24 December 2010

A Christmas Letter

Dear Friends and Family,

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a Christmas letter. In the shadow of instant and constant updates on the inanities of daily life made possible by electronic social networks, it seems unnecessary and redundant. But, considering what a zinger of a year it has been for us, I felt it would be worthwhile – if only for myself – to take some time and review the changes that have unfolded over the last 12 months. I hope you enjoy this update, but as usual, those of you who are offended by impersonal communications (and you might want to review you own outbox before bristling) can respectfully go fuck yourselves.

I confess, I am sorely lacking in yuletide spirit this year. It may be an inevitable consequence of suffering from near total exhaustion, or it may be due to the fact that the sun is blazing in a clear blue sky, or, more likely, it is because this year can never compare to the joyous time we had last Christmas with our friends and family in California. We spent three wonderful weeks riding bicycles through the cold dark streets of San Jose and drinking cheap beer in dive bars, sprawling on my mother’s couch watching football while eating hot wings, and farting on the dog.

For New Year’s Eve, we packed up the whole family and flew to Reno, the proverbial scene of the crime, to celebrate our wedding anniversary. The decadence of the Peppermill Spa and Resort was in stark contrast to the Western All Star Motor Inn, and our opulent Italian dinner bore no resemblance to the Denny’s Nachos on which we had dined 20 years prior. I have never regretted that our entire wedding cost less than $500 (including the rings), just as I will never regret the lavish sums we spent on our anniversary celebrations...plus, Mom covered the cost of New Year’s Dinner with her winnings from the penny slots.

Our bittersweet return to Australia quickly descended into turmoil. Some career related drama gave Kevin his characteristic reaction of itchy feet and he began to prowl the job boards in other cities. I was less than pleased with this turn of events, having established a remarkable network of friends and colleagues over the last 3 years. With a fair degree of panic, I took stock of my comfortable apartment over looking the city and my comfortable job making graduate students cry at the university. Realizing that each of our life changing moves has been ascendant in terms of quality of life, I agreed to remain open-minded.

By February, Kevin had secured an interview with a small but expanding company nestled in the grape covered Adelaide Hills in South Australia. As usual, I fell under the spell of his romantic visions of leisurely days touring nearby wine regions, of long beachside brunches, and the slower pace of life in a small and tidy city. I confess that I was indeed captivated by the dry summer landscape, so reminiscent of California. When I found a job opportunity to pursue a new career as a sales representative with a top supplier of laboratory reagents – a company I had often dreamed of representing – I began spinning my own fantasies of a fresh start and a new life in Adelaide.

Our departure from Sydney was marked by a series of fond good-byes, well wishes, and promises of visitations. Allegedly, my farewell party at the university was the most attended in the history of our department. There were many tears, many laughs, and many glasses of wine – although not necessarily in that order. Now I regret promising Mille I wouldn’t distribute the pictures!

Ahhh, fuck it – promises are for breaking.

Soon we were consumed by the daunting tasks associated with transporting a life a thousand miles away. Once more, I was forced to reflect on the uncanny ability of ‘stuff’ to cling to a person. We came to Australia with 4 meager suitcases. In spite of my best efforts at not yielding to consumerism, we had managed to accumulate a fair number of possessions with which I was unwilling to part – mostly because they were found items. I could not help but ponder the ridiculousness of paying to move other people’s garbage interstate.

Once we landed in Adelaide, all time for reflection was gone, and our fantasies of a leisurely life all but evaporated under the stresses of our new jobs. We rented a cavernous 3 bedroom home with a gourmet kitchen in an upscale suburb within walking distance of the city. Suddenly, it did not seem that we ad accumulated much stuff at all, and realizing we had made a commitment to remain in Australia for at least a few more years, we decided it was time to ship some of our worldly goods from America.

My new job was immediately demanding of my time, so Kevin elected to supervise the packing and shipping of our furniture – which afforded him to opportunity to catch up with some old friends, eat some good pizza and stock up on affordable salsa.

And the chance to take a final picture of our beloved Cow, who sadly passed away a few months later.

One big change from Sydney living was the fact that we would once again be dependant upon motor vehicles for our livelihoods.

I didn’t realize driving was something you forgot how to do…or perhaps Kevin needs to visit the optometrist…

When I told my most wonderful mother we were moving, again, she said “Oh good! Another place for me to visit!” and true to her word, she came out in September – to what should have been a glorious spring, but was instead a stormy and lingering winter.

I managed to wrangle a few days off work for some local excursions. We took the ferry to Kangaroo Island where we communed with passionate penguins, ferocious fur seals, peckish pelicans, mouth-watering maron, lamentable lambs, and one sleepy koala perched in a tree outside a boutique distillery.


In Melbourne, we strolled through the markets and attended Dracula’s Cabaret, then drove the Great Ocean Road with our hangovers perched in our laps.

During the week, Mom occupied herself with local tours, huddled against the relentless rain and in the evening we took gentle repose on our dreadfully uncomfortable furniture. Our comfortable furniture arrived from America two weeks after her sorrowful departure.

With the arrival of our beloved couches, our house began to feel like a home and we were finally able to relax into our new jobs and begin exploring the local surrounds. As envisioned, we have taken several day trips to local wine regions, caught some of our favourite bands in nearby venues, and put our lovely kitchen to good use from the bounty on offer through the many local fresh produce markets…an activity that pleases Bad, Bad Kitty to no end.

Perhaps the most marvellous aspect of Christmas in Australia is the fact tat it shuts down so completely for the holidays. With Christmas day falling on a Saturday, and Boxing Day on a Sunday, the shops are closed for four whole days. This morning, we decided to wag work and went to the Central Markets to stock up on supplies. With a forecast of 91 degrees for Christmas Day tomorrow, I could not comprehend roasting a turkey, so we opted for a traditional seafood feast.

With the refrigerator comfortably stocked with scallops, yellow fin tuna, king prawns, and giant crab legs, with a bowlful of cherries and mangoes, with a stash of sparkling shiraz and chilled rose, I am finally able to relax, decompress, and take the time to reach out to my friends around the globe with all the best wishes for a joyous holiday season and a happy and healthy new year.

Love and Kisses,

Audra and Kevin.

20 December 2010


Sorry Richard, what can I say?  My head is just in the toilet lately...

18 December 2010

By Request...

Thanks to my fabulous Mom - I had some delicious Hungarian Mushroom Soup for dinner...with no toilet related repercussions worthy of discussion.

11 December 2010


Because I have the occasion to visit a great many such facilities, it seems to me that there is a disturbing trend developing among female scientists in both industry and academia.  I am not referring to the dearth of women in senior leadership roles, but to their increasing inability to shit with some degree of civility.  I cannot help but wonder if there is a correlation.

I am simultaneously amused and disgusted by the observation that nearly every restroom at my customer accounts is adorned with some sort of  instruction in the proper use of a toilet.  These range from simple pictorial images to lengthy manifestos on the importance of hygiene in shared facilities.  I am particularly fond of this highly motivational poster:

I have witnessed (and as a small mercy to my readers, not photographed) the provocations to such signage, and it is indeed hideous.  At one account in particular, I found myself on the edge of enthrallment as I contemplated the physics and trajectories necessary to allow the deposition of fecal matter in such a location.  Could it really be simple neglect or was something more sinister unfolding in this place or digestive repose? 

Several days later, I found the answer to my ponderings affixed to a university stall:

Well, that explains how it got THERE.  However, it is now clear to me that it is not a matter of malice, but a cultural issue - and a difficult one to reconcile at that.  Considering the reluctance of most women to make physical contact with the seats of public toilets, it is unlikely that appealing to a sense of safety is going to convince women who have been trained to squat that sitting is a superior alternative.  You'd have just as little luck trying to persuade Westerners -  particularly those with bad knees or prohibitive fat depositions - of the benefits of the squat position (although a nurse friend of mine is a huge advocate, claiming that in countries where squatting is the norm, there is no such thing as constipation. I maintain that it has more to do with the unavailability of clean drinking water in such countries.  Diarrhea and constipation are mutually exclusive - despite being co-listed as side effects on nearly every medication known to man.)

The simplest solution is no simple solution:

I feel this issue underpins the one of fundamental difficulties of blending diverse cultures.  It is one thing to accept peculiar cultural differences as charming eccentricities, but when it comes to replacing common yet costly infrastructure, the conversation may easily turn to questions of whether compromise should rest with the immigrant or the indigenous.  On the one hand, when you move to a new country, you might expect that you will need to adapt to the unfamiliar habits of your host nation (such as 12 ounce pint glasses...WTF?!).  Similarly, one might feel perfectly entitled to carry forward the customs and learnings of the motherland. 

Both views are valid. 

Both lead to stalemate.

Both lead to shitty toilets.