Star Wars: Episode X – The Dark Side Rises

Just a bit of fun to go with all The Force Awakens hype this week. I know people are starting to think about Episode VIII now but I thought I’d turn my attention further ahead, to the next trilogy. And I think I already know who the villain might be…

(Warning: there are a couple of mild spoilers for The Force Awakens in the video if you haven’t seen it yet).

Apologies for the audio by the way. I used the StarWars.com creator to make this but for some reason the share/export isn’t working so I did a screen capture instead. It made the audio a little tinny.

What did you think of The Force Awakens? I’m going to do a post after Christmas touching on it and nostalgia in general but basically I enjoyed it. I liked it but didn’t love it I guess – I thought it felt too familiar and nostalgic at times. It sets up Episodes VIII and IX well though and hopefully they will be more original.

In Front of the Tree

Logical CJ

Carols and lights
Joy and laughter
Another Christmas
Is here again

CJ Hat

A few photos I took by my tree last night. I try to do at least one nice photo with the tree each year to keep track of the years going by.

This year I found my Spock Christmas hat so I thought I’d use that for something a bit different. Yes I’m a geek. Tell me something I don’t know.

CJ Tree 1

I did a couple of normal photos as well. I thought this one came out quite well.

CJ Tree 2

I like this one with my glasses too. I don’t wear them as often anymore but I do still need them from time to time.CJ Tree 3

And this one in black and white I really like as well. Black and white doesn’t always suit me but with the lights in the background I think it works well.

Happy Holidays everyone.

Photos and haiqua © CJ Levinson 2015

I’m Dreaming of an Aussie Christmas

So it’s almost Christmas again. I’m still not really feeling the spirit this year. Maybe I will on Christmas itself or maybe it’s just going to be one of those years.

Either way I managed to finish my annual Aussie Christmas song earlier tonight. This is my seventh song now and this year I thought I’d do an Aussie version of I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas. I chose it as it’s one of those songs everyone knows so hopefully it’ll be easy to follow, and also because I wanted to tell a bit more of a story this year.

Christmas is a fun time but it can be very hard if you’re overseas and wishing you could be back home or waiting for a plane home. I wanted to try to capture that feeling as it’s a side of Christmas we don’t often see.

I hope you enjoy it and if you have any suggestions for next year’s song, let me know. 😉

Sydney Lego Santa

I’m Dreaming of an Aussie Christmas

The snow is falling, the wind is cold
The airport is crowded and grey
There’s never been a colder day
And I miss my family so far away
It’s December the twenty-fourth
And I’m still waiting here way up north…

I’m dreaming of an Aussie Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the summer sizzles
And it never drizzles
And there’s cricket on the radio

I’m dreaming of an Aussie Christmas
With friends on a warm December night
May your summer be warm and light
And may all your Christmases be bright

I’m dreaming of an Aussie Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the hot sand glimmers
And the water shimmers
And we play in the sun’s golden glow

I’m dreaming of an Aussie Christmas
With my family holding me tight
May your days be filled with delight
And may all your Christmases be bright

And may all your Christmases
May all your Chrissie days be
May all your Christmases be bright

My other Aussie Christmas songs:
The Aussie 12 Days of Christmas (2008)
Aussie Jingle Bells (2009)
We Wish You An Aussie Christmas (2010)
Deck the Ute (an Aussie Christmas Song) (2011)
Have Yourself an Aussie Kind of Christmas (2012)
Santa Matey (an Aussie Christmas Song) (2014)

There’s No Place Like Home

Home 2Home 1

Do you ever wonder what it is exactly that makes a home, well, a home? What it is that makes something more than just a collection of bricks and mortar and instead a home, somewhere special that you look forward to coming back to every day?

I’ve been thinking about that quite a lot recently. Largely it’s been to do with the time of year as the festive season always makes me rather contemplative and there are many reminders of ‘home’ over Christmas; of buying gifts and going home for the holidays, of decorating your home for guests and loved ones, of music telling stories of loneliness and missing home.

Christmas can be a nice time of year but if you’re lonely or away from home or nursing a broken heart then it’s not much fun. The constant reminders of home and how Christmas is for spending time with the ones you love can be depressing. I must admit I’m struggling with that quite a bit this year and I’m feeling little desire to celebrate at the moment.

I think the other reason it’s been on my mind though, and probably the main reason, is that I was broken in to recently. A couple of people went on a rampage through my block of flats; they were after my neighbour initially who wasn’t there, then in a rage they started to destroy everything; they rounded on my flat next and smashed through the screen door and yelled and threatened me, before they broke the windows in the block and hit someone on the head as they ran out.

It was scary and it took a few days (and the door to be fixed) for me to start to feel relatively safe in my own home again. And yet, that’s the thing as well… I was upset and obviously scared but I actually felt very little about the break in itself, which surprised me. I thought I would feel angry or violated in some way but I didn’t. Which I think goes to show how little this place has ever really felt like ‘home’ to me.

I’ve been living here for a little over two years now since leaving Sydney and while I’m grateful to have shelter, a roof over my head and (relative) security, I guess I’ve never felt much attachment to this place. It’s okay as far as flats go but I took it out of necessity rather than because I really felt anything for it and I think that’s why it doesn’t really feel like home. It’s a place where I live and sleep and have created some wonderful memories – but it’s not ‘home’ and I don’t think it will ever feel like home to me, or the way a home should.

But how should a home feel? And have I ever really felt that? I’m not sure. There’s what society and Hollywood tell us a home should be like and I guess that’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think about it – the idea of a happy family living in a nice house, with a couple of pets, a picket fence and lots of laughter, etc. The kind of place you come back to years later and the place echoes with memories.

Of course that’s an unrealistic fantasy; no matter how much money you have, there’s no such thing as the perfect house, just as there’s no such thing as the perfect family, or the perfect you. Life is about compromise and working hard to make your life better and eventually afford the things you want; a lot of people though seem to want everything now without being prepared to wait and work for it and I think that’s why many people seem so unhappy these days. They seek instant gratification and in the end that only leaves them unfulfilled.

So no, that fantasy, which I think a lot of people have (particularly first home buyers), isn’t a home. It’s a lifestyle, a fairytale; it’s what we’re told life should be like if we want our happily ever after. A real home, is something else.

Personally I think a home is not just a place, it’s an idea. A ‘home’ obviously must be somewhere that is attractive to you and suits your needs but I also think as a concept it is much more fluid than that and what ‘home’ is is probably different and unique to every person. For some people the ability to get a mortgage and buy somewhere they like may be what makes that place actually feel like ‘home’ to them, because they know it is theirs and they can build their life there and make what they want of it. For other people a mortgage may mean little and it’s only when they have realised whatever work and life goals they’ve set for themselves and have more freedom that a place starts to feel like ‘home’. For some again it may be when they have children and a place fills with their laughter; for others it may be when their children have grown and the mortgage is finished and the next stage of life begins. I think a home can mean many things and perhaps in the end all that matters it is that it feels special.

For me I think home is not a fixed place at all and never has been; I don’t feel like I’ve ever really felt an attachment to a place, at least not that I can remember, nor feel like I will anytime soon, so for me I think home is the memories I have made wherever I’ve lived. It’s the memories of where I grew up; the memories of where I had my first kiss; the people I have shared my life with; the fun and laughter, the pets who brought me joy, the friends who stood by me; the moments I cherish and the sorrows that define me. In that way everywhere is home, and nowhere, as I take it with me.

Or, to borrow from Doctor Who, for me home is like a Tardis; it’s my heart and it’s bigger on the inside.

I used to think that maybe I was missing something because I didn’t feel a particular attachment to somewhere, to a physical home. Perhaps I still may one day, if I buy a place or have a family. But even then I don’t think it will be having a physical place that will make it ‘home’ for me, it will still be the memories and the life I bring with me.

And I think ideally that’s what a home should be. It should be what we bring and what we make there, not the place itself. I think a lot of people get too focused on buying their idea of a dream home and that’s another reason why they can feel unfulfilled, because in the end the reality can never match up to the dream.

I think that’s why I didn’t feel much after the break in as well as it’s just walls to me; they could have trashed it, set it alight, done anything, but all I would have lost were things. It would have been unfortunate but I wouldn’t have lost anything important and I have insurance.

It’s probably also why I’m struggling a bit with Christmas this year now that I think about it as well. This is the first year I’ve really been by myself. I wouldn’t say I feel lonely necessarily but I definitely feel a sense of loss this year.

Then again I often don’t get into the spirit until late. Maybe I just need a mince pie, put some music on, and create some new memories.

Either way I guess the important thing is to make the most of what we have. Home can be many things and come in many shapes and sizes but it’s what we bring to it that matters. In the end there really is no place like home.

‘Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there ‘s no place like home;
A charm from the skies seems to hallow us there,
Which sought through the world is ne’er met with elsewhere.
John Howard Payne – Home, Sweet Home
From Clari, the Maid of Milan

Hello Spidey

Life is short;
You must spin
A web of wonder
For the whole world to see

This guest was waiting for me when I arrived home the other day. It had made a web for itself near my washing line. Glad I didn’t walk into it.

It’s an Argiope keyserlingi, or a St Andrew’s Cross spider. They’re known for the distinctive decorations on their webs, usually a zig-zag pattern forming an X in the middle of the web.

The pattern, or stabilimentum, is thought to be a warning to birds and similar predators to stay away. It also attracts insects as it reflects ultra-violet light.

It’s one of the prettier spiders I’ve seen. And its bite is mostly harmless and non toxic to humans too which is good to know.

 

Photos and haiqua © CJ Levinson 2015

Dusk on the Lake

Dusk on the Lake

I was in Belmont for a few days last week and went for a nice walk along the lake a couple of evenings ago. The sun had almost finished setting and there was a beautiful dusk light that was perfect for photos.

I was deliberately trying to play with silhouettes and patterns with the photos. My goal was to try and keep them as minimalist as possible and let mother nature speak for herself.

Dusk on the Lake

Dusk on the lake

Dusk on the Lake

A hungry pelicanDusk on the Lake

Colourful reflections, dark silhouettesDusk on the Lake

Alone on the water

Dusk on the Lake

Seagulls near the shore

Dusk on the Lake

Water lapping over the rocks

Dusk on the Lake

Blue waters

Dusk on the Lake

Rocks near the shore

Dusk on the Lake

The dying light

Dusk on the Lake

Water, waves and metal

Dusk on the Lake

Through the bars

Photos © CJ Levinson 2015

It’s So Hot…

We had an absolute scorcher today. It reached 41’C near where I live in Newcastle and it was even hotter in Sydney today apparently. Scary thing is it’s not even officially summer yet.

It was so hot that everyone was talking about it and I thought I’d have some fun with it on Facebook and Twitter, so I started posting some memes. People seemed to like them so I thought I’d post them here too, with some extras.

Hope you like them. What’s your favourite it’s so hot/it’s hotter than joke? 😉

  • 39’C at the moment. And still climbing. Yowsers. It’s #HotterThan the hottest day in Hell’s hottest hotel.
  • It’s #HotterThan Smaug’s breath roasting dwarves and hobbits.
  • It’s #HotterThan bacon in a frying pan
  • It’s #SoHot I think I just saw two trees fighting over a dog
  • It’s #SoHot ice creams are melting before they’ve been opened
  • It’s #SoHot all the sprinklers have gone on strike
  • It’s #HotterThan Justin Trudeau
  • It’s #HotterThan two cheerleaders at a beach volleyball game
  • It’s #HotterThan tickets to the new Star Wars premiere
  • It’s #SoHot hens are laying hard boiled eggs
  • It’s #SoHot Olaf is just a puddle #LetItGo
  • It’s #SoHot bread is turning into toast
  • It’s #HotterThan the hottest vindaloo
  • It’s #HotterThan a taco with hot sauce
  • It’s #HotterThan Kevin Rudd’s temper
  • It’s #SoHot Donald Trump’s hair is sitting flat
  • It’s #SoHot Tony Abbott’s started to believe in climate change
  • It’s #SoHot the Transformers are turning into refrigerators
  • It’s #HotterThan a Jawa on Tatooine
  • It’s #HotterThan Rick’s haircut in The Walking Dead #YepIWentThere
  • It’s #HotterThan a firework on New Year’s Eve
  • It’s #SoHot the cat wants to use the pool
  • It’s #SoHot both taps are running hot water
  • It’s #SoHot the Sahara desert wants to sue for defamation
  • It’s #HotterThan a Vulcan going through pon farr
  • It’s #HotterThan getting stuck in a pair of skinny jeans
  • It’s #HotterThan the back of my mobile phone
  • It’s #SoHot Ben Carson is almost making sense
  • It’s #SoHot dogs are turning into hot dogs
  • It’s #SoHot all the hipsters are shaving off their beards #ExceptMe
  • It’s #HotterThan an egg frying on the sidewalk
  • It’s #HotterThan the thermostat will even show
  • It’s #HotterThan Green Arrow’s chilli recipe, the one only Batman can eat
  • It’s #SoHot Jon Snow has stopped thinking winter is coming (and also, Jon Snow? So not dead) #NeverGiveUp
  • It’s #SoHot even the flies are exhausted
  • It’s #SoHot my face burned before I’d even left the house
  • It’s #HotterThan Adele’s latest album
  • It’s #HotterThan Scarlett Johansson in The Avengers
  • Actually I take that back. Nothing is #HotterThan Scarlett Johansson in The Avengers #SorryScarlett
  • It’s #SoHot I can’t remember anything… what was I saying again?
  • It’s #SoHot my mirages are having mirages
  • It’s #SoHot I think I’ve started to crack up… #TooLate

Some thoughts on extremism

I posted this on Twitter and Facebook last night in the wake of the Paris attacks and thought I’d post it here as well for posterity and to share some additional thoughts.

Like everyone I was shocked and appalled by the attacks and my heart goes out to everyone in Paris and France.

But as the hours went by, I started seeing a lot of posts and comments blaming muslims and all of Islam for the attacks. As well as how muslims needed to convert to “the Christian god” so we could have peace.

I guess I lost it but I am sick and tired of hearing how Islam is a religion of hate and it’s “us vs. them”. It’s a bigoted worldview and it’s not only ignorant and wrong but it is dangerous as well.

ISIL and similar groups want us to be divided and to turn on moderate Islam; it’s one of the goals listed in their own publication – to eliminate the “grayzone” as they call it, the zone of coexistence we share and have everyone live in a black and white world which makes it easier for them to spread their ambitions through the Levant and beyond.

Everyone who lumps all of Islam together with ISIL and their ilk is doing their work for them and helping to create more recruits and likely more attacks like we just saw in Paris.

There are 1.2 billion muslims in the world and the vast, vast majority of them are peaceful and moderate and just want to live their lives; it is unfair to place them all together and it is beyond reality to expect that over one billion people should be held responsible for the acts and beliefs of radicalized extremists.

Our struggle is with extremism, all extremism; the scenario should never be framed as “the West vs. Islam” or “us vs. them” but rather “moderates against extremism”. Wherever it strikes and whomever it oppresses in the world.

If you can’t see that, nor how all religions have struggled and continue to struggle with extremism (from the KKK, to The Army of God, to Eastern Lightning in just the recent past alone), then I would suggest that the problem is with you, not with Islam.

And if you seriously believe the only solution to this whole situation is for one group of people to convert to another religion, then I would suggest as well that you have more in common with ISIL than most muslims ever will.

***

I’m seeing a lot of posts and comments on Facebook and Twitter at the moment blaming muslims for the attacks in Paris.

Some are even asking for people to pray that all muslims “convert to the Christian god” as that is the only way “we can have peace”.

Others, more understandably, want to send ground troops to take care of IS.

I feel like I need to say a few things as seeing all this pop up again and again is driving me nuts.

1. The vast majority of Islam is moderate and peaceful. The people responsible for these attacks are ideological extremists. They are a perversion of Islam, not a true representation of it. It is wrong and ignorant to blame all muslims for their actions.

2. Every religion struggles with extremism. Please remember Christianity’s past history with the Crusades, the Inquisition and the KKK before passing judgment on all of Islam.

3. #PrayForParis means we are thinking of and stand with the people of France. It does NOT mean pray for muslims to convert to “the Christian god”. How dare you use a tragedy in such a way?

4. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all share one common link: Abraham and, by extension, Abraham’s god. It is likely you actually already believe in the same god.

5. This is a “war” that will likely last generations and it cannot be won through military force alone. The only way to defeat extremism is to change people’s perceptions over time by engaging with community leaders and tackling issues like poverty and youth dissatisfaction. ISIL and other threats need to be confronted as well but without tackling the root causes of terrorism, the cycle will never end. And that may take decades.

6. ISIL and other groups want us to turn on our communities, to make it the West vs Islam. They want young muslims to feel persecuted as it drives them straight into their arms. Turning on each other only makes ISIL stronger.

7. In the end our global response to tragedies like this sends a message and it’s up to us what we want it to say. Do we really want to blame Islam? Or do we want to show that we stand united and unbowed as moderates against extremism? The choice is ours. I know which I’d prefer.

The Bird and the Mountains

The Mountains

Across the water
Mountains rise
Telling the story
Of this young land

This is another shot from our New Zealand trip earlier this year. We stayed near Lake Taupo for a couple of days and I took this while we were there, looking across at the mountains.

It was a beautiful day and I was lucky to catch the seagull flying across at just the right time. Turned out really well.

Photo and haiqua © CJ Levinson 2015