Friday, 31 December 2010

Notes to self

When I am going about my everyday life, I often scribble thoughts and ideas down. I have tried to be grown-up and carry a notebook in which to do so. As with many attempts at maturity I have failed. Instead I jot things on whatever scrap of paper comes to hand.

My personal favourite is the backs of old envelopes so that I feel vaguely environmentally responsible. Sometimes it is napkins and sometimes the tiniest scraps of paper that I find later and try to puzzle out what I was trying to say.

Sometimes you have to do it surreptitiously like when you hear an especially juicy piece of dialogue in a doctor's waiting room. You don't want people to realise that you are writing down what they say. When I am working, I turn on my digital recorder and look vaguely professional. At other times, I am sure that I look furtive.

Cleaning out my backpack in a half-hearted attempt to get ready for the new year, I found a scrap of paper with a phrase I found fascinating at the time. It still resonates:

"We expect to be interested..."

I'm fairly sure that it is from a meeting with a public servant. I'm trying to work out how to use it in my writing without sounding too pompous. Or maybe I could insert a pompous character into a story. The power of the author...

Saturday, 25 December 2010

One year apart

View out the window December 25th, 2009 in Minnesota, USA.

View out our front door after another December storm, Marburg, Queensland, 2010.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The point of poinsettias

When I lived in the US what seems like an eon ago, but was only a decade, I was repeatedly told that the only way to grow poinsettias was to keep them entirely in the dark from October. According to a Martha Stewart special I saw, this meant putting them in a cupboard without a chink of light for 8 hours every night. I was also repeatedly told that it was "poinsetta" not "poinsettia" but hey, that's Antipodean pronunciation for you (and there is an "i" in there). I was also followed around a supermarket in Minneapolis by a gentleman who had overheard me talking to my toddler and who felt the desperate desire to inform me that the red vegetables were "red peppers" not "capsicum" and that I shouldn't be misleading my child. But that's another story.

I remember being gobsmacked at the poinsettia advice (yes I like to use the word gobsmacked as often as I can). Our house in southern Taiwan had a huge poinsettia bush growing through the tarmac front yard that was covered in flaming red bracts much of the year. A word about the tarmac front yard. My mum grew up in leafy northern Sydney and couldn't bear not having a garden. Every house we ever lived in had fragments of garden carved out of whatever was there. In this case we lived in the end of a row of semi-detached houses in a rural township. Our front door opened onto the tarmac but my mother had the property line fenced off with bamboo palings and dug a few holes through the tarmac for trees. Then we had plants in tubs as well. When we moved to Taipei, we had concrete tubs of plants circled with spiky plants to stop my mother's favourites from being casually sat on or leaned against.

I recently planted a poinsettia along our fence in the hope that it will survive the depredations of the neighbour's horses. I haven't yet found good screening plants that aren't also delicious snacks for the livestock. It's a hazard of country life. It flowered merrily and has now gone into a growth phase with lots of green leaves. I'm waiting to see if it will become the towering flame tree of my hopes.

I recently saw a clip from the Smithsonian that repeated the adage about eight hours of darkness but added the necessary detail -- IF you want your poinsettias to flower for Christmas. And there is the heart of the matter. If you want to force your plants to exist in a place where they would never normally live and be part of a festival alien to their origins (they were brought to the US from Mexico by Mr Poinsett, a key figure in the establishment of the Smithsonian museums) then you need to go to great lengths to ensure their compliance.

It says something to me of the lengths to which we humans go to make nature comply with our needs and desires. And it explains some of the driving force behind those English gardens that flourish all over Australia. We can, so we do. Whether we should is another matter. Lest this seem overly stern, let me add that I love the cheeriness of flowers in mid-winter and non-native gardens and bright flowers at any time. I have clearly been subverted.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Christmas sky

I have been reprimanded. My neighbour thinks I've alienated my readership by not blogging. My mother is disappointed in my last post and my Christmas cynicism. Slugging below the belt, she also asked how the novel was going.

Drawing breath this muggy Friday night after non-stop weeks, sweat creeping down my neck, I offer an image of a tropical Christmas sky. Breathe deep the gathering gloom and project some semblance of serenity in my general direction (please).

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Cheery or not?

Merry Girl: Everyone has Christmas cheer and decorations up except us.
Me: (through clenched teeth) I've got Christmas spirit -- it's just very well hidden.

I am not yet into the guilt-ridden part of the year. It's not quite December so I don't need to feel festive yet. And I have done all of my Christmas shopping which is some kind of record (attributable only to the fact that we're going with a joint present for the entire family) and to the fact that I don't have a wide circle of people whom require gifts (even if some of them might quite like them.) I refuse to feel festive and cheerful until I can't resist any longer. I think the record is the point at which I am actually wrapping presents. I am amazed that some towns have already had their carol nights and that decorations line the streets in Rosewood and Ipswich. I loved it last year when we went away in November and skipped all the stress/end of year related events. But we can't do that every year. And I'm told that running away isn't the solution.

Even though I love warm Christmases and consider them normal -- there is something about the northern Christmases that is just so much more festive. I didn't feel it so much all the years we were in the US but after our sojourn in Europe last year, I finally get the whole cold/snow/northern nostalgia thing. Maybe we should simply jettison Christmas as a celebration in Australia. Some prefer to celebrate in July when it is actually cool. I'm not so keen on the colonial overtones of that.

On the other hand, a hot Christmas illustrates the arbitrary nature of religious festivals and indeed, the whole calendar. Given Australia's long slow drift into agnosticism, maybe we should have a national competition to create an appropriate December festival. Christians can hang onto the religious calendar and everyone else can kick up their heels in a culturally appropriate way.

Some initial ideas:

A week long cricket-themed holiday (the game, not the insect).

A national beach party.

A fortnight off work with pay that doesn't count against leave entitlements.

Appreciate your family day that involves giving of gifts but no decorations.

High Summer Fest

Decorate the Moreton Bay Fig/Jacaranda tree just because...

Other ideas…?

Sunday, 21 November 2010

The small things

Some of you may have seen that the Hope Diamond has been placed in a new setting as part of an exhibit at the Smithsonian Museums in Washington D.C. Even our ABC had a story on the legendary diamond. All the fuss and exotic jewellery aside, what I love is the story of how the Smithsonian received the diamond.

It was mailed to them in a regular mail envelope, albeit an insured one, delivered by the US Postal Service on a routine run from New York City to Washington D.C. The museum has the original wrapper postmarked November 8, 1958 complete with the mail franks and postal comments. The postage was $145.29 ($2.44 postage and the remainder, insurance for $1 million). Can you imagine sending something like this by mail today?

It's really the small things of history that I enjoy the most.

Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Snapshot.

Friday, 12 November 2010

How to cook guinea fowl

I suspect that I am the only person I know who has woken up one November morning, felt the humidity and heat in the air and wondered "How do you cook guinea fowl?"

I didn't wonder this in a oh-life-is-so-interesting-let's-find-out-something-new sort of way or a I-am-a good-cook-let's-tackle-guinea-fowl-and-sock-it-to-Iron-Chef sort of way.

I was tired and I was grumpy. The children have been sick and both consequently and subsequently whingy, getting anything done has been difficult. I got spectacularly lost on Monday on my way to a meeting. I hate getting lost and I hate being late to things and it seemed to summarise my life in a nutshell rather than just reliance on poor maps. I admit to a tear or two trickling down my face as I looked at yet another roundabout in the middle of suburban Springfield that led to no-where and wasn't on Google maps.

Back to guinea fowl -- I woke at some dark hour with the smoke detectors going off. We've installed super detectors at the insistence of building inspectors from council and so far they have proven to be efficient detectors of humidity over 99% or heavy particulate matter in the atmosphere typically at the point of the night when you are deepest in sleep and most likely to have heart failure from synchronised alarm systems going off. They are synchronised because the electricians installed one and the inspectors insisted on another approximately one metre away so they can now tag team each other in the middle of the night.

When the adrenalin had subsided enough for me to sleep again, the guinea fowl started up. Our neighbours have acquired four of these things. The neighbours also believe in free range fowl. I have no problem with free range. In fact, I spend extra money to ensure that my eggs are thus. On a practical level though, I have discovered that free range is shorthand for "I'm not going to bother fencing my poultry in properly." I spend a lot of time chasing other people's free range animals out of my previously tidy, well-mulched and poop free yard.

These animals are noisy and stupid or at least manage to ignore people chasing them and cars attempting to reverse. It's likely that they will end up in my kitchen either accidentally or in a "she snapped one morning" sort of way. So I had better know how to cook them.

So far I have found:

- an upmarket roast guinea fowl recipe for a special occasion.

- a recipe for broiled guinea fowls beginning with "Pluck, singe and draw two or three Guinea fowls, wash them thoroughly, and split down the backs; wipe dry and flatten them slightly."

- Guinea fowl wrapped in pancetta or parma ham (because it is naturally drier than chicken)

- guinea fowl stuffed with sausage meat.

- guinea fowl baked with thirty cloves of garlic

- casserole of guinea fowl legs in red wine sauce

- a warm guinea fowl salad

- guinea fowl with red pepper marmalade sauce

- a duck, chicken and guinea fowl three bird roast

- pot-roasted guinea fowl with chestnut stuffing

- terrine of confited guinea fowl

… now I do have something to think about when I wake up early in the morning. What did people do in the days before the internet when they encountered unfamiliar wildlife that they wished to consume?

Monday, 8 November 2010

Monday morning poetry

Inspired by watching A Poet's Guide to Britain on television last night, all gloomy pebbled beaches and moody surging waves with the white cliffs of Dover thrown in for good measure, a little Matthew Arnold poetry for Monday morning. I particularly like the fact that shortly after writing this, Arnold bit the bullet and became a schools inspector. Pragmatism is a useful quality in real life.


Weary of myself, and sick of asking
What I am, and what I ought to be,
At this vessel's prow I stand, which bears me
Forwards, forwards, o'er the starlit sea.

And a look of passionate desire

O'er the sea and to the stars I send:
"Ye who from my childhood up have calm'd me,
Calm me, ah, compose me to the end!

"Ah, once more," I cried, "ye stars, ye waters,
On my heart your mighty charm renew;
Still, still let me, as I gaze upon you,
Feel my soul becoming vast like you!"

From the intense, clear, star-sown vault of heaven,
Over the lit sea's unquiet way,
In the rustling night-air came the answer:
"Wouldst thou be as these are? Live as they.

"Unaffrighted by the silence round them,
Undistracted by the sights they see,
These demand not that the things without them
Yield them love, amusement, sympathy.

"And with joy the stars perform their shining,
And the sea its long moon-silver'd roll;
For self-poised they live, nor pine with noting
All the fever of some differing soul.

"Bounded by themselves, and unregardful
In what state God's other works may be,
In their own tasks all their powers pouring,
These attain the mighty life you see."

O air-born voice! long since, severely clear,
A cry like thine in mine own heart I hear:
"Resolve to be thyself; and know that he,
Who finds himself, loses his misery!"

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Aitch anxiety

How do you pronounce the letter "h"? Do you say "aytch" or "haytch"? Does one or the other of these pronunciations bother you greatly?

Mr Blithe drew my attention to a fascinating article on the BBC website about changing pronunciations. He asked me to guess which sentence in it made him think of me.

I guessed correctly.

It was the one about the "slightly agonised look in some people's eyes" at the sound of the eighth letter of the alphabet being said as "haytch." I have always been emphatic that the pronunciation is "aitch" even if everyone in Queensland pronounces it the other way. Blithe Girl asked me one day if I minded if she said "haytch" at school and "aytch" at home as she was tired of being different. To my shame, I insisted that she speak "properly." Really I need to get over it.

I attribute this to my family's Irish Protestant background where one knew a person was Roman Catholic by their "haytchs" but apparently it is related to class anxiety as well. Whoda thunk? Well I'm actually not too surprised as it was always made fairly clear to me at my middle class English-style primary school that hayseeds and rednecks spoke one way and educated people spoke another. This is ironic because as a result of my wildly divergent educational experiences I have some pretty weird pronunciations in spite of my culturally pure h's. I sound English but say "dienasty" not "dinasty" and occasionally talk about sidewalks and parking lots.

I was amused by reference in the article to a 1928 BBC guide to pronunciation. Did you know that in 1928 pristine rhymed with wine, combat was cumbat and housewifery, huzzifry (or even that they used that word)? Did you also know that more people under the age of 35 in the UK now make says rhyme with lays and not fez?

The British Library is recording changes in pronunciation by recording people reading the opening passage of a Mr Men book, Mr Tickle. This was chosen because it is well-known and will not inspire people to put on their best "posh" voices. I wonder what would be chosen for reading in an Australian context?

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Jacaranda evening

I have been accused recently of frightening people away from Queensland with tales of snakes, floods and assorted wildlife. Here is my apology.

Monday, 25 October 2010

The back paddock

Prism in my kitchen splitting light
Bright sunshine on the hills

Jacaranda blending into the late afternoon sky

Terrible howling in the gully

No child this

Young woman crying over her horse

Jagged words run together


Bulldozer edges over sodden ground

Sudden tilt on the dam wall then a slide to the edge

Ten minutes and the burial is done

Angry boy kicking grass in bare feet

"I'm gonna leave this godforsaken fucking place."

All I can think, "Didn't your mum tell you to wear shoes in the long grass?"

Looking over the lush hills I count

Tiny guinea pig mound here

Horse here

Cow beneath that tree

Another horse there

Crows picking over the newly turned earth

Now I know why the back paddock is so green

Friday, 15 October 2010

And then it rained

Black Snake Creek Festival was held on a cold, damp and windy day in October. The brightest thing was the bunting on our stall (made by my talented sister-in-law), although this comes close.

And then it started to rain. It rained all night. It rained most of the next day. It rained some of the following day. The ground was already damp and the dams nearly full. After the dams filled, the valley started to fill.

Then the creek filled...

And overflowed in various places...

And the children got a day off school. End of story. Except that more rain is predicted for tomorrow.

Credits: all the water photos were taken by Blithe Girl. The bunting can be made to order and I will happily pass on your contact details to Sister-in-law Blithe.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Some things they don't tell you in grad school

Or maybe they do and you just don't listen. A few thoughts from a long day.

1. 8am is not too early to be at a meeting.

2. An alarm going off as late as 7am is a luxury.

3. A PhD is not the hardest thing that you will do in your life.

4. You will lose an argument to an 11 year old.

5. Academia is not particularly child friendly.

6. Being overweight and unfit is not a sign of moral failure.

7. Sometimes being smart is not enough.

8. Often being smart is not enough.

9. You will still be wondering what to do with your life ten years after graduation.

10. Your [insert trade job here] will earn more than you.

11. Your [insert trade job here] may well have a better perspective on life than you do.

12. It's not just faculty meetings that will drive you to the edge of reason. Life is littered with meetings that will test your sanity.

13. No-one will care about your grasp of of critical cultural studies.

14. You won't care about your grasp of critical cultural studies as long as you have a cup of coffee and know where the restroom is.

15. You will forget most of what your dissertation was about.

16. You won't be unhappy about most of the above.

Friday, 8 October 2010


I didn't even realise until this morning that I hadn't written anything in October yet. Tomorrow is the Black Snake Creek Festival at which Folly's Antidote will have a stall. Next week I have a draft report due with the final report due within weeks.

I have been running a small-scale cottage industry in the early hours of the morning here on Blithe Hill. Children have been pressed into service (if only because they are fascinated by what I am doing and can't be kept away.) Early mornings are scheduled for design and production, "regular" morning for such plebeian things as breakfast and getting the children to their respective schools. School hours are report writing and after school may see some more production. Evenings are split between panic over not writing reports or producing stuff and keeping everyday things running.

I have loads of wet laundry waiting to be hung out and a mountain of laundry to be done. I won't even discuss the state of the rest of the house, other than to say that I think Thomas the Tank Engine may well have staged a coup.

But the end is in sight. Whatever happens tomorrow will happen. And report deadlines come and go. My wish is for the two things not to coincide too often.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

In praise of neighbours

I find myself embarrassingly beholden to other people nowadays. People in Marburg are very similar to the residents of Lake Woebegon with beautiful women, strong men and exceptionally smart children. It all leaves one feeling a little lacking sometimes.

My special area of incompetence is dealing with snakes. I go all stereotypically girly and stand on chairs (although I generally do not scream). We had a snake inside the house last week. It's the first time we've had a snake in the house although we have had snakes in the roof, the yard, the paddocks, the shed…

I picked up our recycling box to take it outside and there was a snake underneath. I didn't identify the type -- I was trying not to hyperventilate at the time. I was home with the kids so I stood on the aforementioned chair and called my neighbour. He actually was busy and declined to rescue me. I do understand that other people have commitments other than rescuing me so I was prepared to sort something out myself as long as that didn't involve going near the snake. I got a big stick and stood guard. At some point Mr Blithe would be coming home. I just didn't want the snake venturing into any other part of the house.

A few minutes later I heard a vehicle pull up in the driveway. It was my lovely neighbour. He had been in the shower when I called and did actually have a meeting to which he was already late. Nonetheless, his kindness prevailed and he took care of our visitor for me before proceeding onwards.

I don't really care if he told everyone he had to rescue me and that I was standing on a chair. At least I didn't have to deal with the snake.

Remember what I said about Marburg residents? Another neighbour told me that all I needed was a mop and a pillow case -- the mop for the snake to wind itself onto then the pillow case for transport outside. She wouldn't be standing on chairs. How can I measure up to these people?

Frivolity aside, I am deeply grateful to the kindness of my neighbours. I'm working on being a better, stronger, not-standing-on-chairs kind of person. Until then, thank you.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Keeping busy

I'm having a stall at this year's Black Snake Creek Festival (October 9) in bustling downtown Marburg to try to promote my business through concrete examples of publishing and digital pre-press. Several people have asked me "So just what is digital pre-press anyway?" I of course, assume that everyone needs it, if only they knew what "it" was. I would illustrate contract research and grant applications as well, but I don't want send any potential clients into irremediable stupor.

I'll have greeting cards, journals, and postcards as well as hopefully answers to people's questions (and plenty of business cards to hand out).

I'm sharing the stall with a sister-in-law who sells charming children's clothes, toys and gorgeous fabric bunting and a friend of hers. (Sharing a stall with her and her friend, not my sister-in-law selling a friend of hers. It's late and the English it is so difficult -- don't be so picky.)

If you're in the area, come by and see us. You may find out what occupies my late night and early morning hours. Did you know that the light from the monitor of a 27" iMac precludes the need for room lighting? Another fascinating fact from the person behind Folly's Antidote.

If you're not in the area, I'm adding a shopping cart plugin to my website. It's not yet operational, but I'll announce when it is up and running. I'm waiting to launch it till I actually have stock in hand. I can't make any promises though about what you'll find out there.

Friday, 24 September 2010

In praise of mothers-in-law

The horrible mother-in-law is the stuff of legends. I even have a plant in my garden called "mother-in-law's tongue." It is flourishing by the way.

On the other hand, I cannot praise my mother-in-law highly enough. She is competent, calm, totally unfazed by my children (after all she brought up five of her own) and never openly critical (of me at least). She plays endless games of Scrabble and Uno with the children when even one game is enough to drive me to distraction.

When she comes to stay I stagger out of bed at what I consider an early hour to find her sipping her morning tea and calmly playing round two or three of Scrabble with Blithe Boy. She squashes the children when necessary, defends them and cuddles them, makes dolls clothes, tackles my mending pile, rearranges my garden and folds my laundry.

Lest this all seem one-sided, she tells me that she enjoys not having to make any decisions, or meals or work out when she has to be at places. I try to believe her and make her frequent cups of tea. And she loves being with the kids who return the affection wholeheartedly.

I have yet to be scolded for the demolition job I did on her precious rose bushes that she consigned to my care. How was I to know that I used the herbicide container to spray the roses with white oil (and herbicide as it turned out)? I did however, get three iceberg rosebushes for my upcoming birthday, with the comment that they are "quite hardy."

I try not to cry with joy when she announces that she'd like to come stay for the school holidays. Thanks to her I may not have blogged this week but I have spent three full days at work and broken the back of the current research project. Somehow research projects tend to drag out forever when you spend a maximum of three hours at one time on them. I've also spent the equivalent of a day working on Folly's Antidote. I feel as if my working life is vaguely on track and I'm almost at a point where I remember that I like my children.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Curiousity, heroism and buses

I almost ran into the back of a bus today. I was leaving campus and the bus pulled out in front of me. This is not what caused my almost collision. It was the ad on the back of the bus. Advertising a local university (not the one whose campus I was leaving) it proclaimed: "The university that believes every student is a hero."

I was puzzled by this. Perhaps having taught at university and therefore being a tad cynical about the actual mechanics of teaching, my first thought was that believing every student isn't heroism, it is naivety. Then I realised that it was one of those statements that depended on pacing. It was saying that it believed the students were the heroes, not the university. Still, for all those advertising dollars, I think that they could have come up with a less ambiguous statement of their support of and for students.

At this point I paused to brake...

It was, however, a nice illustration of the wonders of the English language. And I did notice it, so if attention was the measure of success, it was a successful ad. Too bad I am not in the market for a university degree.

On the subject of cynicism and universities, I noticed that members of the tertiary education union at a different university from that advertising above, will exercise their right to strike by not answering emails and telephones on a particular day. Given the average response time to emails and phone calls at universities, I wonder if a) anyone will notice and b) if this is the most effective way of removing one's services. How will I be able to tell on the given day whether it is strike action or a typical day on campus?

I think that I had better simply concentrate on my driving.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Why I live where I do

Sometimes I have the perfect answer to why I live where I do when it would be so much easier to live closer to work opportunities, or wonderful stores, or cultural activities.

I walk into my living room on a spring evening and see the night sky, the dark hills, city lights rimming the horizon, circles of water dotting the gully and hear this.
[432kb wma file download]


This is the first time I've tried linking to an audio file. Let me know if and how it works.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

A decision

Seventeen days after the election, Julia Gillard and Labor are back in power. After days of speculation Bob Katter announced today that he was throwing his lot in with the Coalition. That left two independents. I was fairly certain that they must be going to announce in Labor's favour as if the independents had been unified, they would have announced their decision together. I had to do the afternoon school run after a quick last minute check before leaving work that nothing had been announced.

Hauling school bags and cranky children in from the car, my mobile phone beeped with the message "Julia wins." No I don't have Labor on my alert team. It was Mr Blithe knowing that I was away from my computer and that the radio in the car hasn't worked since the car was garaged without the antenna being retracted (twice). The advantage of an old car is that you don't have to worry about it. The disadvantage is lack of automatic doodads that save you from things like this.

So what now? ABC has a nice article outlining what happens once the independents decide. I also like Annabel Crabbe's analysis of why she thought Julia would prevail. Now to see what happens now that both major parties can express themselves a little more bluntly.
I suspect it will be less kiss and more tell.

Did I mention that I love politics?

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Panic setting in

It's official…I am a geek. I have suspected as much for some time but I have finally reached the conclusive point. I now have so many different email addresses, blogs, twitter and assorted password protected things that I maintain that I can't keep the login names and passwords straight in my head.

Usually I am fine with the login names but put in the wrong password. My suspicions were aroused when I started hesitating during that vital tab from the login to the password. Then I began fumbling my typing. Then I started getting error messages. Once I was even locked out of an account for 20 minutes.

I'm choosing to believe that it is geekdom attained rather than senility encroaching. And I am making a list for myself. A proper list. One not stored on a computer. A printed out list stashed in my offline files. Otherwise I might forget my computer login and lose access to my entire life.

Right now I'm not sure that that would be a bad thing.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

We expect to be very interested

My plan was to write another post as soon as election results were known. Ten days have now passed and the two major parties are, as expected, bickering over whom has the electoral mandate while the independents relish the chance of having a say in the future composition of government. Not having a government is strangely not disruptive to everyday life. The caretaker government keeps on going and ballot counting reports change almost hourly. I am sure that it is intensely irritating to those waiting to start work in Canberra and to people dependent on federal government decision making, but most people simply continue on with their lives. In one way it is an illustration of the wonder of a modern, peaceful affluent democracy.

Speaking of continuing on with life, I recently spent a day at the Queensland Maritime Museum. There are many wonderful exhibits (more of this later), but a tiny exhibit in a section devoted to people coming to Australia caught my eye. It was just two pages -- a photocopy of a diary entry from an English migrant who arrived in Moreton Bay in September 1866 and an adjoining typed transcription of the page. Clearly picked because of the drama of the later entries, it gives a real flavour of travel in those times.

Click on the photos to get a larger readable image and please bear in mind that this was photographed through glass using low exposure without flash i.e. please don't be too critical of the quality of the image.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Election day

It was a glorious day in Queensland today -- crisp breeze, bright blue sky, sunshine and early spring blossoms. It was all quite at odds with the dark gloom that enveloped our house. Election day of perhaps the closest and most impossible to call election in Australia's history. I decided not to wear my bright pink sweatshirt as it seemed inappropriate to the seriousness of voting.

Going out the door in navy blue and dark glasses I was contemplating whether we'd need to stock up on liquor to survive the evening of excruciating counting. Having just decided that an entire Dorie Greenspan-recipe apple brown sugar cheesecake would be enough to sustain us through the evening and assuage potential misery, I noticed Blithe Boy's shorts were on back to front.

Remedying the situation, I discovered that he had also forgotten undies. Suddenly a pink sweatshirt didn't seem so bad.

Polls close in 20 minutes. I'll let you know how much cheesecake was required.

N.B. If one is going to expire from cheesecake related excess then this is the recipe by which to do so.

Friday, 20 August 2010

To my friend Absurd Beats

Flicking through photos of our epic November/December/January travels, I found these memories of a cat in New York. So here's to you Bean -- tolerator of small children as long as they are asleep and quiet.

Who was more tired, Bean, the bear or Blithe Boy?

Quiet contemplation before flight.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The grasseaters or the great competition

The view to the north this morning (7.44am)

The view to the south this morning (7.45am)

Friday, 13 August 2010

New worlds

It's hard to believe but I've just launched a twitter site. I'm not entirely convinced of its efficacy, but it's all part of the grand marketing plan.

You can take a look at:

I've also been Google mapped. It wasn't too painful.

So far I have a corporate image but the reality is not yet terribly corporeal. I'll let you know when I'm about to take over the world.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Life imitating art?

I've been a fan of Barbara Kingsolver for a long time. I love the way that she writes characters as people in which I can believe. Animal Dreams is one of my favourite books with its themes of social justice, people trying to make something of the world in which they live, families and the complications of love.

Each of my Kingsolver books in my bookcase has a story behind it. I recently bought Animal Dreams because I went into a bookstore to purchase The Lacuna shortly after it won the Orange Prize. I was expecting to see it front and centre of some display, but the shop didn't have it and would take some time to get it in. I'm not sure if it is an Ipswich thing or a "prize-winning novels don't have big readership so we're not going to waste our time" thing. They did have Animal Dreams and I decided to get my own copy so that I can reread it. The bookshop still got some money from me, but I'm not keen to return.

My copy of The Poisonwood Bible was left behind by a paying guest at the swanky hotel/restaurant at which I worked for a pittance in Minneapolis. As an impoverished grad student I was astonished that someone would leave behind a hardcover novel and not ask for its return. It sat in the lost and found cupboard until one day the cupboard was being tidied and the contents tossed. I leapt in to rescue it. At the rate I was paid, it was worth about 8 hours of wages and besides which, it was an author I loved and I was delighted to get a copy of it.

I'm on the lookout for any of her other books at second-hand stores. I've read all of her novels and a few of her non-fiction books. I've even paid overdue library fines for some of them. I'd prefer not to give my money to some big corporation. And I still find it hard to believe that I can actually buy new books without having to scrimp (too much) on the grocery bill.

Anyway, this was to be a post about The Lacuna and not Barbara Kingsolver in general. I finished reading it a few days ago and the story has been gently bobbing around in the back of my mind. Imagine my surprise when I logged on to ABC (ours not the American one) to read today's news headlines and saw that Osama Bin Laden's cook had been convicted for material support for terrorism and received a 14 year sentence from a Guantanamo Bay military tribunal. I immediately went to see what the New York Times had written about the case and found nothing which is odd in itself.

Of course I don't know the details of the case, but it is eerily similar to The Lacuna. The main character in the novel, Harrison Shepherd, child of a Washington bureaucrat and a Mexican free-spirit, spends time working for Trotsky who is in exile in Mexico. He is mainly the cook but moonlights as typist and friend. He moves as an adult to the Carolinas. Eventually the House Committee on Un-American Activities convicts him as a communist on the basis of his having been Trotsky's cook. He is forced to flee, and you'll have to read the book…

Shepherd of course is not a communist, but he probably did materially support Trotsky, if by that, you mean feed him. It makes you wonder about this case, if you weren't already somewhat sceptical of the "war on terror." When you start to look at the world in a particular way, many actions become justified. We all let our ideology colour our perceptions of course, but not all of us are in a position to do something about it.

Perhaps one of the reasons I like Kingsolver is that she expresses many of my concerns about the world wrapped up in a fascinating narrative. She's not preaching or hitting you over the head but simply illustrating the consequences of particular ways of looking at the world. That's what I want from my own storytelling.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Hill country

Marburg is all about the hills and valleys. Gravel roads wind and twist around the hills and dip into the valleys. Often one road does all of these. Houses seem to be scattered randomly over the land. Some people seem to prefer the hilltops and others tuck their houses into folds in the land or down the bottom of the gullies.

Too often you can speed from one place to another in your busy life and miss the byways. I'm beginning to learn to take my camera and my time; to stop on the side of the road and take pictures; to wind down the car window to listen to the wind in the grass and the birds.

When I moved here I was scared by gravel roads. I wanted bitumen and lighting and signs and cars. Now I admit to a certain fondness for dirt and twistiness and lack of traffic.

Monday, 26 July 2010

No greater love

I've been talking to snake catchers. It's not a sentence I thought I'd ever utter.

I had decided not to worry to much about the "water" dripping from the ceiling because after all, how often does that happen?

Well, approximately every fortnight as it turns out. Yes, on Saturday, liquid was again dripping from my office ceiling. Whatever was up there was on a two weekly evacuation schedule, or maybe the liquid took two weeks to build up to the point of seepage.

So here I was talking to snake catchers. Snake catcher #1 thought it was possible that the liquid was due to a snake. Snake catcher #2 thought it unlikely. #2 bloke suggested that I get my "man" to go up in the ceiling space again and make sure it wasn't a possum. I tried not to be offended by his entirely accurate assumption that I wasn't the one crawling around in the ceiling space. #2 suggested that if the snake bothered Mr Blithe, then he should just pick it up and move it. And if it didn't want to let go of the beam, to make sure to grab it firmly behind the head.

Mr Blithe did not sound enthusiastic when I relayed this message to him. Given that there was approximately zero likelihood that I would do it myself, I didn't pursue the issue.

Enthusiastic bloke #2 suggested that we were privileged to have a snake in our ceiling and that every Queenslander (the house not the person) needs one. I have no real objection to snakes in the ceiling as long as they remain up there. I do object to stinky liquid flowing into my office.

Mr Blithe decided that instead of crawling around in the dark ceiling space with at least one large heat-sensing reptile, he would approach from the outside by popping off a roof panel or two (not an easy job but possible on a tin-roofed house) and see what was there. Any snake would be unlikely to leap out at him and he could survey potential problems and solutions. As this did not involve me in any capacity beyond moral support, handing up of tools and perhaps, dialling 000, I thought it was a great idea.

Three roof panels later, and one large snake retreating to a dark corner, it was pretty clear that the damage was snake related. Right above my head near the light fixture was where Mr (or Ms) Spotted Python liked to recline while dining. There were leftovers and a large damp patch in the dust.

There was also a large nest of grass and furry bits, let's call them discarded fur coats, nearer to the edge of the roof. Using a long stick, Mr Blithe gently suggested that the snake leave the premises. It was very reluctant but eventually crawled over the gutter, wrapped itself around the downpipe and finally flopped onto the ground and rapidly took to the horizon, we hope, but more likely into the building debris still piled under the house. Mr Blithe then cleaned out the nest and blocked off any future access points.

Leaving home

By this point dusk was falling and there were roof panels to be replaced. Mr Blithe and my father tackled the job. I continued to offer moral support and tools and later, butter chicken. We all act within our capacities.

