Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dough Doh!

Gavin: So the Australian economy has been doing pretty well; unemployment is under 6%, the recession here has been mild, and even though there was a big stimulus plan down here overall government debt is low (20% of GDP-- the US is at at about 70% of GDP).

That's good news for Australians. Not so good for our personal finances; every time the dollar weakens everything here gets more expensive for us. We shoulda listened to our friends who told us back in March it was a good time to buy Australian currency.

It is a very nice currency; the bills are colorful, attractive and waterproof. And the coins have kangaroos and emus on them (and the Queen, of course). One of these days I'll even remember that the little gold ones ($2 coins) are worth MORE than the big gold ones ($1 coins)...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Bruce Highway

Michele: The Bruce Highway runs the entire east coast of Australia through the state of Queensland. It links cities along its 1700 km length and in some parts, like northern Queensland, it is the only N-S road. The Bruce Highway is the lifeblood of transport -- think route 95 on the east coast or highway 101 on the west coast of the US. Trucks hauling double loads, caravans, and commuters all travel this road.

In our neck of the woods, the Bruce Highway
looks like any other two lane road. This picture shows sugar cane fields on the left and banana plantation on the right. A few days ago on a shopping trip to Innisfail, we managed to inadvertently get off the Bruce Highway without realizing it. At another point that day, we were searching for the Bruce Highway and hadn't realized that we'd been on it for 5 km. The secondary roads seem to have more bumps and sugar cane track crossings than the Bruce Highway.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Downward Facing Dog Down Under

Michele: Today I went to a second yoga class in Mission Beach. It has been 8 years since I last practiced yoga and back then I went to classes for less than a year. I was surprised how the poses and movements here are so similar to the ones I did in Amherst 8 years ago. Ok, well since yoga has been around for a long time and originated in India, I really should not have been surprised by this. Downward facing dog is just as uncomfortable as I remember. Yeah, yeah, I know... it will get better as I get used to it.

Gavin has taken up running on the beach, which is fantastic. Running doesn't work for me, I get bored. I need exercise that clears my mind by making me think a lot,
I gotta confess, yoga is really not my thing. I would much rather be dancing and moving around or biking. But since dance classes are scarce here and I haven't a bike yet, yoga will suffice. Yoga seems to be very popular here, the kids even have yoga at school. And besides, yoga is good for me.

One thing that really drives me nuts about yoga is the shutting your eyes and relaxing part. Deafies can't shut their eyes and relax. I wear my hearing aids to class but I still can't understand anything the instructor says unless I'm lip reading. So I'm constantly sneaking peeks to see if the other people are in a new position. My Amherst yoga teacher eventually accepted that I would 'relax' with my eyes wide open with occasional darting looks around the classroom to make sure I was doing the right thing. These teachers will have to get used to this too.. along with my strange accent ... and tendancy to grimace during downward facing dog.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Up to their necks!

Robin: Today, at the beach, Will, Daddy and I went swimming! Me and Will usually stay very near the edge, but today since daddy was there we went soo far out that the water was up to my neck!

This one is for Debbie Morgan

Michele: It turns out that you can combine a love of travel with a love a dogs. Grooming on the go! We looked out the window yesterday to see the neighbor's dalmatian Washa getting a bath in the street. Washa looked quite content with the process. The trailer is pulled by a pickup truck. Lots of Aussies have trailers - though most don't have a roof structure, just a base with low walls. Gavin borrowed uncle Larry's trailer to bring back used furniture from Cairns. Now Gavin has a case of trailer envy and wants one for back in MA.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

And on the 15th day, they rested

Michele: No adventures today. It was gray and rainy for most of the day. We are no longer waking with the sun and today we slept in until 7:30 or 8:00 am. While I was content to watch the rough ocean from the window, Gavin and Robin went down to the beach... and got a bit rained on. We did housework, watched footy, played cards and generally acted as if we are on vacation. Robin and Will seem to get bored easily -- probably because they are still settling in and don't know what all their options are.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Tully Show

Michele: Today we went to the Tully Show. Tully is a large town 20 km from Mission Beach. It is the nearest large town... and by large town I mean that it has not only a hardware store but also a lawn bowling club. Tully also hosts the regional high school. The Tully Show is an annual 2-day agricultural fair. This is such a big deal that all the schools and grocery stores are closed today. The sugar cane plant in Tully was even closed. The tall stacks in the background of this pic are the sugar cane processing plant (note: uncharacteristic lack of steam coming from the plant).

