Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Year Begins

Yes, I know it is late January. However this evening was the first orienteering event of the year. Each year we have a twilight series on Wednesday evenings in January and February, these are a little different from our regular events as they are on park and street maps, and are score events. That means instead of a set course to navigate as fast as possible, we have a set time to get around as many controls as possible, setting our own route. Each control is worth a set number of points, from 10 points for the easy, close ones, to 50 points for some of the further or more difficult controls.

Christchurch is mostly flat, but the mappers excel at finding the steeper parts for many of these events. Tonight's event started at a park at the foot of one of our hill suburbs. The map has a good section of flat land by the river, but I wanted the exercise of getting up the hill. So two of us, Sandy and myself, accompanied by dog, set off straight towards the hill and up a very steep climb by road and footpath right to the 50 point control at the top of the map, picking up a few other controls on the way. We were rewarded by a stunning view and the discovery of a pathway that I hadn't known about before, although I am fairly familiar with this part of Christchurch. And then I left Sandy and Jay (the dog) behind to walk back down, while I pushed myself a bit and managed a sort of slow awkward jog alternating with sections of brisk walking. I zigzagged down the hill picking up a number of controls and arrived back at the finish with about four minutes to spare. I have a feeling I had time for one more control, but with 20 penalty points for every minute late back, it didn't seem quite worth it.

I'm definitely considering returning to the area to explore the path I discovered, which seems to follow a ridge high above a valley - worth taking a camera, I think. I wonder where it ends up?

I have a feeling I'll be a little stiff tomorrow.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Two-Part Poetry Post

For the past week or so the New Zealand newspapers have been full of the death of Sir Edmund Hillary, his life and the funeral plans. And so another death, although attracting quite a few obituaries and attention, has been rather overshadowed - the poet Hone Tuwhare, at the age of 86.

The link is to the tribute on our local library's website. His poems were lyrical, sometimes political, but accessible - he came from a working class background, while many other esteemed New Zealand poets were university educated.

You can read some of his poems here including "No Ordinary Sun", a protest about the bombing of Hiroshima, and "Albatross" (Kay, are you reading this? I thought of you when I saw that one). "No Ordinary Sun" was 11th on the list of New Zealanders' favourite poems, and Rain was in first place.

And now that I have left you some poetry to read, I have to confess I haven't written any myself for a while. Instead I thought I would offer a giveaway.

I have here a couple of sets of "Kiwi magnetic poetry". The words in these sets are New Zealand vernacular and rather colourful idioms of the sort that I can imagine a Southland cow cockie using (cow cockie = dairy farmer). I've thought of trying to use them in poems, which would be an interesting challenge. It occurs to me that if any poet could slip these into a poem and have them sound natural, it would be Hone Tuwhare.

So, I offer you a few of the phrases from the set. If you would like to win a set, leave a comment to that effect. I'm leaving the conditions of entry open. "Please" might do it, but I'll be more impressed if you offer an accurate answer as to the meanings of the phrases, or even better, an inaccurate but entertaining answer, or if you offer me a short poem using one or more of the phrases. Use your imagination. I'll leave the entries open for a couple of weeks to give you a chance to think about it.

stone the crows
across the ditch
bit of a dag
down the gurgler
shoot through
hit the sack
suck the kumera
sparrows fart

For more poetic inspiration (if you haven't come from there), hop on over to readwritepoem

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Debate about Cloning

Earlier in the week the FDA released a report about the safety of meat from cloned animals. Since I'm in New Zealand, it didn't figure too highly in our newspapers, and I first read about it in blogland.

Here's a link to an article in the Washington Post

I have to say that I didn't find the standard of debate about the issue to be very high. So I thought I would raise a few points on the issue:

1) Firstly, since a large majority of people want to know what they are eating, I think it makes good sense that food that is the product of cloned animals or their offspring be labelled as such. Just as I want to know whether my food is produced in New Zealand or imported, even though it is all safe to eat. I have my reasons...
On the other hand, maybe it occurred to the FDA that the more information on labels, the more cluttered they get, and the less they get read anyway...

2) Most of those who don't want to eat meat from cloned sources seem to have only one reason as far as I can see - and it's not so much a reason as an emotional reaction i.e. "Yuck!" or "Gross!"
Actually, that's the reaction that children commonly have when they find out how the "natural" method of reproduction works. Fortunately for the survival of the human race, they usually get over it.

3) Since artificially cloned animals are enormously expensive, their meat is not likely to reach the market place in any significant quantities. Nor are female cloned animals likely to produce enough offspring for the market place - what is more likely is that cloned male animals will be used to provide semen for breeding, so the most likely scenario is the offspring of a cloned male and a non-cloned female.

4) The offspring of a cloned animal is not a clone (unless you do it all over again). Just as if you have an IVF baby, that child's offspring are not therefore IVF children, unless they go through the same procedure. Nor is the child of a twin (a natural clone) automatically a twin, just because their parent is.

5) Oh yes - about twins - they are natural clones. That's what a clone is, when you divide a bunch of cells to produce an exact replica of the individual. So of course, since farmers breed for twinning (even the organic ones) we've all been eating clones for a long time.

6) Do you have any friends who have had babies by IVF treatment? The process of cloning is pretty much the same, with one added step. I would have said "clinical" rather than "gross".

7) Cloning is not genetic engineering. Cloning aims to produce an exact replica. Genetic engineering, on the other hand, aims to produce something new, for instance introducing a gene segment from another plant into maize to make it more pest resistant. Or perhaps introducing a strawberry gene into an apple to give us strawberry flavoured apples?

8) Just possibly, the reason why the FDA said that it is safe, is that after seven years of study, they have found that it actually is safe. Of course, they may have missed a subtle risk. In my opinion, the world is full enough of obvious risks, like smoking, or being knocked down crossing the road, or food poisoning from eating spoiled food, without worrying about the subtle ones.
There are far nastier things done to food that we should worry about - like feeding animals large amounts of hormones and antibiotics, which encourages antibiotic-resistant bugs.

9) Reason to become a vegetarian? That's one common reaction I've seen. Well, meat may be cloned but that's nothing to the amount of genetic modification that is going on with crops. For instance, plants that are naturally pest resistant. Sure, the farmer uses less pesticides, which must be a good thing? Ummm.. maybe not, since the pest resistance comes from a high natural level of compounds toxic to bugs (and maybe humans). It's almost enough to make me want to give up eating plants and live solely on meat!

10) If you really want to avoid eating meat from the offspring of clones (not, as I said, the hugely expensive clones themselves), then by all means eat certified organic produce. Or New Zealand lamb, since we still produce it the natural way over here, as far as I know. Personally, I don't eat organic. It costs twice as much. It's better for my health to have some money spare so that I can buy running shoes, keep warm in winter and pay for a few other necessary things.

Comments? Always welcome, provided you read what I say and respond thoughtfully and intelligently. (Of course my readers always do that, don't they?)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Sunday Scribblings: Fellow Travellers

(No, it's not Sunday. Apparently that's how Sunday Scribblings works. Write a post on the prompt, and post it on a day that's not Sunday).

For some reason I read the prompt "fellow travellers" and recalled it as "travelling companions". I must have seen that prompt somewhere else recently. "Travelling companions" brings to mind friends on a quest, for instance Frodo and his companions in "The Lord of the Rings". Or alternatively, the travellers in the "Canterbury Tales", who met on the journey, and travelled together on a pilgrimage, because in dangerous times there is safety in numbers. I think of the tales they told each other to while away the time on the journey.

We don't really seem to travel that way any more. I don't, anyway. Of course I travel with other people sometimes - almost always my family. I don't think of my family as travelling companions, or fellow travellers, because of course they are so much more than that. They are - well, family.

Other than that, modern travel discourages getting to know the strangers around us. From what I've seen on long plane journeys, people don't pay too much attention to the people in the neighbouring seats. Other than to hope they won't be seated next to a squalling infant, or an obnoxious drunk, that is.

We travelled around the UK in a rental car, some of it on motorways, which were filled with fellow travellers, all tucked away safely within their own hurtling balls of metal, where no interaction is possible. And we stayed in bed and breakfasts where we arrived fairly late in the day, went out for a meal and returned in time for bed. And then in the morning we got up, showered, had breakfast and left. We weren't without human interaction - we visited quite a few friends and relatives, but they weren't fellow travellers - they were on their home territory.

Most bed and breakfasts these days seem to provide separate tables at breakfasts for the guests. I'm told it wasn't always like this. And then, there was that one place at Shrewsbury. There were two large tables in the dining room, and we were seated around one of these with, yes, fellow travellers. There were a young American couple who were taking the opportunity to travel around Britain by train. They don't have the opportunity for train travel in the US, he said. Well, a few years back, my daughter travelled vast distances around North America by Amtrak - but then, America and Canada are huge countries, so I suppose there are even vaster distances where the trains don't reach. And then there was a Welshman, who had travelled for quite different reasons - his wife was in the hospital. I can't remember what we talked about much. I do remember that for half an hour or so, I enjoyed the feeling of being in the company of fellow travellers.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

What I've Been Doing

Not blogging, obviously. Although I've still been visiting other blogs, and occasionally commenting.

My part holiday came to an end, and as of this week I am working fulltime again. I am also trying to keep my goals for the year in mind, so here are a few things I've been doing:

1) Walking. I started off the year a bit erratically, but I'm having fewer and fewer days when I don't exercise. Last Friday I went for a particularly long walk, as I reached the top of the track seemingly almost effortlessly, and decided to leave the track to wander across the hills (allowed, as it is a public park even though it is also farmed). And then I came across a barbed wire fence. I figured I could cross it right by the post where it was a little lower, but I got stuck half way across. And I didn't want to rip my good trousers. Eventually after fruitlessly trying to unhook them, I decided that the best way would be to take them off. Once they were down around my thighs, I had enough slack to unhook myself, and I finished climbing over, did up my trousers and turned round to find a mob of curious sheep staring right at me...

2) Transcribing testaments from the 1600's, including those of my 7x great-grandparents. I was about to start writing the first section of the family history - but I've had images of these documents for quite a while, and only partially succeeded in deciphering them. Finding a full transcription of one of them in privately deposited papers in the Stirling Archives, I thought it would help with the others. Think archaic handwriting, archaic language, messy crammed up handwriting, ink blots, and show through from the other side of the paper.

I've also been practising my Photoshop skills by trying to clean up the images in Photoshop to make them more legible.

3) Sweating. It's been hot. Up to 34 degrees (in the nineties, for those of you using Fahrenheit still). No doubt our Australian cousins think that's quite cool, but it is hot for New Zealand, and we don't have air conditioning.

4) Trying to gather information and fill in complicated bureaucratic forms with details of my income so that my son can get a student allowance. It is means tested on parental income for students under 25, and they go on the last tax year. Since our income has dropped since then, we have to have it reassessed.
S. also has to give details of his income. He put "zero" and now they want proof of his zero income, eg a letter from an employer!!

5) Putting all my holiday photos (the ones I had printed, anyway) into an album. And then I found I'd missed one out, so I moved them all so that they would be in the correct order. And then I found three more I had missed out.... yes, I moved them all again! I'm a bit anal sometimes, can you tell?

So, now I should stop blogging and get back to the form filling...

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Little Things Make a Difference

i finally had a bunch of holiday photos printed, while there was a special offer on at a local stationery shop - 15 cents a print. Then I went rummaging in cupboards as I had a feeling I had an old photo album or two tucked away. And yes, I did find one that was completely empty, and had space for 500 photos.

There's only one problem - it was produced in the days when photos were printed 3 x 5 inches, and mine are 4 x 6 inches. It doesn't seem as if it is a big difference, and yet the layout for 3 x 5 fits five photos to a page by careful layout, whereas the newer albums for 6 x 4 prints only manage two to a page.

It suddenly occurred to me that we waste huge amounts of resources just by insisting on making things a little bigger and better.

Oh the other hand, a suggestion I saw that we would save several tons of iron if everyone used one less staple a day seems ridiculous. (Wouldn't it be better to use fewer tin cans instead?)

Friday, January 04, 2008

Still in Holiday Mode

I have to go to work today, which seems almost attractive. At least I am looking forward to spending the day in an air-conditioned room. It's been hot here. Not Texas hot, but hot enough for a temperate-climate lass like me.

So, I am still easing into my goals for the year by spending a lot of time "clearing the decks". (Translate: reading old magazines and occasionally throwing one into the recycling). I've sorted photos from my trip, and historic family photos that I scanned into the computer, and had some printed while a local stationery shop was offering 15 cent prints. I did a little light gardening later in the afternoon yesterday, and by the time I was done I was dripping with sweat, which didn't encourage me to go for a vigorous uphill walk. But after all, I'm on holiday, right?

I know when our plums are nearly ripe because I start hitting my head on the branches when I walk along the path. They are weighed down with their burden. I found myself contemplating the idea of lying on the lawn under the umbrella-tree and gazing at the sky. Probably a better way of spending my time than playing sudoku on the computer. I may try it over the weekend. It won't be long before the lawn is covered in squishy ripe plums and then it will be way too messy for bathing in dappled light.

Oh, and I missed posting yesterday, so I am officially not joining the group who plan to write a blog post every single day of 2008. Well, that's a relief!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Cute Furry Animals

The trouble with being on holiday is that I tend to sleep in. And the best part of the day, when it's cool enough to garden, walk etc is first thing in the morning. The southern hemisphere sun can be harsh on the skin in summer, however I did manage to get out for a walk today in that narrow window of time between "too hot to move" and "dinner time". I found myself puffing and panting, but I hope that will change within a few weeks.

And now, back to our family visit to Orana Park, as mentioned in the previous post. We rarely get all our "children" together now that the youngest is twenty, however we had a real family outing with only one of the five missing.

Orana Park is not a traditional zoo but a safari park, with the animals in spaces as wide open as possible, and moats in preference to heavy wire fences.

Mostly, we followed around a route timed to catch feeding times of the various animals. Of course, being summer holidays, there were big crowds all doing the same thing. So we didn't get a very good view of the lions which are one of the most heavily fenced animals for obvious reasons.

Never mind, I think the giraffes are actually way cuter. And it is possible to get up close and personal at giraffe feeding time - they seemed quite happy to keep eating, and eating, to satisfy the long queue of waiting visitors.

Also high in the cuteness factor are the meerkats:

and the otters:

These are Asian small-clawed otters. They are more social than most otters, and spend more time on land. Apparently they are an indicator species - that is, if you have otters in a river or stream then it is an indication that the stream is healthy and unpolluted.

The otters are very frisky and act like a chorus line - they would be sitting in a grass, and all of a sudden would all dash off almost as one, with pauses to tumble over each other.

I suppose if we lived a more primitive life then we wouldn't be thinking of these animals as "cute". We'd be more concerned with whether they were good food, or whether they were competing with us for fish, or similar concerns. And I have to admit that from reports of how some of the animals can bite and scratch, they may be cute and appealing only at a suitable distance.

What's that they are eating? One young visitor was rather squeamish to see that they were eating whole one day-old chicks. Her father teased her about it: "Oh look, he's chewing on the beak". And then when she had had enough, he said, "We'll go somewhere else - somewhere they are eating two-day old chicks." I can't say that it bothered me - as long as I don't have to eat one myself!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year

2007 was an interesting year - we weren't very far into it when it took a turn that I hadn't anticipated, so my goals were sidelined while I did other things.

While I never expected to find myself working full time, I've really enjoyed my second job and don't anticipate going back to part-time work anywhere in the near future.

Still - with a new year on us, and feeling adjusted to the new workload, I think it's time that I stopped procrastinating and found ways to achieve some of the things I hoped to achieve last year, and didn't. So no resolutions - I'm not strong on resolve - but several goals for the year, which at some stage soon I may turn into a poster for my studio wall.

Firstly, I really want to write the family history - a project I embarked on about five or six years ago, expecting it to take a year. Of course there is always more that can be researched, but having made the trip to Scotland, I think it's time that I acknowledged that I should preserve the research I have done in written form, even if it is not complete (and probably never can be). When I wonder what I would do if I was told I had a year to live, this is the one thing that comes to mind - get the research into a form that can be shared with the rest of the family.

Secondly, last summer I spent six months walking a lot, eating healthily and reducing my weight by 13 kgs (about 29 lbs). Once I started full time work, and winter arrived, that all faded away, and what with too much Christmas chocolate and candy I've put about 3 kgs back on again. That's not too bad - I'm still 10 kg lighter than I was. So this year I want to reduce my weight by another 13 kgs, and increase my fitness as well (I'm a bit vague on measuring the latter part, but my orienteering results should give me some record of my improvement).

Thirdly, I'm inspired by January who records her poetry achievements in the sidebar of her blog - numbers of poems written, acts of poetry committed each week and so on. I want to increase the number of journals my poetry has appeared in by at least one. This is not really in my control of course, but what is in my control is to spend more time writing, a lot more time editing, and to send more submissions out into the world (and not always to the same fall-back journal that has published my poems before).

Fourthly, become a whiz at Photoshop.

And then, there is the usual plan to keep the house and garden better organised, procrastinate less, blog more, play fewer computer games, be kind to the environment - and did I mention procrastinate less?

I have in mind trying to do a blog post each day, without being too rigid about it. Coming soon, photos of our family visit to Orana Park, but here is a taster:

Meet Jabba the ten year old (still juvenile) tuatara, one of the world's most primitve living reptiles.