When I was a child I desperately wanted to experience a white Christmas, with snow and candles and twinkly lights in the dark, and crisp cold and knitted sweaters with hot chocolate.. and all the other trimmings and trappings of story book northern Christmasses, but now I think I might just pass on all those things, and keep enjoying our lovely Aussie Christmas season. I really can't imagine it would be properly Christmas without cricket, a BBQ and a glass of wine at the school oval for the school Christmas carols as the children sing about Christmas Among the Gumtrees, as well as Dashing Through the Snow.. then there is seafood for Christmas lunch, and dark chocolate pavlova drenched in cream and fresh raspberries out in the courtyard under the umbrella, and all the dads and kids in the pool after lunch, while the mums drink martinis under the pear tree (this year the recipe included lime juice and pomegranate juice, cointreau and vodka. We try a new one every year..). Then all the kids bash the gingerbread house with the wooden meat mallet and we all sit around on the lawn eating gingerbread and the dads have little naps until the children come and sit on them...
and of course, after the guests go home, the grown ups get to have another little nap, because who needs dinner? and there are always Christmas chocolates if one is getting a little peckish..
Hope your Christmas was as cruisy as ours. Now of course, I have promised to redecorate the girls' bedrooms as part of their Christmas present. I think I will just have another Christmas chocolate. For energy..
One of the cats is climbing the Christmas tree and eating the Christmas decorations.
The other one has entered in to the spirit of Christmas by bringing us a perfectly disembowelled rat kidney as a present.
It is the sticky season, ie gingerbread is us. The entire floor is coated in a lovely veneer of butter and icing sugar. This year we had a traditional offering (above), and an Australian interpretation (below). Note the grass and the kangaroo.
I had a green and thrifty gingerbread moment this morning. Usually I buy giant sheets of cellophane from the florist to wrap up the houses until Christmas Day to keep the nasty flies off them, but today I realised I could store them in the glass-fronted cupboard in the dining room to keep them safe instead.
Our other gingerbread save involved finding a recipe for a tiny family friend who is severely allergic to dairy, eggs and nuts. I found this useful vegan gingerbread recipe which made gorgeous little gingerbread men, and I think I like them better than butter gingerbread. The coconut oil made them crispy, like gingernut biscuits. Yum. We substituted lemon juice for the soy milk. We don't believe in soy milk.
We have had ballet concerts, choir concerts, Speech Night, end of year assemblies, the last of which I get to attend in an hour from now, after which the last of the girls will be on school holidays, and apart from a break-up pool party in our backyard this afternoon, there will be peace, perfect Christmas peace.
So I was at the school carol service last night, thinking, 'This is the moment where I can meditate on the meaning of Christmas.' The lovely old chapel with stained glass windows, lit with candles, and the the choir (including The Girl) singing like angels up in the gallery. What could be more conducive to calm thoughts about peace on earth? I was just settling in to a state of quiet contemplation when half way through the third lesson I felt a jab in the ribs from a sharp little elbow.
'Mum!' hissed Posy, 'What was Jesus' surname?'
Mood of calm contemplation punctured in an instant. Several carols and lessons later I decided that Jesus' surname was likely Carpenter, at least for the first thirty years, after which it was probably something like Dangerous Dissident or Hope of the World, depending on who you asked.
That is as far as I got with my meditating.
Is anyone else achieving meaningful Christmas contemplations?
You know, some months are just a little too much, and December is that month for me. End of the school year, exams, graduations, ballet concerts, plus Christmas concerts, carol services and the rest of Christmas, the trappings! The trimmings! That may possibly be a paraphrase of The Grinch, or I may be making it up. The Man is away, The Boy gone of course, which means it is girls' night in, every night, except when it is girls' night out, for ballet rehearsals, choir practice etc.
Because it is the end of the school year, exams are over, there is no homework, and it is very tempting to slump on the couch in front of the telly every night. I have attempted to circumvent this reprehensible sloth by instigating epic Upwords battles, played over days, before and after school. We got out the hammock, and in the brief three days of warm weather last week, the girls were to be seen gently rocking with a book, only feet visible over the edge. Then they discovered what a marvellous swing it made, and started playing games with names like, 'who can swing high enough to kick a cherry plum?', and then, 'who can swing high enough to pluck a cherry plum with their teeth?' at which point the hammock and the tree had had enough, and down they all came, hammock and all. I have promised to buy some new rope. Eventually.
I must admit to being in a bit of a slump. We made the Christmas cake a couple of weeks ago, doused it in brandy for days, but it is still sitting on the kitchen bench in its tin, under a tea towel. I am wondering if there is any actual point in wrapping it up, this close to Christmas. Maybe it could just stay on the bench? I was making fried rice for Posy's school lunch the other morning at eight o'clock, which is really way to early for cooking, and I dropped the bottle of fish sauce, which started leaking. I put it on its side on the bench, and it is still there, waiting for an efficient person to come along and decant it into something else. There are no efficient persons noticeably rushing to do this.
I have decided that delegation will be my new 'thing'. I have appointed Rosy Captain of Fruit. She goes to a school where there are Captains for everything. Not only School Captains and House Captains, but Captains of all the sports, Hockey, Rowing, Cricket... Badminton for all I know. There is an Art Captain, and possibly even a Chess Captain. Rosy can hone her future leadership skills by keeping an eagle eye on all the fruit over the summer, making sure that slightly squishy pears and dodgy bananas get used up. She will be extra good at this because she creates giant salads and fruit salads for herself on a regular basis, and gets very cross when we run out of key ingredients. She is also now in charge of the fruit and veg shopping list. She has also been heard enquiring if she will get more pocket money if she cooks three meals a week over the summer? I am thinking we could come to some arrangement.
Last week when the hammock was still intact and Posy and I were swinging on it before school she said, 'What is as gentle as a butterfly and can make the whole world disappear?'
The answer, of course, is your eyelids.
I will be going to make the world disappear now.
Please do tell me about your December. Are you swanning through it gracefully, or are you hitting that December wall along with me? If the former, please share secrets, or maybe pop over and help me with the fish sauce?
Usually exercise and I aren't really on such good terms. We don't talk, and generally keep out of each others' way. But then, everything else has been changing this year, so why not add one extra thing into the mix?
Let me tell you about me. This is a blog, after all. I am skinny-ish with some alarming wobbly bits. I was always a skinny stick of a thing, never did much exercise, because I think sport is a bit silly. I mean, who cares if the ball goes in the net or not? What's the point?
Unfortunately, the march of time can let you down on the no-exercise thing. For me, it was twenty nine. The year my body magically stopped eating all those calories I consumed. The thing about having three, then four small children, is that you never notice what you wear or what you look like until a terrible day in a department store change room, the first day you've been out clothes shopping in about five years, and suddenly you notice you've put on fifteen kilograms. I went home that day, ashen-faced, and proceeded to lose ten of those kilograms over a year. I walked up killer hills every morning. I would serve up my meals, then put a spoonful back. Where I ate three biscuits for afternoon tea, I ate two. I did this every week, reducing what I ate by a spoonful here, a biscuit there, until one day I realised I was feeling hungry between meals again. It was such a good feeling! I stopped eating after dinner, cleaned my teeth with the children, and woke up hungry. Stopped buying biscuits and chocolate and discovered that 'hunger is the best sauce' as Ma says in The Little House books, and that dinner on an empty stomach is always delicious.
So for the last five years or so my weight has been steady-ish. I put on a couple of kilograms each winter, eating all that warm comfort food, and take it off in the summer as I shriek when I get into the summer wardrobe, and have to start walking up killer hills again. But really, I was still not happy. I have a few kilograms to lose, my 'baby belly' (baby being nine years old kind of makes that sound a bit desperate). It has to go. Not that I wouldn't like to be curvaceous. That would be nice. I am a great admirer of women who are plump and gorgeous and Ruben-esque. Unfortunately, I have a body type which looks ridiculous carrying any weight at all. I have extremely skinny wrists and ankles, and small bones, and only ever put on weight around my middle. If I tried the curvaceous look I would end up looking like both my grannies - like apples with toothpicks for legs. And they were lovely, but I don't want to look like a granny just yet, so I am doomed to exercise.
