Friday, 29 June 2012

Photo a day June - SOFT

The sky is gorgeous tonight.  This photo is exactly as I saw it.  No filter or alteration has been applied.
(c) divacultura 2012

My favourite things...this week

I've been laid up with the flu this week.  I've been so ill that it's a major effort to get out of bed.  Once I'm out of bed, it's a major effort to get back there, so the couch has been a happy compromise.

1. Winter - at least when it's freezing cold outside, staying holed up inside doesn't seem so bad.  I love you winter.  

2. Quickflix.  I'm a recent convert to this handy DVD and (Blu ray) lending library and streaming service.  The perfect companion when you're trapped at home because of illness.  I kept company with Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Antonio Banderas when I revisited "Interview with a Vampire" this week.  Robert Redford has just been delivered.

3. Ultrasonic diffuser.  If you're into aromatherapy in anyway at all, an ultrasonic diffuser is the way to get the best from your oils.  I've been using aniseed myrtle for its uplifting aroma and healing properties.  (At least I could smell it.)

4. Brandy.  I've succumbed to my mother's voice which urges to "get some brandy into you" or "get onto the brandy" at the first hint of illness.  I bought some of the good stuff yesterday.  Its ability to set my lips on fire as it robs me of breath, temporarily removes any sense of illness.

5. You tube! I can't remember how I stumbled on this clip, but that's the beauty of You Tube.  Here's a prison flashmob performing to Michael Jackson.  I'm always amazed that large numbers of people doing relatively simple moves is so effective.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Photo a day June - ON THE SHELF

I love my local IGA.  The variety they make available in this packed shopped is amazing.  I spotted this today on the shelves of the frozen food section.  I wasn't tempted.

(c) divacultura 2012

Question time - who is The Get More Guy?

For the second in an occasional series where I interview other bloggers and interesting people in the world, I'd like to introduce you to the Get More Guy, also known as Warwick Merry.

I met Warwick sometime in the noughties when we were set up on a blind date.  That didn't work, but we've become great mates and also support each other professionally.  He was also one of the people who helped me get through a very difficult, sudden change in my life circumstances a few years ago.  He's one of those good people who are good to have in your life!

Warwick and I have also been known to MC together and he's encouraged me to try my hand at stand up comedy.  We'll see what happens there.

Warwick is a professional speaker, so rather than writing his responses to the questions, he's answered them by talking.  Here's what people who have heard him speak say about him: 

"Warwick is part Robin Williams and part Tony Robbins. You're high energy, results focused, action oriented, no holds barred tour de force keynote speaker, Expo Guru and MC. His audiences rave about him and the positive impact he has made on their workplace and their lives. They are astounded at his down to earth approach and how engaging he is." 

You can hear him speak by clicking this link.
Warwick Merry - The Get More Guy
(c) 2012

To help you along, here are the questions I posed:

1. Who is the Get More Guy?

2. Where do you get your inspiration for the Get More Goer?

3. What's your work routine?

4. What's your favourite word?*

5. If you could script your dying words, what would they be?

6. What gets your hanky in a twist?

7. What's your Get More ambition?

8. What blogs do you read? 

9. Finish this sentence, "If I wasn't speaking I'd be...."

Find out more about The Get More Guy, Warwick Merry over at and

*It's "fetid" not "fettered" - I checked.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Photo a day June - BATHROOM

I've missed a couple of photos.  I haven't left the house for a couple of days as I pump myself full of zinc and vitamin C to return my body to health.  But today, I don't need to leave the house.
(c) divacultura
This mirror is one of my favourite things.  I bought it when I first moved to Melbourne.  The flat I was renting had a chip of mirror stuck to the wall in the bathroom.  I imagined that it would be similar if I was in prison.  I like the whimsy of the real garden tap with a drop of glass water reflecting in the mirror pool.  At the bottom, which I couldn't fit in the photo, there is a drain hole too.

The artist thought of everything.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Boats and cows - where do you stand on the asylum seeker question?

Why do people express more anger about the mistreatment of cattle in Indonesian abattoirs than they do about the plight of people seeking asylum?

This question was posed by Jon Faine on local ABC radio this morning as decent, moral and practical policies to address the issue of people seeking asylum arriving by boat continue to elude the country's leaders.

Many callers protested that they were outraged.  The point was made that the level of outrage expressed by the community to political representatives when Four Corners aired secretly filmed footage of cattle being cruelly mistreated in Indonesian abattoirs was so overwhelming that Government immediately suspended live cattle exports to Indonesia.

Whatever you think about that decision and its execution, it's interesting to see how quickly things can move if there is a will.  There's a direct link between political will and public opinion.

In the wake of over a hundred people drowning at sea as they made their way to Australia to seek refuge from horrors at home, the leaders' rhetoric is still framed around blame for the deaths.   A few politicians of all colours have expressed frustration at this situation and are pressing for a swift response.  There's lots of nodding when they say this.  Sometimes words like "we're prepared to negotiate" are said.  We saw it on Q & A last night from Senator George Brandis.  He repeatedly expressed an interest in negotiating but then reverted to standard Liberal Party dogma along the lines of "our policy is better than yours - send them to Nauru.  It worked for John Howard.".  Genuine willingness to negotiate was not evident.

Labor, represented on Q & A last night by Senator Kate Lundy, also marked clear parameters for the negotiations: "we'll negotiate as long as our framework remains in place".  It was so vague I can't remember what that framework is, but it doesn't sound like serious, open-minded, interest-based negotiation.

This is a win-lose battle.  Sadly, the real losers are people whose situation in their home countries is so dangerous and the global support for these people so inadequate that they desperately put their lives - and money - in the hands of people smugglers.

Back to the question about cows and people....

I contemplated the question objectively and wondered whether cows prompt outrage because they don't have a voice of their own. They can't protest about their situation or speak to the media so people need to do it for them.   A woman called and expressed this very view.  I was nodding in agreement as she said exactly what was on my mind.  Then she said this: "Animal cruelty wouldn't be an issue in Australia if the White Australia Policy had not been abandoned."

I stopped nodding.

What has happened here that there can be such a lack of feeling for fellow human beings? Sadly, the policy response to this difficult question feeds the disconnection.  Boats are demonised. The people on them are painted as rich people who indulge in civil disobedience by destroying their documents. Myths about the legality of the right to seek asylum abound. People drown at sea.

