What happens when you want to eat Christmas food, you live in a tropical country, and it is 35 degrees (nearly 100 F), in the shade. What do you do?
You organize a Christmas feast, in July, when it is actually wintertime.
I know all the citizens of the northern hemisphere might have a hard time comprehending things being so upside down here. It really is too hot to eat rich Christmas food in the summer months in Australia – which can be up to five months long!
You see come the month of December, I’m more focused on keeping cool and retreating to the ‘Pool room’ – (don’t worry Aussies will understand the reference); lying in air conditioned comfort and watching old home movies or reading a good book, or maybe writing a blog post or two.
The only appetite I have during that time is for salad greens, which is acceptable for me on December 25, but not the rest of the family. Surprisingly, they expect a bit more than rabbit food at Christmas time.
A growing tradition in Australia is to have Christmas in July gatherings, with friends and family and enjoy a mock Christmas meal of Roast meat, Yorkshire pudding, Christmas mince pies and plum puddings with custard.
Since the sixteenth century, Glogg is a warm drink brewed at Christmas time in Nordic households to welcome and warm guests travelling in the cold December weather. The name can be translated to mean “glow,” and may be served fortified with alcohol, or non alcoholic. Either way Glogg incorporates a number of spices that resemble the aroma and flavour of a Christmas cake.
Traditionally, the ingredients in mulled wine include: cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, orange, and almonds all of which infuse hot fortified wine. However, other recipes have called for cherries and raisins, as well as brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup, and in place of red wine, local distilled spirits such as aquavit or vodka, whisky, bourbon, and even white wine. In the non alcoholic version, ginger provides an added warming element.
The Tea Centre
My Christmas in July celebration happily extends throughout July but not with the traditional Glogg but with a variety of Glogg Black tea from The Tea Centre.
The supplier offers this tea in both black and green tea blends, and it contains many of the ingredients found in mulled wine: cinnamon for a welcome immunity boost for the Aussie winter and Cardamon, which is known to be beneficial in reducing pain, headaches, nausea and inflammation.
Reminiscent of Nordic Christmas traditions and mulled wines — cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger recreate this special drink … also a touch of almond and orange peel bits.
The Tea Centre
For me, drinking this tea brought back those sumptious feelings of Scandinavian hygge. Danish Hygge is that cosy feeling you have when you are curled up in front of the fire, snuggling under a fleecy throw, candlelight dancing across the walls, with your closest loved ones. It is a feeling of being at ease, comfortable and relaxed.
Aromas of cinnamon and cloves permeated the air as the pot was brewing. If you’re thinking it is not so dissimilar to a cinnamon herbal tea, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the additional flavours of orange peel, ginger and almond.
Not just home to Victoria Bitter, or Tennis Australia’s epicentre, but every jar of Vegemite ever made and the largest Greek population outside of Athens, Melbourne is the world’s largest southernmost city.
As the city navigates its way out of Covid, it’s a good time to begin planning a trip there. Combine it with a self-drive tour of the Great Ocean Road and Tasmania. While many Australians are critical of Melbourne’s reputation for cold weather, I rather like the city – in fact, I’d say I like it a lot.
So what’s there to like about Melbourne?
1. Yes, Melbourne’s Climate
Australians mercilessly tease anyone travelling to Melbourne, taunting them with comments like: “you’ll need your umbrella” or, “don’t forget your overcoat“, (even in summer)!
Yet, in my experience, this is almost always wrong. Unless, of course, you visit in the wintertime, which in Melbourne’s defence, is actually their scheduled wet season!
In fact, other Australian cities have higher average rainfall than Melbourne, but Melbourne does have more rainy days than most.
This is likely due to a phenomenon I call, “fairy rain” or my father called, “Melbourne mist”– soft rain showers hardly worth worrying about when you compare it to the drenching one of Queensland’s downpours might unleash. When the tropical thunderstorms unleash their fury in the north, nothing will protect you from being soaked through. (Ironically Queensland, being in the sub-tropical zone, called: the Sunshine state).
Those visitors from the North who think Australia is too hot will revel in the temperate climate Melbourne offers, with maximums of 30 C (86 degrees F), in summertime and there is that wonderful southern twilight that lasts until 10pm, in summer, allowing for extra sightseeing before dark.
There’s no white stuff to shovel in winter, but during June – September you have the option of travelling to the snow fields of Falls Creek, (a mere five-hour drive), nestled in the high country of the Snowy Mountains.
2. The Arts Scene
Melbourne has loads of artsy attractions to sink your tourist teeth into.
ACMI, the Museum of Film, TV, Videogames and Art and the adjacent Ian Potter Museum, which houses a collection of native art and contemporary exhibits, currently undergoing renovations, thus, is temporarily closed, (June 2021), so cross the road to an informal but fascinating street display of Graffiti Art in Hosier lane. Undiscovered artistic talent abounds there!
