Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Boxing Day

Well - we all woke up on December 22nd and knew the Mayans were wrong, eh?

Today is "Boxing Day" - on which (traditionally) servants and tradespeople are given gifts of appreciation by their employers. I'm wondering if I should explain this tradition to Laka and George - as I often joke that I'm a "bird slave" perhaps they'd be kind and give me something really nice - like, maybe, a day without screeching. (Yeah. I know. I'm dreaming.)

And. of course, here in Australia, just as in the US, the stores have fabulous sales on. I went to the mall about 10 days ago and ohhh... what a crowd! Finding a parking space was more than slightly difficult and boy, inside the mall it was elbow to elbow, especially near the exits. I'm sure there'll be loads of things on sale and the prices will be fabulous, but I think I'll give it a miss.

Happy Boxing Day to you, however - and if you check out the sales, hope you find something divine!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

All the Delights of December

We're only a couple of days from the much-discussed "end of the world, according to the Mayans." I can't say it worries me much, but I have been thinking that I should celebrate the day in some way. Maybe I'll make something special for dinner, kind of a "what would you want for your last meal" thing. Maybe a bottle of something sparkling to wash it down.

And Christmas is almost here - of course!  We're all set. The tree is up, the cookies baked and prezzies bought and wrapped. I've got a special Christmas project underway; I'm making a queen-size quilt with Christmas fabrics - quite the project, that! I've been writing about the project on my quilting blog.

For several years now, Stephen and I have made our own Christmas cards. They always have a bird theme. The picture below is from our 2008 card - "Three Wise Birds", created with one of Stephen's photos and a little Photoshop Elements magic.

"...and then there came three wise birds from the Land Down Under..."

From our perch to yours:
Best Wishes for a Very Happy Christmas!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pictures from the Book: Page 25

The feeding trays which used to be attached to the deck rail have long been taken down, but we still have visitors. I love the Crimson Rosellas. They are cheeky and friendly - but I have to admit I've not appreciated it much when they "help" me with the potted plants I've been keeping. Every so often they take a liking to something (or maybe it's a dislike?) and I'll find the plant has been thoroughly chewed. They never do enough damage to actually kill it (unlike the cockatoos, which have completely destroyed several things), but the plants end up looking maimed all the same.

At the moment I've got a handful of portulaca plants in a pot just outside the kitchen door. The rosellas have been nipping at them - snipping off an inch here and half an inch there. They don't actually EAT the plants, so I'm mystified as to what the point of this is. Maybe they are sampling it and deciding it's not "tasty". A few days ago I bought a small basil plant and temporarily set the pot in the planter between the portulaca plants. Since then there have been no more nibbles taken off. Hm.. is basil an effective "rosella repellant"? We'll see...

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Crazy Melbourne Weather

A week ago (Weds Nov 28), the temperature high was about 25 C (upper 70's). Thursday it jumped to 38 C (about 100), then it cooled back down to the upper teens again. Last night it got down to 7C here on Mount Dandenong (mid 40's) and it was cool and rainy all day. It won't last, however, as we're heading back to the upper 30's Saturday.


The weather projection for the summer is "hot and dry". So far we're seeing that only in spurts, which is a GOOD THING!

But will we be able to turn off the furnace at any point this summer? At this rate, probably not!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Rotary Club of Monbulk

I had a real treat tonight - I was invited to speak to The Rotary Club of Monbulk this evening.

What a lively group, and so very welcoming to me and Stephen! It was great fun spending the evening with them and sharing stories. They made us feel very much at home, very much part of the group. We had a ball and will make a point of supporting any Rotary Club sausage sizzles or other events we see in our area.

Thank you to The Rotary Club of Monbulk!

Dirty Cars Are Luckier

I washed my car on Saturday morning. It was going to be a fairly warm day, so I went out early, dragging the hose attached to our raintank around to the driveway. I wouldn't say I did a fabulous job, but at least I got the worst of the mud off of the sides, and now you can again see the blue paint without the usual decorative brown dirt. It'd been quite a long time since the last wash, and as I was rinsing the last of the "car shampoo" off the sides, I laughed to myself that poor old "Jelly Bean" (the name I call my car) might not run as well without the grime clinging to her.

Jelly Bean sat in the carport from then until Monday afternoon. I was heading out to meet some friends that day - hopped into the car and turned the key and.... ...nothing. Not even a "click". Dead battery.

I suppose sooner or later, we all experience this or something like it. What a PAIN!

Hubby Stephen kindly agreed to drive me to my meeting and I decided to leave the car alone until the next morning.

Fortunately, we have a membership in the RACV - Royal Automobile Club of Victoria. They are our insurance carrier and we also have the optional "roadside assistance" service. One simple phone call and thirty minutes later a friendly man in a small truck came down the drive to jump-start my car. He asked me how old the battery was, and on learning it was the original battery that came with the car - six years ago - advised me to consider replacing it. I assured him I planned to.

 "Would you like me to organize that for you?" he asked.

Sure!" I happily agreed. He made a quick phone call and in less than an hour another RACV man had come and installed a new battery (with a 3-year warranty). I was delighted! I knew the roadside service included getting a "jumpstart" but I never dreamed they'd send a mechanic to actually fix the car! How good is that?!?!

It rained that day, and as I had an errand to run, there was no choice but to drive out onto the muddy road and, yes, just as you are guessing, Jelly Bean has a fresh splash of mud on her sides as a direct result. I think I'll leave it there. Washing the car twice in one week is tempting fate.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Oh... no.....

I was just shifting a few things around in my office (which is horribly cluttered at the moment) and came across one of my least-favorite Australian critters: A Whitetail spider.

It was sitting on the floor, just behind a painting I had leaning against the wall.


I have been wondering for some time why I hadn't seen any huntsmen in the house. Now into the latter part of November, I expect to see one or two, especially on rainy days. But "Wolfgang" has been missing in action. Now I think I know why. Whitetails, you see, eat other spiders.

They also have a reputation for giving a bad bite - so I don't tolerate them in the house.

I find them every so often - not terribly frequently, thank heavens. But when I do find them... hmmm... it tends to be in one of 3 places:
  1. on the first floor at the foot of the stairs
  2. in our bedroom (generally near the bathroom door)
  3. here in my office - and in the same spot where I found this one
What's up with THAT?!?!?!

I was on the phone with friend Dianne when I found this one. Her advice is to spray the room with insecticide. I'm not sure I want to do that - I don't like using chemicals like that. However... if I find any more, I may consider it.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

You're Nobody 'Till Somebody Loves You


Warmer weather, flowers in bloom and love is in the air.

Stephen had George out for a little exercise flight around the house, and George made a bee-line for the big grass basket I have in the loungeroom. Stephen snapped this photo and asked me "What's up?"

I know "what's up". I know quite well. Can you guess?

That basket is, in George's mind, a nest cavity.

George turned 7 years old last Sunday. He's all grown up now (has been for a while, actually) and is in the prime of his life. He'd just love to start a family. Problem is, he's made a species-inappropriate decision regarding his mate. Who has he chosen? ME.

Yeah - I'm just too sexy for my own good.

So these days, when George is out and about, he's hunting for a good nest site. This basket, he's sure, will do. If not that, there's the space under the club chair in my office - or the area under my desk, or under the bed. Anything that has a "roof" and "sides" is worthy of his intense consideration.

How long will this go on, you ask?



With eclectus parrots, there's no real "down time". Breeding season pretty much happens 11 out of 12 months of the year. Lucky me, eh?

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Special Day

In early November 2006, I rang my mother-in-law (who was here in Australia) from Ohio and said this:

"Stephen and I are going to get lunch at The Troy next Sunday. Would you like us to pick anything up for you?"

There was a pause on the phone and then Judith burst into delighted laughter. The Troy, you see, is a kebab shop just around the corner from her house. I was having a little fun with Judith - and, in my way, letting her know we'd be seeing her very soon. And we did.

On November 12, 2006, I stepped off the plane at Tullamarine International Airport as an immigrant. So today is a special day for me. One I happily remember and celebrate quietly with Stephen.

May you also have a few "special days" of your own. Celebrate them with joy and gratitude for the good things in life, happy rites of passage, and moments when you felt the universe was pouring itself out for you.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Melbourne Cup - 2012

Last year we had a "photo finish", with horses Dunaden and Red Cadeaux so close the judges had a quite a job to figure out who won:

Dunaden was proclaimed the winner.

This year, both horses were favorites but instead... oh my... what a RACE! The winner was Green Moon - a horse that just came out of nowhere!   Here's the video:

Hubby Stephen prepared a "sweep" again this year, and everybody in the household (including the birds) had horses assigned. The winning horse was assigned to my good friend Ruth - who had not really paid much attention to the Melbourne Cup before this year. But now? Oh... I do think she's HOOKED!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

PIctures from the book: Page 20

Sometimes when I look at the colour original photos I used in the book, I still wish I could have somehow managed to use colour in the book instead of black and white. Here's a classic example of why:
This is a juvenile Crimson Rosella. The chicks start out with green feathers, but then gradually molt those feathers and end up with red and black (and a little blue here and there).

When you see a juvenile, you think at first it's a different species - the look so VERY different from the adults!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

More Perth Flowers - Kangaroo Paw

Kangaroo Paw is a very interesting Australian native flowering plant. It has long strappy leaves, like a daylily in some respects - but the flowers are unique:

Here's a closeup of the above plant:

And the ones below I found fascinating: something like "Christmas" colours, bright red and green:

And here's a closeup:

I have a pink one here in Victoria, but it's dormant at the moment. When I saw it in a local plant store I went wild, hadn't seen a pink one, and thought they only came in orange and gold, so I snapped it up with glee. Of course I love it (no photos yet... we'll have to wait for summer) but have to admit I embarrassed myself when I started carrying on to friends about my fabulous "find" - pink Kangaroo Paw isn't really all that rare. I'd just not seen one before.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

And Now - Perth

Our wedding anniversary is in September, and this year we decided to celebrate by taking a short trip to Perth, in Western Australia.  Western Australia is known for it's wildflowers, and in the spring the countryside is amazing - or so I'd been told. So off we went.

Well.. early September is too early for the flowers as far south as Perth. Once we arrived we were told we were about 4-5 weeks too soon! The flowers in the north end of the state would be blooming now, but not so much happening in Perth.

No matter. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip, anyway - and on our first day there we went to Kings Park - an immense inner-city botanical garden.

Here's a little of what we saw there:

The flowers are called "Everlastings" - and their soft pink and white blooms make a lovely display in-mass (as below):

Kings Park has a lovely cafe and gift shop along the eastern edge of the hill where the park sits (there's a steep cliff along the eastern edge, which I had my back to as I took the photo below). The white umbrellas in this shot are those of the cafe.

The design of the gardens is fabulous - and the rich mix of colours was simply breathtaking.
In the upper left corner of the photo above is a very interesting orange-flowering plant. Here's a closeup:
And a few more of the yellow flowers with pink everlastings mixed in.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Glorious Wattle Trees

At the end of winter, there's a change in the forest. The gorgeous wattle trees come into bloom. They've been brightening the forest now for a few weeks and are still going strong. There's nothing quite like a wattle tree. Here's a closeup of a flowering twig that the wild parrots chewed off of our tree (I found it next to the garage)
Delicate, bright and buttery in colour. Here's a closeup of the buds:

I've tried and tried to get a decent photo of an entire tree - and am just not managing to get it into focus - but here's a snap of 3 wattles on the hill taken from a distance.

Honestly, the photo doesn't do justice.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

So what happened?

Wednesday came and went, didn't it?  And no post?

You're right.

I'll fess up: bad week here. News from Ohio is, well, not good - as my mother has apparently declined rapidly health-wise. So I was distracted. Really distracted.

And it's a shame because we're just back from a week in Perth and I so wanted to share some photos of the place with you and a story or two.

OK.  I'll make good this coming Wednesday.

Thank you for your patience.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Some Lessons Are Too Hard To Learn

A while back (not all that long ago, really...) I related an incident where Laka chewed through her t-stand (when she was standing on it... IDIOT!) and the crash landing that resulted. Well... obviously we haven't learnt anything. Here's what's left of the t-stand:
Yes, she was sitting on that white cup, leaned down and gnawed away the wood she was standing on. I didn't see it but heard the CRASH... Stephen was there and saw it wall.

She went down hard, really hard, and banged her left wing pretty well - breaking a blood-feather in the bargain. She's fine - only her dignity wounded in the end  -other than the blood, which was... E.V.E.R.Y.W.H.E.R.E (picture really big bird with really big wings, flapping blood in every direction...)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pictures from the book: Page 19

Isn't she stunning? This is a Galah - what in the US is called "Rose Breasted Cockatoo". Up until the last six months, we didn't see them around much; they flew through our yard, but didn't stop. But - since about the start of this year, there have been a few around, usually in pairs.

(Click the photo above to view a larger image)

The Galahs I saw in the US never had the depth of colour the wild ones we see here have. The grey is more pronounced with (as you can detect in this photo) a tinge of blue. The breast is a deep pink. The ones I'd seen in the US were lighter coloured.

I remember a woman in Ohio who kept a cardinal. It was missing a leg and had wing injuries which prevented it from flying (it's not legal to keep wild birds in Ohio - she had some kind of special license). Her bird, a male, was definitely red, but his colours weren't the brilliant red of the wild birds. His keeper speculated that there was probably something missing in his diet. Perhaps that would also explain the muted colours of Galahs in the states.

Anyway, we're seeing Galah's more and more now. They are certainly less trusting than the other wild parrots; we can't get near them. But we're happy to have them around to add to the variety.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The National Rhododendron Garden - Winter

We made our first trip to the National Rhododendron Garden last year, taken there by Gay, a neighbor and friend.We fell instantly in love with it. It's hard not to like this place, so beautiful and easy to walk.

It's been raining here quite a lot (typical Mount Dandenong winter weather) and we're missing the sun. But Sunday the rain held off (although it was very cloudy) and so we decided to get out of the house and go for a walk. I'd seen some rhododendrons blooming down in the city, and wondered if there might be any in bloom in the national garden - so we headed there for our little bit of exercise.

There wasn't a lot in bloom, but even so, a few brave bushes are sporting some lovely flowers, like this one:

Even in winter, the gardens are lovely. There are a few small ponds and a lively stream running through. The sound of gently trickling water merges with the twitter of robins and finches to produce a calming atmosphere, even on a cloudy day like this one.

All of the rhododendrons not blooming now are loaded with promising buds. There's no mistaking the signs that there's going to be an explosion of colour very soon.

We'll be returning throughout the spring, cameras in hand, and hope to capture some lovely images to share with you here.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A mid-winter "Wolfgang" (unusual, to say the least)

During the cooler months, we don't see much of Wolfgang. He (she?) stays pretty much out of sight, hibernating, I guess. But this week, lo and behold - one showed up in the middle of the day. It's been raining quite a lot the last three days or so, and I guess that might be what brought him out. The strange thing, however, is where he was. Normally these critters stay up high on the wall or ceiling. This one, however, clung to the baseboard at the top of the stairs on the second floor (I set my shoe just in front of him so you have a sense of his size):

(Click the photo for a larger image)
Here's a closeup:

He wasn't especially huge, as huntsmen go, but a healthy size all the same. Wolfie just hung out there in that same spot all day long, never moving. I was hoping he'd eventually head on downstairs (very few bugs ever show up on the 2nd floor, so there's not much to eat up there). But he didn't. Normally I just leave the huntsmen alone, but this one, well, I just didn't like where he was hanging out (right outside the master bedroom). It was too easy to imagine him skittering around the floor at night and possibly getting stepped on. Around 9 or 9:30 pm, I'd had enough and ended up evicting him. I took one of Laka's cast off feathers (a long one) and used it to coax him down the stairs and flicked him out the door.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Pictures from the book: Page 16

It was the realtor's photos of the cockatoos and other wild parrots hanging around the house that first caught my attention when I was "house hunting" back in 2006. I was enchanted, not understanding how destructive these guys really are. Here's Buster and a few pals hanging around outside of my office window.
(Click the photo above for a larger image) 

They look placid, eh? Harmless enough, or so you'd think.Unfortunately, they have a real penchant for chewing wood - including the railing they are sitting on and the deck floor! Even the wood siding on the house shows evidence of their attention.

I just love them, however, even though we've learned to chase them off whenever they show up. They are so personable, cheeky, intelligent and full of personality.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Australian Ballet: "The Display"

A couple of years ago I attended a meeting of the Ladies Probus Club of Emerald. Each month they have a speaker come in to give a presentation - and on this occasion, the speaker was Barry Kitcher - a retired ballet dancer who was with the world-famous Australian Ballet. He was an excellent speaker who fascinated us with his stories about what it was like to be part of the ballet.

Part of his talk included telling us about one particular piece: "The Display" - a ballet that was, in part, inspired by Australia's Lyrebirds. Mr. Kitcher was the first to dance the part of the lyrebird, a role which called for him to wear an amazing costume (shown in this photo).

As part of his talk, he told us that "The Display" was going to be revived by the Australian Ballet this year, and would be performed here sometime during the year. I've been eagerly looking forward to this, and recently learned that it is part of a performance named "Icons" (which includes The Display, plus two other Australian works) that is coming to Melbourne in September.

And, yes.... we've got tickets!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

William Ricketts Sanctuary

Situated about halfway between Olinda and Kalorama (on Mount Dandenong) is the William Ricketts Sanctuary. Stephen and I have driven by it many times, but never actually visited until last week.

William Ricketts was an incredibly talented sculptor who settled on Mount Dandenong in 1934. He felt a strong connection with and love for Australian aboriginal people, and expressed that love in his art. Over fifty years he worked to transform his property into an amazing sculpture park, with works placed alongside paths that wind through the trees and shrubbery. The property was bought by the state in the 1960's and made a public park (although Ricketts continued to live there until his death in 1993).

On the say we went it was partly cloudy and fairly cool (not much about 10 C). It seemed to us to be the perfect kind of day to go - the cool, damp air added to the feeling of spirituality. I'm sure that the sanctuary is lovely on a sunny day, but winter does seem to be the perfect season to go. I think it would be even lovelier to visit in the rain!

Paths paved with bitumen and flat rocks wind through the trees, bordered with moss-covered rocks. The park employees keep the leaves and tree litter swept up (Stephen observed that they'd have to be sweeping it every day to keep it so tidy). I was a little wary of the stoney sections of path, but found that although the rocks looked slippery, they weren't (again, I expect that's due to the careful attention of the park attendants).

The sculptures look as if they've grown straight up out of the rocks. Looking at them, I thought they were stone, and was very surprised to learn that they are actually made of clay that has been molded and fit into the rocks.

There are quite a few animals included, possums, dingos, wallabies - but most of the figures are human, and most male. Some are children, some adults of varying ages. All have beautiful, placid faces and remarkably life-like eyes; you really expect them to speak.

Well, yes, of course they DO speak. They speak straight into your soul.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Meet "Jacky Winter"

I was getting lunch and looked out the window to see a bird sitting on the deck rail - a species I'd not seen before. The little guy didn't hang around long, but flew down to the trees below the house. Stephen was able to get a snap of him, however:

He's a "Jacky Winter" (Microeca fascinans). This is the first one I've seen. He was small - only about five inches from beak to tail - and quick. There was at least two of them darting around the shrubs and smaller trees. I heard the bird chirping, but not enough to be able to describe the song yet. Hopefully they'll be hanging around a bit and I'll be able to become more familiar with them.

Stephen tells me this makes the 30th bird species we've observed here at our house (he keeps a list), and that there are about 130 species known to live in our forest. So... Ok.. only 100 to go, eh? 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Parrot Puberty

Earlier this month, Miss Laka celebrated her 6th "hatch day". We don't do cake and candles for this event, but we do see that a birthday card is produced, often (as was the case this year) something that Stephen puts together using his computer. Here she is (above) about to commence the joyful shredding of this year's offering.

At this age, we can expect to see periodic hormonal behaviour. It's not unlike having a human child at about the age of eleven or so. And, sure enough, we got a little sample of it the evening of Laka's birthday.

Stephen and I were sorting and folding the wash in our bedroom. I'd tossed the clean laundry onto the bed and we were going through it, sorting and folding. Laka was with us "helping" (which means she was stomping all over the bed, investigating this piece or that, grabbing the socks we reached for and so on). It was all fine, good fun, at least for a while.

Then Laka's attention turned to one of my tee-shirts, which I'd neatly folded and set down on the bed. She grabbed at it and tugged it, then started pulling it around, forming a swirl of cloth. Her demeanor then changed and I knew we were in trouble. She flattened her back, put her head down and cocked her wings slightly to the side, out from her body. The feathers around her face flipped outward, making her head look larger. Then her tail went up slightly and she started raking her beak along the bedspread in a fairly aggressive manner. She stood on the tee-shirt and struck out at us if our hands came within a foot or so.

What was she doing? That tee-shirt had become "a nest", her nest, and she was warning us to keep well back. She'd claimed that part of the bed as her territory and was prepared to defend it to the death.


She was clearly having a hormone surge, poor thing, and although Stephen and I couldn't help but chuckle a little at her, the truth is that she wasn't playing. From her point of view, it was deadly serious.

A hormonal macaw defending her nest is nothing to mess with. Although normally very gentle and loving, she was a fairly dangerous animal for the moment. For her it was no game. Her beak is very powerful, capable of crushing a brazil nut with ease. Anyone foolish enough to come within striking distance might end up with a nasty injury.

She momentarily stepped of the shirt and I made a very quick grab to pull it away. I hoped that, deprived of it, she'd settle a little, but that didn't happen. She moved back to the spot where she'd scrunched it into a swirl of fabric, and started scraping her beak on my quilt. If I didn't move fast now, she'd surely rip into the quilt. I triple-folded a bath towel and draped it over my arm, then moved in toward her, extending my arm and commanding her to step up. She struck with all her might at my arm and chomped into to towel as hard as she could. The terrycloth protected me, and I persisted, pushing my arm under her belly until she had to step up or fall over. She stepped on the towel grudgingly, lowered her wings and tail, and the feathers around her head dropped back to normal position. There was still fire in her eyes, though, and although I could get her to step onto my other (bare) arm without a fight, I knew she was still pretty worked up.

It all ended without anybody getting hurt. And I learned a valuable lesson. Although I've known for some time that "nesting behaviour" was probably going to commence soon, I hadn't anticipated the speed with which a macaw will get "nesty/nasty". Or maybe she'd been giving us signals we didn't recognize until she went for that tee-shirt. In any event, it's clear that puberty has arrived; we can expect more of these incidents in future.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Yes, We Do Have "July 4th" in Australia

...but no, we don't celebrate.

Independence Day, aka "The Fourth Of July", is an American holiday. I've been surprised, really, at the number of people I know who have asked me if Australia celebrates it, too. These are intelligent people, most are college educated and several have traveled outside the US. I'm not sure what to make of it. (and pssst... Australia doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving, either...). 

By contrast, we've just celebrated something else.

Here in Australia, we recently celebrated the Queen's birthday. Queen Elizabeth II is, as many of my US friends will be surprised to learn, queen of Australia as well as England. The Queen's birthday is celebrated as a public holiday in June (except for in Queensland and Western Australia, who celebrate it in October... but let's not get too confused here...). Of course, the current queen's actual birthday is in April (but again, just keep your eye on the ball, OK?).

Before my US cousins start sniggering at this - keep in mind that Independence Day (which is traditionally July 4th) is in recent times celebrated on other days. Is YOUR hometown doing the fireworks and parade bit on the 4th? Probably not. You probably did it over the weekend, and had Monday as your day off. What's wrong with that?  Nothing!

Now, as some (if not most) of you know, I am now both American and Australian (dual citizenship), so I guess I'm entitled to enjoy both. However... it DOES feel a little weird for someone who's ancestors fought a bloody revolution against the British to cozy up completely to the queen, so I generally have ignored the Queen's Birthday. And because there are no reminders in Australia about America's Independence Day, I have been known to be a little absent minded about that holiday.

But not this year. This year I paid attention to QEII - and made a point of reading the new biography about her - "Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch" by Sally Bedell Smith (and I highly recommend it, by the way). It was my own little way of celebrating her birthday.

And I'm aware of that today is July 4th. There'll be no fireworks, hotdogs, or apple pie, but I will sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" to myself and lift a glass in honour of the land of the free and the home of the brave. (Of course, technically it's July 3rd in the US - but it's July 4th where I am... but don't let it throw you, OK?)

Happy Birthday, America!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Watching the Trees Breathe

On chilly mornings, especially after there's been a bit of rain, the gum trees release a wonderful and mysterious-looking vapor when the sunlight strikes them. It's gorgeous to watch the steam rise from the ground and from the tree trunks, slowly rising into the air. It's a little like seeing your own breath on frosty mornings - as if the trees are exhaling, and I suppose they are.

I'm writing this on Tuesday night - and the weather people are predicting that temps here will drop below freezing tonight. Brrr! Today was sunny, and tomorrow is supposed to be sunny, too. Will the trees be steaming in the morning?  Don't know... but I'll be finding out!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pictures from the Book: Page 13 (Pakshi)

Pakshi was my first macaw. I laugh at myself now because I remember that when I first got him I thought he was HUGE! Now I think of him as petite.

It was Pakshi who taught me the important lesson that many parrots, especially macaws, need to have 10-12 hours of quiet and darkness in order to get adequate sleep. He was the first bird that had a separate "sleep cage" away from the living area of the house. He went to bed about 8:30 (and would scream like a monster if I wasn't prompt about that) and got up at 6:30 with me in the morning.

A Hahns Macaw, Pakshi's species is the smallest of the macaws - only about 12 inches from beak to the tip of his tail. He was a loving little guy but could be quite nippy. He gave me the worst parrot bite I've had to-date. He pierced through the fingernail on my right-hand ring finger. It was a wound inflicted to punish me for failing to focus on HIM while I was holding him; he was intensely jealous of me and demanded my full attention.

He could also be fairly aggressive toward the other birds. Below is the first photo taken of Jesse, the Catalina Macaw we had in Ohio. I had just taken her out of her carrier and was holding her - Stephen snapped this photo just as Pakshi (who was out of his cage at the time) flew at us in rage. I never dreamed he'd attack something so much larger than himself. The photos is blurred because I was pulling back - but you can see a green blur just above my left hand - that's Pakshi - and look at the terrified look on poor Jesse's face!

I stepped aside quickly and prevented Pakshi from landing on us. Stephen put the camera down in a hurry and scooped my little green devil up and promptly put him in his cage.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Pictures from the Book: Page 13 (Forte Soleil)

Stephen had not been exposed to birds as companions much before he met me. But he's made up for lost time - and now enjoys interacting with our own birds and the wild ones that visit us every day. This is one of my favorite photos of him, taken when we were still living in Ohio:

Forte Soleil is a female sun conure. She was a very tame, sweet little thing, and quickly selected Stephen as her "preferred human". She loved to climb around inside his sweater, poking her head out and looking around before diving back down in. I am pretty sure she thought his sweater was a nest box - as she would defend the territory quite fiercely.

We loved her and hated to give her up, but are in agreement on one thing: we'll never own another sun conure. Why? If you ever get to hear one screeching, oh.... lordy... it's bad. She didn't have the volume of a macaw, of course, but her scream was piercing in it's own way.

One of my favorite bird books is "Birds Off the Perch" by Grindol, Lachman, and Kocher. In their book, the authors have a table comparing the traits of various birds. The table includes a "Loudness" rating, and here's what they say about sun conures and macaws:

Blue and Gold Macaw: Loud
Sun Conure: Extremely Loud

Friday, June 8, 2012



I love wool.

I live in a country where some of the most gorgeous wool garments are in shops everywhere. It's a wool-lover's paradise.

I love wool.

Wool, however, does not love me back. It seems I'm going to have to accept the fact that I cannot wear wool.

Is there anything so sad as unrequited love?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

And as winter closes in, I'm reminded...

May in Australia is roughly the equivelant of Novermber in the northern hemisphere. Because our temperatures here on Mt. Dandenong are generally 4-5C lower than the city below, well, it gets chilly here before anywhere else.We don't see much snow (THANK HEAVENS!), but the continual rain and wind can drive the chill into your bones all the same.

I'd like to report an observation about differences in how people relate to the changes in temperatures here (as opposed to the US). I come from Ohio where it can get pretty darned cold (not as cold as some places, I'll agree, but cold all the same). Ohioan's (and I suspect others in the US) tend to like temps toasty - 72 F was always considered the ideal summer day temp. And I remember well the national campaign trying to get people to turn their thermostats down to 68 F  - and even lower during periods when their homes were unoccupied. I always found 68 F a bit, well, too cool for me.

But then again, I was raised in Ohio where we cranked up the furnace and didn't really put on a lot of heavy sweaters ("jumpers" in Australia) or other clothes to compensate. Oh, sure, the shops all had thermal underwear, and I guess it sold well, but I remember well in my office building that 70-72 F was considered good and anything lower would bring complaints.

In Australia, people are a lot hardier.

I was at the grocery today - a day when I was wearing a thick sweater and a lightweight coat. It was rainy and roughly 55F (maybe a tad lower). Ahead of me was a woman in a thick sweater, but wearing garden shoes (you know  - those hideous rubber scuffs with holes in them) and no socks. It happens more than you'd think. On a day when the temps dip well into the 50's, you'll still find people here in flip-flops (in Oz we call them "thongs"), sitting in outdoor cafes, enjoying a coffee and a chat. I keep my house warmer than anybody I know here - but even so am learning, year after year, to adjust to and appreciate lower internal temps in winter.

Swing to summer, you see the same differences.  I know very few people here who have A/C. Very few. And in the places where it's used, it's used sparingly. In Ohio, I had trouble during summer with chest colds brought on by overly-aggressive use of A/C. You'd go in from 90F to 70F - and back out again - AND the air inside a heated building could become incredibly dry. The shock to the lungs is, well, those of you in the states know what I'm talking about.

Here, A/C units are used to take the edge off - not to completely cool a space to the (US-loved) standard of 70F or so. And I've yet to have gone into any store or shopping center and thought "oh, gee, it's cold in here" during summer.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


One evening last weekend, I was sitting in my office when I heard something flapping/tapping on the window. It was pitch black outside, and the lights from my office had attracted a couple of bugs, including this beauty:

It was a good sized moth. The abdomen was as thick as my index finger and nearly as long. The wingspan looked to be about four inches, maybe even five. I mentioned the sighting on Facebook, and a friend who lives nearby identified it as a Bogong moth. She said there'd been quite a few hanging around her place a few nights before.

After reading a little about them online, I learned that their caterpillar/grubs are sometimes a garden pest here. I've many times found really big grubs in my pot plants, and suspect now that it's Bogong caterpillars I've been finding. Yet one more thing to chomp away at my perennials.  Oh well...

I guess I could have my revenge if I wanted it. Aboriginal peoples used to roast and eat them - and I read that the flavour is somewhat nut-like.  Nah... I'm not quite THAT adventurous.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Laka's Last (T) Stand

Laka's t-stand started out as a long wooden dowel with white plastic cups screwed in at either end. She loves her t-stand - but has been chewing on it, gradually whittling down the wood until it's quite thin in places.

Well... the inevitable happened. I heard the crash and the flapping - and then Stephen's laughter (he saw her do it).  She stood on one of the white plastic cups and leaned down to gnaw on the wooden dowel. It gave way and dropped, taking her with it.

So here she is - sitting on the remaining cup - the left hand side having been chewed away. How long before she finishes off the end she's sitting on? Anybody's guess. The one thing I'm fairly sure of: she'll be standing on that white cup when she does it...

Idiot bird.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Parrot's Tail

When molted feathers are replaced by new ones, the new feather grows out with a protective casing of hard tissue, not unlike a fingernail. This casing (and the growing feather) are itchy and the skin where it's emerging is a little tender. Eventually, however, the casing dries and is preened away, revealing the new feather curling underneath.

For some reason, Laka doesn't like to preen her tail feathers, and leaves the casings on for a lot longer than other feathers.
Just from normal activities, however, the casing gets knocked about and eventually unravels (as you see above) or splits and falls away - but, again, it's rare to see Laka working on loosening the feathers.

She's recently moulted her two longest tail feathers and the photos above show the new ones growing in.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A "Titanic" Venue

In Williamstown - a posh suburb of Melbourne - is, what I believe, a fairly unique eatery:

(Note the top of the building - and the "White Star Line" entry on the left side) 

Yes - it's billed as the only restaurant where the evening is a "guaranteed disaster". You can have your meal in "steerage", "first class", or at the "captain's table", depending on your inclination and budget. Customers are encouraged to show up in period costume (and if you don't have a costume, they'll rent you one...)

Well...  I think the best way to tell you about this place is to show you their website (do have a look at the "steerage" page"!).

Friday, May 4, 2012

A Special Anniversary

One year ago today, I became an Australian citizen (I now hold dual citizenship, US and Australia). It was a proud moment for me and one I will always remember and treasure. Stephen and I were leaving for a trip to the US the next day, so we weren't able to celebrate as we might otherwise - although we did ask our friends Norm and Jen to attend the ceremony with us (and they were very sweet to oblige us, esp. since the location of the ceremony meant a long drive for them).

I suppose I will always want to do something special on May 4th from here out - to remember the day. Today we went with something simple - first lunch at the "Earthly Pleasures" cafe in Belgrave, and then a little "wine hunting" in the Yarra Valley. It was a drizzly, chilly day, but even so the scenery was lovely. Below is a shot taken from the veranda outside the tasting room at Seville Estates winery:

(click the photo above for a larger view)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Pictures from the Book: Page 12

Bubba and Aussie (birds we had in Ohio) were always quick to enjoy a little juice, and they were good friends and never squabbled over any treat offered, at least not as I recall. 

Just a few months before I began working on the book, I heard from Aussie's new mum. She told me, sadly, that Bubba passed away some time ago - but Aussie is fine, just as sassy as ever, and even has a new conure pal
(click the photo above for a larger image)
And here he is today:

(As you can see, he's been enjoying the cover of my book!)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Anzac Day

The Australia and New Zealand Army Corp (Anzac) Day is an important public holiday here. Anzac Day commemorates the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli in WWI - a military campaign which is famous for the terrible cost in lives on both sides of the fighting. It is a day when we remember the incredible bravery of the men who were part of that campaign - and we also honour the memory of all who have given their lives as part of military actions. It's not unlike America's Memorial Day.

Many Australians travel to Turkey at this time to attend a special dawn ceremony taking place on the site of the famous battleground. The images we see in the media of the ceremony there are very touching, emotionally charged. There will be dawn ceremonies here in Australia, too, at the Shrine of Remembrance and other appropriate places.

Growing up in Ohio, I understood what Memorial Day was about, but I can't say that I felt the emotion of it deeply. It seemed mostly a launch to the summer picnic season, a time associated with a professional golf tournament. I'm not sure why my experience of Memorial Day would be so "watered down", but it was. Anzac Day, however, feels very, very different to me - the point of it is somehow much closer to home, less obscure, more personal. And I observe in the people around me that Anzac Day affects them the same way. Nobody here seems to be missing the point. There will be many people who bake Anzac biscuits (a very tasty cookie that was invented during WWI and sent to troops overseas because it could be stored for long periods and offered a nutritious treat), but the focus isn't on the treat, it's on the sacrifices made.

If you are not familiar with Anzac Day, and the WWI battle which inspired, it, I recommend watching the movie "Gallipoli" - starring a very young Mel Gibson. You can probably find it in the library.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Annual "Flock Dance" of the Currawongs

In my book (page 106) I wrote about the currawongs doing their "annual flock dance". It's quite a thing to see - and I look forward to it each autumn (although Laka, our macaw, doesn't - they totally freak her out!).

The flock dance ritual has begun - and I managed to get a couple of photographs of one of these birds when it perched on our deck rail:

I admit to being unsure of which type of currawong this is. The markings seem like the Pied Currawong, but Pieds have a hook on the end of their beak, and this bird doesn't have that. The colours on the birds we are seeing are soft charcoal grey, so perhaps they are Grey Currawongs - but the photos I've seen of greys don't show the white markings (as you can see in the photo above). If anybody seeing this post happens to know - I'd love you to post a comment and tell me what you think the bird is.

Currawongs are lovely birds - stately and graceful in flight. They aren't particularly "friendly" in the way that the magpies and wild parrots are, but they do come around to investigate if there's a crust of bread laying around. The magpies resent their presence and will drive them off, snapping their beaks in threatening way.

I also got a short video clip of the same bird - he (or she?) isn't moving around much, but in the video, you can hear the sound of the flock (which we think might have had as many as 30 birds) in the trees. At the end of the video, I moved the camera slightly, trying to catch a glimpse of the birds dancing, but unfortunately it didn't come through.

Here's the video:

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Emerald Probus Ladies - a special "Thank You"

Monday morning I had the pleasure of being the presenter at the monthly Emerald Probus meeting. My topic was "Self-Publishing" (and yes, of course, I talked about my book as part of that). It was great fun visiting them and sharing some of the experiences I've had as a result of writing and publishing the book. They were a lively, interested audience - a real pleasure to speak to.

And, so, "THANK YOU, Emerald Probus Ladies!"

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Easter Chocolate

Easter is a lot more popular as a holiday in Australia than it is in the US. Quite a few people take off work from Friday through Monday, making it a nice 4-day weekend. Many shops and restaurants are closed as a result.

In the lead-up to Easter, all the stores stock chocolate eggs and bunnies. But my favorites are the chocolates that have a distinctive Australian spin - such as this one:

An Easter Bilby! Rabbits (which were imported to Australia in the 1860's) have wreaked an environmental catastrophe here - so I guess it might be "politically correct" to bypass chocolate bunnies in favor of chocolate bilbies. Rabbit Free Australia, a non-profit group seeking to raise awareness of the problem of rabbits in the Australian environment, started launched their "Easter Bilby" campaign back in 1991 - the idea caught on, and chocolate bilbies have been around ever since.

And then there's this little guy, who appeared on my desk on Easter morning:

A chocolate wombat! Wombats are to Australia what groundhogs are to America, except that they are considerably larger (wombats can grow to over 3 feet in length).

Of course, if you just want something more traditional, there's always chocolate eggs. And this year, friend Julie asked me to help her locate this:

A 1 kilogram chocolate egg - ENORMOUS! She had me pick up 2 of these, one for each of her grandsons (who are visiting from Adelaide this week). Julie reported that the eggs were a big hit:

"....there was shrieking
...for me?
...this is just the best Easter egg nanny
...can we take the box home too
...can we smash them open with our heads?"

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Pictures from the Book: Page 10

Very few people have ever even seen a Catalina Macaw, but Stephen and I actually were owned by one in Ohio. She was not my first macaw, but she was my first LARGE macaw, and she was a beauty. (The photo below may take a moment to load, but trust me, it's worth waiting for).

(click the photo for a larger view)

A Catalina Macaw is the result of pairing a Scarlet Macaw with a Blue and Gold Macaw. Jesse (shown above) had a Scarlet mother and a B&G father. She was one of two chicks from that clutch - her brother (who was actually less pretty) died at about 8 months of age (heart ailment is what we were told).

Jesse's adoption story is detailed on my website, complete with photos.

I absolutely adored her. We both did. When we moved to Australia we wanted to bring her with us. It was not to be.... (as detailed in "Flying Over the Rainbow")

You may wonder about this pose. Jesse is sitting on a "window perch" - a PVC perch with special textured footing that is attached to a powerful suction-cup, allowing it to be attached to a window. In this photo, the perch is secured to the glass only a few inches from the ground - low enough for Jesse to pull herself up from ground level (no flying required). She loved sitting there and looking out the window. I put the perch on the "storm door" to our house in Ohio, hoping that she'd experiment with tapping on the glass and learn that the door was made of something solid (and that she couldn't expect to fly through it). The lesson "took", to some degree, although placing some colourful stickers and whatnot on the glass, providing a visual reminder, were also a deterrent.

I am in contact with Frank and Theresa - Jesse' s new humans. They are lovely people and have been very kind to me - sending me stories and photos now and then, AND letting me and Stephen visit them (and Jesse) in their home when we've returned to the US. As much as I miss her, it's a great comfort to see her now so well loved and cared for. And in the bargain, we treasure the friendship that has grown with Frank and Theresa.

I loved Jesse more than words can express. Leaving her in Ohio was, well, one of the hardest things I ever had to do, and I grieved a long time for her. Even now it still hurts a little. Laka, who is my delight these days, is easier to deal with and just as loving. I'm blessed to have her in my life. But Jesse... ah, Jesse...