The show covers a much larger spectrum than any US fair that I've attended. There was of course the midway with fast food, try your luck games and rides, such as Ferris wheel (pic above was taken from the top) and bumper cars. There was the tractor section and the petting zoo. However, the Tully show (and other Australian shows) also has horticultural competitions, fruit and vegetable competitions, they even have scrapbooking competitions (see facebook for photos of these Robin's entry for flower decorated saucer filled with sand did not win any prizes but we thought it looked fabulous. Some of her classmates had awesome entries for the 'food made to look like things'.

We all had a great time at the show. F
irst some sandwiches from the Girl Guides while watching 11 year-olds jump their horses and then the Ferris Wheel and the Hall of Mirrors. The highlight of the day were two shows at the grand stand. The first was a horse show where Guy McClean did tricks with his trained horses. He mentioned several times that he and his 4 horses are going to America soon to do shows there. All you Yanks, keep an eye out at your local rodeo for Guy McLean. The second show was a motorcycle jumping show. I caught a picture of one of the rider in the middle of his somersault in the air. The black bar at the top of the picture is the roof of the grandstand. Very impressive! We coasted to end of our day at the show with bumper cars, big slide, petting zoo and admiring stalks and bunches of competition-winning sugar cane and bananas.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

So what the heck is a Cassowary and do they have tails?

Michele: By now you've noticed that we've named this blog after a creature that lives in the coastal regions of far north Queensland, the Cassowary. At the top of our blog is a picture of a Cassowary taken by a professional photographer (Yay, creative commons!). This blog entry has a picture I took a few days ago of a Cassowary walking by the side of the road. These large flightless birds have crazy colors and an ungainly walk. It won't surprise you to hear that the Cassowary is related to the Emu and the Ostrich. Around these parts, the Cassowary is protected in part because they are rare and in part because lots of tourists come here to see them... This Cassowary that we saw is about 4 feet tall but they grow to over 5 feet. Like all things that grow in Australia, they can hurt you, but only if provoked. Okay, you caught me, I was joking. It only seems like all animals in Australia are to get us. I have no plans to provoke these large birds.

So far, we've only seen them along the side of the road. On a walk through the palm forests (to be blogged soon) we saw lots of Cassowary scat but didn't sight any the birds. The forest is so thick that a Cassowary could be nearby but you would miss it.
For more information:
More photos of the Cassowary we saw are on my facebook album

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Robin: In Australia there is a plant that when you touch it, it shuts. In Amherst, there is a greenhouse that has some of those and they work really hard to keep it alive. Once Mommy bought one of these plants, but it died. But here this plant grows like a weed by the road and in the grass!

Michele: The plant is Mimosa Pudica or Sensitive plant. Here is a video of the leaves closing up as Robin touches them. This clip is 2.4 MB... you should see the full resolution version. It is awesome! But it is also 53 MB....

The different flavours of colour... er color... er

Robin: Today,at school I spelled colour

Things you find on a Queensland beach at low tide

Michele: Today is a very low tide: 0.09. In August we will have another low tide like this and then there won't be any more that low for the rest of our stay. The water level today was lower than the boat ramp. One of our very favorite things to do at the coast is tidepooling and over the past few days we've found some pretty cool things at the beach at low tide.

First, I will geek out a little and describe the hydrogeology of the beach at low tide. If you don't want to read about this just skip ahead to the critters. At low tide the ocean surface drops below the ground water table. This is evident on the photo from the shimmer of the wet sand. Throughout the wet area are seeps where the groundwater flows onto the surface. Lots of cool erosion sand patterns too that I didn't photo... yet. All the interesting low tide critters live in this region. Maybe because it is always wet, even when exposed by low tide. Maybe because they like the combination of ocean and ground water. questions for a biologist. As for the salinity of the seeps? I don't know. I didn't get to the ground and lick them... yet.

OK onto the critters. We saw these strange coils of sand that are pushed up from some critter in the sand. No these aren't piles of the topic of Gavin's recent post.. these are indeed sand. The piles accumulate when the tide recedes and the waves no longer wash the piles away. This photo shows one of the larger piles, some are smaller, some are nearly perfectly coiled. We speculated that these were clams but weren't able to dig deep enough to find one... yet. We don't yet have confirmation that these are clams... stay tuned.

Another fascinating find was live sand dollars. No sand dollars are not the eggs of starfish as some kids at school tried to covince Robin. These photos show the track of a sand dollar and the critter slightly buried in the sand as well as a cleaned off sand dollar on my hand. I remember finding lots of sand dollars on the beach in Florida as a kid. These must live in the water there too. Their thousands of tiny feet along the rim are amazing. In your hand, they kind of suction on a little -- not as much as a starfish but a little tickle.

Another thing you can f
ind on the beach are urchins. Both children (who are pointing out a crab) and the spiny kind that live in the sea. Note that Will is sporting the typical Queensland footwear (see Gavin's recent post). Unfortunately, the glassy rind of a vesicle within the basalt cut Will's foot only a few minutes after this photo was taken. Maybe we are not so crazy to be skeptical of this Queensland trend... or maybe Will just needs tougher feet. Next to the urchin in the second photo is sea cucumber. In the third photo, it doesn't look as if the sea cucumber that Robin found is in water, but it was in a shallow tide pool crawling along. Very cool find!
And all over the rocks are crabs. Gavin looks rather proud of finding this crab.

This blog format is not so convenient for lots of photos... Because facebook is much more convenient for series of photos I've made an album there. In the future when I have a bunch of images to post, I will just put them on facebook and only put a few here. If you want to see all the photos and don't have a facebook account.. yet.. just send me a note and I will email you a link to the album.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Robin on Parade

Michele: Every Monday morning first thing at school is Parade [we are not sure why they call it that]. All the children in the school gather for announcements, singing of the Australian anthem and giving out of awards. About 15 awards are given out for good efforts during the past week. The principal likes to emphasize the positive and I think this is a very nice approach. Robin is going to tell you about one award given today.

Robin: I got a award today because I am new.
The Principal called out what the person did, then their name he told him/her to come up to the stage [it is more like a platform] then he gave the person a piece of paper [that is the award]. Then, he shakes their hand. When I got my award this is what he said
"This award goes to a girl who is new,she just got here a few days ago. She is doing very well in school and she is getting along really well. Robin Anderson. [ha ha] Please come up the stage."
I feel good about getting this award but a little nervous about getting up in front of the whole school. I also felt good because everyone clapped for me when I got the award.

Will: When the principal said Robin's award I looked to my friend and smiled. I was proud of my sister. Also, my friend Cameron got an award for being friendly with a new kid. I was the new kid.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Shoes and Sh**

Gavin: A couple of ordinary, everyday experiences here shocked me a little bit. They poked at irrational cultural taboos that have been elevated to Laws in the U.S.

The first was visiting the elementary school, and being shocked by the number of kids who go to school barefoot.

I'd say maybe 20% of the kids wear sneakers, 50% flip-flops ("thongs"), and 30% go barefoot. I'm imagining the conversations with the bus driver, school teachers, and principal if we sent Robin and Will to school barefoot one bright, sunny day. I'm guessing they'd appeal to safety ("what if the poor dears STEP on something?") and, if we were insistent, would eventually appeal to some State health and safety regulation requiring Appropriate Footwear in all Educational Facilities.

Personally, I've already started to go native. Fight for Foot Freedom!

The other irrational cultural taboo that shocked me was the use of the "s-word" on TV here. The whole family was watching "Master Chef" (the Australian version of Top Chef; or is Top Chef the American version of Master Chef? anyways...), when Julie messed up her dish and exclaimed "oh shit." Apparently, TV stations don't have to bleep any words here.

Of all the words we have for excrement/feces/crap/poop, why is that one considered taboo in America? As the kids all say these days, WTF?

Comfort Food

Michele: Today we have been in Queensland for 1 week. After a week of doing things we have never done before I thought that we all deserved some comfort food -- tastes of home. The prescription? Chocolate chip cookies (aka American-style chocolate chip biscuits) and wraps.

Because it is typically a holiday rental, the house was skimpy on baking supplies. I bought a measuring cup and measuring spoons that have both imperial and metric units. Some Aussie recipes I've come across will mix units. For example, 150 g of butter and 1 cup of flour. We still don't have a proper cookie sheet or pot holders but tin foil in a baking dish and te
a towels can suffice. The cookies... err biscuits... err whatever came out pretty well and the kids are delighted.

The wraps are one of our favorite dishes. Rice paper wraps that you load with noodles, chopped shrimp (aka prawns), cucumber, thai basil (aka green basil), crushed peanuts, sauce, and, if you are so inclined, cilantro (aka coriander). I love this dish because each person loads their own, which means that I don't suffer the whining from the kids that some undesirable element (e.g. bell pepper, aka capsicum) has made its way into their meal.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

One American Voice

Robin: In school, my class was reading aloud all together. I noticed that it sounded funny because all the voices were the same and then there was one that sounded different -- one American voice. That was me. To make it sound better, I made my voice sound like theirs.

