Sunday, December 30, 2012

And so this is Christmas

Christmas has been a fairly quiet affair for my household for the past three years. We had our final one in Christchurch - knowing that we would soon be leaving Christchurch but not yet knowing to where - then two in Mandurah. All were enjoyable but quiet.

This year's Christmas was back to the mad, noisy Christmas days I remember from my childhood. Eight children and twelve adults will do that. Evan came too but we didn't let him put us off launching what my delighted niece described as " the best present ever": an inflatable boat.

A day of food, family, food, fun, food, laughter and food - and finding the spooky Christmas decoration we all hate back on the tree despite repeated annual attempts to send it to heaven.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Get lost, Evan

A couple of days before Christmas my family headed to Raglan and we have been here ever since. We are staying with my five siblings, their partners, their children, my mother and some friends. Our numbers change slightly from day to day as visitors arrive and leave, but there is a core group of eighteen of us holidaying together in two houses, two tents and two vans. Lots of fun. No punchups.

We do however have one uninvited holiday companion tagging along: Evan. Recently he made a jolly nuisance of himself in Samoa and then Fiji. By the time he made it to New Zealand he was tired and spent but he was still very, very wet.

Evan is of course a cyclone and due to Cyclone Evan's remnants we have had a lot of rain this week. But who cares about a bit of rain when hanging out with family in a gorgeous place? Not me.

The world didn't end

The next stop on our trip was a brief visit to Hamilton to see our old cat Topsy, oh and my sister and niece. Then on to the Rose Town of New Zealand, Te Awamutu for a couple of days. Fortunately the world didn't end and while there we got to enjoy a school reunion party hosted by one of my old school friends ... on my birthday. My amazing birthday roses from her beautiful garden are below. At the party my daughter was able to look at school photos of me and laugh at my hairdo. Curly perm. True story.

If you are ever in that part of the world at that time of year then don't miss the chance to go berry picking. I can tell you from experience that berry picking when done all day for weeks on end as a teenager's holiday job isn't the most fun thing ever, but berry picking for an hour with my family gathering bargain priced, unbelievably delicious holiday supplies was right up here.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Keeping cool

Everyone warned us that having been away from NZ for two and a half years that we would freeze back in NZ. It hasn't happened so far but I for one had forgotten about how icky high humidity can be. The temperature in Auckland was lovely but the remnants of Cyclone Evan meant the humidity was uncomfortably high. Thankfully the friends we stayed with in Auckland have a pool and on our first slow morning there we nearly wore it out trying to stay cool.

We finally felt refreshed enough to go for a saunter around the corner to our friends' local shops. In the five minutes it took to walk there I saw more interesting architecture than I have in our entire time living in Mandurah. We browsed in Moa, Vanilla Ink, a lovely bookshop and a cool giftshop. I found wares I wanted to buy. My partner bumped into someone he knows and stopped for a chat. We had a scrumptious lunch and perfect long blacks at the Monterey Coffee Lounge, feeling quite at home in that establishment's cute op-shoppy fitout. I did a double take when I paid the bill; compared to Western Australian prices it was incredibly cheap. While we sat there watching the constant parade of pre-Christmas shoppers, my daughter - who a few months earlier told me that I don't dress like the other mums at her Mandurah school - commented that the other women in this neighourhood dress just like me. Yes, I know they do, I said. The way I dress (and the fact that I don't have tats and avoid getting tanned) doesn't look odd everywhere in the world.

On day two of our holiday I remembered what a lovely feeling it is to NOT feel like a fish out of water.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Too stupid

For the past week I have been trying to use Blogger on the ipad. It seems I am either too stupid or too fussy because the results I am getting are rubbish. But I have taken the advice of a friend who says that a certain place in the world should have signs at the airport and at every entrance road saying "Welcome to 'This-place-I-dare-not-name'! Please lower your expectations!"

So here goes anyway because I am in New Zealand ... and it is good. Maybe one photo a day is the way to go. Here we are at Esplanade Busport. To get to the first bed we slept in in NZ we took a taxi, then a train, then a bus, then a plane, then another bus, then another plane, then a ride in my sister's car, then a ride in our (lower your expectations) budget rental car. When we arrived we were a tad knackered but it was worth it. I know I am biased but NZ is fab.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Thanks Santa

Much like a department store, my household got into the swing of Christmas way back in September.  Santa went nutso this year.  Here is what he gave us.

Some new animal friends (those koi above and that monkey below), a new sun umbrella, a swimming pool complete with waterfalls, some new chairs and some garden art.

He also very kindly gave us a castle with a moat

and quite a few boats.

Ok, so I have stretched the truth just a little.  Here is what he really gave us.

Santa nearly bankrupted himself buying season passes to Adventureworld for our whole family but it was well worth it; by mid-October we had already visited enough times to get our money back.

Yesterday was a 35 degree day in Perth and we and what felt like half a million other people went to this huge fun park.  It is a real credit to the management of that place how well they cope on the stupidly busy days.  Here are some pics from yesterday.  See if you can see why we like the place.

Our season passes still have several months of funtimes left in them. 

And if some of you are wondering whether my Blogger account has been hacked and this post has been written by an impostor, I can assure you that it hasn't.  One of my very favourite things is that Adventureworld doesn't just cater for people who like throwing themselves off things and being tossed in the air.  I can confirm that it is also just perfect for people who like to find a shady spot, settle down with a good book, then every now and then cool off with a gentle swim - while other members of their family merrily throw themselves off things.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Dark Ages

When we go on holiday to NZ I'll gain great pleasure from various little things, many of which I hadn't expected to have to go cold turkey on when we moved here.

I can't wait to go to a supermarket and buy readymade falafel mix. (WA business opportunity anyone?) I am going to buy a Cookie Crumble and eat it without laughing; here they are called Golden Gaytime. Then I am going to buy WINE at that supermarket like a proper grownup! I'm going to go into another shop and assume it has EFTPOS - and for once, it will. By leaving Australia for nearly a month I hope to get our monthly bank fees down to less than our monthly alcohol spend...for the first time since moving here. I’ll go to a petrol station, put the fuel nozzle in the tank, click the wee latch and fill the tank "no hands". (Can you still do that in NZ? Can't here. Like so many other things it is "a safety issue".) My children can't wait to get back to the land of hydroslides and challenging playgrounds. We all want to sit on grass, or anywhere outside for that matter, without being used as a food source for a myriad of little creatures. I can't wait to get some pleasant, free exercise - something I find impossible here at this time of the year.

But there is one thing I miss more than marmite, affordable icecream, affordable fish and chips, affordable wet fish, proper-sized long blacks, school pools, fast internet, drivers who know how to merge, having a choice of potato varieties, decent second hand shops and meeting other people who understand why green waste going to landfill is a problem ... all put together.

That photo at the top of this post was taken out my front window at 4am yesterday. By 5am the world is fully light and by 6am it is time to slap the sunscreen on. 

Here is that same scene last night at 7.40pm.

That's right. Pitch black.  Sigh.  WA doesn't have daylight saving and I am firmly in the "This is a tragedy" camp.  The only arguement I can get out of people who don't want it is "Just because the Eastern States have it, it doesn't mean we have to too" which makes me think about proper grownups again ... and people who have cut off their noses. 

So when I'm in NZ the thing I'm looking forward to most (apart from seeing friends and family of course) is getting some of that pleasant, free exercise in the form of walks or swims ... in the evenings.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Nice mail today

 A few months back I received a rather nice and unexpected thingamy in the post when I bought a fancypants new work satchel online.  My bag came from Casauri (who make excellent stuff) and the unexpected extra surprise was that passport cover above.  The only issue was that mine didn't look quite like that one as I didn't have anything to stick into it.  My passport (and my children's) expired soon after we moved here.  I had no plans to travel out of the country so there was no point forking out for new passports which would just collect dust in a drawer.

Well now we do have plans and I have been nervously loitering by my mailbox all week waiting for more nice mail.  Today it was a case of PHEW! PHEW! and PHEW! when today's post included these brand spanking new beauties.  

Now I can relax and plan the details of the three and a half weeks between "land in Auckland" and "fly out of Auckland", including a party in Ngahinapouri on my birthday with lots of old school friends (what will I wear!), a stay in Raglan, trips to Wellington and Christchurch and the very important business of paying back our passport identity witness for her troubles and postage - which I hope to do in cocktails.

For NZ folk, if you would like to catch us when we are over then let me know (email address is in my profile) and I'll send you the details of where we'll be when.  For Mandurah folk, this is not an invitation to break in and knick all our worldly goods (i.e. op shop tat) as you will encounter another family having their very own summer holiday at our beach house.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Bat guano

Funny how things come in threes.  Up until a fortnight ago I hadn't spent more than a few seconds of my life thinking about bat guano and then suddenly it was everywhere.  I'll work backwards.

The third time it came up was kind of cute. I popped into the front living room to check out whether the screaming coming from that room was happy screaming or call-the-police-now screaming. It was happy and caused by a gaggle of sugar-crazed teenage girls. This was well after Halloween but they were still chowing down on their enormous Halloween haul. (Halloween is big here.) When I asked what the interesting mix they were eating was, they replied "Batsh*t!" and there it is above.