Politics is obscuring the deeper moral question - what is our responsibility to help people in need? How do we help them?

Monday, 25 June 2012

Clash of priorities - which work needs to be done?

Working from home has its dangers and distractions.  Today I had actually planned to do housework.  I like to be able to do this during the week if I have time so I don't spend my weekend doing chores instead of socialising and relaxing.  Occasionally I move beyond planning and I actually do the housework.

After doing a couple of hours of my own administration, I was about to turn to the household administration when the phone rang.  I had to attend to the call.  I finished that and was about to try the washing up again when a call came through on Skype.  I had to attend to the call.  I've just finished that - about five hours later.

In between things, there were urgent work related emails to attend to. (I'll also reveal that I made my moves in a few games of Scrabble that I'm playing on facebook.)  I haven't even looked at Twitter today.

At 6:45pm I have now finished the business-related work and I still have a sink full of dishes.  But I am writing my blog post for the day.  The dishes can wait.

There was a time when my distraction would have worked the other way.  I would have struggled to sit at my desk and do my work as I would  be tempted by a sudden, overwhelming desire to clean the bath or organise the spice rack.  Thinking about this now, I find it unbelievable.

I am living in chaos at the moment, but I'm okay with that.  My business related work is up to date.  I'm not in a panic about the end of the financial year.  My bills are paid.  I know what I have to do.  I take it as a sign of maturity and confidence.  I'd rather my business is successful and cope with some disorganisation at home.  Also, I don't care what anyone thinks about that.

I hope I feel as calm about it tomorrow when I wake up.  Over the weekend, I had been feeling the need to reduce some of the chaos.  The moment it starts to feel like pressure, I know I need to deal with it.  I've also learnt that it's not possible to do everything.  One thing at a time.  Where to start?  Start with what's in front of you.

The only thing I'm annoyed about today is that I missed my walk.  The weather was rubbish this afternoon though, so I'll live with that.  I've accomplished a lot today.  It wasn't what I planned, but it was important.  And now it's done.

Are you easily distracted? What do you do to stay focussed and get your stuff done?

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Out and about today

Today was lovely and sunny for the most part and I took advantage of this to head out for an afternoon walk.  I love to take my camera with me (in this case my iphone) and closely observe the world.  Here are my favourite shots from today.

Random ground shot
(c) divacultura 2012
I've become quite a fan of the ground.  Looking in detail at an intersection provides an excellent opportunity to play with composition.  I find the angles, cracks and textures in this shot really pleasing.  I've used an instagram filter to make it almost black and white.  How do you like the little splash of green in the bottom right-hand corner?

(c) divacultura 2012
 Speaking of green, here is a photo of grass.  There is a large vacant lot in Yarraville and I noticed today that the grass was really green.  I think this shot is an interesting look at texture and light in a largely monochromatic colour scheme.
(c) divacultura 2012
Outside a house, I noticed three trees with hardly any foliage on them.  The ground beneath them was prettily littered with fallen leaves and pebbles.  Very attractive.
Sun over Yarraville
(c) divacultura 2012
When I see the sun like this over Yarraville, it seems obvious why the cinema is called the Sun.  This shot shows the old St George's ballroom (now apartments) in the background.

What did you notice today?

Photo a day June - ON YOUR MIND

I've been experimenting today.  I became obsessed with adding a soft brown and pink scarf to my wardrobe.  On an impulse I bought some variegated yarn which met that criteria and tried a few different patterns to knit it into an interesting and wearable scarf.  I tried chevrons first, but it wasn't really pleasing.  Then I tried some multi-directional triangles which were fun and interesting, but didn't really work with the yarn.  After a few hours of knitting, I ripped both out and put the yarn away.  (As I write this, I've remember that I have a rather gorgeous chocolate and pink crushed velvet scarf already.  Must find it.)

So I returned to socks and pulled out some yarn whose colour is called Hoochie Mama.  On my mind today has been the journey of yarn from a skein to a cake to a finished product.  The socks aren't finished, but the cuff is and you get the idea...

(c) divacultura 2012

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Photo a day June - MOVEMENT

(c) divacultura 2012
The cracks in the wall just near the ceiling in the lounge room look bigger after this week's earthquake.  What better way to photograph "movement"?

Friday, 22 June 2012

My favourite things...this week

1. The Voice.  I followed this show from the very beginning and enjoyed it immensely.  I was Team Keith from the beginning and thrilled to see musical buddy Darren Percival in the final four. The final show was a joyous celebration of music making and I loved the duets between each contestant and their coach.

2. Genius mix.  I've only recently acquired an ipod after getting the hang of itunes via my iphone.  I've been rediscovering my CD collection as I load it all onto itunes and therefore my ipod Classic.  While I've been doing this, I pressed the Genius button.  It's, well, genius!  A twenty-five song play list is created from my entire music collection which is in the mood of which ever song I first selected. Great fun!

3.Mandarins.  They are delicious at the moment and very portable.

4. My accountant.  She helped me set up a very handy spreadsheet last financial year which I have used to track my expenses and GST as I go.  Rather than dreading tax time, I'm feeling calm and confident that I know exactly what I've spent.  I also have a system for keeping and filing all my receipts.  It's fantastic!

5. Dumplings!  I visited the Dumpling House for lunch today and dined on some chive and prawn dumplings and shared a big bowl of chilli pork dumplings.  Delicious.  Do not wear a white shirt when you plan on eating dumplings.  They splash!

Photo a day June - FROM A HIGH ANGLE

The highest place I've been today is on my balcony.  This shot was taken looking straight down over the edge.  I like the lines.
From a high angle
(c) divacultura 2012

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Question time - who is the Lazy Civil Servant?

My recent attendance at the Blog Writing Masterclass has provoked much reflection about divacultura.  One of the things that I like to do in the offline world is network, introduce people and discover people's secret lives and passions.  I've been thinking about how I can share this experience with you online.  I'll be regularly posing some questions to other bloggers and interesting people in the world and introducing them to you here.  

Introducing the series is John B. Cahill who is also known as The Lazy Civil Servant.  John and I have known each other for decades, first meeting when we sang in the Queensland State and Municipal Choir (catchy name!) and meeting again as superstars in the making at the Music Theatre Summer School.  I think that's where it was.  I asked John to open this series because he's the reason divacultura exists.  He's also entertaining.  

