What the Bush Fires Taught Me.

When my son was younger I used to point to the sky and cry “Helicopter! Helicopter!” whenever we heard the beat of propellers pulsing overhead. His little face would peer upwards and he’d smile at the amazing flying machine in the distance. Ever since the Springwood bushfire hit the Blue Mountains last Thursday afternoon, we have heard helicopters roaring through the sky almost constantly. The sound is there when we go to sleep, when we wake in the night, when we open our eyes in the morning. These days, I’m trying to distract my two children from the sight of the helicopters rather than point them out.

When we moved to the Blue Mountains from Wellington in 2010 we felt a strong pull to the region like so many others from different parts of Australia and the world. We loved the beautiful bush, the gaping gorges, and the strong community spirit. We knew that we lived in a bush fire zone, but coming from the land of damp cool forests we were completely unprepared for what a spark can do to tinder-dry Australian bush.

The past month has been uncharacteristically hot and windy. When we should have been enjoying the first warm days of spring we’ve been sweating through 35 degree + days instead. Day after day gale force winds have knocked over trees and sent dust flying. More than once I’ve heard people talking about the possibility of a “bad fire season”. By the beginning of October the grass was brown and crispy to walk on. The fruit trees in the backyard sagged in the heat and the leaves turned brown. We closed the curtains to block out the heat and quietly wondered what on earth summer would be like if this was what we had to contend with in spring.

Thursday 17th October was just another hot day. I dropped the kids off to school that morning with reminders to drink lots of water and stay in the shade. The wind picked up at around lunch time and I remember thinking that I should probably keep an eye on the rural fire service website just in case. Just after 2pm I was sitting at my desk in my home office, enjoying my last few moment of child-free work time. I happened to have the fire update webpage open and when I glanced at it I was horrified to see that an out of control fire was burning a mere 3 km from the children’s school. Although our school wasn’t in immediate danger, I made arrangements for them to be collected early knowing that if it got worse I might not be able to get down the highway.

On the road heading home from school

Within half an hour the roads were congested with traffic, streets were blocked off and fire engines roared up the mountain highway. Helicopters and water bombing aircraft began circling overhead. A line of cars snaked along the highway, the drivers craning necks out of windows to get a better look at the direction the smoke was coming from. Nearer the school, frantic parents abandoned their cars on the side of the road and ran.  At the school gates parents looked each other in the eye and gave one another a solemn smile as they hurried their children away through the smoke. As I drove back up the mountain towards home I passed 15 fire trucks parked on the side of the road with their sirens blaring and lights flashing in unison. My daughter mistook the white and yellow painted trucks for ambulances and burst into tears. In the other direction cars were streaming down the highway away from the fire, their boots packed high with sleeping bags, pet carriers, pillows and bags.

The sky was like this for days. 

A char grilled cicada blown into our yard. We also had burned leaves and sticks floating around and lots of dead bugs.

We left that afternoon, then returned, then after a few days of anxiously checking the rural fire service website we left again yesterday (along with most people in the mountains). We’re not out of the woods yet. As I’m typing this, the wind is picking up outside and the fire near us is still burning. I feel safer now that I have in days though, I think the absence of smoke and aircraft overhead has a lot to do with that.

Now that we’re home again, it’s given me a chance to reflect on the events of the last week. I like lists, so I thought I’d compile one here.

What the Bush Fire Taught Me.

  1.  When you’re living with a potentially life changing threat hanging over you, the rest of your life doesn’t stop. The kids still want breakfast, they still fight over who gets to hold the remote, work still gives you deadlines and the dishes still need to be done. Dealing with that when tired and stressed is hard.
  2. The sensory things – the smoke that gets into your hair, your skin, your clothing and the sound of the water bombing aircraft will be at first interesting, then quickly become tiresome and very stressful indeed.
  3.  We should have been more prepared. I will know where my wedding negatives are from this day forward. I'm glad I had time to video our things for insurance purposes. I can't imagine trying to remember every little thing we own. 
  4. Choosing what to pack and what to leave is heartbreaking and kind of surreal. We left yesterday genuinely believing that we may not see most of our possessions again.
  5. Even if you shield your children from images in the media, they will feel that something is wrong. Talk to them and give them “just enough” information. If they want to ask wacky or inappropriate questions let them. We told the kids that there was a fire in our area and we were leaving to have a break from the smoke.
  6. If you have an allergy kid like I do, please make sure you know where your medications are and keep some special foods ready in case of an emergency.
  7.  You might find yourself concerned with stupid things in the middle of a crisis. For example, when I was packing up I thought about the fact that I’d just organised my pantry and put pretty labels on all of the jars. I didn’t want to have to do all of that again!
  8.  The rfs are incredible, selfless and amazing people.
  9. The power of community is humbling and beautiful.
  10. I won’t ever take the fact that we live in a bushfire zone for granted again.

