Thursday, January 31, 2008

Book Review: The Taste of Memory

"Tastes and smells transport us, they carry our minds back, we do not so much remember their moments as relive them"..

This is a memoir by Australian author Marion Halligan (who I'm ashamed to say I'd never heard of before I read this book). It's a series of reminiscences about food, particularly food eaten with friends, most often fresh food from the garden. Reading it is a bit like eavesdropping on someone's conversation at times, as she'll suddenly start talking about someone she hasn't mentioned before, and it wanders from subject to subject, but in a quite delightful way. It's a real "stream of consciousness" type story, and she intersperses recipes with the stories throughout the book.

I loved the book - I didn't want it to end, and actually put it aside for a while before I finished to reflect on it, and put off the moment of completion. It had added interest for me as she grew up in Newcastle, a place I know well, so with a lot of her memories I could picture where she was talking about.

(If you search for it on Amazon, you can read a few pages as an excerpt - I have no affiliation with them!!)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Australian animals excursion & 1st drama class

Patting Suzy the koala

Koalas just hanging out staying cool

Curious Emu

Yesterday we visited Blackbutt Reserve for the first time (I'd been when I was a kid but we haven't taken Billy there) - it's a nature reserve that's free to the public, with wonderful walks and lots of Australian animals. We spent about 3 hours there - had a picnic lunch next to the duck pond (on a frugal note, I'm doing really well packing a picnic lunch when we go out rather than buying it!), and then walked around looking at the animals & filling in an "animal habitat" worksheet that we'd gotten from the rangers. They have emus, kangaroos, koalas, wombats & heaps of native birds - Billy loved it and we had a really good time. In the afternoon they have a Koala encounter - for $3 you can go into a private area and get to pat a koala - Billy was very keen on doing it!

Unfortunately I forgot to take my camera so had to use my phone camera - the photos aren't great quality.
After we left there we went back into town where he had his 1st drama class! I can't tell you much about it because they asked parents to leave, but he enjoyed it! It sounds like they played lots of getting to know you, and movement games. There were 7 in the class - 7 precocious 5-8 year olds lol. They all made a beeline for the stage at the back and were strutting around like seasoned performers :)

Spending spree

On Saturday we went down to have another look at a van we looked at a couple of weeks ago - we met my parents down there to get a 2nd opinion. It's a display model from 2007 with very slight hail damage (you have to look very carefully and at the right angle to see it) & with added extras because it's the display model. It's roughly $6000 off the price of the equivalent new model. For better or for worse - we put a deposit down! It's an A'van Cruiseliner - this is a photo of an old one. (The Teepee part folds down to a flat roof for travelling.)

I'm torn in two - my heart says it was the right decision, my head isn't so pleased because of the financial impact - most of the money will come from money we had set aside for other things, but we need to get a loan for the rest of it. We have an appointment with our building society tomorrow afternoon, so fingers crossed. The loan isn't really in keeping with my desire to slow down and work less, but being able to get away with little preparation for the weekend is!

Speaking of mixed feelings - this time 6 months ago, my plans for 2008 were to be working for myself on an almost full-time basis while Billy was at school, bringing in the money, paying off our debts & saving up for a trip overseas. Tomorrow, the first day of kindy, should have been the start of "life after full-time motherhood". Instead we've decided to homeschool... As much as I really want to do it, and enjoy doing it, I'm a bit torn that I won't be having that time to myself, being a "real person" again rather than just Mummy. As if he'd read my mind, Billy came up to me today, gave me a hug and said "I really like having you around all the time Mummy".. Puts it into perspective really...

Feeling blah..

I'm taking it easy today - I'm just feeling blah. Physically ok, a bit tired, but mentally blah. No motivation, a bit stressed, don't feel like doing anything. I've spent far too much time online as well, so have caught up with outstanding blogs, but hasn't helped me get anything done. We had a big day yesterday which may have contributed. I'm going with "unschooling" today - Billy's been playing an educational computer game, is currently making a mobile phone out of cardboard, and we'll make a planet mobile later if I get the energy. We need to go grocery shopping sometime this afternoon as well.

I have a few posts overdue but while they're in my head they won't come out..

Maybe some lunch & a cup of tea will help make things better..

Friday, January 25, 2008

Bush Art Walk

We went on a short Bush Art walk today organised by the NSW National Parks as part of their school holiday program. It was in the beautiful Glenrock Lagoon State Conservation Area - Ranger Gary took us on a short, very easy walk (wheelchair accessible so very nice path!) through the bush to the creek, and then talked about Aborginal bush art, what it meant, how they made it etc. Then we got to paint our own boomerang using matchsticks! He talked some more while they dried, telling us the signifigance of some of the Dreamtime stories.

After the walk, Billy & I had a picnic lunch in a nearby park, an ice-cream for dessert and a play with the boomerangs and on the playground. What more could you want for a nice day :)

We'll definitely be doing more of their activities in the next school holidays - I'm on their mailing list now hopefully so I should get to hear about them a lot sooner!

Glenrock Lagoon State Conservation Area

Ranger Gary

Painting the boomerangs

The finished product

And while I've got the memory card in the computer, here's a photo from the Claymation workshop earlier in the week. Looks like messy fun, doesn't it?!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Silly gardening questions

Another hour weeding and another 2 fruit trees weeded and mulched. 4 to go!

I have a young guy coming over shortly to do some weeding for me - he's from LETS and trying to earn "mollies" (the LETS currency) in the school holidays for some driving lessons. I'll put him to work on the path - we have 4-5 ft weeds growing in it, it's like a jungle!!

Some silly questions -

* Does blood & bone lose it's goodness? I found some stored under the house from who-knows-when, I'm assuming it will be no good any more? What can I do with it?

* I want to grow strawberries under the fruit trees (a la Jackie French's suggestion). Looking through the Digger's catalog they have bare-rooted strawberry plants. I guess that's the same as when you buy a bare rooted fruit tree, but is there anything special you have to do to plant it?

* Any suggestions for dealing with ants in the garden? We have green-head ants all through it - and they STING when they bite (and throb for hours after). It makes gardening a real hassle...

I'm sure I'll have more silly questions later!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


I've been rather sporadic with updates since I'm not spending much time on here, so here's an update of what's happening in our household..

House: The house is starting to look great - if I do say so myself lol. I've been trying to tackle an area every day and declutter / tidy / clean - even if it's one shelf. It's gradually making a difference. Last week (I think it was), I tackled the spare room - it'd been used as a junk repository since about Nov last year. You couldn't even walk in there :( It took me a couple of days of working on it but it looks fantastic now. On Sunday night I got Pete to move the dead microwave out of the kitchen - I've decided not to replace it, so that left me with a spare shelf. I reorganised the kitchen a bit and inspired by Joyful Keeper's post, I took everything off the main part of the bench. It looks great and makes that area so much more useful.

Garden: Seeing me poring over the Digger's club catalog & Jackie French's book, Pete commented that I was "back into the gardening stuff".. :) I have a list of seeds I want to buy - I'll order them after this. I don't have a gardening category in the budget as yet - I'll have to take it out of the household stuff, but I want to keep track of what it's costing and see if I can recoup it out of the grocery budget once it starts producing.

Our fruit trees are really overgrown with grass so I spent a couple of hours yesterday out weeding (and being eaten alive by ants :( ) - I got 2 trees weeded and mulched with the lucerne hay I got the other day. 7 to go! (or possibly 6, I think one citrus is dead and it's just the tree that it was grafted onto that's still growing - not sure what it is but it's dreadfully spiky!!). I'll try to get some more done tomorrow if the weather co-operates. Billy built a flower garden while I was doing that - not sure if anything will grow but he enjoyed it :)

Finance: Our building society just raised mortgage interest rates again - I'm going to have to squeeze the budget a bit more to find the money.. We're not about to lose the house or anything, but it will start meaning some more sacrifices if it keeps up. I'm really hoping this ends soon - I just cannot imagine how some people are coping. I was pleased to see the govt is talking about introducing measures to reward people for saving and to cut their own spending - about time!

School: We started school back last week. We spend a little bit of time in the morning on "formal" stuff, and then the afternoon is free play, cooking, computer time etc. The great thing about this time of year is the school holiday activities that are on everywhere. So far he's been to a hands-on science show run by the CSIRO, a fantastic storyteller named Bronwyn Vaughan who dressed up and told multi-cultural stories and a claymation workshop run by the Art Gallery. I was really nervous about how he'd go with that - it's the first activity that I've actually dropped him at and left (I felt like the first day of school!) . It went from 10-2, he was the youngest student - they worked in groups and he was in one with 3 pre-teen boys (and an instructor), but he lasted the day (I left my mobile no just in case). They'll be sending out the results of their animation on CD - I can't wait to see it. I know the story their group was doing was something to do with Pinocchio not cleaning his room, so I can see my child had a hand in the script-writing lol.

On Friday we're going on an Aboriginal Bush Art walk run by the National Parks to see some aborginal art and learn how they do it. It'll tie in well with our theme atm - we're doing Australia. His drama class starts next week - he's really looking forward to it!

Me: I'm trying to have some quiet time for me each day - I'm being anti-social and going into a room where there is no tv going and having a quick break. I'm breaking a lifetime of conditioning and sitting down with a book! (My mother is simply incapable of just sitting - she *has* to be doing something. I think that's why I got into the habit of using the computer as a break - it was "working"..)

I think that's all that's been the main things going on. I'm sure I'll think of something more as soon as I hit Publish Post though :)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

B'day party meltdowns & general ramble..

I'm really starting to dislike taking Billy to kid's b'day parties. He's fine with family ones because he knows everyone but friend's ones where there are lots of kids, he doesn't know many of them and there is no structure - he just melts down every time.. We went to one today for one of his homeschooling friends, Johno. This was a combined party with Johno's cousin as well - so probably about 20 kids of varying ages. It was noisy, they were exuberant, he only knew the b'day family and they were busy with their other friends & cousins. He was fine to start with, just stayed fairly close to me, but then wanted to go on the 'tractor ride' - they were pulling kids around on the trailer of a ride-on mower. Part way around he fell off - and came bawling to me. He wasn't hurt, maybe a little shocked, but he was mainly upset that they didn't stop for him to get back on so he missed the rest of the ride! He couldn't find the lolly bag with his name on it (even though it was there), so more tears.. And so on for quite a while - missed out on finding a prize at the treasure hunt etc etc.. He ended up playing quite happily by himself having a tea party in the cubby and was fine! By the time we left he was ok and wanted to stay, but it breaks your heart to hear your kid sobbing "this is the worst b'day party ever".. (he is also a drama queen lol) I have to admit that I also worry what people will think, are the other kids calling him a crybaby etc.. Maybe he has more of my introversion than I give him credit for.

Hopefully he'll be ok on Monday - he's booked in for a claymation workshop at the art gallery and I don't have to stay. I think he'll be ok - the teachers will keep an eye on him and there's structure so fingers crossed - but I'll leave my mobile number just in case.

Other than that, life is going really well - I feel so much more relaxed with my new routine. I'm sleeping better, not clock watching all of the time and getting sooo much more done. I'm still only checking email 3 or 4 times a day, and if I get on the computer to do something I (generally) have a set purpose, do that and get off. I'm not perfect - I have strayed a bit lol - but on the whole I've even lost the urge to get online all of the time. I've unsubbed from some yahoo groups & gone no mail on others, or daily digest so I can skim the post headings. And you know what - life hasn't come to an end!

