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....