Look what I made! Look what I made!

Nano-flamingoI’ve been flat-out busy this year with work, and in the last few months, I haven’t even been able to write any blog posts. Things are much easier now though, so I hope to write plenty of posts over the next two months.
During that very busy time, I discovered a new hobby: building miniature construction projects.
I like to go for a quick walk in the afternoon to clear my head, especially when I’m overrun with work. There is an old-fashioned toy shop at my local shops, about five minutes’ walk from where I live. In it I discovered these intriguing little packages, each containing 100-150 or more tiny blocks and promising after construction to result in the cutest figures, each one of which can fit comfortably into the palm of my hand.
Nanoblock is a Japanese ‘micro-sized building block’ that has a cult following around the world. Blocks may be as small as 4x4x5mm. You need a steady hand for this work!

Instruction pages look incomprehensible: but they're logical and precise once you get the hang of them.

Instruction pages look incomprehensible: but they’re logical and precise once you get the hang of them.

I started with the ‘greater flamingo’, because pink flamingos make me smile and remind me of Las Vegas.
But when I opened the packet, I was taken aback: the instruction sheet looked incomprehensible with its cryptic diagrams and only the occasional word. “I’ll never be able to figure this out,” I thought.
However, I stared and stared at the sheet, and suddenly, it started to make sense. I got it. The instructions are actually amazingly precise, once you’re on their wave length. And not only is there enough of each type of brick, they give you extras.

I’ve gone on to make a piano and a great white shark. I’m going to do more!

Nano-piano Nano-shark
Because I work constantly with words, I need to get those words out of my head to give myself a break. Micro-block building is like therapy—a relaxation technique for the busy mind, and the same reason I took up art. I can set up everything I need for the miniature building project—blocks, base and instructions—on a sheet of A4 paper on my dining table.

And my next project? It’s going to be a koala or the Sydney Opera House, I think.

Dear Google: How did I get here?

This is the question googlers must ask themselves when they somehow arrive at this blog after googling something seemingly unrelated.

Google, as we know, works in mysterious ways.

This post is inspired by a very funny series, Dear Goldfish, done by my blogosphere friend Fish of Gold, in which she consults her WordPress stats to find out Google searches that resulted in her blog coming up for the searcher. You can see her series here.

It’s always hilarious, and I decided to do the same with my own blog. So here are some of them, posed as questions and proving the adage, “There’s none so queer as folk”. They come complete with my own answers in the style of an agony aunt column (sort of).

Google: gay men in thong and ballet?

Crayon Files: Okay!

Google: Song for cats and crayons?

Crayon Files: Always a place in my heart for that, obviously.

Google: Cat celebrity?

Crayon Files: Well, my cat’s a celebrity—in her lunchtime. Among the proper cat stars, Felix the Cat, incidentally first drawn by an Australian cartoonist, is my all-time favourite, but Garfield and Sylvester are not bad either.

Google: i wish luck to choose the bride you atemnak but?

Crayon Files: How dare you call me an atemnak? Good luck in choosing the bride, anyway.

Google: teeth rotten after drinking coke?

Crayon Files: That’ll do it.

Google: is there a hawaiian snow dome souvenier [sic]?

Crayon Files: Is the Pope Catholic?

freddy_kruegerGoogle: freddy’s yorkshire scones?

Crayon Files: Umm, gee, I don’t know. Maybe try the more famous Aussie version, Flo’s pumpkin scones, instead.

Google: do mermaid excess?

Crayon Files: That’s a tricky one.

Google: chaos workplace?

Crayon Files: Unfortunately, it’s the way of modern management.

Google: yadanarbon, the land of the gems?

Crayon Files: Thank you, I learnt a new place name. Yadanarbon is in Mandalay, Myanmar, and is also the name of a famous football club there. The Yadanarbon market is the biggest in Mandalay, with 3000 stalls. For gems, you’d be better to go to the Gem Palace, though.

Google: whiskey sky chicago?

Crayon Files: Yep, whiskey bottles just fall out of the sky there.

Google: One hundred ways of using marmite?

Crayon Files: There are indeed at least a hundred. See my post here for marmite pasta.

Reality bites: death and the blogosphere

I was shocked and saddened to read that the partner of one of my blogosphere friends had died suddenly this week.
I won’t link to her post about his death here, as it seems personal, something that is meant more for those who know and care about her, even if we “know” her only from her words online.
Of course, her blog is public and anyone could happen upon it, but even so, there are some posts that feel as if they shouldn’t be casually shared.
This is the strange thing about the blogosphere: it’s both private and public at the same time. Every blogger will know what I mean by that. Occasionally, someone’s post goes viral, and they’re not always pleased: it seemed, said one, like an invasion of privacy.
While there are many more silent readers than those who communicate with bloggers they follow, always reading but never commenting, each blogger also seems to have an inner circle.
Some are people you know in real life, others are friends of friends, still others you read because you connected on other social media, such as twitter or Facebook. But the majority of bloggers I follow are people I don’t actually know.
The friend who lost her partner this week is someone I’m never likely to meet – and even if we lived in the same country, we could walk past each other in the street and we wouldn’t recognise each other; we could be introduced at a party and I wouldn’t know it was her, because I don’t even know her real name.
But somehow, that doesn’t matter. Somehow, I feel more involved in and connected to her life events as she reveals them through her blog, than I do with the life events of, say, people on TV, even though I can see and hear the latter every day and know their names and usually way too much other information about them.
The strange thing is that when there’s a death in your blogosphere, it’s as difficult to know what to say as it is in person. “Sorry for your loss”, “sorry to hear your news”, “thinking of you”, or the formal “sincere condolences” don’t seem to be enough in the comments section, yet in the end, they’re all you have. And the “like” button seems so inappropriate, though many people now use it as a “read and noted” button rather than really meaning “like”. Because how could you like a post about someone’s true love dying, after all?
Since I started blogging in late 2012, this is the first post I’ve made without a photo. Somehow, a picture just didn’t seem appropriate.

On Safari

The lamb platter at Safari Restaurant, Ascot Vale: perfect comfort food. Picture by Kenny Weir, Consider the Sauce

The lamb platter at Safari Restaurant, Ascot Vale: perfect comfort food. Picture by Kenny Weir at  Consider the Sauce

It’s a lazy, hazy new year’s day public holiday in Melbourne when most restaurants outside the tourist areas are closed, but you want to go out to lunch with a preference for African food.
So who do you call?
Luckily, one of my friends and former journalism colleagues, Kenny Weir, is now one of Melbourne’s top food bloggers. In Consider the Sauce (CTS), he and his son Bennie cover Melbourne’s west in all its foodie vibrancy and diversity.
My husband, Gordon, and I were keen to sample some of the delights we’ve been reading about in CTS all this time. We live in Melbourne’s south-east, so it’s a long trek across town that we don’t make very often. Today, though, we cross the dreaded Westgate Bridge without a hassle, it being a public holiday and middle of the day when all those who are travelling out of town to the coast have already done so.
Kenny and Bennie know just the place to satisfy my craving for African food: Safari Restaurant, serving Somalian fare, at 159 Union St, Ascot Vale. The CTS team has been here many a time, and has even given the restaurant an award. You can read reviews of Safari Restaurant on Consider the Sauce here and here.
“I hope you didn’t eat much breakfast,” Kenny says. “Be prepared…”

Soup to start: delicious, despite its ordinary looks. Picture by Kenny Weir at Consider the Sauce

Soup to start: delicious, despite its ordinary looks. Picture by Kenny Weir at Consider the Sauce

Kenny orders a platter of food to share, but before it turns up, we’re served bowls of aromatic broth. They don’t look like much: a brownish liquid with a few herbs and skerricks of vegetable and flecks of lamb. But the taste! Meaty, peppery, lemony, totally delicious.
As Bennie says, “Sometimes, we come here just for the soup.”
I found a recipe for a similar “lamb soup for the soul” (fuud ari) at Xawaash Somali Food Blog, here.
Anyway, next up is our heaped platter of rice, spaghetti, lamb, vegetables and salad. As soon as I see it, I know I will love it.
This is comfort food, immediately recognisable the world over, just as are, say, spaghetti bolognaise, macaroni cheese, chilli con carne, hainanese chicken rice, Indian butter chicken or Thai massaman curry.
It’s that irresistible combination of protein and carbs that we humans seem to be predisposed towards. I didn’t expect spaghetti, but should have, of course, Somalia being a former colony of Italy.
So, we have succulent slow-cooked spiced lamb on the bone; julienned carrot, onion and a few other vegetables; crisp various salad leaves round the side; and beneath, al dente spaghetti that is rather bland but is an excellent foil for the rest of the flavoursome food; and superb rice that has been steamed in stock and herbs. There are two sauces on the side: a hot red chilli one and a green herb-based one, both sensational.

Safari Restaurant at Ascot Vale. Picture by Gordon Dann

Safari Restaurant at Ascot Vale. Picture by Gordon Dann

It’s simple fare served unpretentiously, and even though it’s a huge platter, we consume it all.
Somalian food is traditionally eaten with the hands from the centre platter, and most—but not all—of the other guests are eating in this way. We opt for plates and cutlery, however, and the staff are happy to bring them.
We’re also given carafes of Vimto, a fruit cordial which refreshes the palate between mouthfuls of lamb, rice and spaghetti.
The bill comes to a total of only $48 for the four of us (we actually ordered the platter for three, which was plenty for four). Now, $12 a person for lunch at a restaurant is a bargain in Melbourne. As a comparison, at the uni campus where I teach, I pay up to $14 for an ordinary sandwich and a coffee.
The four of us have already made another foodies’ lunch plan to meet half-way between our respective suburbs in the not-too-distant future. Good food at a bargain price, the company of old friends and summer in Melbourne—what could be better?

Tree change

I haven’t been blogging as much as usual lately, because we’ve just moved house, and also, I’ve been really under the pump at work. In fact, I’ve been overwhelmed with the amount of work I have to do.
When you’re overwhelmed by work, it’s easy to forget you still have to live your life, that great things still happen, and that every day, you should be just glad to be alive.
I was reminded of that this morning as I walked to the train with my heavy briefcase, on my way to work.
Suddenly, I looked around me and saw the trees. The outer suburb to which we moved two weeks ago is like a country town, and our street is full of well established trees.
Who wouldn’t be happy, walking to the train, with this vista?

Picture: Caron Eastgate Dann, 2014

Picture: Caron Eastgate Dann, 2014

It was a glorious autumn day – the best season in Melbourne. Blue skies, trees with multi-coloured leaves. Heavenly!
People say “hello” here. There are a lot of people much older than me, and no one passes me without us saying a hearty “good morning” to each other. The men even tip their hats! Lots of people are walking their dogs, whether it’s 7am or 10.30am (I start work at many different times).
So instead of worrying about work, I’m just going to look at the trees from now on, and think about how lucky I am – to live in such a nice street, to have a job (albeit one without any security whatsoever), and to be able to enjoy every day.

In the end, it’s the little things that count.

Finally: 2013 in review

It’s a little later than everyone else’s annual report, but I finally received mine this morning. I was one of the unlucky ones, originally left out of the annual report round and feeling very much like the kid no one picked for their sports team. However, I sent a query to WordPress, et voilà! They sent me a note back within a couple of days to tell me my annual report was now available. Squeaky wheel and all that…
It’s funny how blogging changes your perceptions of being published. When I was a journalist, I worked for several publications that sold more than 500,000 copies each time they were published. Potentially, that was around 1.25 million people who might read each article I wrote (in those days, for print editions in mass media, statistics apparently showed that you multiplied sales by 2.5 to get numbers of readers).
Now as a blogger, I’m ecstatic if I get 100 views in a day. I know the blog will keep growing, and I actually don’t mind that it’s not followed by, say, 5000 people. I quite like this little club, as I’ve come to think of it.
So thanks to everyone for reading, for your kind and informative comments, and for your own amazingly interesting posts.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,500 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.