Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Monday, August 30, 2010

999 Verandakus: #19 from Veranda Life

At the Give Way, life.
Wired-on flowers wilting
Another day past

Gizmo’s Post-Surgical Update

Steps DSC01414(1)
Gizmo returned to the garage for his post-operative check-up on Saturday.  In the interests of closure, I’m happy to report that ‘Uncle’ Bevan is happy with his progress.  He’s out of the woods, he’s climbed the mountain, he’s made the grade, he’s inspired a thousand cliches, or the several you read here.

A tip for bloggers.  Speaking of climbing mountains and steep learning curves, not to mention stairwells – which I didn’t mention, but I like the photo above (taken at the old Queensland Museum one recent weekend), I’m typing this on Windows Live, which I’ve just installed as an offline text editor – suggested by Susan Gunelius in her Dummies series book on blogging – if you’re going to be a blogger, at least check out Susan’s book.

It’s called Blogging All-in-One For Dummies.  I discovered it at my local library – mentioned in an earlier Verandaku, the library, that is, not Susan – and I liked it so much, I ordered my own copy.  With any luck, it will arrive by snail mail in the next day or two.

I can only judge by my own experience as a recently minted blogger, but this book has been very helpful in a short space of time and this isn’t a paid recommendation of any kind.  Think of it as an off-the-cuff review as I test out my Windows Live text editor. 

To that end, I’ll say cheerio and see what happens next in the exciting wild west world of the internet.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Monday, August 23, 2010

999 Verandakus: #13 from Veranda Life

By the police car
I jaywalk for fun and laughs
He's inside at lunch

Gizmo Rebounds, or How I Spent Two Grand on Things I Don't Understand

Gizmo is his new old self again
Before mechanic
Loose transmission, and fear
After - all, all right

In the interests of respect for his mechanical privacy, I won't go into great detail regarding Gizmo's recent travails, other than to mention terms like front drive shafts, rebuilt transmission, clutch kit, speedo drive gear, machine flywheel, conniption-inducing invoice - you get the picture.  

Cars are lifelines to the world, and they can be money pits and excessive polluters, and just plain ugly (you know who you are).  But without them, there's either a lot of inertia, or a lot of walking or cycling going on, especially in areas where public transport is scarce or poor, or both.

I already liked walking before Gizmo's troubles, and I like it even more since I had to put up with no transport for a few days and had the opportunity to stroll instead of drive to the municipal library, and back to the garage, once he was repaired and ready to go.  More tasty Verandakus came my way as well.

But my travelling choices were limited, and I waited to get him back before I could go shopping for groceries and pay some bills, and get out to the university library for more books (otherwise two trains, a bus and over an hour away, times 2 for the return trip).  You really can't travel on public transport with dozens of grocery bags or library books.  And some enterprises just don't have online payment systems in place.  Thus, the need for speed, and storage space, on wheels.

So, if we want a less polluted world, what do we do?  How would you get through your day without your car?  Do you already manage without one?  How?  Great public transport?  Good balance and a 10-speed bike on safe bikeways?  Are local markets part of the answer?  I think they are.  What about online shopping and online libraries with digital books?  But a courier still delivers the goods, in a car or van or truck, almost all of them with old-fashioned engines.

And who has the time to spend their days hauling bags home from the shops while taxis stand idling (and polluting) nearby?  Who can wait for relatively long periods at bus stops and train stations, unless, of course, you're on your way to buy tickets to Bette Midler's concert tour, in which case waiting becomes a transcendent experience inspiring 999 more Verandakus.  But I digress.

Alternative energies are the answer.  If I could afford an electric (or solar-powered) car, or a hybrid, I'd seriously consider buying one, if the claims lived up to the hype.  I think we're in a transitional (and lately, for Gizmo, a transmissional) era in our world's history. 

The policies of governments around the world will largely determine how our planet continues to turn, and whether or not alternative modes of transport and sources of energy are made available to all citizens, regardless of wealth.  It's a question of vision, and leadership, and courage - alas, these are attributes not often found in your average political bear.