And so, the gym. I always swore I would never, ever join a gym. But there was this friend of a friend. You know the person you bump into at parties, and you think, gosh, I'd like to get to know her better, and then you don't see her for a year until the next party.. well, that person became a fellow ballet mum, we chatted as we bumped into each other after class, and she told me how she was doing a personal trainer's course, and was studying nutrition, and I said, oh I NEED a personal trainer, and she said, oh I NEED a training buddy to make me go to the gym three times a week, and I said, well I can do that!
So that's how I ended up at the gym. It is just down the hill, small and quiet, with no classes, and lots of medieval machines, the purpose of which is to make all my muscles hurt. On the other hand, it is incredibly easy because I just turn up and someone tells me what to do and I just have to follow instructions, which is something I am quite good at. And after three weeks I may have an actual muscle or two. I started being able to do a grand total of zero push ups, and can now do six. And I am having a planking competition on the side with Lucinda, who is busy over at her blog getting all gorgeous, or should I say, even more gorgeous. I started at 25 seconds, but Lucinda, I can do 45 seconds now. Three times! It is an actual miracle.
I stopped snacking. I don't know whether it is because I have more or less stopped eating bread and large slabs of cake, or because I have started drinking rooibos tea, which apparently acts as an appetite suppressant as well as being caffeine free and low in tannins, but I have really stopped wanting to eat between meals. Another miracle, and I am a kilogram lighter than I was last week. I don't really have a goal weight, but I have a goal waist measurement, which is 65cms, the perfect size 10. It may take some time... but I know I will have good company along the way.
The broad beans are ready! Oh yay, say the family, who are such fans of broad beans. But that is fine, because I adore just cooked, double peeled broad beans, and see no reason to share. I only plant a square metre or so every autumn, which is just enough for me to have brilliant green spring lunch treats.
Someone asked a few months ago about double peeling broad beans, and here is the technique - it really is the only nice way to eat broad beans, because who wants a plateful of giant, sad grey bullets?
First, pop your little green babies out of their furry pod beds. I have all sizes here, because there are no vegetable size standards here at Chez Blueday. We do not discriminate against small, large, or odd veg.
Pop the bean babies into a pan of boiling water for 3 minutes. Set that stove timer! Drain and rinse in cold water.
Beans will now be an unappealing shade of grey. If you look carefully you can see cracks in their ickle grey onesies. Now you pop them out of their shells and you will have vibrant grassy green beans for your lunch.
My thrifty lunch today was leftover cooked quinoa, lovely broad beans, rocket and calendula petals from the garden, plus feta and salad dressing.
Who else is cheap frugal like me, and buys a block of feta, chops it into cubes and marinates it themselves in a jar of oil and herbs? When the feta runs out, I just pop more in and top up the jar with more oil.
Again, I have been very good, and been cleaning out the leftovers from the fridge all week. Today I made chicken stock from a chicken carcass. Soup tomorrow with carrots, onions and the saved broccoli stems.
I just have one question. Is making walnut cakes to use up leftover lemon icing actually a thrifty solution?
Yesterday I made a big pot of bolognese sauce. I took half of it and added peas, steamed carrots and Worcestershire sauce, and topped it with mashed potato from the last of wrinkly old potatoes. That was last night's cottage pie, or as we like to call it, Rustic Hot Pot a la Margot Leadbetter. I am looking for pasta-free ideas for the rest of the bolognese sauce. Maybe over jacket potatoes when I go grocery shopping Monday..
Last week Gretchen Joanna asked if my new home-made window cleaner worked on stainless steel. Well, yes indeedy, I can tell you now, it does make it very shiny and all. Of course, before I shined it, I used my secret stainless-steel appliance cleaner, which is the only thing I have ever found to get those pesky fingermarks off - bicarb soda (baking soda). Shake some onto a wet cloth, rub, rinse, then shine with the window cleaner. Job done.
Funny story. I keep bicarb soda under the sink in this old sugar shaker, which is quite similar to our chocolate powder shaker. I was industriously cleaning the kitchen with my arsenal of home cleaners at the same time as The Girl was making chai tea with steamed milk. She used the wrong shaker. Maybe a label? Apparently there are some things bicarb soda not so good for..
Another fun cleaning moment - I ran out of toilet cleaner. Yes, so fun I hear you saying. Well, I kept telling myself that I would look up a toilet cleaning recipe before I ran out of the current bottle, but... didn't. So Tuesday morning I wasted some time hunting for the definitive toilet cleaning recipe, which doesn't exist. I DO NOT like to use vinegar for cleaning, even though everyone recommends it. I do not want my bathrooms to smell like a chippy.
So I read all the advice, and made something up. A quarter cup of citric acid, dissolved in half a cup of hot water. Two teaspoons eucalyptus oil. Make up to 500mls with a nice, eco dishwashing detergent. I really liked the consistency of this, and I do believe it made the toilet whiter than the eco cleaner I was using before. Do not, as I was tempted to do, use castile soap instead of detergent. I read just in time that soap (alkaline) and citric acid will go all lumpy and separate if combined.
The last new cleaning trick I tried was dripping a couple of drops of essential oil inside the toilet roll. Now our whole bathroom smells like Oil of Cloves. So quite effective. But I'm not sure now whether cloves was quite the scent I was aiming for. Maybe lavender next time?
Two splendid books this week. The Unlikely Pigrimage of Harold Fry was recommended by Linda.
Harold and Maureen, two English pensioners, have slowed down so much they have nearly stopped altogether. They live in separate worlds, sitting each side of the breakfast table, so close, yet so far from each other. When Harold gets up from the table to post a letter to a long ago friend, he has no idea that he won't be back in time for morning tea. Or lunch, or dinner, or bedtime.
This is the story of Harold's unexpected journey. And it is a love story, and a reminder that every one of us carries secrets and burdens, whole inner worlds invisible to those around us. I needed that reminder.
The second recommendation is from Miss Maudy. Cross Stitch, as it is published in the UK and Oz, or Outlanders, its much better title in the US, couldn't be more different to Harold Fry. Miss Maudy sent me to Diana Gabaldon when I said I didn't like fantasy, and did like decent historical fiction. Well, this does contain elements of fantasy (time travel anyone?), and is completely indecent, although historically accurate..
I drive The Man crazy by pointing out unworkable paradoxes in time travel movies, so he refuses to watch them with me anymore. SO FAR this is the best time travelish device I've come across in a novel, with a delightfully spooky 'timey-wimey' (sorry, the children watch Doctor Who) twist at a moment when you are least expecting it..
I grew up reading Scottish novels - Robert Louis Stevenson and John Buchan, then about a hundred years ago wrote an honours thesis on an obscure point of historical oddity in Walter Scott's novels, and I have Scottish ancestors, so enjoyed ever so much this wild, heart-in-mouth adventure around the Scottish highlands, as the clans are beginning to rise in support of King James in 1743.
The most unlikely moment in the novel, I thought, was when a woman who had just given birth the week before, jumped on a horse and rode for two solid days hunting for her brother over the moors. I don't know about you, but the most I could ever manage a week after giving birth was a weak totter down the street to the nearest cafe.. clearly I am not cut out to whisk around in the Scottish Highlands in the eighteenth century. Must make mental note not to muck about near standing stones..
Also I would love some advice as to how to pronounce Leoch, Laoghaire and Geillis?
However before you click over and order it for your thirteen year old who loves Doctor Who and time travel, or rush down to the bookshop to buy it for your Baptist mother-in-law who loves Scottish history, just be warned, there is language, graphic violence, and a certain... earthiness that is no doubt very historically accurate, but that may have had Walter Scott turning in his grave. Or maybe not. There is an endearing minor character who is a fussy and pedantic lawyer from Edinburgh, but who has the romantic soul of an adventurer and throws in his lot with a band of highland outlaws. I can't help but hope that the author meant it as a tribute to Scotland's own romantic literary lawyer.
So thank you my lovelies, for a most profitable and entertaining week of reading, and how wonderful that Rachel Joyce has written another novel, and that Diana Gabaldon has written two entire series related to Outlander. Oh, goody! And keep the recommendations coming..
Happy spring roses. The price of one rose bush equals many years of spring happiness. Now that is a good investment.
I have been racking my brain for evidence of greenish thriftiness here at Chez Blueday. It has been quite a week, with The Boy leaving home, and me renouncing cups of tea for greater health. So mostly I have been sad, eating comfort food, and keep having accidental naps due to lack of caffeine.
Here is this week's short list:
Saving electricity. Turns out that none of the tea substitutes I have tried so far are inducing me to jump up and put the kettle on every hour, on the hour as has been my wont. So, savings there, on electricity, and wear and tear on the kettle.
Drinking water. We always drink water, when not drinking tea, so this is not new, but this week as the dental hygienist was examining Rosy's teeth she complimented Rosy's strong white teeth, and hazarded a guess that she did not drink soft drinks, sports drinks or lots of fruit juice. The hygienist said she is seeing more and more children with damage to their teeth from acid, sugary drinks. So savings all round here. Savings from not buying bottled drinks, savings lots of plastic from landfill, and savings on dental bills. Unfortunately, water doesn't magically straighten teeth, and we still spend rather too much time at the orthodontist..
This week I made up a bottle of Kevin's home made window washer, and discovered that it works brilliantly, without that nasty Windex smell. I substituted methylated spirits for the rubbing alcohol, because it is much cheaper, and I had some in the cupboard. The recipe is a solution of 45% water, 45% methylated spirits and 10% ammonia. I found that Kevin's mirror/window washing method works brilliantly too, although I had to spray-rub with a wet-cloth-spray-squeedgee, instead of his spray-squeedgee, mostly because I imagine Kevin's bedroom mirror doesn't have any small children licking it, or wiping their hands on it after dinner, or seeing if they can write their names on it in spit..
As I consigned last week's roses to the compost this morning, I saved the petals for pot pourri. They are drying on the kitchen bench, delightful to stir around with the fingers to make the kitchen smell rosy.
The Girl has been home studying for exams this week, and she and I have been determinedly eating all the leftovers that are in little pots in the fridge for lunch. I also cooked up some manky pears and wrinkly apples to make stewed fruit for my gluten-free breakfasts. Tonight I will be making potato cakes from equally wrinkly and sprouty potatoes.
A very dear friend came to visit and commiserate about children who unkindly leave home. She brought a beautiful little spring bouquet from her garden. It made me so happy, and reminded me that my granny always took a tiny, perfect little nosegay whenever she visited a friend, and how it only takes a few flowers, and is something I should remember to do.. especially in spring!
Posy brought some lovely, lovely pets home today. There were mealworms left over from a science project at school, so now all of Grade 3 have little tubs of bran containing several mealworms. They will apparently take a whole month to eat this bran (the meal worms, that is, not Grade 3), and they also perform entertaining acrobatics when you pick them up, and sometimes amusingly shed their skin. So, looking for a very cheap and alternative pet for the children? Try mealworms..
Eating and sharing from the garden this week: lemons, lettuce, parsley, artichokes, rocket.
What green and thrifty projects have you been up to at your place this week?
Visited the gastroenterologist yesterday morning in my continuing quest to discover why I have been stupidly anaemic. Was absolutely horrified to be told to STOP DRINKING TEA. Tea, people, which is a whole extra food group on its own. How is it legal to tell people to stop drinking tea??? Turns out there is not actually a law about it; I can tell you this, because I have checked.
Did you know that drinking tea significantly inhibits iron absorption? I sort of knew this, and back in that earlier post, Libi even reminded me in the comments. And I sort of paid attention, because, well, she is a health professional, so I sort of half-heartedly started drinking tea only between meals. Mostly. Because I really, really hoped she was making it up (sorry Libi, I was in denial..)
But then the man in the white coat sitting directly across the desk told me the same thing. I came home and looked it up, and guess what, it is an actual thing, there are studies in journals even.
This is very, very tricky. Tea is an institution in my life. It makes everything better.
And also, how does one get through a whole afternoon without tea to prevent attacks of nana naps? Well, funny you should ask that, because last week, just for a lark, I decided to go gluten free. I know, it seems like an odd way to amuse oneself, but everyone who ever goes gluten-free goes on and on a) about how wonderful they feel and b) how stupidly expensive it is. So I thought, why not see what all the fuss is about, and see if I can do it without buying anything extra. Thrifty gluten-free. Now with all the zillions of tests I have had, I know this - I do not have coeliacs disease, though I have the gene (lots of people do), and I have absolutely no intestinal damage caused by gluten intolerance. I even had a biopsy which showed that there is no damage in my gut at all, even at a microsopic level. I never get so much as a stomach ache or headache and have never had any symptoms which would indicate gluten intolerance. I was just having a go out of sheer curiosity.
Well, here are the notes I took of what I ate last week:
Breakfast: Apple, handful almonds
Lunch: Fried Rice (peas, corn, bacon, egg, parsley, tamari, fish sauce), Apple
Afternoon Tea: Orange, Choc Chips, Seed/Dried Fruit Mix, Almonds, Yoghurt
Dinner: Lamb chops, Mashed Potato, Broccoli, Peas, handful sultanas
Feel awful, terrible headache, want to go to sleep.
Breakfast: Yoghurt, Seed/Dried Fruit Mix, Almonds
Lunch: Leftover Lamb Chop, Salad (lettuce, parsley, feta, marinated capsicum strips, piri piri sauce), Apple
Afternoon Tea: Orange, Choc Chips, Seed/Dried Fruit Mix, Almonds, Yoghurt, Cheese (what I really wanted was peanut butter on toast)
Dinner: Teriyaki Chicken (chicken, brown sugar, water, tamari, ginger, garlic, broccoli, marinated capsicum strips, snow peas, spinach, rice)
Feeling actually quite good, got lots done today.
Breakfast: Apple, Almonds, Choc Chips (go so well with almonds!)
Lunch: Quinoa Salad with pear, walnuts, rocket
Afternoon Tea: Apple, Potato Chips, Choc Chips, Yoghurt and FAIL, but who could resist The Girl's new best Vegan Chocolate Cake. THREE slices (quite small slices)! It's really that good. Tummy felt awful afterwards. Realise this is how I often feel after toast/cake day. Too full, a bit ill..
Dinner: Creamy Scrambled Eggs. Was going to make salad, but suddenly exhausted. Is it that cake? I hope not. Everyone else has toast with their eggs.
Breakfast: Boiled Egg, Sort-of Waldorf Salad - chopped carrots and celery, with apple slices and walnuts, French dressing.
Lunch: Handful Nuts, Seeds, Dried Fruit (busy, busy..)
Afternoon Tea: Cheese, Popcorn, Seeds, Dried Fruit
Dinner: Roast Potatoes and Carrots with Marinated Capsicum Strips and Piri Piri Sauce on Meatballs (wallaby mince - mistake, too lean for meatballs. Must get lovely fatty beef mince next time..) used Ren's recipe and whipped them up in the food processor. Easy peasy. Swapped onion for parsley. Have lots of parsley! Tiny handful of dried fruit for 'something sweet'. Have you guessed I am out of choc chips!
Feel fabulous today, lots of energy.
Breakfast: Quinoa with yoghurt, blackberry and clover honey, seed mix, dried fruit, and prunes from a two year old packet at the back of the cupboard!
Lunch: Leftovers from last night's dinner, apple
Afternoon Tea: Hot chips at the pool!
Dinner: Got home late from the pool. Everyone making their own dinner. Last few meatballs from last night, then TWO slices delicious wholemeal bread with butter and peanut butter. And a bowl of milk and cereal. Then, (head on arms), may as well be hung for sheep as lamb, the last piece of chocolate cake. Two hours later, and I am still feeling very full, and very slightly unwell.
Woke up in the middle of the night feeling distinctly unwell and like someone had inflated my stomach with a bicycle pump. Was it the gluten, the refined carbohydrates, or the MSG in the chicken salt on the chips? Maybe all three. Realised that I regularly feel like this, but don't count it as 'feeling unwell'. It's how I mostly feel. It feels unwell only in comparison to feeling so good yesterday.
Breakfast: Quinoa with yoghurt, honey, seed mix and prunes.
Lunch:What I have really been missing is a vehicle to transport peanut butter. Posy is forever eating celery and peanut butter. I decide to try it. Yum! Celery and carrot sticks with a mini bowl of ground peanut butter from the machine at the wholefoods shop. Cheese sticks. Almonds.
Afternoon Tea: Chocolate. In my defence Rosy bought chocolate to make brownies, and I can't eat the brownies, so I pre-emptively ate the chocolate.
Dinner: Jacket potato with Bolognaise sauce (wallaby mince - perfect in this application- onion, garlic, oregano, celery, carrot, tomato passata, red wine), cheese, and half a glass of red. My first glass for the week. The Man is away, and no fun drinking alone (well, drinking tea and eating chocolate alone is quite fun). All the energy. Keep finding more jobs to do.
Breakfast: Ran out of quinoa, so moped around a bit, then ate carrot and celery sticks with peanut butter, and almonds. Actually a good breakfast.
Lunch: This is where the whole project falls apart as this is the moment The Boy discovers he has been successful in finding a house, and will be leaving home forever on the weekend, and I abandon all entertaining projects and fall into a decline and exclusively eat toast and chocolate for days on end. And it is not clear at this point whether me feeling awful is food related or not...
OK, so clearly I am not very good at sticking to a restricted eating plan, especially if no actual harm seems to be going to come to me if I don't. I did learn that it is theoretically possible to eat gluten free without visiting the gluten-free aisle at the supermarket. I also felt, well, disturbingly full of energy. Since I had the iron infusion a couple of months ago, my energy levels have gone from zero to about one hundred (one hundred energies, that is. It is a technical term), but it has been kind of intermittent. There are energy jags and lags, and often I just collapse mid-afternoon, and have to eat steadily until dinner to keep going, and drink multiple cups of tea. I don't know whether it was the gluten free (ish) aspect of this week, or the lack of refined carbohydrates, but those energy peaks and troughs just levelled out, and I was happily pushing on all day and into the evening without needing twelve cups of tea to keep me going.
The other effect I noticed was feeling extraordinarily well. I have always been more or less healthy. I don't really ever get sick, or have headaches or stomach problems, or any health issues at all (well, apart from being severely anaemic as it turns out. Ooops. Feeling like you might be going to die while walking up hill turns out to be not normal. For future reference). But, last week I felt really, very, very well indeed. Like being a child again, when you forget you have a body because it does exactly what you want it to do and it never complains. It was a compelling feeling. But then, so is eating toast.
So my unsettling conclusion is this: if I give up tea to (hopefully) improve iron absorption, I will have nasty caffeine withdrawal (happening already) and will need daily naps due to afternoon energy failure. If I don't give it up I will need daily naps due to being anaemic. However, if I stop eating gluten (or possibly refined carbohydrates) I won't NEED cups of tea so much, because those energy troughs just did not happen while
I wasn't eating toast and cake. But I like toast and cake. And tea. I am very grumpy. I have had several tea-free hours now, and it is not fun, for me or anyone near me...
However, let's put this into perspective. Ten thousand people have died in a giant typhoon, and millions more are homeless and hungry and would give anything to have my problems...
Well, it has happened. The Boy packed everything he owned into his little car and drove away from us to start his life as a grown up. I am thinking this is really not a good idea, and maybe I should have taken a leaf from the Italian mamas' bible, and raised a proper Mama's boy instead who would have been happy to stay home until he was thirty five...
It goes without saying that we are immensely proud of our boy. When he left school his tutor said in his valedictory address that The Boy was one of the nicest blokes he has ever known. And it is true, that IS his super power, and it is why we will miss him so much. His going away party went on for about two days and involved a lot of twenty year olds hula hooping on the back lawn, juggling, bouncing on the trampoline, skateboarding, hanging out in the cubby, and reliving all the stuff that they had all done together for their entire childhoods together. They even played all their old computer games for old times' sake, which is unfortunate, because now Posy has discovered them, and I'd hoped I would never have to listen to some of that horribly annoying computer game music again..
Posy is always the life of every party, and eventually I had to remove her and pop her in front of the telly with me to calm her down. But Toy Story 3 was on, the one where Andy leaves home, and gives away all his old toys. Which The Boy had just done. And at that end is the scene where Andy's mum walks into his empty room with him.. it was all too much really.
Remember leaving home when everything you owned fit into your car? The Boy is not a collector of things, and before he started packing he went down to the pub and filled up the boot with a rather large number of slabs of a particular kind of beer that is only available in town (we grow great beer here in Tasmania. I had never seen a hop garden until I moved here. They are so pretty - like giant beanstalks!). So his tiny car was already quite full. First he packed our old TV so he could watch The Ashes, and an airbed and sleeping bag, and a fan, because he is hoping it will be really HOT in his new home! That is all the furniture he currently owns. Then his guitar went in, then his clothes. For his birthday we bought him things like a frying pan and a toaster, and I had cleared out the cupboards and donated crockery and towels. I also hunted out the camping cutlery, and realised that most of it was the remains of the first 'everyday' set we owned when we got married (Grandma gave us an 'elegant' set that we still use when we need lots for parties). So he is all set, boy-like, because who really needs furniture anyway? And he has discovered you can find FREE furniture on Gumtree, so you never know, he might even have a chair or so in a couple of weeks!
When he wasn't paying attention I stuffed all the corners with cleaning products (because he may not think to buy those..) and groceries so he will have something to eat this week. I remember when my mother-in-law brought us a box of her homemade preserves and tins of hot chocolate and other goodies when we got married. We were at university and living on practically nothing at the time, and felt so good to be able to stock up the cupboards and know that whatever happened we would at least have jam!
Our biggest worry though, was that The Man wouldn't make it to say goodbye. The Man has been away on a work trip for three weeks, and in that time The Boy found a house, on the provision that he took possession today. So he had to get on the boat last night, which meant he had to leave home at four thirty yesterday afternoon. The Man was due home at 2.15. There was a scare the night before because his plane had to detour around Typhoon Haiyan, so he was worried he wouldn't make his Australian connection. When he made it with minutes to spare, everyone breathed again. But then, the plane which had to carry him all of an hour across Bass Strait decided to be broken. He was delayed by half an hour, then an hour, then FINALLY arrived home at four, with just enough time for a cup of coffee before The Boy hopped in his little car to drive away from us.
And now I have to go downstairs to take the sheets off his bed, and stand in that empty, empty room, and try to think only happy thoughts about how he is on his next most excellent adventure.
So this has been a very uneventful green and thrifty week. I have gone out of my way to do er, nothing new on the green and thrifty front. I have been very busy being very sad and eating lots of comforting buttered toast. I have been doing all the same old, same old. Composting, watering the garden, recycling, not buying things. Some things in particular I have not been buying: things for The Boy to take away with him. I am making a collection of towels, crockery, tea towels and dish cloths that I don't need and putting them on the pile for him to stuff into his little car. He is poring over Gumtree to hunt up a collection of cheap and free furniture once he arrives in his new life. He is a chip off the old block. I told him I spend about $40 per person per week on food, and he told me he's not going to spend anything near that...
This week Posy decided I should clear out her room like I did for Rosy. Posy doesn't ask, so much as inform us what she NEEDS, before taking decisive action. Before I could even begin to say..'maybe next week?' she had mangirlhandled one of her giant bureau drawers out to the dining table and started tipping everything out. It was her 'craft' drawer, which meant it was full of the most enormous mess you have ever seen, every craft project she had started and abandoned over the last two years or so. I always close that drawer and shudder instead of dealing with it on cleaning day.
See those wooden drawers above? Those are our official craft drawers. Each one contains something 'useful' for all the multitude of projects that my girls get up to. We used to have a big 'Useful Box' like on Playschool, but it was a disaster. It got turned into a horrible chaotic mess that nobody could ever find anything in. We also once had a project room for all the arts and crafts and toys etc. Also a disaster. The only way I can corral the creativity is to have the dining table as project/homework table. Projects must be tidied away by the next meal, or the next day, and everything is right there handy. There's a drawer for wool and knitting needles, a felt drawer, stamps, stickers, paintbrushes, glue, a scrap paper drawer, even a 'useful' drawer with bits and bobs.
Then there's a sideboard stationery drawer.
So handy to be able to find everything you need to get every writing and homework job in one place.
And I hardly have to buy any of it. So much stationery comes into this house every day, and I save every single bit of it. Libi mentioned her 'Womble' habit a while ago. Remember The Wombles? They kept Wimbledon Common tidy by picking up everything that ever got left behind there, and using all these discarded bits and bobs to furnish their Womble burrow. I LOVED The Wombles as a child, loved reading about them to the children. I am a bit of a Womble. I just hate waste, as you well know. I have never, to my knowledge, bought a rubber band or a paperclip, and I save every piece of coloured card and paper and stickers and ribbons that just turn up here at birthdays, on cards, on envelopes, as part of old school projects, to feed the children's card-making fetish and homework project requirements. I sort them all into zip-lock bags, and into the wooden drawers. This is where they wait to begin a new life.
It takes seconds to sort bits and bobs into a bag, and then they are all ready for the project du jour.
So, back to Posy's giant craft drawer - it was full of beads and stickers and ribbons, and those craft sets that are popular with little girls as birthday presents - the project gets made (or not), and then there is left over embroidery thread and needles, and felt and buttons. Now it is all in the wooden drawers. Now Posy has a giant empty drawer that we filled with her Lego that grew (magically, I think it breeds in the tub) too big for its container, like The Magic Pasta Pot. So now her floor is tidy, her drawer is tidy (well, full of Lego, but only Lego), and we have all the crafty notions we will need for some years to come now.
If you want to see a better Green and Thrifty that isn't about stickers here's a good one I found today.
So my dears, today was all about being so very, very sad. Indeed, wallowing in sadness, and trying not to sob out loud at inappropriate moments. You see, my boy, my baby who grew up sometime when I wasn't really paying attention, my boy is going away, to another state, to a job, and a house and a new life.
And I am not the least bit sad for him, because he is clever, sensible, kind and funny. He will be fine wherever he goes. But I am so sad for me. Because he is clever, sensible, kind and funny, and he will be missed wherever he leaves. Which is here. Because somehow I blinked and he grew up. Such a cliche. But I imagine that the reason cliches are cliches and everyone keeps repeating them - is because they are so true and representative of the human condition.
He is leaving in just a few days, and when he is gone, that will be the end of his time at home. He will come back for holidays, but I can't imagine he will ever come back to live here. So just like that, after bringing him home from hospital and hanging over his cot for endless sleepless hours, holding his hands for his first steps, teaching him to read, to ride a bike, watching countless soccer games, coaching him through exams, anxiously teaching him to drive and watching him grow up and become an actual adult, we'll be watching him pack his life into his car and drive away from us..
Still travelling through life, laughing in the rain..
Ignore the silly title, run, do not walk, to your library to pick this one up. Zippy grew up in the 70s, in small town Indiana. She writes like a crazy-cat-lady with moments of pure joy and wonder. I read this and relived the 70s, which was fun, but what I really loved was Zippy's mother. The God-fearing Quaker mother who loved Isaac Asimov, and dabbled in ESP, and spent twenty years making a permanent dent in the couch reading maybe forty thousand novels. I am completely desolated that the sequel to this book, She Got Up Off the Couch, And Other Heroic Acts.. is not available from the library. I will be running, not walking to the library to put a request in the suggestion box. I really want to know what it was that got her mother off that couch.
The good news is that a number of Haven Kimmel's novels are in the library. Can they be as good as the autobiography? I will let you know.
One Red Paperclip
This is a very intriguing idea. A young man at a loose end, with no spare cash and no real interest in getting an actual job, wants to provide a house for him and his girlfriend. He decides to see if he can 'swap up' from a paperclip to a house. Apparently this is quite the story. Both my oldest children had heard of it via all the cool alternative news feed-y things they are always reading, but I only read about gardening and hadn't seen it until someone (?) recommended it on a blog.
It is clearly an enticing concept. I was reading it at the pool yesterday while in nominal charge of two nine year olds. They kept running back to me, a) to ask me for money for food/waterslide tickets etc and b) to find out what Kyle had swapped up to now. The first thing Posy asked this morning was whether he got the house...
I don't want to sound uncharitable, but I found this book a tiny bit, well, cutesie. I don't feel men ought to try and be cute. Men ought to be, well, manly. They can even lean towards the slightly grumpy. When they aren't being grumpy they can be truly hilarious if they want to. But not cute in a slightly teenage girly-sort of way. And he lets his mother cut his hair. That being said, I was struck by one aspect of Kyle's story - that in order for something interesting to happen, you have to put yourself, and your idea out into the arena where it can happen. This is not a new idea, or an astounding one, but here it happens over and over again, and it's a recurring theme, so it kind of keeps hitting you round the head with its sense, and also its sense of the possibilities. Because this is also not just about material gain, but about connections between people, and looking at out-of-the-box ways to achieve a very ordinary goal, and about the wonderful craziness of a silly idea coming to fruition. There is something very compelling about the whole thing. Red paperclip to house. Way cool.
First of the wonderful spring roses. Mme Alfred Carriere, Handel, Abraham Darby.
What has happened this week on the green and thrifty front?
Well, Rosy went on a school camp for the week, and I spent two days emptying out her highly cluttered and untidy small bedroom (no, really, it's small, about six feet by ten feet, with a big chimney breast in the middle of the wall. Standing room only, and a bed). How is this green and thrifty? Well, every week Rosy tells me that she needs more t-shirts/bobby pins/bun pins/ballet tights/hairbands etc, and who would know because her room is a continuous jumble sale-collection of clothes and half-finished craft projects and tiny treasures and an extreme stationery collection. I weeded out all her too-small clothes, so now she can see what clothes she owns. And yes, she does need a couple of t-shirts, but also now Posy has a whole new wardrobe for two year's time. But actually, under all the debris I found about a hundred hair ribbons and hair bands, and about twenty thousand bobby pins. They are now in a big pot, and I will never need to buy any ever again... also, now a lovely clean, blank canvas to decorate for her Christmas present, goody, goody. Must get on to present making now..
A couple of weeks ago I bought a carton of capsicum seconds for $10. Roasted most of them in the oven, and preserved them, now five jars of lovely marinated pepper strips in the cupboard, and one in the fridge that didn't seal properly. I have never made these before, and I'm so happy. Last year I froze capsicum strips and stored them in zip lock bags, but this year, jars in the cupboard, no plastic!
There were a couple of squishy capsicums left over, so I invented a deliciously yummy piri piri sauce. Actually, I didn't, I used a Jamie Oliver recipe, left out the raw onion, and added the raw capsicum instead.
Pop some chopped chilli, zest and juice of one lemon, two cloves garlic, one tablespoon apple cider or white wine vinegar, a glug of olive oil, a glug of Worcestershire sauce, one teaspoon paprika, and two slightly squishy capsicums in the blender. This is such a lovely sauce with eggs, meat, or on salad. Tastes even better after a couple of days.
I dug out the eco-bokashi bins from under the house. I bought them a couple of years ago when I thought I could save the earth by buying lots of green products. I don't know that I would go out and buy them now, however, now I have them, I will give them a go to 'process' my meat and fat scraps and other food scraps. They don't compost so much as pickle between layers of fermented wheat bran, and then you dig it into the garden. I have two big bags of official bokashi mix in the cupboard. When I have used it up, I am wondering if hops used for home-brewing would work? I will have to hang around some home brewers..
Fran sent me a dozen eggs from her lovely chookies. Her lovely chookies eat all her favourite plants, so really, we are now eating Fran's favourite plants. Sorry about your plants Fran, but those eggs are amazing. We celebrated them by using up the very last of last summer's PYO blueberries in muffins that turned the most wonderful shade of sunshine yellow when we put the eggs in. I left a bag of lemons on the verandah for Steve to take home to Fran. There was a note: STEVE, THESE LEMONS ARE FOR YOU! Steve put down the eggs two feet from the lemons, but 'didn't see them'... Never mind Fran. Next time...
Fran wants me to collect empty wine bottles for her to use for a crafty garden project. While immensely willing to help, not sure if that can be classed as a thrifty project..
This week I turned off all the heating, hopefully for good this season. I know readers anywhere north who are already experiencing bushfires will find it hard to believe, but this is the first week this spring that we have been able to break out the t-shirts (in the middle of the day. Jumpers and ugg boots at night and early morning still. Flannelette sheets still firmly on beds..).
Today I picked up a wonderful collection of books that were on hold for me at the library. I realised I was underutilising the library by going in to hunt for the same favourite authors over and over again. Disappointingly, Agatha Christie hasn't written anything new in a while, and I have a bad track record with just pulling books off the shelves. I have taken to reading blogs with the library catalogue window open, and ordering books that my trusted bloggy friends recommend. Reviews to follow.
In the spirit of Using What I Have I finally cooked some quinoa that has been in the pantry for about two years. I bought it from my favourite wholefoods shop because it was local and organic, and I loved the idea that a little farm in Tasmania was growing an ancient South American grain. But I didn't want to actually EAT it. I kept glaring at it and thinking, I don't want to eat you, you hipster vegan health food you, I'm sure you taste horrid. But I couldn't throw it out, that is WASTE. I am clearly not an early adopter. Think I mentioned that already somewhere.
So today was the day, or yesterday actually, because I soaked some for twenty four hours before I cooked it. I didn't know what I was going to do with it, but then I saw a photo in a magazine of a salad with pear slices and wild rocket (arugula) and walnuts with a blue cheese dressing, and I thought, yes, I will do that and add quinoa. So I made up how much water to add, and how long to cook it, and then I went and read my important emails, then I smelt burning... aaargh, turns out if you soak quinoa you don't have to cook it very long. But I scraped off the top layer which was fine, and look:
Oh, my goodness, most divine lunch ever. No blue cheese, but French dressing just perfect. So now I LOVE quinoa, and will bore everyone silly about it, just like everyone has been doing to me for years.
What else can I use up? Oh, yes, found some packets of prunes. Quinoa porridge with prunes?
In the garden this week: lemons, lettuce, rocket, parsley, oregano, sage, warrigal greens, spinach, a handful of snowpeas, the only we are likely to get from our unenthusiastic snowpea vines. And artichokes, but I haven't eaten any... yet...
Tell me about your green and thrifty projects this week..
From the first of November, plastic shopping bags will be a thing of the past in Tasmania. They have been banned from shops and supermarkets all over the state.
Hooray! Apart from the swag of environmental benefits, they are so ugly. As a receptacle to carry things about in, I think even a committee could not have come up with an uglier option (which begs the question - who WAS responsible for inventing such a misbegotten monstrosity? And where were the fashion police at the time?).
This is of course, marvellous news. But now I have a dilemma. We bought an under-the-sink, swing out rubbish bin, which we deliberately chose because it was shopping bag sized, so we wouldn't have to buy rubbish bin liners (because we are cheap frugal). The kitchen-design people couldn't understand why we didn't want their giant pull-out bin drawer option. Um, because we don't make that much rubbish, and we want to store food and saucepans in our limited kitchen space, not rubbish, that's why. And we don't want to spend money on giant-sized bin bags.
Anyways, since we have shunned our former profligate plastic-bag collecting days, we have still been lining our bin with plastic bags, just not our plastic bags. Every time I visit plastic bag-using friends and neighbours, I cadge plastic bags off them. Yes I know, but if I don't take them, they put them in the bin. So I have been SAVING them, right, to be used another day, OK? I know, it doesn't really make sense, but now, now I will not have plastic bags AT ALL. What to do people?
Who has a non-plastic bag based rubbish disposal system? I need ideas...
So far all I have thought is that the thick, department store-type plastic bags are still legal. I could cadge those... I don't want to buy the compostable ones, because as far as I know they don't compost except under industrial hot compost conditions. Is that correct?
Of course, the ultimate answer is don't make rubbish... not quite there yet. Does anyone know where I can buy ballet tights without plastic wrapping?
Yikes! I have a giant crop of artichokes. This is not a bad thing, of course, but a couple of years ago I planted an artichoke plant in the front garden for its wonderful sculptural quality, having eaten very few artichokes in my life, and all of them in restaurants. Last year I worked out how to hack into their hearts and scoop out their chokes with a spoon. Yes, it felt like plant murder, but then, they look like triffids, so I thought I ought to show them who's boss before it is TOO LATE. This year I have at least a dozen giant artichokes, on plants six feet tall, with more baby ones on the way. Last year I filled a large jar with marinated artichoke hearts in oil, which is still splendidly intact a year later, because I can't think what to do with them. Soon I will have several more of the same, and then it will start to get embarrassing.
Help! What can I do with them? Recipes, I need recipes!
This isa photo of last year's crop, due to my ongoing lack of a camera. This year the plants are about two feet taller and two feet wider. I lie awake at night listening for the sinister rustling of artichokes trying to get in...
Random hilarious photo of Posy because both cameras have left the house.
Yesterday morning I woke up in a panic, having remembered (in a dream?) that Posy had a dance dress-rehearsal at 2pm, and her dance costume, which I had been meaning to tackle for, ummm, six months, hadn't been altered yet.
That is not something that you want to face at 7.45 on a sunny Saturday morning. I really, really don't like the sewing machine. It doesn't like me. Every time I use it.. maybe about once a year, I have to get the manual out again to remember how to thread it up, and fill a bobbin. Then the bobbin thread breaks half-way along a seam, or I sew the wrong bits together, and every single time I put the pins in the wrong way, then sigh loudly, and have to take them all out and turn them around before continuing.
Naturally, I spent most of the morning procrastinating. I made pancakes, I read Harry Potter to Posy, I did some weeding, read me some internet, and ironically, some more of my current book Radical Homemakers.
Finally, at midday, I sat down at the sewing machine. Posy's dance teacher had accidentally ordered her a costume that was a size too large. From the US. Really? We have a local dance shop, and lots of talented dressmakers. Rosy's ballet school uses locally-made costumes, and reuses them year after year, so we rent those, and so far I have managed to get away with altering costumes by using safety pins and optimism. Posy goes to a simple little dance school within walking distance, only one lesson a week, a gorgeous teacher, but we have to buy preordered costumes. Sigh.
Anyway, here I was with one costume that needed two inches taken out of its middle, and another one that needed its legs shortened. And two powder-blue fingerless gloves that were designed for a child without twig-like arms. They kept flying off across the room during rehearsal. It took me over half an hour to work out how to cut two inches out of the middle of the leotard and reattach it to the skirt seam. The whole time I was very grumpy at myself, because I had had six months to take it to a dress maker to alter it, and hadn't, and I could be outside in the garden RIGHT NOW if I had been more organised. I finished clattering the last seam (I wonder if that sewing machine should be clattering?) approximately seven minutes before we were due out the door. They fit! The costumes FIT! There was happy squealing and jumping up and down.
I still really don't like sewing, but I feel so good. I actually did a sewing job, and it worked! I fixed a dance costume. Don't you love that moment when you feel like a really good parent?
Lovely ranunculae from the garden of a dear friend. Green, thrifty, and sent with love. Nothing better!
I have been reading The Prudent Homemaker a bit this week. This is a pretty, extremely frugal, very inspiring blog. Each week Brandy publishes a frugal accomplishments list, and I really like this idea, so I have snitched it. My list will feature accomplishments that are green AND thrifty, because sometimes there is a difference. Buying three pairs of socks for $1.50 on clearance at Kmart is thrifty, but not green. Buying one pair of Australian-made socks from a local, independent retailer for $12 is green and ethical, but not necessarily in the budget. Green AND thrifty? Maybe knitting socks out of thrifted yarn, or maybe collecting tufts of sheep's wool from hedgerows so no sheep is left cold and shivering; washing, carding and spinning it, then knitting it into socks. Maybe.
Collected all the windfall lemons from the garden, juiced and froze them in ice cube trays. One tablespoon of lemon juice per ice cube. Makes lemon-based recipes a breeze.
Pulled all the boxes of hand-me-down clothes from the shed for Posy. There were enough new-to-her clothes up there for her entire summer wardrobe. Hooray! I will need to buy a pair of shoes and two t-shirts, and she'll be done. I LOVE hand-me-downs. I save all of Rosy's clothes, and say 'Yes please!' to whoever offers outgrown clothes. I also collected all of Posy's outgrown clothes, washed them, and bagged them up to take to friends and the refugee group so that someone else can be green and thrifty as well.
Last night was the night before school camp (aaargh!) and Rosy had cleverly put up the tent to make sure she had all the bits. And then, disaster! The elastic that connects the poles together SNAPPED. Aaaargh, the night before camp, and we can't stuff the elastic back into the hollow core of the poles - it's too snug a fit. And The Man? Such a handy person, we always yell for him when something goes wrong, but darn, he's never around when you need him. After deep thought we used a heavy needle, attached to a long thread and sewed to the end of the elastic. The needle provided the gravity we needed to plunge the thread through the centre of the pole, then we could drag the elastic through, and knot it up. Double hooray! Epic save! No need to run out to Kmart in the dead of night and buy a new tent.
Sewed two buttons on Posy's hand-me-down cardi, and glued a rosette back on her shoe. Cinderella, you SHALL go to the ball! Well, the Grade Three social, anyway. Hand-me downs scrub up quite well..
Another 'oopsie' this week:
The lid of my beautiful pottery compost bin had a run-in with Rosy. Luckily The Girl came to the rescue, having apparently paid attention when The Man mends things, and knew the right glue to use, and where it lives in the shed. All fixed now.
From the garden this week: lettuce, parsley, rosemary, garlic chives, warrigal greens, lemons, oregano, sage, wild rocket. Lots of green salad!
So, that's my green and thrifty week - tell me about yours.
Can you hear the bells, the bells, that far off jingling coming ever closer?
Don't worry, this won't be a Grinch-ey Christmas post. I love Christmas, I really do. I loved it more when I was a child of course, when I wasn't responsible for buying presents or catering. I have wonderful memories of nativity plays and church choirs, making Christmas decorations with my mum, and all the dreadful school Christmas craft involving cotton wool (yes, snow-themed Christmas decorations in the tropics!) that I thought was just wonderful. We always had odd Christmas trees - a frangipani, hibiscus or eucalyptus branch, decorated with aformentioned cotton wool-based craft. Best of all was the last day of school, which meant Christmas had really come, and the whole summer holidays stretched out ahead. School holidays lasted FOREVER when I was a child..
I really want those simple thrills to be part of our children's Christmas experience as well. As usual, I'm already behind schedule - last week was our traditional Christmas cake baking week. Oops. Although looking at the date there in 2008, we were late that year too. See, another Christmas tradition!
This year, I have decided that I want to actually make some Christmas presents. Now this is an ambition fraught with difficulty, mainly because craft and me aren't exactly best buddies. My sole craft project this year has been putting home grown dried lavender into a number of those little organza party bags that seem to proliferate in a house where lots of girls go to parties. So yes, craft projects with a difficulty level of zero are my absolute limit.
However, needs must, and I will now reveal my grand Christmas plans - for Christmas I am going to redecorate all three girls' bedrooms. Yes, completely mad. But they will love it and I need to reorganise all their 'things' (and get rid of a few) in order to remain sane. AND, this is the challenge - I want to do it using as many home sourced, second-hand, or locally produced items as possible.
And I have two months. Feel free to laugh now... or at any time over the next two months :)
So far I have perused Pinterest for ideas, and craft projects involving zero talent.
Here is my inspiration for rooms for the two youngest. Here are the rooms that my whimsical older daughter would love.
I also want to involve the girls in each other's presents, because they are much more artistic and clever than I am, and we have already started. Posy and I created a dream catcher the other night when The Girl was out.
We used some evil ivy from the garden, and lots of beads and ribbons from the craft cupboard (I never throw anything away!). So now Posy has a present for her oldest sister. One down, lots to go!
Tell me about your Christmas plans. Do you do homemade?
It's been one of those days where I am racing in and out of the house like a crazy person, without two consecutive half-hours at home to get anything done. Late this afternoon I had twenty minutes before the ballet run, and wondered whether a nana nap might be in order... but no, I thought, I want to achieve something today other than driving. I popped out into my micro herb garden and picked oregano and sage to dry. My 'herb garden' consists of about a square foot of earth in front of some garden pots and rose bushes next to the drive way.
Three years ago I bought a sage plant and an oregano plant at the nursery, totalling maybe $6. I will have both herbs in my garden forever. The sage has a couple of tiny self-seeded babies, but also grows well from cuttings, and the oregano? Well, beware oregano, it grows everywhere:
It is also the secret ingredient which transforms any tomato dish from mundane to sublime. I find that some herbs, particularly oregano, and sage for some dishes, taste better dried. I air dry them in baskets and just crumble them up. Easy peasy. They need to be crumbly-dry before you store them in anything airtight. If in doubt, store them in paper bags for a few weeks. I like to pick and dry them in spring, when they are in full growth, just before they flower. Harvesting a year's worth of oregano and sage takes five minutes. Fast food!
If I had to choose only one herb to grow (that would be a mean, mean thing to do) I think it would be a little bay tree.
This is one herb that needs to be used fresh. A dried bay leaf is a travesty, a shadow of the wonderfully fragrant bouquet of a fresh crushed bayleaf. Almost impossible to kill, you can buy a tiny baytree from a nursery for a few dollars, and it will grow happily in a pot for years. Mine was only a few inches high when I bought it, and this is about three years' growth. Or you can take a cutting from a friend's baytree.
For the price of a packet of seeds you can have annual herbs forever, if you let them go to seed. The persistent and profligate parsley, for instance, currently growing in a crack between the driveway and the house wall.
I do find it extraordinary that there is still a market for fresh herbs. When you can grow them in paving stones. When their abundance is embarrassing in its lushness. When you can gather a year's worth in a matter of minutes, and then wonder what to do with the rest.
