In the gutter

Recently I’ve been more vigilant about scheduling things into my calendar in order to Get Things Done, and have been including regular maintenance-type tasks like cleaning the gutters as a monthly event. Our house is surrounded by eucalyptus trees constantly shedding leaves and bark, and if the gutters clog up, we either don’t gather much water when it rains, or the water we do collect is stained yellow from the leaves. It is slightly embarrassing serving a glass of water to someone and have them peer at it silently wondering why it’s yellow. Surprise yellow beverages are never a good thing.

We clean the gutters with a leaf-blower, which is noisy but effective. I am not very fond of heights, but once I’m up the ladder it’s rather fun striding around (carefully, along the lines of bolts) on the roof, blasting leaves away. During a recent cleaning effort, I had made my way towards what I think of as the “back” of the roof (because it is furthest from the ladder). A spiky tree has grown over the gutter in that section, and in order to keep my feet on the bolts I had to push my way through it, a rather unpleasant experience while wearing shorts. I was revving the leaf blower as I went, and came across what I thought was a particularly stubborn clump of leaves. I vroomed the blower loudly at the clump, until a bird suddenly flew away, revealing a nest with some tiny baby birds staring up at me. I immediately took my finger off the trigger, feeling terrible – the birds were awfully small and scrawny, although they did have feathers. I backed away and waited for a bit, but the mother didn’t immediately return. It didn’t seem ideal that there was a bird nest in the gutter, but there didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it – if I moved the nest, the mother might abandon it, and any place that I put the nest would no doubt make the babies vulnerable to predators.

I moved to the other side of the roof and cleared out the rest of the gutters, leaving the nest in place. During the process, I finally found the willie wagtail nest which has been causing the resident willie wagtails to aggressively and noisily attack every large bird in the vicinity of the house – it is perched precariously up on the TV antennae. (It’s still there, and the willie wagtails continue to be very territorial, including towards any humans who wish to use the washing line.)

Once I was off the roof, the mother bird returned to the nest, and I was relieved that all seemed to be well. I took some photos from the ground, and consulted our bird book to discover it was a common bronzewing (a -you will be surprised to hear this – very common pigeon).

Unfortunately a couple of weeks after I blasted the poor bronzewing, we had rather a lot of rain. The first couple of days, the bronzewing was bedraggled but still in place on the nest. However after that, the gutter was empty. It seems likely that the volume of water rushing along the gutter disintegrated the nest, and I need to get back up on the roof soon to check whether there’s any sad little corpses that need removal. Given that I was trying to avoid our water supply flowing over dead leaves on the way to the tank, stopping the water from flowing over any dead birds would also be a fine goal to achieve.

Everything I’ve learned about hermit crabs

One day last year, my son came home from school and said he’d had a relief teacher who had told the class all about her pet hermit crabs. He proceeded to tell me all about pet hermit crabs, and showed me a list he’d written down of the things you need to house pet hermit crabs. I said that was all very interesting and if he still felt strongly about the matter at his next birthday, we could get some hermit crabs to keep in his old fish tank. Months passed, his level of enthusiasm remained high, and for his birthday we took him to the pet shop to buy two hermit crabs (as they like company), and various branded hermit crab accoutrements.

Hermit crabs sold as pets in Australia are Coenobita variabilis, a native Australian land hermit crab. They live in northern tropical parts of Australia, so they like a warm habitat. Generally they’re kept in dry fish tanks, with containers of fresh water for them to drink, and salt water to splash in.

Above is a picture of our tank right after we bought the two crabs, Nippy and Scratcher. This is what tanks look like if you buy the pet shop basics – it’s a bit of a grim sight. After I took this photo, we added sticks and rocks for climbing on, and I made the bedding a bit deeper using “play sand” purchased from Bunnings. Every time we added something new to the tank, the crabs came over and thoroughly inspected it – they really enjoy exploring new additions to their environment, and it’s fun to rearrange items and occasionally add new things in to give them a bit of a thrill.

