Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What I Did on My Christmas Vacation

The Best Present This Year
We are home again, landing back in Hobart on a glorious warm, sunny Christmas Day.

We had been cruising in New Zealand for almost two weeks and arrived in Sydney on Christmas Eve just in time to have lunch with Shirley and then a very special dinner at Rachael's with Lily, Matt, Jason and Lora.

We haven't Seen Lil in months and she and her mother are heading north for a six-month assignment Rach has drawn, so being able to get together with her these holidays was very special.

In fact we haven't celebrated Christmas with any of the Oz family since 2008, having spent the last two with the US families.  So it was a really great evening all around and was the highlight of what has been a very good month.

I know the families are eager for some photos, and it has taken me a couple of days to set up my new laptop and edit the photos, so I will make this a short post and write more about our journeys later this week.

Let's just say, we left our garden untended for two weeks, hoping for the first time that Hobart would have regular rain. Our wishes, however, must have been garbled because we had very regular rain once we got to New Zealand. That literally put a damper on some of our Kiwi ports of call, and our big concern became whether we would be blessed with magnificent weather on the only day that really mattered when we cruised the three beautiful sounds - Dusky, Doubtful and Milford.

Throughout the whole trip we also felt vaguely like neglectful parents (admittedly plant parents) as we kept wondering if all our gardening work leading up to the trip would have been for nought or if the vegetable gods would smile upon us.

Here are a couple of pictorial clues:

Leaving Dusky Sound

The zucchini is flowering

So, for more pictures of our month, go to .  By the way, the flash wasn't working properly during Christmas dinner so the pictures are a bit grainy and dark. But I know you all share my view - any picture of Lily is better than no picture of Lily.

More later. Promise.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Farm Report

Linda the Herb Lady and her elevated herb garden

I am becoming concerned that this gardening thing is becoming a little bit more than a hobby for the two of us. Those who know LK will probably not be surprised to learn that once she embraced it, she began giving it 110%. Two days ago she spent hours tying bamboo sticks together and creating a crazy Tinker Toy city where her tomatoes can live when they grow up.

By the way, those who know me will be quite surprised that I am still sticking with it even though three weeks have passed. I find myself resenting rain showers now. Not because they ruin a nice day, but because they take away my quality watering time with the plants.

We are both spending far too much time looking at leaves and stems. Every morning LK visits her babies and reports back on who is looking good and who needs attention. Excuse me, they're not really babies, they're peas and turnips and carrots. And when I say "who" is looking good, I mean "what" is looking good.

We have undoubtedly invested waaaaay too much emotion into growing our own but I think the award in this category is LK's hands down. She seems to treat each new chute and leaf as a cause for rejoicing. Conversely, when one of our seedlings didn't thrive when transplanted, I had to convince her there was no need to change into mourning clothes.

That tomato seedling (one of about 70 ot 80, by the way) has done poorly since leaving the seed tray to live in the garden. While all about it thrived, this one failed to grow and its leaves drooped and curled. That's OK, there are plenty more so throw it away, right? Not with the new Florence Nightingale of the Veggie Patch.

LK is a gardening equivalent of the Marines and lives by the motto "No plant left behind." She is quite sure we can still save that seedling. So we will move it to its own pot and give it plenty of TLC. You know, kind of like an Intensive Care Ward for sad little tomatoes.

I am not so sure. When I checked it out, I could see only slight signs of life;  its roots were sparse and on the Tomato of Life Meter it is tilting more to Dead than Alive. But we will try. Of course, as I told LK, even if we do manage to save it, it is still going to end up a vegetable for the rest of its life.

Here's some pix:

3 1/2 weeks - everything's looking good

Zucchini and squash looking happy

The bean and pea jungle gym

Strawberries - the birds love 'em

Apparently the tomatoes love living in places built like this

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Head Over Heels

Scabrous:  Having or covered with scales and rough to the touch

Scabrous is one of my game words, meaning I know it's a word and can play it in Scrabble or Words with Friends, but I have to look it up in the dictionary to know what it means. Which is what I had to do yesterday.

I was pretty sure it was a nasty word and more or less suspected it meant what it sounded like - full of scabs. But I needed to be certain in this instance. Because the night before, for the first time in my life, someone had actually called me "scabrous".

The fact that it was my darling wife and it happened in bed should in no way be seen as a reflection on the state of our marriage.

No, in fact we were back to one of my old topics - cracked heels. LK expressed such disappointment as her foot rubbed against one of my dried, rough-to-the-touch heels. "What's happened to your heels? You had them so smooth, but now they're . . . they're . . . well, now they're scabrous," she said.

If I had known what that word literally meant, I would have pointed out that, yes, my heels were a bit rough to touch, but technically they weren't covered with scabs. Unfortunately I did not learn the definition until it was far too late to reprise the brief discussion that followed being called "scabrous".

("Scabrous! Thanks a lot!"
"Well, maybe they're not that bad, but I really wanted to use that word.")

Anyhow, it's now back to pumice stones and Eulactol cream. That stuff is made from urea, which seems to prove that it is better to soak your feet in a byproduct of urine than have them seem scabrous to your wife.

Backsliding on the condition of my heels is probably just one more manifestation of my general trend in retirement. I had heard that a certain class of men tend to, shall we say, lower their standards of personal care once they no longer have to answer the starting bell at a job. Or, in my instance, perhaps the standards were always lower, but having to report to work kept them in check. In either instance, I have to acknowledge that I haven't been all that good on the dapper front since I retired.

Bill Belichick - Hoodie Master
You could point to my dressing in slavish emulation of my sports hero, Bill Belichick, but the point was driven home even more strongly last week when LK insisted it was time for my semi-annual haircut. "Either get it cut or I am putting it in a ponytail," she said. Which is another instance of things that happen when you retire.

Perhaps the best way to make you understand this is to ask you to imagine the reverse -- me telling LK that she had to get her hair cut or I would force her to wear a ponytail. Nope, we all know that men are not about to start bossing their wives around about their appearance - or at least not if they want to ensure they wake up every morning with all of their bits still attached.

But women seem to fall so easily into the notion that the old guy is in his second childhood. And we all know how well they play the role of Mother.

Hillary Wins This Contest
Or perhaps it is not that psychologically complex, for when I expressed these thoughts to my beloved, she just shrugged and said, "Look, it's as easy as this - I have to look at you and you don't." I tried to argue that I was just trying to see if I could outlast Hillary Clinton when it came to getting a haircut that was desperately needed. Obviously, with LK pressuring me I wasn't going to win this particular contest with Hillary.

So back to Whitey's Shearing Shed I went. Despite its name, they really don't tie up your hands and legs and run an electric razor back and forth across your head. They're very friendly there and in a matter of minutes I was presentable again - or at least as presentable as I am likely to get.

Presentable, like scabrous, might not be the precise word to use. Perhaps I can come up with a new phrase. Does "Retirement Casual" work for you?


Garden pix tomorrow for the thousands clamoring to see how our peas and carrots are doing.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate it.

I have given up trying to explain it to my friends in Oz who don't. Most Aussies know it's a big day for Americans and that its centerpiece is a huge family feast featuring turkeys the size of which astound people who haven't grown up with genetic breeding and steroids for their farm animals.

And for some strange reason, Aussies know about the dessert. "That's where they eat pumpkin pies, isn't it?" they will ask, with the tone of their voice leaving no doubt they consider it excessively weird to use pumpkins as the chief dessert ingredient. When you think about the fact that most Aussies start out each morning spreading on their toast a black paste made from the yeast left over during beer fermentation, you get a sense of just how weird it must seem to the rest of the world to eat a pie made of pumpkin.

That is, of course, until you feed them one as LK and I used to do many years ago when we would host our new Aussie friends so they could sample a genuine Thanksgiving dinner. But those annual extravaganzas were when we were younger and much more energetic. Even then, though, our energy had its limits and we finally gave it up when we realized we had served turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie to about 30 people and had barely had the time to chat with our guests. In fact, we weren't even sure we knew all our guests.

So now Thanksgiving is just another day for us. Which is a shame, really, because for the first time in our lives we are emulating those 16th centuries Pilgrim refugees in America, finding ourselves on a fast track to filling the cornucopia with, among other things, lots of tomatoes, radishes, beans, peas, squash and beets.

And this doesn't include the 2 dozen she's repotted!
Lacking the guidance from the native Americans that the Pilgrims received, we have already made several errors as we plant our garden. LK, for example, did not have great faith in her ability to get seeds to germinate. As a result, she is trying to figure out A) should we go ahead and plant the 60 or 70 tomato seedlings she now has; B) assuming we do, what will we do with the several hundred tomatoes they should yield and C) how much will it cost to buy all the jars and other gear to preserve these things.

I would laugh at her, if only I wasn't trying to figure out what you can do with 60 or 70 radishes. I am quite sure that's the number I will end up with based on the number of seeds that have already germinated. And similar excessive yields are likely for beets, carrots, cucumbers, zucchinis and turnips. Turnips! What in the world was I thinking of?

It will be January or February when most the great harvest begins here in the southern hemisphere. That is also about the time that I should be considering renting a stall at the Sunday Farmers Market. But lacking that, I guess we could revive the tradition and invite our neighbors over to share in our bounty and offer thanksgiving for our plenty.

Or perhaps I am jumping the gun. This morning LK stormed into the house. "Something ate one of my strawberries," she growled. Obviously many gardening challenges remain, but today I think it is nicer to just hold onto my Aussie Thanksgiving fantasy. And make sure I pay special attention to those squash growing in the corner patch. They should make good pies.

Who's been eating my berries, Mrs K wants to know

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


"I have a pea!" -- MLK (Mrs Linda Kennedy)
LK burst through the door yesterday with a wide grin on her face.

"Donald," she said excitedy, "we have a pea!"

Now, because I often burst through that door yelling, "I have to pee!" I at first misunderstood her. But then I realized what she was saying. Our garden was starting to make some food for us.

It should. We have put more work into growing our own veggies than just about any of the other 30 or 40 projects we embraced enthusiastically for a week or two. You know about moving the dirt to set up the bed, but since then we have each spent hours every day planting, thinning, pruning, transplanting seedlings, watering, staking and - as often as not - just standing there admiring our agricultural skills and trying to convince ourselves we really can notice a difference from day to day.

This is a bit surprising to me. It's not like we left Sydney to move to a farm. Our house is in a suburban cul-de-sac near the beach. Real farms are a good 7 miles away.  But for some reason, LK and  I have it in our heads that we are starring in the sequel to Green Acres - with the very surprising difference that both of us have chosen the Eddie Albert role and LK shows no interest in reprising a latter-day Eva Gabor.

The (Patient) Big Green Egg
And it's not just backyard farming. We're pretty much going the whole Nine Green Acres Yards. We are now baking our own bread a couple of times a week and LK has bought a new sewing machine and some quilting kits.

Yesterday we discussed whether we should make some of our own cheese, and the Big Green Egg is waiting patiently for us to begin making our own sausages and smoking them. (Yes, that's the two-year-old Big Green Egg, and when I say it is waiting patiently, I mean very patiently.)

The Herbal Deck
We love roasting chickens now so we can use the carcass the next day to make our own stock, which is especially rich in flavor because I use the parsley, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves and tarragon that LK is growing on the deck. Those are the herbs, by the way, which LK visits first thing every morning. "They're looking good," she will report or, less happily, "I'm a little worried about some of the basil." That's a worry, of course, because LK needs it to make her own pesto.

Growing your own does bring us back to the New Age Victory Garden out back. That has more than its fair share of great moments -- like this morning when LK rushed in the door and told me excitedly, "We have a second pea plant with a pod!"

"I have another pea!"

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


A big - a very big - pile of dirt

became a little pile of dirt
until eventually it wasn't even a pile of dirt any more

So how did this happen?

No, not how did the dirt pile get smaller. I mean how did it happen that I managed to start a post with two shots of my big fat ass. Every time I get on the scales, I realize I am overweight. But it is pictures like these that drive the point home most cogently. I mean, honestly, I could sell billboard advertising space on the back of my shorts.

Of course, if you look closely (and I doubt that any of you have had the courage to look that closely) you may notice that my BFA is ever so slightly less B in the second picture.

And that's because I have been on the 3-Day Garden Bed Workout and Fitness Regimen as we set up a "No Bend Over" garden bed in our back yard. Our 8ft x 4 ft x 2.5ft corrugated bed was delivered on Saturday along with veggie mix soil.

Unfortunately that 2.25 cubic metre (80 cubic feet) of soil that was delivered with the garden bed couldn't get past the front yard, while the garden bed sat in the back yard. So this past weekend has been spent moving dirt. Lots of dirt.

For the better part of three days, my life became quite routine. I would fill the wheelbarrow in the front yard, catch my breath, push the wheelbarrow about 35 yards to the garden bed, catch my breath, shovel the dirt into the garden bed, catch my breath and go back to the dirt pile.

There were a few steps in between. LK had researched how to properly set up one of these planting containers. Trusting the Internet to be accurate, she recommended a layer of straw near the bottom and, closer to the top, a layer of lucerne mulch and finally some cow manure.

Now here's the shocking news. The cow manure was virtually odorless, not even remotely similar to the smells I recall from my grandfather's dairy farm. But the lucerne mulch? As our friend Jaki often says, it was nasty. I mean rank, rotting smells that rivalled the worst sewage pits. You can see in this picture how enthusiastically I embraced putting that into the garden bed.

But you can also notice in that picture that the level of dirt is getting pretty high in the bed. It would have been nice to complete the dirt transport on Day 2, but I was discovering that one day of moving dirt doesn't really get you ready for the second day.

About the time this picture was taken, I was getting ready to give into my aches and pains and head into Day 3 the next morning. But after putting down this layer of foul mulch I felt I absolutely had to cover it up. So a couple more barrows and then I called it quits.

It was interesting to see that LK was still researching on the Internet. Only now, instead of finding out how to set up a garden bed, it seemed she was watching a YouTube video of how to administer CPR. That's what I like about her - she's always prepared.

Anyhow, yesterday the bin was finally full; we went to the nursery to buy seedlings since we're a bit late to be planting from seeds for most veggies. They will, we are pretty sure, turn into the most expensive vegetables we have ever eaten.

And then we started planting. And much to our surprise, that was a pain in the butt, too - although admittedly not the same kind of pain as you get lugging dirt back and forth. We took turns putting in carrots, spring onions, leeks, tomatoes and peppers before agreeing that the rest could wait until today and cocktail hour could begin early.

It's funny to realize that now that I am retired I get satisfaction from the strangest things. Whereas once I got a buzz when our company won publishing awards, now I am energized by moving dirt around.  Somehow it didn't even matter that all this effort was only so we could have fresh vegetable. If we were planting barley, hops and malt, I could understand. But carrots and onions? Yep, things are different.

And now it's time to finish planting. We've got turnips and parsnips and squash and peas  and beans to fill out our garden above the ground.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Boo! Boo Hoo!

Mr Jack O'Lantern staring from behind the bars of our porch railing

Happy Halloween!

Or not.

The eve before the Feast of All Hallows (now All Saints) Day has become a unique fun night, with kids in their costumes trick-or-treating their neighbors and hauling in bags full of sweets. Well, let's just say some kids are trick-or-treating because others are not.  I am pretty sure kids in Burma don't do it, nor do kids in Iran, Libya and certain conservative Christian neighborhoods in the US.

Nor Kingston Beach, regrettably.

They were doing it in Sydney by the time we left. At first Lily and a couple of her friends were among the few who door-knocked in fancy dress, but five years later there were good, solid numbers of kids who had caught on that all you had to do was put on a funny face and you could get enough candy to stay awake until Christmas.

And we loved it. Cute kids, scary costumes and all we had to do was open the door and hand them a miniature Snickers bar. No turkeys to cook, no presents to wrap. Just buy enough bags of candy to keep the goblins happy and enjoy yourself.

But we have apparently lost our Halloween in Oz now that we've moved here. It's not like LK didn't try her best to get the neighborhood in the mood. She carved a great jack o'lantern and with his gap-toothed grin he stared at the neighbors from behind the bars of the porch railing, virtually begging them to knock on the door and demand one of the dozens of treats we had optimistically bought for the big night.

Oh well, we can't expect every holiday from our youth to translate into Strine. It's just that we more or less hoped this fun one would have made it. Our expectations rose here in Tassie when the local grocery stores started selling American-type pumpkins for carving (the "flesh" of the Aussie kind are too thick to carve).

But perhaps we could have figured that they really hadn't quite mastered all the details when they cut the stems off the top so you couldn't easily lift the "lid" you carve in order to light the candle. LK solved the problem with a stroke of Halloween ingenuity. Like Dr Frankenstein himself, she held her creation together with your standard bolt and not quite so standard wing-nut. Now she just has to be as creative figuring out what to do with 47 miniature Snickers bars.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

In My Room

Just so you know, this is what I look at now every time I pee. The window sill in the loo used to be home to a couple of starfish and a crystal boat, but now it's proudly presenting a golliwog holding a duck next to a chook (sitting on blocks spelling its name in case you didn't know what it is.)

Having stood in front of them quite often, I can tell you the three of them are all quite different. The chook, for example, never ever ever looks you in the eye. There are few rules I live by any more, but one of them is that you should look someone in the eye. I think this rule is especially important if you're a chicken.

The duck, on the other hand, is just the opposite. He has no white around his pupils and his dull, dark eyes just stare at you continually. He is, by far, the most initmidating duck I have ever known. (And yes, you would be right in assuming I haven't known any other ducks. But just try to stay with me on this.)

The golliwog, of course, is horribly politically incorrect. Not that it's his fault. But the dilemma we face - now that we own him - is that to not include him means that we are creating an all fowl display and not permitting him his place. So he's there. LK had the duck next to him, but I thought it would make matters more amenable if the duck sat in his lap, so that's how they stay now. And yes, the duck is much less intimidating sitting in the golliwog's lap.

Oh, by the way, these are all johnnies-come-lately. This beautiful elephant has been the light of the night in the loo for many months before these latest interlopers arrived. Truth be told, I don't even know if the elephant likes its new neighbors. I am pretty sure she doesn't like the duck.

But then again, nobody likes the duck.

Today LK nagged me that I haven't blogged lately. I told her to stop nagging, that I have been trying to think of something to write about and was coming up blanks. I told my Dad this, and his solution was elegant in his simplicity. "Just make something up. You used to,"

But then I was peeing and looking, once again, at the chook, the duck and the golliwog, and I thought: "I have a post." But it need not stop there.

Not to nag the four young men who could have a say in resolving this, but were I to have another very young grandchild, say two or three years old, I might even write the story of the chook, the duck and the golliwog. And how the beautiful elephant saved them all one day,

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

An Old Mate

They call me The Wanderer
Yeah, the Wanderer.
I roam around and around and around.

That's a map of a now infamous walk that I made three years ago. I wrote a post then describing how I had become enthused over my newfound ability to walk (or more properly, walk without stumbling or collapsing). I was so enthused that I roamed parts of my neighborhood that I had never visited.

And with a not-so-precise sense of direction, I mistakenly took a path that led me into the woods and away from home to the suburb next door. Most people who know me thought it was pretty funny - the idea of the fat, newly retired guy huffing and puffing his way through a nature reserve and up what seemed like sheer cliffs but in hindsight are more similar to a modest hill.

Well, I had thought most of you thought it was funny but last week I discovered that an old mate of mine had a distinctly different view.

When I say old, I guess I mean it in just about every sense of the word. Old, in the sense our history goes back a long way; old, in the sense that we haven't had much - if anything - to do in recent years; and old, in that he is definitely getting along in years.

At one time I was quite a good friend of this guy. But in his later years (and probably earlier than that) he got in the habit of going to industry functions and often saying quite a few negative things about me and my company.

I knew him well enough to know that he couldn't help himself. He loved an audience, and he loved acting as if he knew something that no one else did. The problem was that he wasn't on the inside of very much by that stage of his career, and so he repeated gossip (often false stuff dreamed up by our competitors), blew up minor criticisms of our company into major probelms, and generally didn't think about what he was saying.

In America, he could have had a successful career at Fox News, but in Australia he was pretty much limited to the status quo.  The funny thing is that I knew him so well and had heard him do the same thing so often regarding other companies that I didn't blame him. For a man who thought of himself as the Godfather of IT, I knew it was nothing personal, it was just blather.

No Matter. After more than a few reports of things he had said about our company, I decided the best approach would be to stop sharing information with him and just skip the occasional lunch and get-together he and I had had for about 15 years during my last year or two working.

Somewhat regularly, reports would come back. He would be at an industry event and collar one of my staff, asking what had happened to me. Why had I fallen off the face of the earth?  Which was a tough question for them since I hadn't fallen off the face of their earth, only his.

I have now been retired three full years, and I assumed these questions had stopped. But no, some bones are just too tasty for old dogs to leave buried.

A week or two ago my friend Caroline was at an industry event and there was my old mate, still managing to pick up the odd free PR lunch. "Where's Kennedy?" he asked her. He then proceeded to tell her that I had fallen off the face of the earth and no one had any idea where I was.

She explained that she knew very well where I was, that I was alive and well and loving Hobart when we were not wandering around the world.

But is he all right, my old mate continued. He then told her in front of industry peers that he had deep concerns for my mental state. You know, he told her, he went for a walk and got hopelessly lost in his own neighborhood only a block or two from his house. He has obviously decided that the only reason I am not hanging with him any more is that I have early onset Alzheimers.

I don't know how he knew about my earlier post, but I am pretty sure he isn't a regular reader. If he were, he wouldn't need to keep asking what I am doing. It doesn't stop him from letting the folks in my old industry think that I am now wandering around with not the foggiest about where I am going.

I guess if I cared about my reputation in my former industry I probably would have kept in touch with key folks over the past three years. I haven't, and I just assumed I would be fading from memory. Little I did I realize my old mate would be keeping my name alive, but convincing people it was my own memory that was fading. 

I think there are two conclusions here: One, I was surely right to stop hanging around with him when I did. And two, the perfect response to what he is doing is to just forget about it. Which I am happily doing.