Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Of Baby Birds and Other Outside Joys

We have been watching a mother bird sitting on her nest for quite a few weeks now.  This afternoon when I went to see how she was doing she wasn't there.  What a perfect time to get a photo of what she's been caring for.  Little did I know her chicks have hatched - we have baby birds! How exciting.  I hope the new Mummy finds plenty for her chicks to eat around here.  Heaven knows the bunny that visits has been happily munching his way through our grass!

Around the few days on either side of Christmas Day I decided it was time to get my herb garden back in shape.  If you look very carefully you can see rosemary at the back there and the purple flowers of the chives.  The rest, embarrassingly, is weed.  Nice, healthy, choking weeds.

Herb Garden - Before
Because I am such a weakling and a wuss it took me three goes to get through the weeding.  I started and after half an hour or so I just couldn't do anymore.  I'm not so sure that's just cos I'm tired either.  In any case, I finally got to the end and I can see my herbs again.

Herb Garden - After

We still have some work to do.  The soil is quite tough just under the surface so my heroic (and very strong) hubby will need to help me pitchfork it over. I'm simply not strong enough.  Then I want to add some compost before buying some herbs and mulching the whole thing.  I've always wanted: thyme, lemon thyme, oregano, parsley.  Perhaps even some basil, though that's never been terribly successful.  

I have to say, it's completely satisfying to have the time to wander outside a bit.  To enjoy watching a mummy bird and getting that garden bed in order.  I've even sprayed the lemon tree, which is looking a little worse for wear.  Perhaps next spring I will even have the mental capability to consider a vegie garden, given my teaching degree will be on the verge of completion!

Monday, 30 December 2013

Recipe: Ice-Cream Winner

Unfortunately the photo above is all that is left of last night's chocolate ice-cream.  I've mentioned this recipe before and it has become a very firm favourite in our household.  The recipe comes from Nigellissima, and of course I've tweaked it a little.  Firstly because I don't keep the liqueur she uses and secondly because our sweetened condensed milk comes in tins that are double the weight stipulated in the recipe.  The original recipe for 'no churn coffee ice-cream can be found here.  I've tried a couple of different variations to the basic idea of this recipe - they are below for your summer enjoyment.

Chocolate Ice-Cream

1x 395g tin sweetened condensed milk
1x 600ml container thickened cream
2 tablespoons cocoa powder (or more if you want it stronger)

Place all ingredients into a mixing bowl and whip until the consistency of whipped cream.  
Pour into an airtight container and freeze for at least six hours.
I find my freezer makes this pretty hard so we put it in the fridge about half an hour before I want to serve it and it scoops out perfectly.

Caramel Ice-Cream

1x 395g tin 'top 'n fill' sweetened condensed milk
1x 600ml container thickened cream

Method as above.


This recipe is incredibly easy and quick to make.  I did this first thing Sunday morning for guests that evening whilst sipping my morning cup of tea, given the mixer truly does all the work it was absolutely no burden and took no more than five minutes.  I think you'll find it difficult to go back to commercial ice-cream after trying this.  I'm wondering how it would go with lemon zest and a little lemon juice rather than the cocoa.  When my lemons start to ripen I'll let you know!

Book Review: A Marriage in Middlebury

My review for A Marriage in Middlebury has been posted here over at Relz Reviewz.  I loved Anita Higman's style and her characters were so engaging.  If you're after a book that explores deep themes ensconced in a lighthearted wrapper this is just the thing.  Pop over and read the rest of the review.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Christmas Anticipation

We are in the calm before the storm here at our place; waiting with delicious anticipation for Christmas morning...the girls are counting down the hours.  Our extended family gatherings have been and gone and Christmas day is, for us, a quiet affair with just the five of us at home for the day.  Having been in and out of the kitchen for things like Festive Dip and Granny's Pavlova we are all now looking forward to our Christmas lunch - the makes of which are overflowing from the fridge!

~ Christmas Lunch Menu ~

Main Meal
Baked Glazed Ham
Roast Cherry-stuffed Pork
Roast Potatoes
Asian Salad
Corn Salad

Sticky Date Pudding
Caramel Ice Cream

Our recipes are a collection of favourites sourced from family members and food heroes like Nigella Lawson and Maggie Beer.  Each member of our family has made the requests that make up our menu after my question about what food makes them think of Christmas.  I think really, some of these things are more likely firm favourites and therefore a special meal could not be had without them.  These salads are, after all, not exactly traditional.  Even in a summery Australian Christmas.  And none of us are thrilled with turkey so that has never been part of our meal.

What food makes you think of Christmas?

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Stopped in my tracks

This morning as I was having breakfast I did a normally-benign kind of thing: I was reading the paper.  Well, you know, in a very modern kind of way via my iPad.  There I found an article listed on the front page of 'The Age' app about an Aussie couple living in a Bangkok slum.  As it turns out I knew this couple in the early 90's when we both worked for the same organisation.

The article (video and link to article can be found here), written by Tim Elliot, is authentic and compassionate, and accurately represents the character and intention of Ash and Anji.  As a Christian living in a Western culture, though, I found the article challenging and confronting in the face of the overt consumerism especially so close to Christmas.  What inspired me, however, was that Ash and Anji are enabling people around them to use their gifts and skills to support themselves and rise above their otherwise dire circumstances.  They actively work to promote hope.

Whilst I am not rushing off to live in a slum, or in fact move anywhere, there is much one can do to contribute to building hopefulness and showing people a picture of who God is.  Yesterday my girls and I cooked to provide meals that our church's pastoral care team can give out to those who have need of them.  In the final weeks of the term our school collected festive non-perishable food items and donated them to a local church who puts together food hampers for those struggling at Christmas time.  We can choose not to be so concerned about material 'things' and the gathering of them....even when the world about us insists we need their product to have a better life.

