Saturday, August 29, 2009

American birthday down under

Michele: Today we celebrated Robin's 9th birthday with 7 of her Aussie friends from school. All girls of course, 'cuz boys have cooties. Will was permitted to participate on an advisory level. The party was as all-American as we could muster.

In the pool they played 'Marco Polo', which in Australia goes by the name of 'Marco Polo'. They thought I was hysterical for introducing this new American game to them. After that, they played 'Fishy Fishy Cross my Ocean' which is has equivalent with a different name here. Aussie kids are trained early to relish in competitive sports (we think this is why Australia has by far more Olympic medals per capita than any other country) and the games went over quite well.

Lunch featured an America menu of:
  1. hot dogs with ketchup, which ended up being beef sausage with tomato sauce.
  2. potato chips
  3. home made chocolate chip cookies; Aussie speak -> biscuits
  4. cut up peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Aussie speak -> peanut butter and jam
  5. small blue berry sourdough pancakes rolled up with real Maple syrup
The kids were very dubious of the blue berry pancakes. Blue berries don't grow here and very few of the girls had tasted one. As for the Maple syrup, when I told them it came from the sap of Maple trees, several of them were certain we were certifiable. To their defense, blue berry pancakes can look quite unappetizing, but remember that this is a group who cherish vegemite! Why should lumpy blue food turn them off? After much prodding, I convinced one kid to give the pancakes a try. She reported that it tasted good and two others girl braved up enough to try one. That is as far as they went. Ah well, more for me! At one point I asked them "Would you rather have a peanut butter and jam sandwich or a vegemite sandwich?" We got three enthusiastic peanut butter and jam vote (but two of them were my kids) and we got 4 enthusiastic vegemite votes. I suspect the non-voters were being polite about their distaste for peanut butter.

After lunch we made puppy dogs out of balloons and a large birthday banner for Robin. Then we headed down to the beach for a sand castle contest. Three teams each had 20 minutes to make a castle with any materials found on the beach. I joined a team that was short and we made a grand fort with crenulations, towers and a door woven from palm fronds. The judges (Gavin, Lorna and Will) gave first prize to the sea turtle mom and baby pictured. Well sure it is creative but how are the turtles going to defend against invading marauders? Huh!

The girls played together v
ery well and had a great time. We ended the party with the traditional song, birthday cake and goodie bags.

The birthday song, goodie bags, cake are similar to aussie birthday parties. However after the song, they tend to give several hip-hip-hoorays to the birthday child. We just clapped. Another major difference is that here the birthday child opens the presents and thanks the party goer at the start of the party, when the guests arrive. We ended up doing things in a hybrid way as Robin opened presents in the middle of the party when she was bored while Gavin and I blew up balloons for making the puppy dogs. After several dud balloons and several popped balloons, we lucked out with just enough viable balloons to make one dog for each child. *whew* In an amazing coincidence, each child ended up with a different colored balloon.

The idea of opening presents at the start of the party is interesting. It gets all the thank yous done with. When the child opens the gift, they say thank you and then everyone runs off to join the party. No notes to be sent nor guilt over delays in sending notes to the party goers. I like it! I'm thinking that I may adopt Aussie birthday techniques into future birthday parties in America.

Robin: When we did the balloons mine popped,and how unfair is that!
I'm the birthday girl for goodness sakes!! Well, I suppose it wasn't that bad I still got a balloon dog, kinda well here's what I did:there was a only-body-and-legs dog and the one I made had only a head. We attached them together and Voila! Perfect...well sorta,Oh Well!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

More Critters at Lacey Creek

Michele: Yesterday we took a walk in the rainforest with the kids and the mums (Gavin's and mine) to Lacey Creek. Although it has been very dry here for the past month, the walk by the creek was absolutely delightful. The bird song in the forest is amazing. We saw sorts of house plants gone wild (will expand on this in a future post) as well as strangler figs, termite mounds, and lots of cassowary scat, some of it quite fresh looking. At one point along the trail they have markers next to about a dozen trees explaining how the cassowaries use each tree for food. It was a very well-planned display and the shed at this site hosted an amazingly large spider. Our spider book helped us narrow this down to a golden orb-weaver spider. Now I'm a spider admirer but I agree with Scott J. that no matter that they aren't poisonous, walking into one of their webs and having them crawling over you would be horrible.

The highlight of our walk was waiting at the parking area. A dad cassowary with at least one young were eating fruit fallen from a tree. When we approached, the chick ducked into
the woods. The chicks have rather plain speckled brown coloring to blend into the foliage. The dads do the parenting. The moms lay the eggs and then take off to pursue their careers, I mean pursue their pleasures. The dads sit on the eggs and raise the chicks until the next mating season. Now that we've learned all about cassowaries, I have a feeling that I will hear lots of cassowary analogies each time I travel to conferences.

In this photo you can also see the cassowary's feet. They have three toes with super-creepy sharp talons. Think raptor and you will know exactly what these look like. Cassowaries have been known to attack people with their talons though the last fatality was over a hundred years ago. Never the less, we stayed our distance.

We haven't yet visited a single wildlife sanctuary or zoo but already we've had fabulous chances to see lots of Australian wildlife in their habitat. While northern Queensland may not be a cultural mecca (Monica, the nearest Ikea is 1600 km away), I feel incredibly lucky to be spending time in this part of the world.


Gavin: After gathering many data points, I believe I'm ready to generate a hypothesis regarding the food here:

Australians have a huge sweet tooth. Yes, even bigger than Americans.

We made the mistake of buying "traditional" mayonnaise when we got here, before we realized that "traditional" means "sugar paste mixed with a little oil." We're buying the "whole egg mayonnaise" nowadays.

I'd have to take some measurements to work out what percentage of the local supermarket (Woolworths, aka "woolies") is dedicated to chocolate-covered biscuits and candy bars and ice cream (oh, helpful hint to New Englanders in Australia: the Mission Beach woolies hides the real maple syrup in amongst ice-cream toppings, NOT with the pancake mixes or any other place you'd expect to find it) and pavlova mixes, but it seems like half the floor space is taken up selling things where the main ingredient is 'sugar.'

Maybe it's something in the water; I was born here, and I've always had a pretty big sweet tooth. Maybe by the end of our stay I'll be guzzling "old-fashioned" soft drinks by the litre and eating Violet Crumbles by the handful.

I should do my part to support the local economy, right?
Despite an extended maintenance stop of 13.98 hours last Thursday, the factory crushed a very creditable 98,437 tonnes [of sugarcane last week].
-- Tully Sugar CEO John King, quoted in the 20 Aug Tully Times
I've already booked a dentist appointment for two days after we get back to Amherst...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Extrapolating from one data point

Michele: Are all Australian garlic presses wonky, or just ours? As we’ve settled in we’ve found ourselves bumping into this type of question again and again. Which of our limited experience could be representative of life in Australia? I’ve tried in this blog to be careful not to make sweeping generalizations about they way things are done down under. Afterall, things could be different the next town over. Actually, since we are in Mission Beach, I’m SURE they are different the next town over.

Wondering about all this reminds me of some conversations with my European friends back in graduate school. From their experiences in the SF bay area they would make generalizations for the US. For example, they would lament the lack of public transit in the United States. But I would counter; the east coast indeed has perfectly functional public transportation! On a geologic field trip to Utah my Dutch friends were convinced that all of the US outside of the SF bay area featured cuisine like that found in rural Utah. I recall often feeling the need to explain and defend what might be representative of the US. Despite my earnest explanations, I don’t think they ever really believed me.

Perhaps Australians would feel the need to defend some of the generalizations that I’m starting to make. The Aussie washing machines are constantly off-balance and the garlic presses only give 60% yield of garlic. Maybe the Bruce highway really has more than two lanes somewhere -- but I don’t believe it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Banana Festival

Michele: Yesterday was the Mission Beach State School’s annual Banana (bah-nah'-nah) Festival to raise money for the school. For weeks the Parent & Citizen committee has been working hard to plan this event. We’ve donated used books for the book sale and a bottle filled with marbles for the bottle stall. The festivities were quite impressive! BBQ, bar, massage, art projects, bounce house, performances of recorder, chorus groups and yoga. I didn’t realize that yoga was a spectator sport but at one point I heard the crowd cheer. I wonder what that was... Just as at the Tully Show, there was food-as-art contests – is this an Aussie thing?

I helped sell plants for an hour.Although I couldn’t answer any questions about the plants, I had a good time and was impressed with how much money the plant sale brings for the school. The event draws not just school parents but a lot of tourists who are in town this weekend. This was evidenced when I ran into a geologist, Klaus, who I had met at the SGA conference last week. He lives in Perth and was having a short holiday with his family after the meeting.

The highlight of the day for me was watching the Lolly Toss. Lolly = candy. The principal, Mr Robertson, climbs onto the roof of the school and throws candy down onto the squealing children gathered below. It was hysterical mayhem! Klaus and I agreed that they ought to have had a Lolly-Toss at the SGA conference.Something to consider for the SG&T business meeting at GSA in October….

Several of us are still sick and feverish (looks like I got it too) so we left before the fireworks and the cane toad racing.That would be a blog in of itself.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Neither a village nor a town: Townsville

Michele: So you are wondering 'Townsville'? Which clever Aussie came up with this name? Well it turns out that one of the founders of the city was a Mr. Town. Yup, you got it.

We found Townsville to be a mixed bag. On the one hand we really enjoyed many of its 'big city' features. Lots of diverse take away food and more than one shop to choose from when buying kids sneakers etc. Townsville has a delightful strand and the people, like all the Aussies we've met, are great. Our hotel was in the residential North Ward and, I kid you not, there were Frangipani trees in every yard. I guess the Townsvillians didn't get the memo about Frangipanis being out of fashion for Aussie gardens. Good on ya' Townsvillians! But in addition to all these great features there is a creepy side to Townsville too.

Creepy trees: All along the strand are these uber-creepy trees. The Curtain Fig trees have tentacles (ok they are really roots) that come down from the branches to the ground and then grow strong as trunks. They look straight out of middle-Earth as Megan would say. I kept expecting one to uproot itself and start speaking Entish. To get a nice photo, I tried to get Robin and Will to hide amongst the 'trunks' but they wouldn't go near the trees.

Creepy birds: Walking along the st
rand one night we heard eerie noises. A hollow whistling that grew intensity for 30 seconds until it sound like children screaming under torture. The sort of noise that makes you want to rip your hearing aids off. This noise was coming from, no kidding, 3 birds along the shore. These birds call at night to each other and I'm telling you that there is no mistaking this bird call for any other bird. I haven't had a chance to look up more information on this bird but I 'm sure Tim or uncle Larry will know it. Not, that I want to seek these birds out again.. *shudder* Robin says that she's heard some at South Mission Beach but I'm keeping my hearing aids off at night from now on.

Creepy sand flies: Well the sand flies themselves are not creepy -- they are minuscule and their bite stings. But what is creepy is that the welts from their bites linger and itch for frea
kin' days. I thought nothing was worse that Wisconsin mosquito bites -- I was wrong! Days later, poor Gavin still has ugly red welts from the bites of these tiny flies. The beach didn't have the sand flies but the pool area of our hotel was unbearable.

Creepy huge spider: The one in this photo is a sculpture hanging on wires over a street downtown BUT we saw two of these St. Andrew's Cross spiders in the female toilet on Magnetic Island. The ones we saw were about 10 centimeters across -- wikipedia says that the females are much larger than the males so I'm hoping the ones we saw in the female toilet were females. Otherwise, this one above the street might be life-sized. Their aerodynamic leg spacing is both beautiful and a little creepy.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sleeping Koalas

Michele: One of the highlights of our visit to Townsville was Tuesday's trip to Magnetic Island. I played hooky from the conference and we booked the auto ferry over and back for a day of hiking and snorkeling. Magnetic island is a few km from the coast and has wonderful granite boulders everywhere. Rock wallabies were scampering on the rocks near the dock. Having the car with us was a wonderful decision because Will was a bit feverish that day and this way we didn't have to worry about catching busses etc with a feverish child. Now you might be thinking, you had a feverish child and you are making him hike around in the heat etc! Well, yes we did.... but but we had an agenda, an important agenda, to see koalas in the wild.

Magnetic island hosts som
e great habitat for koalas. No predators for the them and lots of acacia tree leaves to eat. One of the guide books touts that on the Forts track you will nearly certainly see koalas. We consider ourselves a group with pretty good observational skills so we felt that this was as good as a guarantee. Even feverish Will was excited at the prospect of seeing trees abound with koalas. Well, it wasn't so much a long hike (only 4km) but it was one of those hikes that feels long.. uphill, dry, hot and accompanied by whining children. Fortunately, Gavin spotted the backside of a koala in a tree off the trail in time to prevent mutiny. That one was pretty far from the trail though and looked like a grey blob on a tree branch. Fear of the death vipers advertised at the trail head prevented any of us from wandering off trail to get a better view of that koala. So we continued on. Sure enough, just at the side of the road was another koala sleeping oh so photogenically in a tree. This koala was the most photographed koala in all of Queensland on Tuesday. This trail attracts a lot of koala-seekers so everyone on the trail was pretty excited to see this koala. It was amusing to see all the humans, who usually walk with eyes on the ground for obstacles, walking with eyes in the trees. Yes, I stubbed my foot a couple times.

Koalas sleep for 20 hours day because the nutrition from the Acacia leaves is so poor. They wake in the cool hours and eat then sleep through the hot day. As long as they stay in the trees, no predators can get them so they are adapted for clinging onto tree branches while asleep. Back in Amherst, we have a cat named Koala. She also sleeps all day and in some strange places. Here is a photo of her sleeping in our papers-that-need-filing box.

After the koala spotting we went for some snorkeling but by then Will was pretty tired. Robin and Gavin snorkeled some. On the ferry boat ride back to Townsville after dinner, Will did his best koala imitation clinging to dad and trying to sleep. And the next day, Gavin woke up with a fever....

Gettin' work done

Michele: Why the long hiatus in Cassowary Tales postings? I had a huge work crunch and this overlapped with a trip to Townsville for a presentation at the SGA 2009 meeting. SGA stands for the Society of Geology Applied to Mineral Deposits. Obvious, no? This is an international meeting that gathers every two years. This year's meeting was in Townsville just 2.5 hours drive from Mission Beach. I'm not an economic geologist but I figured 'Heck, I'll be in the neighborhood why not go?'. While getting my abstract ready 6 months ago I started realizing that ore deposits folks care a lot about fractures in rock, just as I do so it turns out that this match is no mismatch. My talk was well received and I'm looking forward to learning more about mezothermal gold deposits. If you are remotely curious about damage created adjacent to faults during earthquake rupture, you can see some of the movies of the models that Heather Savage and I made (

Since I'm blathering on a lot about work in this posting I figured I will share with you a photo of my office while down under. Desk and chair are borrowed from uncle Larry (thanks!!) the second monitor on the right I got for $10 at a garage sale one block over. I have my laptop and my new Dell Precision workstation that Tom Carpenter helped me load with Linux Ubuntu before I left. This is the same one the went to 38 Mitchell Street when we thought we lived there. I named my workstation Wongaling after the next town over. Over the past month, I've had Wongaling running lots of models for me. When they see the black monitor screen full of numbers the kids remark "Oh you are making the computer do things for you aren't you?". I've actually been working pretty hard since arriving here. While the kids have been at school I've been revising papers, running models and working on the technical program for the upcoming Geological Society of America meeting in Portland in October. Oh and blogging! :-)

Gavin's office is downstairs poolside. He definitely has the better view (see photo) but it comes at the price of hot sun in the mornings. We took a roll of brown craft paper and hung sheets over the windows as curtains. The kids have decorated the sheets to look nicer. Gavin has spent a lot of time figuring out logistical things like how to get an Aussie driver's license and how to get his Aussie passport renewed. His old passport is somewhere in our Amherst house, Doh! He has also started working on projects for the new Start Up he's involved in.

Tomorrow my mom and step dad, Phil arrive. On Tuesday, Gavin's mum arrives and we will be doing lots of holiday things with them for the next three weeks. Our Cassowary Tales postings will feature lots of classic far north Queensland activities... stay tuned!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Mostly Harmless

Gavin: My morning routine these days is to help get the kids ready for school, put them on the school bus, and then go for a run on the beach. Well, more of a jog, really. Ok, I don't actually spend the whole time jogging, I usually get distracted by a pretty shell or interesting critter washed up on the shore.

So maybe it'd be more accurate to say that I beachcomb strenuously.

Anyway, this morning I ran to where Wongaling Creek enters the ocean, where I found this interesting critter:

I had no idea sting rays would or could swim up freshwater creeks. And maybe they're not supposed to; this one was dead.

Maybe it didn't hear about what happened to Steve Irwin, and was Crocodile Hunter Hunting; there are, after all, crocodiles in Wongaling Creek:

I've been browsing through Wildlife of Tropical North Queensland, and most of the wildlife here is harmless. True, page 6 has a wonderful picture of the Box Jellyfish, which can kill you, the Snakes section is pretty alarming, and the entry on the Estuarine Crocodile says "adults rarely exceed 5m (16feet)." Oh, good, they only RARELY grow to be longer than a Hummer!

If you focus on one little thing it's easy to lose perspective. The reality is that horses, cows, and dogs kill more Australians every year than sharks, crocodiles and jellyfish. And way more people are killed every year in car crashes.

So we're going to obey the speed limit and wear our seatbelts. We'll stop swimming in the ocean in October, when the jellyfish really get going, won't go swimming in random creeks or rivers, and will stay well away from any snakes (it's pretty darn unlikely we'll run into the world's deadliest snake).

And we'll keep enjoying all of the rest of the wonderful, beautiful, mostly harmless creatures that live here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

South Mission Beach Accomodations

Michele: In one week, we will have house guests so I thought I would provide a brief overview of accommodations for anyone planning, thinking or dreaming of visiting. Our house is in a residential part of Mission Beach but just up the street is a upscale resort called The Elandra. No, not The Elandra Hotel or Elandra near the Sea but The Elandra. There is a posh looking sign for The Elandra at the turn off for South Mission Beach -- as if aside from The Elandra there might not be any reason to go to South Mission Beach.

A while back, Gavin and I walked up to see what the hoopla was all about. After two blocks the residential part of our street ends and the street climbs up a hill through the rain forest. There are a few more houses near the top of the hill -- houses with names, those sort of houses. Then a ways farther starts the grand entrance of The Elandra with stone walls, palms in perfect alignment and notable lack of cassowary scat on the road. It was the sort of road that made it clear that no one arrives at The Elandra on foot... well except us. So we walk down the entrance road past the parking area and into the front lobby.

This is where our American accents can really come in handy. We explain that we are checking the place out for prospective visitors and could they share with us some promotional materials. They gave us a pamphlet that touted the features of The Elandra, the pool, dining views and secluded villas. All for the low, low price of $500 per night. We tried to coolly explore the common areas of the resort but Gavin and I were chuckling too much over the cost to really pull it off.

So on the one hand there is The Elandra and on the other hand there is our guest room. At our guest room you can enjoy ocean views while dining indoors or al fresco on our covered terrace. The pool is open at all hours to guests. Alternative accommodation consisting of bunk beds are in the poolside lounge area with en suite bathroom. Exercise facilities include the nearby beach, tracks and a choice of bicycles. Nightly entertainment includes whatever is on Australian free TV.

Cost to you? Free!
So now that we are done with the settling in phase of our adventures we are ready for the hosting phase. All you've got to do is get here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

"So you are here on holiday."

Michele: This is the typical greeting that we get in shops once they hear our American accents. Mission Beach is a tourist mecca, but in a not so bad way. The Lonely Planet says of Mission Beach:
"This area has to be one of the most stunning and relaxed places of the whole of North Queensland."
Mission beach is off of the main Highway so this keeps some tourists away and it doesn't have the night life and accomodation choices of Cairns. Most of the tourists I notice are caravaners parked along the beaches and backpackers waiting at the bus stop, which hosts a Cassowary statute of typical Australian tourist statue size. This time of year is also the height of the tourist season as schools in the other states have been on term break and the weather here is not yet hot. Our neighbors who run the local sea kayaking company have been amazingly busy. I can see why the shop keepers make the assumption that with an American accent I must be breezing through on a 10-day Tour D'Australia. Probably I also still have a slightly mystified look on my face every time I go into a shop and try to find the items I seek. So I find it amusing that the bike shop owner in Tully has three times asked me where I'm from and wished me a good holiday.

However, we recently discovered a means of bypassing the "So you are here on holiday." conversation and jumping right to the "Welcome to Mission Beach" conversation. No, I didn't assume an aussie accent- my aussie-speak is atrocious. The solution? Kids in school uniform. Gavin and I picked the kids up from school one day to get set up with public library cards. When I phoned beforehand, I learned that the library has a policy of charging $50 if you don't have two forms of ID with your Mission Beach area address. Well, it turns out that if you show up with uniformed children, they don't get quite so fussy. After the library we tried our new trick out at the bakery. Sure enough, with uniformed kids in tow the baker was chatty and welcomed us and inquired into all sorts of personal details. Very different discourse than when I bought a lemon slice the previous day.

The tricky part of the "So you are here on holiday." conversation is how to respond. My favorite response so far is "This is a beautiful place to live, don't you think?"

Monday, August 10, 2009

Frangipani Fascination

Michele: One of the trees in our font garden is a Frangipani. I was immediately fascinated in this tree because it is only deciduous tree around and the only leafless tree that I've seen in northern Queensland. Even more peculiar is that this bare tree is producing clumps of beautiful Frangipani blossoms. Sure, I've seen the Frangipani leis on TV... whatever, was my reaction -- but in person I am completely charmed. The flowers have a captivating three-dimensional shape and lovely subtle variation in color. The petals overlap in a pleasing 5-fold symmetry and grandly flare outward from the stem. The heady scent is not nearly as sickly sweet as when bottled.

Our tree drops a blossom every night. I read on wikipedia that the night is when the Frangipani scent is strongest. The flowers attract moths who think they may be fruit and then the moth carries pollen from flower to flower.
The tree is originally from central and south America, so how did it get an Italian name? The scent of the Frangipani resembles the scent that a Mr Frangipani of 16th century Italy used on leather gloves. What a strange story to this strange tree!

According to an Australia horticulture site, having Frangipanis in the garden is a bit out of fashion. I imagine this is something like having azaleas in northeast
US gardens -- been there, done that. Well passe or not, I'm still fascinated that this huge bare tree produces clumps of flowers and drops one daily. Each morning, I pick up a flower when I take the kids to the bus stop and add it to a cup in the kitchen. A small zen moment in my morning.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Everything except quidditch

Friday was the Mission Beach State School's athletics carnival. Wow! Where to start... The carnival is a day devoted to sporting events -- no classes. The three houses compete with each other for points throughout the day. Oh wait, I have to explain houses.

The students each belong to one of three houses. Sheryl's (very nice administrator) computer, which I will refer to as the sorting hat, chooses each student's house. Students of the same family all belong to the same house. Upon admittance, Robin and Will were determined by the sorting hat to be in Beaver house. The three houses are Beaver, Otter and Taylor, named after three nearby cays on the Great Barrier Reef. Beaver is light blue, Otter is yellow and Taylor is red. Each child purchases a house shirt with house distinct fish/plant emblem (see photo). Students are permitted to wear their house shirts for PE days and for the various sports carnivals.

Friday began with a grand parade and chanting of house cheers. The Beaver house cheer goes something like
We are the house of the blue triangle, every team we meet we mangle!
Cute, eh?! For the athletic carnival, all students were asked to come to school barefoot - no shoes for the events. It went against every grain in my US east-coast raised nature to send my kids to the bus stop without shoes this morning. Robin and Will both delighted in going to school unshod.

The day included sprints, high jump, long jump, shot putt, tug of war, ball games and relays. Of course there were breaks for the two lunches. Lunches were eaten under the appropriately colored house tents erected for the occasion. For many of the events, good performance was rewarded with points to the student's house. "Beaver, 2 points!" The teachers, of course, also belong to houses. I think the principal's affiliation with Taylor house may have skewed his objective assessment of Beaver points. Dumbledore always did like Griffendor best! Robin and Will were very proud of scoring many points for Beaver on the shot putt and long jump. Will did well in the sprints and earned a ribbon for the third place finish of his house in the ball games. Oh wait, there were only three houses. Ribbons for everyone!

The end of the day involved awards to houses and individuals and some more cheering for each house, led by the house leaders. Some students showed their school pride with body paint and hair spray in the colors of their house. Beaver house had the loudest and most creative cheers. Besides the cheer with the triangle (we don't know why triangle) they composed the following cheer:
leaders: Rah, Rah, hit them with a car
response: Rah Rah, hit them with a car

leaders: Rah, Rah, hit them with a bra
response: Rah, Rah, hit them with a bra
leaders: Rah, Rah, drag them to a spa
response: Rah, Rah, drag them to a spa
all: go Beavers!
I reminded my kids that in our country rah, bra and car don't actually rhyme. Another cheer is:
Hit 'em to the left, Hit 'em to the right
We all train on vegemite
Gives us strength, give us might
C'mon Beavers, fight fight fight!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wildwood Elementary vs Mission Beach State school 3 weeks in

Robin: I like Wildwood better than Mission Beach because all my friends are at Wildwood and because I'm more used to Wildwood and it has all my favorite teachers.

Will: I like Mission Beach more than Wildwood, not because of my friends. I like Mission Beach more because there are more activities and less work. At Mission Beach we always get a second recess.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I want to ride my bicycle

Michele: Yesterday Gavin bought 4 shiny new bikes from the nearest Kmart 70 km away in Innisfail. Woot! We have been looking for three weeks to find used bikes but didn't have luck. The fellow who rents bikes to tourists recommended that we just buy cheap bikes and if they are in good shape he might buy them from us. A brilliant solution.

Gavin valiantly put the bikes together and with the help of our neighbor's compressor to pump up the tires, we are now spinning around the neighborhood. To be honest, they are still Kmart bikes so there is a fair bit of rattling going on the spinning, but ah well. They are bikes and with them we can soar.

Today, Gavin and I rode to Wongaling for lunch. It turns out that not much is open in Wongaling for lunch but we found an overpriced Greek place that had very good food. With tummies full of souvlaki and calamari we set out to ride back home on the beach. The fine sand and silt are packed so that at low tide, your can ride along the beach.
Yes, I know that sand and salt water are just about the worst things to expose your bike to --- but it is fun! At low tide, you can ride all the way from Wongaling to South Mission Beach on the beach because the creek between the towns fans out along the sand. The ocean waves and views of Dunk Island were amazing companions for our ride home. The head wind and tightly pumped tires on sand were not! Note to self: it takes twice as long to get home upwind along the beach than it does to get there along the roads. Second note to self: get gel cover for cheap Kmart bike seat.

After our nice workout, we were looking forward to sharing the joy of beach biking with the kids. They were so excited that before I had the chance to finish the sentence "Stay away from the water and be careful not to turn on the loose gravel" guess what happened? Will turned on the loose gravel and went down. Falling on the beach is usually not a big deal but somehow his toenail got bent back and this has convinced Will that beach biking is the worst idea ever... for now. Robin has a different outlook and is already planning to see if she can ride all the way to Cairns on the beach.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Fan Palm rainforest

Michele: When we were scouting places to live in Queensland, a couple things caught our attention about Mission Beach. The first was... well.. the beach! The second is that the hills behind the town are all part of a world heritage rain forest with some really nice walking tracks. A fortnight ago, we had the opportunity to walk through the fan palm rain forest in the Licuala State Forest. Licuala refers to the fan palm that is abundant here. The fan palms only grow in some areas and the cassowary really like the fruit. When a cyclone hits, the fan palms close their leaves so they are one of the few trees that weren't heavily damaged by cyclone Larry in 2006. The eye of that cyclone made landfall at Innisfail ~50 km north of Mission beach and we are told that the devastation in this area was vast. We saw photos of the damage at uncle Larry's house in Babinda. Yes, cyclone Larry hit Larry's place, but he was out of the country at the time.

On our peaceful walk in the Licuala state forest we saw trees with buttresses at the base of their trunks. The informational sign said that the buttresses catch debris, which enhances the otherwise poor soil. I never realized that tropical soil would be poor. I always figured with all the litter, the soil would be rich. We saw lots of ferns and other plants growing half way up the palms. There are more photos of the forest on my facebook page.

Robin: I saw a strangler strangling a tree. Like in this picture. It looks like you could climb up the tree with ease. And the strangler fig went all the way up the tree! I learned that the strangler strangles the tree and it makes the tree inside rot and the tree that is being strangled eventually collapses and the strangler stands on its own.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A Social Couple of Days

Michele: After a week of working from home and feeling a bit isolated, we had three days with lots of socializing. On Friday, Gavin and I volunteered for the school's Tabloid Sports day. From 9 am to 12:30 we played games with the kids in years prep-3. Our game station was a bit complicated and my American accent seemed to confound some of the young ones. Will and Robin really liked having us at school and I enjoyed meeting their friends. It was wonderful to see Robin and her friend Hazel chattering away. Meanwhile, Will and his friend Oliver both sat side by side quietly awaiting instructions. They were easily the calmest 7 year-olds in the entire school.

At 10:00 the whole school has 'little lunch'. This seems to be more than a snack and like a light lunch. They have a recess after this and then back to classes until the 'big lunch' at 12:30, which is also followed by another recess. Many of the adults brought along 'little lunches' to eat with the kids. I'm still a little confused about all the lunches. The tuck shop (for buying lunches) is open Wed-Fri but Robin and Will are still a bit shy about buying lunch. I'm still sorting out what half the items are. Lavash? Pikelet? By 12:30 on Friday Gavin and I were worn out and looking forward to the peace and quiet of working in our house for the rest of the day.

Saturday we had a delightful day visiting Uncle Larry and Aunt Coreen in Babinda. Gavin's cousin Melissa and her husband Jim were there from Mareeba too. I was thrilled to finally meet Melissa and get the chance to know both her and Coreen. When Gavin and I were married the groom's side of the church was pretty empty. His mum was his only family there because all the rest are all in Australia. Saturday's gathering was very special to us -- a comfortable Andresen family get together. I'm looking forward to more such gatherings over the coming months and when Lorna visits.

I gave Melissa and Coreen some wicked heavy pots that I made -- thank goodness they survived the journey. Maybe making thick pots has an advantage.... Although we brought along a camera, we were enjoying ourselves so much that we forgot to take pictures! Larry's garden hosts amazing bromeliads, orchids, lime trees, five-point fruit tree, vegetables, bananas and even a pond with coi. The highlight of the yard is uncle Larry's aviary with baby budgies, quail and cockatoos. After a wonderful lunch of BBQ and salads we chatted on the terrace for hours watching the view of the mists on the mountains. Wow, what a day! I promise to actually take photos next time.

Today, Sunday, was quieter for Gavin and I but the kids' social life is picking up. Robin had a playdate with Hazel this afternoon and Will is booked for a play tomorrow after school. This puts me at ease a bit as they will adjust much better to school once they have friends that they can relax with.

After a couple days of socializing, I'm refreshed and looking forward to working on some papers this week. Deadlines are approaching so I will be working hard for a while.