Friday, August 31, 2012

At Least I Have All My Own Teeth

Well, back to that other life, the one without grandparents to entertain the seven year old, the one where you wake up one morning and the dirt fairy has been, leaving a thin film of grime all over the house, and magically making all the clothes jump into the dirty washing basket at once. The life where the cat suddenly has fleas, and the flea medicine disagrees with her insides, and you are woken at 6.45 am to the news, 'Mum, the cat's been sick again.' (Incidentally, I married a magnificent man, he sorted that one) The life which for a whole week revolves around extra ballet rehearsals, requests for extra ballet gear, new ribbons to be sewn on ballet shoes, bits of bling to be sewn on costumes, and hooks and eyes which were meant to be sewn on costumes, that have now disappeared. The life where you hear sentences like, 'Mum, I have a tutor group breakfast tomorrow at the museum cafe at 8 o'clock, then I have a class trip to the university for the day, here is the form to sign, can you drive me pleeeeeease.' (at least she sweetened the deal with a batch of choc chip cookies) That is also the morning that The Man leaves on a business trip at dawn, The Boy goes off to the snow for the day at dawn, and the little girls somehow have to get to school as well.

It's also the life where the plum blossom on the neighbours' tree is so icicle-white against the impossibly blue spring sky that it makes your eyes hurt, and the sun is so shiny that every leaf is sparkling, and the mini peach trees are blossoming at the same time as the forget-me-nots...

And when life gets a little tedious, it always seems to throw up moments like these:
Yesterday I was standing in line at The Vegie Shed, go-to place for local vegie bargains, and I had my trolley piled up as usual with 10kg bags of spuds and onions, and giant bags of cheap apples to keep the hordes happy. The old man in front of me was jolly and white-bearded, and I smiled at him. He fixed me with his piercing blue eyes, leaned towards me and whispered conspiratorially, 'Always try to keep your own teeth, dear.'
I assured him I would indeed endeavour to do so.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Kindness of Grannies

My very extremely nice parents child-cat-guinea pig-sat last week while The Man and I ran away from home. We rented the world's tiniest cottage on the beach...

...with possibly the world's best views. This is the one from the bedroom window. Why would you ever get out of bed?

To go through the red gate of course, down to the beach, to find rocks, starfish and fossils, and look at sheep and echidnas. Well, lots of sheep, one echidna.

And to sometimes get in the car and go and look at other beaches...

...climb high cliffs, and go for supplies to the one place on the island actually open in the winter season. Providentially this was a blessed cheesemaker, who also baked sourdough in his wood fired oven. The gods were smiling. We ate bread and cheese for days from the cottage's retro crockery collection, circa 1974, and drank some very nice pinot noir.

Every evening The Man lit the fire, which gave us the perfect opportunity to eat more cheese, and of course, drink more wine.

But then, oh no, The Man ran out of coffee, so we had to come home. Nothing less catastrophic could have torn us away. But at least we got to ride on the ferry.

Thanks Mum and Dad, couldn't have done it without you.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Granny Squares

We have a case of Grannies here at Chez Blueday. My mum is not a cook, neither is housekeeping her thing. What she is deliciously good at though, is sitting and knitting while Rosy and Posy chat endlessly. Posy spent about an hour the other day, crouched over a giant sheet of paper on the floor, drawing industriously and discussing every pencil stroke exhaustively with Grandma. And Grandma sat and knitted and said 'Oh my', and 'Really?' and 'I like that blue one especially' without dropping a stitch. They go for little walks to the shops and the playground, and play board games, and Grandpa is (apparently) hilarious always, especially when he shows the little girls how good he is at ballet.

And now we are all knitting. Mum is knitting blanket squares for a Save the Children Fund project, and I picked up some needles, then the girls joined in. The older girls had a Steiner tutor for a couple of years while we were homeschooling, so they are excellent knitters. So here we are, three generations knitting away, and chatting, of course.

I always support the gift of a home made blanket. They are so portable, so personal, so comforting, and they last forever. When I was about six the ladies at my Grandma's church made blankets for our family. We were 'poor missionaries' from the tropics spending three months in South Australia in the depths of Winter, and like church ladies everywhere, these were kind and practical and thoughtful, and found a way to help. I loved my blanket - there it is above in the background of the photo, crocheted in a rainbow of colours, no doubt scraps from somebody's wool stash. It came everywhere with me as we moved houses and countries, a constant cosy presence, and it lives on the arm of the couch in Posy's room now, in perfect condition thirty five years later.

