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.