Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Back on the Chain Gang

You know how in the last post I wrote about my two day a week Science teaching gig? That's out the window, as I've been asked "pretty please" to take on a class full time for the first few weeks of third term. Being a casual, and never knowing when and where the next job is coming from, I've said "yes". This means, though, that everything not involving work and family goes on the backburner for a while. So I will be back to weekly posts for a while.

I like teaching, but I really don't enjoy doing it full time. Even though I think it is a hackneyed term, the "Work-life balance" goes straight out the window. I get that mouse on the spinning wheel feeling, as AM and I juggle two jobs, children and their needs, and the jobs that need to be done around here. Things like exercise just don't get done. Social life, that's a laugh. I spend most of my time mentally and physically exhausted.

If I had to pinpoint one area of life that needs addressing it's this. I would love to find permanent part-time work (hard to find in this high unemployment area of Aus), so that I didn't feel the need to take whatever is offering, and I can get more control of what happens, both for my own sake and for the family.

Enough of the whingeing!

We've just had some houseguests from the UK for the last few days, two young girls, distant relatives of AM who have been travelling around Australia. The last few days have been spent showing them around the natural delights of the South Coast. It's great to do this every so often. It really makes you appreciate where you live.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Teaching kids to care

My current teaching gig is teaching primary school science two days a week to students between preschool age and Year 6 (12 years). For the last few days, I’ve been preparing the teaching programme for Term 3 (and doing experiments like the electrolysis of water, and using a plastic sheet to gather water. Great holiday entertainment!).

Kindergarten and Year 2 are doing units of work with their “normal” teachers on Communities. Immediately, I thought this would be a great opportunity to do a Science unit on caring for the environment, specifically teaching kids the rudiments of reducing, reusing and recycling the waste we make.

I’ve really enjoyed writing this programme, and have lots of great ideas about starting a compost heap (provided I can find a safe place for it) with the classes and doing a campaign in the school about keeping the environment clean etc. One thing I would like to do is a “design and make” activity reusing a common piece of rubbish to make something useful eg. using cereal boxes as magazine holders. I need more ideas, so any ideas for reusing common household waste to make useful things that is within the reach of 5-8 year olds would be appreciated!


Sad day yesterday. I started using the last head of garlic, harvested last November. True, it’s not too perky, but it hasn’t sprouted and it tastes all right. So, for the next few months, until we can harvest the current crop, I’ll be on the lookout for Australian-grown garlic, not my pet-hate Chinese imported garlic. The spooky things done to this stuff doesn’t bear thinking about.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


I was listening to a discussion on ABC Local Radio yesterday about cats, specifically the problems cats cause when they stray, and occasionally go feral. Toward the end, someone rang and said everyone should get rid of their cats and replace them with chickens, which are production and not destructive.
Given the problems we have with feral cats in this neck of the woods, I can only say hear, hear! (Apologies to cat lovers, I don’t really think you should “get rid of” your cats).
Chickens make great pets, even if they are a trifle standoffish.

At the moment, we have three ducks, 2 roosters and 6 hens. We get about two-three eggs a day, because most of our hens are advanced in years, and don’t lay every day. {Sigh. The dilemmas of elderly chooks. They don’t talk about this in chook books}.
Because of the feral animal problem around here (cats and foxes), the poultry is enclosed most of the day. We let them out for a run in mid afternoon to have a scratch, and then lock them in again at nightfall.
They are fed with kitchen scraps, pellets and whatever they get out of the garden. One particular chicken always hops up onto the kitchen window sill and eats the spiders that live in the corners. My nonna used to give her chickens layer mash porridge made with hot water. The chickens loved it.
We love the boys and girls, not only for their eggs but for their presence in the garden. Life without chooks: can’t imagine it.

Monday, July 20, 2009


The kids have held the giveaway draw, so I now I can announce the winner of the latest edition of Backyard Farmer....(drum roll)....and the winner is...Tricia from littleecofootprints. Tricia, email me at, with your postaldetails and the book will be on its way!

Thanks to everyone who made a comment this week. Few in number, but all very much appreciated. At the very least, I know I'm not talking to myself.

BTW, I found my scissors, but now I've lost my EFTPOS cards. I was at Aldi this afternoon, and put through a shop only to realise I didn't have them with me. Embarrassing! Luckily Action Man works only up the road, and came to the rescue, card in hand. Now...where are those cards??

Lemon and Lime Marmalade

Isn't nature great? Just as I am dredging the last bits of fig jam out of the last jar, it gives me the wearwithall to make my second favourite breakfast toast topping, marmalade. Here's the recipe:

Lemon and Lime Marmalade

6 lemons

6 limes


About 1.6kg white sugar

Wash then cut the lemons and limes into eighths. Finely slice each of these pieces, pith and all, and tip into a large bowl.Save any pips, put them into a little square of muslin, tie it up with kitchen string and stick that in the bowl too. Add about 2 litres of water, and leave overnight.

Next day, put everything into a large saucepan, bring to boil then lower heat and simmer for about 2 hours. Measure the lemon/lime mixture, and for each cup, tip 200g of sugar into the mixture. I had 8 cups of mixture, so I used 1.6kg sugar. Discard the muslin bag of pips. Put about 4 saucers into the freezer at this point. Put the marmalade mixture back into the saucepan stirring to dissolve the sugar.Bring to the boil, then simmer. I set the timer for 15 minutes once it is at a simmer. After 15 minutes, I drop a tablespoon of mixture onto a frozen saucer. If it wrinkles when you drag the end of a spoon through it, it has set. If not, set the timer for 5 minutes, and repeat the process. [My last batch set after 20 minutes, but I've had batches not set until 40 minutes. You just have to be vigilant for this bit].

I sterilise my jars by washing them in soapy water, then I stick them into a very slow oven for 15 minutes or so. Put the marmalade into the hot jars, and seal. Done!

Meanwhile, I've been busy in the sewing room making a pair of pants, and wouldn't you know it? I've mislaid my fabric scissors. I'm one of those people who can remember to the date of some obscure occurrence 25 years ago, but can't remember where I put my scissors yesterday. It has really stopped my sewing in its tracks.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Pruning grapevines

A few posts back, I wrote about facing the task of pruning 100 grapevines, which seems to fall to me each year.
So far, 72 down, 28 to go! The task has been helped by the investment in some decent secateurs.
Anyway, for those of you who might have a grapevine or two, this is how I prune a grapevine:

Your usual grapevine suspect

1. Assess your grapevine. Decide where you want to cut it at the ends and do this first. I try to cut adjacent to a upward facing bud.

All these branches emanating from the end of the vine get cut off
2. Cut off all the long, whippy trailing vines.

3. Cut off the small twiggy growth at the main branch.
4.Cut off any branches that are growing downward or off to the side at the main branch.

Small twigs and downward growing branches are pruned off
5. Cut upward facing branches, so that there are two buds on the branch.

6. If you have two branches coming out of the main branch next to each other, cut the weaker branch at the main branch and cut the stronger branch with two buds.

Ta da, one grapevine pruned. Bring on the other 99
7. Repeat until your grape vine is pruned.

Repeat, ad infinitum....

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why cooking is important

Well as you are aware, we’re on holidays around here so we are doing things we just don’t get time to do in term time.
Both my son and daughter are well into baking, and are at the point where I can leave them to it in the kitchen. They can make Anzacs, muffins and lemon cake pretty much without my help.

Daughter whipping up a pancake batter

I thought that they needed to expand their repertoire to include “real” dinner food, so I asked them what they liked to eat best for dinner. Meatballs, they said, so last night they were in the kitchen with me while we made my Meatball recipe, adapted from a recipe from Nigella Lawson. I’ve blogged about it here.
So last night they learned to use the food processor, make breadcrumbs and peel carrots. I gave them knives for the first time (eek!) and gave them a lesson in chopping vegetables. Then they formed the meatballs, put the rice cooker on and prepared some broccoli from the garden. When I sent daughter to the garden for some parsley she came back with the right stuff. Not a bad effort. And they want to do it again tonight.
I don’t remember being interested in learning as a kid, unlike my own children. The main thing I developed as a kid, though, thanks to my mother (and my nonna) was an appreciation of “real” food, that is, food cooked freshly with real ingredients. So, by the time I left home, although I wasn’t a great cook I quickly realised that if I wanted to continue to eat well I’d have to learn quick smart, which is what I did. I bought a copy of the Australian Women’s Weekly Basic Cookbook, and a remaindered copy of Delia Smith’s Complete Illustrated Cookery Course, and slowly worked my way through them. I rang mum a lot for her recipes. And since then, I’ve cooked every day slowly becoming better and better and until I can say today I’m a darn good cook.
It all seems such an obvious and simple thing to do, but from what I read and witness amongst the children I teach, it seems that life skills like cooking can’t be taken for granted these days. The key to my learning to cook was being cooked for as a child, so I knew what real food was, and seeing someone cook every day so I regarded this as normal. I wonder about children in families where cooking is regarded as another chore best outsourced, and where fast food is regarded as an acceptable alternative to real food.
I’d even go further about the importance of appreciation of real food and cooking. When I think about it, my interest in growing and nurturing things, and the pared back life stems from my interest in feeding my family well. Once you are interested in real food, you become interested in real ingredients which leads to growing your own, and everything associated with that. In fact, I’d argue that if we want people to start caring for the environment, we should start by getting people to care about what they feed themselves first. From that, everything else flows.
What do you think? Got a cooking back story to share? I’d love to read about it! (and you have a chance to win a copy of Backyard Farmer).
BTW, knitting injury still not healed (aloe vera notwithstanding), but New South Wales won the State of Origami! Yay!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Knitting injury

The happy coincidence last week of being on holidays, and the First Ashes Test and the Tour de France has seen me ensconced in front of the television knitting away furiously.
Normally I don’t watch sport on television. Don’t have time. I follow the cricket in summer on the radio. Apart from Ricky Ponting and maybe Michael Clark, I wouldn’t know an Aussie cricketer if I fell over him in the street. As for the Tour de France, I put it on the other night for the very first time, and fell in love with the views. Of the scenery, I mean.
Lots of sport watching has meant lots of knitting. This is where my rug, started in April is up to so far:
As an aside, I started taking my knitting to my daughter’s netball matches on Saturday to distract me (daughter had complained about barracking from the sidelines. Too embarrassing). Unfortunately, it was useless as a diversionary tactic. I ended up unravelling most of what I knitted at the netball. So now, no knitting and I have to use my self control to shut up.
Back to sport on telly. Fortunately, the First Test finished on Sunday, and Monday night was a rest day on the Tour, because I’ve sustained a knitting injury. The skin on my middle finger between my two knuckles, where I wrap the wool, has been rubbed raw. I’ve had to take a break from knitting for a couple of nights to give it time to heal. It’s looking better, so it looks like I might be fit to knit in time for the State of Origin tonight (or the State of Origami, which I heard it described as on Radio National this morning). AM is a Queenslander, so the tension is high.

Meanwhile, our little lamb is now 12 days old and is growing at a great rate. This morning AM got close enough to pick her up and brought her down for us all to say hello.

Don't forget to leave a comment before next Monday, to be in with a chance to win a copy of the latest Backyard Farmer magazine....

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Useless Bits of Crap

You'd think, wouldn't you, that in a home where the adults are trying to embrace what I call the "pared back life", that the kids would be right in step. Wouldn't you? {Heavy sigh} Not the case, I'm afraid, specifically in relation to their incessant collection of what I call "tiny bits of useless crap" or UBOC. (Apologies to those offended by the word "C**P").
What has brought on this foul mood? Well, it's the holidays, and every holidays I set aside a few hours to tackle the kids' rooms. And we've just done the job. And as ever, despite my vigilance, there were bagfuls of UBOC to toss. And as ever, I get into a sour mood.
I honestly can say that the origin of most of this stuff is not me or AM. Most of it is given to them by well-meaning friends and relatives for birthdays and Christmas, or handed down to them by older cousins. Some of it they buy themselves with their pocket money, despite my constant banging on about using their money to buy things they know they will value and will last (as opposed to stuff that ends up in dark recesses of cupboards to be forgotten ever more).
It seems that despite my best efforts with the kids to set a good example, to talk about the why and how of spending money, to eschew commercial electronic media, stuff insinuates itself into my home. I feel powerless against the onslaught, I have to admit. No wonder I get cranky.
I can report a recent win though. After the agreement to limit Easter Egg giving this year, I lobbied my family to institute a kris kringle for Christmas for the children (we already do this with adults), in an effort to limit the amount of UBOC bought. Despite some protests from some quarters (I'm not just the Easter Grinch, I am the Grinch full stop) , it looks like we will be doing this this year. Hooray.
Anyone out there winning the war against UBOC? How? Please share! Don't forget that any comments on this blog before next Monday 20 July will be in with a chance to win the latest edition of Backyard Farmer.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Two good things about this week: we're on holidays, and the latest edition of Earth Garden's Backyard Farmer, in which I have an article on establishing a vineyard, has just been published.

[Lots of good reading in Backyard Farmer, as ever. After reading the article on beekeeping, AM is gungho to try it out. I'm not so sure.]

To celebrate, I'm going to give away, to anyone anywhere, a copy of Backyard Farmer to someone who makes a comment on any post on this blog in the next week. Even if you have nothing in particular to say, just introduce yourself. Go on, it's easy!

Sunday, July 12, 2009


One of the nicest things about growing things is that you can give away lots of good stuff. We give away lots of produce, seeds and cuttings to friends and family, and in return we get lots of stuff given to us.

Over at Julie's blog a week or two ago, she wrote recently of her ginger harvest. I thought "Mmmm, I wouldn't mind growing a bit of that", especially when stale ginger is on sale for $15 a kilo.

Well, wouldn't you know it? A work colleague of AM's was telling him how he was pulling up heaps of the stuff that had gone rampant in his garden, and knowing AM is into growing things, would he like some. Answer: YES. Yesterday he delivered enough ginger to fill the back of his station wagon. Here is just one of the clumps:

Now I need to research the best place to put these things. Any ideas out there?

Coincidentally, a friend rang us to ask if we would like some shiraz vines. His backyard just wasn't suitable for grape growing (not enough sun) and he was going to pull six advanced vines out. We already have 100 of the things, but we couldn't let goods vines go to waste, so we've added another six vines to the collection.

Both of our friends were given pumpkins and citrus in return. One of the nicest interpretations of "what goes around, comes around", or karma, or whatever you like to call it...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Kudos to the Council

On holidays, yippee, says one tired teacher! Time to sew, garden and socialise, and rest! Standby for a few more posts on the blog this month.

It’s not often you are moved to give your local council a wrap, but my local Shoalhaven Council certainly deserves one. Over the last few months, the council has been advertising free composting workshops. If you register and attend, you not only get a lesson into how to compost, but you get a free compost bin and a small kitchen bin with a lid to collect your kitchen waste. How about that?

Here’s our shiny new bin, getting to know our current heap.

AM went to a workshop this week (I was at work, alas). He said there were about 50 people there, and it was one of three workshops being held that day. All up, the Council is running series of workshops all around the council area for the next few weeks. We’ve been composting for a while now, so a lot of what was discussed was familiar to AM, but you always pick up a tip or two that helps you improve your practice at these things. For example, we’ve never paid much attention to the nitrogen:carbon ratio, but this was emphasised, so we thought we’d better give this more thought. So now I am using our paper shredder to turn the paper I would recycle into compost bin fodder.

Shoalhaven Council is the first council in Australia to offer a programme like this. If you live in Australia (heck, even if you don’t live in Australia), and you like the sound of this, tell your local council about what Shoalhaven Council is doing. Tell them they will be doing something positive for the environment, and if that doesn’t move them, tell them they may even save a buck or two in developing landfill sites.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Lambing season

To date, I haven't mentioned our sheep on this blog, although I've included a photo of one of them skulking in the shadows of the plum tree in the blog sidebar.

We've had a troupe of sheep for about 5 years now, mainly to keep the grass in the hilly back section of our property down. We have a ram, a trio of ewes, and once a year, we have lambing season. The joke around here is to check out the weather report around this time of year, and at least one ewe will lamb on the coldest night forecast.

So it proved this week. Our merino ewe had her lamb on a cold blustery July night. As ever, the lamb is extremely cute! These photos were taken when she was only a matter of hours old. You have to get in quick if you want to take close-ups. After a day or so they are fast and it's difficult to get near them. The mothering instinct on the part of the ewe, and the independence the lamb shows so quickly never fails to fascinate me.

Sheep are much maligned as being dumb, but to my mind, that's simply untrue. They do however have a strong instinct to stick with the flock, so if one sheep gets spooked and runs, the others will follow. They also show distinct personalities. Some friendly and calm, some neurotic, some are excellent mothers, some not so good.

The main thing we have to worry about with this lamb is foxes. Last year we lost one of a set of twins to a fox. We have put mother and lamb into an area that is fenced off with barbed wire, and they will stay there for at least a couple of weeks.

Keeping sheep is pretty straight forward. In our humid coastal area, the main concern is worms. We have to drench the sheep regularly, and move them around different areas, to give feed paddocks a rest. They live mainly on grass, although we give them a couple of handfuls of sheep pellets every day which they stampede for.

Once a year around November we call up a local shearer, and he comes and shears the sheep. He keeps the wool as payment, and when he has accumulated enough fleece from other small acreage sheep, he takes a trip to Goulburn and sells it at the market up there. People ask me whether I spin the wool. The answer is "no" and will stay "no" for the foreseeable future. There are so many other things I would like to do before I learn to spin.

We really enjoy having the sheep, although I don't think the kids are so enthusiastic when I give them gloves and a hand spade and send them out to pick up sheep manure for the compost bin. They get $1 pocket money, but to their mind this is no compensation whatsoever.