryness and 4 ongoing fires may combine in a nasty way. Thankfully, people are aware that they might be in danger this time. It seems that 3 weeks ago people had no idea that they were in the path of such fast moving fire. In terms of flooding, well, lots of people are still in trouble and the major impact that we see here is that fruit is definitely becoming more expensive. Tim left for attempt number 2 at wet season fieldwork (see last blog entry for details) this morning. This means that floodwaters have receeded enough for the vessel skip to be able to supply 9 days of food for the 8 person crew who will be carrying out this fieldwork (the flood-levels during the last trip meant that before the work could start, the vessel would have to sail 16 hours out of the way in order to be able to get food enough for the crew, due to supply shortages in surrounding communities from where they were supposed to be sailing out). So that’s hopeful. I think overall both the fire and rain situations are getting better, but there are a lot of people who have lost absolutely everything. I was reading an article in a Salvation Army publication this week about George Orwell’s take on poverty and what it would be if he were in Australia today…In the article, Sydney writer Jane Richards was quoted as stating:

“Today’s poor are no better off than the poor in the past if they feel poor and they see their situation as helpless”

I wonder how many people coming out of these tragic bushfires and floodings will now be ‘poor’ by that definition. Unfortunately, this is the kind of stuff (along with a number of other afflictions, of course) that can make people poor. Rough times.

On a happier note, Edie is doing much better than she was the last time that Tim left for the north. For those who didn’t know, 3 weeks ago the Edester was admitted to hospital to undergo treatment for releasing about 2 months worth of poo that she couldn’t pass on her own (she’s gonna hate me someday when she stumbles across this blog). Having been told all along that breastfed babies may not poo very often, and not seeing any signs of distress until maybe a week before she was hospitalized, we were crossing our fingers that our baby had a great metabolism. The night of the day that Tim left for the last fieldtrip I woke up to a screaming Edie and decided to call the health-line. When the nurse asked me how long it had been since we’d seen a significant poo, I was embarrassed to tell her that it had been during the month of December while we were in Canada. Yikes. So I took her to emergency and ya…She was chockers (Aussie-speak for full). The doctor had ordered an x-ray and I just wanted to cry when I saw the picture of her little bowels so packed up. Even the doctors couldn’t believe that she was so content and happy when she was so obviously full of poo. They decided to keep her in the hospital for 3 days to give her a naso-gastral treatment of stool-softener, and laxative suppositories from the other end (i.e. the bumbo). So Edie and I hung out at the hospital for those days in a room with two other babies who were much sicker than she was. Neither Edie nor I slept very much, and Tim was up north which made things quite stressful. Oh ya. And Edie decided that she didn’t want to be held by anyone else and let us all know. There were a few disappointed volunteer cuddlers who couldn’t settle her down, one telling me “I’ve never met a baby that I couldn’t get to sleep until now”. What a handful! When Edie allowed, I made a point of having a story time with the three babies together, it was quite fun. Honestly, I could read books to babies for the rest of my life and be quite happy doing only that. At the end of 2 days, the doctors released Edie simply because we weren’t getting any sleep and I could treat her at home more easily. We jumped all over that. So, the first week we were home Edie pretty much made up for the 5 months where we’d seen maybe 1 poo in 2-3 weeks, if we were lucky. On about the 4th day of treatment she pooed 14 times. Given that she’s only awake for 14 hours a day, it wasn’t a really productive day otherwise. She had a follow-up appointment early last week and seems fine. Hooray for that.

That whole episode was tough on us. Edie was waking up all hours of the night for about a month and, well, it just wasn’t pretty. We’re finally getting back to normal around here and it feels so good.

I mentioned in a previous posting that I’ve been playing soccer for the past couple of weeks too. Man, is it ever amazing to get back out onto the field. I don’t know if it’s because I’m recovering from having a wee one or not, but it just feels SO GOOD to be able to play again. Actually, I think that I do feel differently than when I wasn’t a mom. I’ve always taken playing any sport seriously, but now, maybe because time is so precious I feel super-compelled to work my butt off for that hour and a half practice or game. I feel like I need to squeeze whatever workout I can get for the free time that I have. So it’s nice to go to practice and know that Tim can handle Edie and that I can just focus totally on soccer for that time. And there are some great people on our team. All in all, I’m loving it (you can substitute ‘not being pregnant’ for ‘it’ in that sentence).

It’s autumn here now and the weather is cooling off thankfully. We’re now into the best time of year because we’re still getting all of the good produce but not sweating buckets everyday. Speaking of sweating buckets, Edie, me, the neighbor Nikki and her boy Remi have been going for swims in the local public pool over the past month or so. It’s great! It’s a heated pool and the kids love it. Edie likes to be held on her belly so that she can hang her tongue out and lap up the pool water (she does the same in her bathtub, kinda gross) and she likes to put her head under and kick her legs too. I think we have a little fish on our hands. Remi is 4 months older than Edie and likes to splash a lot, I think that Edie can’t wait until she has control enough to splash him back.

I hope that you’re all doing well. If you’re actually reading this, you’re most likely the people we miss so much. Take care and enjoy some new pictures!

Love to all,