Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Sunday, December 31, 2017


At the beginning of the January I established three ambitions for the 2017.

  • To walk 750 km using Runkeeper
  • To lose 10kg
  • To do something about my Japanese learning, although quite what I hadn't worked out.

So how did I do?  Not well I fear.

I walked a little over 500 km before I gave up.  I'm not sure what happened. Lindsey achieved her 750 by the beginning of December and I was more or less on track until August or September.  It is true that my phone stopped working properly and I couldn't use Runkeeper, but that was only for a few weeks until I got a new phone.  I just stopped walking around the time I had my hand done and didn't pick it up again properly. I have decided to set the challenge again for 2018.  Lindsey has also set the walking challenge but she has put it up to 800 km.

Not only did I not lose any weight, I actually put on 3 kg.  This wouldn't matter so much, I guess, except that my summer clothes all shrank during their winter hibernation.  It seems terribly wasteful to buy new clothes when I already have lots. I have reset that ambition for 2018 too

The Japanese, on the other hand, did quite well, although it never became SMART. But I have been using Lingodeer regularly (well, regularly up until the Christmas recess) since Lindsey discovered it and also Drops, which is a vocabulary app.  I have also been doing online Japanese lessons once or twice a week. My Japanese is never going to be particularly good but I can ask for the essentials when I am in Japan and understand a little bit when people talk to me, provided that they talk slowly! (I can ask them to say something again, more slowly please :-D )  So more Japanese in 2018 too, especially since I am hoping to visit Japan in October. I must pick up my use of Japanese Pod 101 again, given that I have a paid subscription, and also Wanikani, a kanji learning website which I regularly get to level 5 or 6 of before setting it aside in favour of something else.  Then, of course, i have to start again.  Perhaps I should set an ambition to get to level 10 by December :-D

The other thing that I really must do is to be more assiduous with my hand exercises.  I've almost stopped doing them and, not surprisingly, my hand isn't improving very much at all.  In fact, I'll go and do the morning set right now.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Christmas Vegetable Tart

Freyja has reminded me that I forgot to tell you about the vegan Christmas tart!

We had two vegans, one vegetarian and two people who eat very little meat coming for Christmas dinner.  Belinda was bringing a nut loaf. Ian was planning a vegetarian paella.  Freyja and I were scanning through some foodie magazines and saw a vegetarian friendly puff party tart which looked delicious and which could easily be veganised.

So on Christmas morning I took a baking tray out of the cupboard outside our room.  I layered it with non-buttery puff pastry.  I sauteed some leeks and layered them on the pastry.  I fried some zucchini slices and added them.  I added red and green slices of capsicum.  I put nutritional yeast in some almond milk with pepper and corn flour and made a savoury custard.  I added this to the tart and scattered some dukkah over the top and lastly added some soya cheese.  Freyja made stars and Christmas trees and decorations out of pastry and scattered them over the top.  It looked beautiful.

We went to put it in the oven to bake. And discovered that the baking tray was approximately half a centimetre too long for the oven.  It didn't matter what we did or how we tried to fit it in, it wasn't going to go.

Time was ticking along.  We couldn't slide it onto a slightly smaller tray.  We couldn't pick it up.  Everything that we tried to do made the tart fall apart.

In the end there was nothing for it but to start again.  This time, however, there was no layering, no pretty effects, no savoury custard.  We just grabbed everything and shoved it onto new sheets of pastry that we had put onto an oven friendly baking tray.  Freyja did salvage some the pastry stars and trees.

But let this be a lesson to you.  If you find some nice looking, unused baking trays in a cupboard where you expect to find the disused kitchen stuff, check to see why they might have been put there before using them for an important event.  Oh - and line your baking tray with baking parchment.  If I had done that I would almost certainly have been able to move the tart to another tray!!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Christmas Shenanigans and a Bereavement - part the second

We had an excellent Christmas.

Stella and Tony, Lindsey, Ian and Emily, Austin and Tatsuki, Freyja and Simon and Jim and I were all here on Christmas morning.  I have to say that it was slightly on the chilly side, but it warmed up as the day went on.

Tatsuki playing snooker

Making bacon sandwiches for lunch

He's had a bacon sandwich!
Then people started to arrive.  At one point we had 27 people and 7 dogs in the house.  Fortunately, not all of the people stayed over and 3 of the dogs went away before bedtime.  It was a good evening with lots of food, many, many presents and a bit of wine.  We watched Cally and Flynn opening their presents in Sheffield through the wonders of modern technology. Then later,  Freyja and Simon went back to Melbourne with Ant and Jess and their two dogs.

Mother and Matthew

Ready for the feast

A 21st century family gathering :-D
On Boxing Day afternoon those of us who remained at the house went to the Ballarat Wildlife Park. We were there in time to see the penguins, the dingoes and the koalas have their lunch.  The koalas were ridiculously excited when their branches of eucalyptus leaves were brought in. I don't think I've ever seen koalas jumping with excitement before.

On Wednesday Lindsey and I actually went to work!  And Freyja and Simon came back to Mount Helen with us in the evening

Then on Thursday, we held a luncheon party.  There were ten of us in the house on Thursday and we were joined by Julia, Ali, Zoy, Rod, Robert and Susan - thus including three of Austin's oldest friends and three of mine.  It was a good afternoon.  Ian did an amazing job barbecuing sausages, burgers and kebabs and people seemed to enjoy their lunch.

Now Austin and Tatsuki are down on the coast, staying with Zoy's parents, Judy and Theo.  And Freyja and Simon are on their way to Melbourne, where they will fly to Hong Kong later tonight. They will see in 2018 there before flying back to Sheffield on the 2nd.

So all in all a lovely Christmas break which was saddened by the news yesterday evening that Jim's mother Gwen had died, passing peacefully in her sleep.  She was 92 and in failing health, although I don't think anyone was expecting her to die quite so suddenly.  But it was a peaceful and quiet death and I don't suppose any of us can ask for more than that.  She was a lovely lady and will be much missed

Gwen on her 90th birthday.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas shenanigans - and a bereavement

We got back from Hobart in good order.  Freyja and Simon had a couple of days in Melbourne. Austin and Tatsuki (but not Kaori who couldn't get the time off work) arrived from Japan for Christmas and New Year. Lindsey and I did masses of Christmas food shopping. Freyja and Simon came back from Melbourne and arrived back at the house with Julia and her partner Travis, arriving just in time for ...

... The Christmas movie marathon!  Ali came too.  At one stage Austin, Freyja, Julia and Ali shared a house.  It was a Christmas movie marathon housemate reunion!!  Julia's sister Lucy came up later in the evening, just in time for ...

... Roast lamb, roast pork, roast potatoes, roast vegetables, green beans, asparagus and YORKSHIRE PUDDINGS.

The evening was enlivened by the fridge apparently dying.  Not entirely convenient when it was packed full of Christmas goodies.  It turned out it was a blown trip switch.  Fortunately, the culprit was not the fridge, or the dishwasher, or the freezer.  It was the hood over the stove so we don't have a fan or a light.  But we do have the dishwasher.  Phew!

Jim managed to fall in our bedroom and has the most spectacular graze down his side, a hole in his t-shirt and a grumpy back.

The movie marathon came to a very abrupt end when Sam the Great Dane collapsed.  Sam has been noticeably fading over the past few weeks and over the past couple of days has been somewhat dejected.  It was very clear that the end was not so much in sight as nigh.

He was, though, still with us this morning and made himself comfortable on our bed.

In the meantime, the early morning activities progressed.  Rupert didn't eat much of his breakfast and a cheeky magpie hopped onto the backdoor step and started pecking at it.  It ran away when I went to investigate.  Lindsey and I pottered off to do other things.  When we came back the cheeky magpie was in the kitchen on the draining board helping itself to remnants of last night's dinner!  It was Very Unimpressed that we had interrupted it and flew to the other end of the room to try to escape through the long windows.  Alas - they don't open.  Eventually it flew onto the lights over the snooker table and stopped to consider its options.  From there it could see the open door and off it flew. It had a lengthy conversation with its colleagues on the back lawn about its adventures.

Not what you expect to see in your kitchen on a Sunday morning.
Photo by Lindsey
Emily's housemate is a vet. She was, however, down at the coast for her Christmas holiday. She very generously drove up with her mother to aid Sam on his way. It was a gentle, peaceful end for a peaceful, gentle dog.

RIP Sam and vale.  Good boy.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Penguin, Sheffield, Launceston

While we were driving from Hobart to Queenstown and whenever she had signal, Freyja messaged eating places in Queenstown and Strahan to see which of them could feed her.  Pretty nearly all the places in Strahan replied to say that they either had vegan options on their menu or that they could provide vegan options, especially given a bit of notice.

Pretty nearly all the places in Queenstown said that they did not have vegan options on the menu, couldn't provide vegan options and quite probably wouldn't even if they could. (That last bit might be a bit of an exaggeration but that was the sense you got). They all said that they had lots of gluten free dishes, which would have been excellent had we been travelling with someone with coeliac disease. But we weren't.

One place, however, said that although they didn't have specifically vegan options on the menu they did have food that could be made vegan and that, given notice, they could provide interesting other vegan options.  We gave them notice and went for breakfast yesterday.

Tracks cafe is attached to the Queenstown heritage railway station and is open for breakfast and lunch.  We arrived as people were buying coffees and teas to take on the heritage steam train tour of the wilderness areas. So we put our breakfast orders in and then went out to watch the train depart.

And then we had our breakfasts.  And very lovely they were too.  The full breakfast was almost enough for two.  They did Freyja a bowl of porridge with almond milk, and a piece of toast with avocado pulp.  Simon had avocado toast with poached egg and mushrooms. They also made up a takeaway pack of rice, stir fried vegetables and tofu with some sort of sauce for Freyja to take for lunch.  We were very impressed.  Their lunch menu doesn't start until 10:30 and we asked for the lunch pack at 9:30.  Very obliging, they were.

Right.  On we go.  To Penguin first, across mountain roads and then dropping down into valleys and coastal plains.

We bought lunch provisions in Penguin - not that we really needed much lunch after the enormous breakfast we had had. But I had oh-so-nearly gone back to Victoria without having had a Tassie scallop pie. They are ubiquitous across Tasmania but you almost never see them in the bakeries and pie shops in Victoria.  I make them sometimes, but it's not the same as dropping into your local purveyor of pies and buying one  😀  Fortunately, the Penguin bakery had some.

And then on to Sheffield, just so Freyja and Simon could say they have been.  Sheffield, Tasmania has a population of around 1700 and is famous for its murals

Sheffield UK has a population of roughly 550,000 - which is pretty much the population of the whole of Tasmania. Which explains the large tracts of uninhabited wilderness areas in the state.  Or possibly, of course, the large tracts of wilderness areas explain the tiny population!

And so on to Launceston, our last port of call for this trip.  We decided that, having spent all day in the car, we should go for a walk.  The helpful owner of the place we are staying in suggested we go down the track from Zig Zag reserve, where we are staying, down to the main  road.  "Some people say its a bit of a rough track," she said. "But I don't find it particularly rough".  She may not.  If you have ancient, dodgy knees such as mine, it wasn't so much a rough track as a rough scramble down irregular, misshapen, uneven stone steps, parts of which had no handrail.  Fortunately Freyja volunteered to be my handrail or I think I would have struggled to get all the way down!

Jim had sensibly declined the invitation to join us and had stayed back at the house with the telly.

Anyway.  Down we got.  And walked along a proper path to the Gorge reserve.  We took a trip on the chair lift and had a little wander around.  And then came back to the house by road.  It might have been hilly and perhaps a bit steep, but at least it didn't upset my knees or my balance.  Mind you, my fitbit says that I got over 40 storeys yesterday, and it doesn't count going down. The scramble down those steps hardly registered for anything.  It didn't even count most of the steps, I was hanging on so tightly to Freyja or to the handrails!

Back to Melbourne today. We're flying at 11:45.  Best get organised, I guess.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017


The drive from Hobart to Queenstown is only around 250 km but it goes through isolated, mountainous areas and takes much longer than you think will.

There are not many settlements en route.

I haven't done a road trip like that in decades. It was a fabulous drive.

We stopped in Hamilton to pick up vegan supplies for Freyja.  It was really a bit early for lunch but research had shown that there was a roadside cafe by the name of The Hungry Wombat in Derwent Bridge, about an hour and a half further on.  Freyja messaged them to see if they could accommodate vegans and vegetarians and got an almost instant, cheery response to say that yes they could. If nothing else they could make her an awesome salad.

We arrived to be greeted by one cheery member of staff and one exceedingly grumpy one who assured us they did not have vegan friendly food.  When informed that we had asked and been told that they did she demanded to know who we had spoken to. On being told that Freyja had messaged their Facebook page she indicated with great disdain that she Did Not Do Facebook. In the meantime, the cheery member of staff had gone to consult the kitchen who suggested that they could indeed feed Freyja.  And they did.  To say that we were out in the middle of nowhere and that country Australia is not known for the interest of its salads, it was a very fine salad indeed.  The rest of us enjoyed our burgers, sandwiches and whatnots.  Not a bad little roadside cafe in the middle of nowhere.

On we went, through spectacular scenery, arriving in Queenstown late in the afternoon.  Queenstown is set in rugged scenery and has been a mining town for pretty much all of its existence. The mountains around it have been deforested by the mining activities, although nature is fighting back and the trees are regenerating around the township.  I think if we were to come again and with the benefit of hindsight we would probably stay in Strahan, about 40 km further on. There are many more eating places and things to do in Strahan.  Having said that, the budget hotel we are staying in is more than comfortable and the little town is an easy potter about.

Yesterday we took ourselves across to Strahan, quite early in the morning and took the World Heritage Cruise. It was an all day cruise, setting off at 9:00 and returning just after 3. We went out through the harbour heads into the ocean, then came back in.  We looked at the fish farms. We visited Sarah Island, where we had a walk. We had a very good buffet lunch, where they made a very good fist of accommodating vegans and vegetarians and people with other dietary requirements. We went on a forest walk. The talks and tours were witty and informative.  It was a great day.  It was also very windy.

Sarah Island

Windswept Freyja

Captain Simon

Rugged up Lindsey

Captain Jim

Gordon River
Frannie and Freyja en route back to Queenstown
Right.  Off to breakfast and then on to the last part of our Tassie Road Trip.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Port Arthur

We had a lovely day yesterday.

It's not all that long since Lindsey, Jim and I were at the Port Arthur penal institution but we thought it would be of interest to Freyja and Simon.  It was a lovely day so we set off nice and early.

Freyja had expressed an interest in seeing Tasmanian Devils.  Really, she wanted to hold one but cuddling opportunities with Tassie Devils are rare.  There is, however,  a Devil Sanctuary  en route to Port Arthur so we called in there to have a look around.

We saw Devils, a Pademelon, kangaroos, lots of birds and had a lovely stroll around.  No holding of devils, but we did get to hold a tawny frogmouth

and to stroke kangaroos

and watched devils having lunch

Speaking of lunch ...

No joy at the Fox and Hounds, which was closed for a private function.  No joy at Gabriel's restaurant, which couldn't accommodate 5 walk ins.  No joy at Port Arthur, which will have vegan and vegetarian food today - which wasn't all that helpful when we were there yesterday.  We did manage to get coffee and tea on the harbour boat tour, and Jim and I found toasted cheese and ham sandwiches on the boat.  Lindsey and Simon found appropriate sandwiches in the restaurant (which was in a degree of disarray as it was "preparing for tomorrow". Freyja made do with a packet of chips.  Lunch was not an unqualified success for us!

But Port Arthur itself was.  Freyja and Simon went off for a proper wander.  Jim, Lindsey and I just had a potter about in the sunshine.

Dinner was a much more successful affair than lunch.  We went to the supermarket and laid in supplies for a platter of roasted vegetables with vegan schnitzels for Freyja and Simon and fillet steak for Lindsey, Jim and me.

And now we are getting ready leave. We are off to Queenstown today.

Sunday, December 17, 2017


When Freyja and Simon decided to come for Christmas there was a plan that Simon's parents would come too.  We thought about where we could take them for a little holiday within the holiday and decided on Tasmania.  Neither of Simon's parents had been to Australia at all, so anywhere would be new to them.  And neither Freyja nor Simon had been so it would be another State or Territory to collect.  Then Jetstar offered a deal on flights in December from Hobart to various places, including Melbourne. So I booked the return flights for us all.  I would worry about the outward flights later.

Alas.  Simons' parents, in the event, were unable to come to Australia.  They have deferred their visit to another time.  I assumed that Tasmania was off and that the return flights would have to be abandoned (they were non-refundable, given the cheap fares on offer).

Lindsey said no.  We were definitely going.

So we did.

We left on Friday on a late afternoon flight. It takes just over an hour to fly to Hobart from Tullamarine.  We picked up the car and found the house we had booked for the three days we are staying in Hobart.  We found a shopping complex nearby which has a supermarket, a bottle shop - and lots of other shops which weren't of much immediate interest to us but which might have been if we were staying longer.  I think by about 6:30 or 7 we were sat in our lounge room admiring our beautiful view, sipping wine and preparing dinner.

I woke up yesterday morning and saw this floating past:

We had been intending to head to Salamanca market close to its opening time of 9:00.  It seemed highly probable that at least some of the passengers on the boat would go to Salamanca so we decided to defer our arrival time by about an hour.  Which allowed for us to have a proper breakfast! One of the stallholders later told us that this had been a wise decision. Even so, the market was very crowded.  It was, of course, a pleasant Saturday morning very close to Christmas.  And there were clearly other tour groups there in addition to the cruise ship passengers.  At least two bus loads of Chinese tourists turned up while we were there. It was very productive for us.  We all came away with lots of purchases.  We may have to be more frugal for the rest of the trip!

I have said before that Hobart reminds me a bit of Edinburgh.  So I didn't particularly notice the pipe band providing an accompaniment to our wandering in the market.  Until Jim and I meandered into the park and saw this:

Right.  Lunchtime.  Where shall we go? How about Richmond?  A good place for lunch.  So that is where we spent the afternoon.  The Richmond pub doesn't really have any vegan options, although they did put together a plate of pasta and vegetables for Freyja.  They do have vegetarian options, so Simon was ok.  And Lindsey, Jim and I had the whole menu to play with so we were more than fine.  Although I do think that perhaps if we should find ourselves in Richmond again we should try one of the other eating opportunities.  
We pottered among the craft shops and wandered through their little Saturday market.  Freyja and Simon went in to look at the model village. It was a pleasant afternoon.

Photo by Lindsey

Waiting for Freyja and Simon who are in the model village

Back to the house for a relaxing late afternoon

And Freyja and Simon went for a walk down to to the beach.  We were told before we booked this house that the driveway is very steep.  It certainly is. I'm not sure I could actually have walked up it. Fortunately there are wooden stairs to the side which I can get up.

Night time view:

Sunday morning view: