reflections on tree day…

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IMG_9869Today is Planetark National Tree Day in Australia. As most of you know I love trees and photograph them often. It might even be genetic; my father grew Christmas Trees for a living! Here’s a little reflecting of some passed tree portraits:

Go out and enjoy a tree or two today. xx

pearls of synchronicity…

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You have probably heard the expression ‘pearls of wisdom’, and to some degree that befits this story. However it is even more than that. It is a story about paying attention to our commitments, the feelings of others, and being in the moment.

We had a visit with Mum in March, tho we have just returned a few days ago from our most recent visit. During the March trip we arrived one morning to her apartment and she presented me with a small plastic bag and the remnants of what was once her favourite pearl necklace. Knowing I used to make jewellery and still had the tools, she said to me “I know it isn’t worth much but it means something to me, will you fix this for me?” To be perfectly honest, I didn’t want to repair it because my jewellery making days are done. I’m kind of like that when I’m done with something. I don’t usually go back to it, though things can wax and wane over the years before I reach that point. But I would do just about anything for my lovely Mother ( just as she has done for me over the years) so I said I would do my best and return it to her.

Mum’s memory is not what it used to be (not sure mine is either, for that matter!). There are days when she remembers things and days when it is a struggle. She told me she had forgotten to remove the necklace before going to bed that night and it had broken in her sleep. She had searched the sheets and carpet for what pearls she could salvage but I could tell from looking at the remains in the bag, some were missing. The cleaner had already come that morning and vacuumed and changed sheets, so any unfound pearls were well and truly gone by now. That would make the task more challenging.

As one does with things about which we are unenthusiastic, I delayed repairing the necklace until a couple of weeks before our return visit. I estimated there were about 20 small pearls missing. Perhaps you will call it luck; I call it synchronicity, that the only pearls I had, other than a few freshwater pearls, were small glass ones. They were the perfect size and near perfect colour to complete the necklace. How did that happen?

When I returned the pearls to Mum, she was visibly happy, and immediately started to tell the story of how she came to have them. It was the first thing she bought herself, with her first pay check as a registered nurse, back in the late 1940’s. I had never heard that before and was so glad I had persevered to repair them.

A couple of days later, my niece was visiting us and the conversation led to my recollection as a small child, probably in about 1959 or 1960. I was watching Mum getting ready to go out for the evening; most children are fascinated to watch their parents do ‘grown up things’. I recalled her putting on makeup, which she seldom wore, and then opening a velvet covered, shell-shaped box to retrieve the jewellery inside it. Mum sparked up as I was recounting the memory, and said

“That was the box the pearls came in, and I still have it!”

“What?” I was truly shocked.

“It is in the bedroom in a little compartment on the bed head.”

Sure enough, when I went to look, it was there. It was an epic, full circle moment, an insight to my Mother’s life that may never have happened–if her necklace hadn’t broken, if I had not kept the tools to repair it, if I had not honoured my word to repair it, if she had not kept the box, if my niece had not visited, if Mum hadn’t had that moment of clarity…if, if, if…

Life is much more miraculous and surprising at times, than anything I could ever imagine.

every trip has a story…

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We have been in the USA visiting and, hopefully, helping my Mother and immediate family for the last two and a half weeks. Our intentions were good, but our execution of the plan left a little to be desired. We had booked the trip 10 months ago when Qantas was having a good sale on Business class seats to the USA (two for 1!!). And at that time we had just returned from a trip there and it seemed like two weeks would be long enough. Erroneous thinking on many levels. We are left wondering what led us to this decision, so that we don’t repeat it.

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Our Qantas 737 plane to Sydney, named Retro Roo, painted with old style livery

Mum was good when we got there, but two of the last three days of our visit she was in hospital with an unexpected urinary tract infection. Did you know that this is a very common ailment in the elderly? The doctor who spoke to us was very nice and further informed us how this effects elderly people, and to some extent why. I thought I would share it since you may have someone in your family that is in a similar situation.

The doctor said that elderly patients, in general, have ‘less reserves’ in their system, so when this infection establishes itself it often appears that the affected person is confused and dizzy. He went on to explain why this happens. When a person has a UTI, they feel as if they need to relieve themselves more often than normal, thus dehydrating them slightly. This dehydration effects the blood pressure, so that when they stand, they are dizzy, and often fall. The dehydration also effects the brain function, and people can seem slightly more confused or less sharp than normal. If this is someone who already has some dementia, it can seem somewhat normal, since people have good days and bad days with that as well.

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Members of Mum’s gardening group at the assisted living home.

In Mum’s case she had not really noticed the burning with the urination that is often the telltale symptom, and so she fell twice in three days while getting up in the night. We had spent all day with her both days, and she had not commented on symptoms, or seemed much out of the ordinary. In fact, we did not know about the first fall, until the second one happened. How this can happen in an assisted living place is a very long and involved story that has to do with patient consent and how the issue is reported etc. Regardless, it is just plain frustrating.

The second time Mum fell she was wearing her medical alert necklace, which has a motion detector on it. When it detects a fall, they try to contact the person. If the person is unresponsive, they send paramedics, which they did. Mum was unconscious so they took her to the hospital. They ran many tests and immediately established that she had the UTI and started antibiotics intravenously.

Through what can only be viewed as a snafu of ridiculous proportions (internet not working properly, phone not working, hotel not having us listed as registered guests, despite the fact we had been there for 10 nights already), no one was able to get word to us until we appeared at her apartment the following morning, to find her gone, but the dog there alone. The assisted living place was able to update us and that is when I learned of her fall three nights previously. None of the rest of the family even knew about that one, since she was not wearing the medical alert necklace that night (they are uncomfortable for sleeping and Mum had removed it)

Mum was very confused that day and the following day. It wasn’t helped by the fact that hospitals are lousy places to get any rest! We took her home on the second day, and after a night of sleep, and two days of antibiotics in her system, she was like a new person on the last day we saw her. We spent most of the day with her and then left for the airport to fly home to Australia.

qantas-first-sydney

Sometimes trips are good just to break you out of your normal routine

On the long haul flight coming home, heavy fog was predicted for Sydney, so our flight was diverted to Fiji for refuelling in case we had to fly around a bit before landing, or fly to a farther airport. So, 17 hours in the same seat on an airplane was a new record for us, and not one I care to challenge. The fog did not eventuate in Sydney, but farther up the coast.

Yesterday after we arrived home and went to the grocery, unpacked bags and made some dinner, I remarked “I’m sure I have some idea how Mum must feel when she is confused. My brain has the acuity of chocolate pudding.”

Mum is good and we are exchanging emails already. I am deliriously happy, having awakened in my own bed and now enjoying a really good cup of coffee. The brain is less pudding-y and more protoplasm-y this morning.

a frosty few words…

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IMG_9406As you may recall I wrote about the hail storm we had a couple of weeks ago. I have been busy with insurance claims and organising repairs but all in all things are going well. This week we had another ‘ice event’ that was just too much fun to photograph, to be missed. The frost did some damage but not quite as bad as the black frost we had last winter. However, it must be said, between what the grasshoppers ravaged and the hail shredded, the frost has furthered the case for bulldozing everything and starting over. Our corner of town is looking very sorry for itself at the moment.

Still. There is beauty to be found.

frost-droplet-grass

That moment between ice and droplets

The morning the frost was heaviest, the temp was 2C (35.6F). That was the morning I took most of these photos and when most of my toes were lost to all feeling. They have regained it, thankfully. One of the few difficulties taking photos with the iPhone is the ‘touch screen’. It doesn’t like cold digits nor ones appropriately garbed in gloves. However we persisted, with the occasional ‘sotto voce’ epithet disappearing as ice crystals into the atmosphere.

Here you are, epithet free, my version of frost in the arid lands of Alice.

the five year mark…

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(This is the post I wrote last Friday before the ice storm. We had been home two days when the storm came and so I thought this post could wait for more current events!)

Many of you were not following when I started my blog nearly five years ago.(a very early post you might enjoy here) I started it while having radiation treatment in Darwin, 1000 miles from home. It was a soul searching, solitary, and challenging, but also very rewarding 7 weeks.

Alone in the light.

Alone in the light.

I have just returned from my five year consultation with the surgeon, and the tests that confirmed, all is well. The surgeon told me in October, five years from when I started the aromatase inhibitor medication I will be able to discontinue it. Further, she told me that the mammogram imaging has improved so much that I will be able to discontinue the difficult breast MRI test, unless the high resolution mammogram shows something unusual. (Mammogram remains an extraordinarily painful compression of one’s sensitive body parts, however!) Five years is a significant benchmark and I was greatly relieved, feeling very very fortunate.

The lady in the corner quietly crying into her tissues reminded me how far I had come.

For many years walking and enjoying nature has been a calming habit for me. It keeps me centred and feeling normal, even when things are abnormal. The recent week we spent in Adelaide began with a breast MRI the first day, and ended on the last day with the mammogram and surgeon consultation. In between were five days. I hesitate to say it was an uncertain time, because nothing in life is certain. But no doubt our awareness of uncertainty is sometimes heightened. One morning I told my husband I need to go find some light to photograph. The Adelaide Botanic Garden is not far from our hotel and I thought that would be the place. He wanted to join me, which was fine. He understands my frequent stops and contortionist positions to capture images I’m chasing. Here was my therapy for that day.

For all of society’s increasing interest in taking photos, there are still life moments that escape being photographed. The moment of certainty (however temporary) in the surgeon’s room, was not a Kodak moment. But this set of photos above, taken during that week, will be in my mind for a very long time.

This final photo is no prize winner, but it was a shared meal with our daughter and my husband, a good bottle of wine at our favourite Chinese restaurant with my husband’s grateful words;

‘Here’s to good boob health!’ Always a good toast!

'Here's to good boob health'

‘Here’s to good boob health’

hail hath some fury…

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This was not the blog post I intended to publish today. It will wait for a few days. I thought you might like to see what is going on in this little corner of the world. In the background are the sounds of sweeping, chain saws, leaf blowing, power sprayers and pumps. The sounds of humans cleaning up.

Yesterday started out blissfully domestic for me. Having only returned two days prior from a week away I was baking bread and ironing all the washing I’d done since our return. I’m always happy to have a day at home when I don’t have to go anywhere. Also, we had rain the night before, and I’d taken a few photos of the sun sparkling on the moisture laden plants in the garden.

And I worked on the aforementioned blog post, so a nice bit of creativity mixed with domesticity.

the approaching doom

the approaching doom

Despite the predictions, around 2pm I noted that we had not had any rain as yet, and there appeared none on the horizon. By 3.30 my husband rang from his desk at the Uni saying, have a look at the sky toward Mt. Gillen, it’s very dramatic. I said, yes, I’ve just taken a photo of it. Everything had changed and was looking ominous, but no severe storm warnings that I was aware of. By 4pm all hell broke loose. The hail and wind was upon us before I knew what had happened. I had been at the stove, cooking soup for dinner when I realised I shouldn’t be there, near the window. I ran for the hallway, the strongest point in the house. From there I could see the ferocity of the wind and I could hear the hail smashing the skylights in both bathrooms at either ends of the hallway. I was deeply hoping it didn’t smash the windows. We have a lot of double glazed glass. The 90kph winds were driving icy projectiles at a nearly horizontal angle so that they bounced off the glass and piled at the base of the windows or walls, or were carried away in the river of water flowing down our breezeway.

remains of the large tree

remains of the large tree

There was a large tree at the northwest corner of our property, but it was on the neighbour’s land. Twice before, both times when I was in the house during a storm, huge limbs had broken out of the tree and fallen on our patio and damaged it, one nearly missing the corner of the house. Our neighbour didn’t seem to want to do much about the tree so it regrew. But now virtually the entire tree was laying horizontally across his pool, breaking the fence and damaging tiles and the cover. Certainly that tree will not be bothering us any longer, nor will we get the much appreciated shade from it.

water mixed with ice, the mountain no longer visible

water mixed with ice, the mountain no longer visible

Finally, my husband was able to get home from the Uni, through flooded roads that were unrecognisable due to water coverage. He told me one house up the street from ours had water flowing through it! By the time he arrived I had set up buckets and mopped up places where the wind had driven the water through any likely crevices. A rammed earth house is not known for it’s tight fitting joins, but we’d never in 15 years had anything quite like this.

leaf litter blown against the glass with the ice beginning to melt below and sun peeking out

leaf litter blown against the glass with the ice beginning to melt below and sun peeking out

sky through the sky light

sky through the sky light

The rain and hail came in waves, with a bit of sun peeking through, just to relax us into a false sense of security. Sure enough, both bathroom skylights resembled swiss cheese and there were small hail stones and debris on the floors. But really, if the rain was going to come through, they were the two best places for it to happen because there were drains in the floors, and the tiles had a wet proofing membrane painted on underneath them, so they are likely to dry out ok. Not so sure about the joinery in one of the bathrooms as it seems to have absorbed quite a bit of moisture.

After we had cleaned most of what we could, and called emergency services, I got back to making the soup. Once again, I was at the kitchen sink, topping and tailing green beans. I glanced over my shoulder, toward the mountain. In a break from the precipitation the sun shone through. As the warm rays hit the piles of hail and ice, fog rose and an etherial light settled over the whole area. Neighbourhood children came running out from everywhere to play in it. It was as if Mother Nature was trying to make up for the havoc she had just wreaked.

ice turning to fog

ice turning to fog

Emergency services came about 9.30pm last night to assess the damage, but they said the crews were all so busy it would be a while to get to us. I’m sure there are many people worse off than us so we will wait our turn. They told us there was another storm cell coming. They were right. More hail and more pieces of skylight joined them on the floors, but nothing as bad as the first wave.

The plants in the garden that had recovered surprisingly well from the grasshopper plague are now laying in shreds again. My newly planted herb garden has had the shock of its young life.

But all in all, we are lucky, and we know it. We await the next surprise Life has in store for us.

the gift…

One evening I was at the kitchen sink, cutting up veggies for dinner. The window in this part of the kitchen faces mostly southeast. Aware of the golden light shafts coming into the kitchen from behind me, I turned, looking over my shoulder to the northwest which is the position of the setting sun this time of year. After a very cloudy couple of days, it was especially glorious. But my eyes found a few whiskers of grass, rimmed with golden light and I dried my hands and ran for the iPhone. The grass was probably 12 metres outside of the door. When I returned, I showed my bemused husband what I was photographing. He said “How did you see that from across the kitchen with your back turned?” I replied, jokingly, “It’s my gift.” And later I realised, it really is one of my gifts. That is why I am a Light Chaser. I have to be, to share my gift.

revised overnight sourdough, and the trouble with no bubbles

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close up of the gorgeousness

close up of the gorgeousness

If you don’t eat bread or are not a fan of cooking posts, you will want to find something else to read. Several of my readers are interested in this process, which is why I’m writing it; I’m not planning to become a food blog. Normal service will resume soon:)

Okay, so I know our winters are mild compared to the North American winters where I grew up. However, we do get very cold nights in the minus range (-6, 21F) and certainly in the low single digits regularly. Having no central heat, this means our house gets cold overnight. And the follow on from this means that my overnight proving of bread method (adapted from Celia’s original method here) needed to be altered.

Here is Celia’s latest adaptation of her overnight method, which incorporates some helpful videos and also adapts the recipe to a higher hydration and uses some spelt flour, but is mostly wheat. She does also have a 100% spelt recipe here, however it uses her normal wheat starter, I believe and mine uses a spelt starter.

Here is my latest adaptation of Celia’s latest overnight method which incorporates more hydration, more whole meal spelt, but is 100% spelt including the starter. I have also changed the timings to allow for the cooler winter temperatures.

Latest loaf from Revised Winter Sourdough recipe

Latest loaf from Revised Winter Sourdough recipe

and the crumb…

crumb from Revised Winter Sourdough recipe

crumb from Revised Winter Sourdough recipe

Confused? Just use my latest method above for a higher hydration loaf that also incorporates more whole meal spelt, creating a more wholesome and flavourful loaf. If you get confused about technique, consult Celia’s blog, she is the expert and has great tutorials. I’m just learning, but my recipe does work, as you can see in the photos.

my secret weapon

my secret weapon

I also want to share with those who bake bread, my secret weapon for those cold nights, which produce quite varied results in the proving stage of the overnight dough. Yes, I have a secret weapon that does not destroy life, but helps it along, especially if you are a little ‘yeastie’ living in sourdough, or if you have cold feet, but that’s another post… I present to you the rice filled heat bag. Not novel, probably been used to help bread raise before too, but it was new to me for this purpose so I thought I would share it.
In the morning if I find the overnight low in the house has prevented the dough from proving to the expansion it does in warmer weather I put the heat bag in the microwave for a minute on high. I then place it under the covered bowl to gently boost the proving activity. Also, I have found that doing the same thing by sandwiching the heat bag between two baking trays with the shaped loaf on the top tray, gently speeds up the raising process that might otherwise be painfully slow if you are waiting to bake due to other pressing things. Just make sure you only heat the bag to the normal temperature you would place it on your skin so the heat is a gentle one. You don’t want the dough to over-prove.

