Sunday, December 25, 2016

Season's Greetings

I've been tucked up in bed with my cat because I was too unwell to join the family Christmas celebrations but I hope you have been luckier and are having a wonderful day.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Yes, We Do Care

Nearly every day something appears in my Facebook news feed along the lines of 'You people were all upset about Paris but you're not saying anything about Aleppo. You just don't care.'

I'm sorry but that's hardly fair. Every night on the news we see horrific images of the suffering of the innocent in Aleppo just as we see and hear about the horrors being perpetrated by ISIS in other parts of the Middle East. We do know about it and we care about it but it's outside our control. We can't do anything to ease this suffering however much we might want to. In the case of Aleppo it's part of a civil war and the conflict between the rebels and their own government with their external allies. ISIS is something different, of course, being driven by religious fanaticism, but again there is nothing we personally can do to assist those caught up in it. It doesn't mean that what these poor unfortunates are living through does not break our hearts - it does - and if we could do anything to help I for one - and I'm sure many others - would.

So don't assume we don't care. It's just that we can't do anything but donate to those organisations giving humanitarian aid and hope and pray that things will improve.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Things I Have learned While Confined to Bed

One thing that happens when I'm sick in bed is that I watch a lot of terrible day time television. This means this time I have learned that many advertising writers think we are idiots.

For example because it's Christmas we have gift suggestions. Oh dear heaven do we have gift suggestions - and what suggestions they are.

A few examples:
Apparently what we all need above all else are items for personal grooming because it's always nice to be reminded that we are not taking care of ourselves. Our hair looks so terrible we need ways to improve it, we are not doing enough to remove unwanted body hair and our feet are such a mess we absolutely need to have special devices to remove the rough parts - and yes, there have been ads for all these. Obviously we would appreciate presents that remind us of these failings because we are either too incompetent or too mean to supply ourselves with these necessities or haven't realised what a mess we look.

Then, of course there are the always welcomed household appliances. Nothing says Christmas like an iron, microwave or vacuum cleaner.

Or perhaps you'd like to receive a garden hose with special fittings - because you're either incapable of watering a garden properly or haven't been trying hard enough and your garden is dying.

All of these are products I've seen advertised as suitable Christmas gifts but how anyone could have thought any were a good idea escapes me.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Still Not Having Fun

So last time I posted I assumed I'd soon be back to normal after my emeregency hospital adventure. It turns out I was wrong.

I was starting to get back on my feet  - between intensive physiotherapy sessions (an important part of my shoulder recovery) I'd even managed a visit to the shops to make a start on my Christmas shopping and actually had the Christmas tree up and decorated - when I started to feel really unwell. After two days of struggling to even get out of bed, I went to the doctor. It turned out I had a raging fever - no wonder I felt so bad - and I was sent off for pathology tests and then given a course of antibiotics.

Five days on and I'm only just starting to feel a little bit better but nowhere near able to do anything more than shower and spend a few minutes looking at my slowly dying garden before I end up back in bed.

Unless things improve very soon I'm none too sure that I'll even get to our big family Christmas dinner - and for someone who LOVES Christmas this is a serious worry.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

It's the Season

when we're supposed to be cheery, right? The trouble is this year has not been one of our best. Apart from the arrival of another little grandchild there's been little to want to remember. Pisces and I have both been plagued with health issues that have taken their toll in many ways. At times just getting through each day has been a challenge.

I've just been writing the Christmas newsletter we send out to family and friends every year and frankly it makes pretty depressing reading. Given that - and since I could also do with some cheering up - here are some pretties from my garden.





I don't pretend to be a great photographer but this sampling of spring flowers gives me joy. I hope it does the same for you.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Happy Kitty

Since I've been home and convalescing I've been crashing quite often to the delight of my cat. He apparently missed me badly while I was in hospital and moped around not even talking to Pisces and going off his food.

Since I got home his favourite position is pressed right up against my hip. I tried to take a photo but unfortunately when you are lying down with a cat glued to you this is what you get.








Somewhat warped, isn't it, with Puss's rear end and body looking huge and his head looking as if it's somehow shrunken. Just so you know he's really quite a well proportioned and handsome fellow this is what he really looks like.


Much better, don't you think.



Sunday, November 27, 2016

Well That Was Unexpected

A bit over a week ago I was happily going about my business after a routine GP visit. Pisces and I went shopping, getting home at about 1:30 PM when I started to feel very tired so I skipped lunch and went to lie down. Within an hour I was in agony with shoulder pain that quickly accelerated to excruciating with any movement.

Pisces took me back to the GP who thought I might have torn a tendon, gave me strong painkillers and referred me for a MRI. I didn't sleep that night because of the pain but next morning my pain level was still increasing.

Finally I succumbed to Pisces's pleadings and agreed to go to the ED. Turned out this was a good decision because within 5 minutes of getting in the ED doctor had diagnosed an infection in the joint and I was blood tested, x-rayed, CT scanned and seen by the orthopaedic registrar in short order. By now it was midnight and I was to be admitted for observation with further investigations in the morning.

When I got to the ward everything changed. There the orthopaedic consultant examined me and decided I needed emergency surgery as soon as possible, telling me I'd be next on the operating list. The operation went well but I had to stay in hospital for a week.

I'm now home but still in some pain with a physio regime to stop me developing a frozen shoulder and am well aware of how lucky I was that it was picked up when it was or the result could have been very serious.

The whole thing has reminded me - not for the first time this year which has been a series of trials as far health is concerned - to be grateful for the fact that I live in a country where we have an efficient public health system where I received timely and effective treatment and spending a week in hospital has not left me with an enormous bill at the end.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

It's Been Been Hot.

