October 2020: Full of Small Delights for hard Times

Spring in the Valley


‘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.



100 shades of green
Spring Clematis

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


It will be lovely to have friends around for tea again one day!
Afternoon Tea

Do this properly. A society should be judged on the civilised nature of its tea/coffee/ warmed yak milk ceremony.

  1. It should be plenteous, with a pot to pour a second or third cup

  2. It can be private or for your twenty closest friends or the guy who just delivered the new printer

  3. You can keep working as long as you savour every sip and bite

  4. 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.

  5. 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 Weird but Wildly Wonderful Kumera Scones


Two Minute Lemon Shortbread

Weird but Wildly Wonderful Kumera Scones

Apple Fritters

Olive Oil Apple Cake

Carrot Ginger Bread

The Cake Bryan Says Is the Best He Has Ever Tasted Otherwise known as White Chocolate Lemon cake



The Decorated Tea Table: A Garden in a Teacup

Wombat News
Chives 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

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.


Chives

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.


Garlic chives

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

A Sandpit

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

Sports Spots

  • 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

You need:

*An old pair of jogger

*2 mint plants

* potting mix

Method:

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

You need:

*A clear plastic drinking glass

*A thin piece of cardboard

*Water

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

You need:

*an old ice-cream container

*wild bird seed

*a glue labeled 'nontoxic’ and 'not soluble in water'

*1 metre string

Method:

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.

You need:

*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

*fertiliser

(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).

Method:

Step 1. Put the post in the ground – one end needs to be buried deeply enough to make