Monday, December 14, 2009


After many hours of travel, we are back in Amherst, Massachusetts. When we woke our first morning we were greeted by 6 inches of new snow. Wow! The kids were besides themselves with joy. This photo shows all our suitcases in the snow. About half of the stuff was clothes, the other half was toys, bedsheets, towels, snorkel gear etc. You know, we didn't really have that much stuff in Mission Beach, yet it didn't matter -- we really didn't need much to be happy. The kids have enjoyed revisiting all their toys and so we won't buy a lot of stuff this year for Christmas. Good thing too since we are busy moving back into the house.

Things we miss about Mission Beach
  • Waking up to raucous birdsong
  • She'll be right (e.g. the gardeners mowing the grass in thongs (flipflops))
  • the beach right outside our door
  • Robin: my friends
  • Will: the pool
  • The rainforest (Michele: I visited the UMass greenhouse the other day and was overwhelmed at the sense of being HOME when I entered the tropical room. I wanted to stay there for hours.)
  • the view of Dunk Island
  • effortless outdoor gear (e.g. kids going to school barefoot)
  • geckos all over the house
  • yummy fish and chips
  • hanging clothes outside to dry
  • scanning the countryside for Cassowaries
  • Uncle Larry, Aunt Coreen, Melissa, Jim, Kristen and Cindy
Things that we are excited about in Amherst
  • seeing friends and family
  • SNOW! (it is snowing as we type this; the kids are playing outside with their sleds)
  • a nice kitchen with gas burners and dishwasher that doesn't tip over
  • our cats
  • Christmas tree
  • not being 14 time zones away from friends and colleagues
  • functional washing machine
  • Trader Joe's
  • Robin and Will: all our toys
  • good, inexpensive restaurants
  • Nana and Poppy
  • feeling part of the community
We won't be posting to this blog regularly now that our Australian adventure is over, but there are lots of stories that we didn't have a chance to share. Lots more Australian good ideas. We look forward to filling you in over Carlton Draught/YellowTail next time we see you. We'll bring the vegemite toast.

We all feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to live in Mission Beach for 5 months and enjoyed sharing our adventures with friends and family through this blog. We figured a blog posting was better than a postcard (no word limits, no postage, no delay and everyone gets to read it). Our wonderful experience in Australia could not have happened without the amazing help and support of Uncle Larry and Aunt Coreen -- they even loaned us their car! Thank you Uncle Larry and Aunt Coreen. We love you and can't wait to get back!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Big. Really big!

Gavin: The first leg of our trip home tomorrow is a two-hour flight from Cairns to Brisbane. Two hours in the air and we won't even make it out of Queensland!

I think most Americans think of Australia as an over-sized island at the bottom of the world, but have no idea how big it really is.

It's big! We've been living in "Far North Queensland" -- the pointy bit in the upper right of Australia. Far North Queensland is about as big as New England, but has a population of just 250,000 people-- much less than the Springfield Metropolitan Area. Or, if you've travelled out West, you can think of Far North Queensland as being kind of like Wyoming-- it's about the same size, but has half as many people.

We're already thinking we'll come back in a few years. We might spend a couple of months seeing some other bits of Australia; my uncle lived in Western Australia (which is even bigger and emptier than Queensland) and knows some fantastic spots over on that coast. And I think I'll have to drag the family around Melbourne WAY down in the other corner of the country, to see where I spent the first five years of my life.

xmas season

Michele: It still doesn't feel like Christmas here even though there are decorations up, the kids exchanged x-mas cards with their friends, Santa-featured ads are on TV and we hear carols here and there. Something about sleigh bells jingling doesn't match with the hot humid rainforest background. I find it startling how many cards and decorations in Australia feature snowmen, snow scenes and Santa in a big parka. Not that I want to see Santa in a budgy smuggler -- shorts would work fine. Notes for Americans: Budgies = parakeets and a Budgy smuggler is Aussie for a speedo but a speedo in Aussie is a speedometer. On the road to Cairns yesterday we saw a sign that said "speedo check". Both Gavin and Will failed the speedo check.

Anyways, as you can imagine Christmas here involves pool parties and BBQ rather than roaring fires and ham. I thought that the combination of watermelon and five-corner fruit looked Christmasy. The five-corner fruit are from Uncle Larry's amazing garden. Delicious.

Another reason it doesn't yet feel like Christmas is that we spent the past week purging, cleaning, packing, saying good-bye and shutting down the house. The kids in Robin and Will's classes gave them wonderful goodbyes with cards and gifts. Friends and family found homes for a lot of our household items that we bought to supplement the furnished house. The lovely couch got sold to the second hand shop. It has been an exhausting week. The next few days in Cairns will be refreshingly relaxing.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

upside down world

Michele: Tonight is a full moon. Watching the moon rise over the sea and Dunk Island is a really nice exclamation point to our last days in Mission Beach. When we first arrived a couple things took me a long time to get used too. One was that the north side of the house is the sunny side. The south wind brings cool air from Antartica but these days are getting lots of hot northeast winds. Something I really didn't expect down under is the upside down moon.

Jim Frazier pointed out to me that down under the moon looks to have a rabbit and not a man. This image from the web has far more detail than you can see in the sky so to see the rabbit you will need to unfocus your eyes a bit -- a couple Carlton Draughts can facilitate this. All the images on the web show the moon from a different perspective than shown here - they are probably from the northern hemisphere. I had to rotate the image 90˚ counter clockwise to get it to look like what I see outside right now.

The difference between the rabbit and the man is all about point of view. Over the past 5 months I've really enjoyed learning about, understanding and appreciating the Australian point of view on life, cultures, world politics, health care and even the moon.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

MBSS hosts the shire's best school grounds!

Michele: These last few days in Mission Beach it has been on my agenda to take photos of the school that Robin and Will attend. I need to document the grounds because otherwise you would not believe me. Image a school grounds with clustered plantings between walkways, The plantings use bromeliad as ground cover and include vanilla orchids climbing up the palms, mauve ginger flowers, huge purple orchids and fern epiphytes the size of four year 2 students (see photo of the door to Will's year 2 classroom). You just wouldn't take this for a primary school!

As I was taken photos with the kids after school today I came across Mr. Sheppard, the school gardener. I had a wonderful chat with him about the beauty of the school, the various plants and his job. He doesn't have to produce such lovely grounds, he just loves gardening. When I asked, he confessed that his garden has every year won best school grounds in the whole shire (shire = county) -- except for one year he didn't win when they applied chlorine to the school walls. I suspect it was the crew from Tully Primary that did that. ;-)

This photo shows Mr. Sheppard with one of the vanilla orchids. He is one of the people that make Mission Beach an incredibly special place.

