Monday, December 25
Well, it's not quite Christmas day here yet but for some of you it is, and we're thinking of you. Christmas eve day here and while it comes with most of the usual excitement, it is also tinged with a little sadness and a longing for home... or shortbread.
We have very eclectic and simple decorations this year, but they suit the apartment. We also have a small tree made of rosemary!
My step sister and her partner arrive today, hopefully, although they're currently stuck in Phoenix airport due to the inevitable delays. The weather here has been really intense the last few days, with thunder storms and lots of rain, and it's turned cold now, but still no real chance of snow for us here in Texas.
It looks like we're having a pretty big Christmas, with about 14 people from work and friend networks, mostly Aussies! Jo and I are in charge of cooking the Turkey, so we'll see if we can pull that one off. It may be an early start to Christmas morning, but it's all good. Dad has passed on his treasured 'Christmas Milk' recipe so I'll be maintaining family tradition and preparing that in the morning. It's a milky whiskey drink, sweet and totally drinkable, but not thick like eggnog (or eggy...) It doesn't seem to last very long though...
Anyhow, thinking of you all and missing you even more. Have a wonderful Christmas. All our love-
Jo and Jac ^_^
Saturday, December 23
Inflected Form(s): tar·di·er; -est
Etymology: alteration of earlier tardif, from Anglo-French, from Vulgar Latin *tardivus, from Latin tardus
1 : moving slowly
2 : delayed beyond the expected or proper time
Example: Blog entries on Jac Wabbit goes to Texas
Friday, December 22
For backstory, my previous Portland posts are Here and Here, although there may be other references lurking in May and June of the archives...
Portland is a great city and makes me feel totally at home. Read that as "Jac is head over heals for the place". I'm not sure if it's the cold, the mountains, the hot tea, the rain, the multitude of subarus, or the political leftness... but it's all good! We stayed in what is probably my favorite hotel thus far, the Benson. It's a small hotel that has all the good stuff, including lovely sheets, bathrobes, good cable and room service french onion soup, while not being at all tacky plasticky and nasty. They even have a lovely little Asian lady who knocks on the door at 5.30pm 'you want bed turned down?' and when you invariably say no she hands you a bunch of candy and a little card with the next day's weather on it.
Portland was FREEZING cold! Literally. It was ranging from -1 to about 8 degrees C, but we were lucky not to get any rain the whole time we were there. San Antonio has been a lush 25-30 degrees the last few weeks (unseasonal perhaps) but we did have a very cold week just before we left for Portland so we went and found ourselves a good quality jacket each. Columbia for the win :) I don't know if you can see the mountain in the background, I think it's Mount Hood (the one everyone seems to get lost on lately but it is the most climbed mountain in the US so the stats are stacked against it). Anyhow, totally covered in snow! Gorgeous.
Portland was great for getting us in the mood for an American Christmas. Not only was it bitingly cold (even with our new coats we still needed at least 3 layers before venturing out) there were also lovely carols playing everywhere, even in the taxis. The hotel itself had the whole old style American Christmas feel, with an enormous tree in the lobby. No only that, but every edge of the room was lined with pots of poinsettias!
The other cool Christmassy thing about the Benson was the HUGE gingerbread house (nay, castle) in the lobby. It was made by the chief pastry chef who is now an architect! All made out of food but totally not edible (something to do with fixatives...I did not try to stick my tongue in the lake) The windows were my favorite - made with smashed and melted pieces of Jolly Ranchers!
I spent most of the week working, but we also had some lovely dinners (no surprise for this blog perhaps), including one at a place called 'The Farm Cafe' that uses all local produce. I had an amazing crab risotto and Jo had wild mushroom fettucini. We also had warmed Oregon brie with an apple cider sauce and local hazelnuts.
One of the loveliest things about Portland has got to be the trees, the variety, the density, the hills surrounding the city that are still densely forested... There was even a hint of the Autumn (fall) colouration remaining!
One night, before going to dinner, we walked through the freezing city to go and check out chinatown, which turned out to be small, but heading home we stumbled upon a fabulous night market! It was called 'Art Happens' and wasn't a regular thing, just a one off for pre-Christmas, but there was some beautiful stuff - earrings and hand made bags etc. It was fun to walk though the square filled with Christmas lights and market stalls.
On the last day there we went out to the hills just outside Portland and did a wine tasting tour. They make some good pinot! The countryside was lovely and reminded me a lot of the Northwest coast, but without the gum trees. Lots of hills and farms and gorgeous mountains all around. It was a great day, mostly sunny even. Some of the wines were terrible and we were thankful we were sharing a tasting glass, but some were lovely. Our favorite place was a winery called the Red Barn that had a lovely farmer type in denim overalls running the tasting. Very down to earth and friendly, not at all snooty like some of the other places. He brought out cheese and crackers, and in true American style, brownie bites! Not sure how they went with the wine because the cheese was too yummy to go there. They're one of the older vineyards and they send their grapes off to different winemakers, so we were trying a range of wines all grown on site. They had a very drinkable pinot gris, which is usually the bane of my existence, and some good pinot noirs :)
The bad side to the Portland trip is the Jo has now realised that the rest of the states is nothing like Texas/Florida... She even found a little house, right up in the park above the city, that she'd 'quite like to live in'. Sorry Texas, you'll never win her heart now!
Thursday, December 7
That’s right Tofurky!
On Thursday the 23rd of November we celebrated our first Thanksgiving. Everyone we talked to seemed a little sketchy on the details of exactly what we were giving thanks for (something about the pilgrims) but they all agreed the entire point of the day was to cook and eat a mass of good food. Sounded a little like family Christmas for us so we figured we could handle it.
Thanksgiving was held at John and Joanne’s because Joanne’s folks were visiting from Oz. In total we had 13 people, with a clear over-representation of Aussies (there were eight of us!). Jo and I got there bright and early to help cook, including the 20 pound beast of a turkey that took more than 5 hours to cook! Given the size of the bird we planned for an afternoon meal, and everything went surprisingly smoothly (considering the last minute realization that if the turkey was in the oven, NOTHING else could fit!).
While the food cooked we watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, which apparently is the traditional thing to do. Lots of amazing floats, most of them including a ‘hot air balloon shaped like X’ where X was pikachu (a pokemon) or nemo, mr potato head, supergrover… There was much dancing and many cheerleaders, although since it’s held in New York and it was 2 degrees and raining, everyone was rugged up to the eyeballs! The parade finished with santa, just to remind us all that Thanksgiving is only the beginning of the crazy holiday season.
I won’t go into too many details but the entire event was lovely, and a lot of fun. We had a great group of people, including a strict vegetarian, and it was great to hang out with a bunch of aussies and pseudo-aussies. It was a gorgeous 27 degree day, clear and sunny, but we hardly ventured outside! We began with prawn skewers sprinkled with old bay seasoning and grilled (or mixed veggie skewers for the non-fish eaters), champagne (Jacobs Creek) and punch (although the lads did have an esky of beer). By this point the room was full of turkey smells so the skewers not only kept the masses happy, but they injected a little bit of Oz into the whole traditional American holiday thing.
The dinner was amazing, and we managed to time it surprisingly well given the total chaos in the kitchen and the fact that different people had contributed different items that all needed heating/cooling/dressing etc. Lorena, our resident vego, brought the Tofurky and it was a surprisingly handsome (and tasty) beast. Being a true American she also supplied the mash and the green bean casserole, but I guess I should tell you the menu…
A MASSIVE roast turkey, golden brown, with a bread/bacon/mushroom stuffing
Fried slabs of smoked ham
Roasted veggies, including potato, sweet potato, pumpkin, onion, parsnip and garlic
Steamed cauliflower with white sauce
Vegetarian friendly couscous stuffing with cranberries, orange, and pistachios
Traditional green bean casserole, made of a mixture of long green beans, mushroom soup and chili, with crispy fried onions on top - sounds bad I know, but was very good!
Mashed red-skinned potatoes
Cold cranberry relish that was a little sour and had nuts in it
Two types of gravy (the turkey juices made the BEST gravy!) plus a vegetarian ‘gravy’
And finally, there was the Tofurky!
While attempting to digest all that yumminess we watched ‘Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving’ in a attempt to work the whole thing out. For good measure we followed it up with the Garfield version (the original cartoon, not of the CG stuff). Once we had regained some measure of composure, and just before we all fell asleep, we unveiled the dessert table! We had lemon meringue pie, a huge pavlova (mad by one of the other aussies) and, of course, pumpkin pie! Jo helped make the pumpkin pie the day before, so she has the details of what went into it. It was tasty, because of the spices, but I wouldn’t have gone back for seconds. It was served with either whipped cream, or cool whip, which is a scary white substance that is almost entirely unlike whipped cream.
Anyhow, I highly recommend thanksgiving. And it was a good test run for Christmas, where we get to do most of it all over again!
Sunday, December 3
Jac was in Florida attending back-to-back conferences and I was tagging along which is why it’s my job to write this one up! We flew direct from San Antonio into Tampa international, which is a surprisingly handsome airport. We were headed to St Pete Beach, which is on the other side of Tampa facing into the Gulf of Mexico. We stayed at the trashy Trade winds Resort, which boasted it’s own private strip of beach, complete with beach cabanas and a huge inflatable waterslide, which was a handy landmark when walking down the beach.
The high points were having a number of lovely pools to swim in, and a man-made lagoon/waterway running through the resort that you could navigate in a paddleboat. We had a couple of boating adventures and Jac navigated both times, which was probably a good thing. The worst bit was sailing under “The Flying Bridge” which was the bar built over the lagoon looking down on the pool.
We only ate at “The Flying Bridge” once, and swore never to do it again! However, we did sip cocktails there one night and they were a much better standard, although as Jac points out, it’s hard to make a bad bloody mary.
Each day Jac went off to her morning session and I would pack my bag and head for the beach. My favourite thing to do was to walk up to the non-tourist end. It was much quieter with only a few condos, most of which were empty, and instead of people there were masses of seabirds! Gulls, Pelicans, and Herons diving for fish. One day I saw a dolphin rise up out of the water not ten meters away from me.
Ok, it’s Jac here now… Jo appears to be having trouble remembering just how ‘fake plastic’ the whole resort experience really was. Poor thing must have been more jet lagged and confused than I thought! The resort was one of the nicer ones on St Petes Beach, which somehow allowed it to be even more tragically daggy, with towering fake palms inside the atrium and piped steel drum music throughout every inch of the place, including all outdoor areas. There was one tune that got stuck in my head for a full week after we got home. I needed steelpan detox. I’m sure it was only some local council rule that saved us from having the same aural nightmare follow us onto the beach.
We had one of the bigger rooms that looked out onto the ‘lagoon’…a disneyland style snake of water that circled most of the complex, fully equipped with paddleboats, koi, and a pair of indifferent swans. The highlight of the lagoon was watching a small but fierce bird (perhaps a heron) break the core rule ‘never eat anything bigger than your head’ as he spent a full 10 minutes swallowing a massive fish he’d pulled out of the water. The whole ‘fish still flipping while sliding down the tiny neck’ was a little much for the two ladies behind us, but we were loving it and have most of the carnage on film.
The room came fully equipped with big but saggy beds decked out in the brightest coloured linen I’ve ever seen (think children’s wards in the 80s). However, it did have a wide selection of cable (we overdosed on the food channel) and a kitchenette, which allowed us to stock up on real food type supplies from the supermarket down the road.
The best part of the resort, aside from the amazing diving pelicans and sea birds helpfully supplied by one end of the beach, was the deep, blue and heated swimming pool. There were multiple pools but that one was my favourite, partly because it was so deep and partly because it was totally neglected by almost everyone else. The temperature for most of the time we were there was lovely. 30-35 days, dropping to quite cool in the late afternoon-evenings. One day even hit 40, and luckily it was also the slowest day of the conference, so I got to bake myself a little (Jo on the other hand was well and truly lobster girl at this point and had to go buy some special blue burn gel).
On the second last night we were there a huge electrical storm hit just after we got back from dinner. We sat on the beach watching the lightning for a while and then had the sense to go back in before the rain hit, and hit it did! The storm turned out to be huge!! Heaps of rain, wind and lightning, with the most incredible thunder. Sadly that was the same set of storms that sent the tornados up through the Carolinas :( We were also under a tornado watch, but we didn’t know it at that point, probably for the best. The next morning the entire strip of resorts had no water! Kind of weird in a hotel. Jo discovered the weather channel and was instantly hooked.
We also got to catch up with friends of ours (Chris' relatives) and that was just wonderful, like hanging out with family again ^_^
All in all, it was a fun trip :)
Wednesday, November 29
I take NO responsibility for them...
Also, we're heading to Portland for a week on Monday and it's really cold there! We're working on a Florida post as well as an update on Thanksgiving! Stay tuned...
Monday, November 20
Anyhow, it's been pretty busy here the last few weeks and there will be more entries soon. No sooner had Jo arrived and de-jetlagged than we headed to Florida for a week for back to back statistical genetics conferences. More on that one soon, for now I owe you this Halloween entry.
I had never had a Halloween before, so I had little idea of what to expect aside from what I'd seen in films and stuff. The lead up was great. All the stores were decked out in orange and black with lots of ghosts and jack-o-lanterns and such. The usually brilliant single candy isle at the supermarket expanded to a whopping 3 isles! All the candy makers here produce special Halloween fun-size versions of their products, sold in bags bigger than your head. And it's not only the packaging that changes, m&ms are orange and black, hubba-bubba pieces are shaped like pumpkins and you can find all kinds of bleeding body parts made out of gummy jelly (and for some, like the ear I ate, the texture is far too real!)
The other thing that there's suddenly a whole lot of is pumpkins! Up until that point I had only seen uninspiring looking 'acorn squash' and a few rogue butternuts. Suddenly there appeared piles of pumpkins in all different shapes and sizes. Huge ones for carving, smaller ones for putting at your doorstep to look all rustic and Fallie and tiny table decorating pumpkins. Americans seem to love decorating their tables...
I missed out on carving one this year but I'm looking forward to giving it a go next year.
On the Saturday before Halloween I went out to dinner with some friends and at the last minute we decided to go to the fancy dress Halloween party hosted by some of the waitresses at our local pub (the Saucer). Since we were completely lacking costumes and it was 11pm, we raided the kiddy dress up isle of the local supermarket! As a result I went as batman, with a pretty cool mask, and Matt went as Darth Vader with a mask that didn't quite manage to cover his head (so he looked like Darth with an afro!) The party was fun and there were some great costumes, but by far the scariest were the three blokes who dressed up as Saucer waitresses, complete with tiny tartan skirts, long stripey socks and tank tops. eek!
Andrea invited me to go trick or treating with her and the boys on the actual night of Halloween. They live in an 'edward scissorhands' suburb that's very safe and quiet, and the houses were all covered in spooky decorations, so it seemed like a great place to go. I was then informed that this outing required full spooky attire! I used the tricks I'd learnt on Saturday night and headed back to the kiddy costumes, but this time I found a great vampire costume that included a set of wings (I have a thing for wings...) A little alteration with the kitchen scissors and I managed to fit into most of it. The end result was fairly lame, but what do you expect for less than $10!
It's ok, I do know quite how daggy these photos and are I can't believe I posted them!
Anyhow, we had fun. The houses that were 'participating' left their outside lights on, and any that were dark meant you didn't trick or treat there. There was also no tricking, and no real intention of it. I'm not sure how it goes for the bigger kids (who start their rounds around 9pm, after the littlies are worn out, and pick up all the left-overs). Lots of places had really well decorated doorsteps, with lots of carved pumpkins, ghosts, cobwebs, lights and even the odd hay bail (?!) The most full on thing I saw all night, however, was the people who were driving from door to door. No joke!
The loot level was beyond even this candy addicts wildest dreams, and even though we only visited about 10 or so houses we came home with bulging bucket. Or we would have if the buckets could bulge.
Tuesday, November 7
Off to do some more tidying... A cover for nervous excitement :) Thanks for all the lovely emails!!
PS. I have some halloween pics that I'll backdate soon...
Tuesday, October 31
A bunch of us went out to Sushi Zushi for dinner on Saturday night, then randomly decided to go to a Halloween party. Luckily the supermarkets are well stocked, costume wise! I ended up wearing some batman number build for a 6 year old. Seriously uncomfortable but a lot of fun. I was hoping to get some pumpkin carving lessons from someone but I think I've missed my window. Oh well, next year!
On the weekend I also went to a few of the Asian grocers, and stocked up on some weird and wonderful items. One of the places (my favorite one) had peking duck halves for $6. That's just insane! So anyhow, point of the story is that I'm heading home soon to make duck soup :) And the thought of that should get me through the rest of the afternoon. I miss you all!
Saturday, October 28
I was wandering around Ship of Fools during lunch the other day and came across the following little gem in the 'blunders' section. For those of you who don't remember, ship of fools is subtitled 'the magazine of Christian unrest' and it's written by Christians with a sense of humor and a whole lot of salt. However, if you're the stiff upper lip type and have easily offended sensibilities, don't bother following the links. There, end warning rant. Anyhow, this particular section kept me entertained for a good 10 minutes!
Hello Pastor... >_<
The rest of the site is worth checking too, especially the biblical curse generator and Gadgets for God.
Anyhow, nothing to report. I'm off to a gallery opening tonight but I know nothing about it so I'll have to tell you later! It's insanely windy here today, but bright, gorgeous sun. I'm having fun watching the flocks of birds get tosses around in the sky. Persistent little buggers though!
Friday, October 27
And because I'm in a very random mood...
Yesterday I bought a packet of Fusen gum, which is really good Japanese bubble gum. It was one of those mixed packs where you get to try all the different flavors (orange is still best). However, I'm now left wondering if the pack I bought was made specifically for the American market, because when I took all the mini packs out of the box I discovered a piece of foam inside that is used to hold the smaller pieces in place, and printed on the foam block...
Tuesday, October 24
While traveling last week I received a packet of salted peanuts on the aeroplane. Very old school, especially given the rate of dangerous peanut allergies. This in itself surprised me, however, when reading the fine print on the packet (as I'm want to do) I came accross the line:
Warning: This product has been produced at a facility that processes peanuts
"Oh I'm sorry mr flight attendant, I can't eat these peanuts. You see, I'm allergic to peanuts and these may contain traces of, well, peanuts" Gah!!!
Saturday, October 21
However, what needs to be said is that outside of the French Quarter and the CBD, New Orleans in a mess. Worse than a mess...Utterly destroyed comes to mind. However, there is a strong spirit of hope, courage and fierce determination that is holding the remains together. All I can say is that from the little I saw, I was horrified. I had no idea of how widespread the destruction was, and still is, nearly a year later. And I only saw the edges on some off the less damaged places.
There's an article in the Houston Chronicle that's worth reading. Tells the story much better than I could, although I'm sure it's biased in it's own way. The whole thing is soo caught up in politics now as well, just to add to the complications. The feeling I get here is that people don't want to know. they're sure the government is dealing with it so it's all good.
Anyhow, this post was prompted by two things I saw on the tour that were a bit of a reality check. The first was the watermark on some of the places we drove through. The sides of bridges, halfway up houses...this kind of slimy line. That wasn't so bad, but it was the realisation that the line wasn't where the water got to, but where it stayed that really floored me.
The second were these painted markings on all the houses (outside of the FQ and CBD etc). Painted Xs with notation in each quadrant. The similarities to passover were somewhat sobering. None of my photos worked because they were taken from moving cars, so I borrowed one from here.
I later learnt that these are search markings, where different volunteer teams like the chicago police etc (urban search and rescue) would go out and check for people in the houses. This house has been searched twice, the first time in orange. The date is at the top, the team ID in the left, any hazards etc in the right and the number of bodies or survivors at the bottom. The first marking has NE in the right quadrant, which means there was no entry (water too high, toxic... ). The second marking is from two days later, no hazards, no people. The number of these markings that we passed was, like almost everything else, overwhelming... If I had a hat, I'd take it off to the courage of all those people who were part of those teams.
And then there's the story of the missing killer dolphins... Although that may be a hoax.
Tuesday, October 17
I'm home now. I was in New Orleans from Monday (9th) to Saturday (14th) at the big American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) meeting. The conference was pretty good, but smaller than usual and I hope that's because genetics is having a quiet year, although I fear it was because people didn't want to go to New Orleans, even though it's one of the best ways to help some parts of the city recover! Anyhow, I spoke on Wednesday. On Tuesday I made the mistake of going in and checking out the room I'd be speaking in...BAD PLAN! It was huge! OK, so 'ballroom' should have given it away but I was not prepared for the sheer number of chairs. I nearly wet myself on the spot. John also changed the entire structure of my talk on Tuesday afternoon so I was pretty much peaking out. But all that aside my talk actually went really well! It seemed to be well received and I got a tonne of questions, even though my session had been very quiet till then. The audio setup was terrible for the stage though. The questions were audible to the crowd but not to us on the podium, so I had to guess most of the questions from the few keywords I picked up. All good though. I had a lot of comments afterwards as well. Our group had about 6 people at the conference, three speaking, so it was great to be part of such an active group rather than wandering round as a lost an lonely PhD student, which has been my experience in the past. The only problem with 'the group' was it meant there was a LOT of socialising!
So, on to New Orleans. We were staying at the hilton on the river, near the convention center, on the corner of the French Quarter. That whole area was not really flooded by Katrina, although it did suffer wind damage and huge economic loss that comes from 80% of your population having to go elsewhere! Most of that side of town is up and running now, trying to get the tourist trade back. However, even from that relatively untouched part of town you can still sense the huge scarring. There's a major labor shortage in the places that are up and running. There are a lot of places in the French Quarter that weren't necessarily damaged, but they're closed for economic reasons. But all of that aside we had a fabulous time!
It was gorgeous weather for nearly the entire trip, sunny and warm but not hot. Good for walking! On Monday evening, after we arrived and got settled in, we headed straight for the French Quarter. First place we hit was the Acme oyster bar. Classic Southern style...black and while tiles, red and green neon lighting and a menu consisting of 98% fried stuff and plenty o booze. We circumnavigated the fried options and had fresh oysters, which were good and made even better by the horseradish laced tomato sauce, but nowhere near tassie standard. They were too clean, to the point of being tasteless. I had an oyster shooter and that seemed the best way to enjoy them! After that we headed up to Bourbon St, which is truly it's own unique experience. No idea what it was like pre-katrina but it was rowdy, loud and a lot of fun! Drinking on the streets seemed to be not only condoned, but celebrated, and the majority of bars were 'to-go' meaning take away, no seating room at all.
I discovered the joys of the mint julep! Apparently another southern tradition. Massive amounts of fresh mint, crushed with sugar (think Moroccan mint tea) then smothered in bourbon and a hint of soda or 7-up, not sure which. Pretty darn good though! I also tasted a hurricane, and unfortunate local specialty, but it was nasty! So glad I didn't order one of those. After some good live tunes at the 'Famous Door' we went in search of dinner, and ended up at Brennan's, one of the well known and well respected local restaurants. Even more well respected now for keeping their staff on the payroll during the down time! They run several of the top local eateries, but the one we went to is the birthplace of 'bananas foster', a local dessert that involved caramelising a banana in brown sugar, rum, cinnamon and lots of flamage! Tastes pretty good even to the girl who doesn't like bananas! Dinner was gorgeous, and between three of us we had frogs legs, escargots, soft shelled crab and numerous other yummies. Dessert was, of course, bananas foster. The service was excellent and the wine list was pretty good, even though they were recovering from losing 35,000 bottles in the storm!
Tuesday was mostly spent stressing about my talk, having it completely rewritten, then getting it loaded (since my talk was first thing Wed morning). However, I did go on the dinner cruise put on by the company we use for all our gene expression/genotyping work (Illumina). I was kind of stressed and quiet but it was lovely just to glide up and down the river and see a little bit more of the environs.
Wednesday, post-talk, was pretty cruisy. I managed to fit in a nap and catch up on some of the sleep deprivation. That night we hit the parties run by the different universities. They were all in different conference rooms at our hotel so we spent most of the night party hopping. There were some pretty good ones, with a range of food and drinks. The ones that started later even had desserts instead of dinner snacks!
Thursday was an early start for the last of our cohorts talks, followed by a good look at the posters (2000 of them!) and freebie collection at the exhibitors section. Basically all the different companies lure you towards their product by giving away a range of great free stuff. I scored an umbrella, insulated lunch bag, pens, pads, clips and numerous other glowing things, a great coffee mug that changed colour with heat, t-shirts and a bunch of other stuff. I'm a bit of a freebiephile...
Thursday night we were meeting a bunch of friends and collaborators for dinner. The plan was to meet at Acme and go from there but there was a huge queue to get in! (it wasn't that good!) Anyhow, we found a great looking wine bar (La Louisiane) across the road and hung out there. This place was not only accommodating of our huge groups barging in for drinks and snacks, but they also made a bloody mary that included blue cheese stuffed olives! Heaven on a cocktail stick. After the pre-dinner drinkies we headed to a place called NOLA, set up by well known US chef Emeril. While Brennan's had great public support for the way they treated their staff during after Katrina, Emeril copped a fair amount of local flack for staying closed for so long, but they're back up now and the place is definitely worth checking out. We had 10 people, yet the meal was incredibly good all round and hiccup-free! I had mussels followed by crab cakes and a fennel&white bean salad with lump crab meat. I also got to try the lovely Chicory Coffee Crème Brûlée and a glass of ice wine...mmm
Friday was relatively quiet. The conference was all but over. The hotel breakfast was a great buffet that included a station with a lady who made you an omelet topped with your choice of a range of toppings. Brilliant! We ended up having brunch then heading off on a 4 hour mini-bus tour of the city. Tour options includeded swamp, city and disaster and so we decided to do the city tour. It wasn't intended to be disaster focused, but as the guide pointed out, Katrina is now such a major part of their history that you can't ignore it completely. We just didn't want to go around only to look at damage, since the city has so much other history and life as well.
The tour was pretty good, aside from being cramped into a tiny bus with a very loud guide! I certainly learnt a lot about New Orleans in general, but also about the impact of Katrina and the on going ramifications. We went through the garden district which was just gorgeous. Some amazing houses out there. We also went to one of the cemeteries and our guide explained all about the mechanics of above ground burial and it's utility in flood threatened areas. Some of the family tombs were enourmous and soo extravagant. The walls of the cemetery contain mini tombs that are for more general public use, if your family can't afford their own dedicated tomb. Some of the larger ones were set up by clubs, guilds and societies for their members. The deal is that the coffins sit in the tomb for at least a year and a day, sealed behind bricks and mortar, and if there's another burial after this time the remains are emptied into the tomb then pushed to the back where they fall down to the bottom level. Pretty amazing stuff. Almost no cremation and what they do have is only in very recent history! These massive above ground cemeteries are knows the "the cities of the dead".
A private tomb. Some of them are enormous!
Tuesday, October 10
I'm just about to jump on the plane to New Orleans to go to the big genetics conference. I'm hoping I'll have net access so I can send you lots of pics. I've never been before and I know it's not what it was, but it's still great to go and I'm sure it'll be a lot of fun. We're staying near the conference centre, at the edge of the French Quarter, which wasn't hit very badly by Katrina. This conference is the biggest general genetics conference there is, so I'm pleased they went through with hosting it there. The conference website has been running a lot of good info about where the city is now and why it's vital to get tourists back. I guess that's one of the best way people can help get the city back on it's feet. I'm looking forward to it! OK, aside from the speaking part. My talk is first thing Wednesday morning so I'll be much more relaxed after that. We get home on Saturday, no doubt exhausted!!
On Saturday I went out to Gruene, on of the little towns just outside San Antonio, with a couple of the girls from work. There was a Texas winetasting fundraiser that we wanted to go to. Texas wine usually means blergh, but there were a couple of ok moscatos. I bought a jar of this amazing burnt orange jelly that has serrano pepper in it... sounds odd but it's this fantastic hot, sweet and slightly savory jam that would be lovely with chicken or cheese or just off the spoon!!
This watertower is in the centre of town. .. I'm rather fond of it!
After the wine tasting we went to a place called the Gruene River Grill. It was pretty good! I don't think we got to see them at their best because they were so busy, but worth a second visit at some point. They had great outdoor furniture to loaf around on while you waited for your table... huge plastic armchairs! They were incredible. Not particularly comfy but they sure looked cool.
After dinner we went to the Gruene Hall (the oldest dancehall in Texas apparently) to see Leon Russell. Aged 70s rocker but he still has a lot of energy and charisma, and you should hear him play the piano! Amazing. The dance hall and and the people were an experience in themselves. I wish there was some way I should have photographed some of the characters in the crowd. The hall is like a barn with a bar, but it had it's own, old-school Texas style. Lots of fun.
Tuesday, October 3
I've been a touch depressed lately...not sad depressed, just apathetic, flat. Sorry about the lack of posts. I think it's just from being sick and stressed all at the same time. Work is really busy with HUGE grants all due in at the same time and I'm also really stressing about this platform presentation that I'm doing in New Orleans next week...argh!! But I'm getting over it.
I went to one of the best supermarkets in San Antonio on the weekend. I love supermarkets so that was instrumental in me getting out of my black hole. It's called Central Market and it's on the edge of downtown, so a little bit of a stressful drive, but so, so worth it! They have the best fruit and veg section. I found 13 different typed of mushrooms, including these very cool looking blue foot or blewitt mushrooms that really did have blue stems, and bright orange lobster mushrooms, both of which cost about the same as a lobster($50/lb)! But I did find some gorgeous looking oyster and shitakes so looks like it's risotto tomorrow :) This place also has a great fresh fish/meat section and they just happened to have wild caught tuna steak of sale. They were the darkest red! I'm going to have half of it raw for dinner tonight, if I can come up with something cool to do with it. Last time I made soy/ginger/wasabi marinade for the tuna and had it with salad. yummo.
Central Market also has a wonderful and incredibly dangerous cheese section. They even had some King Island Roaring 40's blue!! No bright orange cheddar or monterrey jack to be seen :)
Surprisingly, I didn't go too overboard (I made myself eat before I went there because shopping while hungry is a very bad idea). I picked up some fresh local apple juice that is pretty darn good, a small piece of gorgeous looking Stilton, some yummy bread and a few other bits and pieces. I completely avoided the wine section because I know it'd be as good as everything else there and I don't need any!
So anyhow, I'd better get back to work. I have a week to get my talk organised for the ASHG meeting in New Orleans (panic!) but at the same time I'm looking forward to the trip. We leave next Monday and I think we're on the water, at the corner of the French Quarter (in the convention center area). I'll keep you posted on that one for sure!
Friday, September 22
I did some kid sitting on the weekend and it seems that I don't have babysitter immunity yet because I picked up the nasty chest bug that they had. Going swimming with 2 sick kids probably didn't help, but it sure helped the whole tired, bed time thing. It was lots of fun to hand out with kids again and I watched Nanny McFee which made me cry! Lucky I was watching the end after they'd gone to sleep ^_^
Back there this weekend for a 'six year old pool party'...12= kids, one pool, major chaos. But it should be lots of fun too. We're having an adult de-stress later that evening.
There's nothing like a raging head cold in the morning to make you want to go and buy drugs, and by drugs I of course mean legal medication, pharmaceuticals and the like. But since I have to go to a drug store to do that... Anyhow, I now have red pills for the day, blue pills for the night, yellow pills to suck and make my throat go numb (and my mouth taste terrible for hours - an unfortunate side effect) and white pills if none of the above seem to be working. Needless to say I still feel like crud. Yay for science. However, copious amounts of vitamin enriched pink grapefruit juice seems to be helping ^_^
Work has been busy, nay, hectic in recent days with a few late nights in the office. It all seems to be under control for the moment though. We have a bunch of major grants due soon, and I've been preparing abstracts and submissions for conferences and well and working on lots of small but urgent projects. I like it :)
And finally, in news that isn't about Jac, my dear friends Kath and Andrew had a little boy the other day, Angus. He's lovely!
Friday, September 15
All is well here. It's clear and sunny again but the few days of rain we had have dome wonders for old San Antonio. The temperature has dropped to a simply delicious 35 degrees C and everything looks so greens. It's given a whole new lease of life to all the poor plants, as though they've been waiting for months to have one huge growth spurt, and now everything is just covered in green. I don't think I've ever seen such growth and so quickly!
(PS. Tiny Size! is a bit of an in joke but it's a brand of mexican gum - Kath and Andrew used to send it to Jo and I when they were in the states and "Tiny Size!" kind of entered our vernacular. Got to love bad translations!)
Thursday, September 14
Wednesday, September 13
Yesterday was pretty amazing, it rained ALL DAY! I haven't seen so much rain since I've been here. It started just as I pulled into the carpark in the morning and only got heavier as I waited in the car for it to ease up so I could make the mad dash to the office. Needless to say I was literally dripping by the time I got inside! While we desperately need the rain, the downside is that San Antonio is not a city that was build to cope with the rain, even a little rain... there's no curbside drainage, the roads aren't rounded and water pools on the highways in no time. The urban planers here should definitely win the Atlantis Award for drainage. It only takes about an hour of heavy rain for us to have widespread flash floods, but do you think the crazy drivers slow down? At all? Nope, if anything they're worse! I left work late last night waiting for both the rain and the traffic to calm down as much as possible.
We had a little excitement outside my office on Friday. I was writing an email when I looked out my window to see one of the workmen (just finishing the renovations and finally packing up) knock a hole in the top of a huge gas tank! The huge stream of white vapour not 20m from my office caught my eye! I then watched as the workman kind of pretended nothing had happened, then slunk back a few paces, then thought better of it and wandered off to tell someone there was a problem, then more workmen congregated (meanwhile the tank is still spewing gas like there's no tomorrow). I became somewhat concerned when the laid back workmen started moving back and standing behind trees, then more so when the fire brigade turned up and got them all back behind our building... Meanwhile I'm still sitting 20m away from the thing separated by a window and wondering if I'd have time to dive under my desk if it exploded (cold war style). Anyhow, it all turned out fine, of course! They basically waited for it to empty itself then took at away. Kept me entertained before pub time though ^_^
Saturday, September 9
Wednesday, September 6
On the up side, soon after that at started raining! Sweet, glorious and soaking rain that lasted half the day. It was wonderful and the temperature dropped to 20ish C, delicious!
Tuesday, September 5
Sunday, September 3
Well, call me slow but I have just worked out the Monday is a holiday here (Labor day) so YAY for a long weekend! It was that day, four years ago (2002) that this whole adventure started, when I was accepted into a statistical geneitics course in LA. Little did I know the doors that would be opened in that week!
(told you it would be a quicky!)
Saturday, September 2
I'm off to a BBQ tonight with the aussie contingent from work (and a few honoraries). It's at the house I was sitting with the pool, so I'm looking forward to a swim. Nothing hugely exciting planned for the weekend. I think we're all at the point where we're over the heat and just waiting for it to break. We've even cancelled friday night drinkies lately and that's almost unheard of!!
Oh, and if anyone can work out how to get me one of these you'll be on my lost of world's coolest people FOREVER!
