23 April 2006

Random thoughts that probably aren't significant enough to warrant their own post but are still worth mentioning

Some of you have been waiting for a kangaroo photo, so here you go. I took this one myself.*

The Mavericks are better, but still can't consistently beat the best teams. Winning a seven game series against the Spurs or the Pistons will be tough. And will the NBA fix the playoff seeding mess during the offseason? Did the BCS have input in the current plan?

Heather and I watched a Bollywood movie on TV a few weeks ago called Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India. Classic underdog story--get down to Blockbuster and check it out.

One night last week I heard rustling in the tree directly off my balcony. It was a flying fox--yeah, the ones that I posted about previously. Standing on the balcony, I was three metres away from this thing.

I got a step down transformer last week so I finally have my Xbox up and running. I finished Splinter Cell a few days ago, which will make Heather happy because she doesn't like the "scary" music. Now I have a new game to play: Rugby 06. Review forthcoming.

Heather and I were in Mooks and I saw these retro threadbare tshirts that had been cut down the middle and sewn back together in a mismatched harliquin sort of way. I flipped through them to see what shirts they had used. I saw half of a purple Vikings, White Sox, some mom and pop restaurants. Then I saw a City of Columbia Parks & Rec tshirt--yeah, that Columbia. Even had the Cola "bridge" logo. So how much for this piece of nostalgia? Ninety bones.

*Well, actually...this is a picture of a picture. Right now there is a big exhibit at Hyde Park of these large prints of photos from Australian history.

22 April 2006

ANZAC Day: 25 April

Next Tuesday is ANZAC Day here in Australia honoring those who served in WWI. ANZAC stands for Australia New Zealand Army Corps. There is an ANZAC memorial at Hyde Park near our home which we visited several months ago, pictured here. The first photo is taken from the
north, looking back over the reflecting pool. The second photo highlights the architecture of the memorial. Each corner houses a large statue representing each of the military branches. Each side has four statues representing various military duty personnel. The memorial contains a small museum that has many Australian artifacts from the wars of the 20th century.
Want to help recognize ANZAC Day this Tuesday? Try this:

ANZAC Biscuits
ANZAC cookies are a favorite treat on this holiday. This recipe is from allhomemadecookies.com

This very old recipe started during ration times in World War II since not many ingredients were easily available for purchase. The word ANZAC is the abbreviation of our brave soldiers "Australian and New Zealand Army Corps" and the biscuits were named in their honour. They are still a family favourite today in many Aussie homes, and at local cake stalls and fairs.

50g (2oz) plain flour
50g (2oz) rolled oats (oatmeal)
50g (2oz) desiccated coconut (flaked, dry coconut)
100g (1/4 lb) castor sugar*
75g (3oz) butter
15ml (1 tablespoon) golden syrup** (or honey)
2.5ml (1/2 teaspoon) bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)

Heat the oven to 150C (300F), gas mark 2. Lightly oil or grease 2 baking (cookie) trays. Sift flour, combine with other ingredients except the bicarbonate of soda and set aside.
Cut the butter into small pieces, place with the syrup in a heavy based saucepan and melt together, stirring. Then remove from heat.
Combine bicarbonate of soda with 15ml [1 tablespoon] of water and blend in with syrup and butter mixture.
Gradually mix in dry ingredients. Drop mixture on to baking trays 1 teaspoon at a time, spacing 3 inches apart.
Bake in the center of the oven for 20 minutes. Cool slightly then transfer to wire cooling rack. Store in an airtight container.
Yields 24

*Castor sugar is the English name for super fine sugar. Super fine sugar dissolves quickly and can be found in the regular grocery store. You can make your own by processing regular sugar in your food processor for a minute. Or you can substitute regular refined sugar for this recipe, if desired.
**Golden syrup is a sweetener used primarily in England and Australia. (In England, it's also known as light treacle). This liquid sweetener has a clear golden color and is the consistency of corn syrup. It's made from evaporated sugar cane juice and has a rich, toasty flavor unmatched by any other sweetener. The most readily available brand is Lyle's, and you can find it in some supermarkets and many gourmet markets. Use golden syrup as a substitute for corn syrup in cooking and baking, and for everything from pancake syrup to ice cream topping. You can also order it at www.kingarthurflour.com/cgibin/start/ahome/main.html.
Recipe submitted by Maureen from Tasmania, Australia.

You can find more information about the ANZACs at anzacsite.gov.au.

"For the Fallen"
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember, lest we forget.
Laurence Binyon


I played golf yesterday for the first time in nearly nine months, and it was good. I shot 87, but there are a few disclaimers, both pro and con, to mention:
1) Par was only 68, not 72.
2) I fudged a little on the front nine (+7)--hit a second ball a few times if I didn't like my shot. Back nine was legit (+12).
1) I used hired clubs. It was your standard set: D, 3, 4, 6, 8, W, BP (Bent Putter). I refused to hit the driver given that it had a dent in it, and the 4 iron was failing me by the end of the front nine. I played the entire back nine (including three par 5s) hitting nothing longer than a 6 iron off the tee.
2) Did I mention I haven't played in nine months?
All in all, I was rather pleased with how I played. It was certainly very relaxing. I can't wait to get my clubs here and play more. No one would mistake my bag with a PGA pro's, but at least I have a complete set and a straight putter. Plus I won't have to pay for a hired set, so that money can be applied for green fees at a nicer course--I'm thinking something with an ocean view.
Finally, I saw something that reinforces my thought that you should always carry a camera with you. Outside the train station was a Vietnamese pho restaurant (pronounced "fur?") that has adopted the Houston Texans' bull logo with two changes:
1) Instead of blue/red, substitute black/red.
2) Instead of a star "eye", substitute a chicken.
If I'm out that way again, I'll be sure to get a picture for you.

18 April 2006

What I saw at the Sydney Royal Easter Show

A Welcome banner and mascot-The Sydney Royal Easter Show is Australia's version of the state fair, as you can probably tell by the poor version of Big Tex here. There are some differences as you will see in the following pictures, but basically, it was a day at the fair.

A Yoda cake--Yes, there is a cake in there or so they say. Kind of creepy.

A Yumcha cake--This is a restaurant in downtown Sydney--think Chinese Luby's. Heather and I ate there a few months ago, and this "cake" looks exactly like their food. Australia's Biggest Loser held an immunity challenge there a few weeks ago, too.

A Japanese Quilt--There weren't many quilts on display, but I was impressed with this one. However, Heather could do better.

A Bulldog--I also saw a huge Bullmastiff, a couple of Rasta-dogs and lots of cats. Most of the dogs had already gone home, but this dog was the best of what I saw in my opinion. The cats were all in travel cages and difficult to get a picture of.

A Doggie Rugby Jersey--When we get a dog one of these days, Heather wants to dress it in clothes, which I am adamantly against. But, I'll lose this one, I'm sure, so at least I found an acceptable choice. Go the Wallabies!

A Woodcutters Championship Competition--and the place was packed! Woodcutters from NSW, ACT, Tasmania, Victoria, Queensland, and New Zealand all competed. No big surprise that the Tasmanians and New Zealanders dominated.

Real Live Bilbies--There is an effort to replace the rabbit with the bilby as the official Easter animal. Many people here don't look too kindly upon the rabbit--they aren't native to Australia and were brought here for sporting purposes. You know what they say about rabbits--soon they had taken over the country. I know the picture isn't great, but the glass was dirty and scratched and the bilbies weren't in a vogue kind of mood.

The Gold Cup Championship Polo Match--ACT beat Queensland in this 2006 Championship game, providing the win in polo that the Brumbies could not in rugby union the previous night. In this photo, a Queensland player is taking a penalty shot. These penalties routinely went over the safety nets into the crowd. Before each one, the announcer would remind the crowd the "keep your eye on the play" because a wooden ball flying that fast could really ruin your day.

Now where else can you do all of this in one day?

17 April 2006

Go the Tahs!

Sunday night I went to the
Waratahs v the ACT Brumbies rugby union test, my first in Australia, or anywhere for that matter. I still don't understand everything about the game--I've seen less RU than any other sport since we've been here--but the game was a lot of fun. The Waratahs were victorious,
solidifying their place at number two on the ladder. My original seat was behind glass, but I was able to move to an open seat nearby. A program cost me $7, but it came with the obligatory plastic sky blue wrist band. The Brumbies jumped out to a 14-6 lead in the first twenty minutes,
but the rest of the game was all Waratahs. Full story from the Sydney Morning Herald can be found here.
The first picture is a scrum, a staple of rugby union. I still haven't figured out how players avoid breaking their neck every time they do this. The second
picture is a line out play. This is an inbounds play thrown in by the team who did not put the ball out of play. They have to throw the ball in between the two lines, but their team has the advantage because they know if they are throwing the ball short or long--notice the Waratah
player who has been lifted into the air by his teammates. The third picture shows the teams and the scoreboard at "full time". A month ago I mentioned the ads painted on the playing surface of sporting events in "Footy Season". I got some pictures of that at the game. The fourth was taken near the TV camera--you can see the Tooheys New ad is nearly square and the HSBC ad appears to be standing upright on the try line--note the "shadow". The next picture was taken from my seat and you can see how skewed the ads really are.
Running update: I ran nine miles Sunday afternoon, and it was easy--much more so than eight last week, or even six a couple days ago. I ran it in 70 minutes, just under my 8 min/mile pace. I'm considering the marathon next year again--I think I'm going to go back and forth on this quite a bit.

14 April 2006

Dog days of running

Another running update. Not much else going on since Heather is back in the States. I'm bored. I'm on holiday now, and I have a few plans for next week, so there should be plenty of updates and pictures then.
I ran my park/harbour/Opera House circuit again yesterday. The total distance is just under six miles. When I first ran it my time was an hour. The next time was 48 minutes. Yesterday, I cut it down to 42:30. That's really too fast because I won't be able to keep up that pace during a half marathon. But I could do that for a 10K, which means I could keep Michael in my sights for, oh about 500 metres or so, and that's saying something.
I've talked to some people who "get in tune" with their body while running. Not me. My body hates me when I run. Going up stairs, even just four or five, is a killer. At about the 20 minute mark I get a sharp pain in my mid back to the left of my spine. What is that? Any thoughts or ideas? It goes away if I take really deep breaths for a minute or so. Anyway, I do fine after that goes away. At least I thought so until last Sunday when I ran eight miles, my longest so far (I do nine tomorrow). I found out I hit another wall at about 6.5 miles. Maybe I won't be crazy enough to try the marathon next year after all.
So to get my mind off the shortness of breath, aching legs, and sharp back pain, I find distractions from my body. Rather than consciously tuning in to my body, I try to slip into cruise control and ignore it. I watch tourists in the park and at the harbour. I dodge their cameras--maybe I should try getting into their pictures instead, Heather-style. I look at the trees, animals, the water, whatever is around. I listen to music--Nelly's "Country Grammar" gave me a second wind at the 35 minute mark yesterday--good up tempo pace song for me, too. White Stripes came up next--a little eclectic mix, but effective. I think about school lesson plans or other things to blog about--I've come to terms with being a self-absorbed blogger. I try to figure mile time averages, but I never spell-that's Heather's thing. I play a perfect round of all 18 holes at LinRick Golf Course in my head. Anything. Before I know it, I'm done, mostly pain-free.

07 April 2006

Runnin' Time

On Monday, I registered for the Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon, and today I finally found out that I'm in. That's a pretty big deal because they limit entry to 5000, so it won't be anything like 42,000 trying to get over the Cooper River Bridge. (Saw your results, Kerry--thought you weren't going back. How's the new bridge?) This is a race I have wanted to run since I heard about it a year ago. The race is May 21, and I have already been training for four weeks. The website has a map of the course, but basically it runs though the harbour area of downtown and the Royal Botanic Gardens, home of the flying fox mentioned several months ago. My last few training runs have been through the Gardens and around the Opera House. It's nice living in a place that a local run takes in world famous icons. As for my conditioning, I'm feeling pretty good. I'm up to six miles on my program, and still have six weeks to go. My goal is two hours--I'll let you know how I finish.
Next year I hope to run the Great Ocean Road Half Marathon, or possibly the full marathon if I'm crazy enough. It is run the same weekend as the SMH, and follows the road along the ocean outside of Melbourne. It is supposed to be gorgeous, too much so to drive--hard to keep your eyes on the road. Just right for a run, though.

01 April 2006

Rugby v Gridiron: Who's tougher?

While I'm talking about footy, I might as well deliver on my promise to discuss the question of "Rugby versus Gridiron: Who's tougher?" The argument I hear from the kids at school is that American football players wear a lot of padding and rugby players don't, so they must be tougher. The answer depends on what you mean by tougher. If you are talking about endurance, there is no question rugby players are tougher. Rugby's constant motion trumps the NFL's seven seconds per play average any day. But if you are questioning their "manliness", their ability to take a hit (which these boys are), you have no case. NFL hits are way more violent than rugby hits. Rugby has nothing to compare to a quarterback getting blindsided, a WR's exposed leap across the middle, or a punt returner getting leveled the instant he catches the ball. Most rugby tackles are after a five metre gain, so players rarely reach top speed. Much of the time, the ball carrier is running east or west, parallel to his tackler, rather than up field--very few head on collisions. This is not to say rugby players aren't tough, I'm just saying don't let the gridiron football pads fool you.
A similar question I get is if I think NFL players could play rugby. My answer: not many. It's a different game that requires different skills and different body types. A NFL quarterback's skills would be worthless in rugby. Most wide recievers are too slight, most linemen are too big. The only NFL positions with a chance would be linebackers, some defensive ends, and maybe a fullback or tight end. Similarly, most rugby players couldn't play in the NFL. If they could, they would be there: it's all about getting paid. The only Aussies in the NFL are former AFL players, and they make NFL squads as punters, Dallas Cowboy Mat McBriar being one example.
I have also heard many students reference a visit to America by the Australian national rugby team, where they played rugby against NFL players and won. I have a couple points to make about this story:
  1. AU's national rugby team against some guys who have likely never played (or even watched) a rugby game? Of course AU won.
  2. I don't believe it ever happened, certainly not recently. First of all, NFL players make too much money to risk something like this. Second of all, don't you think ESPN would have covered this? I have searched the internet for this story, but have found nothing. Yet I have heard the same story from students repeatedly. It's like an Australian urban legend. The next time I hear it, I'm asking for documentation.

Aussie Rules Football

I have occasionally mentioned Rugby League and Rugby Union, but rarely AFL, or Aussie Rules. This is mainly because the game has always appeared to be organized chaos. Their season began this weekend, and tonight I watched the Sydney Swans, reigning Premieres, lose to Essendon. Despite the loss, the game was exciting, because it finally clicked--no longer is it organized chaos. And it's a pretty interesting game, too. Rules can be found here, but here are the basics:
  1. Eighteen players on the oval per side.
  2. You may run with the ball, kick it to a teammate, or handpass it to a teammate (think underhand volleyball serve). Throwing or pitching the ball is not allowed, not even backwards. A kicked ball that is caught is called a mark, and is rewarded with a free kick. Outside of these free kicks, the ball is fair play for both teams at all times.
  3. At each end of the oval are four poles. The inner two are the goal posts, and the outer two are the behind posts. A kicked ball between the goal posts scores six, while a kicked ball between a behind post and goal post scores only one. A fifty metre arc cuts across the oval, marking this distance from the poles. If a kicked ball is caught inside this arc, a free kick is awarded to score a goal. You don't have to catch a kicked ball in order to attempt a goal, but it is your best chance since it is a free kick. The rules allow you to run inside the arc and kick a goal, but the kick will likely be contested, and is therefore more difficult to score.
That's basically it. Like any other sport, you have to see it to understand it, but I think this should give you an idea. AFL is more popular in Victoria (Rugby League is Sydney's game), but is catching on here after the Swans won the Premiership last year. I think AFL has something going for it that rugby lacks, and that is Big Play Potential. Rugby is a game I enjoy, but because it is a running game, there are very few big plays. Players rarely break a tackle for a big gain. American football, particularly college ball, has a high Big Play Potential because of the passing game, turnovers, and big hits on defense. AFL has similar Big Play Potential because the ball is constantly in the air, with players on both sides flying into each other to catch it. Heather and I said we would watch footy (generic term for all versions of football) this year and perhaps next year get a membership (season tickets) for our favorite. It's still early in the season, but the Swans are in the running.