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Do drop in (the art of spontaneity)

TURNING THE calendar over from January seems a bit like firing the starters pistol at an athletics track.

The moment it turns; the cruisy, lazy days of January start to fade from my memory, the prompts on my calendar no longer visible, and the days ahead fill with routine and to do lists that require the skills of a hurdler.

But before it fades completely I want to grab hold of a few moments and set them firmly in place.

One in particular was from our annual family trip to Tasmania to see my mum.

Typically, we don’t venture far from Mum’s place, instead we just slow down, enjoy long walks on the beach and a few too many serves of hot chips and ice-creams after swimming in the ocean.

But this year we added a little something extra and took off for a few days to the Tasman Peninsula, primarily known for its main attraction, the Port Arthur Historic Site, and some incredible rock formations at Eaglehawk Neck.

We skipped Port Arthur and its busloads of tourists and instead found spectacular beaches, captivating scenery and a remote gin distillery that makes Butterfly Gin — a deep blue gin that turns pink when tonic water is added.

Perfect really.

It was an impulsive escape, and we just happened to be the lucky family that got the last available room on the entire peninsula that weekend — staying at Pirates Bay (how fun does that sound?) — one of the aforementioned beautiful beaches.

The peninsula is host to amazing walking tracks, many taking you to cliff tops that make you feel giddy as you look over the edge at powerful waves that crash the rugged coastline beneath you, and small seaside villages that offer magnificent views.

Doo Town is one of these villages.

A tiny seaside town of shacks at the south end of Pirates Bay, it is famous for its quirky house names.

A tradition that started in the 30s, when Hobart architect Eric Round named his shack “Doo I”.

His neighbour quickly replied with Doo-Me and a friend followed up with Doo-Us.

The tradition still continues today with most of the town’s shacks having “Doo” names, such as Dr Doolittle, Toucan Doo and a favourite of mine, Doo-write, and then there is Doo-lishus, the food van at the nearby Blowhole.

The hunt was on for the best name.

And then we happened upon Doo Drop Inn and I firmly announced that was the winner for me.

I love it when people drop in.

It doesn’t happen often and of course you can be caught unawares, but it makes my day when a friend just drops in because they were “in the area” or “had a few minutes to spare”.

But it is rare, perhaps a thing of the past, a habit of bygone days when neighbours and friends just dropped in for a cuppa.

According to my research, which involved the very scientific face to face conversations with local friends and a social media post, I’m of a rare breed myself and most do not like a drop in.

I was shocked.

It seems the drop in has been replaced by invitation only, with busy lives set up to take the blame.

I wonder how much the pressure to have things in order adds to it, and of course, the Instagram images of beautiful homes feeds the inadequacy many feel in relation to housekeeping and home decorating skills.

One research participant said, “I need a few days’ notice, so I can tidy up, bake, make the house look nice and make sure there is a bottle of wine in the fridge.”

My oh my — that sounds more like a fancy dinner to me, and unfortunately her sentiment was echoed by many others.

And to that I say stop this madness.

What are we doing to ourselves that how our homes look is more important than having an open door?

What are we doing that our lives are so busy that we must schedule every visit, every cup of tea with a friend? 

Here’s the challenge — stop the styling, stop setting ourselves up for perfection, just let go and instead breathe deeply of the friendship and spontaneity of a friend at the door — they didn’t come to see your house.

Perhaps be the one that drops in on friends, maybe it’s time to start a revolution and bring back the drop in.

As an extrovert I love to see my friends, any time of day and night, and I am happy to be distracted, to discard any task for a conversation.

So if you need somewhere to practice — doo drop in.

Sunshine, freedom and a little flower

GARDENING

IT HAS BEEN a sad month of November as we learn news of the ravaging fires up north and the decimation of our beautiful country, farmland, National Parks, the wildlife, birdlife and other critters.
It brings to harsh reality the dangerous place we live in.
We rely on Mother Nature to look after us, and for our neighbours to be aware and watchful of how they tend their gardens, their cigarette butts and just their consideration of others in general.
December 1 is the time when panic sets in on when we last cleaned out the gutters, is our fire plan in order and have we cleared flammables from around the house.
We look in admiration at the CFA as we drive past the station, knowing they will have our backs when we need them.
Are we leaving out water bowls for the birds and animals?
It is amazing how many native animal sighting there have been this year.
How many are frequenting our gardens and river.
It makes
me laugh when someone comments on Kevin the Kookaburra who arrives on their balcony waiting for tidbits and someone else comments that “this is not Kevin” but their kookaburra Harry.
My water lillies are showing their faces out of the murky water of my old copper near the front door.
They flower year in and year out. Just a single simple plant.
I love how the birds come to admire themselves in the water while they are drinking.
Try popping a little chunk of manure in an old piece of stocking and weigh it down in the water with an old brick.
This is all I do to fertilise my waterlily.
It thrives on the neglect.
A little bit like my orchids.
I pull my blinds open in the morning and just spend a couple of minutes taking in all the plants that come to peer in the window.
The salvias, struck from tips put into the ground this time last year, are now two feet high and flowering.
The clematis and Pierre de Ronsard roses entwining each other — clamouring over a rusty old arbour.
The euphorbias, an old reliable in the garden, are flowering profusely, the Jerusalem Sage a pop of yellow and always covered with bees.
Poppies that I have never planted have decided that they will come to stay; probably brought in with bird droppings.
The scent of the lemon blossoms, mock orange, the scented verbenas and the roses of course, waft through the window on the morning breeze.
The day will always be a rush but this is the few minutes of peace we can have.
Moments to plan. Moments to contemplate life and its ups and downs.
The vegetable patches are looking a bit forlorn this year. We have the lettuce, spinach, peas and beans, tomatoes, basil, fruits and herbs.
Still all doing their thing even though they have been neglected this year.
There is nothing so humbling as finding the plants flowering and fruiting even though no one will be there to witness it.
December is a time to batten down the hatches as we prepare for the predicted heat waves and scorching north winds that will dry out the garden.
Hopefully you took my advice last month and got on top of the mulching, trapping the moisture underneath it in preparation with the dry months ahead.
Make sure your taps, hoses and buckets are all in position.
That there is a bucket collecting water in the bottom of your shower, ready to be tipped on the plants closest to the house.
Remember to wander around the garden in the afternoon snipping off the dead heads of the annuals, perennials, roses and lavender — make pot pourri with the cuttings.
It is not too late to plant seedlings in the vegetable garden.
Beetroot, lettuce, parsley, peas, pumpkin, silverbeet and radish.
Cistus is a great plant to plant out now.
It is a Mediterranean native from Italy and Greece.
They love sunbaked soils and are drought tolerant.
Always remember the plants with grey leaves or spiky small leaves are an indication that they like arid conditions.
Salvias, the perfect example; rosemary, lavender and catmint others.
Maybe hunt down the beautiful pink rosemary and the white lavenders.
Or catmint (nepeta) “Six Hills Giant” that will grow up to a 70cm high and one metre across.
Remember that basil, lavender, and catnip are all plants that mosquitoes can’t stand, while other varieties, like lemon balm, are best crushed up and applied to skin for a natural insect repellent.
Gift giving?
Packets of seeds are always a beautiful gift, as are new gardening gloves.
Or of course a pair of secateurs.
Wishing everyone a happy and peaceful Christmas surrounded by your garden and those that love you.
Wishing you peace in the new decade, and a garden that always blooms.

Working with Gen Z – when you a clearly not one!


I am not even fully awake yet and I can feel the glowing rectangles of text burning into the back of my mind, beckoning me to come hither.
While I was sleeping, a few of the Gen Zs on my work team were up late, buzzing away in our group messaging space and now, while they sleep, their silent chatter calls to the rest of us.
It is a strong, invisible force that pulls me towards the screen.
Though there are no visible signs alerting me to their existence, the battle to ignore them is exhausting.
It’s been going on for months — and most days they win.
Before I’ve even put the kettle on I am scrolling through kilometres of text messages and emoji’s: the occasional ‘thumbs up’ and, of course, the ever present yellow circle faces with puffed out cheeks and red heart shaped eyes.
My mind fills with a whirl of responses and frustration and, by the time my family join me in the kitchen, the joy of the new day has already been washed away.
Navigating the work space via an online chat app requires one to be ‘switched on’ at all times.
If you miss a few hours of “conversation” it can take almost as much time to catch up.
Instant messaging is the way it works with this team, and their friends, and they are comfortable with it.
I, however, am struggling to speak their lingo.
Gen Z have grown up in the digital age, social media and mobile devices are a natural part of life.
In a face-to-face meeting recently I was told I had been coming across as unfriendly and somewhat abrupt.
As the conversation continued it became clear that my lack of emoji use had something to do with it.
I have been a user of the colon-close-bracket-smiley-face for years now, and I’ve even branched out to the semi-colon when I want to spice it up a little, but apparently my lack of puff cheeked golden orbs is sending its own message.
Emoji – those small digital images used to express an idea or emotion within text messages are important in some circles and if you get it wrong it can mean more text messages to establish the original meaning.
Try sending a ‘happy face’ by accident and see how long it takes to right the wrong, and as far as working out when to use the halo-wearing, sweating or sunglass wearing faces… well, when you do, can you let me know?
This experience has me wondering if instant messaging really does belong in the work place.
Perhaps it does – it just needs boundaries.
In our everyday life, we use texting regularly to make plans, ask questions and resolve queries like “what time will you be home tonight?”
However, it often seems to take longer and feels to me that it is a step backwards in communication.
Standing around typing and waiting for the response seems to be a waste of time and a missed opportunity to connect.
The question also sits unresolved and keeps our minds preoccupied while we wait for a reply.
These messages can often also lend themselves to miscommunication.
You can’t hear the tone of voice, and most often punctuation is not used, so the meaning can be misconstrued.
Here’s an example:
After numerous texts back and forth with a colleague there was still no resolution or plan to move forward on an issue.
The hours between a text and its response seemed to drag.
What could have been resolved in a few minutes over the phone took days.
Eventually I sent a text suggesting a phone call within business hours, estimating in would only take about 20 minutes to resolve the issue.
Eventually, with a little bit of fuss and a message to let me know how much my request was an inconvenience, the call took place and as predicted, the matter was resolved within the timeframe given.
Wrapping up the conversation I decided to ask a personal question, something like, ‘How are you going with all this?’ and instantly I regretted it.
What followed was a torrent of words telling me I was wasting her time and that she “doesn’t do phone calls”.
Suffice to say, communication between the two of us remained stilted for the remainder of the project.
So tell me, when texting is the default, and a phone conversation is often seen as time wasting, and unwelcome, how do you establish friendships over multiple short messages?
Perhaps the answer really does lie in the face of an Emoji.
Anyway, I’m off to my other job, where we work face to face and talk to one another across the office.
At lunch time we might walk to the bakery together and chat about our weekend.
Later, I’ll head home and possibly catch me some different kind of Zs.

 

Wait for it…. here we go…


MY GOOGLE Calendar informs me there are 30 days in September, but if you listen to Mike Brady there is only one day I’ll want to remember.
Do I really want to listen to a man who also wants me to get in there and fight?
Probably.
It just so happens that yet another lot of school holidays fall in September.
Fighting is surely the order of the day? Let us chart a typical day in the September holidays.
You wake up and it’s warm and sunny, by the time the offspring wake up, clouds have formed, the wind has sprung up and for goodness sake it’s started to pour with rain.
Excellent, we are now all trapped inside.
Wait for it… here we go…
“Mum, he just used all the milk so I can’t eat breakfast — I’m starving.”
Door slams.
Looks like I won’t be eating either.
Different door gets banged.

“Mum, she’s just gone into the shower, I wanted a shower”.
Of course you do.
You haven’t wanted to for the last three days whenever I’ve asked you to, but now that one of the three showers in the house is occupied, it’s imperative that you wash.
And apparently it has to be that shower.
Distressed screaming spews forth from a bedroom.
Wait for it… here we go…
“Mum, he’s stolen my phone charger”.
Really? A day ago, I had a charger and a fully functioning pair of earbuds.
Currently, I possess an empty wall socket and a white cord that has the left ear bud hanging on by the merest of threads whilst the right one is MIA.
As the caterwauling increases, my one manky earbud that’s hanging on by a wire fails to block out the incessant noise adequately enough.
I devise an escape plan.
With all of them too busy hissing at each other to notice me, I grab the car keys and sneak out to the garage.
Except, where there is meant to be a car, there is large empty car sized space.
School holidays — car service — of course.
Shoulders slumped, I drag my defeated butt back into the house and commit the most fatal of parenting fails.
“If you lot don’t stop fighting, I’m banning all electronic devices”.
Wait for it … here we go …
Complete silence as three sets of eyes unite, turn and bore into me like laser beams.
It’s only 9am.
It’s only day one.
It’s not the first time that I wished I drank coffee.
Or gin.
Or the perfect combo of the two.
Espresso martinis.
Backing away from the combined advancing force of three wi-fi-less teenagers, I feebly offer up a packet of Uno cards and my treasured childhood limited Australian edition Monopoly set, complete with Bourke Street before it was a Mall and Telecom before it became Telstra.
By some unspoken sibling super power, they have me surrounded, pluck Monopoly from my trembling grip and start to set up the board on the breakfast-less dining room table.
Game on.
I’m ready to get in there and fight, fly like an angel and show them my might.
I’m not called Cazaly for nothing.
I dazzle my treasured offspring with my entrepreneurial 1980s property developer style, snapping up properties, building houses and opening up the odd hotel.
Too busy congratulating myself on using the experience that only comes with being on the earth longer than all three of them combined, I make the typical Gen-X mistake and ignore the crumbling infrastructure.
I have failed to invest in the utilities and railway stations.
My portfolio slumps.
I find myself trapped like a commuter approaching Hoddle Street on the Eastern Freeway at 8:30 in the morning.
A few more poor rolls of the dice and I’m in and out of jail often enough that I could be cast for a recurring role in Wentworth.
Filing for bankruptcy, I realise I’m not called Cazaly at all and the crowd is definitely not on my side.
Without me to gang up on, the teenagers turn on each other.
The noise gets louder and louder.
“If you lot don’t stop fighting, I’m returning all electronic devices”.
Wait for it… here it comes…
High fives all round and
“Hey, have you seen the latest skittles Tik-Tok?,” as they clamber around each other’s phones.
Walking out the door to embark on my seven-kilometre round trip to IGA to get milk for my breakfast, it strikes me that Mike Brady was both right and wrong.
There really is that one day in September, but I truly do not want to remember it.
My Google calendar was also correct about there being 30 days, thankfully only half off them are in the school holidays.

Soak it up while it lasts

THE DAYS HAVE been short, and the landscape has been at perhaps its most hydrated.

The sky seems drab, but quite literally, soak it up while it lasts!

Before you know it, we’ll be back to dust and searing heat.

For the naturalist in mid-winter, things can seem uninteresting.

Many animals are tucked away in hollows and burrows and the “higher” plants (trees, grasses, flowers, etc) are at a standstill.

However, a whole different slice of biodiversity has been doing its thing this month.

The trick is just knowing how to spot them.

The large “flushes” of mushrooms may have passed, but the fungi are by no means silent.

Turning a clump of soil or leaf litter may reveal fine white hairs — hyphae — the roots of the fungi.

As these are highly sensitive to drying out, winter is their time to break down all of last season’s organic matter and cycle it back into soil.

Springing from the soil after a good drink are the ferns.

Their fronds emerge as coiled bundles known as fiddle heads, for their resemblance to the end of a classical string instrument.

Thriving in low temperatures, there is a clear connection between ferns and trees.

The canopy trees shield out the harsh sunlight of midday, whilst allowing the gentle, angled light of dawn and dusk to nourish the fern.

Often at sunrise and sunset, you will see a small beam of light, with a fern waiting in just the right spot to take full advantage.

The mosses and lichens too revel in the wet, and those fuzzy banks of moss play host to other species with their high moisture content, whilst simultaneously smothering out the weeds.

These will continue to drip out water for many months to come, helping those heavy rain periods nourish the landscape for a longer period.

With water so widespread, life is good for our amphibious friends, the frogs.

Their habitat is at its greatest extent at this time of year.

Small dams and even dips/trenches in the landscape may be full of water now, but not so in summer time.

As the summertime grasses are drowned by water, a host of macro-invertebrates — water bugs — move in to feed on the decaying grass, triggering the beginnings of the freshwater food chain.

Without fish to eat their tadpoles, and nice small, tadpole sized meals swimming about, these little puddles are the perfect place for frogs to complete their life cycle.

Such water logged soils, when combined with high winds prove the down fall of many trees at this time of year.

Some healthy giants, but also many smaller dead trees that lost the race for top spot.

If you’ve had such an event at your house/your local bit of park, look out for weeds that may germinate in these areas come spring.

As if this didn’t make life hard enough for the poor possums, with very few moths about, many possums subsist only on the odd gum leaf in winter.

Our wildlife doesn’t truly hibernate like bears; however, many possums enter a low energy state or “torpor”, sleeping deeply but still waking nightly for a little snack and a stretch.

Winter is when a hollow in a dead tree becomes prized real estate.

As the inside of the tree rots it releases heat, much like a compost heap, just enough to keep a hollow a little warmer than the outside world.

The first few acacia flowers signal an explosion just around the corner.

More subtle signs of spring appear in the form of orchid leaves appearing on the ground surface, and various lilies putting out some foliage ready for the spring time delight.

So, chuck on your favourite trench coat, some good boots and get out in the bush while it is still full of life’s most precious element — water.

Ian Hawkins is a local ecologist, operating his own small business, Magpie Ecology.