Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Open Mind: The really big freaking spider

Australia has big spiders. The link above will take you to a post about how Johnno (who lives up in the Blue Mountains, NSW) got it out of his house without killing it. Shudder. Here's the photo, just to get you interested.

Today I went back to the Melbourne Museum to see a couple more exhibits, and couldn't resist the insect display, where they also have spiders in quarantine. There's even a tarantula webcam on that site. Click on it if you dare!

For a few years now I've been trying to get my husband (and sons when they still consented to come with us on country trips) to stop at the insectarium in Woodend. Nope, total lack of interest there.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Fisher cat and other feline photos

I mentioned recently that we have a fisher cat who prevents us from keeping fish in our pond for any length of time. While sorting through some photos today (an activity that has gripped our household lately) I came across this one of Chelsea, waiting patiently by the pond.
These photos were taken in 2001, the cats have really grown since, they can't both fit in the basket now. Especially Tintin, the one who always gets notches torn out of his ears in fights (see bottom photo), is now a rather large cat. They remain good friends.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Travelin' Dad

As in most years, Dad came to visit us for a couple of weeks this month, crossing the Pacific in his nomadic way, spending a couple of days in Sydney and Auckland, boomeranging back and forth between California and Hawaii. Every year I find out something new about him. To my utter amazement, I discovered that he read On the Road - Dad is not much of a reader, but that's one he did read. I have always got the impression that he would have been happy "on the road", and having been an airline pilot would have helped that along. I think he's doing that to this day, at 81, still flying around the Pacific. And his nomadic ways would have started when he was about 15 or 16, walking and hitchhiking from New York to Down South to work as a busboy on a cruise ship.

For this year's visit, Melbourne weather turned on the heat, and tropical rain and humidity levels seldom experienced here. This would seem to have less effect on him than us, as he's used to Hawaiian weather and loves the heat: he even went for a 3-hour bike ride on a day of 33 degrees! Dad has only recently had to give up surfing as he injured a shoulder rotator cuff (while surfing). I hope I have his longevity genes - his mother lived to 101.

Dad was an early personal computer user, and built his own computer in the 70s from a kit he ordered by mail. He's been tinkering with them ever since. But as he said when we saw a historical computer display at Melbourne Museum recently, "The fun went out of it when you didn't have to solder the parts together anymore".

Picnic lunch in the Wildlife Reserve at La Trobe.

Dinner at home on the veranda with Aussie Nana (husband's mom), Yankee Pappa (my dad).

Photo album of Dad's visit

Friday, January 27, 2006

Leaves of Grass: FLOWERS (by Sonia)

Well, this is an experiment, actually blogged something from someone else's blog, using the "Blog this" feature. Always wondered what that did...

If you'd like to see what you can do with a scanner and some fresh flowers to make stunning photos, do look over at Sonia's blog. It's like the modern day version of pressed flowers! Must go out and buy a scanner!

Update: today husband and son have done some research on the internet then looked at some all-in-one machines (scanner, fax, printer, copier) at Harvey Normans - looks like we'll be getting one of these beauties soon!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Crepe myrtles

Last year we had our two crepe myrtles pruned for the first time in the 11 years we've been in this house, and we were not expecting much in the way of flowers this year. So we are really happy to see so many blooms. The pruning allows more of the trunks to show (although not in my amateur photos), as well as the Japanese maple that is between them.

The bamboo lying in the courtyard is the result of a small cull I did. It is growing so well this year I'm beginning to think we should get rid of it (?!?!?). I would get some opposition from my sons who love the look of it from their bedroom windows. Like our ginger plants, we have taken bamboo with us to all our gardens from the 1970s onwards, and it's been so wonderful for instant screening and beauty without being a nuisance. But it has obviously found something very much to its liking, despite the long drought and we never water it.