Oh yes, it has.Yesterday it had reached 37 C on our shady veranda by 11:00 AM and we're close to the beach where it's usually cooled down by the sea breeze. This used to be known as the Fremantle Doctor round here, I haven't heard it called that for many years but it's not a bad choice given it is always refreshing and a relief after a scorching day.

Sadly yesterday the Doctor only managed a few pathetic breaths - fortunately enough to keep the smoke from a fire in a piece of bushland only a few kilometres away heading in the opposite direction from us at least until the firies got it under control. Then it dropped which meant the outside temperature was still 34 C the last time I checked at around 8:30 PM. Inside, though, it was still a quite pleasant 29 C thanks to our efficient insulation and the way the architect who designed our house planned for the climate.

Around 9:30 PM I took some rubbish out to the bin and decided it had cooled enough for me to open a few windows and doors. Not the best idea as it turned out because within half an hour smoke came rushing in - the fire had flared up again - and I raced around shutting windows and doors. Still the house was cool and comfortable. We hadn't even had to turn on the ceiling fans.

This morning the temperature raced up outside. By 9:00 AM it was 34 C and it looked like we were in for another scorching day but by midday the temperature had dropped to 30 C as the sea breeze came in. It's now 17 C and the forecast for tomorrow is for rain and a maximum of 21 C. Such a range of temperature in two days is to put it mildly unusual but I suspect it's something we have to get used to. Weather patterns are changing all over the world and we will just have to adjust.

And in one final note which has nothing to do with weather my iPad has been doing some bizarre things while I've been typing this post. Autocorrect has been making some interesting changes. The best/worst was changing 'managed' to 'megadeath'. Really. Well it would have made for a very different post, wouldn't it.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Disaster! Well, Maybe Not.

What happened was that when I went out to check my vegetable seedlings the day before yesterday I found something had shredded a couple of the newspaper tubes I use to raise some of my seedlings. These tubes are simple to make, environmentally friendly and cause less transplant disruption because I can plant them directly into the garden where the paper will help hold water around the roots and eventually disintegrate. As well they let me grow the seedlings on to a stage where the slaters (woodlice or pill bugs to non-Aussies) are less likely to eat through the stems. I say less likely because they have been known to eat through stems of plants they really like that are as much as 1-2 centimetres in diameter. They can reach plague proportions in well mulched gardens - and given our high summer temperatures and water restrictions mulching is essential here if you want to grow vegetables.

I wasn't all that worried by this small amount of damage. I figured a magpie or raven - both regularly visit the garden - had mistaken the curve of an emerging bean seed for a worm, found out their mistake and wouldn't bother me again. Boy, was I wrong.

This is what I found yesterday morning.


And that is just part of it. Newspaper, seedlings and potting mix, some of which had come from the yellow pots in the photo, were spread over most of the paving, the black seedling containers had been emptied and the blue pots - where I have planted some hard to get heritage tomato seeds - were covered in scraps of newspaper.

After several hours I had managed to retrieve and repot or plant out most of the seedlings but obviously this wouldn't to stop something similar happening again to those still in tubes. So they spent last night tucked up under a shade cloth cover and the only damage was to one pot that got partly uncovered during the night. Fingers - and everything else - crossed that I'll be able to keep them alive until I can plant them out. Since we are expecting another unseasonal 38 C in the next few days this may be harder than I'd hoped.


 

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Ow! Ow! Ow!

While I was out watering the pot plants - and for those who are not Australian I do not mean 'pot' plants as in cannabis, here that means any plants grown in pots - I walked into a huge number of ants all racing frantically around. There was no sense of order at all in what they were doing. They were just rushing about apparently in complete confusion.

I was wandering along focussing on the hanging baskets so didn't notice them until they started climbing all over me - up my legs, inside my jeans, along the hose I was holding, onto my hands, up my arms and inside my t-shirt. Then, when I stamped and shook my hands to try to dislodge them, they decided I was an enemy and started to sting. Now these are coastal brown ants and their sting isn't all that severe but when you have a dozen or so deciding to sting at once it's not pleasant. I hosed my feet and hands and managed to get rid of the majority but they were so stirred up they kept coming.

I reluctantly reached for the insect spray - I rarely use poisons but sometimes you just have to - and sprayed. I've just been out again to see what's happening and things have quietened down although there are still numbers of ants - far more than usual - randomly hurrying around.

Why this happening I don't know but it might be down to the weather. We're having an unseasonal scorcher of a day. I just checked the thermometer and it's already 32.1 C in the shade on the back veranda and it's not even midday - and the forecast is for 37 C. When you realise that yesterday was 26 C  - the usual temperature for this time of year - it's more than possible that the ants are simply severely stressed and this is their response. I certainly hope so. I don't want to be spending my life fending off crazed ants.

The temperature is expected to go back to a more normal 25 C tomorrow and I've got everything crossable crossed that it's right. I got up early and spent a couple of hours rigging up temporary shade cloth shelters in the vegie patch but whether that will be enough to protect things like the lettuce and silverbeet only time will tell.


Saturday, October 29, 2016

Hallelujah - Pentatonix

I've been a great fan of a cappella group, Pentatonix, ever since I watched them singing  - and winning - The Sing-Off in 2011. Their blend of voices is extraordinary and they have just released a Christmas album. You can hear and watch them perform Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah here.

Now I have to say that while I find this song haunting and lovely - and this rendition of it is particularly beautiful - I still struggle to understand its entire meaning. I do get the Biblical references but some of the other parts confuse me. I was relieved to find I was not the only one who was in this position when I googled 'what does Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah mean?' because literally pages of people asking the same question or trying to answer it came up. The trouble is the interpretations are as varied as those writing them so I decided to simply enjoy it and leave it to you to work out your own meaning/meanings.

It turns out that even finding a definitive version of the lyrics of Hallelujah is not easy but this link gives you a number of variations. Have fun and for some more information here is Leonard Cohen being interviewed about the song.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Sleep Deprivation Rates as Torture, Doesn't It?

To give some context I've been sleeping badly lately - for lots of reasons I won't go into - and I'm struggling with the after effects.

In the circumstances I will share this instead of trying to write a coherent post. Arachnophobes don't look. Spider eating mouse. I'm pleased to say the hunstmen where I live are nowhere near this big and only eat moths and flies.

On a more pleasant note we have tadpoles in the garden pond. Our resident motorbike frog had been calling and calling over the last month or so and has obviously attracted a lady friend - or more likely several lady friends given there are three different sizes of tadpoles enthusiastically feasting on the algae in the pool. I tried to take a photo but it turns out that muddy brown taddies do not show up well and all I got were pictures of clumps of green algae.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Of Owls

Last night I heard a sound coming from the tree in my front garden. You can hear it here. It's the call of the southern boobook. It's a medium sized brown owl found across most of Australia, also known as the mopoke because of its call.






I found this photo of a Southern boobook on the Pixabay website and I have to confess that I haven't ever seen one before although I've often heard them.








Saturday night's calls were the first time I've heard a mopoke for a while although I'm sure there are a number in the bushland around us - there are two golf courses with large areas of bush within a few minutes walk of where I live (one has a resident mob of kangaroos) and two bush reserves as well as a number of parks and wetlands no more than five minutes by car so there's plenty of hunting habitat.

Even more interesting than hearing the bird calling was what happened afterwards when I heard something that sounded vaguely like crickets but not quite right. In my trusty bird guide I was delighted to find that this was most likely a young owl because they make a cricket like call. Can't be positive, of course, since I didn't see the birds but I suspect we either have a nest in the tree which would be wonderful or, since it's breeding season, a parent had a newly fledged juvenile with it. Either way they are very welcome.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

It's Definitely Spring

and I've had that urge to get into the garden that comes with it. The glorious poppies I posted about only three weeks ago are on their last legs after we had a hot day - it reached 31 C - and they and the nasturtiums did not like it one little bit. They'll all have to come out in the next little while but I'm waiting so I can collect seeds for next year. I'll have have a wander around the local garden centre and see what I can find to replace them. Such a chore - not.

In the meantime I've been repotting the hanging baskets so now there are some much happier looking strawberries and some baskets of brilliant blue lobelia. I'll try to get some white cascade petunias to add to these for a splash of contrast but they aren't easy to find these days. The sad thing is that several of my old wire baskets have rusted out - they're literally holding together with what's left of the coir liner - so I need some more. Another excuse - as if I needed one - to go to the garden centre.

The other area I've been focussed on is the vegie patch which is half planted up. I've started laying paving paths as well but that's a slow process due to my current aches and pains. Here are a couple of photos to show how industrious I've been. See.




The hot day wiped out the cucumber seedlings and a lot of the lettuces but the seedling tomatoes, capsicums, sweet corn, zucchini, eggplant, beetroot, parsley and basils are all looking good. The onion chives are in flower, too, and they are so pretty that I let them do their own thing instead of doing as I'm told you should and picking the buds off to extend the season. The border of them means they are plentiful enough for us anyway so why not enjoy the flowers.

And just because I could I've added calendulas - partly to encourage insects and partly because a certain small person loves to raid my garden for flowers. The borage is still in full bloom and delighting the bees while the self sown sunflowers are already in bud. You can see them in the top right corner of the bottom photo. I'm waiting for the rest of the beans to come up along with an assortment of other seeds I've put in newspaper seedling tubes to avoid the voracious skaters we breed here eating through the stems as soon as the seedlings get more than a couple centimetres above the surface. I hate using chemicals so I have to find other ways to raise my plants and this is one way that helps.

There's much more happening in the garden apart from the new plantings, of course, but that's enough for now - except maybe I should mention the grape vines are shooting (which means dolmades - yum) and the blueberries are smothered in fruit (and I can hardly wait for them to ripen)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Spoon Theory

Since Christine Miserandino posted her Spoon Theory on what it's like to live with a chronic debilitating illness a number of years ago those like me who live with chronic pain or a chronic illness have found it a useful way to explain just what it's like to have to deal with this every day.

I thought this was very widely known but apparently not everyone - including those who would benefit from it in explaining their situation - has heard of it. What made me realise this was that I was having a particularly bad day yesterday and when I mentioned to a friend who also suffers from a chronic illness that I was out of 'spoons' I was greeted by a puzzled silence. Then I posted on Facebook about it and another friend asked what I meant. So I thought I should revisit Christine Miserandino's post and link to it.

One thing I should stress is that the Spoon Theory applies to chronic illness. It doesn't relate to those days any normally healthy person has when they're tired. Chronic illness is draining, debilitating and disrupts your life. If you suffer chronic pain or illness - or both - there are days when you literally cannot do things that healthy people take for granted. And I get it - it's very hard for you, the healthy person, to grasp why it is I pull out of a social engagement at the last moment or why I say if I'm asked to go somewhere that I'll see. I'm not being inconsiderate or difficult. It's simply that I am at the mercy of my body and I don't know whether I will be able to do what I would like to.

I'll give you an example. Pisces and I have been invited to two events this weekend, one on each day. The first is a family birthday party and the other is an outing with a group of friends which will involve a bit of walking. Both are some distance from where we live. When I replied I said that we'd love to come but I had to add the caveat that I'd make a final decision on the day. Am I being difficult or deliberately obstructive? No, I'm not. But I got the distinct impression from one friend that she thinks I am. Can her reaction change anything? Will I suddenly be able to commit? No - but the reaction does leave me feeling that I am being annoying and/or inconsiderate. Honestly, I don't need that on top of everything else but it happens all the time and just makes life that bit harder.

I get that it's inconvenient and I wish I could be more reliable but I can't - and that's where the Spoon Theory comes in so handy as a short cut explanation. Everyone has at least one person with a chronic illness in their lives so have a look. You can find it here.

Edited because I realised I had misspelled Christine Miserandino's name. Don't know how I missed that.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Reading the World.

So there I was this morning catching up on my Facebook feed when a link came up to a BBC post about writer Ann Morgan who in 2012 decided she would read a book from every country in the world in the course of one year. It proved to be quite a challenge because there are new countries, small countries, countries with only an oral and no written tradition and others where books may have been published but have not been translated or written and not published.

Inevitably I mostly read books from English speaking countries - which largely means books from the UK, Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand but includes other English speaking countries as well. For instance I've recently read some great books by Irish and Scottish writers. I do read books from other languages but sadly they have to be translated into English because, although I have a basic knowledge of a couple of other languages, I'm not fluent enough to capture all the nuances needed to read and comprehend a complex book and do it justice. In recent years I have read books translated from Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, German, French, Cantonese, Egyptian and Arabic but when I remember how many countries there are in the world it's obvious that I've barely scratched the surface of writing from around the globe.

Now I've realised this I'm determined to make a serious effort to read more widely. Given the difficulties Ann Morgan faced I'm not even going to attempt to read a book from every country in a year but I am going to actively seek out books from other cultures using her list as a starting point. I suspect I am going to learn a lot.

Ann Morgan's post on the BBC website is here and the link to her book list is here

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Life Can Be Frustrating Sometimes.

I've just had a very frustrating morning because I went to log in to my ISP account and it refused to accept my password. Since I already had an issue with them because I couldn't reset another password associated with the same account after they had 'fixed' a previous problem I was not a happy little camper. Much ranting and venting brought Pisces and the cat to find out what was the matter. Now they both no doubt meant well but as neither has any knowledge of the mysteries of the internet having them sitting there looking on did not really help the situation. To make matters worse the website  - as is so often the case - didn't actually have any useful way to work out my problem or, for that matter, even provide an easy way to contact them. Well, there was a live chat option but the combined problems were so complex I was pretty sure I'd be sitting here typing for hours. I gave in in the end, of course, and went to chat. It did take quite a while and I still can't access my account or change my password but the good news is that it isn't my account or computer that are to blame. It's the ISP. The upshot is that eventually they will fix things at their end and then my worries will be over. Do I believe that? Hmm, I'll just have to wait and see, I guess.


Friday, September 30, 2016

Review: The Fall of the Dagger by Glenda Larke

In this, the third book in The Forsaken Lands trilogy, disgraced witan, Saker, and his fellow terrion members, Sorrel and Ardhi, arrive back from the Summer Seas to find that much has changed in the two years of their absence.

In The Fall of the Dagger, armed only with their witcheries and the magical gifts given them by the Chenderawesian Rani (which they have no idea how to use), Saker, Sorrel and Ardhi together with Adronnese privateer Lord Juster must take on the sorcerer and his army as well as searching for a way to destroy the sorcerous infection of two innocent children. They are not the only ones still battling sorcery. There are a few left who have witcheries and others who have joined the fight against the sorcerer but despite all these efforts, as Fox's power continues to grow, the prospects for Va-Cherished and Va-Forsaken alike look equally dire.

The world building is strong and detailed, the characters are well drawn and believable and the tension ramps up steadily. I loved it and didn't want to put it down. A thoroughly satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, all the more enjoyable because of the unexpected twists and turns in the plot. Oh and I mustn't forget to mention the maps by Perdita Phillips which help to make the world even more clear.

The Fall of the Dagger was published by Orbit in Australia earlier this year.

Glenda Larke blogs at Tropic Temper and her website is here

Edited because I had included spoilers without warning. Sorry.





  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Poppies

I looked out my back door the other morning and the poppy bed was positively glowing in the early morning light. The sky had been grimly grey for the most part but the sun had broken through a gap in the clouds and illuminated the whole bed for just a few minutes. So I grabbed my phone - no time to get the camera in case the light disappeared - and took some photos.












This is only a tiny fraction of the bed and I didn't think it did the flowers justice so I went closer in.




This needs cropping but it captures something of the light on the blossoms.



I wanted more and found sunlight gilding this flower. Pretty isn't it.

T

And here's one with a bee busily at work. 

The sun disappeared then and everything dulled but for those few minutes the flowers were glorious.

We have rain forecast for later in the day so most of the flowers won't last long - they'll just be a crimson carpet of petals on the paving surrounding the bed - but there will be more to enjoy tomorrow. The poppy season isn't very long and now the weather is starting to warm up they'll soon be gone but what joy they bring while they are here.

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.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Star Trekkin'

So I needed cheering up and then I came across something that used to give my kids and me great pleasure as we belted it out in the car back in the early nineties. It makes fun of Star Trek using catch phrases from the TV show at an increasingly frantic pace and we loved it. I give you Star Trekkin' by UK novelty band, The Firm.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Well, That Was Unfortunate

I injured my hip somehow about a month ago and I've been struggling to walk much and there have been days when it's been all but impossible. The constant pain has been debilitating, too, and I've been exhausted most of the time because I haven't slept well. My GP arranged for me to have an injection a couple of weeks ago which took quite some time to work but the last couple of days things seemed to be improving. I got out into the garden for a couple of hours over the weekend - nothing strenuous but I don't do well when I don't get outside so, although I was physically limited and ended up having go and put my feet up for the rest of the day, it was worth it.

That was until this morning when I was going through the family room and my foot caught on a footstool that someone had left out of place - I won't dob them in but they know who they are - and now I can barely hobble again. My plans for the day are completely wrecked and I am not a happy little camper.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Teething Troubles

Last week I had my six monthly clean and check at the dentist and they do feel lovely. Some of it went very well: the hygienist complimented me on how I take care of my teeth. This is largely thanks to my old dentist. I've followed his advice on cleaning technique religiously for years and it obviously pays off.

Unfortunately it hasn't been enough to stop many of my teeth developing fractures even to the point of several shattering. The first time this happened was when I was at Clarion South in 2007 - miraculously it didn't expose the nerve so I was able to wait until I got home to have it dealt with - but it was the beginning of a series of teeth falling apart with no-one able to say why. As a result I have rather more crowns than I would like and now two more teeth - I already knew from my last clean and check they were showing fractures - have reached the point of having to be crowned. As well another has developed some worrying fractures but it can wait a while yet. At the present rate I'll end up with a mouthful of crowns. Just as well I have good private health cover, isn't it.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Crassness at the Rio Games

So far - and bear in mind we're only just over a week in - much of the media has managed to sink to appalling new lows when reporting on women athletes. Commenting on Katinka Hosszu's world record and gold medal in the women's swimming 400 metre individual medley an NBC commentator credited her husband with being responsible for her record swim but then his euphoric celebration of her win became the media focus - because husbands aren't supposed to be proud of their wives' achievements apparently. Then, when reporting on the trap shooting bronze medal won by US woman, Corey Cogdell-Unrein, the local newspaper, Chicago Tribune, initially tweeted leaving out her name but mentioning that she is married to a local footballer. You can read about these and other crass comments here and here and there's an interesting article of how sexism is rampant in sport reporting in this article by Gabrielle Moss at www.bustle.com.

It is a sad commentary on just how women athletes and, for that matter high achieving women in any sphere, are viewed because I don't believe for a minute that these are aberrations. These are reflections of a society which has yet to really come to terms with the fact that women are sentient human beings whose choices of spouse (not to mention garments or personal decoration) are not of more importance than their other achievements.

But while they are the most often insulted in this way, women aren't the only ones who are getting idiocies thrown their way. When eighteen year old Australian, Kyle Chalmers, won swimming gold in the men's 100 metre freestyle event our local newspaper - yes, I'm looking at you The West Australian - used the headline 'Golden Child'. Although Chalmers is in his final year of school he is still legally old enough to marry, vote and undertake any other adult activity but he's a 'child' in the eyes of this newspaper - and, while I know it would have been one person who created this headline, that no-one realised this was inappropriate as it went through the process of publication speaks volumes.


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Today's Questions

Why does our (the Australian) government persist in the idea that marriage is only between a man and a woman. This is the legacy of previous Prime Ministers who subscribed to a 'traditional' view of marriage and the important part about this is previous. They are no longer in those positions and, however genuine their beliefs, society has moved on. We don't need a plebiscite on whether we should legislate to legalise same sex marriage - in particular a plebiscite which the government has  said will be non-binding on our Federal representatives. It's already clear from polling that the vast majority of Australians don't subscribe to these ideas. For goodness sake, an ever increasing number don't even believe that marriage is necessary and live in long term de facto relationships.

The truth is that marriage is a legal creation largely to deal with issues like children - and who has what responsibilities in rearing them - and property with divorce a way of ensuring that those responsibilities are met and jointly acquired property is equitably divided when a relationship ends. There's a lot of other stuff that has adhered to the concept of marriage over time or has remained attached to it from history - and some of it remains in legislation like the Marriage Act 1961 (Australia)  and the subsequent Marriage Amendment Act 2004 (Australia) which defined marriage as 'a union of a man and a woman' and specifically excluded same sex marriage.

To me this is simply codifying certain religious beliefs that many may not agree with. Personally, I have no problem with people making a religious commitment - Pisces and I married in a church many years ago and that was a deliberate choice we made - but I can see no reason why that is required of everyone else. Our children married in civil ceremonies and that's fine, too.

Actually the more I think about it the more convinced I am that all the legal aspects of marriage should be covered by having civil partnerships - a secular ceremony of commitment conducted by an secular official - as the legally binding contract. By all means have the union confirmed by a religious ceremony after the civil ceremony if you wish to but make the law so that this has no legal status.

Once you institute civil partnerships you can sweep away the idea that marriage is only a union of a man and a woman - and, in my opinion, we should have done that long ago. A more humane and honest definition would mean those who don't fit into the box of heterosexual pairs could make the same commitment to lifelong partnership and receive the legal protections presently denied them.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Emirates EK521 Aircraft Crash

I've just been watching passenger video of the evacuation of Emirates EK521after it crash landed in Dubai. It's horrifying - not only because of the fact that an aircraft with 300 passengers and crew has crashed though that is bad enough - but because of the idiots who are collecting their baggage out of overhead lockers as the cabin fills with smoke and the cabin crew desperately try to get them to drop everything and get out as quickly as possible.

How anyone can be so stupid I do not know. The gold standard for evacuating an aircraft is ninety seconds because - unless you're lucky - that's how much time you're likely have before the plane catches fire or explodes - and when the cabin is already filling with smoke it's a fairly reasonable assumption that either or both of these things might happen as in fact they did within minutes of this plane crashing.

Obviously these idiots are special little flowers who don't bother to watch the safety briefing or read the safety information because it won't happen to them. But it can and in this case they and the others they obstructed were close to losing their lives.

There are reasons for not wasting time getting your baggage. First is the obvious time constraint but then there are the equally obvious dangers that hauling bags with you can cause. You could hit someone as you pull it down knocking them unconscious and blocking the passage way - and if you don't think this could happen, I've seen enough near misses when people are rushing to get off without it being an emergency to know this is a real possibility. But once you have your luggage what can happen next is even more disturbing. Bags can catch on seats even during an orderly standard disembarkation - aircraft aisles are narrow after all - and when people are panicking in an emergency it's even more likely that it will obstruct the aisle blocking others from getting out.  Then there is the danger that bags can catch on the evacuation slides, tearing them and rendering them useless. As well, how do you use the slide appropriately if you are clutching a piece of baggage. You risk broken limbs or worse for yourself and harm to others using the slides.

I understand why it's hard to leave your valuables behind but surely your life and the lives of those you are blocking are more important than material things. If you're worried about losing important documents why not keep them on you in a waterproof pouch (planes do sometimes come down over water). Then you'll have them with you at all times - and keep a USB stick with irreplaceable information with them as well. That's simply common sense and it won't matter if your laptop gets left behind and destroyed.

And just one other point - cabin crew are not just glorified wait staff and ticket checkers. They are highly trained to keep you safe both in the air and in any emergency. It's their job to get you off a plane as quickly as possible in an emergency and they know what they are doing. They have to learn to cope with all possible crash scenarios and their training is rigorous and on-going. You ignore their instructions at your peril in a disaster situation.




Friday, August 05, 2016

Feeling Low

I hope you're not. I certainly am.

In my case it's because I've had to accept the reality that for the next few months at least it's out of the question for me to take on a dog. I've acquired a couple of injuries that make walking extremely painful and limited and one of these may need to be addressed by a very new and still somewhat controversial form of surgery. I'm trying not to think about that at the moment at least until I've seen the very popular surgeon who is the only one in Perth doing this procedure (and consequently that looks like it will take some months) and know for sure.

The reason I've come to this doggie decision is because we've have just had a sweet little rescue pup for a fortnight with a view to adopting her. There were a couple of issues that would have taken some work - there always are with rescues so that didn't faze me - but the clincher was the realisation that I wouldn't be able to walk her sufficiently to keep her socialised. It would have had to have been me because she had some issues with interacting with other dogs and while Pisces loves dogs I am the one who has more experience in with dealing with problem behaviours. It was a difficult decision but it was in her best interests to send her back so she could find a forever home with someone can help her grow into the dog she can be. She was a truly sweet little dog, though, and in only a fortnight she had already made her way into our hearts.

So there were tears and and there is sadness and something is missing from our lives. We will get another dog but we need to get over these hurdles first. In the meantime are we blue? Yes, we are.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Ageism Alert

I was following a Facebook thread about, among other things, Bill Clinton at the Democratic Convention and how he seems to have aged since his presidency. Fair enough comment I thought then came the clanger which was along the lines of well, he's close to seventy and he gave a long speech so he's probably tired. What?

I managed to restrain myself from commenting - don't like hijacking someone else's Facebook thread - but really. In what world is close to seventy even vaguely to be considered a reason for being tired or that making a long speech is likely to be tiring? Now I know nothing about Mr Clinton's health issues but I'm pretty certain having been President of the United States must take a physical toll on anyone. The stress alone would be tremendous so maybe he is feeling the weight of all those years but is that anything to do with him being close to seventy? I really do not think so.

With this one remark the commenter has put all people in their late sixties and early seventies in a box labelled 'old' and suggested that they are starting to fail physically and mentally. Now I'd be the first to acknowledge that as we age we have to deal with physical issues but - unless you are already suffering from a chronic illness or disability - you're likely to be much older than seventy before it starts to really have a major effect on your life. It's highly unlikely at least to be to the point of making you tired after you've done something you've been doing all your life - like Bill Clinton making a long speech.

Just in case I was being unrealistic I decided to have a look at how many heads of state are in the over 65 age bracket, (I did not include monarchs, only presidents, chief ministers or prime ministers of the various countries). In 2015 out of 196 countries 81 of these public figures were over 65 - and here is a link to a chart if you're interested although I actually went to each country to collate my figures. Granted there are a handful of national leaders whose fitness you might want to question - and they're not all over 65 I hasten to say - but that so many of the world's leaders are in that age bracket might make you think that just maybe everyone who is close to seventy is not falling apart either physically or mentally.

Then I went closer to home and looked at the people in my immediate neighbourhood who are in the 65 plus age bracket. While there are many young families living around here there are also two 75 year olds who both go for a five kilometre walk every day.  There's a 71 year old who handles all the stage management for two theatre companies - yes, two companies. There's a land surveyor who's still working at 70. Then there's the 70 year old grandmother who cares for two toddler grandchildren four days a week and several others who look after grandchildren before and after school. I should also mention the 80 year old who arranges and co-ordinates a calendar of monthly events for a large social group and add in several mid seventy year olds who write fiction and non-fiction books and are published regularly. Oh and then there are a couple of company directors in their seventies who are still actively involved in business. I'm sure that this area is no different from many others so you can see why I was stunned by the obvious ageism.

Yes, there are those who are ill or can't cope but don't lump all older people into that basket. It's insulting for one thing and simply unfair for another.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

No, I Am Not Having Fun

As you will have gathered from the title things have been far from fun around here at the moment. Why, you may ask - or not but I'll tell you anyway.

First the better part is that I've been looking for a dog for a while now and currently we have a little rescue on trial. She's a sweet little thing and has totally won Pisces' heart - I'm trying to retain some objectivity but it's hard. There are a few issues that are making me think she may not be ideal for us but we'll see. In the meantime it's nice to have a dog around again.

So, while the natural world was going fairly well, the technological one wasn't. First of all my email stopped working. I thought initially that it was the program that was at fault - it's old and no longer supported Microsoft and I was in the process of switching from it anyway so that wouldn't have been a surprise - so I changed completely to the new one. Nope, still not working. Hmm. Then I started getting messages that made me think it might be my ISP. So I tried to access my mail on the web. Nothing. Obviously I needed to talk to my ISP provider and, since I've been caught that way before, I realised that I needed to set aside a slab of time which meant the next morning.

