Monday, July 28, 2008

Coastal Shenanigans

Last weekend (I just had a sad moment thinking of it in the past tense already) I planned a trip to the coast for ANUgreen's visiting interns. I coordinate the ANU side of a sustainability exchange program between ANU, Yale and Oxford universities. Three ANU students are currently abroad and ANUgreen is hosting two students from Yale (John and Ashley) and one from Oxford (Emily). They are in Australia for about six weeks working in the office on a variety of projects ranging from sustainable transport to student outreach to urban biodiversity assessment. So, in an attempt to show them a bit of the countryside, I planned a retreat to ANU's coastal campus at Kioloa. Kioloa is a basically a field station with both beach and bush property and cottages that you can rent for research, writing, or relaxing. It's an awesome place and the managers, Robin and Steve are both terrific - hardworking but always happy to stop and chat and tell you what they're planting or what grand visions they have for the place or to enjoy a beer by the bonfire and just gaze at the stars.

It was so good to get away! I had all the food catered which made my life infinitely easier and allowed for the important things like sleeping in, searching for seashells and bushwalking.

A few images from the weekend:

Beach shadows

A hammerhead shark discovered on the beach. A pretty neat find!

Rock puddles that I thought were really cool.

Another group at the field station for the weekend were on an art school retreat. Here we are looking at the kilns they'd made out of trash cans. They put on an exclusive exhibition (our group were the only guests) of their photography, painting and sculptures inspired by and created at Kioloa.

Here we're setting off on an afternoon walk...

...and these cool plants remind me of something straight out of Dr. Seuss.

Jenn and Brian at the summit of Mt. Bundle, a whopping 200 metres :)

There were lots of rainbow lorikeets and they would eat seeds and honey right out of your hand. Unfortunately, my camera is acting up these days and while the image looks fine when you snap it, the shots ultimately have lots of little while lines of latitude through them. Very annoying, especially when you snap a nice shot and find out its corrupted! Not sure whats wrong; sensor issues perhaps? Anyway, I liked this photo and was determined to doctor it up a bit so I could post it.

A lovely weekend that, as usual, could have been longer!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

New Passport Arrived!

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention (this is noteworthy enough to get its own post!) new passport arrived in the mail! It's the new version of the US passport so besides the fact that it has a chip in it which could potentially be used to track my every move, it's really cool! The pages are full of lots of pretty pictures and quotes that I won't actually want anyone to stamp. And the good news is that they spelled my name correctly and I can finally stop directing everyone to the amendments page at the end, as the title page of the old passport still said Kerr. And they return the old passport when you get a new one which is cool because of course, a passport has quite a bit of sentimental value. Now I just have to go to the Immigration office and get our new visa labels applied and get my visa linked to my new passport number. I thought they would just renew the old one but oddly enough, they give you a new number. One last hoop to jump through (until we have to get Brian's passport renewed in a few months!)

Rainy Sunday

I awoke this morning having dreamt of crashing waves on a beach. In my dream, I was stuck in some building gazing out at the beach from behind a glass window and I couldn't go out to enjoy the sun and sand because I had to hurry and pack so I could leave and catch a plane. I take this as proof that I am in desperate need of a tropical holiday :) Planning to meet the family in Hawaii later this year but I'm not sure I can wait that long!

The weekend is once again slipping by - yesterday (Saturday) we had a lazy day and then joined some friends to make pizzas for dinner. Today has involved the usual chores - grocery shopping, laundry, baking lasagna. It started pouring rain on our way home from the grocery store and we're supposed to go out this evening for a going-away party. Some friends of ours are moving back to Sweden so we're going to see them off, but it's going to take a bit of effort to don the rain gear and venture out.

Earlier today we went out to have a look at our winter garden. Unlike Minnesota or Ohio you can actually have a garden year round here and so we planted snow peas, beets, spinach, chard, onions and other hardy veggies. Then we proceeded to neglect them terribly. That wouldn't be such a problem except for the fact that we are losing the battle against the slugs and snails due to our lack of diligence. So the winter garden is looking fairly sad, but not a complete loss. Here I am checking out the peas.

