May days and smoky mountain

The month of May is at a close and so too most of the trees in our garden have shed their autumnal foliage.  In the house, the wood fire heater has been cranked up and we have braced ourselves for some wintry weather. Here at 700 metres altitude we sometimes get snow, certainly we experience ice and frost. However, the garden copes very well.  This year autumn has been very dry with some trees going into distress. Now, the rains have come, and it always amazes me to see the first pop of camellia buds.

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I am in the garden every day no matter the weather. Last weekend we set fire to some very large mounds of debris, accumulated throughout the summer. The Country Fire Association sets the fire season and we cannot light any outside fires, but once this is lifted, usually the end of April – this year it was the 3rd of May,  we can begin to burn off. Our neighbours gather around, and we celebrate the arrival of cooler weather and banish the thought of bushfires from our minds – albeit until next summer.

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We have a saying here on the Mount – “all summer we fear seeing smoke and all winter we create smoke” – smoky mountain indeed. Happy gardening everyone – no matter the season where you live.

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Sign of the Times

I have always been a little concerned that we in Australia don’t really make a big deal of Easter. Aside from buying copious amounts of cheap chocolate we don’t afford the time leading up to Easter Sunday and indeed the Sunday itself the ritualistic treatment that we give Christmas. In European traditions and Christian traditions, Easter is in fact the most important time in the liturgical calendar. It is a time to review and renew; a time to tend to community obligations and a time to prepare that special gathering meal or give up meat products as a sign of respect for the Cross.

When my grandparents were alive they insisted that their Central European traditions were kept. Having arrived in Australia in 1949 at a time when “ethnic” was a word much maligned, they only had their memories and food traditions to keep them united. So, just before Good Friday, Nonno would pack his fishing basket and rods or crab pots and spend the night out fishing. He would often wake us in the middle of the night and cook the still live crabs. We would feast on them and make a huge mess in the little kitchen. That evening we would eat fried fish. On Easter Sunday they insisted on another special meal. More on this at a later post. The symbol of the Cross was always centre-most even in the food they prepared.

This week, one of my Year 10 classes made simple wooden crosses. They were very creative each adding their own special touch using wire or wool and painting each to reflect their own ideas.

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Later, they were asked to give this cross to someone they knew who needed some support or a kind word. Some kept them for themselves or took them home to their families. It led me to think of what we do as a community to support one another. Do we simply buy a a chocolate egg or bunny and give it over? Inspired by my neighbours – Alex and Naomi’s – endless generosity toward us – and wanting to prepare food to share which had a symbolic meaning, I set out this morning to make Hot Cross Buns.

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I’ve never made them but was willing to give them a go. (Sorry daughters for never giving them a go when you were little!) The Recipe I found was in my trusty Margaret Fulton cook book, circa 1978.

20130329-145742.jpg Mixing the flours, I used one cup spelt flour to three cups plain white flour, crumbling 50g butter into it and the adding warm milk and water with some dried yeast. Colin provided some of the kneading power – a good way to de-stress from a busy Term.

20130329-150025.jpg Then letting the dough to rise followed by the exciting shaping into balls and letting rise again.

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The recipe then require this dough to be rolled out into a half inch rectangle, cut into sixteen and then shaped into balls.

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It was at this point when it suddenly occurred to me that I would need to pipe a cross on each as the recipe required. A cross. “
Make a slight indentation in the shape of a cross on the top of each bun with a sharp knife”
instructed the recipe. A sharp knife.

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Is this what it felt like, the nails, the sword?

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All those mass produced buns that we consume without ever thinking of their symbolic meaning. Good Friday is the right day to reflect on what we do, the abundance we consume – a sign of the times, as they say.

Fifteen minutes in a hot oven and they were done. Glazed with some sugar syrup, they looked the part and tasted even better!

The process of preparing these had no short cuts. There are never any short cuts when it comes to tradition or to life itself. It is the giving to others which resonates at this time. While we were baking this morning both my neighbours popped in to say hello. Naomi with a very special fish pie – I need to get that recipe and Alex with an invitation to share baklava this afternoon. It is in the simple sharing of food that we honour each other; it is in the recognition of each other and the individual and often hidden “crosses” which we all have to bear which makes us truly alive.

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How is your Easter long week end going to be and what are your traditions at this time?

Historical Sydney

As we continued our stay with Daughter Number Two in Sydney, we spent the day walking around the city. Our intention was to visit the State Library as I had heard of an interesting photographic exhibition.

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Our walk led us past old Parliament House and the historic Sydney Hospital.

20130225-210522.jpg As well as other places of architectural significance such as the Commonwealth Bank Building.