All I can say is that no greater love has a person than this: removing a roof to look for wildlife, removing a snake, replacing the roof in the dark AND taking photographs for his anti-snake, heights disliking, blogging, averse-to-snake-pee-in-her-workspace partner. Thank you Mr Blithe.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Learning the vernacular

Australia has a long history of imposing imported ideas upon itself. As a land of migrants, many lonely and homesick, people tried to recreate the landscapes of their past in their new land. Everywhere that has a history of migration is similar. In some ways we celebrate our mix of cultures but in other ways it can be difficult to see the original landscape through the overlays of other culltures.

Last year I saw a fascinating series about gardens on television. "Around the World in Eighty Gardens" explored the whole notion of place and sense of place by looking at gardens that were an imposition on the landscape (a twee English garden in India springs to mind) and gardens that draw upon a strong sense of where they are (a garden perched on rocks by the ocean in Chile like a windswept outgrowth). In Australia the host, Monty Don, looked at a garden in the Southern Highlands that could be any grand English garden and is often held up as a fine example of gardening and two very different Australian vernacular gardens -- Dame Elisabeth Murdoch's amazing country landscape garden in Victoria and a red rock and sand garden in, I think, Sydney. The English garden only succeeded by blocking out the surrounding landscape and turning inwards. The other two gardens looked outwards to the land and reflected the immensity and beauty of Australia. I found them infinitely more beautiful and moving than the more static and inward looking garden.

This series spoke to me because part of what I write about and try to understand is how people understand place and interpret it. When you research and write about migration, you need to dig deeply into people's understandings of where they live and how they try to live when they move to a new place.

On the weekend we visited a historic railway station, perched on the hills near Toowoomba. Spring Bluff is famous for its gardens and for being a lovely picnic spot. It lives up to its promise. What struck me though was a very strong sense of how it is grafted onto the landscape rather than being part of it. There is this little patch of cultivation with a strongly English flavour enclosed by bare scrubby hills on one side and stands of tall bush on the other. As you look at the prim rows of plants, and the strictly regulated garden beds, the wind constantly shushes in the tops of the gum trees. You can close your eyes and imagine yourself at sea. Then you open them and there is a dense ocean of grey-green vegetation pressing in on this chocolate box Englishness. The pleasure from the gardens is tinged with a sense of alienation.

Perhaps that is the story of Spring Bluff -- the possession of a land by strangers, triumph over the steep hills and nature, and a longing for familiarity.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Possum pee?

A tale of life in the country and associated dangers.

I love where we live. I love the hills and the grass; the wide skies and the clouds; the endless winds blowing the treetops and rattling the windows; the space for thought and dreams. I do not love the wildlife. Well, I love it in the abstract as part of the essential eco-system of which we are but a part, but I do not love it up close and personal. Animals, bugs of every description and size, snakes, birds, neighbours…all essential to the system, but not necessarily things with which I am comfortable.

Sitting quietly in my new desk chair (black, leather, swivelling), reading a description of the very exciting Germany-Uruguay football match that I had just watched, I waited for my weekend morning coffee that Mr Barista Blithe delivers to my hand. Called to the table, I stood up, walked away from my chair and heard the sound of running water.

Children all at table -- check.

None with agonised expressions -- check.

No horses near the house -- check.

Glasses of water and mugs of coffee -- all safe.

Desk chair -- being dripped on by the light fixture above! And dripped on by vile smelling brown fluid!!

I cannot describe my feelings of revulsion. Nor the amounts of paper towelling, rags and leather cleaner vigorously applied.

My first thought was possum pee. Maybe not your first thought, but you are probably not woken almost every morning by a possum landing on the roof above your bedroom and scrabbling across the roof to the tree on the other side. Thump, thump, scrabble, screech, silence -- my 5am wake up call.

Valiant Mr Blithe went up into ceiling space to investigate. Valiant Mr Blithe quickly returned. He doesn't think there is a possum up there, but our resident, and apparently large snake was quite interested in its visitor. Discretion being the better part of valour, he retired and quickly shut the ceiling access.

Could it be snake pee? Do snakes pee? Do I really want to know?

Friday, 2 July 2010

New projects

After much ado, some about nothing, my new venture is up and running.

Take a look at
Folly's Antidote and let me know what you think.

Even better, ask me to do some work for you!

The spice(s) of life

I'm pausing in the rush of evening meal preparation to perch at the computer. Friday night meals are always simple -- fish and potatoes of some sort with a salad on the side. It's a family tradition. Tonight I'm multi-tasking and making oasis naan and dessert for lunch guests tomorrow. As I looked at my crowded and messy spice rack (why should it stand out from the rest of the house?) I feel a wave of culinary imperialism on one hand and a rush of longing for tropical adventure on the other.

Here I am making naan and curry for lunch, fish and potatoes (how Anglo) for dinner, and a French prune tart for tomorrow's dessert. Into these, I casually tip the treasures that spurred adventures, inspired explorers, caused wars, exploited people and the land. There's cinnamon, cloves whole and ground, cumin, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, chillis, turmeric, ginger, paprika both sweet and smoked, dill, oregano, aniseed, five spice, star anise, cardamom pods, whole peppers…the hot smells of China, the heavy heat of the Dutch East Indies, the dry dust of the bazaars...

Perhaps it is the grey drizzle and cold heavy air of the winter's day but I am momentarily transported. I take these treasures for granted when those in the past have cried out for and fought over these precious pinches of flavour and scent.

The Jaeckels came through the Indies. I wonder what treasures they discovered and brought with them to Australia.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Going to town

When I talk about the Marburg hills, this is what I mean. This is the route of one of the original roads over the hills, the one that washed out in a cyclone in the 1880s and has since been a dead end road. It's in good condition at the moment having been newly graded. This photo gives you an almost vertiginous sense of what going to town means. To my delight this photo was taken by Blithe Girl with her birthday camera.

Can you imagine tackling it with a wagon and horses or in rain so heavy that you couldn't see more than a short distance around you with water swirling so heavily around the horses' legs that they stumbled? You'd be blinded by the rain being driven into your face by the horizontal wind and sliding as much as you advanced. Even good weather would mean slippery dry dust and rolling gravel.

On the other hand, the valley opens up in front of you like a book revealing every line and fold of the terrain. The hills hover darkly and the grass shivers in the wind. Beauty and practicality -- ancient foes.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Learning stuff

I panic on a regular basis. I try to do it when I am in the shower or lying in bed so that I don't scare those with whom I share the house. My panic is of the fifty-things-to-do-so-what-should-I tackle-first school. I often lie in bed in the pre-daylight hours mentally arranging my day. I then get out of bed and the day proceeds to go in whatever direction it so chooses, bearing me along spinning and twisting.

Showering tonight (it's way too cold to shower in the mornings right now) I realised that one reason that I have been so tired these last few months is that I have been in overdrive learning new things. I've learnt or am in the process of learning a couple of new computer programs, including InDesign which so far has not been a walk in the park. I've researched accounting software, legal requirements for businesses, commercial insurance and best design and programs for websites. I've bought and set up a new computer and home office. I've ditched Microsoft Word for OpenOffice and attempted to bend Gimp to my needs. I have a website in development and my new accounting software very accurately shows me how deeply into the negative side of the ledger I have so far forged. On the plus side, I am insured for all sorts of calamities that make my knees tremble simply to read about.

I've learnt that while sans serif fonts are great for signage, most book designers prefer to use serif for book contents because it is easier to read for long periods. I've learnt that bold fonts are a sign of amateurism in books. I've learnt about bleeds and slugs (which are nothing to do with kids or gardening). I've put a new computer chair on the top of my "to purchase" list to ease my aching backside.

And on the subject of learning stuff, would you make a decision about working with someone based on the fact that you knew they were a sole trader? That is, do I refer on my website to myself, first person singular, or to we, which seems to imply that there is more than simply me in the enterprise? I personally have no problems working with an independent business, but do you think it would discourage enquirers and business?

Friday, 11 June 2010

The perils of history

On a good day the children are delightful, the world is beautiful and full of marvellous curiosities, people are charming and I am content with myself and others.

On a bad day, say one when the children don't want to get going in the morning, you have a million things to do including a couple of important meetings at which you have to appear ironed, alert and vaguely intelligent…on days like that discontent rages unchecked.

Particularly, just say, that one of your previously delightful, curious and intelligent children says to you:

"Look Mum, I found this bit of old iron outside, do you know what it is? Oh and I thought the holes were finger holes and I can't get my fingers back out of them." The last was said with some nervousness at the potential parental response.

Given that I was in the car with the engine running and had only stopped my mad rush at the gate to pick up said child who likes to run down the driveway and wait on the gate singing to the birds and listening to the wind, the nervousness was entirely warranted. There was one finger of each hand inserted in the holes, producing the effect of finger cuffs. The fact that it was the middle finger of each hand was not lost on me.

We pulled gently -- no success. Start flashing options -- ambulance (no, probably not life threatening enough); RACQ and their "jaws of life" (probably too big and would take the hand too); just dropping the child at school (possibly some sort of violation of law, if not parental etiquette); okay, spit and wriggle. Success!

Any thoughts on what this is? American readers, please ignore the inch-like markings below the centimetres. It's my favourite ruler, one that I stash in my secret stationery supply drawer, and the markings are old Chinese inches. You have to turn it over to get imperial measurements. It's about 5 inches in length and feels like cast iron.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Life before SMS

A lot of people in Marburg have post office boxes. The mail delivery is somewhat sketchy, particularly if you don't have town delivery and are dependent on a rural mail service. Sometimes I think people also have post boxes so that they can catch up with the latest news and gossip and see who's doing what in town. If you don't frequent the pub, it's one of the only other options for socialising now that there isn't the thriving town centre of yesteryear.

Australia Post now offers a new service that notifies you via SMS, for a price, that you have mail waiting in your mailbox. Marburg doesn't offer this service. People aren't keen on spending the extra money. Besides which, if there's anything urgent, the postmistress can tell her sister, who can tell me when we both pick up our kids from school and I can stop in town on the way through.

If you're not home when a courier delivery comes, they'll drop it at the post office and our pre-SMS system will spring into action. Result, efficiently delivered packages.

It works just fine, it doesn't go down in a thunderstorm and the only price is privacy. Use heavy brown paper if you plan to send me anything interesting. Of course, that might start rumours of another sort entirely. It's best not to have anything to hide.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Travelling blind

It's funny how topics align sometimes. A friend in New York City blogged about trying to decide how she wants to support herself, how she can make work work for her. On the other side of the world I'm wading through similar questions. Her situation is totally different from mine but the question is the same (I think): how do I want to live my life?

I have a few more people to consider than does she. Any decision I make has to work with and around my children and partner. I'm not saying that I base all my decisions on them, but anything that I decide to do must work for all of us as a family unit as well as for the individuals that make up that unit.

I've been at loose ends with two contracts ending and no new ones in sight. It's the perennial problem of dependence on grant income for work. No successful grants means no work. There are always projects on the boil, but nothing currently boiling, cooking my dinner so to speak.

I was really disappointed with myself a few weeks ago. I missed a deadline for a writing opportunity and I felt that I had failed completely. The fact that it was a simple misreading of dates, that every day had been frantically busy and that everyone had things they needed me to do for them right that minute, didn't lessen my sense of disappointment.

As I was sitting around flaying myself, Mr Blithe suggested that I (in my words, not his more tactful version) stop whinging and do something more positive. His starting point was that I should use the time that I have now, the money I had set aside to start a business, buy myself a new computer and get to work. His suggestion made sense and I was awfully tired of being disappointed with myself.

So in the last fortnight I have been setting up my new computer and printer, registering myself as a business and all the associated paperwork and trying to get myself organised.

No fanfare yet. I have some paperwork still to pull together and the need to establish myself as a presence, but there is a communications and desktop publishing/digital prepress business getting itself together. My plan is to start this as a side dish to my contract research work and see where it takes me. I think of it as kind of a plan without a concrete plan, the path-free map, or more romantically, unchartered territory. Others may call it something more akin to folly.

Doing grocery shopping this morning, somewhere between the toilet paper and the cereal aisles, Beach Boys blaring on the shop sound system; toddlers squalling and brawling; Blithe Boy reclining in the trolley chewing inelegantly on an apple, my phone rang and I was offered an interview for a really interesting short-term historical research job.

Truly at the moment, my path is not only less travelled but entirely mapless.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

By request

Here is the original of my fabulous work of literature and illustration. I am acceding to this request because fiddling with images etc. is far more interesting than doing my income estimate for the next financial year. On such things does the future of blogging rest.

As with all artifacts there is a story behind the condition and survival of this story. As far as I can work out, I must have written and illustrated the story in 1976 during year one in Malaysia. My beloved teacher must have sent the story to my parents in Taiwan. They stored it folded with several other stories. Somehow it survived 13 subsequent years of moving back and forth from Taiwan to Australia, 21 years in storage in Sydney and now hopefully a final home in Marburg.

When we visited Sydney early this month, my mother handed the folded bundle to me and said that she hadn't been able to throw them out. I had no idea what they were but in the flurry of kids, trains, plane and car, thought nothing more of it. Putting away the last few items from our trip (yes it took me a while to sort myself out completely) I wondered what the bundle was. On the outside were scribbled card scores from a game I evidently played with my siblings and parents. The writing was mine but I didn't remember the game nor at the time did I notice what the paper was. One of my enduringly bad habits is scribbling notes on whatever scrap of paper falls to hand. This habit must have started sometime in my teens so the stories were lying around then and I wasn't one to let a scrap of paper go to waste.

Anyway, I finally unfolded the documents and discovered a remnant of my childhood. I clearly remember sitting in the sunny year one classroom that perched on a green hillside above a stream and with dense jungle close on the other side of the valley. You could look out the louvered windows and see vines, trees and the occasional monkey. I remember gripping my pencil and trying to use my best handwriting. I remember how I really wanted to make my teacher happy.

Now the school is no longer a school. That beloved teacher died long ago and I am most definitely not five years old. But it brings back many happy memories. I'm glad my mum hung onto it all those years.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Going back to basics

My first ever published story, by me age 5, from the school annual magazine.
Once upon a time there was a skeleton and a witch. they were enemies. one night the witch sneaked to the skeletons house. the skeleton was sitting in front of the fire eating Pancakes. by the corner of his eye he saw the witch. they began to fite. the skeleton won the war because he was stronger than the witch.

Illustrated by me with a very good representation of a witch and a very dodgy looking skeleton. Apparently he did like his food as his house was piled with pancakes and the tree outside laden with shiny red apples. Both interesting choices as I had probably not seen or eaten either of those foods at that age. Cultural imperialism anyone?

Naturally the punctuation and capitalisation were corrected for publication. What else are editors for?

Saturday, 15 May 2010

More definitions

Apathetic: having or showing no emotion or interest. From the Greek "without feeling" a- not, pathos- suffering).

Pathetic: arousing pity, or sadness or contempt...(colloquial) miserably inadequate.

I can't decide which definition suits me best at the moment so I (in the best tradition of the apathetic) flipflop between the two. Politicians have nothing on my changeability at the moment.

On one hand, I am busy and on the other, I am aimless in my busyness.

My goal: to be neither apathetic nor pathetic and to GET BACK TO WRITING.

On the other hand, my house is gradually getting tidy and there is a batch of hot spiced chocolate mini cakes in the oven. It's ironic that when my house is tidy, everyone well-fed and happy I'm unable to write. Perhaps those who say that misery and hardship are required for successful literary endeavors are right.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Defining autumn

How do you tell that it is autumn? Is it falling leaves and temperatures? Adding extra layers of clothing? Thinking of Christmas?

I know that it is autumn when:

The crows start to wake me up before daybreak.

The guavas ripen (not unrelated to the crows' revelry).

It's the Marburg Show.

I have to add a morning sweatshirt to my t-shirts and shorts.

It's dark when my alarm goes off.

The children don't want to get out of bed in the morning and neither do I.

I can't see my monitor clearly in the mornings with the sun on its northerly trek shining straight in the office window.

It's a long time till Christmas.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Lights will guide you home

Driving home from the airport in light rain, I knew we were getting close to home. Traffic was light -- it was after 11pm and good citizens of Ipswich and surrounds don't like to be out that late. I could appreciate the new sweeping curves of the motorway, the shiny "City of Ipswich" sign now adorning an overpass and my personal favourite: the red flashing lights of the broken hotel sign shouting what I am choosing to take as a message of everlasting Christmas cheer "Ho... Ho... Ho!"

I don't think Coldplay's very sweet lyrics were quite what was meant by these lights guiding us home.

It was a good long weekend away in Sydney visiting family. It's good to go and it's good to come back. It's even better when it gives you a chance to think and a few fresh perspectives. I'm currently between contracts and trying to put the time to good use. So far, everyday keeping on going has filled in all the gaps in my time. I don't seem to have as much time to do things as I thought I would.

It's been a few months since I picked up my manuscript and I want to go back to it with a fresh eye and try a few rewrites. There's a manuscript development competition coming up that I'd like to submit it to. Ten new Australian writers for young readers will get a week of development with editors from a major publisher. I'd really like to be one of the ten.

* I just realised that this is my 400th post. Thanks for sticking with me even though things have been slow in patches!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Night themes continued

We went to the Ipswich Festival.
The scouts and the belly dancers were there.

There were no elephants to sneeze or fall on their knees.

And that was the end of the festival, festi, fest, fest, fest.

But here are some photos to illustrate my fascination with night scenes. And there were bellydancers there and lots of music and good food but no poor poetry.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Night rain

It's the time of year when the days are clear and warm while the nights are gradually sliding towards winter. In the middle of the night clouds blow across the river plains and hills from the ocean and drop a little night rain. It's rarely loud. Sometimes just a patter across the roof, sometimes silent and the only hint is the slowly dripping foliage and wet ground in the morning.

BTR (Before the renovations), we never heard this light benison of moisture. Our bedroom was right in the middle of the house with doors and windows opening only onto covered verandah. When storms were loud, the whole family would pile onto the high bed and we would feel as if we were held tightly and comfortingly in the arms of the house.

Our new bedroom perches above the valley. We hear the wind and rain moving uphill towards us. Sometimes the floor shakes a little in the wind or you hear a strut groaning. One set of windows faces east and we can forecast the weather from their sighs and creaks. Two of the downpipes vital to our collection of water run outside the bedroom. If I don't hear the rain, I do hear the sound of water collecting, dropping and gurgling. It comforts in its own way.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Of photography and maps

Easter has been and gone. We travelled but not far. I spent a lot of time looking at the hills through which we journeyed. I always enjoy going away with the family because Mr Blithe drives and I get a chance to look at the scenery. He loves driving so it is part of the holiday for him. I enjoy the break from chauffeuring (or is that chaufferage? No -- that sounds potentially odd/too interesting.)

Sometimes I try to photograph the scenery streaming past the windows. I have not yet mastered the art of the moving photograph. Everything is still so green. It looks pretty but I have been here long enough now to think a little anxiously of fire season. Here's an attempt where you can see the hills but also the grass blurring along the front of the image.

Back at work, one of my colleagues sent me a map that he had found of Ipswich in the 1840s. I'm helping to put together a presentation to help launch a new research project and we've been looking at images of how Ipswich has changed over time. I loved this map. The d'Aguilar Range marked on it is the range that marches across the horizon of my daily perspective. Limestone Street is still one of the main thoroughfares of town.

In many ways Ipswich is still the contained town shown and in other ways it has changed completely through administrative acquisition of vast tracts of new housing developments. The mayor has been in the news, spruiking the fact that Ipswich is the fastest growing area in Queensland. I admit to perhaps-false-idyllic small town nostalgia.