October 2020: Full of Small Delights for hard Times
‘Isn’t it a lovely day,’ said Bryan, and we both blinked at each other.
It is a lovely day. Half the bush is so weighted with wonga flowers and clematis that the world patch worked green and white. And I mean GREEN green, 100 shades of green. Robyn’s cattle look like they’ve been painted black and fat and glossy on green grass and the wombat are similarly tubby — stroppier.
It’s been over a year since either of us said ‘isn’t it a lovely day.’ Drought, then bushfires, then winter, (which was actually quite a good winter as southern tableland winters go, good rain, no pipes froze. But no one says ‘isn’t the weather lovely in a Braidwood winter).
But spring? Magic.
This is the time to remember how good things are, because life is uncertain just now. It always has been, but just now we notice it, and it’s even in the newspaper. Even small traumas become unbearable, except of course we do bear them. And big ones are… hard.
I’m old enough though to remember when epidemics came often. When this occurred, we would play chase as kids up and down the street – but never closer than half a garden, or not on the same side of the street, not with kids in every second house with polio, measles, or whooping cough. (I still remember the budgies that attacked during the measles. Not real budgies of course. Delirium budgies with savage beaks. And I love budgies. But I lost part of my hearing and most of a year of school thanks to measles.)
I just don’t remember it being a particularly hard time, though it must have been for my parents. We kids played paper games, and read books, and I made cardboard puppet theatre for plays for the younger kids and for a while we lived on an island that had few people but lots of beach (it’s resort land now) and I gained a dingo uncle.
The difference now, perhaps, is that back then even senior jobs were mostly 9-5 and most mums didn’t work and there were ‘aunties’ by the fist load and bush to play in even in outer suburban blocks. Mostly, though, the older generation had been through two world wars and a depression, plus previous epidemics and pandemics. We’d get through it, in the meantime, Mum and I sang while we washed up and Dad recited his favourite poems before bedtime.
This is the time for small pleasures.
Morning and Afternoon Tea
Do this properly. A society should be judged on the civilised nature of its tea/coffee/ warmed yak milk ceremony.
It should be plenteous, with a pot to pour a second or third cup
It can be private or for your twenty closest friends or the guy who just delivered the new printer
You can keep working as long as you savour every sip and bite
It must be served in a vessel that you love. (I have yet to meet anyone who loves a Styrofoam cup). This year I made a resolution: I will drink my tea from china tea cups, just like Grandma did. Every cup of tea will be special.
The tea cups may be gorgeous, antique floral ones, modern polka dots and pizzazz. My coffee will be served in an extra-large mug…except them my two favourite big mugs broke leaving me with only one. Luckily I have not had to serve coffee to anyone lately (Okay, not that luckily. Thank you 2020, I would love to serve coffee to people again).
Either way, the drinking vessel will be a small joy to add to the contents, and of course what is eaten with it:
The Decorated Tea Table: A Garden in a Teacup
Grandma served her morning and afternoon teas or beautifully embroidered tea cloths, some of which I have but never get round to ironing. But we do tend to have flowers in vases, or even plants when there are unlikely to be any small toddler fingers to pull them over.
Teacups also make superb plant pots, as long as you choose the plant carefully. So do much loved teapots, colored glasses, old bottles, or any gorgeous waterproof container you adore.
'Teacup’ plants must be ones that don’t need most soil, as if you overwater them there is no hole for the water to drain out of. The plants also need to be small and slow growing, so the roots don’t crack your precious cup or glass.
Choose the right plant, and you’ll have beauty with almost no work on your desk, table or windowsill. Just make sure they are in a sunny spot, or have a holiday in the sun a couple of days a week.
Use good quality potting mix, add your tiny plant, then - most importantly - mulch with small ornamental pebbles. These come in white, cream, ochre, red, grey blue or dramatic black. You can even lay them in patterns. But you do need them, to keep the potting mix moist for longer, and so that soil- and any spores it might contain- don’t splash into food preparation or eating areas.
My favorite ‘teacup’ plants:
Zygocactus are in brilliant bloom now, in shades of reds, orange, white and other brightness. They are possibly the most forgiving plant in the universe. Ignore them for six weeks (I have) and they will come back to life with a little water.
Disadvantages: Zygocactus look a bit like spiky aliens for the six months they aren’t blooming.
‘Hen and Chickens’ (Echeveria spp)
These little blue green rosettes multiply quickly, hence their name. In a few years they will spill in a gorgeous carpet flowing over the rim of your container.
Disadvantages: Hen and Chickens die if they dry out for more than a week or so, but you can pluck out brown ones and the others will grow to fill the gap.
Delicious! Chives also grow faster if grown in a container by themselves. They flower, too. The blooms are crunchy and onion flavored if you can bear to pick them.
Disadvantages: Chives die down in winter, and vanish when you eat them, too, with a week or two before new shoots appear. They are need regular watering, at least twice a week, and slow release fertilizer every spring or summer.
Hardy, fast growing and multiplying, and subtly garlic flavored chives. Garlic chives keep growing even in winter, with white or blue blooms in summer.
Disadvantages: Garlic chives have thicker, tougher leaves than ordinary chives, so much be finely chopped for salads, stir fries or other fast cooking. Your room will smell faintly of garlic for a few hours after you harvest them.
Any cacti or succulents
Apart from major catastrophes like a meteor strike, cacti only die if overwatered or have too little sun. They come in hundreds of shapes, colors and varieties, and may be grafted into even more fascinating forms. Some even grow quickly, and bloom in unexpected reds, yellows and orange.
Disadvantages: Many are prickly. Others look boring for their first few years but develop real style as they get older.
21 Ways to Turn Your House into an Adventure Park
Grandma served her morning and afternoon teas or beautifully embroidered tea cloths, some of which I have but never get round to ironing. But we do tend to have flowers in vases, or even plants when there are unlikely to be any small toddler fingers to pull them over.
Adventure no. 1
Small ‘shell’ sandpits are great for very little kids, but bigger kids need good deep sandpits so they can build a giant castle or a fort.
A simple sandpit is easily made by digging out as big a space as you have room and muscles for, but at least 30 cm deep and 2 metres square, and lining it with weed mat, so that water can drain out. Fill with clean sand; keep a roll of bird netting to spread over the pit when it’s not being used, to stop cats. This type of sandpit had no hard or rough edges, and can be filled with soil to make a veggie garden once the kids have outgrown it.
Adventure no. 2
A Clothes Line Cubby
Props needed: lots of sheets or blankets
Lower the clothesline; drape over spare blankets, sheets or whatever else is handy. Hills Hoist clothes lines can become a maze with a dragon at the centre, if you hang blankets from every line- and peg them tight to stop them blowing off.
Adventure no. 3
A Styrofoam Palace
Props needed: masking tape, lots of empty Styrofoam or even cardboard boxes- ask for them at the supermarket
This is a bit like playing Lego, but bigger. Tape the boxes together. Pile them up to make walls, then tape the corners of the walls to make a house. Add a roof, and don't forget a space for the doors!
Adventure no. 4
A Garden Table Zoo
Props needed: a table, blankets, chairs
This is where the wild creatures dwell, so be careful passing in case they bite your ankle.
Drape blankets over the table - use a few books so they don't slide off. Line up chairs, too, and drape blankets over them as well, to make caves deep into the heart of the jungle.
Adventure no. 5
A Bicycle Track
Even a small garden can have a long track, that winds around the outside of the garden, in an out of shrubs. It need only be wide enough for two feet or a bicycle.
Step 1. Mark out the path with string
Step 2. Dig down to about 100mm, then use 120mm x 7mm boards along the edges to make formwork for the concrete. Make sure both sides are level with each other.
Step 3. Put strips of plywood every 2 metres to make an expansion joint.
Step 4. Place 20cm of sand on the base, then level it off.
Step 5. Pour the concrete - this doesn’t have to be done in one day! Add ochre so it isn’t all grey and boring.
Step 6. Level it off with a float, then rough over the surface with a broom or brush so it’s not too slippery. Pull out the expansion joints.
Step 7. When the concrete is set, pull out the formwork.
Adventure no. 6
A Climbing Frame
These can be bought, but they can also be made far more cheaply by anyone who can lift a pile and drill a hole. There are some great ‘how to’ books at the local library.
Adventure no. 7
A prefab basketball hoop and backboard from a sport’s store
A shed wall that they can bounce a ball against with concrete or paving underneath
A net to hit balls into so they don’t fly over the fence
Concrete or paving marked out for hopscotch... or long, painted snake with the letters of the alphabet so they can hop and learn at the same time
Adventure no. 8
Trees for kids
Give kids a fruit tree each birthday. Kids love picking fruit - and this tree is THEIRS and no one can pick its fruit without permission.
As they grow, so does their tree! Good trees include lemons trees, oranges, cumquats, mandarins, dwarf apples, dwarf peaches, a passion fruit vine...anything that will give at least one fruit in the next year!
Adventure no. 9
How to Grow Mint in Your Joggers
*An old pair of jogger
*2 mint plants
* potting mix
1. Remove feet from joggers
2. Cut holes in the joggers, if they're not there already, so water can drain out
3. Fill with potting mix. Plant mint
4. Pick mint as it grows and add to frozen fruit salad ice blocks!
Note: You could also grow strawberries in your joggies. A row of strawberry joggers on the windowsill will be a definite talking point for the neighbors as you add to the collection they'll also remind you how much your kid’s feet have grown!
Adventure no. 10
Hunt a Monster
There are creatures out in the backyard as weird as any dinosaur or alien monster. Luckily they’re only small… so small you need a microscope to really see how strange they are.
No microscope? It’s even more fun to make your own.
A Homemade Microscope
*A clear plastic drinking glass
*A thin piece of cardboard
Step 1. Find your insect. Wait till it’s busy drinking nectar or resting. Hold the cup over the insect. The insect will sense danger – and fly up, into your cup.
Now quickly put the cardboard over the base of the cup and put the cup down on a flat surface.
Step 2. Slowly drip water onto the top of the cup – not too much so it runs down. You’ll notice that the surface is curved, just like a magnifying glass.
Step 3. Peer through the water and you’ll see the insect close up
PS: Make sure kids don’t try to catch bees, spiders, large or jumping ants, hairy caterpillars, scorpions or wasps – they may give a nasty or even a dangerous sting. They should wear protective gloves and long sleeves, too, just in case. But flies and small ants are truly fascinating when you see them close up.
Never try to catch any insect with long, fragile-looking wings either, like dragonflies or big moths or butterflies – it’s very easy to damage their wings.
PPS: Only put one insect in the jar at a time, in case they eat each other!
Adventure no. 11
Make a Present for the Birds
This is fun to make, and it’s even more fun watching the birds eat it.
Simple Glue and Seed Ball
*an old ice-cream container
*wild bird seed
*a glue labeled 'nontoxic’ and 'not soluble in water'
*1 metre string
Fill the ice-cream container with bird seed.
Mix in the glue then QUICKLY press about 30 cm of string into the middle.
Leave overnight to set.
Press it out of the container, and hang it up in a tree, where cats can’t get to the birds, but you can watch them.
Adventure no. 12
Plant a Bean Teepee
This is a great way to teach kids the basics of growing vegies, and the fun of picking and eating home grow veg too.
*A tall wooden tomato stake (from the garden centre)
*12 rocks at least as big as an orange, or 12 tent pegs
*lots of string
*climbing bean seeds
*small trowel or garden fork
*hose and water
(make sure you have four frost-free months before you plant your beans. In most places it’s best to plant them in late spring to about late February).
Step 1. Put the post in the ground – one end needs to be buried deeply enough to make it feel stable and not wobble
Step 2. Use some of the string to make a circle around the pole. The circle needs to be about a metre from the pole
Step 3. Place the rocks or the tent pegs at equal distances around the circle
Step 4. Tie lengths of string to each tent peg or rock, then tie them to the top of the pole.
Step 5. Use the trowel to dig small garden beds, about 30 cms wide, around each tent peg or stone.
Step 6. Plant three bean seeds in each little garden. They should be just covered with soil. Water gently so the seeds don’t wash away.
Step 6. Wait! The beans should germinate – send out shoots – in a week to ten days. Water them every two days – or every day if you remember.
Step 7. When the beans are as high as your ankle feed them with seaweed-based fertilizer – follow the directions on the bottle.
Step 8. As the beans grow longer train them round and round the string, so they grow up to the central pole.
Step 9. After about ten weeks your teepee will be ready. And after about twelve weeks it’ll start flowering and each flower will drop off and leave a tiny bean, which will grow bigger and bigger.
Pick them when they are about as long as your finger. You can crunch them raw or cook them or leave them so the seeds inside each bean get bigger and bigger.
Finally the bean pod will turn dry and brown – then you can pick them and store the beans inside in an old envelope to plant next year.
Adventure no. 13
Pressing Flowers (and ferns too)
This was one of my favourite holiday joys when I was a kid. I used pressed flowers as bookmarks, sent them in ‘thank you’ letters to relatives (I reckoned that as long as I added a pressed flower I only needed to write two sentences. (I hope you are well. Thank you for the pressed slug kits. Love, Jackie).
Eventually my friends started pressing flowers too, and we had even more fun swapping them.
*Flowers or ferns - don't choose bulky ones - delicate flowers like pansies, roses, maidenhair fern or geranium flowers press best.
*brown paper, paper napkins or other non-waxy paper
Arrange the flowers between three bits of paper, then side them into the middle of the books.
Leave for about a week till they are 'pressed' and dried out. (IF you put them straight into the books they make leave a faint flowery mark on the paper- which I rather like but lots of parents and all librarians don't!
You can also dry flowers and leaves on a piece of absorbent paper in the microwave.
The finer and flatter the plant and the less moisture it contains, the better this method works.
Leave the plants in the microwave for no more than 1 minute on 'low' at a time, repeating this again and again as necessary.
Leave at least ten minutes before you open the door to check your plant, as they will still be 'drying'
Pressed Flower Cards
Stick the flowers on in whatever pattern you like- and there you are!
Pressed Flower Candles
As above, but with candles
Pressed Flower Soap
As above, but with soap! You can use a bit of moist soap to stick the flowers on with, instead of glue.
Adventure no. 14
Snail and Beetle Jewelry
For a truly cool look! NO-ONE at school will have jewelry like this!
*Snail shells or dead beetles
*A needle and thread, knotted at the end.
*Silver or gold craft paint
Paint the snail shells or beetles - or leave them plain.
Thread them onto the needle and thread to make a necklace, or glue onto the earing clips.
Treat them gently, and they'll last for years.
Adventure no. 15
Sculpt a Zucchini
You do need to have zucchinis growing for this. (Zucchinis are simple to grow - and don’t need much water. One bush will give you lot.)
*A zucchini bush
Wrap a few bits of sticky tape around the baby zucchini.
As the zucchini grows it’ll stay narrow where the tape is, and bulge in wired and wonderful ways around it.
Different patterns of sticky tape will give you different zucchini ‘sculptures’
Adventure no. 16
Make a Backyard Scarecrow
Scarecrows do NOT scare birds - in fact birds love to perch on them! which is just one of the good reasons to make scarecrows (The other is that it’s fun). Scarecrows can be made out of just about anything - a robot scarecrow out of old cans, a bride scarecrow out of layers of old plastic bags.
But for your basic scarecrow you need:
*An old pillow case
*Old jeans or trousers
*Old gloves - gardening or plastic gloves are fine
* Stuffing. This can be dried grass clippings, or bought hay, or old plastic bags, or even crumpled newspaper - but a newspaper scarecrow will go soggy when it rains.
You'll also need:
*Crayons or textas
*A large needle and thread
*Lots of string
*A stake, at least as long as your scarecrow plus about 60 cm
Optional: Hair, an old mop head, or wool; sunglasses, an old mobile phone in case your scarecrow gets bored
Stuff the jeans, shirt, shoes, gloves and pillow slip.
Tie the string aroid the end of the pillow slip - that will be the head and the end bit will be the neck.
Arrange all the stuffed bits to make a body. Now start sewing! This will take HOURS! or one hour anyway, unless you are a super sew-er.
Now drape the hair over the head, and sew it on at the top, use the textas or crayons to mark out eyes lips nose, plus a beard or moustache. freckles, or anything else you think your scarecrow 's face needs.
Put its hat on.
Now place the stake wherever your ant your scarecrow to stand, though you can sit it comfortably in a garden chair instead, or even tie it to the veranda post. the stake needs to be firmly buried about 60 cm deep.
Now heave the scarecrow up, tie firmly- and wait for the birds to land on it!
Adventure no. 17
Any rock can become a pet - including boulders! Use acrylic paint to add mouths, ears, long red tongues and so on. Add wool fur for dogs or cats, stripes for zebras, bark spikes - go wild! Kids can make a whole school or farm or jungle of them for a row on your shelf.
*Rocks, preferably smooth ones
*Bits of wool
*Bits of red, blue, green fabric
*Any other scraps you have around that will make feathers, fur or faces
Adventure no. 18
Let Kids Choose the Colors for the Garden Furniture, and do the Painting!
Okay, you may have to live with bright pink chairs or a purple and silver striped table for a year- but another coat of paint will cover it!
Adventure no. 19
Grow Plants for Kids to Nibble
Kids love picking and eating veg straight from the garden, with a quick wash under the tap.
Ask kids to pick the peas for dinner - even kids who hate peas on their plate will eat most of the crop, then hand you a measly three or four pods for the saucepan.
Kids love to pick and eat:
*Peas and snow peas
*Tiny carrots and beetroot
*Tiny fresh beans
*Tiny chokos no bigger than their finger nail, all crunch and sweetness
*Tiny cucumbers or zucchini, no bigger than their little finger
*Passionfruit hot from the sun
*Fresh strawberries and raspberries
*Any apple or orange they pick themselves
Adventure no. 20
A Row of Gruesome Pots
Kids love a row of pots, like insect eating Venus fly Traps or Pitcher Plants, or a row of really spiky cacti, especially those multi-coloured ones with red and yellow grafts like beanies on their heads.
Adventure no. 21
A row of ‘surprise pots’
A pot of bulbs is a ‘secret pot’ because no one else knows what is growing to come up and flower.
Ps: Have fun
The Good Smells of Paradise
Human's sense of smell is possibly the least noticed of all our senses and most evocative.
I think one of the great joys in life, possibly because it is entirely unpredictable, is cool scents wafting through a window at night or hot scents rising from the garden when the bitumen is baking and all the world seems to be made of hot cement - except your garden.
The twenty-first century is as rich in horrible smells as any other century though, like the inhabitants of most centuries, we probably don't notice them. No one really notices the familiar. No chamber pot smells nowadays, of course, nor bubbling garbage smells or horses, but air-conditioning smells and that almost indefinable concrete fragrance, the scent of nylon carpet, disinfectant that is supposed to smell of pines or flowers but never does. (Last week my cousin said to me, after a few days down here, 'I can smell where a car has been. I never noticed the smell of car before' - an omnipresent background to our lives.)
I love smells. Our house is rich in them. (Not counting the dead rat in the ceiling).
Bowls of faded petals mixed with spices - a very simplified potpourri - on tables and bureau; lavender in cupboards (never enough lavender - and no matter how much I grow I always want more - enough to pick great bunches and not notice the loss on the bushes of blue and white spires and butterflies), the scent of plum jam and apples in the larder (I know the jam is sealed but the fragrance is still there) and the lingering scent of burnt toast and too brown biscuits, homemade lemon cordial and the garlic and chillies hanging in the kitchen, hot tomato leaves or wilting lettuce in the garden and the ever-present scent of grass and rocks and creek with just a whiff of black snake in the corner ....
Every person's house has a different complement of smells - most almost imperceptible - that add up to something that is entirely its own - good, bad or boring - the smell of the cat food you opened l last night, the smell of books, or piles of newspaper, the dead dog pong of teenager's joggers ...
How to have a house that smells good
Step 1. Throw aforesaid joggers out the back door; remove tin of Kat’s Fish Dinner from the fridge
Step 2. Cook something - the sort of cooking where the smell lingers.
Step 3. Bung some flowers in a vase preferably not from a florist. Florists blooms rarely smell good (perhaps they are afraid of persistent hay fever). Daphne, jonquils, young blue gum or peppermint gum leaves, gardenias and lavender are good room perfumers.
Step 4. Polish wooden surfaces twice a year with something that smells good. See recipe below.
(Of course it doesn't have to be you that does the polishing. In fact, if you can beg, borrow or pay someone else to do it, all the better.)
Step 5. Try to have a pleasant Whiff from Every Cupboard.
It is my old-fashioned belief that cupboards should whiff of something good when you open them. Vanilla sugar, whisky soaked fruit, cakes, sun dried underpants and lavender - depending on what's in the cupboard ...
The classic herb for a linen cupboard or underwear drawer is lavender. You don't even have to dry it - make a bundle and stuff it in, either hung from a string or wrapped in an old pillowslip (I prefer the latter - the cloth seems to catch the scent and keep it). And clove studded oranges are fragrant too - if you have three hours and 100 cloves to spare and don't mind blistered finger tips.
A cheat's method is just to scatter dried cloves at the bottom of drawers and cupboards or a jar of them with the lid off. Add some dried orange peel too (scavenged from the kid's lunch box and left in the sun for a few days, then crumbled) to add extra fragrance - or lemon peel or mandarin peel.
And for kitchen cupboards - a vanilla bean is the most luxurious; or the cloves and oranges as well or wipe them occasionally with a Wettex dipped in vanilla extract (this is the one place where it doesn't have to be the real stuff).
PS: If you want a whiff to keep away cockroaches, wipe the cupboard under the sink et al with a Wettex dipped in eucalyptus oil - it both repels and stunts their growth.
PPS: If you can find/afford genuine orris root - which is truly glorious stuff, but most nowadays is fairly odourless imitation, fill little sachets (I know this sounds like endless sewing or crocheting, but a sachet is just a hanky with a blob of orris in the middle, then tied with a bit of string or wool. Though lace doilies, old brocade et al can be used by the more fastidious).
Tie the sachets on to every door handle, so every time you open and shut you get a glorious whiff. Place them in every drawer or cupboard - including your desk drawers, under the telephone drawers, odds and ends of cutlery drawers, filing cabinets and tool boxes...
Hanging Your Underpants on the Lavender
If I had to choose just one plant to grow, it would be lavender. Masses of it. Lavender should never be grown as single bushes. You need hedges of lavender, hillsides of it, whole beds full below the roses ...
Lavender is one of the easiest plants to grow - as long as you give it full sun and the frosts aren't too disastrous (and even then try a sunny corner by the house) and as long as you aren't in the tropics (in such cases skip this bit - though you may manage to grow Canary Island lavender).
There are hundreds of species of lavender, though only a couple of dozen are available in Australia (in France nearly every hill seems to have a different form of lavender). I love sprawling French lavender along fences, hedges of English lavender, dwarf lavender below roses, great swathes of mixed white and English lavender, Italian lavender by the steps for winter fragrance...
Lavender does need pruning. The new growth is much hardier to heat and frost and humidity than old growth - and more compact plants are less likely to break down. Pruning isn't hard - when you harvest the flower stems, cut off a good hunk of branch. (No, I can't be more precise - it depends on the size and vigour of your bush. Just don't take more than half - or less than an eighth).
Oh, yes, the underpants of the lavender... well, try it. They smell delicious, and your underwear drawer will too when you open it. Hankies smell good too, if anyone still uses hankies except us, and brassieres, and tee shirts, socks and tablecloths...
Pine Gel Bath Freshener
In the odd moments when I am forced by circumstance (I'm not quite sure how a circumstance forces one, but it does) to watch TV (we don't have a TV, but you do get glimpses in other peoples' living rooms) every second ad seems to glorify bathrooms that smell of pine trees.
To be honest, I’ve never found a pine forest such a marvelous scent - they always smell a bit musty, at least where I'm standing, which is among the dead and fallen pine needles, not the branches up above.
This bath goo, on the other hand, does smell good - and not like twenty-year-old pine needles mixed with dog droppings. It is always a solution for 'what to do with pine cones' which I adore. I compulsively pick them up and take them home, just as I am compulsive about still pink shells and cuttlefish (though the chooks love that) and water shiny quartz pebbles with dark veins across them.
To make the gel:
Cover an equal volume of pine cones and pine needles with water - just enough to cover them.
Simmer for half an hour. Strain, simmer again till thick - about another half an hour.
Use a VERY little of this in your bath - it smells wonderful (you can also add it to shampoo to make bubble bath. Orr even detergent if your kids don't have sensitive skins - it is a VERY good way to keep the bath clean when your offspring aren't.
Lavender Vinegar Deodorant
This is for dabbing on your forehead, wrists or the back of your neck on hot days in the garden.
It smells lovely, feels refreshing, will repel the odd mozzie (though not a hungry horde of them) takes 30 seconds to make - and is a beautiful pale blue.
Shove as many lavender flowers as possible into an attractive recycled bottle, pour in hot white wine vinegar, seal and finish with a few ribbons - and you've got a beautiful fragrant gift for any gardener.
An Aphrodisiac Potpourri
(I'm almost serious here.... a goodly proportion of men apparently find cinnamon a mildly aphrodisiac scent (makes you wonder about Christmas cake) and even more women find sensual delight in rose and jasmine)
*6 cups lavender flowers
*1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
*2 cups dried jasmine flowers
*3 cups dried pittosporum flowers
*1/2 cup sandalwood chips
*2 cups dried deep red rose petals
1*/2 cup dried evergreen magnolia flowers
* 1/2 cup dried violets
1/2 cup orris root
Keep in a sealed jar, and open on special occasions
If you can't get hold of orris root, sandalwood, magnolia or pittosporum flowers- or just can't be bothered- jasmine, lavender and rose petals aren't bad just by themselves.
Extrememly Fragrant and Excellent Wood Polish
*1 cup beeswax (from craft stores or your friendly beekeeper)
*4 cups olive oil (or linseed oil)
*10 tbsp lavender or other essential oil
Melt the beeswax; take off the heat and add the other ingredients. beat for about ten minutes till it begins to set.
To use: wipe on thinly, then buff to a shine.
Books Coming Soon
Out: November 2021
During mid-January, when Bryan and I were dividing ember watch, I stayed up till 2am each night, watching for burning cinders, and putting out more food for the animals. The night skies were pulsing red, not black, so there was no need for a torch when a small black wombat staggered down the garden, and then collapsed, about ten metres from the water she so desperately needed. I took her a plate and put it next to her nose. She drank slowly, and I sat with her, and after a while she managed to stagger over to the food stations.
Perhaps a hundred animals were there: wombats, wallabies, possums, even quolls and sometimes snakes and others too. But every single one of them stood back to let the little wombat get to the food and water. She lay down to eat, to drink, and stayed there all night, eating and drinking just a little at a time. By daylight she had managed to move herself into the shade of the house. Her paws were charcoal, but not burnt – I think the embedded charcoal may have protected them. She did have a minor burn on her neck, but a veterinary nurse said it looked minor when I sent her a photo, and it healed after I applied cream.
She wasn’t tame, but knew I was trying to help her, and waited calmly while I applied the cream, or moved fresh food closer to her. Within a few days the dark colour vanished. It had been smoke. She was dark brown underneath.
Slowly she grew stronger, till finally she could share a wombat burrow nearby with two or three other wombats. And then one night Wild Whiskers – who is not a nice wombat – bit her when she didn’t allow the 2 metres either side that Wild Whiskers regards as her due.
And by then I had written her story, all except the end, which I hadn’t known then. It is also the story of the national (and international) effort to feed, water, raise money, crochet animal beds and much much else in those months. And at 2am, with Twitter and Facebook and hundreds offering help, I never felt alone. Nor could we have managed to provide as much food without the delivery during the worst weeks, as the fires burnt the valley ridges and up into the village.
The book is called The Fire Wombat, created with Danny Snell, and it is the first – and possibly only time – I have rung a publisher and said ‘I wrote a book last night and I have to publish it.’ It can be pre-ordered now.
Pandemic (with Bruce Whatley)
Out: November 2020
This is another true story, how great grandma organised all the kids to feed the dogs, milk the cows, collect the eggs, the ripe fruit and veg in the district in the Spanish flu 1918-1921 — and deliver delicious meals, books and flowers to every home in quarantine- and how that flu pandemic were conquered simply by kindness and quarantine till it vanished across the world.
We were going to bring out another this year in the Disaster series ready to go to print – Earthquake. but this seemed urgent. I wrote it in a week. Bruce was quarantined in a hotel for a fortnight to see his ill mother in SA, and all he had were a few coloured pencils and hotel pens - and in that fortnight he used those to create artwork unlike any of his others, because he never had to work with just hotel pens and a few coloured pencils. It is the story of hope and help and happiness — even in a pandemic.
Out: November 2021
I have finally been permitted to write a truly adult book. Young adults will read it too, I hope, but this and at least the next won’t be labelled YA.
This is a book about a girl trained as a surgeon, who tends the wounded on the battlefront, but can never call herself a surgeon. She seeks a free life – in the colony of NSW but finds that the constraints and racism have been transplanted here. Worse – the NSW colony is run mostly by veterans of Waterloo and the Peninsular wars, where territory was won foot by foot – and if you won it, you kept it. How could a mind-set like that cope with a culture where every battle must end at dusk so the innocent (and the land itself) aren’t damaged?
But Hen (never Henrietta) finds love and friendship where she least expects it – and betrayal too. Because this is a book about the unwritten part our history- not just the massacres of indigenous people, but the times and places in our past where there was deep friendship and partnership and mutual teaching.
May we find it in our future too.
Out: April 2021
Lisa loves it!
I completed Miss Lily 5 three week ago, and sent off to her. Waiting for the editor to assess a manuscript is always terrifying, but especially for this book. It is the final in the Miss Lily series, the culmination when the reader finally sees the true ‘Miss Lily, and the other characters find the truth about themselves too. I’ve been working to this point for eight years: that time in history where women became ‘people’, not simply ‘female’, and the world of ‘people’ opened for them – a world we had to fight to join, and still do. But as my year 11 history teacher told us, revolutions don’t happen when things at their worst. They happen when people have hope.
Usually Lisa reads a new Miss Lily manuscript in 48 hours. This time she waited for a free weekend, and then emailed me on the Saturday night to say she loved it so much she was reading it as slowly as she could, as she couldn’t bear for it to end. Which as wonderful but what if all the carefully drawing together themes crashed in the second half of the book, and she hated the conclusion.
Lisa finished the book a week later, then began to read it again. She too, does not want to leave the world of Miss Lily. But the book works, and she says, magnificently. And thank goodness, as by then, for me, the final scenes for each character were inevitable. I’d known the fate of Sophie, Dolphie, for Hannelore and Violette and Daniel, and Ethel (I do love Ethel) and James Lorrimer long before I began to write the first book. I’d known, too, exactly who Miss Lily was all along, no matter what face was presented to the world as the books progressed. As Miss Lily told her students, she always told the truth – but rarely the whole truth, except now, in Book 5.
My editor Kate is still to see it, and to rip it into shreds and show me where it needs to be repaired, so there’ll be at least one major rewriting before it is released March next year. It’s a large book, with broad themes – there will be places where I need to add more detail, or even scenes to build up to the various dramas more slowly. But it works, it works, it works. I am longing to do the rewrites, while deeply sad to know that will be the final one.
Rewriting is only 'rewriting', rather than living in the world of the characters so deeply it is sometimes as if I am merely writing what I see, as well as I am able. I've never mourned finishing a series before, possibly because the ending of the Matilda series is not really an end. As with Tom Appleby, the characters are embedded in times and places I'll write about again, as is Gibber's Creek. But except possibly for a few short stories I won't ever return to the world of Miss Lily, to Shillings Hall, nor to Thuringa. The stories of each character are complete
Books out now
The Schoolmaster’s Daughter was released earlier this year – I’m not quite sure what crisis was occurring just then. I love the book, which I don’t say about all my books. Each review has focused exactly on the heart of the book, and why I wrote it – a coming of age for a girl, and a nation, where our nation’s first law was of racial division, forcibly removing Pacific Islanders who came as slaves, adventurers or indentured workers for decades to Australia, and their children for whom Australia was home. It’s about the fight for education for those with a dark skin as well as for women; how books can light a future; how battles might take decades to win, but we do, eventually, get there, or at least much further on the path.
It’s also the stories of my grandmothers, combined. And even the shipwreck, the secret school, and the treasure on the beach, are true.
All of Us: A History of Southeast Asia
(With Professor Virginia Hooker and artist, historian and cartographer Mark Wilson)
This is 120,000 years of Southeast Asia, our region, bound by the monsoon winds that make it the most culturally diverse region in the world. Children will study the ‘story maps’, older kids will read the poems that tell the story of a brother and sister across the centuries; scholars will pour over the timeline.
There was no one way to write a book to cover the immensity of the topic. This book tells history in six ways, all we hope fascinating and powerful, enticing the reader to the Teachers Notes and the references they will find there too. It has taken us five years’ collaboration and it is magnificent.
The Ghost of Howler’s Beach is your younger readers, the first in a new series, The Butter O’Bryan Mysteries, set in 1932. Butter O’Bryan lives in The Very Small Castle with his Aunt Peculiar, Aunt Elephant and Auntie Cake. There is a beach, a skelelton, three kids playing cricket - and keep vanishing. Who are these children and why do they refuse his help?Butter is certain they're hiding a secret and he's determined to uncover it.
Dippy and the Dinosaurs (with Bruce Whatley)
You cannot, of course, have a friendly Diprotodon living at the same time as dinosaurs.
But we did….
Lilies, Love and Lies is the most explosive yet on the Miss Lily series, based on two long lost archived letters I uncovered.
They are fat, happy – except when bitten or chased by Wild Whiskers, who enjoys savaging anyone or anything in her vicinity. There are baby roos bouncing all over the place, and birds industriously nesting, including the powerful owls.
The October Garden
This is the exciting time: trees are setting fruit, and are bright with pale-green leaves – it’s a time to dream about the abundance to come in a couple of months. October is just too encouraging. The days are balmy, and you feel like you can cultivate the world.
Take a grip on yourself. Whatever you plant now you’ll have to tend at Christmas. Three dozen tomatoes planted now mean one week bottling or freezing or sauce making in late summer; three zucchini plants will mean you’re forcing them on your friends. The more you dig now the more you’ll have to weed in a month’s time.
Cool areas will start spring planting now.
In warmer areas, plant more lettuce, beans and corn.
Frost free climates:
Fruit trees like limes, tropical apples, avocados, grape, choko, sweet potato and passionfruit vines, seeds of amaranth, artichoke, asparagus, basil, burdock, carrots, celery, chilli, corn, celeriac, choko, collards, eggplant, gourds, kale, leeks, lettuce, mustard greens, okra, onion, parsnip, parsley, peas, pumpkin, radish, rockmelon, salsify, shallots, silverbeet, tomato, watermelon, zucchini
Any fruit tree, vine or shrub, bare rooted or evergreen, seeds or seedlings of baby carrots, beetroot, lettuce, parsnip, peas, radish, swede, turnips, celery, celeriac, leek, lettuce, onions, mizuna, mitsuba, seed potatoes, rocket, silverbeet, spinach. Pots of tomatoes or chilli plants can be grown on a warm sunny patio.
Last chance this year for bare rooted fruit trees, gooseberries, currants, grape vines. Plant seedlings of onions, cauliflower, collards, kale, mustard greens, peas, salad greens like mizuna, mitsuba, spinach, also rhubarb crowns, artichoke suckers, asparagus plants and seed potatoes. Plant early tomatoes, zucchini, melons and pumpkins in pots on a sunny windowsill to give them a head start.
Like September, this is a month that tells you how good your garden planning was last year. We’d have
had peas if the wallaby hadn’t eaten them, and young dandelion leaves if the wombat hadn’t sat on them. (The leaves are probably still edible but I don’t fancy them.) Keep picking the tops out of silver beet that goes to seed so they’ll keep cropping till the new lot are ready. Pick Brussels sprouts as soon as they form, so more grow. Asparagus will be yielding now, and early artichokes. In warm areas lettuce, Chinese spinach, corn salad and peas may be starting to yield, if planted in August.
Loquat, navel orange, lemon, lime, tangelo, tangor, mandarins, grapefruit, cumquat, calamondin, pomelo, citron, Tahitian lime, kaffir lime, citron, early blueberries, lillypilly, Japanese raisin ‘fruit’, avocado, early strawberries, early raspberries in warm spots, rhubarb, banana passionfruit, and tamarillos ripening from last season. Keep eating stored Lady Williams apples and nuts.
Broad beans don’t set seed in hot weather: mulch them thickly now to keep the soil cool. If they start getting spots on their leaves you’ve probably got a potash deficiency: throw wood ash on the plot, for next year. Let excess or old broad beans dry in the pod – then keep them to add to soups and stews later.
Chop up vegies gone-to-seed and stew them into a rich vegetable stock – either have it for lunch or freeze it. A friend grates them, adds wheat germ, and bakes them into crisp dog biscuits.
Plant passionfruit vines and chooks now, before it gets too hot – though they can be planted at any time as long as they are well established by winter, and kept mulched and watered.
Mulch strawberries and rhubarb now, and cut off any rhubarb heads going to seed. Mulching now prevents leaf disease later.
Many veg, like carrots and celery, that have gone to seed can be eaten simply by peeling away the tough outer membrane: the centres will be soft and sweet.
Plant green-manure crops that can be slashed and ready for January plantings of winter vegetables: broad beans (cut them at flowering, don’t wait for pods to set) or sunflowers, buckwheat or even radish if you pull them out before the bulbs form.
Mulch strawberries and rhubarb now, and cut off any rhubarb heads going to seed. Mulching now prevents leaf disease later.
Evergreen fruit trees can still be planted now, except where it’s getting too hot – though, if necessary, trees can be sheltered in hessian shelters for a few weeks. Don’t be tempted by leftover bare-rooted trees in nurseries, even if they are cheap – they may not shoot, or their new roots will break off when you plant them. Trees which are badly set back when young don’t recover for years.
Buy young chooks now: they’ll lay through to next spring. If you don’t raise your own chickens, try buying black, white and red ones alternately, to ‘colour code’ each year – or leave different colour roosters with the females each season.
If your chooks aren’t laying well, check their water: fresh, running water means more eggs. Hens won’t lay in very hot weather either: scatter branches over the chook run for some shade, and plant some trees, preferably trees like mulberries, tree lucerne or avocados which can provide chook food.
Chooks are paranoid creatures. They can be scared of anything that flies over them and anything that chases them – from kids to foxes. Scared chooks don’t lay well. Once, chooks were jungle birds, living in the broken light of the undergrowth. If you want secure, non-paranoid chooks, stick branches, old corn stalks, etc. over their run so that the light below is shifting and semi-shaded. They’ll feel less vulnerable, no matter what is around.
Pests No matter what pests are bugging you, try not to do anything about it for at least another two weeks – see if natural predators won’t start doing the job for you.