Friday, September 1
I don't really know the details but the interview went well. She now has a 5 year visa (longer than mine...go figure!!). The odd thing is that point of entry [immigration in LA airport] decide on the duration of stay, which may be 6 or 12 months, then you reapply for an extension internally (yay for not having to border hop to do paperwork) and that process can continue for up to 5 years. I might remind you that 5 years is definitely NOT on the cards ^_^
So anyhow, I'm stoked and Jo seems stoked too, although the reality of coming the the US is probably kicking in about now and that can be nastier than a bucket of moonshine. But no matter how far removed from the happy mateship of old oz, I have no doubt that being here will be a great experience for both of us, and fun too!
Thursday, August 31
It rained last night. Not a lot (you could see the real storm off in the distance) but it took me a good minute to remember how to work my wipers!
I've had insane heartburn and anxiety all day. Must be the visa... I can't imagine how Jo must be feeling but I hope she's sleeping right now!
Tuesday, August 29
As some of you know, Jo is about to have her visa interview. The weeks leading up to this point have been extremely stressful. Much more so for her than me, but it's a horrible feeling being here and not being able to do much (anything) to help. I think we've done everything we can do, in terms of getting the volumes of paperwork together, now it's all down to the person on the day of the interview. It's such a full-on thing to have a government department decide if you can be in the same physical location as your partner, especially a government department from another country! Please keep us in your prayers.
As far as other news goes...Dinner at my place went well on Thursday night. We had a big roast chicken (free range) and lots of vegies, although I overcooked some of them (not used to the mega oven yet). There was still plenty of good stuff left so no dramas. Much wine was consumed by all - Tom and I stuck to the aussie reds again. Joanne made a fab lemon meringue pie that topped off the dining experience perfectly ^_^
The weekend was pretty quiet. I went shopping on Saturday morning at my favorite outdoor mall. It was fun to just wander though different places and look at stuff. Got a bit hot though! Speaking of hot, people are saying that this is the hottest summer on record for San Antonio, but I haven't been able to verify that yet. Even if that's not entirely true, it's still jolly hot! The max temps aren't getting hotter but it's just not cooling down at night now. Unrelenting! I got excited yesterday because they were tracking rain for the first time in over a month, but it didn't reach us :( Apparent;y we're in a cold front today though, which means the max temp is below 100 for once! (ok, so it's 99 but it's still below the magic number) The chance of rain has dropped to 20% for tonight, so it's not looking likely.
But enough boring weather talk. I'm off to the supermarket tonight. Simple things make me happy ^_^
Thursday, August 24
So, the migration to the new blogger let me make a few changes, but it's made other stuff messier, like the profile text that no longer takes code! So now you get a wall of text rather than my categories :(
Again, please, if you have any issues seeing anything on here let me know. It all looks fine on my screen, but I don't need to see it!
Going home now, it's late!!
As for news and such, I've been working pretty hard the last few weeks so not a whole lot to report. Work is going really well though and my current analyses are finally coming together! I just have so much data to work with. As Vince says, it's an embarrassment of riches, and he's so right.
Having a few people over for dinner tomorrow night which should be fun. Yesterday morning I made a wish (while showering...) that the WoW servers would go down so I could clean my house, and they did! That's got to be the first time I've ever been pleased about extended maintenance. My house is now close to spotless which is making me feel much better about life. I just need to mop the floors tonight and it's all good. One of tomorrow's diners in a fussy eater, so looks like the menu will be simple roast chicken and a range of vegies, grab what you like style. I'm out of chicken stock at the moment so it's perfect timing. I also have lots of tarragon growing on my deck, so there's another reason to go with chicken! I'm surprised my herbs have survived this long; not only do they need about 2Ls of water per day to survive this heat but my squirrel has taken to digging in the pot(grapes don't store well...) It's only a small pot!
One last thing (just to keep the food theme going) I've discovered the most wonderful chocolate! Now, I'm a big time dark chocolate fan. I like the sweet and bitter combination AND the fact that it seems to be good for your health (in moderation) and a better cough suppressant than codeine. I usually get the Lindt 70% cocoa but I don't really like the slightly dry texture it has and it's a little too sour. Anyhow, the other day I discovered Lindt "swiss bittersweet" dark chocolate! I can't tell you what the cocoa content is here because FDA allows some very weird labelling... For example, the second ingredient is chocolate! It's still got the bitterness of the 70%, but it's a little smoother and softer (hmm...guessing more fat?) and a tiny bit sweeter and it's totally wonderful!!! I'm no chocoholic, so one or two squares is enough for me for the whole day, which is why I'm not phased if it is higher fat. Anyhow, if you can find this stuff in Oz and you like dark chocolate, try it, it's good!!
Monday, August 21
Anyhow, here they are ^_^
For all you mosaic buffs out there, this as a HUGE mosaic on the wall of the hospital in town. It's even more impressive when you're standing at the base of it.
One of my little friends who hangs out near my office window.
This is an old shopfront I found on the edge of the city during my travels with Tom. I just love all the textures ^_^
Great place to make a nest!
This is one of the rock trains that goes past my place. The driver thought it was a great idea just to sit on the horn while I was trying to take the photo. Nearly burst my eardrums!!
And finally, the absolutely delicious chocolate tart that I had a La Frite. mmmm
Till next time...