Nippy and Scratcher were fascinating little creatures, and it was really fun watching them exploring around their tank, burrowing in the sand and climbing out precariously on sticks. However, about a month after we got them, I inspected the tank and made a rather horrifying discovery – a lone crab leg was lying on the sand and Nippy was wandering around the tank looking suspiciously well and happy. I felt that ominous sinking sensation that occurs when you realise you’re going to have to tell your child that one of their pets has died. I poked around in the sand, uncovering a mostly empty shell with the remainder of Scratcher in it, and tried to think about the nicest way to tell Edward “I think one of your crabs ate the other one.”

If you google “why did my hermit crab die”, you get any number of results assuring you that your hermit crab is probably not dead, it’s just moulting, as moulting hermit crabs don’t move and appear to be dead. You should never on any account actually inspect your hermit crab to check if it’s dead, the websites said sternly, because you might hurt it. Does anything smell like it’s rotting? No? Well your hermit crab is probably just fine, and you should treat it as if it’s still alive. I decided a dismembered leg was good enough evidence that Scratcher was no longer alive, and removed the remnants of his corpse from the tank.

I broke the news of Scratcher’s death, and spent a few days doing a lot more reading about hermit crabs and all the ways they can die. I decided I’d done two things wrong that probably led to Scratcher’s untimely death. Firstly, hermit crabs can only breathe in high humidity – that’s part of the reason why they need dishes of water and a heat pad under their tank. We didn’t have any indicator of the humidity level in the tank, hadn’t been spraying it with water, and it’d been winter (albeit a sub-tropical winter). It was possible the humidity in the tank had been too low. Secondly, when hermit crabs moult they can’t move (hence the whole “are they dead/are they alive” dilemma that hermit crab owners face) and are unable to defend themselves – they bury themselves to protect themselves during the moulting process. While I’d added enough substrate for the crabs to fully cover themselves, it wouldn’t have been enough to defend Scratcher from a curious Nippy.

A possible thirdly was the fact that the branded crab accessories we had were all peeling – the brightly coloured shells and water containers were shedding paint, and I wondered if this might have been poisonous if ingested. I don’t think this is actually the case, however in future I avoided brightly painted accessories and shells to avoid more peeling paint.

Back to the drawing board for the tank (or “crabitat” as hermit crab owners very cutely call it). I made a much deeper substrate/bedding area, coming about a third of the way up the tank – this is a combination of the “play sand” and coconut coir. Bunnings (and other gardening stores) stock bricks of pure coconut coir – both this and the sand are much more cost effective than the tiny bags of “hermit crab bedding” sold at pet shops. You just need to ensure that you are buying pure coconut coir with no added fertiliser. (Bunnings sell bricks labelled as “garden soil”, which are fine to use – the bricks labelled “feed and mulch” have additives.) I broke off part of the block of coconut coir, soak it in water, then mixed it with the sand until I had a nice consistency – around 2/3 sand and 1/3 coir.

On top of the bedding, I put some new netting for climbing, a coconut shell house for hiding in, some more spare shells (unpainted ones this time), two gauges for temperature and humidity, and finally – and a new crab, Outy. A bit later, I put up a “moss pit” – this is a suction cup soap holder stuck to the tank, and filled with sphagnum moss (you can buy blocks of this at gardening shops). Nippy and Outy were thrilled with their new tank decor and had a lovely time thoroughly exploring, and hurling moss about the tank. (Well I presume that’s what they were doing at night when I’d find the moss pit emptied in the morning, and moss strewn around everywhere).

Everything went well for a couple of weeks, and then first Nippy, then Outy, disappeared. I confidently announced that they were taking advantage of their lovely deep substrate and were moulting. I kept changing the water and food, awaiting their return. After a couple of weeks, Outy reemerged for a few days, then disappeared again. More weeks went by. “They’re not very interesting pets, are they?” my brother commented, surveying the empty tank. I became convinced that both crabs were dead – around two months had passed since I’d seen Nippy, and there were no signs of life. Refreshing the water bowls began to feel like a bit of a pointless endeavour.

As the end of the year approached, I told Edward that after Christmas we should probably have a dig around to try and find the crabs, as I suspected they might be dead. He solemnly agreed. Nippy and Outy were apparently listening to me, and accordingly on Boxing Day they triumphantly re-emerged, back from the dead, clambering around the tank as if nothing had happened.

I am hoping that soon they may like to shift out of their garish painted and branded shells and move into some of the slightly larger natural shells scattered temptingly around their tank. It is nice to have them back from their long absence, and according to The Internet, they will probably not moult again for at least another year. Soon we shall rearrange their tank to keep their minds – although surely hermit crabs must have rather small brains – happily occupied with interesting new things.

Things I found in my pantry

Common Crow

When I’m on maternity leave, I clean out my pantry. I do not, as a rule, clean out my pantry at any other time. You may think to yourself that this does not sound like a particularly good idea, and indeed, you would be correct.

Recently I had a baby and subsequently in accordance with my innate biological instincts, I spent a day cleaning out the pantry. I found a number of things.

1. Dead moths. In a past life, or possibly this one, I committed some terrible sin against the pantry moth species (Plodia interpunctella, as I just discovered), and as a result they have been hounding me ever since. Moving into my flour, lurking beneath tins and generally making pests of themselves. I bloody hate pantry moths. You may think to yourself, “perhaps if she cleaned her pantry more regularly than once a decade, she wouldn’t have such a problem with pantry moths”. I will thank you to keep such indubitably correct thoughts to yourself.

2. A box containing a set of rather nice mugs that I received as a gift several years ago. Surprise! This made me feel like a rather ungrateful person, but I have now washed them and have been enjoying morning coffee in them. They’re great mugs!

3. Hey, I own a fondue set! I should make fondue!
(This is obviously never going to happen and I will be surprised all over again by the fondue set the next time I clean out the pantry).

4. A rusting can of “Steak and Onion” something or other that I distinctly remember moving with, probably because I thought at the time, “why do I own a can of Steak and Onion Something Or Other?” Alarmingly, I have lived in this house for eight and a half years. The can looked both suspiciously old and quite disgusting, and into the bin it went.

5. A jar of Bovril that my husband bought for reasons known only to himself. Its expiry date was in 2010. Wikipedia describes Bovril revoltingly as a “thick, salty meat extract”. When told that I had thrown it away, my husband declared indignantly that Bovril doesn’t go off, it’s like Vegemite. I am pretty sure that thick salty meat extracts do indeed go off, but I wasn’t willing to open the lid to find out for sure.

6. A very elderly sweet potato grimly trying to grow and propagate on the bottom shelf. Give it up, little potato, that’s never going to work.

7. Four different brands of caramel syrup. Whyyyy.

8. Three bottles of blue food colouring, two of which are unopened. So I guess I thought I needed blue food colouring on at least two different occasions, bought a new bottle, discovered the already opened one, then added the new bottle to the depths of the pantry.

Thankfully the pantry is a lot tidier now, and has no resident moths. (For now). And as thrilling as it is to unearth foodstuffs that expired 6 years previously, in future I’m going to consider the radical step of no longer linking my cleaning schedule to my reproductive system.

Noisy friarbird


Each day when the husband parks his car, a noisy friarbird flutters down and perches on the side-mirror, overfilled with delight to see its beloved reflection again. It sings, swings acrobatically around the mirror, flutters over to the other side of the car to the other mirror and joyfully realises – oh! you’re here as well! It’s probably not the healthiest behaviour for a bird, but it’s rather sweet to watch. It likes to spend some of the day perched companionably on top of one of the mirrors, chirping away to itself, and occasionally defecating on the car (much to the husband’s irritation).

The last fire

We used to have a possum living in the chimney of our wood heater. We coexisted happily for a few years, the possum scraping and banging each evening as it levered its fat bottom out of the narrow confines of the chimney to explore the night, and grumpily vacating the chimney for the month or so during winter when we actually lit fires.

My mother flew down right before my due date, almost two years ago now, so that she could spend some time with us when Edward was born. The afternoon was chilly and we decided to light a fire. “The possum will head out when I light it,” I said breezily, although I felt a bit guilty booting the nocturnal possum out of its comfortable hidey hole into the daylight. When I set the fire and lit it, smoke billowed back into the room. It tends to do that when the chimney is blocked with possum. I coughed, banged on the side of the chimney to alert the possum, and blew on the fire. The flames caught and started licking at the kindling. The room became smokier. The possum started coughing.

Mum and I dithered. “It’ll move upwards in a minute,” I said, and we stood there waiting. The possum started coughing more loudly, and started scrabbling against the metal of the chimney. I couldn’t tell what direction it was heading in. As the smoke billowing into the house was showing no signs of abating, I decided to cancel the idea of a cosey afternoon fire. This is a bit easier said than done, particularly because I was worried about the possum and didn’t want to create even more smoke by pouring water on the fire. We were now dashing about in a flustered manner, and Mum shovelled the fire into the little bucket I used to transfer the cold ashes out of the heater. We were standing there listening to the possum’s coughs, trying to figure out if it was moving out of the chimney, when I glanced down and realised that the bucket was on fire. “Mum! Mum! The bucket is melting!” Mum grabbed the flaming melting bucket and galloped out of the house with it. I waddled out after her. We were both in fits of slightly hysterical laughter.

When we came back into the house, the possum had stopped coughing. “I hope it’s alright,” we said guiltily to each other. “Yes, I’m sure it’s alright.” My labour began later that evening, apparently induced by fits of laughter. The possum wasn’t alright, as we later discovered, and the husband spent a while during one of our very sleep-deprived early days with Edward removing its dead body from the chimney while Mum and I solemnly contemplated our new status as possum murderers. We had to break rather a lot of the insulating tiles in the heater to remove the possum’s body and with our usual speedy attention to matters of house maintenance we haven’t yet replaced them. The recent cooler weather brought the heater to mind, and I remembered the poor dead possum and shrieking with laughter with Mum in the garden as we smothered the flaming bucket. We should really get around to replacing those tiles. It would be nice to have a fire again.

Flowing water

It has been raining heavily on and off for the past two days, and poured overnight. The lower dam has flooded its banks again, spreading into a small lake in the backyard, and all day a steady stream of water has been rushing down the driveway and the gutters towards it. Our house is down a slope hidden from the main road, which unfortunately in wet weather means that a great deal of water rushes towards and, ideally, around the house, towards the lower dam. Unfortunately in my experience drainage rarely conforms to an ideal, and inevitably the area under the house gathers water and turns into a little clay pit, waiting for an unsuspecting pedestrian to sink their be-thonged foot into its sticky depths.

I have been inspired into various cleaning and organising tasks, prompted presumably by my pregnancy, which has now reached its halfway mark. I have been tackling the Chair of Doom, the place where for some reason I have chosen to file all our bills, tax related papers and receipts for the past two years. It is a horrid chair, but it is now mostly emptied, its contents either thrown away or filed (actually in a filing cabinet this time).

Every time the rain stops it sounds as if a dozen water features have been installed outside, water rushing down drains and trickling out of tank overflows. The chooks are hunched in a resigned fashion on their perch, waiting for a little sunshine to dry out their pen, and as dusk falls the frog chorus has started, the “bop bop bop” sound of the pobblebonks joining the longer calls of frogs I don’t know, and the occasional croaking of toads.

First day

We came back from five days visiting family in Melbourne and spent some time together in the garden over the past few days – mowing, pulling out fallen fences and ripping up lantana. This year will bring so many changes for us and I think we both feel the impetus to organise and arrange the property. And remove lantana, that bloody stuff. At least it has fairly shallow roots, its one saving grace.

We started the new year eating croissants, and then trying to pull the ute bullbar back into position after I had a little disagreement with a concrete post. We were mostly successful, and I am determined to stay away from concrete posts this year. They’re no good for me. Or the car. And that should be a nice easy resolution to keep.


There seems to be a basic instinct in all young children who visit our house to make high pitched screeching noises and run after the cats, who roll their eyes and belt in the opposite direction. Ella was a bit shy when she came to visit us last weekend in our unfamiliar house, but that didn’t stop her from engaging in a bit of cat chasing.

Each time we have children come to stay I realise how very un-child proof our house is. It felt terribly unfair to constantly tell Ella not to do things, so on Sunday morning Naomi and I lolled around on the couch and watched Ella methodically pull books off the bookshelves and hand them to us triumphantly. I took the opportunity to re-alphabetise my fiction, which might seem like a pointless sort of thing to do, but when you have a lot of books and your husband is moping around the living room asking for something to read, it makes it easier to locate one of the two or three authors he likes to read.

Ella also quite liked the chooks, who followed her around as she toddled about in her very tough little bare feet. I feel that I’ve done a good job socialising these chooks – they follow me around the garden, put themselves away at night, and lay lots of eggs. I have been rewarding them with rotten strawberries. Best chook parent ever, that’s me.

Scritch, scratch

Last night I was sitting at my laptop, while ostensibly supervising some spaghetti cooking on the stove (my last two attempts at cooking gluten free spaghetti had resulted in nasty sludgey texture, so I was trying to take more care with the cooking process this time) when I heard the possum that lives in the chimney rattling around, as it does most evenings when it heads up to the roof and out to rampage around. Yes, I know it’s odd that it lives in the chimney, but I suppose it’s dark and protected, and for most of the year it’s unused. Given that we live in a semi-tropical area. But whenever it gets chilly and we light fires, it doesn’t seem to bother the possum. Maybe it’s addicted to wood smoke.

Anyway, I began to half listen to an irritating sort of scratching noise, which I ignored while nurturing a simmering annoyance at the cats, who seem to spend their time either sleeping or destroying something. I presumed they were busily destroying something and ignored the noise, but it persisted. I looked up to find a rather fat possum wedged behind the glass door of the wood heater, sitting on a partially charred log, and scratching hopefully at the glass. Horace was standing in front of the heater with his head to one side, looking slightly bemused.

We had seen the possum in the wood heater once before, so I presumed it would make its way up the chimney again. I went and stirred the spaghetti and sat down at the laptop again. The possum stared at me, unmoving. I felt a bit self conscious. I went and flapped my hand at it through the glass, hoping to frighten it up into the chimney again, but it continued to gaze mournfully at me. I drained the spaghetti, which had cooked perfectly for a change. I think it depends on the batch you get – well, that sounds better than blaming my slapdash cooking method, anyway.

Eventually the husband returned to the house, and I showed him with the wood heater, now with all new possum resident. We looked at the possum. The possum looked at us. We wondered what the possum would do if we let it out into the house, and decided it probably wouldn’t get on with the cats.

We ended up forming a little tunnel out of a sheet we held up between the heater and the back door, and then we slowly opened the door to the wood heater. The possum hopped down, and slowly waddled off out the door, its dignity somewhat bruised, its fur covered in soot. Hopefully it will go and find itself a slightly more suitable new home. We ate our spaghetti. The cats went to sleep. And all was right with the world.


I have learnt several lessons this weekend. Never introduce a three and a half year old child to whoopee cushions. Never give her stickers and glitter and crayons and tell her to play on the floor. Never open up a “Make Your Own Ballerina Doll” kit that cost $5 and has been in the back of the cupboard for years – there’s a reason it cost $5, and it involves sewing. I sewed the most misshapen Frankenstein-like ballerina doll ever, apparently designed to strike fear into the hearts of all around it, and the three and half year old politely declined to take it with her. “I think it won’t fit in my bag,” she said awkwardly, holding her empty backpack.

We played Dominion for the first time, which is (once we got the hang of it) a really fun and fast card based game. And incredibly popular, I see from the internet. I won twice. I am victorious. I also mastered the art of flopping the baby over my shoulder until he fell asleep, and then performing an elaborately silent ritual of slowly lowering him into the couch without waking him up. A skill for the CV, that one. He twitched and murmured in his sleep while we noisily played Dominion next to him, probably dreaming milky dreams.