Thursday, 28 September 2017

Feeling Thankful at 40

There has been lots going on here over the past fortnight, so that is why this blog has been a bit quiet.  I turned the Big 4-0 last week and I enjoyed a week of celebrations which I am looking forward to telling you all about! It has also been school holidays, so we have been enjoying slow mornings, day trips, outings and catch ups with family and friends.  I am so thankful to turn 40, to have good health and to be surrounded by a wonderful group of family and friends.  At this age, I feel like I know myself better than I ever have.  Life threw me some fairly big challenges in my thirties and I learnt some really important lessons.  It made me stop and re-evaluate my life, it made me work out what was important to me and it made me more confident to be me.  I feel like I am getting there now.  No doubt I will face more challenges in the future, but I feel just that little bit wiser, with some life experience behind me now.  I am looking forward to the next chapter, I'm excited for it and that is a good place to be.

I had three little events for my 40th.  The first was a High Tea at a beautiful hotel in the city.  I invited two of my dearest friends, my Mum and my sister.  We dressed up and played ladies for the afternoon.  It was so wonderful.

This High Tea was called "The Spirit of Queensland High Tea" as it was made from local produce from around the state. You can view the menu here. I highly recommend it if you are live in Brisbane or are visiting. It was also served to the Queen when she visited here a few years ago, so I thought if it was fit for her, it was fit for me!  I also loved the idea that everything on the menu had a story and was local to Queensland.  I can tell you, it all tasted delicious.  The desserts were so intricate and so divine.  There was a take on the Ekka strawberry Sunday, a "Golden Gaytime" dessert, a gourmet version of a lamington and so much more.  It was truly lovely.

Decadent desserts, all with a Queensland theme and with ingredients all sourced locally.
The five of us spent the afternoon chatting away.  What  a treat!  Beautiful food, lovely surroundings and great company.  A wonderful way to start my birthday festival.
A birthday celebration plate presented to me at the high tea.

Beautiful flowers for my birthday from friends

On my actual birthday, I was up early and out for a walk.  A nice way to start the day.  When I got back I was then presented with this little pile of goodies to unwrap before my husband headed off to work. Carefully wrapped and chosen by my daughter and husband.  Lots of little presents that meant so much to me.
Even the wrapping paper was a gift as it was kitchen themed!

And my own special mouse pad with my blog header printed onto it!!  Very special indeed.  My husband said he was so proud of me for starting up this little blog.  A pretty personalised mug to go with it.  
My daughter and I then spent the day browsing some bookshops I have always wanted to visit.  My favourite way to spend some time.  We enjoyed a lovely lunch together  and then met some family for an afternoon tea get together at a little café I had been wanting to try.  It was so nice.

Afternoon tea, brown sugar shortbread, everything was made on the premises at this little vintage café.
Something I will always treasure.  My 5 year old niece drew this picture of our family. She has included all the detail down to the colour of our eyes and hair and Crunchie's ginger stripes.  So cute!
Pretty pink flowers from my sister and nieces
And lastly I celebrated with my family at an Italian restaurant for lunch last Sunday.  Eight adults and including the children, five cousins, ranging from 10 years to 3 years.   It was a true Italian style lunch at a very busy restaurant.  A bit hectic, but the food was authentic and delicious.  That is important to my Italian family!  We came back to our place to allow the children some time and space to play and to have my cake.  My Mum made me a folder with photos from my life at every decade.  It was very special.
Fresh cream and jam sponge cake with cream cheese icing - a simple favourite around here.
While I write this post, I truly feel so lucky.  I had a wonderful week of special times with the people I care most about.  It was such a meaningful way to mark this special occasion.  I look forward to the future and all its possibilities.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Eating Organically on a Budget

The month of September is Organic Awareness Month here in Australia and I wanted to share some tips on buying good quality organic food at affordable prices. Sometimes I think we can automatically assume organic food is too expensive, but it is starting to get cheaper and more widespread.  As people are becoming more aware of what we put into our bodies and how closely that is connected to our physical and mental health, organic food is becoming more affordable and available.  I want to share with you some ways we eat organically at a reasonable price. I estimate our diet is approximately 30-40 percent organic. At least one ingredient in our meals we prepare is organic, often more. It has been a gradual change for us over the past three to four years and I am still now finding more ways to include organic foods into our diet.
Homegrown Organic Herbs
Why do I think it is important to eat organically?  Organic food tastes so much better, there are no chemicals or pesticides used, the animals are treated more humanely and have a happier life. It is better for our planet. Our soil gets a chance to rejuvenate, allowing it contain the right amount of trace minerals to produce healthy, nutritious food.  It is so much better for our health and the health of our growing children. In an era where chronic illness is becoming more and more prevalent we have to do everything we can to protect ourselves and our families. Have you ever tasted an organic apple? They are always so delicious, as are many other organic foods.  Meats like chicken and beef are always more tender.  Here are some of my tips for you to eat organically, affordably.

1. Check out the organic ranges in the supermarkets.  Woolworths, Coles and Aldi all have organic items that are reasonably priced.  We buy organic rice, oats, tinned tomatoes, tinned beans and chickpeas, flour, pasta and more from the big supermakets.  Check out their catalogues aswell.  Last week Woolies reduced their flour by fifty cents, so I stocked up, as I am always making bread.  Stockpile when specials are on!
Woolworths catalogue this week.

Organic food from Aldi

2. Always go past the organic fresh produce section and organic meat section in the big supermarkets to see if they have anything marked down.  I nearly always find apples at half price (you would pay more for non organic ones at this price). Sometimes you can get whole organic chickens for a much reduced price. Our local fruit store often reduces yoghurt when it is getting close to the use by date.  I can buy organic yoghurt for $2.50! Sometimes they reduce their organic eggs to $4 for a dozen and I use them up in quiches or cakes.  I also get organic ginger reduced and freeze it.

3. Know your prices.  I visit a couple of organic stores every month or so to buy items.  I sign up to their email newsletters and I will stock up on specials that are non perishable.  Like organic coconut oil, organic tomato passata jars for $1.95 each and organic coconut water.  I sometimes find they are cheaper than the supermarkets or vice versa.  You have to know your prices.

4. Decide which food you consider to be important to eat organic. Don't be too concerned about buying organic food, if it is a food that you eat occasionally.  I figure if it is something you only have here and there, it isn't worth the extra dollars.  But foods you consume every day or food that can't be washed to reduce your exposure to the pesticides are more important.  Check out this list from David Suzuki of the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen

5. Source an organic butcher. Someone once said to me it is more important to buy organic meat than organic fruit or vegetables as you can't wash the antibiotics and pesticides out of the meat. I have found a good organic butcher fairly close by and I visit them every now and then.  They are cheaper than buying in the supermarket and most of their meat is local.  I can buy organic chicken breast for $20kg there.  I also buy organic bones and chicken frames from them to make my bone broths for a very reasonable price.

6. Grow as much as you can.  We haven't got a lot of our vegie patches set up yet. But we are still growing herbs which we use daily and kale and silverbeet.  Some tomatoes which have self seeded too.  It is organic food in your own backyard.

7.Keep chickens.  Our chickens provide us with the most delicious organic eggs.  We feed them organic grain which isn't too much more expensive than the normal grain and they get some of the greens we grow.
Delicious organic eggs from Stella our white chicken

8.Barter and swap with friends, family and neighbours.   We swap food with our neighbour, he gives us a varied amount of produce he grows and we sometimes give him eggs or something else we have grown.  We visited friends who had lemon trees overflowing with fruit.  I juiced them all and ended up with one litre of organic lemon juice in the freezer.

9. Ask for organic foods as a gift!  I know I would be so happy to receive a jar of organic coconut oil or some organic treats as a gift, as these things can be so expensive.

10. Shop at Farmers Markets.  You can often get excellent quality organic produce at markets.

11.Buy it every second or third shop.  Due to budget constraints it isn't always practical to buy organic food. But sometimes I'll decide to do it every now and then.  A little is better than none and it all goes to reducing your exposure to harmful pesticides.  For example I will buy organic milk sometimes but not always.

12.Let family and friends know you are on the hunt for organic specials.  I often have my husband or mother texting me here and there saying they have found some organic items marked down at the supermarket they are in.

13. Use judgement when buying organic.  I won't buy an organic product if it is produced overseas (if it can be produced here), has added flavours and preservatives. I wont buy it if it has ingredients I don't recognise or is ridiculously expensive. I am still sensible about it.

14. Meal plan and preserve organic food.  When you meal plan you can use up any perishable organic specials you have found.  Or store the food by freezing it or cooking it so you don't waste any of the precious goodness.

15. Buy online - sometimes you can save a good amount if you buy some of your regular organic products online.  There are several websites such as Emporio Organico (and so many more) that sell organic food for reasonable prices. Often they will have free shipping from time to time aswell.

16. Do the best you can and don't get too hung up about it.  If you can't get something organic, just make the next best choice of what is available.  If you can't get organic beef, then try to get grass fed or local beef.  It isn't always practical to be running to different shops.

It took me some time to change from the mindset of buying the cheapest food possible to buying good quality organic, local food.  But the more I researched, the more I realised how important it was and over the years, I have found ways of making it work for our budget.  I do appreciate that we only have one child, I'm not feeding a big family, but even little changes will benefit you and your family. I think sometimes we think we have to do all or nothing, but while writing this post, I have realised just how much I have changed little by little, step by step, item by item.  On David Suzuki's website he says "Committing to cooking whole foods from scratch — alongside careful meal planning, home gardening and food preservation — can largely counteract the cost of organic food purchases". I hope I have provided you with some insights and you have found a few of these tips useful. I would love to hear if you have any other tips to add to this list.

And my last tip is, if you are lucky, you may even be able to find an Organic Pasta Cat like this one!

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Beginner Knitting

I don't exactly remember when I learnt to knit, but I was probably around 12.  My mum taught me.  I didn't know how to cast on or off, I just learnt how to do the basic stitch and I probably knitted about 6 colourful squares.  I really had not done much since.

Until, a few years ago, I was avidly reading Rhonda's blog Down to Earth and she had simple instructions on how to knit a dishcloth and lots of encouraging words.  I put that on my "to do" list for simple living.  I purchased some bamboo knitting needles and some red cotton.  I didn't do much with them for quite some time, until a day came where my daughter was unwell and she just wanted me to sit with her.  You know, when you are feeling sick and all you want is your Mum to sit with you (it really does just help you to feel comforted). While I was sitting and she was watching some TV, I thought that was a good opportunity to start having a go at knitting.  Except I had no idea how to cast on!

My knitting basket

Thank goodness for You Tube, I managed to teach myself how to cast on.  I felt so proud.  The actual knitting action came back to me fairly quickly.  The tension wasn't right and there were quite a few dropped stitches but it was a start.  My Mum gave me one of her beginner books and my Aunty gifted me all of her knitting needles.  We were so excited to receive this gift.  I am learning that when you want to try something new the hardest part is just starting.  Once you start all sorts of ideas, new understandings and opportunities come your way.

Knitting needles and cases gifted to me from my Aunty
My daughter also became interested in what I was doing (she was 8 years old at the time) and she kept asking to see my progress.   She wanted to learn how to knit something herself.  It is such a flow on effect. I am sure, had I said to her, "Let me teach you how to knit", she wouldn't have been interested, but with me quietly knitting away, she developed her own interest in the activity.  It really does go to show that children learn so much more by observing what you are doing than by being told.

Although, I was barely qualified to knit a square myself when she wanted to start!  I had to keep reminding her that I was a beginner too and I wasn't sure I could fix any mistakes she made.  My Mum had to rescue quite a few dropped stitches as I couldn't get the hang of recovering them (and I still can't!).  She started off with a basic square and then very soon after announced she wanted to knit a scarf.  At 8 years old, she was able to pick up the skill easily.  The scarf is still a work in progress as it was taking quite some time, so she moved on to some smaller projects.  We also found the bamboo needles were easier for her to manage as they didn't slip as much and my Mum found her some shorter ones which were easier too.  It has taught her a great deal about patience and that we can learn new things no matter our age.  It has taught her persistence too.

