Monday, 29 October 2012

In which a family of Silvereyes might regret choosing my garden

Today I almost murdered two baby birds. I might well have murdered them still, despite all my efforts to save them. It remains to be seen whether they will survive today's ordeal. Tomorrow I will check.

The lesson to be learnt here is CHECK there are no BIRDS' NESTS hiding in branches you're about to saw off.

I have this Lillipilli tree, which I don't like much. It drops squishy pink berries all over my garden twice a year, and I've been contemplating removing it for years. Every so often, I chop off the branch that overhangs my lemon tree. Said branch came under attack today -- as did a great many other bushes in my garden -- but it wasn't until the branch had reached the ground that I saw the nest.

It was a tiny thing, about 10cm in diameter, neatly woven with twigs and spider-thread. My gut lurched and I had this vision of eggs tumbling to the ground... and then, as we were investigating it, trying to peer inside, out toppled two tiny baby birds.

I felt aghast. These birdlings were so tiny. Their eyes were still shut. They had no feathers. They could have been a day -- or hours -- old. They floundered around in the foliage, caught up in the leaves and branches of the chopped limb. I wanted to cry.

Carefully, we cut out the fork with the nest attached and placed it in a shallow plastic flowerpot. Then we cut away the foliage the babies were caught in and --whizzing off into the shade -- somehow got them back into the nest.

They huddled there, taking up all the space, dazed and confused.

And then, oh how I wanted to weep, as mummy and daddy bird (Silvereyes - tiny little things) appeared back in the tree, beaks full of food for their little ones, clearly perplexed at finding no sign of their nest. They hopped about the tree, searching, determined, because they left them right here just ten minutes ago!

Somehow we had to get that nest back into the tree before mum and dad gave up the search. The location needed to be shady and protected from other predators. And it had to be as near as possible to the original location, so mum and dad could find it.

In the end, we hung the pot, cradling the nest, in the tree and suspended off-cuts of foliage around it to provide shelter and camouflage. I was happy that we'd done all we could do, but it would be all for nothing if the parents didn't find the nest.

It took a little while. The parents had disappeared again and I feared they'd given up already, but then they reappeared. We decided to retreat from the vicinity and watched from a distance as the parents hopped from branch to branch, searching, searching, and then finally found their nest and chicks. They disappeared into the little bower we'd built for them and their birdlings got fed.

Silvereye feeding chicks - from Wikipedia

I can't express the relief I felt at this. I was so upset at having chopped down the branch and destroyed their carefully built little home. I feared I had killed those baby birds. I didn't really think we could get that nest back into the tree where the parents would be able to find it.

I still worry that the location is inappropriate -- that the sun will be too hot, or some rodent will get them in the night. Or that the ordeal of being tumbled from their nest and man-handled back into it will simply be too much for them. Maybe they had to wait too long for their meal? Maybe the parents won't like the new environment and abandon their babies. I don't know.

Tomorrow I will climb up the ladder and see if the babies are still alive. I'm going to cry if they're not.

Now, when I look at my Lillipilly tree, I don't see an ugly waste of space that needs to be pulled down at my earliest convenience. Now I see in its substantial crown of foliage a massive habitat for these little birds. This experience has really struck home the reality of deforestation that's happening all around the world, and how it's affecting the natural habitat for so many creatures.

I can't believe I had a real birds' nest, with tiny baby birds inside, in my back yard and I might have murdered them. I really hope they're alive in the morning.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Playing with fire

The past several weeks I've been doing fire warden training. Our first session was all sorts of theory about fire -- commonsense stuff about "the fire triangle", which is constructed of oxygen, fuel and heat. Take one away and the fire is gone...

They showed us videos of how fast fires can get out of control, the most memorable being the video of a famous stadium fire from the 1970s or 80s (I can't remember the name now), which flared from cigarette butt to entire stand ablaze within about 2 minutes. That particular disaster evidently led to a whole renewal of fire safety regulations. Safety features like fire exits and fire extinguishers were introduced. Had fire extinguishers been available, the flare up would have been put out when it was still small.

The main point, though, was making us aware of standard emergency procedures, making us aware of what can happen and how to react in various situations. And to STAY SAFE under all circumstances.

The second session was fire extinguisher training. They got us out there in the carpark with a tray full of fuel in water, set it alight, and had us take turns in putting out the fire. We practised with pressurised water, foam, carbon dioxide and chemical powders... Then a fire blanket.

All our fire fighting efforts (overseen by representatives of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade) were based on the principle of removing one of the "sides" of the fire triangle -- either heat or oxygen.

Finally, our third session was a full site evacuation, which happened this last week. My role was to sweep a certain section of the building, check rooms were clear, and close doors. (And I've just realised I missed the second set of bathrooms -- oops!) The MFB briefed us before and after, critiqued our procedures and gave us some things to work on... Communication methods being a big one to sort out. In emergency situations you're not supposed to rely on mobile phones.

I've enjoyed broadening my horizons with fire warden training -- and I would have said I hope I never to have to use it... But my new knowledge has already been put to the test!

A couple of weeks ago, we had a family gathering at my parents' house, and a kitchen fire flared up. It seems a plastic container had somehow found itself on a hotplate, and it burst into flame. We were all gathered at the kitchen table, waiting for the coffee to percolate, when the flames were spotted. It must have only just started, because it wasn't long before the kitchen was filled with acrid smoke.

But I had just done my training! My father grabbed the handily placed fire extinguisher, but I stopped him from using that right away (because it would have made an awful mess), and grabbed an apron with which to smother. It wasn't as effective as a fire blanket would have been, but it was close to hand. I edged up to the fire as we'd been shown and dropped it on top. Then my mother grabbed a towel and added that on top. (A small hiccup occurred when the hotplate, which we thought we'd turned off, turned out not to be turned off...and we almost had it flare up again.) The plastic container was shoved onto the floor, wrapped in its apron and towel, and the roll of paper towelling -- in such close proximity it's remarkable it didn't go up in flames -- was also removed.

All in all, we managed to deal with it, with only one slightly panicked and shrieking child ready to evacuate the house. (The rest were playing kick to kick, oblivious, outside.) I did send dad up into the ceiling to make sure no flaming embers had gone up the flue into the roofspace -- as the firemen said they did when called to house fires, even after they've been put out. Apparently this can lead to a housefire hours after the kitchen incident. In our case, all was clear.

This has all taught me to make sure smoke detectors are in working order and to install a fire blanket in the kitchen -- preferably away from the stove. I just couldn't believe this happened less than a week after I'd done my fire extinguisher training!

Friday, 5 October 2012

And there went September!


I'm sure I said I was going to blog weekly here. Oops.

September was a very busy but productive and eventful month. There were a four-day writing retreat to Mulwala, a free ticket to a Katie Noonan recital, an international netball game, regular Saturday writing dates in a local cafe, family visiting from Newcastle (which included a sleepover by my 9yo niece), a photo shoot, an MTC play (not to mention a couple of plays in preceding months I've failed to document), two Dungeons and Dragon sessions... not to mention much dayjob work.

I've now reached the end of double workhell month -- yay! -- and have to say that I'm in a good place. My new writing philosophy seems to be helping me stay positive. Basically, I'm focusing on enjoying the process and using this to drive me back to the wip every chance I get. And I'm not beating myself up if I don't get there, or demanding unrealistic achievements of myself.

The writing retreat was of course fabulous (I blogged about it here and here), but it's also been really great to have regular writing sessions with friends in one of my local cafes. This new habit ticks multiple boxes:
1. Carves out a definite writing window, which might otherwise get consumed by housework if I was at home. And with work the way it has been, the cafe session has been my only definite writing time.
2. Provides writing time away from the internet, which is vital
3. Doubles-up as socialising!
4. Makes me feel cool and groovy - I'm such a poser! (hehe)

The Katie Noonan concert was an unexpected pleasure. I scored a free ticket for a Friday night from a colleague, who couldn't use tickets provided by a customer. She sang at the Melbourne Recital Centre, which is a modern, airy auditorium of casual elegance. Katie sang to the beautiful accompaniment of classical guitarist Karin Schaupp. Their focus was songs of Australia and New Zealand, ranging from traditional through to classic pop and modern hits -- their cover of Gotye's Heart's a Mess was the highlight for me. Katie herself was a delightful host, at all times charming, gracious and witty. Really impressed.

It was also fabulous to have my niece come to stay last weekend. I don't think I've announced this yet, but my renegade family are finally coming home to Melbourne for good in time for Christmas. So I suspect last weekend was the first of many sleepovers. For some reason, Miss 9 equates DVDs with staying at Aunty Ellen's, so of course I comply. I had been looking forward to watching the second Harrpy Potter movie with her, but she decided it might be too scary, so instead we watched Tangled (Saturday night) and then Stardust and The Spiderwick Chronicles in the morning. After that we went to the Melbourne Museum, which seemed to go down well. Miss 9 loves the natural world, so dinosaur bones, volcanos, crystals and meteorites were popular.

So despite workhell, September was actually a great month. You can read about my Dungeons and Dragons adventures here -- I'm keeping a chronicle of my novice experience. It's hard to believe it took me until my forties to play for the first time!

October is looking like a much less crazy month -- which is good, because I think I need to recover!

Oh yeah, and I also got some PURPLE put into my hair!

Saturday, 25 August 2012

More birds - alive!

Very pleased to report more bird sightings this trip to Phillip Island -- this time alive! In fact, this time the theme is baby birds, perhaps not surprising, given the season.

So far today, we have seen:
- two little cygnets with mummy and daddy black swans;
- two baby penguins nestling in separate burrows at the nobbies;
- a quintet of baby cape barren geese with mummy and daddy.

We also saw a beautiful wedge tail eagle soaring high over the wetlands (probably checking out the cygnets), various other waterbirds, multitudes of wallabies...

A very satisfying day of wildlife spotting.

Friday, 24 August 2012

A week of fire-breathing dragons

It's been a hell of a week.

I've seen it coming for some time, hurtling towards me like a herd of shiny fire-breathing dragons. There was no avoiding it. Three major work projects heading for one hulluva collision. All I could do was gird my loins, and mentally resolve myself to deal with whatever was dished up.

After three big weeks (none bigger than this past week) I now feel like a wrung-out rag. There's been very little recreational writing (only on the weekends)... and this week I abandoned any thoughts of counting calories or exercising. To get through this week, I needed cake and other yummy food. Moreover, tonight sees me finishing off a bottle of red and rapidly demolishing a block of chocolate -- completely flaked out on the couch and almost comatose.

Yesterday saw my anxiety peak, and the preceding night I lost sleep due to work for the first time in years. I spent a horrid Thursday morning contemplating curling into the very spacious cavity beneath my desk -- which is conveniently in a corner -- before I took deep breaths and put my head down and worked through some stuff, so that by the end of the day (~8:30pm) I was feeling moderately in control.

Today I felt calmer, despite still having a huge amount to do, but it turned out both projects which were to end today have drifted into Monday. This is both good and bad. Good, because I needed the extra time to be satisfied; bad, because I so wanted them to be over!

I'm going to abscond to the Island tomorrow and I'm almost resolved not to take a computer. (gasp!) We'll see how my resolve lasts, but I confess it's much easier to contemplate given the availability of a smartphone. I'm not sure I'm ready to be completely cut off from my social media. But I think I want a break from computers for a couple of days.

Besides, I need to be ready for next weekend, when I'm off on a writing retreat for four days - huzzah! So I think a couple of days break is in order. Means I can spend the time reading and walking along the beach instead. Just what I need.

Come Monday it's back to the grindstone, although hopefully I can have more normal hours next week. Yet there's still project number three to finish off and project number four to kick-off. September isn't looking too much better - alas.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Winter of the boots

I remember a period during my undergraduate university years when I was in the habit of wearing skirts -- the long, flowing kind. I can't remember why I stopped (maybe they went out of fashion), but I did stop, and for years after that I became convinced that I 'don't wear dresses'.

For the next two decades (thereabouts) I habitually ONLY wore pants -- jeans, crops, tailored work pants, shorts -- unless I was going to a wedding. I never even looked at dresses or skirts in shops, and marvelled at all the women who wore them, wondering why? Selecting dresses to wear to weddings was torture.

I dress for comfort, while trying to not entirely sacrifice style (even if my own personal style). I spend so much time sitting at computers that my clothes need to have stretch. They need to be machine washable. They must not need ironing. In recent years I've developed a love of marino and modal, which meet ALL my criteria. Perhaps somehow I gained the impression that skirts and dresses didn't.

