Q is for Quirkish

All downtown public transport is adorned with advertising – but at least it’s cool looking advertising.

Stephen Colbert introduces The Hobbit Panel

The San Diego Comic Con International is one of the most impressive events for anyone  who has even the most remote interest in any of the following to try and get to:

Comic Books
Art (all kinds of art – jewellery making, leather work, costuming, graphic, traditional, sculpture – it is ALL here)
Costume Design
Gaming (all types, all formats, all consoles, board games, tabletop, role playing you name it SDCC has it when it comes to games)
Writing – all kinds – for TV, for books, for graphic novels, for film, for Web
Fascinating, creative, talented and friendly people

I have been fortunate enough to attend the last three. My love affair for this extraordinary event began back in 2011 when I was visiting the US with colleagues for a conference. We had a few days at the end to fill in and I wanted to see San Diego, it was a beautiful city, gorgeous weather and it had this quirky little thing I’d heard about called Comic Con. We were, sadly enough, flying out the day official Comic Con had started. I didn’t even get into anything, didn’t see a panel, didn’t walk the floor, didn’t have a badge – one CC worker took pity on me and handed me a copy of the thick event guide and Souvenir book and after that and catching a glimpse into the main Exhibit Hall I was hooked. I made a vow to myself as we rode the cab in very light traffic towards the airport that Thursday that I would be back and that I would somehow acquire one of these more precious than unobtanium badges that gave me access.

Cosplayers doing it well.

And so it began – gaining in 2012 a Thursday and Sunday badge, then 2013 a Thurs/Fri/Sat and Sun badge and then this year finally gaining all 5 days access – beginning with Preview Night on Wednesday and access to the main Exhibition Floor from 6pm all the way through to Sunday. These badges are virtually a lottery type of acquisition these days…those who have attended previous years do get priority over those who haven’t but even with this it’s a fairly stressful and anxiety laden procedure to ensure you get them. Picture a small army sitting in different parts of the world glued to their monitors clicking for the Sales page along with about a 120 thousand other people at the same time. Step 1 was achieved all the way back in February. Operation: Get to 2014 Comic Con stage 1 was a success – as we attained badges for our little group.

Next challenge a hotel room or other accommodation nearby. This too becomes a lottery with the hotels all around the area just blocking off Comic Con week entirely from being booked by anyone (irrespective of whether they are coming for the event or just holidaying). They then put their rooms up and available through an online system that again opens only at a specific date and time. You must list your top five hotel preferences/room types, click submit and hope for the best that you’ll be one of the lucky ones to grab a room. Then of course there’s the local San Diegoans who rent out their apartments/condos/homes for the week of Comic Con, fleeing the insanity of an extra 180 thousand people in their city and the sometimes insanely hiked up prices of the hospitality businesses during this time. Airnb and numerous other websites help with advertising these and if you have enough people to go in with this can be a worthwhile venture. One must always remember though that not always do these places have enough physical beds and ultimately some people make do with a couch or sleeping bags on the floor. So finding a Condo nearby this year was an absolute bonus and paying about 105USD per night for our five night stay even better. Most hotels around there are a minimum of $200 mostly above $300 per night.

The view from the Condo

Just being in San Diego itself is a highlight, it’s a beautiful place with beautiful coast and plenty to see and do (without hitting Seaworld even once – and I will never EVER recommend that place). If you want your animal fix get on to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park – this is one of the best conservation parks in the world. So my advice? Avoid the packed planes, trains and buses trying to deliver 180 thousand plus people into the downtown area from Tuesday onwards. The train from LA’s Union Station was perfect and I would head down on the Monday or earlier. You won’t be twiddling your thumbs waiting for Comic Con to start by any stretch of the imagination.

Comic Con for me really came into it’s own this year. I think I finally appreciated this very tangible atmosphere of collective appreciation for the things we are passionate about. I found myself musing on things like the labels of “geek” and “nerd” and is it really that necessary to separate the two? Is not nerd and geek just two terms that can apply to anyone who has ever had more than just a passing relationship with anything they’re passionate about? Wasn’t the World Cup attended and watched by millions of football geeks and nerds? The Tour De France is for those who get their cycling geek on. I am a complete geek and nerd for all things dogs, Border Collies, dog training and agility. I also geek out over music, movies, books and TV shows. I tell my students all the time – find something you love doing, that entertains you and then devour it whole. Be active about going out and enhancing that whole experience for yourself. Comic Con is populated by thousands of people who are extraordinarily passionate whether it be about one really specific character in a game or whether it be about a multitude of text types and activities. You and your fellow 179 thousand 799 fans are there because you love something there. That whole idea just by itself is enough to make this event a much less singular event and much more of a collective experience. I met and spoke to at least 20 plus people I had never met before. Some of whom I exchanged contact details with. For the rest of the year I usually go out of my way to avoid any and all contact with people I don’t know. I’m just not that kind of person. I’m not of the whole “a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet” kind of mindset. In fact many would likely describe me as fairly anti-social. I’m pretty particular about who I want to spend my time with. I recall having just this type of conversation with a fellow agility/dog geek friend in LA. We’re around the same age with this shared passion and we both acknowledge that for the most part we just don’t like people. It’s true. More often than not in the past when I have let that anti-social bubble deflate I find that most adults just disappoint and frustrate me. So I tend to avoid all new social interactions and thoroughly enjoy the ones that I have. Comic Con is the antithesis of this. I find it absolutely fascinating that it is highly likely that the majority of attendees are very much like me when it comes to social interaction. Yet Comic Con completely subverts this behaviour.


Those who haven’t gone to Comic Con or have never heard of it when you tell them you are attending, frequently barely contain their glee at possibly uncovering one of those “freaks” who like to dress up in costumes. No I don’t dress up. Why not? Because I have way too much respect for those Cosplayers (hardly “freaks”) who do it so well. It takes effort, dedication and commitment and no small shortage of creative skill to pull off a decent character costume and I have nothing but admiration for those who commit 100% to such endeavours. I almost get offended on Cosplayers’ behalves when people react as if they’ve discovered this juicy guilty pleasure people choose to indulge themselves in when dressing up. More power to the Cosplayers, especially those who do it well. I took a heap of pictures of some fabulous outfits and the details and lengths some Cosplayers went to had me truly astounded at their talents.

So how do you explain Comic Con to a non Con goer? It’s a tricky one to adequately respond to. I’m not out to sell it that’s for sure (I think 180 thousand fans is quite enough) but I am out to be as accurate and as articulate as possible in describing it. I talk about what panels are and the hugely varied and wide ranging panel topics. I talk about the movie and TV industry representation and how all my favourite TV shows attend with cast and crew. I talk about the like-mindedness of fellow con goers and that vast array of off site activities to choose from – perhaps a Symphony performance of the stunning soundtrack from the latest Star Trek film, perhaps some gaming interplay at Geek and Sundry, or even a live Shakespeare performance right outside the Convention centre. Outdoor and indoor advanced movie screenings or just some classic cult hits from the past? Feeling like having a chat with the creator of your favourite show? Or attending an Author book signing? There is no way I can do justice in one blog post to the simply massive range of choice in Comic Con week. There is simply too much to list. And as one friend likes to say – if you don’t make it to your first choice then you’ll be at something else you wanted to see, listen, do instead.

I go because I like taking photos, like chatting to the creators of some of my favourite works (be it novels, comic books, graphics, TV or film) I love seeing sneak peeks into upcoming projects and I love supporting the incredibly creative and thought provoking community that Comic Con plays host to. I love wandering the floor and seeing the various displays and picking up new extracts from soon to be released novels or upcoming comic releases. I pick up collectibles for my favourite shows, Supernatural being the main one. But first timers need to come to grips as soon as possible with the not so positive aspects of Comic Con. When you have 180 thousand people descending on one location there are going to be drawbacks. You need to get over any aversion to lines pretty much instantly. Assume that you will be lining up for everything. Then assume those lines will take up twice as much time as you anticipated. Once this becomes a known and general acceptance in your mindset and approach to Comic Con the far better you enjoy it. Also figure out your usual budget for a week’s holiday and then double it. Even if you do account for the Comic Con prices of food and accommodation you will, without a doubt, see stuff on the Exhibition Floor that you simply must have. Whether it be that exclusive talking Sheldon Cooper figurine or limited edition Millenium Falcon key chain or that cult classic vintage film poster ultimately if you prepare by overestimating your funds then this only adds to the enjoyment. It was cool to have a spare 20 bucks on hand to grab a Smile for Smiles photo with Craig Ferguson and his off-sider Josh Robert Thompson. I also like seeing those in the entertainment industry letting their hair down and enjoying themselves. So many of them are total fans of their fellow artists and their work and it’s just delightful to see them interact and appreciate each others work as strongly as the fans do themselves.

Fan taking a selfie with Orlando Jones – an actor from several projects currently on the series Sleepy Hollow.

This year I chose Hall H for both Saturday and Sunday panels. It’s a hardcore decision because it does involve lining up the day before if you want a chance at a decent seat. Those that are happy to play the chances game and just want to be in the room and don’t care about where they sit can often jag a spot near the back but for those who have never been in this room they need to have a good appreciation for the size of this hall. It holds 6,500 people. If someone was to ask me if Hall H Saturday was worth trying to get in line from 10.30am on the Friday for a decent seat the answer would be unequivocally and emphatically yes. The intense energy, the palpable air of excitement, the surround sound and massive wall to wall screens plus the trailers with the sneak preview clips visual smorgasbord brought by the studios was just phenomenal. I loved every moment – even the lulls in activity. I attended panels in multiple rooms and would have liked to have gotten to more – but again that’s the sacrifice you make when choose to spend a long time in lines. The Exhibition floor is so massive it’s advisable to do it in stages. I dedicated at least two afternoons to doing it justice. Even still I’m left with the lingering feeling that there is quite possibly booths that I missed. But I’m okay with that.

So I’m planning on heading back next year, hoping to be successful in the online clicking madness that is the SDCC Pre Reg Badge Sale. I’ve attended a number of Cons now and when the money you spend on them needs to be rationed I truly believe that this con is the best value for money.





P is for Perspective

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m turning the big 4-Oh this year (I’m convinced the Oh is short for Oh my god – how have I been here on this planet 40 years already??) or simply a natural progression of a state of being but quite frankly more and more aspects of life are falling into the “Small Stuff” folder of my perspective on life. You know…that “Small Stuff” folder of things that you don’t sweat anymore? As the storage space of that folder increases daily I’ve noticed a nifty little correlation between that and the increasing pleasure I get in just “being in the moment” as they say.

I skipped all of March for writing here. For once I don’t think it was a time pressure or motivational thing. I think it was simply because I was having a hard time trying to reconcile the ultimately fairly altruistic character of my profession and my mostly pretty happy go lucky nature with the seemingly, increasingly insurmountable mountain of negativity and apathy of students and staff. Combine that with the also continually depressing decisions, actions and statements uttered by a government I did not choose and it’s not any wonder that my writing mojo may have deserted me for a while. No one is ever really entirely happy with their government, whether they chose it or not. However this one is the first one that’s actually been distressing enough to incite in me the desire to express my discontent loudly and publicly with participation in strike action and marches. So whilst the “Small Stuff” folder is huge the “Things that Make Me Mad” folder has taken on a more streamlined yet vastly more pertinent look.

So with that paragraph of grumpy malcontent done I’m moving on to the things that I’m reveling in. All unsurprisingly enough related to Tim, the dogs and my favourite fictional stories.

Savvy had some fun in Victoria with me at the 3rd Border Colllie Nationals (the last two I attended with Raven and Cypher in 2006 and then adding Spryte back in 2009) – with a win in Excellent Snooker and a 4th and a 2nd place in the show ring. I was pretty happy she did so well in what was for us our biggest show competition out. Even better I bit the bullet and showed her myself.

savvybcnats3 savmovebcnats1

Photographic proof that I actually did do the whole show ring thing… :P

CHAMPIONSAVVY2 CHAMPIONSAVVY1For a girl who has not done a whole heap of shows I was quite impressed by the way she showed so well and for so long. I’m sure she must have been thinking I was taking the longest route possible to get to the agility ring! Here’s a pic of where we’re both more comfortable.


We had some brilliant runs in agility but alas it was the day of one fault wonders – she dropped one bar in Masters Jumping and I pulled her off a jump in Masters Agility. We got it together for Excellent Snooker but that’s about as far as we got. She’s such a good time girl though I find it impossible not to just grin at her just about all the time we’re playing together and I know we’ll soon have those Masters titles. I keep forgetting she had just about an entire year off from this sport.

Colt came along as well (mostly because his grandmother was still in recovery time from the c-section back in Feb) and I had absolutely no expectations of him whatsoever. At just on 19 months old I figured the trip would be a good dress rehearsal for the Qld Nationals and just an all round good experience for him to have. He took it all in stride and managed to finish with a couple of rosettes of his own! A 2nd place in Novice Gamblers and a 2nd Place in Novice Strat Pairs with his Dad’s owner Kelly Gill steering young Cash to a successful partnership. We had one fault in his Novice Jumping (he refused a tyre which I couldn’t blame him for since he’d just about taken the whole thing out with his head in his Novice Snooker attempt) and Novice Agility had him feeling the freedom of wide turns and picking his own course. Michael Goulding of Michael Goulding Photography got some great shots of him and these are his first office agility photos.

coltbcnatsgoulding2 coltbcnatsgoulding1As you can see he’s tending to overestimate his required jumping effort currently so we are working on this. Nice to know bar knocking won’t be a problem though! He did get his first quallie last week at Cloverdale with a good run on a very nice Novice Jumping course. First quallie and a first place.

If you’re friends with me on Facebook you can view the video of that run here.

I bought a bike about a month ago now. A real one not a stationary one. It’s a Giant Cypress DX and I’m really quite enjoying it. As are the dogs. Get up early enough and we can do a couple of laps of our local lakes with nothing but the birds, the crisp chill of early morning and a usually pretty aesthetically appealing sunrise. My feet stay pain free, the dogs get a good work out in sprinting and gaiting and with Cypher always the frisbee retrieving and it’s nice to be outdoors without having to allow for the careless or inconsiderate dog owners who just let them roam with no actual recall to speak of. If I bike each of them separately it’s a good hour and a half of exercise for me too. Cypher has now learnt the art of delivering the frisbee to hand whilst the bike is still in motion which is quite a neat trick. He thinks he’s pretty funny shoving it in my hand and then twisting it away but he’s quickly come to the conclusion that with me on the bike he doesn’t get enough retrieves of said frisbee in unless he gives it up pretty quick. Smart boy that one. Probably should get around to doing some Rally Obedience with him just for fun.

We have just about finalised the plans on the new house. I find myself feeling both extremes of absolute excitement and completely terrified when considering these future plans. The house has just about everything we could want, the block is perfect and I cannot wait to get started on the construction of my very own outdoor agility training arena. It’s been a while coming and it will be no doubt a while more. But I imagine by Christmas next year it will be all done and dusted. The mere thought of moving though (after over 10 years in the one place) has me just about reaching for the valium already.

In the meantime this year is still packed to the gills with lots of fun things. June has our ANKC Nationals – can’t believe it’s been nearly 2 years since the last ones in Sydney but there it is – just a few short weeks away. I’m doing a couple (most likely the last for a very long time) of conventions, one for the TV show that remains forever the love of my TV life and one that covers EVERY type of fiction ever made in the July school holidays.  August will see Daisy and David come out to Australia, stopping in for her yearly trip to Perth, to check on our progress in this game we play and offer her always motivating tutelage. Next thing you know it will be September with a trip for the holidays planned at the end and beginning of October. After that I think I will become the most grounded person I know. The house building will be in full swing and as anyone involved with building a house will know – there is much to do, see, discuss, decide and consider. My passions, as always, remain unwavering – my teaching, my dogs, my agility and my escapisms (TV, books, movies) and as I am stomping down the path to that vaguely disconcerting date that signifies my presence here has reached exactly 40 years I remind myself that in the big scheme of this relatively small universe I am only here for less than a blink of an eye so I better make sure I revel in it, no matter how fleeting it may be.

And on that note I’m off to play with the dogs outside – hooray for holidays!

O is for Odious Behaviour

A  thirteen year old girl who I had met for all of three hours decided it was okay to walk up to my desk and swipe my phone whilst I was busy helping other students at the end of session 4 last Monday, just before lunch break. A phone that I use as teaching tool. A phone that is quite distinctly mine, the only Samsung S3 in Australia that is both blue and white, has AT&T etched on the back and had a unique Supernatural cover that I had ordered from the US.

She promptly told her best friend (who is also a student in that same class) to meet her in the toilets so she could show her what she had. She pulled the phone out, friend realized it belonged to the teacher and told her to hand it back. The thief said nah, that she is gonna use it herself. We promptly did a bag search with the whole group after lunch. She had by that stage tucked the phone into her pants and sat there as brazen as anything whilst the entire class had their bags searched to no avail.

I wasn’t able to be at school the next day as my female border collie needed an emergency caesarian and I was at the vets most of the day. It’s a shame because I had that class the next day – the friend might have approached me then. I stayed home Wednesday too, however I don’t see that class Wednesday or Thursday, but still an opportunity passed by for the friend to make contact with me. On Friday her friend came to me within minutes of the class starting. The thief had decided to truant that day, her home was phoned and grandmother insisted that the thief had left the house in full school uniform, making her way to school. The friend informed me that “X” had taken the phone and had shown it to her in the toilets that Monday at lunch time. “X” informed her friend later on that she had reset the phone to factory settings and could now use it. She had her new number and had told her mother that a “friend at school had given her the phone”. I assumed at this point my SIM card was gone. I also was told by the friend that “X” had actually been caught using MY phone in the class during the last session on Thursday. The teacher had confiscated the phone off her, in front of the whole class, for the rest of that lesson. But at the end of the day he handed the phone back to her. He didn’t realise that it was my stolen phone. Despite the fact that I had put out an all staff email describing in detail this very unique phone.  It was THIS close.

It was highly frustrating on Friday to not know where “x” was. And her family didn’t seem too bothered by the fact that she had not made it to school.  What kind of family, parents or grandparents or otherwise doesn’t care if they don’t know where their 13 year old girl is? Clearly one that raises a kid to think it’s okay to steal off their teacher. Her friend has tried to reason with her and had come to school Friday hoping to deceive “X” into giving her the phone to “play with” and she would then hand the phone to me. I, as her teacher, of course have access to her home address. We briefly considered a home visit but it would be unlikely that she was there.

I blocked my SIM card on Tuesday so that the thief couldn’t use it. I figured it would be pulled out and chucked away anyway. However I had to order a new one which I duly did on Wednesday night – whether I got this phone back or not I would need a new SIM. Apparently when the most helpful Iinet guy ordered me a new one – stating that Iinet would kindly credit me back the 20$ fee since we had been such loyal customers and that the SIM would take 3 to 5 business days to arrive – it then UNLOCKED that original SIM card. We only found that out because today (Saturday) we just received an email from Iinet to say that I was almost at my limit of calls and texts for the month. What??? We go online and check out my number’s records and sure enough my original SIM card is now being used for calls, data and texts. Awesome. So now we were waiting on Iinet to call us back so we can block the SIM again.

We duly did so. By late Saturday night the number was blocked again. I counted the 3 – 5 business days before my SIM should arrive.  It should be here Thursday at the latest. On Monday I expected “X” would show up and we would have the phone back in our possession. No such luck – she truanted Monday and her grandmother informed us that they had tried to drive her to school however she refused and insisted on walking. Grandmother was completely aware that “X” was truanting again. We told her that we had tried contacting her father but there was no reply, his mobile just kept ringing out. I emailed Tim about this and we decided to visit  “X’s” home that evening. I remained in the car. Tim walked up and knocked on the door. He spoke to the father of “X” and also the grandmother who came to the door. He explained that he was the husband of a teacher at the school who had had her phone stolen by “X”. The father didn’t seem surprised. He explained that “X” was becoming uncontrollable and they were having huge difficulties with her. Tim went on to ask if “X” was there and the father said no, they had no idea where she had gone. Tim asked him to let “X” know when he next saw her that she had until the end of school Tuesday to produce this phone otherwise charges will be filed against her with the police. Father promised to do so and duly apologized on behalf of his daughter.

Tuesday morning and I am up in my classroom getting ready for the day. Unbeknownst to me, as a message had failed to be communicated, the Father and his daughter in full school uniform were at the front desk reception and had asked to see me. At this stage I was 3 minutes away from having a class full of 8th graders and also to be blunt I had no desire to talk to either of them, I was just that disgusted and disillusioned with the whole situation. So I asked the message deliverer if “X” had handed my phone over and was told that the Father had explained that “X” had actually lost the phone over the weekend. He also stated that he was aware that “X” had stolen the phone, had contacted the police and they had questioned his daughter that morning. I believe this was a bid to prevent me from going to the police as it turned out, after some investigation, that this “report” and “questioning” had never even taken place. I relayed the message that I was unable to meet with him as I had class. He left “X” at school who promptly went off to meet with her friends and go to her first class. I was to have her in session 2.  Fortunately a Student Services teacher came and removed “X” from my sight when she rather brazenly walked up to my door as if I was going to teach her. This blew my mind somewhat and not in any good way. Thirteen year old, openly admitting to stealing a $650 phone off me, does not return it and she thinks I will ever have her in my classroom again? I felt for a moment I had stepped into some bizarre alternate universe where perhaps we are just communal sharers and I just hadn’t been told. Regardless she was removed from my room and my 8th graders were pretty subdued for a Tuesday morning session I must say. I think they picked up on my possibly just below the surface seething vibes. I was on duty at recess that morning and several students approached me asking if my phone had been returned. I stated that it had not. By now they also knew how they had taken it and they were pretty disgusted by it as well as they felt it definitely reflected very badly on their particular cultural group. I was relieved by another teacher with five minutes to go and scooted over to Student Services where “X” was currently writing her statement and being questioned by the staff there. She was told to empty her school bag and any pockets. She admitted freely to stealing the phone but claimed she “lost it in the city on Saturday night”. This is after using the phone the entire week. She did not show an ounce of remorse, no apologies, no tears, just utter disinterest. She was informed she would now be known at this school as a thief. That after her suspension she would come back and have no recess or lunchtime privileges, as she could not be trusted. All staff would be informed of her thievery.

I don’t believe she has “lost” it. I don’t believe she will not steal again. Straight after school Tuesday, “X” had been given a 3 day suspension by the school (too little in my opinion) and I chose to take my situation to my local police station. Over an hour and half later I had given my statement – a 6 page epic written very competently by the Constable who dealt with me. He explained that he and an Officer would visit “X’s” house and ask to speak with her. They would inform her that she needed to produce the phone or they may have to arrest her. Wednesday afternoon Tim receives a call from the Constable to say that they had indeed done a house visit but “X” unsurprisingly was not there. They had done a room search of her bedroom to try and locate the phone. They told the Father that they still needed to question “X” and based on that questioning she may be arrested and face the Juvenile Justice courts. The Constable explained that he would now hand the case over to the jurisdiction of the local police in “X’s” region but that they would continue to look for “X” in order to bring her in for questioning.

I have had to purchase a new phone in the meantime. Insurance says they will cover some of it. I would like to send the parent’s the bill. I have asked my Principal if I can do this. “X” has been removed from my roll and is now being taught by a different English teacher. Most of the kids I teach have figured out who stole my phone. I have always loved where I teach. This is my 13th year of teaching at this school. The kids, for the most part, are genuinely friendly and nice kids and if not for them I probably would have moved on several years ago.  These last two weeks have been the first time I have truly questioned my choice to stay at this school. I know this will pass. I would never let one student, no matter how repulsive in behaviour, to shift me from a job I really enjoy over 90% of the time. It will make me much more wary though. Perhaps I can’t use expensive teaching tools in class for a while. I’m not sure where “X” will end up in life, her Father made noises about sending her “back home” but I don’t really credit his words with much sincerity. I do know that “X” should probably avoid being in my path for the rest of the time she attends this school. Not for a long time at least. Ultimately there is this huge feeling of disappointment and some sadness that clearly the parenting of this child has failed. I hope society doesn’t continue to bare the brunt of such failure.

However to finish on a much happier note – here’s a pic of young Skech who is now 11 days old and growing on strong :)

N is for New Acquaintances

It’s been one week now on my sugar free lifestyle change and I’ve noticed some things. When I get hungry and I make something to eat I usually can’t eat all of it. When I get hungry I am usually VERY hungry so I tend to make the usual amount of food or dish my usual portions up – and I can’t get through it all. I am feeling full a half or 3/4 of the way through. Now this was to be expected, it was definitely one of the mentioned effects of quitting sugar but what did surprise me was how rapidly that change happened. It has, after all, only been seven days.

Pepsi Max, which is my favoured soft drink, has not been difficult to cut back on. Usually one can a day or two cans at the most. But when I do drink it now it’s sweetness tastes like the nectar of gods to me it is just that deliciously sweet.

I have not found it difficult to stick to (I know – it’s only been a week) in terms of avoiding the high sugar items. The ability to still be able to eat bread, butter, any and all veggies and have milk certainly helps. I had only one unknown factor meal this week and that was lunch provided by work in the form of Subway sandwiches. The bread and the mayo were likely not to be in the permitted sugar level foods – so I chose the multigrain and still ate lunch and made sure nothing else that day gave me any further sugar hits.

Dinner has been a variety of things – steak and veggies, salt and pepper squid salad, burritos with salad, refried beans and zero sugar taco seasoning, broccoli frittatas  and chicken etc. I have missed the desserts. Ice cream and chocolate the most. I will make the plunge into ice cream making one day but only once I’ve missed desserts long enough to motivate me to learn it.

I’ve only had one day of headaches (and that may also be due to the whole going back to work after holidays syndrome) and have upped the water intake. Here are some items that have helped me make the change quite painlessly:

Plus cheeses, potato crisps, pasta (no processed tomato sauces though), crackers and the odd half a banana. I’m not one of those people who can train their palates to like something if it doesn’t. So all those foods or substitutes up there taste pretty good to me!

Next week school is back in full swing after a couple of days of the usual Teacher PD days last Thursday and Friday – it’s going to be hectic from day one I imagine on Monday. I’m always excited about the first day of school and meeting all my new classes. I enjoy being around kids and one of the best things in this job is being able to meet and make connections with a whole new group of human beings who I get to know. I have a list of things to do that is a little daunting to say the least and I’m hoping it won’t take me too long to work out that fine balance between getting my food sorted, teaching planned and prepared for, dogs trained, whelping room set up for Spryte whilst still managing to enjoy the socialising times of seeing a play, going to a Bruce Springsteen concert and attending trials and dog shows. Looking at the year’s planner it’s going to be a busy and hopefully satisfyingly productive year with puppies, house to build, trips interstate and overseas and a celebration of a milestone year with my 40th birthday. I’m still a little shell shocked by that number when I say it or write it and I keep looking behind me to see if it’s some kind of cosmic joke – me turning 40….blinks….Nahhhh….think I’m always just gonna be a big kid instead.

M is for Making a Change

Around October last year I caught this linking (somehow I don’t know where) to a segment on the ABC Show Catalyst about the real dietary villians.

Here’s the link: Catalyst: Heart of the Matter Part 1 – Dietary Villains – ABC TV Science.

After watching this and reading up on it I started looking into the story about sugar. I read through this book here after a friend on facebook recommended it when I posted about the Catalyst segment.

There’s A LOT of information in this book. It certainly bares reading multiple times. It’s easy to read but because of the the density of the detail you find yourself rereading several chapters and paragraphs. But what it does do is take what is potentially highly scientific terminology and jargon completely understandable. He steps things out and progresses logically through the explanations. I did feel like I was back in high school science class and that was okay because I really do regret not paying more attention in those classes. I will undoubtedly go back to re-read parts of it over the next year or so.

So that led me to the next book:

And I’ve been steadily reading through this since about the last couple of weeks of December. Again much to take in and this will form a reference guide probably for the next year or so.

The change we’re making is breaking the addiction to sugar. I’ll be honest and confess that my addiction to sugar is probably much stronger than Tim’s but since going through the food choices quite a lot of them already coincide with his likes and preferences. You think that it sounds not too bad – I mean you can have your bread still (obviously the lowest sugar kind) butter, all your meats, cheeses, potatoes, rice, of course all the veggies and the fruit. To be more specific – it’s an addiction to fructose that causes the issues. The constant stream of fructose that goes into our bodies actually messes with the body’s appetite regulation control and this is why portions have grown to ridiculous levels. And why we continue eating since we don’t feel full. So breaking the sugar fructose addiction actually kicks your appetite regulator into functionality again.

The drinks are limited – milk, water, Pepsi Max, tea (no sugar) and that’s it. Not a problem really since we don’t drink alcohol (except the odd cocktail or mixer on special occasions) and juice is usually not in the fridge.

There are sugar replacements you can use and I’m still looking into them because there are some out there that simply metabolise straight into fructose once it’s consumed and there seems to be plenty of recipes out there that replace them. I’ve even purchased a “chocolate” bar that’s sugar free. We’ll see. I’m not optimistic that way I might be pleasantly surprised.

I have gone through the pantry and boxed up all the items that don’t fit the 3% sugar content ie 3gms or less and ended up with quite a few items ;)

I will be doing a blood test tomorrow then the withdrawal process begins and we’ll go cold turkey. I don’t need to go through all the benefits of course but I am looking forward to seeing the effect of the changes once the withdrawal period is over (apparently you feel like crap when breaking the addiction which is understandable). I may even venture into homemade ice cream making at desperate moments.

The changes I want to make happen?

- Get rid of this plantar fasciitis which is strongly related to weight- I want to see less of me
– Feel less back pain
– A return to fitness and running faster in agility
– Less obsessing about food

David Gillespie the author, makes no bones about it – quitting sugar is hard. I’ll be following his 5 step plan to break addiction to the letter. I will probably get cranky. I’ll have headaches and will feel like crap. Hopefully those around me will understand and if not I’m sure they can just give me a wide berth anyway (I’ve never really done the whole PMS thing – maybe this can be my version of it).



L is for Last Days

Today was our last day in New Zealand – for the time being. The second trip, whenever that is, is already looking like a full itinerary. Aoteraroa is the original name of this land and it’s where the phrase Land of the Long White Cloud comes from. I’ve liked how bilingual many things are in this country. The Maori culture and language certainly seems to be far more embedded into everyday use than the equivalent back home, I’m not sure why that is but I have some speculations.

We’ve driven the length of the North Island since arriving last Friday and of the three places we’ve stayed – Wellington was definitely my favourite. It also gets referred to as Welly Wood thanks to the massive influence of one Wellingtonian – Peter Jackson. It’s difficult to quantify exactly how many lives that one man has changed. He’s spent millions in Wellington and all over New Zealand. He’s restored many locations back to former glory even in a better state than they were prior to the Lord Of The Rings and Hobbit movies. Whole career paths have been forged and entire families have seen the benefits of his vision and passion. Doing the tours in Wellington and then in Matamata has certainly captured my imagination and had me thinking about that whole process of bringing such a classic story to life. I have always had and will continue to have a huge passion for good story telling and that’s why the movies and the tv shows will always have a huge place in my life. A well told, well written, well produced story always leaves me feeling like I’ve just been given a special gift. Like the person (or in the case of shows and movies – people) who brought me that story has kindly shared a piece of themselves with me in the form of a story. It’s like an enthusiastic tour guide, passionate about their guiding showing you their special places on the earth.

Our guide in Wellington for the full day tour was named Laura. She was in high school when the first LoTR movie hit the screens in 1999…and she has now been guiding people on location tours for the last seven years in a van she has fondly dubbed Aragorn with a level of fervor that is quite infectious. She really did know the answer to 99.9 percent of questions about LoTR. She could tell you where a single 30 second scene took place (for just about every scene in the films), broken down into five different locations, at what angles the cameras were, what the actors had eaten for breakfast on that day and how many takes it took. I find that kind of attention to detail nothing but inspiring and fascinating.

The great River Anduin

She took us out to several locations and gave detailed behind the scenes recounts of the kinds of challenges the cast and crew faced – who knew Boromir played by Sean Bean was so absolutely useless at rowing a boat up river? Or that the little people who portrayed the hobbits for the capturing of forced perspective had such an aversion to being in a boat on water? Or that Aragorn’s anguished scream of despair for the supposed death of two of the fellowship was actually the result of Viggo Mortensen’s pain when he quite literally broke two of his toes kicking a helmet of armour across a scene? I never would have known that whenever we see Gandalf on a horse it’s actually his stunt double as Ian McKellan had a close friend be killed whilst riding a horse and made a vow never to sit on one again. He was apparently an accomplished rider prior to this. Liv Tyler who played Aragorn’s love interest and Elf Arwen was apparently so nervous around the horses she was banned from going within 20 feet of any of them as she made them skittish. David Wenham discovered that the horses get very attuned to the verbal cues to the point where they could no longer yell Action! because the horses would just bolt as they had quickly come to associate that word with the riders being in a bit of a hurry. They had to replace the word Action! with something innocuous such as Christmas Trees! No one had apprised poor David of this slight alteration and when one of his horses was around someone talking rather excitedly with the word Action interspersed his horse bolted for hundreds of meters. Luckily Viggo Mortensen – a talented rider – was able to chase his horse down and save the day. Go Aragorn! We traipsed over the paths of the Elves of Rivendell, stood in Frodo’s bedroom and beheld the very tree that Gandalf and Saruman walked beneath during their conversation. I found out that Christopher Lee had actually been given permission by Tolkein himself to play the role of Gandalf should the movie ever be made. Peter Jackson decided against that and now I can’t imagine anyone other than Christopher Lee in the role of Saruman. In Rivendell it was meant to be Autumn so Peter Jackson had 250 thousand yellow and red leaves imported in from Thailand and each one of these leaves was individually wired to all the trees that were, or might possibly be, in the scenes shot there. The attention and extreme lengths that were gone to in order to make the story come alive and be as close as possible to the picture created in Tolkein’s books are quite astounding. Now I’d like to go back and rewatch these movies all over again with my new found knowledge and much better appreciation of the cinematography and the settings.

A rather unhelpful Uruk-Hai shop assistant

The woods on the path to Bree where the Nazgul chase the Hobbits

Panoramic shot of Wellington – last stop of the tour

The next day we drove off to Rotorua – the biggest natural thermal city in the world apparently. Well the fairly repugnant scent of sulphur that hit us as we drove in certainly attested to this claim to fame. We didn’t get to the Mineral spring baths sadly but perhaps that can be added to the list. However we did have some of the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted and you can probably see the pictures for that on Tim’s blog. Rotorua for the most part was our base for the night as a stepping stone to Matamata and the Hobbiton tour we had booked. More Lord of The Rings and now The Hobbit movies sets to explore. Once again the attention and efforts blew me away. It takes about 3 months to create one of these Hobbit holes and that usually just the front door and exterior! There were 12 acres of Hobbiton full of around 42 Hobbit holes, a lake, a massive tree and a party field. The Green Dragon pub also took up some of that room and that was a fully functioning beautifully laid out tavern complete with the round doors and archways and dark wood finish. The tours are incredibly popular. Leaving in big groups of 20 to 40 people EVERY 15 minutes from 9.30am to 3.30pm. The Alexanders who bought the farm in 1978 must think their dreams have come true!

“I’m going on an adventure!”

That same spot on our tour.

It was raining and pretty overcast as we went on our tour but that actually worked in our favour in terms of the fact that we didn’t have many people in our group (16) and also the lighting was great for photo taking. Tim took lots of lovely shots.

After the tour and a second breakfast at the cafe we headed off to Auckland. Auckland…Auckland is a lot like Perth. Which is to say when people come visit us in Western Australia – I would say the majority of time would be spent outside of Perth. However the food choices are fantastic and the walking very good for the legs given it’s mostly up and down hills. We had a fabulously delicious meal last night at Tony’s Lord Nelson restaurant, everything there was pretty much flawless. So now it’s home again. We’ve been there and now to do the back again part. I’m looking forward to getting home to the puppies, my own bed and bracing myself for the acclimatisation that is going to be needed when we hit the Perth heat. Goodbye New Zealand – you’ve reached my top 3 of favourite places in the world and we will definitely, without a doubt, be back!



K is for Kindness

Ellen always ends her shows with one last entreaty to her audience, both studio and worldwide. Be kind to one another. I’ve always liked Ellen…she comes across as an honest, savvy, forthright, sassy and intelligent human being. Not to mention she can be pretty funny. Lots of people who have the world’s ear, in some form or another, have appealed for us to do the same. And we don’t have to agree with every single person we meet, see, read or hear about in order to be kind to them. That is what makes this seemingly simple request so tough sometimes. The guy who just shot his two young children dead in a home in Dunedin, the person who donated 350 thousand dollars to shoot a black rhino, the guy who chooses to fight dogs for money, the teenage superstar who behaves like an entitled douchebag. Can I possibly be kind to them? In a way my kindness might just be to not jump on the bandwagon of condemnation.

It’s weird how humanity is wired so that wisdom and an appreciation of life doesn’t really hit till we are well into our relatively short life spans. I almost feel a vague sense of being cheated. Childhood is a wondrous thing of course (although over way too quick) but once we start becoming young adults (essentially once we hit adolescence) our sense of self becomes the complete be all and end all of our existence. Now I know there are teenagers out there who you would declare devoid of this self absorption, indeed I know of quite a few, I would argue that I was probably one of them. But not due to any worldly wise appreciation of life, or some sage understanding – simply because I was brought up to think that it was the right thing to do, the right way to behave. Use your manners, treat your parents and adults with respect and do the right thing. I did all those things – not because I understood the true value of kindness but because that was how I was raised. Many kids behave the way they do because their parents have taught them that way. It took me till my 30s to really start to see how special human life was, it’s not something any one person can impress on you, it doesn’t matter who talks to you about it. Took me till my 30s before I could step outside of my own very cosy and little self perspective on things and begin to ponder just how small and insignificant our lives are in the big scheme of the universe. Before I realised that our time is short and we should find joy every day if we can. Before I realised what it meant by the concept that everything is temporary. I began to see all around me more and more examples of depravity and abject poverty and the depths that humanity could sink to. But at the same time I saw more and more examples of the strength of the human condition, acts of unthinking selflessness, of our propensity for kindness and compassion. It filled me (and continues to fill me) with both absolute despair and absolute wonder.

And now I try to remember every day – to be kind to each other. It doesn’t eliminate or even discard my quick fire reactions to things. I’ll hear stuff or read stuff or see stuff and be just as incensed, outraged, horrified, angry or just plain despairing. And if it is involving people (funny, invariably humans are always involved) then I try to step out of my immediate reaction for a moment. I let myself feel the way I feel about the action, or the words and then I think wait a minute, this is a human being and they deserve kindness. What do I want to achieve here? Is it to change them? Is it to condemn them? Is it to denigrate them? Is it to antagonise them? Perhaps I show kindness by not voicing any of my concerns or feelings, especially if I cannot think of a single thing to say or do that will achieve any kind of productive change. I remove myself from the situation. Perhaps I think about my use of words more carefully and bring something to their attention they may not be aware of, in a way that is nothing but amicable and cordial. Maybe I should make an effort to find what is likeable about this person, get to know them more, figure out if we have common ground.

I’m not sure I’ve got this whole being kind to each other thing completely in hand as yet. I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t have to step outside your own viewpoint to “get it.” But I’m going to keep on working at it because at the end of the day if all they can write on my gravestone is “Here lies Simone, she was kind” then I’ve done okay as far as being a human being taking up air on this planet can do.