Australian Good Ideas #7: meat pies and lamb snags

Michele: Meat pie is just what it sounds like - a pie filled with meat (mostly beef as far as I can tell) and sauce. Every town has at least one bakery that sells these pies. Some bakeries offer fancy varieties with vegetables like peas or onions. The one in the photo is a frozen meat pie heated in the microwave for my lunch... yum. You are supposed to eat meat pie with tomato (to - mah' to) sauce but I like mine naked.

One of our favorite dinners is lamb snag (sausage). The butcher sells them with rosemary seasoning and they are really yummy and inexpensive. We have thoroughly taken advantage of the opportunity to eat Australia lamb while we've been here. It is awesome. Definitely something we will miss back in the US.

I realize that quite of few of my vegetarian friends my be reading this and not convinced. If you are the type of vegetarian you can wiggle your boundaries around a bit I highly recommend you try a little bit of lamb snag and meat pie when you are in Australia.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dangerous Roads

Michele: Last week a Cassowary was struck by a car and killed on the road in Wongaling Beach (the next town). Cars and dogs are the leading dangers for the less than 3000 or so Cassowaries left in far north Queensland. We feel very lucky to have seen 4 Cassowaries since we've been here and hope that they will be around for a long time.

Signs are posted along the road to remind motorists to slow down as they pass through the rainforest. Some signage, such as "Cassowaries utilize this area" seem a little wordy to my ear. The sign pictured here gets to the point with the graphics even if the text is a little passive-aggressive. There is another passive-aggressive one that says "Are you Speeding?". Why don't they just make it an imperative "slow down". When I first saw these signs I hadn't yet seen a Cassowary and thought that the scale of the bird was a little off in the graphics. It is not! The Cassowaries are large and could seriously damage a car. Never the less, few people drive at the posted speeds.

We've seen a fair bit of road kill here but the most unusual that I've seen was a wild pig this morning in Wongaling. It was huge and I'm sure that whoever hit it has some body damage to their vehicle. Most of the road kill are Wallabies. Wallabies fill the same ecological niche as deer back in North America. They graze on grass in herds, inspire paintings, invade vegetable gardens, take over some communities and they are just as dumb. You know that phrase 'like a deer in the headlights'? Well it works for Wallabies too. One evening I came down a hill towards a Wallaby, slowing down the whole way and the critter just stared at me. Just before I came to a complete stop 10 meters from the marsupial did it realize that it should probably hop away.

Friday, November 27, 2009

An Ausmerican Thanksgiving flaws and all

Michele: Thanksgiving was just another day in Australia so we tried to make it special. No turkey dinner here, no cranberry sauce or apple pie. It is hot and humid these days so even the thought of cooking such a meal is unappealing. But we did have a turkey - just not the poultry kind.

It turns out that if you make your own Pavlova you can make it into a shapes other than the circles available at the supermarket. So with the help of a recipe from
Mariel, I set out to make a Turkey shaped Pav. It wasn't too hard. Robin drew a turkey shape on paper and then I put the paper on top of some aluminum foil with something soft underneath and traced the shape with a blunt knife. This made a groove in the aluminum foil in the shape of a turkey that I could use as a guide for when I arranged the meringe. For something soft under the aluminum foil I used Robin's homework book - more on that in a bit.

When the Pav was done baking and cooling the kids and I had great fun decorating it to look like a Turkey with food coloring, lollies and strawberries. It was great and tasted just like the ones from Woolies. I took a picture of the awesome turkey-shaped Pavlova but unfortunately,
Will was playing with the camera later last night and deleted that photo. He also put the camera into some weird mode that will probably take me months to get out of. Anyways, today I took this photo above of the left-overs. It isn't the same....

Well that wasn't the only thing that went wrong last night with the Pav. Remember I said that I used Robin's homework book as something soft to transfer the turkey shape to the aluminum foil? Well, I forgot to take the book out from under the foil before I baked the Pav - I cooked her homework book. Yes, the Pav had an interesting burnt paper smell as it cooked but since I hadn't made Pav before I didn't recognize this as amiss. You've seen a cookbook but have you seen a cooked book?

Of course Robin's teacher thought this was great fun and told the other teachers and even had Robin tell the story to the whole class for show and tell. There goes any credibility I had built up after I visited school a few weeks ago to talk to Robin's class about planetary geology.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Will Wins Best Behaved Religion Student

Michele: I didn't have a picture of Will in religion class so I posted this picture of Will with uber-goofy hair on the ride to the Eddy Reef.

The school year here in Australia is winding to a close and today was the last day of Religion class. The Religion teacher gave bags of lollies (candy) to each student and then gave beautiful fish-shaped kitchen magnets to the best behaved girl and boy students. And guess what?

Will was the awarded the best behaved protestant grades 1 & 2 boy.

I am proud of Will. Not only is he recognized among his peers, but how cool is it to say that he won an award for the best behaved grades 1 & 2 boy in protestant religion class at Mission Beach State School? C'mon! In 10 years, I guarantee that this is one story that his friends will never believe!

Metallic Starlings

Michele: Around the corner form our house is a tall Eucalyptus Tree with... no kidding... hundreds of Metallic Starlings. Here is a picture from back in August when they first arrived and starting building their nests.

I was not familiar with starlings at all and was struck by a couple things. Firstly, the birds are as strange as all the stories and youTube videos document. They swarm and swoop around in seemingly random patterns. Sometimes, when we go down the street every single bird from the tree is sitting along electric wires across the road. Maybe there was a tree snake near their nests or something? Then, as we walk by one bird decides it is time to go back and the entire flock immediately follows.

Watching them build their nests (hanging pouch-like nests) was interesting. Groups of 10-20 birds would leave the tree as a group and return with bark, twigs etc. While the group was gone the remaining birds would chirp a bit but when a group of starlings returns to the tree, Oh the Ruckus! Really loud chirpings for about 15 seconds whenever any bird returned. This is the conversation I imagined translated from Starling language:
Mabel the Metallic Starling: "Is that really you Stan? I thought you were gone forever. Thank GOD you've returned!"
Stan replies: "Yes I'm back from my epic 5 minute journey across the vast skies to the neighboring tree and look at the bounty that I've brought back from distant lands!"
Mabel: "A twig!!! For me? Aren't you a dear! I know just where to put it too. Now if I only had another few more twigs...."
The nest building lasted for a couple weeks and was really entertaining to watch. It was very noisy. The property around the tree is for sale and I imagine that the realtor has a difficult time showing this property while the starlings are nesting. These birds come back to the same tree each year and they really like the tallest gum trees around. There are plenty of nice gum trees in our neighborhood but instead of spreading out, the starlings all like to sit - hundreds of them - in this one tree. Odd birds.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Billabong Sanctuary

Robin: We went to the Billabong Sanctuary. I had a really fun time! This picture is of me hand feeding some very people friendly kangaroos. First, I thought that they would bite me but then Daddy fed them so I gave it a try. At this zoo they had a lot of crocodiles. The people who work at the zoo even have a crocodile show! We got to see some of that crocodile show! They made the crocs jump into the air! Watching it was scary but it was really cool.

