Saturday, 31 December 2011

Christmas Celebrations

   Here's a quick rundown of what we did for Christmas this year:

   Jan came to visit us for Christmas.  Here she is admiring the view from the back deck.
 (click on photo to enlarge)

   Here Jan is watching the video of Andrew & Sarah's wedding in Las Vegas.

   On the Thursday that Jan arrived we went to Helmy and Perran's for a meal together before they went to Perran's parents at Metung.  Everyone was there except Andrew and Sarah who were to spend Christmas with Alan and Kim in Darwin.
   On Christmas eve we went with Jan to see Neville and Christine at Chelsea.  Their renovations are done and the house looks great.

   Daniel, Monika and Ronja were our hosts for Christmas day at their new house close to Frankston CBD and beach.  Jan and Jac and Pat with their four kids, were there, along with Wendy and her friend from Sweden, Tess.  

   It seems taken for granted now that Jac brings a cake.  The Christmas cake was in the shape of an igloo.

   The penguins were made by Amelia, Nara and Sullivan, with Jac's help.  The bottom half of the cake was christmas cake and the top half chocolate!

   Everyone pitched in to prepare food.  Pat and Wendy were peeling prawns.

   The theme of the dinner was Swedish and since Monika loves to add cream, she was probably adding cream to the potatoes here.

   Daniel was making garlic butter to add to the snails.  Monika also cooked a ham in the traditional Swedish way, and herring in a potato bake.

   Grandpa's job was to keep out of the way and not drink too much, so Sully, Nara and Amelia were a good diversion.

    Mason playing with his hair wrap before the opening of presents.

   Doortje and I enjoyed the day very much.  After dinner we all walked down to the Frankston beach and the kids plus Pat and Daniel enjoyed jumping off the jetty, Milly for the first time! It was a wonderful day!

This is my last post for 2011.  Best wishes to everyone for 2012.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Cavorting at Kilcunda

   One of the great things about being retired is the ability to get out and about during the week when everyone else is at work or school.

   Doortje and I have just come back from three marvellous days, Tuesday to Friday, at Kilcunda on the Bass coast a dozen or so kilometres from Wonthaggi.  We spent the time at the Kilcunda Oceanview Retreat in one of their "villas", a two-bedroom cabin with all mod cons.  (I worked out that a retreat is a resort without the conference facilities - basically it's a caravan park).  Anyway, we were virtually the only ones there, which was great because the villas were cheek by jowl and half the appeal was being able to leave the side blinds up for the 180 degree views without worrying about privacy.

   This shows the row of villas at the rear of the caravan park.  The only downside to having the place to ourselves as far as guests go, is that maintenance is carried out on the quiet days - there were a few tradies about, one banging on our wall at 8am!

   This is the view from the villa looking west towards Cape Woolamai on Phillip Island.

   This is the view east towards Wonthaggi.  We could also see the wind farm near Wonthaggi and the construction cranes for the desalination plant.

   One of the attractions of the area apart from Bass Strait and the beaches, is the rail trail from Wonthaggi to Anderson (near the Phillip Island turnoff), about sixteen kilometres long (there are plans to extend it north from Anderson to Nyora, when we'll have to do it again!).  We rode to Wonthaggi on Wednesday and then to Anderson the next day - the wind changed around completely in 24 hours but the distances were short enough for it not to be a worry.

Here's Doortje on the trail east of Kilcunda.

   We had lunch at the Wonthaggi Club and Archies on the Creek at (you guessed it) Archies Creek, and an evening meal across the road from the retreat at the Kilcunda pub.  Otherwise we were very happy to put our feet up in the villa and enjoy the view, or take exploratory walks along the beach.

   The sunsets improved during the week as it got less cloudy.  Wildlife we saw included two echidnas and two blue-tongued lizards, sooty oystercatchers, Pacific gulls and a white-faced heron.  

   We took plenty of photos.  To get  a good sense of the adventure, you can see a selection in the Kilcunda set at 

Friday, 9 December 2011

2011 Music Top 10

   Everyone does lists in December to sum up the year.  Why should I be any different?  The main purpose here is to keep tab on my musical tastes over time.  Will they change in twelve months?

   Here then, my top 10 albums for 2011, (in the order the cover photos uploaded!) :-

 La Bande di Sandro - Sandro Donati (2011).  

   I made this 8 track "album" myself, by recording off ABC radio and downloading free tracks from the band's myspace site.  Based in Melbourne, they play Italian folk songs with cajun, trad jazz, swing, etc, influences thrown in.  Typical Aussie "world" music.

 Slava and Leonard Grigoryan - Impressions (2007) 

   An ABC album of Debussy, etc, arranged for two guitars by their dad, Eduard.  Virtuoso performances make exciting listening.

  Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker - The Best of Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker (1991)  

   This is a compilation from recordings made in 1952-57 when Chet Baker was a regular with the quartet.  Great collaborations as well as solo performances by the trumpet and sax.

 Martin Simpson - Sad or High Kicking (1985)

   I know I'm a late bloomer, but I'd never heard of Martin Simpson, the British folk singer/songwriter, until listening to the radio this year.  He's a good instrumentalist.  This album has taken my fancy - I particularly like "Shawnee Town".

 Rodrigo y Gabriela - Rodrigo and Gabriela (2006)

   This is a duo of Mexican guitarists, in some ways reminiscent of Los Indios Tabajaras, but much more "spanish acoustic".  The album has versions of Jimmy Page's "Stairway to Heaven" and Metallica's "Orion"!

 Gary Sheartson - Australian Broadside (1965)

   I discovered this year that Shearston's collection have all been re-released on CD.  My LP copies of his first four albums were long ago stuffed so I was pleased to be able to order them.  This is probably my favourite - all original Australian songs, including Dorothy Hewitt's "Weevils in the Flour" and Denis Kevans' "The Roar of the Crowd".

 Dutch Swing College Band - Jazz at the Seaport (1956)

   I bought this LP in about 1964 and it's long gone.   After several years of intermittently "googling" it with no success, I found that this year someone had made a CD of it, and I ordered it from Holland.  It's amazing that after so long not hearing it, I remember every note of Jan Morks' clarinet on "Three Little Words" and the piano/soprano sax duet of Joop Schrier and Dim Kesber on "Where's My Heaven?".

 Jeff Buckley - Grace (1994)

    Although I've got one Tim Buckley album and I'd heard Jeff's version of "Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen, I didn't appreciate Jeff Buckley until this year when I saw him on video in a European concert and realised his vocal gymnastics are as amazing as his dad's.

 Lanie Lane - To the Horses (2011)  

   This was brought to my attention through the theme music to "Crownies" on ABC TV.  It's growing on me - I like "What Do I Do?", "Heartbeat" and the title track.  There's a decent dose of surf guitar throughout.  Who's to say how well the album and vocal style will age?  Time will tell.

Nick Hayward Quartet - 1234 (2010) 

   A large proportion of new jazz doesn't appeal to me (done already?) but this is an exception.  Nick Hayward is a bass player based (hah) in Melbourne.  The album was produced by Mal Stanley in the ABC studios.  I heard the track "Blues Eyes Crying in the Rain", which runs for 11 minutes, on PBS radio, and bought the album online on the strength of it.  Guitar, piano, bass and drums fit together well in unrehearsed, one-take recordings.  Good ensemble and solos.

Geoff Achison - Acho Solo (2007)

   We've seen Geoff Achison live twice, once with some of the Souldiggers and once solo.  I prefer him acoustic and solo, so had to have this album which was recorded in a loungeroom on the Mornington Peninsula, I believe.  I bought the album from his American website in American dollars, but it came with a Frankston South postmark!  I like the voice and the great guitar.

   That's it for this year's list.  Astute observers will note there are eleven albums.  As with any lists, you make your own rules!

Friday, 11 November 2011

Springtime Garden

Further to my post in September "View from the Street", here's some pictures of what the front yard currently looks like:
(click to enlarge)

This is taken more or less from where the Google Street View camera was.  Where the ladder was is now obscured by the black wattle Doortje planted on the nature strip.

Taken from nearer to the driveway.  There is no bare ground in the front yard and the nature strip is on the way to being covered.

There is a flowering gum and bottlebrushes in flower, and white flowers on the ground cover round the letterbox.

Walking up the driveway, you can see that the "jungle" is almost impenetrable.

The courtyard is now dominated by the camellia against the carport and the white-flowered vine (whose name escapes me) against the brush fence.  The red cordyline will be swamped soon.

In the backyard are more than a dozen new fruit trees that are starting to develop.  In this photo are a fig tree, apple, lemon, a large cumquat that is not new and obscured behind it an apricot.

In this foreground are horseradish and rosemary, then rhubarb and grapevines (4 varieties).  Further back are a lime and peach tree, pepinos with purple flowers and against the fence is comfrey.

This shot shows some of the vegetable beds which contain silver beet, tomatoes, lettuce, garlic, comfrey,  and potatoes have just been planted in the foreground.  The chookyard gate partly conceals a new nectarine tree and against the side fence are an olive tree and fennel.
We replaced the cracked rain gauge with a new one and within an hour it started raining.  We had 48mm that night - great for the garden!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Blue Gums

  On the Melbourne Cup long weekend (?) ten of the family headed off with assorted tents to the Blue Gums Caravan Park on the Goulburn River at Eildon.  We arrived on Saturday 29 October and stayed three nights.  The park was great, with river frontage and hugely popular.  Even though the park was chokka, the campsites were very generously sized (and delineated with a chalk line marker!).  This was pretty much the only place that Monika could get us into, so we were very lucky!