Here he is...

1. Who is the Lazy Civil Servant?

Well that's a good question actually. I started blogging again in July last year and I needed to come up with a new name. I couldn't think of anything. Then I spotted a copy of Quentin Crisp's The Naked Civil Servant in a second hand book store and I thought a play on that name would be fun, primarily because I am a civil servant myself or public servant as we call ourselves in Australia.  At first I tried The Clothed Civil Servant (nah), The Covered Up Civil Servant (double-nah), The Naughty Civil Servant (clearly completely wrong) and The Well Dressed Civil Servant which sounded too much like a grooming guide for men.  The Lazy Civil Servant was actually the first title that popped into my head but I thought it was too obvious and suffered from tautology. After all aren't all civil servants lazy? Why would an adjective be required? I still grapple with this from time to time, then I pour myself another wine. So yes, in answer to the question, I am the Lazy Civil Servant. I have just realised I haven't answered your question at all. How embarrassing. The following might help:

Name: John B. Cahill
Age: 37
Occupation: Lawyer in the Public Service
Anti-Occupation: Frustrated Writer. Actually cut the writer part. Professional Frustrated Person.
Pastime: Loud Homosexual
Favourite Sport: Looking Busy

2. Why blog?

I wrote a blog for most of 2008 and part way through 2009. It was called Thoroughly Modern Colin (TMC: it's no longer available on the web). I started it because I wanted to get back into writing again. I really hadn't written much in the creative sense other than very entertaining emails (well at least I thought they were) since I was at uni in my 20s.  Once I started TMC, I blogged practically every day and developed quite a following. For some reason I had a lot of fans in Belgium. Who knew I could translate so well into Flemish? I was like the Gotye of blogging but in reverse being Australian and not really popular anywhere else but Belgium. TMC started off in a similar vein to what The Lazy Civil Servant is now, although the pieces were a lot longer. I think they averaged about 3000 words a post whereas with Lazy I generally write about 800 words a post. TMC was basically full of anecdotes mainly from my childhood and early 20s. After a while though it started turning into more an online diary and this was its downfall. I was becoming my own blog version of The Jersey Shore and friends were starting to get hurt. So I killed TMC in early 2009. After being away from it for 18 months though, I returned to the art with The Lazy Civil Servant half way through last year. It's only this year though that I've started blogging consistently again. I love blogging because it encourages me to keep writing. There is an immediacy to it. I share all my posts through my Facebook profile and on my twitter feed. Generally most of the time I get positive responses and sometimes I receive constructive feedback: all of it encourages me to keep writing. If I was cat I would have to be patted and stroked continually.

3. What's your writing routine?

I write every day. I also like to do marathons before breakfast. Writing is a lot like exercise for me, I rarely want to do it but when I do it, I feel a lot better for it. My god how many ‘its’ were in that sentence?

4. What's your favourite word?

'Actually.' It’s like a charcoal lightweight knit, it goes with everything.

5. If you could script your dying words, what would they be?

Where’s my phone?

6. What gets your hanky in a twist?

Passwords. So many passwords. Read my post on it :

7. What's your writing ambition?

I want to write a novel. Yes I know…how groundbreaking. I probably should try and read one first.

8. What other blogs do you read? 

divacultura of course. I used to read a lot of them years ago but not so much now. I was a big follower of Clare Bidwell-Smith’s Life in LA then Life in Chicago and now I think she’s back in LA. I was hoping she would do a Life Back In LA but she’s just these days. And she’s just released a book called The Rules of Inheritance which is fantastic (well I don’t know …I haven’t read it but Oprah loves it)

9. Finish this sentence: "If I wasn't blogging I'd be....looking at myself in the mirror. 

And just to prove that we have known each other for we are in 1995.

Photo a day June - WHERE YOU SLEPT

(c) divacultura 2012

This seems even more personal than laying out the contents of my handbag.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Spotted around town today

On my journeys around the city today I came across the delightful crocheted window at Morris and Sons above Dymocks in Collins Street.

Looking in.
(c) divacultura 2012

See the bike?  At the back?  On the left?

On yer bike!
(c) divacultura 2012

Is that crocheted Basil Brush posing as a seat cover?

Crocheted window from the inside.
(c) divacultura 2012
I love this colourful fix of crocheted funkiness.  Why not wander up and have a happy, colour, infusion?

And on my way through the village, I noticed this sign on the window of a shop that has been empty for a little while:

Yarraville surprise...
(c) divacultura 2012

Can't wait to find out what it is!  Anyone know?

What have you seen today?

The earth moved - rocking the suburbs.

It's not often that I'm sitting in my lounge and the earth moves, but that's exactly what happened last night.  It's probably old news that Victoria was hit with a 5.3 earthquake and the epicentre over in Moe is still feeling aftershocks.

I heard a rumbling and then a slight shudder which felt very odd.  Then there were several bangs and shakes - it felt like a truck was repeatedly ramming the building.  It was very violent and, well, unsettling.  Nothing fell off my walls. I hoped that it might shake my resident mouse out of hiding, but that didn't happen.

Once it was clear it had stopped and nothing was broken I went outside and ran into my neighbours.  We were all looking for confirmation that other people had felt it too and we weren't having some strange hallucination.  We checked to see if anything had fallen off the building and checked to see that everyone was okay.

My downstairs neighbour bid us goodnight with the comment, "It's been nice bonding with the neighbours over a natural disaster!"

I went inside and opened up Twitter and turned on the ABC radio.  My twitter feed confirmed there had been an earthquake.  I was able to gain information and quickly knew the strength of the quake, how widespread it had been.  I received enquiries to check on my welfare from far and wide.

Once it was clear that there had been nothing serious, the twitter conversation turned to humour and a discussion about the challenge twitter poses to mainstream media.  We were all gathering information from each other and knew the story long before stories started to appear on media websites.  That's hard to compete with.

Callers to ABC radio sounded confounded and reached for the words to describe their experience.  One man was quite animated in his description, saying that it was "incredible!" and "The big TV in my room?  Well, it moved a little bit!"

Apparently the quake is one of the strongest experienced in this area.  I've felt a few tremors before, but nothing like last night.  Compared to somewhere like Christchurch, this was a little tickle.  It was enough for me! I can't imagine how frightening it must be to be in a prolonged, strong earthquake.  

Have you ever experienced an earthquake?

Monday, 18 June 2012

Bach is alive and well in Melbourne

Steinway awaits
(c) divacultura 2012

One of the things I love about Melbourne is that there are often great things to do that cost very little or nothing at all!  Yesterday afternoon I went to the magnificent Melbourne Recital Centre and spent a couple of hours listening to music by one of my favourite composers, JS Bach.

The occasion was the Bach Competition for musicians aged 17 years or under and they must be citizens or permanent residents of Australia.  The competition is in its third year and there is a $2000 prize, donated by Richard Mills AM who is also one of the judges.

There were pianists, violinists, a cellist and an oboeist (accompanied by harpsichord).  It took me back to my own days competing in piano competitions and the breakthrough that I had playing Bach.  I always entered the Bach Two Part Invention section at the Toowoomba eisteddfod.  I have a beautiful edition of the pieces which includes copies of the original scores.  It started my love affair with Bach.  One year I received a Highly Commended from the adjudicator.  I was thrilled!  I collected my certificate and the written report which included detailed comments about the nature of Bach, the need for balance between the parts.  I remember there being a particular reference to "conversation" between the parts.

It changed my life!  Suddenly I had this new insight into the music and played it much better.  The following year I won the section playing invention number 13.  It was a very big deal at the time.

I also remembered the nerves as I watched the young musicians take the stage in the home of serious music. I silently congratulated the young girl who patiently adjusted the height of the piano stool before commencing.  I was sitting so close that I could hear the breathing of the cellist.

I sat longing for some personality (having seen James Rhodes play, it spoils you for all future serious music concerts) when a boy with a mop of red curly hair timidly took the stage with his violin.  He looked very nervous.  When he chose to stand side on to the audience I inwardly groaned.  Then I looked at his feet.  He was wearing shoes with an extended toe.  Brave move with that hair!  His performance wasn't very good.  Playing solo violin leaves no room for error and was completely exposed.  The performance was out of tune and uncomfortable for all.  He seemed to know it.  At one point he turned the page of his music and shook his head.  Even he couldn't believe that he had to keep going.

I wondered about him.  Would he rather be playing football?  Was he really a flautist, but discovered he had entered the wrong competition and had a violin thrust at him as he took the stage?

Listening to young musicians is instructive.  Many are skilled technicians and hit all the right notes.  They excel in the fast music but when it comes to the slower pieces a lack of emotional maturity is evident.  It will be exciting to hear these musicians play as they grow as people.

Richard Mills referenced Virgil Thomson in a perfectly pitched speech as he prepared to announce the winner.  I've looked for the reference this morning but haven't been able to find it, so I paraphrase.  In France during the War he was in such despair at the state of things that he decided to stay home and practise Mozart.  It was the best way he could find to stay in touch with humanity and beauty.   Richard Mills applauded these musicians for their contribution to humanity by staying home and practising Bach. He also thanked the audience for coming out to support and nurture young musicians.

Congratulations to William Soo who won, playing Toccata in C Minor, BWV 911 on the Steinway and Sons piano.  Commendations were also made to pianist Oscar Jiang and oboeist Andrew Kawai.

Who's your favourite composer?

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Photo a day June - IN YOUR BAG

(c) divacultura 2012
Top row (left to right):

  • 2 Quickflix discs ready to be returned
  • Blackwing Palomino pencil
  • red pen
  • black pen
  • blank, soft cover Moleskine notebook
  • wallet
  • fold up shopping bag
  • packet of tissues
  • purse to carry all those damned loyalty cards
Middle row (left to right):
  • Glasses cases - spectacles and sunglasses
  • business cards
  • mesh pouch with mirror, lipstick, lip liner and hair tie
  • Moleskine diary
  • Sony e-reader
  • umbrella
Bottom row (left to right):
  • Two Irish Breakfast tea bags, Twinings
  • packet of Extra (peppermint) chewing gum
  • tube of YSL purple mascara for comparison purposes when shopping for a refill
  • L'Occitane lavender hand sanitiser
  • L'Occitane hand cream
  • coin and myki purse
  • Myki receipt from last top up

Surprised and pleased to find no chewing gum wrappers or squashed cough lollies.  Or moths.

The bag is the black one visible at the top of the picture.

I feel very exposed now.  Where are my keys?

What does this say about me as a person?

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Photo a day June - OUT AND ABOUT

It's dark so early now. But the sky is a beautiful, dark blue.
(c) divacultura 2012

Precision parking: the fine art of stealing a car spot.

Taking advantage of the (now gone) sun, I was on my balcony this morning hanging out some washing.  An unfamiliar car pulled up and the driver wound down his window and shouted up at me.

"Is this your car park?"

"No," I responded.

"Do you know whose it is?"

I pointed to the apartment next door.

"Thanks," he said.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because I live at number 4 and my girlfriend's car is parked there. So I have no where to park.  I just want to check if it's okay for me to leave my car here."

He reversed into the car space, wound the window up and locked the door as he walked towards my neighbours' place.

"It's good of you to ask," I said.  It really was.  Most people just park where they like without any consideration for the person they may be inconveniencing.

"Yeah, well, not really.  I'm just sick of uptight people nagging me for parking in their spot." He was standing on the balls of his feet, tightly wound.

"Well it's fair enough for people to ask you to move if you're in their spot," I suggested.

"They don't have to whine at me."

He stalked off.  I heard him knock on my neighbours' door.  They weren't home.  He returned to the car and took out a loop of electrical cord.  I went back inside.

Then I heard yelling.  I went onto my balcony and pretended to adjust the washing.  He was yelling at a cowering woman, demanding she move her car forward half a metre.  I assume she was his girlfriend.  She scurried back inside, re-emerged with car keys and moved her car forward.  The man directed her.  This was some precision parking.  First she went too far forward, then too far back, then too fast, too slow, the angle wasn't right.  She persisted in her efforts to please him with her car parking.  I would have abandoned the car to him.  Or driven off into the sunset.

Any wonder he was sensitive about the way people spoke to him about his mis-parked car.  Delivering, rather than receiving was obviously more his style.  I wonder what is going on in his life for him to carry so much frustration and anger with him.

I think I'll walk the other way next time I see him coming.

Friday, 15 June 2012

My favourite things...this week.

This week's top five favourite things:

1. Missy Higgins's new album, The Ol Razzle Dazzle.  If I still listened to records, I would say that it has been on high rotation, but that doesn't seem to apply to a playlist on the ipod.

2.  Reading knitting patterns on my Sony Tablet.  This is a revelation.  The reality of a paperless world is starting to look possible.

3. Having said that, let me contradict myself.  My third favourite thing is my go everywhere notebook.  This month it's a soft cover ruled Moleskine for work and a smaller, blank soft cover Moleskine for capturing creative inspiration.

4. I've always loved writing with a pencil.  I've tried mechanical pencils, but the spare leads end up in the same place as the box of staples - some mysterious, secret hiding place which the universe will not reveal.  I have just discovered the Palomino Blackwing.  I love the evocative name. Can you fall in love with a pencil?

5. The HBO television series, Game of Thrones.  Coming from a non-fantasy background (I hated "The Hobbit", don't understand the fuss about "Star Wars") I was sceptical about this show.  The tall pile of thick novels by George R.R. Martin revealed unfamiliar names and confirmed all my suspicions.  Then I heard people talking about the show and I thought "I have to watch this show".  So now I am.  It's wonderful. Brutal, but wonderful storytelling.

What are you loving this week?

Photo a day June - YELLOW

I don't do yellow.  Until today, the only yellow things in my house were some lemons and some post-it notes.

Then I made this little origami fish.  He's swimming with an orange one on the wild waters of the fridge.

(c) divacultura 2012

Thursday, 14 June 2012

There's a mouse in the house: how to win a battle of wits.

A week ago it became clear that there is a mouse in the house.  This happens periodically and I have no idea how they get into my first floor apartment.  The mouse is not welcome in this house and the moment I have a suspicion I open the jar of peanut butter, slather a generous smear on the jaws of a mousetrap and I wait.  It usually takes no longer than five days. It's a canny, cunning, slippery mouse that has taken up residence this time.

You may wonder how I know I have a mouse.  In the past there has been a surprise, face-to-face encounter which has left the mouse as shocked as me.  It's a shame the mouse can't just drop dead from an adrenalin surge.  Last time I had a guest I was sitting at the kitchen table thinking.  The house was pretty quiet and there was movement that caught my eye.  I looked over and saw a mouse considering me.  When I turned and saw the mouse I inhaled sharply.  So did the mouse. And then it hid behind the washing machine.  Out came the peanut butter and the trap was laid.

Each morning I would look behind the door in trepidation.  There's only one thing worse than dealing with a live mouse in the house and that's a dead mouse that needs to be removed from the house.  It took about a week before the mouse was disabled.  I wondered how anyone, including a mouse, could resist the delicious enticement of peanut butter for so long.  After five seconds of considering this, I realised that peanut butter may be less appealing when it is smeared on an instrument of death.

One of the design "features" of my kitchen is that I have an open pantry - open shelving with no doors.  After a serious moth infestation a few years ago, I've become hyper-vigilant about storing pantry goods in airtight containers.  I've obviously missed something though.  Sitting in the kitchen the other day I could hear a "scrabbling" sound.  I would stop what I was doing and just listen.  I would hear silence.  As soon as I would go back to doing what I was doing, the sound would start again.  Cunning mouse.  Trickster mouse!  I shook the shelves and saw a flash of grey fur shoot out and run behind the stove.  These mice are really good at hiding in really skinny places behind really big, immobile appliances.

And so the traps were laid.  Nothing so far.  Not even a sniff.

What I really need is Alfie the Jack Russell.  He's the world's greatest mouser.  He literally sniffs them out.  You can hear him sniff and he stands his ground until the fridge is moved, the dishwasher unplumbed, the walls pulled apart.  He is never wrong.  He is very efficient.  A mouse doesn't stand a chance.  He grabs the mouse, shakes his head and that mouse is history.  (You can see the killer here.)

My current battle is nothing on the mouse plague I experienced in western Queensland in the 1980's.  People put the legs of their beds in buckets of water in an effort to stop the mice joining them in bed.  Shudder.  I will never forget standing in a moving sea of mice when my father turned the air-seeder on.  It was full of mice.  When the machinery was turned on, a seething mass of mice poured out of it.  There were kids, cats, dogs, Mum and the pet lamb fighting a losing battle.  It was truly revolting.  At one point I saw the cat looking utterly bewildered as it had mice pinned to the ground under all four paws.  It looked to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

If the traps aren't full in the next couple of days, I'll pull everything off the pantry shelves and find the little bugger.  I hope there's only one.

What's your mouse catching strategy? Peanut butter or cheese?  Baits?

Photo a day June - TIME

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All my trains, trams, appointments and such-like ran on time today.
Like clockwork, in fact.
Good, slick, Swiss clockwork. 
Tip top clockwork
Tick-tock clockwork.
Not dodgy, knock-off-Bali clockwork.
Running like that kind of clockwork would be bad.

The myki readers at South Yarra station are running on the second kind of clockwork.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Photo a day June - ART

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My love affair with photography

When I was nine years old I put a lot of thought into what I wanted as a gift for my tenth birthday. I settled on a camera.  I wanted a camera more than anything in the world.  My wish was granted and I received a Kodak Instamatic camera with its cartridge of 126 film (no tricky winding of the film with the potential of ruin before anything had even started).  I would just open up the back and put the cartridge in, close the back, wind the film on using the lever and then point and shoot.  Simple.

Even though it was easy to take a photo, a lot of consideration had to be given to composition.  Film was a finite resource which cost money to buy and process.  With only twenty-four photos available on a cartridge of film and every photo costing money to see, I seriously considered what I wanted to photograph.  With a point and shoot camera though, I had no ability to manipulate things like light and depth of field with the camera itself.  It really was a case of WYSIWYG*, except smaller.  I remember the thrill of visiting the Coffs Harbour dolphin world with my newly acquired camera thinking of the wonderful photographic opportunities it presented.  I remember the disappointing reality of a series of seemingly identical photographs of a pool with dolphins.  The pictures required close study to discern the details of the glint in the dolphin's eye as it jumped for fish.

The addition of a flash cube was a blunt instrument, adding a uniform wash of light and red devil eyes to all human and animal subjects.  Again, these were a finite resource.  Flash cubes had to be bought and provided flash for four photographs.  A cube physically attached to the top of the camera and rotated when the film was wound on.  Someone tried to tell me once that they were filled with gunpowder.  It seemed possible but unlikely.

The photos were taken to the pharmacy for processing or sent away to a lab somewhere.  There was always anticipation as I opened the envelope to see the result of my work.  Sometimes there was disappointment but there was always something to laugh about.

At primary school in Moree, photography was offered as an extra curricular activity.  I don't remember anything about the cameras we used, but I do remember that we had a fully equipped dark room for processing black and white film.  I remember the smell of the chemicals; the red light outside; the art of working blind and then the magic of seeing images appear; newly developing photos pegged to a line to dry. We didn't do much to manipulate the images, but at the age of about eight having the opportunity to develop pictures seemed wondrous.

When my brother chased me with an axe once (he only did it once) my response was to take a photo of him.  I can see that photograph vividly and it makes me laugh.  When he reads this he may be inspired to chase me with an axe again.  My documentary instincts were developing early.  If he succeeded in doing anything more than threatening me with the axe at least the court would have something to consider.  (A highly developed imagination was overfed on novels from the moment I could read!)

During my journalism studies I briefly flirted with the idea of photo-journalism.  With my visual take on the world and interest in people it seemed like an obvious thing to do.  There didn't seem to be much support or guidance for a young woman wanting to learn the craft and I lacked access to decent camera equipment.  (I may still have been using the Kodak Instamatic.) I focussed on writing and radio production instead (using tape, chinagraph pencils, scalpels and tape).

This idea had another airing when I was working for the media unit in a Commonwealth Government department.  I was editor of the staff newsletter and often required to photographically document events.  At my disposal was a Nikon and a Minolta. The Nikon was a proper camera requiring some know-how, while the Minolta could be set to automatic for a point and shoot ability which was more sophisticated than the Kodak Instamatic.

I loved the Nikon.  It came with lenses, flashes, tripod in a big silver case.  It felt serious.  I started to feel the challenge of combining the art with the mechanics.  It was exciting!  Often I was shooting in black and white film which provided all kinds of artistic opportunities.  It was time to learn more about the magnificent tool I had been given to use.

I enrolled in a TAFE photography course and was interested to discover the teacher's day job was police forensic photographer.  There wasn't much art in what he produced, but there was the sense of documentary and the need to truthfully capture a scene.  He had to know everything about his equipment, if only to ensure he didn't unwittingly distort the details of a scene.  He was charismatic and fascinating and I looked forward to my evening classes. We learnt lots of tricks, including how to photograph "ghosts".  Some of the best photos I have ever taken are a product of these classes.

For the final class we had the run of the darkrooms at police headquarters.  We learnt about manipulating the image in the process of development.  Suddenly it seemed like madness to hand the development of photographs to someone else - usually a complete stranger!

Today I carry my iphone everywhere and take photos of anything and everything.  I can experiment with angles and perspectives and see the result instantly.  If something doesn't work, I can trash it without a care. And I don't have to settle for what I get after I press the button.  I can head over to an app like Instagram to change the shape, focus, light, contrast and colours of a shot.  It's like having a dark room in your handbag.  I love it!

My participation in the photo a day challenge from fat mum slim is something I really enjoy.  I find myself being hyper observant of the world as I look for an opportunity to meet the day's challenge.  It fuels my inspiration and creativity and I've been surprised and delighted by some of the shots I've managed to take on my iphone!

Shadow girl.
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*What you see is what you get.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Photo a day June - FROM A LOW ANGLE

So many shots to choose from today!  Here's the final selection.
From a low angle
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With ten minutes until the next tram, I looked up!  I was at the tram stop at the Elizabeth Street end of the Bourke Street mall.  There was a lot to see.

I really like this shot because of the perspective.  I was standing right near the old GPO where the clock is.  Renovations are underway so there is scaffolding all around the building.  The Commonwealth Bank building is on the diagonally opposite corner.  It's a really tall building and I was surprised when I noticed it in the shot.  It almost looks like it's leaning in.

The wires are part of the tram system.  I like the extra texture they add to the shot.

I held the camera horizontally so I was shooting straight up.

I used a filter to add some more light to highlight the clock face - you can even see what time it is! - and to gain contrast with the clouds.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Photo a day June - DOOR

Wandering in the city I noticed this door...or is it a window?  I wonder what its story is?  Were there once stairs to somewhere?
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Sunday, 10 June 2012

Photo a day June - Best bit of my weekend

It's a quality television bonanza at the moment.  I've been waiting for several of my favourite series to release their latest seasons (Breaking Bad, True Blood, Big Love, The Big C).  I've also discovered some new ones (Justified, Game of Thrones, Treme, The Walking Dead, Shameless.)

When it's horrible outside and I don't have to work I love to immerse myself in another world.  It's the best way to watch quality television.  Oh, and I get a lot of knitting done.

Photo a day June - Your view today

I got all mixed up!  "Your view today" was the photo a day theme for Saturday.  I thought it was for Friday.  Friday's theme was "6 o'clock" which I completely failed to meet.  So I thought I'd show you my view over the last couple of days.

My View Today
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This is the "official" photo of my view yesterday.  Wandering around the city in the rain after choir practice yesterday, this display of colour in Australia on Collins caught my eye.  The umbrellas were suspended over about three floors.  The bright colours were a lovely contrast to the grey Melbourne weather.

This was much better than my view the day before.
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I spent Friday in this room at St Vincent's hospital.  I wasn't unwell, I was working as a simulated patient for medical students' exams.  That pale green they paint everything in hospitals with is enough to make me feel green around the gills.  Add some very strong fluorescent lighting and you've got the perfect circumstances to drain life from otherwise healthy people.

If I looked a little to my left I could see this.

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At 6 o'clock I was tucked in a Thai restaurant in a Melbourne laneway having a very early dinner with a friend who had also been working at St Vincent's.  No photo of that.

There were two other lovely views from yesterday that I want to share with you.
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Rather than drive to choir practice on a Saturday, I've started catching the train.  It actually takes less time and is much cheaper.  I have time to buy a coffee after I arrive at Flinders Street before my connecting train leaves and I always enjoy having reading time.  Yesterday, the park at Clifton Hill looked particularly lovely. The trees with their thinning, brightly coloured foliage, the lush green grass sprinkled with the fallen leaves and the tree trunks black from the rain. I didn't mind walking in the rain when I could see such a lovely piece of nature.  (I have used a filter on this photo to emphasise the contrast.)

Outside my rehearsal space there is a herb garden.  It's lovely to watch it change through all the different seasons.  In summer the aroma of basil permeates the garden.  Here's what it looked like yesterday.
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The window has a mirror finish and there's a seat to sit and contemplate. I love the brick wall behind it with its peeling paint.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Photo a day June - DRINK

My take on today's word, "drink", is a little oblique.

In the midst of a cold, grey winter's day, I went for a walk to the village and suddenly there was sun! and blue sky!  I stood where it was and drank in the sun.

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* I have not used a filter on this photograph. The sky really was this blue and the sun really was shining for a nanosecond at about 4pm.

Throw away papers - anyone reading?

I'm currently on hold.  The hold muzak is falsely upbeat, but slightly static, like a radio station tuned in the cracks between the stations. Every 30 seconds or so, the muzak is interrupted with the news that my call is important, they're grateful for my patience and they'll be with me real soon.

I'm calling the local give away newspaper after another lot was dumped in a pile at the foot of the 28 letter boxes which serve my apartment block.  Often I chase the pages down the street before dumping them in the recycling bins.  Other times I'm picking up wet paper slurry after the pile of papers has been rained on for a few days and dumping it in the recycling bins.  "Throw away" would be a more apt name.

It's hard to imagine that the people who produce the paper and the people who pay to advertise in it would be happy that this is how their product ends up.
It hasn't rained today, so the newspaper soup is not evident.
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Today I decided to pick one up and see what's in it.  There were two free local papers.  One of them had some stories of local interest, the other was really a vehicle for real estate advertising.  Inside the two papers there were 19 junk mail catalogues.  Nineteen!  It's end of financial year so there's a big pitch for people to spend money in the hope that they will gain a tax benefit.  If you're stuck for ideas, look no further than the junk mail.

After almost five minutes on hold Andrew answers my call.  I describe the fate of his publication and he agrees that the delivery process renders the whole exercise pointless.  My "complaint" will go through to the people who do the deliveries.

I mention my "no junk mail" label that I have on my letter box.  His hackles go up.  His newspaper is NOT junk mail.  It's unaddressed mail.  Apparently I need to apply a more comprehensive sticker.  I'm beginning to understand why my crazy neighbour has sealed his letter box shut by attaching a metal plate.  So that pile of paper slurry at the entrance to my building is unaddressed mail, NOT junk mail. Must remember that.

I've written before about my relationship with junk mail.  Looking after the world I live in is something I am passionate about.  I don't like litter.  I don't like waste.  It could be argued that the very existence of these throw aways is an exercise in both, regardless of how they are delivered.  I don't even read the newspapers offered for sale.  Dumping them in a pile sends the message that the producers think the same way.  I'm sure the advertisers probably suspect this.  This problem could be solved with some creative streamlining: advertisers can transfer money to a bank acccount somewhere.  No need for paper, ink, time or recycling collection.  Same result, less litter.

I'll be interested to see whether the distribution method changes in coming weeks.

Do you read the throw away papers?  How about the catalogues? What do you do with them?

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

What are they flogging: how to tell if you're in regional Australia

Visiting Shepparton this week allowed me to sample the local television ads.  It's one of the things that I notice as a place marker in this increasingly monocultural world and I always like to take a look.  Of course, while I was doing this, I also noticed some other things about television ads that are currently playing.  Generally, I'm a watcher of the ABC and so don't see many ads, but there are two shows that I'm currently watching on commercial television:  The Voice on Channel 9 and Downton Abbey on Channel 7.

If you turn on the television and see someone who is clearly the business owner rather than an actor, you know you're in regional Australia.  Vin may be the world's greatest pest controller, but does that mean he makes for great TV?  No it doesn't.  Vin should stick to hunting down cockroaches and torturing mice.  Sometimes, you won't see the business owner in the ad, you'll hear them instead.  I do occasional voice-over work so I know what we cost, but I also know that we're sooooo worth it!  There is an art to doing voice-over, just as there is an art to lubricating a car engine.  How about we respect each other's skills and stick to what we're great at?

If you're not sure where you are, turn on the television and put it on a commerical channel.  What's being advertised?  If it's sheep dip and herbicide you're in farming and grazing territory.  If there's an actual farmer running his (for he's always a bloke) hands through the dirt or the fleece on the sheep's back, then double your chances you're in regional Australia.  And double the distance you are from a capital city.

I first noticed this phenomenon when I was at boarding school in Toowoomba.  There was an ad for fertiliser to help your sunflower crop along.  It featured an animated sunflower which uttered a groan as it shrivelled and died before our very eyes.  The voice-over man gravely warned us that we could avoid this happening to our sunflower crops.  Although I didn't have then, haven't had since, don't have now and probably won't have in the future, a sunflower crop, I remember this ad vividly.  I think it was the humour.  After we heard the sound of a dying sunflower, the voice-over man's script required him to say, "Let's hear that again", forcing us to relive the terrible sounds of a dying sunflower. Imagine if you had a whole paddack of dying sunflowers?  The sound would be deafening.  And hilarious.  Unfortunately, while I remember the ad, I don't remember the product.  What will I do if I ever do grow sunflowers?  How will I save them from certain death?

Sheep suffering from all kinds of unimaginable afflictions also made strange sounds in television ads.

Unlikely copy writing in television ads is another clue that you're in regional Australia.  This one can be tricky though - it could also mean it's 1 o'clock on Saturday morning and you know you'll regret opening that second bottle of red wine.  A prime example I noticed this week was "Grouse Grout".  It even had a jingle.  Grout isn't usually front of my mind.  If I was in a situation where I was required to think about grout I'm not sure that "grouse" would be in my top ten list of Essential Grout Qualities.  But what would I know? Nothing.  About grout.  Anyway.

Along with locally produced ads, a smattering of other ads was also screened.  Two stood out: KFC's campaign about canola oil and Proactiv's pitch to teenage boys.

KFC's latest pitch hinges on the "word" 'goodification'.  Blah.  It's so horrible that they have an explanatory clip on You Tube.  Years of poor teaching of grammar is clearly paying dividends now as the generation of kids who were taught on the basis of "it doesn't matter how you spell it as long as everyone understands what you mean" grow up and start working for ad agencies.  That's all I have to say about that one.

Proactiv is a skin care brand aimed at acne afflicted teenagers.  Usually they target girls, so it was refreshing to see the pitch to the fellas.  It featured a BMX bike riding star.  He talked about how he likes bumps on a BMX track, but not when they're on his face.  Talk about bumpy scripting!  He talked about how his acne made him feel.  I was right there with him until he told me that his acne was affecting his BMX racing.  Seriously.

There was a time when ads were great.  They had great jingles or were funny or were memorable for good reasons.  Can't think of any right now.

What ads have you noticed lately?  Do have a favourite ad? Or what's the one that makes you yell at the television?

Photo a day June - HAT

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I knitted this hat last winter. I love the stripes.  I love the colours.  Whenever I wear it, strangers pay me compliments.  I thank them and tell them I made it myself. They marvel at my cleverness and then tell me they like the colours.  So do I.

Photo a Day June - SIGN

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Monday, 4 June 2012

Photo a day June - CLOSE UP - and thoughts on sock knitting

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Here's a close up of the heel area of the pair of socks I finished on the weekend.

This is where all the action happens in a sock.  There's the heel flap (at the left of the photo).  This is knitted back and forth (rather than in the round like the rest of the sock.)  At the bottom is where the heel is "turned".  You might remember this moment from reading "Little Women".  They always seemed to be turning a heel or on the brink of turning a heel.

The diagonal line is where the gusset of the sock is being decreased to continue on and knit the rest of the foot.

I've now made 59 pairs of socks.  I made the first pair in September 2008 as skill development.  Everyone seemed to be knitting socks and so I decided to learn.  I bought a book and I looked at you tube for some of the techniques.  It took me two weeks to finish the first pair.  I still have them and still wear them.  My socks last me for a long time.  I've seen other friends wear through theirs in a very short space of time.  I wonder why?

Socks are the perfect place to learn knew stitches and approaches.  The scale is small so mistakes don't cost a lot of time.  I read somewhere over the weekend that it's good to make your mistakes fast.  Lately I've just been "auto knitting" plain socks from the top down.  I have all the numbers in my head and can make them without any reference to a pattern now.  I'm doing this because I have a big stash of gorgeous sock yarn which I really need to use.  So I am.

Hand knitted socks also make lovely gifts.  Many of my friends and family are wearing my hand knitted socks right now.  They are always received gratefully.  My father loves them.  Apart from feeling wonderful on the feet, they aren't so tight around the leg that the foot is at risk of falling off.  It has also solved the dilemma of what to give the person who has everything.  At least my current mission to knit through my stash has resulted in a healthy stockpile of gifts.  I can also go shopping in my own home when I feel the need for a new pair.

Often I'm asked how much I sell my socks for.  I've made a decision not to offer them for sale.  After purchasing the yarn and fairly considering my investment of time, the selling price would be around $175 - more if the yarn is a "luxury" yarn with cashmere or silk in it.  I'm not sure there's a market for socks at this price.  Instead, I offer to teach people how to knit their own.  None of my prospective students have turned into actual students yet.

I've recently signed up for some on-line classes to build my skills.  One is for "toe-up" socks.  I just need to find some clear air and be in the mood.  It will be interesting to see how different it is from going cuff-down.  The other class I've signed up for is called Mastering Lace Shawls.  I've watched the first class and wound the two huge skeins of lace yarn into usable cakes.  I think I'm going to need to have my wits about me!

Are you a sock knitter? Are you a sock wearer? What do you look for in a sock?

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Gothic in the suburbs - it's a two crow day

Two crows sit on the roof of the apartment block opposite.  Still and black and looming.  Against the grey sky they look like a Gothic omen; a motif used by a film director of a film set in the swamps of Louisiana. Their shadows loom over the other birds who are minding their own business and getting on with their day -  small brown birds swooping and enjoying each other's company.

The crows sit in judgement. The collective noun springs to mind.  (A murder of crows.) Their occasional "FAAAAR, FAAAAR, FAAAaaaaa" cut through the winter air.  The small brown birds stop when they hear it, then go back to the spot they were pecking on the ground.

Impatience does not sit well with the crows and they lazily fly to join the small brown birds.  The cast of the shadow is enough to make the small brown birds fly away.

This went on for a couple of hours this morning.

There is something about a big, black crow that makes me uneasy.  It is probably because of all that Gothic symbolism used in films.  Black crows appearing outside usually mean bad news is coming in a film.  Especially if you see them reflected in a mirror!

When I saw two crows hanging around this morning, I turned all my mirrors to face the wall. It's enough to have one crow hanging around; I wasn't going to take any risks with two.

I tried to take a photo, but every time I would step outside with the camera they would fly away.  Growing up on a farm, my mother always told me that you can't shoot a crow.  She meant that they will not be shot.  I remember asking why.  I think the answer was along the lines of "they know".

Film makers probably came up with the crow as an omen for bad news because writers had used them before there was film.  I hope that writers just dreamt them up and that their power is merely imagined.  The other possibility is awful to imagine - that crows are an omen for bad news in film because they are a warning of bad things to come in life.

I'm going out to chase the crows away so I can watch the next episode of True Blood in peace.  With the grey skies it is positively Gothic over here in Yarraville.

Photo a day June - ON YOUR PLATE

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Yesterday I baked "Blacksmith's tea loaf".  Here it is on my plate today.

I love the combination of fruit cake with a cup of strong tea.  Blacksmith's tea loaf is even better because main liquid ingredient is strong black tea.  I made this loaf with wholemeal spelt flour and it's delicious.  My hair still smells like the loaf coming out of the oven.

I'm having a lazy day today.  I've been watching television.  I don't feel guilty about it though.  I've finished a pair of socks I started only a few days ago and now have started to knit my own design!  It's been in my head for a few weeks and I'm now playing around.  So I guess I'm not that lazy.  My hands are never idle.  I'd never be able to sit and watch television for hours on end without doing something else!

I'm putting the kettle on.  Who's for a cuppa?