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.