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Yesterday, I started writing a blog post called Kitchen Goddess and although I talked about sourdough as an aside I didn’t really get to the point.

My birthday is this month and because of the Pandemic I had to cancel my planned birthday party at a local Ethiopian Restaurant. My big 60th. I was going to shout family and friends for a meal and feed them cake and fill their glasses with wine and/or lemonade!

While there is no party, I’m still having a birthday and I didn’t really have an idea of what I wanted for a present. My daughters asked me and well… I couldn’t think of anything until I was sitting around in bed on Thursday afternoon. It was one of the those days when it was raining outside and I’d played with the toddler for a few hours and was knackered and world events are just overwhelming at times. Then, an idea hit me. I’ve always wanted a decent stand mixer. Years ago, I bought this absolutely cheap, crap one from Big W or KMart and the beaters don’t even hit the bottom of the bowl and I have to put tea towels underneath to lift the bowl and scrap and basically get cranky.

I watched a few YouTube videos to pass the time and my favourite cupcake place did a review of three types of stand mixer. Previously, I had read Choice Magazine as well so I knew what was in my sights. So after about five seconds consideration and years of lusting, I went on an online hunt for a Kitchen Aid, Stand Mixer. Locally there was a sale of 40 per cent off at Kitchen Aid. Still, they were way pricey. I started talking to my partner and he agreed to go halves.

A special deal was free engraving. On my new stand mixer in almond shade will be my name ‘Donna Maree’ and the line underneath says ‘Kitchen Goddess’! Hence the title of my previous post. I don’t have photos yet as it has not been delivered. Obtaining a new stand mixer goes against the ‘I must stop baking pledge’ and minimal socialisation means it is hard to share product if I do. Yet, I can’t help thinking about what I would bake first. I usually do all my sour dough bread by hand but the Kitchen Aid stand mixer has a dough hook. My Thermomix does knead too but it’s not quite big enough for the double loaves I make. And I like to do it by hand over the space of a day as there is something very calming about the process of making sourdough. But there are other things to bake! And there’s cinnamon rolls! Absolutely deadly!

Here is a picture from Amazon.com.au of the almond colour.  It is listed there for $629 AU. If you are interested, here is the Linkstandmixer

The prices in the USA are half this. As they are made there it makes sense. USA Amazon has the red one for $279 US link is here.

This is one heavy beast so Matthew and I had to decide where we would put it given our limited bench space. We decided to move the air fryer because that’s light and can be moved easily.

https://www.amazon.com.au/KitchenAid-KSM160-Stand-Mixer-Almond/dp/B077NTX8RY

In the previous post, I also put up a picture of an award. Now I can share the news as it has been announced. Our short film ‘Implanted’ won the People’s Choice award at the Lights! Canberra! Action! film festival. The film is about nerdy, cat-loving Nigel who is accidentally implanted with a microchip and starts behaving strangely. It’s a rom com. And we need something uplifting these days. At the time it was post bushfires and bushfire smoke and we wanted to take people’s mind of that.

This is the team, my daughter, me and my partner Matthew. A huge thank you to the team, lead actors Michael Slater and Amelia Forsyth-Smith, the crew and to Executive Producer and teacher extraordinaire, Dan Sanguineti from Sanguineti Media, where we did an intensive film making course in February.

Implanted Team Award pic (1 of 1)

Right now I’m in the process of making sourdough bread. It’s part of my usual routine so not a pandemic hobby. Not that there is anything wrong with baking while you are stuck at home. I find it reduces stress. It’s just that too much baking makes one fat.

To combat this I am trying to increase my exercise. Twice this week I have walked to the local shopping centre-a least 25 minutes away on foot and back again with my little granny trolley. I don’t feel too scared by this as there are all these markers in the little shopping centre showing where to stand to keep your social distancing up and it’s not very crowded.

Today I went to pick up a parcel from the post office and then thought I’d get a few things from the supermarket. There was a queue to getting into the supermarket. It wasn’t long and I was inside in good time. We had to wash our hands with sanitiser and keep our distance. I headed straight to the toilet paper aisle and was victorious. I also scored two small bags of flour and a dozen eggs. I feel like beating my chest and crying out like a victorious Tarzan.

I was surprised by how much food was available and I had this queer feeling. One part of me just wanted to buy stuff because it was there and this is a pandemic and the other part was like all this food doesn’t make it seem like a pandemic. I had to tell myself that the food would be there next time. A lizard brain reaction maybe. Of course, some shelves were low or empty but now that people can’t panic buy there’s plenty. I should also say all the staff were very nice and polite and helpful. Ideally though I leave the shopping to Matthew.

My greatest challenge over the next few months besides not contracting Covid-19 and dying is not to get fat while housebound. So trying not to bake! However, my family are asking for homemade English muffins and hot cross buns and Anzac biscuits (oatmeal cookies) as well as sour dough bread.

We get Youfoodz meals delivered for most of the week and they are calorie controlled and then we cook or do something else-usually a freezer dive as we have frozen left overs meals. That helps a bit because if I totally got into cooking mode I’d cook heaps of things that I love to eat and my self-restraint ? Well there is no such thing!

However, I contrast this with many, many people in the world right now who don’t have food, or shelter or decent medical care. I might be stressed. I might be finding it hard to concentrate but I’m not in a bad way at all.

That might or might not be helpful thinking. My usual life and expectations have changed.

I’m still trying to work on the PhD (difficult) and keep my mental health in a good space. I try not to think of my publishing career and what will happen to the industry. My creativity has been squashed into a plastic bag and tossed into the back of the cupboard.

However, for those of you without books. There is a promotion of free dragon books on Bookfunnel Link

So go help yourself.

I just had a Darynda Jones book delivered this morning. I’m very tempted to start reading it right now. I was lucky enough to meet Darynda in early March as part of the ARRA signings. I like how she puts real life into her urban fantasy and her sassy lead, Charlie.

The other impediment to productivity is Gin the cat. He just plonked himself down on my lap after walking across the keyboard and wouldn’t shift. He just looked at me with those enormous eyes and stared. He also had his claws out so hugging him was like hugging a rose bush. I think it is revenge because the other day I accidentally locked him on the deck for the whole night and it rained.

IMG_1096Next this turned up in the mail. I’ll talk about this next time…

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World events are just moving so fast in this unprecedented times. Ten days ago I was teaching my classes face to face. This week gone it was online. It’s a time of adaption, perseverance and hope.

I try to have hope that things will get better as the pandemic passes but one thing for sure is that life is going to be different now and for the months to come. Who knows how the world will be when this is over?

I feel for those who are under lock down and have lost loved ones and jobs. I’m doing okay at the moment. I applaud the heroes and heroines of this crisis, the health workers-doctors, nurses, first responders. I have to drag myself away from the news as it is overwhelming.

I can’t concentrate, I can’t write and I can only stumble from moment to moment. But I am going to fix that as best I can. I’m going to focus and do something besides bake, eat, clean and watch Star Trek Next Generation! From tomorrow I’m going to have a schedule but I will give myself a break if I falter.

But for some cheer! Baking results. Hot cross buns and my regular seeded sourdough bread.

One hero in all this on the political side Andrew Cuomo, Governor on New York State and Jacinta Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, who both give clear, sound and emotionally sensitive advice to their people.

Here is my isolation buddy, Gin the cat, who is part Maine Coon.

To help out in the only way I can, I have updated my front page to promote the links to my free novella, Vorn and the First Comers. I have also sent a link to my short story collection, Beneath the Floating City, to my newsletter subscribers.

Yes, I know. I should be all gloom and doom. Things are not as bad as they could be. I’m not going to say they are not as bad as they seem because that’s a different kettle of fish.

I’ve studied pandemic preparedness for my work as an auditor a while ago when bird flu was considered a threat. We got the Swine Flu instead. However, under those scenarios the ‘flu’ was going to be devastating and take a lot of people out thereby disrupting critical supplies such as food and rubbish removal and so on. However, this does not appear to be the case. This is not a widespread failure of everything we know. Food deliveries are still being made etc, food is still be produced and grown. This is not like Stephen King’s The Stand or the movie Contagion. Praise the universe for that small mercy.

The big impact here is on imported food and exported food and medicines. These disruptions to air travel etc have consequences there is no denying. However, I am convinced we will still have baked beans on the shelf. And as toilet paper is made in Australia no potential shortage. I’d like to see people not hoard that stuff. I have plenty of loo paper but I bought it one pack at a time and then found a great big packet from before Christmas in our laundry hidden under guff. As people aren’t going to be visiting in the time of social distancing and social isolation I think we are good–for a while.

We should be alert but not alarmed.

I will be delivering all my tutorials online from now and probably for the rest of the semester. I think this is doable but I’m sure going to miss my face to face classes. I have such a great group of students and I’ve been so impressed by them this year. I feel bad that their first year of university (most of them) is marred by this pandemic outbreak. In one course we have been discussing ‘adaptability’, which is not always easy.

I am also low level scared. It has been on my mind that I might die. But I’m not alarmed by that thought. I think this is because since Matthew’s dad died in December, life has been full of challenges. Bushfire smoke, bushfires and now the Covid-19 outbreak. These events have put a lot of pressure on me personally, although I did not lose my home, it did make me understand that I am not as resilient as I thought I was and that I’m mortal.

So where is the upside here? I think there’s a chance to slow down and connect with ourselves and those closest to us. There is a chance to catch up on books and movies. Social media, often called a bane, might be the only contact people have and for that I think we have to be grateful for technology. We live in a connected world–that helped the virus spread but it will also keep us together.

Today I am baking sourdough bread, an activity I find relaxing and centering. I’m also trying to work out how to put together a half lecture using different technology that is going to be delivered online. A bit of a learning curve.

Stay safe everyone.

 

Life has been a bit tough around here, NSW and Canberra.

First, in December, we had a death in the family and that was sad and stressful and then the bushfire smoke came in thick. It seemed like for days on end you couldn’t go outside, you had to tape the doors to stop the smoke getting in and you needed a mask to go outside. This, as you can imagine, impacted on my mental health. People I knew lost houses. I haven’t lost my house so I’ve no excuse to feel so affected. Maybe.

It was hot too and I felt like it was another summer that I wasn’t going to experience, that I was going to be stuck inside with the airconditioning. We’d built up our deck furniture but there was no point in going onto the deck, there was too much smoke.

But going outside, going to university or just out and not being able to see for more than 300 metres I started to ask myself, is this it, is this what life is going to be?

Then one day we had mustard coloured smoke. It was thick, pervasive and threatening. It was then I began to believe that I wasn’t really set up to survive the apocalypse. I’d been optimistic before about that, about surviving, about seeing humans living beyond.

At New Year we escaped the smoke and headed to Melbourne. It was great to see blue skies for a change. However, at home the smoke was getting worse. Canberra had run out of P2 masks. When we got messages about that we decided to buy a supply in Melbourne and by air purifiers. We had so many orders we really couldn’t buy more as there was no room in the car. We can back with seven of them. As we were leaving the smoke was heading to Melbourne and that big city got to experience the downside of the most massive array of fires ever.

We had a few days where the smoke haze was less and maybe life could be normal. We still took masks with us everywhere in case the wind changed and it got bad.

Then on Australia Day weekend, on the last day of a writing get together we got news of a fire starting in the Namadgi National Park, within Canberra’s borders. It came out that a defence helicopter had started the fire accidentally with its landing lights and poof up it went. The Orroral Valley Fire. Then next day it was 20,000 hectares big and we were on emergency warning level. I could see flames from my deck. I was freaked out. We evacuated ourselves early. I think the speed and the ferocity had the emergency services scrambling that first big day on Tuesday. There were regular updates about what was happening. The communication was great. Really great. We came home but we knew there was bad weather ahead. On Friday we had a record 42.7 degrees C. I evacuated us again, early. I was too stressed and freaked out to stay.

But the wind was in our favour. It didn’t come marching towards southern Canberra. Instead it spotted badly over the border into NSW, into the Clear Range. Matthew’s has a farm in the Clear Range and our suburb was on alert too. On Saturday though the wind was still favourable and predicted storms did not do any harm to the fire. We did house preparation in case there was an ember attack.

In the evening, emergency services broadcast that they had a plan. The fire was due to hit the grasslands and they said they could handle that. They bombarded with fire retardant and firebreaks and I went to bed less stressed and confident that they had it in hand. The first time in nearly a week. Sunday we listened to the emergency broadcasts and relaxed. The fire is still burning. It will burn for weeks, unless we have a week of rain. The farm is still in danger if the wind changes, but I feel better looking forward.

I write post apocalyptic fiction and I love reading it, but now I think I feel differently about it and my longer term outlook. If you aren’t prepared to survive, even a week of disrupted food and water supplies or leaving your house, then you aren’t likely to survive if society breaks down. I had a real think about this. Given my age…I turn 60 this year, maybe I shouldn’t try to survive. My efforts should go into helping my children and grand children survive. This is rather a profound thing for me. This brush with the apocalypse has shaped me, changed me.

Maybe when this crisis passes that will change, but I think not. My son lives in China with my granddaughter. With the coronavirus outbreak we were lucky that Madelyn had come here on a short holiday. She can’t go back. My son is stranded in the Phillipines where he was scuba diving. His flight was cancelled. The new flight was cancelled. His firm is thinking of sending him to Europe to an office there as who knows how long this crisis will last. My granddaughter was tested for the virus and is negative. They are not living in the the affected area and had recently moved from Shanghai.

Did I mention the hailstorm that sort of broke up the boredom of smoke filled days. Both our cars were damaged but still drivable. Thousands of cars locally damaged and undrivable.

 

And then there’s Brexit and Trump impeachment, like some sort of weird aperitif to make you vomit up your dinner instead of settling your stomach. Our own government is pretty shite!

This is a screen shot of the NSW Fire Services Fires Near Me app. You can see how many fires there are in NSW and around Canberra.

This next screen shot is near us taken last night. About fifty percent of the Namadgi National Park is gone and it’s burnt twenty percent of the land area of the ACT (Canberra). My house is near the B23 marker, about 12 kilometres from the edge of the fire. Orroral Valley fires is 56, 264 hectares in size as of today.

 

On Tuesday I left uni early because I started getting messages about offering me a place to go. I’d been working and didn’t realise the fire alert had been raised to emergency level. I started to cry on the bus seeing the fire smoke. The shot below is the smoke at the major shopping centre in Tuggeranong.

I was crying when I got off the bus. (By the way this shocks me that I totally lost it).

This was the view on Tuesday from my deck when I got home.

Later I could see flames and that’s when I decided I needed to evacuate and asked Matthew to come home from work. It was coming in fast and hard. I don’t think the emergency services were ready for this but they did a good job. And with the drought all that bush is bone dry.

The emergency services released a worst case scenario map for the weekend. It was pretty freaky. We didn’t know what the parameters were but obviously they didn’t eventuate. What did happen was the fire leaped over to NSW.

 

What started as a spot fire grew so quickly. Houses were lost and it’s still going but due to quiet winds not as badly as it could have done.

The shot below was Friday, when I was home alone and decided to get out of there. No magnification here.

 

The next is what the spot fires looked like on the app on Saturday.

It grew quickly.

Then it started to spread across the highway on Sunday. The Clear Range fire now listed as being 11,470 hectares.

 

This is why I have had a disrupted week and life. I am not sure when normal transmission will resume. It might be a new normal. I just don’t now.

 

 

 

I’m sorry it’s taken a bit to get this third post together, but life!

We spent about four days in London, mostly so we could go to the Harry Potter Experience, which was very fab. At the beginning of the tour they asked the audience if anyone had been before. One woman said she had been 53 times. Wow! The cost alone must run into thousands of pounds. The exhibition was fantastic, which lots of displays from the talented people who made the costumes, sets, prosthetics and make up.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Gringotts bank set was amazing. I took lots of photos and video of it. We had a nice lunch there and drooled over the merchandise. I’d totally do it again, but not 53 times.

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We had an accommodation issue in London which soured our experience somewhat, and then we headed off to Ireland. I was there for three weeks, including Dublin Worldcon and a workshop with David Farland. So I went between Donegal and Dublin a little bit.

Warning: there are images of a bog body here, that is a corpse that is thousands of years old so look away if that does not appeal. We stayed in Westminster so these are a few along the river. We wished we could fossick on the shores of the Thames but you need license now.

Then we did a tour of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace, which included a Queen Victoria exhibition. Unfortunately no photos but we did get some of the grounds and the back part of the palace that you don’t see from the street. I love the lake in Buckingham Palace, not that we got to walk around but it was visible on the exit path.

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Then we went to the British Museum. I’ve been a few times and it is so big I’ve not see all of it.We were focussed on early Britain this visit. It was incredibly busy and the food was so expensive.  The following shots are of the bog body. I saw more of them in Ireland (in a museum, not the wild).

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These are some roman hoard. The quality of manufacture was amazing. And the  head, early Christian I believe.

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I am going to keep Ireland for the next post. Sorry, I’m out of time.

I don’t comment on politics often but this has been on my mind.

We have protests. We have affirmative action from the people. We have solar power and wind power. Why does the Australian government not understand or seem to act?

It comes down to economics and coal. Coal the core of our trade and how can the government say coal is bad and keep selling it? Basically it can’t. If they stopped the coal industry tomorrow our economy would collapse.

I get that but I’m not happy about it.

What the Australian government needs to do is look for new industries for Australia to have at its core and start the move away from coal. That might take fifty years but we should start now. Successive governments have had decades on decades to more our economy from a commodity base to more dependable footing say manufacturing, finance, technology and ideas. But I can’t see any attempts at that. Now, we have our backs against the wall. We have a lot of coal but soon we aren’t going to be able to sell as much of it as we used to. Coal creates greenhouse gases and as other economies get on board with this, they will change and we should be changing ahead of the game. For example, China buys coal and burns coal. In Shanghai you have to wear a mask in the winter due to the coal burning power stations and I believe Beijing is the same. China are investing in solar energy and that’s probably where my solar panels were manufactured.

What I’d like to see is for the Australian government to support climate change action. Listen to the voices of the people who want recycling, who want less waste, who want less plastics in the environment. We want support for electric cars so we aren’t contributing to more greenhouse gases. Supporting climate change action doesn’t have to mean economic loss, but it does mean the government acknowledging the will of the people when it comes to climate change action.

The government talks about banning protesters and Morrison PM says that kids are too young to worry about such things. Scott Morrison you are being an ass and Dutton, your dopey comrade, is just too ridiculous for words, calling on the police to sue protestors because the courts won’t punish them. Cue eye roll. Ever heard of the separation of powers?

Australian government start talking about a positive future and about where Australia will be in fifty years or even one hundred years’ time. Plan to have a no coal future and build us an economy that can support us and where we can actively reduce greenhouse gasses and still live.

Not all Australian governments are blind and stupid. Canberra is moving to phase LPG (gas) out by 2030, I think. Besides being pricey LPG  contributes to greenhouse gases. Canberra is set to achieve 100 percent renewable energy, which is great but there’s more to be done obviously.

The Australian Government missed the boat on a future fund based on the mining and petroleum sectors. I mean the then Labor government did try, but it brought the government into disarray. Rich mining moguls have way too much money and power! One day all those minerals will run out and Australians will be turning out their empty pockets and will need to go begging. But that’s the greed culture for you.

I have included a few links. The one in the Conversation talks about how the statistics say one thing but if you include the downstream industries that mining is fifty percent of the economy and is pretty interesting about economics generally.

Warning the Mining Council can be a bit right wing.

https://minerals.org.au/coal-community

https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/5204.0Feature%20Article12017-18?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=5204.0&issue=2017-18&num=&view=

http://theconversation.com/australias-five-pillar-economy-mining-40701