Despite my best intentions, this Sunday morning saw me up (and dressed) by 6am. The plan was to sleep in, have a lazy breakfast in bed and read my book for a while. But the sleep fairy scampered off at the usual time, leaving me wide awake – so it was clearly tea o’clock, followed by an attempt at blog o’clock, despite being rather low on inspiration.

Returning to (almost) full-time work this week has stretched me in numerous ways, not the least of which has been the impact of daily interaction with large numbers of people and the need to present a happy-smiley-helpful face to them all. Every day. After a year of semi-hermiting, this required some internal adjustment and quite a few early nights to recharge.

Glyde-In Community Learning Centre

There are upsides, of course, ranging from increased income for a few weeks (always useful) to the delightful work environment and the extraordinary community spirit I encounter on-site daily. It really is a lovely place to work.

But, whilst it’s all good fun, the daily rush has reduced my contemplation time to the drive to and from Fremantle each day. Since the 20 minute commute each way is mostly spent either mentally preparing for work or recovering from it, I completely failed to come up with a blog-topic. A cool, quiet house and a cup of tea in the early hours of this morning made me introspective, however, and my mind started to fill up with various things from the past week – so I’ll share those.

  • Being a grandparent can be an emotional rollercoaster. My grandies are fur-babies: two adorable Ocicats, Cloud and George, and their very cute (pure black) companion-kitty, Corvy.  They’re usually a source of endless entertainment, amusing stories and cuddles, but last week was rather different. Over the space of four days we all went from anticipation to worry, dismay to serious concern, followed by relief, elation and – finally – crushing disappointment. and sorrow. I can only guess what Daughter Dearest and K went through as they assisted Cloud to give birth to one kitten, which came out backwards and didn’t survive. As if that wasn’t enough, after an extended labor they then rushed her off to the vet, where a second kit was delivered by caesarean. That little girl only survived for two days. *Much sad* Cloud’s recovering well and her parents are bouncing back slowly, but it’s been a rough week for them. *All the hugs*

  • I love the rain, particularly when its accompanied by cool weather. But this time of year is usually very hot and dry, with average highs of 31.7 and lows  of 18.3 degrees. Despite bracing myself for it, I generally find the unrelenting heat (particularly at night) oppressive. So the local impact of a tropical low over the western Pilbara provided a very welcome respite this week, delivering record rainfalls and the coldest February day on record. Hurrah! Of course it helped that flood waters weren’t an issue locally, for which I’m grateful – but it was good to see some people able to make the most of things!

  • Compost bins are a combination of ghastly-eek and great satisfaction. The eek is the occasional wriggly or scuttley thing, along with the somewhat squishy texture of some of the compost. Rubber gloves are the answer to all that and reduce the aargh-factor substantially. The satisfying part is filling six big bags with compost – and using four of them when planting out our fig tree and transplanting our rose bushes later in the day.

  • Flying trees are rather exciting! It was pretty amazing to see just how efficiently two people could dig up our 3.6 metre Ugly Tree (aka Dragon Tree / Dracaena Draco) and remove it. We’d advertised it as ‘bring your own crane for removal’ – and they did! We were happy to bid the Ugly Tree a fond farewell and will be planting a Persimmon in its place – along with some more of our home-grown compost 🙂

  • Finally, I stepped up and  joined a newly formed writing group at the local library this weekend. My objective is to challenge myself to write different things and in different ways. As a warm-up exercise, we each chose a writing prompt from a set of cards (provided). My prompt was Open your mind to new ideas – which was rather amusing under the circumstances. Our homework assignment for next time is to write a short piece, focusing on a specific word. In this instance the word is decayand it’ll be interesting to see what responses emerge.

There were other things (it was a busy week), but these are the ones that floated to the top. How was your week?

Most of the dogs I’ve had have been prepared to eat just about anything – including socks, paper, and packaged pet food. But this doesn’t necessarily mean any of those things are actually good for them. Household items aside, many commercial pet foods – particularly wet foods (tins, etc.) all have a particularly unappealing smell. A nasty, I-wouldn’t-want-to-eat-that, sort of smell. I don’t think the pretty pictures on the tins/sachets make up for this in the slightest.

So it occurred some time ago to question the quality of of said food? Really – would you eat it? Like most people, I’ve tended not to read the ingredients list too closely. Even when I do, the information doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. What even is animal digest or high quality protein?

The pet food industry is big business, but it doesn’t appear to be particularly well legislated and the standards for compliance in terms of content appear sketchy. This 10-minute video provides an overview of impressive machinery, manufacturing process standards and some charming pet pictures. Where the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia video falls down is that it doesn’t provide any detail on what actually goes into the food that’s being so carefully processed.

pfiaa vimeo video

I hunted down the Australian Standard on the Manufacturing and Marketing of Pet Food (AS 812-2011). It’s available online so, if I really want to check what’s allowed to go into pet food, I could download that. The catch? Well, to gain access to more than the cover, preface, contents, and part of the scope statement of the of the (2011) legislation, I need to invest $200.

The (free) preview pages online tell me the following, but essentially it’s committee-speak and leaves me no better informed than the video did.

This Standard was prepared by the Standards Australia Committee FT-033, Pet Food. The objective of this Standard is to provide requirements for the manufacture and marketing of pet food intended for consumption by domesticated cats and dogs. The focus of this Standard is on the safety of multi-ingredient, manufactured food for feeding to pets and on ensuring products are accurately labelled and do not mislead purchasers…This Standard specifies requirements for the production and supply of manufactured food for domesticated dogs and cats. The Standard covers production of pet food from sourcing and receipt of ingredients to storage, processing (including heat treatment), packing, labelling and storage of products in order to assure its safety for pets. It also includes instructions for the uniform application of information provided on labels.

So it’s not surprising that most people I speak to have no more idea than I do of what goes into the commercial food they give their pets. We see the TV ads, with puppies and kittens rushing to their delicious-looking dinners, and forget that these self-same pets would probably eat socks, cardboard, poop and pretty much anything in-between.  But commercial dog food, whether it’s dry kibble, tins of wet food, or training treats, is quick and easy. Not cheap – but easy. Not necessarily healthy – but easy.

It turns out, however, that commercial dog/cat food is largely made from leftovers. Not the yummy sort of leftovers you find in the fridge after pizza night. No. These leftovers are the scraps that can be scavenged from animal carcasses after all the saleable meat has been harvested, the bits not considered suitable for human consumption. This includes a bunch of things I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to eat (and I’m not a vegetarian): offal (liver, heart, kidney, lungs, brains, stomach), fat, intestines, blood, beaks, and so on. Not exactly gourmet fare, right? But it’s all lumped under the generic label of high quality protein or meat meal (of one sort or another) on the ingredients list.

This is amongst the reasons that we’ve chosen to make the bulk of our dog food, processing it every six weeks or so. We augment this with commercial kibble, but choose the best brand we can afford – after a rigorous check of the ingredients list. Why? Because my dogs are effectively our kid-replacements and this matters to us. I don’t want to feed them anything I consider distasteful or wouldn’t, at a push, be prepared to eat myself.

Training treats are my current bugbear. Most dog schools advocate soft treats, preferably meat-based. So many people use generic dog sausage (TM) for this. However, I find that even the products that claim to be ‘leading health food for pets’ are a little dodgy. The ingredients may well include 70% fresh meats… vegetables and grains, but it’s a bit like generic polony (luncheon meat): it can be keep in the fridge for weeks, just getting a bit dried out and shrivelled after a while. It also smells a bit odd and the dogs get mild diarrhoea the day after their training session. Given all of this, surely it’s not something I should feed to them?

So now that we’ll have two dogs at school every week, we’re going back to making our own training treats. This is a recipe for Sunshine Liver Brownies, given to us by a trainer at the dog club a number of years ago. It’s easy enough to make, keeps well, smells okay and I know exactly what’s in it. Oh – and the dogs love it and has no negative side-effects 🙂

  • 450g chicken or beef liver (I’ve used both; beef is often cheaper and easier to get hold of; 1kg of beef liver cost me $1.50 at the meat markets last weekend)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup corn meal (aka polenta)
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 tsp garlic (I use bottled garlic, but no doubt fresh is better)
  • Parsley – fresh or dried (this is optional; I think it’s just decorative & tend to leave it out)

Puree all of the above in food processor if you have one OR just mince the liver and then add it to the other ingredients and mix well. Note: the mixture will be quite thick. Line a baking tray with foil – and oil it lightly. Pour the mix onto the foil and press out as evenly as possible so that it’s about 1cm thick all over. Bake at 180C for 15-20 minutes (Check at 15 – it’s usually enough). Brownies are done when the pink (liver colour) has gone. Don’t over bake or the brownies’ll crumble. Once it’s cool, slice the bake into pieces small enough to use as training treats (about 1cm cubes). They keep in the fridge for about a week – but you can freeze the rest and take some out each week for training. Can be frozen for up to 6 months. I’m pretty sure your dogs will love you for this.

As for the dogs’ daily (wet) food intake, we combine 2 – 3 ox hearts (minced), 1 liver (ditto), 8 – 10kg mince (depending on the number of hearts used), 1.5kg sardines in oil.  That gets frozen in 500g lots and taken out as required. Our 2-year old gets 300g of this mix each day, the puppy gets 200g. They also both get an appropriate ration of (soaked) kibble with each meal, along with whatever appropriate veggies/fruit I have to hand. Now that is gourmet doggy-fare – and yes, I would eat it if I had to!

My daughter and I have grown up together. I had her fairly young and learned about being mum at pretty much the same rate she learned about being her. It seems to have all worked out okay: I’m still her mum and she’s definitely 100% her 🙂


Daughter-dearest left home after finishing her first uni degree, heading off to work overseas for a year, then travelling around South America and Europe for several months before heading back to home base. Having flexed her wings and found that they provided more than adequate lift, it wasn’t long before she moved into a share house with some friends.

At the time many of my friends asked whether our nest felt empty, whether I felt sad or even lonely with her gone again so soon. In short, the answer was a simple – but firm – no. I was both pleased and proud when she moved out of the family home to set up independently. I guess it’s a bit silly, but I had one of those ‘Yes!’ moments, a moment when I did a happy dance and thought, ‘Wow, she grew up – we made it – how good is that?!’

It was enormous fun to help her in small (and unobtrusive) ways: with the move, by buying some bits & pieces for her kitchen and by dropping off a banana loaf (or whatever baking I felt in the mood for) every now and then. Share houses being generally notoriously random in the pantry department, both she and her two housemates always received these deliveries with enthusiasm and rather raptor-like self-interest 😛

She moved house once or twice after that first share house – including going to the UK for a while, then to Melbourne – before settling back in Perth and putting down some more permanent roots with a partner. For the past few years they’ve been developing a small acreage about an hour out of the city, digging swales, planting trees, improving the soil, camping out occasionally and, finally, building a house.

This last element has been a stressful journey for them, with many building and bank complications along the way. For a variety of reasons they ended up moving in with us for a few months whilst the house was being completed. This meant that our house of two plus dog(1) & chickens(2), became a house of four plus dog(1), kittens(3), chickens(6) & quail(3) for most of 2015. Quite the little menagerie, really.

This weekend the move to their new house finally happened. They’d already spent a week or so unpacking all their furniture from storage and on Friday they hired a truck to move the many (many!) pot plants and assorted paraphernalia from our house to theirs. After a good night’s sleep (here) and some final packing, they loaded up the kittens (now almost full grown) and headed for home.

It was a great feeling to wave them goodbye, knowing that the next stage of their dream can finally start to take shape. There’ll be days of unpacking and settling in, followed by days of planting and building. But there’ll also be many evenings of simply sitting on their verandah and kicking back – just enjoying being at home in their own home at last.

As a mum, I couldn’t ask for more. But I must admit to a little lurch of my heart when daughter-dearest brought her adorable kittens in one by one to say goodbye to me. Our cat free, guest-free, quail and chicken-free life will seem just that little bit more ordinary and pale for a while. I’ll miss them – all of them… (well, perhaps not the very noisy chickens) … but I look forward to some ‘grandpets’ from SunChaser Ocicats in the not too distant future – and to joining them on their verandah from time to time to share some of that serenity.


The kittehs in their temp daytime run at our place

Over the past few weeks I’ve reviewed constitutions, typed up minutes and attended the committee  and/or annual general meetings of a number of organisations. The meetings have been particularly tedious as most have tended towards unduly long discussions that don’t reach conclusions, poorly informed decision making and uneven participation – and some even devolved into bun fights (sustained, overblown arguments about a trivial point, sometimes of a personal nature and not relevant to the point under discussion).  Surely this is a self-defeating and pointless way to run any meeting?

If I were to hazard a guess as to why it happens, I’d say that a key reason might be that such meetings are so ubiquitous that most people don’t think that there’s very much to them. My experience has been that it’s generally assumed that the Chair will know what to do, whether or not this is actually the case, and that s/he will keep things on track. Indeed, I’d lay odds that the majority of voluntary committee members are rarely inclined to put much time into researching how to run a meeting or – more particularly – how to participate in one effectively.

Researching alternative meeting styles as possible solutions to the meeting dilemma, I came across something called collaborative governance, also known as the Sociocratic Method. This, if implemented effectively, is supposed to equally empower all participants, allow everyone to voice their concerns and/or objections, and to encourage participants to contribute information. Key to the process is the group’s shared sense of purpose and desire for collaborative decision making. Group members take turns to be the meeting facilitator, so that meetings are not always run by the same person. Each person present is given the opportunity to speak in turn (rounds), although they can choose to pass. Discussion topics each have two or three rounds of comment dedicated to them, so that clarity, consensus and consent can be achieved.

I’ve no doubt that, with practise, patience and commitment, this meeting style could work very effectively. Certainly, taking the time to listen to individual focused views on each topic from each person is a laudable objective. Ideally this would result in quieter members gaining a voice and feeling empowered. The downside is that this process is a time-hungry one, particularly for ‘new players.’ Since the issue of long meetings generally discourages meeting participation, I feel this is self defeating and may well result in difficulties filling key committee positions. Sadly, I personally have neither the time nor the patience for long meetings any more, so this wouldn’t work for me.

Broadly speaking, the success of any meeting actually appears to hinge on a combination of pre-planning, clear goals, and effective and focused chairing. Whilst this is a combination that is trickier to find than one might think, there are strategies that groups can implement to move their meetings in the right direction. Circulating a clearly prioritised agenda in advance of the meeting, followed by a quick overview by the chair at the start of each meeting, an effective hand at the helm to keep the meeting on track (in terms of decision making and time keeping) and an inclusive and cooperative manner would go a long way towards improving meeting outcomes. Following this up with clear meeting minutes, circulated in good time after the meeting, would round things off nicely.

I do wonder, however, whether combining an aspect of sociocracy at the start of meetings might prove useful. Perhaps introducing a round in which each person is given the opportunity to articulate what is uppermost in their mind in relation to the meeting up front might settle the group and encourage more active participation. It may also reduce the likelihood of additional items being added to the agenda at the last minute – one of my particular pet peeves.

I’ll give this some thought later. For now I’m completely meeting-ed out. Time to pat a kitten and have a cup of tea!

Prism adventuring_19mar15

When you were a kid, did you ever wish for something? I mean really, really wish for something – wanting it so badly that your teeth hurt, that you thought about it all the time, that it felt like nothing else mattered? I’d guess most kids do and that the things they long for are as varied as the day is long.

What I really wanted was a bicycle. I had a push scooter, which had served me well, but I was eight years old and felt it was time for a proper bike. I longed for one like my older brothers had, one that was all mine. It turned out that Santa (aka my Mum) was paying close attention, because that Christmas there was a bike under the tree and it had my name on it. It was exactly – exactly – as I’d imagined it. It was shiny and new and black and said Raleigh on the side. It had back pedal brakes and a soft saddle and, most importantly, there were no trainer wheels anywhere in sight. I doubt that any Christmas before or after brought with it such a rush of joy, of fulfilled expectation and delight.

As a parent I duly became Santa’s minion and kept my ears pealed, wanting to be able to create for my children that same sense of wonder and joy. I wanted to be perceptive enough to understand what they really wanted, the things that were core desires rather than whimsical interests in the popular toy of the moment. In many instances I was successful, but in one there was an epic fail.

By the time my daughter was almost six years old she had clearly articulated her firm desire to have a cat of her own. Specifically, she asked if she could get a kitten for her sixth birthday. After giving the logistics of this some thought – we already had three dogs, two guinea pigs and a male parental unit with a cat allergy – I came to the conclusion that it simply wasn’t practical. To soften the blow I suggested that we waited until she was ten, by which stage she would be old enough to feed and look after the cat herself and it wouldn’t just become yet another pet for me to maintain. This sounded reasonable to her and we agreed to do that.

What I didn’t take into account was her tenacity or her patience – she never forgot. As every year passed she’d remind me that she was now one year closer to being ten – and thus one year closer to getting her kitten. She didn’t nag or whine or fuss, just reminded me – in case I’d forgotten…

What none of us took into account was that we would end up relocating from Johannesburg to Perth or that Australia has (and had) one of the strictest set of quarantine regulations in the world. To import a dog or cat into Australia at the time was not only eye wateringly expensive, it also involved lengthy quarantine periods, both pre-export in South Africa and after arrival in Australia. This meant no kitten after all, since it would have to be rehomed when we emigrated – and that, I was told, was definitely not an option.
In the end it took a total of 27 years for the kitten dream to be realised – and it’s been a bittersweet joy to watch my no-longer six year old with her kittens, knowing that she’s missed out on so many years of pleasure, so many years of purring. I continue to marvel at her capacity as a child to understand and accept my inability to live up to that one promise, so glibly made and so tenaciously remembered.

Does delayed gratification enhance the pleasure one takes in the rewards later? It turns out that the capacity to delay gratification is widely considered to result in more successful outcomes in one’s personal and professional life, in health and in finances. It develops willpower – or what my Mum would’ve called strength of character. This does make me wonder what might have happened if I’d had to wait that many years for my bike…