The funny thing about having lots of crocs was that lots of ducks live at the zoo and they could go wherever they like including in the croc ponds.
I thought that once the ducks went in the croc's pond they would be gone for good. But the crocs didn't seem to mind at all. My favorite part of the zoo was...umm...uh I don't think I have a favorite part, all of the zoo was good!

Will: I held a wombat. It's fur was more like straw then fur. The wombat
was a lot bigger and heavier then I thought it would be. It was silent but it wriggled a lot. But the wombat wasn't wriggling like it was trying to get out of my lap. If I was catching it from the wild it would definitely run away.

BTW: Robin and Will each composed and typed their own blog entries this time. Great job!

Michele: After 4.5 months in Australia, this was our first visit to a zoo. For some animals, like black cockatoos, it was much more satisfying to see the
m in the wild. The zoo did provide the awesome experience of petting, feeding and holding some amazing animals as well as the opportunity to see some animals that we haven't had the chance to see yet, like crocodiles. There are plenty of crocs in Mission Beach but needless to say, we haven't gone looking for them. All in all I'm very glad that we waited till near the end of our stay to visit a zoo that way we could see critters in the wild first.

End of our stay. It is true. If you've figured out the Aussie style dates on our blog header (day/month/yr) then you
've deduced that we are returning to the states on December 8th. Over the next two weeks we will shut down do some traveling north of Cairns and say goodbye. I don't think any of us are ready to leave.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Australian Good Ideas #6: luv

Michele: No, not the kind that you can't buy with money. Nor the kind that makes the world go round. I'm talking about an affectionate term used among strangers engaged in a business transaction. Huh? OK, I had better explain.

In the US, well the northern US anyways, if a woman over the age of 30 goes to a sales counter, she is likely to be asked
"Can I help you ma'am?"
Now if you are over 30 and female like me you might also cringe slightly when you hear this. I find nothing pleasant sounding in the word ma'am. If you lip read an American saying ma'am you will notice a fleeting grimace in the word ma'am as if the person were in pain. I like nothing about this word.

Now in Australia, if a woman of any age goes to a sales counter, she is likely to be asked.
"What can I do for ya luv?"
It doesn't matter if the sales person, bar tender, butcher etc is male or female, young or old, familiar or stranger, they will still call you 'luv'. luv luv luv Doesn't that sound wonderful!

A few months ago I had the opportunity to work the plant stall at the primary school fundraiser festival. Working the plant stall seemed like a helpful thing to do and a good idea at the time but it turns out that I could answer absolutely none of the customers' questions about the plants. I couldn't tell a Ginger plant from a Bromeliad (ok, well I could tell that one but you get the idea). I did my best. One part of working the stall stood out in my mind. One of the customers called me 'luv' as we were negotiating how to pack her plants into the boxes. Ah ha! Luv goes both ways!

I haven't yet been able to call strangers
'luv' here in Australia. I say "No worries" instead of "You're welcome". I can greet folks with a passable "G'day". After months of blundering I now have emphasis on the correct syllable in "Good on ya!". I can stumble through "How are ya going?" with only a slight pause before 'going'. I even occasionally declare that "She'll be right!". But calling strangers 'luv' is a bit harder.

I will work on this though because we all could use more
"luv" in our lives.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Another trip to the reef

Michele: Sunny skies, relatively low wind and a low tide in the early afternoon yesterday were near perfect conditions for another trip to the Eddy reef. This time I took pictures above water and we didn't even bother with the underwater camera. In this picture Will is proudly sporting the hairdo that he was given by the salt spray and wind on the way out to the reef. The kids really enjoyed sitting on the bow with legs dangling over the edge. If you sit on the correct side, you really get sprayed with water!

Our time on the reef went by amazingly fast. Robin and Will did great -- they got to take advantage of their improved swimming skills. We saw many of the same amazing critters and plants as last time with some new critters like a Cuttlefish and more attention to the details.

A highlight for me was swimming alongside a sea turtle for several minutes. I was about 2 meters to the side of it and I got to swim along while it glided over the coral and came up for air twice. Amazing to watch! With each effortless wave of its front flippers, I was using my fins with moderate vigor. How do they do that? I'm sure the turtle could see me; yet, it didn't seem afraid and didn't swim away from me. Eventually, I was concerned about swimming so far from the boat so I bid goodbye to the turtle... for now.

Gavin: while Michele was swimming with the turtle, I was swimming with a shark! A small, shy white-tipped reef shark that the Calypso folks told us was born at Eddy Reef a few years ago and has lived there ever since. I know we had a great time because we were all really tired but happy when we finally got back home.

Robin:I saw the turtle too! I saw it and pointed it out to daddy he swam after it. I wasn't fast enough because I was not wearing my fins. I also saw sea stars that were feathery. It was very fun to go to the reef again. Even if my wet suit gave me a blister.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Signs that we've been here a while...

We are starting to bleed Aussie.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ah ha! This is why this is a rainforest

Michele: Our first 4 months here in the wet tropics weren't very wet. We had two months of virtually no rainfall and this was the driest winter on record. However, when I asked uncle Larry and other if they were worried for the trees with the lack of rain they all laughed at my concern. "It'll come. Just wait till the Wet starts." It seems that they were right. In the past few weeks, we've been moving into summer weather and with it lots of wind and rain.

Spring rain here is unlike the steady rain of a New England spring. The rain comes up all of a sudden with a strong wind and with a torrential downpour that may be over anywhere from 2-20 minutes. The wind blows the rain sideways and everything on our covered terrace gets wet. I have a new appreciation for the word squall.

Until today we've had a shower or two a day but today was a whole new ball game. Squall after squall has been blowing in from the sea. 5.5cm in 24 hours. The happy frogs are croaking. Unfortunately, someone anchored their boat on the beach last night and they were not so happy this morning. The high winds actually turned their boat over (see pic). The great barrier reef and Dunk Island shelter our beach from high waves so the turning over of this boat is particularly impressive.