Friday, July 17, 2009

3 Jackey Jackey Street, South Mission Beach, QLD 4852

On a walk through the neighborhood today, Gavin and I made a discovery. It went something like this
Michele: “Hey, look over there, that abandoned looking house is marked as 38 Mitchell Street!”
We pause.
Gavin: “What? That is our address!”
The windows were all shut and curtained. We walk over to the front door of the house and knock. No answer. In front of the door is a rubber-banded pile of mail addressed to Michele Cooke-Andresen. This includes a Failure of Delivery notice from UPS. They tried to deliver my brand new Dell precision workstation shipped from the US to 38 Mitchell Street yesterday but I was not there to receive it. Well, that is because... I don’t actually live there!

It turns out that the property manager has mixed up our address. All the paperwork that we’ve signed is for 38 Mitchell Street. We are even paying for electrical service for that house. After a call to the very helpful postman, we learned that our actual address is 3 Jackey Jackey Street.

I have to say that everyone in Australia has been amazingly helpful and friendly. Gavin’s family has been absolutely wonderful to us! The school staff, the postal staff, clerks in the shops, even the confused staff of the electric company have been friendly, effective and resourceful. With one exception -- the property management company, and I will specifically list Lorraine of Ray White realty here because I’m so irritated at her ineptitude. She has been unresponsive to our questions (e.g. has never called us back), ineffective at guiding us to the proper resources (e.g. unable to tell us how to get hooked up with internet) and now we see clear evidence that she is inept.

OK…. It is therapeutic to write these things out they say.
I really should emphasize that the Lorraines of Australia* are really the exception in our experience so far. The post man has said that he will bring all mail to the Andresens to 3 Jackey Jackey street. If you have already sent something to 38 Mitchell street, please let me know.

*note: Lorraines of America are an entirely different breed ← and I'm not just saying this in case Lorraine James of Amherst is reading my posting.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

First Day of Term 3 for Robin and Will

Michele: Today was the first day of school for Robin and Will at the Mission Beach State School. The school covers levels Prep (kindergarten) through 7 for several towns including South Mission Beach. Above level 7, kids go to a regional high school 25 km away in Tully. MSSB has about 300 kids and 2 classes for each year. There are ~8 buildings separated by covered walkways. The grounds of the school are like a park with palms, bromeliads, lots of skinks running about and even a pond. A large play area is covered to protect children from the sun. Robin and Will are sporting the school uniform, which includes a brimmed hat. Such hats are required in order for children to play outside. For good reason, Aussies take sun safety very seriously.

At Aussie schools, families purchase a long list of school supplies including lined workbooks, scrapbooks, quadrilled books, math workbooks, pencils, rubbers (those are erasers!), colored pencils, craypas, rulers, scissors, glue, twist crayons, plastic envelopes, cardboard envelopes, reading diaries and Thrass charts (that is some sort of phonics thing). In the lower grades, the workbooks are specific for each level. Based on his age, we thought that Will might be level 1 and bought a level one book. By lunchtime he was upgraded to level 2. Apparently, the level 2 books have guide lines closer together than the level 1 books. School supplies are bought at newsstands and the clerks at the newsstand near the school are getting to know me quite well by now.

Robin’s day involved coordination exercises designed to stimul
ate thinking, morning tea, a math test, lunch (the whole school gathers at one time) and yoga.
Michele: “Robin, Did you have a good day at school?”

Robin: “I didn’t have a good day, I had an awesome day!”

Will: “Will didn’t have a good day… he had a great day!”

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Couch Karma

Gavin:  The house we've rented was built and furnished as a holiday rental. Which means the owners optimized for making it look pretty in advertisements.

All of the furniture is sturdy, attractive, and incredibly uncomfortable.  It's made out of hemp or something, with stray bristly fibers all over ready to scratch a bare arm or leg.  Some of it, including the couch, came with thin purple foam cushions.
The house is great.  The furniture... not so much.

So yesterday at the beach we met Tony (the Pool Guy; it says so on his truck) and his son Chelsea (who are in Brisbane tonight to watch the big rubgy match: Queensland versus New South Wales, but that's not actually relevant to this story, except that the game is just about to start and we don't have Tivo so I'm going to try to finish this up right quick).  And Tony mentions that one of our neighbors asked him this morning if he wanted to buy their couch.