So.  Localisation, decentralisation, natural energy sources - we can all contribute somehow.  Here at Veranda Life, we've managed to keep the basil, parsley, mint, garlic chives and oregano alive and ready for the next stir-fry and tabbouleh and salad.  I'm walking to the library rather than driving, and I already vote for political parties with Green credentials and policies.  It's the least I can do, and sometimes, given our suburban strictures, it's the most I can do.  But let's keep doing it. 

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, or one turn of the ignition - one day it'll be a silent, pollution-free ignition, or one turn of the soil in the herb garden.

Try doing something pollution-free or pollution-reducing today - the smallest action matters - just ask the beached starfish that got tossed back into the sea. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

999 Verandakus: #12 from Veranda Life

Morning shadows stretch - 
Telegraph poles cross the road
Think they're there to stay

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Friday, August 20, 2010

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

999 Verandakus: #7 from Veranda Life

Twists and turns of hose
Loop water through the garden
The basil sweetens

The Best Carrot Cake Recipe this Side of the Pecan

Delicious, with or without icing.
In my last post, I spent some time discussing my car, Gizmo, and his recent troubles.  I dealt with them in the time-honoured Veranda Life way: by breathing, relaxing, and drinking black tea often, with Carrot Cake.

It worked.

I found the recipe at Best Recipes - an Australian web site full of recipes.  It was submitted by Melissa - Melissa, I'm grateful for your excellent taste.  I haven't tried the icing yet, but it sounds lovely.  You could easily simply dust some icing sugar over the top and save time, and calories, if you must.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing


185 grams butter (either ordinary or unsalted, both seem to work)
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
3 eggs
2 cups grated carrot
3/4 cup walnuts (I give them a bit of a chop if they're whole or a bit big)
3/4 cup plain flour
3/4 cup self-raising flour
1 1/2 teaspoons mixed spice

60 grams cream cheese
30 grams soft butter
1 1/2 cups icing sugar

  1. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  2. Beat in the eggs one at a time until well mixed.
  3. Stir in the carrots and walnuts.
  4. Sift in remaining dry ingredients.
  5. Pour into a greased round cake tin (a sheet of baking paper on the bottom helps a lot, too) and bake at 180C for 1 hour. (I set my fan-forced oven at about 160 or 170 and the cake is done at around 45 minutes - maybe my oven is a bit fast.)
  6. Icing: Beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy.
  7. Gradually beat in icing sugar.  (I haven't tried the icing but I'll bet it's good).
So, there you are.  Veranda Life takes care of your every need, from Verandaku to Cakeku - watch the glottal stop, campers. 

The reason I'm happy about this recipe is that I'm not a cook, I'm a writer.  My cooking skills are quite limited, so to be able to add a cake that works to my (very) short list is something of an achievement.  Therefore, I write about it, so others like me may enjoy a similar sense of satisfaction when they give it a go and find that it succeeds. 

Do not be faint of heart.  Take up your mixmaster and your wooden spoon, and COOK.  You have nothing to lose but your ability to fit into your jeans.

Don't Forget the Carrot Cake: An Object Lesson in Breathing, Relaxing and Drinking Black Tea Often

Lilliputian oil spill courtesy of Gizmo.
I've had an opportunity - another one of many, as we all have - to use Veranda Life's mantra today.  I noticed an oil leak from my car, Gizmo, over the last couple of weeks, and it wasn't extra virgin olive.

Furthermore, Gizmo isn't given to excessive leaking, not even to the media, and since he was recently serviced and given the tick of optimum performance (for a 14 year old), I thought it prudent to ring the car doctor and book him in.

At first, Gizmo's mechanic thought it might be the oil filter.  Apparently, a faulty batch found its way onto the market and a number of cars have had their bad, naughty filters replaced with better behaved ones over recent months.

'I can cope with that,' I thought, when I dropped Gizmo off this morning and walked home on a perfect blue sky day. There were some niggling other thoughts which crowded out Verandaku activity.  Like the loose feel to the way Gizmo's been driving lately.  And the much noisier, high-pitched whining sound when he gears down.  And the fact that the speedo's been dropping instantly to zero the second I take my foot off the accelerator.  Hmmm.

Gizmo's mechanic, 'Uncle' Bevan, rang an hour later.  It turns out Gizmo's 'diff,' in its current incarnation, is on its way to heaven as I write.  A 'diff' is a differential.  No, not differential diagnosis where you differentiate between two similar diseases - they do that a lot on House, don't they?  Now I know what it means because I just looked up the Shorter Oxford.  This car  differential is a majorly important part of Gizmo's gizzards, and gears.  It has to do with axles and speeds and well, let's just leave it at that.

It would seem that Gizmo is in the throes of a mid-life car crisis.  A few weeks ago I had the timing kit replaced at great expense to the management, as a precaution.  And now, the 'diff' is dodgy to the tune of up to two grand, give or take a dollar.  A rebuild is required, and is cheaper than an entirely new 'diff' and more likely to last than a second-hand 'diff' which could exhibit the same problem any old time.

Did I swoon, faint, totter, mutter zanily under my breath, or otherwise exhibit signs of the screaming habdabs?  I did not. I approved Gizmo's major surgery, the removal of his 'diff' and associated innards to a transmission shop for rebuilding and refitting.  Doesn't 'diff' get annoying?

'Leave it with Uncle Bevan,' said Gizmo's mechanic.  So I did, even though 'Uncle' Bevan is not a blood relation and might easily fit the mould sitting outside Satriale's with Tony Soprano.  Luckily, 'Uncle' Bevan and I get on - we both love Matchbox cars, and my Gizmo.

After the call, I went to the front door and stared forlornly at the space where Gizmo lives, noting the cleanup required of the offending oil leak by a heavy duty degreasing agent.  Or, we could paint the concrete charcoal.

Then I fed our little veranda cat, took a deep breath, and relaxed my shoulders.  I made a cup of tea, and cut myself a slice of carrot cake.  And I'm feeling no pain.  It's only money, after all, and if you want to know what Goddess thinks of the monstrous moolah, just take a look at who she bestows it upon.  Who said that?

And I realised that there's something to be said for being (temporarily) car-less.  Someone else takes responsibility for a major piece of machinery for a few days.  I have the best excuse in the world for not leaving the house, except to walk to the library and around the neighborhood in search of Verandakus.  My carbon footprint moves from tyrannosaur to canary, sort of.  Perversely, even without the means to get around quickly, I feel lighter, freer somehow.  That'll wear off the minute I realise there are groceries to buy and window-shopping to be enjoyed.  But, for the moment...

Soon, Gizmo will return to me, almost new somewhere inside, and ready to resume his place in the carport with his perfect differential diagnosed, and his timing still perfect.

In the meantime, as I breathe, relax, and drink more black tea with carrot cake, I'll get the next post ready, the Carrot Cake recipe and give you the opportunity to enjoy calmness with bonus carotene.  Sleep well, small Gizmo, in your temporary home.  Please leave on a nightlight, Uncle Bevan.

Next: The best Carrot Cake recipe this side of the Pecan.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Friday, August 13, 2010

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

999 Verandakus: #1 from Veranda Life

A bird on the fence
Black and white and singing loud
Happiness warble

999 Verandakus: The Project Begins Now

Ancient runic symbol for NOW, created by Lorrie Lawler
Today, Veranda Life begins a new project: 999 Verandakus: A Memoir of Now

The aim is to post one Verandaku each day for the next 999 days.  Each Verandaku is a memoir of Now, moments in my life that I’ve been lucky enough to observe and record.

I hope to have photographs as well, and will be out snapping and snipping to add those blinks of an eye to the record of Now.

You can do this too, and you don’t have to observe the 5-7-5 three line Verandaku version of traditional Haiku that I’ve adopted.  Check out Haiku through Google and see what form appeals to you.  There are some complex versions and explanations, but I prefer to keep it simple, in keeping with Veranda Life’s life on the veranda. 

Maybe you’d prefer to use sutras instead: short observations, usually a sentence, that are reflections about ideas or philosophies or anything really, that’s happening in your life.

I hope you’ll begin your own project to create your Memoir of Now.  More about the milestones to watch for in future posts.  In the meantime, look out for the first of the 999.  And from time to time, I’ll add a few comments about what particular Verandakus mean for me.

This is a way to create a memoir of your days as they happen.  And for me, it’s a way to overcome procrastination and honour the best of the good (Veranda) life, for which I am truly grateful.

Drink Black Tea Often

A bunch of mugs relax on the veranda

I’m thinking you might be quite surprised to learn how much of a beloved beverage or food you’ve consumed so far in your life.  I’ll admit to some curiosity about my own modest achievements in the area of tea, including black, white, and sugared.

Beginnings.  I began as a toddler, strolling next door through the side gate to sit on my Uncle Pat’s knee and slurp stand-a-spoon-up-in-it black tea from his saucer.  Once an addiction was established, I progressed to actual cups and experiments with milk and sugar (condensed milk combined the best of both worlds, but alas, is somewhat fattening).  Parenthetically, Uncle Pat never struck me as any kind of dealer, but hey, they come on all shapes, sizes and degrees of benevolence.

Unworthy Diversions.  Yes, there were dalliances with chai, coffee, coffee and chicory, herbal tea, Milo, Ovaltine, and even Bovril, but my true liquid lover always waited faithfully for me at the beginning, middle and end of the day, plus mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and any other time you’d care to name.

The Estimation Begins.  So I waited for a sunny day, took my solar-powered calculator out to the veranda steps, collected some energising rays, and began the drunken digital tapdance of the non-mathematician on its keypad.  Using a formula I can’t reveal – let’s just say I was more conservative with my childhood consumption than was strictly necessary; and let’s just say that writers view figurative activity with a bemused and confused attitude – I worked the numbers.

Everest Schmeverest.  My estimate is that I’ve drunk around 70,000 cups of the most beautiful, versatile, satisfying (easy on the adjectives, tea doesn’t need the boost anyway) beverage the world has ever known (and I may still have a couple of decades left in me).

DIY BBCR.  Why not calculate your own BBCR (Beautiful Beverage Consumption Rate) and feel impressed with your own stamina and pathetic inability to stop, cease and desist from your addictive behaviour.  Go on – you could have already reached nirvana 80,000 times for all you know.  Do not fear the calculator.  If you like, here’s a tip from Veranda Life’s tannin salon – try using an average of 3.6 cups per day and see how you go.  Does it measure up to your own instincts?  It allows for 5 cups per day for adult consumption rates and a bit less for childhood and adolescence. 

Granted, there are always spikes one way and the other, but unless you’re a beverage behemoth like Fabian Vas in The Bird Artist  (a fantastic novel, by the way) on 20 to 30 cups of coffee per day, 3.6 isn’t a bad lifetime average.  And I don’t think Fabian developed his habit until adulthood.  So there.

Life is a dessert
Ridiculous Colorful
Black tea tempers it

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Relax - You Made It

Saturday sunset
A dreamcalling veranda
Citronella melts

Breathe - You're Not Alone

You breathe alone, and you breathe with every other living entity on and above the planet.  Who is breathing in unison with you now?  You can be certain that the pairs of lungs exactly synchronised with yours are in the millions, and more, and they're everywhere around the world, human and animal, fish and bird.  Let's take a breath and think about that for an inhalation or two.

Our breath is our guarantee of life.  So what are we going to do with it, our invisible animator, during the tiny frame of time that we inhabit these spacesuits we call bodies?  Tennyson reminds us in his poem Ulysses that with the gift of breath, and life, comes the necessity to live that life, and give those lungs something to boast about.

When Ulysses speaks of his life as a roving warrior, the famous I shall drink life to the lees speech, he concludes with these lines:
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world, whose margin fades
 For ever and for ever when I move
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life.
Do something with that breath of yours - make it count.  Go walking.  Speak kindly to your loved ones, and even more kindly to those who aren't so much on the loved ones list.  You'll feel better, and dare I add, you'll breathe easier.