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One must appreciate that Sydney was the first settlement in Australia with the First Fleet landing in Circular Quay in 1788. Sixty odd years later gold was discovered in “them there hills”. This
led to a building boom in what was to become the leading city of the vast area known as New South Wales. Similar events in Victoria led to Melbourne also being “build on gold”. So when I heard of an historically rich photographic exhibition featuring gold miners, their families and their lodgings I was intrigued.

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These photographs are reproductions of the original glass plates featuring images of life in the goldfields of New South Wales and Victoria. These plates were found in a garden shed fifty years ago and only after much time and money, resurrected to their original forms. They are quite extraordinary.

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For me the images are reminiscent of the Civil War images featuring the sombre visages of the prospectors. The clarity, however, is superb.

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Also, what really intrigued me were the images of women and their children posing silently out in front of their rustic lodgings.

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It would have been a harsh and unforgiving existence. The women bore numerous children who often did not survive disease nor the poor sanitation of the time. I love their long dark gowns, their stern expressions and their children’s wondrous looks.

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My favourite image follows and it incorporates beautifully laid out garden of vegetables and flowers. I even think the owners of this little miner’s cottage look very pleased with themselves!

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It was a wonderful end to a great weekend. I think how fortunate we are to live in our technology rich times but still do marvel at the ingenuity, the resourcefulness of that time. Incidentally, the Holtermann nugget, pictured below was not the great legacy left by this prospector. Instead, it was the commissioning of photographers Merlin and Baylis from the American and Australian Photographic Company which is our greatest treasure. These photographs chronicle an important time in our history – the discovery of gold and the harsh life this entailed. We are richer for these photographs.

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In addition, I was very lucky to share these with my daughter and her husband – a photographic essayist in his own right.

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Thanks for a great weekend you two!

Sydney’s Inner West

A 7:30am flight and in less than 100 minutes, I am in Sydney with Daughter Number Two for the weekend. Luckily, I packed my pink umbrella as the heavens unleashed a torrent as the plane taxied in. A short drive and we find ourselves in Sydney’s Inner West, only five kilometres from the busy city heart. Today’s humid, wet and slippery conditions did not dampen this precincts eclectic mix of fashion, novelty craft stores, tree lined streets, turn of the century cottages and alternative cafes and restaurants.

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Now here’s a question for you. Do you like buttons? If you are like us we are intrigued by their shapes, colours and applications. You would love this establishment!

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Dusty, Little Dog Number Three sat quietly out of the rain. Well actually here he is at his owners’ photographic, dark room and studio. This is their second studio and was once the Department of Civil Engineering building. It’s a great space for their photographic workshops and studio.

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Returning to Newtown in the evening, we ate dinner at a nifty Japanese restaurant where we ordered our meals on an I-pad!

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Hopefully the rain will ease tomorrow – good night – see you in the morning.

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The Rains Came

After ten weeks of no rain, suddenly the heavens opened up and we received a welcome downpour. Summer here on the mountain can be a mixed blessing. Most of the the time we indulge in sheltered, lush greenery, going about our business of watering, potting, raking or contemplating! However, when the north winds blow, dry our soil and scatter bark and branches about and the risk of grass or bush fires permeate our waking, and sometimes, sleeping thoughts, that’s when we become obsessed by the CFA (Country Fire Authority) website. Their current APP tells us how far the nearest fire is to our property. As a matter of course, we then have the cat boxes and chicken cages at the ready should we need to leave on a total fire ban day. Such is life on the Mount – a balancing act of mind over nature!

Therefore, you can easily gauge our relief when the rains eventually come. No, not like the monsoonal rains in the 1939 film with Myrna Loy and Tyrone Power – The Rains Came nor the other flooding and earth quaking 1955 The Rains of Ranchipur with Lana Turner and Richard Burton, but the soaking, refreshing and cooling rains which hopefully snuff out any lingering or smouldering embers. Both these films, you might know, are versions of Louis Bromfield’s novel set in India. As we live up here surrounded by trees we are the envy of Melburnian’s who often have to swelter while we enjoy a cooler five degrees. Further up the mountain, grand residences such as Darjeeling and Tieve Tara conjure up a romantic past as we experience what is known as a late summer or Indian Summer.

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Summer here is the least colourful of the seasons. There are few flowering plants in our garden right now. The obligatory blue agapanthus, the well-watered hydrangeas, many pots, some begonias, a few geraniums and silent hellebores are amongst the limited colours.

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Then, when least expected, a great spiny arch entangled in the camellias or rhododendrons looks you in the face. You recoil only to be greeted with tiny deep purple orbs. Your hand reaches toward the irresistible cluster.

20130217-220849.jpg The scratches and the curses of the previous encounters with this enemy are forgotten – one of the little joys of summer – blackberries! They live for another day – but only just!

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Meanwhile, we wait and pray for a little more rain, please. I might have to watch these films again! What’s it like in your part of the world right now?

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The House of Rock

Out little blue chook house has finally opened for business. It has take us a little longer than anticipated to lodge the girls (and a couple of boys!) in the new structure. Constantly looking for improvements, Colin decided to put in a ramp to connect the old enclosure to the new blue house.

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Then there was the matter of enticing the chickens up the ramp! A little bit of hands on coaxing was needed. The Plymouth Rock youngsters were the first to find their way in and establish their places. The old Isa browns had to be helped up into the loft but once there were as happy as “chickens in a loft”.
On the other hand, the older Plymouth Rock girls are the most reticent and sceptical of the lot. Colin needed to show them where to perch after finding a nice two metre branch to wedge in place in the house. For the last three nights he had to bring them into the blue house and position them on the perch. On a positive note they are placid and do not peck the little chooks.

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Meanwhile, there was still the problem of how to protect the old wooden floor of the house. We eventually decided to lay a rubberised matting to offer some barrier between the wood and the inevitable droppings. Sarge, our old cat always needs to inspect for quality assurance!

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After some research, I decided to make my own special blend of litter. I mixed equal parts of straw, dried leaf litter and sterilised wood shavings and spread it evenly on the floor. The images speak for themselves.

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Now, after enclosing their run in heavy duty rabbit fencing – we have had a number of fox attacks recently – we can finally breath a sigh of relief that they are all safe, warm and happy. The little blue chicken house has been dubbed the House of Rock – Plymouth Rock, that is.

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Enjoy your chickens, they are wonderfully independent and entertaining pets.

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Australia Day

26th January commemorates the landing of the First Fleet in 1788 in Sydney Cove. Therefore, it is a public holiday for Aussie citizens. We also must take into account indigenous cultures who often do not see this as a day to celebrate,

As we are part of the Buick car club, we take part in the RACV display bringing our 1982 Riviera to the gardens. With milder weather setting in, there were countless classic cars to peruse. Some of my favourites were

20130126-130931.jpg 1929 Pierce Arrow which always reminds me of the Robert Lowell poem, Grandparents.

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20130126-132113.jpg even teddy got a ride!

20130126-132210.jpg there were some quirky exhibits….

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No Australia Day is complete without the local wildlife: possums, dingoes and snakes

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20130126-132511.jpg Government House is open today for those who wish to view its splendour and for me that was the magnificent magnolia!

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No doubt we live in a vast land of many contrasts and today’s outing was no different. What did you do for Australia Day or how do you commemorate your national day?

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Liebster Award Nominations

Although I have only been blogging since September, I have found it one of the most rewarding outlets for my writing and thoughts on gardening, travel, pets and the every day happenings of life. So it was with much amazement that our blog has been nominated for the Liebster Award. As a newcomer, I have been buoyed by the feedback and kind words of my regular followers and visitors. My nominator was Nitty Gritty Dirt Man, whose blog I follow from the other side of the world, and one which never ceases to inspire with its heartfelt, entertaining and socially aware commentary – danke schoen to you Kevin!

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A Very Hot Day

The weather bureau has forecast a day of extreme fire danger today. The thermometer is due to rise to around 40 degrees C. Such are our summers on the mountain and indeed in the southern quarter of Australia. The risk of a bush fire is a real possibility in the months of January and February. We have been very fortunate the last few summers with lots of rain both prior and during the summer months. Not so this season. No rain has fallen for nearly four weeks and this is cause for concern. Having spent many days watering to give the garden a head start, the heat is now upon us.

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As we are due to go away for our anniversary all of next week and with more hot weather to come we have made a decision to transport the baby chickies and our adult girls to a safer location just in case, about thirty kilometres to caring relatives.

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This will have a twofold purpose. Firstly, it will allow the young Plymouth Rocks to assimilate with their older sisters. I actually saw them “kissing” through the wire cage the other day.Secondly, it will relieve my neighbours from their very generous offers to feed them each day in our absence. Given the extremes in weather at the moment, I will be comforted that at least I will not need to worry about the chickens while we are away.

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The sun room has now been dubbed the hot house inferno!

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Much to their disgust, the brown chooks now have to share their lodgings with Psycho, the rooster.

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Thankfully, we had this nifty chicken carrier to make the job easier. All we have to do now is pray for rain and relieve us of this scorching heat.