Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Gift?

Today, to an increasing degree the emphasis of Christmas is shifting away from ancient events in Bethlehem and many complain that Christmas is becoming more and more commercialised. And when the decorations come out in department stores at least three months before Christmas few could argue.

Some Christians proclaim we should "Put the Christ back into Christmas". Others point to the fact that Christmas was originally a pagan holiday appropriated by the church and never really had any connection to Jesus.

I have recently heard preachers talking about the valuable gift that God gave at Christmas in the form of His Son. They refer to a well-known verse in the gospel of John: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but will have eternal life.”

Who could deny the value of such a gift given by the Creator of everything, the gift of His Son, the giver of eternal life?
But is it right to associate that gift with Christmas? Is it right to make a comparison with that gift and the presents we exchange with friends and family?

Was God’s gift, written about by John, the baby in a manger with no crib for a bed? Was the gift the baby Jesus, meek and mild?

Or did God’s gift come much later? About 30 years later. When Jesus, a grown man died a cruel death on behalf of mankind?

Is there any irony in the acceptability of a helpless baby that allows even non-believers to sing about His birth for a few days each year? Have those non-believers bothered to think about the words they sing?*

Why is it that similar singing is absent from the other significant time on the religious calendar? Why aren’t the “Easter” hymns so well known?

Could it be that a beaten and bleeding man nailed to a cross isn’t as appealing as a cute baby surrounded by cuddly animals?

Jesus suffering and dying for our sins, the brutality of the crucifixion, the sheer ugliness of torn flesh and shed blood - well it's just not acceptable is it?
It's too confronting.
A baby receiving birthday presents from kings and visits from angels and shepherds - all of the peace and goodwill messages… THAT is much nicer and unchallenging.
But move that baby on to adulthood and look at the end purpose of His life and the world doesn't want to know. They'll celebrate His birth with songs of praise - but His death?

Don’t even think about it. Just pass the chocolate eggs.


*Hark the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Illustrating photo from here:

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Gifts and Emotions

Christmas is a time that brings about conflicting emotions. It is a reminder of a lost childhood and separation from loved ones. This separation from my wider family (Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles and cousins) started with our move to Australia. Over the years we compensated by spending Christmas with friends who were in the same position.

In more recent years separation from family has taken a different form. My childhood was spent within walking distance of most family members. Back then all generations lived in the same or neighbouring villages. Today, even my immediate family are widespread. My daughter has lived on the Australian west coast for five years. My parents and sister live on the east coast.

Gloria and I live four hours inland from my parents and Gloria’s parents are a further four hours inland from us. I try not to think of the distance to my daughter.

The days of family gatherings are over and choices have to be made when times like Christmas come around. This year we have decided to spend Christmas at home after alternating between our parents for the last few years.

While I’m looking forward to a quieter and less hectic Christmas, both of us will miss spending that time with our families.

The part of Christmas I’ve never enjoyed is gift shopping.
I was always a last minute shopper and most years I’d be rushing around on Christmas Eve trying to find the perfect presents I should have thought about weeks before. This last minute shopping rush was not only stressful, it defeated the point of giving a gift. Rather than finding something I knew would be appreciated, the gift became something obligatory, but unwanted gifts are more likely to inspire disappointment, even embarrassment, rather than gratitude.

Fortunately I’ve avoided that Christmas Eve panic for many years now. I’ve been much more organised and often start buying gifts early in the year, putting them aside for when they are needed. Gifts for parents tend to be books (for mum who reads a lot) and wine (for dad but not because he drinks a lot). I also add items of local produce in a hamper – things I know they will use. It is pointless to buy impractical things to fill up their shelves and cupboards. Like many elderly people they are thinking more about downsizing and reducing their possessions rather than adding to them.

My daughter is the easy one. While I would love to be more imaginative and be able to help her to establish her own home, distance and delivery costs makes the sending of material gifts impractical. I now send her money.

The only person whose gifts need considerable thought is Gloria. It is logistically difficult to shop for her. Unless I can find something suitable in our small town, I have to find something during a shopping trip to Canberra, and since we go together surprising her is difficult. (She of course has the same problem shopping for me).

This year I have discovered internet shopping. While this makes it easier to find a variety of things she’ll like – their delivery at home, while I’m not there, can spoil the surprise a little. This year I bought her some art glass. While she knows she is getting glass she doesn’t know what it will be like. For me, the excitement of Christmas this year will come when she receives it.

I’ve seen it.
It’s stunning.
She’s going to love it.

Christmas Lost

Christmas has never been the same for me since I moved from England to Australia at the beginning of the 70s. I was 13 when my family paid the token ten pounds to travel half way around the world to start a new life.

Until then Christmas had been a big family occasion spreading over the 25th and 26th December and shifting between two homes.

Christmas day was always spent at our house with members of my mum’s family coming over for dinner, and then on Boxing Day we would walk to my Dad’s parents and spend the whole day there.

It is the second of these days that stands out in my memory with so much ritual and family tradition surrounding it.

The day started with a visit to my Grandparents’ neighbours to borrow a large dining table. It came in pieces which were assembled in the lounge room, taking up almost all of the room. It was a huge table and all of it was needed for all of the family and friends that were there every year.

A large traditional Christmas dinner was served shortly after midday, turkey with vegetables followed by Christmas pudding.

After dinner we would all sit around the table playing cards for pennies. My Grandparents collected them for months to share among the children while the adults provided their own. The game was called “Newmarket” but I’ve forgotten how it was played. It was the one time of the year when there was any “serious gambling” in my family.

Late in the afternoon we would have our Christmas “tea” – I don’t remember what food was on offer apart from trifle and Christmas cake.

After tea the snowman would be brought out. This was a hollow container (shaped like a snowman) filled with small presents labelled with numbers. The snowman’s hat was opened and we each drew a number out of it and were given the corresponding present which were mostly cheap toys that would keep the children amused for a while.

Early in the evening most of the adults would walk to the nearest pub for an hour or two and the children would be left in the care of our Grandparents. While our parents were away I’d often lose my remaining pennies to my cousin. We’d toss the pennies against the wall and the person closest to the wall would win the rest of the pennies thrown in the game.

One year an older child tried to demonstrate “levitation”. One of us lay on the floor surrounded by the other children and after a repeated incantation we were supposed to be able to lift the prone child into the air using only one finger each. The incantation was something quite spooky, mentioning death and evil spirits. The attempt failed when a noise from an empty room scared us into abandoning the “game”. My grandad found out what we had been doing and warned us against doing anything like it again.

All of that came to an end in 1970. It was our last Christmas in England. For the first time in my life Christmas day was not spent at my house. My dad had to work and we went to my Aunt’s place for dinner and we had to walk there in the snow.

The following year we were in Australia and spent Christmas with some new friends, also recent migrants far from their family. We heard later that the Boxing Day dinner went ahead at my Grandparents but my Grandma was so upset about our absence that the family Boxing Day tradition was stopped altogether.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Tale of Two CDs.

IT was the best of buys and the worst of buys…

Two different CDs from different singers – to be shipped from the same country. One cost US$9.99 the other cost US$14.99.

The more expensive CD is autographed by the artist.

Converting the cost to Aussie dollars brings the price of each to well below the normal cost of a CD in Australia, particularly with the current exchange rate or about 96 US cents to one Aussie dollar.

But there’s a slight catch that explains the opening phrase of this blog entry. That catch is the shipping cost.

The Autographed $14.99 CD comes with free shipping. The cheaper CD, while inclusive of postage within the US, has added costs for overseas mailing. And what would that cost for a single CD be? A couple of dollars? Maybe $5.00?

No! They are charging US$28.00 for mail alone, in addition to the original $9.99 for the product!!!

I am hoping this is an error – maybe a misplaced decimal point. The CD was ordered before the supplier realised they hadn’t taken into account overseas shipping. Now if I still want the CD (which hasn’t been mailed yet a month after ordering) they will enclose an invoice for the additional $28 shipping cost.
I’ve asked them to check their costs and have requested a refund if the cost of shipping remains at $28.00.

Until this is cleared up I’ll only reveal the identity of the singer who isn’t making ridiculous shipping charges.

He is the very generous Richie McDonald, former singer of Lonestar.

Update, 9 MArch 2011: The singer with the expensive postage costs has now negotiated a much better rate and I ordered a copy for Gloria. It seems his sales people are new to the process of internet sales and through experience are improving their service.

This photo is the cover of his latest album as it appears on his website.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

End of Oil: the "Optimistic" time scale.

The world will run out of oil around 100 years before replacement energy sources are available if oil use and development of new fuels continue at the current pace, a US study warns.

Full article here:
OIL Depletion

My comments:

What is partly HIDDEN in the article referenced above is the expected oil depletion date of 2054. Less than 44 years away.
And that year is stated to reflect a more “optimistic date” – which means oil is expected to run out well before then.

People are often most concerned about oil as a fuel and their immediate concerns are usually related to the COST of fuel.

But oil derivatives are essential components of modern food and material production. Our lives are dominated by products manufactured from oil. Many chemical based products rely on oil for components.

We should not live with the illusion that the end of oil production is a problem for the future, maybe beyond our lifetime. Reducing oil availability in the near future will cause greater problems than its eventual disappearance.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

SUPERB! A tree full of parrots.

I walked out of my office at work and was greeted by a tree full of Superb Parrots, their vivid colours enhanced in full sun.
They aren’t a common bird but my local area is one of their few remaining preferred habitats.

It’s only the second time I’ve seen any in the wild. My first sighting was of a pair visiting the bottom of my garden a couple of years ago.

Unfortunately I didn’t have a camera. I think they would have made an impressive photographic subject. However, since I couldn’t take a photo today, here’s one I prepared earlier.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Switch Banks?

Financial experts are blaming customers for the treatment they receive from banks.

With interest rates being raised higher than the official rate rise enforced by the Reserve Bank, the experts point the finger at customer “laziness”. According to them we should be playing musical banks – shifting our money and our debt every time we think our financial institution has done the wrong thing.

Maybe these experts would be more helpful if they visited the real world occasionally. Changing banks isn’t as simple as changing your regular newspaper or supermarket. There are no financial penalties imposed when you switch from Coles to Woolies or vice versa. There are no time issues or forms needing to be completed when buying a Herald instead of a Telegraph.

And what difference is there between banks? Most are pretty much the same and usually play follow the leader whenever there are changes. And are we expected to switch back to our original bank next time there’s another change?

Yes we can all turn to credit unions or building societies or one of the smaller community banks – but often they are very localised institutions with limited accessibility.

No. The problem isn’t caused by customer laziness. It is caused by greed. It is caused by highly profitable institutions pushing for more and more profit while providing less and less services to their customers; and decreasing loyalty to their staff who are often treated as disposable.

Unfortunately it is not only the banks playing this game of excessive greed. The power companies are also getting in on the act. Record profits merely increase the greed leading to a search for new ways of ripping off the customer. But there’s not much we can do when held to ransom by these essential services.

What made all of this possible?
I suspect the privatisation of the Commonwealth Bank started the ball rolling many years ago, and now its probably too late to slow the momentum.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Australian Art Glass Collection

A few days ago a visitor to one of my earlier posts expressed interest in Gloria's art glass collection. I found the following photos which may be of interest. I'll look at adding to these later (after I've taken more).

An overview of most of Gloria's collection of Art Glass. Mostly Australian but with a few pieces from the M'Dina and Isle of Wight Studios, established by Michael Harris.

Colin Heaney, Cape Byron Hot Glass.

This is the first piece of Australian art glass in Gloria's collection. It was bought from an Antique centre at Camperdown several years ago. Gloria was hoping to find a piece of John Ditchfield glass (British)after seeing a few pieces on the TV show Bargain Hunt. Instead she was shown this and loved it.

Two pieces by Sean O'Donohue purchased from Bellingen.

Another Colin Heaney. This oil burner was found at the Wagga Wagga Antique fair in 2009. We also saw an exceptional large Heaney vase, but the $2,000 price was way beyond our means - not to mention our willingness - to pay. We have since seen a Heaney vase selling for $7,000.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Increasing Interest Rates

I'm no financial wizard, but the following observations seem blatantly obvious to me.

1) The RBA has just raised official interest rates again

2) Despite the rise, current interest rates are not particularly high

3) While lower interest rates are always helpful to those in the early stages of a mortgage, they are not particularly helpful to those who are trying to save the deposit for their first home, neither are they helpful to those relying on interest from their savings as a supplement to pensions or other low incomes.

4) Lower interest rates do not make home ownership more accessible. They merely help push up the price of properties as they give an illusion of temporary affordability. For some reason a booming property market is seen as a good thing, maybe because the financial wizards who report and comment on these things gain financial benefit from increasing property prices - too bad for those who are merely looking for a roof over their head.

5) Mortgages obtained when interest rates are low are dangerous. Financial difficulties are guaranteed when interest rates inevitably rise.

6) Current struggles with mortgage payments are NOT caused by the interest rate. They are caused by the higher amounts that have been borrowed, made accessible by the lower interest rates.

7) Abnormally low interest rates help to get people into more debt than they can hope to handle.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Everybody is on a Diet!

In June I wrote of my intention to become overweight. That goal has been met. I left the obese category behind and now “normal” weight seems more realistic.

I have now lost around 15kg and people have noticed. They refer to me being “on a diet” – meaning I am somehow depriving myself of food to help me lose weight. The idea of “being on a diet” brings to mind denial of real food and being subjected to salads or something bland and tasteless.

In reality I’ve been deprived of nothing. My food choices haven’t really changed. I still eat the same kind of things, but maybe in slightly smaller portions. The reason for my weight loss is my avoidance of those things we commonly eat that aren’t food. All of those snacks that can easily become habits rather than treats.

I no longer buy large bags of potato or corn chips and eat the whole lot in one sitting. I no longer eat a whole large chocolate bar by myself. But I still have an occasional slice of cake at a coffee shop, mostly shared with Gloria instead of eating a whole piece each.

The idea of “going on a diet” to lose weight is an indication of why so many of us ARE overweight or obese. We should not be thinking of a “diet” as a weight loss exercise. We should recognise that a diet is a choice of food. We are ALL on diets. The difference is that sometimes our diets contain things that are not food. Things that provide far more fuel (calories) than our bodies are capable of processing. Unlike our cars, our fuel tanks do not automatically stop the fuel pump when they are full. And unlike our cars, we can load up with inappropriate fuels and it can take a long time before our bodies start to protest with impaired performance.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

No More Cabbages!!!

I’m giving up on cabbages.
I am also abandoning cauliflowers.
Both continually disappoint in my garden.

This year the cabbages seemed to be doing really well. I grew them under netting which was very successful in keeping them free from caterpillars. However, when the cabbage moth couldn’t spoil the crop, the slugs “stepped” in to take their place. And earth worms haven’t helped either. Both have made their home between the leaves. It’s impossible to use the cabbage without removing each leaf separately to pick off the slugs and worms, this really spoils the appetite.

Instead of wasting more time and garden space on leafy veg failures, I’ll stick with things that do well. This year we tried Kale for the first time. It crops prolifically a short time after planting and it provides a very worthwhile alternative to cabbage.

We’ll also stick with broccoli. The netting idea has helped prevent last years problems in which the broccoli heads were infested with caterpillars. The net keeps away the butterflies, preventing them laying their eggs on the veggies, therefore keeping them free from caterpillars. I’m not sure what type of plants we used this year, but the broccoli heads are massive – dinner plate size – and the smaller side shoots which are usually broccolini-like, are more the size of the normal broccoli heads sold in the supermarket.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Alternative Kitchen Garden an A-Z

I’ve tried a few times to start this review but haven’t been happy with any of my attempts so far. So I decided to stop trying any “cleverness” and to come to the point. The Alternative Kitchen Garden an A-Z is an excellent book.

It is a joy to read, it is informative, encouraging and entertaining. It can be read one topic per sitting if time is short, or if circumstances and several free hours permit it could easily be read from cover to cover with barely a break.

Emma Cooper is an enthusiastic amateur gardener sharing her experiences and discoveries. Many gardening books have left me discouraged, making the garden seem like an alien environment needing detailed technical knowhow and abundant finances to maintain. This book helps make a successful garden seem more attainable.

There are sections covering many gardening related topics arranged in alphabetical order. A quick count reveals around 150 separate topics are covered. Different kinds of vegetables, garden pests, soil conditions, gardening practices, environmental issues and helpful resources are all touched upon in sufficient, but not overwhelming detail, most of them across two pages.

Cooper seems to have a particular interest in trying the unusual, from exotic fruit and veggies to using a Grow Dome instead of a traditional green house, but this does not distract from more common and widely familiar plants and gardening experiences.

While many readers wouldn’t see the need to grow Quamash (”an edible bulb, a staple food of native Americans”) or Tiger Nuts (an edible tuber related to papyrus), Cooper still makes them interesting topics to show we don’t need to stick to the common and predictable within the garden. Experimentation and discovery can add a new dimension of interest and maybe extend our diet beyond the handful of familiar veggies we tend to stick with.

The Alternative Kitchen Garden is a very personal account of gardening, and as the title indicates it relates mainly to the growing of edibles. I’ve wanted to increase the productiveness of my own garden by incorporating more food producing plants and I appreciate the help and inspiration this book provides.

For a very good idea of what the book’s content I recommend a listen to some of the Alternative Kitchen Garden (AKG) podcasts. The link will be provided below.
The podcast was my introduction to Emma Cooper. Her short broadcasts, and now her book, have been very helpful for my own gardening journey. Somehow she manages to discover and share basic information that the gardening “experts” somehow forget to tell us.
Before I discovered AKG I had been puzzled by the round garlic-lie balls that had grown in my garden. These I found are the product of bulbils, tiny cloves that grow on soft-neck garlic. If left in soil they grow into the single balls of garlic that I had found. When these balls are left a further year (or when replanted) they form into the more familiar segmented heads of garlic cloves.

Link to The Alternative Kitchen Garden Podcast:


Monday, September 13, 2010

Asparagus and a fine weekend

It is now the start of the third year the after planting of our two asparagus crowns and we have reaped our first harvest. The total first crop is illustrated in the accompanying photo.

There is another spear on the way, but it’s not quite ready to cut. Hopefully it will be ready soon enough to prevent arguments over who gets to eat. A second spear would at least give us one each.

Saturday and Sunday were the first fine weekend we’ve had for some time and I was able to get a few things done. However I didn’t get round to weeding a narrow garden alongside our boundary fence. It is getting quite overgrown with a healthy crop of low growing weeds. If only the veggies thrived as well.

Maybe I’ve been bit too optimistic, but I planted out two Roma tomato plants. I’ve given them a little protection with plastic guards in case we get another frost. One of the unfortunate things of our location is the unexpected frosts, which often come in October and even into November. So any planting of frost tender plants has an element of risk. But the alternative is leaving planting until very late Spring or early summer.

I also sowed seeds into a few punnets.
I’ve had very little success with growing from seed. In the past pumpkin, Zucchini and beans have done very well. Onions have also succeeded. But everything else has been very hit and miss. On Saturday I sowed some Rhubarb and Asparagus as well as some ornamentals: Penstemon, Larkspur and California poppies. To (hopefully) improve their chances I’ve placed them in a temporary “green house” made out of an upturned plastic storage box.

It’s now been a couple of weeks since the shed was built and I’ve moved the mower, mulcher and kettle barbecue into it. That has given me a lot more room in the garage. I haven’t totally solved the problem of the leaks, but I have an idea where some of the water has been getting in and I’ll attempt to fix that before too long.

I did notice one little pool of water yesterday that had no logical source. I checked all around the concrete outside the shed, I checked the walls, and the roof and the pool seemed to have no source. The only conclusion I can draw is that it’s coming up out of the floor itself.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Reviewing The Shed

Before buying a book a CD or a DVD, or before seeing a movie, we can refer to reviews to get an idea of whether it suits our tastes and requirements. There are even reviews of restaurants and wines which can help us make informed choices. But as far as I know, similar resources are not available to help us choose a significantly more expensive and long lasting item - a garden shed.

One thing we overlooked when we bought our house was its lack of storage, and in particular outside storage. For four years our gardening equipment has been taking up room in the garage, at times making movement around the garage difficult.

A few weeks ago, after considering a lot of different options, we were seduced by a glossy advertising leaflet that came with the junk mail. Several different sheds were offered at sale prices. One looked particularly attractive, was the right size and came with a window panel. It also had a 20 year warranty. It looked to be exactly what we were looking for so we placed an order.

A week later the kit was delivered and we arranged for a suitably skilled friend to assemble it. Last Friday he came around, and when I got home from work the shed was finished – but what a disappointment.

1) The paperwork with the shed said the warranty was 12 years and not the 20 years in the leaflet (which we no longer have).
2) The panels were joined together with self-tapping screws, which mostly had their sharp points exposed inside the shed.
3) There were a couple of sharp edges exposed on the door.
4) The next morning the inside walls and roof were dripping with condensation.
5) Despite sealing all around with silicone, after the weekend’s heavy rain the floor inside was soaked. We were able to remove half a bucketful of water.

When I consider the cost of the shed alongside the disappointing product, for not much more I could have had a much more suitable and efficient shed custom built.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

End of Neglect?

Over winter the garden has been a little neglected. This has been reflected in the lack of gardening content on this blog. Now winter is coming to a close but its last effects remain.

We’ve had only five rain free days this month (and eight last month) and our water tank has been continually full and overflowing. If only that overflow water could be saved until it could be put to good use in summer!

A 10,000 litre tank seemed to be a good size but it fills quickly with steady rain and empties equally quickly during dry spells. But what more can be done on land in town? Even if we could afford more tanks where would we put them?

I can only wonder what can be expected in summer. How quickly will the garden dry out again once the temperatures start rising? Will we go from one extreme to the other?

At the moment the veggie garden is starting to show a little promise. A bed of onions is coming along nicely, and for once my brassicas aren’t looking too bad. I’ve been growing most of my cabbages and broccoli under bird netting to prevent access by butterflies. Last year we had a lot of trouble with caterpillars. I’m confident that the netting will keep the butterflies out. The holes in the mesh are about 1cm in diameter.

I also have another bed with Kale, lettuces and more cabbage which will need to be netted soon. So far it’s been too cold for butterflies to cause a problem with more newly planted seedlings. The covered bed with more mature plants was established earlier while there were still a few butterflies around before the real cold of winter hit.

This year’s crop of garlic is showing mixed results. I have Russian garlic going well and I also have Silverskins and Australian Whites. One of the latter two has been growing quite strangely (I don’t recall which one at the moment). It has sent up leaves like clumps of thick grass. Gloria told me that when she used that type of garlic in her cooking, each individual clove tended to disintegrate further into separate, thin little bulbs. I also found the same thing when I planted some of them. I’m not sure that I’ll grow that type again – even though they didn’t show that characteristic last year.

Another plant that is causing me some concern is the raspberry. I planted it last year and had no fruit at all over summer (which would probably be normal) but now it is sending suckers everywhere and little shoots are springing up a metre and a half away from the parent plant, even in my garlic bed having tunnelled under a small brick retaining wall.
I’ve decided to leave it alone for the next growing season, hoping to get enough fruit for it to repay the cost of purchase. Then after fruiting I’ll rip it out. Even so I’m sure it will be quite some time before we no longer have to deal with its offspring.

Earlier today I received an email to let me know two apple trees I’ve purchased have been mailed. I ordered a Fuji and a type I’d not previously heard of, a Winchester Pearmain. They are only small trees so will take a few years until they fruit. Hopefully they will eventually be productive enough to give us a decent crop of apples each year.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Predictable Election "Result"

It seems like we have been given the election result most fitting to the campaigns of both of major parties.

Labor and the Coalition spent most of their time and resources telling us not to vote for the other party. So it seems we followed advice from both of them and either voted for someone else (Greens or Independents) or didn't vote at all (highest informal vote on record).

Maybe when the next election comes around one or both of the parties might be able to give us reason to vote FOR THEM instead of reasons not to vote for the others.

Also, they might consider keeping true to those reasons by fulfilling their promises instead of backing out when the going gets a bit tough.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Thank you Mark Latham!

Our Federal Election is only a few days away and I’m unsure of how to vote.
I find neither major party appealing.

I had earlier weighed up the options and decided to leave my ballot papers blank– but then Mark Latham spoiled my plan.

Now my choice is not only a two way decision between Labor and the Coalition: the Latham factor has been added.

He has suggested the very same action that I had intended to take: that is not supporting anyone.

If I now carry on with my original plan, I will effectively be aligning myself with Latham and that is perhaps the worst of the three available evils.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Embrace Life

Posting the video "Embrace Life" is in no way an endorsement or a recommendation of any other youtube video that may be displayed at the end of "Embrace Life".

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Blogging My Obsessions…

My profile description exposes me as a man of “diverse obsessions”. My primary obsessions can be determined from the content of my three blogs.

At the top is faith in Jesus Christ. My first blog “Onesimus Files” (focused upon that faith) has now been going for 5 years. It’s something I take very seriously and I have deep concerns about the extent that church tradition and theology have moved away from the foundations of simple biblical teaching. So often theologians spend time explaining why the bible doesn’t really mean what it clearly says and “Christianity” today is far removed from the teachings of Jesus and the writers of the New Testament.

Where the "Blogs Have No Names", is the second blog I started. It has no specific theme, but it became a record of my move from Sydney to the country with a lot of emphasis on my gardening attempts.
I haven’t written much about my garden recently because, over winter, there hasn’t been much to write about. The garden is merely less productive and more lifeless than at other times of the year.
Winter has allowed me to make a start on my front garden – reclaiming more lawn to establish a new native garden bed. Unfortunately winter isn’t the best time for planting. The frost has hit things hard and some of my new plants may not survive.

The blog name was clearly influenced by the U2 song “Where the Streets Have no Name”, and I came up with it on the spur of the moment when I couldn’t think of anything clever to name it.

My most recent blog is “Out of Shadows”. A “literary blog” dealing with books I’ve been reading as well as some thoughts about writing and storytelling. When I started that blog I was going through a period of frustration. Several times in my life I have tried to change career direction, but every time I seem to travel full circle and end up back where I started – and again I’m back in an administrative job little different to every other job I’ve had.

“Out of Shadows” was initially a tool to revitalise the only career ambition I ever had – to be a writer. The first step on that journey was the revival of my interest in reading. I had to find books that I could enjoy, that would maintain my interest until I reached the end. I’ve started far too many books that were eventually abandoned or perhaps more correctly: forgotten through disinterest.

So far I haven’t done too badly with the reading part. By keeping a list of completed books I can see the progress I’m making, but there is the temptation to inflate the numbers through choosing “easy reads”.

Looking over my reading for this year I can see that the majority has been non-fiction, so I’ve drifted away from the aim of re-inspiring my desire to write fiction.
Authors are always being asked for advice from people like me who have writing ambitions, and one of the common pieces of advice they give is to read. I guess reading other writers is supposed to provide inspiration, but there are so few writers today who I would find inspiring.

Yesterday I looked over the list of the fiction I’ve read recently, trying to select my three favourite books. I struggled. There was only one clear choice, and a second that made the grade with a couple of minor reservations. For a third I had to compromise a little by choosing a book I ‘d recently reread – one that I had enjoyed years ago, but not quite so much the second time around.

I was intending to write an article about my top three choices (three fiction and three non-fiction) but have decided to wait until I finish reading Slam by Nick Hornby – I’m enjoying it so much that I can already see it will easily push the compromise book out of contention.

Reading back over this article I can see how easily I become distracted. In what was intended as a look at my diverse obsessions, I have touched on merely a few. Maybe a clearer idea of the things that interest me would be found in reading through earlier posts, both here and on my other blogs. And perhaps the books I’ve been reading will also give a clue to some of my many interests.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Why dream of vineyards?

It looks like my dream house has sold.
I drove past there on the weekend and the “for sale” sign had gone. I hope the purchaser is able to maintain the property and make it productive.
I’d hate to drive by one day and see the vines have been ripped out.

I’m not sure why I find vineyards appealing. I’ve done some vineyard work and some of it was far from pleasant. The very first job I had after my move to the country was netting several blocks of vines. It took four full days and was the most physically demanding work I’ve ever done.

Rolls of bird-netting were attached to the back of a tractor with the netting threaded through a tall T-shaped frame. The tractor was driven between two rows of vines and the net was manually pulled across three rows of vines at a time, one man on either side. The job required the net to be pulled while keeping up with the tractor. The netting was very dusty after being stored away for a year, and along with the dust came a year-old shower of dried leaves and twigs that had been caught up when the nets had last been removed.

Over the years it had been found that gloves were too much of a hindrance, with every known type being tried and found inefficient. Therefore the work was done bare handed, subjecting the fingers to the roughness of nylon netting. It was not surprising that if gloves didn’t last long with this work, the skin on fingers wouldn’t fare any better. It wasn’t long before my hands and fingers were bloody and very sore.

After the first couple of days I was determined not to return, but fortunately the Australia day public holiday came in the middle of the four days and I had time to get over the shock. Surprisingly the last two days seemed much easier. The reason for that later became obvious. Firstly I’d been able to gain a little fitness in the earlier days so found it less difficult to keep up. Secondly, the last two days were on flatter ground. In his wisdom the vineyard manager had started us on the steepest section. Not only did we have to jog along while pulling a heavy bunch of netting, we had to do most of it uphill.

About a month later I was called back to that vineyard to remove the netting. That was far easier. The tractor did most of the work this time, winching the net back into a roll. All I had to do was to keep up with the tractor and anticipate and prevent any snagging of the net on vines and posts. This job took half of the time and the vines were soon ready for the pickers to get started.

My third vineyard job was therefore grape picking and I was paid by the lug (a plastic box with a volume of approx 30-40 litres). I worked continually throughout the day with no breaks. For ten full hours I earned $70. It was a year of drought and the grapes were so tiny that it took many more bunches than usual to fill the lug. Some people picked twice as much as I did, and it wasn’t until the following year that I learned their secret. Where I had been picking everything I came across, some people didn’t bother picking the smaller stuff; they went straight for the biggest grapes and left the rest. Considering it takes the same amount of time to pick a small bunch as it does to pick a large one, it was much more profitable for themselves to get the grapes that filled the lug more quickly and leave everything else unpicked.

While the drought and the resulting small grapes weren’t very profitable for me, it didn’t harm the wine at all. The winery recently won an international award for the Shiraz produced from that crop.

The last work I did in a vineyard was about two and a half years ago. I was hired to thin out the grapes in another local vineyard. That meant removing bunches of late ripening grapes which if left would reduce the sugar content of the crop.
In this job I encountered what is probably a common hazard: large spiders with webs stretching from one row of vines to the next. Most of the webs weren’t noticed until it was too late because we were concentrating on the grapes instead of where we were walking. It was unpleasant enough to walk into a vacant web, but when a spider was still in residence at face height, it was much more than unpleasant.

Monday, June 28, 2010

My Goal: To become overweight!

Several weeks ago my employer provided the opportunity to have some voluntary basic health checks, this included blood sugar, cholesterol, hear rate and weight.
My results were exceptional, showing I was in good health – apart from my weight.

According to the scale I was 107kg. While this WAS increased by my clothing, I couldn’t honestly take comfort from thinking I was wearing exceptionally heavy clothing. My BMI (body mass index) was calculated and it was determined that I was obese. While this didn’t concern me too much (especially after seeing so many skinny people being labelled “overweight”) I decided that I should make an effort to lose a bit.
According to the same BMI standard, I would have to lose almost 30kg to be deemed at the TOP limit of a satisfactory weight. To me that is ridiculous. Therefore I am happy to aim to be healthily “overweight”.

Just before I left Sydney and I worked behind a desk for a food company, I weighed a little over 100kg. After my move to the country, helped by gardening and a less sedentary lifestyle, I fell to 95kg. However that turned around again when I started my current job: once again stuck behind a desk.

I haven’t made any significant changes to my diet. I am eating very similar things as before. The main differences have been portion sizes and refraining from snack foods. Gloria has also been making more use of the CSIRO cookbooks for weekend meals. I have still been able to indulge in a piece of homemade cake or a muffin for morning tea every day, as well as spreading a bottle of wine over three evenings on weekends (shared between two).

It must be about 5 or 6 weeks now since I determined to lose some weight and this morning I weighed in at 97.6kg. Still a long way to go, but at least I am much closer to being overweight than I was when I started.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Undercooked, Oversalted and Full of Fat

Are we the only ones?

Gloria and I have been enjoying the new TV cooking obsession, but we get more than a little annoyed with the way celebrity chefs dictate how food should be cooked.

Both of us like our meat to be well cooked – but the chefs insist that it needs to be practically dripping blood. Recently I realised why – bloody meat can be cooked in a matter of minutes. On the other hand, a good well-done steak according to their directions would take around 40 minutes to prepare.
Do the arithmetic. Rare (raw!) steak gets people in and out much more quickly, giving the restaurant a better turnover of customers.

The other gripe I have is the obsession with salt. They continually refer to seasoning the meal they are cooking. Or they complain if a contestant has not adequately "seasoned" their dish. What they mean is they personally like to throw tons of addictive salt into the food they are preparing.

When I eat a meal I prefer to taste the meat, the veggies, the herbs and spices. If I wanted them masked by salt I’m totally capable of picking up the salt pot from the table and sprinkling a bit (or a lot) on my own food.

And their idea of mashed potato is very misleading. It would be better named mashed butter with a hint of potato to hold it together! When I make mash I can actually taste the spuds – and THAT is what I want.

Last night at home, we had a vegetarian risotto created and prepared by Gloria. It had no butter and no salt. It was moist with a good consistency and tasted wonderful. We could actually taste individual ingredients like pumpkin and spinach...
And the best part is – I’ve been given leftovers for my lunch at work today.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

You CAN teach an old dog...

Three things I learned this week.

1) I learned how to drive a forklift. My employer sent me away for a three day course and I stayed in a 4 ½ star motel for two nights at company expense. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the facilities because my free time was spent studying the theory section of the course. The study paid off because I scored 100% in the written test.

I didn’t do quite as good in the practical but I did enough to pass, therefore I am now an authorised forklift driver even though in my job only requires me to drive a desk and a computer.

One of the few motel luxuries I was able to enjoy was my room’s spa bath. This leads me to the second thing I learned.

2) Eureka! Archimedes was right – and this provided my third learning experience.

3) When using a spa bath make sure the water level is well above the water jet nozzles BEFORE you get into the bath and definitely BEFORE you start the spa pump.

I sat in the bath as it was filling and started the pump when the water was above the nozzles.
I then realised I had no soap so stood up to get it from beside the bathroom sink.
Removing myself from the water caused the water level to lower below the nozzles – which immediately fired water across the length of the bathroom soaking everything.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

My Dream House is For Sale

I first saw my dream house almost 4 years ago. I now drive past it maybe three or four times a year (double that if you count the return trip). The dream has never been realistic. It fails according to several different practical criteria.
But it’s hasn’t hurt to admire the place.

The house is on the gentle slope of a hill with rows and rows of vines between it and the road. The combination of house and vines is postcard material.

["Body Double" vineyard used to protect the integrity and identity of MY dream property]

Yesterday I drove by again and saw that the place is for sale. I wasn’t prepared for such an emotional reaction. The house was available! But at the same time I knew it was unattainable.
I could never afford such a place, it is too far out of town and it would be far too much work for someone with no experience in the year-long tending of acres of vines. What a tragedy it would be to let me loose in that place, putting the vines at my mercy!

Hopefully the right people will buy the place, maintaining its appeal, continuing the pleasure it gives on those few times of year when I’m able to fuel my unrealistic dreams.

According to the real estate information on the sign outside the house, it dates back to the 1870s. There are 7 acres (not sure how many devoted to grapes). It has 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms and a collection of outbuildings, one of which would be suitable for a wine-tasting room. Being on a main road it could easily attract passing trade to a cellar door. The interior of the house seems to be very tastefully renovated and decorated.
Where can you find more details?
I’m not saying – just in case those Lotto balls fall in the right order.*

* And assuming someone also buys me a ticket considering I don’t buy them myself.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Imperfections of a Perfect House

Country Change part 3

After a few weeks and a lot of money spent on legal fees, we backed out of the purchase of the perfect house. Several unrelated concerns all came together to make the process of buying the place too stressful.
I’m not sure where it started, but living so far away without the chance of checking the place again didn’t help. Imagination helped to inflate a few minor concerns into potentially major problems. The legalities were taking longer than expected. Building inspections revealed a few minor problems – which as per above became imagined major problems; and the few cosmetic inadequacies started to be perceived as daunting renovation projects.

We planned to rent the place out for a couple of years until we were ready to move. It already had tenants and their lease still had a few months to run. But we hadn’t done our homework on things like landlord’s insurance and when the real estate agent started sending us brochures and forms, trying to sell us their recommended product, my ignorance of the matter started to scare me. At the same time I had been reading some real estate statistics and found that the median house price in the town was 2/3 of the amount we had agreed to pay – had we agreed to an inflated purchase price?

Then the house’s few deficiencies started to become an issue. It had no garage and the car port roof was bent. The doors on the built in wardrobes and linen cupboards weren’t fitted correctly. There was a water leak in the laundry. The access to the front door from the path didn’t have a proper step. The evaporative air-conditioning unit on the roof seemed to be too close to the chimney of the log fire. All of these were concerns that could have been easily cleared up if we had been able to see the place again.

In the end the worries took over, we dropped our plans to buy and my peace of mind was restored.

Did we do the right thing? It’s hard to say. At times it seems like we made a big mistake. The house itself was exactly what we wanted, but the block of land was probably too small. It also had the wrong aspect, facing to the west with the back garden on the east side of the house. It was a sloping block on the low side of the road, and because of the slope, the back garden would be in the shade of the house for most of the afternoon and would get full sun only in the morning. The backyard was also the smaller part of the garden with the house being built closer to the back of the block than the front. This didn’t really suit the hopes I had for the garden I was planning
We now drive past the house quite frequently and it it is easy to wonder what could have been – but in doing so we are aware that the house is further from the town than the house we eventually bought, and since Gloria doesn’t drive that could have been a problem.

For quite a while I felt a little guilty for letting the vendor down, but several months later I found out that after the failed sale, the price of the house was increased by $30,000 and sold immediately. And that was an indication of the next problem we faced – the start of a booming market.

House Hunting

Country Change part 2

How do you shop for a house in a town 400km from where you live?

At first our attempts were limited to the couple of times per year that we passed through the town on our way to visit Gloria’s family. We would take a break from our journey (which we used to complete in one day) by taking a short detour to our chosen town where we would stay overnight. This gave a few hours to check the real estate situation.
Clearly this wasn’t ideal. It would take a lot of luck to be in town at just the right time when that perfect house came onto the market. It would also give us only one chance to see a house before we had to make a decision on whether it was the right place for us.

To help our search we made a list of the things we wanted in a house. There were the essentials, and there were the desirables. After living in a small two bedroom flat for over ten years we each wanted a little space for ourselves to pursue our different interests. Gloria wanted a room for her crafts, where she could leave things out until her project was finished instead of packing everything away each day. I wanted a study/library where my books could be brought out of storage and where I’d have a suitable environment to write. We also wanted enough land to suit my ambitious gardening plans.
Other requirements were more cosmetic and not considered essential, things that would give the place a bit of character such as polished floorboards.
Overall we had a lengthy list. We were planning a major upheaval and we wanted to do it right and leave no room for regrets.

When we were looking around for a suitable town, one of the key factors was the cost of housing. We spent a lot of time looking in the windows of real estate agents, to see what kinds of properties were available and for what price. The town we eventually chose had several four bedroom houses advertised, on a few acres of land for less than a quarter of the price of a run down house in Ryde where we were then living. Our dream seemed very attainable.

When we moved on from window-shopping to actually inspecting houses, we were given a sudden reality check. Most of the houses didn’t come up to expectations. There may have been four bedrooms mentioned in the advertising, but some were so small I’m not sure how a bed would fit into them, not that we were going to use them as bedrooms, but we still needed them to be a reasonable size.
No matter how many houses we saw, there was always something lacking, nowhere had that feeling of “home” and we were becoming a little discouraged.

Then we were taken to a house that had everything. The floor plan was perfect. The house had more than we had hoped for. Some of the cosmetic requirements were missing but the layout of the house itself was exactly what we wanted. It had four very good sized bedrooms, a workable kitchen and dining room with plenty of storage and workbenches. There was a formal lounge room AND a separate, less formal family room. At the back of the house with access from the family room and the dining room was a covered veranda with views of the countryside. There were also additional rooms under the house providing a potential fifth bedroom or private guest retreat with en-suite.
We made arrangements for another viewing the next day and decided to buy it. The first significant part of our dream was becoming a reality.
Or so it seemed...

Friday, April 16, 2010

"C" - Change

Country change part 1

I can’t remember exactly when we made the decision to move from Sydney to the country, but it took many years for that decision became a reality.

We were living in a small flat and at that time we were surrounded by disruptive neighbours. What a joy it would be to live in a house with a space between us and next door instead of an inadequate common wall separating us from loud music, noisy parties and late night toilet flushing. (Not to mention the amorous nights of the couple upstairs!)

And while our security block of units had some advantages in keeping out most unsolicited visitors (sales reps, JWs etc.), it was not such an advantage when next door’s late night visitors forgot which unit they were visiting and buzzed our intercom instead, long after we had gone to bed.

There would be many advantages to living in a house. Not only would there be more privacy, we could have a garden and grow some of our own food. We could sit outside and not overlook a neighbour’s balcony only metres away. We would have more room inside and my sizable library could be brought out of boxes and put onto book shelves.

Unfortunately the cost of houses in our local area made them ridiculously out of reach. The cheaper places were being snatched up, knocked down and replaced by concrete monstrosities that barely left enough room outside for a clothesline. Even if we could have afforded somewhere, it was not the environment we wanted. The only option was to look away from the city, so we headed out west.
Due to family considerations we restricted our search for a suitable country home to a distance of four hours from the coast and we visited towns from Parkes in the north to Junee in the south. Each town had its unique attractive features but each had some disadvantages, but it didn’t take long to find the place that ticked the most boxes. Fortunately it fell almost exactly halfway between my parents on the coast and Gloria’s parents further west making occasional weekend visits possible.

Finding the right town was the easy part and our choice seemed to be perfect. It had all the necessary services and unlike other country towns, the main street was not lined with deserted shops. So with the location chosen, all we needed to find was the right house.
Note: While moves to country areas away from the coast are usually referred to as a “Tree Change”, I came across the term “C” Change a while ago, in which the “C” stands for “country” and I decided I prefered it to the more commonly used label.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Lopping, Shopping, Birthdays and Bargains.

Our local council announced it would be conducting a pickup of green waste over the next week. It is the perfect opportunity to deal with some of those bigger pruning jobs and dispose of the waste unsuitable for the compost bin.
The announcement seems to have mobilised most of the town into gardening mode. I’ve never seen so many people in their gardens with secateurs, loppers and pruning saws, and roadsides are piled with prunings. In our street it looks like someone has been planting mature kerbside shrubs and gives an idea of what it could be like if the grass nature strips were replaced with verge-side plantings like those created by Josh Byrne on Gardening Australia.

To take advantage of the council pick up we decided to deal with a few things we’ve been putting off for a while. Between our place and next door we’ve had some kind of native tree with a collection of long skinny trunks topped with fine foliage and occasional creamy coloured brush-like flowers. There were two significant problems with the tree. Firstly it was planted on top of the water and gas pipes supplying the house. Secondly, parts of it were leaning over the neighbour’s place. The latter problem has been the reason it was left alone for so long. I didn’t want to hack away at it and have it fall through their roof.

After work on Friday I made a token attempt to cut some of it back, tackling some of the lower, untidy branches leaning over my neighbour’s property. On Saturday we went out for the day and on our return found that our neighbour had continued what I had started and had removed those parts hanging precariously over his house, leaving the remaining tree looking very untidy. Sunday therefore turned into a day of tree lopping and armed with a handsaw I spent a couple of hours cutting the tree back until I was left with five, two and a half metre high stumps. It took me 45 minutes to cut the first one down as low as I could and every muscle and joint was aching. I wasn’t looking forward to the other four stumps.
At that point the neighbour across the road started up a chain saw to attack his own garden and offered to come over and finish my job. Two minutes later and it was all done and all that remained was a stump barely 30 centimetres high.

All of this was much more work than we had intended to do, but at least a major job has been completed with a lot less effort than I’d expected.

Our day out on Saturday that allowed next door to make an assault on our tree was a trip to Canberra. We did a circuit of antiques shops and galleries hoping to find a bargain or two, and since it was Gloria’s birthday we had lunch in a café at Beaver Galleries opposite the Australian Mint. We’ve been to the gallery before to look at the art glass on display but we’d never been to the café.
We both ordered Vegetable Lasagne and were amazed at how good it was. At first the serving seemed a bit stingy, with a solitary rectangle of lasagne in the middle of the plate, but the value was in the tasting and the serving size was more than adequate to satisfy our appetite (which unfortunately led us to miss following up with a serving of one of the tempting cakes on offer).
Each layer of the lasagne contained a different type of veggie; with eggplant, yellow and red capsicum and zucchini being accompanied by a subtle but tasty tomato sauce. Additional flavour was provided by a spoon of green pesto on top. It was the kind of meal that makes you want to take your time and enjoy the different flavours in every mouthful.

Our shopping trip wasn’t quite as successful as the lunch, but for the second time we unexpectedly stumbled across a piece of Helmut Hiebl glass. Until recently Hiebl was a renowned and respected glassmaker with some of his work being held in Royal Collections. I have heard that poor health has caused him to stop practising his craft. The two pieces of his work we have found recently would probably be classed as paperweights. The first shaped like an apple was purchased without realising it was his work. It was signed but we didn’t recognise the signature until we got home and compared it to a piece we already owned. On Saturday we found another signed paperweight in the form of a mushroom, however this time I recognised the signature as soon as I saw it.
In the last couple of months we’ve had quite a bit of luck with finds of art glass. Gloria found a signed piece by Peter Crisp for a few dollars in a local antique shop; we found the two signed Helmut Heibl paperweights and also, the find that most excited me was an early signed piece by Setsuko Ogishi, made in 1984 while working at the Jam Factory Craft Centre in Adelaide prior to the 1987 opening of her own Hunter valley studio and gallery.
Awareness of an artist’s work and recognition of their signatures has allowed us to find pieces priced well below their real value, although (while appreciating the lower price) the real joy is in finding and recognising the piece in the first place.


1) roadside prunings
2) the remains of our heavily pruned tree.
3) the Palette Cafe
4) Maureen Williams glass from her exhibition at Beaver Galleries.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Roses are Red – according to the promo material.