I'm still pondering the 'Heart of the Slum' article...and my pondering leads me to ask lots of questions.  Does my faith drive me to live differently?  Is life in a 'first world' country really that much better?  Do we really need all our stuff?  How does what I do in my normal life give others an image of God?

Lots to think about.  Read the article...be challenged and maybe transformed!

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Summer meals on quiet summer days

Mr Busy undertakes the manly task of barbecuing

Another quiet day has passed here.  One can hardly be blamed, as it was 39C in the city today.  However, after a very industrious day of dusting, vacuuming and mopping yesterday I had intended to dust and vacuum carpeted rooms today.  Instead, I napped in the morning.  Miss Sunshine, I believe, turned the cooling on before the house got too warm.  In the afternoon I had another nap.  Really...this is beginning to be very unproductive!  Tomorrow!  I will get there tomorrow!!!

In our house when the mercury sores we BBQ.  I was once informed by a male friend that females are not permitted to cook a BBQ.  Now this presents a problem when the man of the house is still at work when everyone else is ready for dinner and we don't want to heat up the house to cook.  We have solved that problem in the form of Mr Busy.  Having been well-instructed by his Dad he took up the mantle of man-of-the-house-BBQ'er in fine form.

Miss Sunshine made a salad to go with our sausages and potatoes and we dined in fine style, although sausages are not my idea of 'style'.  They were simple a means to Miss Mischief getting her desired cold sausage sandwiches for lunch tomorrow!

Monday, 16 December 2013

The week before Christmas....

 Our Christmas Tree - we love our new baubles

Our first official day of school holidays passed quietly and slowly.  The bulk of our Christmas shopping was done over the weekend, with plans for the final purchases to be made tomorrow.  Our Christmas menus have been assembled in consultation with everyone in the family.  Presents are wrapped and under the tree. 

I am quietly appalled at what I did not achieve today.  Every time I sit down I end up sleeping for a few hours and today was  no different.  My wonderful children are becoming very good at quietly going off to other corners of the house while I lay claim to the family room.  This morning Mr Busy followed my lead and claimed the other couch for a long morning nap.

This afternoon I was completely enthralled by the discovery of a birds nest in our apple trees.  When I looked closely a little mother bird was sitting there quietly.  I guess she was sitting on eggs because she didn't budge even a feather until Miss Sunshine got too close in her efforts to take a photo.  At that point I directed my over-zealous kids away so that mummy bird could tend her nest in peace.

Tomorrow I need to begin on my cleaning list.  Before I succumb to a nap.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Book Review: When Mockingbirds Sing by Billy Coffey

My first review for the summer has been posted here at Relz Reviewz.  Surely the single-most exciting way to kick off a summer of reading.  My goal is to read more than 20 books.  I'm on my way!

Click on the link to read my review.  I adored this book and will be eagerly looking for more of Billy Coffey's works.

Monday, 2 December 2013

The Parenting Files: "I am doing a great work and cannot come down".

I've been thinking a lot lately about seasons.  Not so much about the weather but about life.  I like how our Senior Pastor's wife put it in a recent sermon on seasons:  what occurs in the natural occurs in the spiritual.  I mentioned the other day that I had been feeling a bit put out that my planned season of rest has been somewhat usurped by children's needs.  I was reminded of the aforementioned sermon as I have tried to get my head around all that is going on, and the busyness that is the end of the school year and preparing for Christmas.  In this sermon we were given five principles regarding seasons that I have found helpful.  The sermon was a part of a series on marriage, but I am finding these principles helpful in all areas of my life at the moment and perhaps you might them helpful too:
  1. Every season has a purpose.
    There is no such thing as a wasted season - even the dry ones have purpose.  Expect to have hope rekindled.
  2. Recognise the season you are in.
    Don't over-spiritualise (Satan is out to get me) or under-spiritualise (oh, that's just what's happening right now) your season.  You will either see things that aren't there or miss what's really happening.  Be aware of what God is doing.
  3. Respond appropriately.
    An incorrect response to a season can be disastrous - think David and Bathsheba.  That event occurred at a time when David had stayed back in Jerusalem during a season when he should have been off at war. (2 Sam 11:1)  Don't try to rush ahead of the season or hang on to one for longer than it is meant to be.
  4. Persevere and push through.
    Sometimes we just have to grit our teeth and push through a season.  (Gal 6:9)
  5. Find your 'great work' and do not be undermined.
    Like Nehemiah, do not allow others to undermine or distract you from the work God has given you to do.  I love the words of Nehemiah, when people tried to undermine his work rebuilding the city walls, that were given here "I am doing a great work and I cannot come down" (Neh 6:3).
Each of those principles is as valuable as gold to me.  But that last one "I am doing a great work and cannot come down" just reminds me to be content in my season, to learn all that God has to teach me, to commit myself to the work He has given me to do in this season and not to be distracted, and to know that my current season has a purpose.  Every time I try to step out of the season I'm in with a new activity my life starts to unravel until I say to myself "I am doing a great work and cannot come down" and return to where I am meant to be.

Right now my season is to prepare for the next season in my work.  Within that, this is my season to care for my children's needs and rest up for the final pushing through of my season of preparation.  I am feeling impatient in so many ways, but I am equally aware that it is important to learn all I can while I'm in this season.

What is your season?  What is your 'great work'?

