Saturday, March 24, 2012

Good news

I'm hoping to write this post before we pop-off to the local school, to vote in our State elections today. We've often had days backing up lately because they're filled with a multitude of tasks. But it's great when you're going about your business, and then some good news is shared out of the blue!

Such was the day when we visited the local library (shopping and blood bank too). Do you visit your local library? Do you know all the public resources made available for local groups?

Dave is known at our public library, as the "Doctor Who" guy, LOL. He's the guy that comes in every two months, to dress one of the rooms for our bimonthly meetings. Meetings are held on a Saturday, but he goes in Friday afternoon, to set up a giant television we hire just for the meetings. The librarians have been great, trying to accommodate our groups needs. But we're not the only group which uses these public rooms in the library. There is also a Chess Club and many different ethnic languages clubs.

We have been paying for the hire of the television equipment since David set-up the group, with the help of member contributions. We've always been out of pocket ourselves however. So much so, that we even contemplated buying a television and donating it to the library - because at nearly $90 a pop for hiring, we were getting close to spending as much as buying a new TV.

We stopped into the library recently because Dave had to change over the new meetings flyers, for people to collect at the librarian counter. Plus we had to borrow some books. As we were checking our books through however, a nice librarian recognised Dave straight away, and had to share the good news. The public library had purchased a television and installed it in the room for public use!!

We were so incredibly chuffed!! This meant no more out of pocket expenses for us, or those members who were able to chip in. No more overheads for our group! It is now completely free public use of public equipment. The library had taken on board our needs as a local group (and the needs of others also using the library) and helped reduce our overheads. It's such a relief to know our local library can help to bridge the gap.

The other good news is that the local library (Toowoomba) will be getting a new building soon. The local Council currently rents a building from a private entrepreneur, but plans are now in the pipeline to build a public, Council owned building for our library. The librarians have asked for contributions from Dave to represent our local group, in identifying how the library can meet our needs in the new building. But Dave isn't the only person they are consulting. Those who head other groups regularly meeting at the library, are being asked for their contributions too.

Maybe in five years time (hopefully sooner) we will have a new public library, which we (and our members) have helped to shape. We also speak regularly to the not-for-profit group, called "Friends of the Library", who sell library books which have been taken off the shelves. They then use those funds to purchase new books. We purchased a few of their raffle tickets recently, for their Easter basket giveaway. Knowing how we were trying to scrape money together to meet the costs of our local group, we were happy to support Friends of the Library.

If you live in or near Toowoomba, please stop into the local library and buy a ticket. I think it was $1 per ticket or 3 for $2. It all goes towards ensuring your local library has the books you want to read. But it's so much more than exchanging money. The Friends of the Library, and all the public librarians are generally just lovely people to talk to. Whenever we've had a question, someone has always taken the time to answer it. If they cannot answer it, they make enquiries and get back to us. It's a wonderful way to find out about local resources, and group activities especially.

If you're wondering what you will do with your weekends, check into your local library to see if there are groups meeting there. We are The Doctor Who Club of Australia, Toowoomba local Group. We also know of the Toowoomba Chess Club who meets at the local library regularly too. If you're looking for ethnic contact with your own cultural background, you may find a group meeting at the local library. And if you ever dream of starting your own group, contact your local library to see if they can offer you public space to meet.

Now it's time to go and vote!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Double trouble

Life is full of adventure, right? Or at least that's what I have been telling myself since yesterday. What a day! It started out innocently enough - drove daughter to school then continued into town to visit the local library, went shopping afterwards and then quickly stopped at the local blood-bank to make a donation.

WARNING: I feel I need to premise this post about the contents of visual descriptions of blood.

Dave got a call recently to donate blood plasma for the Easter period. It was his day off soon, so why not? He's donated plasma before, and I went as designated driver. In Australia we don't get paid for donating blood or related blood products (such as plasma and platelets) we do it because it saves lives. Plasma and platelets are especially useful to help in the treatment of leukemia. We have a daughter and we'd like to think others would donate blood, to save her life if needed. So Dave donates blood. I would donate, but with insulin dependent diabetes the process is a little trickier. Not impossible, just trickier. And after yesterday's fiasco at the blood bank, I don't think I'll be attempting to donate any time soon.

Have I mentioned before, that I can faint when I smell or see blood? I know it's one of the things stopping me from joining Dave when he processes our chickens. I keep telling myself, it's all in the head - just talk yourself out of fainting, LOL. Yesterday, I had no idea why it was different from the other time I was David's support person, and designated driver. Maybe it was because there were so many people in the room this time? Maybe it was because the air felt stuffy and I was wedged into a little corner beside David's bed? Maybe it was because I was at eye-level with his arm having the blood taken out?

