The day I saw the Orion Nebula

The Mount Burnett Observatory 45cm monster

The Mount Burnett Observatory’s 45cm monster

Hello lovely readers. I hope you survived the festive season and are tackling 2015 with gusto, alcohol and some laughs.

Those of you who’ve been visiting the Lily Pad for a while know that I love nature and science. Yes I do love things other than cats, quiet, you! In fact there’s a DOG in this post, so there.

If you’re new to the Lily Pad, you’ll find lots of deranged, sweary ramblings about animals and the natural world in general on this site. If you’re not interested in any of these things, ABORT ABORT GET OUT NOW.

I’m a big nerd and I never let my lack of science aptitude outweigh my passion, so despite having almost zero astronomical experience, I was thrilled last week when I spotted a tweet from the lovely Upulie promoting the Mount Burnett Observatory’s annual open day. The Mount Burnett Observatory is, in their own words, “An astronomical society based at Mount Burnett Observatory, in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne. The Observatory was originally built in 1972 by Monash University. In 2011 the site was formally taken over by our organisation and it now has a new life as a community observatory.”

The community aspect of this organisation was soon very obvious. Upulie, The Child, and I rocked up late in the afternoon, hoping to catch a dome talk, the BBQ and then the oh-so-precious night-time stargazing. We weren’t disappointed. The team at the MBO are friendly and enthusiastic and we were soon up in the dome being blown away by the incredibly detailed knowledge of the telescope’s curator, Ken, ably assisted by Barry Cleland, the Observatory’s Librarian. Together they explained the history of the huge monster that was later going to help us peer out into the universe, and were incredibly generous with their expertise and knowledge.

We were encouraged to take a photo down the barrel of the telescope…

Astronomical selfies FTW

Astronomical selfies FTW

… and we even got to wind the dome – outstanding!

Upulie winding the dome. SO GREAT.

Upulie winding the dome. I’m winding a freaking astronomy dome, kids!

We saw the Sun through a solar telescope. OMFG. I SAW SUN SPOTS, PEOPLE! Mind. Blown. But wait, there was more.

After a very friendly BBQ, a paper plane competition (thanks for helping The Child out, Ken, your plane design is now enshrined as the ultimate in our house), and a visit from Dodge, the neighbourhood dog, we enjoyed an entertaining presentation from Perry Vlahos, the Observatory’s Media Liaison, on what we could expect in the skies later that night.

As the sun went down, a variety of other freestanding telescopes appeared and we saw the crescent Moon, and Venus. These words really don’t convey how exciting this all was. I was pretty content by then (SUN SPOTS, PEOPLE! VENUS, FFS!) but there was still some night-time viewing through the big telescope to be done.

Back up in the dome, we saw the moon again. After a bit of negotiation (thanks again, Ken), as the night became darker, I had one of the most thrilling experiences of my life. Looking up in the dark, through the dome aperture, they started to re-position the telescope and swing the dome around so we could view the Orion Nebula. It’s hard to explain why this had such a huge impact on me. As the aperture moved, suddenly different stars were coming into view and I felt an intense connection to this as ACTUAL SCIENCE rather than a tourism experience. No amount of watching The Universe compares to being in a working telescope dome.

Ken did his magic, and in a flash we were looking at the Orion Nebula. Holy crap. An actual piece of deep space, or “deep sky”. There were the four newborn stars at the centre of the nebula, with the swirling mass of gas and dust. And I was looking at them, with my own eyes.

Very, very late in the night, we were ridiculously privileged to see Jupiter, along with three of its moons in transit – Io, Europa, and Callisto. We could even see some of the bands of different coloured gases streaking across the surface. I don’t think I’ve ever exclaimed “Oh Wow!” so many times in one day.

We became members on the spot and I’m looking forward to more adventures and getting to know the MBO team better. My heartfelt thanks to them for making the event so enjoyable.

As we walked to the car, we gazed up at the edge of the Milky Way, so depressingly invisible from my back yard, and marveled.

The Moon. The Sun. Venus. Orion. Jupiter.

What a brilliant day, what a stunning sky.

I can’t wait to go back.

You can see the Mount Burnett Observatory’s website here, Facebook here, and Twitter here. I recommend you take a look.

Addendum: We also saw two satellites but I forgot because JUPITER and ORION and SUNSPOTS and TIRED. Sorry.

Have you ever been in an astronomical observatory?

 

Catapalusa the Second

Jones thinks the sequel is not a patch on the original

Jones thinks the sequel isn’t a patch on the original

Hi Frog Lovers. Back in May I had a one-blog-cats-on-the-internet-mega-festival and it was so successful* I thought I’d hold another one. So I started to write (I use that term very loosely) Catapalusa the Second – now with extra Prairie Dog.

Then Jane from The King’s Tribune published this blog post about how her little Italian Greyhound, Milton, almost died last night. I watched the drama unfold on Twitter and I’ve never wanted to own a 25kg dog so much in all my life (Milton needed a blood transfusion from a dog at least that big).

Milton pulled through, thanks to Jane’s dedication and another amazing example of the great good that can come from social media. However, Jane is now facing some hefty vet bills and more to come.

So, now I hope that all you animal lovers out there will donate to Jane’s fund to help pay for Milton’s vet bills.

If you can, please help.

Here is Catapalusa the Second to help you get in the mood.

No this isn’t Milton but it IS an Italian Greyhound smooching a cat. I’m sure Milton would if he had access to an obliging feline.

Cat perch. I want one. My neck muscles could do with a workout.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExZ0i04pSeY

Cats are so demanding (part 2)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YIjauUB1r5M

Damnit. Now I want a baby prairie dog.

So. Take pity on a sick frog and send me your tired, your weary, but most of all your favourite animal videos. And help Milton too. Please.

* It was not at all successful but I liked the videos so whatever.

 

Catapalusa

Jones. On the internet.

Jones. On the internet.


Hi Frog-Lovers. Yes, again, this is a post-that-is-not-a-post. Things are crazy here at the Lily Pad, between work and studying my coaching qualification, writing has taken a back seat, from where it’s constantly asking “Are we there yet?”, kicking the back of my seat and throwing things at my head. Writing is a bit of a bastard, really.

In lieu of a real post, then, here are some cats. Lots and lots of cats. Oh and David Tennant. Enjoy!

I believe I cat fly…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UssVI-tYIrg

A cat. Holding a human’s hand. Yes.

Why the hell would you NOT want to watch cat videos? Oh and David Tennant.

Send me the links to your favourite cat videos. Please!

I’m linking up again with Laugh Link. Join in, add your link, or just have a browse and a laugh.
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The Laugh Link crew are:


Emily

Have a Laugh on Me
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Rachel

Redcliffe Style
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Kimberley

Melbourne Mum
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Alison

Talking Frankly
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Vanessa

26 Years and Counting
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Another one bites the perch

Hi everyone. I’ve been very busy this week with work and study so this is another post that’s not a post.

Instead, I leave you with this wonderful video that made me smile this week. Bet you can’t help but smile when you watch it.

What’s made you smile this week?

Linking up with Laugh Link again this week. Click, comment, laugh. Link up if you have a funny/weird/smiley post of your own. Doesn’t need to be a new one!

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We’re going to need a bigger bird – welcome to Laugh Link!

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I love nature. I have a thing for nature. No, not in the Cory Bernardi way. In a “wide eyed wonderment at the beauty and majesty of the natural world” way.

Which is a pity, because nature is a mental arsehole.

Take birds, for example.

Even the bird-lovers amongst us have probably been shat on by a bird at some point. Yeah, that’s pretty bad, but, fascinating as their toilet habits are, I want to talk about the propensity of our feathered friends to be utterly mental.

Let me tell you a story. A while back I was walking through the Melbourne central business district, minding my own business, as you do in a central business district, when I felt two little feet suddenly stand on my head. No clawing. No pecking. Just… standing. The creature attached to the claws just stood on my head for a few seconds, and then, as suddenly as it had arrived, it was gone. I looked around and there, standing on the footpath looking back at me, was a magpie lark.

Now, a magpie lark is not an aggressive bird. Mental, stupid and confused by life, but not aggressive.

Unlike real magpies, which are definitely all of the above. Here’s a magpie lark for your eyeball pleasure:

This was one of those miniature magpies they have on the emblem of South Australia. Imagine a normal, aggro, mental bastard magpie, and then wash it at the wrong temperature. You’d think throwing a bird in the wash with your undies wouldn’t improve its temperament, but apparently it does, because instead of making a magpie lark angry, shrinking them into magpie mini-me’s just makes them more mental.

A magpie lark, an otherwise typically functioning member of the Grallina genus, decided to stand on my head while I was walking down the street. Was it tired? Was it confused? Or was it just fucking with me? Did it land on my head with the intention of carrying me off to its nest for leisurely consumption later?

We’re going to need a bigger bird, Frank.

Let’s assume it was tired and see if this hypothesis (cough) flies. You’re a bird, flapping along above Spring Street.

You think “Wow, I’m really quite tired. Now, where can I perch for a moment to catch my breath? Looks like my options are the roof of that building (good, solid, safe, and stationary), or this tree (good, solid, safe, my natural habitat, stationary). Oh wait! There’s a small, dark brown, furry round thing, bobbing along at a brisk five kilometres an hour, weaving from side to side now and then to avoid other furry (and some non-furry) round things. Perfect!”

Is that what went through that mental bird’s mind before it landed on my head? If I fits, I sits?

We’ll never know.

What I do know is that after it flew off, I looked around at my fellow pedestrians for some support.

Did that really happen? Did a bird just fly down, perch on my head, and then, presumably after taking a quick breather and checking the time, fly off again?

I’ve never seen a group of people so intent on looking ahead and not meeting my eye, doing their best Sergeant Schultz impersonations.

Nope, we saw NOTHING. You’re on your own, mental-bird-attracting freak.

I can’t help thinking I heard that bastard mental bird laughing as I walked away.

Has nature ever been mental to you?

Welcome to the first Laugh Link post! Laugh Link is a linkup created by a group of bloggers to provide an outlet for humour writing. The Laugh Link Crew are:

Emily

Have a Laugh on Me
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Instagram
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Rachel

Redcliffe Style
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Kimberley

Melbourne Mum
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Alison

Talking Frankly
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Gaynor

Gaynor Alder
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Vanessa

26 Years and Counting
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You’ll see this linkup move around the Laugh Link Crew’s blogs so please feel free to go visit them and explore these seriously funny gals. 
Now it’s your turn! Do you have a funny blog post you’d like to share? There’s no theme this week, so let your imagination go wild. The only requirement to link up? MAKE US CHUCKLE. 
That’s it.
Link away, and don’t forget to have a read of what other people link to – there’s going to be some damn funny stuff!

How much salmon can a bear bear?

Happy Friday, frog-lovers.

A little light stress-relief for you.

Feeling anxious?

Go watch a group of bears catch salmon in real-time. (I’d embed the video but it won’t let me).

And if that hasn’t relaxed you into a coma yet, try this video of a young guy raising a baby hummingbird:


Is that something in your eye?

You’re welcome.

See you around the pond, frog-lovers.

A room full of nature nerds goes wild

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Last Friday I achieved a life goal I never thought possible.

I sat in the same room as one of my childhood idols. If you follow me on Twitter you’ll know that I was extremely excited to be attending Sir David Attenborough – A Life On Earth.

I couldn’t quite believe it.

I was going to see the man who was responsible for my fascination with nature and in particular, animals. He’s been a major formative influence in my life.

I’d spent the afternoon working myself into a slowly building crescendo of tizz. 

I dressed up. I put on makeup. I decided to drive into the city. I fretted about what time to leave.

I left ridiculously early.

I went to the wrong car park.*

Once I finally got to the right car park I gulped down a sophisticated pre-show dinner.

I am all class.
Blogger discovers that an iPhone camera makes an excellent mirror,
allowing her to touch up pointless makeup in the crappy Crown food court.

Then I realised that I had no idea how to get to the Conference and Exhibition Centre on foot.**

So naturally I walked in the wrong direction, my panic and stress reaching breath-stealing proportions.

Finally! Found the right place. Queued and bought his autobiography – DEVASTATED that I hadn’t queued early enough to get a signed copy.

Not a signed copy because LATE

There was a real buzz in the Plenary, where an intriguing mixture of the very old, very young and hipsters in silly hats waited with a shared sense of excitement – we were about to see someone very, very special. 

I tried to control my nerves. I wanted to be totally “present” to soak it all in.

Why was I nervous? It was ridiculous. I wasn’t going to meet him. He was about to come on stage in front of hundreds of people and he was probably less nervous than I was.

This blog post about meeting Attenborough by Lucy Cooke was probably playing on my mind. Attenborough is my Jesus too.

The lights finally dimmed. 

The man himself came on stage and a room full of nature nerds went wild with applause, whistles and there may even have been a small squee from this aging nature fangirl.

A terrible photo but a fantastic night.

I’ve written a review of the night here at the Shake. Please go have a gander, and if you get a chance, go see the man in person. You won’t be disappointed.

* MCEC, the parking instructions on your website sucks.
** Crown, your signage sucks and your pedestrian precinct smells of excrement and vomit.

How I took a praying mantis to McDonalds (nature is an arsehole but humans are worse)


Nawwwwww such a cutie! But keep away from my fries, OK?
Last week I took a praying mantis to McDonalds. It was a female False Garden Mantid and I took her there by mistake, but it’s not the first time I’ve taken insects to random places. 
I remember having one of those plastic bug catcher toys as a child, a book on Australian insects and an insatiable curiosity.
Oh and a magnifying glass. Sorry, ants. I was an arsehole.
The praying mantis was a personal fave.
My long-suffering mother would ask, “You haven’t brought any creatures home today in your school bag, have you?”
“No mum.”
At that moment there was a more than 70% chance that in my bedroom was a 15 centimetre-long brown mantis swaying gracefully, tilting its weird triangular head from side to side, wondering how the fuck it had ended up on the bed of a small child in the suburbs of our nation’s capital.
There were also the countless tadpoles and frogs. Butterflies. Grasshoppers. Spiders. Snails.
All judiciously caught and brought into the house to be “looked after”. More often than not this served as a euphemism for being stared at for an hour, forgotten and allowed to run riot around the house.
Do you know how small a newly hatched praying mantis is? I do. The little nest I’d lovingly installed in my bug catcher broke open, spewing tiny, perfectly-formed mantis babies out through its holes, along the mantel piece to dubious freedom. We were finding miniscule mantis kids all over the lounge room for weeks.
“Watch out mum, there’s a mantis on your chair!”
(Deep sigh). “Of course there is.”
There I was last week, some 37-or-so years later, pulling out of the McDonalds drive-thru. I looked up and found my gaze unexpectedly caught in the steely triangular glare of two beady little green eyes.
Look at her ickle face! LOOK AT IT!
What the fuck?
Yes, there she was, a little green mantis, sitting on my car bonnet LOOKING STRAIGHT AT ME. Like the next wave in hood ornaments for the uber-environmentally-friendly motorist.
Except her look was anything but happy.
Her look said “How could you leave me on that basil plant? How can you expect me to survive on a diet of grasshoppers and aphids AND WHERE ARE MY FRIES, BITCH!?”
I was temporarily stumped. What to do?
If I drove off and she was blown away not only would she smash into the windscreen, breaking her exoskeleton and my heart, but she would also never get her fries.
So I did what any person in my situation would do.
I slowed down to 30 kilometres an hour, turned my hazard lights on, and inched home slowly in the left lane so that my praying mantis wouldn’t get blown away.*
I then took photos of her and tweeted about our little jaunt, before lovingly popping her back onto her basil plant. And not once did she bite me, despite me not sharing my fries with her because I love nature and all but come on, there are limits.
As a child, what I liked about creatures was that if you piss one off they’ll run away, bite or sting you. Nothing much has changed.
Nature is an arsehole, but at least it’s honest about it.
Unlike humans.
What a couple of fucked-up weeks we’ve had. Politics here has reduced itself to tales of men in threateningly blue ties, threats that an LNP government will interfere with our collective uterus, questions about the PM’s partner’s sexuality, and accusations that the leader of our country has breasts.
How very dare they.
Humans really are arseholes.
I’m always rescuing creatures that could bite or sting me and releasing them while those around me are screeching “Kill it! Kill it!”
They may have a point, but frankly I find humans far more vicious. So I’m off to find a small animal to take on a trip to the post box.
* Yes I know they have wings and she could have flown away SHUT UP.
My son found the photo and created a Minecraft/Praying Mantis mashup.
You’re welcome.
 Have you ever taken part of nature somewhere random by accident?

Would you change your sex, if you could never change back again?

Who are you calling a sequential hermaphrodite?!
© Deviney | Dreamstime.com

 

Hello you wonderful person you. How are you doing? How’s that cold? I recommend Vitamin C and a hot toddy.

I know, I’ve been neglecting you lately.

My work has been mentally busy (appropriate I guess) and I’ve been a bit of a writerly gal, tarting about in online mags instead of here.

Fear not, I’m back blathering on about vaginas and nature and toilets again.

On the subject of vaginas and nature and toilets, did you know that some creatures can start life as one sex and then change into another? It’s called dichogamy, and those creatures are referred to as sequential hermaphrodites.

No I’m not about to confess some major life-changing decision.

Sequential hermaphrodites can be born either sex and change to the other, or have both sets of gonads but perform either female or male functions during different stages of life. Thank you Wikipedia.

How terrific would it be if humans were sequential hermaphrodites?

What would the impact be? Updated for October 2017: HOW’S THAT FOR A MIND-BLOWER, “IT’S OK TO SAY NO” ARSEHOLES?

Most sequential hermaphrodites can only change once, so it would probably be an all-or-nothing deal.

Would we all be male? Or all female? Something different altogether?

What would be the advantages of changing?

Fellas, imagine how much more wardrobe space you’d need.

Gals, imagine not having to sit down to pee.

Imagine what a different movie Finding Nemo might have been if Marlin had behaved like a real male clownfish. Male clownfish stay in their anemone and change to female if a mate is lost, so they can attract another mate and continue making perfect little sequentially hermaphroditic offspring with broken fins and too much interest in the drop-off.

Nemo who?

Would you change your sex, if you could never change back again?

Conversations with my brain: Nature is an arsehole

Why the fuck is there a picture of Stras at the top of this post?
Looks delectable (cough). Mmmm.
Read on.
Image

Brains really are arseholes.

I guess that explains why I failed Biology.


Seriously, though, it doesn’t help me one bit when I try to sleep and my brain decides to write a comedy routine. An hour-long comedy extravaganza, as it happens.


And a pretty shit one at that.


It was called Gently Mental and one day it may appear somewhere other than inside my head.


Or not.


One of the themes from this questionable comedy classic was how much nature, as well as my brain, is an arsehole.


Nature has no trouble with not being nice. It just does what it pleases, lets it all hang out, without ever fearing judgement.


The natural world has absolutely no problem at all being a total bastard, and frankly, I’m jealous.


Take a few examples:

I recently talked about how I disposed of a particularly objectionable slice of beetroot.

That wasn’t the last example of my creative food disposal techniques.


Have you ever eaten Stras?


Strasbourg is a type of lunch meat, made from the snouts, ears and bums of various unidentifiable hooved animals, mixed with sawdust.** It’s also called Devon, Fritz, and OH MY GOD IS THAT EVEN FOOD?!


This delightful combination is mashed together and moulded into a tube. You then slice this tube up and inflict it on your children in the guise of “Stras sandwiches”. Often served with tomato sauce.


Stras sandwiches were a lunch of choice on the camping trips of my childhood.


Safe to say, my hatred of Stras is only outweighed by my hatred of pickled beetroot.


Me:        “What’s that noise?”


Brain:    “It’s coming from under the log. Oh no.”


Me:        “Now mum’s looking under there. We’re in trouble now.”


Brain:    “It sounds like something’s eating under there. Jesus! What kind of moron would voluntarily eat that crap?”

Me:        “It’s a Blue Tongue. No denying it now.”


Brain:    “Why not? We could pretend that Stras occurs spontaneously in nature.”


Me:        “Nope, I’m going to confess.”


Brain:    “No don’t be a fool! Shit. You’ve already done it. Idiot.”


It’s quite hard to deny that you’ve thrown your stras under the log you’re sitting on, when there’s a massive Blue Tongue lizard sitting under there chewing on a big slab of the stuff. And not being quiet about it.


There it was, munching away, thinking its reptilian Christmases had all come at once.


A windfall for you, mate, but pretty damn embarrassing for me. Thanks, bastard.


* Under a pile of rubbish at the Whitehorse Recycling and Waste Centre, I suspect. I know, I’m going to hell.

** I have no idea what’s really in Stras. Please don’t tell me.


Have you ever caught nature being an arsehole?