Saturday, September 27, 2014

Reaping the fruits of an organic life

I've been plodding along in my veg patch for quite a few years now. I'm not sure when I first thought up the idea of cutting down old tin water tanks to use as raised beds, but I can tell you it was before Josh started touting the idea on Gardening Australia and then all the garden shops started selling ready made ones. I remember thinking "Ooh, you stole my idea!" that first time, though I'm sure I'm not the first to think of recycling water tanks in this way.

Sheridan cutting down the old rusting water tank that I replaced

over the years I've placed them in all sorts of configurations.

Even before the cut down tanks I'd decided to grow organic. My first vege patch did really well, probably because it was sited over the leach drain from the septic tank, but subsequent crops did poorly, as the water resistant sandy soil didn't hold nutrients. So going raised made more sense, and filling the tubs with organic matter hopefully would result in better water retention. In fact the initial tanks were like huge compost bins, rotting down all the waste greens from the garden with a heavy side serve of blood and bone and animal manure. And a little sand.

Only recently have I learned to add clay to my soil. This is the only way to retain the water, and hence the nutrients, and stop them draining away. My current strategy is to add clumping kitty litter (Coles Own Brand is the cheapest) in thin layers through the compost each time I turn and water it, which is approximately every 2 weeks. Thanks to Pauline, who began the process whilst house sitting whilst I was in Java, I've now made 3 full bins of beautiful moist humus to put on the garden.

turning waste into rich organic fuel for the garden

Turning and watering the compost results in a pretty quick turn around of garden waste into crumbly humus I can use on the garden. I'd say it takes between 2- 3 months over the winter, let's see how long it takes now the weather is warming up.

The warm weather means the coriander has bolted to seed, along with the lettuce, rocket and bok choy. So far, I've only collected the cos seed heads, and am waiting for the rocket and coriander to brown off before collecting.

rocket seed pods

Warmth also brings aphids into the garden, and this is where an organic garden starts to work its magic. First, you have to be prepared to lose a little to the aphids, and perhaps to eat a few when you cook up your kale. But then, magically, the aphids seem to have disappeared, and in their place are the predatory insects, like pretty little ladybirds, that love to devour aphids, and the tiny wasp that lays its eggs in aphids and their carcase becomes food for its young. Finally, the birds, that flitter in and out catching insects on the wing.

Before the aphids, snails and caterpillars could really go to town, I harvested a huge quantity of silver beet and kale, then washed, blanched and froze them in ziplock bags to use later in the year. I've also got a massive supply of dried chillies!!

huge basket of kale

then packaged into meal sizes and into the freezer

The recent rain caused an explosion of snails, which I just pick off the foliage and throw on the road for the birds and lizards to help themselves. No, no road kill so far, it's a quiet road...

The lizards and snakes have woken from their winter slumber, so daily encounters with stumpy tails aren't uncommon. Only one small snake encounter so far...

haven't seen this bungarra visiting the garden since 2007

I've been busy planting tomato seedlings, and am somewhat disappointed that I only managed to germinate one eggplant and 2 okra seedlings, so have seeded another tray and replanted my 3 successes into individual tubes to grow them on before planting them. Soon I'll be erecting the shade cloth over the garden as the temperatures begin to climb over 30 degrees. And spending my afternoons windsurfing...

some pretty unimpressive seedlings pricked out into individual planting tubes

Papaya are growing fruit - the hand pollination seems to have worked - and the asparagus have started sprouting.

I've also just planted a new row of beans on the driveway side of the fence. And yes, those skis looked stupid so I removed them and will find some other use for them. The fence looks much better without them, and will look even better with greenery all over it...

wee beans sprouting

Another little job I've been doing is to pave a small parking area off the driveway. I want to put my camper trailer here whilst I work on finishing the backyard. It can also be a parking area for overnight guests, or for when I convert the garage into a self contained apartment. Ah yes, many plans in the pipeline..

