crazyjane: (Default)
Watching the nightly news, as an article about the Commonwealth Games comes on ...


Lilygirl: What's the Commonwealth Games?

Me: Like the Olympics, a bunch of countries compete - the ones that are part of the British Commonwealth. Like Canada, England, etc.

Lilygirl: And that's all? That's not very nice, to be all exclusive like that for no reason.

Me: No, there is a reason ...

Lilygirl: Oh yeah, just because you're not in their little gang, they won't let you join? (severely) That's just not on, Mother.

Me: ...
crazyjane: (Default)
It's said that no plan survives contact with the real world. Well, it's certainly true in this case. Ours started to go wrong about the time we went back for a seconds at the breakfast buffet. Mind you, the breakfast was rather wonderful - eggs, sausages, spaghetti, baked beans, tomatoes, toast, spreads and truly stupendous amounts of bacon. (This place bids fair to become the perfect resort. All it needs is similar amounts of chocolate.) So we could hardly be blamed for wanting to sample more of the breakfast offerings.

It was just unfortunate that this happened to coincide with the resort managers running another of their little 'get-to-know-you' sessions. This time it was breakfast trivia. I ask you. Trivia at breakfast time? Before most people had successfully metabolised their first coffee? Surely there's a law against that somewhere.

Team CrazyJane didn't exactly cover itself in glory with that competition -but we were one of the few who managed to penetrate the morning brain-haze far enough to remember that bananas were a herb. Which, as far as I'm concerned, is a lot more interesting than knowing that a hen is capable of laying an egg every 24 hours. This was not a view shared by the rest of the players, though, and we ended up in the middle of the pack.

Now behind time, and without even the compensation of chocolate bars to make up for it, we rushed to get ready for the day's trip. To our credit, we were organised fairly quickly. Of course, this also meant that we left behind half of what we'd planned to take. The fishing rods were in the car already, but the tackle box stayed in the unit. The girls' flip-flops were grabbed, but the swimsuits were left on the drying rack. Water bottles ... you get the idea. Honestly, I'm surprised we got out of there with the car keys.

So. Off to Queenscliff. Which proved more difficult than we'd expected. After a few tussles with the touring map, we did find it, though. Our first stop was the lookout near Fortress Queenscliff, where there are a series of plaques commemmorating ships that took part in World War II, and which were lost. That was unbelievably sobering. The number of merchant navy ships torpedoed and sunk was much larger than those from the Royal Australian Navy. Given Wuff's family, on both sides, served in the merchant navy, that gave us an unpleasant chill.

We read about the loss of the Canberra, the Sydney, the Vampire ... all sent to the bottom, with an incredible loss of life. We read about ships sunk off the north-east coast of Victoria, something that shocked the kids. They knew about the Japanese mini-subs in Sydney Harbour, but never realised that the war reached nearly to their grandparents' doorsteps. And they positively boggled over the land mine, spikes removed, that was placed at the end of the row of plaques, as Wuff explained to them how these strange steel balls could blow a hole in a ship big enough to sink it.

It's a far cry from Titanic and its associated romanticism, and Lilygirl especially found it quite difficult. The more she learns about war, and the general bastardry that comprises so much of adult life, the more she asserts her own 'awesomeness' and love for us - she virtually spits in the eye of whatever gods might be responsible for the awful things.

We took a quick drive around the town itself, goggling at the gorgeous heritage buildings, and the restored mansions now converted into bed-and-breakfasts and hotels. There were turrets, and heavy draperies, manicured gardens and stained glass windows. Through one window I caught a glimpse of an utterly gorgeous wrought-iron spiral staircase that looked as though it was fashioned out of white lace, and fell in love immediately. It seemed somehow wrong that I didn't also see Phryne Fisher descending the stairs in one of her outrageous outfits, ready to scandalise the neighbours.

Of course, the time gremlins weren't about to let go of us yet. We reached the marina, which was crowded with boats of all shapes and sizes. It was a panorama of financial extravagance - and the prices in the cafe where we stopped to grab a drink reflected that. Far be it from me to suggest that the owners were out to fleece rich boat-owners with more money than sense by wildly inflating the prices of their smoothies but ...

Since we were near the ferry dock, we decided to forego wandering around Queenscliff and head straight over to Sorrento, have lunch, and see more when we returned. So onto the ferry we strolled, and up to the passenger deck.

When I was a kid, I took a trip on that ferry. I remember it as a rather breezy experience, standing up at the bow hanging on splintering wooden rails painted a fading green. There was an enclosed area amidships, but otherwise it was open to the elements. I loved it, wintry blasts notwithstanding.

These days, it's just a bit different.

The old green ferries have been replaced by sleek, white craft with excitingly raked lines, a full cafe, drive on/off facilities for vehicles, carpeted areas with blonde wood laminate on the walls, full bathrooms with nappy change facilities ... let's face it, they're not so much ferries as mini-cruise ships. I looked for the pool deck in vain, but I'm fairly sure I heard the sounds of a karaoke room on the way back.

Which was all very luxurious, but I rather missed the old ferry. At least there you knew you were on the sea. If you sit in the lounge on the new ones, the only way you'll know where you are is if you look out the window.

After a long, long trip across the bay, we arrived in Sorrento, and I gazed with dismay at the hilly vista before me. The village wasn't far - only 400 metres or so - but it was all uphill. Steeply uphill. To save money, we hadn't taken our car on the ferry. I was regretting that within moments of disembarking.

Wuff kindly offered to scout around and see what he could bring back for us to eat in the park near the pier. That's when we realised that the time gremlins had boggled us again. In order to get back to Bellbrae in time for the kids' movie night, we'd need to catch the very next ferry - which left in 30 minutes. Wuff and the kids took off at great speed to The Baths, which boasted a fish and chippery famed in song and story (well, on a few TV travel shows, anyway).

They returned with seconds to spare before we were herded into the boarding 'lounge' (a small shack on the pier with a row of chairs possibly liberated from a medical clinic's waiting area). Then it was a case of 'hurry up and wait', which was extremely annoying, as the food was smelling wonderful and rapidly cooling. Finally we were allowed on board, and dug into our very late lunch.

I make allowances for how long we had to wait to actually eat it, but for fish and chips, it was pretty darn wonderful. The calamari rings were actually flash-fried salt and pepper calamari, the prawns were very lightly battered, and the fish was definitely fresh. The chips were a bit of a let-down, though, since they were patently the same brand as I buy for the kids at home. I mean, is it so much to ask for hand-cut chips with the skin left on? Okay, okay, maybe it is.

After lunch, we spent the rest of the trip trying to spot dolphin pods. The girls managed to glimpse one, but for the most part, I was content to sit and be soothed by the motion of the ferry. In the hour since we'd come over, it had become a little more choppy - on the old ferry, that would have had passengers hanging over the side, but on these new monstrosities, it was like being in a very large cradle with a lot of other families who are trying to keep their kids from climbing up the side of the wheelhouse.

Yeah, not the best of metaphors. But you know what I mean.

Back at Queenscliff, we retrieved the car. Sadly, we had no time to visit anything else in the town (most egregiously, in my opinion, we did not get to the Mystery Book Shop), and set off back to Bellbrae.

You wouldn't think we could get lost while retracing our steps, would you?

Eventually, we found our way back, no thanks to all the drivers who seemed to think today was a good day to drive while heavily medicated and thus unable to realise that 40 km/h is just a little slow in a 90 zone. Oh, and let's not forget the unexpected controlled burn that left great billowing clouds of thick white smoke all over the area.

After a flying stop in Torquay to grab some pizza makings for the evening, we pulled up at Bellbrae and the kids were out of the car before the wheels even stopped moving. Wuff and I staggered into the unit, and I'm fairly sure he actually managed to be asleep by the time he fell onto the bed, waking only when the girls returned with their usual stealthy-like-ninja skills (very, very loud ninjas, that is).

We're about to sit down to pizza, cooked in the unit's rather ... eccentric ... convection oven. It's something of an experiment ... a frozen quattro formaggi, loaded up with fresh ham, hot salami and capsicum. And topped with more cheese. Four more cheeses. Only one of which is the same kind as is already present.