This blanket came in good time too, for my very first blanky had just worn out. My first blanky was also a knitted one, handed down to me by my Grandma, who had knitted it for my Dad when he was a baby. It was a pleasant muted green in blocks of garter and purl, with a wide garter stitch border. In one corner there were whimsical appliqued chickens, cut from scraps of an old cream wool blanket, and there were embroidered wool flowers scattered across the green field. I loved that blanky, which must have been knitted in about 1946. Mum patched it and patched it, and finally it unravelled past redemption. That one must have lasted about thirty years, so that my two childhood blankies have had about sixty five years of use between them. I love things handed down through generations, things that are actually used, not just prized, and I love things that are made from scraps into something beautiful.

And here we are, three generations knitting a blanket for other children somewhere far away. I hope they will stay warm and be comforted, and maybe hand this blanket on to another generation too.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dragons in the Pear Tree

The only thing better than being a lumberjack serious pruner of fruit trees, is listening to the squeals of delight from Posy and assorted neighbour children as sticks and small limbs rain down from the trees.

"This is my Sword of Power!"
"This is my dragon, and I'm riding on its back and I'm flying through the clouds."
"This is the mummy dragon!"

Climbing trees was one of my absolute favourite things to do as a child. Sitting at the top of a tree, hiding among the green leaves, the world seems to slow and there is a sense that you are outside time and divorced from the concerns of the petty world far below. So I must admit that as I sat up in our pear and apple trees, enjoying reliving my childhood, and having ever so much fun sawing off limbs and snipping whippy branches, that my tree pruning technique was far more directed to making the trees satisfying to climb, than making them efficient fruit producers. Although I'm no expert at that either. I just cut out criss crossing branches, make sure the middle is opened up a bit for air flow (and climbing) and cut back long whippy leaders.

And the neighbours seemed to enjoy it and threatened to record for posterity the funniest home video moment when I fell out of the tree. But I refused to fall out of the tree merely to provide for community mirth, and descended with dignity to chop up all the prunings and stack them along the side of the house for next Winter's kindling. And now the children are back at school I will have to chop up the Sword of Power, and even the mummy dragon. Sssh, don't tell.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Not So Secret Miracle Cleaner

Finding it a little difficult to slow down. Friday was anxious because we thought the new carpet had faults in it - there were pale lines across it at regular intervals, and I was in despair at the thought of having it all pulled up again. When The Carpet Man eventually arrived he assured us it was normal compression marks for a wool carpet that had been stored at the bottom of a pile of carpeting - they will go away soon. Oh, the relief! The Man is having Discussions with the tile company who don't want to take back the extra tiles from the bathroom that they said they would take back... the ordinary annoyances of a building project. But all that stress has to be directed somewhere, and yesterday that was cleaning projects that I have been meaning to get to for Quite Some Time.

That meant tackling the months of accumulated grime on the range hood, and cleaning out the filters underneath it. The part about cleaning that I quite like is how easy it is once you actually start. Tackling big cleaning projects is my personal bogeyman, much more painful in the anticipation than the execution. The filters went into a sink of warm soapy water to soak, and the fan casing inside, well, it was appalling, covered in awful greasy gunk (do I cook with all that fat really?), however it came off really easily. My method for cleaning is start with a damp cloth and work up from there in the arsenal of cleaners - water, the universal solvent - does the trick surprisingly often. I used a tiny amount of dishwashing detergent on the fan casing though, figuring it is designed to break down fats.

I used a damp cloth dipped in bicarb soda for the range hood. I know from past experiments that bicarb is a miracle worker on stainless steel, and it did just cut through those vile layers of grease and grimy dust just like those miracle cleaning ads, only bicarb actually works, and I've never seen it on TV! While I was at it, I tried the bicarb on a streak of nail polish that some bad child had left on a drawer, and also on the black scuff marks left by school shoes on the white breakfast bar. Success on both counts. I know it's been said before in many places, but bicarb really is the hero of the cleaning cupboard. And it's invaluable because it doesn't scratch shiny surfaces like my glossy new kitchen. And I can buy it in bulk for a couple of dollars a kilo from my local wholefood shop. Love it!

Of course, while I was standing on a ladder I realised how dirty the top storey cupboards were, so cleaned them too, and then I saw the top of the blinds, oh my, a project for another day. I think this week I will  just stand on a ladder and clean everything above head height all over the house. I noticed the top of the bathroom walls were going mouldy the other day. It is troublesome to be short. On the other hand, not being able to reach the ceilings even from the top of the step ladder makes it necessary for Someone Else to clean them. Not all sunshine and lollipops being tall either, then.

So I finished yesterday with a shiny clean kitchen, even washed the windows while the range hood filters dried. I do feel a little bad sometimes about all the new and unsustainable materials we have used to fix up our house, although we have tried to be reasonably responsible in our choices. Having done that  though, I do feel that we now have a responsibility to look after what we have, and make it last a long, long time. All those plastic-wrapped cupboards and steel appliances are an investment, both financially, and in the capital resources of the planet, and I intend to make them last with maintenance and care.

Eventually though, there comes a moment when cleaning becomes an impossibility due to sunshine and the garden. I went outside and weeded and transplanted tiny parsley seedlings from where they have self sown to where I want them to grow, and Posy sat in the apple tree and made me play 'I Spy'.

Friday, August 10, 2012

End of an Epic Journey

Renovating, only for the foolish. Amazingly, everything got finished on time, but we are just shattered. We are so too old to be doing this.

Here is our downstairs living room a day before the carpet went in. Tile glue still wet, the grout hasn't gone on yet, and two doors being painted. There is the window ledge I sat on and got wet paint on my pants. This room has been built into the side of the hill, which gives it marvellous thermal properties - it is always cool in Summer, and warms up well in the cold, but it was also very wet, and its foundations were resting on damp clay. When we moved in, and for years afterwards, everything in this room (and the three rooms next to it) was damp and mouldy all the time, and it was practically unusable. So we stored junk in it and left it alone until we could afford to have it all ripped out, drains dug underneath, and lots of concrete poured, not only on the floor, but up the walls to ground height outside. The wall behind this photo has a concrete ledge up to shoulder height. So all of downstairs is sort of like a reverse swimming pool, with sides to keep the water out. It is a lot of unsustainable concrete, but hopefully it means that the house will last for at least another eighty years, and it will also be a handy bunker in a tsunami! The ledges make it architecturally interesting, and this one under the window makes a very handy bench seat.

This photo I took about half an hour ago, so it's a bit dark, but all the salient features are there. The infamous tiles. Our new wool carpet. The door, which Needs To Be Painted. Aaaargh. We are filled with enormous relief that we finally have two floors of living space to use. Yay. We are a bit overwhelmed because there are eight more doors to be stripped and painted. But essentially, we have finished. It has only taken twelve years.

I needed to do something small and calming to recover. So I picked some flowers.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Impossible is Just a Word

In attempting to save electricity this Winter I have stepped up the air drying. I always dry all the clothes on airers in front of the wall heaters if it is wet, but have historically thrown towels and sheets into the dryer, claiming it is 'impossible' to dry them inside in a Tasmanian Winter. It turns out 'impossible' is a fairly elastic term. In this case it meant 'can't really be bothered to try, and look, the dryer is right here...' Turns out, towels take less than twenty four hours to dry inside, our thick bathmat one extra day. Sheets, I have been hanging outside in the worst of weather bar rain, and they have dried surprisingly well, mostly needing only a few minutes in the dryer in the evening to get the damp out. Clearly, 'impossible' is not an absolute so much as an excuse.

Sensible Tasmanians have roofed pergolas or carports that they hang their washing under, and indeedy, The Man has promised to build a clear roofed pergola over the clothesline (our clothesline is attached to an outside sunny wall), which I am imagining will make it into a kind of greenhouse, and dry the clothes quicker than ever, as well as keeping rain off. In the meantime, he is wrestling with the tiles. They are nearly done. Word to the wise, Do Not Renovate in Winter. We have had a blow heater and fan running for hours on end over the last two days to dry paint and grout before the carpet arrives tomorrow. We are almost sure we will be ready...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Whisper of Spring

And it appears that self-levelling cement isn't always quite level. Oh well, we won't talk about that. On the cooking front we are doing very well. The weekend saw two casseroles, a batch of pain au chocolat, cupcakes, two different flavours of biscotti (chocolate and lemon and almond), and a lemon delicious pudding emerge victorious from one baking session. Oh, and rhubarb meringues to finish off. The meringues were an absolute triumph. We always seem to have a couple of egg whites loitering in the back of the fridge. This week there were lots due to a double batch of lemon butter The Girl made. Hence the biscotti, and of course, meringues. Last Spring The Girl whipped up a batch of raspberry meringues for Posy's birthday party, to rave reviews. We hit upon rhubarb as a Winter substitute. We roasted chopped rhubarb for twenty minutes or so in a moderate oven, then The Girl mashed it and swirled it through the meringue mixture. Happy pink Winter goodness. Meringues now promoted to 'health food'.

I am loving finding new ways to eat what we have grown. Due to the children requiring large park-like spaces of lawn to do cartwheels on and run about like mad things, I don't have a large vegie garden, but this year I am determined to squeeze vegies into every available space, and then, and this is the other trick of food gardening, not waste any, but actually eat it all. To this end I am trying to find ways to add vegetables to more of what we eat. Last night I made vegetable soup. Usually I serve soup with bread, or a batch of cheese scones, but last night I hit upon the idea of vegetable pancakes. Not a new idea, obviously, but just one I had never associated with soup before. I used our usual pancake recipe, added salt and cumin, and grated vegies. So yummy, and my peculiar youngest children, who don't really like scones (who doesn't like scones?), gobbled up pancakes with added vegies. Not that I'm complaining. Now I need to find ways to use all that red chard I planted a couple of months ago. It hasn't grown much yet, but Spring is coming, despite the snow on the mountains. I know this, because while I was trapped inside on the weekend, applying Antique White USA semi-gloss enamel to window frames, I spied the year's first jonquil in the garden.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Building Woes

So the weekend renovating was a teensy bit disheartening. Thursday is the big day for having carpet installed downstairs, so we are having our own Olympic finals race to the finish getting everything painted in time. The Man and I were contemplating the filthy concrete floor just inside our downstairs door, and thought a few tiles just in front of the door would be a good idea, to save the carpet. We already had the tiles, leftover from the bathroom, so easy peasy, right? Wrong.

First of all we discovered that the concrete floor we had expensively installed last year wasn't level. Because why would a builder feel that we wanted a level floor? Clearly we have unreasonable expectations. But all was not lost. There was some self-levelling cement in the shed, so The Man laid that on Saturday morning, then madly painted doors all day. Sunday morning he discovered that the cement was too old, and hadn't set so much as crumbled. Very bad moment.

A bad-tempered trip to the hardware store later, and we now have cement that is set, and a floor that is straight, which means, it is Monday afternoon, and we are in exactly the same place we though we were in on Friday night. Such is the life of the home renovator. In the meantime, The Man had rolled a fresh coat of paint onto the built-in bench seat along the length of the family room wall. I noted how divine it was looking as I sat on it in my new jeans....

It was one of those days. Luckily turps removes freshly applied enamel paint from jeans. Now I know.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Down with Electricity!

Still painting. You wouldn't think that one house could have so many surfaces that require paint. And on lots of the surfaces, mainly window frames and doors, we have to take the old paint off first. It is very tedious, and yesterday we managed to blow up the heat gun, so no paint scraping today, just painting....

Well, the verdict is in, or rather, the electricity bill, and we saved ..... 12% on last year's bill at the same time. Not the 20% I was looking for, but a good effort, I think. I'm surprised we saved anything at all really, considering we have had builders here using power tools constantly, and leaving doors open all over the place, and that heat gun has been going pretty steadily, so I have high hopes that we will begin to really save electricity when the building is over, which will be SOON (yes, I have been saying that for the last five years or so).

We haven't done anything drastic to save electricity. The house is warm, we still have unconscionably long showers. I have really only been targeting waste. We realised a few weeks ago that the chimney in Rosy's room was open to the roof space. We knocked the outside part of it down when we put the new roof on, but forgot to block it up, so that any warm air finding its way into her room was going straight up the chimney into the roof space. The Man fixed that up quick smart, and poor Rosy was heard to remark that she feels much warmer at night now. We are such bad parents. We had a damper installed in our living room fireplace a few years ago, which reduces draughts mightily when the fireplace is not in use, and I have been prowling around the house holding my hands in front of every door and window to detect draughts, while The Man prowls along behind with weather stripping and the caulking gun. Fun times. The house definitely holds its heat better this year, with all its new insulation. Last year the cold was unbearable getting up in the morning, and I had to set the heaters on automatic to heat up the house before I got up, while this year I sometimes don't need to turn them on until Posy feels the need for some warmth to get dressed by, and during the day when the sun is beaming in we don't need heat at all.

Half our savings came from heating and hot water, and half from appliances, so using the oven less must be having an impact. The Girl and I are really getting into the swing of using the oven to the full. The other day I roasted two chickens at once, having never thought of doing that before. It's been great, we ate one that night, and have had the other in stir fries and sandwiches all week. It took all of one minute's extra work to do two - cutting up an extra onion for the stuffing. Brilliant. And when I popped my head upstairs from the latest painting job to see how the chickens were going, The Girl had whipped up six dozen biscuits to pop in the oven when the chooks were done. She'd used our basic choc chip recipe for two dozen, removed the choc chips and and added coconut for the next two dozen, and made two dozen plain which she then dipped in chocolate when they were cold. She is such a star.

So for the next three months I will keep targeting waste, and maybe we can work on shorter showers. Maybe. I could live in a hot shower.