Sunday, December 30, 2007

Mead Making

Most of you will know that mead is a significant drink in the McMillin clan. Mead is basically a honey wine made only of honey, water and yeast. Brian's father has been making it for about ten years now and Brian and I started a batch not long before leaving for Australia. We'll be bottling it when we go home for a visit next summer. And while we have found one nice mead that is made in Australia, it still doesn't compare to the one's we make at home. Now the flavor of your mead is basically dictated by the type of honey you use and what Australia does have are some unique varieties of honey. The two we've decided to try are snow gum and leatherwood. Particularly looking forward to leatherwood as it is an amazingly fragrant and delicious honey.

Yesterday we started the two varieties with our friend Joshua. The day began at 9:30am with a visit to a local beer and wine making shop to purchase the supplies. We already had the honey but we needed large glass bottles, yeast, a funnel, an instrument to test the sugar levels and some other bits and pieces.

Here's your mini lesson in mead making. First, clean and sanitize everything. Here I am washing out the demijohns which will be used for the entire process of fermenting the mead.

Next you dissolve the honey in warm water (guaranteed to be sticky but tasty business). We used 15 kilos of snow gum honey in one batch and 18 kilos of leatherwood honey in the other.

Pour the diluted honey into the bottle.

Stir vigorously.

Test the sugar levels. We wanted about 17% sugar which we hope will yield a mead with about 5% sugar after fermentation and about 12% alcohol. Add water until sugars are at the appropriate level.

Then add mead yeast, stir again and top with a rubber stopper and bubbler that will let CO2 escape but prevent nasties from entering during the fermentation process. Park your bottles in a cool dark corner and check back often to make sure the yeast are eating the sugars and belching away. In a month or so we'll rack the mead i.e. filter it off the dregs of yeast which have settled at the bottom. We'll do this several times and in a year or so we'll have eighty some litres of amber colored goodness!

P.S. Thanks to the Bramahs for letting us park our mead in their basement!

Blue Mountains

We recently spent a couple of days in the Blue Mountains with the Bramahs, my Rotary host counsellor and his family. They'd invited us to the family holiday house several times and we were finally able to take them up on the offer. While it rained much of the time, it was pleasantly cool and refreshing and we ate lots of good food and drank lots of terrific wine (a 25 year old Hunter Valley chardonnay for example) amongst good company.

Sunset at Sublime Point

The Blue Mountains are so named because as the eucalypt forests release their oils, the range takes on a blueish tinge.

At the Three Sisters in the fog

Another visit to the Three Sisters the next day, this time with the sun shining.

Back in Canberra, summer has truly arrived. It has been unseasonably cool and rainy for the last month or so and we've been loving it! The dams (Canberra's potable water supply) are filling up and as you drive through the country side you see lush green paddocks instead of brown parched land. The farmers are happy, my garden is happy and my temperate senses are happy! Yesterday and today have been 34 degrees however (94 F) so it's about to start getting uncomfortable for my Minnesota blood!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali

Unless you've been living under a rock or in a cave, you have probably heard about the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali which wrapped up about two weeks ago. I thought a summary was in order in case you are interested in the conference and its outcomes.

Eleven thousand participants and representatives from 187 countries met in Bali to discuss the way forward given the urgency of climate change and the upcoming expiry of the Kyoto protocol. That reminds me, I've been meaning to mention that Australia elected a new prime minister while we were in India. Kevin Rudd will replace George W's buddy, John Howard after 11 years in office. Rudd promptly signed the Kyoto protocol after using environmental issues as part of his platform. Lets hope the US takes a similar turn in November 08!

Okay, back to Bali. Most countries wanted to work towards a new global treaty on climate change as well as new targets for carbon emissions by wealthy countries. But in the middle of the conference, the US, Japan and Canada teamed up to undermine the talks by objecting to any targets for rich countries to reduce their emissions. The US blocked the summit consensus, and when a smaller group of Kyoto treaty countries tried to move ahead without the US, they were blocked by Canada (which had signed the Kyoto protocol).

So what happened? The world spoke out and the largest joint climate petition in history was delivered thanks to the efforts of nearly a dozen major environmental organizations with a total of over 2,600,000 voices for climate action.

The deadline for the conference was extended 24 hours - Japan gave in quickly to the consensus, but the US and Canada held out. Then under pressure from all sides and massive domestic anger, the Canadian government finally did a complete U-turn, and allowed the smaller group of Kyoto countries to agree to reduce carbon emissions by 25-40% by 2020.

The US, now completely isolated, still held out. In the final general session, a compromise proposal was suggested that was accepted by every delegation. The United States took the floor -- and rejected it. The assembled delegations let loose a chorus of boos. Finally, the US agreed to join the consensus.

Every nation of the world has now agreed that they will enter into accelerated negotiations and, by 2009, sign a new treaty to confront global warming. This treaty needs to set binding global targets for carbon emissions, and a mechanism for meeting them, that will keep the earth's temperature from rising more than 2 degrees celsius - the amount that scientists say would be 'catastrophic'. This treaty must focus on clean energy sources - which reminds me (depressingly, this time) that an energy bill was just passed in the US that ultimately excluded a national renewable electricity standard and a tax structure that would have transferred money from oil industry profits into the renewable energy sector. So much for any significant US government support for renewable energy in the near future.

Note, there is not yet a treaty with binding global targets but we're on the right track. Negotiations will continue until 2009 and hopefully will be ready to enter into force by 2013, following the expiry of the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol. The agenda for the key issues to be negotiated up to 2009 includes: action for adapting to the negative consequences of climate change, such as droughts and floods; ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries; ways to widely deploy climate-friendly technologies and financing both adaptation and mitigation measures.

So there you have it. Some good news and some bad news in a terribly oversimplified format from someone who wasn't there :)

If you're still reading this and care to know more or show your support for issues that will affect you and perhaps more importantly your children and grandchildren, well there's a lot you can do. Let your representatives know that you want independence from foreign oil and that the US should invest in domestic clean energy sources (and education and health care, for that matter!). And if all you have time for is armchair activism, then I encourage you to join Avaaz, a rapidly expanding organisation for social and environmental action.

Not the end. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Why Technology is My Friend

Living so far away from the people we love is often quite difficult, some days more than others. Fortunately we have video conferencing to keep up with our growing niece and nephew! This photo is from a recent call consisting mostly of us giggling and gawking at the baby!

The lovable chubby Gavin cheeks...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Veggie Garden Gone Wild

While in India we were pondering whether our garden would be completely demolished by slugs and snails by the time we got home. They'd been quite a serious problem for the little seedlings and as we were away, we couldn't go out on our nightly slug killing missions. The things you'll do to maintain an organic garden! We'd put in a drip hose and installed a timer so we weren't so much worried about water, just the hungry little beasts. This photo is of our garden in early November, just a couple of weeks before leaving for India...

And this photo is what we found upon returning from India! The weather had warmed up and there had been lots of rain while we were away and this was the result!

Here I am crunching on a snap pea and standing next to sweet corn, in front of that the tallest zucchini plants I've ever seen, and in front of those and to the left, a few of our many tomatoes.

We also have ~10 potatoes (which came up from the compost - one as tall as the corn), 3 kinds of lettuce, 3 kinds of pumpkins, rock melon (cantaloupe), ~20 capsicums (peppers), silver beet, carrots, 3-4 kinds of beans, 3 kinds of peas, about ~30 corn and we have about 30-40 tomato plants.
Clearly Brian's composting efforts have paid off. The soil the plants are in is made up entirely of compost he started when we moved into this place in January and everything was grown from seeds. Impressive, eh?

Friday, December 14, 2007

4th International Conference on Environmental Education

A group photo from the India conference I found on the conference website. I'm hiding in the upper right hand corner of the group wearing a black shirt if you really want to play "Where's Jenn?"

Monday, December 10, 2007

Love India, Hate India

Everyone I’ve ever known who has traveled to India has recalled both loving the experience and hating it at the same time. They weren’t kidding!

Brian and I recently returned from a week and a half long trip to India so that I could attend the 4th UN International Conference on Environmental Education towards a Sustainable Future from 24-28 November in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. The plan was to have a day before the conference to settle in, five days at the conference and then three days to explore the local area before heading home with a day’s stopover in Singapore to visit friends (whew).

The conference itself was quite enjoyable with 1200 delegates from 80 countries. The conference was organized around a variety of environmental education themes such as pedagogy, monitoring and evaluation, the role of environmental education in primary and secondary schools, in nature parks and in higher education, the role of technology, etc. I was part of the higher education stream and presented a paper entitled “Developing a Whole-of-University Approach to Educating for Sustainability: Linking Curriculum, Research and Sustainable Campus Operations.”

Now Ahmedabad is your typically chaotic Indian city of 5 million residents (picture people everywhere, begging children, cows wandering around, pollution like you’ve never seen, and people sleeping in the streets). The venue for the conference was the Centre for Environmental Education, a fifteen acre centre where the buildings and trails are woven throughout the trees – you can imagine that this place was like a sanctuary from the craziness of the city – I loved it and it was obviously and excellent venue for the topic.

Morning tea amongst the trees

A langoor – a highlight of the outdoor plenary sessions were the monkeys and peacocks leaping and flittering through the treetops during the panel discussions!

The conference was really enjoyable and inspiring as I met people from around the world doing really great work - and I even managed to make some new friends along the way.

Day five of the conference just happened to be my birthday and while I thought turning thirty(!) in India would be memorable, I didn't know what I was in for. I awoke on the last day of the conference and congratulated myself and my stomach for holding up so well to foreign food, water and germs. Jumped the gun a bit there because by 3pm I was getting pretty queasy. I managed to make it through the rest of the sessions, catch a bit of the music and dancing and say goodbye to new friends Neha and Vinod from India and Maya from Israel (hi guys!). Made it back to my hotel room before it all went downhill. The next 24 hours were less than pleasant as I battled what I can only assume to be food poisoning or assorted intestinal bugs.

So, the cursed Delhi Belly cut into my post conference travel time and the only interesting tourist-like thing we were able to do, aside from a bit of shopping at the local markets, was visit Gandhi's Ashram, from where he began the famous Salt March in 1930. Here I am with the Father of the Nation...

By the time our departure date arrived, we were ready to leave India. While Brian likes to say that I got the full "India experience" I feel that I missed out on seeing the countryside and much of the rich cultural and spiritual traditions that bring tourists to India. I went for work and then I got sick and then the chaos and pollution just got to be too much.

We had planned a stopover in Singapore to see our friends and neighbours from last year, Karl and Sheryl, and we were overwhelmed at how much different one Asian nation could be from the next. Singapore is neat and tidy and green and lush - a welcome change from urban India. We spent a delightful day with them seeing the sights. Here we are at the Botanic Gardens...

One variety amongst a gazillion orchids

I don't know what kind of insect this is but I'm including it because it has to be one of the best photos we've taken on our camera (kudos to Brian)

The good looking man himself

Cool bromeliads

Me in the orchid garden

And the day ended with a visit to a tea shop where we had a lovely tea ceremony and learned about varieties of teapots. Here I am with the biggest teapot I've ever seen (some photos you just know will have to go on the blog). Sheryl then brought us to get the yummiest laksa (coconut curry seafood soup) I've ever had! She'd been telling me about it for a year and I wasn't disappointed!

Our day in Singapore was seemingly over before it began and we were soon saying goodbye to our friends and getting back on a plane. Not just any plane by the way - the giant two storey A380 Airbus. Honestly, we were too exhausted to notice whether it was cool or not; economy didn't have any more leg room and that was all I cared about. Back in Canberra we had a new appreciation for clean air and a good sixteen hour sleep before Brian started a new job and we got back into the routine.

The end. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


I work in a field dominated by what could be described as a buzzword - sustainability. I think I know what this term means (most days) but I am constantly reminded that it can be a vague and confusing concept. So I thought I’d share my thoughts on defining this fuzzy concept.

First, a bit of history. The term "sustainability" and its counterpart "sustainable development" have their origins in a UN conference and the resulting World Commission on Environment and Development report, known as Our Common Future. This report defined sustainability as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Okay, a vague definition to start, but to its credit, it’s flexible and it’s meant to remind us that all of our activities must be ecologically sound, socially just and economically viable in both the present and future.

Sustainability of course, is not a new idea. Humans have always been pursuing the sustainability of their families and communities. What has changed is the context in which we are collectively pursuing sustainability. We are now seeing that humans have the capacity to alter the earth’s systems on a global scale. The world we live in is ever more interconnected and the decisions we make, both individually and collectively, have an impact around the globe. In fact, globalization of the economy has it that our decisions on energy and material consumption often have more of an impact on the other side of the world than they do in our own backyards.

Most people generally classify sustainability as being about the environment and resources. But sustainability is not just about environmentalism moving into the mainstream of society. Separating the environment out into its own category is part of the problem. This is the major point: human society (including the economy) is thoroughly embedded within ecological systems. Herman Daly’s quote comes to mind; “The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the reverse.” We can continue to pretend that we call the shots but the signals are getting clearer by the day that we are dependent on biological systems. This means that we need to ask difficult questions about consumption, population and equity.

So all we need to do is reorganize our institutions to reflect this understanding of our proper role within the biosphere. No problem, eh? I will say that I think we are moving in the right direction. I don’t mean for this to be a depressing monologue by any means. I think that people are getting more and more knowledgeable about these issues by the day. What happens however when you continually hear about what’s wrong with the world but aren’t given any solutions or opportunities to be part of the solution? You get apathy and despair. My humble opinion is that one person can indeed make a difference as long as they have the skills and knowledge to know how to make a difference. It’s hard when we all live in a society that is so unsustainable. But your efforts to drive less, eat locally and buy secondhand go a long way to improving not only your own life, but the lives of folks on the other side of the planet and the lives of your grandchildren.

Wondering what else you can do? I just saw a terrific new resource put together by Stanford University on making sustainable choices. It offers lots of suggestions at the store, in your home and on the road. Check it out at

Saturday, November 03, 2007

All dressed up...

The following post has been fermenting for some time as the last several weeks were spent preparing the extra special 100th post. Speaking of the 100th post, I have to acknowledge Bear who cracked the code on the sentence super saturated with Australian-isms! You can read his translation in the comments section of the last post.

I've been meaning to write a bit about a conference I went to in early October in the Blue Mountains. It was the seventh annual (and my second) ACTS (Australasian Campuses Towards Sustainability) conference which brings together facilities managers interested in green campus operations and those of us interested in sustainability education in the tertiary sector. The conference was really interesting and informative and I gave a presentation and a workshop on the topic of student involvement in campus sustainability initiatives.

The conference dinner was a black and white 20's theme and we were told to dress up. Now this could have been totally cheesy but it ended up being the most fun I've had in ages! The ANU group looked really amazing and there was a terrific swing jazz band playing. We all danced the night away and tried to look awake at the conference the following day! I'd already presented so I wasn't too worried about sleep that night! Here are some photos of the girls looking sassy and then of the whole ANU contingent.

The next conference I'm going to will be in India. You can imagine I'm looking forward to that (not to mention eating curries and drinking chai until I can eat and drink no more)!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

One Hundredth Post

Well folks, I've reached the milestone of my one hundredth post! To mark the occasion I thought I'd take a stroll down memory lane and reflect on some of the highlights of my time here.

Arriving in Australia in February 2006 (a year and a half after finding out I was selected as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar) we found Canberra to be a delightful place to live. Not at all like the stuffy and boring place it's made out to be. Okay, maybe a little boring but we spend most of our free time these days at home in our garden anyway! Canberra is beach deficient and you can't blame a sea loving people for holding that against the place, but otherwise I'm convinced that people who live here perpetuate the myth in order to keep away the masses. A pretty dull place to visit, but a great place to live!

As a Rotary scholar I visited clubs around the district speaking about myself, where I'd come from, what I was studying and why I chose Australia. I have been truly honored to represent this organization and have seen that Rotarians do their best to make their communities better places.

If you've been following my blog since last year you'll have seen LOTS of animal photos. At one point I think that there might have been more birds, kangaroos, bats and possums appearing on my blog than yours truly, but my fascination with the wildlife is never ending! I just found this photo of my niece Teagan from when the family was visiting in September 2006. It must be one of the cutest things ever and I have to include it here...

Lest you should think that one can let a two year old go 'round schmoozing with wild animals, I should mention that this photo was taken in a petting zoo...

Studying at the ANU for my masters was a great experience because I shared it with interesting people from all around the world. Graduating earlier this year was really the culmination of waiting to come to Australia and all of the effort put in last year. Brian and I both felt on some level that we were ready to leave Australia once I was finished but alas, I am sensible enough to not pass up good opportunities that come my way. I'm still at the ANU working as a research fellow in sustainability education and really enjoy my job. I do have flickering visions of a PhD (and my supervisors toss in a "Dr McMillin" for good measure every now and then) but I'm happy where I'm at so I don't see any need to pursue a doctorate at the moment.

So, in summary, it has been an amazing experience to live and study abroad for an extended period of time. Australia is great; uncrowded, full of wide open spaces, awesome beaches, kangaroos and koalas, Asian food and fairly environmentally conscious folks. The politics though aren't all that much better than those back home. It's bloody hot in the summer and words like "bloody" have crept into my vocabulary. Sometimes I feel like I fit in but once I open my mouth they know I'm not from these parts.

Speaking of vocabulary, see if you can translate this:

This arvo I felt a bit crook and chucked a sickie, fair dinkum, eh? Chucked me esky and me swag in the ute and went walkabout with me mates out in woop woop. We'd just put some snags on the barbie and cracked a stubbie when we noticed a bloody pom hooning about in his budgie smugglers and whinging that his chook carked it. Reckon he had a kangaroo loose in the top paddock. Struth!

Crack the code and win big!

Now memory lane wouldn't be any fun without photos so I've sifted through about six thousand photos(!) to bring you the last year and a half in pictures (not an easy selection process I might add). I've made a slideshow and posted it on a Picasa web album.

The highlights of the photos include my time at the ANU and in Canberra, friends and family, the best of the Australian animals, visits to Rotary clubs, our Tasmania cycle trip, McMillin holidays around Australia (and Fiji) and some of the national parks we've been trekking in.

If you want to see the slideshow full screen and be able to vary the speed, click on the following link:

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Weekend

I think I mentioned our new garden in a previous post and I thought I’d put up a few photos to show what we’ve been doing lately. Brian has been diligently tending to two experimental compost piles since we moved into our new place in January and they have been a huge success! This is the garden bed we built using his compost…

And here are some of the tomato seedlings that were started in egg cartons. They have since been moved to larger pots and trays so that their roots have more room. The egg cartons worked out all right but the seedlings were probably a bit crowded from the start. We will definitely have to give some of these away as we didn’t expect one hundred of the seeds to actually sprout!

And a nice photo of the wisteria in our driveway...

Saturday was spent at the markets and in the garden and Sunday was off to the Tinderry Nature Reserve for a walk with Matt and Sarah. Here’s the crew enjoying a picnic on a grassy knoll with a nice view…

And on the way out of the park we saw two echidnas (the only monotremes – mammals that lay eggs - other than the platypus). This one is curled up in protective mode.

Weekends are never long enough!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


This morning I went out to sit in the sun on the front steps to trim my fingernails before going off to work. I had just sat down and from around the corner appeared my kitty friend, Bullseye (named by me for the distinctive circular pattern on her side). I’m sure that someone feeds and loves this cat but it is always wandering around near our house and is rather affectionate. Today Bullseye came right up and rubbed all over me as kitties do, leaving a swath of hair on my clothes. But that’s okay with me as I have moments where I desperately want a cat :) She then pushed the door open and walked right in the house, making herself at home and looking for food. Here she is looking like she owns the place...

...and here she is looking a bit unhappy with me for kicking her out so I could go off to work...

Monday, October 01, 2007


As today was a public holiday (Labour Day) we had a three day weekend. There were no grand adventures unless you count planting herbs and veggies in our new garden, catching up on laundry or baking lasagna. Today was mini-adventure I suppose, at Floriade, Canberra’s month long festival of the bulbs. The best of the photos follow:

And what festival of flowers and gardens would be complete without a display of garden gnomes, hand painted by local schoolchildren?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Deua National Park

Brian and I spent last weekend (our anniversary) in Deua National Park with our friends Matt and Sarah. Saturday consisted of a leisurely drive in an easterly direction, well leisurely until the last fifteen or so kilometres which were on a four-wheel drive dirt track. We found the limits of Matt's trusty Subaru Forester (and maybe exceeded them just a bit) as we bounced along ruts, forded a number of streams and climbed hill after hill. Just before dark we found a lovely campsite in a grassy patch well-manicured by the resident kangaroos and wombats. A mob of kangaroos were grazing happily across the way as we set up our tents and prepared dinner. It was only while collecting firewood that we realized there were wombats in the area; their burrows were everywhere and the entrances to some were massive! None sighted that night however.

The next day we spent on a beautiful walk following a meandering stream up to the Bendethra Caves. Along the way we are delighted to see an Australian critter that we've been hearing about for ages, but had not yet had the privilege of encountering...

... a goanna or lace monitor lizard. This one (including its very long tail) was about six feet long! We spotted him ambling through the grass and then he made his way up this tree and just hung out, letting us get a good look at him.

The destination for the day was Bendethra Cave, a limestone cave with a depth of about 250 metres, full of the most unusual shaped stalactites and stalagmites, and complete with a ceiling full of bats. As we'd foolishly left our headlamps at home, Brian, Matt and I had only one headlamp to maneuver through the pitch blackness which included climbing through very small holes, scrambling up irregularly placed footholds and sliding back down slippery slopes, mostly in control. We realized at one point that with only one headlamp and no spare batteries, that we probably shouldn't dawdle. We scurried back out and continued our walk, having lunch beside a babbling stream.

Arriving back at the car, we were feeling a bit cheated out of seeing a wombat as their burrows were everywhere but there was not a single wombat. Well that was nicely remedied on our drive out. Scattered across the grassy meadows were kangaroos and wombats all munching contentedly on grass. One little wombat even let us get pretty close to him and we got some adorable photos as we listened to his "scruffle munching" as I like to describe it.

Oh the cuteness!


There is always a bit of hesitation in creating the blog entry following on from some amazing adventure. Partly that's because I like to see all of the lovely Fiji photos first thing when I log into my blog and partly that's because I know the adventure has to fade slightly into the background as life goes on after the holiday.

That said, it's now quite a bit warmer than when we left for Fiji and that's good news!

Some photos from around the yard to capture a bit of spring....

These photos are of the Camellia bush right outside our front door. It is chock a block (to use a suitable Australian phrase) with these amazing flowers, some bright white and others deep fuschia, all on the same bush!

And when I got home this evening, I checked the mail and heard the possums rustling in the trees as usual but could see that they were on a low branch and I thought I'd grab the camera. Shooting into the dark with the flash, I managed to capture this photo of a possum with a joey on its back!

Saturday, September 08, 2007


Ni Sa Bula! A warm greeting heard often in Fiji...

Brian and I arrived in Nadi, Fiji on Wednesday afternoon and had the day to ourselves to explore the Sheraton resort. Early the next morning Brian’s parents, sister and niece (Carl, Jan, Heather and Teagan) arrived. As we hadn’t seen each other in a year, we spent the next several days relaxing and catching up, swimming and playing cards.

Poolside with a pina colada at the Sheraton Villas

A couple of days later, Brian’s aunt Leah arrives – the entourage is complete and the adventure begins! We all get on a plane, the smallest I’ve ever been on with 19 seats, and fly from the largest island of Viti Levu to Vanua Levu, the second largest island in Fiji. We land in lush Savusava where the airport is little more than a shack at the side of the runway. We are greeted by our drivers from the Tui Tai, the boat that will be our home for the next five days and are driven to Natewa Bay where the Tui Tai awaits. We are given floral leis and loaded into a small boat to take us out to the Tui Tai where the crew sings Fijian songs and welcomes us with fresh coconuts.

The Tui Tai holds 24 passengers in 12 cabins (there were 22 on our voyage) and had 19 crew onboard so you can imagine that we felt well looked after! Most of the traveling was done overnight and after the first night I got used to the rocking and slept through it just fine. No seasickness at all!

The Tui Tai

After being shown around the boat and to our rooms it was time for the first activity. Into the swimwear and off for some kayaking followed by a rainy walk along the coast where we run into women who show us how to husk a coconut and let us taste a “pregnant” coconut, one that is firm and foamy in the middle and ready to germinate.

Back on the boat for the first of many amazing meals. No sooner was lunch finished than we were gearing up for the next activity - snorkeling! After the afternoon activity we had a rest before dinner and were treated to a welcome kava ceremony.

Day two proved to be just as full of excitement as the first (you’ll detect a theme here…). After a full hot breakfast we were off to a morning of snorkeling at 9am. Here is my niece Teagan (almost three) looking adorably aquatic in her floaty suit!

She wouldn’t go into the ocean from the shore but was happy to get in the water from the side of the boat and swim freely between her mom and me and her new friend Sunia!

After snorkeling it was back to the boat for morning tea while we moved to a new spot for a second round of snorkeling (or scuba diving). This time around we see a turtle, balloon fish and magic coral that changes color when you touch it.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle

After lunch of fish burritos we head to the island of Taveuni for some mountain biking and to visit the International Date Line. Here Leah, Jan and Carl are in today while Heather, Teagan, Brian and I are in yesterday...

An ice cream rest stop

We then bike to a river with a natural water slide where you sit down and slide through a very smooth (though not without some bumps!) channel in the river bed and are shot out into a pool at the end! Not for the faint hearted!

Natural Water Slide

Afternoon tea held the best chocolate cake ever (I’m talking rivaling my moms here – that good!) and the following days consisted of several more exclamations to the tune of “Luma (the chef)! This is the best (insert food item here) I’ve ever eaten!”

That evening held a special treat for us as the 28th of August was a total lunar eclipse. Brain and I spent the late evening up on the top deck in a cabana watching the moon turn reddish-orange and multiple stars shoot their last rays across the night sky. With so little light pollution from cities the stargazing was certainly memorable!

The following days are filled with adventures too numerous to detail here. Stretching in the mornings on the upper deck, feeding bat fish breakfast scraps off of the back of the boat, visiting small villages and all of the hiking, biking, diving, snorkeling and kayaking you could possibly fit into a week.

Bouma Waterfalls on Taveuni Island. Two sets of waterfalls offered a welcoming swim after a bike ride to get there and then a very steep hike.

That afternoon we donned our sarongs for our first village visit. Piling into the little boats we head for the shore and are greeted by smiling children with whom Teagan becomes quick friends. After about five minutes she is running into their homes and playing hide and seek. We all get a tour of the village and are treated to some of their singing and dances. The village visits were a really special part of the trip because they enabled us to see Fiji as very few tourists do and to have an impact (a portion of the trip's proceeds go the villagers) without having the negative impact often associated with tourism in developing countries.

Cobia Island. A sunken volcanic crater that only Tui Tai passengers are allowed visit! We hiked up to the ridge and heard Liga, our guide, tell stories of the island while watching giant fruit bats circling overhead.

Back to the Tui Tai after hiking Cobia Island

A restless native?

No, that's Sunia, our kayaking guide awaiting us on the shore. You’d think the crew were always having as much fun as we were!

On our last full day of activities we started the day by doing a Discovery Dive in a site known as The Farm. This was our second scuba diving experience; the first was last year at the Great Barrier Reef on the first annual McMillin Tropical Holiday. It was an awesome dive with lots of soft coral, anemones and schools of colorful fish.

Bike ride on Rabi Island...

...and then a village visit where we were entertained for over an hour by primary school children dancing in their traditional costumes. Unbelievably amazing and moving.

Rabi Island Primary School Kids Perform

Our last evening on the boat was Fiji Fun Night where each country takes a turn representing their culture. We’d spent the week getting to know other passengers from around the world and this was a great opportunity to laugh together and end on a high note. The Americans staged an episode of Jeopardy with the rest of the passengers divided into two teams. The answer to our Final Jeopardy question (category: global statistics) was: In a recent survey, 12 out of 12 Americans polled agreed that this is the world’s best vacation destination. The question of course – What is the Tui Tai Adventure Cruise in Fiji?

After the Fijian crew sang us their national anthem and various other local songs, we called it a night. Saturday morning we were sung the Fiji Farewell Song and were driven back to Savusavu where the adventure began five days earlier.

We spent the day in Savusavu touring a pearl farm and then chatting with the owners of the Tui Tai. Late afternoon we got on another little plane and flew through a rainbow (true story fairy tale ending) back to Nadi for the final evening of the second annual McMillin Tropical Holiday.

Last night on the Tui Tai with my sister Heather