Scenes from the Skeens

Archive for February, 2007

Uni (or as us Canadians call it, university)

February 24, 2007 2:57 am

I thought the first week in to classes was a good time to write something inspirational rather than three months from now when I am in the thick of assignments and bored with the lectures.

For those of you who do not know, I am attending The University of the Sunshine Coast in Sippy Downs, Queensland completing my Graduate Diploma in Education. I spent last week attending Orientation week (for those Canadians reading, otherwise known as ‘frosh week’). I can see why they have toned it down to ‘orientation week’ here rather than ‘frosh week’ as things are a lot more tame and academic oriented. I can’t say I was too disappointed with that as I think I would have been pretty perturbed if I was attacked with shaving cream or had beer poured all over me on my first day on campus.

uni Sippy Downs is in a new area of the Sunshine Coast, around a twenty minute drive from the coast of Mooloolaba or Maroochydore. I have heard from students that are living on campus that they are a little disappointed by the school’s distance from any bars or drinking establishments. The closest and only tavern is a twenty minute walk away. And there are no bars on campus. I have decided this is the perfect setting for a post grad, who has been out of university for several years now and beyond the drinking years. OK , maybe not past the drinking years, but definitely past Monday night binge drinking.

We had heard from several people that the university was a wildlife reserve and that kangaroos were in abundance around campus. After three days of visiting, including one day with Maddy, with no roo sightings, I began to think I had to search some unknown area of the campus in order to see them. Then the day came, I was walking across campus along a paved path that is surrounded by grass and open fields. I could see a group of kangaroos ahead within a metre or two of the path I was walking on. I considered myself lucky to see them from a distance and continued walking slowly, hoping not to scare them off. I continued to do this until reaching within an arm’s reach. The most amazing thing was that they could care less that I was walking past them. One just politely hopped away from the path, almost to give me more room to get by.

I now see the kangaroos almost daily and although I never tire of watching them while eating my lunch, they have become another reality of life for me in Australia. This very long vacation is the start of an amazing year for all of us for different reasons.

My first impression of the classes at the university, like my impression of so many things here in Australia is a satisfying one. That is almost putting it too mildly but like I said it is only my first week in. I have to write all of my success stories early.

The University of the Sunshine Coast is small in comparison to most Canadian universities. This may explain the more interactive lectures and tutorials. My ‘Primary Curriculum’ class consists of 30 Canadians and one Aussie. Most profs would continue teaching the class as planned, with the Australian content, but this particular lecturer truly wants to see us succeed and is changing the content to match the Ontario guidelines.

My other lecturer for ‘Becoming a Teacher’ is a Canadian. He is the only prof who doesn’t post his lecture notes online prior to the class as he hopes to have all his 250 students show up. That and he doesn’t like to give away his Canadian jokes ahead of time. My brothers would be happy to know he is a Montreal Canadians fan and he has a collection of NHL Power Point presentations of the Canadians in brawl with the Leafs. His lectures are full of comic relief as well as verification from the students that every one is still awake during his lectures.

So, maybe it is the Aussie way of life that has us feeling so welcomed and satisfied or maybe it is the way that Canada has mingled in so well with our daily lives here, always reminding us where our true home is.

A Day at the Zoo

February 20, 2007 9:46 pm

We visited Steve Irwin’s Zoo, which is only about 15 minutes’ drive from here.








Back to School

9:41 pm

We’ve had two weeks of school now (school starts in late January here and runs until the end of November).

waterfall Some comments from the kids:
Maddy: the school is spread out. There’s lots of classrooms in individual buildings.
We get to wear uniforms.
My teacher is strict, but we only have homework once a week!
My new friends are Kara, Cara, Brooke and Kellie.
The tuck shop is great!

Nate has made friends with Bill and Ji.
His favorite part is the walk home. It’s mostly along a stretch of beach and there are some neat tidepools.

Skink vs. Roach

February 15, 2007 4:06 pm

We had heard rumors of roaches being everywhere here in our new tropical home, but we were pleasantly surprised by the dearth of critters upon arrival. We did find loads of skinks, small lizards ranging from 1 to 3 inches. They scurry through the lawn with each step you take. I’d thought that catching them would be impossible as they move so fast, but the kids proved me wrong and had relocated a half dozen to their Tupperware lizard habitat within an hour.

skinkPerhaps we got a little too comfortable, as we foolishly left a pan full of ground beef (minced beef, that is) in the kitchen. In a less than common scenario I was the first one out of bed, and happened upon the first roach sighting. The poster roach for gluttony, this two-inch buffet aficionado had gorged himself so greedily on our taco meat that he appeared to have tumbled from the counter, landed on his back, and couldn’t muster the strength to flip his frame over. I normally help bugs out the front door but this was one I didn’t want to risk seeing again. Using Melissa’s sandal (mine were outside, honest!) I nailed him with the sandal resulting in a greasy crunching sound.

cockroach(sorry for the awful photo, but I don’t expect many people will crave more visual detail) My next roach sighting was prompted by Maddy’s comment, “Dad, there’s something moving in my suitcase.” Sure enough, a roach had gotten in and couldn’t climb the slick fabric lining. I took the suitcase to the porch and gave the back of it a hard knock, sending the roach flying into the nearby sand. To my surprise I then witnessed what may be the Aussie version of a classic animal rivalry like coyote vs. roadrunner. As the roach scuttled away, no doubt feeling horribly exposed in the harsh light of day, a skink ran up and took a good bite of one of his legs. Soon there was a grand chase going on with the skink getting the best of the deal.

We’ve since moved from that holiday rental to an apartment that uses a pest control service. No more sightings to speak of thankfully.

Waiting for Telstra

February 13, 2007 5:39 pm

We’ve got more updates ready to go, but we’re waiting on Telstra (think of Bell Canada in slow motion) to setup our DSL internet access. Right now I’m using a terminal on campus at the University of the Sunshine Coast, a lovely campus. It’s set on a wildlife reserve which leads to some uncharacteristic uni conditions. For example, right now through the window I can see a pack of grey kangaroos just lounging about.


Thirty Minutes in an Australian Rainforest

February 4, 2007 2:09 pm

waterfallIt felt like hours! After watching a tourist channel on our resort’s television, advertising a ‘nice, family park with a beautiful waterfall.’, we decided to spend our Saturday afternoon doing a small hike at Buderim Forest Trail Park. It sounded quaint enough.

Upon parking in the empty lot, the first sign advertising the park got Maddy extremely excited and me immediately apprehensive and nervous. ‘Rainforest,’ it said, ‘300m.’ As I have done several times so far when experiencing something new and not so inviting, I talked myself through whatever worries and concerns were entering my head. The one thing that made me feel at ease was that most of Australian’s creatures are nocturnal and we had at least 4 hours before the sun set!

Within 700m of walking one of my worst fears appeared. I was very proud of myself when my first response was, ‘Look a lizard!’ I also waited at least a full minute before jumping onto a bench nearby. What in fact we had come across was a goanna. Around three and a half feet in length, resembling a thin hela monster, this reptile was not interested in being anywhere near us and slowly walked back into the bush.


‘O.K.’ I thought ‘If that is what we see at the start of our walk, what do I need to do to prepare myself for half way through?’ Maddy, my brave explorer too my hand and lead us all through deep into what I can only describe as my most eerie experience. Looking back (from my safe, air conditioned apartment) I can say that it was an amazing place, unlike any other setting we have ever been in.

We didn’t see any other wildlife besides the goanna, much to the kids and Dan’s dismay and my liking. As we traipsed on through the jungle setting I did become a little more comfortable with our surroundings. The most disturbing part of the experience was everytime I did feel my shoulders unhunching, the cicadas would chirp to a deafening sound (you had to cover your ears), just like you hear in a horror movie right before something terrifying happens. I guess it was just a fair warning that you never know what you may see when walking in an Australian bush!

Here we go again!

2:05 pm

I told myself I would never do it again. After three years in the Bay Area of California I didn’t think I would ever leave Canada again for more than a couple of weeks at a time. My mind was quickly changed when on a whim I applied to The University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia and was accepted into the Primary Teaching program.

Having gone through probably the most difficult and stressful month of our lives in our first month in California, (Maddy was only 15 months at the time) I knew the transition here couldn’t be anywhere as difficult. I can honestly say now, 11 days into our stay here in Australia, things have definitely been easier.

As you can see from Maddy and Nate’s ‘Top Five Things they love about Australia’, a lot of it has to do with the hot climate and the water. Lucky for us there is endless amounts of both here. I have to agree with the sun and heat vote as one of my top five. There is nothing better than waking up at 6:00 a.m. to the sun shining and the temperature already at 24 C.

Dicky Beach

As for the water, I love being so close to the ocean. Unlike Northern California, you can actually put your feet in without them immediately freezing. It is much different being close to the ocean versus a lake as much as I love that experience also. The smell of the salty air and the collection of seashells that wash ashore are different everyday. For now we haven’t seen anything too exotic clouding my peaceful viewpoint.

My travel partners (Dan, Maddy and Nate),love the ocean for other reasons, mainly they love to be IN the ocean, as much as possible. I am definitely a watcher and not a partaker in that respect. And as Maddy kindly vouched for me after seeing some photos I had taken while they were bodyboarding, ‘Wow, Mom! I can see why you’re always freaking out when we are in the waves.’ I am sure by the end of our trip here you will see at least one picture of me on a body board. Just as long as I can get one of the other Skeens out of the water to take the picture.

Top Five Things

1:48 am

Here are some top five lists we’ve come up with.

The Top Five Things Nate loves (so far) about Australia.

moffat beach, queensland, australia

  1. I love when we go to the beach.
  2. Swimming
  3. Snorkelling
  4. Bodyboarding
  5. I love that it is hot here.

Maddy’s Top Five things she loves about Australia (so far).

