Friday, December 28, 2012

And now a word from the boss

As 2012 draws to an end, mum said I could have another guest appearance on her blog. Her blog?? It's got my picture on it not hers!! She wasn't too happy when she found out I'd hacked her account last time, but she eventually saw the funny side.

Mum's been a bit sad lately, because she keeps hearing about other dogs who have passed on. I think she's getting in practice for when I go, because let's face it, those stairs can be a bit of an effort for an old girl like me, and mum notices these things and gets mighty upset. When I have bad days, when the old arthritis gives me the gyps, she even cries!! I give her a bit of a lick and try and comfort her a little, but mostly, I just climb up on the spare bed downstairs and snooze the day away.

We don't go for many walks anymore, which kind of pisses me off, because I like the beach lots. My favourite thing is rolling on my back in the wet sand, here's a video:
Of course sometimes I do get a bit sore if I overdo it, but I'm pretty cruisy these days, just stroll along taking my time, checking the smells and tree mail. Mum tries to get me to go swimming, but I'm pretty wise to that one and run away. Trouble is, she's too wily for me, and she ends up tricking me by catching me, carrying me in to the water and then holding onto my hips while I try to swim back into shore. And she has the nerve to call it physiotherapy. More like humiliation!!

Because I'm such a slow coach, mum's taken to disappearing every morning while I'm still sleeping and going running by herself. I was pissed off at first, but now I just enjoy the sleep in, and when she returns I lazily stir, and think, "oh, been out exercising have you?" and go back to sleep. Aah the life!

Because of the gammy hips, mum's been taking me to the vet, which I hate, for injections and medicine. I admit they help, but mum has to force me in through those doors. I mean the place smells horrid, they seem to delight in sticking things up my arse, and they are far too stingy with the liver treats!! I'm a centenarian, give me some respect!!

Talking about respect, I've got a new little nipper causing me a few headaches. My mates next door, the gang that I stay with when mum goes away and whose verandah I like to sit on most days, have gone and got themselves a new puppy. I was pretty annoyed at first, so I chewed a shoe just to let them know my feelings, and then they went and put up the gates and locked me out!! Guess I shouldn't have chewed the shoe after all....

Maggie's not a bad young thing. She's small enough I could probably eat her in two mouthfuls, and although she persists in jumping all over me, especially jumping up in my face which is incredibly annoying, I'm being the older stateswoman. I've given her a couple of little growls, but mostly I'm just ignoring her. We've played down the beach a few times - she quite enjoys the meandering smelling game too - we've chewed a few sticks together, and she's even been over here a few times while the gang are out. Let's just say, I'm tolerating her youthful exuberance! And teaching her who's boss. Besides, I don't think she's that smart, she'll need someone like me to teach her the ropes.

Mum didn't take me camping down at Coros this year, which I don't really mind. It's nice and cool on the tiled floor in the bathroom, or downstairs on the spare bed, and these days I find I don't cope too well with the heat. Boy it's a bummer getting old!

Anyway, that's enough of my banging on about all my aches and pains. Mum didn't think I'd make it through to this summer, but here I am, still in good nick and loving life. I want to wish you all a happy 2013, when I'll be turning 15 and planning on keeping mum happy too. But you know, whatever happens happens, and it's so important to be thankful for what you've got. And I've got the best mum evah!!


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Regaining inspiration

The great joy of all this time off is being able to indulge my creative side. I may be a boring old scientific type in my day job, but I'm also quite an artistic soul as well. I love arranging objects and stuff into pleasing arrangements, and finding new uses for discarded junk. I used to subscribe to quite a few house and garden magazines for inspiration, but for a long time I haven't really found the time to even look at these things online.

Many years ago I was heavily into videography, particularly underwater video, and got pretty good at it. But I never upgraded to HD, and also never finished editing all that footage into something watchable. It's something I intend to revisit, especially those clips that I can now recompress to a larger file size for better quality online viewing. And then there's the small matter of the five hours of African Safari footage......

Before video, I was into photography, back in the day before digital. I still have a film SLR camera and have recently unearthed it, ordered a new battery and some film, and intend to muck around a little with it. Why bother, you ask, when I also have 2 digital SLR cameras and a slew of lenses (most fit the film SLR also!) would I bother with film? And why did I just buy a Holga camera for Xmas??

