Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Rhododendron Gardens

Things here in the forest continue as before. We're in mid-spring now (northern-hemispherites should think "April"). The azaleas have bloomed and are nearly done. The rhododendrons are in swing now - and over the last couple of weeks, Stephen and I have started a new exercise routine, which involves walking in the local parks. We've spent a lot of time in the National Rhododendron Gardens up in Olinda.

Here are a couple of photos
This one (above) taken at the large pond just inside the entrance. It was a little overcast the day we were there with our cameras - so the photo just doesn't do it justice.

The hot pink azaleas are just stunning. The photo above
from a couple of weeks ago. The azaleas blooms are starting to fade now.
Who can fail to be charmed by a ladybug? At various spots around the gardens you find these painted rock ladybugs. This one is about 8" across. Most of the "rock bugs" are about this size. Some of them have little antenna painted on their heads and some (not all) have names on the side.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Too much of a good thing

I freely admit that it took me a while to get used to the huge huntsman spiders we found inside the house from time to time. At first I was pretty freaked out and used to worry about having one on me, and possibly being bitten. After a while, though, I came to realize that they are pretty benign, even helpful (no need for bug spray in our house, the spiders keep the insect population in check). I've only met one person who claims to have been bitten, although EVERYBODY has had one in the house from time to time. Huntsman encounters are fairly common here.

I still don't want them to be on me (and that has not happened so far), but I'm actually pleased when I find one. They normally stay up high on the walls or even on the ceilings. If they see you coming, they generally try to skitter away. They aren't the least bit aggressive and, again, they're helpful. We live in the middle of a forest, so insects would overrun the place without the huntsmen.

So OK. One or two 8-legged wonders is a good thing.  But you can have too much of a good thing.

It's spring here, and lots of critters are nesting, raising a family. We've spotted a couple of tiny little baby huntsmen in the kitchen and upstairs hallway - to which I say "Hi, there!  Welcome, Junior!"

But a couple of days ago I walked into the foyer and found a baby spider on the wall only about a meter from the floor. Hm.. that's not normal. I wondered why he was way down there. Then I looked up...

Oh, my....

...arachnids in abundance...

I started counting.... 24 babies in the foyer. One in the kitchen (only one?!?!). Then I went into Stephen's office and gasped. In total I counted 63 huntsmen on the first floor. Momma Huntsman must've been taking fertility drugs.

Thank heavens they are just tiny little babies.  If we had that many full-grown "Wolfgangs", I think I might end up with a terminal case of the "willies".

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The American Holiday I'd Like to Import

Ah... Thanksgiving.

Tomorrow (Thurs) is Thanksgiving Day - aka "Turkey Day" in America.  I adore Thanksgiving - always have.

The aroma of a fully-stuffed turkey roasting in the oven. The stuffing (the EXTRA stuffing 'casserole' I always made because the little bit inside the bird is never enough), the homemade cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, homemade rolls, pumpkin pie with whipped cream and so on.

OooooOOOoooooo.  It's heaven - and it's all wrapped up in the true story of how starving English settlers were assisted by Native Americans, and how they came together to have a feast to share the best of each others' traditions and available foods.

Unfortunately, the traditional Turkey Day fare is somewhat heavy and suited to cold climates. Here in Australia the end of November it's warm, as the US might see in late May - and it's a little harder now to work up much enthusiasm for a big hot meal. It's also expensive, esp. as turkey (which is just sooooo cheap in the US) is harder to get here and costs a LOT more. Back in 2006, when I'd first arrived here, I ordered a whole turkey from a butcher shop in North Carlton - not far from my mother-in-law's home. Her birthday was November 22 - the day before Thanksgiving day that year, so it made sense.  Well, it made sense to me and Judith certainly didn't mind. I must say up-front that turkey was the BEST turkey I ever roasted; it was perfect in every way. But it was also a 12 pound bird which cost just over $60! OUCH! Since then I've been able to find whole turkey at much lower prices - although never as low as the prices I was used to in Ohio.

Anyway - being a huge fan of this holiday, I have imported it to Australia, in my own way. I now annually have a "Thanksgiving Day Feast" - but I have it in June or July (usually July). I really enjoy doing the whole feast and sharing with our dinner guests the fact that the original Thanksgiving feast was truly a multicultural event - something Australians appreciate, as our society also benefits from the blending of many peoples, just as the US has.

I get a fresh (not frozen) turkey from my local butcher, make twice-baked potatoes and homemade bread as I've always done.

Cranberry sauce is a bit difficult, as I have never seen fresh cranberries here. I can get frozen ones if I order them in advance - and craisins (dried cranberries) are readily available at the grocery year round now. I found a recipe for cranberry sauce using craisins - and, with a little tweaking, it's a pretty good facsimile.

Pumpkin pie - well, there's a challenge.  Jack-o-lantern-style pumpkins can be found here - for about $3 a kilo, which is, well... ...and you thought $60 for a 12-pound bird was a lot... ...might actually be cheaper to stick a candle inside a whole turkey....? I've adapted, however, and come up with my own recipe using butternut squash. I've been told by people who presume to know that "pumpkin pie" made this way isn't as good. Well, folks, with all modesty I will say that my own adapted recipe makes the BEST darned pumpkin pie I've ever had (I use coconut milk instead of the canned milk from the famous recipe on the side of the "Libby's" brand canned pumpkin - oh it's divine!).

But tomorrow?  No... no turkey for me.  Or wait... Safeway often has turkey drums at a reasonable price and I've learned that putting them into a roasting bag with half a bottle of cheap BBQ sauce, and cooking for 90 minutes at about 200C... yeah... maybe we'll have turkey after all. Just not the whole shebang. That'll I'll save for next July. And maybe when my antipodean Thanksgiving rolls around, I'll share some photos and recipes.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends and readers - may peace reign as you celebrate what, I believe, is the worlds oldest holiday which celebrates multicultural communities.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bed Cages - and why we bother

Many years ago, when I was owned by my first macaw (Pakshi - a Hahns Macaw), I learned an important lesson.

Pakshi had been with me since November and had been a sweet and loving companion. That first spring, however, as the days started getting longer, we had trouble: Pakshi started biting me! I really didn't think I was doing anything to provoke the bites, but they were happening. It seemed like he was nailing me about every other day. At about the same time, my favorite bird fanciers magazine ran an article talking about the necessity of ensuring that birds receive adequate dark/quiet time every night. The article pointed out that especially birds which originate from the tropics or near the equator have not evolved to handle the swings in daylight/darkness. The author of the article proposed that between 10-12 hours of quite and dark are required for these birds to get enough rest - and went on to point out that covering the bird might ensure the dark needed, but not the quiet. A parrot in a covered cage is unlikely to be asleep if the TV is on or there's other activity.


I had a medium-sized budgie cage with a wide flap door that I used primarily for Pakshi's travel carrier. This I installed in my guest bedroom (well away from the family room where I spent evenings) and kept a dark towel to pull over top of it. I started a routine of taking him to his "bed" at about 8 or 8:30 every night.

Did it work? YES! He returned to his usual sweet self in about three days. More, he clearly liked the arrangement, because if I failed to take him to "birdee bedtime" on schedule, he'd screech loudly to complain.

From that time on I've been careful to make sure any birds of equatorial or tropical species in my household had a special bedcage - and when I started keeping large macaws was already wise to the necessity of ensuring adequate rest.

As a result, Laka and George both have special "sleep cages". These are very small cages - adequate to allow them to turn around and sit without being up against the bars - but certainly not anywhere near the size of their day cages.

Here's Georges (below). As you can see, it's quite small, but it's adequate because he doesn't really need to move around much at night. It's fitted with a special "manicuring" perch, which helps keep his toenails from getting too sharp. Because his "room" (the guest bedroom) is on the northeast side of the house, we cover it with a dark sheet to ensure he's able to sleep until 6:30 or so (otherwise, he'd be up and serenading us at 5:30 or even earlier).

And here's Laka's cage. Again - it's far too small as a "residence", but for sleeping purposes, it's perfect. She doesn't need a cover - as her room stays darker in the morning than George's does.
And just as Pakshi did all those years ago, Laka and George have come to expect a fairly regular bedtime and can be pretty loud about it if we fail to send them off to "sweet dreams" when they are ready.

It's funny in a way that they would actually WANT to be taken to these small cages at night - but they do.  Laka in particular will head there herself if she's out of her day cage at "bedtime" - and even used to climb the stairs on her own and go straight to "bed". We had to stop allowing her to do that, however, as she didn't actually climb inside the cage (just on top of it), and from there it was too tempting to lean over and gnaw the edges of the bathroom mirror.