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.

Hm...

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.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Orange Lemons - or Lemon Oranges?

Growing up, as I did, in Ohio, I never dreamed I'd have the luxury of owning citrus trees. But here they are popular and pretty easy to grow! Excited about the prospect of having lemons, limes and so on, we planted a number of trees on the slope below our house. Some of the area is a bit shaded, but friends and neighbors in the area assure us that you can still get fruit as long as the tree gets some sun. So we planted a grapefruit, a couple of varieties of orange, a mandarin orange, and a lemon tree.

The orange trees were quickly devoured by the wallabies, and the grapefruit was pretty well stripped down, although it did survive (it never fruited, however, possibly because it had a tad too much shade). The mandarin is going strong, but has been without any fruit at all. The lemon - a Meyer lemon tree was following the example of the mandarin until last year. Then suddenly it got fruit!

Well - last summer wasn't the easiest one for us here (hot, dry, lots of scary fire weather days) and because I don't frequently go down to where the lemon tree is, well, I just forgot about it. But I remembered it this spring and went down to have a look.

Wow - was it ever loaded with fruit! Most of the lemons (many of which are still ripening) are quite small - but there were a handful that were larger than I expect lemons to be... and they were ORANGE!

Here's a photo of one of two pieces of fruit picked on the same day from the same tree:

What's up with that?!?!?

A little web-based research got me the answer.

Meyer lemon trees, it seems, are orange tree trunks with lemon branches grafted on. Well, whaddya know? And if you leave the fruit on too long, it turns orange and the flavour changes, too. I sliced open one of the orange ones (below) to see what it looked like, and sure enough - about halfway between the colour of a lemon and an orange:

I tasted it - and yup, orangy lemon. I'm not sure about the taste - but maybe I'll develop a fondness for it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Pictures from the book: Page 32

Buster was always photogenic - what a sweet face! How adorable! And how unwelcome he made himself and his sulphur-crested pals.
It used to just amaze me that the wild birds would be so very bold - they come right up to the windows and doors, tap on the glass for attention. I'm convinced that if we didn't keep a close eye on the doors (making sure they are CLOSED at all times), these birds would have been happy to stroll right into the house. (UGH!)

These days it's rare for us to have a visit from a cockatoo. We make a special effort to chase them off, and since one of us is home nearly all the time, there's always someone on guard. And, of course, Laka does her bit; if a cockatoo shows up, she has a screaming meltdown.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Maggie, Billy Bob and "Junior"

I hadn't really thought about it much, but we haven't seen Maggie and Billy Bob here together for a while. Seperately, yes, but not together - and mostly it's been Billy Bob. The reason? Ah... breeding season. Yes, our magpies have a youngster - "Junior".

Junior is out of the nest now and able to fly quite well. He's sticking pretty close to his mum, loudly whining and begging for food. Here she is feeding him:

There's a certain behaviour I've seen them engaging in - it's really strange. Junior gets over next to his mum and then rolls over onto his back, wiggling his feet in the air and calling out. I finally got a couple of photos of this.  They're not the best quality (I was shooting from quite a distance) but you can see in this one (below) Maggie standing over Junior, who is on his back (the white you see is the underside of his tail).
(Doubleclick these photos to see larger images)

In this next photo (below), Maggie seems to be pecking and prodding at Junior. I'm not sure if she's trying to get him up, or if she's going after some kind of parasite (possibly a leech)?


Here she is standing over him, and rolling him onto his side (he wasn't cooperating, just flopped there like a sack, with her tugging at him).


Finally he's rolling back onto his feet, with Maggie apparently grabbing at his legs from the right hand side.

What are they actually doing? Your guess is as good as mine.

I've seen both parents nudging and pecking at Junior - sometimes one or the other, sometimes together. Maybe they are removing parasites, but it actually looks more like Junior is throwing some kind of temper-tantrum and they're just trying to get him to stop it.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Happy Birthday Vegemite!

Driving home this afternoon I heard on the radio that today is the 90th birthday of Vegemite! Hey! Let's celebrate!

Hm... how do you celebrate such an auspicious occasion? Birthday candles? Champers?  I'll have to give this serious thought.

When I got home, I jumped online to verify the occasion, and came across a radio interview Jamie Callister - grandson of the inventor of this fabulous food, and author of "The Man Who Invented Vegemite".  Here's a link to the webcast of the interview.  Hope you have a listen - and hope you have a jar of Vegemite handy.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, VEGEMITE!!!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Burning Off

You may have heard about the horrific bush fires happening over the past few days in New South Wales. The heat and winds have stirred up a nightmare up there - and we watch the news with the understanding that it's only mid-spring - summer is yet to come.

It's time for people in our area to prepare for summer - and the bushfire season.  That means getting rid of any dead, dried material, the stuff the Country Fire Authority (CFA) refers to as "fuel".

An enormous amount of material falls from the trees here over the winter. Leaves, bark, branches and twigs litter the ground - so much that in places where the ground is sloping, it can be a little hazardous walking if the debris isn't raked aside. There's also a fair number of tree fern fronds which have dried up and broken off - all in all, our property is something of a mess by the time winter has come to an end.

It's been quite some time since burning off has been permitted this spring, but we just somehow never managed to get to it. On the days when it was convenient for us to do it, it would rain, or would have just rained recently, making the material we want to get rid of damp.  But last weekend it all came good.  It was nice on Friday and Saturday as well - the piles of branches and whatnot that Stephen had collected here and there around the yard were quite dry.  There was a little bit of wind, but not much, really, and so conditions were perfect.

We got up, had breakfast and headed out right away.  The weather bureau was predicting a high in the mid-20's, so we wanted to get as much done as possible when it was cool.

One of the problems with burning off is the smoke that is generated. But the material we were working with was so dry that it burned fast, hot and clean - very little smoke. Had you driven by our place it's unlikely you would have known what we were doing. Most of the time there was no smoke at all.

So we've made a start. There's still a lot yet to do, but we put a serious dent in it.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What happens when I wear out...

It's very windy today - sunny, but windy.  It's warm enough to open the windows and let the wind blow much-needed fresh air into the house (which has been closed up since about April, so we really need the fresh air).

George and Laka are taking turns in the loungeroom screaming at the wind.  They've been screaming about every 5 seconds for the last hour or so - with Kenny (the talking koala toy) dutifully replaying each and every burst.

There's nothing to do about George and Laka - but Kenny?  Time to remove the batteries...

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What happens when the batteries wear out...

Laka continues to enjoy long-winded conversations with "Kenny".  She's even allowing George to get in a word here and there (initially she would shout George down if he dared to play with "her toy"). All was happiness in the loungeroom until the batteries ran out of juice. Then?  Oh... my...  Lots of full-volume complaints.

Thank heavens for rechargeable batteries.  We now have a spare set - charge up one set while the other is in use.  Keeps peace in the house, don't you know...

(Laka-Laka-Laka, Becker-Becker-Becker, Gimme Kiss, Hello?....)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Laka and "Kenny" the Talking Koala

Laka has to spend part of her day in a cage (she can't be allowed out unsupervised, not safe for her or the house...). Keeping her and George entertained is important to us.

Well... I think we've stumbled on the perfect macaw toy:

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

No Dirty Birds Around Here!

Regular bathing is important for companion birds, both for the hygiene and for the obvious enjoyment they get out of it.

It can take a while to introduce a parrot to a human shower. It has to be done gently, slowly, with lots of patience, but we've managed to do that with our birds. Laka and George enjoy a nice shower.  I partially fill a bucket with water and they stand on the edge of that (they like the sound of the water dripping into the bucket - gets them in the mood). As long as the water is a steady, gentle trickle, they're happy.

I've been wanting to get a video of Laka playing in the shower, but our old shower stall so horrible I was ashamed for anybody to see it. In April we had the bathroom redone and got a new glass-enclosed shower, but Laka copped an attitude and has been refusing to cooperate ever since. Instead of splashing and having fun, she's been sitting on the edge of the bucket and scowling at me (ever seen a parrot pout?). But suddenly she changed her mind - and here we are....SPLISH SPLASH!
I'm hoping she's turned a corner, and will get back to enjoying her shower more regularly.



Thursday, September 19, 2013

What Happened In Chicago on Sept. 18

The folks from Tecoma who went to Chicago with the intent of delivering the "No Maccas" petition to McDonald's headquarters were finally successful.  They weren't invited in, but were met outside the office building by representatives of management.

The petition has been delivered!

Here's an interview with the leader of the delegation and an online report summarizing what happened.

(Update - there's a video of the meeting on Facebook. I haven't found it on YouTube or anywhere else yet, but expect it will show up there sooner or later.)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tecoma Group in the News in the US

Apparently the protestors who headed to Chicago (with the goal of personally delivering the nearly 100,000 petition signatures to McDonald's home office) are there and making some news:

Here's a link to a Chicago area TV station's story

Will McDonald's execs meet with them tomorrow (Wednesday)?  I have my doubts, but boy, it sure would be great if they did.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Me$$age 4 Ma¢¢a's

The fight in Tecoma against the building of a McDonald's continues - and now it's gone international.

Yesterday, Chicago TV station NBC News posted a story on their website about the arrival of a group of protestors from Tecoma.  They are there to meet with execs of McDonald's in the company's home office, and deliver a petition signed by over 93,000 people in support of their cause. The report doesn't say if McDonald's is actually going to cooperate with this, just that the group is there and going to try. The meeting (according to the news story) is supposed to happen next Wednesday.

Will it happen? Wouldn't it be lovely if the execs actually met with them and listened, let the people who've gone to so much trouble present their case? 

Yeah - I know I'm dreaming.

I wonder if McDonald's has an inkling of the bad publicity all this is giving them. But they're such a huge company they can afford to ignore it, I guess.

That Macca's on Burwood Highway is going to be a gold mine - tourists coming up from the city won't resist the temptation to stop and grab a fast burger. It's an ideal location and, yeah, it's gonna make a mint. Macca's is going to continue and press on. They're interested in their "bottom line", and if the furor over this store in Tecoma doesn't affect profits, they'll just continue to brush it aside.

There's a Facebook "event" page set up suggesting that people boycott McDonald's - all McDonald's, not just the one in Tecoma. So far there's just over 3,000 Facebook members who've marked "going" and another 300 who've said "maybe". I'm not sure how effective a boycott is if it's ongoing - is it being noticed?

I've been wondering why the protest organizers haven't tried a one-day boycott.  No signs, no placards, no flash mobs (although I agree there's a time and place for all those things - they are effective) - but instead just declare a "no Macca's day" in Melbourne and surrounds. And only for one day.  If enough people join in, it would surely be noticed. Of course there would be people who'd ignore the boycott, but if I'm right about the bad feeling this fight has stirred up, it would be interesting to send a clear message in a language they certainly understand.

Would that stop them from building that store in Tecoma? Probably not. But I still like the idea.

  Me$$age 4 Ma¢¢a's Day  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Voting

Last Saturday we had a federal election in Australia. As a new citizen of this country, I'd voted before - several months back there was a mail-in local election. Mail-in votes were allowed for this election, too, for those who wanted to go that route. For the rest of us, it meant turning up at a polling place and casting our ballot in person.

It was a very different experience from voting back in Ohio.  Let me explain.

When I was in the US, I lived in Reynoldsburg, Ohio - a suburb of Columbus (capital of that state). Voting in the US is optional, unlike Australia where every citizen is required to vote. In Ohio you are assigned a specific place to go for voting and when you turn up there's generally a queue, sometimes quite long. Because voting isn't required, those setting up the polling areas don't really know how many people are going to show up - and because voting is done on a week day, there are log jams of people before and after normal office hours.  I can remember times when I stood in line for well over an hour waiting for my turn, and can remember hearing many horror stories about people standing in line for hours. Voting there is done via an automated voting machine - a large boxy shaped metal cabinet where you flip levers next to the names of candidates or to indicate "yes" or "no" on issues up for voting. The cabinet is enclosed by a thick curtain which closes around you before you vote, and which is yanked back when you pull the large lever to lock your vote into position.

Here?  Very different experience.



As hubby Stephen and I approached the grammar school (our local polling place) we were greeted at the gateway to the school by a swarm of members of various parties, handing out little advertising sheets for their candidates, showing exactly how to mark your ballots. I was surprised to see them so close to the entrance and in such numbers (esp. for a tiny little village like ours). In the US they'd never have been allowed so close to a polling venue.

Inside the school we stood in a short line for, maybe, 15 minutes. Then I was directed up to one of two people who were registering voters. They looked up my name in a huge book and put a little mark next to it, indicating that I'd showed up as required.  Then I was handed two paper ballots: one a small green paper with the names of candidates for the House of Representatives on it and the other a very long white sheet used to record my vote for the Senate.  No technology involved - just paper and pencils (on strings which were secured to little polling stations).

Now it gets complicated.

On the green sheet I was to put a number next to each candidate (even the ones I didn't want), indicating how I ranked them (1 for preferred, 2 for next-preferred and so on). If I failed to give each candidate a unique ranking, my ballot would be declared invalid. There were only a few names, so it wasn't hard.

The Senate ballot, however, oh my.  The Senate ballot had all the candidates (nearly 100!) grouped by party. There were two ways to use the ballot.  You could either vote for the party (which involves just putting a "1" next to the party name) or individually - which involved ranking each and every individual candidate from "1" to "97" (yes... you read that right: 97 candidates for the Senate).  Certainly much easier to vote for the party and not individuals. 

Voters were reminded over and over that if you were to accidentally mess up your ballot, the folks running the venue would be happy to give you a new one so you could start over.

No curtains, no "secret booth", just little cardboard cubbies side-by-side, so that you were elbow-to-elbow with your neighbors marking your ballot.

After marking the ballots, voters were directed to deposit them in large cardboard boxes near the exit of the room. As I made my way to those boxes I heard a familiar voice calling to me and saw "Chris" - one of our local school crossing guards grinning at me (he was standing in line waiting his turn to vote). I changed course and quickly went over to him to give him a hug, ballots still in my hands. Then I suddenly realized what I was doing and for a second worried that I might have broken some kind of rule - but nobody batted an eye. I turned and went on to deposit my ballots and headed out the door, waving goodbye to Chris.

I've been voting in US elections for nearly 40 years and always felt it an important act, something to be taken seriously. It always gives me a great feeling of responsibility and participation. Voting here in Australia was just like that - but I have to admit that with the low-tech approach and the atmosphere, well, it really touched me. It felt more "organic" somehow... ...well, that's not quite the word I want, but it was a sense of accessible democracy.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Delena

We don't normally see huntsman spiders in winter. They are hibernating, or hiding, or maybe they just holiday up in Queensland, awaiting the spring. I don't know. I only know it's rare to see one much before October. But there we were the other night. It was a chilly day (50F) and rainy. I'd been thinking about the huntsmen and thinking how they'd be coming out in weather like that. We had just finished dinner - about 7:30'ish - and it was dark, rainy outside. The light on the deck outside the kitchen/dining room window was on, illuminating the deck, plants, and deck railing.

And then I saw it...

 ...slowly lowering itself down on a single line of silk...

...a smallish huntsman, maybe 3 inches across at most. I pointed just in time for Stephen to see it as it dropped to the level of the sashing between the upper and lower part of the window. And here she is, Delena cancerides:
...or at least I THINK this is a Delena cancerides.  Here's a closeup of the same photo:
Delena won't become a huge sumo wrestler like "Wolfgang" - but she'll be a respectable size, all the same. Actually, I think she's kind of pretty, really, reddish body hanging on to the green window frame.

A sure sign of spring - but, again, a little early.  

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Winter

August is late-winter in Australia.  It doesn't get as cold here as it does in Ohio, but even so you do feel the chill on days when the wind is blowing rain here on the mountain.  The photo below was taken last Friday afternoon - when it was about 10C (roughly 50F or so).

I

(Double-click the photo above to view a larger image)

What looks like fog in this photo is actually a cloud rolling slowly through the yard.  It's a beautiful thing to watch - swirls of mist rising, thickening, and then moving on.  When you are standing in a cloud you can feel the fine, sweet dampness gently caressing your face.  Breathing in the moisture-laden air is just heavenly, especially because the gums release their freshest fragrance when it rains.

Winter here can be chilly, but it has a kind of gentleness to it.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Gum Trees and High Winds Don't Mix

We've had several days of high winds here - and there has been some excitement with the trees as a result. A very strong windstorm came through on Friday night and the next morning we found this:

(Doubleclick the photo above for a larger image)

A tree above the road had fallen and landed right on the electric wires running to houses on our street. The wires didn't snap, thank heavens, but boy... it didn't look terribly safe.

I rang emergency services to report what had happened, and they forwarded the report to the electric company, saying that situations like this need to be attended to by them (makes total sense to me).  With the sheer volume of calls to them, I was told it would be quite a while before someone would come. 

Only 15 minutes or so later, however, I heard the sound of a chainsaw and looked out to see one of our neighbors carefully slicing at the tree. He was using a chainsaw on a long pole. Bit by bit he cut away the top of it (on the right side in this photo), cutting off 8 inches at a time. Once he was close to the wire, he moved to the left side of the wire and cut through the trunk.  The wire sprung upward, no longer held down by the heavy tree.

The wind continues to howl...  



Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Wallabies in the Yard

Oh, they're just soooo sweet!  Yes, they eat my garden, but oh.... how adorable they are.  We don't see them every day, but we know they are there. Sometimes we just hear them thump-thumping as they hop around the tree ferns below the house.  Here's a couple of photos from last week.

And here's one!  I like this photo because the chair gives you a sense of how large he (she?) is:

And a closeup!
Our wallabies are a little shy.  Even though we're way up here in the house, far enough away that we could never be a threat, they don't stick around if we make any noise or move around much.  When we spot them, we have to be fairly quiet and move slowly - and even then the wallabies often run off.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Sad Morning in Tecoma

In the wee hours of yesterday morning, police arrived with a "cherry picker" to remove a woman from the roof of one of the buildings scheduled for demolition. She'd been there for about a week protesting.  Work crews arrived later and began the process of demolishing the buildings, making way for the new McDonalds restaurant which will soon occupy the space.

This morning, the building which housed Saffron Cottage - an excellent Indian restaurant - is finally being pulled down.  Photos of it all are appearing on Facebook - images captured by cellphones - posted by mournful witnesses on the scene.

I remember this place fondly - it was a lovely venue, really good vibes inside.  A lovely brick walk to the door and huge rose bushes.  At night, fairy lights decorated the foliage of plants in front of the building.  Inside the warm golden walls and gentle lighting soothed the eye - and the tantalizing scent of curries awakened the appetite. Stephen and I ate dinner there many times, sometimes just us, sometimes with friends. It was a warm place, just a pleasant place to go, and always seemed to have a fair number of customers.

The restaurant has relocated to a shop just down the street.  I hope they do well, there, and expect we'll go and see what the new place is like. But it just won't have the same cosy feeling as the old building they are pulling down.







Wednesday, July 31, 2013

An Update on the anti-McDonalds Protests in Tecoma

The fight continues in Tecoma.

Last Sunday a march was held as a show of support for those protesting the demolition of existing buildings and the construction of a McDonald's on Burwood Highway. Estimates of how many turned up vary greatly - from 1,000 to 4,000.

Media attention has been somewhat gratifying: Front page stories in The Herald and The Age (major newspapers here) and stories/interviews on TV and radio.

On Monday, protestors again mounted the roofs of one of the buildings scheduled for demolition, and once again the construction company sent their workers home, siting safety concerns.

At any time you can drive by and find at least a handful of placard-carrying protestors who wave and smile at passers-by. The Facebook page set up by members of the community continues to pump news about what is happening, and notes encouraging people to come down and spend some time on the picket line. (If you're a Facebook fan, look for posts on "NO McDonalds in the Dandenong Ranges").

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Laka's "Monstah" - Caught on Film

Hubby Stephen plays chess one evening a week down in Ferntree Gully.  He came home a little early from the latest meeting, having defeated his opponent in the current tournament.  I heard his car come down the drive and heard him come in, but then heard the door open again and the sound of his footsteps going back to the garage, then up the drive! 

This was odd - it's pitch black here at night, and I couldn't imagine what he was after - but when he came back in, he was delighted to tell me he'd spotted something perched on the power cable above the road.  He'd run up with his camera and got this shot:



(click the photo above for a larger image)

A tawny frogmouth!  One of Laka's "monstahs" - who we (and she) hear at night as they fly around the house, hunting.  I love the expression on this one's face - a mixture of surprise and annoyance.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

An Ant's Worst Nighmare

You never know when they'll pop up.  We know we have at least one echidna on our property - a creature I mentioned last February, who I've named "Spiny Norman" (after a Monty Python character).

Late in the summer another appeared in a neighbors yard:


This little guy made a bit of a mess - dug into our friend's lawn, scratching away looking for some tasty ants.  Well, you can't live in this area and expect to have a perfect lawn, I guess.

These creatures are sweet.  Slow moving and benign (well maybe not to ants or to anybody foolish enough to try and interfere with them - those spines mean business!).

I just wish they'd go after the bull ants!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Subtle Hints - Avian Style

We spent the weekend in the city, took the birds with us and turned the heating off here (no point in heating an empty house).  We came back Sunday night just about the time George and Laka normally go to bed.  It was 9C both outside and inside the house (nippy by anybody's standards).  We hustled the birds in from the car and took them straight up to their bed cages, moved George's bed cage into Laka's room (actually - a guest bathroom, but where we usually have Laka's bed cage) and turned on the heater we have on the wall.

After unloading the rest of the things from the car, I went in quietly to make sure the room was getting warmer. As I backed out of the room, from George's cage came his tinny voice - loud and clear:

"Are you COLD?  HmmmMMM?"

"Yes, George," I replied, "but the heating is on and it will be warm again soon.  I promise."

The heater did its job and just a few minutes later I could hear the sound of two not-so-little beaks grinding contentedly in the darkened room.

(Side note: George doesn't regularly communicate in English that clearly - but both he and Laka are capable of it and, when it suits them, this is the kind of exchange we get. It's not "parroting" or "mimicry" - George and Laka are both able to use "language" appropriately. I've lived with parrots long enough that I expect it.)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Goodbye Julia - and Damn You Maccas!

If you happen to be at all interested in what's going on in Australia, you may have noticed that we suddenly have a new Prime Minister: Kevin Rudd.

It all happened last week - in a flash.

To my American audience, let me frame this for you: the president is getting a lot of bad press and lots of people tell him to step down.  He decides he's had enough and calls a special meeting at which time the political party he belongs to says "yeah - we want you out" and basically throw him out in favor of somebody else.  Well.. .it's a BIT more complicated than that, but you get the drift.

In the morning Julia Gillard was Prime Minister. That night she was "ousted" (she called one of "those meetings") and the next morning Kevin Rudd was sworn in.

Wild, eh?

Part of what makes this interesting is that just a couple of years ago it was Kevin who was ousted in favor of Julia. Done exactly the same way and with exactly that speed.

Lordy.

I hate this and love it all at the same time. I liked Julia - OK, maybe I'm in the minority, but I really liked her. Can't say I liked the way she came to power initially (ousting Kevin), but I think she's actually been pretty good. And I hate the turn of events that has brought her down (and will always believe most of it was her gender - she was the first female PM here). 

But... I love the fact that Australians are able to make a change like this happen without having months and months of impeachment hearings, tying up the representatives forever and so on. It was ugly, but it's over. Done and dusted.

And, if you can find it online (it's available at the moment), go listen to Julia's speech, acknowledging her defeat. It's one of the best, most moving political speeches I've ever heard. Made me damned proud of her.

-----

And here's a bit you probably haven't heard of.

McDonalds has come here to the hills where I live and gotten a piece of land, planning to build a restaurant. The locals here are upset. Most of us seem to be opposed to having a "Maccas" here. It really doesn't fit in well with the surrounds. This is an area of tiny family-owned businesses (mostly) - which are open for certain hours of the day and then close down.  Drive down the main drag thru the villages here late at night and everything is closed. I like that. It seems to me to be civilised, nice.

A 24/7 Maccas just doesn't fit. It just doesn't.

Over the last several months there've been many protests and legal challenges to allowing a Maccas here. Even the local council ruled against the commercial giant, but was overturned by a "higher power" known as "VCAT" (I won't try to explain this now... too complicated... ).

Y'day I drove past the site where the Maccas will be. There are buildings already there which will be torn down - and many members of the community were there protesting again, as they have many times over these past months.



It's futile.  Maccas will win.

And it's sad.  We really don't need Maccas here - it will be a blight on the community.

I wish the higher-ups at Maccas had a soul. I wish they understood, and wish that for once they'd just gracefully disappear. They could have. That multi-gazillion dollar corporation would surely survive without establishing a foothold in Tecoma, where they are sooooo not wanted.

But no - the buildings are being demolished - the restaurant will be built. The locals will continue to protest and over time will finally give up in the face of massive global commercialization.

It's heart-breaking.

The full story is here, on the "BurgerOff" website (and don't you just love the name of the website?)

And I'll make this statement.  I like McDonalds. I really do. I don't eat there a lot, but once every few months I really want a Big Mac or just a cheeseburger and fries. And I indulge. I will continue to - but it won't be at THIS store. No. I'm way to damned pissed off.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Watch Out For Falling.... Trees!

Last week one of the 6 huge cypress trees lining the edge of a neighbor's property came down - and landed right on the house! There were two people inside the house at the time, but fortunately nobody was hurt.

Strangely, Stephen and I walked right by the place twice after it happened and didn't notice - mostly because there was so much overgrown brush and weeds that the whole thing was camouflaged.  But on Friday the tree removalists came and started the process of cutting up the trunk and hauling it all away (as well as removing one more of the cypress trees - one which looked particularly threatening).

Afterward the owner hammered plywood sheets to cover where the walls were flattened and draped plastic tarps over the roof (shown above).

I'm used to the idea that our gum trees sometimes come down - or will drop huge limbs from high up in the forest canopy. But I don't really think about other trees - although there was a huge oak that fell on a house along Monbulk Road a little over a year ago.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Saying "Goodbye" to Mom

No post this week. I haven't had the energy.

A week ago today, I learned that my mother passed away. She was 84.

I'm grateful for all the kind and loving words from my friends and my cousins (who have shared quite a few lovely memories with me, made me laugh and smile a bit). Their support has made this a time of gentle reflection, a time to be quiet and call up happy memories of a woman I loved very much.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Pictures from the Book: Page 26

When I started this blog back in 2011, I intended to periodically share color versions of some of the photos from the book. I haven't done that for a while so here's a couple from page 26.

Here's "Blue" - the canary. In this photo he's sitting on top of Laka's cage (notice the super-thick bars). He'd gotten out of his own cage (not something we encouraged...) and went for a happy flight around the first floor of the house, finally settling here. Not exactly a great choice of landing spots but, thankfully, Laka paid no attention to him at all.

I love the "attitude" expression on his face - he seems to be saying "HAH!  Catch me NOW if you can..."


And Here's Ned and Kelly indulging in a little allo-preening.


I bumped into Ned and Kelly's new owner earlier this year. She told me they are both doing fine - as cheeky and feisty as ever. I'm glad to know she still has them and has managed to deal with their aggression.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Peggy Possum

We know the possums are around - we find "possum poo" on the driveway all the time - but we haven't actually seen one close to the house for almost four years. Something has been pulling the fruit off of my potted Tahitian Lime, and I was suspicious it was a possum, but didn't find any scat in that area, so there's no proof. That all changed recently when "Peggy" showed up one night on the deck rail. Here she is!:


Isn't she sweet? We were having a candlelight dinner at home, so it was dark inside - and here she came, padding silently across the rail, looking for a handout. We were delighted to see her, and although Stephen ran quickly for his camera, she was gone before he could get it. So we put a little pile of rice out for her, and she came right back (hadn't gone far, obviously).

And... hm.... I'm wondering now if the mystery about what upset Laka so much recently is now solved. Yes... I think it's entirely likely that Miss Peggy was galloping across the roof and THAT is what had Laka coming unglued.

I adore seeing Peggy - and hope to see more of her. She may be wreaking havoc with my lime tree, but I can buy limes at Safeway.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Another "Monstah"

In "Flying Over The Rainbow", I related an incident involving Laka (our macaw) telling me that there were monsters in her "bedroom". I'm not remembering exactly when that happened - I think it was 2009. She continues to occasionally come up with new phrases and words, but "monstah" has not come up again.

Or at least it hadn't until the other night. It was about 9:30 pm and I was in the kitchen reading. I could hear Laka shifting around in her bedcage upstairs. That's not unusual, she often will turn around on her perch, making just a little bit of noise in the process. But on this occasion, the little bit of noise got louder and suddenly I could hear her moaning "oh!Oh! OoooooOooooff!", followed by the frantic thrashing of wings.

I got up the stairs as fast as I could, calling to her as I went. When I turned on the light I found her clinging to the side of her cage, upside down. Her expression was wild, and as I approached her, she raised her "shoulders" in a warning stance. I know better than to reach for her unprotected when she does that - so I draped a quarter-folded bath towel over my arm, opened her cage door and reached for her. As I expect, she struck hard at the towel - biting down with all her might. With four-layers of thick terrycloth, my arm was protected - and after she struck a few times, she calmed down and stepped onto the towel.

I brought her out of the cage and had her step directly onto my other arm (the towel had done it's job). She was trembling violently, poor thing.  I talked softly and soothingly to her, told her she was a "good girl" and that she was safe. She calmed down pretty well and after a couple of minutes, I was able to put her back into her cage and turn off the lights.

She was quiet for about 10 minutes, but then started in again, thrashing even more violently than before.

I repeated the towel-stepping and talked to her, telling her she was alright - but she wasn't calming down much this time. I hadn't heard any noises outside - but I asked her "Is there a monstah?" - and her reaction was distinct and immediate - she started tossing her head back and forth, as if to say "yeah! YEAH!" and then she looked up at the ceiling and said "ah! Ah! Ah!" several times.

OK. So it's a monstah. Probably something moving around on the roof.

Laka was pretty worked up, but again allowed me to sooth her. I told her she was safe, and that she'd done the right thing by calling out and flapping.

"You're a good, brave girl, Laka. You did exactly the right thing and that old monstah has run away."

Yeah- I know this all sounds nuts, but Laka calmed down, purred a little and begged for a scritch. After that she went back to bed and it was quiet from then on.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

European Wasps

In Ohio we called them "Yellow Jackets" - but here they're known as "European Wasps". According to the Museum Victoria website, they were first found in Melbourne in 1977 - and let me tell you they've spread like mad.

I notice them most in the autumn, when (just as they did in Ohio) they seem to become more aggressive than usual. I know several people who've found them nesting in their homes - and had to call an exterminator to get rid of them. I've been lucky so far - even though I think our weatherboard siding would certainly look like great housing to a wasp, we've not had any in the house yet. But they certainly are around - there's a bumper crop of them around at the moment, so I'm certain a nest is nearby - but I don't know exactly where.

I found an online article which describes how to locate European Wasp nests. The author observes that the wasps generally fly in a straight line back and forth between their nest sites and sources of food and water. He suggests setting up a "wasp trap" - but one that the wasps can actually get out of - and observing the wasps as they leave it. The idea is to follow the wasps from the trap back to the nest. Of course the wasps are pretty fast and hard to follow, so the author's idea is that you gradually move the trap along the flight line, closer and closer to where the wasps are heading when they leave. His idea is that eventually you end up at or near the entrance to the nest.

Well, OK... but...

... any suggestions on how to move the trap without getting stung?

Back in March I came across a Preying Mantis feasting on one of these wasps and took this photo:


GOOD BUG!  Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Shopping Bags

When I first visited Oz in 2003, one of the things that impressed me was how the shops don't always automatically stuff your purchases into a (possibly non-biodegradeable) plastic bag. Instead, they ask you if you WANT a bag, and if you do, well, you often pay for it.

Instead of plastic bags, we buy little fabric totes (approx. $1 each) and carry them into the store with us.

I love this - who needs all that plastic? Australian stores have been doing it for years and years.

Last year a good friend gave me a vinyl tote-bag that rolls up into a sausage-like size/shape and tucks neatly into my handbag. If I happen to be shopping without one of my totes, I can just pull this bag out and flip it open - instant carry-all! It's very lightweight and sturdy.

Now, to be honest, there are still many stores which still put purchases into a store bag. Just today I bought a greeting card and before I could say anything, the clerk slipped it into a small, flat paper bag. Major department stores still use bags. K-Mart, Target, and such still automatically pull out the plastic unless you specifically stop them. Likewise, certain boutique shops like to have you walking the mall with bags that carry their store logo. Still - if I whip out my vinyl tote-bag, no clerk even blinks at me; they just put my purchases in it.

When we go to Bunnings, an Australian hardware store chain not unlike Home Depot or Lowe's, you  bring your own bag - or you can grab a cardboard box from the stash they keep at the front of the store just next to the registers. These cardboard boxes are nothing more than the cartons their stock arrived in. BRILLIANT! They also sell reusable cloth bags - which are much bigger than the grocery bags you get in Coles or Safeway/Woolworth's - and which are very handy to have.

Hopefully someone will suggest the "Bunnings box" idea to American hardware stores soon - it's the next cool earth-friendly fashion!

On my last two trips to the US (2011 and 2012), I noticed that re-usable shopping bags are becoming more accepted and people are starting to use them. Stephen and I picked up a few things at Kroger (a major grocery chain) and grabbed one of their little totes. The black cloth bag looks just like the ones we got from Maxi's grocery here in Australia - but has a little extra pocket sewn into the top on one side. I have no idea what this little pocket is for - seems pretty impractical to me, as anything you put in it is going to fall out and get lost in the boot (trunk) long before you get home.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

More About Ants

Two weeks ago I mentioned a couple of our native ant species: Jack Jumpers and Bull Ants. The day I got the photo of the Bull Ant, I also found these two guys hanging on the vertical stair support on our deck:


These are good-sized ants, not as big as Bull Ants, but larger than Jack Jumpers. They are distinctive, shiny black with very large abdomens. On any given day I can find one or two of them hanging around the outside of the house. I've wondered if they are actually queen ants looking for a place to burrow - esp. since whenever I see them near each other, they invariably go to war, as the two in the photo above were definitely doing. At times I've found a dozen or more dead on the balcony or deck just outside the windows - apparent remains of some dreadful nighttime ant war.

Unlike the Bull Ants (which I've never found inside the house... at least not yet...) occasionally one of these will find its way inside. But only one at a time, and only every so often.

I'm very curious to find out what they are, and so started looking online for ant identification websites. I found a particularly helpful one here: http://www.brisbaneinsects.com/brisbane_ants/  with lots of photos of different species.

 The ones I'm finding resemble the "Dome-back Spiny Ant" and the "Rattle Ant", but those ants are supposedly about 6-7mm, and the ones I'm finding are well over half an inch, so I'm still researching.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Update

(posted late morning) 

We woke up to a windy morning (Laka hates it when it's windy - makes her jittery). I checked the CFA website and found that there's one more district labelled with "Very High" fire danger (yellow), but surprisingly, there's no fire ban today.


The smoke in the air y'day was just about unbearable. There's a good bit today, too, although not as thick - and that's most likely because the wind is moving it. Burning off isn't permitted on Sundays, so we'll get a break from all this tomorrow - sure am looking forward to that! In the meantime, my windows remain shut.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Not What You Expect in Late April


Stephen observed the other night that the CFA website is showing that Saturday is expected to have a fairly elevated fire danger rating. The weather predictions aren't calling for a hot day - the high is supposed to be around 25C - but it is going to be windy. It's surprising; I wouldn't have expected a rating of "very high" so late in April - but there you are.

The ban on outdoor burning was lifted last week - and so the hills have been smokey as people have been hurrying to clear their properties of dried debris from the trees. A friend who works for the CFA told me recently that most of their call outs are for burn-offs on private properties which get out of control. Saturday is normally a day when outdoor burning is permitted, but I almost hope the CFA will declare a ban - after the summer we've had, the CFA folks deserve to have a quiet, uneventful weekend.

---------------------------------------------


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Bathroom Reno - DONE!

A couple of weeks ago we started our bathroom renovation. The last little bits are finally in place - yes we are DONE!  I'm delighted. Absolutely delighted. Have a look the before and after:

Before (standing in the closet door, facing the window) - what you see is an old dinosaur jacuzzi - which has been much more trouble than it was worth, directly under the window. Makes it REALLY hard to clean that window - plus takes up a huge amount of space. Note the tiny little sink/vanity - with virtually NO storage space. Just to the left, and out of the picture, is the grotty old glass shower enclosure - very small enclosure, hard to move around in and nearly impossible to clean.The floors are wood laminate - which has seen better days.

After (same view) - Lovely neutral tile all around, the jacuzzi is GONE and the toilet relocated, giving space for a vanity/sink that is well over twice the size of the original. In the left you can see the new class shower enclosure - much larger than the original and surely will be easier to clean. And as you can see in this picture, there's plenty of room across from the toilet to put a small cabinet - which is what I'm planning to do (for towels/linens - freeing up space in the upstairs hall closet). The medicine cabinet is the same (I was thinking of getting a new one, but the renovator recommended against it - I'm glad we took his advice).


Before (same room - looking in the window toward the closet) - now you can see that horrible shower enclosure - although it doesn't look as bad here as it really was.

After - The shower enclosure has roughly the same depth - but it's much wider (which you can't actually see from this angle). And there's a nice glass shelf on the opposite wall (inside the shower) with a bar underneath which will be great for facecloths. Again, note the spacious cabinet - and we replaced the towel bar with rings (left) - which I much prefer because towels always look fairly tidy with rings - no need to fold after using.
 
Wow, eh? Yeah... wow. It's all very neutral, of course - and a little bland. But bright towels and a couple of small pictures will change that in a flash - and I'll be able to refresh the look of the space just by changing accessories (that's the beauty of neutral fixtures, of course).

Once Trevor (our renovator) got underway with the bathroom, we had to use our guest bathroom. It didn't take long before I ended up asking him to quote a price to replace the vanity/sink in the guest bathroom. The quote seemed reasonable, so we went ahead with that, too.

Here's the "before" of the guest bathroom (below). Notice the same tiny, pokey vanity/sink - almost no storage and no counter space to set things on, either. Lots of wasted space on either side of the sink.


Voila! again, this vanity has twice the storage of the original - plus plenty of counter space. While he was at it, Trevor moved the old glass shelf that was in the master bathroom (and we didn't want or need in there anymore) and positioned it above the tub (just below the blue picture). It looks lovely - and with a couple of whatnots (maybe a silk plant?) on it, will really improve the overall look of the room. Of course, it would have been nice to replace the old tan tub in here, but we needed to keep to our budget.


So there you are - two greatly-improved bathrooms.

A side note - we taught both Laka and George to enjoy taking a shower in the old master-bathroom shower. It's hilarious to watch them splashing around - but I've not shared photos or video of that because, quite frankly, I was ashamed of how the shower looked. Now I'll be able to do that - once we get them used to the new equipment (which may take a while...).  Stay tuned for that!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"Them"


In the post-atomic aftermath of WWII, Sci-Fi film makers delighted in producing movies which cautioned us about the terrible and un-forseen after effects of radiation. A whole lovely batch of otherwise harmless creatures, fueled and fed by radioactivity, grew to gigantic proportions and went on rampages in small-town America (or Tokyo, in the case of Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan).

One of these, one of my favorites, was "Them" - a movie about gigantic ants. It was silly, hokey, and all that, but I loved it anyway. I suppose it was the sound effects (when the ants were about, you'd hear a high-pitch tree-frog sound to warn you). Just something about it - Ah... I loved that goofy film. I searched and searched for a YouTube video I could imbed here... but the videos I found keep getting pulled due to copyright violations... *sigh*

I was in the garden looking for the right place to put some flowering bulbs I recently bought. I walked around one side of the Secret Garden and noticed that some Jack-Jumper ants I (about half an inch long) had started an ant hill around one of my edging rocks. Not being a great fan of these creatures (they do jump, they're very aggressive, they bite, it's nasty, and many people have severe allergic reactions) decided to treat them to some ant sand. I pulled the rock back, sprinkled the poison as the ants boiled out to defend their new space, and then left it.

Later I went back to see if the sand had been effective. I moved the rock - yup.. no sign of activity. I was satisfied, but thought I should check a couple of the slightly larger edging rocks along the same area. And I found them.

THEM! (cue the screechy tree frog noise, please..) 

Not Jack-Jumper ants, but BULL ANTS!  Yikes - these guys are huge!

Here's a photo of one that I found climbing on the deck rail (not a place I normally find Bull Ants). It's a shame I couldn't get video of this guy, because as I moved around him to get a good angle for the photo, he was turning his head, watching my every move. Afraid? Not on your life. He was calculating how to get to me (yes... they are very aggressive).

And here, for the sake of scale, is a photo of him with the tip of my index finger. I've seen slightly bigger Bull Ants, so I'm not sure if this one was a young one or not. They are generally about an inch long - you can see those wild mandibles - they grab and won't let go. And there's a stinger on his backside, too. These creatures are more like flightless wasps than ants.



Like Jack Jumpers, Bull Ants are incredibly aggressive. Weirdly - the two species are known to co-habitate, and if you find one, you'll most likely find the other nearby. I think the Bull Ants like the Jack Jumpers because they (the Jack Jumpers) move a lot faster and will drive off anything threatening them. I guess Jack Jumpers make good guard dogs.

We often see individual Bull Ants walking around on the driveway. If they see you (and they have great eye sight), they will come for you. Totally freaky...

For the most part I see them on the ground, but occasionally I spot one climbing a plant. Once, as I was walking toward my car, one fell from the roof of our house right into my handbag! He was clutching a large beetle and as they struggled must've rolled off the roof. I'm certainly glad I saw him drop - it would have been a nasty surprise to reach into my bag for my wallet and be attacked.

I've been stung by Jack Jumpers. It's not pleasant, but it doesn't hold a candle to a bullant.

In the years before we bought the raintank, I used to haul water from the final rinse of the washing machine out to the garden. One afternoon I was doing this - wearing "flip flop" thong sandals. I remember walking into the garden on my 3rd or 4th trip and thinking I should probably not be out there trotting around in sandals. Just as that thought passed through my mind.....

OUCH!! I looked down to see a full-size bullant hanging onto the tip of my toe, his mandibles sunk into the flesh just past my toenail. He was hanging on for dear life and stinging me repeatedly.  I jumped and flipped the sandal off and tried to knock him off. He stung me 3 or 4 times before I finally managed to scrape him off. Once I knocked him off, he just looked up at me and came at me again. Not quickly, but tenaciously.

I've read that they make a "large and easy to spot" mound. Our's don't. They nest in the ground and don't seem to mound at all (the Jack Jumpers do, however). You can be standing right on a nest opening and not know they are there - until, of course, they decide it's time for you to move on...


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bathroom Reno - Week 2

After that first day of bathroom renovations, things have been considerably quieter. The horrible war-zone noise of hammers (accompanied by frenzied parrot screeches) wasn't repeated after that first day. The bathroom was stripped pretty much bare in that one day - and after that the noise was construction, not destruction. Laka and George were considerably better behaved from that point on.


We hired a 2-square-meter bin from Kalorama Bins and y'day loaded it with all the rubbish from the job so far. Everything fit except one long pipe (seen on the ground behind the bin above). The bin will be taken out today.

Trevor finished hanging the tiles and did the grouting yesterday. They still have to be wiped down which Trevor said he'd take care of  (and I'm glad, as it looks like a lot of work to me...) - but other than that, we're all ready.  Here's the view facing the bathroom window: 

And here's the view from the window toward the closet.


The tiles look dark in this photo. In real life, they aren't - they look like light-coloured sandstone - very soft and natural effect, and goes extremely well with the white walls above them.

The vanity, toilet, and custom-made shower enclosure are on the way. Trevor expects they'll arrive a week from today.



Wednesday, April 3, 2013

You Scream, I Scream, We All Scream For...

Our house is approx. 28 years old - and we've been here for 6. In "Flying Over the Rainbow", I described a few of the upgrades we made here, including the new ducted heating and restumping. Yes, we've spent a small fortune on this beloved house, but for the most part the things we've done have not been cosmetic, but safety-oriented.

At last, however, we have managed to set aside some money to upgrade something for the sheer beauty of it. Yes, we've decided to upgrade our bathroom.

Here's the "before" photo:

 
I laugh a little when I look at this, because in this photo, the bathroom looks OK. But, trust me, it doesn't look good in "person". That glass shower stall in the far corner was pitted and scummy - although I'm sure the previous owner did her best to clean it, well, it was just beyond redemption - oh the hours I spent on my knees trying to scrub and polish to get it looking nice. I never succeeded.

The original tiles in the shower, around the tub, and over the sink, were tan with brown decorative trim around the edges. Really dated. The previous owner painted over them with a special white paint - but inside the shower, that paint started to peel off and flake away a long time ago (made worse by my scrubbing the tiles in my continuing war on mold):


What's that you say?  Eeeeeewwwww!?  You bet.

The toilet is relatively new - in our first year here we replaced the old "one flush" toilets with new "dual flush" ones. But the sink is old, with a tan basin that looks pretty icky on the white vanity, and with an aging, pitted gold tap and handles. There's not much storage in that vanity - and it's, well, just cheap and grotty-looking.

The final beast is the jacuzzi tub (immediately under the window) which I only tried to use once - and quickly came to realize it was too much work to deal with.

Yeah - this bathroom is a beast and it's time to do something.

We called in a local tradesman to have a look - and he had lot of ideas about how to tart the old bathroom up - so away we go. Trevor and his son Ralph arrived y'day and the demolition began at mid-morning.

Here's how it looked when they left:

 

The noise was deafening - with hammers and saws and... ...well... Trevor and Ralph cut up the tub and lowered it and other bits from the balcony outside the bathroom to the deck below - RIGHT IN FRONT OF LAKA AND GEORGE'S WINDOW... If you think saws and hammers are loud - well, wait till you listen to macaw-meltdowns happening about every 20 minutes for several hours.

Laka and George went to bed last night tired, but happy in the conviction that they'd driven off those nasty men making all the noise.

I've got bad news for them. Trevor and Ralph will be back today - probably with earplugs.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Severe

Last week I thought we were seeing the end of the scary weather. I was wrong, very wrong. Last Weds. the CFA rated the fire danger as "Very High" (yellow). Today? Oh, lordy... today it's worse - today it's "severe" (orange) in most of the state, including the central district - where we live.

Stephen and I figure that if it's "severe" for the entire district, in practical terms it's probably one notch higher on Mount Dandenong, just because of the terrain.


The temperature as I type this (about 9:30 a.m.) is in the mid-20's - which is fairly comfortable. The high predicted for today is 34 C - not "stinkin' hot", but fairly toasty, all the same. And it's going to be windy (30-45 km/h) - it's the  dry-plus-hot-plus-windy that's producing the elevated danger.

Tomorrow the rating will drop back down to "high" (blue) and on Friday it will go all the way to "low-mod" (green), and it looks like it will stay that way throughout Easter weekend. I'd really like to think today is the end of the high-danger days - but I said that last week, didn't I?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Summer's Last Hurrah (I Hope)

Last Thursday the temperatures dropped and the long heat-wave ended. With the cooler temperatures came some rain (mostly over the weekend), and we were so glad to see it. Is summer over, finally? Yes - and no (sort of).

Today the fire danger is jumping once again from "high" to "very high", according to the CFA (Country Fire Authority). The temperatures predicted will be "warm" (29 C maximum), but not stinkin hot.  I'm not really sure why the fire danger rating is being elevated, but I'm certainly not going to argue - the CFA knows what they are about. There's to be a total fire ban in the western districts of the state - a clear sign that even 29 C can be problematic. For tomorrow we're getting 26 C as a maximum, but the weather predictions are for "damaging winds", especially in "higher elevations". Here on Mount Dandenong, that probably will translate into power outages (due to falling branches).

-sigh-

Looks like we're in for one more day of "sniffing the air", followed by a day without electricity.

I hope - I sincerely hope - we'll now be able to bid summer adieu. Got my fingers crossed - and saying a prayer that the CFA folks will have nothing exciting to do...


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

It's Fine, But It's Not

Stephen and I spent a little time in the city - partly because we wanted to, but also partly to get away from the mountain on days when the fire danger was, well, somewhat upsetting.

On mornings we'd get up and go walking. On one of those mornings we walked around part of Princes Park - a lovely green space filled with gorgeous mature trees (most European trees), grassy playing fields and joggers. We walked in the mornings, trying to get our exercise in before 9:30 or so, when the heat became oppressive. Here's a photo I took as we walked down along the western side of the park, moving toward the CBD:

Lovely and green. That grass you see has been watered - without city watering, there'd be dormant grass there (or just dirt).

And here's another taken along a path which more-or-less cuts through the center of the park, moving from the western edge toward the east. Notice the gorgeous trees:

Then, as we continue east, leaving the park, a lane of green space bordering the Melbourne Cemetery (the same one which is home to the Elvis memorial):

But what's this? Look at the photo above again and notice the ground. And here - have a look at this:

This tree (below) is deciduous - but it shouldn't be dropping it's leaves in February (northern hemisphere folks... think "August").  It's a smallish tree - it wouldn't yet have a deep root system tapping into water well below the surface, as the much larger trees have.


A lot of trees, stressed by the heat and lack of moisture, are dropping their leaves early, desperately clinging to life - trying to survive what has been a really difficult summer. In recent weeks I've noticed more and more sections of the western face of Mount Dandenong seem to have sections of clearly dead trees - maybe they were there before, but I just don't think so...

There will have been a LOT of casualties this year - plants which had been doing fine, but will fall victim to another record-setting summer.

Don't believe in global warming? Move to Australia, live here for a few years (as I have) and then look me in the eye and tell me so.