The answer is inspiration, mainly gained through following a podcast and online masterclasses run by an American chap, Ted Forbes, called Art of Photography. He's not about gear and equipment, but getting you to be inspired, to think about what sort of photos you want to take, and to step back from the shotgun approach that digital photography inevitably leads to. I like his honesty, his knowledge, and the fact that the site is not just a front for sponsored advertisements. Check it out.

Anyway, I've been going through the archived Masterclasses and have found the exercises really inspiring, so in this post I'm going to show you what I went through in trying to get a shot I wanted. None of the shots I'll show you have had any post production editing, and yes, they are all taken on a digital SLR.

So the exercise was to pick an object, and spend at least an hour trying to find a way to make a really good shot, something unique or unexpected. Think about mood, lighting, setting, motion, what to add, what to take away, and both write down ideas in a journal as well as actually take shots with the camera.

I chose my Canon EOS 50D SLR with my 60mm EFS macro lens, to take a picture of a toy car. I mounted the camera on a tripod, and I used lighting from a LED desk lamp. The photos were taken at night.

The toy car is a Trabant 601, which was a classic car in East Germany back in the 1980s. It ran with a two stroke engine, sounded like a souped up lawnmower, and spewed dirty pollution everywhere. It was an archetypical symbol of Cold War communist Europe. I'd picked up my toy car in Berlin when I visited in summer 1990, and had strong, if not totally fond, memories of these little cars chugging up behind me as I cycled through the recently liberated East German countryside. My toy came mounted in a box commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall in Nov 1989, but I threw away the box years ago.

The idea was to photograph the car juxtaposed with a symbol of the commercial capitalist society of today, and what else could symbolise this better than the Apple logo? Great concept, just got to realise it.

I started by taking photos of the Trabi sitting on the surface of my Apple MacBook Air. I tried lots of different angles, lighting directions, and aperture settings and although I was happy with some of the shots of the car, I couldn't get the Apple logo to stand out the way I wanted. And without that, well it just looked like a picture of a car right?

It took me a while to realise that one big problem was that the silver top of the MacBook was reflecting far too much light back onto the composition and adversely affecting the exposures and hence the contrast. Even with exposure compensation I was blowing too many highlights. What could I use instead?

My iPhone of course! With its black shiny back it was the perfect foil, and so I took a few more shots but still felt I wasn't really getting much more than a picture of a car, plus I hadn't quite managed to get the logo into shot.

So I decided to turn the iPhone on its side and use it as a backdrop. Then I noticed the reflection of the car in the black screen, so I took a few shots of car plus reflection, and then the Eureka moment happened.

I didn't need to photograph the car at all.

Only its reflection!!

So here it is. Shot at f22 for a 30 second exposure. The only lighting is from a LED desk lamp coming from about 11 o'clock, i.e. upper left side. The phone is angled back diagonally, in order not to get the reflection of the camera in shot, but also to achieve the desired focal depth of field. You'll also notice, if you compare it with the photo just above, I masked the reflection of writing (a telephone book) by popping a piece of white paper in front of the book.

What I love about this photo is it actually looks like a modern cover for an iPhone, but it's not! I love that the car isn't quite in focus although the Apple logo and writing are perfectly clear and the car fits well between them. I like how the right hand side of the phone is out of shot and the shadow of the car also extends off shot, as if the car really might be just driving through. I also love the lighting, very moody and film noir, it creates for me the imagery of cold war Europe, clandestine spies and all that! The background has worked out really well, with the shadowy lines looking like they just might be buildings or something - in fact it's the bars from the top of the staircase where my desk resides in a little nook.

I've really enjoyed this little exercise and I have Ted and his podcast to thank for it. It's inspired me to take my time thinking about taking good shots, by spending the time composing and experimenting rather than just shooting and seeing. And I've dusted off the film camera as well!

I hope this inspires others to have a go doing this exercise, it's alot of fun. And I'd love people to leave comments about what they think about this photo.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Garden notes, Dec 2012

One of the most enjoyable things about not working has been nurturing the vege garden, and eating the fruits of my labour. It's awesome being able to walk outside and pick what I'm having for each meal. Add eggs, or some chick peas or lentils and rice, and that's it. Sure I have to buy in dry goods groceries, but mostly, I'm eating out of the garden.