The second time it came up recently was that incredibly cringey news story from NZ.  NZ doesn't often make it into the news here and when it does it is always something dreadful (someone going apesh*t, earthquakes, sport) or terribly embarrassing (someone going batsh*t, Kyoto pull out, sport).  The recent incident where someone who should know better did a great impression of a dipsh*t by spouting some bullsh*t about a hotsh*t soccer player being as thick as batsh*t, was obviously the latter.  The media here lapped it up and speculated on whether he was chickensh*t when there was no apology.  I wondered whether I was the only one bothered that he'd muddled his batsh*t with his pigsh*t (though I guess I shouldn't be surprised given that he strikes me a someone who regularly confuses people of wealth with people of worth)

But as much as I was annoyed by his muddling, offended by his lack of manners and horrified by his lack of good judgement, (Holy Sh*t! This person is the boss of a country?) it was the fact that he was technically wrong that really irked me.  I have recently found out quite a bit about batsh*t and it is not at all thick.  The real deal actually looks quite like tiny ratsh*t.

Soon after moving here we spotted tiny bats while out walking our neighbour's dog at dusk.  So I read up about the local bats in the well-thumbed tome we simply refer to as "The Book" (a guide to local wildlife) then my interest was piqued further after I noticed bat boxes in trees at various reserves. 

So when I heard that the City of Mandurah was holding a "Bat Box Workshop" and a "Bat Night Stalk" I jumped at the chance and signed up.  At the workshop I learned all about the local bats, how to construct houses for them and why these houses are necessary.  On the stalk through a local bush reserve, my family saw plenty of bats out feeding.  We learned lots more about bats from our wonderfully entertaining and knowledgeable guide and also about many other aspects of the local ecosystem.

In this part of the world we don't have the big fruit bats that many of you will have seen in the eastern states of Australia.  The bats here are micro bats, and yes, they are very small.  Below is a picture I borrowed to show you just how small they are.

Man-made homes are necessary because with urban expansion mature trees get felled and then there are no longer enough suitable nesting sites to house the bat population.  Bat numbers have therefore dwindled but the key thing is that Mandurah does still have masses of food for these bats because micro bats eat mosquitoes!

The facilitator of the workshop and guide of the walk, Joe Tonga, has therefore designed and created artificial homes for the bats.  His latest design has been developed over many years and many, many prototypes and has lots of very clever features.  One of these is the angled front to the box so that the bat guano falls straight out the bottom of the box so that even after many years of use, the entrance doesn't get clogged up.

Each one of these bat boxes can house 100 bats and each bat can eat 1000 mosquitoes a night.  Bat boxes are being installed in many reserves but they can be installed in home gardens too.  Evenings in Mandurah would certainly be considerably more pleasant if thousands of Mandurah gardens had bat boxes, the bat population was able to increase again and the local mosquito population was brought back under control.

My partner had a birthday recently.  Sometimes I find that men of a certain age can be quite tricky to buy presents for but this year I bought him one of Joe Tonga's latest design bat boxes. (If you live locally then you can too from and I highly recommend going on one of his Bat Night Stalks.)

Thankfully my partner thought that his present was topsh*t.  No sh*t, well at least not until some bats find it, move in, then eventually cover the ground below it with plenty of their guano.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Kitchen Garden

Here is a bit about an ongoing project that has been keeping us out of mischief lately.

Now that the front garden is planted, thriving and no longer an embarrassing eyesore, we turned our attention to the back garden.  Now that area was looking pretty bad.  By the time we moved in last year the grass was waist high and by the time my mother visited a few weeks later I had simply smothered the long grass with all the old curtains from the house (pure linen from Liberty of London but brown, floral and well past their use-by date), newspaper and cardboard. 

There was method in this madness.  The soil in this part of the world is some of the most gutless and nutrient poor in the world.  Imagine trying to garden on a beach and you'll get the idea.  This wasn't an issue in the front garden because there we planted local natives but out the back we wanted to grow food.  The first job was therefore to create soil.  This we did by piling yet more free tree pruner mulch on top of the curtains/newspaper/cardboard to kill the grass and help it to decompose.  We also added whatever other organic matter we could to the soil including the contents of our Bokashi buckets, used coffee grounds which I collect from a great new local cafe (yes, another one!) and finally after hunting for a year for some, many bales of pea straw.  I've also discovered some amazing stuff called Sand Remedy which is a combination of powdered clay and minerals which helps sandy soils retain water and prevents the depletion of nutrients.  Quite a long process when really all I wanted to do was stick some plants in the ground.

