HoLOTR Marathon Part 3

June 14, 2022 at 2:40 pm (Uncategorized)

Part 1

Part 2

That opening scene. . . wow.

“A little to your left.”

That is the mightiest line in all films, of all time.

Incidentally Luke Evans is gay. Always makes me happy to add another famous LGBTIQA+ person to the ever-increasing list.

The scene against the dead ringbearers is excellent too. Christopher Lee was 93 or so, too ill to travel, and still managed (along with several wigs and a stunt double) to convincingly beat up a bunch of potent enemies with panache to spare. And the affection between Cate Blanchett and Ian McKellan is real.

I genuinely forgot for a second I was watching the Hobbit. I thought it was LOTR. If that’s not the highest possible compliment, I don’t know what is.

The greatest tragedies come sooo close to ending happily, and when Bilbo hides the arkenstone the whole audience can’t help hoping that somehow, despite everything, this time it will end happily.

Oh, this moment between King Thorin and Bilbo, and Bilbo talks about gardening… and the king is sweet and good for a moment… but Bilbo has already betrayed him. For all the best reasons, but also in the worst possible way.

Today I’ll watch things in half-hour chunks, and write grant applications in between.

—1 grant application done, and it’s lunch time. In my defense, I had a big meeting as I continue to sort out the takings from the ZamZam Foundation’s Australian Launch.—

When King Thorin betrays Laketown, it still breaks my heart.

Ooh, hello BIlly Connolly! You and the worms are a much-needed bit of fun as the rest of the film has somewhere between 4 and 73 armies pummelling one another for stupid reasons. The next two hours of my life, with breaks for stupid deaths and a bit of painfully dumb love triangle dialogue here and there.

It’s all done very well, really, with great moments—like that troll as a battering ram, charging his head into the wall and then immediately passing out as the army that hired him runs through the hole.

After going through all the grants I wrote for the Afghan-Australian Community and Settlement Support Grants, I’ve decided to stop at two (specifically, tutoring work and free copies of my “Welcome to Australia” book for refugees & immigrants). So that’s that job done.

I can write a bazillion ZamZam Foundation invoices while I continue to watch. I may have to actually work a full day tomorrow (ugh—only if a friend can’t find anyone else to replace her usual babysitter) but I guess I’ll see.

Battle stag for the win!

Uh oh. When pretty music plays in a battle, you know some elves are going to die.

Lee Pace is great in this. And in “Pushing Daisies” (although be warned that “Pushing Daisies” ends badly due to poorly timed cancellation).

On to the second disc!

The thrill of being within sight of the end will carry me through the misery of the gold-floor-crazy-king scene.

When he comes to his senses and throws his crown away against the golden floor—that is good. Keep that bit.

*sigh* Physics, guys. PHYSICS. You can’t gain purchase on bricks as they’re falling through the air. Ain’t nothing to brace against.

The final fight between King Thorin and the pale orc is cool, with a bleached colour palette and ice cracking. Sadly I don’t care for Thorin any more.

Eagles and Bears and stuff, oh my!

Thanks again, eagles, for flying RIGHT over the king and choosing to go fight a bunch of minions instead of preserving the one remaining member of the line of Durin.

Pipeweed makes everything better. At least a little bit.

Oh no what now? Just more funerals, I hope.

Yup. Just more funerals.

The arkenstone: inspiring ambitious grave-diggers for the rest of time.

Bilbo at home is a perfect thing. As good an ending as a tragedy could hope for.

I do like that Tolkien recognises that a person who goes far from home and sees (and deals out) death is forever changed, and their soul will never recover. Having fought in World War 1 just before he began writing the books, he knows all too well.

Oh, that’s Billy Boyd singing! A voice that will always break the hearts of any Middle Earth film fans.

And that’s The Hobbit done until my next HoLOTR marathon! Because you know there’ll be more in future.

I DON’T have to work a full day tomorrow, fortunately, so things should progress at either the same pace or a little faster.

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HoLOTR Marathon Part 2

June 14, 2022 at 9:39 am (Uncategorized)

Part 1

I should probably mentioning I’m assuming that anyone reading this has watched all of the movies at least three times. It’s possible that some people haven’t, but they ain’t no friends of mine*.

There’s quite a bit of exposition throughout these films, but as a rule it’s done well—for example, given by someone who might just attack you partway through the discussion.

Hello, spiders.

Hello, first sign of the ring’s corrupting influence on Bilbo.

Hello Legolas. Still so pretty, still so boring. My teenage self adored you.

Heh. In a million years, when my kids are old enough to watch this, they’re going to wonder what The Wasp is doing in this film.

Okay, I’ll be honest. Some elements of the romance are actually kind of cool. Especially overcoming cultural barriers (can you tell I like working with refugees?)

Barrel run! Dumb as anything, but/and fun.

Oh no! Something in my dodgy secondhand DVD player-only TV is not working!

Huh. A bunch of the barrel run got skipped. Odd.

Oh well…

Okay, so I was watching it on our super unreliable “TV” that can only play DVDs because today is a public holiday and the kids are home. Given that they consider “Mary Poppins” excessively violent, these movies are really not for them—yet.

The “TV” is on a pile of my clothing, on my desk, wedged into an old fridge drawer, with an extension cord plugging it into the bathroom.

Then Lizzie went to the bathroom, and I lost my place due to unplugging it so she could close the door. The “TV” can’t select scenes, so I threw the kids out of the living room and put it back on—starting from the barrel scene.

Which is super dumb in places, but also a GREAT scene. You clearly see their different fighting styles as well as their teamwork (chopping through a branch one by one as they pass by until it splits and the orcs can’t use it any more). And Legolas, just as freakishly coordinated as the dwarves, instead of fighting with them, uses them as props while he focuses on the orcs (literally standing on their heads).

So glad I didn’t miss this. And yeah, I don’t mind Legolas being inserted into the film. The woodland elves were legitimately important.

This marathon is going much slower than expected—it’s been almost 24 hours and I’m not even halfway through the first trilogy yet—but Chris and I both got migraines last night so it was clearly unwise to stay awake. Then I spent most of today doing the maths to figure out the profits from the ZamZam Foundation’s Australian Launch and Fundraiser—roughly $8000, after paying assorted costs (printing art, paying artists, registration of ZamZam Foundation as an association in the ACT, etc).

Given that, as the ZamZam Foundation Australia web site points out,

  • AU$35 feeds a family in Afghanistan for a week.
  • AU$150 feeds a family in Afghanistan for a month.
  • AU$280 pays for a semester of university fees.

that $8000 will dramatically change the lives of literally hundreds of families in Afghanistan.


Stephen Fry and his slimy offsider remind one of the film-makers’ love of gross-out humour.

Hello, Colbert.

Surely Bard and his son are super famous for other stuff? The opening scene of the third movie is possibly the greatest scene in this trilogy. They’re really really good.

Bard the Bowman is Luke Evans. He’s certainly still around, in several high-profile films. Here‘s his wiki page. His son Bain is played by the Scottish John Bell (not to be confused with the Australian actor of the same name), and his career is also doing just fine.

I need to write approximately ten grant applications by tomorrow. More “cut and paste and then edit” than truly writing, but still… a lot.

But right now I’m cooking dinner, so the grants will have to wait a bit longer. At least I’m in the second half of this movie now.

Oh, Thrain! I don’t remember your subplot at all. Perhaps you were only ever in the extended version, and I wasn’t super fascinated by dwarf genealogies at the time. But you matter too.

Richard Armitage does a great job of playing the exiled king, showing both the weight of his position and the seeds of the madness to come. Any billionaire goes through the same process, and calling it madness is cheap. Sorry Tolkien, but you could have done better.

Bilbo’s ability to defy the king, and to keep believing when the others give up, is certainly valuable, and the films do a good job of keeping him as the main character even in his position as the odd man out.

I’m eating dinner at present. When I make a roast (which I usually make with lamb chops) I eat it in stages. First I boil potatoes in their skins, and give them a good shake and some slashes with the side of a spoon so they have plenty of texture. Then I cover the potatoes, sweet potatoes, and carrot in a mix of oil, salt, and herbs (usually basil, often garlic) and start cooking. After 20 minutes I take out any small pieces or potato skins that are perfectly crispy and would burn if left longer, and eat them. Plus some of the carrot and sweet potato. So although I did roast some zucchini today, it’s not in this photo since it’s already been eaten. Ditto the sweet potato.

Today the lamb was marinated in a maple-mustard-apple cider thingy. VERY nice.

This is not a healthy meal, as such, but it’s delicious, full of iron, and has pretty much all the vegetables I can tolerate without getting sick (low-FODMAP and low-salicylate diet, which covers most human food). I have it with sour cream and soy sauce rather than gravy, since I’m somewhat intolerant of gravy and only a bit intolerant of sour cream (dairy) and presumably soy sauce (beans? anything fermented? I’m sure there’s something). It tastes amazing, I assure you. (The potatoes are boiled at the start so they don’t dry out, and the skins splitting off and cooking in their own gloriousness is a pleasant side effect).

But now Bilbo is creeping into the dragon’s lair! Oh nose!

Oh, this is a GOOD scene. The clink and clatter of coins. . .

HELLO Bossy-boots Crankypants! Always nice to see you and Martin Freeman working together.

Here are my cats, who don’t usually pose so nicely.

Hello, gratuitous Legolas scene.

Using the dragon to light your furnace is cool, but fighting a dragon with heat is… not smart.

A mighty ending.

Whatever else they did, the team nailed Smaug. Which was vital.

And that song in the credits is seriously amazing. It holds up perfectly. Well done, Ed Sheeran. This is genuinely one of your best songs.

*I tolerate SOME non-nerds among my crew due to their other sterling qualities.

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HoLOTR Marathon Part 1

June 13, 2022 at 3:04 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s 5:40pm on Sunday 12 June, and I have decided it is time to finally do the full extended Hobbit + extended Lord of The Ring marathon that all true Middle Earth movie nerds dream of.

Choosing the right food and snacks is of course vital for any major quest.

I have made a sandwich with fresh avo, freshly-squeezed lemon, freshly-grated carrot, a sweet potato & pumpkin patty, beetroot hommus, and Asian mayo.

And so it begins.

Naturally, I’ll be live-blogging the whole thing (and probably debriefing from the ZamZam Foundation’s Australian Launch & Fundraiser at the same time).

Here goes…

An opening voiceover. Very out of fashion these days, but the best path for true epics like LOTR (or Star Wars). And there are cozy visuals of Bilbo’s home quickly followed by the epic wealth of Erebor, showing off very respectable special effects.

Everyone hates the Hobbit series, and the extended commentary has been described as being Peter Jackson’s 9-hour apology…. but this is NOT a bad film. Many many pieces of genius are sprinkled through it.

And yes, it doesn’t compare to LOTR. But it is worth extending the famous 9-hour movie marathon to 18 hours. And I mean that as someone who literally gets injured from sitting in a chair too long (for a while it would take me days to recover from watching a single movie—I’m a million times better now, but will still need to be careful and do stretches and walk around. Stop laughing).

I’m very much looking forward to Martin Freeman’s perfect Bilbo, and the singing.

Not looking forward to the Goblin King. Ew.

Or the romance. Double ew.

Or that drama-class improv scene of the king going mad.

Aww! Itty bity baby Bilbo! I’d forgotten that beautiful few seconds. Love it.

And it seems I STILL have a crush on Elijah Wood. (To be fair, he seems a decent sort, and the first season of “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency”, while unrelated to the books, was truly fantastic. Among other works.)

The Britishness of the “Good Morning” scene, and the later callback from uh… Dwalin I think it is… amazing writing.

The look on Bilbo’s face as he’s juuuust settled down to a perfect meal and there’s a ring at the doorbell… yes, that is absolutely how I feel right now. Better not ask me to face humanity just yet, if you know what’s good for you.

And here we are in the “meet all the dwarves and remember what you can” scene, that famously traumatised Sir Ian McKellan, who was in a different set very careful dancing around a tennis ball. And yet his every moment is brilliant.

Is… Gandalf evil for pushing Bilbo into this? Bilbo very much is, as the dwarves put it “gentle folk”, and somewhat likely to be killed.

I suppose it’s Gandalf’s gift to see the warrior in the grown-up child.

Ah, that moment when Bilbo realises he didn’t pack a pocket handkerchief! That brings home that Bilbo is extraordinarily unprepared for all of this.

New Zealand is gorgeous, isn’t it!

Ah poop. We’ve had a fat joke and a gay joke, and we’re still on disc 1.

On the other hand, I love seeing the dwarves and elves together. Culture clash stuff fascinates me (you can see Gandalf actually respects the elves and they respect him, but the elves and dwarves will take some more work). I love seeing enemies working through their misunderstandings.

I am not convinced that having an open-air library behind a waterfall is a good idea. Or is this just the ‘unwelcome guests waiting room’? Super impressive, super uncomfortable.

End of disc 1!

Galadriel asks, “Why the halfling?”, as she well should. Gandalf says that he felt Bilbo was important because he has the strength of kindness and goodness, that is so often considered unimportant next to warrior-type skills.

“And… because I am afraid.”

I wonder if it’s the fear of corruption that makes him bring Bilbo.

The cats are watching “Goblin Town”. Girls, you picked the absolute worst part of the trilogy. I’m actually glad it’s happening now, because I wasn’t sure which movie this segment was in. Now I can get it over relatively quickly instead of dreading it for many hours.

Gollum, Bilbo, and riddles. A perfect scene.

The battle in Goblin Town is… really really good. I typically get bored in action scenes, and I’m so grossed out I can hardly bear to look at the goblin king… but this 3-D fight/chase scene is brilliant, kinetic, and loaded with clever Macgyver-ing.

There are lots of very immature jokes in here (another fat joke at Rivendell), reminding me that it was a kids’ story. I don’t know HOW, with such a bummer ending. But in the book the ending is a paragraph or two so it doesn’t feel nearly as bad.

I love that Gandalf is constantly losing track of all the dwarves, just like the rest of us.

Bye-bye eagles, thanks for the lift and for passive-aggressively leaving us on a ridiculously steep crag surrounded by impenetrable forest! We won’t ask YOU for another favour in a hurry (like, for example, carrying a wee gold ring to a volcano).

For a trilogy, this movie ends VERY well. The contempt for Bilbo is sorted (both from inside him and from outside), the company is working well together and has survived several battles—and we get that first glorious look at the dragon.

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Auction Booklet

June 10, 2022 at 9:57 am (Uncategorized)

The ZamZam Foundation is launching in Australia TOMORROW with a fabulous event that of course is also a fundraiser.

I organised the silent auction including loads of amazing art, handicrafts, books, antiques, collectables, and miscellaneous items. There are plenty of Afghan treasures in the mix.

Here’s the entire booklet, for your viewing pleasure!

If you aren’t coming to the launch but you desperately want to bid on one of these items, I will try to accommodate you. Email ZamZamSecretary@gmail.com.

You can buy postcards at any time (until they’re sold out).

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Oh FUDGE cake

May 28, 2022 at 2:35 pm (Uncategorized)

This week, I have been winning at last-minute parenting.

The kids’ school had a Crazy Hair Day, which the kids were both very ambivalent about (autistic kids just don’t experience peer pressure—or community-building events—the same way as other kids). I encouraged them to ask their close friends about their plans for Crazy Hair day, which inspired Lizzie to do ‘something’.

I suggested I do 3 plaits in her hair, which I thought would pass muster both in terms of being ‘crazy’ and in terms of being so close to something familiar that it wouldn’t bother her. She accepted.

I felt vaguely guilty about not buying hair wax or colour stuff or something, but when some other parent posted frantically about their last-minute search for product I decided it was too late to do anything about it anyway.

So, Crazy Hair morning arrived, and I pulled open the plastic drawers where I dump all Lizzie’s unused hair stuff (she has basically sworn off all of it lately, including clips) and noticed the three hand-made ‘Wonder Woman’ bows that she bought off a friend’s stall last year mostly because she loves me and I like Wonder Woman. She’s literally never worn them.

I’d also been vaguely attempting to tidy recently (in preparation for maybe moving house) and found a ‘Wonder Woman’ Christmas decoration which I had shoved on a ‘deal with it later’ shelf. And I remembered the Wonder Woman necklace she bought me years ago, that I violently hate.

So: three plaits, three Wonder Woman bows. And the Christmas decoration hung off the biggest bow. And I put the necklace on her. And I found a pair of red clips, a pair of blue clips, and two pairs of sparkly blue clips. I put them all in and sent her off to school looking like we’d made an effort.

And she won ‘Best Crazy Hair’ in her year.

Crazy Hair: Yeah yeah!

I completely forgot to take any photos, so here’s a screenshot taken from a whole-class photo that is worse than useless.

Oh, and Lizzie wears glasses now. They look so good on her it’s incredible.

Moving on.

Today is Tim’s birthday party. Weeks ago I received his cake order (chocolate) and design (“Something to do with Minecraft or Pokemon”—”How about a poke ball?”—”Yeah!”)

The pokeball design was a stroke of genius on my part. I was pretty sure we had a round cake tin (we do) and I definitely knew that I could buy a pack of round, rolled-out fondant in white. Thus, all I had to do was slice the fondant circle in half, colour one half red, and roll that half back out into a semicircle. More or less.

I know fondant is actually disgusting (basically sugary plastic), so I bought a chocolate cake mix with plans to put chocolate icing on the cake, then the fondant on top.

And I remembered that cake takes ages to cook, so I set my alarm in order to make sure I got up in a timely manner.

I was smart, and double-greased the tin. The first layer makes the baking paper stick to the tin and the second makes the baking paper not stick to the cake. So when I had ten minutes to decorate the cake, I thanked my earlier-in the-day self because it popped out without the slightest hesitation or warping.

I warmed the icing a little as I mixed it, so it poured really easily too. The fondant was extremely easy to slice into a perfect semicircle, and although I may have sworn a little when I realised we had no red food colouring (only yellow or blue… or green if combined) I quickly pulled up a graphic with lots of different styles of poke balls and immediately spotted a yellow and white design.

Boom!

My hands are yellow from hand-mixing the lump of fondant with the yellow food colouring, and when I tried to roll it on a chopping board I soon discovered that fondant sticks to everything… except the plastic sheet that it comes in… so I re-rolled it on the sheet, sliced it into a perfect semicircle, and laid it on the cake.

I’d forgotten that there is some black in the classic poke ball design, but solved that problem by simply leaving a line of chocolate icing between the two semicircles of fondant (voila! Black line).

Then I sliced out a quick mini circle from the remaining white fondant, and sliced away a smaller circle out of the middle of that… and boom! The cake was done and looked pretty good!

Those lasagna dishes that come with a lid are great for transporting a cake (with dire warnings not to put the lid on during the drive as it was still hot from the oven) and I happened to have bought some assorted chocolate buttons with the party in mind, so I added them to the dish to make the rectangular shape a feature rather than a bug, and voila!

A 10-minute job that is definitely a Gold Poke Ball (Tim recognised the design with great excitement)!

Imagine what a moderately competent person could do with half an hour.

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Hustling

May 5, 2022 at 1:18 pm (Uncategorized)

Not long ago, I wrote about my two main hustles (my family, and my writing) and my ten side hustles.

Things are changing quickly, so here’s what’s currently going on (in the same order as last entry):

  1. Shooting Through escape rooms.

I found a staff person! She’s smart, funny, and capable. Her kitchen floor has a hole in it so she’s not storing the game there at the moment, but we went to Nimmitabel’s Steampunk @ Altitude festival last weekend and we’ve made a plan for the future which involves me doing… basically nothing… and getting a little bit of money every so often. Isn’t that the dream?

If that goes well, we’ll activate the second room (the first is MADAM ALCHEMIST and the second is THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING ROOM which is in an array of suitcases shoves into odd places around my house at present, and would need a bit of effort to set up properly. Like 5 hours.)

2. Murder in the Mail/Magic in the Mail.

I recently gave away the last 26 copies of the postal version of “Murder in the Mail: A Bloody Birthday” (keeping one) which at least freed up some space so I can package up the “Magic in the Mail” stories.

So… improvement, at least.

I’ve been failing to log into my main online store site for several weeks now. I can’t even figure out my username, which really shouldn’t be this hard. I… don’t know what to do. Hopefully I’ll get onto that real soon.

3. Aspergirl Adventures.

I haven’t done all the videos I planned to do about Queensland… and my computer is still so loaded up with videos that it’s misbehaving due to lack of memory. It keeps shutting down and at some point it will probably just explode, and I’ll lose my eyebrows, my novels, and priceless hundreds of family photos and videos.

So that’s not ideal.

But… it’s not like anyone is paying me, or depending on the videos. So I’m fairly chill about only doing those videos when I feel like it.

4. Babysitting.

I actually have a small bit of regular babysitting now, which is within my capabilities (ie I don’t have to get out of the car). 2-4 days a fortnight I fetch my sister’s kids from school and deliver them home. She pays me 12.50 each time.

5. Recumbent Bike Hire?

I have not done anything about this, and don’t plan to. Good choice, me.

6. Castle of Kindness Refugee Sponsorship Group.

This is my main charity focus, and staying that way. It’s incredibly challenging and time-consuming and seems to involve at least one public breakdown (on my part) per mentee family. Worth it.

This is, in many ways, what I do.

7. Art by Qusay Fadheel.

This is fairly easy. I just take some of Qusay’s prints with me whenever I’m running a stall. And I use him whenever I need an artist (and pay him). There’s very little money in it, but the balance of the business account is slowly rising rather than falling. That’s the goal, really, isn’t it?

8. West Belco Food Pantry.

This is costly in terms of both money and energy but I don’t feel able to just quit because I know that kids have avoided going hungry because their parent had my pantry to lean on in an emergency.

Early this year I began partnering with the Indigenous Justice Health officer to make ‘Homeward Hampers’ for Indigenous detainees who are re-joining the community. I am THRILLED to be able to do something useful for Indigenous people, especially those who are directly effected by the innate and ongoing racism of the police and justice system.

A lot of people immediately came on board to help, and I got carried away and made HUGE hampers worth about $250 each. I thought I’d work real hard in January and then not do anything the rest of the year. Lolz… It’s May now, and I’m ALMOST finished. And ended up putting way too much of my own money into it too.

BUT I have just found a sponsor for the pantry who is going to make a monthly donation. I don’t yet know how much it will be but I am so, so glad to have that help.

9. Platypus Playgroup.

It took a lot of hours of work, but I have now successfully implemented the exit plan I had in mind from the start. The Platypus Playgroup is now doing great and I don’t have to show up—ever. Every so often I get an email from someone who wants to join the group, and I tell them how. That’s it. So technically I’m still involved, but only a teeny tiny bit.

10. The Castle.

Here’s what I wrote last time:

Before I was able to form the Castle of Kindness, I dreamed a large and complicated dream.

I want to help design an enormous house that looks like a castle (basically a square, with towers and crenelations and a flat roof) that has one giant room on the bottom floor (for events and for emergency accommodation for disabled/autistic people), and adjustable living quarters on the other two floors (so various combinations of people can live there, eg 2 singles and a 3-kid family; 5 singles; etc). It would be accessible for wheelchair users as well as people who are Hard of Hearing or have Low Vision or temperature sensitivity or smoke sensitivity. It would have Aboriginal art inside and out, and facilities for cooking lessons or big movie nights, and maybe even an inside pool and/or spa (gentle exercise and/or pain relief). It would have solar power including a battery (so it was insured against power outages), and be as bushfire and storm safe as a house can be.

I reckon it would cost about 2 million to build, plus about a million just for the land. Because ideally it would be near my house—a great location for disabled people, as the Kippax shopping (and medical) centres are close by, and there are several great local community organisations here too.

This hustle has a building designer on board, and that’s about as far as I’ve gotten (not nothing). But it’s something Canberra needs, and whoever manages to build it will make a massive profit from renting both the living spaces and the conference spaces (the lower room and the roof—and presumably the yard too). It would be a great place for disabled refugees to live—within a mini community that could hopefully help one another (and they could also be hired as event organisers, cleaners, or gardeners—or they could run cooking classes, art exhibitions, etc).

Brace yourself, because this is going to sound literally insane (and believe me, I hear it too): I think God has told me that my family is going to move to a specific big, beautiful house near us (not as owners, but as renters—which we definitely couldn’t afford at the moment).

It is zoned for two dwellings, so the owners could potentially build a two-story granny flat with a pool on the lower floor and disability-friendly housing on the top—including at least one tower. It is suitable for emergency accommodation and for moderately-sized community stuff as the living room is giant (60 square metres), so I could host events of 100 people inside or 300ish with combined inside/outside spaces (the yard is big enough to fit another house).

There’s a partially-roofed deck which would be great for a spa and even has an external door to the bathroom. It even has a large outside caged space that would make a great cat run.

It would need some work to be fully accessible, but not as much as most houses. And you can see the mountains from the balcony. It recently sold for 1.2 million, and I was at the auction telling people I wanted to rent it. That was over a month ago. No-one has contacted me about it, and I have only a teensy bit more money now than I did then (specifically, $25/fortnight, plus an unknown amount for the food pantry). I could arguably ‘rent’ a room to the food pantry, as the house is also a great set-up for both a food pantry and an escape room (I would use a single large room for both). There is a gated front courtyard which can’t be seen from the road (so it’s unlikely to attract drunk people smashing stuff) and three of the five bedrooms have doors that open directly to the courtyard, so the food pantry room could be accessed from outside while still having a locked door between it and the rest of the house. (The other two direct-access doors would be great for emergency evacuees, because they could have privacy from us—we would move into the family room during the emergency.)

It’s in a high fire risk area… but a swimming pool full of water might be VERY handy for exactly that reason.

I call it “The Shiny House”.

11. “Welcome to Australia” book

I forgot this particular hustle last time. It’s something that grew out of the Castle of Kindness Refugee Sponsorship Group, and I started work on it four years ago. It’s a picture book designed for refugee and immigrant kids to read with their parents, and has loads of information (from “Cockatoos are huge and loud but they won’t hurt you” to “‘Bring a plate’ is not about crockery”). I always wanted to make it bilingual in several languages, and our current refugee mentees have translated it into Dari Persian. So… I now owe them $700 which I don’t have (I am working on a short-term loan because failing to pay a refugee on time is supervillain level dodgy) BUT the book is very close to having a real, bilingual, completed version.

12. The ZamZam Foundation.

You may have noticed that the most recent blog entry here is about an Afghan-led charity called the ZamZam Foundation which is launching in Canberra next month. I’m currently the secretary. It’s been a wild ride and way too much for me to handle. About a month ago my imminent collapse was obvious enough that several more people came on board, so I THINK the worst is over. We’ll see. I really love the work but I need to find a co-secretary or something along those lines. I am working on it.

13. And…

Because of the ZamZam Foundation, I became aware of some government grants specifically designed to help Afghan refugees (and vulnerable migrants) settle into Australia. I got excited and started looking at houses (that’s how I first saw the Shiny House) before reading in more detail that the grants can’t be used for housing or land. Then I came up with these thirteen ideas:

a) English lessons (including a member of the current refugee family, and including me—which would be about $250/week for me and at least that much for her).

b) Driving lessons (including at least 2 members of the current refugee family).

c) Wages and computers for the president and secretary of the ZamZam Foundation (which would give me another $100 or so per week, plus $150 to pay a co-secretary, plus a non-dying computer).

d) Swimming lessons in a private backyard pool (which, if I lived at the Shiny House and got permission, would give me a backyard pool… and I also quoted for a waterslide and Indigenous art installation which would be AWESOME and ultimately a source of income so the free swimming lessons for refugees could continue to be free).

This is by the artist I’d most likely hire (who likes the idea):

e) West Belco Food Pantry—expanding the pantry, and hiring a refugee to do the shopping and unloading and cleaning. I’d continue to monitor the pantry, and charge maybe $20 or $50 a week for my services. If I was at the Shiny House, I’d charge $100/week for the use of the room.

f) Funding to make and print “Welcome to Australia” in its Persian bilingual form, including 500 free copies sent around Australia (to other refugee mentorship groups, the Red Cross, etc), and some cash for me.

g) Stress-related pain relief (since refugees have trouble coming to terms with mental illness, but definitely know they’re stressed and in pain)—a spa pool, and free massages. (And then I’d have a spa in my yard, plus $20-$50 for coordinating people’s visits.)

h) Cooking groups (made up of two recent arrivals and two not, to help integrate people into the wider community—and to help new arrivals show off their skills rather than having to be the recipient of aid all the time).

i) Monthly Open House dinners—I’d love to host that, especially if I was in a house with enough room (…like the Shiny House).

j) Monthly excursions—I love showing off Canberra, and would get paid about $200/month for that.

k) Art classes (originally by my mum, then one of her students would do it for money).

A friend just told me about another government grant thing due next month, with similar goals (except not restricted to Afghans, which is all the better for me) so I’ll apply for most/all of these in those grants too.

So, is my life about to change in a big way (for at least the next two years)? We’ll see.

If I won most/all of those grants, I’d have enough money to rent the Shiny House. So it’s possible.

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How to donate to the ZamZam Foundation

April 3, 2022 at 8:16 am (Uncategorized)

UPDATE: I am no longer connected to the ZamZam Foundation (still busy running the Castle of Kindness Refugee Sponsorship Group, of course) and their new web site is https://zamzam.org.au

You can donate at any time through here.

******

The simplest way to donate (or to buy tickets to the launch on 11 June in Canberra) is to use our ticket booking page. Click this link.

Or you can contact me (Felicity Banks) directly.

ZamZamSecretary@gmail.com or 0402 548 978.

I will update payment options here as they get approved.

More financial information:

The treasurer of the Australian branch of the ZamZam Foundation is Asif Zahir. He has set up a designated bank account and PayPal account, but charities take a long time to be approved so we’re waiting for that at the moment.

Felicity Banks is the secretary of the ZamZam Foundation.

ZamZam Foundation is incorporated as an association in the ACT and has applied for an ABN. We plan to merge with an existing international charity (we are connected to two different charities so I won’t announce anything until we are farther along that road) but in the meantime continue ZamZam’s work in Afghanistan using the staff that are on the ground there.

More about ZamZam Foundation:

The ZamZam Foundation was founded in 2019 in Afghanistan by Dr Nilofar Ebrahimi MP. The goal was to support orphan women who want to be educated. Several women have gained their degrees with the help of the ZamZam Foundation. Right now, ZamZam is connected to eighteen women and three men who are seeking tertiary education. The women are very frustrated and discouraged, but the ZamZam Foundation is helping them to learn English online so that they have more choices in their lives. It also supports 250 families in three provinces with their basic needs, which is even more important since the Taliban took over.

Dr Ebrahimi is now a refugee in Canberra along with her husband and five children. Her focus is continuing to run the ZamZam Foundation.

She was the first female doctor in her province and one of the first female MPs in Afghanistan. It was such dangerous work that her family had to move to Australia seven years before the Taliban takeover, and when Dr Ebrahimi finally had to leave she took only a handbag with her.

Thank you for your support.

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Pandemic Playlist (mild adult content)

January 13, 2022 at 3:54 am (Uncategorized)

For me, there are two songs—both from early 2020—that simultaneously define the lockdown experience while also being oddly uplifting.

(Of course, if they were from now-ish, they’d probably be more focused on the experience of getting sick and/or knowing someone who is sick or in hospital, because sheer numbers are exploding and the only “lockdowns” seem to be isolation, quarantine, or people deciding for themselves that the government should be declaring lockdown but isn’t.)

This song is legitimately fun, but it’s WELL worth watching the video because the wordplay is exquisite.

And song #2 (yeah I’m not great on long playlists because I fall into a playlist black hole and I definitely don’t want to spend that much time focusing on the pandemic!)

Randy Rainbow does a lot of political parodies set to showtunes. And he has a gorgeous voice. This song is way, way better than the original (“Go the Distance” from Disney’s “Hercules”).

What songs are helping you cope at the moment, whether written specifically about awful sh*t or not?

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Lizzie by Lizzie

December 28, 2021 at 9:00 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s hard to take photos of Lizzie, because she finds eye contact overwhelming (including ‘eye’ contact with a camera). I have taken many thousands of photos of her, and hundreds of good ones.

She also likes taking pictures, especially of our cats. Ever since she was very small (3 or so) she’s enjoyed taking pictures, so it’s clearly not just a phase. For Christmas, I bought her a kids’ underwater camera (a pink one, obviously). It was $40 (not including a micro SD card, which it doesn’t work without!) so obviously not the greatest camera in the world.

But she’s taken over 400 pictures since she received it three weeks ago, and last night I sorted through them ALL and saved about 40 of them onto my computer. None of them are good, as such (not even the ones I took) but it was fascinating to see the photos she took of herself (I’m posting them in a small size because they blur as soon as they’re bigger than this).

As you can see, our cat Zipper is thrilled to be included.

This is a new swim top that goes with a mermaid tail. At nearly-ten years old it’s all about the magic, rather than the bikini body. But I hope her pride in a new swimsuit remains for many years to come.

This is a tricky angle. I’m impressed.

These are photos taken with a ragdoll cat that we looked after when the owners were travelling. I love the confident joy in the second picture.

A large chunk of the world hates teenage girls, especially if they’re beautiful—and especially especially if they know it. I hope I’ve given Lizzie a way to express herself creatively while also celebrating her own appearance. She loves figuring out her own identity, and treating herself as an artistic subject is a great way to give her armour against the many hateful messages that face her in the years ahead.

Also, she’s good at this stuff, and richly deserves the tools to continue building her skills.

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So Many Side Hustles

December 27, 2021 at 9:17 pm (Uncategorized)

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a person under forty with an interest outside of their career must attempt to make a living from that interest.

Leaving aside a discussion of that tragedy, here are some of my side hustles, and two central hustles as well.

Central Hustle #1: My family.

This is a Christmas photo featuring my daughter—and, in the background, my nephew.

It is fairly obvious that a fair chunk of my mental and physical energy goes directly to my family. As it should.

Central Hustle #2: Writing

This is a pretty arrangement of my magical steampunk trilogy (done by the publisher, Odyssey Books):

And this is my kids’ fantasy trilogy. The third cover may change, as the book isn’t out yet. NEARLY though.

Plus of course aaaaalllllllll my interactive fiction, which now outnumbers my regular novels.

This is my ‘day job’. I’m not well enough to work full-time, but when I feel guilty for not doing my work, writing is usually what I should be doing (or cleaning, but… well… cleaning, ugh).

Side Hustle #1: Shooting Through escape rooms.

This is somewhat… quiescent at present, due to several factors. Covid is one, my health is another, and the fact that I don’t have a place to put it is a third. Ideally I’ll hire someone to run it for me (and store it for me). But, you know, later.

Side Hustle #2: Murder in the Mail/Magic in the Mail

This was/is an interactive story system I invented, and it’s the reason I set myself up properly as a small business (which paid off big time because I received JobKeeper last year). Technically this side hustle is retired, but I still have a lot of stories to sell (and they’re all physical, and taking up space). The typical response from customers who stick around long enough to hear how they work is, “Oh, that’s so cool” and then not buying any.

Side Hustle #3: Aspergirl Adventures

This is a new one.

After paying off a particularly heinous debt (thanks to early withdrawal of my super due to disability), my family is going to go on some epic holidays to celebrate before buckling down to be responsible again (yay, adulthood). I watched a lot of YouTube videos to help me decide the best way to see the Great Barrier Reef (with my mental and physical issues, and two autistic kids), and it was often difficult to find the information I wanted. So I decided to do my own video series as we travel, and call it “Aspergirl Adventures” to represent Lizzie and I (since Chris and Tim are really not into taking photos and videos the way Lizzie and I are). In this one, I tested the wheelchair accessibility of Jillabenan Cave (one of the Yarrangobilly Caves in Kosciuszko National Park) and it was much more difficult than you would think—so I ended up providing valuable information to full-time wheelchair users.

Taking photos and videos and making each outing into a STORY helps me deal with issues as they arise, makes me more patient with the kids, and helps me deal with the very-predictable pain and injuries that are likely to happen pretty regularly for anyone with my chronic illnesses.

Will probably never make a cent.

Side Hustle #4: Babysitting

Every so often, I do a teensy bit of paid babysitting. I can cope with three hours pretty well, as long as it doesn’t happen often.

Side Hustle #5: Recumbent Bike hire?

We live right next to a funny little section of bike/walking track that is 300m long—perfect for someone learning to ride a bike. And we’re also less than 50m from a small nature reserve—perfect for someone to get some pleasant regular bike rides in. Last year, a disabled friend ‘lent’ (and later officially gave) me a recumbent trike with a pedal assist motor. I was extremely doubtful—I didn’t even own a pair of pants!—but once I got the hang of it I fell in love. When the weather permits, I typically ride 5-10 ks two or three times a week. Recumbent bikes are EXPENSIVE but a lot of people are curious about them, so I’ve had the idea to hire my bike out to people who want to know if it’s something that might work for them. Haven’t actually done anything about it, but will probably post something in a local facebook group or two (I’m in several) once 2022 arrives.

Side Hustle #6: Castle of Kindness Refugee Sponsorship Group

Not exactly a hustle since I’ll never get paid for it, but still absolutely a hustle as I’m constantly fundraising. The web site is here and the ongoing GoFundMe is here. And yeah, I’ve made several videos about refugee sponsorship too (the organisation that guides us, Community Refugee Sponsorship Australia, asked us to provide footage where we could, and even provided a quick tutorial). That’s what really got me into making videos.

Side Hustle #7: Art by Qusay Fadheel

One of the refugee we mentored is is a talented artist, so I run an Etsy shop for him. It’s here (prints and postcards only, since he’s moved to Sydney due to having a better support network there).

Side Hustle #8: West Belco Food Pantry

I started running a food pantry on my porch during the first Canberra lockdown, and about fifteen families regularly come and get some food now. I buy lots of fresh milk each week (my pantry has an outside fridge and freezer) and also shop at a different (church-backed) food pantry each week, so it doesn’t cost me much to keep it stocked (including meat, and usually fresh fruit and veggies). I go through milk pretty quickly, so I check the fridge at least once a day to see if it needs replacing (I only put out one bottle of milk at a time or I’d run out and/or have to go shopping almost every day). People often make donations—fruit and vegetables from their own gardens, gifts of toys and random pantry items, leftovers from Hello Fresh, etc—and I regularly take items from the pantry for my own household (eg today we cooked risotto and when we realised we had no home-made stock we took a liquid ‘Thai noodle soup’ stock carton from the pantry—delicious). It’s quite fun, although it does cost a fair bit in both money and energy.

Side Hustle #9: Platypus Playgroup

I have friends with small children (and the isolation that comes with that), and the local church (Kippax Uniting) does a whole lot of great community things, but their excellent playgroup space fell out of use during covid lockdowns and then they couldn’t afford to pay a supervisor to get it going again. So I stepped in (unpaid), and between my friend Clarissa and I, we run a playgroup two mornings a week during school terms. Luckily I’ve found a volunteer to take the ‘first thing Monday’ shift, because two days in a row was too much for me!

This is the only hustle that doesn’t involve money at all.

Side Hustle #10: The Castle

Before I was able to form the Castle of Kindness, I dreamed a large and complicated dream.

I want to help design an enormous house that looks like a castle (basically a square, with towers and crenelations and a flat roof) that has one giant room on the bottom floor (for events and for emergency accommodation for disabled/autistic people), and adjustable living quarters on the other two floors (so various combinations of people can live there, eg 2 singles and a 3-kid family; 5 singles; etc). It would be accessible for wheelchair users as well as people who are Hard of Hearing or have Low Vision or temperature sensitivity or smoke sensitivity. It would have Aboriginal art inside and out, and facilities for cooking lessons or big movie nights, and maybe even an inside pool and/or spa (gentle exercise and/or pain relief). It would have solar power including a battery (so it was insured against power outages), and be as bushfire and storm safe as a house can be.

I reckon it would cost about 2 million to build, plus about a million just for the land. Because ideally it would be near my house—a great location for disabled people, as the Kippax shopping (and medical) centres are close by, and there are several great local community organisations here too.

This hustle has a building designer on board, and that’s about as far as I’ve gotten (not nothing). But it’s something Canberra needs, and whoever manages to build it will make a massive profit from renting both the living spaces and the conference spaces (the lower room and the roof—and presumably the yard too). It would be a great place for disabled refugees to live—within a mini community that could hopefully help one another (and they could also be hired as event organisers, cleaners, or gardeners—or they could run cooking classes, art exhibitions, etc).


So that’s my two life hustles and my ten side hustles. Yikes.

Here’s a cat—a blond ragdoll named Snow.

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