Thursday, September 01, 2011

Who's doing all that twitching?

I've always been bit of a birdwatcher. Not in the ranks of Bill Oddie (of The Goodies fame) or Sean Dooley, but with definite twitching tendencies. I don't go out of my way to spot birds and I don't maintain lists like more serious twitchers do, but I do enjoy identifying and ticking off species I've seen in my Field guide to the birds of Australia.

Our back garden is constantly visited by noisy minors, blue-faced honeyeaters, rainbow lorikeets, crested pigeons, currawongs, butcherbirds, the occasional ibis and once, one very pesky brush turkey. The most notable visitor, and a very recent one, is this fellow...

Image: Wikipedia
a buff-banded rail. Its usual habitat - according to the Field guide - is marshes, creeks, wet paddocks, tourist resorts, garbage tips and...well-vegetated gardens. Which explains why it's turned up at our place (well vegetated, not a tip) to apparently nest, since it is currently its breeding season. Pretty cool, I think.

My most memorable sighting was down at Lamington National Park, when Smithy and I encountered the magnificent Regent Bowerbird. Of course, we didn't know what it was at the time, but boy, was I excited to find out what we had spotted. Never seen one since, though.

I may not be in the same class as Sean Dooley when it comes to birdwatching, but unlike him I have seen a Rufus Scrubbird at Lamington. He had four goes at trying to get it for his Big Twitch - a year in which he attempted to break the national record for the number of birds spotted. Me? One fluttered across the track in front of me one year and went bouncing off into the undergrowth. Thought nothing of it when I identified it in the trusty Field Guide at the time - just ticked it off. Then I read Dooley's book and realised I had seen the very bird he had tried and failed to add to his list. Take that, Sean Dooley!  I've spotted a bird the Australian twitching record-holder never got. Gives me a small sense of satisfaction every time I think about it, that does.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Weekend at Binna Burra

Smithy and I headed off to Binna Burra this weekend for two days of camping and bush walking. We arrived mid morning on Saturday after a glorious drive in bright winter sunshine. I took my iPad along and plugged it into the little gizmo that allows us to play an iPod through the car stereo. The fact that I could surf the web, Tweet and update Facebook as we cruised down the highway to the soulful sounds of Renee Geyer made the journey just that much sweeter.

After setting up camp and having some lunch, we spent the afternoon exploring some of the short walks we hadn't done before - the Tallawallai Circuit, the Loop Circuit and the Bellbird Circuit. Very enjoyable. We then headed up to the Teahouse for a glass of wine. Well, it was Happy Hour!

Back at the campsite it was getting chilly, so we got a fire going and with a few more glasses of wine to go with our dinner, settled in for a evening by the fire, before clambering into our very snug bed for a good night's sleep before a big day of bushwalking.

My alarm woke us up Sunday morning and we reluctantly got out of bed and began making a cup of coffee. It was surprisingly dark for 7am, but lots of birds were singing and it promised to be a lovely day. We had breakfast, went and brushed our teeth, came back and made another cuppa. We were planning on being on the trail by 8.30am but when Smithy asked for a time check, to my astonishment it was only 7.10! How did that happen? Uh-oh. I had turned the wrong alarm on! Setting it for 6am, instead of the intended 7am. Oops!

So, at 7.35am, we hauled on our packs and hit the trail. The upside to such an early start? There's no-one else on the trail, which means lots of wildlife is still around. We spotted lots of pademelons (cute little wallaby-type animals) and lots of birds flitted across the trail - too fast for us to identify, unfortunately. The highlight of the day - indeed, the weekend - was when we encountered a young koala climbing a tree not 10 feet away from us. It was the first wild koala sighting for both Smithy and me, so we were both very excited.

New growth glowing like a jewel in the sunlight

Our plan for the day was to hike the Mt Hobwee Circuit, which we had not done before. Instead of coming back via the Border Track, as described in the walk notes, we decided to come back along the Coomera Circuit to avoid retracing our steps. It meant an extra few kilometres to the walk but we figured it would be worth it. We pretty well had the trail to ourselves and spent a glorious morning traipsing along through spectacular rainforest. The air was filled with the constant call and reply of whipbirds, as well as the chitterings of countless unseen birds. Just lovely. We were making really good progress and were surprised that it was only 10.30am when we reached the summit of Mt Hobwee. At this rate, we would be back in camp by early afternoon! After stopping to take a couple of photos, we headed back down to rejoin the main trail (this was the only part of the trail where we had to backtrack - and it was downhill all the way) which we followed until the junction with the Coomera Circuit trail. We were still feeling good, so decided to take the slightly longer way home via the Coomera Circuit, stopping at a picturesque waterfall for a well-earned lunch at 11.15am. We planned to have a leisurely lunch, basking in the sun, but the sudden arrival of some rather large clouds put paid to that as the temperatures quickly dropped and we got going again after only 15 minutes or so, already feeling chilled.

Smithy (r) and me on the summit of Mt Hobwee

Our next landmark was the Coomera Falls, but first we had to negotiate numerous river crossings. Luckily, the water levels were a lot lower than the last time we hiked the Coomera Circuit back in May, so we didn't get our feet wet. We did get a bit cold though, as we were heading downhill and couldn't walk fast enough to keep warm! Perverse beings that we were, we were looking forward to getting to the Falls as it meant we would then be walking uphill for a few kilometres, thus warming us up again!

They do say to be careful what you wish for as, after a short rest and a quick snack of nuts at the Coomera Falls, the trail went up and up and up for seemingly forever! We were both feeling a little weary and footsore by this time and kept hoping the next bend would reveal the bench that marked the junction with the Border Track that meant we only had 1.9km to go. But, no such luck. The trail just kept on and on and on. Eventually, of course, we did reach that bench and what a welcome sight it was! Hooray! We only had to walk for another half an hour and we would be back at our camp. Well, that was a very long 1.9km, let me tell you and we were never so happy as when we got to the end of the trail at just after 2.30pm. It had taken us a smidgeon under seven hours to hike 23 kilometres, which was a pretty good effort, we thought.

Our planned reward was another night by the fire, after a well-earned shower, of course. But, just as we were about to organise the fire, it began raining and didn't stop for several hours. So we spent the evening zipped into our annex, reading our books, drinking wine and listening to the sound of rain on our canvas roof as a storm rumbled overhead.

No alarms this morning, but we still woke fairly early and were up and about just after 7am. We had been concerned that we would have to pack the campertrailer up wet, so were very pleasantly surprised to find it relatively dry. To give it some more time to dry out, we went and walked the Tallawallai and Loop Circuits again before coming back an hour and a half later to start packing up camp at a very leisurely pace. By 10.30am we were on the road and heading home after another excellent weekend at one of our favourite places.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Impulsive? Moi? Never!

I bought an iPad 2 recently. I hadn't intended buying an iPad at all. In fact, I had originally gone out to get three photographs enlarged. Because I was planning on getting them done on canvas, I went to Harvey Norman, where I soon learned that canvas prints take two weeks. That was no good, as I needed the photos in three days time, so I settled for getting some standard enlargements instead. While I was waiting, I overheard a staff member talking to a customer about some gadgets in a nearby bin. Being bit of a stickybeak, I wandered over to see what they were talking about. PC-free slide scanning gizmos. Ooh, I thought, Smithy would love one of those. She's got a gazillion slides she wants to digitize. And sure, we've got a whole setup at home where she can do that but it needs the computer and the scanner and it's SLOW. This little gizmo could do two types of negatives as well as slides too. So I bought it, collected my photo enlargements and headed home.

Smithy did like the slide scanning gizmo. When she opened it up, there was a little promo card inside with a Win an iPad offer, so we got talking about iPads. I really liked the idea of them but didn't understand how they worked and wasn't sure I needed one. I've got a laptop after all, right? Anyway, the promo card wasn't the only thing we discovered in the slide scanning gizmo box. We also found out it was missing the one component I had bought the gizmo for - the slide bracket. Instead it had two 35mm negative brackets. We tried fitting a slide into the film bracket, but no go. There was nothing for it but to package it back up and return to Harvey Norman.

When we got there, Smithy saw that they sold iPads. Reasoning that we might as well learn a thing or two about them while we were there, we got given a demonstration by a very helpful young man. The one feature that sold it for me, apart from its general all-round cleverness, was its 10 hour battery life. My laptop has a sucky 1 and a bit hours, which makes it next to useless for taking anywhere there's no power. Unfortunately for the young salesman, there were no more 32G models with wi-fi and 3G in stock. He very helpfully told us that Big W and David Jones also sell iPads, so off we went. Big W didn't have any in stock either, nor did David Jones. But DJ did have some 64G models in stock - three, in fact. Hmmm. They were $110 dearer than the 32G model, but twice the capacity. Wotthehell, in for a penny, in for a pound. I'll take one, I said. I even got a choice of colour. So, now I'm the proud owner of a little black iPad 2. Those three photos turned out to be rather expensive in the end!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Bootcamp 2011 rebooted

After a short hiatus - what with going to His Holiness the Dalai Lama's teachings and then succumbing to a virus that stubbornly hung around for a month - I am back into my training regime. With only sixty-eight days to go until our Manaslu trek, every day now counts. So from now on, I'll be spending at least 30 minutes a day doing squats, lunges, burpees and sit-ups, along with some strength training and weight lifting. Of course, I'll also be squeezing in some all day hikes as well as weekly walking workouts at Mount Coot-tha and West End. Along the way, I hope to shed those three little kilos I didn't quite manage to lose at Jenny Craig's.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Three days (and five minutes) with the Dalai Lama

I'm in Melbourne to attend His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama's three-day teachings on Shantideva's Guide to a Bodhisattva's Way of Life.

A bodhisattva is one who renounces their own enlightment until all sentient beings are free of suffering. The Guide is basically a text on cultivating the mind of enlightenment, compassion, patience and generosity.

Day One: Saturday 11 June 2011

The morning teaching session has finished and I'm free for the rest of the day.There'll be no afternoon teaching because His Holiness has other engagements. I've run into so many people I know that I'm beginning to wonder if there are any Buddhists left in Brisbane! I swear if I stand still for long enough, everyone I know will eventually come past.

This theory is instantly borne out because I bump into two old Melbourne friends, Lucy and Anne. While I'm chatting to them, a fellow Brisbane ATC member stops to make arrangements for us to catch up for dinner later on.

I have a couple of hours to fill in until I go to meet my family, so, since I'm a bit peckish, decide to get a quick bite to eat. Unfortunately, all the other 5,000 people have decided to do the same. Queuing for food becomes an excellent opportunity to cultivate patience.

The clan has gathered under the clocks at Flinders Street Station and there is a flurry of greetings as I hug my mum, my dad, my two sisters, my son and my niece. The seven of us head to one of Melbourne's famed laneways for something to eat and drink. It's great seeing everyone again and we all have a lot of fun catching up over wine and coffee before wandering through some of Melbourne's grand old arcades.

All too soon, it's time to bid them all farewell so that I can make my dinner 'date' with Kaye and Zoe, both ATC members. We end up in Chinatown enjoying scrummy Thai food.

I'm loving being back in Melbourne. It's great seeing all the old terrace houses, the trams, the street performers and artists. I get a real kick out of seeing all my favourite pieces of street statuary again, particularly the Public Purse outside the old GPO.

Day Two: Sunday 12th June 2011

Wake up bright and early (again) to find a thick fog blanketing the city. Fantastic! I really enjoyed walking in it to the Convention Centre. Got there about 7.30am and it was almost deserted. Grabbed myself a coffee and a muffin for breakfast and a packet of sandwiches for lunch (no long queues for me today!) and wandered about the slowly opening stalls that fill the concourse. The trickle of people gradually becomes a stream as the haunting tones of Tenzin Choegyal rise to the rafters.

There are about 5,000 people in the auditorium waiting for His Holiness' arrival and there is barely a sound. Just the rustle of movement as people make their way to their seats, the occasional throat-clearing and whispered conversations.

Yesterday's teaching touched on Ultimate Reality versus Conventional Reality. Today we're beginning with an explanation of the Laws of Causality and emptiness. Big topics and I can't help but admire the person providing the sign language interpretation. She's doing a fantastic job of translating these complex ideas into AUSLAN - and she's doing it in 2-hourly stints. The only time she rests is when His Holiness speaks in Tibetan. She then translates into AUSLAN what HH's interpreter translates into English.

After lunch, His Holiness begins his exposition of the text of The Guide to a Bodhisattva's Way of Life. This is much easier to follow and requires less mental effort to understand. He picks key verses from a number of chapters that illustrate the qualities to be cultivated if we are to live a life of altruism. It's inspiring stuff and I'm sure many in the audience (including me) are going to take the bodhisattva vow tomorrow morning.

Tonight, I'm taking myself to dinner at a little Nepalese restaurant I discovered just around the corner from my hotel.

Day Three: Monday 13 June 2011

No fog today, on this third and last day of teachings. I'm at the Convention Centre early again to lodge my backpack in the cloakroom, then spend some time watching the Gyuto monks working on a sand mandala to the Amitayus Buddha. They've been working on it since Day One and this afternoon it will be destroyed in a Dissolution Ceremony. It's a powerful lesson in impermanence - that nothing remains forever. None of us is doing very well with that idea as we all commiserate with each other about the teachings coming to an end today! So the general mood is one of happiness mixed with sadness overlaid with slight anxiety about the air travel situation. Will we all get home tonight or will the ash cloud from that Chilean volcano ground our flights?

As I mentioned yesterday, the morning session begins with taking the Bodhisattva Vows, where we all undertake to practice the six perfections: giving, moral discipline, patience, effort, wisdom and concentration. His Holiness explains that first he has to take the vows and then goes on to say he usually takes the vows early in the morning but in the intervening hours there has been some 'misbehaviour', so he has to take them again!

Come lunchtime and the air is filled with the sounds of mobile phones being turned on as people try to get information about whether flights have been reinstated. There's a collective sigh of relief as news spreads that all the airlines but Qantas are back in business. Now we can relax and focus on the afternoon session of teachings. His Holiness returns to the stage and confesses his mind is already on the aeroplane to Canberra! He spends the afternoon taking us through the chapters on Awareness, Patience, Perserverance, Meditation and Dedication - highlighting verses of particular significance for us to think about. He suggests that reading the chapter on Commitment every day could form the basis of a daily practice and that each of us should slowly read the entire text, meditating on its meaning and message as we work our way through it. He glances at his watch and announces he has to go. And he does, it's 3.30 already and he has a plane to catch. There are some formal speeches of thanks given; His Holiness says he would like to return in a year or two, which raises loud applause from the audience and then he is gone.

The sand mandala Dissolution Ceremony takes place soon after the end of the teachings. Gasps go up from those in the crowd who have never seen, or didn't realise, the destruction of such a beautiful creation as the senior lama runs his dorje through the mandala and then brushes the sand into a pile. The sand is collected and then distributed in little twists of paper to the watching crowd. I'm shouldered aside by a number of people in the unseemly rush to secure a twist, but eventually I do come away with my own little piece of the mandala.

Stalls are being packed up and there's not much reason to hang around any longer, so I retrieve my pack from the cloakroom and make my way towards Southern Cross Station (it's still Spencer Street to me) to catch the Skybus to the airport. I get chatting to a woman in the queue who was at the teachings and we talk about being Buddhist all the way to the airport. I've arrived ridiculously early for my 8pm flight, but it's a good thing as the checkin queue is a mile long. It takes a good half hour to work my way to the counter, where they're offering free luggage checking, so I ditch my pack, happy to be free of its weight for the next couple of hours. My next task is to find something to eat. I get a spinach filo and a glass of wine at a little cafe bar. That fills in about 45 minutes. There's nothing else to do so I wander down to my boarding gate and read, keeping half an ear out for the boarding announcement. When it comes, it's not what we want to hear - the flight is delayed by an hour! Apparently because the flight bringing our crew has been delayed. I go and get another glass of wine. I've just finished that when my flight is announced and we all finally begin boarding. Two hours and quite a bit of turbulence later, we're in Brisbane and my weekend with the Dalai Lama is over.

It's been a precious three days. Receiving teachings on such a profound text is a wonderful experience. To receive them from His Holiness is a privilege. Being able to spend so much time focussing on living a life of compassion, generosity and patience is like going on a retreat. I've come away feeling revitalised, energised and with a deeper sense of how to be a good person. This weekend was like a gift to myself and I'm very glad I was able to go.

Postscript: Wednesday 15 June 2011

A dream came true when I met His Holiness today. A line reception at his hotel had been arranged for longtime supporters, and active members, of the Australia Tibet Council. We had a long wait as the Youth Forum he was attending ran over time and then, suddenly he was at the hotel. We were all standing in a long line, anxiously waiting when he appeared in a flurry of security and photographers. He slowly made his way along the line, shaking hands with each person as Kaye Hanschen, ATC Board member, introduced them to His Holiness. Before I knew it, he was standing in front of me. I think I stuttered 'Your Holiness' as I bowed. He smiled and took my hand and then moved on to the next person. All too soon, he was gone and it was almost as if it had never happened! But it did and I will never forget the day I shook hands with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Campertrailer trial

Smithy and I bought a campertrailer last year and took delivery of it in September. Very excited to try it out, we booked ourselves a weekend away, but it poured with rain that weekend and we didn't go. Once we came back from our India trip, we booked another camping weekend, but it rained then too. Then of course, we had all that dreadful weather over the summer and so had no opportunity to go camping. Then March this year, we made another booking to go to Binna Burra in the Lamington National Park on the Gold Coast hinterland. Bucketed with rain, didn't it? So we didn't camp, just drove down on the Saturday to join our friends for a bushwalk along the Ship's Stern circuit and drove home again that same evening.

So, not ones to give up, we picked this weekend to have another go. This time we decided we wouldn't book - we'd just take our chances. After all, every time we booked, the weather conspired against us. So, Friday afternoon, we packed up and headed off on our inaugural campertrailer trip - to Binna Burra. Well, it is one of our favourite spots and very accessible from inner-suburban Brisbane. Got down there in good time and trotted up to the lodge to get a camping spot for the weekend. Wouldn't you know it, we could only get a site for one night. Totally booked out they were! Oh well, one night it is. We found our site and set about organising ourselves. Since it was the first time we had used the campertrailer, it took us a little while to sort everything out, but we soon had ourselves nicely established. Poured some wine, broke out some dips and crackers, and made ourselves comfortable whilst we watched our Japanese neighbours trying to put up their brand-new straight-out-of-the-box tent. Smithy had to lend a hand when it turned out none of them was tall enough to get the fly over the ridge-pole.

Had some cute dinner-time visitors - a pair of brushtail possums. They were very tame and happily took food from our hands. One of them bit me when it mistook my finger for more food. No more hand-feeding after that!

We didn't have a great night's sleep. Nothing to do with our campertrailer - it was very comfortable and we were certainly warm enough. Just kept drifting in and out of wakefulness. So, we were well awake by 6.30 and brewing the first cuppa of the day. We had to pack everything up before we went off for our bushwalk, but that went very smoothly and by 8.30 we set off for the Coomera Circuit - a 17.5 km walk.

What a great day! The wildlife was terrific. Lots of pademelons bounding across our path. Never seen so many in one day as we did yesterday. We were almost tripping over them! The birdlife was prolific too. Couldn't see many birds, but the air was filled with their songs - including the uncanny baby-cries sound of the catbird. We also saw a python. Actually, I nearly stepped on it! It was laying across our path and it took a moment or two for my brain to register what it was. When it became obvious the python wasn't going to move, we very carefully scrambled up a small embankment to go around it. Good stuff!

I love the Coomera Circuit. It has lots and lots of waterfalls along it, which are quite spectacular. Of course, waterfalls mean rivers and creeks and we had rather a lot of crossings to negotiate. Some were straight-forward but others necessitated some tricky rock hopping and wading through water. Many of the rocks were very slippery and at one point I found myself emulating a cartoon character on ice. You know how their feet go slip slip slip before they fall on their bums? Well , that was me - both feet doing that little ice two-step, before I managed to retain my balance and complete the river crossing.

By the time the track rejoined the Border Track, we were both feeling a little footsore and I suddenly remembered the reasons why I had bought new leather trekking boots instead of sticking with my Goretex and suede Kailash boots. Sure, they are lightweight, but the trade-off is a reduction in cushioning. So with sore toes, we trudged our way closer and closer to the Binna Burra Tea-house, spurring ourselves on with thoughts of the big bowl of hot chips waiting for us when we got there. We opted for the wedges, in the end and very delicious they were too. A fit reward after our 5.5hr, 17.5km hike.

Tucked up in our own bed last night listening to the rain on the roof, we were not at all disappointed that we'd only been able to camp for one night. And we can finally say we've tried out our campertrailer!

Monday, May 02, 2011

Bootcamp 2011: Month Four

Smithy and I had our final weigh ins at Jenny Craig today. Smithy has done really well over the past three months and reached her goal weight. Me - not so good. My weight yo-yoed a bit, but I did lose just over 5kg. Three kilograms short of my goal weight and less than half a kilo a week. But a good weight loss all the same. We're both going to continue with a reduced calorie diet to see how much more we can lose - I definitely want to lose at least 3 more kilograms.

The best thing about the weight-loss so far? I can now fit back into all my jeans! Haven't worn them for a couple of years, so it's nice to have them available again.

We're five months out from our Himalayan trek, so still have plenty of time to ratchet up the exercise and training. Now that the weather is getting cooler, we're starting to look at doing some regular all-day bushwalks and I'll be starting some strength training work in the next month. My back really needs to be stronger and I want to build up the muscles around my knees. It sure won't hurt to get some definition in the ol' biceps either. For now, I'll just keep up with the walking home from work each day. That's maintaining my fitness levels nicely and giving me a good platform to build on.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Bootcamp 2011: Month Three

The mornings are getting a little darker these days, so I've stopped getting up to go for a run/walk. I get to enjoy an extra twenty minutes sleep in each work day. The trade off? I get home about forty minutes later each night as I now walk home from Newstead. That's about 6.5km and it's taking me about 75 minutes at the moment. I'll be working on getting that down to around 65 minutes over the next few weeks.

