Monday, August 29, 2011

Weekend Walkabout

As our friends and family on the East Coast were recovering from an earthquake and battening down for Hurricane Irene, Drew and I were experiencing an almost-spring weekend in Canberra.  After tracking Irene's progress and making sure that Ocracoke, our favorite North Carolina island, had survived, we were ready to enjoy the warm weather.

First up was drinks at Tilley's Devine Cafe on Friday evening with some of Drew's co-workers.  Tilley's is a Canberra hotspot and by the time we got there at 5:45pm, the place was hopping.  It brought to mind a jazz club, with it's wooden decor, plush red carpets and blaring blues music.  Another cute touch were the pink heart-shaped Post-it notes at each reserved table.  I later found out that the pub is named after Matilda "Tilley" Devine, a notorious brothel owner and gangster from early 1900s Sydney.  Matilda also ran several "sly-grogs," the Aussie equivalent of a speakeasy.  However, my favorite factoid about Tilley's Devine Cafe is that when it opened in the 1980s, it quickly became famous for the fact that the proprietor would not allow men in unless they had a woman in their party. "I just didn't want a roomful of blokes," said owner Paulie Higgisson with the presumption that having a woman around would "modify their behaviour."

The entrance to Tilley's Devine Cafe. Love the Art Deco design on the window!
(photo from Tilley's website.)

On Saturday, we went chair shopping.  One of Drew's work mates gave us an old dining room table awhile back and we've been on the lookout for chairs to go with it.  Our local Salvation Army store had 4 wooden chairs for sale that were well within our budget.  I actually bargained for them, which if you know me, you'll understand is quite a feat.  Originally, they were asking for $80 for the chairs and I managed to knock it down to $50.  The 4 chairs are in bad need of refinishing/painting so I didn't feel bad about bargaining the price down. After we lugged our furniture home (only 3 blocks), we felt that we deserved a treat so we headed to a local bakery.  Most of the neighborhood shops in Canberra have at least one bakery and we've fallen in love with this token of European culture.  The bakeries all contain a delightful mix of savory and sweet treats, all very affordably priced. Drew particularly loves the meat pies.

Bake case at a Kingston bakery.  Yumm. (Click on photo for larger image and prepare to drool.)

Sunday found us up bright and early.  A friend had recommended that we visit "Trash & Treasure," a weekly community yard sale about 2 miles from our apartment that runs on Sundays from 6am-1pm.  After a 40 minute walk, during which we argued over the merits of getting up early, we arrived at the event.

And, well, hmm.

I can only say that I lost the argument because we found a rather lot of trash and not much treasure.  Most booths had a disturbing mix of merchandise that either looked as it fell off of a Walmart truck or was unearthed from someone's basement.  We did see some entertaining booths though, such as the gentleman selling autographed photos of 80's movie stars and the lady selling chickens.  There were also a few local farmers selling produce, honey, and olive oil.  There were an awful lot of people milling about, so I assume that we saw it on an "off" weekend and that there is usually more treasure to be found.  If nothing else, we found a great place to buy produce!

Saw this sign on our way back from the community yard sale

By Sunday afternoon, we were tuckered out and ready to curl up with our books and tea.  We spent the remainder of the evening checking on friends and family that were in the path of Hurricane Irene.  A quick look at Facebook told us that our college campus, Willliam & Mary, hadn't sustained much damage.  Far less than when Hurricane Isabel swept through when we were in college and felled enough trees to cancel classes for two weeks.  That brings back fond memories of hurrication during which Andrew went on a climbing trip with our friend Ian (neither of whom I had met yet) and I spent some quality time with my roomies and died my hair an unfortunate shade of orange.  But that's a story for another day...

Hope you had a fabulous weekend, too!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It's National Science Week!

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation's (CSIRO)
Ecosystem Sciences building where Andrew works
It's National Science Week here in Australia.  Being the nerds that we are, Andrew and I are ridiculously excited about this.  All week long, there are lectures and workshops that cover a wide range of topics, from Diseases Under the Microscope to Armchair Space Explorers, from Cloning the Tasmanian Tiger to How Science Can Help Write Your Book.  The topics are all aimed at a general audience and there are also a large number of activities devoted to kids.  Over 1000 events will occur all over Australia between August 13-20.  In Canberra, several of the lectures take place at CSIRO, where Drew works.

We picked up a program of activities this past weekend while at the Botanic Gardens and have been circling the lectures that catch our interest.  That hardest part is deciding which events to attend since there are multiple activities for each time slot.  Here are a few that we're thinking about attending:

The Skull Beneath the Skin: The Anatomical Art of Facial Reconstruction
Dr Susan Hayes, School of Anatomy and Human Biology, University of Western Australia discusses the intricate ways flesh and bones connect and combine to create unique individuals.

Witch-hunters, Injustice and Superstition - How science and scepticism will benefit Africa
Leo Igwe from the International Humanist and Ethical Union, will talk about how science and scepticism has been used to challenge irrational beliefs systems that have resulted in children being killed for being witches. He will also discuss the consequences of challenging such beliefs in Africa and the role science and critical thinking can play in Africa’s future.

Cafe Scientifique - Sustainable Energy for the Future: Nuclear or Not
How can Australia best ensure its future energy supply for an increasingly demanding society?  Hear experts on nuclear, solar and wind energy along with other renewable energy solutions give their varying views.  Come to this French cafe-style debate with finger food and wine, and ask questions or give your own point of view.  (Definitely want to go to this one!  Sponsored by the Alliance Francaise, this event comes with wineneed I say more??)

New Perspectives on Old Giant Forests
The Mountain Ash forests of Victoria are some of the most spectacular on earth, with old growth trees exceeding 90 metres in height (that's almost 300 feet!).  These forests are also critical for biodiversity conservation, water production and carbon storage.

Mandy petting dinosaurs

Lest you think that Science Week is all highfaluting lectures, there are also dinosaurs involved, like the one above.  As part of Science Week, you can download an app for your phone and "discover" dinosaurs in key places around town.  When you're in the vicinity of a dinosaur, it will appear in your phone camera's field of view.  It's not the best technology so the dinosaur appears to be just floating in the air next to me.  Still fun though, and educational since I learned that the Stegosaurus had a brain the size of a walnut.

I think it's great that Australia is celebrating science and involving the community.  I've heard announcements for Science Week on the radio station and we saw a whole group of face-painted  teens coming from one of the Saturday workshops.  As Bill Nye says, "Science Rules!"

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Show Me the Money

When we first arrived in Australia, we carried cash on a daily basis. Now, we have Aussie credit cards and bus passes and the need for cash has somewhat dimmed. I still get excited, though, when I have to get money out of the ATM. It's so colorful! Not pictured above is the $100 dollar bill which is a lovely green color, or colour as it is spelled here.

One of the first things I noticed about the bills, other than their vibrancy, is that they are different sizes. You can sort of tell from the picture above that they increase in length based on their denomination. Definitely different from American dollars. And yes, the bills are called dollars. Since we've been here, the Aussie dollar has been very strong. To our detriment, actually, because we lost money when we converted our American money to Aussie money.

The money has a whole slew of new historical figures for us to learn.  According to the Australian government's currency website,
The $100 note features world-renowned soprano Dame Nellie Melba (1861–1931), and the distinguished soldier, engineer and administrator General Sir John Monash (1865–1931).

The $50 note features Aboriginal writer and inventor David Unaipon (1872–1967), and Australia’s first female parliamentarian, Edith Cowan (1861–1932).

The $20 note features the founder of the world’s first aerial medical service (the Royal Flying Doctor Service), the Reverend John Flynn (1880–1951), and Mary Reibey (1777–1855), who arrived in Australia as a convict in 1792 and went on to become a successful shipping magnate and philanthropist.

The $10 note features the poets AB ‘Banjo’ Paterson (1864–1941) and Dame Mary Gilmore (1865–1962). This note incorporates micro-printed excerpts of Paterson’s and Gilmore’s work.

The $5 note features Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Parliament House in Canberra, the national capital.
I just love that they include an equal number of women on their bills!

From l to r: 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, 1 dollar, 2 dollar.  Coins are almost but not quite to scale.

Australian coins also differ quite a lot from American coins.  There are no pennies here.  $1 and $2 coins are very common.  All of the coins have a picture of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the front.  The reverse side of most of the coins have native animals depicted on them.  Here is the Australian government's website's description of the coin designs:

The 5 cent coin depicts an echidna, or spiny anteater, one of only two egg-laying mammals in the world.

The 10 cent coin features a male lyrebird dancing. A clever mimic, the lyrebird inhabits the dense, damp forests of Australia’s eastern coast.

The 20 cent coin carries a platypus, the world’s only other egg-laying mammal. It has webbed feet and a duck-like bill that it uses to hunt for food along the bottom of streams and rivers.

The 50 cent coin carries Australia’s coat of arms: the six state badges on a central shield supported by a kangaroo and an emu, with a background of Mitchell grass.

The $1 coin, which replaced the $1 note in 1984, depicts five kangaroos. The standard $1 design, along with the 50, 20, 10 and 5 cent designs, was created by the Queen’s official jeweller, Stuart Devlin.

The $2 coin, which replaced the two dollar note in 1988, depicts an Aboriginal tribal elder set against a background of the Southern Cross constellation and native grasstrees.

That's all for today's numismatic lesson.  If you made it all the way through, we're impressed!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Trip to the Grocery Store

When you're in a foreign country, sometimes something as simple as a trip to the grocery store can be fun. On our last trip, I snapped these pictures so you could see what's different in an Australian grocery store.

Eggs aren't refrigerated.  Isn't that crazy?  They just sit on the shelf, next to the bread.  Oh, and the eggs are all brown.  I haven't seen any white ones yet.  Most of the eggs that I've seen are from cage-free chickens.  In one store, there were big signs all around a display of eggs that warned that those eggs were from caged hens.  Since we're big proponents of buying happy chickens and eggs (and happy cow milk), it's nice to know that things are well labeled here.


Towering displays of Vegemite, Tim Tams, and Weet-Bix.  I have not tried any of these things yet but I'm sure I will at some point.  Vegemite is a dark brown substance made from yeast.  It doesn't look terribly appetizing but several people slathered it on their bread for breakfast at the hostel that we stayed at during our first two weeks here. Tim Tams are cookies that I hear are very yummy. Weet-Bix are the Australian equivalent of Wheaties, complete with their own athlete testimonials.

Kangaroo meat can be found in most grocery stores. This photo is a little blurry because I felt silly taking a picture of this in front of the deli guys. Right now, kangaroos are still novel and cute to me so I am kind of rebelling against eating them.  However, Andrew's philosophy is that you always have to eat the native herbivore so I'm sure we'll grill up kangaroo steaks at least once while we're here.

From l to r: roe-on scallops, baby octopus, whole calamari, calamari tubes, cuttlefish

In our neck of town, the grocery stores are located in the mall. Right next to the clothing stores, Target, and the Ugg boots stand (yes, people do actually wear those here). The first couple of times that we went to the mall, I was a little grossed out by the smell of the fresh meat and seafood stands. Who wants to shop for clothes while smelling dead fish? But, I've mostly gotten used to it by now.

Of course, we've also learned quite a bit of new food vocabulary since we arrived, such as:
  • capsicum = bell pepper
  • sodium bicarbonate = baking soda
  • American mustard = yellow mustard
  • prawns = shrimp
  • sultanas = raisins
  • biscuits = cookies
  • crisps = chips
  • tomato sauce or sometimes just "sauce" = ketchup

Hope you enjoyed this trip to the grocery store!  I'm going to go make myself a snack now...

Friday, August 5, 2011

Zam I Am

Luckily, we don't have to translate things here.  Everyone speaks English. However, some things are lost not in translation but in, shall we say, accent. Case in point...

We've been going out to a pub and then dins (Aussie for dinner) with friends every Friday night. All of them are Australians who we've met through Drew's job. On the first night, everyone introduced themselves and I could have sworn that one guy said his name was Zam. I even asked him to repeat it and commented, "Zam, that's a cool name." The whole group started laughing, much to my confusion. Apparently, his name was SAM. They asked me how I would pronounce Sam and then proceeded to make fun of my American accent, attempting to talk in exaggerated drawls. It was all in good fun but still, so embarrassing!

In light of that, I thought I would share a recent article from The New Yorker about American accents and how we are supposedly butchering the English language. (A shout out to our friends Steph and Peter who will definitely enjoy the article!)

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

One Year Ago

Looking down on Machu Picchu in Peru

A year ago we were in Peru, and now we're in Australia. Being a soil biologist (and being married to one) does have its perks.

We've been having lovely weather in Canberra, even though it is winter here.  The temperature has been in the high 60s for the last couple of days (18 Celsius on my thermometer).  This means lots of walks and just generally soaking up the sunshine.  Apparently, it's not usually this warm during July so we're enjoying it while it lasts.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Our first package!

We got our first package this week - yay!  Andrew's parents sent us some bath and hand towels for the house.  Since we're basically starting over from scratch, these were much needed and much appreciated.

I learned my first lesson about Aussie mail though.  They don't deliver packages to your addressat least not in our neighborhood.  Instead, they put a "You've got a package" slip in your mailbox and you have to bring that to the post office to collect your package.  Not a big deal since the post office is only about 4 blocks from our apartment.  Once there, I showed my ID, collected my package, and enjoyed the sunny walk home.  Still, it's a bit different from Boulder where I was on a first name basis with one of the post office guys.  Don, I miss you, man, and your awesome customer service.

Fingers crossed that we get enough packages for me to be on a first name basis with the post office ladies here.  :-)