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

A Day for Resting

I got up and got dressed for work this morning.  Then I changed my mind.  And my clothes.  For the past week I've been fighting off and then succumbing to a head cold.  My body feels OK, but my head hurts.  Especially when I cough, which is often.  Yesterday my Head of Primary suggested I was unfair to bring my germs with me to work.  Today I conceded defeat and gave in to stay home on the couch.

It is exactly one year and one month since I was last laid out with a cold - I know because it was the last time I sent a text to let school know I wouldn't be at work.  A whole year!  After being sick twice the year before I wanted a whole year, and I got it.  I think now I need to aim for....well....five years seems good to me.  I wasn't willing to admit this cold either.  The kids were saying "Mum, you're sick" and I was in denial saying "No...no I'm really not".   It worked in May when I was on teaching rounds and couldn't take time off.  My sore throat never progressed beyond just that.  I won that one!  I thought I could win this one too.

My recipe for getting better?  Three hours with Anne of Green Gables and three hours of sleep.  A perfect balance, wouldn't you say?  That and plenty of cold/flu medicine and Vicks Vapodrops to "soothe the throat and clear the nose".  I was going to have a little nap and then have lunch and watch some episodes of Nigella, but....well....I didn't wake up.  No lunch.  No Nigella.  And you know what?  I haven't slept three hours in a row for over a week.  It was bliss.  I didn't even cough once I'd settled.  Fortunately I woke in time to go and pick the kids up from school!!

I'm out for the next two evenings and I have a precious little 5yo niece coming on Friday afternoon so I hope by tomorrow my nose will have settled and there will be fewer coughing fits to be endured.  Maybe more Anne of Green Gables is required?

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Mocha Muffins

If you've been reading here for a little while you will know I find nothing more inspiring for getting me into the kitchen than a little bit of Nigella viewing on TV.  The ABC have been airing her 'Nigellissima' series again, which is on when we normally watch the news.  I am making use of technology and watching episodes at my leisure using my iView app.

The kids have been complaining that they have snacked too heavily over the weekend - a charge led by their father.  In any case by Tuesday everything I had bought had been consumed with the ferocity of a swarm of locusts.  So after some Nigella viewing I went and made some mocha muffins.  When we were in Costco the other day I found some Kirkland Signature semi-sweet chocolate chips and I just wanted to use some.  I also managed to get 2kg of unsalted butter for just $2 - it was close to use-by!  My recipe is a trusted, tested one from Steph's Country Kitchen Goodness.

And on that note I've been noticing some changes in my baking powder.  My closest friends know I have baking powder issues.  Any time someone heads to the US and asks me if I want anything my immediate response is Rumford's Baking Powder.  Last time my friend Rel was the one travelling and she brought me back some Clabber Girl Baking Powder.  Either way they're both double acting - something that seems to have escaped the baking powder manufacturers in this fair land and it just works soooooo much better!  Ever since our trip to the US I have pined for baking powder that actually works.  Last week I had to buy some more baking powder for 'general use' (the American stuff is saved for special things - I make it go as far as I can!) and the branding had changed on the container.  I used it in these muffins and it seemed to me that perhaps we now have double acting baking powder ourselves.  I think I'll need to do some more experimenting.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

When life throws you a curveball....

Just when I thought I could slow down life's curve-balls have decided to head this way.  Uni finished at the beginning of November, for me, so I thought things would slow down a little.  But no.  Rather than the particularly fine art of juggling Uni with everything else we're heading down a pathway of figuring out some kid-related issues instead. 

At first I was feeling a little bit miffed that my peaceful days of no Uni were being stolen from me unawares only to be replaced with other time-consuming affairs.  And then I realised my decision not to study over the summer was really God ensuring I had the space I was going to need.  I thought I was taking time to rest.  And I am, there will still be plenty of time to sleep and read and clean my house from one end to the other.  But these days will also be ones where I can manage extra appointments and ensure the 'issues' are being cared for in the best way possible.  God does indeed know the plans he has for us.

On top of it all I now have a Year 12 student in the house, as of yesterday.  Year 12.  I really don't know how that happened.  I'm pretty sure the last time I looked at my kids they were about waist high and in Primary school.  Now we're staring down the barrel of having a school leaver this time next year.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Breakfast Anyone?

Dh has decided going out for breakfast is his new favourite thing.  All of a sudden the children are old enough to be home without us, and going out for a breaky for two is a much cheaper alternative to dinner for five hungry adult-sized people.  The kids are all up at different times of the morning so we feel less obligated to take them along.

Dh thinks we should 'up the hill' to the tourist road next.  I'm not so sure.  A swarm of locals on bicycles are quite the road hazard on Saturday's and Sunday's between here and there.  I think we need to revisit today's restaurant so I can try all the breakfasts I couldn't choose this morning!  I have to say though, my potato rosti with poached eggs and smoked salmon was a very delicious start to the day.

As of this morning we also have a new learner driver in the house.  Miss Mischief passed her test with 94%, a result all the more sweet when she realised she had beat Miss Sunshine's score.  I don't think I'll ever be allowed to drive my car again!  When Miss Sunshine's exams are over she's on notice that she'll be pushed into more practice.  The child needs to drive to get to Uni in 2015 and 120 hours of experience are hard to come by.  Miss Mischief, on the other hand, is chomping at the bit to get going.

Maybe when one of them has a license Dh and I will move on from breakfast out to ... ohhhh, I don't know - a trip overseas for two?!!  Disneyland is singing my name, I'm sure of it.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Too Excited about the End in Sight

I had a moment where I realised I was a little bit too excited about being nearly half way through the last term of the year.  In six weeks' time Uni will be finished.  School will be finished.  I will have six weeks of relaxing ahead of me.  In six weeks' time I will only be arguing spending time with my own children.  I might find the energy to cook properly every night.  And clean the house from top to bottom.  Twice.  And I will definitely be ploughing my way through all sorts of fun books.  In six weeks' time Christmas will have been planned, implemented and enjoyed.

Alright - I don't really care that I am a little too excited about the end of the school year.  I can't wait to have a proper break and I can't wait to just "be" for a little while.

Monday, 21 October 2013

The Parenting Files: Grumpy Children after Camp

Is it just our home, or is it common for young people to return home from camp really grumpy?  Mr Busy had a wonderful time away at a church youth camp.  He had too much fun and his recovery process includes grouching at his sisters and generally behaving in unbecoming ways.  Tonight after school Mr Busy has not been asked about homework and has had more than his fair share of screen-time.  He has also spent some time on his own, you know, resting.  Really, I was just protecting us from him.

After an early night tonight hopefully he will return to his normal chipper little self.

How do you handle children who are returned to you with attitude and grumpiness?

Monday, 14 October 2013

A Smile Amidst Tourist Madness

Elmo on the back of an electrical repair truck

Where I live we're well into tourist season.  It begins in earnest during the September/October school holidays with the tulip festival.  I am caught between frustrated despair and warm hospitality in regard to tourists.  You see, if you live somewhere where tourist contributes to the economy you really do want to welcome and care for visitors to the area.  My despair and frustration is limited to driving.  Tourists are crazy drivers.  They don't know the landmarks to look for so they drive slowly and do weird things, and the extra cars on the road make travel slow, especially when there's nowhere to overtake.

Before you think me too harsh, I regularly chastise my husband for driving like a tourist when we are that position ourselves.  Knowing how the locals feel makes me more aware to know exactly where I'm going - or use a GPS navigator.  And look up Google Maps so I know what to look ahead for.  I do my best to be a good tourist driver!

Over the school holidays I snapped this photo on an otherwise frustratingly slow trip.  We've had some yucky weather so the SP Ausnet guys were on their way to repair some downed lines and this truck had a little furry friend along for the ride.

I didn't mind the slow drive so much with Elmo smiling at me all the way  home.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

In Which Mr Busy Cooks a Two-Course Dinner

Mr Busy's homework this holidays, apart from some maths, was to plan, shop for and prepare a two-course meal for the family.  His menu was a green chicken curry and chocolate mousse.  I couldn't help but laugh every time he asked me what to do next, when making the curry.  It was a recipe he'd made at school and didn't bring the recipe home.  My response, a constant "what did you do when you made it last time?"  In any case, with my experience and his scant memories we got through.

Dh was so impressed with the results he kept asking if there was more to be had.  Mr Busy made a small, easily fixable error in making the mousse do Dh suggested he should try the recipe again...you know, to get it right.  Guess who would happily offer to be the official taste tester?

There is only one really dilemma for a budding chef of Mr Busy's calibre:  cleaning up the overwhelming mess at the end of all that fun!

Friday, 27 September 2013

The Importance of Managing Stress

Our view from the cabin
The importance of managing stress usually smacks me in the head at the most inconvenient times.  Do you find that too?  You know, those times when your kids a cracking apart all at the same time, or when you have time-pressured deadlines looming which require a significant time commitment to meet them.  The events of the past term have converged and put me in a bad spot.  I'm sure you know what it feels like when you're overwhelmed!

When Dh suggested we join him on a trip to Echuca (business for him) I was reluctant.  In my head this was bad timing given all I need to accomplish over the school holidays for Uni.  But I agreed.  He loves to have the company, the kids had nothing better to do and my study is quite portable.  Dh organised a cabin right on the Murray River where our view was stunning, relaxing and intriguing.  We watched the water level rise a number of centimeters while we were there.  Just quietly and subtly, but it still rose!  We took a little trip on one of the paddle steamers (not the one below!), which came all the way up to where we were staying and then turned around to return us to port.

The 'Emmy Lou' on a tourist jaunt
 I returned home on Wednesday feeling a little less stressed and ready to get into some work.  Who would have thought that taking time to relax when you feel like life is most busy would be the answer to the issue of feeling stressed and overwhelmed?  It was so worth it.

Monday, 16 September 2013

The Summer Holiday Plan

It has been decided!  I have a plan for the summer holidays and it includes lots of books.  Frances tells me a holiday, to her, is guilt-free reading and not having to cook.  I don't like my chances on the latter but I can definitely manage the former in bucket-loads.

Those of you who have been reading here for a long time might remember I used to do book reviews for my very dear friend Rel....before I began my degree.  I emailed her this morning to suggest that some book reviewing might assuage my fears of being bored.  She was quick to agree!

So that's my plan.  A LOT of reading and reviewing.  If I can read close to 20 books in three weeks imagine what I could accomplish over six weeks?!  My overflowing bookshelf will need a new buddy to contain everything.

And while we're talking summer holidays, can I tell you something funny?  This morning when trying to figure out how long term 4 will be I counted six weeks and was devastated when Mr Busy told me ten.  In my figuring of weeks I completely forgot November.  Yep...the month with the long weekend and I skipped right over it.  Sad but true.

Friday, 13 September 2013

The Definition of a Holiday?

I have decided my definition of "holiday" needs a little work if I am to survive the busyness of my life with sanity intact.  Over the past three years I have had two weeks a year where I've work and Uni have ceased at the same time.  Two weeks where I've had no responsibilities other than...well...the enormous task of mothering.  And wife-ing.  I know, it's not a word, but let's pretend for a moment!

I've just had a mid-semester break from Unit, during which time an assignment was due so it wasn't really a break.  I'm about to head into school holidays during which time I'll be studying and beginning end-of-semester assignments.  So not so much of a break.  December 13th is looking really good to me right now!  No work, no Uni.

So what do I consider a holiday?  It can't be about not having to be working on something important because that never seems to end, if it's not things outside of family it's my family that needs attention.  Time to stop and snooze.  Time to read a good book in a day.  Time to say "YES!" to spontaneous plans with friends.  In amongst all of that I need to feel like what I'm doing is worthwhile to someone else as well as me.

And every now and then a chance to be away from home really helps too.

I'm planning to take the Christmas/summer holidays this year without studying, since I only have six units (instead of 8) to complete next year.  I need to stop and do something the things that make me feel like I've had a break.  Rejuvenation, renewal, rest.  All so very important!  As well as being able to say "no" the first time instead of later!!!

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Parenting Files: A Pet Dilemma

Do you have children who are pestering campaigning for a pet of one particular type or another?  From time to time our children have begged for a pet.  At other times we've had pet-loving friends insist we are depriving our children of all the benefits of owning a pet - you know, companionship, responsibility...that sort of thing. 

I have been the biggest resister to the pet owner wannabe's around here.  I maintain that I care for a husband and three children and that's enough living things to feed and clean up after.  My other insistence is that the best parent a child can have is a sane one and I am convinced adding pet responsibilities to my list of things to remember would tip me over the edge, not to mention that our fences are not up to the task of keeping things in.  I know this because we can't keep things out - dogs, cats, rabbits - they all visit our yard from time to time.

Over the last school holidays, however, I relented and we babysat Jane.  Jane is a spiny stick insect who resides in the VCE Common Room at school (VCE = Yr 11 & 12) and she needed someone to look after her for the three week break.  She doesn't take a lot of looking after.  She has her own 15cm glass cube and all she eats is gum leaves.  Well....this is Australia, we have plenty of those close enough to snaffle without causing problems.  She just requires a daily water spray and a weekly cage clean and replacement of leaves.  Miss Sunshine desperately wanted to have her for the holidays so I agreed, given she's old enough to take care of a stick insect without my intervention.

Or so I thought.

By the end of the holidays I was demanding Miss Sunshine clean Jane's cage and replace the dried-out leaves.  I was grumping at Miss Sunshine for spraying all kinds of who-knows-what smelly stuff around the room and fumigating poor little Jane who likes non-polluted air.  Every now and then I would bring Jane out to sit in the sunshiny family room with clean fresh air to breathe and let her crawl on my hand.  Just so she knew someone in the house loved her.

Jane was a trooper.  She survived.  She even grew.  We know this because she shed her exoskeleton.  And then she ate it in true stick insect fashion.  I'm not much of a pet person but I didn't mind having little Jane around, with her cute little dances.  Miss Sunshine, however, confirmed for me why we don't have pets. 

Jane survived in spite of her.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Spring...Father's Day...Sunshine

Tomorrow Spring will arrive in all it's sunny warmth just in time to celebrate Father's Day with us.  This morning for the first time in many, many months I left the house without a cardigan or jumper of some kind.  It's amazing what a little bit of sunshine will do for your mood and energy levels after a long, exhausting week.

Our Father's Day will be rather full.  A friend rightly insisted we should have a BBQ for lunch - the first of the season - with my parents.  Then we'll have dinner with some close friends.  And the day will be warm and sunny.  Perfect.  The girls and I have done the requisite gift shopping so we're all keen for the day to be upon us and for Dad's to be celebrated and appreciated.  The one we have in our home is pretty darn good.

Before that?  An evening with 'Star Wars', and my brother and his gorgeous wife.  The snack food is at the front door waiting and my assignment is .... being avoided with this post.  Sigh.  It's easier to write assignments when it's raining and gloomy outside.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Book Review: The Pros and Cons of Being a Frog

It was 'Book Week' last week.  In the week or two leading up our library teacher read the shortlisted early childhood picture books to the lower Primary students so I got a bird's-eye insight into the books on the list this year.

Sue deGennaro's "The Pros and Cons of Being a Frog" is a heartwarming, charming  book about friendship and the up's and down's of children's relationships.  The characters are engaging - a boy (we think!) who likes to dress up as animals, and his friend Camille who loves numbers so much she uses them to speak in code.  These two unlikely mates find a way to embrace their differences and enjoy one another's company.  Until the day when Froggy yells at Camille.  It is then he realises that "frogs are not solitary creatures", and neither is he.  All is not well in his world when Camille is not his constant companion.

The author beautifully demonstrates the realities of children's friendships.  Cross words and hurt feelings are inevitable.  Yet deGennaro reminds young readers that it's not just the recipient of the cross words that lose out in these moments, and relationships can indeed be mended.

What can I say?  I loved this story immediately.  So much so I had to order it for myself.  My own copy now sits happily on my own shelf ready for days when I think numbers are cool or I need to be reminded that one of my animal-loving students needs to be appreciated for all his quirks.  Frogs are pretty cute!

Monday, 26 August 2013

Everything old is new again: Meatloaf

It's Mr Busy's fault doing.  He requested meatloaf a couple of weeks ago and now we're all a bit hooked.  It's on the menu plan at least twice a month.  Old fashioned?  Yes!  Delicious?  You bet!

A way, way back in 2010 I posted this recipe for Savoury Glazed Meatloaf.  It came from a friend's Mum - one of those old-fashioned country women whose kitchen turns out all manner of really good honest food.  It's the recipe I still use now and I always add the grated carrot, which I saute with the onion.

Miss Mischief was having a go at making the recipe the other day and I couldn't be bothered with the finickity baking instructions, so I had her put it in a silicon form loaf pan and leave it to bake right side up.  You know what?  It was about the best meatloaf I've ever had.  The silicon form must have made quite the difference.  Or maybe it was just that I didn't make it?  We still baked it for half the time before adding the sauce stuff on top and now the silicon form is our cooking method of choice.

Friday, 23 August 2013

How to Eat Gluten Free...without the Stress!

Being confronted with the need to change your diet in a radical way is challenging at best.  Daunting is perhaps a better way to describe it.  Overwhelming comes to mind as well.  Our entire ‘Standard Australian Diet’ is centred wheat.  It is in everything.  Until you have the need to investigate the ingredients in everything you buy you could be forgiven for being quite unaware of wheat’s pervasive presence in your diet.

When Miss Sunshine was about 10 or 11 years old I was advised to put her on a wheat- and dairy-free diet after her eczema and snot became intolerable.  This advice was given right before a long weekend and we were away for four days.  I did not know what to feed my daughter!  She couldn’t eat much of anything she normally consumed before dinner timeI was a terribly stressful adjustment.  Both my niece and a colleague have recently been faced with the same overwhelming dilemma and my brother and his wife, particularly, are struggling to figure out what a wheat-free life might look like.  I have mentioned many times, here, that I eat a mostly wheat-free diet.  I can tolerate small amounts because I do not have coeliac disease.  My symptoms include a foggy brain, heartburn and/or reflux and insomnia.  I experience these same symptoms, only magnified, when I consume too much sugar.

So what does one eat, when wheat is off the menu?  Grab a cuppa and settle in.  This is gonna be a long one, but I hope I can alleviate of the stress of such a diet change for someone out there.

Bread:  there are a number of different brands of gluten free bread available now.  My favourite remains ‘Country Life’.  They recently changed their recipe and the bread is now more moist and soft.  Not at all the unpleasant, dry version available previously.  I had a brand from IGA the other day.  Yuck, yuck, yuck.  It was given to me – I threw the whole loaf out.  Likewise, gluten free wraps are less than exciting.  I wouldn’t bother with them at all.  You will find gluten free breads with all the other packaged loaves.  Sometimes they’re tough to get a hold of if the store doesn’t carry much stock.  Ask them what days the gluten free bread is delivered so you know when you're likely to get it. 

Pasta and Noodles:  There are a number of gluten-free options for pasta available now.  My favourite ones contain rice flour.  Corn pasta is just weird and I don’t enjoy it.  Look for brands like Orgran and BuonTempo.  Also have a look in the Asian section of your supermarket.  You will find vermicelli and rice stick noodles as well as bean thread noodles there.

Pizza:  I recently tried a polenta crust.  It was delicious and I will happily make that again if we’re doing homemade pizza.  Lots of pizza shops offer gluten free options now.  They’ll be more expensive but they’re pretty darn good.  Gluten free pizza bases from the supermarket are not so wonderful.  I wouldn’t bother with them.

­Cakes and Biscuits: If you’re baking for yourself it is quite simple to replace regular flours with gluten free flour and so far I can’t tell much of a difference.  Maybe I'm just used to it though?  They only things I’ve not succeeded with are pastry and scones, but scones elude me at the best of times so that’s not so surprising!  You might find baked products dry out a little quicker than you’re used to, but if you freeze things as soon as they’ve cooled you will have that just-baked moistness throughout the whole batch.  If you want to buy these already made there are both cake mixes and bought biscuits available in the health food aisle in the supermarket.

Snacks:  This was particularly challenging with Miss Sunshine.  It’s not such an issue for me anymore because I am not snacking between meals.  If you’re into what I call ‘snackety packety’ food items for lunch boxes my first piece of advice would be bake at home.  If that’s not your thing for whatever reason then have a look down your health food aisle.  You will find all manner of gluten-free chips and similar snack foods.  I have a bit of a ‘thing’ for Vegie Chips.  Nuts are good.  There are lots of brands rice crackers available now in the biscuit aisle.  My favourite are the Sakata multigrain ones.  Vita-weat also do a brown rice cracker.  I know, I know, it says ‘weat’ but they’re really good rice crackers!!!  Also have a look at cruskits for their corn or rye versions and corn thins or rice thins.  They’re pretty yummy.  Of course there are potato chips, corn chips and you might find things like twisties or cheezels have little or no wheat.  Spend some time reading the ingredients lists.  You'll be surprised what you discover.  And then there’s good old-fashioned fruit.  Always there, never with wheat!

The final challenge is how to do a wheat-free diet when it might only be one person in the family.  It is tempting to just have everyone eating the same foods but you will find gluten-free foods can be terribly expensive.  A small loaf of bread is $6.50 and flour is $3.50 for half a kilo.  It’s not cheap!!!  What has worked for me is a little of cooking separately and a little of everyone eats the same.  At dinner time if I’m making a dessert or something where flour is required I just use the gluten free.  There are some things you just can’t do separately.  Everything else is pretty much separate.  For example, if I’m doing something like pasta I put a bit pot on for regular pasta and a little pot of gluten free pasta just for me.  It’s one extra pot….that’s really not a big deal.

These days I am eating a lot more protein instead of carbohydrate so being gluten free is much easier.  Rather than my favourite toast for breaky I’m having two eggs made into a sweet frittata.  I have leftovers for lunch and dinner usually consists of meat and vegetables.  Rather than eating sugary foods I go for honey, maple syrup and fresh fruit.

