Thursday, November 5, 2009

Musical discoveries

I went with my friend Kathy to see Lisa Hannigan in concert tonight. Her voice blew me away. Again. It is unlike any other voice. Expressive, hauntingly beautiful in its upper range, quirky in the rest of it. Lisa can draw a word out into more syllables than anyone I have ever heard, so that the words themselves become almost irrelevant and all that remains is the melody.
Here is a rather fun version of "I Don't Know."
Thanks Kathy, for the idea.

My accidental discovery of Lisa at a Jason Miraz concert reminds of the time I first heard Jamie Cullum. We were at a Tunes on Tuesday concert a few summers ago in downtown Newberg. The group that was to perform that night was playing a CD of a guy with an amazing voice. I rather nervily went up and asked them who it was, and for some reason the name stuck with me. A year or so later, Jamie came to Portland, so we went to the concert. Jeff and I both agreed that it was one of the best we have ever attended.
Jamie is a cocky little Englishman.
With a wicked sense of humour.

And now, I think, I might go to bed.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The many faces of Natalie

I haven't shown you much of Natalie yet. She is Bethany's youngest, who turned two a couple of weeks ago. Bethany dotes on her, and Natalie returns the adoration, which means that the rest of us haven't had much of a chance. I love babies, but I love toddlers better. They are so ornery and cute and full of personality and you can send them home to their parents when they wear you out.

We spent a few hours together today, while everyone else went to Chuck E. Cheese to play games. Natalie is a happy little soul who sings and jiggles and wiggles her way through the day. She is quite self-sufficient in her play, just needing to know that I am in the same room or she will come looking for me. She loves animals and her "babies" and food and music. Her little bottom starts wiggling as soon as she hears a good beat.
Natalie has an immensely expressive face and I captured some of her "looks" as she was playing with my koala that sings "Waltzing Matilda." Yes, her bottom was wiggling, I should have taken a video.

Natalie's Mom was born 29 years ago today.
Happy Birthday, Bethany.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

An old/new trend

My latest passion is composting.
Did I hear you groan?
It's part of my resolution to live lightly on the land. If you missed my old posts on related subjects, you can read them here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Crikey, that was a lot. Some of my blogger friends have also been posting thoughts on related topics. Go see Lisa or Jon.
Back to composting. I bought a black compost bin several years ago when the city of Portland was beginning to encourage the habit. To be honest, I haven't used the compost very much yet, because it seems to degrade down so far that I just keep piling the food scraps and yard debris on top. I figure there has to be some killer compost at the bottom of the bin, if I just dared to shovel it out. Maybe next spring.
There was an article in the Oregonian a few weeks ago that raised some points concerning composting that I hadn't thought about.
I was raised on the philosophy that you don't waste food. Very little gets thrown out in my house. Ask my kids! Turns out that this is an environmentally sound ethic. So often, we think about how far food has to be transported, as in "eat local." But throwing food away actually has more impact on the environment than the distance it traveled. The amount of energy that it takes to grow, transport, and cook a chicken, for example, is exacerbated if it then creates methane as waste in a landfill or is put down the garbage disposal. The bottom line: composting is good, but careful planning so as to not waste food is even better. We need to plan our shopping, storage methods, cooking quantities, and be innovative with leftovers. In our society that touts excess in everything, it is a sombre thought that we might have to return to our grandparents' mindset of "Waste not, want not."
Commercial compost bins are quite expensive, but this video tells how to make your own out of an old garbage can. I have one waiting in my vegetable garden for this very purpose. This blogger and this one also give good instructions and tips on the whole process.
Now go.
You'll feel so good about yourself.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Home again, home again, jiggety jig

The ubiquitous gum trees.

We caught the ferry on Thursday afternoon, after a quick trip to Emu Ridge Eucalyptus Distillery, where several treats awaited.
>Severely expensive creamed honey, one for me and one for my neighbour who babysat my plants.
>Eucalyptus oil for Bethany, who likes such things.
>A dead cat skin for Jeff.

No, we didn't buy it, but he liked it.
Feral cats are a major problem for the wildlife in Australia (as they are in the US) and the Aussies tend to be a little more pragmatic in their solution. As in, kill the cat, skin it, sell the skin to get funds for more "solutions."

>Two joeys, who had been rescued from dead mothers. Over $1,000 had been spent on veterinarian bills for the little dears. I threw a few coins in the collection jar. It's an interesting juxtaposition of values. On the one hand, farmers kill kangaroos by the hundreds. On the other, people rescue the joeys who are left orphaned by the same farmers.

After disembarking the ferry, we made a beeline for Sydney. It took us two days. The first day, we spent a couple of hours driving through verdant farmland.
Then this....

...for hours and hours.

It was more like how we had imagined driving in Australia to be and IT WAS NOT FUN. The towns were few and far between and we had a long way to go before we reached our motel in Tooleybuc. The last three hours were in the dark. Picture me driving, Jeff "navigating," both pairs of our eyes glued to the road, scanning both sides to the full extent of the headlight beams. We were paranoid about hitting a kangaroo, because there is some strange clause in Australia about rental car insurance not covering kangaroo dents. We made it, gratefully, to our bed without injury to car or kangaroo.

The next night we arrived in the Blue Mountains to stay our last weekend with my old friends, Ron and Wendy. Ron was my favourite teacher in high school and the closest thing I ever had to a mentor. He encouraged me to think for myself rather than just parrot back my book learning. He also spent many hours trying to guide me through my teenage dilemmas. I was, in my opinion, in my least like-able time of life, but he liked me anyway. I can't say that I listened or heeded his words very well. It took many years for me to hone my thought processes, but I have finally learned to think for myself! In the harsh school of life, I've also refined my morals and scruples. But he tried, and I have always been grateful for that.
Any time Ron and I have ever spent together has always been a battle of wits and words.
Time has not changed things.
Except for, maybe, Wendy holds her own with gusto!

Wendy is a grandma extraordinaire.
And she makes a delectable steamed pudding. With custard.
I've been thinking about it ever since we got home.

Must be time to buy a steamer bowl.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A nocturnal delight

Later on Wednesday night, at 9pm, we had hired a guide for a nocturnal tour. We met him in Kingscote, where he took us to see the Little Penguins that nest in the rocks. They used to be called Fairy Penguins, but under the guise of political correctness have been re-named. Go figure. These cute little guys were all over the place, clambering over the rocks and grunting to each other. The parents go out to sea for the day and come back at nightfall with a mess of fish in their system that they regurgitate for the babies. Yum! Humans want to encourage the nesting so they have been experimenting with various designs of nesting boxes, with differing degrees of success. Those New Zealand fur seals that have been protected and encouraged to inhabit the island can wipe out a penguin colony in a few short years. Conflicting interests and a real dilemma for the wildlife management people. It was mighty cold out on the bay and I was happy to finally climb into the van.
We went for a drive, the guide searching for kangaroos , wallabies, and possums with his spotlight. I didn't realize that all of these animals are nocturnal, so night time is when you really have to watch out for them on the roads. Roos are very destructive to the farmers' crops, so when things get bad the farmers can get a permit to shoot them. They will bag a couple of hundred on a good night. Animal control is a big issue on KI. Koalas are also very destructive to the gum trees and will have to be shot on occasion. No predators = good for animals, bad for farmers.
Last stop was Duck Lagoon, where we had stopped earlier in the day on the way home. It was a different place at night. Possums were all over the place and the air was filled with varying pitches of croaking frogs. I would have loved to take a sound sampling of them and made a composition. It reminded me of this, from a Rupert Bear movie we used to have. I have loved Rupert Bear for almost 50 years. Scary.
Osborne kids, this is for you!

After a little feast of local KI cuisine, we went back to Kingscote at midnight. We had to drive back to Emu Bay from there.

Paul's Place


But first, this is Paul.
Or at least, we think it's Paul.
He never actually came up to us and said, "Hi, I'm Paul."
But he acted like he owned the place, so we assumed...

He was a bit of a character, kind of a cross between Ned Kelly and Paul Hogan.
This was to be the day I got to cuddle a koala. I was so excited, I didn't even mind the 15k of dirt road that we had to drive and the half an hour that we sat outside the gate till Paul came barreling up in his station wagon. Or the other half hour that we stood waiting for them to get the animals ready.

First on the agenda was kangaroo feeding, an act for which I was ill-prepared, having given up lifting weights a couple of years ago. The first time Paul handed the roo to me I almost dropped it.

Then into the next area for en masse animal feeding. This is where I got a little disillusioned. Emus, sheep, deer, kangaroos, chickens, ducks, peacocks, and turkeys were all kept in this enclosure and were apparently ravenous when we arrived. Add to the mix, one dog that was as crazy as its owner. As soon as the oats bucket came out, pandemonium ensued. The emus were the worst, thrusting their beaks into our oat-filled palms as soon as we withdrew them from the bucket. I had to get very snippy with them in order to save enough oats for the roos.

These kangaroos were not the placid creatures we had formerly encountered, but were aggressive in chasing down their fair share of the oats. At times, I had four or five of them holding onto my hands and blissfully munching down. My hands were actually scratched up by their little fingernails, or whatever they were, and covered in roo slime. Jeff was grossed out.

And onto the koala.
Paul called for all of the children to get in line.
I was right there.
Myself, in seventh heaven, with a sweet female koala.

Over to cuddle the brush-tailed possum, which was so cute it made me feel quite guilty over my possum socks.

When everyone was done cuddling the koala, Paul asked if anyone else wanted a turn.
Oooh, me, me.
So I got another turn.
A really long one.

Jeff wasn't so lucky.
He got used as a feed bowl by a couple of emus.

More echidnas. Note the freaky long pink tongue, which they use to scoop up the termites and other yummy things that constitute their diet.

Finally, an unanticipated interaction with parrots.
I didn't want them, but suddenly, they were there.

After Paul's Place, we stopped in at the Stokes Bay Bush Garden, where winding paths take you around gardens full of magnificently diverse native flora.

We had planned a stop at Parndana Wildlife Park after this, but it was almost dinnertime and we were tired, so we went home.
Baked beans, toasted crumpets, and fried eggs for dinner, with hot chocolate.
It's an acquired taste.
Luckily, Jeff has acquired it!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Walkabout on KI

Well, more of a driveabout really. Kangaroo Island is almost 100 miles long, so the grand tour can require several hours of driving. Many of the roads are dirt, except for the two main highways that make a north and south oval around the centre of the island.
Tuesday morning we set off for the scenic tour.
As opposed to the flora and fauna tour, which was planned for the next day.

The paved roads on KI mostly look like this. Notice the wide shoulders on the sides, which you will find on almost all Australian highways, designed to give the driver lots of visibility so as NOT to run over kangaroos. I don't think anyone cares about the roos, just roo-ining their cars!

Our first stop was the Kelly Hill Caves, which were, dare I say it, unimpressive when compared to other caves we've visited. Go here for a better photo and some history on the caves. A unique feature of these caves is the preponderance of helictites, which are usually quite rare. These are the formations that grow at strange angles, in total defiance of gravity. There are several theories about helictite formation, which you can read about, and see cool photos of, by clicking on the link.

Next was the koala walk, an avenue of blue gum trees where koalas like to hang out. The koala has a thick callous down the back of its spine that allows it to perch comfortably in the crook formed by the trunk and a branch, or two branches, of a tree. Jeff got attacked by a magpie as we were looking at a male koala (ask me how we knew!) that was pretty close to the ground. It flew at his head and drew blood. Jeff was quite fondly curious about magpies up until that point, but his attitude could now be described more appropriately as animosity.

Sometimes they are so far out on a limb that you expect it to break with their weight.

Next was Remarkable Rocks, one of my personal favourites. These sites are all in the southwest corner of the island, if you are geographically inclined. The granite rocks are being carved by the wind and salt spray into fantastical shapes. They are covered in an orange lichen that, when juxtaposed by the vivid blue of the sea, are a visual feast.

The rocks go right down to the sea.

I think this photo puts the rocks into perspective.

I could have stayed for several hours, just taking in the rocks from different angles, but husband was in a get-on-with-it mood.

So on we went.

This corner of KI was burned two years ago and the bush is beginning to fill in the empty spaces.

Driving around the coast a bit, we got this view of Remarkable Rocks.

KI's coastline can be quite treacherous and has been the scene of about 60 shipwrecks over the years. Some of the stories are very harrowing, which is easy to imagine because the area was so sparsely populated and the vegetation extremely dense and hard to push through. This lighthouse is at Cape du Couedic, I thought it made a pretty photo.

We hiked from the lighthouse down to Admiral's Arch, another example of erosion by wind and sea. The hike was over rock and through low-growing scrub that has to deal with fierce wind, poor soil, and salt spray.

We bumped into some critters along the way, including this tiny little skink...

...and this big old heath goanna, which nearly scared me out of my boots. It was almost a metre long and looked scary, but wasn't really interested in us. Jeff went into protective mode anyway, which was kind of sweet.

Amazingly, there are some colourful flowers that survive in this harsh landscape, including this flower, sadly named "pigface."

The coastline is rugged here. New Zealand fur seals have made these rocks their "basking in the sun" places. See if you can see any.

And finally, Admiral's Arch.

We wended our way back along the northern highway to Emu Bay Holiday Homes, our little home away from home, and watched a new episode of NCIS.

You probably think that was a long post.
Well, it was a long day!