If this isn't the start of the Wet, I wonder what we are in for.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sea Patrol!

Channel 9: The Hammersley patrols Australia's tropical waters, from the idyllic coral atolls of the Great Barrier Reef to massive oil rigs on the North West Shelf. Amid the action and excitement of their patrols the crew of the Hammersley finds time for rest, romance and relaxation, often in exotic foreign ports. But their camaraderie, loyalty and integrity will be tested.

Michele: I haven't yet seen the show but for the past 8 weeks Mission Beach has been abuzz with Sea Patrol activity. Every spring (Sept-Oct) the cast and crew of Sea Patrol come to Mission Beach to film the TV show. They lease out local shops for sets but the main set of this show is the Hammersley, the navy ship that the crew serve aboard.

Every year, the Royal Australian Navy leases out one of its most advanced ships for 8 weeks to be used for... you guessed it! As a set for a TV drama series. Isn't that an awesome business model for the military! Can't you just see all the military divisions switching to revenue generating systems involving the entertainment industry. It is brilliant!

It has also been fun having a navel ship off our beach for the past two months.
"Hey, look over there a sea turtle!"
"Just to the left of the Armidale class patrol boat, near where the water changes hue."
The kids of the cast and crew of Sea Patrol have been attending Mission Beach State School for the past two months and Robin and Will have enjoyed not being the newest kids in their classes. However, the crew finished up filming last week so the new kids have left, the equipment is packed up and the ship is gone.

What will happen to Mission Beach now that the RAN patrol boat is gone? Who will protect us from boats of immigrants from Dunk Island? Stay tuned for the next installment of ... Cassowary Tales!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Australian Good Ideas: #5 Swim Class in Public School

Michele: It is Term 4 at Mission Beach State School and that means it is time for swim classes. I can't say if every school in Australia has swim classes, but many primary schools in far north Queensland have swim classes for all students. What a great idea!

Australians are pretty serious about the sport of swimming. This is manifest in the number of Olympic medals Aussies have earned. The Aussies have earned more Olympic medals per capita than any other country. This reflects both their athleticism and their savvy. While sports like gymnastics only have a handful of medals available, the crafty Aussies figured out that swimming has an insane variety of events each of which gets a medal. There is the 100m back stroke, the 200 m individual medley and the 50m hold yer nose and dog paddle. Having figured this out, Aussies have invested wisely in teaching Aussie children to swim. It also comes in handy because most of the population lives near the sea.

At Mission Beach State School grades 4-7 take a bus to the big pool in Tully (25 km away) while the lower grades walk to the pool at the Tropical Hibiscus Caravan Park around the corner form the school. The walk is not long but it does have a very significant effect on the children. Shoes are required on swimming days. At our house on Tuesdays gleeful shouts of "Yay, swimming today!" are quickly followed by groans "Oh man! We gotta wear shoes." This is how life's lessons are learned.

We are lucky to have a swimming pool at our house, so Robin and Will have had lots and lots of swimming practice over the past 4 months. It has been awesome to watch their swimming skills grow. In July they were both very unconfident dog paddlers and now they swim and cavort in deep water with ease. This alone has made our Aussie adventure worthwhile.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Religion in school

Michele: Public school here in Australia is very different than in Amherst in a lot of ways. One feature of school here is Religion class every Wednesday morning. The school in our town offers three flavors of religion, Catholic, Protestant and none of the above. After some discussion, we opted for protestant-flavored religion for our kids. Robin and Will were pretty skeptical of the whole religion class thing. Kids who don't opt for either Catholic or Protestant get to go to the undercover area and color during Religion class. Coloring is a pretty big draw for the 7 to 9 year old set.

Gavin and I both did time in Sunday school classes growing up and I clocked in 6 years of Catholic schooling so we gently encouraged the kids to try out Religion class. It is good for them! Robin was the first to forgo coloring and try Religion and reported that it wasn't so bad. They learned some old testament stories that all have the same '
believe or be damned' theme. A few weeks later Will followed suit and now the coloring group has two fewer followers than it used to have.

Religion in school is very normal here and people are surprised (to some degree) that religion is not taught in American schools. I've been told several times that American children grow up much faster than Australian children. Many Australians may believe that America would be a better place and that we could have avoided the whole global financial crisis if we did teach religion in schools. I don't know about that, but a little fire and brimstone can't hurt and makes for great drama.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Red Tailed Black Cockatoos

Michele: Yesterday Robin and I went for a walk on the Kennedy track near our house. On the way back, we saw a flock of 6 red-tailed black cockatoos on the beach. These birds are amazing to watch on the ground or in the air. They are large and black all over, even their crests. The one bit that isn't black is a spot under their tail, which is bright red (see pic of cocky in the tree). In the air near the beach, they catch updrafts and just hang still in the air.

The sulphur-crested cockatoos are pretty impressive but these guys, the red-tailed black cockies, steal the show.
I keep being surprised by birds in Australia. I swear, I'm really not that into birds, it is just that the Aussie birds are pretty spectacular.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

An Ausmerican Halloween

Robin: For Halloween we made a Pavlova. Not an ordinary Pavlova, it was a Halloween Pavlova. We put food colouring in the cream to make it orange and we put fudge squeezy-stuff on the cake to make a spider's web and a spider. We put the gummy snakes on it because snakes are bit spooky, aren't they? I also thought that getting the food colouring to make the cream orange was a good idea because it was a good excuse to buy food colouring for my celery, water and food colouring project.

We did the Halloween Pavlova because kids here don't do trick or treating. The only big way that they celebrate Halloween is for the Halloween disco that was last night. The Halloween disco happens at our school and about everyone in the whole school goes there in costume. We didn't go because we had to pick up mommy from the airport. I wasn't sad that we didn't go to the Halloween disco because my friend's mum said that the people would be running around screaming and when they turn the lights off, they would scream even louder. Also the music was up as loud as it could get.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

iSnack 2.0 is now CheesyBite!

Gavin: I know it's hard for Americans to believe, but Aussies really do eat, and enjoy, vegemite. In fact, they enjoy it so much Kraft Foods decided to produce a sequel, so they mixed vegemite with cream cheese stuck it in a jar and then held a contest asking Australians to name the new concoction.

What name did Kraft like best?

iSnack 2.0

Now, that's either the dumbest product name ever, or brilliant rope-a-dope marketing. Or maybe both. They got loads of free press over the new name, all of it saying basically the same thing: huh? iSnack 2.0? Are you serious?

So a few weeks ago they've caved to public ridicule and dropped the iSnack 2.0 name, deciding instead on "CheesyBite." I've gotta say, they've nailed it; according to the Urban Dictionary, "cheesy" means:
Trying too hard, unsubtle, and inauthentic.

The 7PM project TV show had some really good alternative name suggestions, including "your-mum-mite" and my personal favorite, "VoldeMite."

Anyway, when I saw jars of iSnack 2.0 on the grocery store store shelf today, I had to buy some. Now I'll always know what to answer when somebody asks "what's the weirdest thing you've ever eaten?"


Michele (from SFO airport): I've just finished a busy and fantastic 1.5 weeks in Portland and northern California. Great visits with friends and incredible discussions with colleagues made this trip well worth the very long travel. Portland is a fabulous city to visit and the Bay area charmed me once again.

After landing in SFO airport last Thursday I picked up my rental car and headed down highway 280 with a big grin on my face. Why the smile? Yes, I was looking forward to seeing friends and colleagues but also highway 280 travels right alongside the San Andreas fault. For a earthquake scientist, few sites are as inspirational than a fault valley. The other reason for my grin was the strong smell of Eucalyptus blowing through the open windows of my car.

After 8 years of living the SF Bay area I have strong association of the smell of Eucalyptus trees with bike rides and hikes in northern California. Ironic then that all these sweet smelly trees are actually from Australia where the rest of my family is right now. Because Eucalyptus trees are some of the largest and oldest trees in some communities of California, I had forgotten that these trees were brought to California by Australian miners during the gold rush. It is hard to imagine California without Eucalyptus trees. The Aussie trees like the Aussie people have made impacts all over the world.

In 14 hours I will be back in the homeland of Eucalytpus - I can't wait!

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Gavin: The Mission Beach Sailing Club is holding a regatta this weekend; there are fifty or so sailboats racing around buoys and around Dunk Island.

One day I'd like to learn how to sail, but I don't think I'll bother until I'm retired and have to opportunity to sail more than twice a year. Sailing out to the Reef and then dropping anchor and doing some snorkeling sounds to me like an ideal retirement activity.

Rainbow lorikeets are as common here as robins are back home. This one was eating flowers in the trees next the the beach. Lorikeets are easy to find; they are really noisy. Too bad their song (more of a SCREECH, really) isn't as pretty as their feathers.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Naturelover's paradise

Gavin: that's a picture the kids took of a white-lipped treefrog, enjoying the rain in the gutter in front of the house. According to our guidebook, it's "Australia's largest and most spectacular tree frog."

We saw a bunch of cane toads walking after dark the other night; the white-lipped frogs are much cuter.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Image by paulafunnell via flickr.
(I forgot the camera!)
Gavin: We spent Thursday in Cairns because Michele had to be at the airport early the next morning (she's in Portland and San Francisco for the next two weeks).

So we picked up Larry in Babinda and headed for the Skyrail-- a ten-mile-long gondola ride from Cairns to Kuranda and back. I was worried that the kids would get bored sitting in a tiny little gondola for over an hour, and we'd have to deal with fidgety, whiny kids, but we all had a great time; as Will said shortly after the trip began, "this is AWESOME!" We may do it again just before we leave in December; it'll be the rainy season, so the waterfall and rainforest will be very different.

Kuranda is tourist-central; both the Skyrail and the Kuranda scenic railway end up there. It's a pretty little town, but too full of shops designed to extract the maximum amount of money from tourists for my taste.

When we got back to Cairns we had time to check into Michele's hotel and then go for a very nice walk along the Esplanade. She had picked an inexpensive, large hotel near the airport pretty much at random, and was just lucky that it also happens to be the home of Uncle Larry's favorite restaurant in Cairns! It is an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet, and we'll definitely eat there again before we leave. Mmmm, prawns...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

More than just bugs

Michele: Just a reminder that there is more to far north Queensland than bugs.

During the school term break our beach was pretty crowded. Along this stretch that you see in the photo there might have been twenty people - Acch! Now that the school term has started, the numbers are back down to fewer than 5 - ahhhh. Belmar NJ this ain't!

Did I mention that we saw lots of sea turtles when we went kayaking last week?
So there, bug-ophobes!

There is still time to visit us while we are here. I'm actually headed back to the states (OR and CA) for two weeks (conference and some talks). I will miss the family and the beach and even the bugs.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Rhinoceros Beetle

Robin: I found a dead Rhinoceros Beetle at the beach. First, I thought that it was a black nut thingy. But then I flipped it over with my foot and saw that it has a horn. It was clinging to a bunch of sea weed and Daddy had to get a bunch of sea weed off of it. The beetle that it is next to in the picture is a normal sized beetle that you would usually find. In the picture the beetles are life-sized. The Rhinoceros Beetle's eyes are below the top pinchy thing.They are where the bottom pincher comes up.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Those Dumb Americans!

Gavin: Our Tivo is in Massachusetts, so we've been exposed to lots of Australian TV ads since we've been here.

It's interesting; there are lots of American shows of all sorts (CSI, Glee, So You Think You Can Dance, etc.), but all of the ads are 100% Australian, even if they're advertising US companies like Pizza Hut, McDonald's or Ford.

People worry that giant international mega-corporations are destroying local culture, but it seems to me that the mega-corporations bend over backwards to fit in.

For example, the aussie word for McDonald's is "maccas" (pronounced "mack-ahs"). I woulda thunk that the McDonald's corporation would be protective of their brand name, but no! Some of their ads begin with "come on in to maccas!"

There's a whole sub-genre of "stupid American" advertisements. For example, there's an ad for KFC that goes something like this:
Scene: family eating outside at a park.
Closeup: dad biting into a chicken burger
Cut to: American tourists (overweight, in Bermuda shorts, holding a camera)
American tourist: Excuse me, could you take our picture?
Australian dad: Sorry mate, I don't speak English.
American tourist: Oh, sorry (wanders off).
I especially like the ad that has some Americans trying to sell the entire island of New Zealand as a vacation spot to some aussies; makes fun of BOTH Americans and New Zealand!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Narcho's anyone?

Michele: Today we rode our bikes to the Beachcomber, the caravan park at the other end of South Mission Beach. It is a lovely caravan park - right on the beach, a pool with water slide and fountain. The Beachcomber is part of the BIG 4 group of caravan parks, equivalent to KOA in the states. Since we've been here, the Beachcomber's vacancy signs have consistently read NO cottage vacancies, NO power site vacancies, NO unpowered site vacancies etc. You get the picture - it is a very nice and very popular caravan park. Locals like the cafe at the Beachcomber because it is the only food establishment in South Mission Beach. Fish and Chips take away, pizza take away, toasted cheese for lunch and afternoon ice cream are all popular choices of locals, including ourselves. However, we don't recommend the Nachos er... Narcho's er....