Hopefully facing a life of no wheat isn't quite so daunting now.  Try and think of it as an adventure to see what you can find.  Pick up different brands and compare ingredients.  I found some tins of tomato soup had wheat and some had tapioca flour.  There will always be things you will miss because there hasn't been a gluten free alternative created yet (think hot jam doughnuts!).  But there are lots of things available now.  Aussies are magnificent at ensuring special diets are catered for.

Monday, 19 August 2013

More Candles and Fires

 My early-morning breakfast table

We have had no power again - this time for a whole weekend.  It's the price we pay for clean mountain air I suppose.  I am torn between the quiet serenity of candles and cosy fireplaces and the weariness of limited heat and light on cold winter's nights.  On the one hand we've enjoyed time just being together in one space.  On the other hand assignments had to be set aside and refrigerated food had to be disposed of.  After an 11 hour shopping tour my endurance for more waste was particularly limited.  Fortunately we were able to keep most of the frozen food after carefully picking through for things that really needed to be tossed.

I decided I am really not much of a shopper.  Again.  It's not just shopping centres that exhaust me.  I seem to really struggle with unnecessary consumerism in the vast amount I observed on Saturday's shopping tour.  My teensy little pile of purchases were all things one or other of us have been talking about for a while - a bathmat, a can opener, a little lasagna dish suitable for one or two serves.  And a little tea set for my niece's Christmas present the only apparent 'frivolity'.  My little mound will be pressed into productive service within the week.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Rain, Hail, Shine and Power Outages

We've had it all today.  Many hail storms interspersed with regular rain and the odd break for some weak winter sunshine.  Just before school finished for the day the power went out.  And when we got home it was out here too.  Our Town has an electricity grid line which means sometimes when it's out here it's on at school and vice versa.  Today it was unanimous. 

After getting some homework in before it got too dark we lit some candles and Mr Busy lugged in some firewood with Miss Sunshine's oh-so-feminine assistance (she carried the kindling twigs!).  Between us Mr Busy and I got a lovely fire going and lit lots of candles.  We ate our dinner in front of the fireplace with the warmth and light it provided.  Just as the power came back on.

So here I sit in my front-room study with a cosy fire just dwindling in time to head off to bed.  It's been a warm and cheery night despite the dreary beginning.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Snap! 'Corruptions'

I had my niece in a language rotation group yesterday.  When I told her I needed to read the instructions first because I was pretty sure we were meant to play Snap! instead of Memory she responded "Oooohhhh, I didn't know this game had corruptions".  Needless to say I laughed.  And laughed.  "Honey, they're INstructions" I said, when she looked at me wondering what was so funny.  She didn't get it.

You heard it here first, people.  Innocent games corrupt the unwary player!

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The Parenting Files: The Reward Dilemma

We're working on Mr Busy's attitude towards homework and getting his grades up to where he is capable of achieving.  If you have boys you know most of them would rather be 'doing' something rather than sitting in front of books, but this is our education system and the books are here to stay for a while.  So Dh has been working on spelling with Mr Busy.  A few weeks back when we were helping him practise for his weekly spelling test he wanted to know what he would get if he got 100% (15 words on the list).  I flippantly said "you'll get dinner that night" and he got 100% along with a delicious meal and lots of praise.

Tonight, after working hard and practising every day he came home with 14 out of 15 correct.  Did you know "annually" has two n's?  Mr Busy forgot that.  When I jokingly told him I wouldn't be able to give him dinner - roast chicken - he laughed, hugged me and said "let's not tell Dad".  Well of course we'll tell Dad and he'll get fed and all will be well.  Don't worry - my children remind me often it is illegal not to feed them, and it hasn't happened by my hand even one time in all their lives.  Occasionally they have tried the "Yuck, I'm not eating that" and decided that particular choice was....unwise.  But it begs the question: how do you encourage your children to do their best when they would rather just not do the work?

I know some people pay their kids.  I feel really uncomfortable about that.  There are lots of situations in life where you will be required to do stuff without any apparent tangible reward.  Sometimes you just have to do stuff because it's the right thing to do not because you'll get something out of it.  It's a lesson easier that I think is easier to learn in your youth than as an adult.  The girls have always been brilliant about trying hard and getting their homework done and handing things in on time.  What can I say, they are quite stereotypical in this regard - they will sit in front of their homework and keep going even when they feel cranky about it.  Mr Busy informed me he has decided he wants to do a degree in IT when he finishes school.  And for now that is my leverage.  In order to get into Uni, in Australia, you are awarded an ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank) score based on your Yr12 results and declares your worthiness of University entrance.  Uni's set the scores for entrance and it varies depending on course, university and campus within a university.  Complex stuff.  For now I am encouraging Mr Busy to aim for the goal = getting into Uni to study computers.

If you can't run around then you may as well play with computers.  Cantankerous things!

Friday, 26 July 2013

In Which Mr Busy Learns to Cook


Tuesday night was a momentous day in life on this side of our picket fence.  Mr Busy has officially begun the journey to independent cooking.  He has been baking on his own for quite some time now, and he's been pestering incessantly about cooking a meal.  Well, he's 13 and this is the prescribed year in our Program of Gradual Release.  I decided pasta bolognese is pretty tough to butcher so that's the meal he will master.  I was with him the whole time and instructed him in every step, which he then completed himself.  The only thing that stumped him was chopping onions.  I did  one half to demonstrate and then insisted he would only learn to be independent if he did it himself.  And he did a pretty fine job for a novice.

