Sunday, December 27, 2009

On Top of Old Tassie

David and I spent a quiet Christmas at home, and then headed out to Mt. Field National Park for boxing day. This is the most visited park in Tasmania, partially due to its proximity to Hobart (about 70 km), and partially due to its stunning and easily-accessible scenery. A flat, easy and lovely 2 km walk will get you to Russell Falls and, at night, a large colony of tree-dwelling glow worms. This inland rainforest is also home to some of the tallest hardwood trees in the world…300+ year-old swamp gums towering 250+ feet above the creek beds.


Those willing to drive 15 km up a winding gravel road are treated to the easiest possible trip into Tasmania’s alpine. Yesterday we hiked around a series of high, glacial lakes called tarns, enjoying the sun and the unique plant life. Back to work tomorrow, unfortunately.


Friday, December 25, 2009

Signal Station

Last weekend we stayed close to home, largely so that I could stay close to indoor plumbing.  I have eaten street food in countries all over the world and never gotten sick, but what happens when I come to Australia?  Food poisoning.  We’re talking six solid hours of vomiting and liquid diarrhea…I have never been so sick in my life.  We have no clue what the culprit was (David was fine, thankfully), but the whole experience left my body suspicious of food for days to come.

On Sunday I was feeling good enough for a hike, so we headed up to the Signal Station on Mt. Nelson (another hump, but not so grandly talked-up that it deserves to be humbled).  You get a great view of Hobart, the Derwent River and its outlet to the sea from Mt. Nelson, and the peak was used to communicate with boats at sea in a variety of ways throughout the 1800s.  For me the most fascinating was the sephamore, which is a tall pole with a series of arms that could be mounted a different angles.  Each arrangement was linked to a number that was subsequently linked to a phrase in a giant book of phrases.  Things like “shall we put on some tea?” and “there is a flu going around”.  Every boat that was any boat would have had one of these books, as did all of the similar signal stations.  It must have been a simultaneously sad and happy day when Mt. Nelson got its first telephone.

Signal Station

Sephamore in Action


Last Message

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hump Wellington

It was cloudy when David and I first arrived in Hobart, but folks kept enthusiastically telling us about Mount Wellington, assuming that we’d be awed by its presence looming over the city once the skies cleared.  On the first blue day we spotted a rocky outcrop in the distance and agreed that it simply couldn’t be MOUNT Wellington, but a passerby set us straight – that was, indeed, the pride of Hobart.  We tried to subdue our laughter until she was out of earshot.  Here it is (from Wikipedia) in all of its…er…glory:

hump wellington

Granted, it felt a little more mountainous when we were climbing up it last weekend.  Somewhere close to here I vowed never to denigrate it with the name HUMP Wellington again:

dp going up

I guess I had my fingers crossed behind my back, since I have continued to call it Hump Wellington ever since.  It did, however, offer up our first (of four so far) echidna sighting.  This is all that was left by the time David grabbed his camera:

echidna bum

Sunday, December 6, 2009

You Shall Not Pass

Tasmania, formerly known as Van Dieman’s Land, started its modern history as a British penal colony.  Some of the very worst offenders were sent to Port Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula, which is attached to the rest of the island by a very narrow strip of land called Eaglehawk neck.  During the penal heyday (1830-1860) this strip of land was guarded by fences, soldiers and vicious dogs, tied just out of reach of one another.  We drove down the peninsula yesterday to take a look around, but didn’t visit Port Arthur itself, since admission is relatively expensive – we’ll save it as something to do when the parents come to visit.  We did, however, stop at Eaglehawk Neck where I got these interesting pictures.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Deck the Halls…

…with rugs of horror. While in Tasmania I am working at the Menzies Research Institute. Until this week everyone associated with the MRI was distributed amongst several different centers around Hobart, but the institute has now started to amalgamate in a large, new, and not-quite-complete building. Our group, one of the first to move, arrived on Wednesday. Most of my co-workers had been in the building once or twice before, and everyone warned me (the newbie) about this:


The camera in my iPhone doesn’t do it justice. The walls are a dayglo chartreuse and the carpets look like a multicoloured ECG gone haywire. Furthermore, every group of desks has a cluster of cables that disappears into the ceilings. Resistance is futile.


My desk is perfectly grey and functional, and slightly curious because it shares a wall with the uber secure cancer registry. Therefore I can make faces at the girl who sits across from me (and vice versa) but we cannot have an actual conversation. Rather like being in a fish bowl, I imagine. Note the space-ship-like windows. The whole operation looks like a Borg ship from the outside as well.


Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Dog’s Breakfast

I’ve mentioned before that we feed Tilley, Willow and Watson on a raw food diet (but not Titan -- he is too big and too picky to make it affordable), and have done so for years.  We buy our food in bulk (hundreds of pounds at a time) from a friend who mass-produces a variety of chicken and turkey recipes, which keeps the price down around $1.50/pound*.  This does not include the price of the three freezers we use for storage.  It’s not as convenient as buying a bag of kibble from store once a month, but we feel it is the best option for the health of our dogs.  Although raw diets seem to be gaining momentum in the North American market, they are far from the norm.  So imagine my surprise when I found that *grocery stores* in Australia have giant refrigerators full of affordable raw diets for dogs – approximately $6 for a 3kg package.  The meats are mostly chicken and turkey, but there is everything ranging from pork to beef to kangaroo.  I would love to see something like this in Canada one day.


*It is definitely possible to feed a raw diet for much less if you work at it, but we are spoiled by being shorter on time than on money.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Eggs

Australians seem to be behind the British when it comes to the rights of agricultural animals, but they are well ahead of the Canadians and Americans.  From what we’ve seen beef and dairy cows lead nice lives here, with beef cows being always on pasture and dairy cows having regular access.  The pork industry is WAY behind, though, with sow stalls very much in the news after a big story on 60 minutes over the weekend.  In the grocery store it is hard to find eggs from battery hens.  Most are advertised as free-run or free-range or cage-free, like these ones.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Nine Bucks!

Some of you may recall that I won $20 (USD) in a bet with David about Barrack Obama, about a year ago.  On Saturday I spent $9 (AUD) of that on a new-to-me bike.  Used bikes are harder to find in Australia than in Canada (or we simply don’t know where to look), but we found two likely candidates at Cash Converters (aka Crime Converters) outside of Canberra.  This old 10-speed is not the most practical solution for hilly Hobart, but the darned thing called to me and I couldn’t leave it there.  It needed new tubes and tires right away (another $70), and the bearings in the rear wheel seem to be shot, thus causing enough wobble to rub the brakes going around corners.  I will bring it to the shop around the corner from work tomorrow, hoping that they can fix it  up for less than the cost so far. 


There are so many exciting things to tell you about this place, but a $9 bike seemed like a good place to start.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Some Solutions

Tess has come up with a great solution for keeping track of things at FF while we're in Tassie: her own blog!

And we have solved our home internet problem by getting a service from Telstra that isn't (to the best of my knowledge) even offered in Canada. It is basically a wireless router with a SIM that draws its signal from the cellular 3G network, thus circumnavigating the need for a home phone line (to get DSL) and a 2 YEAR CONTRACT. If you are ever considering travel to Australia just keep in mind that phone/cellular/internet service are insanely expensive (compared to Canada) and inflexible. Anyhow, we have plugged our Vonage phone box into this bug-like gizmo, so we now have our 604 phone number here in Hobart. How cool is that?


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Walk to Work

My walk to work is a leisurely 40 minutes along the Hobart coast. Sometime over the next week it will become a 15 minute bike ride, but I am enjoying stopping and smelling the flowers for the time being.


We have landed safely in Hobart, only a little worse for wear. The adventure did not run quite as smoothly as we had imagined, but none of the problems we encountered couldn't be solved with a little extra money. We hear that Hobart is a great city to eat in, but we'll be on a strict ration of beans for the next several weeks.


Back at the ranch Tess seems to be making out just fine despite the uncooperative weather. She reports 400mm of rain in four days, another big wind storm that battered the neighbor's shop, and snow as of bedtime this evening. Despite the meteorological chaos I feel perfectly confident in her ability to cope, which is a huge weight off my shoulders. I'll be scouring her facebook updates for FFF material.


Speaking of which, I'm not really sure what to write about over the coming months. I don't want to start a new blog to document our Tasmanian adventures, nor do I want to end this one about life at FFF. I'm thinking of posting a picture a day of life as we're living it, with a little back-home content to keep things relevant. Would you stick around for that?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgreenhouse

I’ve waxed poetic about Leonard Cohen in the past, and now it’s time to give another Canadian folk legend his due.  Gordon Lightfoot has had an illustrious musical career spanning several decades but, like Cohen, remains earnest and down-to-earth about his fame and his success.  Several Lightfoot songs can make me teary-eyed, but The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is a favourite.


On Thursday night the gales of November came early to Farcical Farm, leaving our greenhouse wrapped around the fence and strewn across the pasture.  RIP little greenhouse – I never like it much, but never would have wished it such an inglorious end. 


Thursday, October 15, 2009

This Just In...

Justin! For readers who missed the original announcement, Justin belongs to Tess, who will be heading up Farcical Farm while David and I are in Tasmania (leaving in ~3 weeks...eek!). He rolled into town early this afternoon, surveyed his new domain, and quickly recognized that Tonka is easy to conquer. Ever since then he has been eating, drinking, and merrily picking on Tonka* whenever the spirit moves him. He did do a few laps of the paddock at a half-hearted trot when he saw me coming with his blanket, but Tess had warned me about this possibility in advance. So far he has been a nice addition to the farce -- handsome, goofy, cheerful and cooperative. We did have one altercation at dinner time when he had the audacity to paw at the paddock gate, and I had the audacity to send a feed tub whirling at his nose from the shadows. He was duly surprised, so let's hope he has learned that Bad Things come to those who do not wait more patiently.





*Don't feel too bad for Tonka. He is a very subordinate horse and this is his lot in life. Justin has not done him any physical damage (who knows about his ego), and I firmly believe Tonka enjoys being pushed around more than being alone. I would never want to see him in a large herd environment, but he does well in the company of any other single horse.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Making Space

About a year ago I broke out two new orange rain sheets for Tonka and Raven. And today, with no small sadness, I packed the 72" one into my car (along with three others) to take down to my neighbor Wendy tomorrow morning. I decided several weeks ago that I would sell all of Raven's clothing -- she used it respectfully, and it is too soaked in memory for me to want to keep. Furthermore, when the time comes to get another horse I don't want to have a collection of size 72" gear subconsciously directing me. Wendy has a variaty of QHs, Arabs and Quarabs and I'm hoping that she will give it all a new home, just in time for winter. On a happier note, Justin arrives tomorrow! Tonka has been obviously lonely lately, and we are all looking forward to having a second horse around again.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Buy In Bulk

Titan is the pickiest, least stomach-motivated dog I have ever known.  Since he was a puppy we have been experimenting with different foods, but he has never eaten anything consistently or with gusto.  We have always let him free feed on Canidae kibble, but he tends to go days without touching it followed by gorging himself on a full bowl – feast or famine!  For a while he was happy to get the raw mixture that Tilley, Willow and Watson eat, but it costs $1.50/pound and Titan needs four pounds per day (the other dogs eat three pounds per day between them) -- for the same annual price we could keep two horses fed.  We tried switching to chicken carcasses (something the other dogs also eat and love) for the more reasonable cost of $0.50/pound, but half the time he would simply let them rot.  Not only is that wasteful and disgusting, but also very frustrating…what kind of dog won’t eat raw meat?!?  In desperation I bought a case of Lean Cuts canned food from Costco a few weeks back and, of course, he loved it.  For Titan “loved it” means “ate it within an hour of being served” and not “hoovered it down” , but it was still a good sign.  He has been eating a can twice daily ever since (still with the free-choice kibble) and we think that we’ve finally found a long-term solution to keeping the 120-pound dog eating regular meals.  The only hitch? We are leaving for six months in six weeks time.  So today David and I stormed the Costco and bought 20 cases of Lean Cuts…enough to last 220 days.  Let’s hope he continues to like  the stuff…

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hobby Farm Porn

It’s easy to imagine that other women in their early thirties fantasize about nice cars, or jewellery, or fancy houses. I fantasize about manure spreaders. Or, more specifically, this manure spreader. Is that so wrong?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Wind that Doesn’t Shake the Tonka

We’ve had unseasonably mild and sunny weather in Southwestern BC for the past month, but the meteorologists have been warning that it would come to a crashing end early this week.  Georgia has been teaching three local sisters (ranging in age from 11 to 18) to ride for the past year, and on Sunday we told them that we’d take Tonka, Pepper and three bikes down to the dike on Monday morning to practice some trail skills.  The day dawned incredibly windy and Georgia called early to get my opinion on whether we should cancel.  Call me foolish, but I said that we should continue as planned.  Despite caution being the better part of valour, I think that experienced riders need to set a strong example for beginners and chickening out because of the weather sends the wrong message in my opinion.  Pepper and Tonka are both solid, sensible geldings and the day provided an excellent opportunity for the girls to learn about riding confidently in less-than-ideal conditions.

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Tonka was a star.  He took the bikes in stride, endured the passing of a train, went over the tracks without tripping on the rails, and crossed the big highway bridge under saddle with dump trucks coming and going.  Down on the dike he was  very relaxed, but none of the girls wanted to ride him because (1) they never have before and (2) he is bigger than either of Georgia’s horses.  About halfway through Georgia climbed aboard though, and he was very well-behaved for her as well.  Fifteen minutes into her ride a tree cracked, snapped and fell about 30 feet to his left.  Both horses spooked hard, but Tonka regained himself almost immediately and helped Pepper to settle down.  Yvonne (the middle sister. Johanna, the youngest, is in the picture above) rode through Pepper’s spook just fine, and I switched places with the slightly-shaken Georgia to help boost her confidence in the following minutes.  About ten minutes later another small tree cracked, snapped and fell at the edge of our path about 20 feet ahead.  I saw Pepper decide that it was time to leave NOW, and I didn’t even give Tonka time to react…I just booted him around into Pepper’s escape route.  When Pepper thought about dodging behind Tonka took three voluntary steps backward, perfectly understanding what I was asking him to do.  Pepper came to a halt with the stellar Yvonne still in the saddle, looking a little pale.  She switched off with the older, stronger Danielle and we turned around to head out of falling tree territory.  The wind died down about half an hour later and we had a calm, pleasant ride home.

UK_2009 057

I could feel Tonka fading fast on the way home, both physically and mentally. After the last push up The Hill I was considering how many apples he deserved (and could safely eat) after such a winning performance when he stumbled and feel to his knees just at the gate to Farcical Farm.  It was funny because it was like a scene from some epic movie, but it was also heartbreaking because that bloody horse tried his heart out for me all day and I asked too much.  Four apples, founder be damned.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Irony in Action

Tonka's new Renegade hoof boots arrived last week, and we put them to the test this afternoon. The irony, of course, is in the idea of "Tonka" and the word "renegade" being used in the same sentence. Regardless, he seemed very comfortable and we went a long way up the new local logging road with no trouble whatsoever. He was keen and forward, but I eventually turned him around to protect his heart rather than his feet, since the route is steep and his (our?) condition is flabby. Hooray for the Renegades!

While we were out exploring the neighborhood, Roger was out beating up on the goats. Or were the goats beating up on him?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

As If to Thank Us

For several weeks before we left for the UK David and I had noticed that Pipsqueak was drooling and that her breath was foul. When the problem worsened instead of resolving itself (as we and our wallets had hoped it might) I brought her into the vet expecting that she would need an abscessed tooth extracted. It turned out that she had eleven abscessed teeth that needed extracting, causing the vet to extract another $800 from us. Pip came through the surgery like a trooper and went on to take her twice-daily medicine with less dignity and/or grace than any other creature we've owned. Who knew that six pounds of the sweetest cat imaginable could be so very strong? Anyhow, she seems to have thanked us for all this torture by eliminating the rats in the garage. For about a week we found one dead every other day, and now the place is perfectly silent at night. Thanks Pip!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Trust Me, I'm a Doctor

Apologies for the long hiatus, but I have had other things on my mind while gearing up to defended my PhD dissertation last Friday. All went well, and I expect you all to address me as "Dr. dp" from herein. Now I am looking forward to getting FFF back into full swing for a couple of months.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

New Scenery

The newish aquarium at the YVR international terminal. Definitely helps to pass the time.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

New News

David is currently in Barcelona visiting his sister, and we will regroup in London on Wednesday morning to start our short camping tour of England and Ireland (including some presentation that I am supposed to make at some conference). Through all of this Tess (rather than Melissa, who wasn't available) will be looking after Farcical Farm and its denizens. So far none of this is new news.

This is a trial run of sorts for Tess. If everything works out well for her and for us she will take the helm of Farcical Farm from November 2009 through May 2010 while David and I are in Tasmania. Yes, Tasmania. David is on sabbatical for the next eight months, and I have jumped at the opportunity to do a post-doctoral fellowship between UTAS and UBC. All the details are still in the wash, but Tess would bring her Canadian gelding Justin to keep Tonka company. So thanks to those of you who have been so *cough* subtly *cough* suggesting other horses for me to consider, but that's not in the cards until next summer. I secretly suspect that Maddie will save herself for me (sorry EvenSong).

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Peck of Purple Peppers

David bought and installed our pepper and tomato plants this summer, so I am only vaguely aware of the varieties. There are some skinny, spicy-looking green peppers that I look forward to cooking with, and there are these pretty little purple ones. I'm not sure whether they are sweet or spicy, and I have no idea how big they are supposed to get. In all honesty, I don't really care because they are so cute.

On the redder side of the visible spectrum we have tomatoes. So. Many. Tomatoes. Until this morning I had thought they were all small varieties, until I found this monster hiding in the tomato jungle.

One of the problems I'm having with the tomatoes is accessing the obviously ripe ones. I can *see* them, but actually getting my hand through the foliage to grab them takes some careful planning and unusual contortion. It saddens me that we will be away as most of these ripen, but I am hoping that our house-sitter (a new girl named Tess -- more on that later) will pick them and toss them into the freezer for us.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Hitching Post

While I was in Toronto last month our neighbour's daughter got married in a big 'ol Deroche hootenanny. I was very sorry to miss the festivities, but David was able to attend. However, he never mentioned that the lovely Erin and her handsome Darryn had done a photo shoot with our pygmies. I think this is the best wedding picture of all time:

Monday, August 10, 2009

On The Road Again

Since returning to Farcical Farm I've had plenty of time an inclination to do something that I've been otherwise unable to do for months: ride Tonka. I could never take him out alone while Raven was failing for fear that she would hurt herself in his absence. For a while she was able to pony around with him, but even that became too much for her in the final weeks. So they basically stood at the feeder day and night, eating and eating. I watched Raven get mysteriously thin (another symptom of DSLD) while Tonka got downright plump. Now that he's on his own he is moving around a lot, getting leaner, and able to take me on some light conditioning rides. Yesterday we did an hour along the road at a walk (plus 60 seconds of a very nice pace, even though I asked for a trot) and he was a little sweaty when we got back, but not breathing hard at all. I took care of the sweat by asking him to walk over the sprinkler several times, which he was doing quite gamely by the end of it.

Note the super cool saddle pad that Georgia (owner of Pepper and Scooby) gave me. She made it several years ago when she used to ride's a regular pad, but with a large pocket sewn on either side and straps at the back. I love it!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Doggy Farts Gladden My Heart

Well, not really. But I did love that line from the whimsical film A Very Long Engagement. Right now doggy farts are saddening my heart, and I think that Tilley is to blame. Time to get outside and start working on the garage cleanup, which is my project for today. After 3+ weeks away followed by a week of house guests it is time to get back to my regularly scheduled life around Farcical Farm for a few days. Next week I am off to jolly old England/Ireland for an extended working vacation. It’s a rough life.

Who me?