The other complicating factor is that our neighbourhood is still on septic tanks. We knew this was likely to change soon but in the meantime we didn't want to do anything that would bust the existing system, such as plant fruit trees in the wrong place.  It also means that whatever work we do there may need to be dug up when the new sewerage system goes in. So nothing is permanent, just placed on the ground so it can be moved at a later date. After a visit from the Dunny Doctor I knew where to plant and where not to plant.  As of yesterday this is how it is looking.

We simply reused materials that were already on the property including the old water tank as a woodshed, an old shed that was right down the back of the garden to house the garden tools, a friend's gifted firewood stash to make climbing frame teepees (the timber is jarrah) and various old pavers and roof tiles used to make paths and edge the beds.

The garden looks quite bare in those pics but it is already producing a fair amount of food. We have basil, coriander, mint, rosemary, Thai basil, rocket, curly parsley, flat leaf parsley, chives, spring onions, spinach, silverbeet, five types of lettuce, strawberries, Tahitian lime, lemon, feijoa, butter beans, French beans, peas, peppers, chillies, pumpkin, courgettes, cucumbers, watermelon, tomatoes, lemongrass, various other things I have forgotten and also a whole bunch of flowering plants to attract beneficial insects.

It is obviously still a work in progress and we have a long way to go but given that this was our starting point

we have also come quite a long way.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Oh happy day

When we first moved here I rated the beach closest to where we were staying 10 out of 10.  It had everything I love in a scenic beachy spot. Then for a sad while it dropped down to 9 out of 10.  It was still my favourite beach but something vital was missing: a cafe.

The odd thing is that, apart from around Mandurah's inner city inlet area, that left only one near-beach cafe on the whole of Mandurah's 52km coastline (and that cafe is part of a chain, serves dreadful coffee, employs staff who roll their eyes when allergies are mentioned, has acoustics like the inside of a rubbish tin and therefore doesn't really do it for me.)

Today was a stunningly beautiful day and I took the ever-so-slightly longer but far more scenic route back to my office from a morning meeting so I could catch a wee drive-by glimpse of the glistening ocean at my favourite beach.  Then oh joy, I discovered that the Falcon Bay Cafe is open for business again!

I guessed from having spoken to the previous owners that it wouldn't be them now running the new incarnation of the cafe.  I loved that cafe from their excellent coffee, to the way they cheerfully answered my queries about what I should order for Peanut-Anaphylaxis-Boy, to their delicious yet affordable food to the way you felt welcome whether you were buying four meals or an iceblock. 

So it was with some trepidation that I swerved to a stop and scooted across the road to investigate. 

No need to be worried.  Not only was my coffee excellent but all the cakes in the cabinet even had allergen labels.  Oh joy, oh happy happy day.  Welcome back, Falcon Bay Cafe.  I can't wait to investigate further. Looks like my favourite beach is back to being a 10 out of 10 again.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Indian Ocean Drive

On our most recent short holiday we explored north of Perth for the first time.  The Indian Ocean Drive opened a couple of years ago providing easier access to a series of small coastal holiday towns, scenic reserves and tourist attractions.  We only did the closest half of the drive because we wanted to actually stop and look at things and have a relaxing time; we have been here long enough to learn that WA is huge and it is easy to drive a long, long way and find very little.  So I did a lot of planning before this trip and as a result had lots of hits and only a couple of misses. Here in lots of pictures and a few words is that trip.

The Pinnacles Desert.  Surreal, bizarre and well worth a trip. Easy to get to and really well managed by the Department of Environment and Conservation.

We stayed at Jurien Bay which is quaint and relaxing and it reminded me of the town in that old TV show Seachange.

We did lots of short walks and a few longer ones but sadly we saw more wildlife on signs and squished on the side of the road than in real life.

We then drove inland via New Norcia but I'm not sure I'd recommend that if, like us, you are a carload of tired, hungry atheists.  Sometimes I find myself thinking "Is that it?" and this leg of the trip was one of those times.

Next stop for three nights was Guilderton, where the Moore River very, very nearly meets the sea.  Lovely, sleepy, make-your-own-fun holiday village.  Just be careful where you stay.  I made an online booking for 3 nights in a holiday cottage which turned out to be the grottiest, filthiest dump I have ever set foot in.  After one grim night there we then wasted a day of our holiday switching to a habitable house.

The Gravity Discovery Centre near Gingin.  For sciencey children and their parents this is an excellent place for a grand day out.

We made our way slowly home stopping for a leisurely visit to the wonderful Yanchep National Park.

On this trip we went right through famous wildflower country but were just a bit early in the season to see much floral action. Never mind, I thought.  Next time, when we explore the other half of the Indian Ocean Drive. But as we drove into our driveway we discovered that in the week we'd been away, the first of our own wildflowers had burst into bloom.