Let me show you around what's growing right now.

The eggplant (aubergine) plants are fruiting nicely. The other night I made a baked eggplant dish with onion, garlic, cinnamon, cumin, star anise, paprika and chickpeas. I quickly rushed outside to snip a capsicum off the bush to add a crunchy bit of greenery. Yummo!

I've quite a few self seeded pumpkin plants this year, due to my previous habit of throwing out the seeds in the compost. These days I dry fry the seeds with salt and spices for a very yummy snack, or add them to another dish: last night it was baked pumpkin with chickpeas and quite a bit of chilli. I've just seen a nice pumpkin and lentil curry soup recipe, so I think I'll make that this weekend.
 My love of asian food means I grow quite a few asian herbs, spices and veges. I'll take you on a bit of a tour:

This is kangkung, or water spinach. I bought some from the farmers markets, kept back a few stalks and planted them in a pot, which then sits in another tub full of water. Once the pond is up and running I'll pop it in there. There are a few mossie wrigglers in the tub at present, just waiting for a promised donation of a goldfish to turn up to decimate them!

I bought a mixed seedling pack of different chilli varieties a year or so ago, and some have done well, others not so. I've actually forgotten what's what, so my chilli dishes are often more, or less, hot than I'm expecting. Even with my usual chilli input of at least two per dish, I'm more often disappointed in the lack of heat than the other way around. My chilli palate is so far outside the realm of almost anyone I know that I usually only serve chillies on the side when I have guests. Anyway, with all those chillis in the garden I've got even more self seeding and new plants popping up all over the place.

Lemongrass is one of my favourite herbs, but must be foreign to Estonian house sitters, because all four plants had disappeared when I returned from New Zealand, I presume pulled out as weeds. Luckily, due to an ongoing divide and share policy with the lemongrass plant from next door, I now have a new plant thriving.

The Kaffir lime is putting on more leaves, but I've had to spray it for citrus leaf miner, which does dreadful damage if not kept under control. I found a biological oil to use rather than petroleum. No sign of fruiting yet though.

While we're on fruit, the dragon fruit plants are all thriving. I think next year should be my first year to expect fruit. Although the fruit look great, they don't really taste of much, which is a pity, but I love the plant itself for its architectural beauty regardless. I've got both red and white fruit plants growing, lets see which delivers first!

The mango is liking its spot in the front yard. It's a more practical position than up in the backyard because I can nurture and protect it from the winds and pests. It had a touch of scale which needed some removing and spraying too. New growth this week, so I'm happy.

The asparagus is over for the year. A small crop this season saw me having a few asparagus and chive omelettes for breakfast. Am hoping for a much bigger supply next year.

By the time I got back from NZ the spinach had all gone to seed, so I collected it, and planted out some. I plan to do successive plantings over the next few months and get some greenery for salads. If I grow it in the shadier spots, hopefully it will survive long enough.

I planted a few more carrots when I got home in September, but am still harvesting from a crop sown earlier this year. The quality and taste of home grown carrots is by far superior to anything you buy in a shop. And you get some pretty whacky shapes as well!!

I'm between tomato crops at present, with lots of new self seeded plants popping up here and there and being transplanted into position. I've a few older plants which have only green fruit at present, so I should be back in supplies in a couple of weeks.

I've one surviving zucchini plant, which is being a little slack at producing fruit, so I may need to get out the paintbrush and do some fertilising. Given the amount of insects in my garden it's surprising that I'd have to resort to this, but I do love a zucchini and mushroom quiche...

I've lettuce plants coming out my ears. Most have gone to seed, and I'll be deadheading and collecting seed this weekend. Again, successive seeding seems to be the best approach.

I'm trying cucumbers again. The growers at the market have advised me to only grow them in shade, apparently they just curl up in the sun. I've grown them before, but can't remember whether they were well shaded or not, so we'll see how they go, as my shade moves throughout the day.

Last week I planted watermelon seeds, and the little seedlings have emerged. They're a variety that produces small fruits that fit nicely in the fridge veg drawer, so I'm looking forward to them in a few months.
I've recently struck some mint cuttings, again from herbs bought at the market so, along with my myriad supplies of Italian parsley, I shall be eating Tabouli forever! I also have okra seeds, one of my favourite vegetables for adding to curries so they shall be sown this weekend also.

I've not yet resurrected the chook run to make it safe against fox attacks and get some new hens, so I'm still buying eggs. They're local free range eggs from up the road, so I'm at least doing the right thing ethically. But hopefully by this time next year I'll have chooks again, and my own eggs.

Anyway, it's lunchtime, time to go enjoy some home grown food! Bon appetit!!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

And now for the pictures

Please forgive me for this post if it bores the pants off you, but I'm pretty proud of myself for taking on a building project like this and actually having some success. Sure I did a small solar conversion on the camper trailer last year and I've put up alot of shelves, but I've also had some pretty spectacular disasters too (who can forget the water tank stand debacles?) so I'm not that confident in my ability to do things around the house without a bloke. But then I thought, what part of the Y chromosome identifies for ability to build a retaining wall and make cement render? After all, what's Google for, except to replace the often uninformed, but well meaning, advice of said bloke! I don't have any friends who have built an Earthship here in Geraldton, so tyre experience isn't exactly heavy on the ground, and I also am yet to meet anyone who believes it is possible to make cement render by hand. Seriously guys (and I mean you men) it aint that hard to mix up in a wheelbarrow if you just make small batches at a time.

So I thought I'd show you some photos with a bit of a running commentary. We'll start with a before shot:
What my backyard looked like before I started, yep I had to remove alot of vegetation even before I started!
After digging out the sandhill a bit, the next step was laying down the tyres and then filling them with the sand I had just dug out. Great upper body and core muscle workout.
After two days I have a very small wall
Then add seating

A local I disturbed in the process
A tip I learnt (thanks youtube!) is to put cardboard in the bottom of the tyres to stop the sand falling out where they interlock with the ones below them.
A spot for the water feature and some steps as well
Another view of the steps

Boy this is hard work, I need a rest!
After the basic layout, the lot gets covered in chicken wire, secured on with tech screws. and the gaps filled with wine bottles and cans donated by friends, neighbours and, um, a little dumpster diving..
Filling the gaps with more garbage - yes I did drink all that wine, but the cans are all donated!
The next step is rendering. This was the step I felt least confident about because there's like some chemistry involved and everyone made me think the whole mixing process was going to be horrific. But let me tell you, after filling that many tyres with sand and packing them down, mixing a bit of render in a wheelbarrow is child's play.
First layer of render
The difficulty was in getting the structure to look  half decent, which meant doing a number of layers of render. And once I got some decent gloves, my hands thanked me as well.
before I sorted out the safety gear
The next layer looked something like this
Beginning to take shape
Further refinements
I added a little lip above the seating area, using a bit of wire, and an old sheet filled up with sand then rendered over. Amazing what you can do with scraps of old stuff!
A lip added so I can stop the soil flowing over onto the seating.
My gosh, almost looks professional, if a bit folksy
And finally it looks something like this
There's still the other side of the wall to do, but I've run out of tin cans for the time being and need to wait for the neighbours to consume and donate, so I'm going to leave rendering that side for now. I've been very lucky with the weather, which has stayed mid to low 20s all week, but next week it will begin to hit the mid 30s so I'm hoping to have this cured before then. Then I'll paint it and seal it.

So there you have it. By the way, the black tubing is for piping water from the future pond up to the top of the waterfall. I smartly thought of that and made sure I put in the plumbing beforehand.

For a few more pictures, you can check out this photo album

Sunday, November 18, 2012

11 years of neglect

I've had this house for 11 years and aside from removing an old shed and putting in a chook pen I've left the backyard alone. Mainly because it's a huge overgrown sandhill and tackling this space was going to be the hardest thing I'd do in the garden. So I concentrated on everything else. But now that I've pretty well sorted the front and both sides there's no excuse left for ignoring it. Particularly when I've got time on my hands.

The land my house is on was part of a parcel of land which was leased out to individuals to build houses on. People paid a peppercorn rent and built some rather interesting homes, mainly because most of the original leaseholders were either low income earners or building a holiday home. Many houses were relocated railway workers cottages, others were owner builds from reclaimed building materials, others were properly designed and built by a registered builder. It has created an enclave with a rather different feel from your bog standard modern subdivision, and has become highly desirable in real estate terms. No doubt as time progresses we will see more of the houses removed and modern monstrosities erected in their place, but so far all the recent renovations have been done well and have merely added character to our little patch at old Drummonds.

Because the land wasn't formally subdivided there were no services put onto the blocks and certainly no levelling and retaining of the sanddune on which the blocks are built. Initially there was no scheme water (it arrived in 1984), with original leaseholders relying on rainwater and trucking water when that ran out. Gradually services got provided and when the freehold subdivision went through in 2008 we got underground power and infill sewerage, meaning the power poles got removed and my view improved exponentially!

The road in front climbs to the top of the sandhill then follows along the crest of it, with houses on both sides. Between the houses on the top of the dune and me halfway down it is a very steep slope made of sand. Luckily it is predominantly vegetated and doesn't flow down onto my levelled building pad when we get torrential rainfall. But it is slowly encroaching.

When I bought the house, there was a tin shed next to the water tank on a concrete slab. The back wall of the shed was bowed inwards by sand. Since I got rid of the shed that sand has not stayed put, but fallen down onto the concrete slab and will continue to encroach whilst it remains unretained. It's not a big deal because it's an area I rarely use, only venturing round the back to put washing on the line or gather ripe mulberries. But it's a pretty awesome potential site for an entertaining area.

Over the last few weeks I have become a regular at the tyre place, loading up the car with old tyres and preventing them from ending in landfill. Though I guess my use for them is landfill too!! Each tyre is stacked and filled with sand, and slowly a wall, steps and seating is emerging. Plus a channel for a waterfall into a pond, and a site for a brick pizza oven.

Once the basic structure is in place, the tyres are covered with chicken wire, the gaps filled with old wine bottles and aluminium cans, and the whole lot cement rendered. It's incredibly low tech, but the tyres filled with sand interlock to make a superbly engineered wall that will have no trouble retaining the sand behind it. And aside from the render and chicken wire, the building materials are all free!

This is my summer project. So far the basic structure is in place, the wire cladding and gap filling has begun, and next week I'll start rendering.

Am sure getting a good workout doing this!!

Monday, November 5, 2012

First Tuesday in November

It's an incredibly important day tomorrow. It's so important that the whole country stops. If only for 3 minutes, but for many it's a day off to go to the races. Yes, tomorrow is Melbourne Cup Day, the richest horse race in the world.

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the Pacific Ocean an inconsequential country is having an election tomorrow. This country tends to consider itself really important, uses bullying tactics on alot of other countries around the world, doesn't really give a shit about anyone's interests but it's own, and it's people are one of the most parochial the world over. They say less than 15% own a passport, and the only place they've ever travelled outside their borders is to some small tropical islands to their south (apparently they don't need a passport for that) where they stay in air conditioned condos and don't really have much to do with the locals.

Now the trouble with this country is that it is such a media tart! Anything that happens over there and we hear all about it. I don't mean natural disasters and the like, but detailed following of an election campaign between two rich guys to be the "Leader of the Free World"!

The trouble with being an outsider, in particular one from a British ex colony, is I just don't get America. It seems to run on the idea that everyone works hard for a living and that if you don't, well tough titties. That the market will sort that out. That government isn't to be trusted, it shouldn't tell you what you can and can't do, and it certainly shouldn't interfere in the money making that can be made by the private sector, and in particular shouldn't interfere with health care. This I have a huge problem with. In America, if you have a well paid job then you usually have health insurance, but many casual and lower paid jobs you're on your own. If you don't have a job, there's no guarantee that the government will help you, and the fact is that if you're poor, you have more health problems than a rich person. It really does appal me that people die in America from diseases because they can't afford treatment. I mean I know that happens in poor developing countries....

Now the problem with business running health care, is that costs get blown out. The US pays more than any other country in the world for medicine for instance, whereas a regulated system like Australia pays the least. Every Australian has access to free health care in hospitals, regardless of income, and the government restricts the costs also. But there's still a private sector, where the costs are approx 2.5 times the public sector, yet the quality of care is not appreciably different. In fact private health cover in Australia only gives you a private room and a better meal, and a shorter waiting time for your elective operation. That's all you get for all those out of pocket extra costs. The best specialists and researchers will work in both systems, with the majority of their work in the well funded, university affiliated teaching hospitals. Of course everyone complains that they need more money, but there's no evidence that our health statistics in Australia are worsening as a result of poor health care. And if you're sick, you don't die because you can't afford the treatment.

In America, as I said, the market runs health care. The insurance companies decide who and how much, not the patient, not the referring doctor. And if you're not insured but aren't bottomed out derelict, bad luck. I have no idea about the quality of care within the public sector, I'm assuming it is quite good, but it is only available for some, not all.

The current presidential incumbent tried to introduce universal healthcare which as a concept is a total no brainer. However, it does appear to me that some people didn't actually agree that a rich country like America should give people that. I personally think that's reprehensible, and anyone who thinks that should maybe be drowned or something! Sorry!

On the other hand, I can certainly understand opposition to the cost of it. Remember, this is a country that seems to have a major aversion to paying any other tax besides sales tax, and yet somehow wants to have services like a big mother of an international war machine defence force, well maintained roads for their gas guzzlers, subsidised fuel too, shall I go on? I would imagine that trying to retrofit a universal healthcare system onto an inefficient, money guzzling private health care sector would be a nightmare, and yes it would appear that it would cost a squillion!! And who's gonna pay for that? Certainly not American tax payers who don't believe in "big government", whatever the fuck that is!

I only have to look in my own backyard to concede that the three levels of government we have in Australia are in some areas excessive, with needless duplication, dog fights over funding, huge wastes on consultants, government committees etc etc. Not to mention the fact that with our over regulation we have become a nanny state, where individuals expect the government to come up with the solutions to all our problems. For instance, in Australia the mining companies seem to think it's the government's job to train workers to work on its mines! Why the fuck can't they spend some money training them themselves, especially given the huge profits they're making. On the other hand, I love the American attitude to problem solving, the entrepreneurial, can do attitude where business and the private sector comes up with its own solutions, not always for the greater good though...

Back to healthcare. I'm no economist, but if the US government was able to control the health sector, then they could also control the price. This would make it cheaper for everyone in the long run, once the government had reconciled between the past and the future. But with big business, OK read big fat pharma corporations, standing to lose out big time, there is no way that a country like the US will get universal healthcare. Of course a financial meltdown and people out of jobs isn't going to encourage punters to pay more taxes to fund something either. But, this outsider believes that while you let the top end of town decide who lives and dies, while you don't have the balls to put your hand in your pocket and say "hey! this matters, this is important, maybe just sometimes we ought to trust government to get this right and pay a bit more". But you won't, because Americans have a mindset that I just don't get.

Ah the land of the free. The world's greatest democracy. Bullshit!! With less than 65% of eligible voters likely to vote (estimates are that 90 million people won't vote), you've got to wonder how democratic it is when 40% of people are so disenfranchised that they don't engage in the political process. That's alot of people that could make a big difference either way.

I live in one of the few countries in the world where voting is compulsory. Yes, the democratic process isn't voluntary, it's expected. Remember we're a nanny state right? I'm a huge supporter of this particular standpoint though, because it means that everyone of eligible voting age is going to turn up on election day and vote. If they don't they get a fine of $20, which some people who choose to not get involved can pay to absolve themselves of their democratic responsibilities. The rest of us turn up and vote. Rich, poor, young, old, whatever.

What this means is that although certain sections of Australian society are also disenfranchised, they have voting power. It means politicians have to take the poor, the indigenous, the marginalised into consideration if they want to gain or stay in office. Sure there is potential for corruption, but I'd argue that our political system is less corrupt than the US system when it comes to fundraising and kickbacks. And in the US, if you're in a community that doesn't vote, you think the politicians are going to even bother campaigning in your area? No point right?

I'd also argue that compulsory voting probably forces people to follow politics a bit more, and I'm yet to meet more than a handful of people who vehemently oppose "being forced to vote". There's always going to be donkey voters, those who invalidate their vote by scrawling abuse over the voting paper, and those who refuse to turn up, but I doubt they would account for more than 10% of all voters. Everyone else has their democratic say, feels proud that they've said it, and can spend the next four years complaining bitterly on Alan Jones' talkback radio show that they "didn't vote for that bitch!" Now that's democracy!

