Wednesday, 3 December 2014

How to leave Cairns?

I lived in Cairns for nearly 15 years, and in so many ways it was the perfect place to live.  I remember back then when I accepted a job in Ballarat saying to friends, how can you possibly leave Cairns? John Metcalfe (who is still there, living in the same house and riding his old bike) said, it's easy to leave - you just drive to the big fish, and you keep going. And that's what I did last week.

The Big Fish is the marlin that used to be at the southern gateway. These days it marks a shopping centre that has quadrupled in size from out days of living up the road - we used to have a game when Matt was in a carseat in the back in his nappies, I'd have to look the other way and he'd shout out 'I see wish worse!' (I see the fish first).

Farewell Trinity Beach - no more moonlight swims now that stinger season has arrived. 

Off on a 2000km drive south....

Monday, 1 December 2014

Rusty's Markets in Cairns

The Friday and Saturday markets at Rusty's Bazaar are still going strong. The noise and the smells take me back to any southeast asian market, but the people and the produce are distinctly Cairns. Some of the atmosphere of old has disappeared, but its still a great experience. Just for old times I had to combine my visits with a coffee and cake at what we always called Paris Croissants, now the Swiss Cake and Coffee Shop. Not much has changed here except it is not Terry and Sally behind the counter any more.

Probably the main change in the markets is that there is a stronger PNG and Islands presence. Otherwise there are still the Italian farmers from the tablelands, Cambodian families and local organic foodie artisans.

Can't you smell the mangoes, coriander, basil, vanilla coffee and incense?

Monday, 27 October 2014

Tropical garden

Just some more photos from the garden today.

The big mango tree at the driveway is loaded with baby green mangos. That is a very steep driveway actually. Scale can be deceptive when used to plants like the birds nest fern as seen in NZ, maybe the size of a dinner plate, this one has grown to the size of a kid's paddling pool.

 Yesterday there was a dead baby black snake just by the car. It had been freshly killed, in fact while I was having breakfast because it wan't there when I came back from my walk. I'd love to know how it died. Is there a nest of them? Since I have been here there have been three snakeskins - all of them outside my bedroom - yes, there are screens on all the windows. This would be a python maybe 2 metres in length.

I see quite a few of the beautiful iridescent blue Ulysses butterflies flashing by. This is not as stunning as the Ulysses, but was obligingly still.

The butterfly matches these day lilies.

 A bare twig in a pot has burst out into brilliant colour in the last week.

 Another example of something that in another climate would be an indoor plant.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Garden tour

This morning a bit of a tour for you, of the garden that Frances Boyd has created at their home in Freshwater. I am really enjoying staying here while they are in Madrid. Watering is a chore that I am only too happy to do. Their block is high up the hill (though there are two blocks higher up, one was cleared last week ready for building soon). So here is the view from the verandah.

Last night there was smoke from bushfires burning over on the other side of the inlet, hence the pink sky.

This morning it is lovely and clear and I can see the Coral Sea. That's Earl Hill in the background, at Trinity Beach.
The canefields across this area are set to be changed dramatically if the Aquis development goes ahead. A Chinese developer has well-developed plans for a hotel-casino complex that is said to cost $8 trillion. It would impact significantly on this view, creating 8 hotels and 2 casinos, theatres and an aquarium.

But back to the garden....

Bromeliads. Lots of them. Growing up palm trees and in pots, clinging to rocks and branches.

Beautiful and bizarre plants. Frances has lots of Tillandsia, too, more on these air plants later. Moving on to the gingers. A bare patch of hillside has burst out with pink flowers in the last few weeks.

This is a native turmeric, brought back from Cape York by Ian, and now happily thriving here. I recognised it from one of the exquisite paintings in the current exhibition at the Regional Gallery. It is a wonderful exhibition called Capturing Flora: A passion for the Exotick.

And this is a ginger flower. You can buy these from a stall at Rusty's market, along with equally huge and colourful heliconias. You need to have HUGE vases when you live in Cairns. Frances has red heliconias, they are just coming out, I picked some this morning for the kitchen bench. Though when you look out onto such a lovely garden, you don't really need flowers inside.

The other flower that has just emerged is the amaryllis. These cheer up my day - how could they not?
Aren't they stunning?

The garden is mostly foliage actually, but I am having trouble getting good photos. So here's another plant that is flowering at the moment. And there are paw paws, but I found I need to be quick to beat the birds or bats. 

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

With the Lynches in Cairns

 These photos are all taken on my phone, and I have not worked out how to get the most out of it. Anyway, here are Eva and Annie Jean on the boardwalk at the Botanic Gardens in Cairns.

In my last post I had a photo of Rachel and the girls at the zoo in Auckland. A couple of weeks later here we are again, this time exploring Cairns. They had booked a holiday to Port Douglas before I knew I was going to be here. So I have a lovely time taking them to a few of my favorite places.
The pelicans on the saltwater lake at the Gardens were a great hit with the girls.

I joined the holiday-makers on their reef trip. This was my first visit to Low Isles, off Port Douglas. Quicksilver do a great job and we were lucky with the weather.

That's the Quicksilver boat at anchor. They run a little shuttle to and from the island and provide glass bottom boat trips for those who can't go snorkelling.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Last Post (from kiwiland)

For the last few weeks I have been living at Uncle Dennis' place in Auckland. House sitting is very relaxing and I have done much less than I thought I would.

Lovely house to live in. I used to come and stay here when I was a teenager and I am very fond if it. That's one of Dennis's paintings, my favorite.

I have thoroughly researched the coffee shops on the North Shore and found the best vegan soups at Wise Cicada in Newmarket. Other than that, not much to write about. I went to the Auckland Zoo with Rachel and the girls.

And now the next adventure - Cairns tomorrow, more house sitting.

Saturday, 30 August 2014


It happened suddenly. One day I was slim and lithe, the next day I caught myself in the bathroom mirror and realised I was looking not slim, but malnourished. Strong words to self. Too Scrawny! Too Wrinkly! Too Flappy! Far too Old Lady!

And it was because of the feeding tube, ironically. That dangling appendage has finally come out, but the procedure for having it removed wasn't much fun. I had a gastroscopy, which involves having a pipe put down your throat so a camera can go down into the gut to check that the end of the tube hasn't got embedded or anything. I think the doctor was hoping to cut the tube and remove the button that holds it inside the stomach by pulling it up and out the same way that his camera went in. I strongly suspect he hadn't accounted for the effects of seven weeks of radiation to the throat, which meant that a) my mouth doesn't open very far these days and b) my throat is now about as wide as a panadol capsule for a significant distance. I opted for sedation during the procedure. I remember clearly they tried to put a thing into my mouth to hold it open, and had to hunt for the pediatric version because I couldn't open wide enough. Enough said re what came next, but the last thing I can remember is fighting frantically to get that stuff out of my mouth, while they tried to hold my hands still.

When I woke up he came around to tell me the button got left inside. He said it would pass through in a few days and hopefully it has. As pleased as I am to be free of the tube, for whatever reason the whole procedure knocked me back and I spent most of the next few days dozing on the sofa, scoffing cherry-flavoured pamol (baby panadol) every few hours for a sore throat and not caring for food at all. Plus every time my jaw moved, there was this crunchy noise in one ear - most annoying.

My energy is picking up again now and the crunch has disappeared. Adventures with Food is pretty well back on track. Cottage pie last night was a great success. Yoghurt is still a failure. It tastes awful and goes claggy. Pear and pistachio choclolate cake with whipped cream - hell yes. Ice cream, mmmwh, not really. But goes down in a milkshake or an iced coffee when there are not many other options. Bring it on.

Word of the day is trissmus. That's what it called when you hold three fingers together and try to put them in your mouth and they don't fit. Though that does seem like it would be a bit of stretch under the best of circumstances. My trissmus thing is much better than it was, so I expect it will continue to improve. Foot in mouth again in no time.

This should be pretty much the end of my cancer story, apart from ongoing adventures with food. I got let off lightly. Hope you all wore your daffodils on Friday.

And it is also the end of my life in Rotorua. I'm all packed up and on the move again.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

More about food

What to eat? I need to plan ahead and make an effort, though lately I'll admit I have gone back to topping up with good old bottles of hospital Ensure. I'm on a countdown now for a move back to Australia and trying to empty the store cupboards rather than spending money at the supermarket. I have significant stocks of the prescription food supplies and seeing as I have to wait another couple of weeks to get the feeding tube removed, I might as well use them.

Yes, selling up and moving on. Again. This time I am being really ruthless with what I'm getting rid of. Loads of stuff is going to the local hospice shop. Anyone want to buy a lovely little house with all-day sun and lake views? I'm sad to be leaving the house, but looking forward to getting back into a well-paid job. And that is not going to happen in Rotorua.

Back to the food adventures. I made a lentil and tomato soup and found the tomatoes too acidic. Stingy on throat and tongue. A bit of googling and experimenting saved it all from going to the birds - I added some baking soda, some roasted pumpkin and lots of coconut milk, and it ended up quite edible.

Helen suggested homemade baked beans with a poached egg on top, and that was another success. Red kidney beans with added carrots and celery. Flavoured with mustard, worchester sauce and maple syrup.

My carrot and cashew soup was actually quite nice too. In addition to using cashew cream to thicken, I roasted some extra cashews for extra flavour.

Your suggestions are welcome. The trick is getting enough protein, although my green smoothies help with that because of the added protein powder. I need the energy to help with this sorting, clearing and cleaning. Hard work!

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Adventures with food

Some food adventures are happy ones, but many end up with a trip to the compost bin or casting morsels to the birds. My weight is at an all time low so I have widened the vegan diet to get more calories. An omelette ended up in the bin, it was too dry to get down. A bit like (I imagine) trying to eat the bill, remembering those days at restaurants when there was such a thing as a bill. Likewise the bowl of mashed potatoes with sardines - a good idea thanks Di, but it didn't work. Ice cream was a real failure. It makes my mouth slimy and my teeth furry, and if you can imagine both happening at once you can guess it it's just not nice. And I don't like sweet things any more.

But when I have a success it is a cause for great excitement. Yesterday I made a chinese dropped egg soup, and not only finished it but enjoyed the experience. And I have rediscovered tomatoes. The first time I tried, they stung my throat, but now I find I can eat them comfortably, yay. Maybe chopped tomatoes in an omelette would work. French onion soup is good. Mild dahl has become my regular evening meal.

Old habits stick around, and I often have the urge to just snack on something, not because I'm hungry necessarily. The only thing that I have found so far that works is chia pudding. Just chia seeds soaked in whatever nut milk I have on the go with a bit of vanilla or cinnamon.

Hopefully new habits are forming.

Green smoothies fill me up. Fresh silverbeet leaves, kiwi fruit, banana, protein powder, coconut water, spirulina, flax seed oil and a few frozen berries.

Life without saliva is hard, but I'm sure I'll adjust to it. Sips of water with food doesn't come naturally but over time I guess it just becomes the new normal. Likewise with tastes and mouth feel - it is what it is.

Down in the garden the japonica is flowering. It is a welcome reminder that spring is not far off.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Back on track

I had my three-month PET scan a fortnight ago and have been trying hard to not think about the results. Yesterday I went back to to the big house on the hill in Hamilton for the first time since treatment finished. I had to wait nearly an hour before being called in to see Prof. Dr Vitz was there too. He said Your scan was clear. I must have looked like I was about to kiss him because the next thing he said (quickly) was, you didn't know? As if surprised that I was hearing this for the first time.

Prof poked around in my mouth to look down my throat and ran his fingers over my neck and pronounced me to be be just fine. Dr Vitz reminded me that recovery would probably continue for up to a year. But "No, your saliva won't come back. I told you that at the beginning", like, do these people just not listen? Well, we do, but we don't like what we hear and we hope that we will be different and that won't happen to us.

They agreed that my feeding tube could come out and someone went to get Jo who specialises in such jobs. This is probably the only time that a nearly 60 year old hears the words "You have a very taut stomach" and the response is dismay. Jo said, you'll have an oooh aaaah moment and it will be all over. Then she tugged on the tube. I went OOOOOH AAAAAAAAAAH! and she stopped. Before having another tug OOOOH AAAAAAAHHHH ****!!* I went. It's bleeding, she said. Hmmmm, she said. You must have strong stomach muscles, she said.

Damn those yoga classes! So now I have a booking with the gastroscropy unit for it to be removed from the inside. But that's OK - only a few more weeks and I'll be back into the hot pools. Nothing can dampen my spirits now that my prognosis is excellent and I can get my life back on track.

Maybe a holiday first? Somewhere where I can get plenty of soups and smoothies, because there is little else I eat with no saliva.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Winter walk

After days of alternately lashing and drizzling rain it was lovely to have some sun. So nice not to be cooped up indoors at work on a day like this. Here are some photos from my walk, along the Lake Okareka boardwalk. Lake Okareka is only a 10-minute drive from home.

Canadian geese, honking and grazing in the wetlands

Too nice a day not to just stop for a while and enjoy the sun. Beautiful benches for resting along the way.

Lovely rural scene, rich with the smell of the silage these beasts are enjoying.

Home stretch. It is so good to have some energy returning.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Out and about

Jo Hunt has just been appointed manager of the public library at Opotoki. Jo and I would have talked about this library when we worked together in Cairns - I hate to say it, that was at least 20 years ago. I dropped in for a visit last week. Her appointment has been a big item in the local news as you can see here. I'm hoping the challenges of her new job won't keep her from continuing to make a batch of tofu now and again, tofu being one of the things I can actually eat at the moment. And fresh tofu is a joy in itself as I have discovered when she has brought a batch over to Rotorua. Jo blogs about her tofu making over at

The view that hits you when you come over the hill from Whakatane never ceases to delight. All along Ohope Beach and across the sea to the blue hills of East Cape (I have borrowed this photo).

Over lunch at the wonderful Two Fish Cafe, Jo showed me the plans for a major refurbishment of the library building. Major personal development too! I was able to eat almost all of a lovely spinach filo quiche, just like a real person. Not exactly vegan. But at the moment I need to eat what I can without going to extremes.

Afterwards I wandered down the road to the Opotoki Museum. Past the local theatre and Hiona-St Stephen's church...and a pair of kids riding bareback on a shaggy feisty horse.

 The Museum is a 3 storey building with lovely views from the top floor. It is run entirely by volunteers.