everydaysparks

Stuff I see, which you might not.

Book Review – Aiyaiyai

Aiyaiyai is not the name of the book (although that would be a cool title), it’s an expression to summarise how I am now feeling. On the plane this afternoon I read Charlotte Wood’s novel, “The Natural Way of Things”. I had started reading it almost a week ago, on my flight to Perth, but had only read a few chapters and was mostly confused, to be honest.

I chose the book from my favourite local bookshop, The Grumpy Swimmer, because it had a sticker on it saying that it was the 2016 Stella Prize Winner. And the font was nicely spaced out so I knew it would be easy to read on the plane. A shallow choice, I guess, and the purchase definitely went against my new “one in, one out” policy (to limit the number of books stacked on my bedside tables, and bookshelves, and side tables, and on the floor next to the bedside tables).


Anyway, I am writing this on the plane after just finishing the novel (don’t worry, my phone is in aeroplane mode and the post will publish after landing). I am afraid that it’s one of those books (or movies) that has left me feeling as though I can’t speak. 

The praise from other authors (featured on the book’s covers) includes words like: “A brave, brilliant book.” And, “terrifying, remarkable and utterly unforgettable”. And, “it gets under your skin, fills your lungs, breaks your heart”. 

I can see what they mean, but I would describe the book as “bleak”. Really bleak. (I can see that mightn’t help to sell as many books though.) And it’s powerful, but in a horrible way that made me quite happy to get to the end, albeit with a hollow feeling inside. But then I was disappointed with the ending, which made the whole thing even darker. Yikesy mama, what a ride.

In a nutshell, Charlotte Wood is undoubtedly a great writer and this raises some interesting points about how women are seen in society. But it was too dark and bleak and empty for me – definitely not a light or uplifting holiday read!

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Some snaps from WA

Greetings from here, the sunny south west of Western Australia. Rather than document the picture-perfect scenery, I thought I’d share some other snaps from WA. Not ones that you’ll be seeing in the tourist guidebooks any time soon, but I think they provide an important insight into some aspects of life in the west.

Supermarket elves pre-peel the onions here

Naked onions.

Naked onions.

Customised car license plates are very big here

Hey

Mrs

Even churches put wacky Christmas ads in the local paper here

Uh huh.

Uh huh.

So, there you go. There’s so much more to this stunningly beautiful part of the world than the incredible beaches, wine and food. You’re welcome!

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Sydney Saturday: Art and the Garden

On Saturday, my friend Jane and I hopped on the Art Gallery’s Art Bus with some other cool kids (not really) and went on a tour of some galleries around Sydney. Not the ooh la la, please buy an expensive catalogue, don’t touch the white walls kinda galleries, but spaces for emerging artists. The focus for this Art Bus trip was photography and, although not all of it was my cup of tea, it was interesting to visit some different places and see some (very) different art. A great way to spend an afternoon – you can check out more about the Art Bus (and our amazing Gallery) here.

It was a beautiful autumn day on Saturday and before our bus trip we wandered around the Botanic Gardens. Another amazing Sydney place (that is completely free to enjoy!) that I love, but don’t visit often enough. Jane was keen to show me some of the work of the Gardens’ 2012 Artist in Residence, Phillippa Carnemolla. There are some fantastic pieces of Phillippa’s jewellery for sale in the Gardens’ shop, inspired by plants and bugs and other stuff that Phillippa encountered during her year in the Gardens (not literally, am fairly sure she didn’t have to live up in a treehouse or anything).

The Breathing Conifer

The Breathing Conifer

The highlight was the centrepiece of Phillippa’s work – the Breathing Conifer. It was designed by Phillippa and made with the help of a lot of kids who would otherwise not have been involved in art – kids from respite centres, youth groups & disability programs. They helped by colouring in all of those beautiful panels and the Conifer now hangs in the Fernery of the Gardens. They say that it ‘pulses with a gentle heartbeat’ and it’s kinda true – there is a mechanism inside it that inflates and deflates the Conifer and it is very calming as you relax your breathing to match it. Just the thing for those stressed out office workers in the ‘hood.

If you’re in or around the Gardens, I highly recommend checking it out – especially if you could do with some de-stressing. You can read more about it on the Gardens’ website here.

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The best chocolate product in the whole wide world

According to the good people at Haigh’s Chocolates here in Australia, it’s ‘Marshmallow & Coconut Season‘ from April to October. And that is indeed great news. I know they’re telling the truth about the limited season as I once went into their shop in Sydney looking for their rocky road (the subject of this blog & my vote for the best chocolate product in the whole wide world) and the young lady behind the counter looked at me as if I was a poor simple visiting from another planet. Very slowly, she explained: “Ummm…we don’t actually sell rocky road now, it’s just too hot for marshmallow’.

Compliments of the season. [image from haighschocolates.com.au]

Compliments of the season.
[image from haighschocolates.com.au]

I can’t believe I had lived ’til that point without knowing about marshmallow season. But now I do and, from April to October, I do like to celebrate the season from time to time with Haigh’s milk chocolate rocky road (they also have dark chocolate, if you’re so inclined). I bought some yesterday – my first for the season, I swear – and was reminded again of just how awesome it is.

Haigh’s is a bit of an Australian institution for chocolate. According to their website, they are ‘the oldest family-owned chocolate manufacturing retailer in Australia’. Sure, that’s a pretty narrow niche, but I love that there are still Haighs running the show and churning out their amazing chocolate. They only came to Sydney relatively recently – when I was a wee graduate working at a major bank, it was a treat when one of the big wigs in our area went to Adelaide or Melbourne as he’d bring back Haigh’s chocolate frogs. Good times.

'Tis the REAL season to be jolly, I tell you. [image from haighschocolates.com.au]

‘Tis the REAL season to be jolly, I tell you.
[image from haighschocolates.com.au]

Anyways, if you are in Australia during Coconut & Marshmallow Season and you haven’t tried Haigh’s rocky road, I reckon you definitely should. You have until the end of October, peeps. Enjoy! (You can also have a calorie-free look at their website here if you’re from another land…or if you’re in Australia, but you don’t like delicious chocolate.)

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Who you gonna call, possum?

The other day, I was driving behind a truck featuring a business name that caught my eye. Then I pulled up a little closer and saw the logo. Genius.

Who you gonna call?

Who you gonna call?

A classic Australian problem – our kiwi cousins do have possums, of course, but seemingly they are not obliged to treat them like small furry gods, they can turn them into mittens and scarves and winter coats without any social (or legal) stigma. Still, I guess the sounds of possums in the trees and the roof are part of living in an Australian house – pests they may be, but they’re our pests.

Anyways, the Possum Busters website does not disappoint. They are clearly very passionate about the work that they do – offering humane possum removal and even a free possum advice hotline. I bet they get some hilarious calls. There’s a page of FAQs, which are all very interesting, starting with the following warning as an answer to what I’m tipping is the most Frequently Asked Question by residents who haven’t slept for weeks due to their possum terrorist:

Q. Do you / can you / can I kill the possum?
A. No, it is against the law. They are a protected species.

And then there’s this fun fact about possums, which is why the Busters also offer a roof repair service and a 12 month guarantee once they remove a possum from your home:

Q. Can you take the possum away?
A. No, we can only remove it 25m from where we catch it. It is a territorial animal and will die if taken out side of its territory.

25 metres isn’t actually that far, is it? In most suburban areas, it’s probably only a couple of houses down the street, which presumably means that the Busters will get a call from Bill & Betty at number 15 a couple of weeks after the possum problem has shifted from your place to theirs.

Anyways, the website is worth a look if you’re interested in finding out more about this unique service – they also have a gallery of pics of possums they’ve discovered in cupboards, baths (imagine!) and roof cavities. The website is here.

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Aussie, Aussie, Aussie

My lovely friend Sophie is leaving Australia in two weeks to go and work in Hong Kong. So, what to get a good mate who is flying away, with no set return date, as a reminder of the good times we have shared here in Sydney? We caught up last night for farewell drinks and as I passed the tacky gift shop at the ferry terminal on my way to the pub, a few goodies caught my eye. I went in and, despite the crazy prices ($8.99 for a tea towel? Really?) I found it difficult to choose. Mostly because I was choosing on the basis of reducing the stock of the most hideous things so that they didn’t end up in the hands of unsuspecting tourists.

There were many interesting items, but insisting on only the best for our Soph, I settled on the following to accompany her to the East.

Professional AND educational, Soph can wow her new colleagues with this notepad and pen.

Professional AND educational, Soph can wow her new colleagues with this notepad and pen.

I am sure this shopping bag is endorsed by the elders. A nod to diversity - we love it in HR.

I am sure this shopping bag is endorsed by the elders. Just the thing for an HR lady with responsibility for Diversity.

My favourite - you can't really see the glittering sapphires. Or the action of the opera house that spins round and round. Priceless.

My favourite – but you can’t really see the glittering sapphires. Or the action of the opera house that spins round and round. Priceless.

Needless to say, Soph was speechless and a little overwhelmed by our gifts, I think. I said she could perhaps have the key ring made into a giant pendant if that suited her better – I think she is taking that suggestion on board. Bon voyage, Sophie – we will miss you very much but look forward to visiting you later in the year! And you’d better be using that fabulous (yet traditional) shopping bag when I come over, lady…

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The little things count at 35,000 feet

Australia’s national airline is nicknamed ‘the flying kangaroo’, due to its logo that looks like a kangaroo in mid-leap. I guess ‘the leaping kangaroo’ didn’t have quite the same ring to it, especially when trying to give the impression of smooth travel over long distances. Anyways, people tend to give Qantas a hard time – complaining about the service, the food, the cabin space and pretty much every aspect of the flight. ‘Airline X is soooo much better than Qantas’, you’ll hear the cool travellin’ kids say. But I say boo to that negativity – and I’ll tell you why.

Sure, it took me a really long time to check in my bag in Sydney because there were only two Qantas desks attended. But then the nice lady turned a blind eye to my slightly overweight suitcase (I still don’t understand how that happened – on the way back, of course I get it, but on the way over?!) and told me there was another much faster check in desk I could use next time. Good to know.

Sure, our flight was delayed as the plane was late arriving from its previous voyage, but they were working as quickly as they could to make up the time. I don’t like hearing that, as my mind immediately wonders what corners they’re cutting in order to load us on sooner. I have visions of the cleaning crew darting around the cabin as their team leader looks on, stopwatch in hand. Changing the little pillows? No time! Swapping the head rest covers? Don’t even think about it! Floors? Just pick up the biggest bits of rubbish, peeps!

Could it be? Two empty seats next to me all the way to NYC? Alas, no, it could not.

All seemed in order when we boarded and I experienced that feeling of pure childlike hope as the two seats next to my window seat remained empty as most passengers settled into their spots. I kept looking down the aisle at the incoming prospects – fat guy, please no; giggly girls, uh oh; and finally a pretty blonde lady took the aisle seat. I liked her because when they said the doors were closing, she realised we had an empty seat between us and gave me an excited ‘yesssssss!’ with a little fist pump.

Some people enjoy sleeping under the stars. I tried to sleep under the moon-like glow of the No Smoking sign above my head.

You may have read of my disastrous menu troubles on a recent long haul flight where the beautiful menu promised many delicious treats, including Banoffee Pie. Then when my vegetarian meal turned up, the delicious treats were nowhere to be found. Even though that was a different airline, the pain of that experience lingered and so I’d boldly cancelled my vegetarian meal request for this flight online. Good move – the ‘normal’ vegetarian penne option was actually ok. And it came with cookies & cream mousse. And a little chocolate bar. This is how it’s meant to be, I tell you.

Oh, is that the sun? NO. It’s the annoying lady in front of me being the only person in the cabin to turn her light on when it’s meant to be sleeping time. Grrr.

But the real reason that I love Qantas? Cadbury hot chocolate. Oh yeah. They make a special trip down the aisles to peddle it from their little carts, along with peppermint tea, and pour the steaming chocolatey goodness from special giant purple jugs. And then they add a marshmallow, which melts to a gooey mess, so you know it wasn’t one of those cheap, crappy marshmallows that never change shape. I guess it probably makes me shallow, but that’s what I look for in an airline.

Hot chocolate with marshmallow. The highlight of the flight.

So let the cool kids whinge about how the flying kangaroo doesn’t measure up to other global airlines. I’ll take their real Qantas mousse over non-existent Etihad Banoffee pie any day. And I haven’t yet found another airline that offers rivers (ok, cups) of delicious creamy hot chocolate – it’s like flying with Willy Wonka, I tell you.

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A puggle named Beau

In exciting news for people who love animals, people who love Australia, or people who just love strange looking creatures with funny names, Sydney’s Taronga Zoo have announced that they’re now looking after a 40 day old puggle (that’s zootalk for ‘baby Echidna’ to you and me). Its name is Beau and it was found in a caravan park on the central coast. Presumably not on a surfing holiday, given Beau’s tender age.

Beau the Puggle

Although, Beau might have been relishing an early taste of freedom – in what seems to me like a pretty severe form of grounding, adult female Echidnas generally “stash their young in a burrow from about 50 days old”, according to experts from the Zoo. And they don’t let them out for months. Although, they do home deliver food to their puggles, so that’s a plus.

Feeding time at the zoo.

And while we won’t know whether it’s Mr Beau or Miss Beau for some months yet, we do know that young Beau has a healthy appetite – according to the Zoo, “Beau resembles a mini vacuum cleaner, going back and forth making sure every drop of milk is sucked up – contributing to its ever growing belly”. You go, Beau.

Oh, Beau

So, there you go. A little story about Beau – from a trailer park on the central coast to a prime harbourside pad in Sydney, without the constraints of gender or hair. Good luck to you, pretty puggle.

You can check out more photos and videos of Beau on the Taronga Zoo website here.

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The Imagine Cup (runneth over with amazing ideas)

Last week, EverydaySparks received an invitation to attend the worldwide finals of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup 2012, here in Sydney. I must confess that I’d never heard of the Imagine Cup before this, but the very name appealed to my fondness for both competition and creative geekery. I was hooked. Turns out, the Imagine Cup is A REALLY BIG DEAL. This year saw its 10th anniversary as the world’s premier student technology competition, aimed at finding solutions to real-world problems. Uh huh.

Sydney flies the flag(s) for Imagine Cup 2012. [pic by EverydaySparks]

A truly global competition – since 2003, more than 1.4 million students have participated in the Cup. And it’s HUGE – last year, 358,000 students represented 183 countries in the competition. Just think of all of that brain power focussed on the key theme: Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems. And yesterday, as I spent the whole afternoon wandering around the last day of the Imagine Cup worldwide finals as a guest of Microsoft, I got a glimpse of that world. And let me tell you friends, it is freakin’ amazing.

French team ‘Ecosia’ chillaxing with a game of giant chess. [pic by EverydaySparks]

At the Imagine Cup, they’re University students – with a difference. They have all had to compete in intense knockout competitions in their home countries before making it to the worldwide finals. Not for them the student traditions of waking up after midday, trying to scrape together enough coins for the beer & pizza special at the local pub, and frittering away countless hours staring at the cracks on the share-house wall. Or maybe they do get to do all those things, it’s just that with the rest of their time (in addition to studying to pass the killer exams for their demanding technology courses), these kids do other stuff. You know, like DEVELOP A MOBILE APP THAT TURNS YOUR SMARTPHONE INTO A DANGEROUS EXPLOSIVES DETECTOR (way to go, Poland’s team ‘Armed’). Or, a fun game on your phone that teaches you all about RECYCLING AND ATMOSPHERIC POLLUTION (nice work, France’s team ‘Ecosia’). Then there’s the Australian team ‘StethoCloud’, with the clear goal of REDUCING CHILD MORTALITY FROM PNEUMONIA.

Were they expecting me? [pic by EverydaySparks]

I mean, seriously. Did you ever know of any students who thought about such things, let alone students who dedicated months and years of their lives to developing technology to address these world problems? I am in awe and left feeling a little guilty about spending my early 20s worried about utter nonsense. Instead of Alzheimers Disease, clean water, blindness and dyslexia, to name just a few of the Imagine Cup projects.

I’m going to save the detail of some of my favourite teams for other posts, but wanted to share the overall experience with you today – I’m still buzzing after an incredible day celebrating some amazing geeks of the world. And, not only are they super bright with brilliant, innovative ideas, but they are all required to present their projects to the tough panel of judges, running live demos and answering serious technical questions. IN ENGLISH. Which for the vast majority of the contestants is their second (or third or fourth) language. Unbelievable.

Matthew Doyle opens the Award Ceremony. [pic by EverydaySparks]

We were invited to the Award Ceremony, where the atmosphere was electric. Better than a concert, there were flags and inflatables and crazy chants as the students enjoyed the last hours of their magical Imagine Cup experience. As the backdrop to the stage changed from the Sydney cityscape to an outback sunset, a lone didgeridoo and the fabulous Bangarra Dance company gave the crowd an unforgettable traditional Australian experience. And then there were inspirational speeches (including Jessica Watson, round-the-world sailor and another amazing young person), awards, tears, hugs and lots of laughs. I tell you – if these kids are responsible for the future of our planet, I’ve never felt safer.

You can read all about Microsoft’s Imagine Cup here. And I’ll be posting more about some of the sparks I saw there in the coming days.

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Sock it to ’em

Sock monkeys seem to be everywhere at the moment. Well, not wandering the streets or catching buses or seeing movies, but everywhere in shops that sell cool toys. I like them a lot and think they’re a great gift for young and old alike, but they can be a bit same-same looking, without a distinct personality or style. Enter the clever people at You Make Me…Me, who sell their ‘handmade sock softies and baby books’ on my beloved Australian handmade market site MadeIt.

These are more than sock monkeys. These are movie stars. Whether you’re a fan of Star Wars, Harry Potter or a whole heap of other films, you’ll find your match here. It was this Yoda who first caught my eye – firstly, because he is a favourite beacon of wisdom in an often dreary world, and secondly, because in this incarnation he looks a little bit like a dodgy gremlin or an old man you might see in the park…

Or if Wookiees are more your thing, then here is Chewbacca in sock form. I find him almost as scary in this form as on the big screen, but since he means no harm (at least, that’s how I remember it), he’s probably a safe addition to your home security detail. 

Then there is that pesky boy wizard Harry Potter, complete with dorky glasses, scar from that failed homicide and a little wand to cast a spell on those around you. As always, I take no responsibility for whatever happens if you bring Harry into your life – that kid did get into quite a lot of trouble…

You can also get custom-made supporter sock monkeys in your team’s colours, along with a range of more traditional looking sock friends. If you’d like to brighten your life with the company of these ‘sock softies’, then check out the collection in the MadeIt shop here.

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