I'm coping with no microwave - the main thing is that I have to be more organised! I can't just zap something to defrost it, so I have to plan ahead a bit more. I bought myself a small vege steamer to go in the saucepan and have used that most nights. So far I can't see any reason to replace it.

I've been reading Jackie French's Backyard Self-Sufficiency again (I love that book) - got myself some hay mulch from a lady on LETS to mulch the fruit trees - and it's rained ever since, so it still hasn't been done! I bit the bullet and joined the Digger's Club - I've been sitting here drooling over the catalogues :)

I've even had time for Me - I've been reading a fair bit (when I would've normally be wasting time mindlessly surfing the net), been doing some logic problems (the brain has atrophied a lot since I used to do them!) and I even bought myself a cheap jigsaw today.

Apologies if this doesn't make sense - I'm ready for bed..

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Dehydrator results

My husband cleverly bought me a dehydrator for Xmas (after I told him exactly what I wanted, the model, how much & where to buy it from lol). I tried it out yesterday and today. Yesterday, for it's inaugral dry, I made potato chips (typical of me!) - cook potato, mash with milk, salt & pepper (I also added a small amount of Massel chicken stock), and spread on the drying tray. 12 hours later - voila :) They're not too bad actually - not a bad substitute for the real thing. I think the Gobbledok would approve (ok, who remembers the ad??! Chippy-chippy-chippy lol).

Chips before being broken up (or a big chip doughnut!)

Chippy chippy chippy!

At the fruit shop yesterday I picked up a bag of bruised apples for $1 - today I made dried apples. They taste delicious!

Not a bad haul for $1 worth of apples!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Fighting my addiction!

I'm finding it quite hard to stay off the computer, but I'm managing on the whole. It's really made me realise how much I use it when I start to feel "bored", and how much is habit. Whenever I have time to spare I have to fight the urge to go and blindly surf the internet. What's helping is having a list of things I want to do (and need to do) that doesn't involve the computer. Yesterday I was having a real "I want to stay in bed with the covers over my head" day - wasn't feeling 100% and just wanted to hibernate. It was hard not to just go and spend the time online, but I did manage to get some stuff done, and read a book instead. An improvement? Not sure! I have managed to get heaps done on the other days though - maybe my body was in shock lol.

I really need to get more of a routine going to make use of the time I used to spend online. Early mornings are falling into place - get up, get Pete's lunch ready, drive him to the train (this week anyway since we were down to 1 car), come home, breakfast, do 'essential' housework (eg washing dishes, put load of washing on, make beds, sweep kitchen floor), check email (15 mins) and then shower. That seems to be going ok. It makes a big change from get up, turn the computer on, get Pete's lunch ready, check emails while yelling at Billy to get ready to go in the car, train & back, come home, eat breakfast in front of the computer and stay there for hours with a brief break for the shower!!

Through the day I check emails just before lunch and then again about 4 - I have done the odd check in between times but have been quick about it!

Nights are going ok - I don't let myself onto the computer until Billy is in bed, and then it's a quick check of email / blogs / yahoogroups etc, then into the paid work. I'm officially off holidays on Monday so will have to make sure I don't get into the trap of working every night again. I've even unsubscribed to some blogs!

From Monday we'll be back to doing school work - so once I've showered I'll get the lessons ready and we'll do some work in the morning. I'll have to adapt it over the next few weeks - once we start back into the activities (Pete squash twice / week, Billy drama Tue afternoon) it will change again. I'm contemplating some sort of Flylady routine (eek! lol) to keep me focused - a paper version though not all those emails!! I need to come up with something like that for the garden too - I want to start growing a lot of our veges but something's holding me back from doing it. I think I'm a bit overwhelmed with the thought and need to break it down a bit.

I've started reading Esther Dean's No Dig Gardening and an American book called Lasagna gardening - very similar concept. That's got me inspired - if only it was so #$%@ hot today!!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Guess what I found?!

I finally got a round tuit :) I cannot believe how much extra time I had today - I knew I wasted a lot of time online, but wow!

