Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Busy, Busy, Busy

So that's one review done - under great difficulty I might add because Mr Kitty has recently decided that the laptop keyboard is the place to lie but only when I'm trying to type. Of course, if I can persuade him to move his body, then typing fingers are just me wanting a game, aren't they, and if I put a hand out of sight under the desk to save it from attack I'm playing a weird game of hide and seek. I have tried shutting him out but then the heart rending miaows make work impossible so I'll just have to live with grabbing moments like the current one - he's curled up in a patch of sun on the end of my desk for now.

So what is my plan for the rest of the day? Well, I'm heading off to a Pilates class soon but otherwise I'm going to reread Glenda Larke's The Fall of the Dagger (another 'I can't put it down' book that I got a few months back) with the aim of reviewing it, too.  Lee Battersby's Magrit and Stephen Dedman's North of the Dragonlands are two others I want to get to review sooner rather than later and there's a whole pile of others as well.

Wish me luck.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Review: Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier

I was delighted to receive a review copy of Den of Wolves a few weeks ago. Life immediately got in the way and although I read straight away - it was one of those books I found I couldn't put down - I have only just had the chance to write this review.

Den of Wolves is the third book in the series following the healer Blackthorn and her devoted and unlikely companion, Grim. In the first book in the series, Dreamer's Pool, (the second book is Tower of Thorns) the pair were rescued spectacularly from prison where they and others had been been falsely imprisoned by Mathuin, a vicious chieftain who dispensed torture and cruelty without mercy or justice, by Conmael, a fey nobleman. Embittered and desperate for revenge for the abuse and losses she had suffered at Mathuin's hands, Blackthorn found herself bound by promises demanded by Conmael that she return to her profession as a healer, do only good and seek no vengeance for seven years.

Since then Blackthorn and Grim have lived together as friends who help and support each other to deal with their demons for some time and have become a respected part of the community. Both are flawed and this is a large part of their appeal. This is no tale of a hero's journey in grand terms, just one of two damaged people learning to survive in a world that has not treated them well and along the way coming to value one another.

In Den of Wolves both are drawn into the complicated lives of others - a girl who struggles to speak, a wild man with crippled hands and a wealthy landowner who wants a magical house built to protect him and his family. At the same time Blackthorn and Grim's nemesis, Mathuin, is causing trouble that threatens to engulf the entire kingdom and stirring up memories of the injustices the two have endured at his hands and the danger that still stalks them.

I found this an engrossing tale of relationships - and I'm not only referring to the romantic kind although they do exist. Family, community and friendship are just as important and I loved how people related to one another in a detailed and totally believable world where reality and magic co-exist. Den of Wolves is beautifully written - one of the author's skills is to be able to write in a way that is poetic but without losing realism, something that is hard to do successfully - with well drawn characters motivated by all the usual human frailties.

Den of Wolves answers many questions that I for one have been wondering about and brings this part of the story of Blackthorn and Grim to a convincing and satisfying end. A truly enjoyable read

Den of Wolves is published by Pan Macmillan Australia in Australia and is due for release September 29 and by Roc in the USA where it is due for release on November 1.

Juliet Marillier's website is here


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Marriage Equality. Why Is It Even a Question?

There has been a lot of discussion here about marriage equality and frankly I cannot understand why or how it even needs to be discussed at a political level but obviously there are those who find the whole idea disturbing. I'm not personally affected by this but it seems to me that anyone should be able to form a life partnership with whomever they want and that they should be able to enjoy the same legal rights in such a partnership whether they are a man and a woman, two men or two women. I do understand that this conflicts with the religious beliefs of some and that's fine. As far as I'm concerned you can believe what you want but you have no right to force others to follow the dictates of your belief system.

So what to do? Well, the logical solution it seems to me is that we should make the actual legal part of establishing such a partnership one that is carried out by the authority of a government licensed celebrant and no one else. This could then be easily extended to any couple wanting to commit to a lifetime partnership. By all means let people have their partnerships formalised within their religion if they want and it fits with their beliefs but don't let that have any legal status.

What would that mean practically? Very little. An ever increasing  number of Australians are already opting for a wedding conducted by a civil celebrant. As well the number of people who choose never to marry their life partners is also increasing and we already give these folk all the rights of those who choose to be married. So why not take the next step and introduce civil contracts for all who want them?

I'm yet to hear one sensible reason why our parliamentarians shouldn't legislate to resolve the situation. Instead we have the situation where our federal government thinks we should have a costly plebiscite. This will have no binding authority and will cost $160 million plus the additional funding for those on both sides of the question the government intends to provide. Multiple polls have shown that the vast majority of Australians think there should be marriage equality but we have government MPs openly stating that no matter if a majority of voters in their electorate vote for marriage equality in the plebiscite they intend to vote according to their consciences whether or not this conflicts with the choice of their electors - you know those people they are supposed to represent - so how this expenditure can be justified is beyond me.

So I appeal to our government, please, just legislate for marriage equality, ideally by instituting civil contracts for all marriages (change the terminology if you need to so you placate those who see marriage as having other connotations). There's no constitutional reason why not and changing this won't alter anything for the majority of the Australian community. It'll just make life better for anyone who wants to have a life partnership with someone of the same gender. Is that so bad?

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Gardening

It's no secret that I love gardening. It restores the soul in a way nothing else can. The trouble is that as my arthritis gets worse it's getting harder and harder to do what I want to. This year a combination of things has made it difficult to do what I would like. Pisces' illness and my current -and still not definitively diagnosed - hip problem have meant I've had to cut back a lot.

I've temporarily abandoned the lower section of the garden since I can't handle the steps without extreme difficulty but the vegie patch is still in good condition and supplying us with snow peas, silver beet, lettuces and spring onions with a few beetroot still to be harvested as well as chives (onion and garlic) and several different kinds of parsley. I've let the nasturtiums rampage a bit to add a slightly different flavour to salads - the leaves also work well as a cooked green vegetable - and there's borage to bring the bees in too. Pisces is reluctant to try eating borage leaves for some reason (maybe their hairy surface puts him off) but I'm trying to encourage him to become more adventurous so we get even more out of this useful plant.

I've already started to plant the spring/summer crops with runner bean, red onion, basil and rainbow chard seedlings already in beside the self sown tomatoes and sunflowers plus more lettuce and I'm going to spend part of today making up newspaper seedling tubes to give the other vegies a bit of a start because, if I plant seeds directly into the ground, I find I lose most of the seedlings to snails, slugs and slaters. Yes, I could scatter baits but I have visiting dogs and children and I don't like using poisons of any sort.

At the end of last summer I succumbed to the magic of the seed catalogues and so I now have colourful packets of all sorts of goodies. There's one of carrots of many colours (several shades of yellow and purple among others) and another kind that is purple on the outside and orange inside. I've not had much luck with carrots (they grow well enough but often have an aftertaste that spoils them). I'm hoping these will be better. There are three different kinds of sweet corn, heirloom tomatoes, a whole lot of different beans - Purple king (this one produces tasty purple pods that turn green when cooked), butter beans, borlotti beans, snake beans and French beans. Then there are Lebanese cucumbers, butternut squash, zucchini, eggplant and a beetroot I've not tried before to name but a few. And, of course, I also grow a few flowers and I have some fruit plantings that need tending.

So you can see I'll be busy. I know it probably seems like a lot of work, and on one level it is, but the joy of being able to go out into the garden and harvest what we are going to eat or pick a bunch of flowers with my little granddaughter makes up for the sore hands and painful back.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

The Amazing Milena Sidorova Performs

A video of this extraordinary woman came up in my Facebook feed and so I went to find out more about her. It turns out that she is a multi award winning dancer and choreographer from Kiev. She started her ballet training in the Ukraine before attending the Royal Ballet School in London. She has been dancing with the Dutch National Ballet since 2005.

There are a number of videos of her performing on YouTube but the most incredible is the Spider Dance. I have no idea how she does this and before I run out of superlatives perhaps I should simply give you the link.

Milena Sidorova performing the Spider Dance

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Swimming? I'm Thinking of Getting a Burkini

These days when I'm finding out the damage done by spending much of my youth enjoying the sun  I'm thinking - somewhat too late I'm afraid - of sun protection. The sun spots on my hands, some solar keratoses and a couple of early stage skin cancers needing to be removed have made me realise that it's a pity I didn't think about it when I was younger. I was blessed with skin that rarely even went pink let alone burned and so, unlike others in my family, it never occurred to me that I was creating a health time bomb.

As Australians of my generations went my family was sun smart. We went swimming at the beach before 10:00 AM and after 4:00 PM long before any of the slogans had been invented. My mother insisted on us using the nearest available thing to sun screen at least on our faces - no oiling ourselves and cooking in the midday sun as almost everyone else did. We were encouraged to cover up in the hottest part of the day and large floppy hats were fashionable for women so I wore one much of the time. And even so I have all this sun damage that is increasingly becoming a worry.

When I had children I carried on doing this, especially as Virgo had inherited delicate, pale skin that easily burned from my paternal grandfather. Much to my son's annoyance - he's like me as far as sunburn is concerned so he could see no point in taking precautions - hats were insisted on as were t-shirts - the long sleeved cover ups for children having not yet come on to the market - and my kids were always slathered in sunscreen. But it really wasn't enough, was it. The sun here is getting hotter and with climate change this will only get worse.

So when I saw the burkini advertised I was interested, very interested. While it was originally created by an Australian woman with a view to allowing Muslim women to enjoy swimming - this is Australia after all so why wouldn't they want to swim - it is looking an increasingly sensible option for many of us. I'm not a fan of covering up because of religious strictures - especially if they are compulsory - but I also can't see why it's anyone's business but mine or that of any other woman if we choose a swim suit that covers more than what society regards as the norm. Until now the only option has been to cover up with a T-shirt and that's very uncomfortable when it gets wet. Ask me how I know. Alternatively you could wear a rashy - this is probably not a word anywhere but in Australia but I can't help it. We Aussies abbreviate almost everything.  Of course, I'm talking about a rash vest or rash guard. Rash guards come in a variety of different styles and fabrics - and some look not that much different from the burkini. Makes me wonder why a rashy would be acceptable and a burkini not.

The burkini range includes garments I personally wouldn't choose to wear - I don't particularly want a head covering although for someone like Virgo who invariably gets her scalp burned along the part line every summer it would be a good option and nor do I want full length leggings - but that's not a reason for others not to choose them. One of my friends pointed out that she hasn't gone swimming for years because she burns easily and hasn't been able to cover up the ravages age at least to some extent. For her a burkini is an appealing option and why shouldn't she have the right to that choice?

The kind of burkini that I'm seriously thinking about is the sun safe range where you get to wear a garment with ¾ length sleeves and slim fitting pants. They are chlorine resistant, provide UV protection of 50+ and come in a number of different colourways and would certainly provide some protection against the harsh Australian sun.

Burkinis have been around since the early 2000s but suddenly came into the news when the south of France seemed to collectively lose sight of what is and isn't appropriate beach wear by banning them because they see them as religious symbols - and, yes, they started out being designed for Muslim women but now they are defintely moving beyond that into the wider community.

In the last few weeks we have had the unedifying spectacle of armed police standing over a fully clothed woman demanding she removes some of her clothes and other times when fully clothed women have been ordered from the beach for wearing garments like burkinis. Now there have been times when I've gone to the beach fully clothed because I wasn't interested in swimming. I've worn jeans and oversize sweaters when it's been cold, I've worn short shorts and long shorts with both short and long sleeved tops - I often wear a long sleeved shirt over my swim suit, too, I've worn a dress, I've even worn a full flowing maxi dress for heaven's sake and I have to wonder exactly why a burkini would be more offensive than any of these.

Given my current experiences with skin cancers - and seeing the TV news interviews with all these bronzed French women in their tiny bikinis and knowing that they in a few years may well be like me having to have skin cancers removed - I have to wonder when common sense went out the window. If a burkini covered the face I could perhaps understand these bans - the face is, after all, how we identify each other - but these garments don't do that. Whether they are worn for modesty or for sun protection is surely no one's business but the wearer's - and, as a useful side effect, the inevitable health consequences will at least have been lessened.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Ooh, Ooh, Lookie, Lookie

These are not the best photos in the world but I'm putting them up because they are of my first kangaroo paw flowers. See.



This photo shows the characteristic kangaroo paw shape better while that below picks up the rich and vivid quality of the flower's red and green against a leafy green background - the plants behind it are red poppies of the kind that we use a symbol for Remembrance Day.

These flowers are those of the Red and Green kangaroo paw ( Anigozanthus manglesii) and are the floral emblem of Western Australia. It's also sometimes called Mangles kangaroo paw and was used as a food plant by the local Noongar people who knew it as Kurulbrang.

The reason I'm so excited is because I have tried to grow them repeatedly for many years and had no success. It seems they can be fussy about growing conditions and are susceptible to ink disease, a fungal disease which blackens the leaves and in severe cases can kill the plant (the stunning hybrids you can find in gardens all around the world now are less susceptible apparently). All my previous attempts at growing them have resulted in ink disease and death but if there's one thing certain about me and gardening it is that I don't like to be beaten so I try and try again.

Last year all but a few of the kangaroo paws I put in succumbed to ink disease so, instead of trying yet again to grow them in a garden bed, I planted the survivors in a large pot. To my surprise they thrived and now they are in bloom. It's a great thrill and reminds of my childhood visits to bushland at Red Hill on the Darling scarp where the hillside was carpeted with these spectacular flowers in Spring. Inspired, I've invested in some more plants. They're tiny at the moment but who knows, next year I may have my own carpet of these lovely flowers.