Smoke shroud

19 02 2012

For the past 10 days, the south-west of Western Australia has been blanketed with smoke from bushfires south of Northcliffe, some 360 km south of Perth. The smoke has extended right up past Geraldton, some 600+ km from the source of the fires. We’ve only had a couple of days of respite from the smoke, so everything gets locked up tight and the air conditioning goes on to try to filter the air. The PM10 recording in Perth one day last week was 89 (normally 13!), which compares to polluted cities like Bangkok.

Here are some photos I took of the smoke in our area a couple of days ago. Click on a small photo to show it full size. The scenes of the estuary are telling because there’s a long range of sand dunes on the other side of the estuary, which is almost always visible. Not with this smoke though.

See also:

Tiny tomatoes

19 02 2012

I’ve now picked FOUR tomatoes from the EIGHT bushes I planted in spring last year (the saga of me growing these bloody tomatoes: And they’ve been TINY. I picked three of the four today, and can see no more on the tomato plants, so I suspect that’s it. That was an awful lot of effort for basically nil return.

Here are the tomatoes I picked today to show you their size against blueberries and a store-bought tomato. I had all three for lunch, and they weren’t even particularly nice. Not as sweet as I’d hoped; in fact, they had a slightly tart taste.

Tiny tomatoes with blueberries for size comparison

Tiny tomatoes with normal tomato and blueberries for size comparison

Too bloody right!

19 02 2012

(received from an older relative; source unknown)

The Green Thing

Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment.

The woman apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this green thing back in my earlier days.”

The clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.”

She was right — our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day.

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were recycled. But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right; we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana. In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she’s right; we didn’t have the green thing back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn’t have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar/tram or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?

Please forward this on to another selfish old person who needs a lesson in conservation from a smart ass young person.

Remember: Don’t make old people mad! We don’t like being old in the first place, so it doesn’t take much to piss us off.

2012 FMQ Challenge: February: more feathers…

12 02 2012

This is my second go at feathers…

I’d seen the lovely pieces done by other participants in the FMQ Challenge on Facebook. Those that really stood out were stitched on satins and similar shiny fabrics. They photographed really well. So this afternoon I hunted out an ancient (30 years old?) piece of blue shiny fabric (like Shantung silk, but it wasn’t) and created some more feathers.

This time I nested the feathers (perhaps I should call it ‘Feathering the nest’?) and didn’t do any fill other than the echo quilting around each feather. I really liked the effect on the shiny fabric. I’ll probably cut this piece up and make a clutch out of it, similar to those I have in my Etsy store.

The thread I used was Superior Rainbows variegated 40 wt thread in a blue/teal/aqua.

To see a photo in full size, click it.

(the back)

I think I’ll buy my veges, thanks

6 02 2012

Over the several decades I’ve lived on this earth, I’ve attempted to grow veges a number of times. But it’s always ended in disaster of some sort — too much or too little water, bugs that want to thwart my every attempt, a degree in chemistry required to get the soil balance right, the cost of the seedlings, fertilisers, insecticides (whether natural or not), etc. And the time to handwater the plants, stake/tie them up, pull off the dead leaves, talk to them nicely, etc. I’ve tried. I really have. But I’ve think I’ve given this vege growing lark my last effort.

I’m just not cut out to grow veges. Even the simple ones. Like tomatoes. Hell, tomato plants will sprout even where someone has thrown down the remnants of a half-eaten sandwich. But they won’t grow for me.

Last year — about August or September — I bought a punnet of eight little tomato seedlings for the princely sum of $3. I got home all excited. I made little removable collars for them from old plastic water bottles as the last lot of tomato seedlings I tried got eaten by slaters or something nibbling at the base thus causing them to fall over and snap off. Dead. Not this time. This time it would be different. This time, I’d protect my little tomato plants and watch over them and water them and talk to them. And I did.

The collars were very successful and soon I had nice thriving tomato plants. So thriving that they were lying prostrate on the ground. Off to the hardware store to get some stakes. Twenty, one-metre stakes should be enough for eight little plants, surely? I tied the tomatoes to the stakes very gently, but I used twist ties, so after I saw one tie had killed off a branch because the twist tie had cut into it, I took all the ties off and tore up scrap fabric into inch-wide strips. I gently re-tied the plants, and added more stakes as they were putting out all sorts of branches that needed supporting.

I applied Wettasoil to the soil to help retain water near the roots, and I watered them every second day (walking several times to and from the nearest tap with a watering can), and more often in hot weather. They were out of the wind in a sheltered area, but got full sun for quite a bit of the day. They were looking good!

Then one day I noticed that some of the under leaves were dying off. Oh no! I’d cut out something about troubleshooting tomato issues from the newspaper a while back, and was able to identify the problem. The solution was to apply some tomato dust (what is this stuff? pixie dust?) to the plants. I did that and they seemed to come good again and had some nice new green growth.

Still they kept growing and I eventually used up all my 20 stakes and more strips of fabric to tie them up. I even saw some flowers on them. So all was looking good. I can do this! I can grow tomatoes! Summer was coming and I was SO looking forward to rich, dense, sweet tomatoes from my own garden.

Summer came… summer came some more… and more… and nothing. No tomatoes. Just leaves. Lots of leaves and branches and some flowers, but no tomatoes. Then I spotted a tiny little green fruit! My first tomato!! Then I spotted another one — that’s two! After another week, I spotted a third. But that was it. No more. Three pathetic little green fruits from EIGHT plants!

Summer continued on and I continued watering my tomatoes every second day (or every day when it was very hot). And those three little tomatoes stayed green… and small. I had no idea when they were meant to fruit but I knew I’d planted them at least 4 months ago. Surely they should have fruited by now?

Then we had a really hot spell. And guess what? Those three little tomatoes went from green to a mottled orange and basically cooked inside their skins. They sure don’t look very edible. And they only got to about 4 cm (1.5 inches) diameter too, even though they are a full variety, not a cherry/grape tomato variety.

So, after spending money on Wettasoil, stakes and pixie dust, as well as the eight seedlings, and putting in effort to water them by hand, after five months I’m ‘rewarded’ with three inedible tomatoes. Three. From eight plants.

I can buy a kilo of tomatoes at the farmers market for around $6. Sure, they won’t taste as good as the ones you grow yourself, but in my case that’s a crock — ANYTHING would taste better than these pathetic tomatoes I’ve grown.

I give up.

The best tomato I could grow

The 'biggest and best' tomato I could grow (about 4 cm -- 1.5 inches -- in diameter)

Not often you see this in February

6 02 2012

February is the height of summer here in Western Australia. High temperatures; strong, dry easterly winds; extreme fire danger; total fire bans (including any hot work, BBQs etc.). Or, if you live further north, cyclones (destructive winds, flooding, etc.).

FESA is the agency that coordinates all the emergency responses and alerts the public to anything they need to be aware of. They have a web page where all the latest alerts are posted, and I have it bookmarked as it’s a site I check regularly. This web page is updated every 5 minutes, so if you are in danger, you have the latest information on which to act. Since November, there’s always been SOMETHING on the alerts page — I live in a big state, after all. (BTW, there’s an Android app and probably an iPhone/iPad app for FESA alerts so you can get the latest alerts on the go.)

But today — 6 February, slap bang in the middle of summer, fire season, and cyclone season — there was nothing!

It’s not often you see that!

Nothing to report

Wow! FESA has nothing to report! That's a relief.

Trees had a haircut today

6 02 2012

We have two very large and very old trees on our property. They are the only substantial trees that would’ve been left after the old farmland was converted into acre blocks. And the previous owners (and original builders) of our house preserved them. They are lovely.

