Balcony Veggie Patch

In every house I've lived in I've always wanted to grow something in the ground. Even in rentals knowing that spending money on a garden was foolish, I've gone ahead and planted out. In our last house J and I spent a long weekend hauling railway sleepers and planting capsicums and lettuce before being told on the Tuesday that the owners needed their house back and we had 6 weeks to be out. Every time that happens I promise myself that I will shovel and bag my nicely composted soil and I'll take it with me to the new house. It never happens. After moving boxes and doing the final clean who has the energy to worry about dirt?

At this house we are blessed with a large sunny backyard. Perfect for vegetable beds. Maybe the disappointment of not seeing the fruits of my labour at the last house still stings, or maybe I'm just tired.. either way I just could not find it in my heart to get excited about planting in the garden this spring. 

I said I wasn't going to plant anything. Then I remembered the feeling of popping outside at dusk to grab some leaves for a salad, and the taste of a home grown tomato still warm from the sun. Just a few lettuces and one tomato plant then, or maybe just the two. 

Given my state of mind about planting in the ground, this garden needed to be close by and above all, portable. Thus, our balcony veggie patch was born.

Here we have one 2.3m length of zinc rain guttering and some concrete blocks that we found on the property.

J drilled some drainage holes into the bottom of it and we used the concrete blocks to hold it up above the ground.

Next we filled it up with some good quality potting mix and worm casings.

Jemima and I planted some Diggers heirloom spring onions and lettuce seedlings.

This is what we have so far. Two tomato plants (one Legend, and one Thai Pink Egg), two cucumber seedlings that I hope to grow along the wire at the front of the deck, one courgette plant, and some herbs. And the guttering garden of course, which we hope to expand with another length of zinc soon.

It's not my dream garden by a long shot, but we will have something home grown and fresh this summer, and that's always good thing. I'll update you in the next few weeks so you can see how this works out. I hope it does!

The Grapefruit Wars

When we moved into this house a few months back I did what I always do when checking out a new place. I took a tour of the garden. I always hope that I'll find something useful - abandoned vegetable gardens would be great - established fruit trees would be awesome. On this occasion I spotted a large healthy citrus tree from a distance and as I approached I was delighted to discover that it was covered with plump green balls. An orange tree! My kids love oranges. Orange juice! Orange cake! Orange ice blocks for the summer!

I waited patiently through autumn for my oranges to turn orange, keeping a careful eye on the leaves of the tree for any infestations or viruses. There was no need to worry, this tree has been here a while and she's a healthy old girl.

Then one day I was chatting to the landlord about the property and she said "You know, down there by the grapefruit tree". Ummmm... the what now? The grapefruit tree? Out of all the fruit trees one can inherit the grapefruit tree is surely the booby prize.

Nobody can eat a tree load of grapefruit, except perhaps my sister and I when we're 6 months pregnant. My kids are good eaters but they won't touch a grapefruit. My husband hates them. And as it turns out, so do most people. I couldn't give them away. Every time I presented a friend with a bag of grapefruit I got the thanks, but no thanks.

Now one thing I really hate is waste, and food waste is the worst. Every day I'd see bright yellow globes dropping from the tree onto the grass where even the cockatoos wouldn't touch them. It was playing on my conscience a bit, seeing perfectly good fruit rotting away like that.

So this week I declared war on the grapefruit tree. I decided to make as much marmalade as I could stand to make, and then I followed that up with grapefruit jelly.

Marmalade is the easiest jam in terms of setting, but it sure is a pain to prepare. All of the cutting and slicing the peel. My peel is always too chunky because I can't ever be bothered to cut it finely enough. Nevertheless, the other morning I went down to the tree and collected the best looking fruit. I added some organic oranges to the lot and gave it all a good wash. Then I cut, and diced, and deseeded, and cut some more. For two hours. Then the marmalade was made in the usual way - cooking the fruit before adding the sugar and cooking until the setting point is reached. At the end of the afternoon I had 7 nice jars of marmalade, some for us and some to swap at our community crop & swap meet (that's if anyone will want my chunky jam).

Today I tackled the rest of the grapefruit on the tree. I decided to make jelly, partly because I wanted something different but mostly because it's so much easier. I washed and chopped the fruit including the peel and pips and boiled that for about 20 minutes with some water. Once it was all pulpy and soft I strained it through an old cotton pillowcase over a bowl.

You can use a jelly bag for this, but I don't have one and this works just as well. It looks a little odd...

If you try this, don't squeeze the bag (it'll make your jelly cloudy).  Once I had the juice I measured it back into the pot, added sugar and boiled it until the setting point was reached (scraping off the scum/froth as it cooked). Ta - da! This is easily enough for our family for a year, with a few jars left over to swap for some fruit and vegetables. So if you find yourself with a heavily laden grapefruit tree don't despair - there's always marmalade :)

Ben's UFO Party

About ten months ago (yes, ten!) Ben announced that he would like aliens, slime, and UFO's for his party in October. I was unsure. How could I make that cool and retro and well, awesome? I had those Toy Story aliens in my head and I couldn't figure out what direction to take with it.

After a bit of thinking an image from the movie E.T popped into my head. You know that part where they take poor old E.T and stick him that research lab and it's all quarantined? Believe it or not, that was my starting point. I decided to go for the science/research side of aliens and away we went.

My idea was to have an early evening party with a fog machine and glow sticks, and to try and recreate a UFO lab in our room downstairs. That was until Ben gently told me that he didn't want a big party, and he didn't want lots of people there. In his four year old way of course. I think his exact words were "You know Jemima's circus party and rainbow party? NOT like that." Gotcha.

So today we had an alien themed BBQ in the park with some close family friends and two kids from Preschool. It was relaxed and fun, and totally stress free. The kid is on to something.

So here we go, my UFO party on a budget....

The invitations were home made on the computer and the envelopes were cheapies bought at the local art shop.

At this party you had to work for your party bag. We set up a scavenger hunt for 'Alien Specimens' all over the park.

Alien gems.. these glass beads were .99c a bag (I bought two) the kids loved them. Ben and I made patterns with them all over the rocks at the park for the kids to discover.

Pieces of UFO spaceship.. my husband found a big silver coated piece of polystyrene on the side of the road and picked it up knowing that an alien party was in the works. He cut out shapes and drew designs on them and then I hid them in the trees and under bark.

One of Ben's alien patterns of gems.

Alien eyeball lollies, we're lucky that Halloween is almost here, there were lots of spooky sweets in the shops.

Alien Goop - lime shower gel in some craft storage canisters from a junk shop with some alien writing on the outside.

Decorations were cheap - we bought this yellow and black hazard tape from a hardware shop for $5.50 and some green and black balloons. A few days before the party I saw these alien head balloons for .39c each so I grabbed a few.

I wanted some kind of specimen looking thing on the science table so I made these out of some Fowler jars, a piece of yellow polypropylene, and the alien head balloons squashed inside.

 I picked up these specimen jars from a pharmacy for $1 each and added the stickers onto the lids. These were the containers for the slime that they would be making.

We copied an Area 51 security pass and made our own ones specific to the park and the party. We handed them out to each child before they set off on their scavenger hunt.

I think the science was the best part of the day, the kids were amazed when fake snow appeared from nowhere, and they were so excited to see slime forming in their cups. Then we went over to the grass and set off some rockets made from water and effervescent tablets. I loved seeing their faces when we were doing these experiments!  All of the supplies were from the Prof Bunson online store.

I don't have many shots of the table to show you, and to be honest it wasn't that flash. The sausages were ready and the kids were charging, and we missed our photo op. Here you can just about see the ice cream alien brain cake I made. The table cloths were lime green plastic, the plates were silver and we had green cups from IKEA. I made some alien head chocolate lollipops using a mold I bought online and I stuck them into a round piece of the silver polystyrene around the edge. It was all pretty simple really, which is just how my boy wanted it.

And then there was the alien pinata that we made out of a balloon and some paper mache. It took a long time but it was worth the effort to see them having fun bashing it up and scrambling for the treats inside.

It was a really fun afternoon and definitely one of the best parties we've done.

Happy Birthday Benny! 

Olive Oil and Beeswax Wood Polish

Every now and again a roadside or op shop find needs a bit of TLC. A couple of weekends ago we drove past a gorgeous 1975 Parker Cabinet that had been put out for the council clean up collection. Of course, we went back (and spent the rest of the day getting it home in pieces in our little car!). It was in great condition except that the wood was dehydrated and had turned a pale sand colour, so different from the rich teak colour that's typical of Parker furniture.

After a bit of research I made up my own wood polish and set to work on the cabinet. The recipe couldn't be easier - two ingredients! And this polish works. Your wood will be glossy and nourished and your hands will receive a nice moisturising treatment in the process.

Today I decided to tackle a 1970s Chiswell table that we bought for $30 a couple of years ago on eBay. We always meant to strip it back and repolish it but it never happened. In addition to it's 40+ years of grime we've added pen, glue, food, and paint to the table top since we've owned it thanks to the kids. It was time for a clean.

The first thing I did was clean the top using warm soapy water and steel wool, following the direction of the grain. Then I gave it a couple of rinses and two spray/wipes with my home made cleaner. After it had dried completely I grabbed a scrap of flannel fabric and began working the polish into the wood. As you can see, the wood was very dry and looking at bit worse for wear.

Once you have applied the polish you can leave it to soak in for a while or buff it straight off using a clean soft cloth.

You can see the difference the polish makes straight away:

And here's the finished table top - I think I'll do another couple of coats in the next couple of weeks just to make sure the wood is really protected.



And here is the freebie Parker that we found, all polished up using the same polish:

If you'd like to make your own wood polish the recipe is super simple.

Get a small glass jar and fill it with some olive oil. Place it in a pot that has water simmering in it, you want the water to come up the side of the jar about 1/3 - 1/2 - not too far because you definitely don't want any water coming in the top. Add some beeswax (I used a piece of an old candle) the ratio is about 4 parts oil to 1 part wax. Melt the beeswax into the oil until it's completely dissolved. Take it out of the water carefully and allow it to cool down. It will set to a thick paste.

Have fun polishing :)

Down on the farm

Shopping day today and since it's school holidays I thought I'd mix it up a little. 20 minutes from us is the Hawkesbury region - close in terms of distance but very different in terms of landscape. Where we have dense forest and rocky slopes they have wide open pastureland and a winding river. It's just about perfect for growing food.

One of the farms down there has a farm shop where you can buy fresh produce and eggs from their free range chooks. We woke up to a sunny day and not much to do so I thought we'd take a little drive to buy our food from the farm.

Apart from seeing our food grow and visiting the chooks the best thing about the farm shop is the price. I spent $47 and I bought:

2 lettuces
A bag of tomatoes
A bag of carrots
A huge bag of Dutch Cream potatoes
3 avocados
A bunch of beet root
3 ears of corn
A bag of mushrooms
A big bag of apples
A bag of walnuts
2 broccoli
1 cauliflower
A dozen eggs courtesy of the girls
2 lemons
3 cucumbers

And probably more that I've forgotten!

I reckon that's pretty good value. We stopped in to get some meat on the way home and a couple of bags of things from Coles and that was the shopping done.

Hope everyone is having a wonderful day :-)

At Five.

How can it be that it was five years ago today that I was wheeled into Wellington Hospital ready to get on with the business of being induced? Your Dad and I were buzzing with excitement, so eager to finally meet you after nine months of wondering who you'd look like, how big you would be, whether you would look like your big sister or not. It was like the biggest, most incredible Christmas morning but even better because the gift was so precious and it was just for us.

That morning Dad and I chatted and laughed and worked on a crossword together as we waited for you to arrive.  Your entry into the world was calm and relaxed, just like you. When I first saw you your eyes were wide open, taking in the world. You didn't cry - you just stared at me quietly, and I thought, I know you. Looking down at you it was like we had known each other always. Even then I could see pieces of me, and pieces of Dad in you. Dad's dark olive skin. My nose. My eyes but with Dad's slight slant at the corners. Dad's brow and toes. We loved each other then didn't we? It was like the world shifted and suddenly it was you and me.

It hasn't always been easy, this journey so far. You've had so many more hospital visits than I wanted for you. You've grown up always being slightly different to the other kids your age. But oh Ben, the way you handle it with such grace makes Dad and I so proud.

Our years together at home have been some of the happiest in my life. I can genuinely say that I have loved this season. The past year has been particularly wonderful with you growing into such a funny and inquisitive boy who always has us laughing.

At four you asked the most interesting questions. Your best questions come when we're in the car or out on a walk together.

Some of my favourites are:

"Why do men who play the bagpipes wear dresses?"
"How does the music from instruments come into the speakers in the car?"
"What is a short cut?"
"What happens to all of the water that falls down as rain?"

Today we were talking about letterboxes and you said that squirrels should have a number stamped onto the trunk of their trees so their friends could find them. Then you broke into a run yelling "Did you see that truck? It was AWESOME!".  One of the things I love the most about you Ben is your optimism. If I ask you how you are, you'll say "Great!".

You're also very charming. You're an actor, a performer, and you're so so funny. One of your new tricks is something we've named "The Death Stare". If someone calls you cute, or says that you're small, or if I give you too many vegetables for dinner for your liking you stare straight ahead with a completely blank face. You can keep it up for ages without smiling. It makes me laugh.

You're such a great artist Ben. You see things that no-one sees. Last week you explained perspective to Jemima when you were drawing fruit in a fruit bowl. You said that if you were too close up you would only see the side of the bowl and not the fruit inside. Everything has a hidden picture to you. Food is made into faces, a tree trunk looks like an anchor, the clouds hold endless possibilities.

You tell me "You smell wonderful", "I love you more than the stars in the sky", the other day as we were looking at trophies in a cabinet at tennis you whispered to me "Mummy you're my trophy". Sometimes I wonder what truly good thing I did to be given the gift of being your mum.

We've been together from that first day, through first words and steps, through illnesses and hospitals, through moving to a new place, through this journey of the preschool years.

And today, my beautiful boy, you are five. In a couple of months you'll put on your new grey shorts and blue t-shirt, lift that big bag onto your back, and we'll walk into school together. You'll see that the world is so much bigger than you thought. Bigger than our house, painting together, your robots and books, our walks to look at the trees, the games you play with Jemima.

We love you Benny! Happy Birthday.

xx Mum.


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