Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Our Yule

This Christmas would have to be the best we've ever had. We didn't spend money on a lot of plastic decorations or presents, but what we purchased instead were long term investments. The food on the table this year was exceptional too! Maybe it's because Dave had more time off (actually getting Christmas and Boxing Day off) which is unheard of in his industry. He's always had to cook other people's festive meals, but this year he had the time to spend at our table.


Dave Don's the festive uniform

And this is where it starts to get wonderful - when little gestures go a long way. We had most of the meals arranged between Christmas Eve and Christmas day, but we decided to ask mum to make the dessert. She always made a terrific Trifle (or a cold cake, jelly, custard, cream and fruit pudding). Unfortunately she ran out of time and was only able to make the jelly part and brought along the custard in a tetra pack. So on Christmas Eve, Dave had to pick up a new gas bottle for the barbecue anyway, and decided to ask at the local bakery, if they had any off-cuts of sponge cake. The owner popped his head around the corner and said he'd cut some off one of the sponges in the fridge. Fresh sponge! When Dave went to pay for it though, the owner said it was free. That was the best tasting Trifle I think we've ever had - made with a pinch of community generosity.

Later that afternoon, Mum helped put the Trifle together. Dave is not adverse to having too many chefs in his kitchen, LOL. We swapped stories about Christmas Trifle and all the one's mum made in the past when she worked as a cook. We had so much ingredients for Trifle in fact, that we made up a main pudding, and made a little extra one for mum to take home the next day.

I could on and on about the food, but that would take forever, LOL. But it was all fresh food, with the only sugar contribution being a bowl of chocolate coated sultanas and nuts. That went a long way - we still have some left over! When there's prawn kebabs with garlic sauce to eat, freshly cracked nuts and sweet nectarines also, who wants sweets? Dave and I simply loved spending time in the kitchen together: he cooked and I baked. I made fresh dinner rolls, lunch rolls and a seeded sourdough loaf.


Huge pot with free plants

And then there were other Christmas surprises to be had! On his way to collect the gas bottle and sponge cake, Dave dropped some recyclables into the local rubbish tip. He spotted the huge pot plant being thrown away and asked if he could take it. This one was in perfect condition, but it had a twin that was broken. Dave took both, complete with free plants and free potting mix! I was only thinking recently I needed to buy some potting mix, and the ones in these pots was fresh. I've got about 4 bags worth of potting mix. There's more about these pots to tell, but on to community spirit first. Two local blokes, also making drop-offs at the tip, were happy to volunteer and help him lift the huge pots into the back of his station wagon.


Philodendron

I'm sooo happy, I got a free philodendron, complete with it's own pot and base. How could anyone throw this away? I was so thrilled to give it a new home though - along with another plant, I'm not sure the name of.


Mystery plant

When I started collecting pot plants to put inside, I looked at a few I wanted to buy (philodendron being one of them) but decided to leave it until Dave goes back to work in late January. So imagine my ultimate surprise when Dave brought one home from the tip. Not only that, but those large pots I mentioned - well, mum was looking for a couple of big ones to go on her back veranda. Now for Christmas we had gotten her a wind-up torch, but when she opened it we found out she already had one. She hinted about taking the broken pot instead, as she's fixed these sucessfully before, but we insisted she take the pair. Mum, being mum though, insisted she pay for the good one. We said she could have both as a gift, and we wouldn't take any money. She insisted, we denied, but before she left on Christmas Day, she tucked some money under a place mat, LOL.


Stoked!

Our daughter was stoked with her gifts. We had looked at several different options and had debated about whether we should buy a Nintendo Wii. Dave didn't need any convincing though, LOL, it was me! This wasn't a gift we bought at the last minute, we really did weigh up the pros and cons. I'm really happy to say, Sarah enjoyed the Mouse Trap board game (we also bought for the family) just as much as her Wii. We sat around the table on Christmas Eve night, playing Mouse Trap! It was great fun.


What Christmas tree?

I didn't really notice the Christmas tree this year. Dave and Sarah put it up, but much of the focus about this year's celebration wasn't what the tree was meant to represent. Instead, we found it spending time doing quality activities together. Dave and I enjoyed preparing the Christmas feast, and we even enjoyed tidying the house together. Because everything we did, didn't feel like work or getting the next thing done. Maybe it also had to do with the fact we decided not to travel around this Christmas either. It's not unusual to visit two households in Brisbane, after a small gathering at our house (with mum) on Christmas eve.


Hand made, has stood the test of time

There were a few small things I did notice about the tree this year however. The first (above) were the hand-made decorations my mum made. These were sewn many years ago, when I was a teenager and still living at home. They've always been my favourite tree decorations, that is, until this year...


Jingle Bells ~ jingle bells ~ jingle all the way...

Sarah had made a bell for my Christmas present this year. They were made at school and I really, really love it! She's so clever and I'm really proud of her effort.

At the end of the day, when I put my head down on my pillow, I couldn't believe how wonderful this year's celebration had been. Peace filled, wonderfully, at last. :)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Healthy Food

Twas the night before, the night before, Christmas and Dave whipped up the most excellent dinner. It was so nice, in fact, that I asked him for the recipe - as my friend LindaM had recently discovered she had to change her diet for health reasons. I hope it has all the right ingredients. So this one is going out to you Linda! I had already eaten half way through my meal before I took the photo, so ignore the presentation.




Beef Strip Salad



Ingredients:

250g rump steak (cooked medium-well)
handful of cashews
sprinkle of sesame seeds
vermicelli (rice/glass noodles)
cos lettuce
dark mushroom soy
fish sauce

Dave left the cooked rump in the fridge overnight, which makes it easier to carve in to thin strips the next day. He marinated the strips in a mix of soy and fish sauce (make up your own ratio to taste). It only marinated for 5 minutes but you can leave longer.

Cook rice noodles, drain and rinse then break up your cos lettuce into a separate big bowl. You need the room for tossing everything together, so make sure it's a big bowl. Next, in a hot pan, drizzle a little olive oil then roast the cashews until lightly golden. Add the sesame seeds (again, to taste) and cook a further minute. Remove off the heat. Now it's assembly time!

Toss the still warm vermicelli into the cos first, so the leaves will wilt a little. This is one of those recipes where the tougher outer leaves can be used, as they won't go all limpy when they wilt slightly. Use a pair of tongs to turn the noodles through the lettuce. Next toss in your roasted nuts/seeds and finally add the room temperature marinated beef strips.

Toss, serve and enjoy!

I was really surprised with this dish. So very light and yet I spent as much time eating it, as I did the night before, when we had rump steak and three veg. Awesomely delish and a meal in itself!

Monday, December 19, 2011

When you can't go outside

I've made a realisation recently - I feel 99% better whenever I can go outside and potter around the garden. It doesn't matter what is on my plate, any particular worries or stresses can be taken outside and worked out amongst the greenery. I can't explain why, it just works for me. My garden is my therapy.

But what happens when you can't go outside because of bad weather or you're feeling sick? It's taken me far too long to realise the remedy, and that is to bring the outside, indoors. Of course I don't want to spend a lot of money in the process, so I started looking around the house for containers I could use. Here's an old vase or Saki bottle (I'm not sure which) with an unusual plant saved from a garden clean-up at Sarah's school.



All I've done is fill the bottle with water and the plant's roots are growing inside. Not very difficult to maintain either. I've grown many plants successfully like this before. I will have to find the name of this plant as it's very beautiful and loves the light position next to the window.



I also have another plant I've given similar treatment too, only this one is green. It was also rescued from a garden clean-up effort and quite likes the light it has in this position. Summer brings wonderful light into the house.



It sits in another rustic bottle - oh dear, I have to admit to collecting quite a few (bottles that is) and you can even see more in the background. But I'm happy to have found a lovely use for them. All you need is a plant that will strike roots in water and doesn't mind low nutrients. It's embarrassing how simple it is. But I also had a few other plants I wanted to find new homes for. Again, I consulted my brick-a-brac tucked away in the cupboards and stumbled across a dainty ceramic container.



Do you think I could find a plastic pot small enough to sit in it though? I didn't want to plant straight into the ceramic dish, as it didn't have any drainage holes - solution, put one inside that does have them. I searched all my containers outside but everything was either too tall or too wide. I even resorted to searching my daughter's room, as she's known to use old yogurt containers for storage. Anything I did find however, didn't fit either. As you can see in the picture above, I found the solution inside my kitchen pantry - the plastic container our muffin cases come in. A few holes poked in the base, and it was ready to go!



I planted a fern in it, rescued from the renovations at my husband's work place. The roof and gutters were being replaced, and when the workmen lifted the old gutters down, there were ferns growing happily inside them. Dave rescued some and they're now living on my kitchen bench - along with another plant I collected from our garden: Hostas. I had to cut them back because they were leggy being in a shaded position outside. They should re shoot fairly quickly though. I didn't even have to buy the ceramic pot plant for the Hostas either - that came with a free cutting I received from my mum. The saucer was from a promotional cup and saucer I rarely use.

Gosh, I'm starting to sound like an old plant lady I remember visiting when I was growing up. She had plants in everything from metal cans to old tea pots with broken handles. All these indoor plants have actually brought back a lot of memories from my childhood. We used to live in flats growing up and when it was too wet or cold to go play outside, I remember playing with my mother's pot plants. She use to have palms with little ornaments adorning a few. I would use them to play under the palms, imagining I was outside playing in a jungle.


Would you believe I still have one of those wonderful ornaments? Of course, it's a frog, what else? My mum gave it to me one day and it's come on many adventures with me since. Even my own daughter has been known to play with old froggy. Boy that little ornament has been very adventurous - I think I'll resume frog back to pot plant duty, as was his original calling.



My favourite arrangement at the moment would have to be these native gingers and a little ground cover I don't know the name of. It's very prolific around Brisbane and other parts of South-East Queensland. I think Dave grabbed a handful from his sister's place (in Brisbane) and it loves the shady places in our garden - spreading well and covering the soil.

I did buy the native gingers, but they were actually destined for the garden. I hadn't managed to get them all planted however, and thought why not try them indoors instead? They're actually growing bigger inside than outside.

What I like about bringing all these new plants in doors, is they can help purify the air. I don't have many plants at this stage and many of them are still small, but I've enjoyed the process of recycling storage containers and propagating plants in a new way. It's not that hard, it's relatively cheap and there are plants that don't need much attention at all. I did buy a bag of potting mix to do much of this, but I also added some home grown compost to make it go further.

Do you like bringing plants indoors and have you used some unusual containers to plant them in?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hatching new life

It's that time of year again, when the Hoverbator gets switched on and a new clutch of eggs are set. I tried an unsuccessful batch much earlier, but our new rooster hadn't quite reached maturity to fertilise the eggs. About a month later we collected a new batch of eggs to set. I still wasn't sure if he was doing the job properly, but we had seen him in the "act" with his lady hens. There was about four days to go until they were meant to hatch, and a storm took out the power for ten hours. I covered the Hoverbator with a blanket but the temperature went right down to 22 degrees Celsius.

Needless to say, I had low expectations of anything hatching on the 21st day - but then...


Twelve little chicks

Twelve little miracles later! We have mostly Australorps with some crosses with Australorp to New Hampshire and Isa Browns hens. Quite a lovely mixed bag and I was surprised to have any hatch at all. In fact, we had eight eggs which failed to hatch, although we did see them rocking on hatching day. I had written those eggs off by the morning of the 22nd day, but had kept the incubator on because I kept the last 3 chicks to dry off in there overnight. I hadn't even expected those three to live because they weren't very active and I had to help them out of their shells before they dried out.

To my surprise, they were darling little bundles of fluff by the next morning, zipping around the Hoverbator looking for attention. At this point I noticed another egg had pipped. I wasn't expecting it to hatch successfully, as the last three struggled to get out on their own. Truly, I must be an optimist when I decided to leave the incubator on to see what happened during the day. I monitored the situation for a few more hours, noticing the little beak inside was chipping away more shell. But I knew if they didn't get out soon, it would probably start drying to the shell. So by the afternoon (with a little help from me) we had another chick hatch. I didn't need to give them too much help, as they were bursting to get out!