Seven cheeses pizza. Seven. I'm fairly sure this has to be some kind of record.

Tomorrow, we plan to head out to Torquay, or possibly Barwon Heads, for swimming and fishing. After all, it does seem a little ridiculous to spend a week so close to some of the most gorgeous beaches in the state and not actually go to any of them.

There's a strange mass growing in the convection oven. From here, it looks like it's actually breathing. Er. I'd better go. If I survive, see you tomorrow, constant readers.
crazyjane: (Default)
Here in sunny Bellbrae, the fun just doesn't stop. And this morning, it started with pancakes. Lots and lots of pancakes. Seriously large stacks of pancakes. I mean, we're talking metre-high piles of pancakes left over. It was almost criminal to just sit there and look at them, but we were literally stuffed full. No, really. I could feel muscle tissue and organs being replaced by pancakes ...

Okay, maybe not. But we ate a lot. And the leftovers vanished quickly when, seemingly from nowhere, workers from around the resort converged on the Members' Lounge. So that was all right.

I was preparing to waddle back to my unit when the resort's manager appeared, microphone in hand. Uh-oh. This can't be good.

It wasn't.

Remember all those years ago, when your parents packed you off to camp or your school decided that it would build character for you to spend a weekend sleeping on rock-hard mattresses and doing 'activities' in either the freezing cold or baking heat? Okay, you can stop hyperventilating now, those days are gone. But remember how there was always the 'get-to-know-you' session after the first meal (which, somehow, was always the best)?

Yeah.

That's what we got. A representative from each unit had to stand up and introduce themselves, their fellow travelers, and say a few words - preferably friendly and witty. Naturally, my traitorous family all pointed their fingers at me when the manager came my way, so up I struggled.

I'm full of pancakes, I thought. I can't think of anything witty.

At least the microphone was on the fritz, but as I stared at the happy, expectant faces before me, I realised that there was no chance of my simply grabbing my walking stick and running for it - well, limping for it. The resort manager's wife was between me and the door. I debated the wisdom of saying, 'Hey, y'all ... I'm a married queer blogger politics-addicted poet, and this here's my family, how're y'all doing?'

Maybe not.

I mumbled something I thought was appropriate and sat down quickly. It must have been all right, because I was rewarded with beaming smiles.

And thus my newly-formed desire to maybe invest in one of these time-share things one day died a-borning.

Once the pancake paralysis wore off, we packed a picnic lunch and headed out to Tiger Moth World. It's a great little place just out of Torquay, where the kids can play through a decent mini-golf course, boat across the 'Pirate Lagoon', get involved in everything from mini-soccer to totem tennis to croquet, or wander through the pirate maze. Admittedly, much of the adventure park is for kids younger than our two monsters, but they still enjoyed the lagoon, swapping between paddle-boat, rowboat and canoe until we were seriously considering breaking out the fishing gear to reel them in.

[profile] fire_wuff was more than a little nervous about his impending flight, though he was doing his best not to show the kids. Of course, he was also bouncing like a little boy at the prospect of actually going up in a vintage aeroplane.

He didn't have much time to dwell on his nerves, though, as the pilot was more than happy to take him up virtually straightaway. Sadly for me, they didn't kit him out with the 'official' pilot's outfit (sheepskin-lined brown leather jacket, shiny boots and brilliant white silk scarf), dressing him in a boring and (I thought) gratuitously shapeless) black coverall, although he did get to wear the leather helmet and goggles. As he slid into the front cockpit, the pilot advised him to keep his feet clear of the pedals, just in case he made the plane flip.

Oh. Good.

Then there was the amusing little sign just above the gauges, just in case Wuff felt nauseous ... '$0 in the bags, $20 over the side, $100 in the cockpit'. Ahahaha. How droll.

The Super Tiger trundled happily across the grass, and off into the distance, turned and roared back towards the rest of us, who were standing in the official 'Flight Observation Area' - and took off barely over our heads, on an angle so steep it looked nearly vertical. Meglet bravely resisted the urge to duck and stood her ground, jumping up and down and waving at her Dad. Unfortunately, she had the video camera in her other hand, so I suspect any footage of the actual take-off will resemble a daylight version of The Blair Witch Project - only with less evil trees and more planes.

The flight took Wuff out on a leisurely arc over the ocean near Bells Beach, before the actual aerobatics started. He was okay with the loop-the-loops, the barrel rolls and the wing-overs - but the wing-stall-into-ever-tightening-death-spiral-plunge-toward-the-ground was about his limit. I think it would have the limit of mine, too, had I seen it! Luckily for me, I only saw the little red plane describe what looked like an effortless loop just above the airfield, hanging for a moment at the top of the circle before seeming to slide down the air into horizontal flight again.

As cliched as it sounds, it brought to mind, one of my favourite poems, 'High Flight', by John Gillespie Magee:

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of - wheel and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air ...

Up, up the long delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor ever eagle flew -
And while, with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.


It's almost impossible to describe Wuff's face when he landed - rapture, regret, excitement and maybe just a little tinge of nausea all tumbled together. And I can't tell you how wonderful it was to see him like that. It was as though months and months of stress, exhaustion and a million niggling worries had - even for a few moments - just gone.

Even his ill-advised sculling of a sun-warmed energy drink and its predictable consequences a few moments later didn't diminish that enjoyment.

We'd originally planned to go out for dinner that night, but after a day in the sun we were all feeling fairly tired, so instead we headed into Torquay just before sunset to find take-away. Unfortunately, we made the mistake of actually asking the kids what they wanted to eat, instead of choosing somewhere to grab something for the whole family.

Mexican. No - Thai. No, sushi, or Chinese, or fish and chips, or kebabs, or ... or ... Naturally, whatever one wanted, the other couldn't abide. And no one liked my compromise idea of everyone having pizza.

In the end we settle on Wuff and I visiting the Noodle Canteen in Bristol Street, and the kids grabbing Mexican. The noodles (kuey teow and Singapore) were wonderfully tasty, as was the salt and pepper calamari - and like all good noodle shops, the service was both fast and efficient. Highly recommended.

As for the Mexican ... well, I'll quote the girls: 'Worst. Mexican. Ever.' After waiting nearly 45 minutes, they ended up with two revolting burritos choked with sour cream and sprinkled with enough coriander that they looked like they'd been picked up out of a bucket of grass clippings. I'm fairly sure the chicken pieces would have been rejected for making stock by any cook with a shred of self-respect. Luckily, the noodle boxes were such generous serves that we had enough to go around, and we were able to banish the memory of the bungled burritos.

The girls gave the place 0 out of 5 stars. I'll simply say I won't be recommending Las Olas to anyone holidaying near Torquay.

Dessert was a delightfully decadent mixture of ice cream, organic dark chocolate, white chocolate from the expensive Easter Egg we won in the 'timeshare get-to-know-you raffle), and more of the raspberries and strawberries we picked at Gentle Annie's.

We're all out of raspberries now, and the strawberries will be gone by tonight. We may have to make another visit on the day we leave. Oh woe.

In the end, I was much too tired to write, and so yesterday's blog is posted a day late. Today is a rest day for me, in the hopes that my knees will recover enough to make a jaunt out to the Split Point Lighthouse tomorrow. The kids are heading out to a scavenger hunt organised by the resort in a little while, so we'll see what stories come out of that.

But there is one final piece of news - and I had to save it until last.

THE ALPACA IS REAL. I HAVE SEEN THE ALPACA.

It came up to the fence just at sunset - quite nervous, and didn't take at all well to the delighted screams of Lilygirl and Meglet as they ran in its direction. From the car, I got a quick glimpse of deep cocoa-brown fur and wide brown eyes, before it turned tail and ran.

It's understandable. Men of strong character have been known to run from those girls.

We did not, alas, obtain pictorial proof - but, constant reader, the alpaca ... is real. Yr obt etc has seen it with her own eyes.

Tonight, I plan to lay in wait for it with a camera.
crazyjane: (Default)
Day 3 dawned a little later than usual due to the end of Daylight Savings, not that the kookaburras cared. I'm not sure what the joke was all about, but surely it could have waited until a decent hour. When everyone finally surfaced, there was just time to shower and grab some breakfast before gearing up to head out to the animal feeding. Armed only with cameras for the inevitable unbearably cute pictures, and machetes so that we could hack our way through the dozens of other kids who had mysteriously appeared from nowhere to block our access to the gate, we waded into the fray.