The pond in the foreground is also in need of care, as lately it has taken to growing what I can only describe as a dark green "carpet" of gunk. I have removed it with a sieve, Mel has put some chemicals in it but after a while it comes back. The gunk doesn't smell, but sure looks weird. We should put fish in again, but one of our cats is an excellent fisher and they don't last long.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Coping with the heat

Yesterday's cinema visit turned out to be an idea that quite a few other people had to escape the heat. The air conditioning there was not exactly arctic, but enough and the film, "Memoirs of a geisha", was a nice diversion. For me it was wonderful to see the replica of the 1920's geisha district and gardens, the Japanese interiors, kimonos etc, but if you don't especially have an interest in that and haven't read the book, I'd say it was a film you could cross off your list of films to see.

My sons chose to stay home and watch our DVD of "Mon oncle", by the genius Jacques Tati. His films have been a family favorite for years, and we have often watched an old taped recording from the tv when the weather was too hot to do much else. But last year we bought the DVD edition of all his films, and this is a great improvement. It is so rewarding to see your children latch onto something that you yourself have cherished over the years, and something that few of their peers would have even heard of, at that. I love to see them together - they are such good friends, share interests, even though they are so very different from each other. Observing their closeness has been one of the big pluses of parenthood.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Hotter 'n Hades - Part Two

Melbourne is set to reach 43 today - yesterday was ONLY 40. (Here's a nifty unit converter for all sorts of measurements). I will be taking frequent dips in the pool and will go to see "Memoirs of a geisha" at the 1 p.m. showing in an air conditioned cinema. As I sit here typing, my fingers are sticking to the keyboard. Techie son, just now, has stopped at my study door to admonish me for having my computer on! And this from someone whose room is often 10 degrees hotter than the rest of the house because he leaves his computer on all day.

I'm turning off the computer now and heading for the pool. Haven't had a chance to make my usual round of blogs so there will be some catching up to do when the cool change comes through.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Ginger plant flowering

The ginger plants are now in flower and the scent is wafting onto the veranda. I wish there were a way to make a file of aromas so you could click on a link to smell the flowers, just like you can upload voice and video files to hear and watch...

These flowers are about 30 cm (12 in). We've had the plants for more than 30 years. They were in our first garden, and we brought rhizomes with us to each new garden. Gives a very tropical look. You can also see a birds nest fern on the left, and a (struggling) tree fern on the right. Too much competition from the 40 year old elm!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Virtual Japanese garden tour

Inspired by a recent post by Susan (Takoma Gardener), I thought I'd offer a link to another virtual garden tour that I enjoy so much. Given my interest in Japanese gardens, I often "visit" this one in Seattle and it also includes soothing Japanese music. You need a good internet connection.

You can find a lot of good sites (and spend much time) by googling "japanese gardens", but probably the best place to start out is to visit the excellent Japanese Garden Database. Although it doesn't seem to have been updated for a while, the links from its various pages are very useful. I also like the Bowdoin College website on Japanese gardens.

I also love Japanese interiors and furniture - this is a cabinet from the 1930s that we bought a couple of years ago.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Castlemaine Festival of Gardens

Every year at the beginning of November we go up to Castlemaine in the goldfields region for the garden festival. We try to visit as many gardens as we can in the 3 or 4 days we have off. 2005 was no exception.

I took a whole album of photos with the digital camera and the other day was wondering how I can turn it into something for the internet. Rather than posting them here, or alternatively in the photo gallery my ISP provides, I decided to play around with the features available through the free software Picasa2. If you have a digital camera and haven't downloaded Picasa2 yet, you are missing out on a great freebie. It allows you to organise your photos quickly and easily, create slideshows, screensavers, collages, even "movies", as well as websites. You can view all your photos in a timeline too which is quite interesting.

Anyway, back to the website I created. I haven't fiddled around with it too much, just added captions to most of them before uploading to the internet. I'd have to learn more about it to get it exactly the way I'd want it to look, but it's not bad for a few minutes' work. Click here!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Feeding frenzy

I love going out to eat with people who really enjoy their food, and as usual, those Pope girls do not disappoint. Especially Phine (aka the Food-Phine) - last night she finished off her pizza while we were still working on ours, and then had the nerve to ask if we were going to finish our pizzas!

And here's me, looking just plain silly.

These photos were taken with the tiniest mobile phone (and "enhanced" with some software by me), and I hate to say it, but I can see how this type of thing (camera phones) has become so popular.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

My bedside library

Cowtown Pattie left a comment in my New Year's resolution post about bedside reading:
"My bedside always has a pile of books by it (please, no dusting!). I get on a "jag" with a particular author sometimes..."

