Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Road trip along the Midland Highway

We tend to go up to our bush block after Christmas, but this year we're taking the long way around. It's a micro mini version of the "grey nomad" trip around Australia we'll take when we're retired - just getting in some practice!


The Midland Highway goes to within a 5 minute drive of our block, through Castlemaine and on up to Bendigo. That much we knew for years. But a couple of years ago we were driving up the Hume Freeway in northeast Victoria and passed an overpass labelled "Midland Highway". The very same Midland Highway that passed through Castlemaine? Yes indeed, and looking at the map we saw it went from Geelong at the far end of Port Phillip Bay, following a huge arc, winding up in Mansfield in the high country. From then on it was our goal to one day do a road trip the entire length of the Midland Highway, just stopping where we liked, for as long as we liked. The name highway may be misleading as the parts of it we know, and from what we know of the towns it passes through, it is often a two-lane country road, so it will be life in the slow lane. Perfect!

This time we're covering only part of the route, starting out in Geelong on Dec 27th where we'll stay a couple of nights and do day trips in the area, then gradually find our way to Bendigo where we're spending New Year's Eve. Depending on how we go, we'll be stopping at our place near Castlemaine once or twice.

Internet access will be non existent until the beginning of January, so this will most likely be the last post of the year. Happy New Year to all, and take care on the roads. And don't get road rage if you're stuck driving behind a couple of old farts just trundling along - it might be us!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Turkey - first time in 35 years!

Turkey has been a no no in our household for more than 35 years. The man who cooks, not having grown up with it in the Australia of mid 20th century, was just not that enamored of it. So we've "made do" with duck, poussin and other yummy representatives of the poultry world, and not to forget the humble chicken for which there are so many ways to prepare in a tasty and interesting manner.

But this year a recipe by a trusted chef was spotted in the newspaper's weekend magazine, and we've decided to give it a go. It has a Middle Eastern flavor, with a spice combination (baharat), which I will have to make myself. That holds no terrors for me as I'm used to roasting and grinding Indian spices. The recipe also calls for dried cranberries (so there's a bit of tradition there) to soak in orange juice to make the sauce. Now where would you get dried cranberries? It appears that it is marketed here as "craisins", which I've picked up from the ever reliable Leo's Supermarket.

I used to hate going grocery shopping until I discovered Leo's. The muzak alone was enough to set the teeth on edge as soon as I entered a Safeway or Coles supermarket. But at Leo's you're treated to interesting real music, often Latin American, so that I've had to stop myself from salsa-ing down the aisles. Aside from that, they have so many unusual food products, a great cheese section, in addition to the usual grocery items. So now I don't mind going grocery shopping if I can go to Leo's.

I'm off now to prepare the big bird (it's already Christmas morning here in Australia as I write this). I wish everyone a calm, safe and happy Christmas!

Here's the little beastie (not me, the turkey!) before covering in foil and putting in the oven. Photo taken earlier this morning. It's now almost 1 p.m. and I've taken the foil off for browning, another 90 minutes to go, I hope. The house is smelling wonderful!

Nice and brown (and didn't need another 90 minutes after all)

Drinks in front of our Christmas "tree"

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Reading other blogs

Over the last few weeks I have been pulled deeper into the blogger world, having a few I regularly read (more of that later), and then occasionally following a few links from those blogs. The number of blogs read is compounded by reading others' comments and then going to THEIR blogs. Where do you stop? Answer: when you suddenly become aware that the house has become very quiet, even sons are in bed, and that the computer clock says it's midnight! I must not forget that there is another world out there.

It is so easy to find people who share interests on the internet, and it's also gratifying to find that you are not alone in ranting on about mobile phone usage in previously quiet zones (e.g. cinemas and LIBRARIES), and other pet hates. And yesterday I happened onto one lovely site run by two brothers living in different countries, and they share their childhood memories of upstate New York online for each other to read, as a kind of mutual memory jog. What a beautiful thing to do.

Because I haven't decided where I'm going to put them in my somewhat cluttered left column, I'm listing the blogs I read almost daily here, and will put them in a more permanent place when I have time to grapple with the template.

Time Goes By
Texas Trifles
Takoma Gardener
My Mom's Blog
Long-Toothed Hinterland Dweller
Pavlov's Cat

There are SO MANY more I have enjoyed reading, and even forgot to bookmark. But one thing I've found is that when you like what someone writes about and/or how they write, somehow you will often find your way back to those other blogs eventually.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Escape to the country (more Christmas-avoiding)

There is nothing like going out to the country to get away from it all. There is no electricity and needless to say no internet access. Even a mobile phone does not reach to behind our dam and there are no distractions. So this weekend it was a slothful settling in to book reading, afternoon tea, more reading, dinner of smoked chicken, and more reading. We are getting in practice for the break at Christmas when we can really indulge, and I've collected a number of books from the local library as well as the university library where I work. I always have to have a mini library on hand to choose from.

In the southern hemisphere there is a happy coincidence of Christmas and the long summer break. About November a couple of the better bookshops publish nicely illustrated catalogues of books that are being published in time for Christmas, and there are always helpful blurbs to tell you about the books. Every year I mark the ones I want to read and try to read as many as I can throughout the year. There's a steady supply of books to look forward to, my idea of heaven.

And the other side of the coin - a nightmare scenario for a reader: an episode from the old Twilight Zone series from the 50s, I still remember this one clearly. There's the hen-pecked bookworm who works in a bank, and he often goes into the bank vault to read, as at least there he's undisturbed. One day while he's in the vault a nuclear bomb is dropped (I did say it was the 50s), and he is the sole survivor. He realises that now he can read to his heart's content and he gets some books from the library (which is amazingly undamaged, but that's the power of books for you). BUT as he's going down the steps of the library he trips and falls, and in the process breaks his reading glasses. All those books, all that peaceful uninterrupted time, but he will never be able to read again. That episode has haunted me all those years.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Dust to dust

In a comment on my post about Christmas trees, Jude said...
Now that's efficiency! I'm wondering about dust though. Do you not have to wipe over each of those little bulbs at some stage during the year?

Dust?? What's that? It's something I have conveniently overlooked over the years, and with advancing years and less sharp eyes, it is even easier to just not notice. Yet another advantage of getting older!

Though I did flick around the dust cloth the other day as things had got so bad that even I noticed it. Funny how different people pick up on different things. My husband will notice (and might mention ever so gently) that there's some dust around (what an understatement!), but he will leave things lying around that are so obviously THERE. This is especially true of the kitchen bench (counter to some of you) which has always been his favorite dumping ground. In all the houses we've lived in, the kitchen bench has collected unkitchenly items: wrenches and screwdrivers, paint brushes soaking in turps, packets of seed and plant food, you name it. Sometimes I have tried to not touch them, to see how long it will take for him to put them away, but I can never wait that long! Arrrgh! Oh, and his second favorite dumping ground is right at the front door. It's like he's leaving little shrines around the place.

But one last word on dust: I am living proof that dust does not kill!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Quick & easy, environment-friendly Christmas tree

Our household is not totally sans holiday decorations. Two years ago this month we suffered a horrendous flood with water knee-deep throughout the house. It took us 6 months to get everything back in order again. Needless to say, that year we did not have much of a Christmas, and a tree was just not on the agenda. However, we have one of those nice folding, 3-panel bamboo screens between our dining and living room areas. I looked at that screen and thought that by stringing one set of lights on it and hanging a few decorations we could simulate a Christmas tree. It looked very jolly, and last year we did the same thing.

This year the job is even easier because I decided last January that I was NOT going to struggle with getting those damn lights back into the required contorted configuration, enabling the lights to all fit into their ridiculously small box. So, I....just....left....them....up. Yes, all year they have been draped over the screen, fairly invisible in their unlit state. All I need to do when the time comes is to hang up a dozen or so ornaments and then flick the switch. No needles dropping, no needing to water the tree, and it can even be moved to another spot if necessary.

And it's also useful for other special occasions throughout the year...

Friday, December 09, 2005

Keeping a low profile for Christmas

Ok, are you keeping it low key?

  • Not going near malls?
  • Not using precious fuel to get to malls?
  • Not buying useless presents?
  • Not buying a tree?
  • Not buying?

Then you will

  • Have more time to enjoy being with your family.
  • Have time to cook dinner and bake from scratch.
  • Help fight the consumerist/greed culture.
If you are honest with yourself and really don't enjoy this season as it has become these days, think about getting back to basics and cutting the crap.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Practising for retirement

Melbourne's new shuttle ferry on the Yarra.

Mel has some time off now, and as today is normally my day off anyway, we went into the city and played at being retired, for when that happens (not this year). Took the tram to Federation Square, had an icy cold pilsner, and then boarded the new shuttle ferry which takes a leisurely 40 minutes along the river to go from Fed Square to New Quay, with various stops in between. Lunch at New Quay, a look at the whale-saving ship the Farley Mowat of the Sea Shepherd Organization which was docked there, and then a tram back to Federation Square for an ice cream, ending with a walk through the Fitzroy Gardens before heading home.

It was interesting to be at leisure on a working day in a bustling city, to see people (younger people) dressed in their business suits and corporate get up (high heels with pointy toes, for cryin' out loud!), while we were comfortably dressed for the warm weather, and strolled or rode public transport from place to place. The other thing to notice was that we were only one of many couples of similar age who were enjoying their leisure time, and it was lovely to observe the warmth between them, and the obvious ease they felt being in each others' company. This is something to treasure, and I am lucky to have found my soulmate too. Yep, I can see us spending lots of these days of leisure in retirement, there's still plenty to do to keep busy and to learn, even about the city we've been living in for all these decades.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Our first born is 21 today

21 years ago today, at the age of 39, I gave birth to our gorgeous son. We love you, Toby! Chelsea the cat does too.

Love from Mom, Dad and Ben.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Sacred bamboo - hah!

You'd think that something named sacred bamboo would be a bit more restrained and even difficult to grow. Nope, it grows like a weed, and it once filled almost the whole courtyard which you see in the previous post. We now have that area under control, but on the weekend I removed much of it from around the Japanese maple (so we could see the beautiful trunk) and near the footpath (so the water meter can be read, and even found). As a consequence of pulling out shoots and clipping very thick woody stems, I am feeling a bit weary. But getting that done, plus my zen weeding in the mornings is giving me a great sense of satisfaction.

After looking on the internet for suitable images of sacred bamboo, it would seem that we don't have sacred bamboo at all, but some other type. I should have read this article first!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Zen approach to the garden

When I went on that horticultural tour of the Japanese garden at the zoo last week, I optimistically asked the gardener if there was a modern, 21st century invention that would magically help the home gardener tidy up the leaves, twigs etc without having to get on hands and (ageing) knees. No such luck! His answer was that they used one of those most un-zen-like blowers as well as, yes, getting down on hands and knees.

There used to be a self sown tree in our stone courtyard. In its healthy days the tree had a wonderful lollypop shape that gave us privacy and shade in summer, but was extremely messy, even to the point of spreading around purple berries that discolored the path to the front door. When it gave its last hurrah last March and we removed it, it was the start of a tidier courtyard, but I still needed to do the finetuning that a stone courtyard requires.

So yesterday, inspired by the beautifully maintained garden in the zoo, I made a start at tidying up the debris the tree had left behind, including a zillion seedlings that had started poking their heads through the stones. I think that tree knew it was not long for this world and produced a bumper crop of seeds. Rather admirable really, but out they came. I fell into a quiet rhythmn, maybe zen-like, and it didn't seem to take long at all. Then a final rake-over, and I could look at it with pleasure. This morning when I went out for the newspaper, I stopped to pick up a few more twigs and seedlings, and it was a lovely thing to do in the fresh smelling air of early morning. Will I continue that? Only time will tell.

Mel made this bamboo fence in the traditional manner, tying together the bamboo with rope. These photos were all taken of our front garden. (Mel has just confessed that the rope hides the screws he used!)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Back to the zoo!

Two days in a row at the zoo, that's a first! Today I went on a horticultural tour of the zoo. How so? Zoos are no longer a symmetrical arrangement of cramped cages in crowded rows. That is my childhood memory of the Bronx Zoo. Today's good zoos try to imitate nature, providing the animals with as much of their natural environment as possible, and this means that the grounds of good zoos are worth visiting in their own right. In Melbourne we have an excellent zoo, further enhanced by a small Japanese garden. As a member of Friends of the Zoo I can visit the zoo as often as I like, and I still find something new.

Wherever I've travelled to, I've always tried to visit the local zoos. In the 60s and 70s I visited the famous San Diego Zoo, and the Hagenbeck Zoo in Hamburg, both beautiful zoos even then. By the far the worst zoo I ever visited was in Rome. I hope it has been totally renovated by now, or closed!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Phine and Val go to the zoo

What a great combination: a Japanese garden in a zoo. Wonderful weather for it too.

Trail of the Elephants: Mekah Pah is giving Phine the Big A

Lunch time!

In the aviary

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Popes do Mecca Bah

Those Pope girls, Phine and Angela, really know how to have a good time. Today they were my Daughters-for-a-Day, celebrating Phine handing in her thesis and Angela getting her first teaching job. We went to Mecca Bah at New Quay. They are adventurous eaters, to say nothing of being prodigious eaters, and we had all sorts of Middle Eastern dips, savory pastries and a lamb meatball dish. Click to enlarge that first photo to really appreciate Phine's expression! (P.S. Phine wants everyone to know that she was imitating the actresses on The Iron Chef show, saying "It's so-o-o-o go-o-o-d!", and that she REALLY doesn't usually look like that)

Sadly, we had no room left for dessert at the cone-shaped ice cream place, but we'll be back another time. Already planning to go there for dinner after the first game of the season at Telstra Dome (Melbourne vs Carlton).

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Proud member of The Ageless Project

Since I've started blogging I have found so many people with shared interests and other oldies who blog. Through Ronni Bennett's blog Time goes by I found my way to The Ageless Project, a collection of people of age who want to share their thoughts and experiences online. In the Sixties (the era of my youth, lucky me!) it would have been called letting it all hang out. These days that can be done Big Time in cyberspace, although some would say that it's a more anonymous way of sharing than cavorting around as we did in the Sixties.

In her post of 11 November, Ronni talks about getting senior discounts as a rite of passage. Rather than thinking about it as a sign of "getting old", we should gleefully look for the sign "Senior discounts here" - we've earned it! As for advancing on in years, I count each day as a gift to be made the most of, and the feeling that each year flies by faster than the last says to me that 1) I am enjoying life, and 2) I should concentrate even more on enjoying life. People who know me would say that I am good at seeing the positives, and I would add that it does no good to look back and dwell on any lows that inevitably come into one's life. I'm having fun!

Sunday, November 06, 2005


Almost summer here in the southern hemisphere, and I've already been for a swim in our (unheated) pool. I love swimming at night, looking up at the moon and stars. Other than when I was a kid, I have hated pools, but since we bought this place 11 years ago with a pool already there, I've come to appreciate how it's the greatest air conditioner. It really cools down the body core. Swimming at night at first seemed to be a scary kind of thing to do, but now I really look forward to it, and I don't have to wear sunblock either.

Tonight we're having our first bbq at home for the season. A couple of years ago we had rolldown screens made for our veranda, and it makes the greatest outdoor room, it extends the livingroom. We tend to have breakfasts and lunches out there as well. At the end of the season we roll up the three sides which are velcroed into place and out of the way. It's a brilliant design!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Beehive in our garden

A couple of weeks ago we started noticing huge swarms of what at the time we thought were wasps (ugh) forming football-sized clumps in trees. Then there'd be a massive buzzing and swarming and the clumps would disappear for a while. Then a clump formed in a climber which was at eye level, and after calling in an expert it turned out to be a proper beehive. Wearing one of those beekeeper outfits he put the hive into a collector box which he left for the bees to return to at night. He has taken them out to the country to a friend who keeps bees, and it happens to be near where our bush block is. An apiarist often leave his hives in the forest nearby. Supposedly beehives are good luck in Chinese custom.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

34th wedding anniversary - so who's counting?

October 3rd was, incredibly, our 34th wedding anniversary. We took a long weekend and drove down to Geelong, Victoria's second largest city. It is on a huge bay, and is only a half hour drive from the ocean beaches, see map.

Speaking of maps, it is amazing that our marriage has survived this long, as Mel's lack of a sense of direction has gotten us into many a heated argument over the years. I usually navigate, but when he ignores my carefully planned instructions, as happened in Geelong, I can get a bit stroppy. The poor map is showing a bit of wear and tear due to my slapping it in disgust after he blithly sailed past the turn that I had told him to take.

That aside, we had a great time, mainly walking and eating. We had lunch at the nice friendly waterfront restaurant we had stopped at earlier this year when Dad was visiting, The Wharf Shed Cafe.

We also ate at the place next door, the Fisherman's Pier, which had a lovely ambience and very nice food indeed. We both had a fish called harpuka - sweet and a beautiful texture. I started out with a couple of oyster shooters = decadence!

We spent hours walking along the Barwon River, which included boardwalks through wetlands. And we even saw one of the world's strangest animals, the platypus - had never seen one in the wild before. They are very shy, besides being weird-looking.
We also walked through the botanical gardens, spent a morning looking in the fabulous National Wool Museum.

To round things off, we found a cookware shop in Geelong, and stocked up on wooden spoons, pastry brush, a new sifter and other goodies. Nice to share that interest. The saleslady was most impressed to see a husband taking an interest in cooking and food. I didn't tell her about the downside, i.e. about the bread nazi.

We took a number of photos, of course, and I've posted them in a new online photo album service. You can even choose to look at them as a slide show, there's a link at the top right corner of the screen, and it will also enlarge the photos. Try it!

Our anniversary always coincides with the first weekend after the football season finishes, and going on a trip to celebrate our anniversary helps to fill the gap left when there is no football to watch, listen to, look forward to. 6 months without football... an eternity!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The man who cooks

Although I live with a bread nazi, this same man also is a fabulous cook. And he has more than able assistants, namely our sons. Here is Mel turning these massive veal shanks, in our beautiful French casserole (how did we live without that for all those years?)