Or, at least the girls did. I was given camera duty, and stood sadly outside the fence watching everyone else feed the geese, and distribute hay to the larger animals. It was, of course, wonderful to see how much pleasure the girls got out of it all, but ... but ...

After they all trooped off to the chicken house, though, I carpe-d the diem and nipped inside the gate to spend some time with the horses, goats and donkeys. The emu was playing hard to get, but I think I can safely say we reached an understanding - or at least kept a respectful distance from each other. That beak is quick. One of the horses, Peg (short for Pegasus - ugh), is a beautiful chestnut, with one white sock and a few scattered spots of white on her forehead. She's not an original inhabitant of the farm, having been rescued by the owners of the Country Club. Apparently she was skin and bone when they found her, and they were told they were welcome to take her off the old owner's hands.

She's much, much healthier now, although still underweight, and a little head-shy. Personally, I'm hoping that owner is even now suffering from a really nasty skin disease that makes him smell, itch and look something like an overcooked goanna.

Egg-hunting was moderately successful, with the girls scoring one each. Meglet wanted to keep hers until it hatched ... well, that led to a delicate discussion. Sadly, I still don't know what breed the excessively fluffy chickens might be, although investigations continue.

We learned from the owners that there are yellow-tailed black cockatoos that come out at sunset, so I'm keeping my eyes peeled out of my front door as I write. One woman from the units near the back reported seeing tawny frogmouths, and there's a huge flock of galahs that fronts up for feeding every morning. No possums yet, although apparently there are kangaroos around - and I'm beginning to believe the alpaca is, in fact, an imaginary one, since no one's seen it.

After animal feeding, we revised our timetable for the day. I suppose it was unrealistic to expect we could get to seven wineries ... so we decided on two, with a visit to Gentle Annie's Berry Farm for the kids.

We ended up at nearby Bellbrae Estate, which is on the Great Ocean Road about five minutes from here. After sampling the wares, we - of course - massively overspent on wine purchases. The haul included a 2008 Shiraz which manages to be wonderfully rich without being inky and heavy at the same time, a 2010 Chardonnay that appears to have spent very little time masquerading as an oak tree, a rather wonderful 2008 fortified Cabernet Sauvignon Shiraz (which is not quite a port) and a lightly carbonated, sweet Moscato that even I like (and I'm notorious for hating 'lolly' wines). The big indulgence was a 2004 Shiraz just brought up from their cellars, which we may cellar for another five years - if we can restrain ourselves.

By this time everyone was ready for lunch, so we ate at the Estate Cafe - a simple ploughman's lunch, with local produce (Apostle Whey cheese, Debra's organic chutney, Zeally's Organic Bakery sourdough bread). Realising that we wouldn't make it to the other winery and the Berry Farm, [profile] fire_wuff and I decided to make the greatest of sacrifices, and forego more booze in favour of berry-picking. So off down the Great Ocean Road we went.

It's the cost road, right? It's scenic, right?

Well, it is ... in fact, it's breath-taking. I was glad I wasn't driving, as I would have taken us right over the cliffs in my fascination with the view.

It's also very, very twisty. And that wasn't helped by our unexpected stop in Anglesea.

We needed to visit an ATM. Unfortunately for us, that ATM was located right next to ... an ice cream shop. A home-made, quirky flavours, ice cream shop, right in the middle of the main street. Really, what were we to do?

It's called Nordefine, and the ice cream is rich, tasty and, well, quirky. Exhibit A - 'Revenge of the Nerds', which is simply vanilla with the aforementioned lollies mixed through it. Ditto 'Red liquorice and white chocolate' - that one nearly forced me to go without my usual favourite, 'Choc Chip Cookie Dough'. For the more discerning palate, there was 'Blood Orange Sorbet' and 'Rosemary and Basil Gelato'.

Full to the brim, we set out towards Lorne. Oh, dear. I'm usually very good at stubbornly ignoring my sensitivity to dairy products, especially where ice cream is concerned. The Great Ocean Road, though, might charitably be called a roller coaster. And my roiling stomach didn't respond well to Wuff's gleeful anecdotes about near-misses and accidents that he'd seen during high school cycling excursions in the region. It was white-knuckle time all the way to Lorne - and then we hit the unsealed roads. Joy.

After a further twenty minutes of mind-numbing terror - capably assisted by Meglet, who asked every few metres if we were absolutely sure we were going the right way, and what if we broke down or had an accident, and wasn't there going to be burning off in the area - we reached the marvellously named Pennyroyal Valley, and Gentle Annie's Berry Gardens.

A name like that conjures up all sorts of mental images, and most of them would be right. It's a little piece of the English countryside buried deep in the bush, where the lush green of an orchard butts hard up against white trees whose leaves are that grey-green colour that somehow automatically suggests 'Australia'. Arguably, Spring might be a better time to visit, since the roses would have been in bloom, but when we turned into the drive late on an Autumn afternoon, it just looked ... perfect. The lowering sun cast a gold tinge over the fields of brambles and bushes. The gardenias, blazing white in the light, intermingled with glowing deep green silverbeet taller than the kids. And here and there, peeking out from the bushes, were the beautiful, deep red berries.

Because of the time of year, only strawberries and raspberries were in season, although Lilygirl did manage to find a lone blackberry - which she promptly ate. Wuff and the kids wandered up and down the rows, picking the organically grown fruit to their heart's content, while I rested in the cafe.

Of course, given where we were, I simply was compelled to sample the cuisine. I mean, really - it would have been rude of me to do anything else! I was thoroughly regretting the ice cream indulgence of an hour ago. Nonetheless, I rose to the challenge, and ordered - what else - a Devonshire tea.

Now, you'd think scones, jam and cream is pretty easy to get right. Alas, this is very much not the case. Too often, the scones are far too sugary, the jam is processed into a smooth jelly utterly lacking in character (and tasting suspiciously of artificial sweetener), and the cream - the horror! - comes from a can. A good Devonshire tea, then, is the test of a really good tea-house.

It was heavenly.

The scones were half-and-half white and wholewheat flour, freshly baked and warm from the oven. The jam was home-made from blackberries picked on the farm, the berries only partially dissolved, and they were served with lightly whipped pure whole-fat cream.

I pause for a moment's envious whimpering - or, if you're unfortunate enough to have gluten or dairy problems, muttered cursing.

I spent a little time talking to the owners, and discovered they'd only just taken over the business, renovating it completely in the last year. The cafe was completely restored to a comfortable, rustic area with open-air dining as well as indoor tables for cooler days. They now source all their produce from local businesses, as well as selling their own jams, chutneys, berry syrups (dear god, blackberry syrup, I may expire from the glroy of it all) and relishes.

We ended up with two large punnets of each berry, plus a third of cherry tomatoes. As I write, there is a chocolate muffin beside me, with fresh strawberries as accompaniment. Life is good.

So, today was pretty much entirely devoted to indulging our tastebuds - for which I am sure we will pay the price somewhere down the line. But was it worth it?

Not just yes, but hell yes.

Tomorrow the plan is to wake up early for a communal pancake breakfast with the rest of the resort. Hah. We'll just see how that goes. In the afternoon, it's time for what - in my opinion, anyway - will be the highlight of the trip.

That Magnificent Wuff in his Flying Machine.

It's possible you'll hear the screams.
crazyjane: (Default)
In which yr obt correspondent ventures braves the elements, ventures into unknown territory, and ... goes shopping.

Yes, dear readers, I survived my first full day in the wilds of Bellbrae, armed only with eleven-year-old twins and a newly-shaven [profile] fire_wuff (don't ask, just don't. The kids dared him to do it, but they never thought he'd go through with it).

I have to confess, though, it is with the help of Tramadol. Argh. Between packing, unpacking, wandering around the resort, and then today's expedition, my arthritis knees are singing the Marseillaise almost non-stop, and threatening to break out with renditions of the 1812 Overture.