We're two-thirds of the way through our Jenny Craig program and it's been going well, although I had thought I'd lose more weight in that time. It's taken me eight weeks to lose 4 kilograms, which means I've got four weeks to lose the other four kilograms I planned on losing!

We've also booked onto the Manaslu/Tilicho trek in October, so we'll be ramping up our fitness regime in a couple of months. I want to be as fit and strong as I can be for this trek, so that will mean weights work, situps, pressups and lots of stair work... but not until July! Til then, it's just keep up the walking and keep losing weight.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Book Of The Month: March 2011

So, this year I've been reading books I own rather than going to the library. But, this month I got withdrawal symptoms and paid a visit to my local library. I spent a wonderful hour browsing the shelves and came away with a terrific haul of books.

Among them was this month's Book of the Month: Riding the black cockatoo by John Danalis. It's the story of the author's journey into Indigenous culture and community when he decides he has to return the skull that's been sitting on his parent's mantelpiece for the last forty years to its rightful place. Along the way, he raises questions about the morality of museums keeping in storage the remains of Indigenous Australians for "research", tagged and numbered like so many specimens. He also discovers the warmth of Indigenous Australians, who far from condemning his family for having the skull, welcome and thank them for their actions in returning it to its traditional home.

Riding the black cockatoo is a heart-warming story of one man's reconciliation with his upbringing, his family and his own lack of understanding of Australia's first people. A very satisfying tale and one I would urge everyone to read.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Where the wild things are: part three

In my socks mainly. And spilling my blood. Yup, leeches and lots of them. I was in Lamington National Park yesterday with Smithy and four other women from our walking group. The original idea was to camp Friday night, tackle the 20km Ships Stern Circuit on Saturday then return to Brisbane on Sunday. Well, the unending rain on Friday nixed the camping idea for Smithy and I and we decided to head down to Binna Burra very early in the morning to meet the others, who had decided to camp, but in the tent huts that are on site at the camping ground.

We knew there would be leeches. We just didn't expect legions of them. We'd have a dozen each creeping up our boots every time we stopped to admire the view or to look at the pretty fungi growing on picturesque mossy tree trunks. Flicking the leeches off became an exercise in futility as three more would be sneaking up the back of your boots whilst you were triumphantly removing the one trying to lodge itself in your bootlaces. I ended up deciding to leave the one leech that had succeeded in latching on to me and let it fall off in its own time once it had feasted on me. A good theory, but of course, my blood ran into my sock and became a beacon for others. Eventually, I gave up trying to dislodge the little beasties that had burrowed into my socks. I figured there were more of them than me and trying to rid myself of them was a losing battle and detracting from the otherwise very enjoyable day we were having. If they got through my socks, well good luck to them. I'd deal with them at the end of our hike. For the rest, I'd remove any that landed on bare skin. This was a much more successful technique as they were easier to spot and flick off as they hadn't had time to sink their little teeth in to me. A few did still manage to get through my defences. Someone spotted two on my neck and very niftily got rid of them for me and after experiencing what felt like a bite on my bum, I had to ask Smithy to check my buttock where, yes, a leech was trying to settle in for a feed. Towards the end of the hike I noticed blood streaming down my thigh from under my shorts and realised a leech must have had a good ol' time there until it got full and fell off. I must have been a right sight to the few walkers we encountered. Blood trickling down my leg and neck and with blood-soaked socks! My leech count for the day - 11 very itchy welts on my ankles, thigh, neck and *cough* bum. I think it's the aftereffects that are the worst thing about leeches. The idea of them doesn't creep me out nearly as much as walking into cobwebs does. Arrgh! I hate that! But boy, do those leech bites itch. It's driving me mad trying not to scratch at the moment!

Not all the wildlife we encountered yesterday - pademelons, skinks, bush mice - was as unpleasant as the leeches.  Oh, except for the snake. It was only a little thing, no longer than 10cm, but boy was it aggressive! Smithy must have disturbed it as she passed by and it coiled and wriggled and lunged about in the middle of the track looking for something to attack. I backed off from its rearing head, waiting for it to settle and slither off. But it wouldn't. The others soon caught up and thankfully, one woman had a big stick. We all stood behind her as she carefully hooked the snake on the end of the stick and flung it into the scrub alongside the track. We all rushed along the path as the little snake reared about amongst the ferns. I could just imagine it saying "Who did that? Where are you! Come back here and fight!" 

You can just see the little snake - head raised in a striking pose at about 8 o'clock from the passionfruit.
Photograph courtesy of Christine Easton

We completed the hike in just under 6 1/2 hours, which was pretty damned good going, if you ask me, and we rewarded ourselves with delicious mugs of coffee from the Binna Burra Teahouse before setting off for the long drive home and much-deserved hot showers

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Boot Camp: Month Two

I'm not sure where I've lost it, but I've managed to shed 3kg since the beginning of the year - 2kg just in February itself. Gotta be happy about that! Certain pairs of trousers are noticeably looser now, so I'm starting to feel better about myself already.

We've been on Jenny Craig for a month now and it's very apparent that our main problem was portion size and eating too much fruit. Once we come off the plan, it should be fairly easy for us to maintain our weight as the food we're eating now is pretty much what we used to eat - just a lot less!

The exercising is also going well. I go for a walk/jog each morning before work and, whilst it's no great distance as yet, I'm noticing that my jogging is getting stronger. I'm probably jogging about 1.5km non-stop of the 5km circuit and am slowly building that up. Eventually, I hope to jog the whole route. Time may be against me though, as the mornings are going to get darker and darker. Once that happens, I'll switch to walking/jogging home from work instead. That's about 7kms, so a good distance.