Don't you love how he is wearing his workman's overalls while cooking? He's also a great handyman. Am I lucky, or what? Also lucky for having that walk-in pantry you can see in the background.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Seniors Card - so it's come to this

One perk of being a senior is having a seniors card. I got mine in the mail this week, and today I used it for the first time on the tram. Instead of paying $5.90 for a daily ticket I paid only $2.90. Not bad. One thing I wasn't impressed with though is that the card came with an accompanying letter signed by the Minister for Aged Care. Hmm...

I went to see the Dutch Masters Exhibition at the National Gallery. We are so lucky to have these treasures brought so far for us to see.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Oh, the horror, the horror

It's wonderful having creative friends who also have long memories. Anne Priestley, an accomplished artist, and friend over the past 31 years, dredged up a photo taken on New Year's 1978. We were seeing who could look the silliest doing something with a couple of Tic Tacs. Tic Tacs, by the way, are small pellet-shaped mints.

Not content to leave it as is, Anne has used modern technology (really!) to change my 30-something self into a premature old hag! See original photo below.

Anne made this into a birthday card for me. Thanks a lot!

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

I live with a bread nazi

The boys and I will happily eat most breads, although in recent years I've come to view bread with seeds as the dentist's friend. But we are constantly under the cloud of the resident bread nazi who will settle for nothing less than a bread that needs to be bought from bakeries in suburbs far and wide, never within walking distance to the local shops.

Admittedly most of the breads are good to eat, but are they worth the trip (and petrol)? We have at least managed to ban him getting one type of bread that not only is fairly plain in taste, but is actually dangerous to eat. That is the epi, a nasty piece of work that can easily puncture the roof of your mouth, or if you're very clumsy, put an eye out. How ridiculous is this shape!

And it wouldn't even fit in the big bread crock we bought when we visited Bendigo a few months ago.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Let's hear it for anaesthesia

Recently I had to go into hospital for a minor procedure, and my, how about that lovely sinking feeling of impending oblivion brought to you by modern day anaesthetics? Then there is the rollercoaster ride of resurfacing, fading and resurfacing in dribs and drabs, hospital staff sounding near and far. The only negative: did I talk while I was under? What idiotic utterances did I come up with? Well, maybe it was more exciting than this blog...

What a contrast to the experience I had as a five year old when I had my tonsils out (all the rage in 1950). They used ether then and sometimes I'll get a flashback of the tiled walls and that horrid cold smell. Quite by coincidence I recently read a very accurate description of what it feels like to be anaesthetised with ether in E. L. Doctorow's novel "World's Fair": "a hideous rubbery mask was clamped over my face...", "the cold sweet suffocating poison...it was cold, it smelled like the hiss of gas in a cellar, it had echoes in it, it rang like metal footsteps...I heard my voice calling to me down long stone corridors...a roaring sound filled my head and began to pulsate..." "...now I was breathing in this terrible gas in a white tiled swimming pool or corridor whose walls moved in toward me and then outwards..." That says it all.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Monstrosity in the kitchen

11 years ago we found this house which we fell in love with and bought. However, the kitchen needed to be renovated as it was then 30 years old. This included replacing the oven. Back then, I took one look at it and I said, "This has got to be the first thing to go".

11 years on, and it's still here. Even though it has lost bits and pieces over the years, and not everything works, we can still cook and bake, plus it has 4 electric burners hidden in a slide away drawer if we need that. That came in handy a few years ago when Victoria's gas supply was cut off for about 2 weeks due to an explosion in the power plant. Our regular cooktop is gas, but we were still able to cook, and heat up our water for our "showers" on the electric burners. (That was fun - NOT!).

Anyway, this old monstrosity consists of two side by side ovens, which are both at just the right height - no bending down. The larger oven is really large too, not these tiny ovens they make these days. But what a marvel it must have been 40 years ago in the 1960s when it was new and everything was working: rotisserie, programmable to turn on and off, there was a built in meat thermometer which turned off the heat when the meat reached the right temperature, and there are even powerpoints. Note modern day accessories (click on photo to enlarge): additional thermometer on top of oven, and bottle of wine at the ready to smooth the cooking process.

All four of us are used to coping with the wild fluctuations in temperature, eventually getting the thing to stabilise. The other night Toby cooked one of his specialties, the mustard coated roast lamb from a Julia Child cookbook. Although he complained about the usual scenario of the temperature soaring at first, then having to use tricks to reduce it but maintain the correct temperature, the roast came out perfectly. Ah yes, these men who can cook...

Saturday, August 27, 2005

If bloggers had been around throughout history

Well lol, this is really funny, but I wish it could be extended to cover more historical events. It's a "what if" scenario that imagines what would have been blogged at various times throughout history. A good start. Found it via Millie's blog.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

We are the survivors!

TO ALL THE KIDS WHO SURVIVED the 1930's 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's
(sent by one of Mel's colleagues) now deleted, read on...

24 August: I was just about to delete this post because:
1) it wasn't in my own words, and
2) it went on for too long.

But something made me scroll to the bottom of the post, and there was a....
COMMENT! This does not happen too often (hint hint), something of an event, in fact. The comment is from Millie, an 80 year old blogger whose site I found yesterday via a food blog I read. Now this Millie is really something, she even gets into making videos and posting them to her blog. Read it and be amazed. Puts me to shame....

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Photos from Val's 60th

It was so nice celebrating this event with family and friends.

Even friends who couldn't be there in person sent a photo , and what a nice surprise to get a call from Rochester, New York from longtime friend David. It'll cost you to keep that photo off this blog, David. I wonder if anyone noticed that I was wearing slippers last night? It's my party and I'm 60 and I'll do what I want!!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Val's a senior citizen!

I turned 60 today, so am now eligible for discounted tram travel (yay!), cheap tickets to things like the cinema and the ballet and, as my hairdresser told me this morning, discounts on the chairlifts in the snowfields. Thanks, but no thanks. Couldn't care less if I never experienced snow again, although I do have wonderful childhood memories of snowy winters in New York. Uh oh, another jog down memory lane coming up - isn't that what oldies do?

Fortunately I can look back on a beautiful childhood in a warm and loving family, but I'll spare you the details today. I'm too busy getting ready for the dinner we're putting on for 10 of us this evening. Some photos will be taken (digital of course) and I'll try to post them here before we leave for the country tomorrow morning.

Hairdressers, right up there with doctors and dentists, people you rely on to keep things going. I have always looked forward to going to the hairdressers, but never so much as to the ones I have been going to for the past 8 or 9 years. They are a husband and wife team, have a variety of interests and are always interested in their clients. I feel like I'm going to visit friends when I go to their salon. When I was (a lot) younger, there was an advertisement for a hair coloring product, Clairol I think, and the signature slogan went something like "So natural looking, only her hairdresser knows for sure". There may still be women out there who pretend their hair color is natural, but fortunately people are much more honest about that these days. I don't mind people knowing I have my hair colored to the way it was when I was younger. And one of the fun things about getting older, if you're feeling happy within yourself, is that you can be yourself. I am looking forward to my senior years, and being as silly as I've always been.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Trams - a family thing

This morning I ran out of time before I could finish my tram post before going to work. Tonight I got an e-mail from my cousin in Arizona, and he wrote :
"My father used to tell us about pulling the pole off the wire on the trams in Brooklyn and running from the conductor for kicks when he was a kid..."

Well, it must run in the family, because that's what MY dad did too, and I was going to write the same thing. Those Lank brothers ...

13 August: just talked to Dad, and he said we missed a vital point about pulling the pole off the wire: at the time they would be riding, for free, on the outside at the back, and pulling the cord was a way of slowing down the trolley so they could get off safely at a convenient place! I wonder if Grandma knew about that stuff.

My cousin Tim just sent me a whole list of websites to follow up on these interurban (long distance) trolleys that featured at the beginning of E.L. Doctorow's book "Ragtime". The Trolley Stop website looks like a great place to start.

Mel and I almost bought an old Melbourne tram in the early 80s. We put our name down to get one of the trams that were going to be retired in 18 months. In the meantime we needed to buy a block of land to put it on, and that’s why we bought 10 acres in the gold country, which was our favorite place anyway. So 18 months go by, and sure enough, we get a notice from the transport people to say our tram is ready to “collect”! It was going to cost $700 plus transporting it up to the country – no problem. Unfortunately, the local council was very strict at the time and they were not going to allow it unless we put up a house first. Well, that would have defeated the purpose because we were just going to make the tram into a holiday house. So we passed up the opportunity to get a tram of our own.

I had almost forgotten about another city I've lived in with a great tram system: Hamburg, Germany. I lived and worked there for 6 months in the 60s, and they had an extensive tram system. It is also the place where I had my scariest tram ride. I was travelling by tram to visit a friend who lived in an industrial area. There wasn't much traffic out there on a weekend and the driver was pushing the tram to maximum speed. The tram started to sway and rock so much that I thought it was going to leave the rails. This has stuck in my memory all these years, similar to the wild bus ride of Singapore in the 70s. But I'll leave it at that.