In the meantime other things started going wrong when without warning I got a severe pain in one of my legs, coming I thought from my hip. This was scary because within a matter of hours I couldn't put any weight on my leg and it's the hip where I have some torn tendons which I've been managing for several years in an attempt to avoid some fairly controversial surgery.

This is not a good thing. It's especially not a good thing when you're 1) babysitting with a little baby and 2) when you are supposed to be working out if you and a small dog can work together. I was able - just barely - to keep moving until Virgo came home and I could hand the small person over to her then I hobbled ever more slowly home with a walk that usually takes me about three minutes taking me nearer ten. Pisces took one look at me and insisted that I make an appointment with the physio.

Two days on I'm still hobbling but after a session with the physio the news isn't as bad as it first seemed. It's not the tendons causing the problem - phew - but, she thinks, localised inflammation which should resolve itself in a few days if I use a walking stick and rest it along all the usual physio stuff like hot packs and anti-inflammatory gels.

This, at least, meant, since I wasn't going anywhere, that I had plenty of time to tackle the email problem. I was right about it taking a long time. It took 2 ½ hours and two different technicians to resolve it. The old program isn't working but I'm not too concerned about that since I can still read any old emails.

So all my tech problems are resolved. Right? Ah no. Today I found myself locked out of my Google account. Fortunately that was quicker and easier to fix even if I couldn't remember what I'd changed my password to about a month ago. Lucky I had the email account working so they could sort out my password for me, though, or I would still have been in a mess.

All of which makes me wonder what today will bring. But bad luck comes in threes, doesn't it, which should mean things will improve. Right?  Right?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Jaffa Racing

I just had to put up a link to the Dunedin Jaffa Race. For the past fifteen years this New Zealand city has held a Jaffa Race to raise money for charity. In case you don't come from Australia and New Zealand, Jaffas are an Australian registered trademark for little, delicious sweet balls with a chocolate centre and a hard, orange flavoured candy outer coating which is usually an orange/red colour if my memory serves me. The name apparently derives from Jaffa oranges. Not sure I actually see that connection but there you go.

So what happens? Well, as part of the Dunedin Chocolate Carnival, in each of the three races 25,000 Jaffas are released at the top of Baldwin Street, Dunedin, which is claimed to be the steepest street in New Zealand and reputedly the world. They rush down the street at approximately 100 kmh and then, via some process that still confuses me, the holders of the winning Jaffa tickets receive prizes.

It's obviously great entertainment for a good cause and you can watch it here.




Friday, July 22, 2016

Want to Guess Where

Pisces and I spent Wednesday afternoon? Nah. Of course you don't - but I'll tell you anyway. We went to Mt Flora Regional Museum in North Beach with a group of friends we meet with every month. We've been catching up like this for most of our adult lives. Many of us have been friends since we were at school or university and when we started to marry the loose group of twenty somethings changed into a more family oriented group. Now with our children grown we still carry on taking turns in finding somewhere to go. This can be as simple as a picnic or movie or something entirely different. So when Pisces and I stumbled on this museum by accident we thought the group might find it interesting.

And Mt Flora Regional Museum - which is run by the City of Stirling - certainly was interesting and so was the talk by the museum curator on the region and the kinds of things the City would like to add to their collection. Four of the group had grown up in the area and we were able to add a lot of details of what life was like back in the day. Turns out oral history we didn't even know was worth recording is valuable. The curator ended the session saying she felt she'd learned more from us than she had been able to tell us. Not true, of course. I've lived in the region since I was five and there was a lot that I had no idea about.

The museum is full of artefacts the City has collected or had donated to them. It's located in an old water tank which was decommissioned in the early 1970s and works very well in its new role. Along with tools, furniture, household equipment, maps and many photos reflecting the progression of the area from farming, market gardens and, very early on, even whaling, there are displays set up as rooms from back in the early part of the 1900s. Fascinating stuff especially for those like me who remember seeing some of the items in use in old relatives' homes when I was a child.

If you're in Perth and find such things interesting  - and I've just received an email from one of our group describing it as a hidden gem so I'm not the only one who enjoyed it - why not go along and have a look. It's open every Wednesday afternoon and on the first Sunday of the month. As an added bonus, you can climb up to the roof where you can, I'm told, see along the coast as far as Fremantle to the south and Yanchep to the north as well as out to Rottnest Island. Didn't do that bit myself I confess. I waited down below with the others of the dodgy knee brigade.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Whether the Weather

For some reason I've had that old silly tongue twister that starts "Whether the weather" in my head recently. You can hear someone who is more than a little pleased with saying it here.

I think the reason it's been bugging me is that the weather has been downright confusing over the last week or so. We started with rain here in the west - lots of rain - which, since our rainfall for June was way below average is a very good thing. Then a blast of Antarctic air hit all the southern states bringing snow in Tasmania and the Southern Alps - not that unusual for this time of year - but also bringing snow in much of Victoria and South Australia  - and that was after heavy hail pelted down, blanketing towns along the lower east coast.

None of this reached us - we're too far north  - but temperatures here dropped to extremely cold by our standards. We get the woolly hats, gloves, scarves, sweaters and coats out and layered on once the temperature drops below about 15°C and when the night time temperature dips below 5°C, well, we feel as if we're going to freeze. Part of the problem is that, while we're very good at cooling our houses in the heat of summer we're by no means as organised about heating them. Many of us have evaporative air conditioners which are only useful for cooling and this in turn means we have to rely on electric or gas heating. We are among the luckier ones firstly, because this house is extremely well insulated and secondly, because, although it is open plan, it has a very efficient gas furnace heater. These days something this powerful is usually only installed in business premises but back forty years ago it was sometimes used in domestic dwellings. The combination is so effective that even on cold nights we usually only have to have the heater on for a couple of hours and the house stays relatively warm overnight.

But back to the weather. Yesterday was fine and we warmed up somewhat - I even got the washing dry by mid afternoon, not often the case at this time of year - but the rain has set in again this afternoon.

I'm not complaining, you understand. We desperately need rain. Climate change has meant weather patterns have shifted and, in turn the rainfall we used to be able to rely on is no longer coming. With our dams at record lows, we are increasingly reliant on desalination plants to give us the water we need for drinking and there are strict water restrictions on water for gardens.

All of that means a day like this when the rain buckets down is more a cause for rejoicing than misery. We're inside where we're warm and dry and I'm more than content. The cat, on the other hand, is not so happy. The rain lashing against the window has driven him to the safety of his favourite hiding place under my bed. I'm pretty sure, though, that as soon as I tuck myself into bed this evening, he'll emerge pretending nothing has happened and curl up beside me for the night.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Kulning

This beautiful sound is an ancient call to bring cows home at the end of the day. It's said to go back to Viking days. Swedish artist, photographer and blogger, Jonna Jinton is fascinated by it and you can hear the result here. Note it also seems to draw husbands to come in from outside. Obviously it's very potent.

Oh and as a bonus - because cows apparently like other music as well - here is the New Hot 5 serenading cows in a field in France in 2011.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

To Casino or Not to Casino

And for me the answer is never ever again.

So what caused this? Well, last night we went to see Georgy Girl - it was excellent by the way - at the Crown Theatre which is part of the Crown Casino complex here and, to make it a complete night out, Pisces suggested we go for a meal beforehand at one of the many restaurants on site. So far so good.

Now I'm not a gambler but if others want to that's fine by me but consequently, of course, that means that I've never felt the faintest desire to go to the casino. But others I know have been very enthusiastic about having a meal there and Pisces had a membership which entitles you to discounts so why not I thought.

We were lucky enough to get a parking place very close to the entrance - the car park is huge and there were a lot of cars there already so this was good. We walked in and there was my first problem. The only access and way out from the next level is via escalators. While going up is feasible my current knee problems makes getting on the down one impossible. Naively I assumed there would be a lift somewhere - and it turned out there was but as I did not find out until later it was a long, long walk which, while it might not present a problem to someone in a wheelchair, was effectively inaccessible to someone who can't walk more than a couple of hundred metres.  Of course, this assumption came back to bite me when it was time to leave.

But for now we were in front of the glitzy entrance - and we had to go in because it turns out that's where all the restaurants are. I managed the inevitable steps - there was a ramp I discovered later but it caused more problems than it was worth and I'll get back to that, too. My first impression was of cramped spaces, crowds and oh, so noisy. Pisces then realised he needed to renew his free membership - he'd lost the card apparently. Okay. He hurried off criss crossing the vast floor space between crammed in game tables and leaving me trailing way behind, realised he had no idea of where he was going and finally asked for directions. Oops, we had to retrace our steps then wait in a line to get things updated. By now we'd been in the place for about twenty minutes and I was hungry and my knee pain was killing me.

He took off again and we finally found the restaurants - not a vegetarian one in sight, of course - but eventually we found a place with some vegi options and I was at last able to sit down. By now I was in so much pain I could barely think and Pisces guiltily realised that maybe he'd been a bit thoughtless. We ate and made our way to the theatre (this time he got directions before he took off) and got to our seats. The show was great with wonderfully nostalgic songs and music even if it was fairly obvious that the costume designer and choreographer certainly hadn't lived in London at the time.

Then we had to get back to the car which involved going back through the casino. This was when I found the ramp. Great. I wouldn't have to negotiate the steps again - except it delivered us into a maze of poker machines - and I use the term maze deliberately because there was no such thing as a straight through path. By the time I escaped it I'd probably walked at least ten times as far as I would have if  I'd struggled up the steps. Also the whole place was now buzzing with a Friday night crowd which made it probably ten times more crowded and noisy than it was before (note to the management that adding deafeningly loud announcements over the casino wide loud speaker system is probably not a brilliant idea as it certainly didn't seem to be encouraging people to come to where you were spruiking a particular game, at least not that we could see as we went past on the way out). By now I couldn't wait to get out of it.

I spotted the way we originally came in but Pisces had already shot off in completely the wrong direction - this time, though, I was not about to make the mistake of following him and eventually he came back and finally we were on our way out. That was when I realised that the escalators were really the only option for going down to the outside parking area. Yes, the pleasant young men on the door informed me there are lifts but they are about a five minute walk away. Nooooo!

Pisces decided to make a run for the car - by now it was bucketing down and we hadn't thought to bring one of the umbrellas from the car in with us, der - and to come and pick me up from the taxi rank.
So I stood there among a dozen or so (fortunately) happy drunks, in a haze of cigarette smoke, for the ten minutes or so it took him to get the car and come back.

So would I go to the theatre there again? Definitely. Would I ever go to eat there again? Definitely not. Was my lack of enjoyment all the fault of the casino? No, it wasn't. My health and pain levels at the moment make going anywhere problematic and if I'd been fit and able to walk the considerable distances that are involved without pain I may well have been less irritated (although I've never been one for noisy, crowded places). I'm sure many people like to gamble and enjoy the experience and atmosphere it generates - the crowds there made that obvious - but it's not for me.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Panda Distractions

Because the vote count is still straggling on and we have as yet no result in our close to the wire federal election I felt in need of distraction. So I trawled through YouTube in search of distraction and this is what I found.

Baby pandas creating havoc as their keepers try to clean their cage and

Baby pandas playing on a slide

Enjoy.