This sign really brings home several points.

The first point is that since Australians drop their Rs they really have no idea what each other are saying. I recently read through one of Robin's Aussie fiction books - a very well-written novel called Dragon Keeper. At the back, it has a pronunciation guide for some of the Chinese words in the book. I know some Chinese (
Yay, Wildwood Chinese language program!) and was confused that the pronunciation for Hua is broken down in the book as 'Hw-ar' (rhymes with far). Huh? Hw-ar? OH, right in Aussie speak, Far = Fah. Do Aussies realize that this lack of R pronunciation is truly hampering communication? I mean, Narcho's?

The second point is the obfuscation of the advertising message by the completely inappropriate possessive apostrophe. I will refrain from ranting for long here. WTF?! Why do people, Aussie and American, keep doing this?

The third point is also a short one. When in far north Queensland stay away from the Mexican food!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Australian Good Ideas: #4 Carlton Draught

Michele: Carlton Draft is a beer brewed in Victoria and sold all over Eastern Australia. While Gavin is true to our Queensland neighbors and drinks FourEx (XXXX), a Queensland beer, I prefer Carlton Draught. As beers go it is OK --I much prefer the taste of a microbrew amber ale over Calrton Draught. BUT Carlton Draught won my heart several years and I am absolutely delighted to be living where I can drink the beer regularly. How did it win my heart? By making what is outright the best beer commercial ever.

The commercial is called Big Ad. If you have seen this advertisement before then you are at this moment nodding and affirming my love of Carlton Draught. If you have never seen this advertisement before then STOP reading. Watch this young grasshopper and learn the power of viral marketing. (you tube search: Big Ad).

Brilliant, eh?
I fell in love with this commercial several years ago. Imagine my delight a few months back when I saw Carlton Draught on the shelves of our bottle shop. Happy, happy, joy joy! Yes, I'm a sucker for clever advertising.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Country mice enjoy the BIG city

Michele: We had an awesome time in Townsville towards the end of the school term break. The hotel right on the strand by the rock pool just had one room left for two nights - karma. Now most folks don't think of Townsville as a BIG city. With a population of about 160,000 it is smaller than Madison, Wisconsin, where Gavin and I lived for 3 years. We never felt that Madison was a BIG city. Certainly not a city worth capitalizing the adjective BIG. But after several months of living in in Mission Beach, population 3,000 we were ready for a visit to a town that has the marvels of traffic lights. We traveled 230 km to Townsville passing through a whomping total of 4 traffic lights between our house and the edge of downtown Townsville -- and the whole way was on 2 lane road, not a freeway.

We had a busy couple days. Townsville is a little farther from Mission Beach than Cairns but we enjoy that Townsville isn't so packed with tourists. Also Townsville is in the dry tropics and has very different flora than Mission Beach and Cairns, which are in the wet tropics.

Robin: We finally found a Japanese restaurant and the food was great. And for dessert we had a banana flambe! A banana flambe is bananas that they light on fire. And we had it with ice cream. It wa
s very good.

We went to the Museum of Tropical Queensland and my favourite part about it was a room full of interactive science things. This picture was taken there. I liked the part where you had to trace a star while looking in a mirror that was reflecting the star and your finger. It was HARD. I also liked the IMAX movie next door. We saw Under the Sea but it made me a little dizzy. At some points the fish would go jerk and eat something and that made me jump.

On the last night after we went to the Greek restaurant, the sky was filled with fruit bats. And there was one in a tree and it climbed into where the light was shining on it and we could see it and it was cool. It looked just like Stella Luna, who is a bat character in a book that I like. We walked along the strand and watched bats all the way to an ice cream place. At that ice cream place they smooshed up the ice cream that you chose along with the toppings that you chose on a really really cold table. I had mango ice cream with M&M that had peanuts in them. And the M&Ms instead of leaving them whole in the ice cream, they squished them. While we were eating our ice cream outside, we saw some bush stone curlews. One of them even walked into where the street light was shining so you could see it real well.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Michele: Our guide pointed out some Wallaroos from the bus that took us around for our 4 hour walk through the Undara lava tubes. Wallaroos?

This guide had very typical Aussie sense of humor. Their humor is a little dry and very clever like the British but more brash and direct than even American humor. It reminds me a fair bit of Deaf humor. For example, just as we were about to leave our first of several lava tubes the guide flashed us a large geologic map of the region. Knowing perfectly well that I am a geologist he said "Here is the geologic map, it has heaps of information. But if we let you look at it we will be here all day so off we go!" Cruel guide!

So when this same guide pointed out Wallaroos on the right side of the bus, we didn't know if we should believe him. Was he not sure if this marsupial was a Wallaby or its larger cousin the Kangeroo so he just mashed the names together?

After prodding him on the issue we learned that there is indeed species called Wallaroo that is, no kidding, larger than a Wallaby and smaller than a Kangaroo.

Crazy Aussies!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Who is this man?

Michele: This guy showed up just before we left for Townsville. He looks remarkably like the Gavin of 20 years ago. Could it be the same guy?

Amazing how strange someone can look when you are used to seeing them with a goatee for 17 years!

When some folks have a mid-life crisis they buy toys, change careers or change their lifestyles. Changing careers is old hat for Gavin and it seems a 5 month adventure in Australia wasn't enough of a life style change for him.

I wonder if I'm going to find a motorcycle in the garage someday soon....

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Australian Good Ideas: #3 Longer holidays shorter summer break

Michele: All public schools in the state of Queensland follow the same school year schedule. Just as in the US the exact schedule varies by state but the general formula is the same. There are four terms that each last 10 or 11 weeks separated by two week holidays. Term 1 starts in mid- to end January and Term 4 ends in mid Dec. Term 2 has the most public holidays with the Queen's birthday and the like. Additionally, each term has 1 or 2 student-free days equivalent to curriculum days. The schedule is much like the schedule in the US with several major differences.

Two weeks between terms: This is a civilized length to a holiday! Two weeks give you enough to get somewhere and relax as well as have some time after you return to decompress from the holiday. I am a strong proponent of two week holidays between terms.

The school year is longer: Rather than 180 days of school, the Aussie kids attend about 200 days of school. I really see nothing wrong with this. More days can mean more learning or more time to explore topics of interest.