A Star Wars Party

Yesterday we celebrated our son's 6th birthday with a Star Wars themed party. He only recently discovered Star Wars, but being the sci-fi fan that he is it was love at first sight. As always, the party was done on a budget with lots of home made elements.

The invitations were designed by Benny's Uncle and printed at a local print and copy shop. Ben absolutely loved them.

I made each young Jedi a costume which sounds arduous but I made it easy on myself by deliberately choosing a non-fray fabric so I didn't have to sew much. The brown robes were a basic rectangle with a v neck hole cut for the head. I then sewed on a rectangle of calico for the names and made a calico tie for each robe. All up the costumes were around $20 for 10.

As well as a Jedi robe each guest chose an inflatable light saber. I found them on eBay for $1 each.

The party was an afternoon tea so it was mainly just finger food. Everything was gluten and egg free so the birthday boy could eat to his heart's content. We had Ewok Food chips, Jabba the Hummus, R2D2 water bottles, grape light sabers, padawan mini pizzas, Wookie cookies and Han Solo jelly.

The activity of the day was the Jedi training course which was run by my husband the "Jedi Master". The kids practiced with their light sabers, jumped over some rocks in our backyard, balanced along a bench seat, defeated the storm trooper balloons and tackled the crepe paper laser beams. Throughout the day we had 4 tracks from the Star Wars movies playing which really helped make the day exciting for the kids. I downloaded them from itunes for $1.60 per track.

At the end of the training was the final test. Could the Jedis defeat Darth Vader himself? The Jedi Master did a quick costume change and there was much excitement as he snuck around the corner of the house.  

After eating we had Pass the Parcel and then the Pinata. We made the Death Star Pinata by covering a beach ball in paper mache. My husband painted all of the detail on and even though it was a bit thin (I blame GF flour) it lasted through all of the kids before it broke open and the treats spilled out.

The goodie bags were brown paper bags I bought for .40c each at a packaging store with a print out I made stuck on the front. Inside were some space stickers ($1 a sheet - I bought two then cut them into 10 portions), some Star Wars colouring in pages, a bubble wand light saber, their Jedi Training Certificate and their costumes and inflatable light sabers from the party.

Ben had a vision for his cake right from the start and he couldn't be talked out of it. He wanted Darth Vader's severed hand in a black glove, with wires hanging out the back. As you know, he's gluten and egg free - so making any kind of cake is a challenge let alone a hand! My amazing sister pulled it off though. The hand is melted chocolate and lollies which was set inside a food friendly latex glove and then covered in home made fondant. Just before the party she brushed over some more black food colouring to give it a shiny leather glove look. The cake it's sitting on is a GF packet chocolate cake with buttercream icing made with DF margarine.

As well as the Jedi costumes I made a C3PO costume and a Princess Leia dress and belt (using a sheet and a nightgown pattern). The party was so much fun, the kids had a ball.


Jedi Certificate and food labels were downloadable PDFs from Etsy
R2D2 labels were adapted from these cup labels 
The light sabers were bought on eBay for $1 each
The goodie bags and silver plates were from a bulk packaging shop
The tablecloth, plates and napkins were from a party shop

The key to creating a cool Star Wars party on a budget is start early! I started around 3 months ago by looking on eBay and Etsy now and again for things I thought I could use. By starting early I had time to have things like the light sabers sent from overseas and I could pace myself with the costumes. If I'd left it to the last minute I probably would have bought some branded Star Wars party stuff, which is hideously expensive. Lots and lots of time to ease into it is the way to go - it allows you to enjoy the party planning process without the panic.

This party was around the $100 mark for 12 kids, including the food. 

Hand Painted Canvas Shoes

Today was Day 1 of the school holidays so we thought we'd kick things off with a craft activity. I found some canvas shoes for $3.50 a pair at Kmart last week so today we went back and picked up a few pairs for an afternoon shoe painting session.  

Before we started I used masking tape around the soles of the shoes so they'd stay (mostly) free from paint. I used masking tape on my 5 year old's shoes to help create the design - this is a fantastic way to get a good result with younger kids because the tape does the tricky part for you.

We used a combination of fabric paint and fabric pens along with some stamps that I found at a market last week.

It was a really fun family activity and something different to our usual crafts. Have fun with this one - the possibilities are endless!

It's about time!

Gah. Sorry guys. Here we are in September and I haven't even finished telling you about the Liver Detox we did in July. Such is life at the moment.

The detox went really well. We both had some aches and pains but they resolved and we both had loads of energy, slept really well, and felt generally healthier and more alert. We eased back in to dairy, gluten (me) and meat over about two weeks.

Then, around three weeks ago our 5 year old son woke in the night vomiting. I stayed with him and rubbed his back as he threw up over and over again. If you're a parent you'll know that awful hopeless feeling when you can't take the bad stuff away no matter how much you want to. Vomiting bugs are the worst. Three days later my husband caught the bug. 24 hours after him, I had it. Then 24 hours later our 9 year old daughter caught it. Oh, the fun. We'd just bought a new front loader washing machine and I've never been so thankful for an appliance purchase in my life.

We all gradually recovered except that we continue to have digestion issues and three out of four of us can't tolerate any dairy foods. One of those three is our wee boy, who already has coeliac disease and a severe egg allergy. The other day he looked up from his drawing and said, "Mum, there's nothing left I can eat". It feels that way sometimes.

In other news, I've been madly planning an upcoming Star Wars themed birthday party. I'll update you on that after the big day on Oct 6th. Having grown up in a house full of females who are definitely not interested in science fiction, I was a bit out of the loop with the whole Star Wars thing. I've had a great time on Pinterest (where there are a scary number of "Star Wars Wedding" boards - really??) and also watching the original movies with the family. I now know my Chewie from my Yoda and which colour light sabers the good guys should have.

So on top of tummy bugs, and party planning (with costumes required) there has been a week of school performances (with more costumes needed). It's been a busy old time.

I hope to update this blog a little more frequently now that I've gotten more used to balancing working part time, mummy stuff, and craftiness. I've been inspired lately, and have spotted a few good finds like these rubber stamps that I picked up for $10 at Lawson Magpie Markets last Sunday. I'm already planning some cool things to make with these.

Happy Crafting everyone!


Liver Detox - Day 6

So we're on day 6! I didn't get time to write an update for days 4 and 5 but here are some of the meals we've been eating:

Breakfast: non wheat bread and nut butter; blueberry smoothies; porridge; super muesli
Morning tea: avocado; nuts; fruit;juice
Lunch: soups; non wheat bread with avocado and trout; salads with chickpeas and beans
Afternoon tea: juices/smoothies; nuts; fruit
Dinner: red peppers stuffed with brown rice, mushrooms, and eggplant; warm quinoa salad with roasted vegetables

We both still have some joint pain although it's definitely easing. I've been doing some research on it and apparently it's a common symptom of cutting out wheat/dairy/sugar and all processed foods. The theory is that the body has a "to do" list of things to heal and when you have toxins and digestive issues your body will work on them first because they're the most urgent. That means all of the other things will get bumped further down the list. Now that we're eating really well our bodies are going to work on all of the little niggly injuries and issues that have been sitting for a while. The pain is nerve stimulation and the tightness and stiffness is a release of toxins. I guess that explains the odd places that I've been hurting - my right thumb (old RSI injury), my bad hip, and lower back. Mr J has been hurting in all of his sore spots too!

To help with the pain I've been doing some gentle yoga and last night I had an Epsom Salts bath which really helped.

I've been sleeping so deeply which has been amazing. As a lifelong insomniac I don't think I have ever slept this well. I'm waking up refreshed and ready to get up and get going. I no longer feel tired in the afternoons and evenings and I haven't had a headache since the beginning of the detox.

Something I read said that we should continue until it's been 2 days since our last negative symptom. I'm happy to do that, I'm really loving the variety and taste of the food so I'm happy to keep it up!

Liver Detox - Day 3

Well, what can I say except ouch. Both Mr J and I are really, really sore. It's the weirdest thing - we eat well normally so I don't understand how this detox could cause such strong symptoms. Our backs are aching, when we move we have sharp pains deep in our bones. According to Dr Google this is normal and is a positive sign - but sheesh. It hurts.

Today we had cinnamon and fruit porridge (oats for me, quinoa flakes for Mr J). For lunch we had rye/GF toast with an eggplant and borlotti bean dip and some leftover sweet potato and coconut soup. Dinner was a wild rice mix with an olive and greens tapenade mixed through and some charred brussel sprouts, mushroom and eggplant on top. Dessert was stewed apple and blueberries with a "crumble" made from toasted quinoa flakes, flaked almonds and coconut. On the side we had homemade coconut and raspberry ice cream (it's just coconut solids and raspberries so no sugar).

Food was yummy, but I'm finding that I am craving salt. I'm more of a salt girl that a sugar girl so that's not too surprising. Headaches have gone now and I'm sleeping well. If these joint pains went away I'd be feeling fantastic.

I'm really used to rooibos tea now and I'm not sure if I'll go back to regular - I'm sleeping so much better without the caffeine.

Liver Detox - Day 2

Today went well food-wise but I'm sore all over. I don't know why or how, but my bones hurt. The worst by far is my bad hip/pelvis which is aching so badly I'm shuffling along like a 90 year old woman. Not cool. Hopefully tomorrow things will calm down.

Today we had vegan wheat-free french toast using ground flaxseed and water to make an egg-like gel. Mixed with almond milk and cinnamon it made a really nice french toast batter. We had peaches, cherries and blueberries on top with some seed mix. Lunch was steamed fish with roasted sweet potato and fennel, and some mixed super greens. Afternoon tea was pumpernickel bread with avocado and a vitamin drink (GF bread for Mr J). Dinner was a coconut, sweet potato and carrot soup with pumpernickel on the side. 

The food has been great so far. Having a cooked meal for lunch was a nice change. Apart from the soreness I'm feeling really good - I'm waking up early feeling ready to get up (trust me, this doesn't usually happen) and my insomnia seems to have taken a hike. 

Liver Detox - Day 1

Day 1 today! Mr J is less than enthused. By 8am he was missing his morning coffee and it went downhill from there.

I, however, am feeling mighty fine. I still have my headache (4 days now!) but otherwise I feel really good.  Hopefully my other half picks up tomorrow.

This is what we ate today:

Breakfast: Superfood museli with berries, grated apple, seed mix and coconut

Morning Tea: Banana and handful of raw nuts

Lunch: Sesame salad with artichoke, chickpea, celery and kale and a bowl of lentil and carrot soup

Afternoon Tea: Blueberry smoothie, handful of olives then a rooibos tea

Dinner: Wild rice, fennel and mushroom pilaf

Drinks: Lots of water, a vitamin liver detox drink, and some rooibos tea

The seed mix is a blend of ground up seeds and we're putting them on almost everything during the detox. It's about 50% ground flaxseed/linseed to 50% blend of other seeds. I used chia, black sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Once you blend them keep them in a non-plastic container tightly sealed in the fridge. I've been sprinkling it on the kid's peanut butter toast and they're enjoying it too.

How was it?

The museli was nicer than I thought. I hate breakfast and wasn't looking forward to eating a huge bowl of warm museli but it was actually quite good. To make it you put 40g of raw rolled oats in a bowl with 1 Tbsp seed mix (as above), 1 Tbsp dessicated coconut, 1 Tbsp blueberries and 1/2 grated apple. Then you cover it with boiling water and leave it for a few minutes so the oats soften and puff up.

Lunch was pretty good too. I got a bit sick of the salad so I also had some leftover carrot and lentil soup with some seed mix on top.

I skipped the olives for afternoon tea (couldn't see them going with a smoothie!) but Mr J had them.

Dinner was delicious!


Once the kids are in bed we're going to do a couple of short detox focused yoga practices on myyogaonline.com. We also spent a few hours walking around an outlet mall today - that counts right?

Liver Detox

Tomorrow my hubby and I are starting a 9 day liver detox program. You guys know how I love a challenge - remember Vegan Week??

I thought I'd share our progress with you over the next 9 days. We're following the recipes in this book:

I chose it for no other reason than I saw it in the library and it the program features real food, you know, not just smoothies and juices and the like. 

Why are we doing it?

I have some liver issues and I know my liver function isn't great at the moment because my symptoms are quite bad. I've been having 3 - 4 day headaches, waking up feeling very tired, and I've felt generally "toxic" for a while. I can't process highly fatty foods usually (which is part of my liver problem) but lately I've had trouble with anything even remotely fatty. Alcohol is also a write off - even one glass of wine.  My husband is doing it because I'd like the company on this little journey and he's a good sport.

What will we be eating?

We can eat wholefoods, fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts and seeds, smoothies and decaffeinated drinks. No coffee, caffeinated tea, red meat, poultry, wheat or dairy. We are mostly GF in this house for Ben who is coeliac and my husband who is gluten intolerant (and probably undiagnosed coeliac himself). I don't eat dairy, so I think the eating plan will be OK. The cost was the same as my normal shop and I bought extra meal ingredients for the kids who won't be doing the detox. We'll also be taking liver supplements and probiotics (I take these anyway).

What do we want to get out of it?

I'd like to feel more energised and I'm interested to see if eliminating toxins has an effect on my headaches and joint pain. I'm also keen to break my chocolate cravings! I think my 3 coffees a day husband is really going to struggle tomorrow and Saturday but will hopefully feel better by early next week.

What preparation is involved?

I worked out my shopping list and ordered my groceries online this week to make sure I got it all. I love online shopping - I've felt happy all day knowing my food is going to appear on my doorstep this afternoon without me stepping foot into a supermarket. I wrote out a detailed menu plan including meals for the kids. The key to following the recipes is having everything at hand, otherwise I think it will be easy to make something else or buy food instead. I stopped drinking tea two days ago in preparation and have had the most monster headaches which I think is a sign of addiction to the caffeine in it. I've been drinking a lot of water and red bush or rooibos tea instead.

What about exercise?

Along with the eating plan we'll be following a detox program from  My Yoga Online . You need to be a member to do the programs but there's lots of free info on there as well. The program has detox recipes and tips and yoga practice videos to do at home specifically for detox. 

So that's the deal, I'll keep you updated with how it goes!

She's Nine.

Well hello there. It's been quite a while hasn't it. Life became that little bit crazier in February when I started a part time job from home. Then we had another very unexpected and rushed move in March and a trip home to NZ in April. Busy busy busy. I'm loving the fullness of my days though, even if it is a balancing act sometimes!

I thought I'd write a quick post today to share something special that happened in our house a couple of weeks ago. Our big girl Jemima turned 9. Now if you have read any other party posts of mine, you'll know that we tend to do big themed parties in this family. Jemima has inherited the party planning gene and with characteristic intensity she was sorting out themes 11 months in advance. I was bracing myself for something huge and complicated, and quietly wondering how I was going to pull that off while working 25 hours a week and trying to keep up with all of the other mum jobs I have to do.

Blessedly, she came up with the idea of an 'Instant Restaurant" and wanted to invite just her closest family friends. This girl of ours is a cooking reality show addict and she could think of nothing better than being a chef for a night. Menus were planned, ingredients carefully written out and decorations organised well in advance. She wanted a winter theme and she was set on doing the entire thing herself.

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present the newest and greatest restaurant the Blue Mountains has ever seen... Dancing Ice.

Done and Dusted!

Today marks the end of my two month No Shopping Challenge. We've been super busy lately with our wee one starting school, beginning a new job, and packing up the house for yet another move. The end of the challenge has kind of snuck up on me.

It's been a challenging, enlightening, empowering, and educational two months.  My desire to buy things for the sake of shopping has well and truly gone and for that I'm thankful. I now look around the shops with a different perspective, and I'm much much better at saying no to myself.

We've saved quite a bit of cash despite having some big bills come up and it being an expensive time of year. We've learned the lesson (finally!) that just because the money is there, it doesn't mean it's there to spend. I have loved having money left before pay day and a nice little bundle sitting in a savings account.

I still like online shopping. It's still a danger zone for me for sure. My way of keeping this under control is to write a detailed list of things that I think I need (winter clothes for example) and then I am only allowed to look for those specific things. I'm looking forward to a modest bit of shopping now that the challenge is over.

I did pretty well sticking to the rules but I  did say I would be honest with you so I'm admitting to buying pizza a couple of times when I was too tired to cook. We also bought some plastic crates for moving although they were kind of essential. That was it.. no clothes, books, coffees, shoes, meals out, or anything else. I'm happy with that.

Over the next year we're going to keep up most of the challenge, especially with grocery shopping and no spend weekends. I hope we can stick to it.

How did your challenge go?
What was the first thing you bought when it was over?

Crop & Swap

Today was our local Crop & Swap meet. I took along organic unsweetened yoghurt, eucalyptus laundry gel, four kombucha cultures, some cheesy bread rolls, and some chai tea mix and I came home with:

GF date cake
Savoury quinoa bites
Anzac biscuits
Rocky road
Sweet tomato and eggplant chutney
Blood plum jam
Apple sauce
Rose hip jelly
Nectarine chutney
Mint jelly
Bay leaves
Body scrub
Strawberry plant
Food grade bucket (for sauerkraut etc.)

.... and not a cent exchanged hands. Pretty good huh?

The Crop & Swap is the perfect way to shop if you're in the middle of a No Shopping Challenge like we are. I'm starting to think that bartering and swapping would be fantastic any time, not just in the middle of a frugal challenge. How great would it be if people could get rid of their excess produce and gain something back all without spending anything?

I'm off to enjoy an Anzac biscuit. Have a great Saturday!

How to build a robot out of recycled materials

This morning we woke up to rain and mist and no real plans for the day. Since we're not spending any money at the moment due to our No Shopping Challenge we decided today was a perfect day to hang out at home and get creative.

Ben was given this great book by his Auntie for Christmas. It has cool ideas for making robots using odds and ends that you have lying around at home.

We didn't end up doing a project from the book but it did give us inspiration to do this:

We had an old laptop with a broken screen stored away in a cupboard and it was the perfect thing for Mr J and Benny to dismantle. Ben loved using the screw driver and taking the pieces out by himself. Pretty soon we had a big crate of wire, circuit boards, and pieces of metal.

Next came construction:

Then spray paint using some leftover car paint we had in the laundry.. and gluing the cool pieces from the lap top in place.

 This is a great up cycling/recycling project to do with your kids. Everything on "Otto Ankle" (that's what Ben named him!) was found around the house. If you'd like to make something like this yourself here are some ideas of what you may need:

  • Old electrical equipment such as a stereo or computer. Make sure the battery is removed if you're taking apart a laptop and be sure to supervise your kiddies just in case as there are some sharp metal bits inside.
  • Cut off cords from broken appliances
  • Tin cans
  • Plastic bottles and lids
  • Duct tape
  • Insulation tape
  • Super glue
  • Cardboard tubes
  • Sharpie pens
  • Spray paint or regular acrylic paint
  • Wire
  • Cardboard boxes in various sizes
We've started a collection of things of this nature for Ben to make stuff with, that way when we find something interesting it's easy to add it to the box. We're going to keep the box up high so he has to ask to use it (otherwise I foresee some 2am building sessions). Council clean up days are a great way to build up a stash of interesting building materials or ask around your friends to see if anyone has any electrical equipment they want to get rid of.

Happy building!


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