Anyway, the astute reader will have realised by now that I'm about to declare a change of heart. And it all happened because I finally bought myself a pair of boots.

Now, being a fantasy reader and writer, I'm partial to the idea of men and women in long boots with breeches tucked in. I can remember being a kid, wearing long boots over tracksuit pants (of all things -- how embarrassing!) and thinking myself very smart. But for many of my adult years my legs were simply too fat to wear boots, and by the time I was thin enough (although I still think I have fat legs) I just didn't get around to taking the plunge.

Even when I was in London 18 months ago in the dead of winter, and boots were everywhere, I didn't buy any. There were simply too many to choose from and I was completely overwhelmed.

This winter I decided to make it simple. There's a shop near me called Step Ahead, which stocks several European brands, including Wonders. I've bought and liked Wonders in the past. They're Spanish. They make boots. So I set off one Saturday to Step Ahead resolved to purchase a pair of boots. I tried on two pairs, both of which were wonderful, and settled on one.

OMG I love my boots.

They're flat and a fairly casual style, designed so you can walk in them, which is a must for me. (I've never worn heels much and now my podiatrist won't let me at all, owing to ligament damage.) And they have caused me to completely revise my wardrobe.

Firstly, I got to start wearing skinny jeans tucked into boots. For the past few seasons I'd been enviously watching other women doing this, and now I get to do it too. But that wasn't enough. I can't wear jeans to work, after all.

This is where dresses come in. I've discovered a penchant for tunic-style dresses. I can wear my marino icebreakers underneath with leggings and my boots-of-Spanish-leather, and the whole ensemble is way more comfortable than wearing 'normal' work clothes. AND, secretly (ssh), I can totally imagine myself in the garb some of my characters might be wearing! There's one of my tunics in particular, a blend of marino and something, in a soft shade of lilac-grey, that I'm sure my main character is going to wear at some point!

So this winter will go down in history as the winter of the boots -- and it just goes to show that one can completely redefine one's style at any time!

On other topics... As suspected, the TV has been on a lot during the past two weeks of Olympic mania. I'm hoping to get more disciplined with this; however, I must realistically acknowledge that
1) I'm working longer hours than normal at the moment, which means unwinding time in the evening is necessary; 2) I'm still targeting a 30min workout on my elliptical trainer each evening, which further eats into my time. My current daily writing goals have therefore been revised to just 100 words a day, mainly to keep my head in the story. Having said that, for the past fortnight, I've only written on the weekend, courtesy of an awesome new weekly cafe writing session with friends. One of these days, I'll get it all together! (But both August and September are going to be particularly work-hellish.)

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Now the netball's over, guess I'd better get productive

Today I finally had my Sunday afternoon back. For the past four months it's been netball season -- and that's meant double-header netball games on the TV or else a trip into Hisense Arena to watch the Melbourne Vixens live. (And then home again quick smart to watch the game again!)

Don't get me wrong, it's been a wonderful season. The Vixens finished the home and away rounds on top of the ladder after several amazing escapes that earned them the nickname 'comeback queens'. Those games, with the largest netball crowds ever in Melbourne, screaming and cheering and foot-stomping the team on to win in the dying moments, were spine-tingling.

The girls subsequently earned the right to host the grand final last weekend -- which I of course attended. All was looking good for most of the game, and then it fell apart in the last ten minutes and the Vixens went down by three goals to NZ's Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic. It was a great game and the Magic were worthy winners, despite it not being my preferred outcome.

But although I love the netball season, I'm happy it's over. That's a whole lot of time I now have back to reallocate to more productive endeavours.

And indeed not-so-productive endeavours. Today, for instance, I went to Chadstone Shopping Centre. I needed to go to the Nespresso store (only it turned out I didn't) and thought I'd take the opportunity to visit JB HiFi (where I was similarly thwarted). In fact, the only good thing about my visit to Chadstone was the fact I accumulated nearly 5,000 steps on my pedometer. Chadstone, I have decided (not for the first time, but I had forgotten), is horrible. It messes with your mind until you forget half the reasons you went and scamper away, totally traumatised.

I'm looking forward to utilising my Sunday afternoons to get some writing done in the coming weeks. I've identified a few cafes where I think I could sit for a couple of hours with the computer -- for weekend writing this seems to work best, because otherwise there's all that housework (and gardening) screaming at me. I might even make it a morning ritual... not sure what's going to work at this stage. No doubt it will vary. But so long as I can find a couple of hours of writing I'll be happy.

With reference to last week's stated mission to turn the TV off, I will report moderate success during the last week. It wasn't always easy, but I managed it most evenings. Yay! However, with the Olympics now having started, I fear this progress was short-lived. Random sport is exactly the type of 'background' viewing that begs to be left on while I sprawl out with my computer (exactly as I am now). The good news is that I don't actually have to watch it, so might actually be able to write. I can certainly blog!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

The TV must go off

I've resolved to attempt weekly posts on this blog, and since discovering I can post from my phone I think it might actually be achievable. It's not ideal, but it does allow me to utilise some of the moments 'between'.

Right now, for instance, I'm sitting in the hair salon with a bunch of foils in my hair.

I've just been chatting with Dianna, my hair-guru, about how I need to start turning the television off. Yeah yeah, I know it sounds obvious, but I've got into some very bad habits. My current routine is this: home after work, TV goes on for the 7pm news, followed by 'something' at 7.30 while I eat dinner and unwind after work. (Currently the amazing race Australia on Monday, once upon a time on Tuesday, dr who on the other days.)

Then I'm supposed to turn the TV off so I can go write, but it seems I'm no longer capable of this. I tell myself I'll keep the TV on as background while I 'write' on the sofa... Or I nudge myself into a half-hour session on my cross training machine, which at least has the semblance of being productive (and while on WW and participating in the global corporate challenge I feel guilty if I don't do it).

And then there's social media and blogs... Time saps all of them. So, often by the time I'm ready to be productive it's late at night and I'm too tired for anything worthwhile.

Several years ago my routine was much better. I scoffed at people who had the TV on as background. I would come home, cook and eat at my computer, all without switching on the TV. I'd be writing by 8pm, with time and energy at the end for a blog post if I felt so inclined... Or I could go to bed and read (now there's a thought) satisfied I'd put words down on the page. The TV would only go on for something specific, and then it would go off again. I didn't mind spending all evening at my desk, after a day at the computer. I relished it!