At some point this week I will type and laminate the recipe and instructions - all of which reside in my head at present.  And then he will be all set to have a go with me sitting on the other side of the bench to engage in some relaxed and more distant supervision.

The verdict?  A very fine meal.  No one would have known a novice had produced it had they not been told and the event celebrated with exuberance and praise.

Sorry there is no spiffy, artistic looking photograph to go with this - I only remembered to take a photo as Mr Busy was putting the leftovers away!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

More Cleaning.....

My Enjo bathroom cloths arrived.  There is nothing to inspire a girl more than brand new fluffy cleaning gloves!  After spending over an hour cleaning the kids bathroom on Sunday I am now armed to keep it that way.  This week my new routine is still going well.  When I don't have to be at work until 9am.  I'm sure it'll be more of a challenge when I have to be there at 8am next week.

This afternoon I had about half an hour between getting home and picking up Miss Mischief so I decided to "spend five minutes" cleaning the kids' toilet.  Fifteen minutes later I think I had managed to clean every little nook and cranny there was to clean, including the skirting boards.  Did you know kids don't really clean toilets after all?  Even big kids who are perfectly capable?  I keep asking them to do it and I hear all the right noises but the evidence suggests they really don't know what the task entails.

My next mission to save up for:  stripping out the bathroom and toilet and completely re-tiling and changing the set up in there.  My tips for bathroom renovators based on this bathroom:

  • Floating floorboards are NOT appropriate wet-area floor coverings.
  • Claw foot baths look pretty but they're a pain in the but to clean under and around
  • Never ever have a 3cm gap between a shower screen and cabinet.  There is no. possible. way. to clean in that gap.
  • Bathrooms should be tiled up the wall instead of having skirting boards.  Skirting boards are dumb in bathrooms - they just collect gunge.
  • Bathrooms should be painted with good-quality paint designed for wet, steamy rooms that does not come off on your cloth when you wipe down the walls.
Are you getting a picture of my frustrations?  Whoever built this house was not wise!

Saturday, 13 July 2013

In Search of Cleaning Routines and Schedules

My final task of the school holidays is to plan for organisation.  Barb left me a very wise and helpful response yesterday - a little bit often, get everyone involved. The kids do all the dishes jobs here and Dh does the laundry.  It's the dusting, floors and bathrooms that seem to escape our attention until visitors are imminent.  And Fly Lady is right.  I want to enjoy a home that is guest-ready all the time, not just when guests are there.

I've set myself a morning and evening routine along with weekly and monthly tasks, having borrowed from my Fly Lady days. I've assigned things so they suit what happens in a normal week here.  Let's be realistic, even though Fly Lady does her 'home blessing' on a Monday I am not going to get to it that day between weekly Uni work being released that day and fortnightly meetings at work.  My 'home blessing' is going to happen over a few days and has been scheduled to suit my days off.

I'm going to trial this routine for a week or three and see how it goes. I haven't included the dishes and laundry because they are done by the rest of the family.  Nor is there a schedule for deep cleaning.  That is just going to have to be a holiday job.  No, this routine is just about keeping our home cleaned in a basic kind of way.

I'll post a copy of the schedule when I am sure it works alright.  In the meantime, I really would love to hear your tips and ideas.  I know there are wiser women out there with lots to share with me...and anyone else who stops by.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Cleaning and Organising

I've been waiting all holidays for the cleaning bug go hit me.  It finally arrived.  My two front rooms have been thoroughly deep cleaned.  I dug out my Enjo cloths to help me with the dusting task.  My septic tank man will be thrilled.  Clean house.  No chemicals.

I have wandered into those two rooms numerous times just to enjoy the fruits of my labour.  Shiny surfaces.  No dust.  Reorganised music book storage.  And I have wondered again how to be more routine about the whole idea of cleaning when life is so crazy throughout the term.  I wish I had the mental wherewithal to sign up to Fly Lady again.  She was so helpful 12 years ago when I first became acquainted with her.

I don't think anyone has come up with a system for full speed life and super-quick house cleaning.  The two don't seem to go together.  Cleaning just takes the time that it takes.

So my question to you for the week is this:  How to keep your house cleaned when you're busier than you would like to be?

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Wrap 'n Roll

Today has been incredibly productive in many, many ways.  It's nice to get to the end of a day and feel that satisfied tired that comes from working hard.

The day began with more sushi, wraps and gluten free sandwiches.  Dh is moving his business premises for the second time in 10 years because he keeps growing out of places.  The newest place is much further away than the previous two, which have been 2 minutes and then 7 minutes from home.  The kids have all gone off to help with moving and cleaning and I offered to bring lunch.  Fortunately Dh has a small staff of five, plus our three kids.  So I wrapped and rolled sushi, rice paper rolls (I ran out of seaweed sheets), sandwich wraps and gluten free sandwiches for myself and one of the staff who also avoids wheat.  It was a long morning!!!!

I abandoned the warehouse to come home and do some cleaning of my own.  My front living room - the more formal of our two living areas - has now not a speck of dust or dirt anywhere.  I dusted and then wet-wiped and dried every surface before vacuuming behind all sorts of things.  All the furniture got moved and the carpets should have not a speck left on them.  I even vacuumed the bricks around the fire place.

And after all that cleaning and because of the septic tank man's frustrations with the cleaning chemicals people use I've ordered a couple of Enjo bathroom mitts so that I'm not using any chemicals.  Good for my sensitive skin and the septic tank!

Now I need to sit down for a bit and relax before everyone comes home and wants dinner!

PS.  I have maintained my average of Distinction for the semester, so far.  I have one result to come because my exam papers were returned late.  YAY!!!  Nine subjects left to go!