Monday, January 30, 2012

By Sea and By Land

We still have more than a third of summer left, but celebrating Australia Day always makes it seem as if we're nearing its end. The kids here in Tassie still have a couple of weeks left of their summer holidays, but just about everyone except teachers is back at work with only memories of holidays for this year.

So, before we move any further from the sun, I want to catch you up on a few things from the past month.

The tall-masted leaders approaching the Iron Pot lighthouse
First, we had a fantastic day on December 28. It's the first time we've been here then, and from our back deck we had a great view of the Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race. (Although I believe that there is significant reason to rename it the Hobart-from-Sydney race. We certainly call it that already.)

The flotilla welcomes the leader passing Kingston Beach
It was a pretty summer's afternoon when the first two yachts came into view. LK had made mojitos as we transformed the back deck into our very own corporate hospitality box.

It was the closest result in the race in decades, and it was quite special seeing these two huge sets of sails loom out of the ocean haze and approach the Iron Pot on their way past our place down the Derwent River to the finish line in Hobart.

I remember my Dad once commenting that yacht racing was about as exciting as watching grass grow. To non-sailors like me, that is undoubtedly true. But on a beautiful summer afternoon, it was fun watching a couple of those massive sails looming hugely over the dozens of smaller boats that came out to welcome them to our city at the end of their 2 1/2 day race. Of course, the mojitos didn't hurt the ambience.

The rest of January has been much more focused on land than sea, as we tended to our garden. What looked easy at the beginning, needless to say, is not quite the cup of tea it seemed. We lost all of our peas to pea blight (which is just about as bad as it sounds) and several of the tomatoes went down to fungus. The good news there is that still leaves us with about 25 tomato plants.

The veggies do seem to grow well here, and if we were growing them for their leaves we would be deilghted with the results. Unfortunately the bits we do want to eat are coming along but more slowly than we hoped - even adjusting for the climate. But with sunny warm weather forecast for this week, we remain optimistic gardeners.

Mind you,  we have eaten a little bit of our efforts. I think the radishes are averaging $85 a bunch and the one zucchini I did cook wouldn't have cost us more than $30 to grow. On the other hand, the beans are coming along niceley and were very tasty with dinner the other night. The carrots, beets and parsnips look quite promising. The cantaloupe (rock melon here in Oz) looked like it was growing brilliantly until we realized yesterday that what we were nurturing was a weed and the melon was dead. (This is, after all, a learning year!)

I have such great memories of the garden my grandfather had in Rutland. And every summer my Uncle Bob and cousin Jerome pop round to my folks with enough stuff from their gardens to start a farmers market. So I know there's some farmer genes somewhere in my makeup. Now if I can only figure out how to make them come to the fore.

It's not quite a cornucopia yet, but the garden is definitely coming in:

Yellow and green beans, oddly round zucchini, the first little squash, weird purple carrot, strawberries,a very late spring onion and a very badly shaped RolyPoly carrot that is supposed to be round

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Mrs K Meets Some of the 99 Percent

Welcome to 4Q's new year. Sure, it's late in the month to be posting for the first time in 2012, but with personal batteries recharged and a refreshed look for the blog, it is back for a new season.

I knew it was time to get back to posting for a couple of reasons. One, it seemed like every other phone converation LK has had recently has included comments like "I know, and I'm disappointed too, but he just doesn't seem to want to do it any more."

I am pretty sure she was talking about this blog, but actually her comments were not all that compelling a reason to re-start. Survival in retirement years requires - at a minimum - the ability to not pay attention to whatever critiques your spouse is making. And that's if they're talking directly to you. If you can't ignore it when they're talking to someone else, you may as well go get a job flipping burgers at McDonald's because life around the house will be just plain miserable.

No, the real reason I knew it was time to post again was that the other day we went through an experience and all I could do was think about how I wanted everyone to know what had happened.

And this is what happened.

With Jason and Laura moving down here in a couple of weeks, we've been doing house-hunting for them, checking out rental properties in the area. LK has been a woman on a mission, spending hour after hour checking out the ads for rentals, scheduling viewings and scoping out the prospects. In recent days she has been the Communications Center for the project, this week spending more time on the phone with Jay and Laura than she probably has in the past five years.

Her reports are pretty predictable: "It's small but in good shape, you should apply"; or, "Don't bother, it's run-down and it doesn't look like the landlord bothers to keep it up", etc, etc. We have walked into very attractive places with views of the water and very unattractive places with clutter everywhere and a dwarf trying to stop his dog from jumping on us. (Really.) The latter, by the way, elicited the report: "It's not bad, but I wouldn't apply. It's the vibe." Apparently clutter, jumping dogs and small people make for bad vibes even though, presumably, they won't be around once new tenants move in.

But the icing on the cake happened Tuesday. We arrived at a property to be viewed a few minutes early and parked near the house. While the five or six houses on the cul-de-sac were in fairly good condition,  I couldn't help notice that the lawn next door hadn't been mowed in a long, long time, most likely not yet this year.

That's not a good sign for the neighborhood, I said to LK who - ever the optimist - said it was hardly anything to worry about. As we sat there, I looked in my rearview mirror and saw a very large child sitting on a neighboring porch. The kid was quite a bit overweight and several years over age to be sucking away on a pacifier (dummy, to my Aussie friends). Then I started to notice the little things - a rusting, abandoned washing machine by a back door, a few engine parts in a yard. I was sure I could faintly hear banjo music playing nearby - da da da dang dang - and was getting ready to practice squealing like a pig.

The agent arrived in time to distract us from the neighboring houses. LK and she went into the house as I re-parked the car. It would have only been four or five minutes before I walked into the house, but before I got to check it out (well, other than the mattress leaning against the wall in the entrance foyer) LK came bustling out of the living room.

Her eyes were a little bigger than normal, her lips pursed a little tighter. "No, no, no, no, " she whispered to me. I thought she meant the house wasn't right for the kids, but she meant she didn't want me to come into the house and she wanted to get out, Which we did.

Apparently, after she saw the kitchen and living room, the idea of examining the bathroom and bedrooms sent her into panic mode and she was in full retreat. As we walked down the driveway, the duelling banjoes were getting louder and louder.

The agent told Linda that the house would be cleaned, of course, and LK replied that it really needed blowtorching. She later told me that even if they cleaned it, she could never go back there because she had seen what it was like now. Skeeve City was the term she used, I believe.

We saw one other house that afternoon, but LK was by then in no mood for anything but wonderful. She noted the very worn carpet, the damage to the wall and the agent's attitude that it wasn't that big a deal. LK left without looking at the bedrooms. She was so distracted, in fact, that she hadn't even noticed that the current tenant had taken a black marker and written profanities and racist comments all over the refrigerator, next to his collection of 20 or more empty bouron bottles.  I waited until we had driven away to let her know about the fridge graffiti.

So we ended our househunting Tuesday learning a couple of lessons. First, our alcohol-free lifestyle experiment was officially over after 14 days and ending as soon as we got in the house.

And second, when it comes to bad vibes,  we now know that clutter,  a dwarf and a jumping dog are not  anywhere near as bad as they seem at first.


And as a postscript, today is a national holiday here (not that this is very important once you're not working.) Happy Australia Day to all our Aussie mates and family.