So tomorrow, the powerful and the educated and informed of America will vote. As will the rednecks, the hardliners, the extremists, and all those politically aware. The rest, particularly those who haven't succeeded in the great American dream, who've maybe been hit hard by the financial crisis and don't believe their vote will make a difference, will stay at home. Won't exercise their democratic right, won't tell Obama what they think of his presidency, won't have a say about who runs the place for the next four years. It's sad, and it ain't democracy.

Back in Australia, nanny state, free healthcare, compulsory voting, financial stability, strong currency, great weather, we're gonna put on the fancy dress and hat, guzzle some champagne, and have our yearly bet on the horses.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Scratched! or how I beat the behemoth and lived to tell the tale

I'll let you into a secret: one of the great joys of not working is having time to do everything else. I mean that sounds really obvious doesn't it, but most people just don't get it. When you're working right, you have this big list of things you have to get done. Mostly those home and garden maintenance chores that you don't actually mind doing, but by the end of a work week you're just too plain fagged to really get in the hours needed to get them done. So you start on the weekend, don't manage to finish, and then the job stays half done for months on end as chore after chore seems to top it on the priority list. You're frustrated at it sitting there half done, staring at you, taunting you, making you feel guilty. Not to mention all the sarcastic remarks you may be getting from significant others. And no matter that the honest truth is you just don't have time hey?

Taking time off isn't the total answer, because when you have been working hard you need a holiday, you need to relax, recover from the stress of working and not feel pressured to get all those jobs done. Sure some people spend their holidays doing just that, and if heavy duty home landscaping is your way of relaxing from the stress of your work life, good on you. Just I prefer going skiing!!

Now that I'm back home, with a few months still left before I head back to work, I've drawn up a list of chores that need doing and I now have the time and energy to actually get them done. But it's not like I get up in the morning and put in a solid 10 hour day. God no!! It's much more organic than that!

I recently had a chat with my neighbour George, who is well and truly retired but leads a very active life revolving around a great garden, vege patch and home made wines and fortifieds. He and Pat reckon they've got enough Mulberry wine to get them through the rest of their lives, and they don't mind a wee dram first thing in the morning before the daily chores. No they aren't lushes, but a couple of old hippies ahead of their time, and I'm quite a fan of their ginger wine, mmm!! Anyway, George agrees that the way to be productive is to potter along, do a little of one chore, move on to another, maybe relax for a while with a beverage, read a book, spend some time on the internet (more Pat's realm than George's), then another chore and so on. And because you don't have just the weekend to finish the job, you start to see real progress. Yep, brick by brick that darn pyramid gets built!!

My current garden list has 16 items on it, and I've just hit the halfway mark. One of the really big ones was item number three, something I always considered a perhaps insurmountable challenge and it had, frankly, become kind of personal. Yep, that darn bougainvillea!

I'd had enough of the regular pruning. I was sick of the nasty scratches from the mother of all thorns. I realised that a paying tenant wouldn't keep it under control. It had to go. And just in case you have no idea how big a job this might be, pop over to this post from last year when I had my last attempt. When I'd given up in frustration after watching it all grow back again. After my neighbours had also risked life and limb helping me pull a huge amount of it down for council collection. Yep, a big job indeed. BTW, the photo above is from before last year's effort, I didn't let it get that bad again!

This time around I have time on my hands, and every Tuesday there's a bin to fill so week after week I have been cutting away at that bougainvillea and sending it to the tip. I may have sustained secateur blisters but it's all for the better good. I've had the joy of chainsawing some massive limbs (no, not mine!!) and have only the final stump to remove after drenching it with herbicide. Sometimes you've just gotta use poison folks!

And at last I can say with a great feeling of triumph and elation that the bougainvillea is no more!!

No more will I sustain inch deep puncture wounds to my fingers.

No longer will my arms be scratched and bleeding.

I won't have to repair the wheelbarrow inner tube again, or pick out numerous thorns from my thongs (they're rubber footwear you non Australians!)

And shadecloth over the pergola is so much easier!!

Now to move on to building that tyre wall....