Plus one more!

We named the chick, Omega 13, as it was the last to hatch out of thirteen chicks. I was right too, the drying process had begun, as the umbilical chord on the abdomen didn't come away. It was dry and withered, so I had to snip it off with sharp scissors. Little Omega was just happy to get out of the shell, I don't think they noticed! Not only were we surprised to get any successful hatchlings after the power outage, but we were even more surprised the very last chick to hatch came nearly a day late. Little miracles can happen every day!

As I experienced new life coming into the world against the odds, it got me thinking about my own life and how it always seems to throw up the unexpected. Life at the Grove has certainly been more than I expected. Take the floods in late 2010 and early 2011 for example. We had been building a wall for two years prior and just planted our first seedlings - mulching too, it was fantastic! Our efforts held so much promise of what was to come, only it didn't happen how we expected. We had imagined we would relax afterwards, and drink in the pleasure of watching the garden grow. Instead, a few weeks after our enormous project came to an end, a massive amount of water destroyed most of the garden and to this day, we are still clearing the silt which got dumped at the base of the wall.

Some things just don't happen according to plan. It's nothing personal, life is just a mixed bag of consequences we often find ourselves having to negotiate. There are so many things which can go wrong, and yet something good always comes out of it.


Bonding

There is a new Chicken Mama in the making here. Our daughter simply loves having little chicks to take care of. She has the knack too - her skills are developing so she feels more confident around the chicks, and they see her as the new Chicken Mama. With 13 chicks to play with however, it's a virtual family daycare centre. Sometimes when we sit down to watch a show, we'll each take a chick to nurse. It's very cathartic holding a little ball of fluff to your chest and watching them slowly close their little eyes, until they fall asleep. Sometimes we'll just be talking to each other and one by one, we'll pluck a chick from the brood and hold them while we chat.

I'm sometimes tempted to say no when Sarah asks to hold a chick. I'll know she hasn't cleaned her room or even put her breakfast bowl on the sink. But somehow the excitement and anticipation in her eyes is contagious. I forget we have a messy house too, and I'll race her to pick up a chick!

Sometimes you plant a garden and it gets washed away. Sometimes you forget about the mess and learn to love the ride. Everything has a place in this mixed bag of life, and we don't have to feel out of place because of it. Sometimes there are just new challenges to negotiate. I like that I still have choices, even if things don't always go to plan. It teaches me to open my eyes more, to engage and be vital as much as I am capable. Life happens and that isn't so bad. Even when it's not exactly what we were expecting.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mountains of...

The mountains I am talking about are made of paper! Don't you hate those growing mounds of paperwork, which seem to multiply when your back is turned? They grow and expand and when they can't get any taller, they move to another part of the house! This is the mound I was tackling recently...


Using the sofa for sorting through

There's school related papers which I can clear now the school year has ended. Also some superannuation paperwork Dave and I need to go through, roll over, and what have you. Lots of miscellaneous pieces which seemed important to keep at the time too, but when it's been sitting in the same pile for years (how embarrassing) you know they probably won't have any value in the future. If they're only fit for a pile and not to be acted upon, then they must not be that important.

But I'm not the only person guilty of such wayward paperwork habits however - Dave and our daughter are forever bringing home piles of their own. Sarah loves to draw, so there are many experimentation's lining the table and even the floor! Dave, well, he must be the largest paperwork magnet there is. It all ends up living on the food table (even on the chairs we don't use) and makes for a very cluttered home base.


Using the table for storage - hoping to tackle this habit

With the wet weather content on keeping us indoors, I figured it was time to really take a different attitude to how I file my paperwork. What did I really need to store and what was just clutter? I do have a four-drawer filing cabinet to keep all our important stuff in, but I must admit, it's starting to look like a woman about to birth her baby: so very ready to drop a bundle. The second last drawer from the bottom, has files so thick, I have to be particularly persistent in rolling it closed. The bunched up files are scraping the top of the unit and won't let it close easily.

The filing cabinet can wait for now however, as I spent most of the day sorting through random piles of paperwork instead. I was amazed at how much I really DIDN'T need. I was also amazed how all our take-away menus had so many different locations around the house. We don't eat out much (maybe 4 times a year) and generally only because we ran out of time to cook. We have special take away joints that make great tasting food - a real pizzeria for example, not a franchise. So I collected all the different menus and put them in one place. I also put all our superannuation paperwork in one place so Dave and I can tackle it.


Organised!

I also went through the various surfaces in my office and gave them a good sorting as well. Above is after I cleared away a whole stack of stuff. The pile of letters is meant for the compost bin. Which brings me to my Christmas present this year! It's sitting under the Christmas tree as I type. With all this paperwork to get through, can you guess what it is? Okay, I'll tell you...


A ... P A P E R ... S H R E D D E R ! ! !


I've always wanted an electronic shredder, because I've manually cut (or tore) paperwork destined for the compost. Which is fine when you only have a few pieces to dispose of, but when you're about to embark on tackling years of paperwork hoarding, it would require more shredding than my poor hands (and scissors) could manage. I could've bought the big whopper shredder, but when I looked at the mechanised head compared to the smaller model I realised they had very similar designs. One let you shred 5 pieces of paper at a time, the other let you shred 8.

For the extra $20-30 I would have spent on the whopper shredder, I would've been able to shred 2 extra pieces and store it in a bigger bucket underneath. These were not important features to me, because while I can store paperwork for years, when it comes to disposing it in the compost, that gets done twice a week! The smaller bucket on the smaller shredder would serve me just fine.

Not all our paperwork finds it's way to landfill though. I suppose it does eventually, but we have a scrap-paper pile to write on the blank side (or in our daughter's case) she likes to draw on them so we aren't buying fresh paper all the time. I write my shopping lists on the scrap paper too. In the picture above, you'll notice a little plastic note caddy that I cut scrap paper to fill. I use a cutting board, ruler, pencil and a sharp blade. They make great little notes to keep beside the telephone to jot down messages.

While paperwork can be quite a chore to keep on top of, I know I am capable of designing a better system. My old nemesis (time) is the only thing standing in my way, LOL. I'll get there eventually, especially if the rainy weather hangs around some more. ;)

What's your worst paperwork habit and what's your best tip at organising it?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

All I want...



All I want for Christmas this year, is to put my boots up! I caught myself in a rare moment of reclining upon the couch, after mad dashing here there and everywhere. Organising food for the Dr Who Toowoomba local group break-up party, decorating the cake after taxing daughter to her dance rehearsals yesterday, before the big concert tonight! It will be her first stage performance, but Dave and I felt like we've been in the spotlight all week. The above photo was taken today, after we returned from our Dr Who Club Christmas party. What a lovely group of people we have to celebrate with, but it was sure nice to get home and put my feet up again.



I'm not sure how much more my poor boots can take! Okay, they can probably handle another outing today (and they will) as there's still another marathon effort to get Sarah to the concert on time. Tick-tock goes the clock, and after the concert we'll watch the last episode of Doc Martin before heading to bed.

Does domestic bliss get any more wonderful than this? I swear, at the beginning of the week I was pulling my hair out with worry at how much had to be achieved, but now the end is almost in sight, I think how much HAS been achieved. Family life, social outings, running the supermarket gauntlet, watching cheezy British sitcoms - this is my wonderful life, and my little secret is I love it!

Boots, Christmas and Chaos, I can create domestic harmony out of anything you hand me. Isn't that what a Domestic Goddess is for? ;)

I will reply to comments in the next few days. I've read them but I want to take my time in replying, because I want to enjoy deliberating them when life slows down to normal soon. Thank you for taking the time to comment (everyone) as I know this is a funny time of year with funny goings on.

Tell me, do you have any madness you wish to share, about juggling so much at this crazy time of year?