  1. It is warm (enough said!)
  2. It is exotic.
  3. The surfing and swimming
  4. The people are nice and friendly
  5. We are altogether as a family

Things that we find a little different here in Australia.

  1. Number one again, it is hot!
  2. There are palm trees.
  3. They say ‘G’day’, not ‘hello’.
  4. They have skinks and goannas, and oh ya, a lot of cockroaches.
  5. All the rhinoceros beetles are dead in February. (as far as we have seen)
  6. They drive on the opposite of the road, not the wrong side of the road.

Touching Down in the Land of Oz

February 3, 2007 5:02 pm

Too much travel, airports, airplanes. We’ve logged 13,000 airmiles within a few days by my count. That’s the equivalent of three return trips from Toronto to Vancouver.

The only pleasant surprise (other than watching all of our luggage actually appear at the baggage return each step of the way) is the airplane food. I had some chicken curry on our Air Pacific flight that was REALLY good. On my previous flight I was tempted into eating my fourth meal of the day because they offered an eggplant and mushroom sandwich. The snack peanuts are coated in a fiery South Indian spice mix. All the foods I like that are seemingly exotic to the North American palate are here, being served not just to me but to every young child and 80-year-old on the plane. I’m going to like this place.

We arrive at Brisbane International Airport at 10:30 pm local time. Thankfully, Melissa had the foresight to book us a shuttle from here to our vacation rental in Caloundra, about an hour and half’s drive North. Our driver, Chris, is a good British chap who happens to have spent his last 35 years in Australia. I’m terrible with accents, but I can tell early-on he’s sounding more like Peter O’toole than Steve Irwin. He gives me the tourist spiel as we head north, talking with barely subdued excitement about the size of the country. Bigger than China, wow. State of Western Australia is six times bigger than Texas, wow. These are the facts that probably drop jaws of American tourists, so I try to act suitably impressed, but the polite-but-proud Canadian in me says, that’s nothin’ I’m from Canada. You want to talk land mass, look at this big red area on the map here.

I’m quite glad that I don’t indulge in one-upmanship with Chris however; as it turns out I’m soon quite in need of his help. We arrive to pick up the keys for our rental a half-hour after the store has closed. It’s 12:30 am local time and apparently hotel owners might like to listen to Midnight Oil but they don’t like to burn any. Chris is quite worried about what to do with us, and his good British poise is a bit shaken as we move from hotel to hotel, then motel to motel, finding no-vacancy signs posted everywhere. Then we see a hotel with a vacancy sign. I head up and ring the after-hours number. Someone answers, groggily. I reply: “Hi, sorry to call so late, but we’ve just arrived in town and we’re looking for a hotel room.”

“Yeh, well look somewhere else ya bloody idiot.” Click.

I’ve just had my first conversation with an Aussie.

Thankfully, the next hotel manager was wonderfully polite and helpful, and pointed us to a nice hotel where we found, gasp, disbelief, a full night staff available to book us into a room. It’s 1:30 am and at last I can rest my tired head in Australia. ZZzzz.


Safely Sunned in Fiji

4:56 pm

Ahhh, Fiji. Bula, bula, bula. Our first taste of South Pacific warmth, we exited our plane into a pleasant evening with temperatures in the low 20s, the sound of exotic birds making all sorts of unknown but welcoming calls, and the pleasant smell of plant life and blooming flowers. We forget the olfactory hibernation that Canadians experience during Winter months. When plants take a break and the cycle of life slows, our air is crisp, clean, cold, but utterly lifeless. Here, a thousand blooms waft through the air, instantly giving the heady sensation of life and growth.


We had a bit of apprehension about Fiji. Frank Bainamaira’s military coup had put a damp air on Fiji’s international relations. Their actions included deposing many prominent officials, in some cases deporting them from the country. More disturbing, they’d attempted to influence the media and had tried to get pre-approval rights to the local newspaper (not a good sign for me, as I was using this to read about the situation there – also, military guys make horrible copy editors). We’d also heard of military checkpoints in Suva. Generally, I’m not wild on military checkpoints.

Well, it turns out our fears were unfounded, at least during our stay. Countries like New Zealand may be threatening Fiji with trade concessions, but the sun and salt water are still Fiji’s very willing trade partners. We spent a few days as a stopover in Nadi, touring little, eating well, and swimming in the ocean and our pool.

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The kids really loved the tropical scenery. Despite all our coaching on potentially dangerous animals at our travel destinations, while we were checking in Nate immediately ran off and suddenly plunged both arms into the darkest, densest vegetation he could find. “Look” he said, his face beaming as he produced his prize, “a coconut.” Later we’d watch a team of native islanders scurry up the trees and kick coconuts down, tossing their machete to one another from tree to tree, occasionally pausing to lop the end off a coconut and drink the milk to keep the 32-degree heat at bay. As a Three Stooges fan, I was pleased to see their sense of humor matched well with mine. At one point a coconut fell from a tree and bounced off the noggin of one of the crew. All of them, including the one rubbing his head, laughed hysterically. Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck.