Thursday, December 12, 2013

Monash Molecular Course

Sorry for the lack of updates lately - life has been busy!

Last week I spent a week at molecular course that was put on by Monash University.  The course was on campus, in a suburb of Melbourne.  It was my first trip driving through Melbourne, and I was quite intimidated with just trying to get there because it involved driving through the Melbourne CBD to get to my hotel.  Luckily I picked a hotel that was a 15 min walk from the building in which the course was being held.  I don't think I would have been able to handle the stress of trying to find parking everyday.

The course was put on by Micromon, a company within the School of Biomedical Sciences at Monash University.  It was a Recombinant DNA Techniques course that covered all the basics of modern molecular techniques.  I did the recommended reading in a textbook beforehand (about 100 pages worth of dense material), but even so, it was a very challenging course.  We had 9 lectures during the week and completed about 40 different lab procedures.  It was very fast-paced and I spent the evenings trying to wrap my head around what we had accomplished that day and what we'd be doing the next day.  Even though it was challenging, it was really beneficial and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to do the course.

One of the gels we ran during the course

The course was difficult but rewarding.  The laboratory part of the course had us put into pairs, and unfortunately I didn't do so well with the lab partner they gave me.  I was paired with a 45-yr-old guy from Pakistan, who struggled with English as well as pipetting skills.  Let me tell you, when you're pipetting volumes of 10 and 2 ul - you really don't want to be messing around with "learning to pipette".  I was patient at first, allowing him to share the work with me and we did equal pipetting... but then after some of our experiments didn't turn out (which meant we couldn't continue to the next step and had to take materials from another group to continue to lab), then I was no longer patient and willing to let him continue messing things up.  Plus he kept asking me questions (because his English was terrible), but I struggled to understand the info myself and couldn't clearly explain things to him.  Very frustrating! After his pipetting struggles, I did all the micropipetting from then on, and let him do volumes >50ul.  Things seemed to go a bit smoother after that.

We had a wide variety of activities in the lab - we did some cloning using plasmids, did a Southern blot as well as a Western blot, ran a real-time PCR and did a sequencing reaction as well.  All of these lab procedures came coupled with lectures to explain as well as prelabs before each session.  It was very fast-paced, but very well done.  And of course, the food was excellent - not only the lunches but the midday snacks as well.  I think I gained five pounds that week from all the delicious food!

All in all, it was a busy week!  Took me nearly all weekend to finally catch up on life.  Things at AAHL are winding down for the holiday, and lots of holiday parties are going on.  I'll have to talk about them in my next post.  Thanks to those of you who are still reading and haven't forgotten about me!

Friday, November 29, 2013


November is winding down...heck tomorrow is December first.  Where has the time gone?

Thankfully (thankfully? maybe, I don't know) there is no Thanksgiving here.

    Good things: no Thanksgiving advertising, no Black Friday sales, none of that nonsense.  Though, I received numerous emails from companies advertising their black friday specials, as well as everyone on God's green earth posting about black friday crap on Facebook.  People, Thanksgiving with family and delicious food is way better than any sale on some plasma tv that you don't need...

    Bad things: I didn't have a big Thanksgiving meal with my family, which was a bit hard.  I received photos from home of everyone celebrating the holiday but it was easier for me to pretend that the holiday wasn't happening, that way I didn't feel too homesick.  I've been here in Australia for nearly three months now, but I'm still homesick, especially during the holidays.

December is starting and that means things at work are shutting down.  Due to scheduling, experiments and lab work are pretty much done until early January.  I spend all of next week in Melbourne at a molecular course, and then when I come back, the person training me in the lab is on leave, then the facility shuts down for the holiday... so basically it's just desk work from here til Jan.

I haven't posted many adventures for November mainly because I haven't had the time to do much other than work.  We're working to develop our virus titration method as well as grow virus for future experiments, and the process takes quite a bit of time as well as office work to research the methods we want to use.  I've taken full advantage of my free weekends to relax from the busy weeks.

Mid-December, Dad will arrive for a 10 day Christmas vacation extravaganza, so I have that visit to look forward to.  I hope to explore the Bellerine Peninsula, visit Queenscliff, Sorento, Torquey, the Great Ocean Road, Melbourne, Healsville, Phillip Island - lots on the list to visit and experience.  I am excited for the holidays!!!  It will be a weird holiday - I'm used to cold weather and snow for Christmas, but I'm told that here in Australia, it's common to visit the beach on Christmas Day.  I'll certainly be experiencing new traditions this year.

In other news/stories, I have been missing American ketchup like crazy.  I really don't do much cooking at all, but one of my easy meals to make is a fried egg sandwich.  I mix an egg with a bit of milk, fry on a pan, and enjoy on toast with ketchup.  The ketchup really makes the meal.  American ketchup has vinegar in it, and Australian tomato sauce is literally just "tomato sauce".  You'd be surprised at how much the vinegar adds to the flavor.  Today I made a fried egg sandwich and added a shot of vinegar to the my bottle of tomato sauce in an attempt to recreate ketchup.  Though my mixture sufficed, it still wasn't true ketchup.  Ah well, I will just learn to adapt to Australian ketchup with added vinegar rather than tomato sauce.  And hey, plenty of Veggiemite here!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Anyone out there?

Hey hey hey hey - do you read this blog?  Someone is reading it.  I need some feedback.  Right now my feedback consists of the following:

Two people visited your blog today.  It could have been a family member or friend.
It could have been a pedophile in Rio or an internet troll in Belarus.  Who knows....

If you read my blog and you don't like my stories, then you can go ahead keep on being silent.  No worries.  I won't be sad.

If you like the blog or enjoy my ridiculous photos - please comment!  Say hello!  Send me a virtual high-five!  Otherwise I'll just keep sounding off to the internet abyss and wondering who is reading this...

Meanwhile, enjoy the Australia Swine / Australias Wine stores!

Toast to the Coast

Last weekend, Geelong hosted the annual event Toast to the Coast.  An event ticket and bus ticket gets you free rides from winery to winery in four nearby regions surrounding Geelong.  They have music and food at every venue, and of course: endless wine tastings.  I had heard a few people mention the event and I was super excited to be able to go.  A friend in my running group hooked me up with a group of her friends who were going to the event, so I was looking forward to enjoy the day with the group.  But that's not exactly what happened...

The group ended up driving themselves in their car, but the car was full and they didn't have a seat for me.  That was a bit weird, but I had a ticket for the bus that went to each of the wineries, so we planned on just meeting up at each winery to enjoy as a group.

We went to the wineries in the Moorabool region, and the first winery on the list was Austins Wines (  The weather the day before was beautiful and sunny, but the day we went (Sunday) it was on-again-off-again raining and chilly.  But even though the weather was spotty, I did my best to enjoy the day out.

Lingering storm clouds

The first part of the day was actually quite fun!  Aaaand... then I was ditched.  Well, not intentionally ditched, but...yeah.  I hopped on the bus and it continued onto the next winery, Clyde Park Vineyard (  Unfortunately, the group I was with drove themselves to a different winery.  And, the winery they went to was the last one on the list for the day and was in the complete opposite direction of the winery that I was headed to.  By the time we figured things out via text, we were on opposite sides of the tour.

Being all by myself, I decided to make the most of the day and enjoyed myself at the other wineries.  I met a few people here and here during tastings, and I also enjoyed some quality time to myself.  It was actually kind of poetic.  The wineries were surrounded by such beautiful scenery (when it wasn't raining), and doing the tour on my own forced me to sit back and enjoy the atmosphere.

A passerby was kind enough to take a photo of me in front of Clyde Park

The third winery on the tour was Lethbridge Wines (  All of the wineries had beautiful grounds, but I think that Lethbridge was my favorite.  Also they had wood-oven pizza that I enjoyed, that could also be why it was my favorite ;)

Their homemade wood-oven pizza was THE BEST!
Moorabool Ridge was the next one on the list.  By that time, the group I was supposed to be with had made it back on track, so we met up at Moorabool Ridge for a bit.  I found my people!!!!  Unfortunately that was just about the time that the sky opened up and it poured for a good 45 minutes.  Thankfully, I was able to get a few photos before the weather started.

A sunny moment during the bipolar weather

                                                                                        Then the sky opened up

And... due to the rain, the group of people I knew left to go to the second winery on the bus route.  It was late in the afternoon and I decided to call it a day.  I jumped on the next winery bus and rode back to the train station in Geelong.

Overall, it was a really fun event.  I think it could have been 35% more fun (maybe 47% more fun) if I had gone with a group of friends (ones that actually stuck around), but even by myself, it was a great opportunity to see the beautiful countryside as well as taste some of the fancy Australian wines.  It was great to be outside, and it was a good lesson in learning how to have fun on my own.  I'm still slowly meeting people here, just doing my best to be patient :)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Geelong Cup

Geelong Cup is a big event here in Victoria.  It's not an official public holiday, but it's common for people to be allowed off work for cup day.  I'm told that in the past, AAHL employees were given both Geelong Cup day and Melbourne Cup day off work, but in recent years it has just been Geelong Cup day.  I was lucky to be able to attend the cup with a group of people from AAHL.

I've never been to an official horserace, so I was really excited to attend my first cup.  Victoria is known for Aussie rules football (footy) and horse racing.  Gambling on the races is a big deal here, and for weeks leading up to the cup, I saw all sorts of "racing fashion" being advertised.  Nearly every storefront at the mall had mannequins wearing nice dresses with fascinators.  Everyone is encouraged to "frock up" to go to the racetrack.  Since I wear casual clothes to work everyday, it was kind of fun to get all dressed up for the big event.  Plus, I've never worn a fascinator - makes you feel all fancy.

Frocked up and "fascinating"
Like I said, everyone at AAHL gets off work to go to the cup, but lots of people just used the day off for other things.  I was eager to take advantage of the activity and went with a group of people from the lab.  We started off with drinks and snacks at one of the group members' house.  You're not supposed to bring alcohol into the racetrack, so the idea was to take advantage of our own booze before the race.  Of course, we still snuck alcohol into the racetrack, but it was fun to get together beforehand and enjoy snacks.

Most of the AAHL Geelong Cup crew

A quick carpool brought us to the racetrack.  They had a series of races from noon to 5, and the Geelong cup itself was towards the end.  I bet some small money on three races - all unsuccessful, but it was still fun.  A few people in the group had really good luck and won money, and two people in the group bet on the horse that ended up winning the cup.  It was pretty dang exciting, even though I didn't win anything.

She won on a horse!
We had seats underneath a covering (it was rainy all day, super whompy) and we enjoyed cheese and crackers that we brought in (as well as the booze we snuck in).  I enjoyed all the people-watching, but it was too bad that the weather wasn't better.  I'm told that the outfits weren't all that outlandish this year because of the light rain during the race.  Still - some of the ladies wore impressive hats.

Before the races started, we went down to the stable area where they had the horses out for show.  I found it kind of ironic that we were attending a horse race, since due to the nature of our work at AAHL, we're not supposed to get within a certain distance of farm animals and birds.  Still, we were able to walk around the stable area and still be a safe distance from the horses.

Geelong Cup winner: Ibicenco
Presentation of the cup
And of course, as the day wore on, people in the group seemed to have more and more fun!  The rain sure didn't seem to damper everyone's moods :)

Posing with the Police
Police horses!  (Still far enough away to be safe for work)
Once the races were over, part of the group headed over to Elephant and Castle, a nice little pub.  The place quickly filled up with racegoers.  And the sun came out!!

The bad part about the day - I woke up that morning with a sore throat, but my morning tea seemed to help.  Around noon I started to feel a bit tired and by 4:00 I was really dragging, feeling like the flu hit me hard.  I didn't stay at the Elephant and Castle for long - when the group left, I split off and headed home.  The day was a lot of fun, and I was sad to cut it short because I came down with the flu.

All in all a good day!  I look forward to attending another horse race in the future :)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Jirralingah Koala Wildlife Sanctuary

Last weekend I got a chance to hang out with a few of the students from AAHL.  It's been more difficult to meet people my own age that I expected, so when one of the students told me they were having a get-together, I was more than happy to come along.  We spent the evening at one of the girls' house in Clifton Springs, about a 20 min drive from Geelong.  I had a blast hanging out with the group and we made plans that evening to enjoy a breakfast in the morning and then head to Jirralingah Wildlife Sanctuary to see the koalas, kangaroos and other animals they have.

The next morning we enjoyed a delicious breakfast at The Dunes in Ocean Grove.  The restaurant is located right on the beach and we had a beautiful view of the ocean for our meal.

After breakfast, I wanted to check out the beach and watch the surfers.  The weather was absolutely beautiful, so lots of surfers were out enjoying the waves.  I'm told that the Ocean Grove beach is very popular with surfers, and they can get some huge waves there.  As this was the first really warm day of the season, everyone was out on the beach enjoying the sun.


The plan after breakfast was to head to Jirralingah, but when we arrived there we were told that it was closed for the day for a special fundraiser.  I was extremely disappointed, mainly because we had been talking about it all day and I was really excited to get up close to a koala.  Also, the wildlife sanctuary is quite a fair distance from Geelong, not a distance that I am willing to do on my bike.  Since I'm without a car here, it's hard to get around to places outside the city.  The lady at the front gate gave us a coupon for $4 off admission if we came the next day.  Thankfully Alannah, one of the girls in the group, was willing to come get me the next day to enjoy a visit to Jirralingah.

So Sunday morning, take two, Alannah and I headed to Jirralingah.  Admission was a bit pricey (normally $18 but $14 for us with the discount), but it was a special trip and I was really excited to get up close with some of the Australian animals.  There were lots of birds in enclosures all over the grounds.  Working within the lab at AAHL means I have to stay 3-4 m away from birds and farm animals, but we were still able to enjoy looking at the birds without getting too close.


The cockatoos were really charming to look at.  Most all of them had been pets at one time and arrived at the sanctuary because their owners couldn't care for them anymore.  Cockatoos are from Australia, and I find it so weird to see them flying around in large flocks, just like Canadian geese.  They're very pretty, but quite noisy.  I enjoyed seeing them at the sanctuary but I have no desire to have one in my own house (too noisy and dangerous, they can take your fingers off with one bite!).

They had a wide variety of birds, including galahs, different varieties of lorikeets (the rainbow lorikeets are my favorite) and cockatoos, kookaburras, budgies, cockateils, and others.

Rainbow lorikeets

Unfortunately I don't know much about the birds of Australia, so I can't enlighten you on all the species we saw.  If you'd like to learn a bit more, I recommend visiting my friend's blog,  Dr. Celia - she is a veterinarian practicing near Sydney, Australia (and also happens to be a KSUCVM 2013 classmate!)  She can tell you more about these birds (and in a much more entertaining way as well)

There were a few larger areas of the sanctuary with wallabes and kangaroos.  Perhaps this was naive of me, but I didn't realize that there are different kinds of kangaroos/wallabes, just like there are different varies of bears, turtles, etc.  The wallabes were really charming - they were in a very loose enclosure that allowed them to go onto the path.  They seemed quite content to graze in small groups, just like cattle.  Of course, I found the does with joeys in their pouches to be the most interesting

She wasn't too happy with me being close to her joey
Wallabe central
Kangaroos relaxing

The wallabes and kangaroos were fun to see, but the main reason I want to Jirralingah was to see a koala, up close and personal.  One of the keepers escorted us into the koala enclosure and told us a bit about the koalas they had.  Their large male, George, was the easiest to see.  They had a secondary area with females and their babies.  Ironically, baby koalas are called joeys - didn't know that until the keeper told me.  But then again, Australian animals aren't really emphasized in vet school in the states...

We weren't allowed to hold the koalas, but we got plenty close to them.  Since they're nocturnal, they were all napping when we looked them.  They looked quite peaceful, but I'm told that the males get really nasty when they fight.  Plus, they have some serious claws for climbing trees.  Regardless of them being dozy, I was happy to get to see one up close - part of "Australian bucket-list."

George dozing
Sharp claws for climbing


The keeper got other animals from the back for us to hold.  She brought out a possum, a bushbaby, two baby dingos and a joey.  The possum and bushbaby were fun to hold because they would cling to your hand.  The bushbaby was alert enough to demonstrate her prehensile tail for us, and the two dingo pups were exceptionally charming.  The joey was all legs - reminded me a bit of a foal in that respect.



Love those dorky ears!

The koalas were a blast, and being able to hold the possum and bushbaby was quite a treat!  I expected to find the koalas as my favorite, but I have a new Australian animal favorite: the wombat.  They are adorable little dense critters, like beavers without long tails.  They have rounded bear-ears with big claws and cute compact faces like guinea pigs.  I'm told they're quite friendly, but we didn't really get up close to one.  When we visited the area of the sanctuary with the wombats, they had just received their food, so they were very busy chowing down.

Chow time!

Napping dingos
All in all, it was a great day at the sanctuary.  It was nice and warm, but we had a good cloud cover so the sun wasn't too bad.  I'm so grateful that Alannah was willing to go back the next day with me to enjoy all the animals!!