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...