Includes book reviews and bits from writer's journal. For the professional stuff, see website link below left.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Reluctant Gardener

I miss the smell of my freshly watered mint! I took such pleasure in it every morning, out there early with the hose before the day got too hot. But my mint is gone.

Now that we are settled in the home we expect to inhabit for the rest of our lives, I have at last been making some small progress in gardening. Witches should surely have that connection with the earth, I tell myself. But it doesn’t come naturally. When I was very young — maybe four — my Dad and my Grandma (his mother) thought to instill in me their own love of gardening. They selected a garden bed that could be mine, gave me a little trowel and watched encouragingly as I dug into the earth, turning it over in the way they showed me.

Out of that black dirt came a long, thick, moving thing, the length of my hand and half the width. Its huge, round, segmented body was a white so pale that it was almost transparent — like slime. It nosed about blindly as it encountered the light. I had never seen anything so repulsive. I shrieked, dropped the trowel and ran.‘It’s only a grub,’ they said, but I could not be persuaded back.

I didn’t try again until I was in my late fifties, in my third (and present) marriage. We moved from Melbourne to the Northern Rivers region of NSW, and eventually decided to try growing our own food. It wasn’t a great success. Our pumpkins proliferated, threatening to take over the planet. We simply couldn’t keep up with them, no matter how many we used and gave away. Our lettuces grew high stalks instead of bushy heads, with tiny, separate leaves like miniature branches. We were absolved from dealing with it all when the landlord decided he wanted to live in his house himself.

In our next house, I decided to grow some herbs and was quite proud of my efforts — until the landlady very soon dug them all up, thinking she was getting rid of weeds. After that, I grew geraniums. Nice, hardy, cheerful plants, they’ll grow pretty much anywhere and thrive even for me. But you can’t eat them.

In this present home, I discovered that the previous tenant had planted mint and cherry tomatoes, They both appeared suddenly, under the frangipanni tree out the front. I mulched the ground and built it up, to make a separate area from the lawn. I didn’t want my lawnmower man mowing my edible garden flat! The tomatoes grew in all seasons and we ate them for a year. Then they died.

The mint kept on, but some bug attacked it. It developed holes and brown spots. ‘Soapy water,’ said our handyman, so I put some in a spray and went to work. The holes and the discolouration stopped getting any worse. New mint grew up clean and whole.

The weeds grew up too, thick and strong. A ground cover with small, round leaves interspersed itself among the mint plants. Tough grasses pushed their way in under the tree. It all seemed far too much for me to tackle. Our friend up the end of the street had his 16-year-old grandson staying with him before going off to begin an apprenticeship as a gardener. I thought the lad might like to earn a few dollars, and asked if he would weed my mint bed for me. He would.

And so yesterday he did. I had already shown him the job, and he brought his own tools, so I left him to it. I told him to put all the weeds he dug up into the green bin, as there was a collection of garden refuse scheduled this morning. When he knocked on the door an hour later to say he’d finished, he looked endearingly proud of himself. I went to see. He’d taken everything — mint and all!

What could I do? I thanked him and paid him. Later I looked in the green bin, thinking to find some of the good sprigs of mint and replant them. They were buried deep, not visible. I gave up. The ground under the frangipanni can go back to lawn — which in many ways will be easier. Well, it’s the dark of the moon, a time for endings ... and a time for new beginnings.

Round the back I’ve got some herbs which are trying hard to survive the heat, and a single broccoli from the three seedlings I planted some months ago. The back yard might the place to plant new mint and tomatoes. I miss the smell of freshly watered mint!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Six Word Saturday — November 19, 2011



Loving my new Kobo; re-reading Kipling.

I got the Kobo for my birthday, from my Firstborn, who always knows what I will love even when I don't tell him. In this instance I sort of told him when he was here for a visit recently, by dint of asking his opinion on the iPad. When he found out that all I really wanted that for was to use as an e-book reader, he suggested the iPad was a much too expensive option, both to buy and run. He looked up e-readers online and said, 'If they were cheaper I'd be happy to buy you one, but at that price ...' and pointed me at The Book Depository for cheap printed books.

So when my birthday present arrived, I accused him (in a thrilled kind of way) of being sneaky. He said: 

I got lucky. They had been off the market for a while (presumably because of Borders and A&R going under), but randomly my housemate spotted them at JB HIFI and on the day I went in to check them out, they were on special.  So I figured the time was right :-)

Indeed it was! 

To my delight, it came already loaded with 101 books, described as 'classics' — and room for thousands more. I was amused to note that those already supplied ranged from Irish fairy stories to the Communist Manifesto! Even more interestingly, they included The Iliad and Anna Karenina, which I (shame on me!) still haven't read. Now I can. In fact have begun on The Iliad; still getting through the scholarly introductions, which are rather heavy going but I am interested to read them anyway. (I'm now on the one by Pope, reprinted in this edition, which is more fun than the contemporary intro.)

