Guest blog – He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich

[Hey folks – here’s another guest blog, this time from Lisa’s friend and colleague, Dr. John Budd, who has been visiting from Missouri, USA. We’ve used his trip as an excuse to visit some of our favourite haunts and to explore a bit, too. Enjoy!]

Here I am in Australia—or Oz, as the natives call it. I’m now accustomed to being upside down, so my equilibrium is as effective as it ever was. The trip (the lllooonnggg trip) started from St. Louis, but the Los Angeles to Sydney leg was the brutal one. As we crossed the International Date Line the Qantas crew revealed their brand new uniforms, to thunderous acclaim (among those of us who were awake). Actually, Qantas did a fine job all along the way.

Nice new uniforms for the crew!

Nice new uniforms for the crew!

The first stop was Adelaide, where I was officially hosted by the University of South Australia (UniSA), but really hosted by Diane and Rich Velasquez. And fine hosts they were. They took me, first, to the Cleland Reserve where I had the opportunity to feed kangaroos and wallabies by hand. Precocious little critters they were, too, coming right up to me to get the food. We also saw koalas and a couple of Tasmanian devils. Funny, they didn’t look at all like the animals that go after Bugs Bunny. We next took a tour of the Barossa wine region—a lovely setting where there are literally hundreds of wine growers and a number of wineries. We agreed that a boutique winery—Gibson—had our favorite wines. The last stop was Seppelts, which specializes in tawny (or port). I’d never tried port before, but theirs is a very smooth and tasty concoction.

Are Tassie Devils cute?

Are Tassie Devils cute?

On to Sydney next for a few days, on my own, at a great place, Sebel Pier One Hotel, right at Dawes Point on the bay. I had time to take in the Aquarium and Taronga Zoo, which is gorgeously situated. A treat was taking the Harbor Ferry from Circular Quay to get to the Zoo. That afforded a perfect view of the Opera House and the ANZAC Bridge. Plus, I took time to wander around the Sydney Central Business District (Australian for “downtown”). It was a genuinely pleasant get-away, and an interlude between the two major stops.

Wagga CBD - where you can shop till you drop (or until everything closes early, most days)

Wagga CBD – where you can shop till you drop (or until everything closes early; except late shopping night, on Thursdays)

Next, to Wagga Wagga (called, simply, Wagga), Charles Sturt University, and visiting Lisa and Dan Given. I learned first-hand that Dan is a superior cook—very creative, and managing to make dishes that are actually healthy. I’m considering hiring him as my personal chef, but I don’t think I can afford him. You can see from Lisa’s last blog post that we went on a mission to stalk the wild koala. Check out Dan’s photos; we really did see koalas in the wild (plus cockatoos and a kookaburra). Lisa has been kind enough to show me around downtown Wagga, which reminds me a bit of Midwestern downtowns. The people are super friendly. I managed to give my Smithsonian ball cap to a shop person where Lisa was shopping, so she declared Lisa a “special customer” and reduced the price of her purchase. BTW, Lisa also got some shoes to die for; if you’re lucky, you may see them some day.

Yipes - is that what people in Tumbarumba look like? Hope not...

Yipes – is this what people in Tumbarumba look like? Hope not…

Kim Thompson drove us to Tumbarumba (which I can’t help but call Chumbawamba), and we saw Paddy’s River Falls, which was a real treat. And then we traveled on to Paddy’s River Dam, and were reminded that an Australian “dam” is really a pond, not a structure controlling water flow. But there was a nice trail around it. After the Tumbarumba Shire (yes, Shire), we entered to Tumut Shire and wandered around there. Kim was a real sport driving us all over the territory.

I’ve also been busy with work the past two weeks. I’ve been meeting with doctoral students and holding one-on-one meetings with students and faculty. I really enjoy making these kinds of connections, so I’ve looked forward to meeting everyone and sharing my (ahem) expertise. I did a scary scholarly communication presentation on the 13th  that had people quaking in their boots (or at least their “thongs,” which Australians call flip-flops).

Gee, who would want to miss all this?

Gee, who would want to miss all this?

Everything has been a genuine pleasure—especially staying with Diane and Rich and with Lisa and Dan. They’re the most gracious and generous hosts anyone could imagine. I’ll be returning home on Jan. 15, which will give me time to re-acquaint myself with my wonderful cat, Bitsy, do some laundry, and then prepare for the ALISE and ALA Midwinter Meetings in Philadelphia. While the temperature has been mostly ideal here (usually in the 80s F), I’m missing (but not much) lows in Columbia approaching -20 F. Alas, I’ll be back into frigid winter soon, but no one can take this great trip away from me. If you have the chance, travel Down Under; you definitely won’t regret it.

Posted in cultural differences, Riverina, small town culture, visitors, wagga wagga, wildlife | Leave a comment

I can see you sitting there with your silent smile

Well, it’s a new year folks – welcome to 2014! And with that comes the realisation that we’ve been a bit lax in keeping you posted on our adventures down under over the past year. In truth, this is partly due to the fact that we now actually “live” here; so, our days are taken up with more work around the garden (and at the office) and with fewer excursions. That said, life is always an adventure, so we’ll do our best to write a little more in 2014. What? That’s sounding very much like a resolution… and we know how those turn out, typically. Ah well, we’ll give it a go.

Narrandera is home of the koala reserve; not too far from home!

Narrandera is home to a koala reserve; not too far from our home!

Let’s start with our latest adventure, where we spent the last day of December 2013 on a koala hunt! No, this did not involve any guns or camo; we were armed only with our cameras, sunblock and bug spray, as we traveled to a Koala Reserve not too far away from home to see if we could catch our first glimpse of a koala in the wild. This wasn’t our first attempt at viewing the koalas at Narrandera; we tried – unsuccessfully – a year or so ago, but the flooded areas of the reserve meant that there were no koalas to be seen. And despite our desire to join the annual koala counts at the reserve, these were cancelled the first two years we were here (again, due to flood conditions) and then held in 2013 while we were back in Canada (sigh!). However, after hearing some stories from friends of their successful koala spotting recently (thanks Joy and Denise!), we decided to hit the road to see if we could get lucky. We packed a picnic lunch and jumped in the car, along with one of Lisa’s PhD students and a friend/colleague visiting from the US. What better way to spend part of New Year’s Eve day?

notbearNow, before we continue this tale, there are some key facts that we need to share with you about koalas. First, they are NOT koala “bears.” Despite the common use of this term (yes, even Paul McCartney got it wrong in his little ode to koalas) these animals are not bears. They are not related to bears, they don’t look like bears, and they won’t kill you like a bear will (well, they may kill you… but not in the same way that real bears kill you). They do hang in trees, but they don’t drop from the trees on unsuspecting tourists.

Second, koalas are a “vulnerable” species (although some say they should now be classed as critically endangered). Their habitat is shrinking and they do fall victim to bushfires, dog attacks and cars. Koalas spend most of the day (18-20 hours) sleeping in one of their favourite types of trees, the River Red Gum; this tree (and a few other select eucalypts) serves as their only source of nutrition. They also get 90% of their water from the leaves of this tree, rather than from drinking water directly, which explains why they are named after an ancient Aboriginal word meaning “no water.” Koala habitats are quite limited, so finding these animals in the wild is a bit of a challenge – especially around Wagga.

Once in Narrandera, our spirits were high; Joy and Denise had reported seeing a few koalas within only a 10-minute walk of the car park. Our first stop was the info booth in town to get directions to the reserve entrance. Now, you have to love a small town. Dan asked at the desk and was told to “drive down this way and then turn left at the police station.” Seemed simple enough, but after passing a couple of cop cars setting up for a breathalyser check stop (it was New Year’s Eve, after all)  – not once, but three times! – we found the turn-off and were on our way. Note to others, in future – the police station is in an old, historic building, without a sign. The locals may know where it is, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find it. Be sure to ask for a map and have all passengers listen to the instructions so that you don’t miss the turn you need!

A sleepy koala in his natural habitat. He posed so beautifully for us!

A sleepy koala in his natural habitat. He posed so beautifully for us!

Dan got this great shot just as we were leaving the reserve. Like a postcard!

Dan got this great shot just as we were leaving the reserve. Like a postcard!

Once at the reserve, Dan spotted our first koala sleeping (what else?) in a tree, after only a 10-15 minute walk along the track. We walked along the river, on a raised track, which gave us a perfect view of this sleepy little koala perched mid-way up the tree. After several photos we realised that someone had actually scratched a big arrow on the track pointing to the exact spot of the koala. Not sure if it had been there for hours, days or weeks – but it’s clear that they they don’t move around too much!

Our second koala was further down the track; Lisa spotted this one, with a view only from the back. We all scrambled down the hill to get the perfect picks from the other side of the tree, braving mosquitoes the size of small birds to do so – but it was worth it. This koala moved and posed a bit for us and gave us a wonderful view of this special animal, from only a few feet away. After several minutes watching him sleep and reposition himself on his chosen branch, we decided to call it a day and head to town for a celebratory picnic in the park.

Another great pic! He was curious about us, too, and kept moving to see what we were doing (between naps, of course).

Another great pic! He was curious about us, too, and kept moving to see what we were doing (between naps, of course).

To be able to see these remarkable creatures in the wild – with only a few feet separating us – was the perfect way to end one year and look ahead to the next. We’re really pleased to see that there are koala signs popping up in other areas between our home and Melbourne, so we’re hopeful for the koala population in NSW and VIC. Here’s hoping for more koala spotting – and other fun adventures – in the new year.

Posted in bears, koalas, Narrandera, Riverina, wildlife | 2 Comments

A spanner, pump, back and front light

Lisa has been pretty much a ‘bike widow’ in the past several weeks as Dan has spent as much waking time on his bicycle as he has at home. But it is all for a good reason – he is riding in a charity bike ride this month and needs to get in shape.