Somehow I need to recapture that old routine. I know I must be able to do it. It all starts with not turning on the TV in the first place.

Last night I forced myself to switch it off at 8.30. My finger trembled on the remote and I had to pick it up three times before I pressed the button, but I did it. I switched on the study computer (as opposed to the couch computer) and after catching up on social media, managed to write a blog post (for the other blog). It was a start!

This coming week my mission will be to switch it off after my 7.30 shows, or not switch it on at all. The other thing I'll be attempting is writing BEFORE I look at email or any form of social media/blogs.

I'll report back on my progress next week!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

The Tea Party are splendorous!

The Tea Party are reformed and back in town with two gigs in Melbourne this weekend past. I was lucky enough to attend the first on Saturday night at the Palais Theatre in St Kilda. With that beautiful old theatre packed to the rafters with Tea Party devotees, the band treated us to two hours of all our favourites -- with some surprises embedded. (Midway through the wonderful Save Me, for instance, the band transitioned into a version of Hallelujah, and then back into Save Me again.)

Jeff Martin's gravelly velvet vocals sent shivers down my spine and I sat there for much of the evening with a stupid smile on my face. There were also foot-tapping and swaying in abundance. Fire in the Head, one of my favourite songs, was a highlight.

Somewhat wonderfully, the band recorded the gig and have plans to release a live double-album based on their Australian concerts. I only hope they don't get lumped with some of the nasty sound issues that plagued Saturday's performance. (A strange highlight involved Martin bringing all the sound down, pointing at an offending speaker/amplifier/whatever spewing out a dreadful hum and saying: "We gotta get rid of that.")

Technical gremlins aside, it was a fabulous gig enjoyed by a respectful and knowledgeable audience (for the most part). I can't wait until the live CD is released!

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Two dead birds

I'm down at Phillip Island, sitting in my favourite cafe, empty breakfast plate before me, hugging my wonderful coffee. And I thought I'd try posting from my phone... So far so good.

I've sadly seen two dead birds in strange circumstances. Both remarkably intact, as though freshly deceased. The first was in our fire place! I opened the door, intending to light a fire -- because it was FREEZING -- and there it lay in the old ash. It was so intact I had to stare at it to make sure it was in fact dead. When I poked it with a stick, it wasn't stiff or dried out at all. It could have been there as long as three weeks, but it seems unlikely. And how did it get there??? Could it have fallen down the chimney flue? I thought it was covered...

Anyway, I cursed somewhat because it always seems to be me dealing with dead things, then disposed of it. (It didn't smell either.)

The second dead bird was a little penguin washed up on the beach this morning. Again, it looked intact, with no insects buzzing around, as though it had just been washed up -- although it was high up the beach and the tide was out. Very sad to see :-(

Friday, 22 June 2012

Exploring cafes in Newport

I have previously complained about how dismal it is working in Brooklyn as a locale, but there is at least one benefit that I can name -- and that is the proximity to a plethora of wonderful little cafes in suburbs such as Yarraville, Seddon, Newport and Williamstown.

It started as a Friday thing. Two of us (mostly it's just two of us) would escape the sterile office for a slightly longer than normal lunch in a location with character. Over time, however, the lure of the cafes has become a bit like the song of the siren... and we seem to have slotted in Wednesday cafe lunches too. This means we try to squeeze the whole expedition into an hour if possible, but it's still marvellous to get away.

So, rather than keeping them all to myself, I thought I would share my thoughts on some of these cafes. Today, I am going to start with those in Newport, which are our most recent discovery. A colleague emailed me a list of Newport cafes to try -- and try them we have!

First was Leroy's on Mason Street. This is quite a large cafe with Campos coffee (tick), a tempting cake window, and a menu with plenty of options. On visit number #1, I ate a very nice pumpkin soup and on visit #2 (which was today) I had a baked omelet with corn and pesto. This too was delicious, although when I asked how many eggs were in it and they said 5 or 6 I nearly fainted. Needless to say, I will avoid that in future. They had four soups on the menu today, so they will likely be a good option in the future. I haven't really paid much attention to the rest of their menu, although I have been keeping an eye on their twice-baked french toast with fruit compote special. The service staff there are friendly and obliging -- although no doubt think I'm a bit of a freak after my 'OMG was that really 5 eggs?" reaction today! I rate it a good place for a quick lunch: the coffee is good, there's plenty of space (not too busy), and the menu has healthy options (if you order more wisely than I did today!).

Second was The Pint of Milk on North Road. A renovated corner milk bar, this stylish little cafe has a Mediterranean influence. I've only been there once to-date, but we loved it and I think it's probably my favourite of the Newport cafes so far. I had a simple but delicious meal of poached eggs with spinach and mushrooms -- they sauteed the two vegetables together and my only mild complaint was the excessive oil drizzled over them. (This is my standard 'low cal' breakfast, so oil and butter = bad.) But this was only a slight blemish -- and it tasted fabulous (which is far more important really). The ambiance and decor are lovely with a milk bottle theme, and the coffee (Gridlock) was also fantastic. For a cafe in the middle of nowhere it was humming -- and the parking was easy. Sweet! Will definitely be back there in the very near future.

Third was Nosh (24 Hall Street), which is another funky cafe, fairly casual with another impressive cake window and apparently -- although I haven't tried them yet -- awesome roti wraps on the lunch menu. I (as is my wont) chose from the breakfast menu... in this case the big vegetarian breakfast, which was far too big! I'm ashamed to say I can't remember the coffee, but this must mean it was good! Nosh didn't engage me quite as much as The Pint of Milk did, but it is nonetheless a fine place to dash for lunch, and I foresee many future visits. (Variety is after all essential!)

Finally, I also visited the Odd Spot Cafe (1/302 Melbourne Road, Newport) for a breakfast meeting. This is a cosy cafe and I enjoyed it, but owing to the earliness of the hour, my memory is a bit hazy as to the specifics. Will have to go back and check that one out again!

That concludes for the present my round-up of Newport cafes. It's not very scientific, being purely anecdotal and based on limited visits, but in summary I've found Newport cafes to be something of a revelation! I look forward to continued exploration and sampling.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Vale Jeddah

It's now almost three months since Jeddah, my mother's miniature schnauzer, passed away from a suspected brain tumour. He would have been eleven this coming July -- not so old, really -- but, as tends to happen with pets, it seemed as though he'd been part of the family for ever.

He was mum's dog, but we were all part of his pack. Over the years, he stayed several times with me or one of my sisters' families, while our parents travelled. Despite Chenna's misgivings, I enjoyed him coming to stay with me, not least because he would make me go out walking, sometimes twice a day (see this post). (I'm very soft when it comes to animals.) Last year, when I wasn't working, he stayed with me for several weeks, settling into a nice routine with Chenna and I (see this post).

I used to take him for walks down at Phillip Island too. He loved the beach, where we'd let him off the lead even when we weren't supposed to, and he'd trot happily up and down, sniffing at the seaweed and the sand. Sometimes he'd splash through the incoming water, fooled into thinking he'd get a drink out of it. If the town was our destination, he'd behave very well while we indulged in a spot of breakfast. If we headed the other way, towards red rock beach, he'd remain off leash all the way back along the fire track, which offered even more interesting smells and places to explore.

When visitors arrived he would bark. And bark. And bark. This could get annoying and a little embarrassing, it must be said. He barked when we arrived around at mum and dad's too. A good little watch dog alerting everyone. His other mildly embarrassing habit, especially when younger, was to pull on his lead which made him sound like he was choking. Very disconcerting! In later years, he seemed to not pull so much and thus this habit went away.

He was very good with the children, and more than one of my nieces and nephews said some version of 'Jeddah' as their first word. No matter how inappropriately close they would approach, always wanting to pat him in the face for some reason, he would bear with them, backing and twisting away, never once getting aggressive. An ideal family dog.

Jeddah started out being an 'outside dog', complete with a very smart kennel built just for him. All year around he would sleep out on the back deck, coming inside from time to time during the day, but spending most of his time outside. Then, my mother started going soft. First she was letting him sleep inside in his day bed on the coldest nights, or perhaps leaving him inside if it was a miserable day and they were only going out for a few hours. Later, they abandoned the pretence that he slept outside, and he snuggled down in the family room every night. In the end, he was sleeping in a special 'night' bed located under my mum and dad's, and was rarely left outside all day. So much for being an outside dog! He did like to be around people.

The next part is a bit distressing, but I need to record what happened.

In the last 12 months, Jeddah started to get seemingly 'old'. His movement seemed hampered, and presumed to be arthritis...  But then in March he had a couple of seizures. Mum took him straight to the vet of course, but without a scan there was no way to tell what caused them. They apparently ceased, but then a week or so later came back.

They started again on a Saturday, while my sister's family was minding him, and the vet gave him some more medication... but by afternoon the seizures were more and more frequent and we took him back down to the vet. It was the most horrific thing to watch the poor little dog crumple to the floor and thrash about, mouth frothing, then emerge disoriented and shaky, crashing into things, standing with his head in the corner (and I only witnessed a couple).

On Saturday afternoon, the vet wasn't too concerned, but said he would medicate Jeddah via a drip and take him home with him for monitoring.We said farewell to our little man, who was already out of it and comfortable on doggy-Valium, and left him in the vet's care. By Sunday afternoon, when Jeddah hadn't responded to any treatment, the vet was concerned.

By this stage, my parents were cutting their trip short and driving home from Newcastle. They arrived home on Sunday evening and on Monday morning (19 March), mum went down to the vet to see him. In her words, there was no decision. Jeddah was effectively comatose. Mum stroked his little grey back, said goodbye, and they put him to sleep for eternity. We suspect an aggressive brain tumour.

It's amazing how one can still feel so much grief for a dog three months later. I'm sorry if I've made anyone cry -- as I have myself.

But Jeddah had a good life. He was much loved by my entire family, and even survived a severe bout of rat poisoning. I will treasure his unconditional love and affection and cuddles always. I will remember the cheeky way he always wanted to come up onto the sofa. The way he liked to patrol the gardens of his various establishments and bury his bones. His manic excitement the moment he suspected he was getting a walk.

I still feel the inclination to grab doggy poop bags when I see them in the park, even when I no longer need them.

We buried Jeddah in the back yard with a family ceremony. A week or so later, I wrote the following for a mini writing competition:
The sheet looked like one of my mother’s, pale with a flower pattern, wrapped round and round with neatly folded edges and strips of blue fabric securing the bundle. Too small; too impossibly small for such a vibrant spirit. A few toys, no-longer needed, formed splashes of colour against the dirt raining down and down, until only three hastily picked geraniums marked the place where our little friend was now fuel for an organic reaction.
Farewell my little friend.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Ode to Forge and Brew

This blog is extremely dear to my heart. I've been blogging here on Forge and Brew for... six years now. How many hours I've spent pouring out my soul onto its pale gleaming pages I cannot begin to guess. Until this year, it's logged every movie, every performance, just about every book... not to mention great meals, rants about terrible service, garden and house developments, writing milestones, weightloss and fitness achievements... Let's face it, this blog has documented the last several years of my life!

I miss it. Do you miss it?

My attention this year has been elsewhere. My other blog, the one that's becoming the public face of me, has consumed all my energy -- rather than this secret indulgence where I can write about whatever I want and not care whether it'll affect me professionally.

On this blog I don't have to care about brand or platform or being eloquent or interesting or attracting heaps of hits and comments. No-one but me will care if anyone reads this... and it's been so long since I've posted here, perhaps no-one will!

But I really don't care. This is the blog where I -- yes me -- can click back through the archives and see a snapshot of my life at a specific point in time. I have a record of what was consuming my attention -- it's fascinating how it changes over the months and years. I truly value the memories I've captured here.

And what's been bothering me for a few months now is how I'm not keeping this blog up to date. Stuff is still happening in my life, but unless I document it here, it'll be like it never happened in two years time. It's almost as though my life is passing me by!

I cannot catch up again. To do so would take too many hours that I simply do not have, but I am going to list some posts-that-will-never-be:

Tribes and The Seed -- Two MTC plays I've seen this year. Tribes, by Nina Raine, was seen on 15 February and The Seed, by Kate Mulvany, on 14 March.

Hugo and John Carter -- Two movies I've seen this year. At least, the only two I can remember. (See?!) I thought Hugo was fabulous... John Carter not so much. I think, but my hazy memory cannot be certain, that my expedition to see Hugo in 3D took me to the Jam Factory, where I nearly got locked into the carpark. Once, I would have taken great relish in telling that story. *sigh*

My experiences with digital radio and Koffee -- I bought two digital radios a couple of months ago, one for home and one for work. This all to listen to Koffee, a digital-only station with NO ADS. It's great, particularly in the office.

Jeddah -- This is still a post I intend to write, but there is so much I want to say and I need a good slab of time. Jeddah left us on 19 March after suffering a cluster of rather horrifying seizures that left him comatose. My poor mum had to make the difficult decision, but as she says it wasn't really a decision. He was no longer with us in spirit. Although we didn't have an autopsy, the signs point to an aggressive brain tumour. Gosh I'm crying again. I wrote a couple of posts about him when he was staying with me last year. They are here. I hope to get around to writing about him properly soon.

I'm sure there are many more things I wish I'd written about in the past few months. I will try to write more of a status update post soon. There is, after all, much to say about where I'm at now!

Gee -- it's been GOOD to post on my beloved Forge and Brew again. I promise, dear blog, it will not be two months before I post here again.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Garden of Remembrance

A week ago I sat in the Garden of Remembrance, sad and heart-heavy, and sifted through my memories of my uncle.

They are many, and in a strange way hark back to my earliest memory, more an impression really, of his wedding to my aunt when I was but 10 months old.

Growing up, our two families were close. We shared family holidays, birthday celebrations, schools. And always my cheerful, smiling, big-hearted uncle was there.

One day, when I was still a kid, we were all bushwalking, somewhere in the Otways I think, but I can't be sure, and he bent down to the path and pointed out the tiny delicate plant growing there, its sticky leaves trapping insects. A Drosera, he called it, common name Sundew. The first carnivorous plant I ever saw.

We spent many holidays down in Lorne, where my cousins lived in the house behind my uncle's newsagency. He had a red mini moke, which he used to deliver the papers, up and down the hills behind the town. We used to sit in the back and squeal with delight when he hooned up and down 'the big dipper'.

Later on, he had a hardware store in Melbourne, and every so often we kids would all band together to deliver pamphlets for the latest sale. And when I was older, in high school, I spent a few Christmas Eves manning the cash register on this crazy busy retail day.

Over the years, my uncle made such a habit of arriving at the back door just when we were dishing out the most delicious dessert, that we almost started saving him a serve -- just in case.

So many memories. His love of nature and growing things. His irrepressible energy and willingness to pitch in and lend a hand. Red wine. Classical music, played loudly. I particularly associate Holtz's The Planets with him.

Two weeks ago on 28 January he passed away from Motor Neurone Disease after a very tough year for him and his amazing family, who cared for him so well that he was able to slip away in peace, at home, surrounded by his family. That night several of us went around to join his family in eating home-made pizzas in his honour.

Last Friday, at St George's Church in Malvern, we said our final farewells... and I slipped into the Garden of Remembrance, where my grandparents' ashes are interred, and wrote down some of the memories I have shared above. Tears streamed down my face then, as they do now.

But then we all went back to the family home and celebrated his life with family, extended family, friends of his, friends of his children. And even though I expected him to walk through the door at any second, with his big grin and unassuming demeanour, we gradually started to come to terms with the fact that he is gone.

He will be very much missed.

Friday, 20 January 2012

In need of a time-turner, NOW

It's been a very chaotic start to the year for me. Two new writing initiatives. Relatively new job. High expectations of myself. Recipe for brian melt-down.

The first week I tried to do everything. I was up every morning before work writing, and after work I was back on the computer trying to catch up on all the Tweeting from my new 'pack' (the other 100 writers doing the blogging/social media platform course), reading lessons and trying to apply them, and on top of that trying to write my 500 words a day.

By the end of the week I was a wreck: high-strung, aggro, exhausted. But I did have the required quota of words!

However, it was pretty obvious to me after that one week that I wasn't going to be able to sustain such a pace. My goal is to write 500 words a day for the entire year -- or at least until I have a novel finished. But I also have to be realistic. I simply cannot do everything. If I'm exhausted, I can't actually do anything.

So I decided to accept that I could probably only do one thing each evening after work -- at least until I stop arriving home so drained. And I decided that burning the candle at both ends was counter-productive. I cannot function on 5 hours of sleep a night. I certainly cannot be creative. Everything suffers.

And I found myself resenting all that time spent with my face in front of the computer.

For the past two weeks I applied this decision. Didn't bother trying to be productive before work. And after work applied myself to one major activity: 500+ words . . . or a blog post . . . or a blog lesson . . . or some other activity out of the house. As a result I'm more sane, albeit still exhausted. But I am also frustrated by my failure to maintain my WIP500 goal. In theory it simply shouldn't be that hard! I can only hope that work will soon stop sapping my energy reserves and that all this blogging and social networking activity will calm down as well.

An unfortunate side-effect of all this activity is that I am having a lot of trouble focusing on one thing when I need to. I used to be really good at this, but these days I seem to have so many things in my head -- mostly things I want to be doing, or feel I should be doing -- that everything takes longer than it should. Especially the novel writing. I really hope I can regain my ability to focus. Maybe I need to do more exercise!

Because that's the other thing I need to try to fit into my life. Right now I don't know how I'm going to fit it in, but I do have plans to get back to the gym regularly. Eventually. Soon.

Simply too many things to do and not NEARLY enough time! I need Hermione's time-turner. Right Now!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

My Golf's in good hands

Is it just used car dealers that are slimy and dodgy, or is it supposed to apply to new car dealers as well? The reason I mention this is because, if the latter, I've had quite the opposite experience during the course of buying and now owning my new car. In fact, I've been so impressed with Barloworld Volkswagen that I'm giving them a plug.

(Except for the first time I went there and I got a total dud sales guy. But I've almost completely forgotten about him.)

My experience over the past couple of weeks proves that customer service still counts. Instead of walking away from the dealership with the keys to the car, never to return, I've been made to feel as though I've joined a club.

Tonight I've been to a new owners' evening, where they took us on a tour of the premises (so we know what goes on behind the scenes) and then had some of their service team talk us through several aspects of our cars. The shiny newness of the workshop, the expanse of the facility, the extent of their hospitality combined to make me feel like I'm in very good hands.

In the workshop -- which is so new and bright and clean, I could imagine quite happily working there myself -- they divided us into three groups and took us through:
1) Basic aspects of the engine (what's what under the hood, what's safe to touch, what's not)
2) Unique features of the deadlocking and electronics diagnostics system
3) Changing a tyre and the realities of the space saver spare wheel

Yes, so that's all rather basic, but still helpful to have pointed out. It also gave us the opportunity to ask questions, and it turns out I'm not the only one with the mysterious 'check deadlock! owners manual!' message flashing at me each time I switch off the ignition. They're looking into this for me...

I know that Barloworld go the extra mile because they want to retain my business, not only for servicing and panel beating (if required), but also for subsequent purchases. All I can say is their approach is working. I already feel immensely reassured to know that if I have any issue at all with this car (especially during the 3-year warranty period) that Barloworld are only a phone call away. They will take it under their wing and make it all better. They will check the oil and top it up anytime I'm driving past (although they did say not to put any oil in until after 10,000km, on account of the special factory additives for running in the engine).

They even prepared a pamphlet that displays all the dashboard warning lights, and what they mean, to save us thumbing through the complete manual.

OK, I'd better stop this before I make someone sick. But I think it's very comforting to have a goto point for all things Golf. The Barloworld team is friendly, and approachable and dependable. Between them and VW roadside assist I'm all sorted and I don't have to worry. Peace of mind is worth a lot.

And they provide coffee.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Working way out west

Now I have a car, the commute to work is a whole lot easier. Brooklyn (next door to Altona) is well serviced by the Geelong Freeway; public transport not so much.

There's a reason my workplace is located at the edge of the freeway. Trucks. Lots of them. That's what you get in the transport industry. Especially big double and triple semis. And car carriers. These massive vehicles thunder along Millers Rd, and rumble on and off the freeway, by the hundreds.

The Brooklyn/Altona area where I work is all concrete and steel and fumes and rubber. Apparently there is a park (of the flora kind) nearby somewhere, but I haven't found it.

It is not, I have to admit, an ideal place to work. Even if the commute is rendered less annoying by a car (and I'm yet to suffer the grind of regular peak hour -- the traffic at the moment is at about 50%), nothing can really overcome the industrialness of Brooklyn. There are no shady green streets down which to walk, and nowhere worth walking to. There are only trucks and traffic.

Definitely culture shock for me, used to working in Elwood and East St Kilda and then the CBD. In those locations, coffee was not only plentiful but exceptional -- if you knew where to go. And the food options were fabulous. I don't think I took my lunch to work in 10 years, and I never got bored. We used to eat together as a team and chat. Lunch used to be the highlight of the day.

My food options in this new job are terrible. OK, so there's Altona Gate shopping centre. If not for Altona Gate I would possibly be slitting wrists. It's walking distance -- a noisy, smelly walk with too many traffic lights per km -- but most of my colleagues get in the car and drive down. Once you're there, the options are fine -- it's a standard foodcourt -- but the round trip consumes most of my lunch half-hour.

For the first five weeks of this job I was eating Light n Easy meals for lunch, so I didn't need to think about it; but this week I've been exploring other options. I took an avocado in and smeared it on Sao crackers with smoked salmon for two lunches. Once I drove down to Altona Gate to get some supplies in Safeway (yoghurts and muesli bars etc) and grabbed some sushi. I realised almost immediately that it was stupid to drive, but plead the novelty of my new car as my excuse.

Today I decided to walk down to Altona Gate -- to get some exercise, some sunshine, and most importantly to get away from my desk. The awful culture in my workplace is to eat lunch at one's desk and I absolutely loathe this practice. It only makes me stare at the screen of my iPhone for social networks, surf the Internet -- or, worse, keep working. Half an hour isn't really enough of a break. And it definitely isn't a break at all if you remain at your desk. (I consider staring at my iPhone in the foodcourt acceptable...)

So I think I will endeavour to walk down to Altona Gate most days, for the same reasons as stated above. It gets me out of the office, and if I take 45 mins instead of half an hour, I'll wait until someone comments. I don't think they will. I work at least an extra 15 mins a day, after all.

But this brings me to the coffee situation. I developed a habit in 2010 of two flat whites a day -- one first thing at my desk in the morning, the second sometime after lunch. And then last year with my Nespresso machine, I pretty much abandoned instant coffee all together.

So what do I do now? A few times on public transport I grabbed a coffee on the way in, but I like lingering over it at my desk, not juggling it on the train. Fortunately I soon discovered the morning coffee ordered from reception. There's a drive-through coffee place nearby that actually makes decent coffee and -- best of all -- delivers if the order is large enough. So it was in my 3rd week I think that I negotiated my standing order at reception and resolved to pay my $20 coffee fund on the Monday of each week. I still have to bear with instant for my afternoon coffee, but by then I can handle it.

Except this week and next, our coffee place is closed! So I've been making a stop at Altona Gate before arriving at the office. The coffee there is variable. Today I tried coffee from Michel's pastries and it was better than the bitter brew I had yesterday from one of the other cafes.

Before I end this ramble about my life working in the wild west, I should mention that we are quite close to Seddon and Yarraville and Williamstown, where there are nice cafes. So far I've been to Seddon a few times with some of my colleagues, usually on a Friday, and it's been wonderful to go somewhere with a little more groove. I should also note that we are nowhere near the centre of Altona, which is actually quite nice too, with cafes, parks, the beach and even a wetlands. But everywhere decent requires you to get in the car.

It's fair to say I'm still working out my routine at the moment, trying to work out what will work long term. I daresay I'll get annoyed with the traffic on the way to Altona Gate, so it might need to be a mix. I may need to bring my lunch in on occasion -- and then I'll see if I can find the park. I think the only way to escape my desk at lunchtime is to get out of the building. I think I'll be on a quest to find a lunch buddy as well.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Two exciting new writing initiatives for 2012

Today I have embarked on two exciting new initiatives related to my writing career.

The first, which I signed up for a few months ago, is an online course called "blogging to build brand". It was a spur-of-the-moment decision to sign-up, made when I had all the time in the world and was often to be found lost in blogland. I think the course goes for a month and I have no idea what it's going to entail, but the idea is to help authors (and aspiring authors) cement their brand on the interwebs through social media.

I've spend a deal of time thinking and reading about online branding over the past year. It's very hard to justify the time needed to read the vast number of interesting blogs, not to mention actually blogging oneself, when it's at the expense of actually writing. After all, what's the point of having a "brand" if one doesn't have anything to hang it on? The wisdom does seem to be, however, that even aspiring authors greatly benefit from having a strong brand, particularly when it comes to agents taking notice. Not in lieu of the writing or the story, of course, but every little bit helps.

Anyway, I decided that for a small fee and a little bit of time spent blogging (which I do anyway) I might as well find out some tips about how to make better use of my writing blog (the other one, not this one). Because the flipside of the "why bother worrying about brand?" argument is "why bother blogging at all if nobody is reading it?".

The course starts this month -- any day now I reckon -- and hopefully will result in some action on the other blog, which, like this one, has been somewhat dormant since I began work again. (I'll continue this blog in the same vein as ever -- a bit of this and a bit of that.)

An unanticipated side-effect of this course, however, is the Twitter interaction. There is a Twitter hashtag (#wana112) associated with our group of 100 or so writers, and we were all commanded to "stop using the Yahoo email group for chat" and instead get onto Twitter and start using either HootSuite or TweetDeck, which are more sophisticated Twitter handling interfaces than Twitter itself. (Many in the group had never used Twitter -- thank heavens I had, at least a little.)

I selected HootSuite in the end, on account of its being hosted in the Cloud, and now I have a dashboard containing several columns of Twitter feeds, all going off at once. This morning there was a flurry of messages and new people following me, and then I had to follow them all back, and between this and facebook I felt as though I was manning a complicated communications consul. It made me giggle. Since most of the other participants are in the USA, I'm going to be out of sync if they post in the evenings (our morning, when I'll be at work), so perhaps it won't be too demanding to keep up most of the time.

But the priority for this year, as already stated, is to complete a draft of a novel -- which brings me to the second initiative. Through one of my new blogging buddies, I was introduced to the #WIP500 project being run by writer, Cara Michaels. I daresay I will cross-announce this with the appropriate links on my other blog soon. It's being run like a low-key NaNoWriMo, where you aim to write 500 words a day for the entire year, and log them into the website daily -- and use the associated Twitter hashtag for chatting with others on the same journey. Since this coincided with my personal aim for 2012 anyway, it seemed a good idea to sign-up and have someone to be accountable to.

So there you have it. Pretty exciting! All I need to do NOW is go and write 500 words for today... and maybe some for yesterday as well.

It's going to be a brilliant year!

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Introducing my new wheels

The year 2012 is already off to a flying start, because I've bought myself a Christmas present...

It's a Volkswagen Golf and it's rather lovely.

Deciding on a make of car was initially daunting. There are so many to chose from! The first time I went looking we took a drive down the strip between Elsternwick and Brighton, stopping at Ford, Mazda, Toyota, Citroen, Peugeot and VW. I was quite impressed at that point by the Ford Focus, the Mazda 3 and the VW Golf -- the last despite the useless sales person, who explained the difference between the Polo and Golf as "having different body shapes with the same engine", and whose method of trying to sell me a car was to ask me how much I wanted to spend and then identifying a specific vehicle that I could have for that price. (Frankly, they are very lucky I went back to that dealer... Perhaps I forgave them because I enjoyed some verbal sparring with that imbecile.)

It was a few weeks before I had time to resume my investigations, by which time I was desperate for a vehicle. My daily commute to work has been two trains and a bus: train to Flinders Street, train to Footscray, bus to Brooklyn. Door to door it has been about 1h 25m on average, but worse has been the lack of flexibility. In the mornings, if I didn't leave by 7:25am all my connections stuffed up, making pre-work activities (such as gym) a bit of a challenge. In the evenings, I wasn't getting home until about 7:15pm. Suddenly, the thought of returning to public transport after the Christmas/New Year break was unpalatable.

So the weekend before Christmas, after more hours poring through downloaded car catalogues to compare features, I went out again to look. In the meantime, the RACV had published its top cars in each category. Interestingly the winners in the small car section were Golf, Focus, Hyundai (X2) and Mazda 3. Seems I had been onto a good thing so I decided to stick with it. I had, however, by this stage ruled out the Mazda 3 on account of a USB media interface being unavailable on any model (this may not seem like much, but to me it's one of the most essential features!!), but I wanted to go and look at the other 4 cars a little more closely...

It turns out that on Sunday afternoons not all car dealerships are open, including the Ford and Hyundai dealers. We went to VW again and got a MUCH more helpful sales guy, and came away with a Golf test drive booked for Christmas Eve. The rest, as they say, is history. Had the Ford place been open, I might have booked a test drive for that as well, but I never did.

I fronted up last weekend for my Golf test drive, fairly decided that unless I hated it, I was getting a Golf. And of course I didn't hate it! In fact, I have to confess I went through the motions of the test drive, already resolved to buy, and all was eventually arranged for a new car to be collected on Friday two days ago.

It is officially "United Grey" and has alloy wheels and five doors and a "liquefied ceramic" coating on the exterior to keep it shiny forever. It also has dual climate control and the all-important USB connection (so I can listen to audiobooks or music without having to fumble around with a separate MP3 player); plus hooks for hanging shopping bags on and heated side mirrors and cup holders in the back as well as the front and and and heaps of other stuff.

An unexpected thrill has been the bluetooth connectivity of my iPhone. My phone contacts have been synchronised with the car, so I can now make and receive phone calls from the steering wheel controls, with my phone in my handbag on the back seat. That wasn't something I thought I needed, but now I have it, it's pretty damn cool!

The best thing about this car is that it gives me the flexibility and freedom I've been needing. Most of this past year I haven't missed having a car much -- only on the odd occasion. I've enjoyed walking a lot, and catching public transport about the place (when not under any time pressure). But I also like to be able to visit Phillip Island on my own for the weekend, to go out at night without wondering how I'm going to get home, and to head off on outings without having to plan ahead how I'm going to get there.

I'm particularly excited that it's going to liberate my early mornings. Whether it's going to the gym or writing, those pre-work hours are going to be essential for me this year. If I have a new year's resolution (other than my already stated goal of completing a full draft of a novel), it's to utilise my mornings. It's always much harder to drag myself to the gym, or make myself write, after work. Besides, I've found in the past that writing before work actually increases the likelihood that I'll also write after work.

So there you have it. Bring on 2012! I'm armed with car and very determined.