We've joined a weekly walking group that goes around West End, taking in some of the steeper streets along the way and lately Smithy and I have started to do a walk around the trails at Mt Coot-tha on the weekends. Last weekend, we hiked up Mt Warning. That was a good workout and it took us just 3 1/2 hours to get up and down. I was very pleased to have only a little tightness in my calves the next day. About the only area I'm falling down in is the strength training side of things. Not doing enough weights, situps etc. We're still eight months out from our planned trek, so there is plenty of time to start working on that aspect of my training.

So, very much on track with the weightloss and fitness goals. If I can keep posting these small wins, it'll be so much easier to stay motivated.

February Book of the Month

I'm on my tenth book for the month but am unlikely to finish it before tomorrow night, so my official tally for February will probably stand at nine books. The list includes Ian McEwan's Solar, and The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World by His Holiness XIV Dalai Lama, which I got for Christmas.

A significant proportion of my private library is made up of books about trekking in the Himalayas, mountaineering and travelling in general and I am slowly working my way through the collection. This month, four of the books I read were about the Himalayas and my favourite book was Friends in High Places: a season in the Himalayas by Peter Mayne. It's a bit dated - published in 1975 - but a delightful tale of the author's stay at the Indian Himalayan home of a descendant of an exiled Nepalese Rana. Mayne is particularly fascinated by his host's ancestor, Jang Badahur Rana who was the first of the century-long line of Rana Prime Ministers who effectively ruled Nepal, and the reader is treated to a fascinating account of Jang's rise to power as well as an investigation into the infamous Kot Massacre of 1846 that cemented Jang's hold on the reins of power.

I found the history really enjoyable, but what I loved the most was the account of Mayne's stay at his old friend, Jagut Rana's, country home in the Indian Himalayan foothills near Dehru Dun. His descriptions of the estate and the people who call it home are whimsical and comic without belittling. I found myself totally immersed in the daily routines of this seemingly chaotic household and was sorry that the book had to end, but it has motivated me to seek out his earlier writings - A Year in Marrakesh and The Narrow Smile.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Musings on the flood levy

I've been doing a bit of reading and thinking about the flood levy and people's reactions to it over the past week and I have to admit to feeling somewhat disgusted by the mean spiritedness demonstrated by many people commenting on the issue.

I'd be happy to pay the levy. That's easy for me to say since I don't actually earn enough money to be liable for the levy. I went and made another $100 donation to the Flood Appeal as soon as I learned I'd be exempt from the levy. So I find it hard to imagine that people earning at least $12,000 pa more than me couldn't spare between $35 and $50 a year - for a single year. That's less than a dollar a week and you can't afford it? Really? Your budget is that tight, you're accounting for every last dollar? If you're anything like me, you toss more than that into your change jar every day!

Yes I know, you've got mortgages, cars to run and kids to feed. But it's still $50 bucks a year, folks. A year. For one year.

And yes, I know you've already donated to the Flood Appeal and why should you be forced to donate again. Well, the Flood Appeal monies go directly to assist people affected by the floods. The Flood Levy goes to rebuilding lost infrastructure. You know, stuff like roads, bridges, railway tracks. If we relied on donations to raise funds for infrastructure, nothing would ever get built.

Of course, if you're really upset by the Flood Levy you can always donate $50 to the Liberal Party's Stop the Levy Campaign, so they can save you from having to contribute $50 to the Flood Levy.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Festival of Tibet


The 3rd Annual Festival of Tibet is now on at Brisbane's Powerhouse. I'm down here volunteering on the Australia Tibet Council stall and thought I would blog about what's happening.

Last night, the audience of the Mystical Tibet concert was treated to a sublime fusion of strings, Japanese bamboo flute and the soaring vocals of Tenzin Choegyal as he joined forces with the Camarata of St John and Taro Terahara to bring us a beautiful moving performance of Tibetan songs.

Earlier in the evening Lhamo, Tashi and Jamyang, three Tibetan women, entertained the audience, singing traditional Tibetan folksongs. Each of them looked gorgeous in their traditional costumes and we thrilled to the sounds of their voices singing songs of their homeland.

Today's program is the highlight of the Festival. A hundred or so people are taking part in a meditation session as I type. The place is buzzing with people wandering around looking at all the stalls, playing on the singing bowls and tinkling meditation cymbals.

Shortly, a panel discussion on the Art of Healing will take place. Sonam Dagpo, the Dalai Lama's representative in Australia, Tenzin Norbu, a Tibetan environmental activist and Geshe Jamyang will be the speakers.

Later this afternoon, Ama-la Jetsun Pema, the Dalai Lama's younger sister will be giving a talk on educating children. Ama-la has been instrumental in the running of the Tibetan Childrens Village in Dharamsala. The TCV offers an education to any Tibetan child. Most exile Tibetans have been educated at the TCV school and many many Tibetans in Tibet risk everything to send their children over the Himalayas so they can get a Tibetan education. The talk promises to be very interesting and we are honoured to have Ama-la here.

The Festival will wind up tonight with another wonderful concert featuring Tibet2Timbuk2 and other special guests.

I'm off now to get ready for the Art of Healing panel discussion, as I have been lassooed into asking a couple of questions to get the discussion rolling.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Bootcamp 2011: Month One

It's been a month since I started my weightloss and get fit kick. The good news: I've lost one kilogram, I've bought a skipping rope and I can now run around the local park without stopping. The not so good news: I haven't used my new skipping rope. Nor have I done any situps, weights, pushups or star jumps. I've cut out the biscuits at work, but replaced them with a hardboiled egg. And I'm not convinced that all this is going to lose my unwanted kilos.

