Friday, December 30, 2016

The great Melbourne beach adventure

We talked about renting a beach house in South Australia for the week between Christmas and New Years day. But we were a little late doing research and trying to book a place, and planning a holiday further away was too exhausting in the middle of our other projects.

So then we noted that there are lots of great beaches closer to home, near Melbourne, and we could just rent a beach house more locally, and not have to go so far and do a lot of research.

And then we noted again that in fact, we live near public transit that will take us to a wide variety of beaches near Melbourne, and rather than rent a house and go to the same beach every day, we could use our own house as a beach retreat, and just visit a new beach every day during the inter-Christmas and New Year holidays. And then we'd have all our stuff, and our own beds, and clean showers, and good food. So that was the plan we settled upon.

For future reference, I'll post a few pictures and describe the features of all the beaches we visited. We liked all of them, although they were all very different -- which surprised me a lot since they're all accessible by public transit less than an hour from our place, and they're all on the Bay of Port Philip.

23 December: St Kilda Beach.

We weren't going to start until Christmas Eve, but Jonathan was out of school, I was out of work, and we were both bored and excited, so we started a day early, visiting the very closest beach to our apartment: St Kilda beach, a 15 minute tram ride from home (or 40 minute walk).

Because St Kilda is so close to home, we've been there a lot. Its biggest advantage is that it's very easily accessible. There are a lot of restaurants, ice cream, penguins at the end of the pier (if it's the right time of year), and yet still nice sand and gentle waves. You'll see a lot of people, and hear a lot of languages. Its accessibility is also probably its biggest disadvantage. There can be a lot of people.

24 December: Edithvale Beach.

On Christmas Eve, we had more time, so we journeyed further south on the Frankston train line. Tim and I had taken that line before, and it passes a string of nice beaches. We chose Edithvale kind of at random, and partly based on a review that said it didn't have good parking, which made it less popular for the automobile crowd. Since we're not automobile crowd, that seemed good.

The beach was beautiful, with white sands and turquoise waters. There weren't very big waves again, because it's on the sheltered Bay of Port Philip. There were small fishes swimming just in the water -- remember to bring snorkel or at least goggles next time for better viewing of the underwater sand creatures.  The sand was also nice for digging. In the photo below you can see Jonathan and a friend digging a hole.

We had a really great time at this beach. And there were clean public toilets, showers, and changing rooms, as well as a couple of water fountains and a place to rinse sandy feet. The only negative from the day was not related to the location -- the UV index, which measures how quickly you will burn under the sun, was extremely high that day. We wore hats, rash guard shirts, and lots of sunscreen, and we did ok, aside from a few sunburned toes. Remember to put sunscreen on your feet, friends.

Christmas day: No beach that day. We went to a friend's house for dinner.

26 December: Sandringham beach.

So unfortunately it was pouring rain on the afternoon of the 26 December.  However, part of our plan was to visit beaches whatever the weather. So off we went. We took the Sandringham train to the end of the line, then walked a block to the beach. The beach was down a green covered hill, and again it was very lovely.

I stood for a while under a roof near the life saving club, hoping the rain would ease up and then I would join Tim and Jonathan by the water. But it only seemed to rain more and more while I waited. Eventually I just gave up and decided I'd get rained on.

Jonathan had no qualms about getting wet and sandy.

I wasn't so keen to get in the water, though, in the rain, so I walked the beach from end to end. There were rocks on either side. This one had a small sea star clinging to its side, but you can't really see that from the picture. 

One advantage of going during a light rainstorm is that we had the entire beach to ourselves, except for the three life guards huddled under a tent. You can see Tim and Jonathan just barely in this picture. But that's it. 
Anyway, the Sandringham beach was beautiful. I would like to go again in nicer weather. However there was just one public toilet and no changing rooms, although they did have a place to wash feet. Come dressed in your swim gear and plan to wear it home damp -- not a problem if you take the train. Also, food and other amenities are up the hill back near the train station.

27 December: Altona Beach.

We'd spent three days going south and east. The next day we decided to go west instead, to the western side of the city. Tim suggested Williamstown, but that required a train transfer, so at the last minute we just stayed on the train we were riding and got off at Altona.

The weather was not bright and sunny, but it wasn't raining either, and the water quality report was good ( Like St Kilda, I think Altona must be pretty accessible for a lot of people, because the beach was more crowded. Or maybe everyone decided it was time to get out again.

Altona beach had a cool pier. And the water was very shallow. You could walk out to about the end of the pier without needing to swim.

Tim really liked this one. He and Jonathan waded out and found crabs, clams, and small fish swimming at his toes -- a whole world of living things you could explore without taking off your hat.

Jonathan and I dug around in the sand.

And Tim and I walked to the end of the pier.
And we were home in time for dinner.

28 December: Black Rock Beach.

Black rock beach was recommended by friends, who said it was the beach they liked best. This one was a little trickier to get to: we took the Sandringham line to the end, then got on a bus for 20 more minutes. It took us an hour to get there in all.

The beach was gorgeous. Like Sandringham, it was at the bottom of a green hill. There were toilets at the top of the hill, showers half way down. And beautiful blue water at the bottom.

It was windy, so there were slightly larger waves -- definitely more waves than the perfectly flat Altona beach the day before. But still not big waves for surfing. I believe you have to drive to the ocean for that this time of year. In any case, the swimming was great.

Jonathan built a sand fort. 

Tim walked to the rocks at the far end, and we all went swimming. This time I brought goggles, so I could see the world in the water -- a few small fishes and shells. The water felt very good with the hot wind blowing in from the north western deserts.

In any case, Black Rock beach was very pretty, and we had a great time. However, it didn't seem to have many advantages over Sandringham beach. Next time we may save ourselves 20 minutes and just go to Sandringham rather than take the extra bus.

So there you have it. Five different beaches in five different days. It was a great adventure that I hope to repeat. In fact, looking at these pictures makes me wonder why I'm sitting here typing rather than going out again to find another. There are still lots of great beaches to go.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Tis the Season

Christmas Eve is nearly over! It is time for this blog to get Festive!

Here are some photos of Christmas in Melbourne.

21 December 2016.

23 December 2016.
Gingerbread city, Melbourne.

Melbourne City Square, Christmas.

St Kilda Beach.

24 December 2016.
Corella cockatoo.
Edithvale Beach.

Now Santa is about to come here, so I have to quit. Merry merry Christmas!


In spite of the upside down seasons, the first day of Christmas break landed the way it always does: with a long to-do list. All those tasks I had been saving up for when school was over and conferences finished and the calendar finally clear -- all those tasks needed to be done. And it would be great to get them done before Christmas.

My calendar was clear Thursday morning. Jonathan was out of school. We sat down together at the kitchen table and created a summer star chart, one for each of us, with the tasks we wanted to accomplish each day of the school break.

Star charts created, we both embarked on our first chores. My chore: to finish up a final report on a grant I left in the USA after moving to Australia. But as I started filling in the forms for the grant on my laptop, I noticed that the screen was too bright -- it was burning my retinas. Looking away, I realized it was not the screen burning the retinas, but some sort of weird triangular pattern on the backs of my eyeballs. And soon after that, my hand started feeling numb. That was enough chores for me. I told the family that I was too young to die, and went to bed.

Two hours later, I awoke with a massive migraine. That weird triangular eyeball pattern and the numbness was a migraine aura. My very first migraine aura. While I've experienced migraines for 25 years, I always skipped the fancy aura part before.

Anyway, in spite of the aura, the migraine wasn't my worst ever. But it did wipe out a whole day to finish chores before Christmas. Sigh. Today I'm going to try to finish that final report for the grant....

Sunday, December 18, 2016


It's cold today. It's sunny, but the high temperature is only in the mid-60s Fahrenheit. I would like a string of days in the mid-70s and mid-80s, but we haven't really had them yet. The pattern is two warm days followed by five cold. According to the forecast, it should be warm by Christmas, though.

Jonathan has a last half day of school tomorrow. We plan to spend our break checking out local beaches, whether or not the weather cooperates. I guess we'll just spend less time at the beach if the weather is uncooperative.

To close this (short) post, I offer you a few kangaroos. The first ones I saw in Creswick, Victoria, last week.
And a few more (zoom into the top right of the photo).

While in Canberra a few weeks ago, we stopped in a pharmacy and found the following, perfect Christmas gift for all the men in our lives. (Looking at you, Mal, Mark, Earl.)
Kangaroo essence for men. Each capsule contains extract equivalent to 300mg of Kangaroo meat. The Bio Island website advertises its kangaroo essence capsules by reminding us that: "The kangaroo is an animal that can be characterised by its strength, power and energy".

But in the end, we weren't sure if we could ship the capsules or not, quarantine laws being what they are, and so we did not get it. We only offer the photo.

Next Christmas, guys. Next Christmas.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Summer time!

From experience, I know that by now the Northern Hemisphere is cold, icy, snowy, and basically covered in winter. Of course, it's still early enough in the year that Northern Hemisphere types are wide eyed over twinkle lights and frosty breath and magic. But give it another month and a few more icy mornings, freeways full of semis pumping black gas into the haze of sky, and white fluffy snow morphed into gray icy sludge that splatters the sidewalks and seeps into your boots, and all the magic will fade into the blur of chapped skin and dirty overcoats and lung-choking darkness that is winter.

Summer is glorious.

The birds love summer, too. Can you find twelve rainbow lorikeets below? They were hanging upside down eating the seeds in the trees outside our apartment.

I have been away during the week for the past couple of weeks, and I have two more weeks to go with this schedule. There is a large international workshop being held in country Victoria, about 1.5 hours away from home. I go off into rural Victoria for the week, then back for the weekend. It isn't ideal, but Tim and Jonathan are doing ok.

The place where I am staying is far enough away from the city that a short walk at dusk brings you to fields full of kangaroos.

If you know to look for them.

The first night I was away, to my delight I found that the dorms where I'm staying are right under the branches of tall eucalyptus trees where sulphur crested cockatoos spend the night. Hundreds of the birds flew just overhead and called happily to each other starting just around sunset. It was like a grand party of yellow-tinged white birds, chattering and calling and sharing the adventures of the day.

They settled down for quiet sleep around 9:30pm in the evening. And it was beautiful and fun and exciting, right up until about 5:00am the next morning, when the cockatoos woke up again and began calling and chattering. It was like a huge 5am party, with all the birds screaming loudly across the trees to tell each other about their plans for the new day. And that lasted until around 6am, by which time they had all flown away and I was wide awake. I'm going to have to live on cockatoo schedule for a couple more weeks, I think.

That's pretty much all our news. Except Jonathan volunteered at a French festival in a cookie-decorating booth with his school. And Tim and I bought a couple of cookies to decorate. Tim ate his before I took a picture, but he did point out that he was decorating an American pumpkin with an Irish flag at a French festival in Australia. Have you ever met people who are so internationally savvy?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Upside down

It is November, and a very lovely November it is. The daylight hours have been stretching. And spring has fully crept up into the tops of the trees, and they're all full of leaves and sunshine and shade. The sun is up before I am, so I can shower in the mornings without turning on the overhead lights. And the sun doesn't set until late in the evening. Summer is only ten days away, and I love it. I love it.

This week is Thanksgiving week in the US. That's a big holiday where I come from. It involves cold weather and orange pumpkins and cloves and turkey and cold gray weather. Occasionally I remind myself that it's Thanksgiving the the US soon. That's such a bizarre thought. The word "Thanksgiving" doesn't match the glorious nearly summer weather at all. In honor of my roots, however, I played every Thanksgiving hymn I know as prelude at church today. It made me think of pumpkins and cloves and cold gray weather, and it was really out of place. I was pretty sure someone was going to come up and tell me to stop, that the baked-pumpkin hymns really had no place in the glorious green and floral scents of late spring. And then it occurred to me that they probably almost never play those hymns here, so the people probably don't associate them with pumpkins and cold gray-ness. And nobody was listening anyway. And perhaps I could even get away with playing some of the funny US patriotic hymns for prelude and no one would even notice? But I didn't go that far.

Related to crazy backwards weather holidays, Christmas is coming. There are Christmas decorations up and Christmas ads on the tellie. Christmas in the northern hemisphere celebrates midwinter's day. Here, it will land almost on top of the summer solstice, the lightest, warmest, sunniest time of year, when people go hang out at the beach and grill sausages and lick ice lollies and I can't wait!

But it's funny to watch the TV commercials in which the family is out at a barbecue, everyone in shorts and sleeveless shirts, eating watermelon, with jingle bells playing in the background. And then a nostalgic pause as the Christmas lights go on, all strung along the green leafy trees. And then the disembodied voice: "This Christmas season, celebrate with groceries from Coles." It seems so bizarre.

Our church is trying to find someone to play Santa Claus at their Christmas party. I asked some women at church today what Santa Claus wears here. Still the fuzzy suit? Won't that be really really hot? And they looked at me like I was brilliant and said, "Yes! Let's do an Aussie Santa! With red shorts and a T-shirt and a Santa hat." Still seems a little silly. I know for sure that Santa head is going to be too hot. But whatever.

Anyway, with another month to go, we are finalising our Christmas plans. We have almost found all the presents we need to ship -- this week -- to our international family members. More locally, we have to figure out what to do for a Christmas tree, as we did not ship our old fake one when we moved, and more importantly, and where to put it. There is a plant nursery I pass on my way to work each morning that is now selling potted pines. I'm thinking that might be the way to go this year. And then we will have to decorate.

I can't wait to do an Aussie style Christmas. For the week between my last day of work and the ends of December, I want to spend each day trying out a different beach, working on my body surfing and boogie boarding skills. Merry merry merry!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


I was in Canberra last week for a workshop. Canberra is the capital of Australia. It's a lovely little city partway between Melbourne and Sydney, more than ten times smaller than Melbourne. What that means is that nature is not so far away from Canberra. On Wednesday night, I walked a few blocks through the suburbs into the hills and saw kangaroos.
There are kangaroos in this picture.
There are also a lot of birds, even on the university campus. Sulphur crested cockatoos, galah cockatoos. This time I saw a couple of gang gang cockatoos, which are more rare. Crimson rosellas, eastern rosellas.
This is a very tiny crimson rosella.
Tim and Jonathan came to visit for the weekend, to see some of the sights.

Here are the sights we chose to see.

The national science museum: Questacon. This is kind of like the Exploratorium in San Francisco, with lots of things to see and do. Here is a picture of Jonathan enjoying the view in the endless mirror room.

And building.

There was also an earthquake simulator, a lightning room, puzzles, microscopes, dry-ice asteroids, and other cool things.

From Questacon we walked through the Old Parliament gardens, which were very lovely in spring.

And then we wandered over to the National Museum of Australia, which is kind of a museum of stuff, showing stuff from the history of Australia. It seems I didn't take pictures. In addition to stuff from the natives, there were old vehicles, fancy outfits, and the record-breaking wool of a sheep that had been unshorn for five years. Kind of a random place.

Oooh. Here is a picture I did take, on the university campus. This is a statue of Churchill. He would look more impressive if that spider hadn't woven snot and drool all over his face....

We arrived home to find a new house guest: another huntsman spider, the size of my fist. Since it was too big to kill, and not moving, we left it alone entirely. Creepily, it was gone the next morning.

We left the next morning as well, and walked to the botanic gardens, arriving just in time to take a tour in the extended golf-cart bus. That was fun. We saw squiggly-bark eucalypts. Lots of native flowers.

And lots of large lizards.

No, lots and lots of them.

From the gardens, we climbed the summit trail. And climbed and climbed.

At the very top of the hill --- they call it "mountain," but I can't bring myself to say mountain if the top doesn't even make it out of the tree line --- at the very top there is a huge tower.

We paid a small fee to take an elevator to the observation level, where we ate lunch with spectacular panoramic views of the city.

And then we walked down, back through the botanic gardens...

... and then caught a taxi to the airport and flew home. 

Tim spent the whole weekend sneezing. The levels of pollen were super-duper extra high in Canberra. Poor red-eyed, red-nosed Tim huddled with his tissue box. He was very happy to leave. Poor Tim.

In any case, I agree that Canberra was nice to visit, but it is nice to be home.