There’s usually a buzz of activity at Federation square, from buskers to street food stalls. If you’re there in January and missed out on tickets to the Australian Open Tennis, you can watch the players battle it out on the big live screen, perhaps reclining in a complimentary deck chair or bean bag.
After that, a short walk across the iconic Princess bridge will take you over the Yarra River and past the Gardens to find the National Gallery of Victoria which will soon re-open with an exhibition of Australian impressionists.
3. The History
Melbourne, touted as Australia’s capital city in the gold-rush era, was one of the wealthiest cities in the world in the 1800s. The Queen Victoria exhibition building, housing the World Expo of 1880, is but one example of the wealth and status of Melbourne, in years gone by.
Unfortunately with all the wealth, comes crime, and the Old Melbourne Goal was built from blue-stone blocks to house the undesirables of society. Whilst no longer in active use, it makes a great sightseeing destination, to get in touch with history, and kids love the interactive element on offer.
I spent a few hours there, including several tense minutes experiencing what it might have been like being a prisoner locked in one of the goal’s padded cells; saw the flogging triangle used in colonial times; was a “witness” in a mock courtroom trial of Ned Kelly, (a famous Aussie bush-ranger), stood under the gallows and its infamous trapdoor where Ned Kelly and other notorious criminals were hung; saw slightly creepy death masks and even tried on a Ned Kelly style metal helmet, which he fashioned to repel the bullets of apprehending police.
On a more sombre note, the Shrine of Remembrance is a gargantuan memorial to the fallen veterans of war and worthy of a visit, not only because it gives an excellent vantage point of Melbourne, from the upper balcony. The structure is something like a cross between an Egyptian pyramid and Mayan temple. Impressive and grandiose are words that come to mind.
The date 11th November is earmarked as Remembrance day when all Australians observe a minute of silence to honour the soldiers and veterans. The Shrine is constructed so that at 11am on 11th November, sunlight will cross a stone inside the Shrine to illuminate the word Love in the verse, “Greater Love Hath No Man,” in reference to the supreme sacrifice the young soldiers made in support of war efforts in Allied countries. This phenomenon is recreated, most days, on the hour, for visitors.
You may also enjoy the Melbourne Museum for a chance to see the real “Phar Lap”, a revered Australian racehorse, (the world’s fastest of its time), which died prematurely whilst competing in America. For someone like me who is not into horses at all, I found the exhibit surprisingly mesmerizing.
Don’t forget to check out the Fairy Tree and Captain James Cook’s cottage (transported brick by brick from England), in the ‘Fitzroy’ Gardens for some unusual features in Australian history.
4. The Architecture
Historic and beautiful examples of great architecture abound in Melbourne, like the Windsor hotel, the State Library’s Reading Room, the original gas lights outside the Parliament building, as well as the old Shot Tower, now protected by an awesome glass dome.
In addition, Art Deco is alive and kicking at Luna Park and the ‘Palais’ Theatre, in St. Kilda and both sit comfortably together with more innovative modern examples of architectural genius like the Rialto building and Eureka Towers, with it top 10 floors plated with 22 carat gold.
Time a visit to Eureka Skydeck at sunset for a fantastic view of the city lights, or “hang out” suspended in mid-air, 88 storeys above the ground, in the Edge glass cube.
5. The Beach
Unless you are anywhere near the calibre of surfing legend Lane Beechley, St Kilda Beach offers everything you’d want in a beach and it’s within a 5 km stone’s throw of the city. There may not be any ‘dumpers,’ (i.e. large waves that roll in and crash over your head, throwing you around and forcing you to swallow copious amounts of salty water), but hey, I’m pretty comfortable with low lapping waves, white sand, swanky cafes, grand Federation era guesthouses as well as an old-style picture theatre and amusement park. Think Coney Island ‘down under’, but on a smaller scale.
6. The Shopping
Not really my scene, but at the time of visiting my teenage daughter was with me, so it was a must do. It seems there is a very good reason Swedish fashion giant H& M decided to open their first Australian store there. It’s Australia’s fashion capital, (also the former hub of cloth manufacturing), and the city is alive with shoppers and not too pricey shopping arcades with brand labels.
Check out the Spencer Street outlet centre for bargains, if you are a super keen shopper.
7. The People and Food
Australians are, by and large, a friendly, laid-back bunch. Melbourne has a lively and vibrant Italian community so that you can visit authentic Italian restaurants and coffee houses in Lygon Street, such as the fabulous “Brunetti,” to the north of the city centre, where the pasta, pastries and espresso are better than that served in the streets of Milan.
For an alfresco dinner, there is nothing better than the restaurants lining Hardware Lane, (where waiters entice customers in by spruiking extra deals) or, De Graves Street: a cosmopolitan alleyway of small street cafes, intimate restaurants and eateries that would feel more at home in France or the continent than in Australia. The food is pretty good too, with all cuisines catered for.
8. Public Transportin Melbourne
Melbourne must be thanking its lucky stars they kept the network of city trams, year after other Australian cities ditched them. Trams take you to a multitude of destinations and the free City Circle tram enables tourists to quickly access each end of the central business district without fuss, or tired legs! The whole inner city of Melbourne is a free transport zone, meaning any bus, train or tram is free within the city centre boundaries.
N.B. You will need a ‘myki’ (electronic) card to access areas outside of the city centre on public transport.
Grab a city bike, located at various stations around the city, and for a few dollars, you can have a pleasant 5km cycle along dedicated bike-ways along St. Kilda Road or around Albert Park Lake, dropping off the bike at various destinations or when you arrive at St. Kilda beach.
Getting to and from the main airport hub is simple with the Airport bus departing every 10 minutes.
9. Further Afield – Proximity to other Attractions
Melbourne is the starting place for those venturing to the Great Ocean Road, one of the World’s most scenic journeys. It is also the departure point for the ferries to the island state of Tasmania with its World heritage areas.
Don’t forget to spend some time in country Victoria in the cherry orchards, or take a steam train through country villages, experiencing more of the Gold Rush era in towns like ‘Ballarat’ and ‘Bendigo’, or if you prefer a kicking back with an alcoholic beverage, the many wineries in the Yarra Valley will delight.
10. The Gardens
If you have a green thumb, you’re not forgotten if you stay in Melbourne city. With three botanic gardens and several well-established parks within a 3-kilometre radius, visiting more than one in a day, is easily doable. Fitzroy Gardens features the cottage where British explorer Captain Cook grew up and a fabulous Victorian Conservatory; Carlton Gardens adjoins the glamourous Queen Victoria Building and neighbour to The Museum, whilst the Botanical Gardens on the far side of the river is in close proximity to The Shrine of Rememberance, Government House, Crown Casino and the Myer Music Bowl, a popular venue for open-air concerts.
11. The Sport
If sport is your thing, Melbourne offers tennis tournaments in the state of the art ‘Rod Laver’ Arena, cricket at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and the iconic and very Australian, “Aussie Rules” Football, something that every international visitor has to experience at least once, preferably with a meat pie in hand!
As one Melbourne taxi driver advised me: There’s never time to be bored in Melbourne.
Thanks largely to social media, much of the world already knows the basic facts – the planet is warming, carbon emissions are increasing, biodiversity is decreasing and all this and more threatens mankind’s existence on planet earth.
Martin Fredricks of IVWords was a recent guest at StPA, writing about how we talk about the climate crisis, and the reactions of others, in everyday conversations.
Do climate sceptics, or those in authority, want to hear more shocking statistics and dire warnings? Will it galvanise support for change and encourage the immediate action that is needed? Possibly. Possibly not.
More likely is that some will turn a deaf ear, place it in the too hard basket or choose not to believe it will happen, at least in their lifetime.
Repeating facts, figures, and ghastly predictions is merely preaching to the choir, and can actually be counter-productive by provoking anxiety in those who already know the planet is in danger. We don’t need to reiterate that things are getting worse.
Endless and ongoing debate with climate deniers wastes time, precious time as it a sceptic’s own confirmation bias skews their perceptions and blinds them to any logical explanation.
So what might increase awareness and understanding of the climate crisis?
Personally, I believe we need to focus on solutions. Hope for OUR future is in finding solutions to climate change and reversing environmental damage.
I want to hear ideas and suggestions of things the ordinary man and woman can do, or have already done, in their own corner of the world. Ideas, positive ones. Give us solutions and tips on how we might at least stabilize the environment deterioration, if not improve it.
Context and expert guidance on steps we can enact for ourselves or in collaboration with authorities and others, that is relevant to each individual area is vital.
For it is when we sense that feeling of community, of connection and of common goals, we are more likely to succeed and others, even sceptics will join us in positive action and change.
Please share in the comments below the positive initiatives happening in your corner of the world. Here is some initiatives in mine.
‘Green’ Environmental Initiatives in Moreton Bay, Australia
In my own little area I find:
Habitat protection on private properties – Grants for Land dedicated for Wildlife
Reforestation and mass tree plantings and maintenance with recycled water by active Bushcare groups
Glass recycled for re- use in the manufacture of new glass bottles and conversion to glass sand for use in asphalt, filtration, drainage, coating, resin and sandblasting applications.
Plastic collections for recycling by residents, as well as general recycling in Council kerbside collection
Walk to school days promoted to discourage use of petroleum driven vehicles
Over 75% uptake of solar power panels by new and established homes aided by Government subsidies and rebates
It is 1996 and I’m a young mum with two small sons. They’re two demanding boys, with big ideas and fertile minds. They want to play, but it’s time to prepare dinner for the family.
The oldest boy turns back to set up electrical circuits with batteries and LED light bulbs, whilst the smaller son, Master Three, gathers soft toys, from his prodigious collection, that would be the envy of any Sesame Street cast member and sets up a puppet show singing tunes of Thomas the Tank Engine. I turn back to the stove.
Besides the two boys and the Moth, there is a third child in the house.
I have a daughter I am about to lose. She is not mine, but one I am caring for and have grown so fond of. In less than a week from this night, she will return home to Denmark and we will miss her dreadfully.
Over the eleven months she lived in our family as a Danish Exchange student, we learnt things about Danish life and travelled to a gazillion Aussie places to show her as much of Australia as one can do, with two small boys in tow.
For her last meal on Australian soil, she asks if I can serve her an Aussie Meat Pie. Nothing fancy, just a Meat pie.
She tells me that there are no Meat pies served in Denmark and laments that she will miss those piping hot, oh-so-tender meaty chunks, steeped in rich gravy and covered with a rather messy, get-it-all-over-your-lap, flaky style pastry. Later that week, she eats that pie topped with blood-red squirts of tomato sauce. Yes, that means ‘ketchup,’ but it’s never called that here.
Meat Pie Etiquette
There are unwritten rules about how one should eat a meat pie, especially at the footy.
Take off the pie top and eat.
Squirt tomato sauce on top of meat.
Eat tomato-sauce topped meat from inside the pie
Eat the meatless pie crust last
When our dear “exchange daughter,” returns to visit us in a few years, her first request is:
“Can we have Meat pie for dinner?”
Origins of the Australian Meat Pie
An Australian meat pie was produced in 1947 by L. T. McClure in a small bakery in Bendigo and became the famous Four’ n Twenty pie. … Other manufacturers predate this, and the pie manufacturer Sargent can trace their pie-making back to 1891.
Whatever its origin, Meat pie is as Aussie as a “snag” on the Barbie, as Kangaroos, AFL, (Australian Football), and Holden ‘utes.’ Which reminds me of a song, one that Bushboy might recognize?
Making a Meat Pie
I’ve not made a meat pie myself, so I have no special recipe to share. (Sorry to disappoint you, Sandy). For many years, I was vegetarian and I completely lost the taste for eating any kind of meat. But then the Geebung bakers came along and ruined my meat-free diet.
Trying to emulate the lofty cooking skills of TheBun ‘n Oven bakery, (in the very iconically named suburb of Geebung, in Queensland), or the highly acclaimed piemakers of The Yatala Pie Company, would be doomed to failure. These bakers are Kings in creating a flaky, melt-in-your-mouth pie pastry with top quality ingredients. [And no, this is not a paid advertisement.]
Meat pies are found on offer at most Bakeries in Australia, along with the Lamington, another iconic Aussie food. Although you may find dubious imitations of meat pies, in the frozen section of any supermarket, you might need a cast-iron stomach to tolerate those of lesser quality.
Meat Pie Accompaniments
Some Australians prefer their Meat pies served with Mushy Peas atop, something that is more English than Australian, or a cottage pie, with potato and a sprinkle of cheese.
Boringly, a Meat pie in our family NEEDS to be served with lashings of mashed potatoes and green peas. It’s essential, (according to the Moth), and he refuses to eat one without these mundane accompaniments.
In a modern world, where kale and chia seeds might reign supreme, this humble dish, with its high cholesterol reputation and high-fat content, is fast becoming less popular with Australians.
Readers brave enough to take on the Geebung Bakers could try this Meat pie recipe.
If you have stopped here for information on the Carnival, you may be disappointed. I missed the Carnival of Flowers itself, so there are no pictures of the annual parade, but what I did see is stunning floral displays that are the dominant feature of this event in Toowoomba, a large country town, about an hour’s drive west of Brisbane, Australia. I arrived two days after the festival officially concluded. By the looks of the displays, the flowers are quite oblivious of the carnival’s end date.
The city of Toowoomba sits atop a mountain range and is blessed with cooler temperatures and rich volcanic soil, perfect for horticulture. The major horticultural event, The Carnival of Flowers, draws thousands of visitors to the city’s generous parks and gardens.
Whilst the historically wealthy country town has monolithic bluestone churches, funky alleys and quirky street art, it is the stunning floral display in late September that draws most of the region’s visitors.
Laurel Bank Park
Amongst neat and tidy lawns and prolific flower beds at Laurel Bank Park, on Hill Street, you will find plenty of seating for those who need a rest from taking a multitude of floral camera shots that one is apt to do given the spectacular displays.
Displays of Tulips, Poppies, Foxgloves and Hollyhocks take me back to memories of Denmark or The Netherlands, albeit without the rainy weather.
This is Australia, remember. The continent where it forgot how to rain!
Like many parts of Australia, Toowoomba has experienced, for many years, a severe water shortage. This has resulted in the Gardeners, at Laurel Bank Park, adopting stringent water-saving strategies and switching to growing more water-tolerant plants in order to maintain the floral displays to the expected standard. It seems that they have succeeded in their quest.
Topiary elephants, seals and the Leaning Tower of Pisa add a fantasy element to the gardens. Can you guess what this topiary represents? It is rather Australian and Danish!
Toowoomba Botanic Gardens
Cherry Blossoms line the Toowoomba Botanic Garden’s at Queens Park. The entry path offers the visitor a visual explosion of multi-coloured Ranunculus, inviting you to explore more of the gardens. The pathway then opens to rows and rows of flowering beds with daisies, violets and pansies.
It seems one lonely tulip bulb missed the memo.
Snapped at the right, or perhaps, the wrong moment. Street photography in Toowoomba can be surprising.
I have so many questions about the man’s pickle. Not a sign of a picnic basket or lunch box anywhere. Where was he keeping it? So random and fun!
There is so much our country towns can offer us. We only have to look closer, before lamenting we can not travel outside our own borders. This is another of the country towns that offer unique experiences, similar to Amandine Lavender farm at Bargara, near Bundaberg, which I posted about recently.
Farming and rural communities are doing it tough in these times. Most of us recognize that.
You will be be delighted and surprised at the hidden gems found in many country towns and rural areas that were formerly overlooked by the overseas obsessed traveling public. Amandine Lavender is one such gem near the central Queensland coastal town of Bargara.
Those seeking a safer alternative to traveling overseas can not only support farming communities by making a day trip but also include rural towns, as holiday destinations.
Amandine Lavender Farm, Seaview Road, Bargara.
Around four hours drive north of Brisbane, Australia, or five minutes from the famous Turtle Rookery at Mon Repos, you will find Amandine Lavender farm, along Seaview Road at Bargara. See how the lavender is grown and utilized into a vast array of therapeutic and beauty products on sale at Amandine’s gift shop. Online ordering is coming soon.
Formerly a family sugarcane farm dating back 3 generations, the falling price of sugar encouraged the owners to diversify into growing lavender and developing a new business venture. The owners have transformed a pretty potting shed and garden into a flowering lavender paradise.
Amandine Lavender Products
The lavender product range includes soaps or oils, sprays and creams as well as soothing lavender sleep and relaxation balm, excellent for tension headaches, which I carry in my handbag at all times. Old favorites like sachets of dried lavender for pillows, wheat packs, or to hang in the wardrobe to keep pesky moths away from one’s clothes, are also on offer.
At Amandine farm, you are encouraged to pick as much lavender as you can carry in your hands, to take home with you. Enjoy the relaxing scent of freshly cut lavender in your own home for days after your visit.
Then when the flowers started to droop, cut them and hang them upside down to dry out. They can them be used as dried flowers or sprinkled in sachets for the wardrobe or undies drawer. Lavender foliage can be trimmed and used for propagating new lavender plants.
How to Grow Your Own Lavender
Amandine has self-guided propagation activities in their garden potting shed but you can always grab an information leaflet and try cultivating lavender, at home.
When to Pick and Trim Lavender
Spring flowering lavender should be cut in Spring whilst the winter flowering forms should be picked in autumn in order to take advantage of the best time to grow lavender from existing plants.
Cultivation of Lavender
Cut a leaf tip of lavender, about two inches, or 5 -8 cms long, dip the end in a rooting powder (available from nurseries or larger supermarkets), and place in a good quality potting mix. Water it in, then cover and seal with a plastic bag, setting it aside for a few months.
After several months, you will be delighted to find you have created new lavender plants of your own, at no cost.
Lavender plants do prefer a dry soil; they don’t like to moist ground for too long. That is why they prefer coastal climates and have not problem tolerating windy conditions.
Conveniently, these are the conditions we have at the home by the sea. I will be potting out some more of these hardy and highly perfumed beauties soon.
Recently at the Home by the Sea, I met a new friend. So that he can remain anonymous, I’ll call him, ‘Old Mate,’ (as we sometimes do in Australia).
Most people who met Old Mate, thought him brash and cocky, but I was utterly charmed by his youthful exuberance. He’d entered my world uninvited and I’d welcomed and even encouraged him to visit me whenever he liked. “My door is always open. Come over anytime,” I told him nonchalantly.
Perhaps that was my mistake? I can be naive about such things.
Being a good neighbour, or so I thought, I’d offered him food and refreshments whenever he rocked up. He really did like that. So much so, that he brought his partner over to meet us. We were chuffed.
Both Old Mate and his partner were talented singers and would regularly entertain us when they popped in. It was obvious they were planning to settle nearby and start a family. I was looking forward to sharing their world and continuing our wonderful friendship.
I had no inkling that Old Mate would take liberties with our friendship in a way no one else has done before.
It came to a head this week.
Jumping around on my Dining table was, to say the least, extremely unsettling, so I was forced to do something I’ve never done before: I told Old Mate he had to leave – ordering him out of my house.
He didn’t take my announcement well: becoming angry and flustered, making excuses to check out several rooms in the house, before finally agreeing to leave.
That was the final straw. I abruptly terminated our friendship.
I feel bad. I miss him, but it has to be this way.
A father in his 40’s who surfed here every day. He was rescued, taken ashore but paramedics could not save him. The shark, believed to be a Great White, left its tooth embedded in the bite mark on his surfboard.
On our anniversary visits, I rarely went in for a swim, preferring to walk in the shallows and then past the old Shark Tower monument, which was erected in the 1960s for lifesavers to use as an observation site.
From that point, I would follow the boardwalk through the pandanus trees around the headland.
Even though we have nets to protect swimmers, the killer shark appears to have swum underneath the six-metre nets that line the shore.
The irony of the local name: ‘Snapper Rocks” Hotel and Surf Club, does not escape me.
So often we walk around in nature failing to notice the details, the grass under our feet.
Subtle changes in colour and appearance indicate the passing of the seasons. Many varieties of grass remain invisible, yet are an integral part of the natural landscape.
The theme for this week’s Friendly Friday challenge is:
‘Splendour in the Grass’
Using Grass to Frame a Landscape in Photography
In photographic terms, grass can be used to frame the shot or make an interesting feature in the foreground.
This ‘Moon viewing,’ photo captured during the Tsukimi festival in mid-Autumn, in Japan.
Japanese Senga Grass Fields at Mount Fuji
The Japanese find Splendour in the Sengakuhara Pampas Grass, by strolling along a walking trail, at the western side of Mount Hakone. For it is here that the changing colour of the tall grass offers stunning vistas. In November, the grass turns a shimmering, silvery gold. Wedding proposal and selfies abound at this time of year.
In Australia, a country fringed by blue oceans, you will find grass the colour of sunburnt earth, which often makes me yearn for the vivid fluorescent green grass of wetter climates.
Australian deserts display different kinds of saltbush grass.
In the arid conditions of the Australian landscape, plants have adapted to grow under extreme conditions, such as the grass tree.
Grass Trees in Australia
A relic of the Age of Dinosaurs, Xanthorrhoeas, also known as the Grass Tree, grow very slowly and are resistant to bushfire. In fact, fire helps the grass tree produce its flowers. They also have a unique symbiotic relationship with the soil. The presence of a mycorrhizal microbe in the soil around their roots allows them to flourish, even if the soils are nutrient-poor.
Grass Trees are highly sought after in Australian horticulture and as such are often illegally removed from their natural locations. They fetch high prices as ornamental plants. Little do the owners realize that if the soil in their garden does not contain the mycorrhizal enzyme, the grass tree that they paid so dearly for, will wither and die.
Imitating Nature in Growing Grass Trees
Here’s a secret that an old-timer once told me. Take a cup of brown sugar, put it in a bucket of water and water your grass trees once a month for two years with that mixture. The sugar feeds the mycorrhiza and gets it going and your grass tree will survive.
It is quite ironic that my Friendly Friday Challenge Co-host, Sandy, should give us the prompt, Market this week as I was just looking through my photos of the wonderful Market Hall, in Helsinki, Finland.
Where the Hungarians are spoilt for choice in varieties of Paprika in their markets, Helsinki is spoilt for choice in terms of Salmon.
Me, being Australian, have only really known three varieties of Smoked Salmon – Tasmanian, Norwegian and Danish Smoked Salmon.
My eyes opened as wide as saucers when I saw the contents of the cabinets in the Helsinki Markets, the day I arrived in the Finnish capital.
I remember it is not just ordinary salmon, because the thing that struck me about Finns, was that they had taken Salmon to a whole new level, like as in Heinz 52 different varieties.
Now I love Salmon, so I was pretty happy with this, until I realized how hard it would be be to choose which one to buy! I needed help to choose between Tsar’s salmon, Cold Smoked Salmon, Flamed Salmon, Lemon Salmon and Rose Pepper Salmon, etc. and in the end, feeling rather befuddled, I settled on Cured Salmon with Basilic. With a large helping of Salmon Soup? How could I resist?
You need to know that the people of Helsinki eat a good deal of fish, freshwater fish, that is. Even sometimes three times in a day. So when I think of Helsinki, I think of Salmon, and lots of it.”
I was announcing to friends that I was to leave my inner-city lifestyle and was moving to a Home by the Sea. A Seachange is the correct word, I believe.
“What. Why?” was the plaintive responses from colleagues and friends.
“Why move further out? That’s a long commute.”
Especially when, they continued to counsel me, a sought-after, inner-city lifestyle offers heady attractions and a swathe of facilities and friends, in close proximity? And my own kids concurred.
At the first whiff of this decision, the adult children refused to be involved. They saw it as a hedonistic move to the region’s boganesque outskirts, better known as, ‘The Peninsula.’
So why did we decide to continue with a Seachange?
Because life in the city cuts both ways.
Inner City Lifestyle is Attractive
Our urban locale of many years was idyllic, or so we thought.
Picture energetic, vegan eateries and sushi trains, interspersed with Craft beer hangouts playing Indie music, to all hours. Streets lined with cafes, punctuated by glamorous shops, awash with white and taupe furnishings, selling those ludicrously expensive cushions that are positioned for looks, rather than comfort, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of my former location. Many would find that attractive.
I have to admit the inner city life was swanky and practical. I had only a short walk to public transport, of all kinds, and a multitude of library and shopping options, as well as bakeries or gourmet restaurants, so close, that I’d never had to worry about squashing the bread or drinking and driving the car home.
So I had to ask myself again, why did I want to leave?
Because, it seemed. there was a niggling discontent in my heart.
I had begun to notice the downsides to urban living and they were becoming more and more bothersome, the closer I got to retirement age. I needed a change.
But wait. I began to hesitate.
Did I really want to give up work and this urban lifestyle right now, given that one’s work and financial contribution to society forms a large part of our identity?
I had to think this through properly and reassess what I’d really miss and what might be a potential deal-breaker. Was I ready for Retirement and a Seachange? It was a big move!
Weighing Up the Pros and Cons of Hipster Life in the City
Point #1 – Endless Facilities
City living is an ongoing adrenaline rush and offers many opportunities, but it also results in an expanding waistline and other First-World Problems that triggers a level of guilt, in me, one I wasn’t entirely happy with.
I had to admit Triple-shot Macchiatos or Banh Mi Market Breakfasts with Almond smoothies, at the local markets, were really fun but also the chief suspects in my increasing girth.
Those lovely market stalls one browses, on Sunday mornings, you know the ones that feature lovely handmade items, or organic Kombucha with a Turmeric and Kale chaser and a pulled pork bun, are very hipster, but as I wasn’t exercising too much, (I dislike aerobic exercise), you can have too much of a good thing. Diet and health concerns were not the only pressure.
Add to this, I felt indulgent. This consumerist lifestyle felt privileged and wasteful, considering how much poverty, need and homelessness exists in the world. There had to be something better that aligned more with my twilight years.
Point #2 (Or should I call it: bothersome fact #2?) – Noise, Busy Roads and Traffic
There were loads of new facilities, medical centres, shops, gyms and pilates studios opening every other week in the inner city districts. However, the incessant noise from the construction was something I wasn’t getting used to. Quite the contrary, my sleep was disturbed more and more with each passing month. Sleep deprivation is the kind of torture that one can’t abide when the childbearing years are far behind you, so the noise did nothing to foster a jolly mood.
Couple this issue with two near-miss incidents with myself and heavy machinery, plus a workman’s vehicle swerving towards me, both happening at pedestrian crossings near home, were other imperatives to move to a quieter area. (Twice in one week, I was nearly run over simply crossing the road to follow the concreted footpath!)
The horse and buggy style of those dated inner-city alleys and streets, that no cat worth his salt would be found swinging in, are all very quaint when you are a pioneer in the early 19th century, but crossing the street after 6am in 2020 was akin to having a death wish.
And, don’t get me started on the lack of on, or off-street, parking. That was Point #3.
Point #4 – Sharing Space with a Growing Population Density
Exercise in the inner city constituted a 30-minute stroll in the morning down a popular shared bike and pedestrian path. Early morning walks here, had recently become a dance with death as teams of hardcore, professional cycling enthusiasts, festooned in their all-too-revealing-bodysuits notoriously rode at that same time, and usually three abreast.
Some would forget to ring their bell as a warning of their impending presence and I’d stumble to maintain my balance and calm my frightened dog, as they swished past in a blur of lycra, shouting, “Move – it’s a bikeway,” in a range of accents, or offer a very defiant ‘finger,’ if I didn’t move to let them pass.
Despite all of this, it was the bruises that finally cemented my decision to sell and move to the Home by the Sea.
Point #5 – Small Rooms
In particular, the bruises incurred when my toe, or shin, connected clumsily with the bed-posts in the small inner-city Townhouse that I had down-sized to, as a potential retirement home. Low maintenance it was, but Townhouse living was going to be problematic.
Every room in my ultra-modern townhouse was so small, so confined, that it meant kicking my toe or shin, on the corner of the bed, vanity or chair, became a daily event. It might have been cute, compact and a breeze to clean, but there’s always a trade-off, isn’t there?
It was clear that I needed somewhere with a tad more space.
Not only that, but the family dog agreed with me.
Point #6 – Limited Yard for Pets
The small courtyard at the Townhouse gave the family dog no place to bury a bone, nor conduct her usual border patrol for illegal animal infiltrators. Her job, she thought, was to protect the premises from the likes of lizards, cats, Ibis or random Scrub Turkeys. The small astro-turfed courtyard just didn’t cut it, for my Princess.
A Home by the Sea
So weighing up the odds, we decided to move.
In complete contrast to Townhouse life, the Schnauzer loves her new home that has a small to medium L-shaped grassy yard. Now she can choose whether to sun herself or roll around in delight on the soft, green grass.
A bit like me really.
Retirement and the Pandemic
The Covid pandemic may have meant I retired a little prematurely, but more importantly, it has given me time to walk the dog, enjoy early mornings on the beach and not have to rush off to work, in busy commuter traffic.
To date, I have not sustained any bruises from the furniture in my new home by the sea!
A seemingly unending blue sky, fresh sea air, a comforting quietness as well as new places and friends to discover, has me feeling relaxed and content with no time constraints and nothing to do, but enjoy the rest of my life.
I leant out the car window this morning and had a conversation with a road cyclist at the traffic lights. I wanted to know why so many cyclists appear to choose NOT to ride on the outer or footpath side of the road, but position themselves on the inner side, dangerously close to where the cars travel. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t concern me, but it’s been a hot topic of whinging and conversation in the community, so I was a tad curious.
A simple enough question that had a surprising answer.
Road cycling is the most widespread form of cycling. It includes recreational, racing, commuting, and utility cycling. Road cyclists are generally expected to obey the same rules and laws as other vehicle drivers or riders and may also be vehicular cyclists.
Upon hearing my enquiry, this rather brash, lycra-clad rider put up his hackles. His stood tall on his bike, puffed his chest out, and his body language indicated he was ready for battle.
“It is not a dedicated bike lane back there,” he spat. “Read your road rules, love.”
I will admit Australia is slow to join the party when it comes to accommodating cyclists. The vast majority of major roads have no bike lanes, so cyclists must compete with trucks, cars, buses and all road users. Cyclists pay zero registration costs to contribute to the upkeep of the roads which earns the ire of the driving community. Rules vary from place to place but here we must keep 1 metre away from the bikes, when driving on the roads, due to the many cyclist deaths in commuter traffic.
Keeping 1 metre away would be simple if the cyclist kept to the outer or even the middle section of the emergency stopping lane, or roadside verge or bike lane, where there is one, but almost all seem to prefer to stick close to cars, which means the cars need to veer into the next lane, in order to comply with the 1-metre distance rule.
But I digress. Let’s go back to the discussion with the lycra-clad cyclist. As my intention wasn’t to debate the road rules, I clarified that I wanted to understand the motives behind the cyclist’s choice, so I persisted and, the traffic light was still red.
“On a Sunday morning”, he continued, “there’s so much glass on the road after Saturday night, that if I was to ride on the left (footpath), side of the road, I’d get nothing but flat tyres. So we all ride on the inside near the cars.”
– Road Cyclist in Red Lycra
As the traffic light then changed to green, I thanked him for the explanation and wound up my car window. His body language relaxed and he took off in another direction.
Yet, I was still left wondering – could there really be so much glass on ALL the major roads in our city? It just didn’t seem plausible. Is a flat tyre less preferable than safety?
Is this a problem in other countries without bike lanes?
Less than 30 minutes later, I was walking with friends along the beach with our dogs and recounted my story about the cyclist. We were all in agreeance, questioning the validity of the flat tyre argument, when one of the girl’s mobile phone rang.
On answering it, my friend let out a hearty laugh.
Her daughter had called to say she was on a bike ride on an inner city road and had just got a flat tyre!
Sometimes strange coincidences are not that strange after all.