I made strawberry jam (without it going all over the microwave this time lol!) & multigrain bread rolls, cleaned up the kitchen & hallway which both still had stuff all over the place from our holiday, took down & packed away the Xmas tree & decorations and even did a bit of weeding! And I still found time to sit down and read my book a few times while I had a break!

Speaking of the microwave, I think ours is on it's last legs. It was getting hot on the outside & kept stopping like it was overheating while I was making the jam - I'm feeling that it might be dangerous to keep using.. Now I have to decide if I really want to replace it. I use it mainly for defrosting (mostly bread), melting stuff like butter, & cooking veges (and the jam now). I'll see how I go without it for a few weeks and then decide. Any thoughts? Is there another cost-effective way to cook veges? I steamed them tonight using the saucepan & colander - will keep my eyes open in the op shops for a metal steamer.

We've started on the CSIRO diet / eating plan again - we did it 2 years ago and Pete lost heaps then, he's added it back on so wants to lose it again. I only have a couple of kg to lose but could bid farewell to the muffin top :) We've had 2 meals from the book so far - both have been yummy! Last night was beef kebabs with couscous and harissa, tonight was roast lemon chicken with onion and pumpkin. I'm not doing it to the letter - I am physically unable to eat the amount of meat that it requires!!

I've been looking for a drama class that will take 5 year olds since Master B just loves to act - before Xmas I finally found a brochure of one in Newcastle that's just starting a class for 5-8 year olds. I left a message with them yesterday - they got back to me today and he's booked in. It sounds really good - they apparently will do a lot of playing, movement etc to increase their self-confidence. I think he'll love it! It starts at the end of Jan when Term starts.

Billy is booked into a Junior Scientist workshop run by the libraries tomorrow afternoon - it sounds fun!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Clawing my life back..

A lot of stress dropped away while I was on holidays - I slept a lot better & didn't need to take a headache tablet the whole time I was away which was amazing. I put a lot of it down to the fact that I was virtually unreachable by people. Our society is increasingly instant - we "need" to be contactable immediately no matter where we are - no wonder we can't "turn off". I'm resolving to stop being so instantly available, to stop being online so much, to hopefully reduce stress, and create a lot more time to carry out my other goals for the year.

Some ways I'm going to try to achieve it:

Clocks / watches:
A couple of nights before we went away I turned the clock off on my bedside table - we didn't need the alarm so there was no point having it on. It's amazing how much better I slept - if I did wake up I didn't look at the clock and then toss & turn because it was x o'clock and I couldn't get back to sleep. Obviously I won't be able to do this through the week (or Pete would never get to work lol), but I'm going to continue doing it where possible on the weekend. I also stopped wearing my watch while on holidays - how freeing does it feel! Again, I'm going to not wear it unless I need to be somewhere at a particular time.

Mobile: When mobiles first became popular I refused to have one because I didn't want to be able to be contacted if I was out. Once you get your first one though it's hard to go back. How often are the calls & messages I get urgent? Not often I don't think. I've been leaving it on silent and just checking every now & then - if I don't hear it I don't rush to the phone. If it's important, they'll leave a message (downside - paying for the extra message retrieval calls..) Will try it anyway - it worked well on holidays.

Computer: My BIG addiction! I'm going to limit my time on the computer - I tried a few things today and it worked well. I ran the laptop on battery - it goes into hibernate mode pretty quickly and takes a few minutes to come back out of it so it stops me ducking back to look something else up. I'm keeping a notebook beside the computer so I can jot down things I want to do / look up / write (like I did with this blog post!). I've moved my computer from next to the lounge (which is lovely & comfortable) to a desk (which is probably more ergonomically sound but not as comfortable lol) - this will hopefully stop me sitting down and staying there! Don't use the computer while I'm eaiting breakfast / lunch - a very bad habit I've gotten into!!!

* Yahoogroups - I moderate / own a few Yahoogroups (LETS, Freecycle and related ones). They survived for a week without me - if I'm only checking every few hours they *will* survive! I have other moderators - rely on them more.
* Email - email does not have to be instant communication!!! If I get a message through, it does *not* need to be answered straight away!! Limit my time on the email, and also the frequency I'm checking. Can some of the emails be done by snail mail? (eg personal greetings)
* Work email - I used to have my work email go through Outlook because it's a pain to check via webmail. I've had to remove it while I'm on holidays because clients are still sending me work to do (despite knowing I'm on holidays!) - if I saw that there was an unread message I just didn't have the willpower to *not* read it, and then I'd either stress about it or have to answer it. By having it on webmail it's a hassle so I don't check it. So while I'm working I'll connect it to Outlook, while I'm not I'll remove it (or maybe I just won't have the send / receive check it - will see what works best). This will hopefully remove a *lot* of stress and eliminate one of the huge problems about working from home - separating work & home time.
* Blogs / groups - Use folders more to organise my mail. May need to cull?? (eeek!)

* Make a list of jobs to do each day - NOT on the computer or it will just give me another excuse to be on it lol
* Stick to dedicated work time for paid work.
* Read books / write when I sit down at night.

Hopefully all of this will give me time to DO instead of just reading about doing. It'll be a good time to start now while I'm not back in the habit of using the PC - turning on my computer used to be the first thing I'd do of a morning :( Hopefully it will also rub off on the rest of the family - Pete is as bad with the computer and Billy uses the TV when he's bored..

This is a great blog post I skimmed yesterday on a similar topic - I just read it in more depth and realised how good it really was!

And now it's time to turn off and go to bed!!!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

We're back!!!

We had a good time away at Stuart's Point - great weather until the last couple of days when we were getting the tail end of the bad weather on the north coast. The main problem with that was that we were in a slide-on van which we'd taken off the back of the ute for the week - to get it back on, you have to wind the legs up manually so that it's high enough to back the (very high 4WD) ute under - NOT a great idea in high winds!! Pete & I spent 1.5 - 2 hrs in the driving rain & gale force winds last night getting it back on - we were soooo soaked & freezing - not to mention stressed! (Luckily we were able to send Billy to his aunt's van to stay dry and occupied while we put it on). Plus we developed a couple of leaks in the van - we ended up just leaving last night at 9pm and driving home rather than waiting until this morning when we were due to leave. We got home at 1:30 this morning *yawn*. So I've been spending today doing loads of wet washing and cleaning the van out.. Oh, and researching what we can buy instead of our slide-on, it's not working for how we use it! Now to rob a bank or win lotto!!

The week was relatively relaxing - I got heaps of books read - it's amazing how long a day is with no internet to surf, no chores to do etc! We spent some time with the family, and some by ourselves - a nice mix. Billy did a bit of swimming, Pete took him to play golf one morning (while I had a sleep in!!!!), we ate out far too much, watched the fireworks on New Years Eve and visited the old gaol at South West Rocks. The older Billy gets the easier it is to holiday with him - he can entertain himself more now (the lego got a great workout!), and I can trust him to cross the small road at the caravan park between our site and his aunts, so he spent time going between the two (he doesn't wander away). It gave me a bit more time to relax, and also to spend more time helping Cher & Linc with the kids - a delicate balancing act between helping them out and getting in the way lol, and between spending time with them but not ignoring Billy. Someone recently commented to Cher that 3 kids of different ages is harder than 3 of the same age - all I can say is that that person has never spent time with very active 20 month old triplets!!!! They're good kids, but it's so hard in a "non-controlled" environment - they're just so quick. I love it that they'll go to me with no dramas what so ever though and we got to have some "quality time" together.

It's going to be hard to get back into routine now!

That says it all really - summer holidays!

View from our van

NYE Fireworks at Scott's Head

Trial Bay Gaol

Locking up the dangerous criminals :)