Excited at the prospect of a couch that we could sit on for more than ten minutes at a time, I wandered up the street and got to Roz and John's house moments before the truck from Tully Secondhand arrived to.  First-come, first-served, and I didn't bother to dicker on price.  So now we're the proud owners of a huge, garish, comfortable couch.
Funny thing is, the purple and orange actually match the walls.  I felt kinda bad for the Tully Secondhand lady, but we'll probably be selling her this couch in December before we leave.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Things you find on a Queensland Beach

Michele: The sand on South Mission Beach is a fine silty-sand. This makes for firm footing for soccer games but sandcastles require some effort. I was at first surprised there isn't more mud since we are very close to the mouth of the Hull river. There is a rocky promontory between us and the Hull River, so the mud is probably directed elsewhere. Because estuaries are prime crocodile territory, I like that there is a rocky promontory between us and the river. I'm told that crocs don't usually come onto the beaches in the winter.

We haven't yet found a crocodile on the beach but we have found sand dollars, crab holes and coconuts. Robin collected the sand dollars. They are somewhat fragile but she found quite a few intact ones. As the crabs dig into the sand they roll it past their legs leaving piles of sand balls. We speculated that the size of the crab is evidenced by the diameter of the sand balls.

It turns out that coconuts are a challenge to juggle... and to open.

After we bought a hammer in Tully we were able to open this coconut that Will found on the beach. It turned out to have fresh juice inside. mmm!

Monday, July 13, 2009

other notes on July 13th

Michele: Here is the view from our outside dining area. That is Dunk Island in the distance. We can tell that visits to the beach will be an integral part of our days. Gavin and I are already scheming to spend all of my future sabbaticals on the beach in northern Queensland.

Robin: Today we visited the school and went to the beach a lot.

Will: Tasty cheese is not tasty.

address: 3 Jackey Jackey Street, South Mission Beach, Queensland 4852, Australia
skype: clandresen or gavinandresen
our US phone number is forwarded to skype

Emu Trauma Bonding

Gavin: I'm still waking up before sunrise, but later and later every day. We played at the beach at the beginning and end of the day, but in between it was non-stop errands.

We met Robin and Will's teachers and filled out lots of paperwork to get them enrolled in school. There was some panic when we were told I'd either have to get proof of Australian citizenship or pay $500 per week for the kids to go to school, but it all worked out-- I brought along my birth certificate because I couldn't find my aussie passport.

There's a life-size statue of a Cassowary in Will's classroom; they're HUGE! After the school visit we bought school supplies at the local news agent, and started chatting with the store clerk, who warned us that we should keep our distance from Cassowaries. I mentioned that one of my few memories of childhood in Melbourne was being pecked at by an emu at a wildlife sanctuary:

"Melbourne? You must mean Healesville Sanctuary; I'm from Melbourne, and was attacked by emus there, too!"

Yup, Healesville Sanctuary. I was five. The emu was 8 feet tall, I think. Those early childhood experiences run deep; I'm afraid I might wet my pants if I have a close encounter with a Cassowary here.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Cockatoos, Wallabies and Geckos

Michele: I watched the sunrise at the beach. The transition from night to day is quite magical on the beach as the shadows released their hold. Waking before sunrise is not my usual behavior. By the time that I returned from the beach,7:00 am, Gavin and the kids were awake. We are all still living some time zone that is somewhere between Australia and the US.

Buying a soccer ball at Mission Beach was a priority for Will. Once this was accomplished we took the soccer ball to the beach to try it ou
t. Low tide is a great time to play soccer. Robin elected to collect sand dollars.
Back at the house for sandwiches, the kids discovered several sulphur-crested cockatoos in a tree across the street. We watched 5 or 6 of the birds swoop in to graze on the berries from a palm tree.

After lunch we walked up the road to see where Larry (Gavin's uncle) had spotted wallabies. Just three blocks inland is a grassy hillside that is teeming with wallabies. We climbed up and had some staring contests with the amazing creatures.

Back at the house, the kids made a fort in the downstairs playroom. Lifting a cushion of the couch we found two geckos. The smart gecko wriggled into the weave of the cane couch where it may still be. The less clever one gave us a hilarious chase before Will caught him and gently put him outside.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

First day at Cassowary Cottage

Michele: Today we drove from Cairns to South Mission Beach and settled into the house at 38 Mitchell St. The house is grand, brightly colored and plenty big for us. The kitchen, living room and outside eating area have gorgeous views of the ocean and Dunk Island. Fish and Chips take away was a delightful way to start our stay in the house.

After a walk on the beach, we headed for the grocery store, Woolworths. Little did we realize that our timing was opportune as the store was closing in 40 minutes. Just enough time to grab food for several dinners, lunch etc The store is closed on Sundays so we would have been upset to have arrived later. We will need lots more time to go through the store because so many things were new to us. Just choosing cheese takes several minutes. In the end we chose tasty cheese.