Today was remarkably domestic, all things considered (she said, looking around at the disturbingly clean kitchenette). This isn't like me at all.

The beds here are rather soft, although not as horrendously marshmallow-like as I'd feared. I'm certainly glad I brought my own pillow, though. It was a remarkably peaceful night, right up until the dawn chorus. Bah. Country. The lone magpie warbling in the twilight wasn't so bad, although he could have moved just a little further away. But he set off the rosellas, who set off the kookaburra ... and then the geese woke up. My god. What a racket. They should record that sound and use it to terrify enemy troops, or for 'enhanced interrogation', or something. I'm sure it's against the Geneva Convention.

As I mentioned in yesterday's missive, the kids had decided to surprise us with breakfast. Wuff, blessed with the power of persuading-kids-not-to-destroy-expensive-real-estate-while-having-fun, managed to convince them that he should supervise their cooking in an unknown kitchen. With that crisis averted, we were forced to face the fact that we'd brought very little food with us from home - frankly, we'd simply grabbed what was perishable, and a few things like pepper and salt, tea and sugar and a lone ruby grapefruit. (Lilygirl was most upset to discover we'd forgotten to pack tomato sauce.)

Nonetheless, we had a few eggs and rashers of bacon, so we scraped together a remarkably good meal of bacon and scrambled eggs, toast and grilled tomato, and ate on the patio. Our unit overlooks the geese enclosure (horrid, loud creatures) and the feed troughs for the larger animals, which contributed to a sense of fellow-feeling with our beastly brethren - okay, okay, I'll stop. That was too ridiculous even for me.

After breakfast, I went down to the animal farm area, and made the acquaintance of a rather friendly goat. Her companion, however, had definitely gotten up on the wrong side of the field this morning, and took it out by head-butting everything in sight. All in all, she rather resembled a rugby player on a Saturday night after a losing game.

The horses - two lovely chestnuts, one with a white blaze - were not interested in making the acquaintance of anything that did not involve their feed. Likewise the donkeys had little time for us, though I did manage to take a picture of the grey one, who dipped his head most obligingly. Hopefully I can post that - and other pictures - tomorrow.

The chickens were wonderfully fluffy. I have very little familiarity with chook breeds, so 'fluffy' is about the best I can do. The majority were red-brown in colour, but there were two darker, exceptionally fluffy hens who sported splendid pantaloons of which they were clearly proud - and rightly so.

At the animals-that-make-you-go-awwwwww enclosure, the girls were given wonderful opportunity. The man in charge of the farm was just about to feed the rabbit and guinea pig, and offered the girls a chance to come into the enclosure and have a cuddle, without having to compete with the other kids on the resort. Well. It's possible they came close to exploding from delight. It was actually wonderful to watch - Lilygirl has been a little grumpy of late (impending puberty, dear god), so to see her and Meglet so happy made a lovely change.

After that experience, the aviary was a bit of an anti-climax. The birds were completely uninterested in doing anything other than sitting on their perches. That, actually, turned out to be a very smart choice, as we were hit with something of a mini dust storm that blew all the loose topsoil up into our faces and our clothing. When we got back to the unit, we all looked like we'd just come in from a long trek across the desert. My scalp was red with dust. Urgh.

After cleaning up, we headed into Waurn Ponds to see if a pair of bike shorts could be found for me, so I could use the spa. Failing that, I was prepared to settle for tracksuit pants that I could hack off at the knees. Luckily the House of Target came to the rescue, and, amongst all the newly-arrived winter clothing, Wuff found a pair of plus-size bike shorts. And two pairs of leggings. And a dark plum windcheater. And a long blue top with thin stripes in rust, pockets and an asymmetrical hem. And - most gloriously - a beautiful deep blue man's shirt, with pinstripes in a kind of dark lavender colour. Finally, a shirt with which I can wear my purple tie, a birthday present from my wonderful daughter, Falcon!

Having scored all of that wonderful loot - and at discount prices, I might add! - we moved on to the mundane business of shopping for groceries for the week. It was an intensely frustrating experience. I never realised that I'd become quite so used to buying in bulk, to last as long possible between shops - something that increasing difficulty with mobility, combined with Wuff needing to travel quite a bit for work, has necessitated. But we managed it, and then indulged at the bakery, and the butcher.

We came back to Bellbrae via Torquay, and stopped for a while at a lookout over the ocean beach. There were about a dozen windsurfers taking advantage of what looked like a good wind. The girls and Wuff went for a short walk, while I stayed to rest in the car.

I have missed the smell of the ocean. I have missed looking out over the blue to the deep indigo of the horizon, that always looks a little smudged, like some unseen artist has run their thumb lightly across the line where the water and the sky meet. I love the foam, like freshly-shorn fleece, left behind by the whitecaps when they crash against the rocks - and there are some gorgeous rocks around Torquay, rising up out of the sea like exotic chess pieces striped in red and brown.

And, even with cars coming and going, surfers and beach-walkers crossing in front of my vision, the sound of competing ringtones and kids either squealing with delight or whining with exhaustion - it was so peaceful. I could almost feel my spirit take a deep breath.

There's nothing mystical or occult or magical about it - beyond the beautiful, unbelievably complex, glorious fact that it just is. That it came to be through a process so fantastically intricate that it could produce the ocean, and me, and everything in the whole ... fucking ... universe.

...

Well.

After that, there's not much more to tell about today. We came back to Bellbrae, and had a slap-up dinner with the help of the bbq, where Wuff performed his usual culinary magic. (Excuse me while I pause for a moment to indulge in the memory of the utterly delicious rib-eye steak that graced my plate.) The kitchen is ... clean. No, I mean really clean. Of course, it was wonderful actually having a dishwasher to simply take care of the washing-up for me (first time I've ever had one!), but I find I'm actually enjoying keeping this place neat. I even hung up our clothes last night

I'm sure it will pass.

Wuff took the kids swimming after dinner, but that's a pleasure that will have to wait until tomorrow for me, I think.

I have just now accomplished something of a personal victory. Menaced by a Giant Arachnid of Doom ... well, okay, it wasn't that big - but there was definitely Doom involved, I swear - I managed not to be more than a little bit squicked. Those tender-hearted readers who deal gently with such creatures may wish to look away now ...





I SPLATTERED THE BASTARD. WITH A SHOE. ON THE WALL. GO, ME!!






Ahem.




And there we have it. Day Two. Tomorrow will be animal feeding, wherein I shall try to convince the organisers that my inner child should be allowed to take part - or at least, to cuddle a bunny. Following that, winery visits - and there are at least seven in close proximity, so we should be able to get to all of them. The kids may have to be bribed with chocolate, as donkey-petting and hunting for eggs in the chook house will likely only hold them for half the afternoon.

Note to self: buy a few bottles of really good red for tomorrow night's pasta. One needs a choice, after all ...


UPDATE

Wuff and the kids have just returned from the pool, Meglet howling and clutching her face. Apparently she was attempting an acrobatic manoeuvre, and bashed her face against the wall of the pool instead. Unfortunately she's chipped and cracked her front tooth, and is understandably distressed and in dire need of cuddles. It doesn't appear to have exposed the nerve, but it looks like we might have to take her to a dentist to make sure.

Poor Meglet. Not a happy thing at any time, but especially not on holiday.
crazyjane: (Default)
Yes, a travel diary. Not a rant, not political analysis. Try not to be alarmed.

In a vain attempt to actually acquire some form of writing discipline, I decided that it would be a Good Thing if I took my newly-acquired tablet on holiday - my oh-so-shiny ASUS Transformer Prime, thank you soooo much, [profile] fire_wuff and why yes, that is a shameless piece of promotion, I'll take my kickbacks in the form of new hardware ... ahem.

Of course, to do that, one rather requires a holiday. How fortunate, then, that Wuff's parents offered us a week at one of their timeshare places over the school holidays.

So here we are ... somewhere just off the Great Ocean Road, off on a family holiday. For a week. All of us. Together.

This entry was actually written yesterday (March 30), but Dreamwidth is not exactly mobile-compatible, so I'm not able to make backdating work. Let's pretend ... pretend we are travelling back in time ... cue the sci-fi music and the wavery vision.

