the cat’s meow…

Some of you have probably been stalking my blog, in hopes that I will eventually post more kitten pictures. Considering how many pictures I took of the cats, when they were little, surely I would remember that there are still cats in this house? Well, it’s kind of hard to forget, even though there are only three, now, instead of six.

Yes, we did manage to get three of them adopted, and planned to keep one for our family. But we still had one more kitten, and no one ever came for him. So, now we have three cats, and though we still refer to the younger ones as “kittens”, they really aren’t. Both of them are the same size, or even slightly bigger than their mom. Babies they are not.

Taggle was one of the fluffy kittens, and the most personable, if you can describe a cat that way. Always looking for a place to sleep or a lap to cuddle in, and less likely to run around outside. Somehow, our remaining kitten became Tom, but that was some time after we found that our kittens were boys, not girls.

For all of Taggle’s original preference for being indoors, lately, he’s been spending a lot more time outside. I wonder what kind of adventures they get up to, when I’m not trying to figure out whether we can ban them from the house. Yes, I know we can’t do that, and I wouldn’t. Really, most of the time, they aren’t any trouble. And then they do “something”, and I change my mind. But whereas you might threaten your child with not being able to sit down for a week, what do you threaten a cat with?

A month ago, we were still trying to break them of the habit of nursing off of their mother, even though we’d had all three of them fixed. Yes, we found out that she could still produce milk, but since they’d been weaned for a month, at that point, having them go back on “the bottle” was a bit weird. Yes, I read that it’s something they do when they’re upset… well, watching a “kitten” nurse from his mom, when he’s BIGGER than her is upsetting to all the grownups.

We attempted to ignore them, and let them get over it, but that didn’t work, so we began policing them closely, and those cats knew that they weren’t allowed to do that in the house. If I saw them at it, I’d say “Don’t even think about it!”, and the kitten in trouble would try and look innocent. Oh, they knew.

They seem to have stopped this frustrating behavior, at last. And for the most part, they’re potty trained, and mostly they use the outdoors. Their mother trained them well. But the occasional mishap (like this morning) is enough to make you want to pull your hair out. At least they’ve stopped pooping in the wiring, under the TV.

My main problem (oh, it’s not really big, compared to more important things) is that I don’t like whining. I don’t like it in adults or children or animals. And when it comes to animals, you can’t make them stop, because they either don’t understand, or they won’t understand. Their mother likes to whinge at you, to get you to fill up her dish, even when it isn’t empty. The kittens occasionally join in, but when I inform them all that they “have to finish what’s in the bowl, first!”, the kittens usually get hungry before their mom does.

Taggle has a tendency to want his mother to be in sight, though sometimes he’ll go to sleep without her. But he’ll come inside, and a loud wailing sets in, as if he must make sure that Dusty isn’t in hearing distance. Usually it stops after a bit, but when it continues, I’ll let him go outside again, and get it out of his system.

You’ll see from the pictures that they’re quite handsome felines. No more pictures will be upcoming after this. I stopped taking pictures when they stopped being cute, and started being annoying. Like most cats. But it occurred to me that some of the original “kitten post” fans, especially from my last FP’ed post, might be interested. So, here you go. Your cat fix for the day.

P.S. If you have trouble remember what these guys looked like when they were little, please see “turning into cats“, “kitty klatch“, “open your eyes“, “four days old“, or some of my other kitten posts (I think there are 10-12 posts about kittens). I was shocked, too, when I looked at the old posts, and saw how much they’ve changed in several months!

have chooks, will travel…

I’m not sure how old these chickens are, but they should feel well-traveled by now. Of course, seeing as I can’t remember where we ordered them from, I can’t tell you, but they’ve already been on a mail-order journey. Now, when you’re only so big, every trip across the house should be imprinted on your memory. I’m guessing their brains don’t register such things.

Whatever their brains may may pick up on, as you’ll see in the pictures, I had trouble getting a shot that wasn’t blurry, because they’re so FAST! Pretty cute, but zipping around at top speed… and inclined to poop randomly, of course. No, they didn’t get me, I just won’t pick them up because they aren’t potty-trained.

But in the last week or so, since we got them, they’ve been to the girls’ school, to Mrs. B’s office, and they’ve spent the night in the laundry or the pantry, and during the day, their bucket (or cage) gets moved all over the house. Mainly, that’s because we’re trying to keep them out of the way of the cats. Taggle and Dusty are doing just fine, but Tom hears the chirping from the chicks’ home, and must investigate. Even if he can’t get in there, he’ll just sit and wait or watch.

We consider this “unhealthy” attention, but I suppose it’s normal, in a cat. We like to forget that they’d be so “mean” as to harm a small bird. But wait’ll those chicks get big, Tom. Our cats don’t mess with the chooks. And the chooks don’t mess with them. It’s a pretty good truce, I think… until they run into each other, in the doorway, and have twin heart attacks.

Let’s see, other “exciting” news. It’s been raining all day, and off and on, the day before. Nobody minds, because it’s come with cooler temperatures, so most of us are enjoying being able to wear sweaters and hoodies (my Aussie family) or short sleeved shirts instead of sleeveless (me).

I had the girls upstairs to see my American phone, which they think is awesome, because it makes really interesting noises. Yes, the Minion noises, as well as a few other tunes (Kerli’s “Tea Party”, Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Wizards in Winter”). Sadie and Bub lean in to listen, though Bub has the idea that she must look, too, even when the screen has gone to sleep, and there’s nothing to see. So, then we took some pictures, or attempted to, as Bubby wouldn’t smile, or willingly sit in the chair for long. Come to think of it, I think I have some pictures somewhere of Bubby  standing inside her plastic grocery cart, right before it overbalances (don’t worry, I rescued her). I’ll go look for those.

Sorry, if you were expecting big travel tales, the chooks are the only ones doing any traveling. At present, I’m working on getting my Sydney plans all settled. I found out a friend was getting married on the day I left for Sydney, so I spent half an hour on the phone, getting a serious crick in my neck, in order to change my flight to April 1. So, I’ll be at the wedding on Saturday, then fly to Sydney on Sunday.

I’ve also had several offers of places to stay, so I’m sorting that all out. I suppose now that I’m a week and a half away from my trip, I should go do some more research on what I’m going to see, once I’m there? I haven’t been avoiding it, just doing other things. My schedule is starting to fill up.

For example, my Aussie family is going to miss my biscuits and gravy, so I’ve agreed to make it for dinner on Friday. On Thursday, I’m going to see The Hunger Games. Before you comment on that, I will NOT be blogging about it right away, and if I do, I will put an obvious Spoiler Alert in my post. Yes, I’ve already had my life threatened by close friends, on this subject.

On Saturday, I’m having a Pavlova cooking lesson, as I still haven’t learned to make Australia’s official dessert. If I have time, I will also be making pumpkin pie, too. Sometime the next week, I will be packing, arranging my Sydney schedule, figuring out what to wear for the wedding, and hopefully mailing some things home. And that’s before I go to Sydney. Just wait’ll I get back and have only a week and a half left until I leave!

P.S. I found the lost photos! I’ll post them tomorrow!  : )

a delightful jaunt to mars…

I’ve never read any books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. So, despite never having heard of A Princess of Mars, or any of the other books about John Carter, I was attracted to the idea of John Carter. This was a completely unknown story (to me), set in space, but not related to either Star Wars or the Alien series, and being marketed by Disney. I enjoyed the trailer, so looked forward to seeing it, despite all the rumors of overspending and “flops”. I’ve heard people say it was dull and that it has no storyline. So, I went to see it, anyway. [Spoilers ahead!]

What is everyone complaining about? I found the movie to be delightful. Any difficulty with following the initial story would just come from unfamiliarity. Most viewers are completely unfamiliar with the tale, or the back story, so the director had to insert some sort of prologue, to help us figure out what’s going on. But though I didn’t catch all the names, it didn’t take me long to orient myself. Besides, some of the first characters you meet, Sab Than and Matai Shang, are played by Dominic West and Mark Strong. I’m willing to follow almost any storyline, with these guys acting.

Some of you will remember Dominic West from Centurion and 300, but my favorite memories of him are from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where he starred alongside Michelle Pfeiffer, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Kline, Christian Bale, Rupert Everett, and many others. He held his own, and I figure if he can handle Shakespeare, he can handle anything.

From the brief intro to the wars on Barsoom (Mars), the tale takes us to Earth, where John Carter is being followed by a strange man, sends an urgent telegram, and then we find that he’s dead. His nephew, Edgar Rice Burroughs, has been left all of Carter’s wealth, as well as Carter’s diary. As soon as the lawyer leaves, the young, awkward-looking Burroughs begins to read the diary, as Carter’s voice says that “it all began thirteen years ago…”.

John Carter is a gold miner, trying to escape his past, but some of the U.S. Cavalry are conscripting him to ride for them, and he shows himself to be completely belligerent about it. After bloodying numerous members of the military, flinging himself out of windows, and getting increasingly bloody, himself, he tricks the guard, and escapes. An Apache showdown occurs, and in the losing battle, he rescues the wounded Captain that was originally persecuting him to join up.

They ride into the hills and take shelter in a cave, where the Apaches shy away from the strange symbols written there. A strange man appears out of nowhere, startling Carter, and attempting to kill him. In the scuffle, the stranger dies, and Carter picks up his glowing blue medallion… and is transported to a new world. Or at least to a strange place. He still thinks he’s on Earth.

He tries to stand up and walk away, but keeps bouncing and falling down, ignominiously. Think of Superman, learning how to fly. Carter eventually figures out how to jump very high, and traverse the landscape, quickly. But he has no idea why he can do it.

A hilarious introduction to the younglings of the Tharks, the green Martians, is quite funny. You feel trepidation, eying up the collection of eggs, from which burst some squalling green infants. The Tharks attack, but Tars Tarkus sees him jump, and does his best to calm Carter down, and introduce himself. Resulting in the amusing misunderstanding of Carter’s name, which they take to be “Virginia”.

As Carter begins to learn his way amongst the aliens, he collects an outcast Thark named Sola (played by Samantha Morton) and an alien “dog” named Woola. The “dog” was a bit of a cross between E.T. and a frog. He was definitely a huge favorite with the audience, as he travels at lightning speed, but still acts like a normal dog. A smart animal, he was able to get in trouble, follow orders, and come to the rescue. And Woola always got some laughs.

Meanwhile, in the city of Helium, the residents are aware that Sab Than is unstoppable in his quest to take over the planet, but has now requested that he marry the princess of Helium, Deja Thoris. Her father (played by Ciaran Hinds) is heartbroken, but knows that his people will all die, if he denies the conqueror’s demand. Deja, a bit of a scientist, is trying to discover something called the “ninth ray”, in order to fight back against their oppressors, but her machine is vandalized.

Carter comes across Deja, as she attempts to run away from her prospective husband, but he only interferes with the air battle, when he realizes that a woman is in danger. By this time, he has discovered that he can leap to such heights as air ships, and bounds all over the place, seriously annoying Sab Than.

Given a chance to run away, Princess Deja (whom Carter refers to as “Professor”), Carter, Woola, and Sola head for a holy place, to try and discover the use of the medallion, and get Carter back to Earth. At the same time, Deja tries to convince Carter to stay. He is obviously developing feelings for her, but the memories that are still tied to his wedding ring are keeping him from going further.

Captured again, the Princess agrees to the marriage, as she believes that Carter has been able to return to Earth. Carter is taken captive by Matai Shang, whose “ninth ray” powers keep him from doing anything but watch the wedding procession. But his rescue comes from an unusual and hilarious direction. Of course, he must return to the Tharks and fight for his life, in order to convince them to help him.

I won’t tell you how it all turns out on Barsoom. But we return to Ned Burroughs, who has just read that as long as Carter’s body is kept alive, in the mausoleum (burial chamber), his other self can continue to live on Mars. You see, Carter’s death was a bit of a trick, but I won’t explain how. It took him thirteen years to find what he needed, and now his plan was ready. His diary warns Ned that before his “death”, he was being stalked, and Matai Shang may have reached his body already, destroying it, and preventing his return to Mars. Young Ned immediately rushes to the rescue, as a stranger looks on.

I probably gave you too many details, but if you go to see it, you’ll have a little familiarity with the story, to help you out. I loved the movie, and think that when it comes out on DVD, I will enjoy watching it several more times, probably with subtitles, to see what I missed on the first viewing. I enjoyed the fact that Taylor Kitsch, who played John Carter, was still something of an unknown (yes, I know he’s played Gambit), which makes you see him as Carter, and not himself. Kitsch did a great job, didn’t make me laugh over any speeches, but instead, I believed what he said. This was no Jake Gyllenhaal playing around inside of a video game, that’s for sure.

And despite my naming of some of the other actors and actresses, I felt the rest were such good actors, and so well established in their character, they I didn’t sit there, thinking of their real names, whenever I saw their names. Unlike some other movies, I didn’t think Ciaran Hinds, Willem Dafoe, or Thomas Haden Church were “slumming”. They’re the great actors that helped carry the film.

No, I’m sure the movie wasn’t perfect, but I was never taken out of the story by the alien characters or any of the other special effects. It was done so seamlessly, I had no trouble believing in this world. And I loved how the romance between Carter and Dejah developed, and even let him confront his demons, over the loss of his first wife and child.

Anyone who asks, I will tell them that I loved the film, found the story delightful, and will definitely be getting a copy, when it comes to DVD. If you’ve read a review that says it’s a flop, go see it for yourself, and don’t take their word, or mine, for it. As far as I’m concerned, Disney may have spent too much money, making this movie, but I think they did an excellent job. Good on ya, Disney. Keep ’em coming.

[Update: Yes, you’re seeing more articles about how this movie is doing at the box office. The naysayers are out in force. Ignore them. This is NOT another case of Mars Needs Moms, even if the same planet is involved. This was a good movie, with great actors playing wonderful characters, that shouldn’t be forgotten just because Disney overspent itself.]

chicks in the house…

No, I’m not talking about my girls. We really do have baby chicks at our house, right now. Emmie was supposed to get them for her birthday, but they were late in arriving. These ones are supposed to help raise our family’s population of chooks, as we only have two or three. It always looks like more, though, because the neighbors’ chickens travel round with them.

After coming back from the Big W, one of the girls informed me they had gotten chicken, and though it sounded like they were talking about dinner, instead, I assumed the baby chooks had arrived. But then, I went in the house, and the container that had brought the chickens here… well, it looked like a takeout box. So, I cheerfully told Mrs. B about my “mistake”, and she laughed, as two of the girls walked towards me, carrying little balls of yellow fluff in their hands. Then we both laughed, and I decided I must be tired. But it really did look like a takeout box.

After getting my camera battery off the charger, I took a minute to capture the beautiful colors of the sunset, before taking a few pics of the sleeping chicks. I’m sure life will be interesting for the next few days, as the chicks have to stay inside for a while. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get some more (and better) pictures.

For now, we have the chicks in a bedroom, with the door shut. I guess we can do that tomorrow, too. Because we still need to be vigilant, with three cats coming and going from the house. The chicks would be, well, sitting ducks, compared to the frogs in this house, which the cats usually chase. I’d rather we don’t have an “incident”, as I don’t want to have to tell Emmie why there’s a chicken missing.

there’s a story there…

I was going to make this into a Wordless Wednesday post, but then I was debating over how dull the subject of a bird’s nest might be. Very artistic, I’m sure, depending on your point of view. But then, I thought, there really is a story there, so wordless, this isn’t.

The kids were talking about a bird’s nest with eggs in it, but I thought they were talking about the nest in their playhouse tree, where they can see the nest but not reach it. The assumption being that there were eggs, because there are now nestlings. But I found out later that there was a nest under the house, and that’s why they knew there were eggs in it. Because the kids had peered into it.

Actually, what they told me was that Sadie found it, and removed the eggs (don’t ask me why), but when the others found out, she was told to put the eggs back. They now think the eggs will probably never hatch, because the smell of the eggs having been handled will keep the mama bird away. Last they checked, at least, the eggs were still there. And at this point, I have no idea what the end result is.

One reason I don’t know, I keep forgetting to ask. The other reason is that the location of the nest is in a very awkward spot, as an adult has to duck to walk around under the house, and also, the “rafters” are full of spider webs. I found that in order to see the nest up close, I had to get my head way up into the rafters, and to see the eggs, I had to rub my hair in the spider webs. No thanks. So, I used my camera, hoping to get a picture of the eggs. Well, my Nikon isn’t small enough to get in there and still be able to focus in the bad lighting. I have a picture of the nest, but not the eggs, because my camera just couldn’t get in there.

Why didn’t I use my Canon PowerShot, you ask? Well, the zoom froze, a month or two ago, and I haven’t used it since. Sure, it’ll still take pictures, but it’s very frustrating to not be able to use zoom at ALL. And when all is said and done, my Nikon takes better pictures, except when you want a really nice macro zoom shot. That’s when my Nikon argues with me. I say it’s a good shot, take the picture. The Nikon says, “NO! Most emphatically, I disagree, and therefore, I’m not going to do it”. Leaving me talking to the object I want to immortalize, insisting that it’s the camera’s fault, not mine.

Anyway, at this point, Sadie knows that she’s not supposed to pick up eggs, unless they were obviously laid by the chooks. And speaking of chooks, Bub went under the house today, and the next thing I heard was a shriek of fright, and her mom went to get her, and came out laughing hysterically, while her very startled baby clung to her. Bub had “peered” into the container that the chooks lay eggs in, and a chook leaped straight up onto the edge, freaking the baby out. Of course, in having what happened explained to me, I was a little confused, because it sounded like Mrs. B had said “peed into the container”, which made no sense to me, because Bub wears a nappy (diaper) and she isn’t potty trained yet. So, obviously, the heat had fried my brain, to lose track of that description.

So there you have it. A formerly wordless post that now contains about… 600 something words.

daily nothings…

As I sit here, munching on soya crisps and chocolate covered sultanas (raisins), I’m trying to think of something exciting or at least interesting to tell you. But I’m afraid it’s been a pretty normal, sweaty day, with nothing out of the ordinary happening. But give me a minute, and the rambling will start in earnest.

Just got back from the grocery store, where for the fifty millionth time, I cursed the designer of the Aussie shopping trolley (cart). I know, I’ve been complaining about this since I arrived in Australia, but it never gets any better. If someone can tell me why you choose to use shopping carts with no sense of direction, which required you to push them sideways, I would appreciate an explanation. Not only do they take up tons of extra room while pushing them, but you have to be extra cautious to not hit anyone, and people regularly move out of your way, knowing that a loaded cart is a death trap (for them).

I finally remembered to buy myself some more bug spray, and got a family-sized can of tropical strength Aerogard. Why is it that Aussie bug spray actually smells good? Both here and at home, they advertise “unscented”, which it never is, but at home, it smells strong (and sometimes awful), but here, people can mistake it for deodorant or even body spray. Until they see that your arms and legs are suspiciously shiny. It’s not every day that’s buggy, but I don’t take chances, because sometimes there are mosquitoes in the house when I get downstairs, and I don’t like starting my day with bug bites. I put the spray on before I go down, and usually put more on in the evening. If the midges are overwhelming, I’ll put it on at noon, just to hang out laundry.

I still haven’t packed any boxes to mail home. My trip still feels too far away, so I feel no pressure, yet. Besides, I still haven’t bought my tickets to Sydney, so until I visit Sydney at Easter, my trip home won’t arrive. But I will have to fill a box with books to send home, because despite limiting my book habit, while over here, I’ve still collected a few. Don’t worry, I pack well under pressure. Things will come together.

There’s a tiny purse that’s supposedly from Paris, sitting on my desk. Sadie was showing me the contents, which is mostly Canadian money, so I was explaining what all the pictures on the coins were. I couldn’t remember if the one was an elk or a caribou, but she told me, with assurance, that it was an elk. I took her word for it, despite knowing that she only chose it because she can’t pronounce caribou. When we reached the beaver coin, though, it occurred to me that she might not know what a beaver is.

So, we came upstairs, and I showed her some pictures online, attempted to find a video clip from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (couldn’t find one), and showed her a clip from Lady and the Tramp, instead. I had mistakenly believed that I was looking for a beaver from Winnie the Pooh, but now, I think there’s a gopher in the 100 acre Wood. Sadie found the beaver interesting, but not very much. And here I thought the idea of an animal being able to chew through wood (quickly) would be exciting.

I’m reading The Silent Tower, by Barbara Hambly, right now, but I haven’t finished it, so I’m not going to tell you about it. Ha HA.

I didn’t get to watch the Oscars, of course, but I asked my dad to record them for me. Not because I’m interested in the awards, but because I’d like to see what Billy Crystal has to say. His hosting of the Oscars, back when Return of the King won Best Picture, that was great fun. I still remember the scene in front of Minas Tirith, with Billy Crystal playing Pippin, and Jack Nicholson playing Gandalf. Hilarious.

Meanwhile, I enjoy looking at pictures of the dresses, just like any other girl, and wonder over the craziness of the idea that Angelina Jolie’s LEG is getting it’s own twitter page. Or something like that. Man, if I looked that good in a dress like that, with gams to match, I’d probably be flaunting it, too. You don’t WEAR a dress like that and not flaunt your leg.

I guess that’s about it for now. Hope you enjoyed the ramble.

the wolf’s point of view…

There are many ways to discover new books to read. You can wander through Barnes & Noble, enjoying the smell of new paper and coffee, wishing that you could buy every book that catches your eye. Perhaps you’ll come across an antique store with novels that existed before your grandparents, the pages having long ago turned honorably yellow. Or maybe you notice them wherever you are, be it a friend’s home or the house you happen to be cleaning.

I spent eight or nine years of my life as a housekeeper, the first few spent in cleaning people’s homes, and the last five as the head housekeeper of a Bible camp. Whether I was vacuuming floors in South Carolina or bringing in fresh towels to a cabin in Pennsylvania, I had a hard time resisting the sight of a new book. At camp, I rarely had time to stop and look at books, so I made sure that no book was left open, face down, with it’s spine in danger of breaking, while I was nearby. I’m sure plenty of people found their books closed, with a piece of facial tissue stuck in them for a bookmark, and wondered what crazy person had been in their room.

It was in a house in South Carolina that I cleaned for a family that liked to read fantasy books. Of course, I read plenty of fantasy, at that point, so I wasn’t to be lured into reading just any book. If you start a new novel, get hooked, and find it’s part of a series, you might just be in trouble. And so, for several months, I attempted to ignore the stack of Jane Lindskold books that were scattered between the bedroom and the living room. Sometimes I dusted them, willing myself to not pick them up. They probably wouldn’t be any good, I told myself.

Eventually, I gave in and read the blurb on the back of one. From there, I probably looked them up on Amazon, curious to see what the reviews had to say. And then, I ended up at Barnes & Noble, where I bought one after the other. Thankfully, there were only three of the Firekeeper series, at that point. Now, there are six of them.

I opened the pages of Through Wolf’s Eyes, and I’ve never looked back. Perhaps you think that a story of a girl raised by wolves will just be a silly, modern version of The Jungle Book. This is no slam against The Jungle Book, but I don’t remember there being excessive details of the lives of the wolves and what it’s like to be part of a pack. To my mind, there’s no doubt that Lindskold did her research on how wolves think and behave.

Firekeeper has been raised by wolves, thinks like a wolf, and believes that, except for her two legs and a few other human characteristics, she is a wolf. She has been able to survive, partly because of the love and care of the wolves, but also because she carries a Fang, in its leather sheath, at her waist, and carries a small bag with the stones to create fire. This is where she got her name, because in the winter, she needed the fire to keep herself alive.

She has no memories of knowing any humans or even being a human, so when an expedition across the mountains brings a small group of men to her hunting grounds, she is astonished by the reality of others that look and act like her. With the blessing of the One Male and One Female of her pack, and the companionship of Blind Seer, she goes to investigate, and eventually reveals herself to them.

Earl Kestrel’s expedition is looking for the king’s son, and his lost settlement, in the hopes of bringing back an heir to the throne of Hawk Haven. The king’s other children have died, and there is plenty of infighting among his siblings and grandchildren, as they all strive to prove themselves fit to rule. Kestrel believes that if he can bring back Prince Barden, or his children, he will receive glory for having returned the heir to the kingdom.

Instead, he finds the burned out remains of Barden’s settlement, and nothing else… until Firekeeper steps into their midst. She does not trust them, so while Blind Seer watches, on the alert, from the forest, she starts to learn about her own kind. Kestrel and his men know that she is a wild woman, but they don’t yet know that she considers herself a wolf, or that there’s another wolf watching them.

Derian Carter, the member of the expedition that was brought for his knowledge of horses, becomes the man that Firekeeper trusts, so he becomes her “keeper”, teaching her how to talk, and making sure that she doesn’t attack anyone, as they head back towards civilization. Earl Kestrel believes he has found the daughter of Prince Barden, and returning the heir will give him more power. But Firekeeper is a law unto herself, and most of them don’t know what they’re getting into, bringing a two-legged wolf home.

If you’ve been looking at the cover picture of this book, you’re probably wondering why Blind Seer looks so huge, when wolves aren’t really that big. In Firekeeper’s world, beyond the Iron Mountains, the Royal Animals are larger and smarter than the Cousins, the smaller animals that we’re familiar with. Another Royal Animal, the falcon Elation, also accompanies Firekeeper on her journey to meet and understand humans.

Back in Hawk Haven, the descendants of the king continue to scheme and try to establish precedence over one another. We meet Elise Archer, the only daughter of the Baron Archer, who agrees to an arranged marriage with her cousin, Jet Shield. Jet’s sister, Sapphire Shield is another rival for the throne, and she feels betrayed by the engagement between Jet and Elise. But unbeknownst to everyone, it may be Melina Shield that  pulls the strings of her children, Sapphire, Jet, and her other Jewels, for isn’t Lady Melina rumored to be a sorceress? What would happen if a Shield became king or queen, and a sorceress rules from behind the throne?

The first book in the series takes Firekeeper from being just a wolf, to a wolf with a growing understanding of mankind. She still sees things through a wolf’s eyes, but she begins to understand friendship, love, and loyalty, among her fellow men. With Blind Seer at her side, she travels from forest to palace, and begins to move among both royalty and commoners. Her understanding of the inner workings of the pack even gives her some insight into the politics of the palace. But what if the king decides to make Firekeeper (known publicly as Lady Blysse) his heir?

I find Firekeeper’s story to be fascinating, from beginning to end, and it doesn’t end with this book. There are five more books in the series, so be warned that if you start, you may have to finish the rest. The following stories delve a little more into the fantasy realm, but it still revolves around Firekeeper’s learning more about humanity, while still remaining a wolf at heart. So, if you never found Mowgli’s life among the wolves to be detailed enough, then you’ll definitely want to consider Through Wolf’s Eyes.

~

(Side Note: By the way, this book has one sex scene, so parents can be warned, depending on how you shadow your kids’ reading material. But I have no recollection of any more sex scenes in the rest of the books, so I don’t know if this makes the first book odd, or just not preferable.)

the bluestocking rambles…

Before I came to Australia, I read Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country. Not only did it give me an overview of what the Australian countryside is like, it gave insight into the character of the people, as well. Also, it was freakin’ hysterical. My parents may recall me bringing the book to the table, and reading aloud from his description of listening to cricket, on the radio. The man has a real way with words, and regularly makes me laugh.

So, upon reading this book, I realized that I would finally have to read A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. For years, I’d thought of this book as “the one with the bear on the cover”, because when I worked in a bookstore, I saw it on the bestseller shelves, and front and center in the travel section, whenever I was shelving books. So, I knew it was popular, then, but popularity has never made me willing to read books. Just because it makes Oprah’s book list doesn’t mean it’s a worthwhile read, in my very humble opinion.

But the time had finally come to read it, and I downloaded it to my Kindle. I’d been away from the U.S. for eight months, and it would be interesting to read about this particular American’s views of one of our national landmarks. Bill Bryson is American, but he lived in the U.K. for twenty years, so his viewpoint would probably still be hilarious, but possibly, he’d have a very different point of view from any other American. Possibly, he’d even have a European way of looking at things.

Upon starting A Walk in the Woods, I immediately found myself trying to keep from laughing out loud. Yes, I was in a restaurant, reading my book, and trying to not draw more attention to myself. Very few books make me laugh aloud, but Bryson never fails to catch me out.

So, he describes the hiking on the trail, with many chapters of description of its beauty, as well as the hilarious anecdotes involving his hiking partner, Katz. Actually, my favorites are whenever he starts talking to anyone about hiking and camping equipment, starting with when he went shopping for it all. But there are some real, in-depth moments between him and Katz, in relation to Katz’s past history of drunkenness an drugs, and his present life, where he has to commit to strict abstinence from drink. So, from the beginning of their travels to the end, you see the revolution of a friendship, one they never expected to have.

Many chapters start off with an explanation of the Trail’s history, or history of Appalachia itself. I really enjoyed all the history, but again and again, I found myself annoyed by Bryson’s opinions on evolution, pollution, and the American people. You really want to think that, as an American, he likes his fellow countrymen, but he seems to think that we’re killing our planet, killing every animal and tree, and that every American is fat and stupid. He doesn’t seem to approve of tourism or capitalism, but I can’t be sure. His books sell because of capitalism, you know.

Ok, maybe not EVERY American, but despite the humor in some areas, I often got the feeling that he’s not really looking for the best in America and our people, because he already thinks we’ve done our worst to this world. Yes, the National Park Service has a bunch of ridiculous rules, does stupid things, is underpaid, and considering they’re a federal agency, we’re probably lucky they haven’t done worse to our homeland.

But blaming us for every bit of damage to the wilderness, and then turning around and giving us credit for actually having the Appalachian Trail. Wasn’t that nice of him? Of course, I’m not going to complain about all the evolution, acid rain, and global warming that he harped on, now and then.

This is really a good book, honestly. I’m not complaining so that you won’t read it. I’m just complaining because I’m allowed to (it’s my blog, remember?). If you read between the lines, you can see that he does love this wonderful country we call the United States, and he felt privileged to see so much of it on the AT. Also, his book is entertaining, informative, and well-written. I just wish that someone would inform him that capitalism and local groups (not the federal government) are the reason that our forests are getting bigger, being made cleaner, and that all the rest of the animals aren’t dying off.

And he may think that moose (moosen!) are beautiful and stupid, but he really needs to read The Politically Incorrect Guide to Hunting, and figure out why it’s good that we hunt for moose and deer. Overpopulation of any of these animals is NOT a good thing.

From Bryson’s book, I continued on to Museum of Thieves, by Lian Tanner, a young adult book that had caught my fancy (a good cover picture and blurb on the back will get me, every time). It was alright, nothing special. I finished it because I rarely leave books unfinished. And now, I’m smackdab in the middle of a Georgette Heyer mystery, Detection Unlimited. Heyer’s mysteries aren’t as well-known as her romances, but they’re still well-written, hysterical, and full of amazingly detailed characters. This one is no different, and I was lucky enough to choose the one that I didn’t immediately remember the ending. I know what happens in almost all of them.

From here, I’m not sure what I’m going to read next. I started reading The Hobbit aloud with one of my girls, again, and now I’d like to read through that and Lord of the Rings. But then, I watched the newest movie version of Oliver Twist, tonight, and I’m debating whether I should read that next. I’ve never actually read it, just grew up watching Oliver!, the musical version. It was really good, and makes me curious to see what the actual story involves. So, we’ll just have to see which book wins out.

And now, it’s late, and I’m wiped. I love Friday nights, because I get to sleep in on the following morning.

the time has come…

As I’m way behind on my vacation updates, I better get cracking. It’s been over a week since we went to see Outback Spectacular, and I’m finally on the mend, and able to write. I won’t bore you with the details of how unwell I’ve been, let’s just say I’ve been really out of it for the last week and a half. And though I promised you some posts about trips to Montville and the Australian Zoo, I’m afraid I was sick enough to opt out of going, and flew back to Emerald, instead. But I have hope that not only will I be able to visit Sydney for Easter vacation, maybe I’ll manage a stop-off in Brisbane, too. It would help make up for missing out, this time around.

When Imogen and I made plans to go see Australian Outback Spectacular!, it was going to be my second visit in several months, and I was actually expecting it to be the same show. Well, that’s what happens when your friend buys the tickets and you never go and look up any details. The first time I went, if you remember, I saw a show dedicated to the Australian Light Horse, and learned about the cavalry charge at the Battle of Beersheba.

I didn’t bring any extra cash with me to the show, figuring the only thing I’d need it for would be to buy a program, and as I had my program from the last show, I wouldn’t need another. But as we walked up to the entrance, I noticed that there was a picture of a horse on the program, far different from the look of the previous program. And yes, as you’ll see, I took a picture of the sign on the walkway, but I didn’t take the time to read it. Come to think of it, last time I was there, it was dark upon arrival. What a difference a few months will make! It took until I’d stepped inside and saw the biggest sign yet, to realize that I had come to see Spirit of the Horse, with a Tribute to Phar Lap.

Before anyone gets on my case, let me remind you that I know very little about horses, except for the ones I’ve read about in books or seen in movies. So, I’m familiar with all the ones that Marguerite Henry wrote about, as well as Black Beauty and the Black Stallion. I know about Man O’War and Seabiscuit, but only because I’ve read about them.

Also, I haven’t figured out if all Aussies follow horse racing, but I think it likely that they pay more attention to it than Americans do. At home, the only time we notice the Kentucky Derby is happening, is if there’s a serious contender for the Triple Crown. And though I just looked it up, I still don’t know which race occurs first, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes. But here in town, we have a race course, and on a local race day or a national race day, even the employees in the grocery stores will be wearing fancy hats and fascinators with their uniforms! Do they do this anywhere in the U.S., besides Kentucky? Honestly, I don’t know, but they don’t in South Carolina.

I’m just trying to point out that though I’ve heard the name Phar Lap, somewhere in the history of my lifetime, I really never knew anything about this horse, and I’ve had no reason to do so. I don’t want to seem like a complete ignoramus to any Aussies, but I’m just pointing out that my lifestyle only takes on horse knowledge from the books I read.

Phar Lap is a huge deal to Australians and Kiwis (he was born in New Zealand, but raced in Australia), and they hold his memory dear to their hearts. In the 1920’s, with the Great Depression hanging over their heads, everyone latched on excitedly to the thrill of watching Phar Lap win race after race.

Ok, back to the Spectacular. We turned in our tickets, and I was pleased to find that we were wearing yellow on our hats, signifying that we would sit in Bunya Downs. Last time, I had a red hat and sat in the Warrego Station section, so now I have both hats to take home with me. We found ourselves there early enough that the gift shop wasn’t crazily crowded, so we had a good time picking up a few souvenirs for ourselves and friends (also, we got programs).

Coming into the big entrance room, with it’s chandeliers made from wagon wheels and mason jars, I realized that since we had scheduled our visit right after Christmas, we still were able to enjoy the Christmas decorations. From the greenery in the chandeliers to the tall tree with it’s fake cockatoos perched at the top, it was all lovely and homey.

As the crowd hadn’t gotten very large yet and our entrance to Bunya Downs was on the left side of the room, we were able to get a better look at the horses than I had last time. Jane, I wished you could’ve been there, because you’d have loved the horses, and I can’t tell you a thing about them except that they were beautiful. And brown.  : P

There was a lady singing from the stage, and then she introduced Bluey, who does his best to get everyone into the spirit of things. We get to practice our “coo-ee!” and our outback stomp (what you do instead of clapping, when you’re eating). He didn’t make us do the kookaburra call, this time. Of course, the usual reminder that cameras are not allowed inside the auditorium. Sigh. But ask me, when I get home, and I’ll happily show off the beautiful programs from both shows. Is taking pictures of the program allowed? Ok, I’m too lazy to do that right now. I’m still on the mend, you know.

I had just gone off my first round of antibiotics that morning, so by the time we sat down in our seats, and started looking at the food in front of us, I was praying my system would allow me to eat most of my food and not have to excuse myself at any point during the show. The starter course was a spinach and ricotta tart with a decoration around it of capsicum (red pepper) and tomato chutney and pesto. That ricotta tart would’ve been delicious anyway, but I’d been living on bread and butter for a week. It was so delicious that I have no more words for it.

After watching Bluey play with dynamite on the main ground, and set off some explosions, we were off to a great start with some glorious Australian footage on the big movie wall backdrop. This wall was part of the set for some performances, allowing a person to ride off the “stage” and their figure would continue into the movie. Or it would enhance a particular show, with just background scenery. Or you could listen to a recital of poetry, with it illustrated on the movie screen. So many options, and though I don’t know the dimensions, it maybe bigger than an IMAX screen.

The big screen took us through the history of the horse in Australia (The Horse That Built Our Nation), from the First Fleet to Cobb & Co to the Great Australian Cattle Drive. But as the big screen showed us… well, the big picture, mail coaches, cattle, sheep, road bandits, and many more characters would pour onto the “stage” to give us an idea of what it was like.

Then, we met the Johnson family and the battle of Bunya Downs and Warrego Station began. Johnno Johnson, the head honcho of Warrego, was my favorite last time, and I was a bit disappointed to find that he was played by a different guy this time. Mind, the new guy (Brad Lee, I think) did a great job, too. In checking my program, I’m guessing maybe Graham Moore needs a night off from the lead, every now and then, allowing someone else to get some time in the limelight. Because Moore was in the supporting cast that night, so he wasn’t sick. If you read my post about this show, last time, this was the guy who sang a glorious rendition of “Waltzing Matilda”. No wonder I fell for his performance. And before any of you teases get started, he’s too old for me and wears a wedding ring. So, shut up.  : P

The awesome performance of “Boys From the Bush” came onto the screen and the speakers, and we again got to watch the horses and their riders dance to the music. It looks like such fun, it just seems like the horses should be smiling, too. Maybe they do, inside.  : )  More stunt riders show off their skills, between Bunya Downs and Warrego, followed by some singing and teasing of Bluey, and then the main course arrived.

They feed at least a thousand guests at this time, and everyone has their food within fifteen minutes, and it’s still hot and tastes wonderful. It’s amazing how they manage it. A juicy steak, with mashed potatoes and vegetables. I was able to eat almost all of my steak and potatoes, but had to make myself stop. Didn’t want to overdo. While we ate, Johnno and his wife sang a duet to each other, and then Bluey declaimed “The Man from Snowy River”.  My only disappointment was that we never did get a rendition of “Waltzing Matilda”. Sigh.

With the beginning of Act 2, we started in on the history of Phar Lap, from the American David Davis buying the horse, and then disliking the sight of him, through to his training with Harry Telford, and finally becoming a champion under the gentler guidance of his strapper (handler), Tommy Woodcock. Phar Lap was a pretty lazy horse, and Telford believed that only a hard training regimen would break him of this, so we watched video footage of a horse running up and down sand dunes. Ouch. But Woodcock, who referred to Phar Lap as Bobby had a different method, and eventually taught Phar Lap how to win.

While still in training, Phar Lap lost his first race and didn’t place in the next following, but finally he won a race, and things took off from there. After his first win, he would win 32 of 35 races, giving Australians something to cheer for, when everything else in their lives was in a downward spiral. Some people didn’t like this winning streak, and in 1930, some criminals attempted to shoot Phar Lap, the morning of the Melbourne Stakes. They failed in their attempt, and Phar Lap won the race. Several days later, he won the Melbourne Cup.

With handicap weights in danger of crippling their horse, American owner Davis decided to bring Phar Lap overseas to race in North America. Phar Lap’s only race there was in Tijuana, Mexico, for one of the biggest winning purses ever offered. He won, and had circumstances been different, he would have probably gone on a racing tour of the U.S.  But on April 5, 1932, Phar Lap died of mysterious causes.

And it seems that ever since, scientists have been debating over the cause of his death. Some say it was gastroenteritis, after doing tests of his remains. But from what I’ve read online, the results continue to change. Back then, some thought Phar Lap had been poisoned, and in recent years, evidence sometimes supports this. Arsenic was used more commonly back then, in tonics, so it could have been accidental or a build-up over time. But some think, now, that Phar Lap was giving a large dose of arsenic in his last hours. I don’t suppose we’ll ever know the exact truth.

Australians and New Zealanders continue to honor the memory of this great racing horse, including songs dedicated to him, such as “Phar Lap, Farewell to You”, which one of the performers sang for us in the show.

On further reading, it seems that Phar Lap’s heart is preserved in one museum, his hide stuffed and on display in another, and I think his skeleton is somewhere else. Sounds kind of unrestful. Even if his heart was abnormally large, I find the idea of a heart display kind of gross.

Alright, back to the show. Somewhere in there, we were served our dessert of pavlova, and it was wonderful. This is not ready-made from the store, or anything of that sort. All soft, scrumptious, delicious. For that many people, they could’ve scrimped on something, but they don’t. I don’t know how they manage to pull it off.

Some audience members get pulled into some competitions, some for children, some for adults, with ponies and beer barrels (not at the same time). Then, we get to see who can run an obstacle course faster, horses and riders, or riders on Honda ATVs. Yeah, the horses win, every time. And just when it looks like Warrego has an easy win, Bluey throws a sly stick into the works, and it’s time for a tie-breaker. The audience gets to pass a hat, row by row, and when you get the hat, you’re supposed to say “coo-ee!” and pass it on. Not everybody remembers to say it, but just passes it. I remembered to say it this time, though. I must say, the race was so close this time, I don’t know how Bunya Downs pulled it off. I think it came down to one hat on each side, and a few seconds difference. So, that was kind of fun, being on the winning side, each time I’ve visited Outback Spectacular.

With one final performance, the riders come out in uniform, carrying flags, and puts through a glorious performance to thrill your heart, with a stirring score by composer Bruce Rowland (The Man From Snowy River, Return to Snowy River) playing throughout. You felt like the whole thing was lifting you up and carrying you away, and I wasn’t even watching my own flag. If I’d seen a show like that with the American flag in it, I’d probably have cried. This country has a lot of history to be proud of, and these performers do their best to show us that. Bravo.

Unfortunately, the show had to end, and we walked out, wishing we could go watch it again, instead. On the way out, we stopped at the gift shop again, and I picked up a book about Phar Lap to read up on, and then outside we went. Last time, Johnno (of the glorious “Waltzing Matilda” voice) was sitting on his horse, Mystery, waving to people. This time, the character of Tommy Woodcock was astride Mystery, with Phar Lap beside him, and the area was uncrowded enough to get some nice pictures. A nice finish to a wonderful night.

I can only say that after I go home, I plan to come out here for a visit, every few years, and when I do, anybody who wants to come is welcome. Brisbane will have to be on the trip itinerary, as my friends from home have to see this most fabulous show. And if you’re an Aussie, you need to see it as well. This is no “cheesy” show for tourists. Every Australian I know who’s seen it, loved it. It’s a show to make you proud of who you are and of those who built your nation.

of castles & coral…

Our best intentions to go for a bike ride didn’t work out this morning, as by the time we were up and about, it was already really warm out, so we made plans to go in the late afternoon. And I’m not pulling your leg about it being warm out, because it was already cooking by the time we headed for Castle Hill.

Actually, the real reason I’ve been waking up earlier than I would normally, on vacation, is that we’re sleeping with no air conditioning. Sure, I could turn it on, but why would I, when my room gets such splendid breezes? But by around 7:30am, the temp’s rising, the sun’s hitting our side of the house, and I’m getting dehydrated. This doesn’t mean I have to get up completely, of course, it just means I’m not deeply asleep anymore.

We had no plans to walk up Castle Hill, and we were glad we’d decided on that, as we got closer to the mountain. Signs pointed out where you could climb a goat track to the top, and there were several people walking up the road, as we took the twists and turns on the way up. But with the sun beating down unmercifully on everyone, you really should plan to leave early, if you want to hike it.

At the top parking area, we did some wandering around to take photos, enjoyed a nicely built look-out platform, and then walked up the stairs to the top path. The top area commands quite a view, and I found the marker for the highest point to be fascinating to look at. Full of delicate lines with writing saying how far a distance it is to other landmarks.

We might have stayed up there longer, but the ants up there are quite vicious, and one decided to check and see if I was awake. Strangely enough, the bite’s yet to start itching. They’re not (yet) related to the fire ants back home, as far as I can tell. Ok, I should’ve knocked on wood, they just started to itch. Sigh.

After Castle Hill, we drove to ANZAC Park to find some free parking, and with the grounds crew working hard at keeping the hedges and other plants in order, we were glad we’d visited there the day before. If we’d gone today, we’d never have been able to hear anything.

Walking down to the Great Barrier Reef Aquarium, I noticed a very large spider decoration hanging across the road. Can you see it in my picture? Look closely. The backdrop wasn’t really conducive to making it easy to see.

Going through the aquarium was quite fun. As you’ll see, the giant fish head that’s “eating” me, we made some of our own fun, too. And we got to go with a group to visit their turtle hospital, where four turtles are recuperating from different problems. I didn’t know that turtles could get lung disease, did you? One of the turtles (in the picture with my foot in it) was over 100 kilos. And they get bigger.

We went next door to the Cultural Centre, and saw some exhibits on Aboriginal history and heritage, followed by a walk through a really nice gift shop. I won’t tell you what I bought there. Oh, and cameras weren’t allowed in either.

After that, we headed for the Museum of Tropical Queensland, but I’m afraid we were getting tired, at this point. Lots of walking, lots of heat, and lots of information to take in. I started my foray into the museum by tripping while going up the stairs, as I was taking a picture of the big ship.

My hands were full, so I’m lucky I didn’t really dent myself. One of the museum attendants was worried enough about me to invite us to watch an explanation on taxidermy, and give me a chance to sit down. We weren’t in the mood for taxidermy, however.

Then, we wandered into the Pandora exhibit, which we had something to do with the big ship out in the main room. But it took us a little while to figure out what the big deal was. Turns out, it’s the boat that went after the mutineers from the Bounty, put them in “Pandora’s Box” to take them back, and they shipwrecked on the way.

This exhibit continued to turn us off, as we went through it, getting further and further depressed. Yes, the mutineers were put into a box room and put in shackles, and there was a display that would allow you to try the shackles on. Could it possibly get any better? Of course it could.

I went around a corner and found a mannequin display (kinda like on a theme ride at Disney World), but this was of naked men escaping from Pandora’s Box at the last minute, before the ship went down. Creepy and disturbing… do they think we didn’t get the idea from all the rest of the stuff we saw?

By the time we reached all the stuff they recovered from the wreck, in recent years, including skulls of “Tom, Dick, and Harry”, I’d had enough. We went up two floors, saw some stuff about tropical rainforests, butterfly displays, and lots of taxidermied animals. And then, explanations of how Queenslanders live in this climate, including a mannequin of some guy, wrapped in a towel, using roll-on deoderant.

There were actually some dinosaur models and plesiosaurs hanging from the ceiling, but not nearly enough dinosaurs to make up for the rest of the museum. We needed some lunch at The Coffee Club, followed by more gelato from Gelatissimo in order to recover. After having scoops of raspberry, dark chocolate, and white chocolate, I was able to put the Pandora behind me. And I don’t think I’ll ever willingly read any history of the Bounty, either, after this.

Since then, we’ve had a relaxing swim and a delicious dinner (no, we never got around to that bike ride), so sometime tonight and tomorrow morning, we’ll throw our stuff together, and get ready to go to Magnetic Island. Oh, the pictures from our kayak trip are going to be interesting. Having to wear knee-high soccer socks, that just about guarantees it.