New Year’s Eve acquisitions

It’s New Year’s Eve! I got up late… after 8am, which is unusual for my recent habits. After breakfast I did my final 5k run of the year. That brought my total running distance to 455 km for 2023. Down a little on the 500 km I managed last year. Even though I’m doing longer distances, I’m not running as many days a week, due to the fact that my wife went back from working at home to working in the office. But still, I’m pretty happy with that.

After a refreshing cold shower, I decided to head into the city quickly on the train to check out the game store where I have some store credit (from selling some old Magic: the Gathering cards a while back). I really want to use up all this store credit before it potentially vanishes, if the store shuts down or something. I got a selection of roleplaying game books:

RPG haul

And a couple of expansions for the Root board game:

Root expansions

A nice haul overall! And I thought I’d run down my store credit to close to zero, but the guy who rang up the total told me everything is on sale, and I still have over $100 of credit left! So that’s a bonus. Also, not pictured, a got a copy of Kingdomino, which is a game I know well, but haven’t owned before. I decided to get that because it’s a good 2-player game for me and my wife. We played a few games this afternoon. And in true fashion, after I taught her the rules, she won the very first game easily. Though we swapped victories back and forth the next few games.

We went for a walk up to the local shops to give Scully some exercise. The weather today was cool and overcast – a nice change from hot. I tried to find some fruit mince tarts today, since I realised I missed out completely over Christmas and I like them. But neither of the big two supermarkets had them any more. šŸ™

For dinner I made okonomiyaki. And in a little bit we’ll have our traditional New Year’s Eve snacks of cheese and crackers, before seeing in 2024.

Oh! And I didn’t share this at the time, but a couple of days ago while out walking Scully I got a good close photos of a kookaburra.

Laughing kookaburra

Probably a young one, as adults tend to be more wary of humans.

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Ferry excursion to Balmain

Today my wife suggested we catch a ferry across the harbour for lunch, to the suburb of Balmain. We took Scully, since she’s allowed to go on ferries, and once over there we strolled around the shopping area and found a cafe to sit and have lunch. It was a Turkish place and they did different types of gozleme and doner rolls. I had a lamb and spinach gozleme and my wife had a falafel roll. They were pretty good!

I wanted to check out the book shops there and used Google Maps. It showed three book shops in the immediate area, two on the main street, and one alone by itself a block off the main shopping strip. I’d never realised there was a book shop there before, so we took the detour to go check it out. When we got there, we discovered that the location given by Google Maps was in fact… a pub!

I was confused and puzzled enough to go in and ask the staff, showing them the map on my phone so they knew I wasn’t crazy asking if this pub was a book shop. The guy who spoke to me just shook his head and said he had no idea why it would show the address as a book shop. The closest one he knew of was one of the others up on the main street. So it seems Google Maps simply had an error. A bit of a strange one!

We returned to the main street and browsed around a bit. I checked out the two existent book shops and had some gelato. Then we waked back to the ferry wharf to catch a ferry back home. It was a nice day out, with a weird story to make it interesting.

For dinner tonight I cooked a new recipe, which I’d seen on a TV show the other night. It’s pan-fried gnocchi with miso butter, cherry tomatoes and baby spinach. It turned out really well! I’ll definitely do this dish again.

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Saving lost dogs

Oh, one thing I forgot to mention yesterday! I found two lost dogs!

After my 5k run, I stopped outside by a low brick wall to do some stretches as a warm-down. As I began, I noticed two small dogs, Jack Russell terriers, running through the park and then across the street. I thought it was a bit unusual that they weren’t accompanied by any obvious owner, but figured maybe they were following behind and were obscured by the trees along the path. It’s fairly common for dog owners here to walk dogs off-lead, so I didn’t immediately think it was anything to worry about, although it was a bit strange that the dogs crossed the street alone.

I finished my stretches and started walking up the hill towards my own home, and saw the two dogs running uphill ahead of me, again with no owner in sight. Now I thought this was weird and they might have been lost. So I followed them, hoping to catch up. Fortunately they decided to explore an overgrown area by the railway line, which didn’t have any other exits. I followed them in, making my way through the undergrowth, and tried calling to the dogs. Fortunately they were friendly and approached me. I grabbed their collars and tried to see if there was a phone number. The first dog didn’t seem to have one, but the second had a metal name tag, with a phone number on the back.

I rang the number and a man answered. I said I’d found his dogs running loose. He said he’d give my number to his ex-wife, and she’d call me to organise to get them. He said she still hadn’t changed the tags with his phone number on them. Okay… so I had to wait several minutes for the woman to call e back. I was beginning to think she wouldn’t and I’d have to cal the man again, but then my phone rang.

She thanked me for contacting them and asked where I was. I told her, and she said, “What? All the way down there?!” It was clear her dogs had wandered a fair distance from home. Then she said she’d contact her daughter to come pick the dogs up, and that she was currently in the gym at Lane Cove (a suburb several minutes drive away)! So I guessed I’d just have to wait. I had the dogs by the collars, and thankfully they settled down and sat quietly – except when any other dogs walked past, when they went crazy, lunging and barking at the other dog. I had to apologise to a couple of walkers saying they weren’t my dogs and I was waiting for the owner.

Then a few minutes later I got a text message from the woman, saying she was coming to get the dogs, because she couldn’t get in contact with her daughter. And then another few minutes later she messaged again to say the daughter was on her way! Finally a car drove up and the daughter (I guess in her 20s) got out to retrieve the dogs. They clearly recognised her and I let them go, and they jumped in the car. She was thanking me when another dog owner walked past with a mid-sized cavoodle, and one of the Jack Russells leapt out of the car and attacked the cavoodle! It was growling and barking aggressively and trying to bite the other dog around the neck. The owner was trying to get his dog away from the attack, and the woman was trying to call her dog off. Eventually it stopped attacking and ran back to the car. The man raced away a bit and then stopped to examine his dog. The woman called out to ask if it was okay, and thankfully the man said that his dog was uninjured.

It was pretty awful. I’d been holding these two dogs by the collar for 25 minutes or so, waiting for the owner to arrive and then just as she arrived someone happened to walk past with another dog that one of them attacked after I let them go. It kind of took the shine off the feeling of doing a good deed.

Today was another fairly usual day, spent mostly at home, with some walks for Scully. I did another 5k run, but the weather this morning was significantly warmer and more humid than yesterday, so I took it easy and ran almost a minute slower. Oh, and I picked up the grocery shopping for the week.

Tonight is board games night. It’s supposed to be in-person according to the fortnightly rotation, but so many of my friends are off one holidays with their families between Christmas and New Year that we’re doing it online, and there are only three of us playing. I’ve won three successive games of Jump Drive, and am now trying to win Ticket to Ride: Europe.

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Just relaxing at home day

Today was a relaxation day after the big day trip yesterday.

I did a 5k run this morning, and clocked 27:00, my fastest time for several months. Then I spent some time working out new topics for upcoming weeks of my online ethics classes. I’m going to do one about gift giving, and I’m slightly annoyed that I didn’t think of that topic in time for Christmas.

After lunch my wife and I took Scully for a walk to Maggio’s Italian bakery at Cammeray. We bought a panforte as a post-Christmas holiday season treat, and I got a panettone snail pastry to eat there. It’s a bit of a hike there and back – longer than my 5k run! Add to that another walk for Scully this evening and I racked up almost 16,000 steps today. Not bad for a “relaxing” day!

I had ham sandwiches for lunch, and for dinner I chopped up the last of our portion of leftover Christmas ham into my serve of fried rice. Most of the savoury leftovers are gone (there’s a little bit of turkey left), and now it’s into the long haul of dealing with holiday sweets.

My wife has been busy doing a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle that she got for Christmas, and finished it off today. It’s a lovely semi-abstract landscape in primary colours with gold lines and edging running through it. It looks good completed!

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Day trip to Berrima

With the week off work, we decided to spend the day taking a drive out into the countryside. My wife and I took Scully for a drive to Berrima, a nice little “day-tripper” village a couple of hours south-west, in the Southern Highlands region.

We arrived about 11:00 and spent some time looking at the various handicrafts and foodie shops.

Berrima Village Pottery

Many of the buildings in Berrima are very old and heritage listed. There’s an old sandstone courthouse and a prison where they kept convicts back in the early 19th century. To go along with this old-timey feel, there are a couple of antiques shops. We went in one and looked around. There were rooms full of stuff older than me. And then in one room I spotted something a little incongruous for an “antique shop” – see if you can spot it:

Sticky Beaks Vintage Emporium

We stopped in at the Berrima Vault House for lunch. This is a restaurant housed in a heritage building built in 1844 by convict labourers, originally to house convicts. A waiter gave us a guided tour of the place before we had lunch, showing us several basement rooms with barred windows, that were used to house convicts. There was also a tunnel leading from the basement directly to the old courthouse across the road.

Besides the history, the food was good! I had a baked red snapper fillet for lunch:

Crumbed red snapper

followed by elderflower pannacotta with poached pears:

Elderflower pannacotta

After lunch we drove back home via a different route, heading east to the coast through Macquarie Pass, which is a beautiful scenic winding road down a steep mountainside through lush forest. We got home just before dinner time, after a total driving distance of 320 km. A great day out!

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Boxing Day relaxing

The day after Christmas is usually pretty easy-going. It’s best to avoid anywhere near shopping centres because of the hordes of people seeking the post-Christmas sales. And nothing much else is open because of the Boxing Day public holiday. My wife suggested taking Scully on a long walk around lunch time to Maggio’s, the Italian bakery, but checking online revealed it was closed for the day. Then I checked Cornucopia, which also turned out to be closed. So we decided to just walk around the loop that goes along the harbour shore.

Part way around I checked the weather radar on my phone, and decided we’d better hustle as a big thunderstorm was approaching. We made it home without seeing any rain, and then it turned out that the storm kind of dissipated and passed around us anyway. We’ve been hearing loud thunder for much of the day, but the storm hasn’t really broken here.

Food today was pretty much just leftovers from Christmas lunch. We both had pieces of the lentil and nut loaf that my wife cooked, sliced and fried up in a pan to make them crispy on the outside. And there was both turkey and ham for me.

I baked a sourdough loaf. But the bread loaf tin I normally use was still holding half the nut loaf, so I just baked a round cob loaf on a flat baking tray. It turned out looking pretty good!

And apart from that I spent much of the day watching the Australia v Pakistan cricket match from Melbourne and the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, while making a couple of new Darths & Droids comics.

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Christmas lunch and storms

Christmas Day and Scully was up early to see what Santa brought her! She liked her new toy from her buddy Luna.

Scully's Christmas gift

I had a job: To make the glazed ham. I prepared the ham and then mixed up some orange marmalade with brown sugar and ground cloves. I spread the glaze mix over the ham, and covered it with thin orange slices, held on by toothpicks.

Marmalade glazed ham

Then baked the lot on a low oven for 45 minutes, basting it a couple of times with the juices.

Marmalade glazed ham

It turned out really nice, and everyone who had some at lunch liked it. There was also the traditional turkey, roast vegetables, and other stuff. Followed by Christmas pudding and ice cream. It was all delicious, and even though it’s dinner time now I don’t really feel like eating anything.

Normally Christmas Day is hot and sunny, but today it was mild and the clouds came over just after lunch. Storms were on the way. Parts of New South Wales west of Sydney reported tennis-ball sized hail as severe thunderstorms rolled eastward towards the coast. We left earlier than we usually do, to try to beat the storms home. I didn’t fancy having our car out on the street with giant hailstones falling from the sky. We made it home as the rain started, but so far the bad storms have passed either north or south of us. We’ll see how the evening pans out.

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Christmas Eve lunch with family

It’s Christmas Eve! Scully was super excited when she woke up, because that means it’s only five more sleeps until Christmas!

(counting her various morning and afternoon naps)

Today we had plans for lunch with my mother, brother, and stepfather. We drove up to Gosford, a bit over an hour north of home. The weather forecast was for thunderstorms, and we got some intermittently while driving up on the freeway, and also later during lunch. We met at a pizza place that my mother likes, and sat outside at a table under shelter, so that was fine. The pizzas were pretty good, and we caught up on a lot of things. I don’t see my mother or brother that often, so we had plenty of stories to tell about our trip to Europe.

When we got home we walked up to the supermarket to get some corn chips to make a simple dinner of nachos after the big lunch.

Tomorrow is Christmas Day of course, and we’re heading to my wife’s family for lunch. I need to make the glazed ham in the morning. This year I’m trying an orange marmalade glaze.

The weather is going to be interesting though. The forecast is for severe thunderstorms, with possible hail. Iā€™m really hoping we don’t get hail, because our car will be parked out on the street all day there. I won’t take my traditional after-lunch swim in the harbour, because the water will be murky with the recent rain, which can be dangerous because of bacteria and also increases the risk of sharks.

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A day out on the Parramatta River

Friday night was online board games night, so I was too busy to write up a blog entry. But yesterday was very busy!

My wife and I got up early. She went to the gym, while I took Scully out and had breakfast. When she got back we prepped to head out for the day. We drive down to Greenwich Point Wharf and caught a ferry over to Cockatoo Island.

Cockatoo Island

We weren’t here to explore the island, but to change ferries and catch another one up the Parramatta River. In fact, dogs aren’t allowed on Cockatoo Island, but we were only with Scully on the ferry wharf, and didn’t exit to the actual island. The second ferry took us to Meadowbank, where we alighted to meet Luna, Scully’s best buddy who used to live next door to us. They moved about six months ago and we’ve only seen them once since then. The two poodles went bananas when they saw each other and were so excited and jumping all over the place.

Luna’s owner took us for a walk around her new neighbourhood. We walked under the John Whitton Bridge:

John Whitton Bridge

This is two bridges side by side, one for pedestrians, and one carrying two train lines. (There’s a road bridge a couple of hundred metres downstream, behind me as I took this photo.) We followed a walking/cycle track along the river shore, between mangroves on the river side and several playing fields on the right. The destination was a dog park, where we let both Luna and Scully off leash to have a run and play in the grass.

The day was very nice, not too hot, and without the rain of the previous few days. After letting the dogs play for a while, and catching up with our former neighbour, we walked back to the wharf and past it to her new apartment, where her husband was busy working. They have a very nice new place.

We left just before lunch and walked up to Meadowbank station to get something to eat at a cafe, but when we got there they said the kitchen had closed and they were only serving coffee! So we walked back down to the ferry wharf, where there was another cafe. We had lunch there – I got a Korean fried chicken burger, and my wife an eggs benedict with halloumi. Then we hopped on a ferry back down the river towards home.

We passed under the Gladesville Bridge:

Gladesvile Bridge

This was the longest concrete arch bridge in the world when it opened in 1964, until surpassed by the Krk Bridge in 1980. And here’s a view of the city as we got closer to Cockatoo Island again:

River ferry view

We changed ferries again on Cockatoo Island, and I got a shot of Scully, although it was a bit windy!

Scully at Cockatoo Island

After returning to Greenwich, we went on a bit of a drive, getting home after 4pm. I went for a 5k run in the evening and then it was straight into board games night. I played games of It’s a Wonderful World, which I lost in the last round by just a few points after taking a big lead into that round, and Viticulture, which I won.

This morning, Saturday, I went for another 5k run! Then just rested at home for much of the day, before the mad two-day scramble for Christmas begins tomorrow. I went for a walk in the early evening to drop off two Dungeons & Dragons books at Professor Plums, for the DM who runs games there on Saturday nights. I’ve decided I want to get rid of a lot of the 5th edition adventure books that I have, since I’m never going to use them. I asked if she’d like them and there were two she didn’t have already, so I took them up and gave them to her. (Storm King’s Thunder, and Princes of the Apocalypse, if you’re curious.)

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Trying a new sandwich

Mostly I worked on comics again today, but I did a few other things.

I took Scully for a long walk at lunch and stopped in at Botanica Garden Cafe. I’ve tried most things on the menu there now, but today I picked a different sandwich, one that normally I wouldn’t choose: a tuna and corn with Swiss cheese. It was pretty good!

Tuna corn sandwich

While I was eating, I noticed the blackboard listed “Autumn specials”. I was trying to work out if it was 7 months late, or 3 months early…

Autumn specials, in summer

In the afternoon I walked with Scully down to my wife’s work, to meet her after her last day before Christmas break, so we could walk home together. On the way, I passed a new shop that is opening some time in 2024. They have some cool window displays, and it looks like they’ll be selling 3-D miniature terrain models for fantasy gaming.

Fantasy scenery

This is a very cool thing, but I question how much profit they might be capable of making with a store in the back streets of North Sydney, where there’s very little foot traffic. Maybe they’re planning to do most of their business online.

Fantasy scenery

I just checked the website address listed on a sign that I happened to capture in one of my other photos, but there’s only a “coming soon” message there. Anyway, the scenery definitely looks cool. I’m not really in the market for such scenery, but I do like it and hope they manage to do well.

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