My starter has never had bubbles until today. It was an odd thing and why I didn’t give up on it I don’t know. From my first loaf of bread, I moved through the various steps of bred making based on times because here was no evidence of activity, until after the overnight prove and then it looks like this…

Dough after overnight prove

Dough after overnight prove

I did some reading this week and an experienced baker in Leura NSW says the starter needs to be kept in a plastic container with the lid ajar so that it gets air. This was the first I had heard this, so two days ago I tried it. Today when I needed to feed the starter before going away for a week, there were bubbles!! If you have thoughts on this, please leave them below. As I said, I’m still learning!

Also, please have a read of my friend Francesca’s bread baking adventures here, and my friend Sandra’s extra handy post with a calculation table for various amounts of starter so you will waste less. This incredible community continues to grow and develop much like the starter Celia began it all with. We are all part of a valuable movement that cares about the quality of our food, and those with whom we share it.

Happy baking. xx

 

 

 

in the grip of gidgee…

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Cue the dramatic theme from Jaws…da-dum, da-dum… Alice Springs has been in the grip of an invisible threat…the Gidgee. Friday morning we awoke to a smell of very strong LPG gas throughout the house. It was alarming at first, until we realised, outside it was worse. That was the clue. It was the annual invasion of the Gidgee, or Acacia Cambagei. Releasing their odours far and wide these trees always raise comments and pulled faces among the residents; but this particular day, when we had heavy cloud cover and rain to trap the smells close to the earth, it was extra special–as in awful.

My plan to have eggs for breakfast was abandoned for something that didn’t require the gas cooker to prepare them. Ugh. In fact, eating itself was almost abandoned, except that I am a hungry girl in the mornings! After breakfast we went into town to buy groceries. There was no escaping the smell as it even permeated the processed air in the grocery store. But outside was worse. We returned home feeling quite bilious.

The local ABC radio announcer swears she left a note for her husband before going to work on the early shift to ‘have the gas bottle checked today’, due to the smell! She is new to town and has not experienced the joys of the Gidgee. Nor have most of us experienced it quite to this degree. I pity the poor tourist who has lobbed into town for a few days, wondering why the travel literature did not warn of the smell of Alice Springs!

I sacrificed myself to the challenge of locating a Gidgee tree to show you. Smelly though they are, finding one proved difficult, as they are fairly nondescript in appearance. Since they are an Australian native tree I thought my best chance to photograph one would be at Olive Pink Botanic Garden. If I could smell it, I could find it. But it was more difficult that it sounded; in fact, gave myself a headache sniffing it out. I tramped the trails and studied the tree names, pointing my nose skyward like an animal tracking its prey. Sniff, sniff. No Gidgee here.

As I searched– the Sturt Desert Pea…

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White Cypress Pine…

White Cedar with moisture and light

White Cypress Pine with moisture and light

Bush Tomato…

australia-bush-tomato

Bush Tomato blossoms with moisture

Eucalyptus…

Eucalyptus Orbifolia with moisture drops

Eucalyptus Orbifolia with moisture drops

  …revealed their droplets of adornment, remaining after the rain and cool temperatures. These were rare sights in our normally arid lands.

Acacia Cambagei, or Gidgee, or stinking tree!

Acacia Cambagei, or Gidgee, or stinking tree!

And then all at once ‘ugh’ there it was, that repugnant aroma at once a happy discovery, but also instantly making me sick again. I had sniffed it out–literally. Fortunately the intense smell that blanketed the town only lasted while the cloud cover was low. The now localised aroma was at least escapable. And so I did, escape home to warn you…beware the grip of the Gidgee!

those three little words…

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If you already know the meaning of ‘relative humidity’* you won’t need to refer to the paragraphs at the end of this post, either way I don’t think you will really need it, but it’s there just in case. All I know for certain is, everything is relative. My four days and five nights in Darwin were, relatively miserable, temperature-wise and humidity-wise–but otherwise, it was a good break, if by ‘good break’ you mean makes you really appreciate being home again.

I decided some weeks ago to accompany my mostly sensible husband to Darwin while he participated in the NT Golf Open. I think he would agree with me in saying he didn’t actually compete, because competing would be another relative thing, as compared to endure, I suppose. Let’s just say he was not in the hunt for top honours. He did finish in front of  a handful of players out of the 200+ field so I suppose that is something. And more’s the pity, he did not even enjoy it. But I’m sure the next time he considers going to Darwin to play golf, the experience will immediately bring him to his senses. If not, he will have me to remind him, for which I’m sure he will be, not so much grateful as, annoyed.

My plan was to catch up with friends. That was all. We usually stay in the city (small though it is) of Darwin, but this trip we decided to try a ‘boutique motel’ and hire a car. It was small, very small, but perfectly formed, save the very hard mattress; but good air conditioning and that was most important. Wipe that romantic notion about ceiling fans and mosquito nets being adequate in the tropics from your mind’s eye. That is just wrong. 

The suburb of Parap offers several cafés, restaurants, a gourmet food shop, a couple of gift shops and a gallery and a couple of other options, and a Saturday morning market that has always been a favourite, going way back to our days of living in Darwin. We saw the very first few stalls begin to trade about 30 years ago and it has steadily grown into a Darwin institution. Sadly, there is little food from the market I am able to eat these days, but wandering through at 7.30am, humidity at 93% and temperature at 26C (79F) was still worth it to grab a few photos.

It was great to catch up with old friends and compare war stories. None of us escapes the ‘stuff’. Just as none of us will get out of this alive. We swap wisdom and compare treatments, catch up on our children and travels and before you know it the afternoon has slipped away. And at the end of the visit we always agree, we are relatively good. Lots of people we know are worse. Perhaps we are a tiny bit delusional too.

We managed to take in a wonderful exhibition by paper artist, Winsome Joblingand also to fit in a walk along the East Point foreshore, looking back at the city through Poinciana trees that have yet to gain their leaves and flowers because they have yet to get the dry season weather needed for that. It was hard work for me in the morning humidity. Later in the day I was ‘at one’ with that aforementioned hard mattress in the air conditioned motel room.

To complain about the weather does nothing to improve it, but it was good to know it wasn’t only this desert dweller that was feeling the distress of extreme humidity where dry breezes should have been flowing. The locals were even feeling it.

I gave up drinking hot coffee in preference to iced coffees, had two showers a day and had to hand wash undies and clothes because I forgot the ‘sweat factor’ of the top end when packing for a time when the dry season is not yet in full swing.

We often remark that travel makes us appreciate home more, and this trip was especially true in that respect. But I wasn’t expecting what happened at the end. I arrived home and stepped off the plane onto the tarmac (there are no air bridges at Alice Springs airport) into a morning, post rain showers, where the humidity was exactly 93%, as it had been most of the mornings in Darwin, except that the temperature was 16C (60F), ten degrees below the Darwin temps in the early mornings. It felt glorious! And that, my friends, is the perfect illustration of relative humidity. As if blazoned on a neon sign atop the airport terminal it dawned on me, yet again, the wisdom of those three words ‘everything is relative’.

IMG_8687

home again, rain and all

(*Here is what Uncle Wikipedia says about relative humidity...“Humans are sensitive to humidity because the human body uses evaporative cooling, enabled by perspiration, as the primary mechanism to rid itself of waste heat. Perspiration evaporates from the skin more slowly under humid conditions than under arid conditions. Because humans perceive a low rate of heat transfer from the body to be equivalent to a higher air temperature,[3] the body experiences greater distress of waste heat burden at high humidity than at lower humidity, given equal temperatures.

For example, if the air temperature is 24 °C (75 °F) and the relative humidity is zero percent, then the air temperature feels like 21 °C (69 °F).[4] If the relative humidity is 100 percent at the same air temperature, then it feels like 27 °C (80 °F).[4] In other words, if the air is 24 °C (75 °F) and contains saturated water vapor, then the human body cools itself at the same rate as it would if it were 27 °C (80 °F) and dry.[4] The heat index and the humidex are indices that reflect the combined effect of temperature and humidity on the cooling effect of the atmosphere on the human body.”)

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