Surprise picnic dinner!

Last Friday I’d planned a secret surprise picnic dinner for me and my wife. I didn’t mention it here because she reads this blog. My plan was to spend all day Friday cooking, while she was at work, and pack a picnic dinner into the car before she got home. And then when she got home from work, say we’re going out for dinner and lead her to the car and drive off, without saying where we’re going.

As it turned out, she felt a bit sick on Friday morning and decided to stay home! So I couldn’t cook without her asking what I was doing. So I decided to postpone the whole surprise. Ideally I’d do it on a Friday, but this week my wife has a dinner out with her old schoolfriends planned. And I had a bunch of ingredients already purchased that I needed to use up. Today was the first day she spent the whole day at the office (some days she comes home to work from home for the afternoon) – so today was the day!

I started with the ingredients I’d bought: baby spinach, French shallots, and button mushrooms.

Raw ingredients

I chopped the shallots:

Chopping shallots

Put them in a saucepan over a low heat to sweat and start caramelising:

Caramelising shallots

Meanwhile I chopped and sautéd the mushrooms:

Sautéing mushrooms

And while all this was going on, I was making spinach quiches in the oven:

Spinach quiches

Once the shallots had well and truly caramelised:

Caramelised shallots

I assembled the shallots and mushrooms into savoury tarts:

Caramelised shallot and mushroom tarts

Once all the cooking was done, and cooled down I packed it into containers in the car with a bottle of rosé wine. When my wife got home from work, I sprung the surprise, said we were going out for dinner, and led her out to the car. We drove to a nearby lookout spot in a park:

Picnic dinner view

And had dinner:

Picnic dinner

While the sun went down over Sydney Harbour:

Picnic dinner sunset

It was really good, and my wife was delighted! The weather was slightly cool, and a little windy, so not perfect. Maybe we can do sunset picnic dinners more as we head into summer.

So that’s pretty much what I did today… I spent over 4 hours cooking!

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Standards and crime

This morning I dedicated to getting some ISO standards work done. I had to write a report on the international meeting I attended (virtually) a few weeks ago, to be submitted to Standards Australia.

That took me right up to a slightly late lunch, for which I made myself some simple cheese and tomato and beetroot sandwiches.

Mid-afternoon I went out to go to the nearby railway station cafe to buy a chocolate hedgehog for a snack to share with my wife, and I took Scully for a walk over there. A bit before the station there was a group of about 8 or 9 people, maybe older teenagers, maybe about 20 years old. All dressed head to toe in black. Sitting on a low wall together. I thought it was a little odd, but not too notable.

A train pulled in, and some of them bolted for the station at top speed – I thought at first they wanted to catch the train. Then I realised a car had just pulled up and three people had got out. Two of them bolted after the fleeing guys. Three girls were left sitting behind, and the other guy from the car ordered them: “Don’t you go anywhere!”

The two chasing the running lot tackled one and cuffed him on the ground. I don’t know where the others went, if they got on the train, or fled up to the street. I heard the cops say to the cuffed guy, “You’re under arrest!” They were in plain clothes, but clearly cops, because they had holstered guns and walkie talkies. One cop laid on the guy to keep him on the ground, since he was really struggling, the other cop (a woman) called for backup.

I walked past nonchalantly and got my hedgehog in the cafe. A minute later a police car arrived with sirens blaring and uniformed officers got out, but I was walking back home and didn’t see what happened after that. I passed the girls and the third officer, who were still waiting in the original spot relatively calmly.

So that was dramatic. I have no idea what it was all about – drugs, or a graffiti gang, or what. I’ve never seen a police chase or arrest in Australia before. I have seen one in the USA – literally while travelling to my hotel from the airport after I’d arrived on a business trip.

So… a day of hours of boredom followed by seconds of excitement.

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Errands and chores

I had a busy day. First off the rank was sending an Etsy order out at the post office. Then when I returned home I cleaned up, vacuuming the carpets and floors. Then I washed the kitchen floor (and also the balcony floor later in the afternoon). Changed out the damp absorbers in the wardrobes. Took out a bunch of rubbish.

In the middle of the day I caught a train into the city. I needed to go in to pick up a book I’d ordered from a game store in there: Original Adventures Reincarnated #4: The Lost City by Goodman Games. While in the city I grabbed some lunch. There aren’t a lot of particularly good places to grab a quick lunch in that part of the city, but a friend suggested the food hall at David Jones, an upmarket department store. The basement level food hall sells all sorts of gourmet ingredients, and they also have hot food bars and tables. I got a seat at the Asian bar and had a massaman curry with rice, which was fairly good.

Once back home, I grabbed my camera and went out to Kirribilli again to get another photo of the slowly emerging jacaranda flowers. Today they looked like this (compare to last week):

McDougall Street jacarandas: 19 Oct

While there, I noticed the rose beds in the adjacent park were also in flower and got a few photos of the roses:

Roses in Milson Park

Roses in Milson Park

And then by the time I got home, it was almost time to take Scully to the dog park, and buy some bread form the bakery on the way. A pretty full day right up to dinner time.

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Those thunderstorms

If you recall yesterday, my market stall day was cancelled due to forecast storms today.

It did rain a little overnight, but lightly, and it had stopped by the time I got up this morning. It remained dry… all day until around 5pm. The sun even came out for extended periods. When the rain finally came, it was about 5 minutes of light spattering, and then it stopped. There were actually thunderstorms in parts of Sydney, but very localised, and not until after 4pm. So basically the forecast storms during the market day didn’t eventuate at all, as we all would have been packed up and leaving before 4pm.

Oh well… I can’t blame the market organisers. They had to work with the forecast they had. It is another case of what’s become a common occurrence here though – the Weather Bureau forecasts rain, and pretty much nothing eventuates. We have had a little rain in recent months, but not a lot. Grass in parks is starting to die off and go brown all over the place. Just looking up the stats, so far we’ve had 6mm of rain in the first 18 days of October, while the monthly average is 77mm. In September we had 23mm, while the average is 68mm. In August we had 79, with the average being 81, so that was close to normal, but since August it’s been noticeably dry. And this in a spring which the Weather Bureau had predicted would be wetter than normal due to La Niña.

Instead of the market, I mostly spent the day at home, just going out with Scully a few times. For lunch I made bruschetta:


Chopped tomato, garlic, basil, mixed together and spooned on toasted wholemeal sourdough bread drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, then topped with salt, black pepper, and caramelised balsamic vinegar. I enjoy a simple tomato sandwich, and this is like the grand royal version. Yum!

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Cancellations and Codenames

Saturday dawned cool and grey, although a bit of sun poked through on occasion. The forecast was for late showers, leading into a rainy Sunday.

Late morning I went for a walk with my wife and Scully, doing our usual bakery/marina/park loop. Although cool, it was humid and quite sticky by the time we got home.

There was an email waiting for me. From the organisers of tomorrow’s market, where I planned to have a stall to sell my photography prints. They said they’d received many concerned emails about the weather forecast, and consulting multiple weather sites they noted that the forecast for Sydney tomorrow is heavy rain and thunderstorms during the day. My stall is indoors (I chose is specifically to avoid inclement weather), but most of the market is outdoors. So the organisers were writing to say they had decided to cancel the market, to avoid damage to stallholders’ products, and to avoid wasting time with a low buyer turnout.

I understand why they did it, but it’s disappointing to have yet another delay, with all the COVID cancellations. And it’s also annoying because I had to book a hire car via a car share company, because my car isn’t large enough to transport all of my stock and equipment. Because the cancellation is less than 24 hours before pickup, there’s no refund. 😕 At least it’s tax deductible. Assuming I ever make enough money form this caper to pay tax in the first place.

This afternoon my wife and I played a couple of games of Codenames Duet campaign mode. We tackled Monte Carlo, which for those who know the game means 9 turns with zero bystanders allowed. The campaign games are starting to get tough – the previous city, Sydney, was 9-1 and it took us four attempts to win it. But we managed to knock of Monte Carlo in just two games today!

The first was a bit of a debacle, with some really tough clue combos. I had to clue the words TRUNK and BARK, but without cluing the word MAPLE, so that kind of ruled out any wood/tree based clues. And I had to clue GERMANY, while ALPS was an assassin (instant loss if guessed). There were other issues as well which I forget – let it suffice to say we lost badly.

The second game started terribly. I clued LAWN to indicate GRASS and BERMUDA, but my wife’s first guess was YARD, which was a bystander, so we instantly lost a turn. But we pulled it back together with consistent strong 2-cluing, and in the end it came down to my wife having to clue two words to me with the final clue for victory. She gave the clue HARD 2. Which was truly inspired, and straight away I realised the answers had to be YARD (as in “hard yards”) and NUT (“hard nut to crack”). I guessed them and we won!

That completes all of the 9-turn games in the campaign. Now we shift to the 8-turn games, which ratchets up the difficulty again. It’s getting challenging, but is a lot of fun.

New content today:

Chilly Friday photo project

Today dawned cloudy and chilly and a bit rainy. I did some comic work, but also took some time to continue a photography project I started back on Monday.

There’s a street in a suburb not far from me which is lined with jacaranda trees. Every year in late spring, basically November, the trees flower, and the location becomes a fantastic wonderland of purple flowers creating a tunnel around the street. In the past few years it’s become Instagram famous and has attracted large numbers of tourists. They want to take photos standing on the street – which of course is a hazard as the locals use it to drive on. This has become such an issue that the council has stuck warning signs on the footpaths:

McDougall Street jacaranda warning sign

Anyway, jacaranda flowering season is just in the very earliest stages right now. And given COVID, there are no tourists in Sydney at the moment. So this is the perfect opportunity to take photos of the flowering without the photos being full of tourists.

My plan is to go down to the street at least a couple of times a week, to make sure I’m keeping track of the flowering progress. And so this way I can be sure to catch and capture it at the peak. During the peak, I might try to go down there every day and take photos.

I went down on Monday, and the street looked like this:

McDougall Street jacarandas: 12 Oct

It doesn’t look like much yet. There’s just a faint hint of the earliest purple flower buds coming out. I went down again today:

McDougall Street jacarandas: 16 Oct

Not much change. But stay tuned as I keep this up, because this street is going to transform into something absolutely magical within the next few weeks.

New content today:

Fish & chips & magpie

This morning I did the weekly grocery shop. There wasn’t much on the shopping list today, so it was a fairly light one. But the supermarket has started one of its periodic things where they move everything around for no reason, so it took me longer than normal to find things. The cheese is now where the eggs used to be, the eggs are where the yoghurt used to be, the yoghurt’s where the juice used to be, and so on and so forth. I’m sure they only do this to confuse shoppers and make them spend more time in the store. And I guarantee in a year they’ll do it all again.

Workwise I mostly spent the day doing comics stuff.

For lunch I went for a walk to the fish & chip shop and then down to my favourite eating spot.

Fish box lunch

That’s actually a “lunch box” special, with the chips replaced by potato scallops. And this guy tried to get close enough to steal some of my lunch:

Hungry magpie

I actually got several closer photos, but he was so close that the phone-camera didn’t focus properly. It’s an Australian magpie, by the way. They can be extremely bold, and even aggressive, although not as aggressive as silver gulls. Except when swooping during nesting season, when magpies are significantly dangerous. (Which is right now, but this one wasn’t protecting a nest, thankfully.)

Hungry magpie

I had to keep shooing him away, and managed to retain all of my lunch for myself.

New content today:

Back to Ethics

The final term of the school year started this week, and so I had my Ethics class today for the first time since 4 weeks ago (I missed the last week before the holidays due to the ISO Photography meeting). Fortunately I remembered all the kids’ names! We’re on a new topic, which they actually started non the week I was away, with a substitute teacher. This one builds on the destiny and fate stuff we did a while back, and poses the question of whether people are morally responsible for all of their actions, or whether their actions are caused by their circumstances.

Today’s lesson concentrated on whether everything has a cause, or if some things just happen for no reason whatsoever. An example: when you feel angry, is it because something happened that made you angry, or do you just get angry for no reason? And similarly for feeling happy. I asked the kids to think of some time when they were angry, and if there was something that made them feel that way. The ones who I called on had clear examples of events that made them angry.

I then asked if you can change how you feel just by thinking about your feelings. Can you make yourself feel happy? They said yes, if you think happy thoughts, or about something you like. Then I asked if something caused you to be happy. They identified that, in this case, the fact that you were thinking about something nice was the cause that made you happy. It’s not an external event, but it’s still a cause.

By now the kids were going along with the idea that pretty much everything that happens has a cause. So we moved onto whether the decisions you make have a cause. If you’re choosing between a ham sandwich and a salad sandwich, and you kind of want the ham, but you remember a lesson on healthy eating and that the salad will be healthier, so you choose that – was your decision caused by something? Or did you just decide without any sort of cause?

The path through the questioning leads the kids to the answer that your decision is caused by the health lesson you had. They then expanded on this in a very insightful way: one of them said that this means any decision you make is probably caused by things that have happened to you, either recently, or while you were growing up. Maybe if you grew up really liking ham, you would have ignored the healthy salad and chosen the ham sandwich, but that decision too has a cause.

That was the end of the lesson, but it’s approaching the question we’ll be looking at next week. If all our decisions are caused by events in our lives, should we be held responsible for those decisions? It should be interesting.

In other news, I got my first Etsy shop order from overseas! I thought I’d go to the local office supply place to get a bulk pack of envelopes large enough to mail my greeting cards in, to save money on those, but the website said they were out of stock, and I couldn’t get them before about 5 November!! So I ordered a box, but it’ll take 3-4 weeks to arrive. In the meantime I’ll have to keep buying expensive envelopes to mail orders out.

New content today:

How to write comedy

Today was a comic writing day. I set myself the goal of writing 3 strips for Darths & Droids, which is a week’s worth of updates.

I used to write these strips in a meeting room with a bunch of friends at work, over lunch. In a long lunch break of 2 hours, we could write 3 or 4, sometimes 5 strips. Sometimes we wouldn’t get that many done, because we were discussing story planning.

Now, because our company shut up shop and we all lost out jobs, we can’t get together and do that every week. We’ve shifted to a model where we discuss things online, but not being in person it’s harder to get everyone concentrating and talking at the same time. What this means in effect is that I write a skeleton of the action and story, and whatever jokes I can think of, and then paste the scripts into a group chat so my friends can make comments and suggestions. It’s less real-time than in person, and comments come in over several hours as people drift in and out of the chat. And sometimes I have to prod people to say anything.

With most of a day to myself at home, you might think I could write dozens of strips. But it’s not that easy. I need that feedback, and to craft the joke setups and punchlines into the narrative in a natural way, so I’m often held up writing later action while waiting for a joke to be moulded.

We ended up writing two strips today – less than a week’s worth. So I’ll have to do this again another day.

I did get some other stuff done in between. The work itself is more fragmented, with periods of downtime during the day. During which I run errands, do shopping, take Scully to the park, do some work on my photography business, and so on.

Writing material takes a lot longer than you might realise.

New content today:

Thoughts on running

Lap 1.

I never used to be a runner. I wasn’t athletic at school or university. I played a bit of casual tennis and sometimes squash, and later took up swimming a bit, but I’ve never really been dedicated or high performing.

A few years ago I thought I should stop being lazy and do some physical activity for fitness and health’s sake. I took up jogging around the neighbourhood. But the area is hilly and going up and down hills the whole time is just a drag. It petered out within a year or so.

Lap 2.

In October last year decided to really give it a go again. Rather than do random distances around the neighbourhood, up and down hills, I now had Strava, so I could track distance and time. I decided to go up to Gore Hill Oval, a football/cricket field not far away, and run laps on the flat ground.

Gore Hill Oval

Gore Hill Oval is a kilometre from my place… uphill. To start with, I started timing myself from home, so including the uphill walk to the oval, which I sort of jog-walked as my legs could bear, before reaching the oval and completing enough laps to take my total distance to 5km. I did it once every week or two, and got times around 30-31 minutes.

Lap 3.

Then the summer hit, and the bushfires that blanketed the city with smoke for weeks on end. It was unhealthy just to be outdoors, let alone huffing and puffing for half an hour of exercise. So I stopped running. Once you start being lazy again, it’s easy to keep it up.

I didn’t start running again until July this year. This time I figured I’d walk up the hill to the oval, and only start timing my 5k run when I started doing laps on the flat ground. That immediately reduced my time to around 29 minutes.

Lap 4.

I’ve kept it up since then, one run a week, only occasionally skipping a week (twice so far up to now). My times are now around 27:30 consistently, but it varies a bit. The weather has an effect. Cool and dry is good. One morning was very hot, and my time was bad.

Lap 5.

Today it’s cool, but very humid. The air feels thicker and doesn’t inhale as easily. Sweat is dripping down my face, and into my eyes, stinging with the salt. I feel like I’m labouring and doing a slow time.

Gore Hill Oval

Lap 6.

The Oval is an interesting place. There are always people here, either running laps like myself, or simply walking laps, or using the field for soccer practice like the guy who is kicking goals, bouncing the ball off the picket fence so it returns to him. There are people walking dogs. There are mothers and babies in prams and strollers. There are personal trainers and clients, the former pushing the latter to exert themselves and not give in.

After six laps I feel like giving in.

Lap 7.

They say there’s a “runner’s high” that you feel when running – a feeling of euphoria that drives people to keep going because it feels so good. All I feel is exhaustion and an overwhelming desire to stop.

I stumbled onto a thread on reddit yesterday where someone was saying that running feels surprisingly good. A bunch of people commented that yes, it does, they love that feeling they get while doing a run. One person commented (paraphrased):

“I wish you could show me how to get that feeling. I run, but only because I force myself to because I know it’s good for me. I hate every single step and when I’m doing it all I want to do is stop and never run again.”

That’s me. I’m running and I hate it. I just want it to stop.

Lap 8.

The first few laps are okay, because my body is fresh. But it gets harder and harder as the laps pile up. This is where sheer bloody-minded stubbornness takes over. I’ve done more than half the distance. If I give up now, I lose. I don’t want to lose. I don’t want to be a loser.

I keep going.

Lap 9.

Younger guys, bare chested, impressive six-packs, are doing laps of the oval too, overtaking me every few laps. Yeah, if you were my age you wouldn’t be running so fast!

Maybe you would, but I can dream. There are other people, old and young, just walking around the oval for exercise. I’m lapping a few of them. Eat my dust!

Lap 10.

The end is close now. Light at the end of the tunnel. If I can just complete this lap, there’s only one more to go, and then – blessed relief – I can stop.

I start counting steps, in a 4-beat rhythm. Like counting bars when drumming. ONE-two-three-four ONE-two-three-four ONE-two-three-four ONE-two-three-four. It takes a lot of bars to progress a quarter of the way around the oval. One lap is like a whole song.

I sing lyrics in my head to stop myself thinking about how much I want to stop running.

Lap 11.

This is it! The last lap! I know 11 laps is a bit over 5 kilometres.

Halfway around I pull out my phone and open Strava to check the distance. 4.84 km. I pick up the pace and start a sprint to the finish. My breathing, heavy but regular, shifts to double time as my legs pump the ground for the last hundred and a bit metres.


At 5k I turn off the tracker and slow to a walk as I catch my breath. My time is 27:42. Not as bad as I thought with this humid air, but I’ve done better.

I wander over to the open-air gym equipment next to the oval, and go through a stretching routine and some sit-ups and push-ups.

Other people are still using the oval. A mums & bubs fitness class begins.

Gore Hill Oval

I stretch my legs out. I head off for the downhill walk home.

It’s done. Until next week.

New content today: