Christmas Chicks

Sorry if the title misleads you, but after ten years of having chickens here on the Mount, we have never had success in raising chicks. Even now that we have Long John Silver, our Plymouth Rock Rooster, so aptly named by Colin for his long legs and silver plumage, we have had no success. Maybe it’s the cold, or the fact that our hens don’t get broody for some reason. I don’t know why, really. Long John Silver seems to be doing his best, but the girls are not clucky.

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On the other hand, my mother-in-law, Esther and sister-in-law, Maree have always inspired me to tackle the impossible. They do just this – not once in a while, but every day. From sewing, upholstering, inventing and solving intricate problems, they have taught me to give it a go. My mother-in-law has raised many chicks, chickens, peacocks, parrots, ducks and pheasants and nursed and nurtured them in the cold and in the heat. So when she gave four hens to Maree a couple of months ago, little did we know that new life would hatch so quickly. Just today, her broody chicken, Naomi, patiently sitting on four “borrowed” eggs and hand fed by Maree during the incubation delivered her brood. They are the Christmas Chicks – the miracle of new life; the wonderful parallel to the waiting and watching which we commemorate at His birth.

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The Christmas story is one of simplicity and reverence – for life, for the wonder of discovery, the hope of the new and the love shown to God’s creatures, great and small.

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May we not dismiss the fragility of life, the deep care we show for each other, echoed in the most basic of all stories – that of a simple birth witnessed by those simple creatures long, long ago. Merry Christmas – let’s take a moment to appreciate what we all have.

Go to the back of the block, sit down and stop

As any one with a large (or even not so large) garden knows, there are always jobs to do: extensive seasonal tasks like pruning and planting as well as weekend jobs such as raking and weeding. With so many tasks we are often left with little time and energy to simply sit and contemplate our efforts let alone the stillness and solace a garden can bring. So today, after we finished the mowing (well, Colin actually did that), the raking and the wheelbarrowing I have decided to spend some time at the back of the block, simply sitting and contemplating.

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Though quite rugged and unruly, the back of our block extends to the next street via a series of steps. Flanked by rhododendrons, emerging, acanthus it winds its way down and up the hillside.

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It can be a wild old place, this bush land but the newly mowed pathways help.

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These little moments of quiet in our frantic world seem few and far between. The habits of keeping busy, keeping time and keeping track suffuse those little moments when we allow ourselves to stop, sit and listen to the rustling of the leaves in the breeze, chirping of the birds and the buzz of the insects. That’s what I’m doing now sitting on these old chairs. Join me for the outlook.

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Here on the Mount it can be up to seven degrees cooler than in the city. The cool weather and the altitude can also impede our time outside. In my first few years here I used to garden in mid July wearing two pairs of gloves and two pairs of socks – on my feet, that is! By the time Spring came along I could sit back and enjoy my hard work. Some of those rewards are still evident in this cold climate garden.

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The first iris of the season

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The clematis searching for sun
Sitting here in the sun, I am reminded that the garden offers us such peace if we allow it to show us how to slow down and discover what it wants to tell us. How does the garden speak to you?

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Share your gardening comments with me, I’d like to read your thoughts and suggestions for utilising both tasks and down time in the garden.

Garden Gratitude Theme: Pink

No, not the popular female singer but the crimson colours of the camelias! On this unusually sunny morning and the walkways strewn with pink petals, it never ceases to amaze me how these trees push forth their abundance.

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In our decade here on the Mount, we have experienced drought conditions, heat waves, strong, hot northern winds and torrential rains. As a consequence, we have lost our fair share of important trees – a weeping cherry, the year we went to Italy; an established magnolia, the year of the drought and along with it, a magnificent pale pink rhododendron, odorata. With these significant losses we have tried to keep our mainstay trees alive during summer. Perhaps our lovely neighbours’ example of abundant watering makes sense! Our rewards are many.

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If you look carefully you can make out our rooster’s tail feathers in the background!

My gratitude really must go to the previous own of this property. She was a remarkable woman. Raising her four children alone and working as a nurse by night, she had a grand vision of the colours in a garden. Painstakingly planting camelias, rhododendrons, azaleas, lilacs and magnolias she created an English garden beneath a canopy of gum trees. In this season, however, it is the camelia which takes pride of place.

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Some of them only briefly make their appearance.

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Others linger to create carpets of petals.

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At least one of our weeping cherries survived!

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With this vision of abundance we marvel at nature itself: its glory, its veritable magnificence which reaffirms our own existence.

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Are you “pinked” out yet?

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The English poets knew their landscapes. William Wordsworth wrote of paths and country meanderings. John Milton wrote about “those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world”. For me these are all found in a garden.

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One last flourish before I go (pardon the pun) – happy gardening, contemplating and appreciating!

Garden Gratitude Theme: Yellow

This week end, while I endeavoured to complete my weekly rituals of checking the chicken house, scrubbing their water trough, replenishing the water and reorganising the straw, I sat for a moment to give a little thanks. I say ritual because these repeated acts, like a garden itself, gives me a sense of order and gratitude. Once completed, I can move on to the other areas of my day in need of attention.

This week end, though, I stopped for a lengthier time to notice how many colour combinations had appeared in the garden. There were too many to commit to one post, so I am compiling them into themes. Today’s snapshot theme is yellow – all that is pale, primrose, amber, golden or creamy has a special place in this post. So, let the show begin….