Artist's depiction: Lisa wondering if they'll ever get to spend time together again; Dan wondering if that's a magpie in the nearby tree.

Artist’s depiction: Lisa wondering if they’ll ever get to spend time together again; Dan wondering if that’s a magpie in the nearby tree.

A few months ago, some friends said they were going to ride 210 km around Port Philip Bay as part of the Around the Bay in a Day ride. They had done a 100 km version last year and were going longer this year. After not much deliberation, he signed up too. (Since then, one of those people has cancelled [for a very good reason] and another has replaced her.)  At that time, only twice had Dan ridden even 100 km in a day, but was pretty regularly doing 60 km rides and not getting too exhausted.  And the Around the Bay training schedule gave good directions of how much riding would be needed each week to get him into shape.

But, being the idiot he is, he didn’t just do the training schedule – he’s been riding more, in some weeks much more, than the recommended number of kilometres, and the over-training has exhausted him. Part of that was just a silly personal challenge though: could he do 1500 km in a 30 day month? The answer: yes. By Sept 29, he had done 1541! Might have made 1600 but was too tired to ride on the 30th.

Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 5.27.57 PM

A heat map of where Dan has been since the first of August,

Now, with just a week to go, he’s pretty much up for anything.  His commute to work has gone from 16 km each way to 16 there and a longer ride home, ranging from 33 to 55 km. Riding 30 km each way to a coffee shop on Saturday morning, or a 60 km trip to Junee for lunch (and another 60 back) on a Sunday doesn’t seem like much of a challenge now. And last week, in the final big training ride, he and a friend did 185! So the 210 km ride, though not easy, will be a success.

The training has been a bit challenging at times, for a variety of reasons. First, there’s the time. He’s spending about 15-20 hrs a week on the bike, not counting coffee stops.  So that means getting up for some very early mornings (the 185 k ride last weekend was done on 5 hours sleep), and weekend tasks like gardening falling by the wayside. The idea of sleeping in on a Sunday morning is really appealing right now. This idea is appealing to Lisa, too, who is not too impressed that Dan’s early morning rides often include at least 4 hits of the snooze button on the alarm clock before 6am.

Then there’s been the weather. Being spring in Wagga, that can range from cold (1C) mornings to warm (30C) afternoons. And some killer winds, almost literally; one morning he couldn’t turn into a  55 k wind while going about 55 km/h down a hill, and ended up on the wrong side of the road! Fortunately there was no traffic.  That was a horribly windy week, with 3 commutes home in rain accompanied by +40k winds, riding while screaming 4-letter words!

Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 4.55.56 PMBut wind isn’t the only naturally occurring hazard, because spring is also magpie swooping season and he has been hit well over a dozen times, often by the same bird, most on the helmet but a couple on the shoulder. And then there’s been several mouthfuls of bugs, a few feisty jack russell terriers, three close encounters with kangaroos, one bee sting, some horses, cows, and sheep on the road (he rides a lot in farming areas).

Oh, and one too close call with a brown snake…cruising along, seeing ‘a stick’ in the middle the road, and then realizing it was moving toward the shoulder of the road, exactly where he was going to be heading. Quick mental process – which is more risky, going in front of a deadly snake that may attack? Or swerving to go behind it and hoping there isn’t a car coming from behind? Heeding others’ advice to always go behind a moving snake, Dan was thankful there was no car coming either direction.

Dan did NOT take this picture…we ‘borrowed’ it from someone on the web. But this is pretty much the exact view he had of a moving stick. Eeek!

And besides the live animals, there have been a lot of dead ones: a few brown snakes, one red bellied black snake, several dead birds (galahs, the odd rosella, magpies), some blue-tongue lizards and a lot of kangaroos. They stink, really bad. But no worse than the dead goat did… And all these dead animals make him feel sad (well, the snakes maybe not so much, but even though magpies are cause havoc to cyclists, they are really special birds otherwise and we don’t like to see them as roadkill).

From all this riding, there have been a few good lessons too. Like figuring out that a thin cap under his helmet not only prevents a sun tan that made him look like a klingon, but soaks up sweat so it isn’t pouring down into his sunglasses. And it keeps bugs out of his hair. [Lisa edit: the hat was my idea; also sun sleeves, to ward off skin cancer after so many hours on the road]. But the most important lesson has been to always take food even if not planning a long ride. One Sunday morning, the plan was to do about 55 km, and he took one energy bar (ate it about 1/2 way). For some reason he kept going and decided, stubbornly, to d0 100. About 15 km from home, he was bonking, had absolutely no energy. So Lisa gets a phone call: ‘I’m losing it! Will you please bring me an energy gel and an energy bar (which he is buying in bulk these days)? I’ll be somewhere on Gregadoo Rd between Mitchell and Plumpton.’ So she begrudgingly gets in the car and heads out there, meeting up with him about 8 km from home (even tired and hungry, he’s pretty quick…).  She starts to get out of the car to unlock the bike rack on the roof and he tells her no, just give me the food, I’m not getting in the car, I have a goal. She was a bit pissed off, to put it bluntly, having expected to see him lying by the side of the road. So now, on all rides except the 16 km trip to work there is food in Dan’s pocket.