  (click to enlarge)

   Helmy and Perran had vehicle trouble on the way and so they had the Toyota towed all the way back to Glen Waverley, piled into the little Honda with minimal gear and still got set up before dark on Saturday!

  This photo was just prior to an whopping brunch of bacon, eggs, sausages and fried tomato.  The fireplace can be seen in the foreground.  All the ten campers are in the photo except me.  Daniel, Mason and Helmy are in the kitchen/dining room.  Mason came with Dan and Mon - Jac and Pat came with their other three for the day on Monday.

  The cooking was shared around.  Mason and Ronja prepared one very healthy evening meal - here they are busy chopping vegetables, watched by Theo.

There was plenty of relaxation happening.  Daniel and Theo share a story.

  On Monday afternoon, we all went to Snob's Creek Falls, a few kilometres from Eildon.  We'd been to Snob's Creek winery the day before (the 2004 pinot was beaut) and were told the falls were in full flight. So we were lucky to see plenty of water, and the view was spectacular.  Eildon Dam looked to be full, too, with water over the spillway, after some good winter and spring rains.

  The kids enjoyed the privacy of a "secret" place, and were often nowhere to be found.  Eventually, we adults were let in on the secret.  Here Milly and Theo enjoy the tranquility.

  Another essential activity for the kids was lighting the fire and then toasting marshmallows.  Harvey, Mason and Ronja were right into it.

  The canoe and kayak went into the water a few times.  Pat, Daniel, Ronja and Mason went up to the Eildon Pondage weir and came back on the Goulburn in fine style.

It was a great weekend and we should do it more often.  There's something about setting up a little spot and relaxing in a camp chair with no thought of doing anything.  I didn't even do much reading - it was enough to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the company. (Bike riding was limited to going to the dunny or swimming pool on internal roads).

  The full set of photos are on my Flickr site (link is on the right) - click on "Eildon Interlude".

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


  A few days ago I decided to discover what eBooks were all about, after earlier dismissing the concept as a fad that couldn't possibly replace real books.

  I found a website that had free eBooks that could be downloaded or read online.  I found that the book files often had the extension .epub and could not be read by Word or normal text-reading programs.  Therefore I searched online for an eBook reader and downloaded FBReader, a free program which is simple but does the job.

  Next I began to search for what literature is currently available for free.  The first few sites had plenty of free content but they generally featured writers who were happy to give away their efforts because they were rubbish and for which they have a drawer-full of rejection letters.  You know the sort of thing - self-help books like "A Simple Plan to Create the New You", or romance novels that Mills & Boon rejected.
  Then I discovered Project Gutenberg.  This is a scheme run by volunteers who undertake to produce eBooks from classic works that are out of copyright.  They have made tens of thousands to date and have links to another 100,000.  Their top 100 downloads list contains some of the best literature ever written.  You can read the list here:
Of course many of these books would be available in a library, but many may not be.  The Frankston library quite possibly takes books off the shelves if they are not accessed regularly.

My list of downloads to date looks like this:
Richmal Crompton - Just William (published 1922, I read it as a child)
H G Wells - The Wheels of Chance (1896)
Mark Twain - What is Man? and Other Essays
M. L. Kissell - Aboriginal American Weaving (1910)
Collected Works of William Shakespeare (3000 pages = 2.3mb !!)
Leonardo da Vinci Notebooks
Jerome K Jerome - Three Men in a Boat (1889)

  The last-named book I am reading at the moment and it's a hoot.  I believe a long time ago I read about Harris and the Hampton Court maze in a "short story" that was obviously an extract from this book.

  Anyway, I don't think eBooks will replace the real thing in the immediate future but they are certainly worth exploring and a possible way to find out-of-print classics.  Now I have to explore the availability of a "tablet" that is highly portable but still readable, in other words as convenient as a real book.

Update:  23/10/11  A couple of developments.

I bought an e-reader, a Sony PRS-T1, claimed to be the lightest available.  It's about the size of a paperback but only about 10mm thick.  The e-ink screen is interesting.  Under non-reflective glass it has a white screen that electronically shows shades of grey.  It looks like a book page, and relies on ambient light just like a book - you can't read it in the dark, unlike an LCD screen which is back-lit but produces eye strain.  Power is only used to refresh the screen with a new page - while you're reading the page it uses no power so can be left on for weeks with very little battery drain.  It is reminiscent of the child's toy which is like a writing tablet where you write on the white screen with finger or stylus and then wipe it clean with a slider under the screen.  The Sony has a touch-screen as well using infra-red technology to detect movement.  Pages can be turned with a finger swipe.

Second, Project Gutenberg is supported by a group of volunteers called Distributed Proofreaders, who convert books to e-books.  I've registered with the group as a proof-reader, and am smooth reading John Buchan's "Huntingtower" (1922) - smooth reading is reading the book normally but noting any glaring errors which are introduced by the scanning/OCR process.

Currently, the earliest book I've downloaded is Isaac Walton's "The Compleat Angler" which was first published in 1653.  Plenty of recently published books are available but I'd have to pay for the download, eg from Amazon.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

View from the Street

Here's a photo taken in 2010 of our front yard.  Apart from the fact that everything has grown unbelievably in twelve months, the interesting bit is that the photo shows me up a ladder leaning against the dead blue gum just left of centre.
(click on photo to enlarge)

  The other interesting thing about this photo is that it was taken by the Google street-view camera.  I was up the ladder lopping branches off the bluegum before cutting it down when I saw the camera vehicle drive past.  I thought "I'll be on Google street-view one day!"
Here's a view from in front of the house - it's a bit clearer/closer.

  Last year, Google ran into trouble for supposedly mapping people's wifi connections, and I thought they had pulled out of updating street-view in Australia, but apparently this has been resolved and I learnt today that the update has been done in the last few months. 
  And there I am.  You can see for yourself on Google maps by looking up Derna Crescent and going into street-view.  lol!

Monday, 15 August 2011


The last fortnight I've been designing and building a chook shed and yard.  The shed for three hens is to be contained in a birdmesh cube roughly 2.7 metres square and 1.9 metres high.  This is complete except for the top of the cube, as seen in this picture:
(click to enlarge)

I had a deadline to finish this last weekend and pickup the hens from Cranbourne.  The shed was ready.  The three Isa Brown hens settled in well.  This cube will be fully proofed on top and the bottom edges against birds and cats and foxes if they come.  The top of the nestbox is hinged to retrieve eggs.  The whole caboodle is made from recycled fencing except for the posts which are new.

The tall gate is made in two halves so that only the top need be opened to throw in green feed or scraps.  The nest box was an instant success.  We got two eggs yesterday, the first full day in the yard, and they found the nestbox without any prompting.  The hens are supposedly POL pullets aged 24 weeks, but I suspect two are a bit older, which is fine with them laying straight away.

Here a hen exits the shed after laying an egg.  The whole front wall panel from whence she emerges is removable for easy cleaning and collection of manure.  The small gate closest to camera will allow access to the rest of the yard when it is complete.

Two of the hens looking for water in the temporary container which they have filled with leaf mulch.  They seem very content and very busy scratching in the mulch for bugs.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Our Backyard

  Most of our backyard has been taken up with fruit trees, vegetable beds and herbs.  However, at the back fence an area roughly 10 metres by 3 metres has been occupied by what I would describe as a woody shrub gone berserk.  It was about 7 metres tall!  As the thin branches near the ground fell over they would take root and expand the whole thing.  I had a path on the lower side of the bottom vegetable bed, but the growth caused by rain for the last six months has made the path inaccessible.
  We eventually realised that pruning the growth would be a huge job, and would come back to haunt us every year from now on, and therefore the whole lot should be removed and better use made of the thirty square metres.
  This is what it looked like:                     (click to enlarge)

  You can see a "cave" behind the bare plum tree which is silhouetted in its darkness.  I cut this out to see where the back fence was and determine if a couple of family working bees could handle the whole job.  There was no back fence!  It had been destroyed by the growth!  The amount of mulching would be far beyond what my little electric mulcher could handle in six months.  We therefore rang around to get quotes, consulted the neighbours, and organised for the "Tree Musketeers" (there were four of them) to do the job.
  When they finished the view was still similar because they only cleared to the fence line and much of the growth was in the neighbour's yard.  The neighbour, Lee, is in a nursing home after breaking her hip and the house is empty, but Doortje negotiated with her carer and Lee agreed to get her portion of the growth removed, and we would organise the new fence.
  Once the growth was removed (to "ground level"), we still had to have a working bee to grub out the stumps along the fence line to keep the fencer happy.

It now looks like this:                                (click to enlarge)

  To compare photos, the olive tree on the left and the lemon tree on the far right are visible in both photos.  The piles of rubbish are the result of herculean effort by Daniel, Monika, Helmy and Perran.  The whole yard up to the bottom of the deck has been in shadow during the winter, but is now open to the sun, and although the new fence will cast a shadow, it's certainly a great improvement.
  The plan now is to build a chook yard in the available space, which will mean no/low maintenance for the area, fresh eggs, and manure for the compost bins.
  I'll update this post as the work progresses.

Update 15/8/11

The back fence is built and the chookyard is nearly complete.  It now looks like this:

The chookyard measures 2.9 metres from front to back - effectively the depth that we gained by removing the old growth.  The lemon tree has now been pruned and has room to grow, and we've added a nectarine tree and an apricot/plum cross in the space between the chookhouse and the olive tree.  This will soon be all chook yard.