Hopefully, we can salvage at least few green and crunchy treats from the jaws of the slimy enemy. Do snails have jaws? Doubt it.

It's going to be a busy week. Classes are back in session tomorrow for the beginning of second semester so there will be a lot more students around. And I'm in a training session all day Tuesday and Wednesday to learn how to run an environmental change management course for students. Need me to define that? It's a training course where we teach students how to go into an organization to do environmental audits and provide the company with suggestions on how to both improve environmental performance and save money. So this week I'm being trained to be the trainer. Should be a good experience.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Great Visa Saga

Until the other day, I was starting to think that maybe Australia didn't want me anymore. Since I've been in the process of changing positions from a research fellow in the Fenner School to an Environment Officer with ANUgreen, I've had to apply for a new visa. Apparently, my employer sponsored visa is tied not to the ANU as a whole, but to the specific department where I happen to be working. So, since my last contract expired and because I was changing departments, I had to go through the whole process of applying for a new visa.

I applied for the new visa on the second of April, assuming that was plenty of time to process the paperwork before the start of the new contract in late March. I assumed that was plenty of time because the Immigration website told me so. Two months later in the beginning of June, after calling, emailing and logging in to the online system to see what in the world could be holding up the approval, I start to get annoyed. My previous contract had been extended to accommodate the visa process but the move couldn't be formalized until I had the new visa in hand. Finally, after more than two months they tell me that they were missing some documentation needed to approve the new visa! A signed contract, copies of our passports and new chest xrays. All fine until they got to the chest xray part.

I submitted my application for a new visa before the old chest xrays from last year expired (the ones that clearly demonstrated that neither of us had tuberculosis). The results are valid for twelve months and of course I'm not thrilled about the idea of exposing my body to any more radiation than absolutely necessary. So, hoping to get around that little technicality, I submitted all the forms before the twelve months were up. Two months later, however, they needed to tick that little box saying I still didn't have TB. No possibility for a blood test instead of xrays nor an exemption on the basis of being from a low risk country nor a negative result from the previous year could get us off the hook. Dejected, we went off for chest xrays which of course are only offered at one clinic in the entire city in about the most inconvenient of possible locations. Upon arrival we find that they don't actually make appointments for the xrays and the radiologists just slot you in as they find time. It took them about three hours to find time for us! The whole ridiculous adventure took an entire afternoon, but of course neither of us had anything better to do....

So from there it should be easy. The clinic sends the results electronically to Immigration and we get approved. Except for some reason, Brian's results wouldn't show up in the system. And for two weeks I called and called again to get the two departments to be able to communicate with one another to verify the xray results. His results never did show up in the system; I don't know if McMillin was spelled wrong or what, but finally they decided to just add a note to the file and approve our visas. Good grief. At least we know we don't have tuberculosis.

I'm also renewing my passport since it expires in August. Renewing an American passport while in Australia involves filling out a fairly simple form and sending it off with two photos and more money than should be necessary to make a little blue book with a hideous picture in it. Two weeks after sending off my application, I get a letter saying I must include two acceptable passport photos. Was the photo really that bad? I call up the US Consulate and am struck by the American accent of the voice recording. Strangely comforting. I'm then told that I submitted Australian passport sized photos and not American passport sized photos. Good grief. Sent those off and am still waiting for my new passport.

When I'm not jumping through bureaucratic hoops, I can be found working at a job I love for more hours than I get paid for, knitting or watching the West Wing (I've started the series again - I told you I'm addicted).

On a more fun note, our friends came to visit us last week after several months abroad in Israel, China and Thailand. We've made a cameo appearance on Majikfaerie's Blog in case you're interested. Which reminds me, I've also made a cameo appearance on the ANU Campus Garden Blog if you're really keen to see yours truly hard at work (well, not really in this particular instance).

I swear the planets are out of alignment right now, but at least I don't have tuberculosis. Good grief.