We've had some pretty impressive rainy storms in the last few weeks, which means my tanks are all full and overflowing, and the garden is really healthy. For some reason when it rains the veges grow twice as big in 2 days. My friend Julie at the Permaculture Nursery believes it's due to healthy bacteria in the rain, or maybe that treated scheme water doesn't have these anymore. I only water with rain water, but still, the stuff from the sky seems to come with steroids, so there must be something in what Julie says.

The self seeded pumpkins have begun to fruit, whereas Jack's pumpkin is still just stubbornly pushing out flowers. They are definitely quite different varieties from the size of the leaves, we shall just have to wait and see!

wonder what sort of pumpkins they are..

One cucumber plant has begun to put out lots of growth and begin flowering, the others are a bit slow. The warming weather should jivy them along, but powdery mildew is also present. My usual strategy is to remove the affected leaves and throw them in the bin, though I believe I should be throwing them in the garbage rather than the compost bin!!

I'm planting more zucchini seeds, hoping to get a crop that manages to survive a powdery mildew infestation. I'm also going to hand pollinate them this year -  I will probably do that with Jack's recalcitrant pumpkin as well.

Jack's pumpkin heading off on a wandering adventure...

Remember the mulberry tree that I pruned heavily and made a gate from? Well what was left went spectacularly mad and I now have a bumper crop of huge purple succulent berries. The branches are so heavy with fruit they are drooping!!

From this.....

to this!!

 Succulent berries

But watch where you tread, they make quite a mess!

Happy organic gardening!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ski goddess fitness challenge part 2

You know how it is. Book a trip somewhere fancy and then realise you need to be in shape before you get there. Whether it's in shape to cope with physically demanding activities, or in shape to look hot in a bikini, it's pretty well the same thing. Right now you are fat and flabby and that's not going to go down well on said booked holiday.

Vow to get fit/ get in shape. Publish your good intentions on your blog. Find a great 90 day exercise program and get going.

Yeah right!!

Start off doing daily exercises for 2 days. Feel good that you are really doing what you said you'd do. Then do no exercise for 3 days because you are just so damn tired from work. Then spend the following week and a half not doing anything either, even though you don't have any excuse except laziness for not getting back doing exercise.

Also fail to replace the blown out back tyre on your bike. Despite the fact that you bought a replacement tyre months ago, or was it last year already?

Finally, after purchasing new skis because you have at last convinced yourself that wider skis give you more options in Japan and that you'll use them for ski touring in New Zealand - oh yeah, start purchasing some back country gear too - read some articles about ski touring and start to feel guilty that you haven't done any exercise for 2 weeks. Vow to do some tomorrow.

Wait a couple of days for tomorrow to arrive.

Get out of bed, go downstairs to yoga room and do 3 days' worth of exercises in one session. Do lots of stretching afterwards then proceed to feel rather stiff and sore for most of the day. Ah, this is more like it, at least now you can feel the effects.

Vow to drink more water and less coffee and wine. Even consider giving up drinking wine for the next 3 months. Think about drinking a bit more tea.

Get up next morning and proceed to drink at least 3 coffees whilst chatting to mum on the phone before breakfast. Then procrastinate a few hours reading about walking through France, then at last change out of pyjamas into gym gear and proceed to do another 3 days' worth of exercises. Discover your abs are very sore after yesterday's effort, but that you are still capable of doing more than 150 squats!!

Have a late lunch, shower and head out in the rain to celebrate a bunch of September birthdays with the bookclub girls. Vow to drink no alcohol. Keep promise. Get laughed at by bookclub girls because they are sure you are going to have "toilet legs" by tomorrow after doing more than 150 squats today. Suffer all evening from sore abs...

Wake up next morning, still with slightly sore abs, but without "toilet legs". Do 60 squats, 60 lunges and a few other sundry exercises, completing 2 day's worth of the program, deciding to balk at the cardio program for today as you don't think the abs will cope with more mountain climbs quite yet. Gloat on Facebook that you don't have "toilet legs" but somewhere in the back of your mind know that you may just rue that gloat before long. Savour it anyway!

You have now completed 10 days of a 90 day program, but are still 5 days behind your original schedule. Contemplate how you are going to get through the next 3 days of work and also find time to do some exercise. Fail to replace back tyre on bicycle.

Torture yourself with pictures posted by your friends of them skiing in New Zealand. Peruse airline websites looking at flights to NZ for next year. Realise that if you lived on the east coast you'd probably be able to whizz over for a long weekend - not a possible scenario from regional WA. Note that this is not the first time this week you've been reminded how far in the boondocks you live...

Next morning wake early and decide you ought to put your alarm clock on for an earlier wake up since it's now getting lighter earlier. Wait for alarm to go off then doze another 15 minutes before getting up. Have no time for exercise before work, noting that your abs are still sore!

Come home after work and check your Facebook status. OK, how many of you will admit to that one?? Receive text from couch surfers cancelling their stay for the night. Looks like you'll have time to exercise after all!! Change into gym gear and get totally annihilated by the cardio workout. Decide that plank jacks are your new nemesis. Finish cardio workout and plan to leave more abs torture until tomorrow.

Acknowledge to yourself that the only reason that you are managing to stick to this routine is because you are writing a blog post about it. Figure that's not such a bad way to keep up the motivation but that it isn't really fair to inflict this level of mundanity on the reading public just to motivate yourself to get off your arse and exercise. Rack brain to think if there is any other way to break the procrastination cycle.


yep, still thinking....

I'll get back to you.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Travel planning: almost my favourite bit

I absolutely adore the planning stage of a trip, even more so now that I can google away to my heart's content and find answers to pretty well any travel related question. Having been a frequenter of Lonely Planet's travel forum "Thorn Tree" for many years it amazes me how many people post questions there when they ought to just google it.

So in keeping with my theme that an old LP guidebook is just as useful as a new one, I popped in to the library and borrowed a 2009 edition of LP Japan to start the creative juices going, then began the google game. Here's what I've come up with:

First I bought a cheap Air Asia flight to Tokyo. With extra baggage, it cost a little shy of $500. I arrive into Tokyo on a Sunday morning (I'm quite used to red-eye flights and can sleep pretty easily with the use of a mask and ear plugs) and my ski tour begins on Monday, from Narita, so I've stumped up for an airport hotel and will spend the day visiting Tokyo.

My ski tour takes advantage of the 5 Day JR East rail pass, which allows use of all JR Rail trains from Tokyo to the northern tip of Honshu, including Shinkansen (bullet trains) for 5 days within a 2 week period. Since the tour only uses 3 of these days, I'll buy mine a day early and use it to travel in to Tokyo for the day. It doesn't work on the Tokyo subway,  so I'll also grab a SUICA card, which is a prepaid card for using on the subway and buses within Tokyo but is transferable to other mass transport jurisdictions throughout the country.

I'm yet to decide what I'll do in Tokyo, but being Sunday I'll probably go see the wacky youth fashion in Harajuku, check out the Shibuya Crossing, do some retail therapy in a camera shop or two, and get my zen on at Senso-Ji temple.

Because my tour begins at Narita airport I'm staying out there, which isn't such a big deal as I can use the rail pass to get into Tokyo and return, a trip of 55 min each way. I plan to leave the luggage at the airport and either leave it overnight or schlep it to and from the hotel on the shuttle bus when I return from Tokyo Sunday evening.

Monday morning, back at the airport, I meet up with my tour group and thus begins 17 days of travel through both Honshu and Hokkaido chasing powder stashes. In order to enjoy this, I just purchased a new set of poles, with powder baskets, because my old Scott poles are not only bent, the baskets are useless in thick snow, let alone Japanese powder!! My last couple of days at Mt Olympus last year were memorable for the complete incapacity of my poles to do anything but keep sinking like avalanche probes.

Talking of which, we may be doing some backcountry skiing this trip, so I'm keeping my eye out for a good deal on some Avi gear. After skiing Mt Olympus last year, I know I need to get at least a shovel, probe and beacon if I'm going to start thinking about skiing out of patrolled ski areas more often. Even on the ski field at Olympus we wore beacons!

The final few days of the tour we are based in Sapporo, skiing nearby fields, and on the 19th we head home. Only I decided to stay a little longer, so have booked myself a couple of nights at Niseko, as it's not included on the itinerary due to it being crowded with too many Westerners looking for powder stashes. I'm mainly going to Niseko so I can at least experience it, and because at least 3 of my friends will be working there and I want to catch up with them. I'm staying in a little pensione in the quieter village of Annapuri but am sure to spend one of my nights doing pizzas with friends in the village!!

After 2-3 days skiing Niseko, I take the bus back to the airport at Chitose and fly to Osaka with Jetstar for $90. I'm taking the last, and cheapest, flight that day in order to get in a full day's skiing, but it arrives into Osaka KIX at midnight, after all the trains have finished for the night. That's because it's part of an ongoing flight to Australia, only I'm not taking that section, so will sleep in the airport overnight. Sleeping in Airports puts Osaka in the top ten best Asian airports (Changi consistently scores number one, worldwide) and apparently you can even get a free blanket near the Lawsons convenience store. I've slept overnight in quite a few airports in my day, and I really can't justify an expensive airport hotel bed for just a few hours. Lucky me, I may be a ski goddess, but I'm no princess!!

Next morning I purchase a return Haruka and ICOCA ticket and take the Haruka express to Kyoto. I've booked into a comfy hostel dormitory not far from Kyoto Station, and will use that as my base for the week. Yes, one whole week in Kansai.

The ICOCA ticket is another prepaid ticket, which allows you to put credit onto it and then swipe it when you use trains in the Kansai region (which is Osaka, Kobe, Kyoto and Nara). Any leftover credit on my Tokyo SUICA card can also be used here, and I can also use the ICOCA on buses in Nara.

I once had a pen friend from Nara. We corresponded for a few years when I was studying Japanese at high school (she was studying English), but then we both stopped writing. I have postcards of all the temples, and the famous deer, that she sent me, and I even found her address amongst my old letters. I'm almost tempted to send a letter (I've tried google and Facebook but it's too long ago and I have no idea what she looks like now) and see if her family still live there.

Kyoto and Nara are chokka block full of old temples, culture and zen gardens, so I'm expecting it to be a sensual delight. It's the one part of Japan I've particularly wanted to explore, so I think spending all my time in just the one region is a good plan. Especially because I don't want to have to lug my ski bag all over the countryside...

Following my week in and around Kyoto I jump back on the Haruka express and fly out of Osaka, via Manila and Singapore, to Perth with Jetstar. That flight costs a couple of dollars over $500.

I'd always thought that travel in Japan was expensive, but it's really not that bad. My ski tour is a little pricey, but totally worth it to have an experienced ski guide for almost 3 weeks. It's certainly a lot cheaper than ski touring in NZ and much better value than a dive live aboard! But the 10 days I'm organising myself reveal quite reasonably priced accommodation options, cheap internal flights, and some good rail pass deals (at least for visiting foreigners). Ski lift tickets are also half the price of Australia.

I've still a few purchases to make, like a better rolling ski bag than the one I have currently (it's too big, floppy and heavy), and some back country avalanche gear, but otherwise I'm pretty well organised.

Now just gotta work on the fitness....

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ski Goddess challenge part 1

With a powder trip to Japan organised for Feb 2015, it's time to get serious about my fitness. I've let my exercise routine slide for a while, concentrating more on gardening chores, spending too much time on the internet and reading books and articles on all sorts of things, and not factoring in a daily time slot for fitness. That's gotta change..

Skiing powder is the holy grail in skiing. It's the soft white stuff that is forgiving, that you won't catch an edge on and go tumbling out of control. But it's also cushioning, it's slower to ski on than harder, icier, firmer snow which means you need a much higher level of dynamic fitness to enjoy it fully, or else you'll just sink and end up with a face full of snow.

Fat skis help, because all that extra surface area will keep you floating versus sinking into the soft stuff. Some old schoolers think the fat skis have gone too far, preferring to still be skiing through the powder rather than floating on top the whole time, but whatever your take, you still can't ski powder without fitness.

Core stability and anaerobic/aerobic fitness is paramount. Anyone can do one or two powder runs, but keeping it up day after day, all day, requires you to to be strong and agile. Neither of which I am at present...

So I've pulled out my ski fitness books and programs, counted up the months till I leave, and started to design myself a program.

First is just working on basic aerobic fitness, which means getting back on a running schedule and riding my bicycle to work and back.

Secondly, core stability exercises. Skiing, and boarding, are done in a very dynamic environment, where the terrain you have your feet on is continually changing. If you can't stabilise what's happening in your legs through your core to your upper body, you'll fall over lots (at best) or injure yourself (at worst). It's also the main reason why some people can ride all day and others can't, because core muscle weakness means you'll tire so much quicker. Quad exercises are a total waste of time if you neglect to build a strong core. Just saying... so daily core exercises are in the program.

Next, agility training. This builds muscle memory for those quick movements and sudden changes in direction that you need to execute when skiing. Having done this training before, I can confirm it makes a big difference on the slopes. Especially as one gets older, this sort of activity doesn't often feature in one's daily life, unless one plays tennis or squash, netball, basketball, or football, so you have to retrain those slack little muscle fibres by doing fast spurts of movements, changing direction quickly, that sort of thing.

Fourth, strength exercises. These are less important right now, but become more important as I work up to the actual trip. I won't be concentrating too much on squats and lunges quite yet, because they'll be a bigger component later.

Finally, flexibility, which is mainly stretching. I'll incorporate some yoga in here too.

So in order for me to commit to this, I'm putting my September stats out there and will post updates each month:

Weight 71.4kg
Chest 89cm (this is measured above the boobies)
Waist 81cm (the narrowest bit)
Belly button waist circumference (measured at the level of my belly button) 94.5cm
Hips 99cm
Thigh 55cm
Arm 31cm

The challenge is on!!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Ski goddess books Japan powder tour

At last I have come true to my word and I am off to Japan next year to go skiing. Only, in true goddess style, I'm not taking the easy option and booking a week or so at Niseko or Hakuba and hanging with the crowds. To be truthful, despite what I've heard about the great snow, Niseko fills me with the same sort of dread that I feel when I hear the words Queenstown, or Bali, or Phuket. The thought of going to Japan and being bombarded by badly behaving Westerners at a ski resort is so not me, especially as I actually have an insight into the depth of Japanese culture and would rather experience that as well.

When I told my mum I was going to Japan, her response was "About time!" Not because I'd been banging on about Japow and wanting to go, but because I studied the Japanese language for 6 years at high school, and even had planned to do my clinical elective at medical school in Japan (until things went awry....). I've had Japanese pen pals and exchange students stay with me, and these days I also have quite a few Japanese friends from my winters in Wanaka (that's in NZ folks!) so I'm acutely aware that there is a very strong Japanese culture that is still very alive and strong, and I'd love to experience some of it.

When I first started going to NZ on ski trips back in the late 90s, I went on a couple of group tours, where we travelled around to a number of different ski resorts and tried them out. It was those trips that made me decide where to go when the ski goddess was resurrected in 2009, and made Treble Cone my second home. Now it's my turn to give Japan the same treatment.

With the wonderful benefits of internet and google I managed to find just exactly what I was looking for. An 18 day tour through both Honshu and Hokkaido, visiting many different ski fields, and hunting powder all the way. Avoiding crowded ski fields where the fresh stuff gets carved up far too quickly, and also experiencing some of the culture, like staying in traditional Japanese ryokans, and soaking in onsens each evening, going to see the Snow Monkeys and the Sapporo Ice Festival, travelling by shinkansen...

I can't wait! But first the ski goddess has to get back into trim, because skiing powder requires a level of core fitness that I'm currently lacking. Although I have wide skis, if I'm going to enjoy myself on them, my fitness needs to be spot on, and right now I'm a little flabby.

So the ski goddess challenge begins!

That's next..