I seriously contemplated the Quick Start Three Week Program that John Birmingham mentioned on Twitter. He's had good results with it, so I thought it worth a try. But it's a really restrictive diet. Ok, I may lose the promised 7kgs, but what happens when I've finished the program and go back to my usual (healthy) eating? Will the kilos creep back on? That's been my problem with every weightloss idea I've tried.

Time for something different. Today, Smithy and I signed up with Jenny Craig for a three-month weightloss program. Already I can see the meal portions provided on the program are a lot smaller than what we usually serve up. This just may be the key to us both losing weight. And we get to eat pancakes, pizza and chocolate pudding!

Watch this space. I hope to have some real positives to report next month.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Book of the Month

This is the first in a monthly series of blogs highlighting one of the many books I manage to read each month. I've read nine books so far this January and the standout book for me this month is Salmon fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday.

I first came across Torday through the book club I belong to, when we all read his The girl on the landing. I didn't enjoy that very much and wasn't particularly inspired to go and explore his other works. But, whilst browsing the returns trolley at my local library I came across Salmon fishing. The blurb intrigued me and I decided to give it a go. And am very happy I did.

Salmon fishing in the Yemen is Torday's debut novel. The basic premise is that Alfred Jones, a staid fish scientist, is approached by a rich Yemeni sheik to head a project to introduce salmon to a wadi in Yemen. At first, Jones dismisses the idea as impossible, but slowly begins to think about how it could be done. Told via letters, diary entries, police interviews, newspaper articles and emails, the story unfolds in leaps and bounds, giving the reader insight into the various characters' perspective.

On the surface, a whimsical tale about salmon fishing, the novel explores love, faith and belief whilst at the same time offering a satirical attack on New Labour politics. I found it very entertaining and whilst the ending was unexpected, I came away most satsified with it. It's definitely a novel I'll be recommending to friends to read.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Generation who?

There's a lot of talk in the media these days about baby boomers, Gen X, Y and Z. We all get lumped into these broad categories and have gross generalisations made about us based on the years we were born as if we all share the same characteristics regardless of what end of the generation we were born at. My partner, Smithy, and I are both baby boomers, but she was born in 1947 and I was born in 1960. The influences that formed our childhoods were very different. Her parents fought in the war; my parents were still children. She grew up watching I Love Lucy and Bandstand. I watched The Partridge Family and Countdown. She did the classic overland trip from London to Kathmandu in the early 70s. I went to primary school. Woodstock was current affairs for Smithy. To me, it's history. My first protest march was against nuclear weapons, not Vietnam. My parents were teenagers in the 50s, listening to the likes of Elvis Presley and Cliff Richards. Hers were middle aged in the 60s.
My brother and younger sister, although only three and five years younger than me, are Gen X - as is my son. Yet we all shared the same childhood circumstances (not my son, obviously). We all watched the same programs on telly, read the same comics and argued over who was better - Sherbert or Skyhooks. My son wouldn't have a clue who Skyhooks were. His musical tastes were formed in the 1990s, ours in the 1970s.

See, I think that is what better defines us - the decades we grew up in. All people born in the 60s have similar experiences, as do those born in the 70s, 80s or 90s. And they have much more in common with each other than they do with those born at the other end of their generational span.

Those born just after the end of the war grew up in a world very very different to those born at the start of the 60s. Calling us all baby boomers hides the reality of our different experiences. I don't have very much in common with the baby boomers who are currently retiring and whenever the media mentions them, they are not talking about me at all.

Now, if they talked about the children of the 60s...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Brisbane floods

Terrible images on the television of the devastation wrought by the floods in Brisbane. Thankfully, my home and street are safe, although surrounding streets are under a metre or so of water. Friends in Flower Street, around the corner, are overseas and we moved a stack of their belongings onto our back deck yesterday for safe keeping as most residents in the street evacuated their homes. The floodwaters did not get as high as first feared but there will be a lot of cleaning up of under-house storage areas in Flower Street.

Police checking homes in Flower Street, Woolloongabba

Other areas of Brisbane are not so lucky. Whole suburbs have been completely inundated. The clean-up and recovery from this disaster is going to be massive. My heart goes out to all those affected.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Bootcamp 2011

Smithy and I are planning on doing a trek in the Nepalese Himalaya (surprise surprise) later this year, so I have decided 2011 is going to be Bootcamp Year. Yep, I am going to get serious about losing weight and getting as fit as I can possibly be. The goal is to lose at least 8kgs and my belly. We've got a treadmill and an exercise bike, cardio workout DVDs and some weights - every thing we need to work out and get fit. I'm gonna be trim, taut and terrific by October and it all starts today.  Did the official first weigh-in - and no, I am not going to tell you what the scales showed - and went for a 45min walk/run this morning. The plan is to go running/walking every morning before work and do some weight and cardio training in the evenings. We're cutting out alcohol until Smithy's birthday (end of February) and cutting down on the snacks and nibblies (bye bye chippies and Venetian biscuits).

For a while there, I was even contemplating signing up with Jenny Craig. It worked for Madga Szubanksi, why not for me? But then I heard that Jenny Craig had been bought out by Nestle. I don't know if that is true or not, but it doesn't sit right with me. A company that generates a vast income from sales of chocolates and sweets now owns a weight loss company? That just feels wrong.

The hardest part of all this will be staying motivated and persevering with it. I find it really easy to talk myself out of doing an exercise session, so sticking with it will be the big challenge. Oh, and resisting the desire for a glass of wine on a Friday night...

Part of my strategy for staying on course is to write a blog article about my progress at least once a month. With luck, the prospect of having to confess to being a slack arse will be enough to keep me on track! An added incentive are the trekking trousers hanging in the wardrobe that I can't quite get into right now. I'll be damned if I'm going to spend money on buying new ones. I also have a few pairs of jeans I'd like to wear again...

Right now though, it's lunch time...

Sunday, January 02, 2011

A year of reading adventures

As regular readers of this blog know, I keep a record of all the books I read and, at the end of each year, write a short article about the year's reading adventures. In 2010, I managed to read one hundred and twenty books - an average of ten a month. The most books I read in one month was sixteen - in March - and I only managed to read one book in November - William Dalyrymple's City of Djinns: a year in Delhi - but I was travelling (in India) that month.

The books I enjoyed the most: Parrot and Olivier in America, The Book of Salt, Wolf Hall, Dreaming in Hindi:coming awake in another language, My Name is Red and The Lacuna.

The book that had the biggest impact on me was Waste: uncovering the global food scandal. It explores the monumental waste that occurs at all stages of food production and the environmental costs of that waste. The one fact that shook me to the core was the story about a sandwich company that insists that not only the crusts from each loaf, but the slice of bread next to each crust is also discarded - a total of 13,000 slices a day, from just ONE factory! How many acres of land are needed to grow the grain to make those 13,000 slices that will never be eaten? The extent of food wastage around the world is breathtaking and is probably one of the key environmental concerns of our time. I recommend this book to everyone.

And my least favourite book of the year? Orhan Pamuk's The museum of innocence. Read for Book Club and not one of us liked it. As a portrait of obsession, it was very good. But having to read about that obsession. Oh My God - it made my eyes bleed!

My reading habit is very well supported by my local library service (Brisbane City Libraries) - only twelve of the 120 I read were books I owned.  I found most by browsing the shelves at my local branch. Several I reserved from other branches and two I got on inter-library loan. Things will be different in 2011 as this year, I have resolved to read every unread book on my bookshelves, rather than library books. The only exceptions will be Book Club selections, and new releases by my favourite authors. But first, I have to finish the stack of books I brought home from the library just before Christmas!

Here is the full list of books I read in 2010. The titles are split fairly evenly between fiction and non-fiction. I like reading travelogues and, because I was going to India in November, the list features a few books about that country.
January: Parrot and Olivier in America, Truth, Write Away, Luminous Bliss, We Are Now Beginning Our Descent, China Cuckoo, The Lieutenant, Meltdown, Cleopatra's Needle: two wheels by water to Cairo, Indian Balm: travels amongst fakirs and fire warriors, The Book of Salt, The Lost City of Z
February: The cactus eaters, High Crimes: the fate of Everest in an age of greed, The Library of Shadows, An Echo In The Bone, Peaks and Lamas, Vanishing Tracks: four years among the snow leopards of Nepal
March: Chasing Lightning, The Boat, Travels with Herodotus, Dreams of My Father, The Broken Shore, Skytrain: Tibetan women on the edge of history, Dead Europe, In Turkey I Am Beautiful, The Secret River, Bangkok Days, The Lord of Death, The Compassionate Life, Freeing Tibet: 50 years of struggle, resistance and hope, The Love Children, China's Great Train: Beijing's drive west and the campaign to remake Tibet
April: Singing for Freedom, Get Her Off The Pitch: how sport took over my life, Wolf Hall, Stones of Silence: journeys in the Himalaya, The Honey Spinner, Too Much Happiness, A Snowball in Hell, Dreaming in Hindi: coming awake in another language, You Must Die Once, The Last Men: the harrowing story of Shackleton's Ross Sea Party, Love and Punishment, Kingdom, Halfhead
May: Eat My Globe, The Jadu House: travels in Anglo India, Red Tape and White Knuckles, Xanadu: Marco Polo and Europe's discovery of the East, The Writing Class, The Spirit Level: why more equal societies almost always do better, Thomas Paine's Rights of Man: a biography, Hold The Enlightenment
June: Birdwatching watching, The Constant Art of Being a Writer, The Museum of Innocence, Dharma Bums, A Life Stripped Bare, The Path to Buddha: a Tibetan pilgrimage, The Longest Climb, The Audacity of Hope, Think of a Number
July: No Way Out, Neon Pilgrimage, The Lacuna, Making News, Dear Fatty, A Fraction of the Whole, The Opposite of Me, Let's Face the Music and Die, Caught In The Act
August: Stronger Than Death, Tasmania's Convicts, Come Back Como,Jerusalem, Shattered, Bleed for Me, Absurdistan, Adventures in Caravanastan: around Australia at 80km, The Untouchable, Googled: the end of the world as we know it
September: My Name is Red, A Year Without "Made In China", American Vertigo, Bombproof, My Mercedes Is For Sale, The Girl On The Landing, No Stopping for Lions, The Art of Travel, After Amerika, Long Ride for a Pie, Trick of the Dark, The Nature of Ice, Sizzling Sixteen
October: Among Flowers: a walk in the Himalayas, Magic Bus: the hippie trail from Istanbul to India, Saraswati Park, One Hit Wonderland, Waste: uncovering the global food scandal, Vroom With a View, Bad Boy, Brown Skin Blue, Suspect, The Winter of Our Disconnect, The Elephant Whisperer, India
November: City of Djinns: a year in Delhi
December: Mortal Remains, Liberty or Death: India's journey to independence and division, A Balcony in Nepal, Body Work, To The Holy Shrines, The Last Family in England, The Snow Tourist: a search for the world's purest, deepest snowfall, The Athiest Manifesto, A Beautiful Place To Die, A Beginner's Guide To Dying In India, Indian Nocturne

Three books I started but never finished were: A room in Bombay and other stories, Snow and Collapse: how societies choose to fail or succeed

Any books in there that you also read? Any of your favourites? Let me know in the comments below.