More bugs: Pie-dish beetle

22 12 2007

One thing about living in the country (even though we’re close to town on a large suburban-sized block) is the plethora of bugs!

A new one to me is the pie-dish beetle, which my husband spotted walking across a paving slab in the back yard this morning. He recalls its name ‘cos as a kid he found one in Perth and sent it in to the Museum where Harry Butler, the famous West Australian naturalist, identified it.

Here’s a picture of this little beastie; it’s about 2.5cm (1 in) long and about 1cm (1/2 in) across:

Pie-dish beetle





Free trade? I think not…

21 12 2007

I’m planning my March 2008 US trip now, getting flights sorted (done) and now car hire as I intend driving from Los Angeles to Portland, then on Seattle, Vancouver Island and finally Vancouver from where I’ll fly back to Australia (via Hong Kong).

My original intention was to rent a car from LAX to Vancouver, then, when no car rental company allowed me to do that, from LAX to Portland dropping off in Portland for the duration of the conference, then picking up another car in Portland and dropping it in Vancouver 6 days later when I fly home to Australia. Great intentions. Shame about the execution.

I’ve spent over a day checking out details on various car rental websites (direct and aggregator sites, both in Australia and the US), as well as looking at options with my travel agent.

I thought I had it nailed yesterday with an Australia company called Driveaway. Their prices were good, but they wouldn’t give the drop off fee for a one way rental on their website—you have to fill in your credit card and personal details before they’d let you know. I’ve been bitten with these fees before—sometimes they go into the hundreds of dollars, so I didn’t want to have to fill out my details before knowing the price. I called Driveaway and spoke to a lovely lady there. She confirmed that there was no drop fee between LAX and Portland (yippee!). But said that—despite their website saying to the contrary—I couldn’t pick up in Portland and drop off in Vancouver! I could only pick up in Seattle as it was the closest large city to Vancouver, not Portland (some 2.5 hours drive south of Seattle!). Something about the rules of all car rental companies. Unbelievable!

It seems NO car rental companies allow you to rent a car in just any city and drop it off in Canada if there’s a closer city you go through (e.g. you can rent in Boston to go to Montreal, but you couldn’t rent in Baltimore to go to Montreal).

Can you believe with all the NAFTA and other agreements between the US and Canada that I can’t rent in the US and drop off in Canada some two weeks later??? These are GLOBAL car rental companies, not “El Cheapo Auto Wrecks” on a street corner in East LA.

So this means I have to rent from LAX to Seattle (no drop off fee), park the car at the hotel in Portland for 4 days at around $20 per day, get to Seattle Airport, get all my luggage out of the car, get in line to fill in all the paperwork again, then pick up another rental car… which could well be the one I’ve just dropped off! Oh and the second rental is quite expensive because it’s not for a full week, and there’s a US$100 drop off fee.

I could just rent to Portland, then Portland to Seattle, then Seattle to Vancouver, but it’s actually cheaper to rent for the longer period of time and put the car in the hotel car park while the conference is on. Besides, that would mean THREE trips to a car rental counter and all the paperwork and declining insurance palaver…

Still, at least I’ll have a car in Portland if some of us decide to go out for a meal away from the hotel area, or take a trip to the wonderful Powell’s Books if the weather’s inclement! Or just be tourists.

And for all those wondering why I don’t just FLY to Portland from LA? Well, I’ve got friends and family I want to see in various parts of California, the drive is very pretty (along the Pacific Highway, not the I-5), and I also have friends on Vancouver Island I want to see who are some distance from the ferry terminals, which means I need a car. My Circle Pacific fare with Qantas and Cathay Pacific allows me to leave from Vancouver to go to Hong Kong then on to Perth, which means I don’t have to spend any more time than I have to in LAX! That’s always a good thing.





Scrappy quilt

16 12 2007

When you make a quilt, you always end up with bits of fabric left over, none of which seem to be much good for anything. But being a pack rat, you don’t want to throw the leftover bits out, and so you keep them for “Justin” (that’s “Justin” as in “Justin Case”… just in case). And that’s where a scrappy quilt comes in handy.

I saw a picture of the “Road to California” block and thought it would be a good candidate for some of my scraps—and so it was. I made the block, then yesterday I quilted it and made it into a 20″ cushion cover. I had to buy the fabric for the back, but the rest of the quilt was made from scraps. Now my scrap stash is a little less!

Road to California cushion cover quilt

More photos…





Quilting Tip: 6

16 12 2007

Eyeballing a quarter inch is still a bit of a black art for me. When I’m using my standard sewing machine foot, it’s easy as the foot is exactly a quarter inch from the outside edge to the central needle position. But when I’m using my ancient Bernina’s walking foot, the measurement is 3/8, not 1/4… as I found out yesterday. Fortunately, I noticed the seam allowance seemed a little wider than usual before I’d stitched too far.

I solved the problem with some painter’s tape, laying it so the left edge was exactly at the quarter inch width from the central needle position (see the picture below). Another solution is to use a small pad of sticky notes so that you get a little ridge and can’t move the fabric so that it has more than a quarter inch seam allowance. But that doesn’t work for my walking foot as the foot would be up on the ridge and thus lopsided.

Quarter inch mark with painter’s masking tape





White tea

16 12 2007

I’d never even heard of white tea before last week, then my friend Whitney sent me some (and some other Adagio teas). I’ve now tried it and it’s delightful. Tasty, very calming, and just wonderful. Highly recommended! I have it without milk, sugar or lemon—just plain.





Why?

16 12 2007

Much excitement in town the other day. I popped in to see a friend and she asked excitedly if I’d been in to town yet, or heard the news on the radio. I hadn’t done either, so she told me that some protesters had stopped a logging truck in the middle of the main street and chained themselves to it.

To put that in to perspective, Bridgetown is cut in two by South West Highway which runs from Perth to Bunbury, then on down through Donnybrook, Bridgetown, Manjimup, etc. to Albany. Manjimup is the heart of timber country and over the years logging protesters have done some interesting stunts to prevent the logging of old growth forests. As a result, old growth logging has almost stopped, and most timber logged in the area is plantation timber. Manjimup was hit very hard economically with the closure of many of the timber-related industries and a massive loss of jobs, and is only now starting to get back on its feet (truffles at $3000 a kilo anyone?). Other towns in the region were also hit hard. Personally, I supported the move to stop logging old growth forests as many of these ancient trees only grow in this part of the world and their species and related ecosystems are under threat both from logging, agriculture, and development. I have no problem with growing and logging plantation timbers, especially on land previously cleared for farming.

Anyhow, back to the other day… It seems these protesters had dressed up as road workers, erected some bogus “Roadworks ahead—prepare to stop” signs, then someone with a ‘lollipop’ “Stop/Slow” sign stopped a truck outside the video store. (The double-bogey log trucks all go through the town’s main street, but that’s another issue…)

Once they stopped the truck (which appeared to me to be carrying pine logs, not jarrah, marri, or karri), they chained themselves to the axle or somewhere underneath the truck.

It seems this happened around 8:30am. By the time I was in town, it was 11:30am and the truck and the chained protesters were still there. Traffic was slowed to a crawl through town, some 15-18 police were in attendance from other towns in the region, an ambulance was in attendance, as were other emergency and shire workers. Oh, and the local media from Bunbury were there too.

I’m not sure when the protesters were cut from the truck, but the statewide regional TV News had footage that night (the butcher cynically said that the police wouldn’t cut them off until the media got there…). And when I drove past, some enterprising local had painted another sign—”Slow protesters—Stop the dole!” (or something like that).

So my question is “why?” What did these protesters hope to achieve? Fame? Notoriety? A spot on the TV News? People like me writing a blog post? Arrest? Well, they got most of that, but as a local I have NO idea what they were protesting about—the logging industry, the trucks going through town, or something else. They were arrested and charged with creating a public disturbance or somesuch. They got their pictures on TV, just reinforcing the ‘rent-a-feral’ image many people have of them. I still  don’t know what their cause was, so they didn’t achieve their aim of getting their message across.

More importantly, they tied up the emergency and security resources of people across the region, thus placing others at risk. The local police station would be lucky to have three officers, I’d suspect, so the other police had to come from somewhere—Manjimup, Donnybrook, Nannup?, Bunbury? The local ambulance was in attendance, so it and its volunteer staff were out of action for other work for those hours.

There’s talk of charging the idiots who set off flares up north last week for the $200K cost of sending out the search and rescue boats, helicopters etc. These protesters should also be responsible for the costs of wasting police, ambulance and other emergency services time and efforts.

There have to be other ways of protesting and getting your message out.





Restaurant review: Fre-Jac, Balingup

16 12 2007

We went to the French restaurant (Fre-Jac) in Balingup, Western Australia for my birthday on Friday night.  Here’s the review I submitted to the EatingWA website:

Overall, we were disappointed.

We shared the Canapes Nicois ($12) for entree. I’m not sure what I expected, but a single slice of slightly warmed/toasted soft brown bread spread lavishly with honey and topped with a blob of goat’s cheese wasn’t it. My previous experience with goat’s cheese has been that it’s quite sharp—this had no discernible flavour at all, or else it was so overpowered by the sweetness of the honey that you just couldn’t taste the cheese. Somewhere in the cheese was meant to be some basil, but I couldn’t taste that either even though I could see little bits of green. I guess I expected canapes to be bite-size pieces, not a single slice of bread plopped on a layer of English Spinach leaves. The over-powering honey flavour spoilt this dish for us as we expected something sharp to prepare our palates for the main course.

We both ordered the beef fillet ($25) for mains—mine medium-rare, my husband’s medium-well. Parts of mine were medium-rare, the rest was very rare, almost raw; my husband’s was medium at best and had more ‘pink’ than he likes. Again, our expectations weren’t met. The beef was served with prunes in a madeira sauce (well, maybe the tablespoon of liquid could be called a sauce… at a pinch), and with boiled potatoes. There was NO salad or vegetables available on the menu, and none on the plates either—not even as a garnish. This was a meat and potatoes dish only, and was very heavy on the palate as a result (maybe that’s why they serve prunes with it?). And for me, eating the almost raw meat at the thick end of the steak was nearly stomach turning.

The desserts ($9.50) looked interesting, but we were taken by the cheeseboard ($15) as the description was that all the cheeses were imported from France. This was probably the biggest disappointment of a disappointing night. A large dinner plate was served with two paper-thin slices of two different hard cheeses, a largish slab of a soft melting cheese, and small wedge of something that looked like it was found behind the fridge, and two small wedges of a blue cheese. With this came five—yes, five—tiny rounds of bread no more than an inch across. And that was it. No crackers, no fruit, nothing to fill the spaces of the huge plate. And nothing to eat the cheese with except these five tiny rounds of bread. It would’ve taken more bread just to do the soft cheese justice, let alone the rest. As for the cheeses themselves, I liked the soft one, and had tastes of the paper-thin ones, but didn’t touch the wedges as I’m not a fan of blue cheese or stuff with so much mould on it that’s it’s not even recognisable as cheese. My husband’s face on trying some of these cheeses was a sight—I’ve never seen him drink copious amounts of water at the dinner table before. Let’s just leave it at that.

The service was perfunctory. The ambience was nice—a room in an old house, with cloth napery and decent cutlery. Though I’m not sure about the little stones on the table—I was tempted to play ‘knucklebones’ with them!

There’s a $45 fixed price menu which is the same as the a la carte menu, but works out slightly cheaper if you want a three course meal. The choice of entrees includes snails, scallops, a zucchini tart (or quiche?), and the canape nicois we had; the choice for main course was from rabbit, beef fillet, duck, and fish of the day; and there were also four desserts to choose from as well as the cheeseboard: creme brulee, raspberry parfait, hazelnut and chocolate something, and a fruit salad type dish.

Would we go back? Unlikely.





“Wordplay”

15 12 2007

The other night we watched “Wordplay“, a documentary-style movie about the New York Times crossword, the people involved in creating it, and some of those who solve it every day. Even though I’ve never done the NY Times crossword, I do love word games and Sudoku, so I appreciated the passion these people have.

A good movie for a wintry weekend afternoon for anyone who enjoys word puzzles.





CSN: Retire. Now.

8 12 2007

Crosby Stills & Nash (CSN), with and without Neil Young, have been a favourite of my husband’s for decades. Their soaring harmonies, terrific lyrics, and beautiful music have been the soundtrack to most baby boomers’ lives.

When they came to Perth in 1991, we were one of the first to buy tickets. CSN performed at the Perth Concert Hall, which has superb acoustics for such a group. We were in the third row and it was a concert to remember. It was SO good that when they announced a second concert for the following night, we raced out and got tickets for that too. We even hung around the stage door and got to meet them very briefly—that’s how much my husband likes their music.

So there was great excitement when we heard they’d be playing in Perth again in February 2007—some 16 years since they were last here. Unfortunately, David Crosby got ill and the February concert was postponed until December 1. No matter. We were shifting house the weekend they were originally scheduled, so we were personally quite OK with the cancellation. Our only concern was that they’d be well enough to fulfil their commitment, and that the outside venue (Kings Park) would be OK for their type of music and three-part harmonies. The tickets sat under a fridge magnet for months…

With great anticipation we travelled to Perth last weekend (it was the first time back for my husband since we’d moved nine months ago). We combined the concert with other activities, such as doctor, dentist, and medical specialist visits, as well as catching up with some friends. But we were really there for the concert.

It was a cold day, and was going to be an even colder evening. But we were prepared with polar fleece jackets, beach chairs, and a picnic rug. After paying exhorbitant prices for wine ($39 a bottle!) and concert T-shirts ($45 each), we settled in to enjoy the two groups on before the main event—’Blanche du Bois’ a local band with two sisters out front, and ‘Ross Wilson and the Urban Legends’. Blanche du Bois were fine, though their musical style is not particularly interesting to me, nor perhaps the rest of the mostly grey-haired audience (average age would’ve been 50 plus). Ross Wilson—who turned 60 a few days earlier on the 20th of November—was a different matter! He had the crowd up on their feet, singing along to some of the old Mondo Rock and Daddy Cool songs. And when he did the 1971 classic “Eagle Rock” the crowd went wild. A terrific warm-up act to a group like CSN. [As far as I know, the band members for Ross Wilson and the Urban Legends on the night were: Ross Wilson (vocals and guitar), Eric McCusker (lead guitar and backing vocals), John McAll (sp?; keyboards), Davey Porter (drums; from NZ), Chris Paraha (bass)—this is the same line-up found on Ross Wilson’s website]

So now to the main event… CSN ambled on to the stage spot on time at 8:30pm. And right from the first notes it was clear that something was amiss.

Stephen Stills could not harmonise—his voice was shot. Whether his voice is irreparably damaged, he was ill, or had had too much drugs or alcohol, I have no idea. But he couldn’t hold his notes. He played guitar like a demon, but as a third voice in a three part harmony band, he just didn’t cut it. Even the songs where he is normally lead singer, he had to rely on David Crosby. Graham Nash had difficulty reaching his high notes, but age could account for that (Elton John can’t reach his high notes these days either). David Crosby’s voice was the only one that hadn’t faded, and his efforts on “Almost cut my hair” took us all back to those heady days when CSN were a major force in popular music.

Despite that, the crowd got into it, though I think that was more for the nostalgia of the old songs than their rendition on the night. It was all over by 9:50pm, less than 90 minutes after starting, though they did come back for two encore songs. They played many of their old songs, and I tried to write them down, even though I don’t know all the official titles:

  • Carry On/Questions
  • Marrakesh Express
  • Long Time Gone
  • 49 Bye-Byes (Bye-bye baby)
  • Just a Song Before I Go
  • Military Madness
  • Deja Vu
  • Southern Cross
  • Helplessly Hoping
  • Our House
  • For What it’s Worth (Stop children, what’s that sound)
  • Almost Cut My Hair
  • Wooden Ships
  • Woodstock (encore)
  • Teach Your Children (encore)

The band members for this concert were James Raymond (keyboard; David Crosby’s son), Kevin McCormick (sp?) (bass guitar; originally from Perth), Todd Caldwell (also keyboard), Joe Vitale (drums; from Canton, OH).

All in all, a very disappointing concert. We’ve been to quite a few of what we call ‘retirement fund’ concerts over the past few years—Jackson Browne, James Taylor, The Eagles, etc.—and all have been great. This wasn’t. If Stills’ voice is gone forever and this wasn’t just an aberration on the night, then it’s time for CSN to retire gracefully and let us enjoy them through the legacy of their recordings.

BTW, we weren’t the only ones disappointed with this concert. The review in The West voiced similar sentiments.

Photos from the concert…





Past two weeks

8 12 2007

I’ve been a bit busy the past few weeks, so blogging got dropped. Here’s a catch up:

  • We popped over to one of our favourite wineries two weeks ago to talk about me doing their website (http://www.scottsbrook.com.auwhat you’ll see there now is the old ‘placeholder’ website, so this is NOT my work; Update 14 December 2007: All done now!). They were very happy with my initial design prototype, so I’ve now added the content and am awaiting their final review before it goes live. I’ll let you know when it’s up.
  • I’ve been doing a lot of work with Author-it v5 for my main client—combining three separate libraries (not fun!), training a person in Brisbane to use Author-it (thank God for WebEx and Skype), and learning more about SQL than I wanted to know!
  • My main client has had other work demands too, notably changing a recent acquisition’s existing company-focused website to a product-focused site. That’s in progress. Another acquisition happened a week ago and I’ve just been asked to be involved in that website too.
  • I spent quite a bit of my spare time editing the Author-it v5 training exercises for a friend and colleague.
  • I judged three entries—all in different categories—in the annual STC Australia Chapter competitions.
  • We went to Perth for four days last weekend for ‘points and plugs’ checkups with doctors and dentists, catching up with friends, and attending the Crosby, Stills, & Nash concert… which was the impetus for going to Perth and the other activities. More on the concert in another post.

The weather in our corner of the world has been up and down—we had a run of really hot days late in November (35-36C), but the past week it’s been pretty cool (18-23C with one 4C night). Some days I’ve changed clothes three times to deal with the variable weather! Then the other day it just BUCKETED down for about 20 mins, but we only got 3mm of rain out of it.