I can so relate to this. There's a good chance that if you've liked one book by an author, you'll like other things they've written. But that's just the start. What about books ABOUT the author? A biography or autobiography that will set the scene for why an author might have written what they did. And then there's all the stuff OTHER people have written about the author and their works. One of my favorite things to do is to follow up a historical event which has featured in a book I've read, and again Cowtown Pattie set me off on a tangent when she recommended the book "Crow Dog : four generations of Sioux medicine men" by Leonard Crow Dog and Richard Erdoes. After reading that book I now have to do some reading about Wounded Knee. And so it goes.

So how fortuitous it was that the house we bought 11 years ago has built in bedside bookshelves. And to think we were going to rip them out, along with the built in drawers, just so we could fit in our own furniture. Glad we didn't do that!

Here is a fairly modest collection, which includes what I'm currently reading ("On beauty" by Zadie Smith), "Dharma Bums" by Kerouac which I want Mel to read, and "On the road" because now I have to catch up on Kerouac, the new Doctorow book ("The March"), and for complete fun and charm, Alexander McCall Smith's "the Sunday Philosophy Club". I hope it's as good as his first series, "The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency" - Mel and I both devoured the whole series.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Gardening in the library

Did you know?: when librarians get rid of superceded, out of date stuff from the collection, it's called "weeding", and that's what I've been doing in the reference collection these last couple of days before I go on leave.

This is a much dreaded task but can be very satisfying and even entertaining once you get stuck into it. First hurdle is to find a spare trolley (hot property in library circles) which you can then trundle out into the collection and hope that no students are gathered within shhhhh-distance of the targeted Dewey numbers. Wouldn't want them to think we're spying on them. It's always a good idea to dress appropriately, clothing that doesn't show all the dust and dirt (uh oh, there's that old dust problem again). Then there are the gems you inevitably find, such as the riveting All India Fax Directory of 1992. And one can always hope to find a cataloguing error to gleefully bring to the attention of cataloguing staff. Not much chance of that though, our cataloguing division is pretty on the ball.

At the end of this gardening stint there should be a bit more room in the collection, although students will continue to ignore the print collection anyway and look for anything online (don't even mention Wikipedia). And sure enough, as soon as an item has gone into storage, someone will come to the information desk and ask to see that item.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

New Year's resolutions - NOT

As in other years, I have thought about turning over a new leaf in certain aspects of my life, and that isn't confined to just the new year. I suppose the most consistent resolution-in-waiting is to do better in the housekeeping department. In another post I talked briefly about my attitude to dusting, but in terms of priority I place much more importance on having a tidy, uncluttered look, without taking that too far. Instead of sweeping things under the rug, I'd rather get rid of the rug and not have to lift it in the first place. There's always something else I'd rather do. To paraphrase a bumper sticker you used to see: "I'd rather be reading!".

Speaking of which, I haven't updated my "Currently reading..." section lately. Not that I haven't been reading (as if!) but I just haven't been taken with any one book lately. That is, until today when I borrowed Zadie Smith's "On beauty". I started reading it at lunch and can tell already that it will be a ripper.

There I go, even in the blogosphere I can be distracted from domestic things by reading, which tends to happen in my real life. And now I have blogging which is another distraction. But as much as I admire people who do such a nice job in keeping their houses clean, I myself am just not into it. So this will remain a resolution-in-waiting, I think. And I'll close with a quote from Rebecca West, novelist: "Hatred of domestic work is a natural and admirable result of civilisation." I take heart from this.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

International House reunion

Today there was a reunion of people who had stayed in International House while studying at the University of California at Berkeley. This is where Mel and I met in 1969, and so is an important part of our personal history. I-House, as it is commonly called, is a world under one roof, and we have great memories of our time there and people we met. Just can't believe it was that long ago!

Here I am with Donna Rosenthal, who was at I House when Mel and I were there.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Having a planty tanty

First an explanation of tanty: it's the Aussie abbreviation for "tantrum", so you "throw a tanty". Well, if Tom Jones can have a panty tanty as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald a few years ago, then I'm allowed a planty tanty, just a minor rant about modern garden trends.

What is happening to gardens these days? Is it happening only in Australia? And I find it doubly bad that it's happening here in Victoria, which used to be known as The Garden State.

Gardens are under siege from 1) the drought (can't do much about Mother Nature), 2) the modern trend to build big houses that extend practically to all boundaries, leaving little space for gardens, and 3) another trend to multiple plantings all of the same type, in straight lines no less. Boring! And downright silly too, when they trim bushes to have little pom-poms on top, like a head on a stick-like neck atop a roly poly bush. Ridiculous! These "gardens" are done by landscaping companies that buy the plants in bulk and just fill the space. And that is the extent of the "garden". Soul-less.

Having fewer trees to shade houses, very important in the Australian sun, is made worse by modern houses having no verandas, eaves or other type of overhang, making people even more reliant on using air conditioners to keep cool.

Are these trends happening elsewhere? End of tanty.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Borrowed scenery

Using the Japanese concept of borrowed scenery (what you can see beyond your own boundaries/fencelines), we try to remember to look at and appreciate what others have planted and which add to our own landscape. So far we have been very lucky in that regard, but modern gardening trends do not auger well. This will be the topic of a future rant, but for now, here are some photos of what I took in this morning's gentle light. The photos just don't do justice to what the eye sees - maybe I'll have to upgrade the camera...

First photo: looking west as the rising sun lights up some trees two and three gardens away from ours.

This is the Norfolk Island Hibiscus in the neighbors' garden. It gets these purple flowers which attract the noisy wattle birds (usually before the alarm has gone off). The ground is littered with the husks of the flowers after the birds have finished with them. The last photo is north facing, and the tallest tree in the back neighbors' garden turns lovely colors in the autumn. The umbrella shaped tree just to the left of our garden house, currently with yellow blossoms, is an unknown to us, and creates lots of seedlings (to weed out), but it's mirrored by one in the garden to the east, and they look a treat.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Summer garden

New garden arch, looking towards the house

Looking away from the house towards the street

Chairs facing outwards towards garden

Ourside our bedroom door - nice place for afternoon tea and looking at the garden

garden house and in the last photo, you can just see the screened in veranda

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Hotter 'n Hades

Back from our trip: Geelong was balmy - lovely walking along the waterfront under the palm trees after dinner. Steiglitz - fascinating old gold mining ghost town - nearly got heat stroke from a walk we thought would take only an hour through a forest, wound up walking back along the road - no shade - took nearly two hours. Val's face turns alarming shade of red (sorry, no photos of that sight). Booked into a motel in Ballarat - number one priority: has to have a pool! Evening in Ballarat - pleasant temperature - we walk around and admire the 19th century architecture before and after dinner. Next day take heat-avoiding action - shop for needed cooking gear in department store (did I mention it was air conditioned?). Next night camp at our place near Castlemaine - hot; next day in Bendigo - hotter.

The most consistent aspect of our road trip was that it was HOT (have I mentioned that?), although we did manage to escape the heat via air conditioned car and motels, dips in motel pools and in a swimming hole in a river near our bush block, and spending a couple of hours in the superbly air conditioned Bendigo Art Gallery (which had a wonderful Cecil Beaton exhibition on). The daytime temperature in Bendigo hit 42 and was so dry, we didn't sweat - any moisture was burnt off the skin immediately.

New Year's Eve in Bendigo was exceptionally hot (it was still in the high 30s at midnight) and the fireworks were in danger of being cancelled due to the high fire danger. But they did go ahead, and we sat on the lawn on a hill below where the fireworks were launched - it was a great sight and sound show. We had only two minutes to walk back to the air conditioned motel room and a good night's sleep before heading back home today.

One important thing we've learned from our micro mini road trip is that we should not travel in summer when we go on our long road trip...

Sitting under a grass tree. This was just before we discovered that we'd missed a turnoff on our walk. If we hadn't turned back, we would have wound up on a track taking 3 days to walk, and it went nowhere near roads or reliable water.

More photos of our trip in my photo gallery. Click each photo to enlarge, or view as a slideshow.