* * * * *

March 30

The place itself is quite 'nice' - we have one of those terribly bland, characterless units, where the furniture is bought in bulk from Fantastic Furniture and the prints are from K-Mart. Not that I was expecting five stars, but occasionally a few touches of individuality, even if it's only in the form of one of those creepy cat clocks with the pendulum tail and ticking eyes. On second thought, that might not attract the kind of clients you really want ...

The kids are back to sharing a room ... you can guess how that worked out come bedtime. Yep, even though we let them stay up late, turned down the TV and did everything short of force-feeding them Valium thickshakes (only kidding, Human Services), they were still awake as of a few minutes ago - after 11pm. Still, it might mean they sleep in tomorrow morning.

Who am I kidding?

There's an animal farm here, with everything from geese to rabbits to emus to alpacas. Lilygirl was hilariously funny with the geese - she's never experienced how aggressive they can be! I think she was more put out than anything by these long-necked 'giant ducks' hissing at her. Still, there's animal feeding time later this week, so I expect cuddling a few bunnies and guinea pigs will restore her sense of dignity.

The 'resort' (actually, it's a 'country club', which is a high-falutin' name for it) has a pool and spa that I can actually use - although guess who forgot to pack bike shorts? Looks like a trip to the House of Target is in order.

I can apparently get a massage, too, so that's going to be my treat for the week.

Wuff is getting a belated birthday present on Monday - a ride in a Tiger Moth open cockpit plane, complete with 'extreme aerobatics'. He went a little green when I mentioned that last part, but he was like a kid with a toy at the news. There's an 'adventure park' - which appears to consist of a BMX track, a few old grounded planes and possibly a dam on which one can paddle a kayak - so the kids can keep themselves occupied while he's doing that. I plan to make some popcorn, sit back and watch the show from the safety of the picnic area.

And don't say I never do anything for you, faithful flist ... the whole thing will be videotaped from the cockpit.

We haven't made much in the way of plans yet - there are a few activities here at the resort, like pancake breakfasts, and the kids will go to an evening moving on Wednesday (giving me and Wuff some downtime) - but there is heaps to do in the region. I'm hoping we can go fishing at least one day, and take the kids down to Bells Beach (although, with the Rip Curl Pro starting this week, we may go to Torquay instead), and there are quite a few wineries around the place. Since we just happen to have some wine glasses supplied in the unit, and we just happen to have received our FTB refund, I think some judicious purchases may well be in order. Besides, it's our duty to support local industry, right? :)

Speaking of local industry, we've also found two local berry farms, three potteries (something to do with the soil around here, apparently), two home-made ice cream shops, galleries (indigenous and modern) and markets.

Then there's a possible day trip to Queenscliff to look at the historic buildings and take the ferry across to Point Lonsdale, a drive down to see the Twelve Apostles, Split Point Lighthouse ... I think we'll need two weeks!

As I write, the children appear to be finally unconscious, so I'll close now. Wuff has warned me that they plan to do a 'special' breakfast tomorrow morning.

Dear lord.
crazyjane: (reject reality)
The scene: in the lounge, watching a documentary on mathematics with [profile] fire_wuff. (Yes, we're just that geeky.) The presenter starts talking about the Fibonacci sequence, and presents a nautilus shell for demonstration. Just for fun, he wanders off to an aquarium to see a live one, where the scientist tells us that they're actually cephalopods.

Wuff: They were the warriors, you know.

Me: What?

Wuff: Oh, yeah. Before they embraced peace and decided to return to the sea. They roamed the land keeping the Cephalod races safe.

Me: Really. Nope, I'm not going anywhere near this.

Wuff: Of course, the octopuses were the engineers.

Me: No, they weren't. The octopuses were the scientists.

Wuff: That makes sense. The squids were the engineers, then.

Me: Yeah, the octopuses figured out how things were done, and ... dammit.

Wuff: (grinning like a maniac) My work here is done.
crazyjane: (Default)
The scene: the lounge room. Lilygirl is counting up her accumulated birthday, Xmas and pocket money.


Lilygirl: I have 93 dollars and 20 cents!

Me: Awesome. Can I have a loan?

Lilygirl: How much?

Me: Oh, 93 dollars should do it.

Lilygirl: (suspiciously) What do you want to buy with it?

Me: ... Stuff.

Lilygirl: Then, no. Guess what I'm going to do with my money?

Me: Buy a present for your dear Mummy?

Lilygirl: (look of fatuous adoration and syrupy voice) I don't need to buy a present for my Mummy. I am a present for my Mummy.

Me: (speechless)
crazyjane: (reject reality)
We were in Chelsea yesterday, visiting [profile] fire_wuff's family for Xmas lunch. It was horrendously humid, although the Bureau of Meteorology was vaguely promising a thunderstorm for the evening. That was something to look forward to, I thought.

Yes, well.

As we left, it was just starting to rain. We thought we'd timed it pretty well - the rain had probably moved on from home and we'd have a good run. I pause for howls of derision in the light of hindsight.

Driving back along Eastlink, we got some fairly spectacular views of the two stormfronts that ... wait. Two?? Yep - one north-east, one west of us. We were in a weird little corridor of relatively clear sky between lightning on one side and a rain band that looked like an actual wall on the other. Still, running the gauntlet didn't seem like such a bad idea. And the scenery was fascinating.

But of course, roads wind, don't they? And suddenly we were no longer driving parallel to the storms, but right into one of them. At which point our scenic trip home turned into ... an adventure.

There was thunder cracking right overhead. There were lightning strikes everywhere, sometimes hitting simultaneously from all around us. And there was rain. Ye gods, was there rain.

Traffic on the freeway slowed to a crawl, but - Melbourne drivers being psychotically devoid of either awareness of others or a sense of self-preservation - it wasn't because visibility was reduced to approximately two inches beyond the windscreen. Oh, no. People were as impatient and dangerous as ever in that respect. No, it was the flash flood on the Eastern Freeway just past Doncaster Road. Aha, we thought, we'll just pop out onto Manningham Road. Cunning, no?

Except Manningham Road was also flooded.

So we eventually took a detour through Balwyn and Bulleen before inevitably meeting up with the traffic snarl in Heidelberg, and inched home. Meanwhile the skies merrily went about lending an air of apocalypse to the afternoon's festivities. There was some truly bedraggled tinsel hanging off the streetlights in Burgundy Street, I can tell you. But, hey, not to worry, the rain was slacking off. We'd come out the other side of the storm front.

You'd think we'd know better. The universe is perverse, and never more so than we hapless mortals like us figure we've got it all worked out.

We turned a corner - and ran into what I can only describe as a wall of rain. The downpour made the earlier storm look like a light sunshower by comparison. The wipers at full speed did little more than slosh around the water smashing into it and cascading off the roof. Then the hail started, and it seemed pretty much inevitable that we were about to lose our windscreen. The drains overflowed, and it seemed like only seconds before the dips in the road started flooding. Again with the thunder and lightning, adding to the incredible din of the hail and rain hitting the car. We started aqua-planing around corners. Right about then I became fast friends with the 'jesus handle' above the passenger door, and hung on for dear life.

Wuff, of course, was laughing like a maniac. And so were Lilygirl and Meglet.

We weren't driving fast, but with everything happening, it felt like we were hurtling through Reservoir, crashing through puddles up to nearly a metre deep and barely keeping our tyres on the road. All to the music of Lady Gaga.

Eventually we got home, and the rain slackened - to be greeted by possibly the most bedraggled, pathetic cat in existence. She was mightily miffed at us, and only just consented to let me towel her dry. Lilygirl and Meglet, of course, decided that it was exactly the right time to change into their swimmers and go puddle-jumping.

Which, I'm sure, was fun. And apparently was even more fun when the heavens opened again a few minutes later.






Wuff was apparently unable to resist the siren song of an utter drenching and raced out to join them.





Me? I stayed inside.


But we made it home safely, and the worst damage we sustained was when a rusted drain pipe fell off the garage wall and shattered. Oh, and the disgruntled sensibilities of our cat. We got lucky, apparently - there were plenty of pictures of broken windscreens and holed verandah canopies this morning, as well as the odd submerged taxi. It was a hell of an adrenaline ride, but we survived.


... And, being a glutton for punishment, Wuff decided to walk to the shop today and took a detour via Merri Creek. From this picture of the debris line, it looks like the creek levels got to over a metre above the path.





And on its way through, the water took out at least one tree:





Which was all very interesting, but I could have done without Wuff - who got soaked again in the relatively light rain - sharing the experience by rubbing his wet head all over me.

He's thoughtful, that way.

Meglet is convinced that this was the best Christmas ever. What worries me is that she'll now expect us to top this next year.

I'm not sure the planet would survive.
crazyjane: (moondark)
This week is National Adoption Awareness Week. I'm guessing most of you didn't know that. After all, it's not like it was widely publicised. There was a bit of a headline grab from Deborra-Lee Furness, who spoke at the National Press Club on the difficulties of adopting children from overseas, mind you. It made for a thoughtful human interest piece. All these children, in terrible circumstances all over the world, and all these prospective parents just waiting to take them into their homes - and yet it's so hard to adopt them under Australia's laws.

I watched Furness at the Press Club, and saw an interview with her on Sky News. There's no doubt she believed passionately in her cause - it wasn't just a way to get some good publicity by cashing in on the apparent fad in Hollywood for adopting kids from third world countries. But it got me thinking. All this focus on adopting from overseas obscures the utter heart-breaking mess that are Australia's domestic adoption laws.

For a start, every State has its own set of legislation and guidelines. In some states, adoptions are done the old-fashioned way: the birth parent never knows who's bringing up their child, and never sees them again unless that child wants to track them down after their 18th birthday via a private registry. In Victoria, so-called 'open' adoption is the rule: the birth parent sets out their preferred criteria in adoptive parents, meets with them beforehand, and has regular access with the child. That sounds much more compassionate all round, but it's a deeply flawed system.

I speak from experience.

My older children, triplets, were adopted out when they were just under 12 months old. This came after a cascade of intervention from the Department of Human Services which was so streamlined that, in retrospect, I wondered if there was a checklist being followed by the caseworkers. First an offer of respite care, then a weekend's respite, then a week with a foster family, then a couple of months with my family. Then came the ultimatum. Take them back in the next 24 hours, regardless of my living circumstances or health, agree to have them adopted, or have them taken away and never see them again.

I opted for what seemed to be the best choice at the time - adoption under Victoria's 'open adoption' scheme. A new case-worker came on board, to help me fill out a form listing my preferred criteria for the children's new family - their religious belief, their location, their attitude towards queer sexuality, etc. I tried to balance my concerns with fairness - asking for an open mind on all religions, an accepting attitude towards queer sexualities, living in the greater Melbourne area, that sort of thing. The case-worker took that form away and came back with three families. Not one fulfilled the majority of my preferred criteria. For example, two were practising Christian families, and one lived in rural north-west Victoria. When I rejected them, I was told that they were my only choices, decided by DHS, and that if I didn't select one, the choice would be made for me. No further investigation would be done.

Again, I chose the best outcome out of a group of bad choices. I met with the prospective parents, who seemed friendly and enthusiastic about the open adoption scheme. They agreed to my visiting four times a year, and exchanging letters and photos. DHS informed me that the first few visits would be supervised, but then the Department would step out and the family and I would work together in the future.

That was the plan. The reality was very different.

Trying to arrange access was always a fraught process. I was forced to rely entirely on the DHS worker, who often did not pass on to the family my requests for a visit. Actually being with the family was nothing short of distressing, as we struggled to adjust to the situation. No counselling was ever offered to me, though the adoptive family were given a great deal of support.

And then things took a turn for the worse. The family started to make excuse to deny me access. Though I had insisted on visits being part of the legal adoption order, I was unable to enforce that order. In four years, I saw my children twice. My complaints to DHS were met with declarations of impotence - there was nothing the worker could do, apparently. Consulting a solicitor didn't help, either. The laws were in such a sorry state that there was little way of enforcing that legal order.

As the years wore on, it got worse and worse. The family refused to allow me direct contact - everything had to be done with DHS as an intermediary. The access stopped altogether, and for months the DHS worker would not even return my calls. Finally, the worker and her supervisor turned up on my doorstep, and informed me that the family had 'relinquished' two of the children, who had been placed in foster care. Two months ago. I hadn't been told because - despite legal orders - I didn't have the 'right' to know if the family explicitly said they didn't want me to be told.

My parents immediately offered to have the two children - now nearly 11 - stay with them, as I had neither space nor the financial ability to care for them myself. We went to court for that, where the Magistrate repeatedly stressed the ridiculous and confusing nature of the laws - which, even now, allowed the adoptive parents a say in what happened to these children that they had told DHS were effectively 'orphaned'. We won that court date, but I'll never forget the Magistrate's puzzlement and frustration.

The two who went to live with my parents started talking - and they unfolded a tale of emotional and physical abuse that horrified me. This was a family that had supposedly been vetted thoroughly by DHS, who were presented to me as an ideal choice - and I'd taken the Department at its word. I immediately contacted DHS, and told them I was worried about the third child. The Department's response was that, unless contacted by someone 'in the child's life', they could not do anything other than request to see the child. The parents were free to refuse - and they did.

I fought for two years to even see my child, while my other two were under care of counsellors. In the end, that child took matters into their own hands, and ran away to be with their siblings. We informed DHS and the police that my parents were happy to care for all of them, and for once, the parents didn't fight.

But in all of this, there was nothing I could do. I could pass on the terrible stories of the abuse meted out by these adoptive parents. I could plead with DHS to intervene, to at least contact the teachers at their school. I could write letters begging the adoptive parents to let me have access, or at least to let the DHS worker in the door. I did all of those things, and they were all utterly useless. The adoptive parents were aided and abetted by the system.

My children are now healthy adults with their own lives. Our family are committed to each other, even though we are thousands of miles apart. All of this is not because of Victoria's adoption system, but despite it. And we all have scars.

Looking back now, it seems as though the decision to institute 'open adoption' was little more than someone's thought bubble. In theory, the idea that a child can have access to both birth and adoptive parents has much to recommend it. The reality is that there is no support for birth parents, that court orders are not worth the paper they're written on, and the screening process for adoptive parents is sorely in need of a complete overhaul. And that's just for a start.

Children deserve to be protected by the State, not allowed to suffer abuse while it turns a blind eye or throws up its hands in defeat.

This is only my story. I know it's happened to others, who have contacted me in the past, but it's not my place to tell their stories here. But in National Adoption Awareness Week, I wanted to tell my story. While we think about how to make it easier for people to adopt children from overseas, we also need to make sure that our laws are uniform across the States, compassionate - and above all, that they work.
crazyjane: (moondark)
My brother Scott and most of his family live in Townsville. Right now, they're bunkered down waiting for Cyclone Yasi, a Category 5 storm, to cross the coast. Although currently aimed about 100km north of them, the storm has been moving steadily south and may still hit them head on. Even if it stays on its current course, the system is so big (500 km across) that Townsville will experience the equivalent of a Category 3 cyclone.

Where it will hit is anybody's guess, really. We just know that it will, around 10pm tonight.

Part of the uncertainty is that we don't have much in the way of accurate observations. When the storm hit Willis Island earlier today, it knocked out the weather station.

The media, of course, has gone into nonstop coverage, much as they did in the recent Queensland floods. Headlines scream, 'MONSTER!' That's pretty much par for the course. What's a lot scarier is the warning from the Bureau of Meteorology:

SEVERE TROPICAL CYCLONE YASI IS A LARGE AND VERY POWERFUL TROPICAL CYCLONE AND
POSES AN EXTREMELY SERIOUS THREAT TO LIFE AND PROPERTY WITHIN THE WARNING AREA,
ESPECIALLY BETWEEN CAIRNS AND TOWNSVILLE.


Now the Bureau isn't exactly your typical tabloid mag. For it to use this kind of language, things must be bad.

Scott and his family aren't far from the Ross River, but weren't considered in the storm surge zone because their home is reasonably high up. It would take a storm surge of 7m to inundate them - so they made the choice not to evacuate.

Scott's done all the right things - moved their belongings upstairs, prepared a safe room in the laundry, got bottled water and gas, tinned food, batteries, a radio, etc. The windows are taped and everything in the backyard secured or packed away. In short, they've done all they can. Now it's a waiting game.

But the cyclone keeps intensifying, and keeps swinging further south. It's going to hit around high tide tonight - and that could push the storm surge even higher.

I've been in touch with Scott on and off during the day. His last SMS said, 'It's getting almost biblical out there. We're in for a wild n woolly night'. I know he's doing his best to keep everyone calm, especially his youngest, but he's getting worried.

I didn't sleep much last night - too worried. Mind you, that's nothing to how they would have felt.

There's a lot of talk about how ridiculously unfair this is - first the floods, now the biggest and most intense cyclone in Australian history. I understand that feeling - but part of me is just thinking, hey, I just got my brother back after all those years, we're really building a good relationship here, don't you dare take him away from me now.
crazyjane: (Default)
The post-Xmas flop-around-and-stare-at-the-masses-of-cleaning afternoon just got rudely broken.

A brown snake decided to go for a wander down the street. First we knew about it was when the neighbour across the road came charging out of his house with shovel held high. He bashed it a few times, then, as we piled out of our house with kids in tow, the woman from the house directly across from us chopped it across the back of the neck with the shovel blade. Then, as if that wasn't enough, the woman next door grabbed the shovel and started hacking at it wherever it was twitching. This, despite people near her saying, 'Stop, stop.'

She only stopped when a badly-aimed blow pushed the snake towards the gutter, leaving a smear of blood behind.

I don't think it's too exaggerated to say it was like something out of Lord of the Flies. Sure, the snake flailed around when it was first hit, but there was something unpleasantly avid about the way the three of them just kept hitting it.

I got on the phone to the Council - you're supposed to report the presence of snakes, particularly venomous ones, and I was pretty sure it was a brown. It being the holidays, it took a while to get onto someone, but finally I was talking to a real person. They were pretty upset about the killing, and not just because brown snakes are native animals and therefore supposed to be left alone. In this case, though, it wasn't just a situation where someone who was being threatened by the snake struck out in self-defence. It was a series of deliberate acts.

Then I stood on the nature strip and watched it writhe and twitch until its nervous system finally shut down. There was one last heave and it flopped over to expose its belly, and that was it.

When the Council guy arrived, I went over to have a close look at the snake. It wasn't just dead. It was mangled. We could see where the shovel blade had chopped into it all the way down its length. One of the cuts had split the skin away from its body. The only consolation was that the cut behind the head had probably killed it well before the woman next door started in, and that the movements afterwards were not from pain but just nerves firing randomly.

Lilygirl, who'd come over with me, was a little distressed, and no wonder.

We gave the Council guy a rubbish bag for it, and he asked us to dispose of it.

I think what I can't get over is that it was just so needlessly cruel. There are procedures in place to deal with snakes. You don't bother them, for a start. If they're in your house or backyard, you call the Council and you stay the hell away, and you definitely don't take to them with a shovel. This snake was wandering down the road on the warm bitumen, nowhere near anyone. The Council could have come out, picked it up and released it away from houses. There was just no need for that guy to come racing out with his shovel held high.

Was it some kind of atavistic fear - you know, snake = danger - that made them all attack it like that? I don't know. I've never been afraid of snakes; I can't say I'd be easy with the idea of a brown snake in my backyard, but this one was in no way threatening.

Maybe it was that stupid thing we humans get where we figure we Know How to Handle This, and everyone's got a different solution and they all try to implement it at once - usually with less-than-desirable consequences. This time, though, it was an animal that got caught up in that.

I don't know ... but it's cast a bit of a pall over the day. I'm fairly sure Lilygirl is going to be troubled by it for a while. I'm betting that bedtime tonight will be interrupted several times by her coming out to tell us that she can't sleep because she's worried about what they did to the snake.

In a way, it's good that she saw the act for what it was - a piece of cruel stupidity. That she had to see it at all, though, is the bit that makes me angry.
crazyjane: (Default)
Having just sorted out the Xmas lunch menu, I feel compelled to share it with the world - or at least that part of it that reads my LJ.

I've become rather worryingly domestic this year. First, I stupidly volunteered to host Xmas at our place, because Wuff's parents have downsized into a townhouse that isn't quite finished yet - they don't even have a table! Then I invited [profile] indigo_girl to join us, rather than suffer through what promised to be a hellish day with the soon-to-be-in-laws (her sister is, apparently, marrying Franco Cozzo's lovechild). And as if all that wasn't weird enough for me, I got the urge to, well, actually plan something - that involved cooking.

So, this is what I've come up with ...

Starters

Australian King Prawns with lemon wedges and cracked pepper
(Prawns are a Dalton family tradition. It's an awe-inspiring and somewhat terrifying sight to see three generations of Dalton/Azzopardi men attacking a giant mound of prawns.)

Smoked Tasmanian salmon on rye toasts with creme fraiche, dill and capers


Main

Baked ham with orange marmalade and Dijon mustard glaze

Crispy skin roast turkey breast

Wuff's famous potato salad with crumbly bacon

Garden salad

Pear, walnut and rocket salad

Blanched green beans drizzled with olive oil

Cranberry relish


Dessert

Christmas pudding with custard or cream

Fruit salad with yoghurt or sorbet



Nibbles

Cherries

Nuts



Afters (for the sitting-around-with-cups-of-tea-and-staring-blankly-into-the-distance phase of the afternoon)

White Christmas Rocky Road

Shortbread (possibly chocolate-dipped)




I haven't started thinking about how I'm going to dress the table yet.





I may well go insane. Or explode. Or possibly both. Ho. Ho. Ho.





Dear, dear me ...








(Oh, and Chez Retro will be open for escapees from relatives on Christmas Night ... feel free to seek sanctuary with us. Bring leftovers. And alcohol.)
crazyjane: (facepalm)
It has been pointed out to me, via Twitter, that my weekend hasn't just bordered on the insane, but actually crash-landed at high speed in Lunatic Country.

Friday night was sleepover night. Lilygirl and Meglet each invited two friends for movies-at-home and a slumber party. Lilygirl invited Football Nut and Basketball Whizkid, Meglet invited Shy Kindergarten-friend and the Spoiled Brat from Hell.

Movies were accomplished via our latest acquisitions - a data projector and screen courtesy La Trobe's policy of replacing its AV gear at ridiculously short intervals. With minimal rearrangement of the lounge room we managed to find enough room for speakers and six squirming kids with an increasing level of sugar in their bloodstreams. Add popcorn and home-made Choc Top ice creams (accomplished by pouring Ice Magic all over ice cream in cones, and trying not to paint the kitchen with the stuff before it sets), and we had a pretty good setup.

Pizza was the dinner of choice - but somehow we ended up with something like 450,000 leftover slices. Okay, I exaggerate - but Wuff is going to be taking a lot of pizza to work for lunch in the next week.

Then came bedtime. Ha. Ha ha ha ha. SBFH objected when we told them to hand over every single Nintendo DS, and that we weren't going to allow them to watch video on her laptop (which she also brought to the party, along with her bling!cellphone and DSi - I told you she was spoiled). Knowing it was likely they wouldn't sleep for ages, we decided to commandeer the home cinema and watch some of the shinier sequences from Avatar. After the fourth time we caught the kids running between the bedrooms, we threatened to club them all to death and they stayed in their own rooms.

Meglet decided she couldn't sleep, and by 1 am was in need of soft toy comfort. In the middle of the night moved to the hallway with pillow, doona and giant teddybear. I found her there at 3 am, when Lilygirl woke me up complaining that she felt sick.

Shy Kindergarten-friend had to go home very early the next morning - guess whose job it was to wake her up and get her ready to go? I tried to do that quietly, but stepping over Meglet's head was always a dodgy proposition. Meglet bounced up, entirely too awake for my delicate sensibilities, and woke up SBFH. They in turn decided it was time the other three woke up, and chaos returned.

Wuff - who got about an hour's more sleep than I did - offered to play tag with me for the day's planned activities. He took them swimming while I stayed home to regain some energy and rest. At least, that was the plan. I hereby lay a curse on all telecommunications companies that let people call me yesterday morning.

Lunchtime was my responsibility - Hot Rock charcoal chicken, followed by Cold Rock ice cream. Yes, more ice cream. Dear gods. We also took a trip to the Brand Junction store across the road for the girls to select some new bed linen as part of their birthday present. That was a lot like herding cats, although cats don't normally terrorise shopkeepers by putting their sticky fingers all over the shop windows and squealing loudly.

Eventually they all went home - though SBFH left clothes and knick-knacks scattered throughout the house. They went into Meglet's schoolbag for Monday.

Time for a rest, right? Uh, no. We'd foolishly agreed to have friends over last night - one of them needed major moral support. As it turned out, only one turned up in the end, and we spent an enjoyable evening watching Keating! the Musical And eating pizza.

So, Sunday. Day of rest and recovery. A leisurely late breakfast, followed by a lazy afternoon.

Hah.

You see, the big birthday presents this year from the whole family were new beds. Loft beds. Double beds. Loft beds from Ikea, to be exact. And what's the really fun thing about Ikea furniture? It comes in boxes, and you get the joy of assembling it.

It's a special kind of hell. And we've been living there all day. Wuff's family turned up to help out - and you know how smoothly an operation can go when there's Dad and both brothers at work.

Yeah. About like that.

It's a special kind of hell - hell with an alun key. And excited twin girls. And helpful suggestions. Not to mention the entire new ecologies we discovered when we finally moved out the old beds and cleared away the archaeological strata there.

All of which is why I am hiding here in the loungeroom, surrounded by pillows, under-the-bed junk, Ikea assembly diagrams and the shattered remnants of my family's sanity.

And alun keys.

But the kids are ecstatically happy. Our new mattress is nearly in place on our bed. Then all I have to do is throw on a sheet, the pillows and doona, and dodge the falling colossus that will be Wuff finally collapsing.

I'm so glad there won't be another birthday for a year.
crazyjane: (anzac)
Laurie, my Dad's father, was a Commando who fought in the conflicts in Timor and New Guinea. He survived to come home to his orange block and his family. He was the epitome of the Aussie farmer - gruff but affectionate. He didn't talk much about his service, although he was full of useful hints that he'd learned in the jungles. I don't know if he ever marched. He died with his family, having lived long enough to see his first great-grandchildren.

Jack, my Mum's father, was a Cook who was posted in Darwin during the intense bombing campaign carried out by Japanese forces. He survived to come home to his job at the drop forge, but never really came home to us. Occasionally he'd tell us an anecdote about baking hundreds of scones at once, or how a mate got surprised once by a crocodile, but he'd never talk about the bombing. He drank heavily, and he was a mean drunk. Today, we'd call it post-traumatic stress disorder. He never marched, but Anzac Day was a day when everything in his house stopped. He died old, broken and bitter in hospital, four months before his first great-grandchildren were born. Sometimes, when I look into my son's eyes, I see Jack staring out at me.

One of my great-uncles was a prisoner of war. Another was a pilot who was killed in action, and still another was on the verge of being shipped out when Japan surrendered. I know very little about them.

[profile] fire_wuff was an Air Cadet at school. Had things turned out differently, he might have signed on. On days like this, I thank the Gods he didn't.

War is abhorrent to me. It's appalling and callous and kills us all in one way or another - physically, emotionally, spiritually. As Wilfred Owen said, 'the old lie ... dulce et decorum est pro patria mori'.* But I'll stand silent on Anzac Day and remember them all, the family, the friends, the people I hear about in passing. We sent them out to die - we encouraged them to do it, told them it was the right thing to do, brought them up to love their country and be willing to lay down their lives for it. The least we can do is honour their memories.




Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them.


Lest We Forget.














* "It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country".
crazyjane: (facepalm)
Today is Lilygirl and Meglet's birthday. Yes, they're now 9 years old. Excuse me while I pause for a moment to freak out.

The house is currently full of squeeing girls laughing like Spongebob. They're having a Slime Party for Nickelodeon's Kids' Choice Awards. This means lime - sorry, slime spiders, popcorn, pizza, chocolate ripple cake and lollies galore. There is already much screaming going on as the celebrities walk down the Orange Carpet. The current favourite person is Miranda Cosgrove (from iCarly), but Rove just came a close second.

The plan is for them to watch the Awards, hang out for a bit and then go to bed. Yes, a sleepover. Yes, we are crazy. Yes, we have alcohol to cushion the pain.

In the morning there will be pancakes, then some of the girls will be going to the movies.

If we survive all that, we are going to have a very, very quiet Saturday night - during which we will be trying to wrap our heads around how they grew up so damn quickly.

Oh. My. Gods.
crazyjane: (Default)
Yesterday was our anniversary. Wuff and I have been married for nine years.

In the past, anniversary celebrations have tended to be a bit ad hoc. Both of us are usually very busy, with the end of the semester last-minute scramble. Added to that, the girls' birthday comes up very quickly after that, so we've usually focused on their celebration, and just decided at the last minute to maybe grab a movie at the local complex.

Wuff decided to make sure that wasn't going to happen this time around. Without a word to me, he'd quietly saved up, organised babysitting (thanks, [profile] indigo_girl!) and all the details. Then he invited me out on a date.

We had a leisurely dinner at Saluti in Northcote. I'm going to indulge in description here, so try not to drool on the keyboard. :) Our starter of a wood-fired foccaccia drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and oregano. Wuff's main course was a seafood risotto piled high with green-lipped mussels, clams, prawns and octopus. I had an amazingly tender porterhouse steak with red onion and chilli jam. The dessert was the single most decadent part of the night, though. Sweet biscuit pizza topped with cocoa-dusted pistachios and crumbled dark chocolate and wood-fired, with a dark chocolate sauce and creamy vanilla ice cream. Mmmmmmmm.

After dinner, we drove into Carlton, to the Cinema Nova. There was a quick detour at Borders (where we snatched up Dexter by Design, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and The Book Thief), then we settled down to watch Moon. We knew it was a bit of a gamble - first-time feature director for Duncan Jones, and first-time feature screenplay for Jones and Nathan Parker - but it's a particular gamble we had rather gotten out of the habit of taking. When our options for snatching a bit of time to ourselves started to become much more limited, what with kids and finances and all, we had started to make a point of only seeing movies that we were pretty sure we'd like (or, at least, hate with enough humour to enjoy criticising them over a cuppa at home).

Moon is a fascinating movie. I wouldn't recommend it for everyone, but if you have a taste for sci-fi that is gritty, harrowing on its characters and morally ambiguous, and there lurks a fondness in you for that peculiar mix of isolation and stagnation that permeates Silent Running and 2001: A Space Odyssey, you'll probably love it. Sam Rockwell's acting is absolutely amazing - without providing spoilers, the directors probably asked of him than more than was asked of pretty much any other actor in any sci-fi movie. Kevin Spacey also appears, in possibly his quirkiest role to date.

What struck me most about Moon was that it stirred in me something I've never felt before while watching a movie about space: fear. I love space - I'm an astro-nut (as it were, and I make no apologies for that pun, I had too good a time last night). Part of me will always yearn for the chance to actually get up there. Watching Rockwell driving across the barren lunar landscape in his rover towards the dark side, with the starkly beautiful stars hanging over him, I felt for the first time a terrible sense of isolation and fragility. It's very hard to explain - perhaps it's one of those non-verbal stylistic things that you just have to see to feel - but it's something I'll carry with me for a long, long time.

It was a wonderful evening. Wuff and I were relaxed, laughing, just a little bit romantic - and nothing dented that. Not difficulties with parking, nor the last-minute change of restaurant because our intended destination was crowded and very noisy, nor even those petty annoyances that can often inject small barbs of irritation into a special time. It was something we'd almost forgotten could happen.

Today, we are both tired - our late night sleep-deprivation was compounded by Meglet being disturbed about 5 am, and needing quite a bit of settling. Wuff has to battle yet again with crap at work, I have a pile of editing, design and project work that is only slowly getting smaller, and the kids were grumpy this morning.

I'm still feeling very happy.

I love you, Wuff.

November 2016

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