Friday, February 26, 2016

Jaw Harps

I hadn't ever heard of a jaw harp until a link to Olga Podluzhnaya turned up in my Facebook newsfeed and then I was spellbound. This is a link to Olga Podluzhnaya performing Blessing of Nature. See what you think.

The link isn't all that informative about her, I'm afraid, but as far as I can find out the instrument she plays is the khomus (sometimes called the xomus), which is a Yakutian traditional instrument. Yakutia is now known as the Republic of Sakha and is an autonomous state within the Russian Federation. It's a part of the world I knew very little about so I was pleased to find this interesting article here.

It turns out that the khomus is by no means the only jaw harp, though. They are found in many cultures going by many different names - mouth harp, Jew's harp, Ozark harp, trump and juice harp being only some. It is one of the oldest known musical instruments and was believed to have magical properties so was - and, in some parts of the world, still is - often a part of shamanic rituals.

I found everything about them, from the sounds they produce to their appearance, fascinating. You can read more about them here and there are some lovely photos of them here if you are interested.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

More About Sunflowers.

After the corellas wiped out my sunflowers I left the sad stems in place to give some little bit of shade to the one butternut squash plant that managed, by some miracle, to survive the 40° C heatwave. One stray sunflower bud missed the corella destruction and it's now in glorious flower. See?

That was what I expected but what did surprise me (since in my experience sunflowers usually only have one flower) was this little blossom tucked in among the leaves of one of the beheaded plants.

Apparently sunflowers are hardier than I thought and I noticed this morning several of the other plants have buds, too. Yes, they are very small but what an inspiration that a plant that has gone through so much is still managing to produce a flower or, in some cases, two. Whether they'll manage to set seed is another question, of course, but I'm leaving them where they are. I think they deserve the chance, don't you.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Animal Bits and Bobs

Nothing exciting but just links to things, some that caught my fancy - and in one case something that completely horrified me.

This is the horrific one. Why would you even think of doing this?

On a happier note we have this to restore our faith in humanity.

And another heart warmer. What a wonderful vet.

And, for no other reason than that they are beautiful, these spectacular horses.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Aurealis Awards Shortlists

The Aurealis Awards shortlists are out and I'm so delighted to see some of my favourite authors on the lists, including Glenda Larke and Juliet Marillier - and my Clarion South mate, Jason Fischer. (shortlisted in Best Fantasy Novella) is there, too.

It's especially exciting because Western Australia makes a good showing - Glenda Larke and Juliet Marillier (both shortlisted in Best Fantasy Fiction and also in the Sara Douglass Book Series Award section) are based here as is Meg McKinlay (Best Children's Fiction) and Stephanie Gunn, who is shortlisted twice (in the Best Fantasy Novella section for novellas in Ticonderoga Publications' Hear Me Roar and Bloodlines) is also local. As well, editor Jonathan Strahan has two anthologies shortlisted in the Best Anthology section.

Local publishers are also well represented with Fremantle Press, Ticonderoga Publishing, and Twelfth Planet Press all featuring. Both Ticonderoga Publications and Twelfth Planet are shortlisted numerous times in a number of different categories. Quite an achievement for these two small presses.

Congratulations to all who have shortlisted. You can see the complete list here and I don't know about you but I'm now heading off to read as many of these books as I can.

Edit: I have realised that I should have included Shaun Tan in the WA success stories since he was also shortlisted. I did think about it but somehow it slipped my mind when it came to writing the post.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Sunflowers and Corellas

A year or so ago a local real estate company handed out little packets of sunflower seeds as part of a promotion - and no, I have no idea why someone selling houses would want to give out flower seeds to encourage you to sell your house. Still, since I had the seeds and have a soft spot for sunflowers which must be one of the most cheery of flowers, I planted them in the sandy wasteland behind the vegetable garden that is the result of installing a new fence.

I didn't expect much. The area is mostly yellow sand and I haven't yet done much as far as building up its fertility is concerned although I did dig in a little bit of compost. This is nowhere near what I would usually do before planting something because when you have sandy soil like we do, mulching and lots of organic manure is mandatory if you want to grow pretty much anything. I did water occasionally but that was pretty much it.

Much to my surprise they started to come up and eventually, from around thirty seeds, I had about a dozen healthy looking seedlings. So I made sure they had a drink every day and gave them a couple of sprays with liquid fertiliser during the three months they were growing - you're supposed to do it every fortnight but I wasn't feeling that enthusiastic - and most of them grew.

They're now around 2 metres high and have been in glorious flower. Their bright saucer shaped flowers are reputed to follow the sun but these don't seem to have got that memo. They have been fixed on the east for some reason but that's fine because we can still enjoy them. I've been watching them carefully because I wanted to collect some seeds and have been wondering whether I should put some sort of cover over them to make sure I didn't lose any as they ripened and also because of these.

                                          Photo by Dorathy Duperouzel

They are pink and grey galahs which live in the trees around here. They are small, friendly, chatty cockatoos (very popular as pets although I prefer to see them flying free) and, like all their kind, they are inordinately fond of sunflower seeds.

Turns out, though, that I was worrying about the wrong cockatoos because this morning when I went out to the garden I was greeted by screeches and fluttering of white wings. A pair of corellas had found the sunflowers and were feasting - and very unwilling to leave. I'm not sure which species of corella because I couldn't get a very clear look but I suspect they were little corellas. These are not native to Western Australia but they and other corellas endemic to the eastern part of Australia have been moving into the Perth metropolitan area in increasingly large numbers. They are presumed to be the descendants of aviary escapes and, because they are flocking birds and opportunistic feeders, are responsible for a lot of damage. They may also form a significant threat to local species as they can interbreed and also compete for nesting spaces.

Well, they won't get the rest of my sunflower seeds. The dead heads are now resting upside down in a container. I'll collect the seeds and plant again next year - although if I'm to have any hope of harvesting seeds then - sunflowers seeds are yummy human food, too - I'll have to find a way of caging them away from marauders, won't I.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

We're in the Middle of a Heatwave

and it is hot.

This is what a previously flourishing vegetable garden looks like after nearly a week of temperatures ranging from 34.4° C to 42.5°C.

This was sweetcorn and tomatoes
and this was snake beans.

while this is all that remains of the cape gooseberries, zucchinis and butternut squash.

These are the actual temperatures we've had in the last week or so starting with an unusually low 26.4° C on February 3. Then it started to warm up:

February  4    31.2° C
February  5    34.4° C
February  6    34.3° C
February  7    40.4° C
February  8    42.5° C
February  9    41.2° C
 and today it has already reached 40.3° C.

It's supposed to be cooling down a bit tomorrow. We're expecting 38° C with mid to low thirties for the rest of the week but somehow I don't think this will save the rest of the vegies. I have put shadecloth covers over the most vulnerable but that only protects from sun scorch. Dehydration is something else entirely.

I should say that it is commonplace here to have a burst of hot weather (even into the forties) at the beginning of February. What isn't common is for the maximum to be over 40° C for so long. In fact if tomorrow is over 40 we'll break a heatwave record which dates back to the 1930s. But that's one record I'll be happy not to break.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

And I Have ...

a new library card.

I stopped going to our local library about five years ago when funding cuts and a major cull meant that the shelves were somewhat bare. I assume this didn't last long but I am a very fast reader and it had reached the point where I literally couldn't find anything new to read so I gave up, resorting to buying e-books instead.

The thing is, though, that while e-books are light weight and very useful in doctors' waiting rooms or while travelling, they have one serious fault which is that a flat battery means you might as well be carrying around a blank piece of cardboard. Buying so many, even at e-book prices, was starting to become a bit of a financial burden too.

So I decided yesterday that it was time to go back to the library. Now my library card was around twenty five years old and, at the point I left off going, they were beginning to switch over to new, whizz bang, computerised self checkouts and new glossy cards to match so I assumed that it would need to be replaced if they hadn't already wiped me off the system altogether.

I wandered up to the enquires desk and proffered my card, explaining why I was there. The girl did a double take and called over a colleague to inspect this ancient artefact and they decided I would have to rejoin. So I started to fill out the paper work while they played around with the card - and found to their astonishment that it still worked. Apparently the barcode, battered and scraped as it it was, still functioned. They said I could keep using it or upgrade to a shiny new one. It was a no-brainer really and so now, I have a new library card in my purse and easy access to lots and lots of new books. What more could I want.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The Australian Women Writers Challenge

I must have had a rush of blood to the head or something because, on the same day I signed up for the A-Z Blog Challenge, I signed up for this year's Australian Women Writers Challenge.

I've done this for several years and the idea is that to encourage people to read books written by Australian women you read books by these writers and then post a review on your blog. You can sign up for a specific number of reviews or do as I do and just review any books you read. Usually I have no difficulty in reviewing six to eight and I usually read more but last year... Ah last year was not my finest reading or reviewing year. I didn't get to read many books at all for some reason and reviewed even less.

This is unusual for me because I usually read on average two new books a week and last year it just didn't happen. There were some special circumstances - health issues and house renovations didn't leave much spare time - but also what I did read didn't often come within the challenge rules as I tended to read non-fiction and a fair bit of Nordic noir crime for some reason.

Still that was last year. I have eleven months to do a better job - and that reminds me, my library card needs up-dating. Wish me luck.

Monday, February 01, 2016

A-Z Blog Challenge

I've been dithering about signing up for this and finally did. Regular readers of my blog will remember that this entails writing a blog post for every letter of the alphabet by posting daily except for Sundays. You are also supposed to visit the blogs of other who are taking part and ideally comment. As you can imagine having to commit to such a number of posts is time consuming as is visiting other blogs so I was havering a bit - sorry, I've been watching this joyous video of the 2009 wrap of the Dr Who cast and crew and their version of The Proclaimers I'm Gonna Be (otherwise known as 500 Miles) and havering came into it so I couldn't resist.

Back to the subject: Obviously I decided in the end that I'd make the commitment so I'm off to start listing some ideas and - if I can really get organised - to start writing my posts.