I don't know why it happened, but about fifteen minutes into David's procedure, I started to feel faint. I got up and went into the small eating area just outside the donation room. I did a quick test and my blood-sugar readings were normal. I was probably due for something to eat, but I already had a quick snack before arriving. I thought maybe I could eat some of the jelly beans in my handbag, but for some reason my stomach was churning. I felt like throwing up. Instead of waiting for something to go wrong, I calmly walked over to the receptionist and told her I was feeling faint.

My personal glucometre - always carried in my handbag
Actual reading, when I first started to feel faint - MEM stands for memory

She ushered me over to a couch and told me to lay down, next minute I hear her shouting for a nurse. Good Lord, I felt so embarrassed - I hadn't even donated blood! They all told me I was as white as a ghost and I felt like it too. I shared how I had diabetes, did my test and all seemed fine. The nurse asked if I wanted a drink of sugared cordial. Oh yes please! She put it in a cup with a straw so I didn't have to get up from the reclining position. I made sure I told her I hadn't donated blood, that I was just there to support my husband. How embarrassing, I thought next, I came here to support Dave, not become a patient myself, LOL.

After the cordial and a slice of fruitcake which they put out for people, I was feeling a little better. It wasn't long before the nurse asked me to scoot over however, because someone who had given blood was feeling faint. They all joked I must have started a chain reaction, LOL. If I thought I felt embarrassed however, the young man now sitting next to me on the couch was a doctor! We got chatting because I think we both felt somewhat silly - after all, I was just meant to be the designated driver and he was just popping in from work at the hospital to donate blood.

Our conversation was interesting however, because he saw me do another blood test with my little glucometre. It's just a little finger prick and the tiniest bit of blood. I apologised doing the test in-front of him, because I couldn't get up from the couch - and I didn't know if he would react to seeing the blood. He replied he was fine with that sort of thing normally, he said he doesn't have any sort of problem treating people - just this time, when he was on the other end of the treatment, he admitted he was baffled. I said, I wonder if it's about control - because I'm fine doing my regular little blood tests, and giving myself multiple injections every day too. I admitted it all started to go wrong when I saw the big needle they were about to put in my husband's arm.

My personal medication I administer daily via injections

Well, it was a nice interlude while it lasted, but my cohort in embarrassing situations soon had to return to work. So I started the mental process of talking myself out of any further dizzy spells. With something to eat, I figured all would be okay now. Surely, the worst was over? I was feeling immensely better and I got up to the "regular" chairs they have for people (to eat and drink) after donating blood. I made sure to find a seat closest to where I could see Dave, but was still outside the donation room. We locked eyes again, and the look of relief on his face was obvious. Poor Dave was plugged into a plasma machine. He saw me disappear behind a partially glassed wall and saw all the nurses positioned around me. They did tell him afterwards, I was okay and they joked not to bring me in again, LOL.

So there we were, two patients: one brave and giving plasma, the other clueless to what had gone wrong. I was feeling like we were nearly at the end. I saw the nurses approach Dave, so it probably wasn't going to be long until he was unhooked from the machine. There were a few of them around him, talking and looking concerned. Then I saw him grab his arm and pull a face. He was in pain.

Good Lord, that light-headed, sick-to-the-stomach feeling came over me again! I excused myself past a nice gentleman as I made my way to the couch. I lay down, feeling woozy, hoping no-one would notice me this time. Someone called for a nurse, ah nuts - they noticed!! A completely different nurse arrived this time, she put my legs up with the aid of cushions. I had to explain once again - I hadn't donated blood, I was just the designated driver of the person who was. I couldn't believe this happened to me a SECOND time. What had gone so wrong? This was not how it was supposed to happen.

It took a little while before Dave came out of the donation room. By then, I was sitting up again. His arm was bandaged up like everyone who leaves the donation room. I asked if he was okay, but he laughed in that casual, "I'm a guy", kinda way. But that's not what his face said five-minutes ago though, LOL. I guess we were both feeling a little embarrassed.

I said it seemed like a longer session than the first time he donated blood plasma. Apparently it was too - as the pathologist which plugged him into the machine originally, hadn't put the needle in right. The procedure should've finished in 45 minutes, instead he was there for 55 minutes before the nurses cottoned on. The pathologist plugging him in, should have checked on the machine way before the others detected something was amiss.

I just wanted to put it all behind us when we drove home, however. And can you guess who drove? If you guessed Dave, you'd be right! How embarrassing, LOL. I joked to David in the car, there goes my dream for a career in pathology. I also suggested if he planned to donate in future, I probably shouldn't go with him. We agreed that would probably be best.

Although I felt incredibly embarrassed how my body conspired against me, I'm still glad I went with Dave. I'm glad I wanted to be his support person and designated driver home. I hate that I became so weak, but how was I to know until it all unfolded the way it did? And a promising young doctor is out there too, who was also baffled by his response to donating blood. I guess it takes all sorts. I'm feeling much better today.

If I had to take a guess at what happened, I think I was hyperventilating. All those little "sign-posts" which said possible danger this way (like a giant needle heading towards my husband's arm, red blood in a tube coming out his arm, other people with red blood tubes and gyrating bladders collecting the mass of blood) I think at each sign post, I kept holding a little more breath back. I may have deprived my own blood of oxygen as a result. How ironic, huh?

But yesterday wasn't all bad news. Actually, there was some great news to be had also. But I'll save that for another post. :)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Not the real deal

Okay, confession time...I've found something which is helping me cut some corners. Normally I like being authentic and really don't like rip-offs, but sometimes there are issues which truly need a different approach. Warning: if you're Canadian, stop reading now, as what I'm about to share will almost break your heart.

Today, I made "mock" maple syrup! Yup, and to add insult to injury, I even put it in a recycled "authentic" maple syrup jar from Canada. I know, don't hate me, but I do have genuine reasons for doing this. You see, I live in the Sugar Cane State of Australia - Queensland, and it's easier to buy sugar here than it is to find Maples. Sugar also travels less kilometres to make it to my pantry. I know it's not as authentic as the real deal, but surprisingly, this mock maple syrup recipe tastes pretty good!

Sarah gave it the big "thumbs-up" when she had it on pikelets for afternoon tea, smothered in creamy butter too. I thought it tasted scrumptious, but I can't have too much (health reasons). What I tasted however was yummo! So for all those who don't live near Canada, or have a climate to tap Maple trees, maybe you could give Mock Maple Syrup a try. It was really easy to make.

This recipe comes from "The Failsafe Cookbook", by Sue Dengate. All natural (no additives) ingredients, as long as you use real vanilla essence, and not the fake stuff.


1 cup brown sugar
1 cup boiling water
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp butter
1/2 tsp vanilla

Combine brown sugar and water and bring to the boil. Caramelise white sugar by heating it in a frypan until sugar melts and turns brown. Add brown sugar and water mixture and simmer until smooth and thick (I cooked it for about 10 minutes). Pour into a container with butter and vanilla, and stir until well mixed.

Because I was going to pour a warm liquid into a glass bottle, I heated the glass in the oven for 5 minutes first.

Truly, it tastes just like Maple Syrup! It also made about 250mls in quantity, with a few tablespoons to spare.

You should keep this mixture in the refrigerator, but get it out about an hour before you need to use it, so it has a chance to come to room temperature and pours easily. Enjoy!

EDITED TO ADD: I now realise that the syrup wasn't thick at all - it was the butter solidifying on the top and preventing the syrup from pouring out. I just quickly shook the bottle and the butter mixed in again. So no need to get it out before using it. Just shake the bottle before pouring. ;)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A strange blue box

It appeared out of no where - a strange blue box. There was something very familiar about it, yet it seemed out of place somehow...

We went into the ABC shop in Grand Central, Toowoomba, to take a closer look. In amongst the books, DVD's and other merchandise, where did this Police Box suddenly materialise from? Did someone call for a, Doctor?

Oh look, there he is! He must have regenerated again. Looks like an uncanny double for my husband, Dave! Hang on, it is Dave, and this Police Box is no accident. One of the members of our Dr Who local group, enthusiastically built this replica Police Box out of wood, and Dave helped to find a place to display it.

I'm not sure if it's still perched at the ABC shop, but it certainly caused a buzz when it first arrived. Pretty much everyone from the Doctor Who local group, went to get a photo taken beside the infamous Police box. Dave was chuffed, the owner was chuffed to have people admire his work and's certainly not something you see every day in Toowoomba!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Nature's way

I said I wasn't going to start planting anything until next growing season, but I was thinking purely from Spring through to the end of Summer. It has dawned on me however, since our weather patterns are changing, my growing plans need to adapt. I am considering an Autumn/Winter garden because we seem to get more sunshine and less rain during that time. So I popped off to the shops today, to buy some edible plant seedlings.

I have placed them near some of our indoors plants (indoors of course) as they came out of an air-conditioned shop. I'll place them outside in a sheltered position tomorrow. Perhaps near our new make-shift nursery.

Middle Ridge nursery had to be cleaned out for our chicks, which are now around 12 weeks old. So we set up a shelf on our verandah for all the plants to live. I thought I could build another chicken tractor for our chicks, but as always happens, they seem to grow too fast. It was much simpler to evict the plants and make way for the chicks!

I'm quite proud of my little pineapple collection now. Its growing all the time. They are "hands down" the simplest plant to propagate and virtually maintenance free once they go into the ground. Plus I love pineapples.

Right on the top of the shelf, is my growing palm collection too. I've selected some medium sized varieties (8 to 12m) to provide strategic shade on some of our slopes. Yet at this stage, the palms are very small. I deliberately buy them small because they're cheaper, and I nurture them for a few years - which gives me enough time to make the area I want them ready for planting. These probably won't find their way into the ground, until next Spring, when the danger of frost has passed.

But plants are only part of the equation when it comes to a garden. There are always more complex roles for other living organisms to play their part too. So where does the human gardener fit in? If you ask me, I've had to evolve a lot in understanding what makes a garden work. But there's often a very painful process involved while learning.

This picture looks quite innocent, possibly even a little beautiful, but it's actually taken of the garden we made as a memorial to the flood last years. Where these plants are, was the mound of dirt which was gouged out behind our retaining wall, causing it to collapse. We moved a lot of dirt to put the wall back together, but we left this little mound behind to remind us nature has ways we simply must respect. The marigold was a volunteer which sprung up after the flood. It must have come from a garden on the hill above us. Why mess with nature, if you don't have to?

Which brings me to the ways of the gardener. When I first moved here, I thought it would be awesome to have the biggest jungle of a garden. I thought it would be beautiful, but my expectations were to change over the many years I've gardened this piece of land. Nature IS beautiful, in all her many different states, but many of us come in with preconceived ideas of how nature is supposed to work for us. Consequently, we believe a garden should never look like this....

Beautiful pygmy purple would never see this kind of image in a gardening magazine. How can you appreciate how beautiful the patented product is, if you saw it being strangled by a native pea? These peas sprung up after the flood too. We didn't pull them, because we have learned nature has her ways. If a massive flood brings seeds down the slope, let them grow. Nature put them there, regardless of the beautiful selectively bred grasses we put in.

We will pull these peas very soon though. We let them have the garden for the growing season - pulling them towards the end of autumn means any disturbance to the soil, won't result in more peas springing up. Nature is going to slow down during winter, which will give the disturbed soil a chance to settle. By working with nature's ways, we build a better garden than what we first imagined. But it does come with a consequence.

You have to live with the varying messiness that nature will throw into your own mix. Can you see the plants I purchased amongst the hoard of weeds? This is what my garden looks like most of the time. Once we have weeded, it will look nice again, but only until next growing season when the weeds spring up again. There won't be as many though, because with each year my plants will grow and eventually create too much competition for the weeds.

This is nature's way though and people need to understand it. Whenever we disturb soil, nature has a natural band aide called quick spreading grasses and weeds. There is no exception to the rule. You can never pluck weeds out quicker than nature can generate them. Your only hope is to use nature's own tactic, and cover the soil with the plants you want.

Now this inevitably means living with varying stages of messiness. It's just natures way, but that's because nature always deals according to balance. Plants didn't come to rule the earth for billions of years, controlling all herbivores and carnivores, because it was weak. Plants dominate all carbon life forms and it won't be curbed by the kind of "look" we want for this season.

Natural selection, will kill some of the plants you paid for, while throwing in as many free weeds as possible. That is just nature's way. There should be 3 purple flowered plants (which I cannot remember the name of) in this picture. One died though. Don't ask me why, as I treated it the same as the rest. I originally planted 10 specimens in this row, and at least 3 have died.

Boo-hoo, but don't cry for me Argentina - because I'm glad to see nature pulling the plants is doesn't like. Because I know I'm going to get a stronger garden than the one I originally planted. I just have to live with (shock horror) disappointment of personalised aesthetics. In several years, I may come to understand Nature's wisdom in creating gaps in this line. Maybe it just wants to change my perception of organised?

It often pains me to read about people's failures in their own gardens, especially when they accuse themselves of being born with brown thumbs. They blame their knowlege or their inability to "get" gardening. I was the same and took some of those hard lessons on offer, to change the way I think. Nature's way of gardening is the best way. Mankind's way of gardening is all about endless cycles of labour and frustration, because we don't like things to be out of order.

Believe it or not, Nature and mess go hand in hand. New gardens are ALWAYS messy. But let nature in to help you shape the vision and you will soon learn how resilient a garden can be. It will grow in Nature's image - the original teacher of sustaining life, not in our own. Because believe it or not, much of the gardening information which comes out of glossy books and magazines, is not about gardening. It's about selling books, magazines and plants.

That's not a bad thing, but it gives the totally wrong message of how a garden works. All those pretty pictures, captured in a few artificial moments, won't make your garden look exactly the same. It's difficult to come down into the real jungle and find the beauty of Nature's way.

My garden is a big old mess and I love that animals, pests and the occasional person gets to maraud through the jungle. It wasn't the kind I was envisaging from the start, but it WILL get there one day. I will enjoy it in the meantime and take the lessons as they come.