Shorter summer break: Aussie kids get 6 weeks summer break over Christmas and New Years. I may be in the minority but I think that 6 weeks is plenty of time for a kid to get sufficiently bored that they are ready to head back to school. We no longer live in a predominantly agrarian society where kids are needed on the farm for 10 weeks of harvesting etc. Don't get me wrong, I like summer and lazy days. But it seems to me that 6 is plenty. With 6 weeks I won't be scrambling so much to get my kids into camps to keep them occupied.

We are currently in the second week of holiday between terms 3 and 4. We've been doing everything we can to get the kids as bored as possible and it looks to have worked.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Doubtful Spring

Michele: We are in Spring here in northern Queensland. Even though I rationally know that it is spring, my system truly believes that it is Fall. The Frangipani tree is going gang-busters but this and bird nests are the only tangible evidence of Spring.

One reason that I expect temperatures to start cooling off is that we did not have an abrupt season change when we arrived. Back in early July the temperature of Mission Beach was pretty close to the temperature back in Amherst. Everything was green and warm in Amherst and everything here was green and warm. So it really never did seem like winter. Consequently, my system is confused that temperatures are getting warming rather than cooler now that October is on our door step.

Another reason for my confusion is that it has been very dry here. I spent many years in California and I know that in winter it rains and in summer it is dry. You can immediately tell in California if it is winter or summer by whether the grass is green or yellow. Well everything, even the seasons, are different in Australia. In these tropics, the winters are dry(er) and the summers are wet. In fact the summer season here is called 'The Wet'. The Wet is when meters of rain fall within a couple weeks. The winter is dryer than summer here in the far north but still usually gets rain regularly. This year, we've had very very little rain. The grass here is all dried up and yellow so my California-honed sensibilities tell me that it must indeed be summer.

I'm told that the long dry spell that we are having is very unusual. We are even on water restrictions. Water restrictions in the rain forest! Several times now we've heard Cassowary calls at night around our house. I wonder if the birds are coming into neighborhood because of the dryness of the forests. The birds, like the rest of us, could really use a rain shower. In addition to helping the forest, the rain would wash some of the lingering dust out of the air (from the recent dust storms) and help convince me that it really is spring.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Australian Good Ideas #2: Aussie Rules

Gavin: The Saint Kilda Saints take on the Geelong Cats in the Australian Football League Grand Final today at 2:00pm.

Translation for the Americans in the audience: it's Superbowl Saturday down under.

Aussie rules is the #1 spectator sport in Australia (although rugby is more popular here in Queensland), and I can see why. Everything in the game is designed to make it fast-paced and exciting, from the funky backwards throw-in the side judges perform when the ball goes out of bounds to the rules on holding the ball (players must try to pass the ball when they're being tackled or the other side gets a free kick).

The pre-game shows started an hour ago, at 8am. I'm not a big enough fan to sit through 6 hours of pre-game hype, but I will have a XXXX-gold in my hand (another Australian Good Idea; pronounced "four-ex", and rumored to be named so because Queenslanders don't know how to spell "BEER") and my eyes glued to the telly from two till five this afternoon.

Michele: Aussie rules is definitely an Australian good idea and I can provide some additional insight into why it is the #1 spectator sport in Australia. The outfits! Form-fitting sleeveless v-neck shirts and short shorts are a very good idea. Some players opt for long socks, but I don't recommend this.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

We saw a sea snake

Gavin: Barbara (Michele's mom) doesn't like snakes. Just a picture of a snake gives her the willies.

I'm very proud of her for not fainting when she found this sea snake washed up on the beach a few weeks ago. Instead she came back to the house and told the rest of us about it. Lorna (my mum) and the kids and I immediately high-tailed it down the beach so we could check it out.

It made an odd loopy trail as it tried to get itself back into the water; it would stay very still for several minutes and then kind of flop around on the sand. We don't know why it let itself get washed up on the beach in the first place-- maybe it ate something bad that confused it.

Sea snakes can be highly venomous, and my mum always told me not to mess with snakes, so we all kept our distance. Well, we kept our distance until my mum decided we should rescue it: "in case a child comes along, decides it's dead, pokes it, and gets bitten."

I reminded her that my mum always told me not to mess with snakes, but she found a couple of sturdy sticks and proceeded to try to pick it up and carry it down to the water.

You can't tell from the picture, but this was a pretty big snake-- about 4 feet long-- so picking it up turned out to be a two-person job. I took a stick from my mum and the two of us picked it up and carried it down to the water while it did it's best to kill mum's stick, repeatedly biting it. Very exciting!

And the story has a happy ending-- after a minute or so in the water, it gracefully swam of into the deep.

The Queensland Museum has a great web site that helped us later identify this as a Beaked Sea Snake which is, actually, potentially quite deadly (three times as toxic as a cobra, ~30 times as venomous as a rattlesnake), although not normally aggressive.

Unless you go and start poking it with sticks...

Dust storm reaches far north

Michele: We woke up this morning to the smell of smoke. The dust and smoke from New South Wales dust storm has reached us way up here in northern Queensland. Fortunately for us, we are getting much more mild version than they did in Sydney. We have a haze (see photo) and not the horrible thick orange dust that they were hit with in the south. Humidity levels are low and the haze in the photo is just smoke and dust. We can't see Dunk Island just 6km away.

The dust is from dry conditions in the outback down south. The top soil was blown away by storm winds that carry the dust to the coast where most of Australia's population lives. While the accumulated dust in Sydney is a real nuisance, the long lasting harm is the stripping of top soil from farms. Large dust storms occur periodically (every ~6 years) and folks are debating whether climate change has made them more severe. Certainly drought conditions increase the liklihood that soil can be eroded by wind.

In Mission Beach this morning we have canceled our planned hike for today. The acrid smoke (also brought with the westerly winds) and haze in the region are acerbating asthma in many folks. Robin's asthma only kicks up when she is sick, but we are not going to risk it. The smoke is a bit nauseating and takes me back to when Megan Maxwell and I were trapped by a forest fire in Yosemite. Actually the smoke in the valley wasn't bad that time, but I remember lots of nauseating smoke when we were evacuated and had to drive around the fire to get the borrowed tent that was pitched at the pass near Mono Lake. Ask Megan sometime about her love of camping. The smoke here may be from some wildfires but also many of the regional farmers burn the stubble in the sugar cane fields after the harvest.

The forecast is that a southeast wind will pick up this afternoon and clear the air. Meanwhile we are going to hang out in the pool and take it easy - maybe turn on the air conditioning. Yeah, no need to feel sorry for us.

BTW: The 1-story yellow house on the right in the photo is the actual 38 Mitchell Street. You can see that it isn't even next door to us.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

In Australia, even the birds ain't shy

Michele: It is spring here in Australia and that means nesting time. Over the past few weeks, birds' nests have been showing up the darnedest places. The Sunbird nest pictured here is in the carport at Uncle Larry's house. He has some netting to keep birds from roosting over the car and the Subirds have used the netting to hang their incredible nest. The nest is like a pouch with a hole in the side. This photo doesn't show it but there is even a little 'awning' over the hole. The nest at Uncle Larry's house is at eye level just feet from his front door, a pretty active place, but the Sun Bird doesn't mind. Yesterday, I saw a Sunbird nest hanging from a store awning in downtown Mission Beach. People probably walk right by the nest all day long yet the birds don't mind.

The Sunbird family includes the species Spiderhunters, which might be my favorite bird name. Not that I don't like spiders, I really do. Just when I hear Spiderhunter, I imagine a bird in a camouflage outfit stealth-fully stalking a spider. Rumor is that Spiderhunters can eat tarantulas -- gutsy birds

I like this photo because I caught the Sunbird in the nest. If you go right up the nest, the bird takes off but they come back to the nest after a bit. This nest is just about done and ready for eggs. We've been able to watch the building of the nest over the past few week when we've visited uncle Larry. It is really cool to see how they start with anchoring the nest to the webbing and then build the pouch. Impressive engineering when you consider that the whole structure is also swaying in the breeze the whole time.

Birds nests in Amherst are also impressive but the birds are much much more shy about their nest building. Nests are usually up high and hard to see. These crazy Australian Sunbirds are quite the exhibitionists!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Great Barrier Reef

Yesterday we had the opportunity to go snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef at Eddy Reef. The experience of a lifetime and one that we will never forget! So for this blog each of us will contribute.

Michele: Although we took an underwater camera, the film hasn't been developed yet. But seriously, it looked just like Pixar depicted in Finding Nemo. Except that the starfish we found were bright blue instead of pink. The boat went to Dunk Island first to pick up the bulk of the passengers for the trip. From Dunk Island, it took about 1 hour to get out to Eddie reef, which is 30 km away. From above water, the reef was an amazing green color, just like in Finding Nemo. We had about 3 hours to snorkel with a break for lunch. The weather was perfect and the tide was falling so the water became more calm during the day. One of my favorite parts of the day was holding hands with Robin/Will and pointing things out to one another. It was awesome!

Will: I like how there were thousands of giant clams and that they had really pretty lips. I liked how the coral was pretty colored and how the fish wouldn't run away when you floated towards them. Eddy Reef didn't have an island. At an island you walk over the coral to get into the water. At Eddy Reef, I liked that we jumped from the boat so the coral stays perfect.

Robin: I saw a sting ray and lots of sea cucumbers and a white-tipped reef shark and really big fish. And I also saw giant clams. Daddy saw an octopus and mommy saw a Barracuda. The first time I tried snorkeling, I inhaled water. I couldn't breathe! The second time I did great and I snorkeled for about an hour. Everything was my favorite!!!

Gavin: This was the second time I'd been snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef-- the first was at Green Island (off Cairns) in the late '80's. I remember thinking "it's like swimming in an aquarium!" Words, pictures or movies don't really capture the experience; it's amazing to be in amongst so many beautiful creatures, able to go wherever you like and take a closer look at whatever captures your interest. Will says he's interested in scuba diving; I think that will be a great father-son project (I'd like to learn, too) in a few years when he's old enough...

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Australian Good Ideas: #1 Pavlova

Michele: For a while I've been thinking about a series of posts called Australian Good Ideas -- things that we encountered in Australia that we think are good ideas. They are not going to be ranked in any way, just posted as we get to it. -
#1: Pavlova
(aka Pav for Aussies who must shorten everything)

While Lorna was here she rhapsodized about this dessert with Larry and Correen. We Americans were in the dark until Larry and Coreen revealed plans to make a Pavlova one night while they, Kristen and Cindy were visiting. This is the cake photoed here and you can see by Robin's reaction that we were instantly delighted. The cake itself is a light meringue. It is very hard to make yourself so grocery stores sell the meringue base in various sizes. Then you whip up some heavy cream to spread over the cake and decorate with fruit. My favorite so far is strawberries and passion fruit. Ahh, passionfruit! I may have to devote an entire blog to passionfruit at some point.

The cake is light and moderately sweet, which suits me just fine. You could make it sweeter by adding more sugar to the whipped cream. The bottom of the meringue base undergoes some sort of magic process where it gets really sweet and crunchy. This probably has to do with sugar settling to the bottom, but I'm going to keep thinking it is magic. This crunchy base is the best part of the Pavlova. When part of the base accidentally drops off a piece, our family fights over the rights to this bit. I think that the server should get the left over crunchy bits, don't you?

Pavlova is so named because the light cake is reminiscent of the tutu of legendary ballerina Anna Pavlova. She had toured down under in the 1920s and the dessert was developed shortly after. Now there are two stories to the origin of Pavlova ( The Aussies claim that an Aussie in Perth developed it, while the Kiwis claim that a Kiwi developed the idea. Wikipedia supports the Kiwi claim but I will not risk being ostracized by my Aussie family, friends and neighbors by supporting this. It was the bloke in Perth!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Shells Galore

Will: The shells here came from Uncle Larry's house. Some of them have dirt in them. Some he collected from western Australia. He has Pearl shells (lower left corner of photo) and some Tiger Cowries (in front of my hands) and some Cone shells (on the right corner of the rug) and some clams and some Scallops and others. At the top of the rug you can see some Cowries that I lined up by size.

I sorted the shells by type. I know a lot about shells and their names.

Michele: Thanks Uncle Larry for letting us learn so much from your shells. Robin and Will have been having a blast sorting the shells and learning the names of the critters.

This second photo shows so
me Cone shells. The patterns on the shells is amazing. Beautiful geometry designs. However, like nearly everything in Queensland they will kill you. The critter attacks out the narrow end so we are careful to pick them up at the wide end. Gavin found two live cone shells while tide pooling a few days ago.

Tide pooling is different here. In California and Maine we always tide pool by goin
g to stranded pools of water at low tide. We might poke around the seaweed but generally we just look around for stuff. Here folks turn over rocks to see the good stuff. Good stuff indeed! The Cowries, Cone shells, sea cucumbers and even eels live under the rocks. Now that Uncle Larry has given us the scoop on proper tide pooling technique we are enjoying building our own shell collection. Lorna and my mom went home with boxes of shells that they found. However, our collections will never be as amazing as Larry's. These shells here are just a small fraction of his enormous and impressive collection.