Friday, March 30, 2018

Deloraine the Tasmanian Devil

Were you aware that a baby Tasmanian devil is called a "joey", just like a baby kangaroo?  They're both marsupials (where babies live in a pouch), and are about the size of a jelly bean when they're born.  And there are about forty siblings born at once!

But with only 4 teats to sustain life, approximately 36 of those tiny, hairless babies are destined for doom.  In a brutal display of Darwinism, only the fittest will live to develop past the jelly bean stage.

How do I know so much about the breeding patterns of Tasmanian devils, you ask?  Because I am the mother of one, that's why.

Not literally or even figuratively, but I did name one.  And that's three-fourths of all a parent does, right?

Behold, my girl Deloraine:

Shortly before the wedding last year I entered a contest to name one of three new baby Tasmanian devils at Dreamworld, a nearby theme park that I didn't even know housed a zoo.  The contest said that Tasmanian-themed names would be especially well regarded, so I looked back at our Tasmania itinerary from when we visited in 2013.

All three of the surviving babies were girls, and I thought one of our stops along the way, Deloraine, had a very pretty name fit for a girl.  I don't remember anything about the town, really, except I had the best BLT of my life there.

That's what my fat ass remembers, half a decade later.  A sandwich.  Seriously, though, it was delicious!

That sandwich served me well in 2013, and will serve this sweet, sleepy girl well for the rest of her life.

Her sisters names are not Tasmania related at all, which I think is exceedingly weak.  Blaze and Dash were the other two.  Lame.  They should've given me naming rights for all 3!

As a reward for my efforts I got to have a hands-on meeting with her in person, along with her sister Blaze.  Apparently Dash isn't very people friendly, and is being shipped off to New Zealand to expand and diversify their gene pool, so I only got to meet dos devils, and their "real" mom, Michele:

Michele is the wildlife curator, and literally hand raised these babies herself.  She took them to her home!  They are super cute and look like teddy bears, but make no mistake they are are wild animals with a vicious set of jaws.  I asked her if they could bite my finger clean off and the response was, "Well, not clean..."

Fierce but adorable!

Dreamworld does several of these "wildlife experiences" with different animals for guests and I think this was the girls first.  I assume this because they had a fair bit of stranger danger and weren't cooperating for the camera!

The goal was to coax Del, as Michele calls her, onto my lap for a photo by the official photographer.  That went nowhere fast, so we tried Blaze instead.  Ultimately this is what we got:

Those mama's girls were not having any of my lap, which I was perfectly happy about since my thin pants offered little to no protection against their sharp, strong claws that are well suited to tearing roadkill to shreds.

Native Australian wildlife cannot catch a break.  Tasmanian tigers went extinct 80 years ago.  Koala numbers are rapidly diminishing because they're going sterile due to syphilis.  Yes, kids, syphilis, so wrap your pecker before you wreck her.

Tasmanian devils, once found wild on the Australian mainland are now only on the island of Tasmania.  They're being wiped out due to facial tumors, a cancer that is contagious, adding an extra layer of horror onto an already sad situation.  They've been on the endangered list for a decade now.

Captive breeding programs like the one at Dreamworld might be the species only hope if they don't figure out how to prevent and treat the facial tumors in the wild.  Luckily the captive populations are quarantined from it.

I had a fantastic, and might I point out rare, up close and personal experience with Deloraine and Blaze.  I've never heard of places offering hands-on Tasmanian devil experiences before, like they do with koalas, wombats and other native animals with less ferocious teeth and claws.  But they're not that vicious!

I liked that other people would come by and see how I live!

The devils, now about a year old, are adorable, smell a bit funky and most of all I'm left wondering where they get industrial strength cat toys.  Regular ones wouldn't last ten seconds around these girls.

There are other Aussie animals that we made a brief stop to see:

Wedge-tailed eagle
Masked owl + fanboy
We only briefly stopped to look at these, as we had other engagements that day.  I can assure you if there are birds to be seen there is no question whether or not we will stop.

For naming Deloraine I also won season passes to Dreamworld until the end of this year, so we can go back whenever we want to see more birds and watch my little girl grow up big and strong!

Friday, March 9, 2018

USA Part 3B: The Deep South

When I first started to plan what to do post-wedding with my newly minted in-laws, my first inclination was to go to Cuba since I knew exactly how far away it'd be (not much, 90 miles).  But that quickly got put into the too hard basket (delightful Aussie phrase) so I decided to look somewhere easier, closer and domestic.  Somewhere I'd never been before!

See: South, Deep
I came across two cities well loved by tourists, within easy driving distance of Florida and an even easier driving distance of each other: Savannah, Georgia & Charleston, South Carolina. 

Similar yet unique, these cities are chock full of southern charm, history and didn't require one word of Espanol.

Savannah, GA

In preparation for my visit I read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  It's set in Savannah in the 1980's and is a delightful romp around what makes Savannah, Savannah (except for the whole murder thing).  So of course Priority #1 for my trip was to scope out the house where the events of the book take place.

Mercer-Williams House

I'm going to admit right off the bat that I preferred Savannah to Charleston - but - I did spend more time there, so I don't think it's a fair comparison.  Accommodation in Savannah was so much cheaper than Charleston, so in addition to more time we had the added benefits of staying right near the action and walking everywhere.  Which is perfect, because walking around this pretty, leafy city is the ultimate thing to do there, especially with 22 historic and picturesque squares lining the city.

Arguably the most famous square is renowned not because it is particularly big or beautiful, but because Forrest Gump's bench was there!

Chippewa Square

Key word: was.  Or more accurately, never really was.

The bench (and platform it sat on) was merely a movie prop and was never really there.  The bench itself is now in a museum (which I did not see) but I did stand in about the spot where the bench was for a picture.

Though Mr. Hanks stole all the thunder, there are squares that are bigger and more picturesque, namely:

Forsyth Park

This being the deep south there are a lot of statues celebrating Confederate soldiers from the Civil War.  That's a hot button issue these days so prepare yourself for the commemoration of some not-so-great human beings everywhere you look.

On the topic of the Civil War, we learned that Savannah was spared from total destruction unlike unluckier other cities.  There seems to be some differing opinion on why this fair city was spared, but I - and the Savannah tourist board - are certainly glad the beauty and charm of the city wasn't destroyed.

City Market

This is a major touristy area and we didn't really spend any time there so I don't know exactly what - or who - was sold at this market.  I can about imagine.

After a day and a half in the city we got back into the car to explore the surrounds of Savannah, which are worth the trip if you've got the time and wheels to get there.

Tybee Island

A tourist destination in its own right, Tybee Island is a mere half hour drive from Savannah and is the place to be in summer for a beach holiday.

This being mid-November the water was devoid of swimmers, but there were plenty of people hanging around and fishing off the boardwalk.

Also on Tybee we stopped at a farm where you can buy some food to feed the alligators:

I was disappointed to learn that the food came in dry pellets, more like house pet food than what you'd think gators eat.  I think they felt the same way, as only one was interested in what I was offering.  A feeding frenzy this was not!

Another stop one must make on the way is the most famous cemetery in the state.  Half way between Savannah and Tybee is:

Bonaventure Cemetery

It's strange that an active cemetery is a tourist destination, isn't it?  Two things make this cemetery interesting:

1. It was one of the settings in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

2. It's haunted

Well, one of the graves is, at least.

Little Gracie was only 6 when she sadly died in 1889 but has carried on her legacy by haunting the place for nearly 130 years.  I can't say I normally believe in such things, but I can confirm that the haunting rumors are not without their merits.  That little chick gives off a weird vibe.

Another famous girl from this cemetery, the "bird girl" statue that was on the cover of the book/movie poster is no longer there.

Like Forrest's bench it, too, has been moved into a museum for safe keeping.  Which I did not get to see.  Boo.

After two and a half days in Savannah it was time to move along.  I think Savannah could be comfortably done in a weekend, preferably a long weekend, as it would've been nice to have an extra day in the city.  But there's no time to spare on a whirlwind tour of the deep south!  Onto:

Charleston, SC

As far as I can tell there's one thing that every single visitor to Charleston does.

Look at the arse of a horse!  As it pulls you in a carriage, that is.

It was super interesting to see how the carriages fit into the streets of the modern world.  There's a limit to how many carriages can be in operation, and of course animal welfare is closely watched.

This is our trusty steed, Larry.  He was formerly an Amish work horse in Indiana or some such place, and this is his cushy retirement job.  Previously he worked from sun up to sundown 6 days per week but now works a few 4-hour shifts per week.  Larry is living the equine dream!  Except for that fact that his temperature is taken rectally after every trip.  Maybe Larry's kinky like that, and really is living his best life.

Where in Charleston your carriage tour will take you is entirely up to chance.  When departing a central location, each carriage stops at the "toll booth" that uses a contraption normally used for spitting out Bingo balls, which dictates exactly where they can go.

So traffic congestion is avoided.  I thought this system was exceedingly nifty!  Along the route the carriage driver has to pull over every time a car approaches, since they can get a fine for not getting out of the way of regular traffic.

The most interesting thing of all are these little rubber flag thingies:

Carriage drivers drop one on the ground whenever their horse drops a load (liquid or solid) on the street, and the "equine sanitation patrol" comes and cleans it up!  That is someones job!  Searching for then cleaning up horse excrement on the streets.

What a place!

In addition to the history of the city, we heard a lot from the tour guide about the architecture of the buildings, like how these studs are built through most big structures to help them survive earthquakes, which I had no idea Charleston was prone to:

My favorite thing (besides the poop flags, because you can't top that) is the superstition of painting a porch ceiling "haint" blue.

Somehow this color, which is distinctly different from the color of the sky, tricks evil spirits into thinking the blue roof is the sky, so they don't come into your house.  The results are really pretty, and I whole heartedly support this practice.

Hmm, this gives me some home decorating ideas...

Both Savannah and Charleston were lovely cities, and are great for short visits.  I recommend you hit them both in on fell swoop, which can comfortably be done in a week.

Everything we saw and did in these two cities was enjoyable, but I must admit nothing could hold a candle to what we ate!  I hadn't realized until just this minute that I'm in the habit of doing separate food post (for example Bali and Germany) on top of the who/what/when/where/why post.  I will definitely continue the tradition for this USA trip, as I've got 5 states, 1 province and 1 District of Columbia of deliciousness to cover!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Home Sweet House

I was happily blogging the rest of my USA trip, then abruptly dropped out of the blogosphere because I was diving head first into the biggest financial commitment of my life.

We bought a house!

We weren't expecting to buy a house, at least so soon, but when our rental apartment told us they were giving us the boot we had two choices: rent again and keep saving up to buy a house - and sign ourselves up for a second move (groan times infinity) - or just go ahead and do it, start to finish in six weeks flat.  Over Christmas.

I don't know how in the hell it all came together, but the stars aligned and I am sitting in our new house right now, so I only believe it because I see it with my own two eyes.

Buying over Christmas I think was actually a fairly good move.  Sellers still want to sell, but not a lot of buyers are in a buying mood during the festive season.  There's less competition, at least I'd like to think we got a good deal.  If you can get a bank to call you back to arrange financing (big if) then you're in business!

Here are some snaps from the real estate ad:

And the piece de resistance:

Naturally it doesn't look quite that good when our crap is laying all around, and it's not being staged for photos.

But you know when it looks even worse?  Four years ago when the previous owners bought it.

I found the previous real estate listing online, so got a reference point for how far the house had come in a few short years when the previous owners (first time home buyers like ourselves) bought it and spruced it up.

I find this endlessly entertaining so hopefully you do, too.

It doesn't help matters that the old pictures are obviously amateur, and the new ones professionally done.  If you want to make bank selling your house, pro tip: spend a few bucks for good photography.

The biggest upgrade came in the basement, which was mainly unfinished before, and now is a livable space.  It went from this:

To this:

It essentially doubles the living space of the house, but Martin saw "the biggest spider he's ever seen" down there and now refuses to go out there.  At this rate we might as well just seal off that whole floor, because the only use it gets is for laundry by me!

So there you have it, our little slice of the world.

Nothing has gone horribly (or expensively) wrong yet so I'm happy with our decision thus far.  We went from living in the most populated, bustling part of Brisbane to 10 kilometers from the city in a very quiet neighborhood.  I'm already acclimated because whenever I venture close to the city I feel overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle and number of other people surrounding me.

But maybe that's just me getting old!