When you can overwinter tropical herbs in the laundry, like this hardy lemongrass.
I do wonder what more I could be doing in the garden to feed us. Really, the earth just does want to feed us. It wants to grow stuff. If I was to devote more than a few minutes between errands to producing food, imagine what we could be eating from our little yard...
This is one of the books I took away to the beach to read during rain showers. I just loved Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, an account her family's attempt to eat locally for a year, and since then I have read whatever of her fiction I could get my hands on via the local library.
If Kingsolver has a particular genius, it is in establishing place. Every one of her settings rings so true, and all of her novels rely on place - their action is so dependent on the milieu it is set in. This particular setting drew me in right away - the Appalachians, hillbilly country. I live in the poorest, most rural state of Australia, where we suffer from all the Aussie hillbilly jokes - the two-headed inbred Tasmanian is the stuff of legend. I wouldn't have to drive for more than half an hour to find myself in the exact southern hemisphere equivalent of Flight Behaviour'sFeathertown, with its tiny struggling farms carved out of the forest, rural populations short-changed by the education system, and effectually outside the global economy, and the wave of prosperity that urban centres have enjoyed for the last sixty years.
My son has a part time job at a small sheep farm half an hour out of town. The farmer is the third generation to live and work this farm. He lives alone with his elderly mother, he has never left Tasmania, and he can't leave the farm for more than a day. He still farms using the methods and actual tools that his grandfather used. My son was helping to do some concreting a few weeks ago, and was wheeling the cement around in a wheelbarrow with an iron wheel. You know, the kind that was in use seventy five years ago, before rubber tyres were invented for wheelbarrows. You mostly see them now as lawn ornaments, with petunias growing in them. The farmer recently bought a cordless drill, because The Boy was telling him about this amazing technology. They painted the shearers' quarters with a paintbrush, because using a paint roller was a completely foreign idea. Reducing and reusing aren't in it. This farmer must live with a carbon footprint the size of a tennis shoe.
So this is the background to Flight Behaviour. A small rural town, already poor, farmers tipped over the edge by recession , and as the novel opens, absolutely inundated by the worst rains for decades, again eerily familiar in this Tasmanian winter and spring, the wettest for fifty years.
The wonderfully named Dellarobia is struggling to keep financially afloat with her husband on their family farm, and is terribly, restlessly unhappy. On her way to begin an affair, she is arrested by a magical, otherworldly vision that will change her life, and the life of the town. She, the farm and the town become the centre of media and scientific attention that introduces Dellarobia to a world wider than she ever dreamed of.
Knowing of Kingsolver's passion for the planet I was initially concerned that this would be a propaganda novel, a one issue manifesto. But there is a subtle interweaving of ideas going on here, not the least of which is the thread of respect for the traditional skills that thrifty rural populations have always needed to get by - cooking, sewing, mending, preserving. Again, this is something that amazed me when I moved to Tasmania. Hardware stores stock canning lids, soccer mums discuss the best way to make pumpkin soup and how to make sloe gin (these are not the private school soccer mums, but the club mums, who drive farm utes). The most popular talkback radio show is the Saturday morning vegie and fruit growing show and the one following which discusses chooks and small holdings. Many people here keep chooks and grow vegies and preserve fruit from their trees, not because they want organic produce, but so they can afford to eat well.
There is a moment I particularly liked in this novel where an earnest, but slightly pompous city environmentalist is trying to tell Dellarobia how to reduce her environmental impact. He suggests that she eat less meat. Her response is that the only meat they can afford is an occasional lamb from the farm. When he suggests taking her own containers to restaurants for leftovers, ditto buying coffee and takeaways, she laughs. She can't afford any of these things. His suggestion that she buy secondhand on Craigslist draws only a blank look. She doesn't own a computer. She should buy energy saving appliances to use less electricity. Again, she thinks this is hilarious. Electricity bills are not something you joke about though. You use as little as humanly possible, because it costs money. And then there is his last desperate effort. She should fly less.
OK, really, it is not the poor of the earth who are wrecking the planet now, is it? I think that might be the take home message here for me.
The Supermama in question had six children in five years (two sets of twins)! And she homeschooled them!! She has all the super powers, including the one where you can see what mischief your children are getting up to from two rooms away. She is one of my best buddies, and has come up with many a frugal save.
This one was when I needed hair help for Rosy, who at eight, had just started ballet and needed a twice weekly ballet bun, which meant taming the wild, birds' nest hair. What to do? One of the ballet mums pointed me in the direction of an expensive hair product from the chemist, but luckily I saw Supermama first, and she passed on the secret of her four girls' immaculate blonde ponytails - a couple of squirts of conditioner in a spray bottle filled with water. That's it. Simple and brilliant. I have been refilling this bottle for five years now.
Oh, and if you add a couple of drops of lavender oil, it repels nits. Ask me how I needed to find that out! How long do you think it took Posy to contract her first case of nits after she started school? Six weeks. Another reason to homeschool. Anyways, a couple of squirts of lavender detangler when putting up the morning ponytail is a marvellous preventative.
So, tangly hair, or wild, hairbrush-averse toddler? Try this thrifty hair detangler. And cheers to Supermama!
One of the excellently interesting things about cooking day in, day out, is how recipes start to become familiar, the patterns of food and the way ingredients go together start to emerge from a seemingly random universe of recipes.
One of these 'ah' moments came when I realised that the process of making pastry is the same as whipping up a crumble, or making a number of biscuit recipes. And any recipe that involves rubbing butter into flour can be whizzed up in a minute in the food processor. When you make these connections, you have routines, and when you have routines, producing food day in, day out becomes a much simpler process.
A routine that I follow about once a fortnight is this: make two quiches, one to freeze, then make two batches of ginger biscuits, also one to freeze, and do this all using the food processor. The recipe for shortcrust pastry is so simple - a 2:1 ratio of flour to butter. I use 260 grams flour to 130 grams butter for two quiches, which I make in 20cm cake tins. Tip flour, butter, and a pinch of salt into the food processor, whiz it up. With the motor running, add 1/3 cup cold water until the mixture forms a big, clumpy ball. Shape pastry into a ball, refrigerate it for 15mins or so. Roll it out - I just do this straight on the bench, and line the tins.
My quiche filling recipe comes from Stephanie Alexander's Cook's Companion. Best recipe book ever. Two quiches require four egg yolks, and four whole eggs, whisked up with two cups of cream, a pinch of nutmeg, salt, pepper. Grate a bunch of cheddar cheese and put in the bottom of the pastry case, along with whatever other fillings you can find. I am currently using lots of greens from the garden. Tip in the egg mixture. Pop in the oven at 200C for fifteen minutes, then 180C for half an hour. Num, num. Even better next day for lunch.
Now don't wash up the food processor just yet, as we are about to make ginger biscuits. This recipe was from a library book on traditional English dishes, these are from Cornwall, traditional except for the method, which probably didn't originally include the use of a food processor.
(I use metric and imperial measures when cooking, as my scales show both, and I am lazy)
I double this recipe, because what is the point of making one tray of biscuits?
Throw all of this in the food processor, whiz it up.
Add 3 tablespoons of warmed golden syrup while the motor is running until the mixture firms up to a consistency that you could make balls out of it. I sometimes need to add a little water.
Shape into small balls, flatten with fork, bake at 190C for 10 mins after the quiches come out. Cool on racks.
Try to save some for the next day...
Now, if you are feeling enthusiastic, you can whip up some macaroons from the four left over egg whites. Or persuade someone else to..
Tired, but determinedly cheerful mother of four. One grown up son (The Boy), one grown up daughter (The Girl), two girls at home, Rosy (16) and Posy (11). Trying to buy a little less, make a little more, live a little lighter, not mess up the children too much..