November 30, 2011

Collecting plastic garbage from our waters

The children have been on a mission to collect and dispose the garbage that floats in the water around the marina. Seeing plastic trash litter the shores of pristine islands, thousands of miles from anywhere, left an impression. We might talk about the impact of consumption and pollution around the main cabin table now and again. They understand well the threat it poses to marine life and ocean health, and see our marina as a point they can intercept this junk before it is carried out to sea.

one day's haul
Here they are with a bucket full of one day's collection

We keep our kayak floating at the bow for easy access, so it's often a convenient place to toss an errant bottle found floating near the jetty.

More garbage
An overfull kayak, with the wrong kind of cargo

It accumulates at a rapid pace,especially when runoff from rainfall adds to the volume of floating trash. For a while, they kept a log of the quantity and type of garbage, plotting it against tides and weather.

Unbelievable trash in the marina
Rainfall brings plant material... and styrofoam

Siobhan found the complete packaging for an Apple computer, right down to the shipping label. I wondered what would happen if we returned it to the rightful owner?

Box full of more styrofoam. No computer.

After a call from our neighbor Peter on s/v Kittani, Ian Kiernan came down to meet them one day. He's a former BOC sailor, and Aussie environmentalist. Dismayed by the garbage he saw floating in the world's oceans, he started a movement in Australia that earned him the the Order of Australia. The recognition by an adult outside our circle for what they've been doing meant so much to the children! That picture at the top? They're proud of what they're doing, and I think it shows. 

November 28, 2011

Aussieisms: the queue

The orderliness of queuing for public transportation in Sydney almost equally charming and puzzling. I cannot imagine this happening in... SO many places, I get a giggle out of it pretty much every time. Even the little bus stops with 3 people waiting in our residential corner of Sydney, people line up. It's sweet, but is it really necessary? Is it mindless habit or genuine courtesy?

they line up

Here, in the dark, in the rain... is a long line that stretches behind the sheltered bus stop. I'm usually the person without an 'brolly who dives for the shelter.

November 23, 2011

Camping! Cricket! Kangaroos!

A few weekends ago, we were included with a group of families who get together for camping fun a few times a year. What a treat! We knew from last our failed attempt at camping (we were rained out after one night) last January that the kids loved it, but hadn't had the right impetus to try.  This one included 14 adults and over 20 kids.

Turon Gates campsite

Our campsite was a beautiful private property along a river in the tablelands west of the blue mountains. The children were off at the barest crack of dawn, and came back with excited tales of kangaroos, birds, and a possible platypus sighting.

Early morning walk

The river had just enough current to carry an air mattress for rides.

Turon Gates campsite

Jamie set up a ropes course.

ropes course

Most kids found it easier to cross with shoes. Mairen is not most kids.

ropes course

 Each family had responsibility for one meal- this worked very nicely.

Turon Gates campsite

There were horses, walking right through the campsite! This is Mairen's idea of heaven.

horses in the campsite

There were cricket lessons. Literal lessons, and cultural ones. Did you know, to say something is 'cricket' is to say it's fair? If it's not cricket... it's not fair. Stemming from the history as a gentleman's game?

playing cricket

And lessons in retrieving the cricket ball from a fetch-happy border collie.

playing cricket

Many more pictures on Flickr.

November 21, 2011

The continuing saga of the marina geese

A few weeks ago I wrote about the heartbreaking state our resident marina gander, Peter. He was in deep mourning for his longtime mate Paul.

The crew in the marina and shipyard decided something needed to be done, and new geese were acquired in a mission that included the children, who trekked to a farm well outside Sydney to find him new friends. The mission was for three but somehow, four came back.  All were promptly named by the kids, of course.

It was decided that they should be held in a pen at the shipyard for a week to ensure they associated the location with food (e.g.- "home") and wouldn't take off once released.

the new geese
The children with Steve, the marina caretaker, checking on geese in the pen.

To ease the situation for Peter, one goose at a time would be released over a period of several days- giving him time to adjust.  The geese- or more accurately, ganders, as they are all male- are less than a year old but full size. They were patient with the marina pen. The first to come out was George.

the new geese
George follows Peter everywhere like an obedient puppy.

Things went pretty well- Peter mostly ignored him, but they stayed together. Ben was next.

the new geese
Ben hits the water.

He and George hit it off, but Peter continued his obsessive post-Paul behavior of talking to his reflection and wasn't terribly sociable.

the new geese
It's so sad! He talks to himself, even.

There was a little bit of drama when Jerry escaped when the geese remaining in the pen were being fed. He doesn't swim very well, and took off without a backward glance at the marina. It took some chasing and coaxing but eventually he was returned to the shipyard.

the new geese
Coaxing geese back with bread.

They're doing OK now. Peter was truly unpleasant to Ben (or maybe it was Jerry... I can't tell them apart!) in the beginning, but has backed off. Trying to assert his dominance, maybe? His alpha-gander status? Any Goose Psychologists out there? For now, they seem to be have a group identity.

Geese sleepin the shipyard
Snoozing on the rails in the shipyard. They really do have two legs each.

November 18, 2011

Out for the weekend

This past year has been a relatively land-oriented one for's also been one that once again gave "weekday" and "weekend" definition in our lives. When started to get cold last winter (yes... Australia does have winter), we really went into hibernation. With Totem at the dock, her crew bundled up, our lives felt very different than they had for the prior few years. Our circle of weekend activity involved trips to the garden, or the library, or some Sydney-side destination... very different from the open ended explorations we'd been accustomed to, poking around the corners of our watery habitat.

How nice to have spring arrive to warm us all up, and get us out exploring again. We welcomed it by getting off the dock to anchor in a quiet bay for the weekend not long ago with our neighbors on s/v Kittani. After a season of many enjoyable evenings spent playing cards below deck, keeping warm, it was nice to shift to the cockpit. It is amazing how many corners of Sydney Harbour can make you feel like your are far, far from the madding crowd.

weekend anchored out
Close to the city of Sydney, but feeling far away

We couldn't quite ditch our "jumpers" (Aussie for sweater) yet.

weekend anchored out
The girls having a laugh during afternoon tea in Kittani's cockpit.

The children went for a swim. I worried about sharks the entire time. It's not irrational, even in the protected inner bays of Sydney Harbour.

weekend anchored out
Still a little chilly, but no wetsuits required.

Coming back from a dinghy exploration, we circled around rocks popping up at low tide and temporarily marooned them. This was met with lots of King of the Hill fun, but ended a bit prematurely by sharp oysters.

weekend anchored out
I still worried about sharks. Love them, but respect them.

It's warmer and warmer. We had a scorcher recently that even cracked 100*F! We're back to "normal" spring temps in the low 70s now... but feeling summer right around the corner... and feeling many more bays beckon for anchoring.

November 16, 2011

Things to love about Australia: Clivia

I was reminiscing to my friend Joan the other day about White Flower Farm. We used to get their catalog, back when we had a garden that benefited from a good chunk of of our weekend efforts. I'd drool over the entries in their glossy pages and dream about the showstopper of a garden I'd have someday. It's fabulous dream fodder.

One flower I remember in particular, Clivia, was sold as an indoor flowering plant. You can spend about $90 with White Flower Farm for a 7" pot that will flower if you can keep it alive for another 2-3 years. You can even get special editions of the flower for about $800. Yes, eight hundred dollars! (You still have to wait a few years for blooms. Sorry.)

Still, I thought, someday I'll have a flower like that. But you know what? It turns out they grow like WEEDS here in Australia! They're ground covers in public parks. They pop up along the hillside behind the marina. They're used in large shady tracts around neighborhood yards. And they are beautiful: even more than the catalog suggested. I'm not sure if I'll ever have one, but I'm enjoying them all around me.

Here's our $800 "weed". I'm going to try and save a few seeds and send them to Joan. Her husband Rainer has a talent for nurturing amazing life from seeds... he specializes in bonsai but I think he'll humor this. If you're still here with me, check out Joan's blog, and send her a little light.

November 11, 2011

One year in Australia!

Time flies- it's such a cliché, but it's true. One year ago today, we made landfall in Australia.

What a year!

Niall waves the flag
Niall waves an Aussie flag from the deck of M/V Further on Australia Day- January 2010

November 9, 2011

Aussie snapshots: beach culture

A few weeks ago, we had use of a friend's car (thank you Jennifer!) while they were on vacation in Hawaii. It was really fun to stretch our wings beyond our usual public-tranportation circumpherence and see a few new corners of Sydney.

Here's local phenomenon. It seems like every beach has it's own Surf Life Saving Club. Also known as men in budgie smugglers (that's Aussie for Speedo), charging into the surf, for entertainment and perhaps sometimes even for lifesaving.

local surf club

November 7, 2011

Bert's reign over the marina

When I mentioned recently that our neighbor cat, Bert, considers the marina his domain- I wasn't kidding. We had a hysterical event recently that illustrates it perfectly.

Witness Bert, hanging out in one of his favorite places: the middle of the dock.

the standoff

See that little orange fluff waaayyyyy down towards the other end of the dock? That's Whistler, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever (yep that's a breed) that belongs to marina neighbors.

Note that Bert is not even bothering to look at him. Such a cat.

He's scared of Bert. He will NOT pass him on the dock. He did get closer, but they remained in a standoff here for about five minutes.

the standoff

Eventually, Whistler turned around and went back to his boat... Bert's dominance unquestioned.

November 3, 2011

Halloween in Sydney

2008 - Malibu, California
2009 - Santa Rosalia , Mexico
2010 - Noumea, New Caledonia

...and now, 2011: Sydney, Australia.
Halloween in Australia
It feels a little odd to be in warm and sunny weather for Halloween

Four years, four different countries for our family on Halloween. Every place we've been does it a little differently. Here in Australia, the holiday is just catching on (retailers finding another way to sell stuff I'm sure). From a trick-or-treaters point of view: the trick, it turns out, is to find out which houses are actually giving out candy! They are in the vast minority.

There's a kind of secret handshake: homes that are "in" on the Halloween gig put a balloon outside.

Halloween in Australia
Creepy accessories a bonus.

Most participants go in for the direct distribution model.

Halloween in Australia
The tell-tale balloon

Our neighbor, Elise (next to the door in her fabulous black velvet cape) scoped out a good street near the primary school that had a higher concentration of in-the-know homes. Steve, the marina caretaker and much loved friend of the children came along too- getting the hang of the American family and their crazy holiday. He brought a bag of Halloween goodies to give to the other children we passed: little skeletons, yoyos, and treats.

But a surprising number just put out the "honor bowl."

Halloween in Australia
Just one!

It wasn't easy to find a proper Halloween pumpkin. There is a LOT of pumpkin consumed in Australia, but they're not the big orange jack-o-lanterns of the holiday- they are usually green, or gray, and very tasty. I saw only one meager display of carving pumpkins for sale in last week of October. Perhaps not surprising then that there were some clever twists on the tradition.

Halloween in Australia
ghoulish apples

Halloween in Australia
scary squash

Our creepy characters had a ball putting their costumes together. There was a near disaster. Mairen had been planning to be a witch (again), and bought a proper hat to go with the dress she made for our Mexican Halloween. Minutes before we were to depart on our trick-or-treating adventure, a gust of wind lifted it off her head and out into the bay. Pursuit by boat hook, and dinghy, ensued but her hat sank below the murky surface before it could be retrieved.

She took it completely in stride: accessorized now with a cape and vampire teeth, she was a hybrid Witch-Pire. Creepy!

The Witch-pire

We also had a zombie: Niall practiced just the right jaw-dragging expression. Our neighbor Elise found the fabulous fake zombie wound-skin.

The Zombie

Siobhan... our little drama queen, decided to be a Syren. She described her costume essentials as: pretty hair, a pallid blue tail, and fangs. I don't know where she came up with pallid, and I'm not sure the scarves shot through with silver lurex I found at a thrift shop exactly qualify, but she was happy.

The Syren

Happy Halloween!

Spooky gremlins