Then Firstborn reminded me of the existence of Project Gutenberg, where books out of copyright may be downloaded free. Whoopee! (I discovered that the books the Kobo came with must have been acquired there.)  I immediately replenished my Dumas and Bronte collections, which had become depleted over years of moving house; and I added lots of Kipling. 

There, see, my wicked stepmother did do something good for me — she had Puck of Pook's Hill and Rewards and Fairies on her bookshelves and I was allowed to borrow them. So I've been in love with them since I was 15. The stories are good, but it's the interspersed poems I've remembered all this time. Ever since I was 15 I have been able to quote the whole of The Looking Glass (Queen Bess was Harry's daughter!). Let's see, that's 57 years.

I interrupted The Iliad to re-read Puck of Pook's Hill, which I have done, and now I'm halfway through Rewards and Fairies. It makes me tingle all over and curl up my toes with pleasure.

Note:  I discovered Six Word Saturday via a fun blog called Kylie's Kreative Play Space. Click on the image at the top of this post to go to the source, at ShowMyFace. It's one of those participatory things: if you decide to play, you can leave a link for others to read your six word posts. (You can expand on the six words as I've done, post photos, or just leave it at that — whatever. I'm now going to repost just my six-word heading as my facebook status.) Because I live in Australia, I'm always going to post a little ahead of the link for the week going up at the home site.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Changing My Mind-Set

(Following from previous post.)

I’m about to turn 72. I’m sure it’s good for my health to finally adopt the habit of a daily nap, as well as resuming an old habit that had lapsed, of meditating daily. I’m sure it’s even better for me to have shifted from the frantic, stressed, ‘I must try and finish this before I get kicked off the net’ mind-set. My new resolution means that now, whenever access grinds to a halt (8:10 this morning) I calmly turn off the wireless modem and do other things, either on or off the computer — instead of struggling indefinitely, trying all the little tricks I’ve learned to get back online for 5 minutes, 2 minutes....

However the late-night plan hasn’t helped my internet access problem. That has now become unstable even after midnight!  But Monday this week I had a smooth run until lunchtime. (It felt like Christmas.) And on Tuesday it lasted until 9 am. So the new plan is to get to bed at a decent hour and get up earlier in the morning. 6.15 is usual, when the cats wake us up for breakfast. Perhaps I’ll try 5.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Changing My Lifestyle

Our internet access is atrocious. We live in a wireless only area on the border of a new estate with a fast growing population. The networks get severely overloaded. It was all right the first six months we were here, then we had problems and bought a signal booster. Six months after that we needed a bigger and better signal booster. Down the track again, we had to get our handyman friend to come and mount it on the roof for us. By now our access is worse than ever. We can get online early in the day and late at night. It used to be that we had a clear go before 8 am and after 10pm; now it's more like before 7am and after midnight.

Sometimes there is intermittent access during the day, but very unpredictable. We can get kicked off without notice, and maybe only get on for a few minutes anyway. Or it is agonisingly slow. Or we can get our email but no Skype, or vice-versa. Or I can read other people's blogs but can't see my own. But mostly we just don't have daytime access.

The reason is that we are 'too far from the exchange' — but this doesn't mean geographically. It is to do with the length of the old copper cables, which were laid long before there was anyone living here. Because of the Government's National Broadband Network roll out of fibre optic cable, Telstra is not going to upgrade the copper cable network any more; it would be a waste of money.

We seriously considered moving house. But we really don't want to. I think we'd be lucky to find again such a combination of beautiful views, safe street for the cats, proximity to town and sufficiently spacious unit. And even if the Housing Department would agree, it might be ages before they found somewhere suitable.  We'd still need to find some short term solution to our problem.

So, after a long discussion with Andrew, and consulting my heart, my Tarot cards and my logic, I found the short term solution and we decided to apply it long term and save all the bother of trying to move again.

Simple really. Andrew usually has an afternoon nap. If I join him, and also make sure to meditate daily for deep relaxation, I'll be able to stay up after midnight and use the internet when it's actually working. I did this when I worked the psychic lines from midnight to 4am; I can do it again.

I was thinking all along that there must be an underlying reason for this problem. What was the lesson the Universe was trying to teach me? The cards suggested I surrender to the situation, that it would give me more spiritual balance, and that I needed to get out in nature more and spend more time interacting affectionately with Andrew.

Yes, I remember that when we first moved here, before we had our internet reconnected, we had a lovely time without it! It certainly will be less stressful interrupting a spot of weeding or dusting to help Andrew with something than it is to be interrupted while trying to upload a photo to a blog or perform an online banking transaction, racing in case of losing connection any minute.

So here's to the new regime. Now I must let all my friends know that in future, if they need to get in touch with me first thing in the morning, they should please use the phone.