Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Season's Greetings

Busy as a Leaf Cutter Bee

Holiday preparations, enjoyment of Christmas Day and now recovery conspire with thunderstorms to keep us offline at present. We had a wonderful Christmas. We trust your holidays are special as well. Happy New Year.

Resolve to keep happy and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.
--Helen Keller

photos by J in JaM

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Goanna (aka Lace Monitor)

Goanna ornamenting our tree

We live in topical highlands where heat and humidity are less oppressive than on the tropical coast. I am a wimp when it comes to either high heat and humidity or very low temperatures. Like Goldilocks, I feel best when things are Just Right.

Each morning of summer, we throw open doors and windows to capture as much early morning cool as possible. As the day warms, we close up the house to retain that coolness. Fans stir the air as the coolness disappears. At the end of the day, when the temperature drops and darkness takes over, we feel torn between opening the house for cooler air and keeping the house closed against the multitude of insects attracted to any lights. We've switched to yellow lights for the summer but even those attract some insects.

Since we took the dog off her diet of mince laced with sulfites, she isn't reacting as frantically to thunderstorms. We've developed additional strategies to deal with her nervousness. She calms down a bit if we attach her lead to her collar and turn on classical ABC radio. She settles then at our feet. I usually settle down to knit or spin while keeping her company. J settles to ponder, pencil in hand, over his clipboard notes related to his online AI class or his latest project.

Recently, the three of us took up this familiar routine. Settling in. After a bit I stood up to go to the Shed for something. No worries. J and dog not disturbed. I opened the kitchen door, pausing as usual to scan the path for snakes before stepping outside. A large goanna paused in mid-stride only a few feet away, as surprised as I was. Big goanna! I yelped. The dog picked up on my tone and began barking madly. Goanna (3 feet long and 20 pounds) bolted for nearby tree (trunk 12" in diameter) and went up it in a flash.

An ancient war exists between dogs and reptiles, similar to the one between dogs and donkeys. Donkeys can hold their own, but I'm afraid roaming dogs give goannas grief. We don't see many large goannas. J restrained our dog and handed her over to me as he grabbed the camera.

The goanna looked safe up the tree. Then the birds noticed him. That's another ancient war.

Our friends upriver had goannas regularly dropping by their kitchen area for meat scraps (photo taken in December 2009). Look closely to see a hungry young goanna at the far edge of the step:

Hand feeding goannas is not recommended. Unlike your domesticated dog, the goanna doesn't distinguish between your thumb and a meat scrap. 

Another view of the young goanna at Goanna Tree Junction
What a treat in the lead up to Christmas - getting to see a large adult goanna up close... and feeling glad to know they continue to live in our area. Makes the world feel Just Right.

Respect the Claw!
photos by J in JaM
post and image editing by M in JaM

Monday, 12 December 2011

Silly Season

Poinciana provides colours of the season
The Silly Season has arrived. That means I've developed an anxious, hectic feeling of too much to do (such silly high expectations) while too hot and limp to do anything about it. As my Mom would put it: stewing in your own juices. My solution has two parts:

  1. Get up REALLY early, while it's cool and before the brain goes soggy. 
  2. Accept the rapid rate at which items are falling off my priority list. 
Tropical Priority Lists??? I think I may need A Cup of Tea, a Bex and A Good Lie Down.

Our bedroom lies a short distance from the house. There's no electricity in the bedroom. We use torches (flashlights) to light our way to bed and to avoid accidentally stepping on any snakes that might be out in this warm weather.

Recently, we've begun encountering a frogmouth. We, in the process of retiring, frogmouth in the process of hunting and perched at about our head height in a small tree. Last night, a small tail hanging from her beak, the frogmouth froze, crouched on the ground beside our track. Ah, diligent hunter and careless geckoe. We paused and restrained our old dog, who didn't show any actual interest, until frogmouth flew to safety.

Though not a true owl, frogmouths enchant me. Observe how cleverly she turns into a broken, dead branch during the day. Masterful camouflage.

Frogmouth in daytime
We didn't see the total lunar eclipse. Instead we had thunder, lightning and overcast skies, until it finally rained during the night, obscuring the eclipse. The good news: the roof didn't leak. Looks like the recent fix did the job. Yay! Now... I can't resist... what else is on that list.......

photos by J in JaM
post and photo editing by M in JaM

Monday, 5 December 2011


Gum trees shed bark this time of year. As the bark gradually peels away and drops onto the ground, the smooth trunk changes colour on exposure to the sunlight. I love the way the colours blend, subtle and magical.

You know it's summer when the brain starts to go limp and soggy with sweat by 9 a.m. We lie down and endure the hottest part of the day, like the roos who settle in patches of mottled shade in the open eucalypt forest.

Chores get done in the cool of morning, otherwise, forget it. By midmorning I retreat to the darkest and coolest part of the house. Lately, I sit at the computer there, working on graphics. When it gets too hot for even that, I lie on a mat on the cool concrete floor, turn on a fan and read or nap. I sometimes attempt a little knitting, small projects that don't hang down onto my lap. And sometimes I spin cotton or silk on a supported spindle. But, limp brain syndrome really doesn't want to know about Craft Goals. Limp brain can't be bothered. It only wants to know: When is it going to cool down? When is it going to rain?

During the dry, hot days, a xanthorrhoea bloomed and butterflies appeared.

A hungry grasshopper also showed up.

In Australia, December 1st marks the First Day of Summer. We finally got summer rain, hurrah, accompanied by thunder and lightning. The heady smell of lemon scented gums permeated the damp air this morning and the blossoms of a native orchid opened. Frog eggs float on the surface of billabongs along Moon Creek. The harsh, dry conditions have eased and lifeforms respond, even me.

Cooktown orchid

It's only the start of summer, so we expect more hot days. We remind ourselves that it's ok to slow down (and stay hydrated), during a holiday season, though it goes against the grain of someone born in the Northern Hemisphere. Now, would someone remind me to celebrate Christmas in June next year? That's such a brilliant idea. When it's Winter in the Southern Hemisphere.... that's when my brain feels most sprightly and I have the most energy. Oh, right, the main drawback? I am not the only Centre of the Universe.

post by M in JaM
pix by J in JaM, pix edited by M

Sunday, 27 November 2011

What? No news?

I find it easier to play with images than to write. I have no riveting news to offer. Most days I engage with one other person, J, plus the dog. I do not feel isolated. I love our lifestyle. Radio, tv, telephone and internet work to keep us embedded in the current culture.

But, my quandary returns. What shall I write when I have little news? Shall I follow the common lead of media and write to stir the emotion of fear?

During the middle of the night, the dog panicked and woke us. J got up and set about calming her. We both heard the next gunshot. A few more followed, paced, not hurried. Likely, it was the neighbours, who have a herd of goats, and they were shooting at wandering dogs. Their practice has made me uneasy since a guest heard a bullet whip past our balcony during the day. Said guest had worked as paramedic in Oakland and San Francisco and said he knew the sound of flying bullets. Later, our neighbours admitted that they had been shooting at birds in their orchard. They seemed surprised that a bullet would go that far.

But, I'd rather write about my craftwork which leaves me feeling productive and virtuous.

I've finished darning some hand-knit, wool socks and now they're ready to be packed away until next winter. I've learned to knit AND darn socks in the last few years. I used handspun yarn for these repairs. Its light colour contrasts with the dark sock yarn and made it easier to see what I was doing while darning. A pair of magnifiers also helped. J's pair was originally knit with handspun 2 ply wool. It showed wear under the ball of his foot. His heels looked fine, thanks to me reinforcing the heel with mohair when I knitted them. My heels were not reinforced and showed wear. Darn, I'm glad I got that chore done and boy, did it make me feel good.

Reflecting on the idea of how we are embedded in our culture, I realise that I am also reminded of my present moment in the world by the changing seasons and the appearance of specific flowers, insects, birds and reptiles.

A few years ago our friend Isabelle gave us a collection of plants for our shaderoom. A couple of days ago, for the first time, one plant* flowered, for a few hours (photo above). The blossom closed at the end of the day and hasn't re-opened. The shaderoom protects our house from the hot afternoon sun. It contains a variety of ferns, bromelliads and such, plus a fish pond in a very large pot. J rigged a misting system that doesn't use much water but keeps the plants happy and that daily misting helps keep the house cool.

