New Year Musings

Now that the dust has settled after Christmas and the New Year has begun, it feels as though our lives are back to normal again.
It was wonderful having all our family around on Christmas Day. Because of the hot weather, Christmas lunch for us was a variation on the traditional Christmas meal. We had cold a cold ham and turkey salad followed by berries, fruit  and cream. We did, however, make some room for the traditional plum pudding with brandy sauce and cream. (I’m also loving the beautiful juicy stone fruit – peaches, nectarines and apricots) that at this time of year, we can buy from a local orchard).
 On the day after Christmas, Boxing Day,  all my extended family met up at my brother (Colin’s) place for a barbecue. We had around 28 people there, including seven children under the age of ten.
David and Yuki travelled all the way over from Perth with little Orin who is eleven months old. He coped well with the travel as well as the three hour time difference between his home and here. It was a joy to have him crawling around the kitchen floor and getting into everything, even though it was a test, at times, not to trip over him. He seems to only have just a few words – mum mum mum, and dadda, but his favourite word is “Ahdaa’ but none of us have any idea what it means. With his Japanese mother, he sure has a well regulated and organised life! One night, he did get to have a unique experience in having a bath with his little second cousin, Brodie, when he and my niece Erin popped in for dinner one night. Jill can’t see any family resemblance at all and Erin thinks that they look like chalk and cheese!

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Cathy’s oldest girl Audrey, is now eight and is becoming quite the young lady. She played a great ‘fill-in mother’ for Orin while he was visiting. On one day in the New Year, she had a full day with Grandy sewing and making clothes for her teddy bear. I didn’t know that eight year olds could concentrate that hard for so long! 
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Her little sister Violet (five years old) takes after her name knowledge-wise and can tell me the names of many of the flowers in our garden and most of the plants in my vegetable patch. She and Audrey were trying to think up a name for this spoonbill statue that Jill and I gave each other for Christmas. I suggested ‘Sylvester Spoonbill’ but they both thought that it was a pretty stupid name for the girl that they defined it was. It’s name is still undecided – perhaps just Mrs Spoonbill.
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We have put a lot of time into our garden over the last few months. The landscapers finished our garden renovation project in mid November. Since then, we have planted nearly 300 plants, reconfigured our garden irrigation system  and carted a lot of pine-bark mulch by wheelbarrow and spread it over the lower beds of the garden to reduce moisture loss. I think that the garden now looks fantastic and I have spent many hours just sitting on our garden seat looking at it and enjoying the sound of water running from our new water fountain. This is the first time that we have had a proper lawn. We used to have a collection of weeds, but now it is a green carpet of buffalo grass that will need very little watering and maintenance once it is fully established. I mowed it for the first time the other day, and I have to say it looks terrific when it is all even and trimmed!
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The weather here has been very fickle. In many ways it is the same type of Christmas weather that I remember as a kid. A few days before  Christmas the temperature was a very uncomfortable 41 C degrees. It was as hot as hell! Then it cooled down to about 20 C and we had over an inch of rain. Christmas Day was a horrible day with a hot northerly wind and a temperature of around 37 C. Bushfires wiped out a third of the little town of Wye River along the Great Ocean Road and fires to the north of Melbourne destroyed more homes. At the same time, Sydney (800 km tom our north) has had days of flooding rain. Figure that one out?
While David and Yuki were busy catching up with friends, Jill and I took advantage of s free day to visit the Yarra Valley. We had lunch at the RACV Club Healesville and then drove home the long way via Mount Donna Buang. It was a pleasant trip through dense forest along a windy, but narrow and dusty, road. This mountain provides the closest snow for us in winter. There is not enough for any skiing – just enough for snow play. It was here, where I first saw snow when I was 17 years old. It’s not my favourite stuff and most of the other times that I have been in the snow over my life have really been by accident. There were no skiers on the mountain on the day we visited – just a bunch of bogan cross-country motorbike riders having a boozy barbecue.
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I found a fault in my camera in November and sent it off to Olympus for repair. Fortunately, they returned it just before Christmas. I used it to photograph this Tawny Frogmouth that took up residence in one of our trees for a day. These are nocturnal birds of prey, but they are not related to owls. Tawny frogmouths and owls both have mottled patterns and wide eyes. However, owls possess strong legs, powerful talons, and toes with a unique flexible joint as they use their feet to catch prey. Tawny frogmouths catch their prey with their beaks and have fairly weak feet. Tawny frogmouths roost out in the open relying on their mottled camouflage to look like another branch of a tree. They build their nests in tree forks whereas owls roost hidden in thick foliage and build their nests in tree hollows. Tawny frogmouths have wide forward facing beaks for catching insects whereas owls have narrow downwards facing beaks for tearing prey apart. The eyes of tawny frogmouths are to the side of the face while the eyes of owls are fully forward on the face.
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Near Healesville, we stopped at a picnic place that was alive with Kookaburras. These birds are members of the Kingfisher family and grow to between 28–40 cm in length. Their loud cackling call sounds like echoing human laughter. They are found in habitats ranging from humid forest to grassland, but they also live in suburban areas with tall trees or near running water, however, they are not closely associated with water as are other kingfishers. We often hear them in the area around our house. These birds were watching some picnickers like a hawk (Kookaburra??), just waiting for a chance to swoop down and take a sausage right out of their hand as they were eating . They then sat on the ground, or a big branch, bashing it sideways, as they would with a snake, to kill it before eating it or feeding it to their young.
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After our time in Oregan and California late last year, I’ve been watching the Republican presidential nomination campaign with some interest. I’m amused by Donald Trump (an extreme capitalist) taking a very similar political line to Jeremy Corbyn ,the opposition leader in the UK (an extreme socialist). Both want to increase protection, build walls around their countries to prevent immigration and limit freedoms, including that of religion. To me it just shows the similarities of extremism. From my humble perspective, I doubt whether the Republicans will win the next presidential election. They seem so divided and the policies of their party seem well out of touch with the average person in the street. I’m expecting that Hillary Clinton will be in the White House in 2017 as the first woman president. I’m glad I’m not an American and having to go through a full year of the relentless campaigning that will follow on from these rounds of pre-selection. It must be very tiring.
Well, that, amongst other things will all wash out during the next twelve months. For now, it’s catching up with the dozen or so friends that we agreed ‘we must get together with in the New Year’. It’s also time for planning some of our travel that we might do  throughout 2016, and catching uo with some other maintenance jobs around the house.
We trust that all our friends are enjoying a good start too the New Year and we look forward to being in contact throughout 2016.


Bruce is a keen traveller and photographer. This web site describes his travel and family interests

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