But I’ve been a bit concerned about their safety. So it was time to get them assessed by an arborist to see if they needed ‘trimming’ for both safety and fire risk reasons. The tree guys came today and about three to four hours later they left after giving the two trees a BIG haircut!

I felt for the trees — this was probably the first time they’ve ever been assaulted like this — and I was also concerned for any birds that may have used these trees as nesting sites. Likewise any possums (we saw a Western Ringtail possum on the fence at the front of the house one night). But the peppermint tree had branches that were close to the house (a fire risk), other branches that were growing into each other, some that were overhanging the driveway, and several dead branches that have probably been there for years. The tuart tree had a huge branch overhanging the neighbour’s fence (I figured it was cheaper to get the trees lopped than to replace the fence!), another huge one overhanging the driveway, and several other branches that were particularly heavy or growing in such a way as to unbalance the tree after those big limbs were removed. And those big branches I was concerned about always moved a LOT when we have high winds.

Here’s the peppermint tree before they started and when they’d finished:

Peppermint tree before its trim

Peppermint tree before its trim

Peppermint tree after its trim

Peppermint tree after its trim


And the tuart tree:

Tuart tree before its trim

Tuart tree before its trim

Tuart tree after its trim

Tuart tree after its trim

The guys were very good — they were polite, they wore all the safety gear appropriate to the work they were doing, and a big one for me: they cleaned up after themselves! In addition to the big mulcher coming in to chomp up the branches, the guys raked and used the leaf blower to get the last of the twigs, small branches etc. You’d hardly know they’d been… except for the missing parts of the trees, of course.

If you’re in the Bunbury area of Western Australia, I can highly recommend Kings Tree Care.

Oh, I did see a lone monarch butterfly looking very lost near the peppermint tree, darting this way and that. I suspect it lost its home 😦 Hopefully, there were no birds that used the lopped branches as their permanent home.

One other thing… I asked about blowing the bark mulch onto the garden but the chief arborist told me it wasn’t advised as it would be too acidic and would kill the plants. It seems such mulch has to sit for 3 months to a year before you can put it on the garden. Which was a shame, as I would’ve liked to see the tree branches returned to the soil from which they’d sprung.

2012 FMQ Challenge: February

5 02 2012

Nothing like throwing us in the deep end! 😉 This month’s FMQ challenge was from Diane Gaudynski, and it was feathers!! Feathers aren’t that hard to do, but they are terrifying for most beginning FMQ’ers — me included — which is why I was surprised they were put so early in the year. However, there could be a good reason for that — I reckon if beginning FMQ’ers can handle feathers, they’ll have the confidence to tackle pretty much anything.

Fortunately, I’ve been doing free-motion feathers in some shape or form for the past 12 months, and nearly all my feathers have been based on Diane’s method. I find them very therapeutic to do, as her method means you don’t have to travel over existing lines or think about ‘where to from here’. I struggled with feathers until I purchased and read her book.

So to this month’s challenge… After a string of horrendously hot days when going into the sewing room would’ve been like entering an oven, finally we had a most glorious day today, with a maximum of about 25C. It was time to follow Dian’s instructions exactly and practice my feathers!

I ended up doing three practice pieces on the one long quilt sandwich — one using a variegated Guterman Sulky rayon thread, one using a dark Robison-Anton rayon thread (so you can see the stitching in the photo!), and one using a neutral Madeira rayon thread. Despite using these different threads, the back shows the quilting much better than the front!

All quilting was done on my HQ Sweet Sixteen.

Here are some of the photos I took after I’d finished (click on a small image to show it much larger):

Is this what they mean by the eye of the cyclone?

2 02 2012

Having experienced a few cyclones when I lived up north, this isn’t the eye of a cyclone.

But it’s a weird radar image from the Bureau of Meteorology, just the same. It looks like there’s some sort of alien force field centred on Rockingham and Mandurah. Everywhere else is copping fair amounts of rain (left over from what was Cyclone Iggy), but not Rockingham and Mandurah. Very strange…