Fads help us feel in tune with the times, consumer-wise. But they run their course and then sometimes turn into icons of past eras. We're getting rid of our teflon/nonstick cookware. It always seemed to stick eventually and then require replacing. (Perhaps something to do with the way we cook.) We dug out two old skillets (fortunately I hadn't gotten rid of them even though they are almost 40 years old), gave them a good clean and re-seasoned them. One is enamel, inside and out. The other is enamel on the outside except for the bottom which is stamped: Coussance Made in France. The inside bottom is ground iron and quite flat. We are having such good results in cooking with them that we wonder why we ever stopped using them! A teflon veil has fallen from our eyes....

Now J wants to find a spatula, but not just any spatula, to use with these skillets. He wants a flexible, stainless steel spatula that is flat across the end with rounded corners. No luck with his search, so far. He can find lots of teflon coated spatulas out there.

*Isabelle, please remind me of the name of this plant.
ETA: Isabelle says it's some sort of philodendron

post by M in JaM

Monday, 21 November 2011


This beautiful baby boy demonstrated the family gene for impatience, like his twin cousins, and arrived a bit early. He's doing well. What is it about these boys that make them so determined to arrive early? Don't they know about the family tradition of being late?? I suspect this little one will continue to surprise us. And that's a good thing, right? I find my heart smiling.

You can see I've continued to play with GIMP, the image editor. I know, my announcement uses non-traditional colours for a baby boy, but he is a Scorpio, after all. And somehow, I'm pretty sure he's going to be non-traditional....

J has designed a new, you beaut, spindle holder for me and I love it.

Laser cut out of translucent grey acrylic and wood, it provides a variety of places to set numerous spindles.

I have ample space below to store support spindle dishes and extra whorls.

Warm weather has led to the expected arrival of skinks in our house. Inside, we humans and the dog tolerate these little critters. We rescue them when they accidently slip into the sink and can't escape. Safer inside than outside for them. It's a jungle out there. This skink contemplates the option of living on a knife's edge.

post by M in JaM

Monday, 14 November 2011

Wasps, Learning and Celebrations

Paper wasp nest

Our (almost) daily walk takes us past a good sized paper wasp nest fastened to a barbed wire fence. We made a little detour to avoid disturbing the wasps as I had no desire to repeat a previous experience of being stung repeatedly while desperately running as fast as I could while my husband yelled: Keep Running!

Something got the wasp nest. It's completely gone. What hungry night predator managed to pluck that nest off the barbed wire? Always a shock when things disappear from one's life, even when it's something like a wasp nest.

Since we switched our computer to a Linux type operating system called Ubuntu (thanks to a helpful son-in-law), I've had to start learning to use an image editor called GIMP. Actually, I grizzled and resisted learning for a long time. But wouldn't you know, I found some good tutorials on YouTube. I followed one of GIMPtricks' tutorials to make this image:

We celebrated J's birthday. Every year he says, No Party! I know he's happy staying home and working on projects or learning about new things via the internet. He's currently taking a free online course from Stanford University on Artificial Intelligence. No worries about him exercising his brain. You can find out more about some of his projects at tropicarduino.blogspot.com

As his birthday approached this year, he repeated his mantra: No Party! It took some doing, but seeing as this was a decade birthday, I managed to cajole him into getting together to celebrate with a handful of people in town, the youngest being one year old twins and the eldest being a new friend who just turned 96. I have to admit I liked the part about no baking, no cooking, no clean-up. Just visiting and enjoying ourselves.

Remember to enjoy yourselves, readers, to laugh and appreciate those around you. And allow others to appreciate you.   

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Jacaranda Time

Jacaranda and Flame Trees in blossom

We're having a colourful Spring season on the Atherton Tablelands with jacaranda, flame trees, silky oaks and bougainvillea erupting in masses of blossoms.

Bougainvillea Entry
The weekend included some thunder. The dog wanted me sitting in an armchair and wanted her bed shoved as close as possible. Confined to the chair, I kept myself busy by wrangling wool into a form that's easier to spin.

This wool has given me a bucketload of frustration even though I love the colours of this hand-dyed wool top from an independent dyer. In my first forays at spinning it on the wheel, it stubbornly resisted any attempts to draft it. (Could this be some sort of '60s karma?) I wrote an angry letter to the source... and didn't send it. I wanted to better understand what was happening. And that took time.

Persevering, I produced a couple of sample skeins which revealed the two main problems with the top: 1.) second cuts and slubby bits, and 2.) remnants of sticky dye chemicals (though little or no bleeding during wash of handspun). I do really like the dyer's colourway.

With some hours of extra work I've wrangled* most of that wool until it drafts well enough that I can produce the yarn I want. I can't say it's a pleasure to spin. I'm just glad I'm not a beginning spinner. Did I mention that I do like the colours?

Here is more local colour and it makes me feel happy:

Bougainvillea at hillside home

*wrangled: if you're interested, here are details about the wrangling:
I split my wool top lengthwise into seven strips. Doing my best to avoid disrupting the parallel arrangement of the fibres, I widened each strip and carefully plucked out slubby bits. I gently worked to separate sticky fibres in the most intense colour areas. I softly rolled up each strip, with tail to inside, to maintain colour order. This preparation enabled me to spin semi-worsted yarn with grist of 4000m/kg.

NOTE: wool top is a "rope-like" arrangement of parallel wool fibres

NOTE2: some spinners do not believe in splitting top lengthwise. My belief system is pragmatic, craftwise: I do what works for me.

photos by J in JaM
post by m in JaM

Sunday, 30 October 2011


Sign at Tolga Bat Hospital
At Halloween we get to indulge in fear - of ghosts, goblins, bats and witches. Let's remember to release those fearful thoughts once Halloween is over. Bats get bad PR all year long. How many people know about the importance of bats in the environment or know about the problems of habitat loss?

Rehab for Spectacled Flying Foxes

Check out The Tolga Bat Hospital for information on conservation of bats and their habitat, and on the work being done in rescue, rehabilitation and release of hundreds of bats each year.

Besides admiring our native Australian fauna, I stay busy handspinning – tussah silk, Melanian wool from West Australia and cotton. I became aware of a need for storage for my growing collection of support spindles (with laser cut whorls), designed by J. He's produced this beta version storage rack:

Storage rack for spindles

Slowly, a number of my spindles began to fill with cotton cops. I wanted to use my Ashford wheel to ply the yarn. I knew it would be easier if I had a lazy kate to hold at lease two spindles. Using a sturdy cardboard box, J set up a simple lazy kate which works very well. A piece of iron (panel beater's form) placed on top keeps the lazy kate from shifting as I pull yarn off the spindles during the plying process. A bit of plastic foam glued to the bottom  holds each pointed spindle tip in place. I can tell J is considering modifications.

Lazy kate for support spindles

It's gratifying to solve problems using materials close at hand.

Bat pix by J.
Craft pix and post by M.

Monday, 24 October 2011


Unusual downpours took us by surprise this month as we normally get very little rain in October. Rainfall records got broken. Lightning blew holes in concrete walls in some offices in nearby town. No one injured but damage occurred to wiring and equipment. Some close strikes near our home made my heart skip a beat or two. We unplug the telephone, computer and such, sometimes all day long, but we had no real problems unless you count a very nervous dog shedding at high rate.

The rain drenched all the bushfires and cleaned the air of smoke. Now, there's a blessing. Within hours of the downpour, we started seeing a tinge of green sprouting across the formerly dry bushland. Our waterhole likely won't go dry this year.

The mine blasting has not disturbed us as much as we feared. Keeping fingers crossed that this remains the case. The mine's 24-hour work schedule does result in illuminated southern sky at night, looking much like the aliens have landed.


Kookaburras like to perch on top of this unused pipe which is leaned against a tree near the house. From there he can patiently scan the surrounding cleared ground for unwary skinks and bugs. He sometimes catches an unwary snake.

Kookaburra with snake

Spinning, like knitting and weaving, soothes my soul. My husband designed and presented me with a set of support spindles. I'm giving each spindle a trail run with cotton. The one below has an acrylic whorl with a laser cut out design and weighs around 22gm (about 3/4 oz). I'm lovin' it!


photos by J and post by M in JaM

Monday, 17 October 2011

My Auntie Ediee

Belle, Edith and me; 1948

Words come with difficulty as I puzzle over how to express my recollections of Auntie Ediee. My mother's younger sister, Auntie Ediee is there in my earliest memories, she's one of my mothers. And always, there are children and family around her. She knew how to knit the fabric of family together.

My earliest memory of her: I am a less than six years old and I play with my cousins inside, noisily, enthusiastically, several families together for a time, a tribe sharing a common space. The only adults in the room: Auntie Ediee sitting at a table and Uncle Roy standing beside her. I push a doll buggy past them, I realise she is crying, silently, tears rolling down her cheeks. I feel stunned. I want Uncle Roy to stop making her cry. But I know she doesn't want anyone to notice. She was probably 19 or 20.

A few years later, on Easter, our tribe went to the California foothills which were ablaze in golden poppies, for an egghunt. Cousin Roy Lee found a tiny bird's nest full of little eggs. What a glorious day. Years later I felt sure I had found that nest, but my sister said, no, Roy Lee found it. It took me a moment to readjust my memory and figure out what had happened - that Roy Lee seemed so much a part of me, that it had happened to me, too, when he found the nest.

When my parents moved to Oregon in 1951, Highway 101 was a two lane highway. Two cars pulling U-Haul trailers leapfrogged northward, one driven by Uncle Roy, the other by my Dad, hauling all our belongings, us kids plus the dog, to the dairy farm on the Winchuck River. Uncle Roy returned to his home in Southern California and with Aunt Ediee and the kids began making weekend visits to our place, leaving Southern California on Friday, helping Dad over the weekend, playing Canasta with my folks until late into the night, and returning south in time for work on Monday morning. Eventually they, too, packed up and moved in with us for a wonderful while. I loved having my younger cousins around, Roy Lee and I rode horses bareback until his pony's boney spine rubbed Roy Lee raw in an unfortunate place, and I know my Mom loved having her little sister for company.

Belle, Edith; 1953

Then one summer we moved in with Auntie Ediee and Uncle Roy after they had moved back to Petersburg, Virginia. Life in Virginia proved very different to me. Sheet lightning on humid summer afternoons left me awed. I had never encountered separate public drinking fountains for whites and blacks and I didn't want to drink at either. We had arrived in Virginia just in time for Debbie's birth. I don't know how we all fit in that house. Some afternoons we got treats from the ice cream truck that came through the neighbourhood and you had to eat it fast or Uncle Roy would attempt a raid on your cone. In those days before TV, he entertained us with fantastic ghost stories that left us deliciously frightened. Some days we ran outside when we heard the call: "Watermelon! Waaatermelon!" and stopped the man pushing a cart loaded with watermelon down the street. I learned to weave pot holders from a neighbor girl. She and I went from house to house, selling them as well as crocheted and starched, minature high heels that her mom made.  I remember Donna as a littlie with incredible, curly, red hair. Donna's most powerful threat when pushed to the limit: "I won't let you brush my hair anymore!" I remember Cheryl's big grin most of all. She usually had a twinkle in her eye.... but that sure didn't make her a pushover!

Both families ended up back on the West Coast, mainly in California, but the roving gene remained active. Roy Lee joined the Navy, Debbie ventured off to live in Africa for a while. Back in Northern California, Debbie encouraged Jerry and me to accompany her to see an incredible outdoor performance by a drama group traveling entirely by horse drawn wagons, down the West Coast, from Canada to Mexico. After the performance, we chatted with some of the performers. Someone exclaimed: "Oh, I'd love to do what you're doing, but....!" The performer replied, "You can do it. You just have to decide to do it." Bless your heart, Debbie, for taking us there.

Carrying the roving gene, I've moved halfway around the world to Australia, and I miss gathering with our family, our tribe, in memory of my beloved Auntie Ediee. I grapple with the loss of one of foundation stones of my life's beginnings. And that is how the cycle of Life and Death works.

Aunt Ediee continued to travel back and forth her whole life, spending time with her loved ones, and that special family circle continued to grow, to include grandchildren and great grandchildren as well as more distant cousins . She had to travel this last trip alone, surrounded by loved ones at the outset and surely surrounded by love on her arrival at Heaven's Gate.

Edith, 2002, Scotland (photo by Debbie)
Love and Peace to you all.

by M in JaM

Monday, 10 October 2011

Ready for a Spin?

Rainbow lorikeets in the grevilleas outside our bedroom (in September) make a lively contrast to the white cotton I've been spinning.

I've learned to spin cotton, thanks to the generousity of strangers. Last year a fellow found one of our old websites and emailed to ask if I'd be interested in having his mother's long stored spinning equipment and fibres. She was going into a nursing home. Amongst the supplies he passed along to me, I found cotton top (processed fibres aligned for spinning), a homemade support spindle and a series of printed lessons on handspinning from a Flying Arts correspondence course available in the '80s. This year I had the opportunity to give cotton spinning a go.

I already knew how to spin wool, silk and alpaca. But I had never used a support spindle nor spun cotton. My first efforts left me feeling very frustrated, I just couldn't get the hang of it. The booklet's instructions regarding support spindles and cotton were... brief.

I turned to YouTube and Ravelry to see how others managed. Total strangers provided useful videos and the best advice: practice 15 minutes a day for a month.

Though I improved over the month, I continued to have trouble drafting the fibres. One problem: long term storage had compacted the cotton top. But there was something else. Whenever I ran into drafting difficulties, I began examining the fibres with a magnifier. I discovered a prickly vegetal bit at the centre of each clumpy section. Fragments of seed hull? Since this cotton top came from the '80s, it was almost surely not intended for a handspinner, but instead meant for use in a spinning mill where inclusion of small vegetal bits would not be a big problem. For this handspinner, those vegetal bits made spinning laborious and slow.

I searched for any website relevant to cotton handspinning and finally discovered Cotton Spinning with Joan Ruane. What a treasure! Joan has developed Easy To Spin Pima Cotton, a vegetal-free form of pima cotton top, specifically for handspinners. I ordered a pound from Cotton Clouds, one of the retailers that carry Joan's product. My cotton spinning went from being a chore to being a pleasure! I'm now spinning this cotton on a support spindle and on my Ashford Traditional wheel with no problems.

What shall I do with my skeins of handspun cotton yarn? Wash and weave.

M in JaM

Monday, 3 October 2011


The past two years have whipped past, leaving major changes in their wake.

Sadly, amongst the changes – Bear, my daughter's father, died. This unique man saw me through radical changes over many years and remained one of my oldest friends. There are no words to fully express the enormous gap his absence leaves in many lives.

Lyricist Robert Hunter says it best in the closing lines of “An Anthem for the Bear”:

“No bucolic Heaven for such as Bear,
rather a Rock of Ages from where
an eagle in full flight might dare
a sudden detour into endless dawn.
Sail on, dear brother Bear, sail on.”
Robert Hunter
March 20, 2011

Life has a way of taking away with one hand and giving with the other. Just to keep some balance in life and to remind us of the joy in living: four grandchildren appeared! Three grandsons (including a pair of twins) and one granddaughter. Am I stretching the term grandchildren? as strictly speaking, we don't all share genetic relationships? In matters of the heart and family, yes, I do claim them all as grandchildren and count myself very lucky.


I could wish for the extra energy that flows in younger grandmothers, but instead I'm learning to recognise my physical limits and appreciate whatever time I get to spend with the grands. Two of them live on another continent. And that limits our involvement in their lives. Internet helps bridge the gap.

Even our home is undergoing changes. We now live with the sound of blasting at the newly reopened mine three kilometres (1-1/2 miles) behind us. Already the sky glows all night long in that direction as they work round the clock, although mine management assured us at a public meeting that the mine would only run between 6am and 10pm. Likewise, the blasting was to start in mid October. Their first blast occurred 26 September. They said they would only blast at 2pm. The most recent blast occurred at 4pm.

Between grandchildren and mining, our quiet solitude and dark night skies may be a thing of the past. We remind ourselves to count our blessings.

by M in JaM