Trams - another Val-obsession

Would I have become such a fan of trams if I hadn't lived in the cities of San Francisco and Melbourne? Some people get interested in things they don't have ready access to because it's intriguing, something different. But for me, despite having lived more than 3 decades in Melbourne, with one of the most extensive tram networks in the world, tram travel is still a fun event. The fact that I don't use it to get to work helps maintain my positive outlook.

Tram travel has changed over time, of course. The old trams I rode in the 70s were prone to their poles losing contact with the overhead electric power wires as they took the curves. If you were a passenger this meant a delay to your journey, but if you were an onlooker you were treated to the spectacle of a shower of sparks as the pole disengaged and rather obscenely bobbed up and down until the tram driver ran around to the back to get the pole reconnected. These days trams have a different connecting system so this does not happen anymore.

When I first arrived in Melbourne I did use the tram to get to work, spent many hours on them in fact. Early on I would think how nice it would be to be a tram driver - the old trams had a driver's compartment that cut you off totally from the passengers (there were conductors then), and I thought it would be a lovely way to travel around the city and suburbs. Victor Borge, the comedian-pianist, was also a great fan of Melbourne trams. He'd always go for rides on trams when he was here, and on his last visit before his death, he was given the special privilege of driving a tram for a short distance.

The only time I got to drive a tram was in Sydney, when I was a member of the tram museum there (I said it was an obsession!). It was of course in the museum grounds, not in traffic. There are others though with a greater obsession: recently a teenager twice stole trams after having observed drivers operating them over a period of time. In his most successful endeavor, he took the tram on its scheduled route, stopping for passengers and letting them off, but passengers started getting suspicious when the "driver" started giving interesting commentary on the way! This kid had also at one stage stolen a train, so there was definitely a fixed rail fixation going on.

Melbourne is also home to the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant. This takes you around the suburbs of Melbourne and through the city while you can have a pretty decent meal and drinks. In the 80s Mel and I surprised my parents with a dinner on the tram: we told them we were taking them to dinner, but had to wait on a certain street corner. This was before the tramcar restaurant had become so well known, and they were taken completely by surprise when this beautiful old tram pulled up and we entered a comfortable, sumptuously restored tram, complete with white tablecloths, fine cutlery and dinnerware. The ride was smooth, although the wine glasses tinkled nicely as we'd sometimes go across other tram tracks. Magical!

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Web cam at Waikiki

Dad rang yesterday - it was my day off, so we had some time to catch up on things.

Occasionally I'll go to the live web cam site on Waikiki, look at the palms swaying in the breeze, and think: what if Dad happened to walk by at that moment? After I told him about this website, he did go to the Duke Kahanamoku statue on the beach and looked for the camera that's trained on the beach. (Dad, with your back to the statue, look up and to your right.) It's fun to watch the tourists walk up to the statue and then take photos of themselves. There's a steady stream of them. Just now, at almost 1 a.m. Honolulu time, there were still tourists out and about.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Mom reaches a milestone

I wish I were there with my mom on her birthday, having a chat over afternoon tea.

We are separated by a 20 hour plane flight, but are still so close because of these memories of lovely times spent together.

I love you, Mom!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Took my boys to the zoo today

I have always liked going to the zoo, and fortunately Melbourne has a superb zoo that gives the animals plenty of room, recreating their habitats as much as possible. The Trail of the Elephants replicates the feel of an Indonesian village, and you follow a jungle-like track through thick bamboo and other rainforest flora to get to where the elephants have a huge swimming pool, a mud pool, an elephant barn and other facilities. The boys hadn't been to the zoo since a school excursion years ago, before the Trail of the Elephants was opened, and I really wanted them to see it. They enjoyed it very much, and it was good to see that they had their favorite types of animals: Toby liked the orangutangs and Ben liked the cats.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Food blogging??

So, just after I uploaded my last post about how important food has been to us over the years, I chanced on a whole group of blogs devoted to people talking about food. Some are professional writers, and their blogs are so interesting to read. I'm afraid of the time I'm inevitably going to spend reading them though. Some of the ones I like:

The accidental hedonist:
Chronicles of a curious cook:
A girl's gotta eat:
Cook sister!

And then of course there are the numerous cooking shows, but the one that we always watch is the bizarre but hugely entertaining Iron Chef, a Japanese cult show that treats cooking as a competition, complete with sports-like commentary and a time limit of one hour.
Here's a link to one of the many Iron Chef sites.
This one is about the Kitchen Stadium:

And from an Iron Chef fan site:
You’re an Iron Chef fan if…

* You can't cook dinner unless your spouse first shouts, "Allez Cuisine!"

* You can't cook a meal unless you have a challenger.

* When you taste something you like, you giggle and exclaim, "The flavors dance in my mouth!"

* You start every sentence by saying, "If memory serves me correctly..."

* You ask for an ice cream maker for Christmas so you can try out a good trout or scallop ice cream recipe.

* You learn to sew in order to dress like Kaga.

Time goes by...

Where did the first half of the year go? We are now mid-winter and past the winter solstice. At uni we're enjoying a relatively student-free campus as the mid-year exams are over and no classes are on. However, that means that our own two uni students are home, and as Mel usually works from home, the house is no longer "mine". So off I go to work, happily and in the knowledge that I will arrive home to a beautifully cooked meal - husband is a great cook, and the boys are developing good skills. Last night Ben prepared a lovely roast chicken and potatoes, with a salad and homemade dressing. No bottled stuff in this family! The boys may not turn out to be foodies but they do appreciate well cooked food. So sad to witness families not sitting down to meals together, instead heating up something in those dreadful microwaves at odd hours to suit the individual. They're even building houses these days with minimal kitchen facilities (can't call them kitchens) as people move more towards fast food, prepackaged food, eating out a few times a week, and so on.

Well, this post has taken an unexpected turn, but this does fit into the title "Time goes by..." Food: it has been the recurring theme of our courting and marriage, starting in 1969. How much we have shared our pleasure in preparing, serving and eating food, with each other, and with family and friends over the years. The enjoyment of food has been the cement in our relationship, we have great memories of past meals, although Mel's memory for specific dishes eaten years ago has always amazed me. But it's all part of our history, even the pots and pans we bought as students in Berkeley are some of the ingredients of our family history (ok, so the boys laugh at us when we reminisce about how long we've had this or that kitchen utensil - are we crazy, or what). But it's a shared history, and so much fun to look back on.

This was taken at our 10 acre block last year. We're having breakfast (see faithful coffee pot on the table, bought in Alice Springs in 1990 - yawn). We tend to spend as much time as possible outdoors, which is another recurring theme of ours. Look at that sky, can't see that sitting indoors. Ditto the stars and moon in the night sky. Glorious.
Click on picture to enlarge.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Long weekend in Bendigo

We stayed at the venerable (1897) Shamrock Hotel in the center of town, walking distance to fantastic restaurants such as Bazzani's, good breakfast venue in yet another converted bank (Mully's Cafe), and the wonderful art gallery with its own cafe. We did manage to do things other than eat and drink (Bendigo pottery, eucalyptus distillery, the talking tram). Want to go back for more!

Our room was at the top right of photo.......We sat in these chairs in the lounge.
Me sitting in the lounge. Mel and his mother enjoying our picnic lunch in the hotel room.

Isn't this lovely?

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Orzo, rissoni, whatever you call it, rice-shaped pasta is great!

I love this pasta because it's like having two starches at the same time. And let's face it: the rice shape makes it so much easier to eat than other pasta shapes. Here's a recipe Mel made last night.

1 ¼ cups walnut pieces
good olive oil
2 cups orzo
170 g (6 oz) firm feta, crumbled
2 quarters preserved lemon, sliced (see below)
rocket leaves (didn't have this on hand, but results were fine without)
sea salt and pepper (what's with this sea salt lately in so many recipes??)

Heat a little olive oil in a pan over medium heat and fry the walnuts until golden.
Cook the orzo in boiling salted water for 11 minutes. Drain and place in a warm serving bowl. Sprinkle over the feta, the preserved lemon and walnuts. Top with a good handful of rocket leaves and drizzle with olive oil. Grind over some black pepper and serve immediately.

The recipe is from a book lent to me by Dennis, another colleague of mine. Don't you appreciate these men who cook? Dennis is best known for the cakes he bakes and brings to work. One has become a Forbes Family Favorite, and we refer to it simply as "The Dennis Cake". I'll post the recipe one of these days.

**WARNING on the preserved lemon: MIX WELL! Last night Mel made this again, but some of us got more preserved lemon than we would have liked. In some recipes I've seen instructions to rinse the lemon first.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Another Forbies Folly...

At long last, the Japanese teahouse is finished!

And it's portable, so if and when we move...

There is also a light behind the moon window, and at night it looks really beautiful. Unfortunately my attempts at taking a photo of it last night didn't work, but I'll get the live-in Kokak person to have a go.