Another good lesson... it's worth buying professional-grade padded shorts. Company name? Assos (what else?).

Another good lesson… it’s worth buying professional-grade padded shorts. Company name? Assos (what else?).

And all of this will end after October 20, the day of the ride.  Cycling is fun, but it’s been getting to be just a bit too much and we’re both looking forward to the bike being parked for a while. And going back to Canada in November will mean that Dan has to take a break. And then when we get back maybe getting the mountain bikes out…

If you would like to sponsor Dan, you can do it at  http://aroundthebayfundraising.com.au/?DanGiven. And if you want to know more about the Around the Bay in a Day ride, go here.

Posted in around the bay, bicycle, bicycles, cycling, danger, magpie, magpies, rural life | Leave a comment

Guest Blog – Going to Wagga Wagga? You must know someone there…

[Lisa edit: Another visit and another guest blog, this time by fellow Canadian ex-pats Kristie and Leo Saumure, who came to Oz from their home in New Zealand to compete in the Sydney half-marathon. Kristie (Lisa’s first PhD student) and Leo moved to Wellington from Edmonton in 2006 but this was their first trip to Australia. Check out their thoughts on Wagga and start planning your own trip, down under, to visit us soon!].

When we arrived in Sydney, the customs officer asked us for our plans while in Australia.  When we told her we were planning to spend a weekend in Wagga Wagga with friends, she quickly retorted that you have to know someone if going to Wagga is on your itinerary (though she also reassured us it was a lovely place, just “country”).  For our part, we are so pleased that we made the trip; it was great to see more of Australia and catch up with Lisa and Dan following their move down under.

Lunch stop on the way to Wagga at the Long Track Pantry in Jugiong.

Lunch stop on the way to Wagga at the Long Track Pantry in Jugiong.

Our road trip took us from Sydney to Wagga with stops along the way in Campbelltown, Berima, Goulburn, and Jugiong.  Of the four towns, Berima and Jugiong made the strongest impressions.  Berima was a tiny village with a couple amazing craft/antique/pottery shops and some of the best coffee in Australia.  Interestingly, it was made by the potter himself at the Berima Village Pottery Shop.  Jugiong offered up a late lunch of the classic toastie at the Long Track Pantry that was both delicious and creative (thanks to Lisa for this inspired lunch stop recommendation).   The shop at the Long Track Pantry also offers up some interesting jams, chutneys, and kitchen accessories.  Jugiong was also where we saw our first cockatoos (en masse).

Yes, that's a fence and a house in a residential neighbourhood - a kangaroo across from Lisa and Dan's house!

Yes, that’s a fence and a house in a residential neighbourhood – a kangaroo across from Lisa and Dan’s house!

We arrived in Wagga just in time to meet three amazing cats (Lester, Malachi, and Ellie) and then head off to a great dinner at the Charles Sturt University Winery.  Interestingly, it was Friday the Thirteenth and the theme was akin to what you’d expect at a North American Halloween party.  Happily, the themed rubber spiders were the biggest we saw during our Australian vacation.   An interesting commonality between New Zealand and Australia is that Halloween is something of a non-entity.  However, any other day of the year is fair game for dressing up!

You'll find Lisa and Dan here once a month, at the Wagga Farmer's Market. Yum!

You’ll find Lisa and Dan here once a month, at the Wagga Farmer’s Market. Yum!

Saturday morning we had the pleasure of doing a run around Lake Albert.  Wow!!  That place is bursting at the seams with beautiful birdlife.  We saw a bird that in New Zealand would be called a Pukeko, but the Australian translation is Purple Swamphen.   Majestic pelicans were another highlight (Murphy’s Law meant we’d left our camera in the car – sigh).  And perhaps even more exciting, as we were leaving for Lake Albert, we spotted about 8 or so kangaroo grazing in the field across from Lisa and Dan’s house.  So cool and not anything that we would ever have seen if we’d stayed in Sydney!!

Beautiful fields of canola on the drive to Junee.

Beautiful fields of canola on the drive to Junee.

Upon returning to Lisa and Dan’s, we all left together to experience life on the Wagga side.  We got to see what Lisa and Dan might often do on a weekend morning.  The weather was amazing, so we lingered at the farmer’s market over coffee and pastries, checking out the wares of all the local vendors.  We grabbed some delicious pistachios and if we lived there, would have grabbed cheese, fruit, veggies, breads, etc., etc.  In addition to food-based items, Lisa and Dan picked up flowers, which would prove very interesting to the aforementioned cats.

Sulphur-crested cockatoos - they are everywhere!

Sulphur-crested cockatoos – they are everywhere!

