Tomato Seedlings

I won’t start by yet again whingeing about how infrequently I’ve been making it out into the garden – you’ve all heard that before – today’s post is about what I HAVE managed to do recently.  And this is for you Glenn, you wanted more garden news and what can I say, I aim to please!

Some weeks ago I scavenged half an hour out of my day to do something about my spring/summer garden knowing if I didn’t get my act into gear I wouldn’t be harvesting much of anything.  I also had a bunch of new seeds to have a play with as well as some that I had saved from last year.  I had also been gathering some much needed advice about growing from seed in seed trays after a pretty dismal history in this department.  This advice needed trying out.

My first step was to line my seed trays with some cardboard.  This would stop the seeds being washed down through the gaps when I watered them (which happened last year I think) and also absorb some of the moisture to release back into the soil later – well that’s my thinking anyway.  The tomato seeds I had saved (wild sweeting, a dark cherry variety and a nameless cherry variety – I thought I had saved the lemon drops seeds as well, but if so they have since disappeared) had been squeezed on to paper towel, spread out a little and then left to dry before being stored (still on the paper towel).  All I did was lay the sheets of paper towel in the half filled seed trays and cover them with more seed-raising mix.  A couple of weeks in the green house and I had this – a very crowded mass of gorgeous little seedlings, YAY!

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Today I pricked out three of each and repotted them into larger pots on their own.  I have popped them back in the green house to get a bit biggger (advice being to give them plenty of seaweed solution or worm wee to get them going) and then they’ll go in the ground.  It will be a little later than the Cup Day tomato planting instruction, but hopefully not too long.

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I week or so after I planted the first lot of seeds I tried some new tomato seeds varieties, some in a seed tray as per the above with the cardboard at the bottom, and some in smaller seedling punnets.  I put the bigger tray into the outside greenhouse and the rest into a make shift green house in the laundry – a nice sunny room..  Of these ones, I only have 1 grosse lisse seed that had germinated – BOO!  I don’t know what has happened to the others.  I tell you, there is a lot riding on that one grosse lisse!!!

Grow lisse, grow!!

Grow lisse, grow!!

Now more advice needed – should I give those seeds a bit longer?  Should I replant into seed trays/seedling pots?  Or should I throw some straight in the ground and see what happens?

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Wednesday Reads – Railsea by China Meiville

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Prepare for the bizarre!  Railsea is not the kind of book I would otherwise pick up if it wasn’t for book club.  It is just about as far as you can get out of my reading comfort zone…. but I’m really glad I read it.  For those unfamiliar with Mieville he has quite the cult following and writes for both young adults and adults in a style that has been described as “fantastic fiction” or even “weird fiction” (a term he uses about his own writing).  And weird it is.  This is the kind of book that leaves you baffled as to what goes on in the heads of others.

Railsea, it seems crosses the young adult/adult divide and is aimed at ‘everybody’.  It’s not a difficult read as some of his adult fiction novels are known to be, but it was, for me, a stretch to get my head around the concept and form a visual perception of the world he was creating.  To understand Railsea you need to imagine a sort of post-apocalyptic world where instead of oceans you have endless (or perhaps not) and entwining railway lines.  I know, just try and get your head around that one first!  Next picture all sorts of trains, war trains, supply trains, salvage trains (think scrap collection) and mole trains, in same way we have war ships, cargo ships, fishing boats etc.  Now I hear you saying “what the heck is a mole train?” and that brings me to the next weird concept the books is based on.  Underneath this sea of rails is the ground but it is toxic for humans to, what does inhabit this noxious earth are all sorts of weird, often giant, tunneling moles which are hunted by the operators of the mole train.  Have you got all that?  Good, let’s move on.

The central character is a young doctor’s apprentice by the name of Sham Yes ap Soorap (see, even the names are weird) who is new to the Medes, a mole train.  Sham’s talents as a doctor in training are limited, very limited, but he becomes entwined in the railsea journey and can’t help but think there is more to life than the never-ending tracks.  He sets out on a unexpected quest to discover what else is out there with the help of an even weirder pair of siblings with their own goal in mind and the crew of the Medes.  It is a fascinating depiction of a strange yet compelling world, influenced heavily by Moby Dick (a book I have no intention of picking up).

This is where I get honest though.  I expected to hate this books and at first I really did.  Like I said to get your head around the whole idea is a challenge.  Then throw in countless wacky names and the author’s obsession with using the ampersand (&) instead of ‘and’, and you get a book that really takes its toll on the grey matter.  I did get over most of that – the ampersand thing drove me to distraction throughout and I found it unnecessarily broke the flow of the writing – to enjoy it enough to give it a 3 stars.  However, in the spirit of honesty, I’m probably never going to pick up another Meiville book, but I definitely will recommend him to those who like a bit of sci-fi or fantasy or distopia fiction, especially young adults.

So what’s the weirdest book you’ve ever read?  Do you follow a particular author in a cult-like fashion?

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Good book club – October 2014

I haven’t been writing much lately, we seem to have hit a bump in the ‘we never get sick’ road. And today is another day that has me on the couch, Miss Five in bed and Miss Three chugging along at full speed, bored and stir crazy. We are so gearing up for school transition which officially starts tomorrow (how the heck did that happen?), finishing (well, struggling with would be a more accurate description) my last uni assignment for the year and other busy family-life stuff.

However, it’s book club night tonight and every time I talk about it Miss Five asks if she and I can start a book club. And of course anything Miss Five does, Miss Three will follow. So here you have it, our first video blog book club.

These are really fun books, perfect for age five to perhaps ten or twelve and would be great for young readers to read on their own.  As it is I have read this one multiple times for Miss Five and she has been found several times lying on her bed pouring over the pages (much to her mothers delight).  This is the first in a series so it should keep us going for a while.

Miss Three’s video review is a little less comprehensible, but that’s not because she loves this book any less.  Mr Good and I have read this one to death – it’s one I sometimes hide when I just can’t face it again.  While it’s certainly not my favourite it is still a lovely book.  There’s a princess, pink sparkly wool that you can feel and follow on each page and nice rhyming text.

The girls had so much fun making these videos Miss Five declared she wanted to do one every day.  I’ll spare you that but I think there may be more to come.

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Garden Share Collective – October 2014

I am embarrassingly late with this post, but I wanted to get something written at least for my own records, so I will attempt to make this brief (not my strong suit).

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Firstly Planting – YAY I actually did some!!

So far I have planted in seed trays: tomatoes (8 varieties, perhaps that was overkill!), eggplant (2 varieties), capsicum (2 varieties), pumpkin (butternut), cucumber (Lebanese) and zucchini (green and yellow).

In the ground I have planted: Potatoes (kipler and pink fir) mixed lettuce, mustard greens, pak choy, choy sum.

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Potato cage with a layer of pea straw (look closely and you’ll see the plants in there somewhere)

I also planted mature plants of flat leaf parsley, rosemary, lemon thyme and cavolo nero.

Finally I tidied up some pots which are now looking pretty nice.

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Growing: Silverbeet, rocket, lettuce, spring onions, snow peas, broad beans, garlic, potatoes, green and purple sprouting broccoli and strawberries.

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Harvesting: Silverbeet, rocket, lettuce, spring onions, parsley, rosemary, lemon thyme, snow peas, broccoli and my one and only red cabbage.

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To do:
A little weeding – though this is just a small job now.
Water the seedlings in the green house and in the ground (if it doesn’t rain)
Put a rocket under Mr Good to get my garden path finished!!!!!
More planting
Prepare the garden beds for the maturing seedlings

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Political Dramas…. my obsession

It won’t come as much of a surprise to some people that I have a slight obsession with watching political dramas.  I love them, especially the nitty gritty behind the scenes ones.  As such I was pretty excited that two brand new political dramas started airing on commercial TV (not somewhere I venture often) in the last fortnight, both on Channel 10.

The first one I caught was the Australian production, Party Tricks with Asher Keddy and Rodger Corser.  I’ll admit at the start here that I’m not the avid Keddy fan that many people are.  I loved her in Paper Giants, but Offspring was not my thing and her character, Nina, drove me mad.  I know, I’m out on a limb all of my own on that front.  I was hoping in Party Tricks she would bring more of the Ita and less of the Nina, and be a strong, assertive leader.  Two episodes in and I feel like this is the Nina Proudman turned politician show.  I’m also frustrated that it seems the only political drama depicting a woman in leadership to be made in Australia and aired on a commercial station is one which focuses on a sex scandal.  Wouldn’t it be great to have a hard hitting, intelligent Australian political drama with a female leader that didn’t centre around her love life?  I’m undecided whether I will give this another episode to prove itself – it’s been dubbed a dramedy, but for me it’s failing in both comedy and drama – but I feel it very unlikely that I will see this through to its conclusion.

Also airing on Channel 10, it the highly acclaimed American political drama Madam Secretary starring Tea Leoni as the new secretary of state, Elizabeth Faulkner McCord.  For me this is so much more successful on so many levels.  Firstly Tea Leoni’s character, Elizabeth, is strong, confident and smart.  She has a decided dislike for the image women in politics are expected to portray, the focus on clothes, hair and so on (does that remind of anything?  Julia and her jackets perhaps?) and refuses to play that game…. except when she uses that unwanted attention for good, an interesting paradox in itself.  As well as being secretary of state Elizabeth is also a wife and a mother, the juggle of this adds another layer that feels very real to the show.  I read a newspaper article by Annabel Crab recently about female politicians needing ‘wives’ at home to keep it all going.  The idea that husbands can take at least an equal share, if not the lead, in ones home life is still pretty foreign.  The usual take on females in position of power is that they are either childless or wracked with guilt for being where they are and not at home.  Of course, this is a pretty true account of many women’s experiences, but isn’t it time that attitude in society changed.  Madam Secretary has move mostly away from that – there has been a bit of the guilty mother stuff, but not much – and that is a great thing.  The issues arising in the show so far have also been pretty relevant to current political and world events – Middle Eastern kidnappings of westerns for example.  Seeing the way politicians or leaders negotiate (at least on TV, it’s probably vastly different in real life) their way through situations is fascinating.  I have high hopes for the rest of the season.  Let’s see if it meets my expectations.

Although, if you want really, truly wonderful – perhaps faultless – political drama there are two, in my opinion, head and shoulders above everything else.  They are, of course, West Wing and the Danish series Borgen.  The former is my go-to I-need-a-break-from-the-mummy-stuff show.  It gives me a little over half an hour down time during the day.  I pop ABC kids on in the family room for the girls and I watch an episode of West Wing in the lounge room.  I makes me remember I’m an adult with a functioning brain…. and because I know there’s nothing racey, violent or sweary in it if the girls wander through I’m not concerned about what they’ll hear or see.  They think it’s totally boring because it’s just people talking so I get a few minutes alone.  Heaven!  The latter, Borgen, has been airing on SBS and I would highly recommend all 4 seasons.  It’s another with a female leader, but in the more open-minded Scandinavian environment it seems worlds away from where we have been in Australian politics with regard to gender roles.

So political dramas, love or hate?  What are you favourites?  And what other great stuff have you been watching?

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Mental As week on the ABC

I may be just about to disclose my inner old fogey here, but I’m a pretty dedicated ABC viewer (with a bit of SBS thrown in).  I rarely make it over to commercial channels (with the exception of the new series, Madam Secretary) and when I do I generally become agitated by some inane commentary, insipid drama or unfunny comedy.  I’m being harsh here, perhaps too harsh, there are clear exceptions to this rule but not many!

This week on the ABC it’s all about mental health and mental illness, and I feel like my brain has been expanding at a rapid rate during the viewing so far.  I’ve also been reading a fellow Ballarat blogger Ellen, who writes over at Potential Psychology, and who has been writing on mental health every day this week.

I’m lucky enough to have had pretty good mental health for most of my life, so I lot of what I’ve been watching or reading has given me a new perspective on what living with mental illness might be like.  Scarily though 50% of Australians will suffer from some form of mental illness at some point in their lives, often beginning in adolescence – something I should have been more aware of as a secondary teacher.  While my mental health is pretty good, I’ve also realised that I’ve probably had a few times when that hasn’t been true.  I was an impossibly shy child/teenager to the point where I wasn’t able to do some normal things and my anxiety levels were very much raised when I was out of my comfort zone.  This included talking to adults, especially doctors and some teachers one-on-one, making phone calls to people I didn’t know, public speaking, really any time where I had to say something to or have a conversation with someone outside my close family and friends.  My Mum never understood this – it was not something she had had any experience with – and would push (force?) me to do these things without any support.  Her philosophy was that if she did it for me I’d never learn how to do it myself and I should just suck it up and do it.  I get that, but I think having been there myself I would approach the situation quite differently as a parent in the same situation.  Although at this point in time my kids seem very confident and nothing like I was.

I have fought an internal battle since I was about 16 and made the conscience decision to try to overcome my nervousness.  I’ve come a very long way.  But there are still things I can’t quite take control of.  Going to the doctors is one – I get ridiculously nervous, have trouble controlling my voice, get shaky and generally feel crap.  Needless to say I avoid the doctor.  I get this way even if I’m going with my kids.  The only time I can manage to control my anxiety is if I’m going for something quite straight forward or tangible which requires little verbal explanation.  For example, if I need a pap smear or if the girls have a rash for something I can SHOW the doctor.  Any time I have to actually express what I’m feeling like or some intangible concern I have with one or other of the girls I become a complete mess.  I hate it, I wish I could get over it, but there it is.

I’ve also had a few times when I’ve been what I call ‘down’ or ‘in a funk’.  I usually just force myself out of bed and get through the day, do something that makes me feel good like being in the garden or exercising and pull myself out of it.  Sometimes this takes a little longer than others, but in the end the feeling always dissipates.  The fact that I can do this probably means it’s not really depression, but I do understand to some extent that inability to get out of bed and participate in the world that true depression suffers experience.

Anyway, I wanted to share a few things I’ve watched this week that have expanded my understanding and given me a much greater insight into mental health.

From Potential Psychology I found these two TED talks.   The first is Ruby Wax on mental illness – funny!

The second is by Eleanor Longdon talk about her own mental illness, schizophrenia and is a fascinating first hand account of the appearance of voices in her head.

Then on iview I would highly recommend Felicity Ward’s Mental Mission, which I really related to.  And if you’ve got a bit more time I found Changing Minds totally fascinating.  It’s about a secure psychiatric ward in an Australian hospital and the patients who are admitted to the unit.  Lastly, if you aren’t already, get on Josh Thomas’ Please Like Me bandwagon.  It’s very funny, well written and under appreciated in Australia.  Last night the played an encore screening of the episode when Josh and his on-screen mother go hiking after a friend of hers committed suicide.  I can’t find a link to that one, but the whole show it worth watching.

On final thing I’ve done is to make a mental health promise to myself here.  Mine was to get outside regularly and to get enough sleep.  Lack of both sends me into a funk.  Why don’t you go and add your own promise to the wall?  It can be something to do for your own mental health or something to support others.

All this talk about mental illness and mental health  is a really wonderful step in reducing stigma, making workplaces and schools better able to cope with and support people with mental illness  and hopefully improve professional support services that are easily accessible when it’s most needed.  There is a lot of work to do in this area by all of us.  What are your thoughts?  I’d love to hear from you, so leave me a comment.

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Wednesday Reads – A Fortunate Life by A. B. Facey

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This is an Australian classic and ranked highly in the ABC Book Club’s top 10 Aussie books.  It’s a little sad, then, that it has taken an avid reader like me 35 years to get to this one despite growing up in a house that always had a copy of the shelves (oops, did I just give away my age?).  On a side note, there is still one book from the top ten list I’m yet to read, how about you?

In the end I discovered this via audio books, it was available immediately and I wanted something right away.  I’m glad I did, and as I said in my previous post on audio books, I loved listening to the mellow tones of the older male narrator.  It was like sitting with Pa listening to stories, his stories being no less fascinating than A. B. Facey’s.

This is a tale of an ordinary man living through some extraordinary times including two world wars and the great depression.  It’s written exactly as a man of his generation would speak it, nothing fancy just plain, clear language.  Having said that there were a couple of times where a little glossing over the detail would have been appreciated, he was VERY specific!!  One such example was the description of a well on a rural property Facey was living on.  By the end of the lengthy passage I knew the depth and diameter of the well, the length of the rope that was lowered (and something about counter weights that I didn’t quite get), the diameter and volume of the buckets used to bring up the water in and how many times the bucket would need to be filled to get the water required.  It kind of reminded me of the level of detail about trains and railway gauges offered up in The Railway Man (and probably wasn’t helped by the fact that I had just finished that book).

The other thing I couldn’t quite get my head around was the title.  Was it supposed to be ironic or not?  In some ways A. B. Facey had shockingly bad luck.  His mother was a complete piece of work, abandoning him very early in his life, leaving him to be raised by his grandmother, and then reappearing to reap whatever kind of financial reward she could.  As a young boy/teenager he was forced into service on a number of farms where he was whipped, poorly treated and never paid – despite his ‘employers’ promises of wages.  He got lost and survived in the outback for several days without food or water.  He was sent to Gallipoli and was badly injured.  He had great difficulty finding work he could do after the war.  His efforts at farming during the Great Depression with drought and plummeting wool, wheat and livestock prices fell over completely and he lost a son in World War II.  All terrible experiences for one person to have to endure.  On the other hand, those times were tough, terrible times for lots of people and if you look at things the other way you see he was lucky.  Lucky to have a grandmother to care for and love him, lucky to learn the agricultural skills that would later see him landing on his feet time after time, lucky to come home from Gallipoli at all and lucky to get a war pension that could be depended upon during the tough depression years.  He had four sons, who all went to war, he was lucky to have three come home.  He was lucky to get land as a soldier settler and to marry a woman who shared the burdens of the hard times and the joys of the good.  In the end I think the title is what it is and I’m probably over thinking it.  I can’t imagine A. B. Facey putting such time and effort into discerning its deeper meaning.

A Fortunate Life deserves it’s place in the list of Aussie books.  It’s a unique first hand account of a part of history that made Australia what it is today.  This was when our nation was forged together as a distinct people with an identity to defend and freedoms to protect.  Whether that identity is as relevant today is a discussion for another time.  So if this little piece of Australian literature has been staring at you from your to-read list, it’s time to give it a go…. maybe on audio book.

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