Friday, January 30, 2009


So, I am back at work after the longest holiday I have had in some years. And it's yucky here. The things that I miss when I'm at home (working email, working printer) are broken. Its 33° C in here and I'm not allowed to keep a change of clothes in the fridge, like I would at home.

Today I am dropping off the eight drawings that are going to hang in Magnolia Café for 8 weeks. I hope I will get a few bites. Six of them were drawn in 1998 and were part of a solo show I had that year, that was fun but unsuccessful on the sales front.

I am quite nervous about it all. I have lived with the others for so long that I accept them for what they are. When I look at the two new ones I can't take my eyes off the mistakes and occasional ham-fistedness.

If they were someone else's and I was trying to be nice I would say "wow - there's certainly a lot of work in those!" I could never be accused of making it look easy.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Australia Day sports wrap

On Wednesday evening at Little Athletics, Michael won his second toddler race. This time it was a large and more experienced field, but he rose to the challenge and flew home in style. Marcus also had a good night, with personal bests in 3 of his 4 events.

Today is the last day of my very long holiday break, stretching back to Dec 24th. One thing I will miss is the daily cricket match on the deck with Marcus. Michael usually gets on with his important quarrying work and experiments with dirt. If the ball goes his way he's happy to field it. Today he decided to umpire, and in fact was umpiring from Silly Mid Off. You could call his style "consensus umpiring" - as he has no idea about the rules he asks both of us "is that out?" after every ball.

Both have been watching a lot of cricket on TV for the first time this summer. Marcus is soaking up cricket jargon like a sponge. For overseas readers, the most important fact to know about cricket is that everything has a picturesque name. There really is a fielding position called Silly Mid Off. On the radio they run through the fielding positions as set by the captain - he can move them around any time. This will sound something like "There's a Deep Third Man just moving a bit squarer now, Extra Cover, Cover Point, Gully, Silly Mid Off, Mid On, Short Midwicket, Deep Backward Square, and a Fine Leg.

Kids hear the term "versus" and assume it is an adjective in present tense - they then extrapolate that one team is "versing" another. This still isn't mashed into shape enough for Michael, who likes to say that South Africa is "bursting" Australia in the cricket. He's quite right in fact - they have handed us a cricket lesson this summer, and its not over yet.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Michael turns five with good grace

Yesterday was Michael's fifth birthday. I remember being five myself, very clearly, so this birthday is a bit of a milestone for me, as was Marcus's fifth. The boys brains now are making the memories they will keep into old age.

Luckily his birthday fell on Saturday and we had his party right on the day. He woke up not particularly excited, but not quacking with grumpiness as with previous birthdays. He wasn't demanding to stay four, as he had demanded to stay three (and previously two). When Marcus brought in the presents Michael began to liven up.

Last week I took him in to Australian Geographic to look at prospective presents, so we knew he would like what we bought. From us he has a set of stick-on-glow-in-the-dark planets and stars, now adorning the ceiling of his room. From Marcus he has a solar system jigsaw - a very basic one but he loves it all the same. It came with a natty poster of the old S. system. In fact there are two double-sided posters, so now we can also use them to learn Spanish, French and German!

S. system merchandisers have adjusted to the new 'No Pluto' scheme of things, but what they didn't reckon on was Dwarf Planet Creep. Most of the material we are seeing says there are 3 dwarf planets (Eris, Ceres, Pluto), but there are currently five (+ Haumea and Makemake). Stay tuned for updates.

We put a fair amount of energy and stress into a party, and thankfully it all went well. Michael's choice of his kinder classmates came by with parents and some siblings, and everyone seemed to have a very nice time. Elf and I don't go all that much on party games, and for the fives we thought we could get away with just some kite flying and a general invitation to swing, bounce, and get immersed in lego. Three at a time were in the hammock.

I set up a treasure hunt at the park above our house, by way of getting kids up to the kite flying venue. Unfortunately, once I had set down 12 kinder eggs in quite a large field, I couldn't see even one of them. Somehow they were all tracked down. Kites flew. I scrambled down the hill to get hats for the hatless, as the sun was beating down. As I was scrambling back up again the rain began. It was that kind of day.

Michael really enjoyed his party and his whole day. He has a really nice bunch of friends, and we could tell by watching them all together that they are very fond of him. The parents are are also a good lot, very interesting people. But boy were we pleased when they all left! The wind down is so pleasant, after spending a few days getting everything scrubbed, wrapped and sorted out. The boys played with the new loot most of the afternoon and Elf and I lay about like (well dressed and attractive) sloths. One month from now Marcus turns seven.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Boys on holiday

Marcus gets up at six, Michael usually a little bit later. Despite being on holiday there seems no way on earth we can persuade them to stay abed just a tad longer.

Friday, January 23, 2009

More drawing progress

I can't send emails at the moment, so this is the only way I can give my Mum a look at the way this is shaping up. I can tell, now that I have seen it this way, that I need to tweak the angle of the rug a bit.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

1250 metres up

The other day I took the boys up to the top of Mt Wellington. We've been for a few walks on the mountain lately, but not right to the pinnacle. It was a hot day and I was feeling sick of sweating every time I moved.

It was beautiful up top. Not much wind, didn't need jumpers. The boys just wanted to set off west across the alpine tundra. I struggled to keep them on a track, or at least on a bit of already-trodden ground.

Some days when I am up there I just want to look over the city and down the river and out to sea. Other days I am more attracted to the view west, over the Wild Heritage Area. I am not a bushwalker's bootlace, so it gives me a thrill to look out over this vast tract of land that would be the end of me, if I was to head off into it alone.

As you near the top of Pinnacle Road, the vegetation gets sparser and lower and tougher. Its a very harsh environment for plants, and my understanding is that small plants with very small leaves or needles, and lichen are the only things that will thrive up there. It's wonderful to get up there on a calm, warm day in summer. There are flowers and insects and animals on show that you would never suspect were possible, on a normal day (normal being sub-zero with a gale blowing straight through you).

We saw a few different kinds of crickets, including these. The one below is in the top left of picture, camouflaged to match the lichen. We saw skinks twice the size of the ones that dart about our garden at home. We saw a strange diamond-shaped fluttering thing, that turned out to be two insects mating on the wing. Impressive.

We climbed a few piles of rocks, culminating in the actual Pinnacle with a trig point on top of it. Michael thought this was beyond excellent. He is very fond of the word "pinnacle" but it comes out differently every time.

On the way down we stopped at the spot where a spring gushes down a rock wall just by the road. I have seen people many times filling bottles here, and I'm sure I have done it myself. I seem to remember it being quite easy. This time I was wet through by the time I had two small bottles of spring water, much to the amusement of my children. Judging by the temperature, the spring was fed by snowmelt. Very refreshing.

Rob and I spray marginal farmland with golf balls

Rob and I just went for a round of golf. We were planning to go to Richmond but Rob missed the turn due to the intensity of the discussion we were having, so we kept on straight and ended up at Forcett Lakes. There is a lot of earthmoving going on there, and they are obviously planning great things, but presently its a bit of a marginal grazing land interspersed with small swamps. The greens were tiny and even at 2pm on a 28° day, sopping wet.

However if the course gets about 3 out of 10, Rob and I as golfers get 2 and 1 respectively. Rob went round in 63, just shading my 65. This sounds pretty good, until you realise that was only over 9 holes. We actually did better than we expected. I have played golf maybe four times, the last about twelve years ago. I lost two balls and Rob lost one on the last hole. We didn't kill anyone with a savage slice. I did hit my ball off the premises twice, and had to retrieve one from among a reclining herd of (I think) black angus.

We rounded the day off with curried scallop pies among the tourists at Richmond. A top afternoon.

Friday, January 16, 2009

New drawing in progress

This is a reference image for a drawing I am doing of our house. Elf's mum Felicity commissioned the drawing. The drawing has three panels; the exterior seen from the northeast, the big room upstairs including the view to the northeast, and a collage of small sketches of other aspects of the house.

The upstairs room is shown from the kitchen, and that is where I am working on the drawing. I didn't realise until I saw the photo that the drawing in progress is in the foreground.

Boys at work

Michael is continuing his attempts to depict the entire solar system in detail on a single sheet of a4 paper.

We went for as walk to Sphinx Rock on Mt Wellington. Marcus saw a small marsupial with a long nose, and did this drawing on returning home.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

State of the nation

Michael is still obsessed with the solar system. He is maniacally trying to classify the size of everything. He doesn't ask questions as much as make statements and wait to see if they are accepted.
Dad - Jupiter is this soccer ball, and Earth is this lump of mud! Dad - the Sun is this lampshade, and Venus is this marble! Dad - the Sun is the biggest star of all. The Moon is a galaxy! Dad - the Moon is not a galaxy, it is a star. Dad - the Earth is like the Sun's moon! All the planets are like the Sun's moons! etc.
This segues neatly into...
Dad - Asia is the biggest country! Dad - Asia is a continent! What is Asia's flag? What is Antarctica's flag? I thought Australia was a country. How can it be a continent if it has a flag? etc.
Also recently - "Dad - I know what came after the cavemen. The Olden Days". And "Dad, God made us, but he didn't make our language!" This was just before he was dropped off with Elf's sister. I left her to deal with the follow-up questions after I made a passing reference to the Tower of Babel.

Marcus is also pushing me into new areas of knowledge. We had been talking of the moons of Saturn, Neptune etc, and the boys demanded I give them hard numbers. We looked a few things up on Wikipedia, and we came to the dwarf planet Haumea, which is apparenty coated with a crust of ice. Marcus's eyes lit up and he said "If we could go there with some kind of heating device we could live there!

Tiny athletes

Marcus is continuing to enjoy Little Athletics. He's got another batch of badges for me to sew on in my endearing wonky way. This evening we attended an evening meet for the first time, kicking off at 5.30. It was very pleasant down at the track, after a stuffy sort of hot day. The club meets down by Long Beach, and there is usually a sea breeze.

I had to take Michael with me, and had anticipated some trouble keeping him out of the long jump sandpits and out of the path of javelins and discii and so on. He surprised me by being very interested in the actual competitions taking place, and awfully keen to run, run, run everywhere. Not madly like a toddler, but purposefully, like a runner. "Dad, I'm going to run over to that black thing and back!" "Dad, I'm going to run over to that red thing then to the black thing and then back!" etc.

His moment arrived with the toddler race. He announced "I'm going to win this race because all the rest are just little kids". I felt a bit guilty as he is nearly five, and there were a few two year olds taking part. I was assured that if he's too young to register for Under 6, then this is the race for him. He streeted the toddler field, and was very, very proud. We've realised in recent years that he is an excellent runner, and he looked great streaming down the track. When the big kids had finished he had a go at the discus as well.

Meanwhile in the deadly serious world of the Under 7s, Marcus did two personal bests in a row in the long jump, ran a terrific 2nd in the 150 metres, and just outside his personal best in the 100m. So we had fish and chips to celebrate.

As tragic as a hat full of Monkeys

So, the Sea Monkeys didn't last all that well. Yesterday Marcus wanted to do an experiment wherein you put a hat over their tank for an hour, then take it off. They freak out in the daylight, for the amusement of all and the advancement of science.

I said no to this, on the grounds that a hat with a tank under it will be mistaken for a hat without a tank under it, and the tank will be spilled. Marcus did it anyway and the inevitable happened. I found a puddle on the floor with Sea Monkeys swimming about in it, and my hat saturated, and presumably full of Sea Monkeys and grime. I had to apply a bit of leverage to get Marcus to admit he was responsible.

I used a straw to gingerly pipette about four sea monkeys off the floor, back into the tank. They were in a serious condition and deteriorated overnight - we took the last one off artificial life support today. Marcus was distraught yesterday. He said through his sobs "I killed something!!". By this evening he was making Dead Sea Monkey jokes.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Illustration is fanciful.

Sea-Monkeys are such an old standby. They were advertised in Archie comics when I was a lad, along with chest expanders, X-ray spex and hovercars. The promotional material is so outrageously inaccurate (they do NOT smile at you, and females do NOT wear a bow in their hair for easy identification), that they have always been an easy target for the kind of comedians who like easy targets. There are NO Sea-Monkey jokes left, folks.

However - the boys got some for Christmas, and I am actually seeing them and their Official Handbook for the first time in my life. The Monkeys© are pretty much like something you buy a water filter to avoid. The Handbook however, is a laugh riot. This is consistent with me usually finding culture more diverting than nature. On the front it says "Hybrid Artemia Salina (Brine Shrimp). Illustration is fanciful - does not depict Artemia". At the back is an order form. Highlights:

Item No. 69 Sea-Monkeys© "Banana Treat" - $4.00
"'s a TREAT for your favourite pals and a wonderful way to REWARD them for the FUN they give you! A long-lasting supply of tasty "dessert" for your aquatic pals that provides health-giving vitamins, minerals and LOVE!"

Item No. 84 Cupids Arrow Mating Powder - $4.00
"For shy Sea-Monkeys© afraid of 'marriage', this fabulous formula will give them a quick trip to the 'altar'! Once 'hooked', former 'bachelor' Sea-Monkeys© will fill your tank with oodles of cute babies - fast!"

Item No. 350 The Amazing Sea-Bubble Pendant - $7.50
"Expect everyone to gasp in awe and envy when they see you wearing the beautiful 'Sea-Bubble' with up to six Sea-Monkeys© swimming inside..."

I would like to add that in researching this post (stealing a pic) I found this blog comment; "There Brine shrimp and thats what I feed to my false percula clowns". I am hoping this person is holding captive some real false clowns.

I would like to also add that the Monkeys© are a product of Educational Insights - Sea Monkey Division. I am inspired, and when I get back to work after my school holiday break I will be asking if Roar Film could also establish a Sea Monkey Division. Maybe to take very small projects, grow them a little bigger, then throw them out when they start to get a bit whiffy.

Monday, January 05, 2009


Last week -
Me: Come on Michael - put your shoes on.
Michael: (venomously) YOU are an ANNOYING EGGBEATER!!! (puts on shoes).

This afternoon -
Me: Come on Michael - time to go home.
Michael: (darkly threatening) YOU are a SAFETY PIN!!! (exits).

Last night -
Me: Come on Michael- go to the toilet then in to bed.
Michael: (savagely) My digging feet are RUSTLING!!!! (exits).

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Shark carcass! barked Marcus

On Thursday I went for a walk along Turners Beach with Mum, Marcus and Michael. Marcus spotted something and shouted his head off. He often does over-the-top excitement but this was really something. He'd found the carcass of a little shark, lying on its back, with its big toothy mouth grinning up at us. It was about 14 inches long.


I do not know if he was right or not, but I was delighted by his enthusiasm and his interest in nature. He reads a LOT of natural history picture books. I wouldn't know a Port Jackson from a Grey Nurse myself.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Flappy Gnu Ears

Yes, as they say in the traditional greeting of Kenya and northern Uganda, Flappy Gnu Ears to you all.

We headed four hours north to Mum and Dad's on New Year's Eve. Our friends Alex and Suparna from Melbourne came to Tasmania to spend Christmas with Alex's parents, and brought with them their 4 month-old Etta. As they live only a twenty minute drive from my parents on the north west coast, we went up to visit them and stay a couple of nights.

Before we set off, I did some last minute washing-up while Michael sat at the table playing with a bead and a cardboard tube. Twenty minutes later he and I were downtown at Emergency Admissions, after the bead somehow found its way up his nose.

I struck a bargain with him on the way in that there would be no futile yelling and recriminations from Elf and I as long as he did exactly what he was told to help us get it out. When the triage nurse asked us how it happened, I said that Michael claimed not to know, and the main thing was to get it out. She wrote "self-administered bead in nose". He stuck to the deal, stayed calm and co-operated admirably, but it still took us nearly three hours from bead insertion to getting home and setting off on the long drive north.

Elf and I were both very tired and there was some weary driving. Mum and Dad set off at about 8am so they were comfortably ensconced by the time we got there. We flopped out of the car and had a very quiet New Year's Eve, all heading for bed about 10. Marcus and dad and I played the third hand of a game of mah jongg that had started in Hobart the day before. Marcus had a concealed kong of green dragons, which beat my revealed pung of my own wind and Dad's chow of bamboos.

On New Years Day we drove up the Forth Valley to Graham and Esther Tyers' little farm. Mum and Dad live down by the mouth of the Forth River, where the tide and the river flow struggle in a [insert heroic nature metaphor here]. The road up the valley hugs the west bank of the river and it's really quite spectacular. In a few spots where the river bends 90°, you could look straight up the river. It's prone to very sudden rises in level, and someone drowned in it the summer before last.

Graham and Esther have a little bit of verdant paradise, safely tucked in just above the confluence of the Wilmot and Forth Rivers. Their property is by the gentle Wilmot and even has a safe swimming hole. Graham raises poultry, and actually appeared in one of the top documentaries of 2008, called Rare Chicken Rescue. The boys got a kick out of the chooks, especially the huge glossy Ancona roosters.

It was great to see Alex and Supa, and really wonderful to meet Etta. She is so beautiful, and has quite a head of dark hair still. She was very happy and chuckled a lot. Also chucked up a bit, but that's babies for you. We were knuckleheads and didn't think to bring a present for her, or anyone. A and S had beautiful books as gifts for the boys, of course.

Alex's sister Beck is staying there at present while she tries to sort out a new teaching job. She made baklava on the spot which was pretty impressive. After stuffing ourselves with that we said farewell and went over to Devonport, the nearest big town, to try to find a shirt as Fred's late Christmas present. Everything was closed for the public holiday. Back to Mum and Dad's, and another hand of mah jongg. This time Marcus had a major concealed kong of wheels and his own flower and season. He was killing us. The final score was about 4600 to 800 to 700. He did antelope leaps for quite some time.

Today we got going pretty early on the road home. We tried Devonport again for a shirt, but to no avail. I am sorry to say I have never liked Devonport, having grown up in Burnie, the similarly-sized large town half an hour away. It's true Devonport does have a shop called Fancy Shoes, but years of enmity are hard to reverse.

We next stopped in Launceston and had a look at Scott and Lynn's new house (no. 80), literally a stone's throw from the old one (no. 73). 80 came up for sale long before they really planned to put 73 on the market. They went to have a look, and enquired vaguely of the agent if she would visit and value 73 for them. She brought a mainland couple (who had looked at 80)with her to 73, and sold it to them on the spot. Suddenly homeless, Scott and Lynn broke the news to their kids. They all went to look at 80 again and decided they might as well take it.

The boys always click really well with Tom and Isobel, but we had to drag them away. We went across town to Joe and Jill's, were assaulted by their tiny dogs as usual, and saw young William walking for the first time - he was a real lie-down-and-gurgle baby last time we saw him, We brought salad rolls with us, ate them., sluice4d down some coffee and then got back on the highway.

Our next plan was a quick stop in Campbell Town (the classic halfway refreshment point), followed by a dash south, past our place and on another half hour to Mountain River where a classmate of Michael's named Oliver lives. His family has anglo-nubian goats, and his mum Fleur rang while we were in Launceston, insisting we come to see the brand new kids.

At Campbell Town we met a different classmate of Michael's, named Max, in the park. They are good buddies and his parents are very nice, so we stopped and talked to them a little too long. This always happens in Campbell Town, which although miles from anywhere, has good coffee and this excellent park. One always bumps into familiar faces, and the hearty greeting "are you going Up or Down?" is often heard. Although Tasmania is a triangle, most driving seems to be vertical.

We were running late for our date with newborn nubians, so we decided to ring from home and bail out. Fleur wouldn't hear of it and extended the invite into a barbecue dinner. We went, the goats were lovely, the dinner was tasty, the property and house were marvellous. South Hobartians Teresa and Neil were there too - they also have kids at the school. The six children galloped around happily. We debated "giftedness". All agreed it's a silly word. Oliver, like Michael, was assessed for early entry to Kinder. There was a lot of hand-wringing about the school and whether particular kids are being "extended" enough.

David is a doctor, Fleur a podiatrist. Teresa and Neil are scientists at the CSIRO. Wine. Yachts. As we drove out, with the sun setting on the goaty acres, we pondered this august company we now keep. More friends were driving in as we left. Over dinner I had idly speculated that they may be related to Hitler. I perhaps need to work on my conversation skills.

We picked up Fred at Firthfield on the way back to town - he'll be with us now for a few days.