My imagined perfect Rose garden didn’t translate as desired from my mind to the garden, but I can’t deny that occasionally we get a stunning display of roses. Usually this is for a couple of weeks in spring – until the first unseasonable heatwave scorches the flowers, or they are battered by wind and rain. Considering the damage that steady rain can do to roses, I wonder how they can do well in places like England where they have been adopted as the national flower.

We also get some decent flowers in autumn, and in preparation for this year I gave mine a hard pruning in February. Maybe they haven’t flowered any better than previous autumns, but the pruning has done them no harm.

In the back garden I have a selection of David Austins. These are old-fashioned looking roses, many of which have a very pleasing fragrance. They have a reputation for having a long abundant flowering period in contrast to those genuinely older style roses that they resemble.

In my small collection I have a variety of shades of pink and two different types of white. Some of the darker pinks were supposed to be a deep red, but they didn’t live up to the advertised descriptions. Those pictured are the pale pink “Heritage” and the white is “Winchester Cathedral”.

I also have a “New William Shakespeare”. This is supposed to be a deep red but isn’t. It is also supposed to be quite resistant to problems but a little earlier today I noticed it has a terrible case of blackspot.
Others in the collection are “Hero” which has refused to flower for the last two years; “Othello” – a lovely dark pink with a very sweet fragrance like lemonade; “Mary Rose", with a VERY pink flower and “Glamis Castle”, a prolifically blooming white.

While these roses can flower profusely, I have found that the flowers are extremely delicate and drop petals very easily. Successful deadheading needs a very light touch, otherwise the scale of the task is increased; as one spent head is removed the displacement of petals leaves more heads to be dealt with.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Neglected Blog Updated

This blog has been suffering more neglect than my garden. At least the remains of my veggie patch has been getting some occasional water from the tank.

The vegetable crop has been a little disappointing. We had a reasonable supply of Lazy Housewife and Purple King beans, but not as many as last year. Corn was very disappointing with less than 10 cobs out of three separate sowings. The last lot attracted a lot of bugs – Gloria refers to them a stink bugs, green things about the size of my little finger nail. I can appreciate the reason for Gloria giving them that name. A few months ago one flew into my mouth and the taste it left was revolting.
We also found the silk ends of the corn cobs were being eaten by something. What we managed to salvage were very juicy and had good flavour, but there were far too few to keep us satisfied.

We had far less zucchinis this year, but that lack was more than compensated for with our yellow button squash. We are still getting a few of those each day even though everything else has given up the ghost.

I’ve now sown one whole bed with seed I saved from my broad beans. We didn’t really like the beans but they’ll make good green manure. They are growing quite healthily. I also put in some green feast peas and snow peas. Those are two regular failures that I’m hoping will give us better results than usual. The only other things on the way are a few rows of carrots, beetroot, turnips and radishes. We always do okay with beetroot and had the best harvest of carrots we’ve ever had over summer.

One thing I want to try again is cauliflower. I’ve tried them every year and had only two successful heads. This time I want to read all of the books and make sure I do everything right. If I fail again we’ll have to resign ourselves to buying them instead of growing our own (which will be no change from the current situation).

Yesterday afternoon I was pleasantly surprised to find a few goji berries on our bushes. I’d been wondering whether it was worth keeping the plants because they were a bit straggly and have demonstrated a tendency to send out vigorous runners. We’ve had a few new shoots emerging a metre and a half away from the parent plants.

There wasn’t much fruit but we had enough to have a taste, and if they become more prolific it will definitely make it worth keeping them. The fruit was very pleasant: sweet and juicy but I’m not sure what the flavour could be compared to. The bright red-orange fruit would make a very interesting addition to a fruit salad. The fresh fruit is nothing like the dried examples we found packaged in the supermarket. As a dried fruit I found them tasteless and splintery. Gloria tried to re-hydrate some and describes the result as smelling like an old wet blanket, and tasting exactly like they smelled.

Last weekend I reduced our lawn by several more square metres. I laid down heaps of newspaper and had some topsoil trucked in. I think I’ve almost decided on the layout for that part of the garden. Part of the remaining lawn will be turned into a paved or gravelled area suitable for an outside table and chairs. I’d prefer gravel but I’m concerned about its potential to get weedy, and if I change my mind it’s much harder to remove gravel than it would be to pull up paving.

I now have quite a large area of bare garden beds. I’ve held back from planting anything until I decide what kind of plants would be most suitable. At the moment the whole area is covered with sugarcane mulch waiting for me to be hit by some inspired planting ideas.

For the last few days we’ve had swarms of locusts all over town. You can’t walk anywhere without stirring them up. We’ve often had patches of them outside of town but this is the first time I’ve seen so many in around the town itself. I tried to photograph them in the garden but they don’t come out clear enough in the photographs.

Sunday turned out to be a day marked by weird coincidence. In the morning I started reading a book called Blackout written by Connie Willis* In the evening Gloria and I were watching a new TV series called “Survivors” about the aftermath of a catastrophic plague that kills off most of the population of the world. Of course, as a result of the plague all public utilities including electricity collapse. Just before the end of the episode our own power was cut off, blacking out our part of town.
It was annoying to miss the end of the show, but there was some compensation for the disappointment: on a moonless, powerless night, the stars have never looked more brilliant.


* review to come on my other blog as soon as I finish it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Extravagant Imagination

It would be wonderful to have a lifestyle in which I no longer need to work full time in a job I don’t enjoy. Part of the (romanticised) appeal of self-sufficiency and frugality is to have more freedom to explore the things that interest me, providing an avenue to do something creative. But straight away I hit a problem – my imagination and its creative urges are not exactly frugal in nature.

What do I mean? Well let me point out some of the creative (and other) pursuits in which I’d love to indulge.

Music. For years I’ve wanted to play the fiddle. I have a large collection of recorded fiddle/violin music, mainly folk and traditional but including a little classical. I love the sound of the instrument and the variety of sounds and styles that it can create. A cheap “students” fiddle seems to cost a couple of hundred dollars but on top of that I would need lessons; but would it be worth it when I wouldn’t have anywhere to use those newly learned skills on a regular basis? I’m also not so sure I’d be satisfied with a student’s instrument. I’d want something a little classier that could double as a decorative item at home when not at use.

Astronomy. I’d love to have a decent telescope and a very dark place to use it. Unfortunately my house is exposed to a lot of artificial lighting from a nearby hospital car park so finding a good clear unpolluted spot isn’t easy. Also those decent telescopes can be very expensive. I still kick myself for not taking advantage of a very good discount being offered by Australian Geographic several years ago when I could have got a very good telescope for around half price. It even had an inbuilt computer to make the finding of stars and planets much easier. It was still expensive, but far more affordable than at full price.

Glass. Gloria has been collecting pieces of art glass for a while now and I’ve been trying to find out more about Australian Glass artists. We’ve visited the studios of some local glass artists and the creative process is fascinating and varied. From slumped glass, utilising a kiln and moulds to hot glass in which molten glass is blown or rolled into required shapes the results can be stunning.
It’s the kind of artwork I’d love to try for myself, but I’m sure the costs of setting up would be enormous. Not the kind of thing you could start on a whim.
Some glass artists offer short classes and the Glass Works in Canberra gives the beginner the opportunity to make their own paperweight or glass beads.
But returning to my extravagant imagination, I would not be satisfied with the short term solution of using someone else’s equipment. My dream would be to have my own studio and creating masterpieces that can be sold for a fortune. Definitely not practical – but that’s why I’ve been writing about an extravagant imagination instead of an extravagant reality.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Eventful Weekend.

Often weekends merely provide us with a welcome interruption to our weekly work schedule – replacing our days at the office with household chores; but some are more memorable than others.

Last Saturday and Sunday threw us a lot of surprises.

We drove to Wollongong to visit my parents. For most of Saturday nothing was out of the ordinary until a power cut interrupted our TV viewing. This would normally be a minor inconvenience, but my semi-invalid dad found himself stuck in his reclining chair. Stuck because it is operated electrically and he couldn’t lower the chair to allow himself to get out. It does have a battery back-up for such occasions but he had never bothered to install the battery.
Three of us had to wrestle with him (and the chair) to help him out.

Even though the power returned less than an hour later, we all decided to go to bed anyway. Gloria and I found it hard to settle because of a strange noise that repeated at regular intervals. We were staying in a room usually used by my young niece who has several talking toys in the room so we though one of them may have been playing up. Every 13 minutes we heard something/someone saying “Aha!!!”

After about an hour of puzzling over this our attention was drawn elsewhere by a series of loud explosions. Gloria opened the blinds and for the next 15-20 minutes we were entertained by a spectacular firework display courtesy of the nearby Buddhist temple as part of their Chinese New Year celebrations.

The next morning the mysterious “Aha!!!” was back and after another hour of investigation we discovered the culprit. There was an automatic insecticide spray on top of a book case and every 13 minutes it would attempt to expel a dose of its poison. However it seems to have been empty and could only emit a dry gasp.

We drove home later that day and ran into the kind of downpour that causes nightmares on the road. And it was a nightmare for some. We saw two separate accidents where cars had aquaplaned from the road and into the ditch between the northbound and southbound lanes of the Hume Highway. One the cars had rolled onto its roof and was being attended by an ambulance crew. We saw the Police Rescue racing to the scene a few minutes later.
Despite the obvious dangers due to wet roads and very poor visibility we still had trucks racing past us at high speeds.

The rain eased and the sun came out about half an hour later when we pulled off the Highway to visit the town of Gunning. We’d noticed a sign advertising an antique shop so we decided to have a look. Next door to that shop was an old movie theatre now being used as a book shop and art gallery. I can never resist looking for treasures in old book shops so we went in and looked around. Just inside the door was the old ticket office that the shop owner was using as his office/counter. He didn’t look up when we walked in.
To the back of the room was a set of stairs going up to the old projection room and we followed the signs that told us there was more to see upstairs. I brought Gloria’s attention to a painting by someone famous, Max Cullen, a man perhaps better known over many years for his acting rather than painting. The name wasn’t familiar to her but I said she’s definitely know him if she saw him because he’d been in a lot of Australian films and TV series.

We went back downstairs, Margaret left the shop and I spent a few more minutes looking. On the way out I looked across again at the owner. This time he looked up at me with a big bearded, smile – and it was Max Cullen himself.

The final surprise came when we arrived home.
It wasn't unexpected considering the downpour we'd experienced on the road. There was 67.5mm in our rain gauge.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Mixed Vegetable Results

My other two blogs have been getting more attention than this one recently. So what have I been doing this year so far (apart from writing elsewhere)?

I haven’t been doing much in the garden apart from collecting a few veggies as they appear. Our yellow button squash are by far the most productive thing and I’m keeping work colleagues well supplied as well as having plenty for personal consumption. However it’s the worst zucchini year I’ve had – but there have been plenty for our own use at home so I can’t complain.

Corn has been a failure with maybe only six half decent cobs being produced, however I’m hoping that the late sowing of the last of my seed may produce a bit more.
This season I tried purple beans for the first time and had a reasonable supply for a couple of months, but there haven’t been any to pick for a few days now and the plants are starting to shrivel up. I had a much better crop from my regular bean – the Lazy housewife, but again there has been little to pick recently. But those bushes are still very healthy looking so I might get some more out of them.

The plants I’ve been most concerned about are my tomatoes. They’ve had an abundance of fruit but it’s been very slow ripening. I’ve mentioned before that they were grown from seed given away with Burkes Back Yard magazine. Maybe the biggest disappointment has been one called Yellow Stuffing. They are refusing to ripen on the bush and so far I’ve seen only one fully ripe example – one I picked early and kept in the house for a couple of weeks.
I wasn’t impressed with the resulting fruit. It had hardly any flavour and was quite dry in comparison to the other varieties. If we had more ripe fruit to try we would put its name to the test. It is clearly a fruit created for stuffing, consisting mainly of a firm fleshy shell, hollow except for a small ball of seeds in the centre. It is very capsicum like in appearance.

Another type I’ve been able to pick is a large orange/red variety whose name has eluded me at the moment. It has a large pumpkin shape fruit. The ones that have ripened on the vine have been quite soft. I’m not sure whether that should be the case. I tend to get worried about soft tomatoes after a fruit fly infestation a couple of years ago. So far we seem to have avoided that problem – although I think I did see a fruit fly inspecting the fruit a few weeks ago. I also salvaged a couple of fallen fruit that were swarming with tiny little maggots. They were quickly dropped in a plastic bag and left in the sun for a couple of days.

Gloria has been making good use harvested tomatoes, using them in salads, on sandwiches and for a salsa-like creation for use on pasta. I’m only hoping she is being vigilant enough to notice the presence of grubs should they be in the fruit. But as the old saying goes, what we don’t know can’t hurt us and maybe the addition of a little protein to the vegetable pasta would add to the nutritional value.

I also planted a Black Russian tomato purchased from BigW – but the fruit from the plant has not been the right colour. It has remained a common red instead of the darker colour expected of a genuine Black Russian. Most of the fruit we’ve picked so far have been from this pseudo black Russian plant and most of it needed to be picked earlier than I’d like because the blackbirds quickly attack the red fruit.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Garden Habitat Again

My previous post mentioned the various creatures that make their home in or near my garden. I now have some recent photos of some of them.

The blue wrens seem to nest in some dense bushes in my neighbour’s yard but they spend a lot of time in my garden. The male bird tends to be a lot more timid than the female. I guess this is because his bright colouring makes him more noticeable and vulnerable to predators. The female (and her young) think nothing of coming within a couple of metres of me when I’m working outside.

I have seen a book listing 100 birds you must see before you die. The list includes all kinds of exotic birds from around the world. This particular wren is listed among that 100 and it is very satisfying to know we have a family of them that call our backyard home.

Not quite as pleasing to the eye is this creature. I’m not sure whether it is a frog or a toad. It would be a little bigger than my closed fist. It likes the area around my veggie garden because of the regular watering.

I took these photos yesterday. I was picking beans and when I heard something hit the ground I thought I had dropped some, but it was the frog/toad moving around near my feet. Hopefully he is earning his keep by eating some of the less welcome residents of my veggie patch.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Garden as Wildlife Habitat

How many of us recognise that our gardens provide habitat for a variety of critters?

I know mine often gives a home to all manner of bugs, slugs and caterpillars that are hopefully grateful for the feast provided for them in my veggie patch. They must feel more at home than they should – at least until I bring out the white oil, derris dust and other safe means of deterring their presence.

How easy it would be to resort to more lethally effective means of ridding the garden of these pests. But then, an indiscriminate nuking of the garden would also rid the place of those living things I want to encourage, such as bird life, lady beetles and of course the essential bees.

To an extent those pests provide an attraction to some of the life I want in my garden. Where would the ladybirds be without an occasional outbreak of aphids?

Years ago I worked for a man who had created an amazing little ecosystem in his garden – all by providing a seed tray to feed small birds. This is how it worked:

The birds came for the seed and scattered some across the ground below the tray. The fallen seed started to attract mice at night, which in turn managed to attract the attention of a local owl that started perching near by waiting for a nightly snack.

Personally I prefer not to provide things like seed trays. Instead I’m trying to provide native plants to provide a more natural source of food for visiting birds. If I tried my former employer’s approach I suspect it would result in the attraction of snakes rather than owls to take advantage of the mice.

While I have not seen any owls being attracted to my garden, I have a list of almost 30 birds that I’ve seen visiting or flying in close proximity to my home. While I can’t claim that my garden had anything to do with the presence of a pelican flying past, there must have been something to attract most of the other species on my list: from the ducks and hawks that have made rare visits to the more common honey eaters, parrots and the ever present blackbirds.

Visitors other than the bugs and birds have been less noticeable. Apart from an occasional neighbours pet we have mainly seen small lizards of various kinds, several frogs huddling in unlikely damp spots and twice I’ve come across a larger frog-like creature that may have a been a toad.