Work in progress-scarf being knitted by my daughter

So after mastering  basic knitting I moved onto knitting this dishcloth.  I love these two colours together.

I am halfway through this one now.  Rhonda from Down to Earth recently suggested knitting them with an open weave so they dry out better.  I would like to try that soon. Here is a link to her post about open weave dishcloths.

I also had the idea that I would like to make my daughter a patchwork blanket.  My grandmother knitted each of her six grandchildren a blanket using lots of different yarn she had left over from different projects. This is the one she made for me when I was about 10 years old. 

It always reminds me of her and we still use it, sometimes my daughter uses it and we always talk about Grandma when we have it wrapped around our shoulders or draped over our legs.  It is like a warm hug from her each time. You can see she put my first initial on it, my brother and sister still have theirs and so do my cousins. Grandma is 92 years old now. 

So over the past few years, I have been knitting these squares.  I will sew it into a blanket when I finally finish all the squares and I hope my daughter will treasure it as the years go by. Just like we treasure Grandma's.  My daughter is so looking forward to it.  Each time another square is finished she cheers, counts them all up and tells me how many more there are left to do. There are quite a few! At the beginning she would play with the squares or rearrange them into different patterns or lay them all out on the floor and admire them.  To be honest though, I haven't worked much on it over the past year, but I really must get back into it.

I also had the idea that I would like to make each of my nieces and nephew one like Grandma made for us.  I have five nieces, one nephew and one on the way. We will see if I get there, one project at a time!  A handmade gift is so meaningful to me.  That person has put their time and love into a unique gift especially for you.  It can't be bought at a shop, no one has another like it and there are stories to be told about it.
When I started knitting my Mum found these at an op shop for me.  I think they are so cute, I hope I can create some projects I can use them on.
After we started knitting a few years ago my daughter requested a knitted chicken for her 8th birthday.  She had seen a segment on a TV program about how a lady had knitted chickens for children in a town affected by terrible fires.  Each child designed one, choosing their own colours and she and a group of ladies made them for all the children in the town. You can read about this beautiful story here.  They are just gorgeous. It was waaayy beyond my skill level.  However I was able to source the pattern and I found an elderly lady in a craft group who was willing to make it for me (afterwards she did tell me she wasn't going to make another one as it was quite difficult!). We chose the wool and my daughter was so thrilled when she received this for her birthday.  She called her chicken Desley after the lady who knitted her.  After her birthday we went back and she personally thanked Desley.

I have very basic skills knitting skills.  I am definitely a beginner.  However I find it enjoyable, it helped me through a tough period in my life, it gives me a sense of achievement, it has encouraged my daughter to try something new and learn a useful skill, it fills our home with beautiful and practical items - handmade by us or someone who has carefully created it for us.  At the very beginning of my knitting journey, stitch by stitch, it has already given us all of this.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

RSPCA Cupcake Day

In the month of August our animal rescue organisation the RSCPA organises a Cupcake Day to raise much needed funds for the animals.  My daughter asked if we could participate. She has always been an animal lover.  She was just born that way!  From when she was tiny she has always loved animals and if  there was ever a petting zoo at any events we would attend, she would spend HOURS in there.  I could never get her to come out!

So we talked about what to do, listed down the jobs and away she went.  It was a good way for her to do something positive for animals after suffering the loss of her much loved chicken, Luna, last week.

She designed a flyer on the computer and we emailed it out to family and friends.

And the orders came in. I thought maybe I should have put a limit on the maximum number of cakes you could order!!

We decided we would bake the cakes on Sunday and deliver on Monday.  We made a really delicious vanilla cupcake with cream cheese icing.  My daughter hasn't always been that keen on helping in the kitchen.  I used to wish she would take more of an interest in it.  But, I found that if I didn't pressure her and just got on with the baking, her curiosity would get the better of her and she would eventually find her way to the kitchen bench.

So I mixed up the batter, while she laid out the patty pans.

Then she spooned the mixture into the patty pans.

Out of the oven they came, ready and cooling.

Ready for the fun part, icing and decorating.

We participated in the RSPCA Cupcake Day a few years ago and we found this simple but effective cake topper.  It is just one chocolate button and four chocolate chips.  A paw print!

We packaged them up, according to the orders and stored them in the fridge ready for delivery the next day.

On Monday we delivered the cakes to friends and family.   There were lots of ooohh and aahhs!  I could tell my daughter felt very happy.  She gratefully accepted the money and counted it all up.  She raised a grand total of $105.

On the September school holidays we will go for a drive to the RSPCA and she can give them the donation money directly herself.  It will be more meaningful for her that way.

A huge amount of learning went on in this process.  Making a flyer (marketing, english and computer skills), working out how much to charge and adding up the donations (maths), cooking (so many skills!), delivering the cakes (communication skills and using manners).  It really is a worthwhile process to have children volunteer and raise money for something important to them. They gain a greater understanding of issues outside of their world and it helps them to grow up learning how to become good citizens in our society.  I think she did a great job.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Farewell Luna

We have 3 chickens and we have had them for nearly 3 years. They are our beloved pets and they are part of our family.  And yesterday we had to say goodbye to our beautiful black Australorp, Luna.  She was 3 1/2 years old.  It was a sad day.

For the past few days she was acting very unwell and at night she was sleeping in the nesting box. And then 2 days ago she didn't go up the ladder to bed, she just sat in a corner of the chicken coop even though it was dark.  My husband had to carry her up.  It was going to be a cold night and I couldn't bear the thought of her feeling sick and cold outside, so we brought her inside, in a small box with straw.  We put that inside a spare guinea pig cage in the garage.  She didn't protest. We fed her water from a spoon and small amounts of food, but she wasn't improving.

After much googling to find out what could be wrong (there were a number of possibilities) and trying home remedies we decided it was time to seek the help of a vet.  I found a vet service that makes house calls for a reasonable price.  If I could help it I didn't want to take her to the vet as it would be stressful for her and I didn't want her to suffer anymore. This service was wonderful.

I allowed my daughter to stay home from school as she was worried about Luna and I knew she wouldn't be able to focus at school.  She had spent the weekend hand feeding her lots of meal worms, patting her and whispering to her.  She had helped us give her a warm bath to clean her feathers and soothe her.  I explained to her that by now Luna was very sick (at this stage she wasn't eating, barely drinking and sleeping all the time) and that when the vets came, they may say we  have to put her to sleep.

They came out and were very kind and compassionate. They found she had a mass in her abdomen and she was very thin.  Most likely it was an egg which didn't form properly, which could have been there for months and had then become infected.  Luna hadn't laid for about 6 months and we had assumed she had come to the end of her laying days. But, birds can hide their illness for a long time, until they feel very unwell.  Unfortunately she was too sick, so the most humane thing to do was to put her to sleep.

We said our teary goodbyes.  My daughter handled it well, she is 10 years old.  She asked if she could keep some of Luna's feathers.

Luna had the most amazing black feathers, that had a green shine on them in the sun. She had black legs, orange eyes and her comb had tinges of black on it. She had a small chip in her black beak. I know all this detail, because my daughter has spent so much time with her, chatting, feeding, hugging and loving her over the past few years.  Luna also used to make the loudest noise, so loud sometimes we thought the neighbours might complain.  We used to say she sounded like she was having a whinge!

Last night, over dinner we spent the night reminiscing.  We talked about when we first brought the chooks home, how much we have learnt about chickens and the excitement the day they each laid their first egg.  We laughed at how funny they are. We talked about Luna, about the kind vets and why euthanasia is the most humane thing to do, even though we feel so sad.  There were lots of life lessons for my daughter yesterday and there were some tears.

The day we brought them home- LOTS of cuddles!

Farewell Luna, thank you for laying all those delicious eggs, for bringing us love, for teaching us how to care for chickens, for letting us watch you lay an egg one day, for making us laugh, for letting us pick you up (sometimes!) and for being a good sister.  You certainly weren't the top chook, you were always more sensitive, a little nervous and very loud, but you were ours, part of our family.  We love you and we will miss you.