Columns

We wish you a Merry Excess-mas

‘TIS THE SEASON to be Jolly… But how often do we really feel that way during the festive season?

I would feel more jolly if the whole thing was a little less excessive!

Most jollies are felt when getting excessively merry at a social gathering, or that special feeling of unbuttoning your pants after over-indulging on a ridiculous amount of food at the Christmas table.

These states would better be described as drunk and bloated, but for some reason, “jolly” seems to make these behaviours acceptable at this time of year.

I propose we rename the day to what it has actually become… Excess-mas.

Let’s be honest, the number of people who celebrate this day based on the birth of Christ is declining.

What has the day become about instead?

Well, excessive consumption basically.

If you’re a kid, it’s about Father Christmas, and what presents you’ll get from whom.

If you’re not a kid (or you’ve been naughty), then it’s about the gifts you must get for others, the maximum volume of food and drink you can possibly buy, prepare and consume, and how you should participate in all the other traditional rituals… the symbols of which have mostly become quite materialistic.

Take for example the act of buying a Christmas tree.

There is a tradition of cutting a baby pine tree down, thus killing it, so we can put it inside for a couple of weeks during December.

Some buy a plastic one to avoid the mess or allergies, and hopefully reuse it year-on-year.

And then we decorate it, usually with disposable plastic ticky-tack bling, which we often want to replace the following year.

Decorating the house is something that can quite a joy, but so many people seem to go right over the top, running excessive strings of lights and/or inflatable Santa’s and so on.

For those hosting their family on the big day, so much fuss goes into the house being just so; the table must be a work of art fit for Mr and Mrs Claus themselves to sit at, there cannot be a blade of grass out of place, and the massive amounts of food being prepared has to be exactly perfect.

So much stress.. excessive.

Then there is the buying of gifts, which seems to be something often done through obligation, rather than love.

I remember when the art of gift-giving was valued, and people took time to think about what their friends and family members might enjoy or be able to use.

It’s now the trend to “just get them a voucher, so they can choose”, thus avoiding having to make a decision, or risk making the wrong one.

Kris Kringle must surely have been conceived by either a Communist or an accountant, overwhelmed by the excessive number of gifts they felt obliged to buy.

This logically constructed system efficiently simplifies the task of gift giving, but it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of sharing love and respecting personal connections.

I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas!

I have a few ideas to help us be a little lighter on the planet this festive season, and to get back in touch with the festive spirit.

I’m certainly not aiming to take the fun away, rather lets contemplate what might happen if we started doing things a little bit differently.

How about if we all used living Christmas trees in pots (preferably natives), and planted them after we’re done.

Result = Carbon sequestration, and wildlife habitat creation

Consider if we gifted only second-hand or hand-created items, or at least had a “no plastic packaging” rule amongst the family.

Result = Recycling, creativity, cost-savings, reduced plastic waste

Imagine we took the time to create personalised cards (perhaps with our own art or a meaningful photo) with some thoughtfully chosen words, to empower all of our loved ones for the coming year.

Result = Sharing love and gratitude, creative self-expression

For the person that has it all, or really is “impossible to buy for” could we buy something for a less privileged person on the other side of the world instead?

I’m imagining gifting my mother with a card, showing that her gift is going to provide an education to a girl in Africa, or similar.

Result = the joy of changing someone’s life is long-lasting, deeply fulfilling, and humbling

How about creating beautiful unique looking gifts, wrapped in recycled paper or newspaper, with glamorous and/or functional ribbon / rope / dried flowers etc to decorate them.

Result = all the fun of unwrapping, with less waste

Could you get by with less dead animals on your table?

Perhaps one type of meat is enough.

Result = Cost saving, better digestion, less animal suffering

Much of what is special about Christmas is tied to traditions.

It’s important to respect and honour traditions that bring us together, and it’s also healthy to move on from bad habits which no longer serve us.

We don’t want to end up looking like the bulging hairy man in red, carrying around a heavy bag of “stuff”!

So Come All ye Faithful, lets enjoy the 12 Days of Christmas in moderation, and bring Joy to the World, with a Silent Night or two Away in a Manger, to keep calm and preserve peace on Earth.

The way of the Ninja

After growing up on video games like Tehchu and Shinobi, I recently discovered that I could actually practice Ninjutsu and become a Ninja master myself — well who could resist that opportunity.

Jokes aside, Ninjutsu is a serious discipline which teaches its students self-defence from both physical attacks and weapons, when there is one opponent or many, as well as stealth, camouflage and bush craft skills like shelter building and first aid.

The classes are held weekly and go through training cycles of punches, kicks, stealth and weapons — the week I joined the class was weapons, so after a lengthy — but necessary — warm-up we each collected a rubber knife and set about learning how to defend ourselves against an attacker with a knife.

The small group was fun to train with and I am glad the knives were rubber as this reporter is feeling particularly sliced and diced after going through the process of learning five knife attack techniques and the ways in which these are blocked. Now, hold off on your letters to the editor accusing us of encouraging people to start knife fights, the emphasis in the class is very much on the way to defend yourself and to use your opponents weight and momentum against them, to “stop the force” or “follow the force” as our instructor said.

After learning the techniques and sparring in pairs, we got the opportunity to put our skills into practice in a free-for-all sparing session where you had to watch not only the person in front of you, but those around you as well.

I have tried both Karate and Jujitsu as a child and it has been a long time since I tried a martial-arts class but this was lots of fun.

The focus is on using your opponent’s strengths to your advantage, which teaches the philosophy of avoiding fights, not starting them, they even teach techniques to deal with bullying in everyday life.

If you are involved in any of the Warrandyte Primary School after hours programs you may (or may not) have seen these black clad silent warriors practicing in the Bampi. Either way, if you are looking for a martial-art with a difference, this may just be the one to try.

Now, with a subtle act of distraction [throws smoke bomb], I’m off to my next active assignment.

If you would like to train to be a Ninja too, visit: khninja.com.au

Planning a trip to the USA?

No matter the season, an American sojourn is always a fabulous idea.

From coast to coast, a litany of adventure awaits, here are a few handy hints on what to expect.

First up, get your flight documents in order America’s Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows effortless passage through US customs but to be eligible for the VWP, you’ll need to apply prior to jetting off.

Pack the plastic fantastic

Unless you’re off the grid in the backend of the Appalachians, and probably even then, chances are card will be the preferred payment method.

Prepaid multi-currency travel money cards are also an excellent option.

The early bird gets the flight

Security can be fairly, shall we say, “thorough” at American airports, so get there early to avoid stress.

As a general rule most hubs suggest at least three hours for international flights, and two for domestic.

Wear your best socks, as you’ll need to remove your shoes, it’s still a thing there.

Don’t mess with airport security

There’s little room for dodgy humour at the American security gate, this is not the place for amateur hour.

American Customs officials are particularly fastidious and sensitive to things said, so leave any travel-related quips at home.

When it comes to eating, loosen your belt

In the land of turducken, the Luther Burger, the Quadruple Bypass burger, the Fat Darrel, the Redonkadonk, and various other sandwiches that will do their darndest to tickle your tastebuds, it’s likely that your USA adventure will add a few centimetres to your waistline.

Serving sizes can surprise; so if you’re not super hungry, order an “appetizer”; the US version of an entrée.

Observe the local customs

Just sayin’, Americans — like any nationality — have their own etiquette and unwritten rules.

The short list: doggie bags are permissible; don’t jaywalk; and make sure to tip — seriously, don’t forget that last one. The “official” line says tipping is voluntary, but with low minimum and base wages — particularly in the service industry — millions of American workers rely on tips for their livelihood.

Not good at maths? a calculator is a diner’s best friend especially when it comes to calculating taxes at the end of the meal — with that in mind, stock up on a fat wad of one dollar bills.

Make sure you’re insured

If you do yourself damage en-route, you could be up for some hefty medical bills.

Best sort out your fully comprehensive travel insurance prior to flying.

Embrace and enjoy!

Our travel expert, Carolyn Allen is Manager of Warrandyte Travel and Cruise. Contact her on Carolyn@warrandytetravel.com.au

August has always been a season of its own

AUGUST — it’s when many of us head north and if we can’t do it, we dream about it.

We’ve had enough of the chills and ills of winter and the cold weather seems to have taken over our lives.

It’s in all our conversations and seems all consuming.

Recently, I heard someone mention that August was a season of its own and it struck a chord.

August is often a difficult month for me, and for many of those in my inner circle.

Sickness seems to just hang around and motivation flies out the window at its earliest convenience.

I was an immediate convert to this idea of a new season, so I did a little investigating.

Seems it’s not a new thing after all.

Allow me to explain.

Across Australia there are many Indigenous calendars.

Most have six or seven seasons, including that of the Kulin nation – the five Aboriginal language groups that make up what we know as Greater Melbourne and Central Victoria, including the Wurundjeri People.

According to Museums Victoria:

“The Kulin have a detailed local understanding of the seasons and the environment.

Each season is marked by the movement of the stars in the night sky and changes in the weather, coinciding with the life cycles of plants and animals.”

Their calendar has seven seasons and, not surprising, August is a season of its own:

It’s called Guling Orchid Season, and it is marked by orchids flowering, the silver wattle bursting into colour and male koalas bellowing at night.

Poorneet Tadpole Season, (September and October) is when temperatures rise, rain continues and the pied currawongs call loudly.

The days and nights are of equal length.

Buath Gurru Grass Flowering Season, (November) is warm and it often rains.  (A good thing to remember as we start planning picnics.)

Kangaroo-Apple Season, (December) is marked by its changeable, thundery weather, longer days and shorter nights.

Biderap Dry Season, (January and February) has high temperatures and low rainfall.

Iuk (Eel) Season, (March) is when the hot winds stop and the temperatures cool, while the manna gums flower and the days and nights are again equal in length.

Waring Wombat Season, (April-July) has cool, rainy days and misty mornings, with our highest rainfall and lowest temperatures.

Seven seasons seem to make a lot of sense.

In my research, I stumbled across some notes from a workshop that was held in Warrandyte, in March 1994.

The workshop was initiated by Alan Reid, now a renowned naturalist and environmental writer.

He was interested in including Aboriginal knowledge of seasonal change together with local knowledge from regions of Australia, and had suggested the workshop to pool observations within the region to look for seasonal patterns.

This seemed to be the catalyst for ongoing work by other naturalists into the seasonal calendars of the Melbourne area.

Monitoring was undertaken by many birdwatchers, plant surveyors and others with an interest in documenting changes in local flora and fauna, and, later that year, an interim local calendar of six seasons for the middle Yarra region was launched.

Some years later, more observations were added, and the calendar was adjusted.

In brief, it seems they have done away with autumn for this six-season calendar, but here are some key points from their findings:

  • high summer, from early December to early February, when beetles and xenica butterflies appear and young fish come up from the estuaries
  • late summer, from early February to early April, when the Yarra River becomes muddier, young platypuses emerge and eels move downstream
  • early winter, from early April to early June, when morning mists are in the valleys, migrating birds arrive from Tasmania and casuarinas flower
  • deep winter, from early June to late July, when the weather becomes colder, heavy rains fall, orchid rosettes appear and silver wattles flower
  • early spring, from late July to late September, when more wattles begin blooming, many species of birds begin nesting and joeys emerge from the pouch
  • true spring, from late September to early December, when seed-eating birds, such as finches and parrots, begin nesting, platypuses lay eggs, the Yarra rises and tadpoles are in the ponds

Personally, I don’t want to do without the word autumn as it conjures up so much colour and meaning, but having a local calendar that incorporates indigenous knowledge seems to fill in the gaps and paint a more complete picture of the world immediately around us.

So, with a greater understanding from those that lived dependent on the rhythm of the seasons combined with the findings from the workshop in Warrandyte, perhaps we can all approach this next season a little wiser, be a little more prepared, and just maybe next winter won’t seem so long if we acknowledge Guling.

References:

museumsvictoria.com.au/forest/climate/kulin.html

emelbourne.net.au/biogs/EM01345b.htm

Calendar source: Museum Victoria

Nature: our wonderful wildlife

WARRANDYTE ABOUNDS with opportunities to enjoy natural landscapes and wild animals, birds and reptiles up close.

Although sometimes people would prefer the reptiles to be a little more at arms length!

The natural beauty of our lovely town and its environment is probably the reason a lot of people move to and live here, happily, for a very long time.

It seems fairly obvious, but certainly researchers are in agreement that being connected to and exposed to natural environments has a very positive effect on our mental and physical health, for a whole variety of reasons.

In fact, the research has shown that even just looking at pictures of nature on a regular basis can reduce stress and improve quality of life.

Enter the Warrandyte Nature Facebook page

People love being in and capturing their special experiences of nature, and then sharing those experiences with others.

The Warrandyte Nature page is a vehicle for that purpose.

It’s also a great way to find out about parts of Warrandyte you might never have know existed! Get on it.

The Diary has limited space in the print edition, so for the web find attached a bumper gallery of the images we received for this month’s Nature column.

If you like the selection of photos and would like to see more, please visit the Warrandyte Nature Groups Facebook page by clicking here.

 

Marsupials

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Birds

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Landscapes & the micro world

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