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The obligatory golden daffodils…

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Creamy Camelias

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A blazing bush….

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The first tulip to bloom – you guessed it – it’s canary yellow!

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Add a touch of “jonquil” to the mix

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And an emerging magnolia

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Let’s finish off with a compilation

With all its simplicity in a complicated world, let us give thanks for gardens in all seasons – they are the rituals that soothe our souls.

How does your garden grow – is it a metaphor for how you live?

Travelling North

I have begun to lose count of the many flights we have taken from Melbourne to Brisbane over the years. Waiting at the airport always reminds me of that John Williamson, play made into the film, Travelling North.The protagonists leave their families in cold Melbourne for a new life of warmth and laughter in Far North Queensland or more colloquially known as FNQ!

For us it’s the other way round. Yes, we take the opportunity to escape the winter cold but also use it to spend time with my ageing mother, visit Daughter Number One and One-And-Only-Grand-Daughter.

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We departed in 5 degrees C and arrived at a comfortable 13 degrees. Long, light sleeves are still required. We make it a point to walk in and around the steep slopes.

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Robert McFarlane in his recent tome, The Old Ways describes walking as “enabling sight and thought rather than encouraging retreat and escape”. Even though as a child I did indeed escape mundaneness by walking up and down these slopes, the reflective time enabled me to have a sense of disciple and endurance.

Walking, for both Colin and I, is a time to talk, reflect, plan, laugh and reminisce, often on the lives of our grandparents and parents who came to this country, post war. One of our favourite walks when we come here is to take a nostalgic visit to one of the many vintage stores. He has his favourites and I head straight for one which is named after a film starring Maggie Smith and based on a humerous novel by Graham Greene.

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Steering away from his usual religious allusion, Travels With My Aunt tells of a lonely, serious banker, who loves dahlias, meeting his long lost Aunt Augusta at his own mother’s funeral. They embark together on a series of adventures, journeying to exotic places as well as time on the Orient Express. During the course of the novel, these two diverse characters form a bond. There is a twist in the story, which you might guess! They reclaim each other through their travels, talks and adventures.

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What is it about the simple foot-fall that places many things in perspective?

The little vintage store which I visited (I do hope the proprietor does not mind me taking a quick snap of some of the wares) is perfect in its nostalgic nod to the past.

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Overall, what are we to learn from returning to our places of origin? I alluded to this in a previous post Streets of your town. For me it places things in perspective. We have four more days here so stay tuned….

The Lively Letter

I have to admit that I have struggled to begin writing my next post. An idea has been with me throughout the month of June. However, as all high school teachers know, June is the busiest and hardest month. With many exams to write, supervise and then mark, it can be a gruelling few weeks. Assessment needs to be finalised and often chased up together with the obligatory feedback. Reports then must be written or rather electronically generated, checked, corrected and finally posted.

Yes, I am making excuses! Writing for me, like cooking, is a form of relaxation. So why didn’t I make the time to develop this brewing idea? I guess it goes back to the difficulty that is writing, today.

Even ten years ago, the art of penmanship was common. More recently a dear friend took the time to write us a thank you note.

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It is still on the fridge nearly a year later. When I look at her letter, I see her familiar cursive script which I recognised immediately. The private, personal and intimate nature of the letter is less evident today.

Even our school reports, as I alluded to earlier, are merely signed, and sent on their way to letter boxes or worse still, Post Office boxes. So here then is the segue to my idea for this post – yes, the operative word then is “post”! This blog requires me to post my latest instalment but not to a letterbox. The virtual letterbox that is the World Wide Web is our new mail centre.

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Last month as we walked the Streets of Your Town, I became quite interested in the variety of letter boxes which adorned the houses and flats of the old town. I took some photos, hoping that the residents were not too bemused by this weird woman zooming in on their private mail boxes.

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City letter boxes are very different to country letterboxes. In the country these are often large, multi coloured, homemade edifices ready to receive large items, newspapers and even milk! They must be wind, rain and highway resistant. They can be constructed of recycled tyres, tin, wood, plastic, Ned Kelly icons and even animal shapes – I’ll show you some in a future post – there’s that word again!

However, the city letterbox must be steel. It must withstand the prying eyes of others. It should be lockable with the house number boldly exhibited! Many of the ones I photographed I remembered as a child walking up the hills to primary school and back.

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This door swung open as I took this shot – much to the bemusement of the young tenant!

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In our technology rich world, where our words can speed across continents in seconds; convey our fears, hopes and pleasures faster than a speeding bullet, who really needs a letterbox? I can’t help but think of the spectrum of letters which must have been received over time, by the variety of occupants of each of these residences. Letters announcing births, deaths, achievements, marriages, pen pal adventures and invitations. Then there were the stamp collectors eagerly awaiting that letter from aunty Mabel in Manchester or Zia Sofia in Sicily just to rip off that stamp!

Moreover, the hand written letter seems to be a thing of the past. But it can be resurrected. Just scan some of the interesting stationery boutiques around today. Surely, paper products are not on the decline.

If the letter is to be alive and aerodynamic it needs the letter box as its corporeal friend.

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I leave you with the thoughts of the American poet, W.H. Auden

And none will hear the postman’s knock
Without a quickening of the heart
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten.

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Do you miss running down to the letter box to check for that much awaited letter and not that bill?

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?

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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