After our wander around Wagga, we headed back to Lisa and Dan’s for lunch courtesy of a French pastry chef who makes his home in Wagga.  We indulged in some delicious chicken pies.  This great lunch would later be followed by a great dinner prepared by Lisa and Dan – lamb and roasted veggies (yum).  We also got to sample some of the pastry chef’s dessert offerings in the form of a lemon tart (also yum).  Luck was on our side in that we were able to also have dinner with Becky Willson, a former student of mine (Kristie’s), who is now doing her PhD with Lisa at Charles Sturt University.

Kristie at the licorice factory, where you can sample dozens of chocolate-covered treats.

Kristie at the licorice factory, where you can sample dozens of chocolate-covered treats.

Sunday brought us to the Junee Licorice Factory, where we met up with Dan who cycled the approximate 70 KM, for a great lunch (and milkshake), followed by some delightful licorice treats.  Gorgeous drive out and back with the canola fields shimmering in the sunlight.  Were also happy to stop in at the University on the way back to get a look at where Lisa and Dan go to work every day.  It’s a beautiful, tree-filled campus that attracts kangaroos in the right weather.  Although the snake warnings are somewhat unnerving, Lisa notes that she has only seen dead ones (reassuring).

A bridge on the CSU campus in Wagga.

A bridge on the CSU campus in Wagga.

A tea/coffee at the Empire Tea Rooms capped the afternoon and we soon headed back for dinner at Lisa and Dan’s.  Their culinary skills were demonstrated again with a lemon asparagus risotto.  Wow!

We were sorry to leave on Monday morning having had such a great visit (thanks Lisa and Dan!).  If you’re heading to Australia, it is so worthwhile to step outside the metropolitan areas and experience “country” life in places like Wagga Wagga.

Posted in Artisan baker, Australia, birds, Canada, cats, cockatoo, cooking, CSU, Edmonton, farmers market, food, Jugiong, kangaroo, lake albert, lamb, visitors, wagga wagga, wine | Leave a comment

I kept the faith and I kept voting

We were up early on the Saturday morning of election day here in Australia – yes, you read that right… a Saturday. Hoping to beat the lineups? Wanting to be first to snag a snag (more on that in a minute)? Sadly, no. Our residency status means that we cannot exercise our democratic rights to vote in this country. We could still vote in Canada, if an election was called; but after 5 years of non-residency status there, we’ll lose that right, too. This is the first time that we have watched a campaign from the sidelines, gearing ourselves up to live with the consequences without having a say. Well, not a formal say… but we’ve always got the blog! That and our garden, where we did some digging in the dirt this past weekend before the mud-slinging was set to begin the post-election news coverage.

Yep, we've been silenced... for now!

Yep, we’ve been silenced… for now!

In truth, it’s probably a good thing that we can’t vote until we become citizens. It takes a long time to figure out the system here in Australia, so I’m sure that a few years of preparation are what we need to prepare for future ballots. First – election day is on a Saturday. What’s up with that? In Canada, you can arrive at work late or leave early to ensure you have a solid three-hour window for voting (yes, that’s the law). Even then, you don’t have to vote if you don’t want to; you can head straight to the pub under the pretense of voting (though your employer might not like that). Here in Oz, voting is mandatory! Well, unless you don’t register; they have to find you to fine you, after all. The fine is small ($20) and you may not face a penalty if you have a good reason. Yes, there are pros and cons to compulsory voting, but many people we’ve met  have been envious that we don’t have to vote. On election day, in places like the butcher shop and the hair salon, people would ask “have you voted yet?” and we would say that we aren’t allowed to vote. The standard response was “You’re so lucky! Wish I didn’t have to.” What? We WANT to vote. Something’s wrong with this system…

In Canada, X marks the spot. It's that simple!

In Canada, X marks the spot. It’s that simple!

On the day, political party workers can give voters a “how-to-vote” card. Now, in Canada this would be a simple little box with an “X” in it beside a handful of names. Here in Australia, the system is not that simple. There are websites, newspaper ads, and many other helpful places to go for help in deciding whether you’ll vote above the line or below the line and (if the latter) how to ensure that all  your boxes are ticked. There are two ballots – a small, green one (House of Representatives) and a larger, white one (Senate). According to the “Below the Line” website, the green one “is easy: you just number the candidates from one to whatever, and if your number 1 choice doesn’t make it, your vote goes on to your number 2 choice and so on down.”

57 names on this ballot. Due to paper size restrictions they had to order 40,000 magnifying glasses to have on hand on election day.

There were 57 names on this ballot. Due to paper size restrictions they had to order 40,000 magnifying glasses to have on hand on election day.

However, the white ballot is the kicker; you can either “vote ‘above the line’ — just plonk a 1 in a box somewhere above the thick black line then go out and claim your sizzled sausage [more on that in a minute]. The problem is that you’ve just left your voting preferences up to the party whose box you just put a 1 in.” Each party files a “preference ticket” prior to election day. This means that the Labor Party might give preference to the Family First party, if they think that the Greens are a major threat (yes, this happened, in 2004 – with quite an upset on election day). So, leaving the preferences in the hands of your chosen party may NOT be what you want to do. This means that you are stuck having to mark down every single preference below the line. In Victoria, the ballot was so large and so full of names that the state had 40,000 magnifying glasses on hand so electors could clearly see all names!  It’s not that bad where we live, in Riverina, but there are still a heap of candidates to consider – including a guy who ran for the “Bullet Train for Australia” party (though he lives in Papua New Guinea and has never been to the Riverina). Damn! Now we really wish we could have voted! In NSW you’ll also find the “No Carbon Tax Climate Sceptics” party, the “Voluntary Euthanasia” party, the “Fishing and Lifestyle” party (though they might take some votes away from the “Shooters and Fishers” party) and the “Help End Marijuana Prohibition” party — all with pretty flash websites! Gee – I wonder where Tony Abbott’s Liberals placed these parties in the preferences list? And, of course, don’t forget about the “Australian Sex Party;” they have some of the best ads around. In total, there are more than 80 parties across the country.

Knit your revolt! A group of strong women putting the needle to Abbott.

Knit your revolt! A group of strong women putting the needle to Abbott.

As in Canada, you’ll also find your fair share of protestors and agitators active in the weeks leading up to the election. One of our colleagues at the Uni is very active in “knit your revolt!,” for example, which garnered national press last week. They were inspired by the Australian media’s coverage of former PM Julia Gillard knitting a kangaroo for Kate and William’s new little prince. The “misogynist knit-wit” was elected, in the end, so we’ll await their continued protests. And then there’s the “sweary guy” who posted this lovely comparison (not for the faint of heart – click here at your peril, but do take a moment to read the “open letter” for a post-rant update after the site received threats!) of Labor/Kevin Rudd and Liberal/Tony Abbott policies on everything from the NBN to the environment and gay marriage. Yes, our new PM is quite the character… renowned for his “budgie smugglers” (shudder!) and opposed to gay marriage, despite the fact that his sister is a lesbian. He also really loves women, as evidenced by his appeal to Australians to vote for one of his female candidates due to her “sex appeal” and to vote for him because, well, he’s the candidate with the “not bad looking daughters.” Yes, our new PM really said this. We wonder if the daughters should feel sad that good ol’ dad didn’t give them a more ringing endorsement? Is “not bad looking” a compliment? Shouldn’t he say “really hot”? But we digress…

Yes, this is what motivates most voters in Australia. They have to wait for the weekly trip to Bunnings the rest of the year...

Yes, this is what motivates most voters in Australia. They have to wait for the weekly trip to Bunnings the rest of the year…

What we don’t have in Canada (but we should!) is the ritual of the post-election snag. Now, many people may head to Timmy’s for a post-election Timbit (or twelve, or twenty); but, here in Australia, the snacks come to you. Each polling station comes complete with its own sausage sizzle. This, for many, is the highlight of the day, with the Saturday morning DJs on Triple J referring to the day as “sausage fest” rather than election day.  They were even having listeners call in to report on how good or bad the sausages were at their polling station. This is an important fact to note because unlike in Canada, where you must vote at a specific location in your city, voters here get to choose their polling station. Some callers said theirs were supplemented with lamingtons or other tasty cakes prepared by… who exactly? The scrutineers? The election party workers? We need more time in country to figure this one out — but in our estimation this all just leads to mayhem, as polling stations attempt to woo voters with their savoury snacks. And, of course, there’s an app for that! In modern Australia, you can now surf for the tastiest treats and decide where to cast your vote by the quality of the nosh (and yes, you can filter by “cake stalls” if you have a sweet tooth). Of course, with Tony Abbott’s slow internet plan, even the election snag surf may be a thing of the past. So, compulsory voting with free food afterwards? I think that could sell in Canada.

Posted in politics, voting | 3 Comments

Shaken, not stirred

Autumn is here in Australia; in fact, we’re just two short weeks away from the start of winter. The days are short, the mornings are cool (approaching zero at times) and the leaves on the tree out front of our house have all dropped. Yep, sounds like harvest time! What will we harvest, you ask? Well, our lemons are getting bigger by the day, but they’re not quite ripe.

This is a serious "before" picture - i.e., before they are picked, washed, brined, cured and bottled.

This is a serious “before” picture – i.e., before they are picked, washed, brined, cured and bottled.

No, our current harvest is thanks to our friends Joy and Brent, who are now enjoying the Canadian summer (well, except for a bit of snow in Canmore recently… we tried not to laugh!). We spent a Saturday afternoon picking olives in their orchard (i.e., 3 trees at the side of their home here in Wagga) along with their house-sitter (and Lisa’s research assistant) Denise. And for our hard work we were treated to some amazing tapenade (made with the remnants of last year’s harvest) and they sent us home with a huge bucket of olives to test our pickling skills. It was a bumper crop this year of St. Helena and Manzanillo olives! How amazing – and how lucky for us to have such great friends. We will enjoy sharing a jar with them on their return to Wagga.

Did you know that being a visiting scholar here in Wagga involves hands-on experience in fruit-picking? Donald Case found out the hard way that he was expected to work on the land in addition to giving seminars!

Did you know that being a visiting scholar here in Wagga involves hands-on experience in fruit-picking? Donald Case (right) found out the hard way that he was expected to work on the land in addition to giving seminars! Just a normal day for Dan though…

The first step was to find some containers large enough to hold the olives for the 14 day brining process. Lisa had fond memories of her mom and dad’s annual pickling events when she was a child; they used a crock pot with a specific plate to hold the cucumbers in place. Did we have such a thing? No. And, in fact, we needed 3 such things; we have a LOT of olives and we wanted to be able to separate the two types into different containers. After much digging around in cupboards and pondering a trip to Bunnings, we found some large vases to suit the purpose. Dan got crafty when we realized we didn’t have plates that would fit inside, to keep the olives from floating; he cut some circular discs from an old Aussie Post box and then weighted some bowls with river rocks. An ideal system!

We did this every day for two weeks! Don't tell Oz Post about the creative use of their logo.

We did this every day for two weeks! Don’t tell Oz Post about the creative use of their logo.

The first step in the process was to wash the olives, remove any stems and prick holes into every one. Yes, every, single olive! This took about 3 hours. By the end of the morning, our hands were wrinkled (from holding the cold fruit) and sore (from pricking our fingers instead of the olives, one too many times!). Once that was done, we divided the olives into containers, boiled the salt water and poured the cool brine onto the olives. The containers then sat in the pantry for two weeks; we dutifully pulled them to the kitchen each day to drain the old brine, boil new brine, and soak once more. Rinse, rebrine, repeat… for 14 days. This may sound onerous, but it’s not; 10 minutes out of our lives each day and soon to be rewarded with our very own olives — ready to serve on the patio when friends come to visit!

Once the olives are put in jars with fresh brine (and a few tasty additions...like fresh ginger!) we top them with olive oil.

Once the olives are in jars (with a few tasty additions…like fresh ginger!) we top them with olive oil.

Well, that’s the hope. Of course, Joy and Brent have been doing this successfully for a few years now, so we have it on good authority that all will be well! The next step is really just a waiting game, as the olives now sit in the fridge in their jars, taking on the various flavours we’ve added to them. Once the brining stage was finished, we then had to prepare the canning jars and make some decisions about what to add to the mix. The olives go into a jar with some fresh brine, you add the flavours of your choice, and you top with some olive oil to seal everything inside. We decided to go with some classic flavours, so we have jars of lemon, chili, ginger and garlic olives, as well as a few plain ones (i.e., the ‘control’ group, for you researchers out there!).

The finished product! Hope they taste as good as they look.

The finished product! Hope they taste as good as they look.

They will now sit and cure for the next few weeks… and we’ll still be enjoying them when spring is just around the corner. You’re welcome to come visit for a taste-test! And who knows… this may lead us to embark on other canning adventures. Cherries in port, preserved lemons, tomato sauce… there is a rich bounty here in Oz, so we may just decided to put the empty olive jars to good use next summer. And, of course, we’ll blog all about it! Oh, and we did run out and buy three of our very own olive trees to plant in the backyard; we’ll see how those go, next year. In the meantime, here are a couple of other pictures from our olive adventure:

We had to stretch right into the tree to be sure to pick every last olive!

We had to stretch right into the tree to be sure to pick every last olive!

This was just one of the bins that we picked. They look great off the tree, but you can't eat them yet. Far too bitter at this stage!

This was just one of the bins that we picked. They look great off the tree, but you can’t eat them – they are far too bitter at this stage!

Posted in cooking, food, kitchen, olives, preserving, trees | 2 Comments

Anyone want to go on a joyride with us?

Well folks, it’s time for another guest blog! That’s right.. one of the benefits of visiting us in Australia (in addition to Dan’s fabulous cooking and Lisa’s willingness to share a bottle of wine with you) is that you get the opportunity to share your thoughts with our many readers. This post was written by our friends (and fellow bloggers), Phil and Wade, who visited Oz in March. Enjoy!

When people asked why we were going to Australia I had a single favourite answer: we’re going to visit friends who live in Wagga. Where? Wagga Wagga, the place so nice they named it … after crows (look it up). Phil and I (Wade) had told Dan and Lisa that we would visit them when they left Edmonton and, true to our word, a short 18 months later, we had made it to Wagga.

We had spent a week in Sydney, then a few days in Jervis bay and Canberra before making our way to Wagga Wagga (read all about it at our own blog, www.gay-tripping.com). We arrived on a Thursday afternoon and retired to the patio to toast our arrival with a civilized drink of sparkling water with lime and ginger cordial. Cordial, apparently, is a big thing there and if there was room in the suitcase we would have brought some sarsaparilla cordial home. Alas, we’ll have to settle for Italian soda flavouring which may very well be the exact same thing with a different name. That tends to happen in Australia but make no mistake, tomato sauce is NOT ketchup.

When Dan got home from work we got ready for the night’s activity. The Wagga City Library’s Club Celluloid was screening David Lynch’s 1986 seminal feel good family classic, Blue Velvet. If you’re not familiar with this movie then I’ll point out that I’m being sarcastic. It’s a brutal movie with, as the woman introducing the movie indicated, strong language, nudity and a scene depicting non-consensual sex. In the basement of the public library we sat down in the back with our wine and snacks. In front of us sat row upon row of white haired ladies. As the movie was about to start we knowingly glanced at each other and silently made bets with our eyes on just how long it would take someone to leave. Full credit to the aging culturati of Wagga as it took quite some time until we lost one [Lisa edit: 22 minutes; yes, I timed it], but once the rape scene kicked into high gear a lady in the front row respectfully stood up and quietly exited. That apparently was the permission two others were looking for and moments later, after glancing at each other and agreeing (okay, count of three!), stood up and exited. These two were not as quiet and made the requisite old lady huff that says, “well I never!” with puffs of air. I made sure to affix on my face an expression of pure joy, like it was not only the best movie I’d ever seen but that I was somehow enjoying it too much. They weren’t going to talk about this movie with their society ladies on Sunday at the track, but maybe, just maybe, they would talk about the pervert in the back row whose eyes were wide with glee. We would have stayed for the debrief but we were hungry so we made our leave to The Thirsty Crow for beer (fantastic micro brewed to boot) and pizza (fun, experimental, and recommended). Dan and Lisa’s friend Virginia joined in the fun and we were treated to a nice taste of the local scene. From grey haired ladies to hipster beards, my kind of night.

After a few weeks on the road we were ready for a home cooked meal (which we ate outside), laundry facilities (with clothes dried on the line in half the time of a dryer) and wine (that was the deal: if we make it to Wagga, Dan and Lisa will supply the wine). We got to bond with the kitties and sit and do nothing. Some days there’s nothing better than nothing. It was perfect. When Dan got home he tackled the quintessential Australian meat tray. If you go to a pub quiz, that is the prize, a tray of meat. If you go to farmers market there might just be a lottery for a meat tray. Aussie’s love their meat trays. Dan got his from the butcher. We paired staring at the tray of assorted meats with bubbly.

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tray of assorted meats and bubbles

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Dan attacks the meat tray with gusto

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On the left, raw pistachios. You read that right.

On the Saturday we took a drive to the neighbouring town of Junee. Signs advertised that a Saturday Fete was taking place and you know what they say about fetes. Go to them. Apparently a fete is what you get when a farmers market, rummage sale and garage sale collide. Plus there was a band.

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Dan and Lisa are skilled negotiators.

One of Junee’s big draws is the Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factory. I loved it. If you’ve never had fresh Licorice it’s damn good, unless you don’t like licorice, then it’s still terrible.

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This is how licorice is made. It’s mostly flour (shock!)

When we got back to Wagga we rushed to the butcher to fetch some items so we could fashion a charcuterie dinner in Bright, which we’d be leaving for the following day. In Australia you might see something similar on menus called a ploughman’s [lunch]. They vary greatly in what you’ll get on the plate/board so it’s always a fun surprise and a risk well worth taking. I should go back a step here, I’ve written the word butcher twice now. That’s the most I’ve used that word perhaps ever with the exception of the times I’ve complained how massive chain grocery stores have all but killed the profession in Canada. In Australia the profession is alive in well. We saw butchers in small towns and big cities and everything in between. There’s still a girl or guy behind the counter who actually knows where the top sirloin comes from. If you want a rack of lamb they can get you the size you want, trim it to your specifications, and suggest how to cook it. I like that. Of course they close at 4:00pm on Saturdays which I found weird. Apparently so did Dan because we just squeezed in the door as they locked it behind us. We also took a trip to the grocery store to stock up for our trip to Bright. I love going to food stores in every country and city I travel to. What is or isn’t on the shelves tells you so much about the culture; what they hold dear (TimTam), what’s popular, what isn’t selling well enough and so on. There’s also always the fun finds that would be jarring in your own country. I found it fascinating that they sell huge tubes of raw meat for dogs (clearly labelled, “not for human consumption”).

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I feel like this would go over well in Canada

Wagga was an adventure. It was leisurely and educational with a million little memories, like the overly thorough lady from the travel information centre who should be a SNL character or the adventure of figuring out the sizing of men’s footy shorts purchased with the expressed purpose of making an appearance at Edmonton’s next pride parade (they’re seriously short, seriously). Unlike most American and Canadian towns of comparable sizes, the downtown of Wagga is still bright and alive, presumably because a Walmart hasn’t been built on the outskirts.

On the Sunday we left for another adventure, off to Bright to bike, eat good food, drink amazing wine, and get driven around by a barman’s wife and a waitress (separate times). But those are stories for Bright Adventures and for another time.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment