New Year’s Eve – end of 2021

I don’t really do end of year retrospectives, so let’s just cut to the chase and see what I did today.

I got up early and headed straight to the supermarket. I managed to book the earliest available timeslot for grocery pickup, which I took because I figures the earlier in the morning I’m there, the fewer potentially COVID-infected people will be around. I grabbed my order and was out of there within about a minute. I also popped into the bakery and grabbed a loaf of Vienna style bread for a special dinner for tonight.

After getting home, I went for my run, and then after that I finally had breakfast. This is very unusual – I normally have breakfast within a few minutes of getting up, so I’m not used to waiting any length of time before eating in the morning.

Continuing from yesterday’s window cleaning, I did more spring cleaning stuff. First I attended to the balcony door and glass panels. I took the sliding insect screen door off the track and washed it clean, then cleaned all of the glass door panels. After remounting the screen door, I continued washing the balcony, which is really a job I should do more often as it collects blown leaves and dust quite quickly.

Inside, I decided to clean out some wardrobe space which has been dedicated to keeping boxes from products such as our cameras, iPads, phones, and laptops. I kept the boxes in case we ever sold the items, but given that we’ve sold exactly zero in 20-odd years, I figure maybe it was time to just get rid of them and reclaim the storage space for something useful.

I took Scully for a walk over lunch while my wife went to the gym. We went over to the fish and chip shop where I got some fish & chips for lunch. I ate at my favourite local lookout spot, with a view over the city. it was a warm sunny day, with not a cloud in the sky. Fortunately, after some vandal poisoned the shade trees at the lookout spot a few years back, one new tree has grown to provide shade on the bench where I sit again.

Back home, I realised there was something I needed to do by the end of the month! The Outschool Dungeons & Dragons group that I run for kids has a monthly adventure writing challenge, and for December I posted a challenge to write an adventure featuring a spooky lighthouse. I said I’d post my own adventure at the end of the month, so now I had to write one. I knuckled down and typed out 100 words of adventure material in a few hours, which I then formatted with some of my own photos as illustrations and exported to PDF, before posting it to the group. Phew!

For dinner tonight, New Year’s Eve, we have something special. For starters I used the figs I bought the other day to make grilled figs with ricotta and honey:

Grilled figs with ricotta and honey

After that was the main course, baked brie in bread with hazelnuts and honey:

Baked brie in bread with hazelnuts and honey

Just look at that melty cheese!

Baked brie in bread with hazelnuts and honey

That’s the way to put back in all those calories burnt doing exercise and housework today!

It’s now still a few hours before midnight and 2022. I hope you all have a good New Year’s Eve, and that 2022 brings us all some relief from this miserable pandemic thing.

New content today:

New Year’s Eve eve

I spent much of today wrangling Matlab with various datasets, writing code and extracting statistics. I’m working on developing student exercises for the Data Engineering course at the University of Technology, Sydney, for the next semester (as I’ve mentioned a few times before). I ran into some issues with the datasets that I’m using, and need to figure out how to deal with them. Some of the numerical data is aggregated across multiple entries and needs to be divided according to an indexing variable… eh, it’s a bit complicated, and I still haven’t figured out what to do with it.

A couple of nights ago I finished reading Troy by Stephen Fry, his retelling of the Trojan War, and third in his series of Greek mythology. (I’m very much looking forward to the fourth book, which will cover The Odyssey.) He begins with the earliest causes of the war, and of course ends after it concludes and the Greeks begin heading home.

I’ve never read The Iliad, but I know it’s Homer’s epic covering the Trojan War. However I was very surprised that about halfway through the book, and most of the way through the war, Fry mentions in a footnote that “This is where Homer’s Iliad begins”. And then about 3/4 through, before the war is over, and even before the Trojan Horse is mentioned, there’s another footnote: “This is where Homer’s Iliad ends”. I checked and it turns out that The Iliad indeed doesn’t cover the whole war – it only covers a relatively tiny slice of a few weeks towards the end of the ten-year siege of Troy. So that was an interesting discovery.

The next book on my list is William Shakespeare’s The Merry Rise of Skywalker, the 9th in the series of Shakespeare-esque retellings of the Star Wars movies by Ian Doescher. It’s reminding me of a few things from the movie, that have prompted new ideas for Darths & Droids. So I’m reading it with a notebook by my side to write down things to include in the planning for our comics.

I took Scully for a walk around lunch time, and then another with my wife along as well before dinner.

Dinner tonight was “leftover veges fried rice”, to clean out the fridge before new groceries tomorrow. We have special plans for tomorrow’s dinner for New Year’s Eve. We often do a cheese platter and crackers thing, but this year we’re going to try some baked brie and crusty bread as a variation.

Oh! And the other big thing I did today was clean all the windows! (I was sitting here typing and wondering what I did all day, and forgot about it until now!) This is a fairly big job, since we’re two floors up, so to clean the outsides I need to remove the moveable window pane, then remove the insect screen, and then lean out the window with a long-handled squeegee. I wash the moveable pane in the bathroom, and also the insect screen, and then replace them all, and clean the inside of the fixed pane with window cleaner. Then repeat for all the other windows.

The other part of the job was replacing the rollers on the moveable pane for the bedroom window. For some reason the rollers keep seizing up and so after a while the window only opens by sliding, rather than rolling on wheels, which makes it much more difficult to open and close. The rollers come in little plastic cartridges, which slot into the window pane frame. But the fit is very tight. Last time I just hammered them in, but that made them difficult to remove today. So this time I decided to sand them down a bit to make them fit a bit more easily. Fortunately I had some fine sandpaper in the garage.

Anyway, with all this wrangling it took a few hours to clean and repair the windows. But now they’re so shiny clean that it looks like empty holes in the walls. Of course they’ll end up dirty again before too long…. but that’s life.

New content today:

Lunch trek

With my wife off work all week, we decided to have a bit of a day out. I looked for and found a nice looking cafe/restaurant where we could have lunch. I phoned them up to check they had dog-friendly seating, under cover, since the weather was threatening rain again. They did, but they didn’t take reservations for parties under 4 people, and told me to just show up and we’d probably get a table within 10 minutes.

So we hopped in the car and drove out there. The place I’d selected was out in some rural suburbs, where there aren’t too many people. I figured it’d be a bit quieter and less COVID-ridden than places closer to the city.

We drove out into the region, passing various farms and properties with horses and chickens and stuff. When we got to the cafe, we found it was in a nursery, and there was a huge car park almost completely full of cars. There was a queue of a dozen or so people waiting outside the cafe, and more arriving as we circled the car park. That looked like a lot more than a 10-minute wait, so we left and continued up the road.

Further along is another cafe where we’ve been a few times, also in a small nursery, and it’s never been anywhere near that busy. I turned off the road to enter the driveway… to find the gate closed and a sign saying it was closed. Presumably they were closed for this week between Christmas and New Year, as many places do.

Two prospective lunch places down, we continued driving. Further on there’s a bakery that we visit occasionally, the Glenorie Bakery. When we got there, it was open, and not too busy, although I did have to wait in a queue for a few minutes before ordering our lunch. I got a lamb pie and a Mexican pie, while my wife had a cheese and spinach roll.

After eating, we went to a nearby park where we let Scully run around and chase a ball for a while. She was running really fast in the huge open space, with no other people or dogs around. Normally she’s too distracted by others to really let loose like that.

On the way back we stopped at a roadside vegetable stall, where a farmer was selling produce. They had punnets of tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants… and the most enormous figs I’ve ever seen. I grabbed a punnet of the figs. They’re about the size of tennis balls – much bigger than the golf-ball sized figs you normally see in supermarkets. I had one when we got home, and it was nice, though not quite as sweet as some figs I’ve had. I’ll have to think of something to do with them tomorrow. Or maybe for New Year’s Eve.

We decided to take a scenic route home, via Berowra Waters.

Berowra Waters

There’s a road leading down to the river here on each side, but no bridge. You can cross the water on a car ferry, which carries 12 cars at a time.

Berowra Waters ferry terminus

We arrived at the ferry terminus just as the previous trip was departing, with two cars queued up ahead of us. So we’d be in the next trip across. But unfortunately, there was a sign up at the gate saying that the ferry would be closed for 25 minutes for cleaning. When it reached the other side, we could see the cars disembarking, but none got on, and yes, it was about half an hour of waiting until it loaded up and came back. This gave us time to wander around a bit and enjoy the scenery.

Eventually we made it onto the ferry and across the river, to continue our journey home, making a big loop. According to Google Maps, we drove a total of about 90 km just to get lunch and take Scully for some exercise. It was a nice day out though, and I got to go on the Berowra Waters ferry, which is a thing I’ve never done before.

At home this evening I made a sweet potato and cashew pizza. I also put some corn and beans on my half of the pizza (my wife wanted just the sweet potato and cashews), and when it was baked I added a drizzle of mayonnaise and chilli sauce. Pretty good! Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo until after I’d sliced it.

Sweet potato and cashew pizza

New content today:

Delivery trek across Sydney

My wife got an order for a dog bandana from her Etsy shop this morning, from a customer who wanted it delivered in time for New Year’s Eve. They live in Sydney, and wanted to know if they could pick it up. But my wife decided we could drive over and deliver it, and take the opportunity for a day out and grabbing some lunch somewhere. I found a good looking pie bakery not far from the delivery address, so we set out.

We made the delivery, and then drove over to the bakery. It began raining heavily while we drove, and when we got there and found a parking place we sat in the car for several minutes to avoid getting soaked. I could see on the radar (on my phone) that it was a passing shower, so we waited it out. Eventually it stopped and we went out to go around the corner to the bakery…

And it was closed! It said online that it’s open 24/7, which is really unusual for any business in Sydney. But I guess that doesn’t include public holidays. (Today is the Boxing Day public holiday, held over from Sunday since both Christmas and Boxing Day occurred on the weekend. Monday was the Christmas public holiday.)

So, anyway, we just headed back home for a late lunch. Through intermittent heavy rain.

Besides an early evening dog walk, and my regular run, I mostly worked on Darths & Droids today. I wanted to complete three new strips, and just finished a few minutes ago… phew.

New content today:

A running surprise

Today dawned cold and grey. I went for my 2.5k run, thinking how nice it was not to have to run in warm, humid conditions. I thought maybe if I pushed myself a bit I could do under 13 minutes again. I was surprised when I finished and clocked 12:28! That’s crazy! That’s a whole minute faster than I was running the same distance just last week. I guess the cooler conditions really do help.

I made a bunch of Irregular Webcomic! strips today, and wrote annotations for them, to cover the next week. I need to start planning out another batch of photography again soon too – the work never ends. And in between all this comic making I need to get stuck into university course planning – you know, work I’m actually going to be paid for. I’ve actually been pondering if I need to stop making new comics for a while so I can do all the work I need to do for actual paying jobs.

In excellent news, I finally got the result of the COVID test I did on Thursday. It took three and a half days to come through, but came back negative, which was a relief. Testing systems here in New South Wales are collapsing under the strain of so many people getting tested. One of the driving factors is that if you want to travel interstate or overseas, you must get a negative COVID test within 72 hours of travel. But with the waiting times for test results now stretching to over 72 hours, this means it’s close to impossible to get your result back in time for you to board a flight, so many people are having to cancel their travel plans. It’s a mess and something will have to change soon.

My wife and I went on a long walk with Scully after lunch. We did a route that we’ve done a lot, but haven’t done recently, around various parks, past a nice bakery, and down by the harbour shore where there’s a nice grassy area where Scully can run and chase a ball. It was nice being out, but it was very windy down by the water, and a bit chilly.

This afternoon it began raining, and it looks like being intermittent heavy showers for much of the night. But it’s nice to have cooler weather after the heat and humidity of the past couple of weeks.

New content today:

And relax into Boxing Day…

Boxing Day is the traditional day for consuming Christmas leftovers, and tuning in to watch the opening day of the Melbourne Test match. England are here and have lost the opening two games of the Ashes series in dismal displays, so it’s really just a matter of seeing if Australia can manage a 5-0 whitewash at this stage. And given England’s batting performance today, I’d say that’s a strong chance.

It was also the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, which was cancelled last year for this first time in its history due to COVID. So it’s an exciting event with everyone having missed last year. It’s going to be a very tough first night for the boats sailing down the coast, as they’re heading into the teeth of storms sweeping up from the south.

Those storms have turned yesterday’s hot and sunny Christmas Day into a cool, cloudy, and soon to be rainy Boxing Day.

I didn’t do a whole lot today – walked Scully, did some exercising, reviewed some of the Darths & Droids story planning notes.

New content today:

A busier Christmas Day

Getting things out of the way early, I did my 2.5k run first thing this morning. On the way out, I noticed one of my neighbours setting up a picnic in the park across the street. When I’d finished my run and returned home, he was all set up, and minding the site until his family arrived. I asked if I could take a photo to show people what an Aussie Christmas morning looks like:

8am Christmas morning

It was already warm, and best to stay in the shade. He said they were going to do brunch, and pack up by midday, to avoid the heat of the middle of the day.

After completing my run and stretching exercises, my wife wanted to take Scully out for a walk before we packed up and headed to her mother’s place for Christmas lunch. We took Scully down to the waterside park near us, and back. Then because we’d gotten all hot and sweaty walking, we had showers, before packing the car and driving over to my mother-in-law’s place.

Christmas lunch was a traditional roast turkey and vegetables, sliced ham, and also the lentil nut loaf that I’d cooked yesterday, with my home made tomato relish. And for afters we had two desserts: a chocolate hazelnut pavlova (from La Pav), and a Christmas pudding, with choice of ice cream and/or cream. Most of us had a piece of both. And then we retired to the sofas and people had coffee, served with Christmas fruitcake and chocolates.

Yeah, I’m still pretty full, and won’t need to eat any dinner tonight! We also have a lot of leftovers. And of course gift goodies. Mostly we got food stuff – nice treats to eat and actually use, rather than gifts that nobody is sure if anyone else really wants.

Scully got a bag of goodies too, including some new dog toys, some yummy treats, and… an art set from Picasso Paws! This is a kit with a couple of small canvases, tubes of paint, and ziplock bags that you seal the canvas and paint inside. You smear peanut butter or whatever on the outside of the bag and your dog licks it smearing the paint all over the canvas, to create a cool artwork. We’ll try it some time over the next few days and I’ll show you the results.

After a few hours of lounging around, digesting in the afternoon heat, we headed home. Actually it wasn’t too hot today, only 29°C. I’ve had a lot of much hotter Christmas Days in the past. The weather is actually supposed to turn tonight and be cooler and rainy for the next few days.

New content today:

A busy Christmas Eve

Okay, let’s see. 2.5k run followed by stretching exercises. Picking up weekly groceries from the supermarket. The COVID QR code check-ins are back, after having being removed just a couple of weeks ago.

I had to get carrots and mushrooms for the Christmas cooking we had to do today. I made a lentil and nut loaf – kind of like a vegetarian meatloaf. To go with it I also made some tomato relish. We’ll take this to Christmas lunch tomorrow at my wife’s mother’s place – assuming I get my negative COVID test back in time.

We took a drive to drop off presents there, just dropping them at the door, so we don’t have to carry too much stuff tomorrow.

And tonight is virtual board games night with friends. I’m currently no doubt losing a game of Splendor.

Hmm, maybe it doesn’t sound like much, but that was a lot of cooking effort today.

New content today:

No shipping for you!

I got an email from a kickstarter that I’d backed some time ago, saying that they’ve now shipped all of the backer rewards… except all of the rewards going to Australia. They said:

Great news! ALL of the Crazy Legs packages have been delivered to the Post Office and scanned in to the tracking system. Many of you have already received your Crazy Legs and the list of happy recipients if going to grow by leaps and bounds in the coming weeks. UNLESS you are from Australia… with current shipping restrictions we simply are not allowed to ship to your yet per current Postal regulations.

This was news to me! What postal regulations???

I asked the question, and it turns out that the United States Postal Service suspended deliveries to Australia on 3 September, 2021, and has not yet reinstated them. I had no idea! Apparently the reasoning was that mail handling facilities in Australia had been disrupted by COVID restrictions. It’s odd that (as far as I know) no other country has suspended mail to Australia, and although slightly slower than normal, our mail seems to be being delivered just fine.

Has anyone told the USPS that this doesn’t seem to be a real problem? Well, not much I can do about it except wait it out and hope the Kickstarter ships the goodies as soon as they are able.

In other news today, a friend of mine has tested positive for COVID. He informed me this morning. And, importantly, he pointed out that this means either he was infected when he visited me at the market on Sunday, or he caught the virus at the market. (My friend has mild symptoms, I should mention – he says it feels like a mild cold with a bit of a cough, nothing more.)

So I went up to the hospital to get a test swab taken. And my wife and I cancelled our outing to go see the new Bond film, No Time to Die, which we’d planned to do today. And we cancelled our plans to see my family on Christmas Eve tomorrow. I’m hoping the test results come back in time to decide if we really need to cancel seeing her family on Christmas Day for lunch, or not.

If you haven’t heard, the omicron variant is hitting Australia hard, and we’re setting new record numbers of cases daily, despite the over 16 population begin around 95% fully vaccinated. A few months ago we were freaking out over 200 cases a day. Today New South Wales recorded 5715 new cases, and it appears to be doubling roughly every two days.

And testing numbers are also through the roof. Previous records were about 80,000 tests per day in NSW, but we’re now recording numbers around 150,000 a day. This has meant huge queues at testing centres, with wait times in the multiple hours at many of them. I wasn’t really looking forward to that, but it seems I was lucky. I went to the hospital in intermittent rain and was in the queue for just 45 minutes. I saw on the news later this evening that at the same hospital the queue had grown to hours long.

Anyway, it seems COVID has messed up another Christmas.

In good news, Scully had her pre-Christmas groom today, and looks adorable.

Scully ready for Christmas

New content today:

Last day of work

For my wife that is! She had her last day in the office before a Christmas break, and doesn’t go back until January. Scully went into work with her as usual, and I picked her up at lunch time. It was another warm day and after walking home and letting Scully chase a ball in the park for a bit we relaxed inside out of the heat.

I spent much of today working on Darths & Droids comics, trying to get a Christmas/New Year buffer populated.

For dinner I tried a new recipe. Baked ricotta gnocchi, using roughly this recipe, except I used spinach instead of kale. Here they are before baking:

Spinach ricotta gnocchi

And after:

Spinach ricotta gnocchi

It was delicious!

New content today: