Rodents, Elevenses and Dates.

Now that Winter is upon us, life in the country takes on a new direction. Last Winter, I finally, after 15 years, got a wood heater installed. Oh! Happy days!!

This year I have really enjoyed lighting the fire, and keeping warm. I sit in my cozy chair, blanket over my legs, knitting all sorts of things for my ‘at the farm gate’ stall (SWEETFIELDS), looking like the epitome of a Grandmother.

While sitting there the other day, a movement caught my eye!

mouse

Cheeky!

OMG! A MOUSE!

It scampered daringly around the room, stopping every now and again and looked at me, as if to say – what are you doing in MY house!

Yep – time for RODENT control!!

Out came my trusty traps, and I smeared them with peanut butter. BAM! 7 little blighters in one night!!

Down in the chickenfeed shed, rats are living a life of luxury. It became a necessity to buy galvanized metal bins to store the feed – rats ate through my plastic rubbish bins and enjoyed their fill of grain mix! I tried various mixes of flour/bicarb soda/plaster of Paris etc as temptations , but… no luck. Maybe tomorrow I might try the water trap. I’ll let you know if I have success.

In the meantime, I have decided they can live in the shed – as long as they don’t come into my house.

I came into my house – and drowned my sorrows in ELEVENSES that’s the Australian for ‘morning tea’.

Strong coffee and cake – Aaah  – the bliss!

Here’s the basic muffin recipe I use:-_muffins

Basic Muffin Mix:

2 ½ cup wholemeal/SR Flour mix.                                          1 ¼ cup milk

90g melted butter                                                                         ¾ cup caster sugar

1 beaten egg

Additions:

DATES

dried apricots

mashed banana

grated apple

blueberries

sultanas/etc

coffee powder

choc chips – etc

  1. Pcupcakere-heat oven to 180-200°C.
  2. Prepare greased muffin tins.
  3. Mix flour and sugar.
  4. Add milk, egg and melted butter and mix together until just combined.
  5. Mix flour/sugar and milk/egg/butter mixtures together with any of the options you
  6. Spoon into muffin tin or patty papers until ¾ full.
  7. Cook for approx 25 mins. Put on rack and cool. Ice if desired.

Fortified with cake (DATES this week) I decided to move on with my day.

I turned to doing the next thing on my list. A trip into Taree to get some new chickens.

I picked up ten more hens to add ‘new blood’ for the Spring incubations. Hopefully I will get more hens than roosters this time. Last year, out of two dozen eggs, I got two that didn’t hatch, twelve roosters (five of which are now in the freezer, three more to cull, three that the fox got and the lucky one that is left is ‘The Stud’) and ten hens.

I settled them in their new home, stood and watched their antics for a while, then reluctantly went back inside.

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Enjoying a dustbath

Yay! That job’s done – now what’s next?

That will have to wait for next month! Tell you then.

 

 

 

Read Everything and Daydream

Now for something completely different.

I belong to two writing groups – one on the Internet – (The Iron Writer) and one at my local library – (Scribblers).

Both groups challenge me and their members to write a short story of 500 words maximum and include the prompt word/s. Scribblers give me one word – here is one of my stories written with the word ‘red’ as the prompt (my blog ALWAYS uses the letters R.E.D. as the starting point.

Enjoy this story:-

Red Feathers.

818571-fireshot_capture__14____resizr___easy_onred feather

Helen surveyed the scene in front of her. The laughter and chatter rose above her like a cloud. The crowd was in constant movement, and yet she felt isolated – beyond them, like she was in a bubble of dead calm. Finding John in this swirling monster of bodies was going to be impossible.

She was nervous, and just a little afraid. She stood with the wall of a building behind her, giving herself a little security. The night was disguised with sparkles, sequins and streetlights, but she knew that in the shadows there was menace.

A couple twirled towards her, with their loud laughter assailing her ears. She didn’t move, couldn’t move, and they bumped into her, danced on and never even noticed, their eyes only for one another.

Where was John? He had promised to look after her.

Helen sniffed as tears ran down her cheek and tickled her nose. She tried to see, to search the crowd, but her height was against her. Never had she been so overwhelmed with people. Coming to the city at festival time was supposed to be exciting, but she was yet to feel that rush of exhilaration.

She was swept along the pavement with a group of celebrating youngsters, and she was pushed along, until the wall behind her ended. She tumbled into a side street, and the darkness became darker by comparison to the glow coming from the street. She felt cold and bewildered.

A hand clamped over her mouth and she felt a hard object press against her ribcage. She blinked her eyes as they watered and blurred the scene. She tried to scream, but the hand was too tight across her mouth.

An accented voice whispered in her ear.

“Don’t struggle, love! I only want your finery!”

Helen was terrified. She wanted John to appear and save her. What was she to do?

She felt the headdress ripped from her head, and she was pushed back towards the street.

She stumbled, clasping at her head, feeling like her hair had been pulled out by the roots. The lights of the street dazzled her, and she flung her arms around the first person she saw. He twirled her along, laughing with a mixture of intoxication from drink, the intimacy and the pure joy of the moment. She whirled away from him.

And then a hand touched her shoulder. She screamed.

“Wow! Darling,” John said. “ Are you alright? Where’s your headdress?’

She collapsed against him with relief.

“Thank God, you’ve found me. Where were you?”

He smiled. “I wasn’t far away. I just got us a drink.” And he handed her the long, decorated glass of a cocktail she had never seen before.

“I don’t think I will ever come to the Mardi Gras in Rio ever again.” She sighed. “ I was so scared. Fancy being robbed of my headdress. It was only made from the feathers of our red chook at home!”

Part of my flock of chickens

Personality plus

Next time, I’ll post up a story that I did for The Iron Writer.

I hope you enjoyed this – please leave a comment.

R.oses, D.iscover and E.xplore

Another month has passed and I am starting on my vaccinations!

Eww!! I hate injections.

needle

Needles! Aaaargh!

There seems no way I can get out of it. I went to the doctor’s for my annual check-up and everything is in order with my health – thank goodness. The doctor was most helpful, giving me prescriptions for all types of pills to take with me.  It is always wise to be prepared, I feel  – having been hospitalized while in China, it is impossible to talk to a doctor in a foreign country – with the doctor not understand English terms such as diarrhea, nausea, allergic reaction, and antibiotics, while I could not explain my symptoms in Chinese – it was extremely difficult, especially as I was so unwell at the time.

So…

  1. Obstacle number six pertained to money. I have already saved enough for my ticket. Yay!
  2. The ‘pop up’ problems haven’t surfaced yet. I’m trying to foresee anything that may happen and cover it now. I’ve checked out the Internet capabilities and can pay my bills on line while I’m away. My next objective is to buy a new suitcase – the one I already have is about to fall apart!
  3. How does one get over the fear of heights? I know I will be all right in the airplane as I have previously travelled like that. My other concern was the terrain around the orphanage where I will be staying – which brings me to the next question:-
  4. Where exactly am I going? I have, since my last blog, been to Sydney and seen the lady who owns the school and orphanage where I will stay. The area is FLAT!! – no problem here with heights! It is in the country, in a small but poor village. That was a plus for me, too. And finally, it was 80 kms south of Siem Reap on the shores of the large lake in the middle of Cambodia. All wonderful news.map

Now  … health.

  1. Looking up the hazards in Cambodia, concerning health, nearly had me fleeing in the opposite direction. Suggestions were – get vaccinated against Cholera, Typhoid, Rabies, Malaria and Hepatitis. I already knew Dengue Fever was something I didn’t want, either. My mind has been put at rest. I will have tablets for Malaria and typhoid. Cholera and Dengue fever is not rampant. I am already immune to Hep A so don’t need that. The doctor has organized everything I need to ward off all and every contingency. The owner of the place tells me I will be sleeping under mosquito netting, and will have only bottled water.

The obstacles are beginning to melt away.

Now I can look forward to smelling the roses, instead of spending my time perpetually worried about any and every disease known to mankind. I am excited – I will spend my time discovering the wonderful people and culture, and in my free time I will explore the beauties of the country and see the wonders around me.

What more could I want?roses

R.ight, E.nough and D.o

(or 10 problems to overcome before I travel)

RIGHT! Let’s get a few things straight.

Getting ready to travel to another country and a new adventure isn’t all peaches and cream. I sat down and made a list of the things I had to DO.

Obstacle 1 – organize my passport.

Obstacle 2 – find someone to look after my home and animals while I’m away.

Obstacle 3 – tell my family and wait for the negative reaction.

Obstacle 4 – get to the doctor’s and have a check-up and get vaccinations.

Obstacle 5 – go to Sydney (shudder – I don’t like the city) and meet my potential ‘boss’ in Cambodia.

Obstacle 6 – have enough money to buy my airline ticket.

Obstacle 7 – and any other problems that may pop up before I leave.

Obstacle 8 – get over my fear of heights.

heights

Shudder then faint. Not my idea of bliss!

Obstacle 9 – find out where I would be going, and how to get there.

Obstacle 10 – work out how to be careful and not get Dengue fever (I’ve had it before) and Malaria while I’m away.

I looked at that list and sighed. That was certainly ENOUGH  difficulties to surmount for the moment.

Where to start?

Okay – let’s start at the very beginning.  (Gosh – that sounds like the start of a song – Sound of Music and Julie Andrews starts scrolling in my mind – better put on a CD of music) … Whoops  … distraction number one – better get back on track.

Obstacle 1 :-  Check. New passport done, dusted and delivered.

Obstacle 2 :-  Check. A friend already lined up to stay in my house and look after the animals.

Obstacle 3 :-  Check. Couldn’t believe there was a resounding “Good for you, Mum. That’s awesome!”                          from my family.

Obstacle 4 :- Well – that’s coming up on the last week of April – so I’ll let you know next blog posting.

Obstacle 5 :- Check. I’ve been to Sydney and met the owner of the orphanage. It wasn’t as bad as I thought!

Now I’m more excited than ever with the prospect of helping in the orpanage and meeting the all the people over there. So – we are now up to Obstacle 6 – I’ll keep you updated next month on the progress I’m making.

See you then.

R.oosters, E.yes and D.rinks

I have mentioned, if you’ve read the previous blogs posts, that in 2006 I went to live in China and taught English.

China3 (33)

Only the students at the front paid attention – the rest slept!!

It was an exceptional experience and one I have re-lived many times in my memories. From the long hours to the huge classes of ninety or more in a classroom. From frozen rubbish, including dead dogs, on the road-side, to pigs tethered next to that same road. From roosters in cages at the back of restaurants awaiting the chef’s pleasure, to donkey nappies collecting manure for the farmers’ gardens. There were many moments of awe and wonderment. I could go on and on.

Suddenly, after a problem with my eyes, it suddenly hit me – the China adventure was TEN years ago!

WHAT???

Where did the time go?

If I don’t get my act together now, I will find I will be old – and maybe my health will deteriorate.  I don’t want to wake up one day and say – I wish I had travelled more!

So…

With a heart beating furiously, scared and excited all at once, I have decided I’m going overseas. This time I’ll volunteer at an orphanage in Cambodia.

Charge your glasses and cheer me on. Upend that glass and down your drinks. As I organize my next trip, I’ll post a little more often and let you know my experiences!

R.esearch, E.ntertain and D.riving

 

Over the last ten or so years, I have been attempting to be a writer. I say attempting, because, although I have written many books, selling them is another story.  When I first started I did a lot of research and tried to find literary agents, publishers and everything in between.

I discovered some almighty problems :-

1) Publishers didn’t want you unless you had an agent, or were already well known.

2) Agents didn’t want you, unless you had a book already published and were also well known.

3) All other avenues  rubbed their hands together with glee and were standing ready to fleece you of hundreds of dollars to print your book.

To top this all off, ebooks were starting to make a mark, and print books were soon considered passé.

By this time, I had 14 books ready for publication (there have been more since). I couldn’t even entertain the thought of the vanity publishing world – I just didn’t have the money.

So what to do?

I sat down and learnt.

I learnt how to publish ebooks (My Amazon page is viewAuthor.at/MaureenLarter – please feel free to have a look.)  I learnt how to design a book. I learnt how to print a book (I spent $1500 on a you-beaut printer) and I found a local book binder.

I was in business!

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Some of the booklets I organized – these are my gardening guides.

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I have now got 7 picture books for children up and running.

The thing that was driving me more than anything else, was the satisfaction of being able to say – ‘I did it myself’ – and really mean exactly that.

Now I have to learn how to market – damn – another uphill battle.

What I need is several cups of coffee and something decadent to eat!

Something like this:-

Chocolate Chip Cookies:

90g (3oz) margarine or butter

90g (3 tablespoons) castor sugar

90g (1/2 a cup) brown sugar

1 egg

185g (1 and 1/2 cup) Self Raising Flour

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

90g (3ozs) chocolate chips (I always use more)

60g (1/2 cup) crushed nuts or peanut butter (optional)

1/2 teaspoon bicarb of soda

Cream

Mix all the ingredients together. Put walnut-size balls of mixture onto greased trays (leave room to spread). Bake in a moderately hot oven (375°F or 200°C) for about 10 minutes. Leave to cool slightly on tray (they are fragile when they are hot). Makes about 30 to 36 biscuits.

Now to add the decadence!

Whip cream until it is stiff – sprinkling a little icing sugar (about a tablespoon worth but you can add or subtract to your taste) and/or some chocolate powder in as you whip. Sandwich two biscuits together with the cream.

Swoon as you eat!

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Not a picture of the Cookies. Drats!  I ate them before I remembered to take a picture. This is my grandson’s birthday cake decadence instead!

 

 

 

R.ules, E.arn, D.igging.

It doesn’t quite seem possible that it was ten years ago this month that I was looking forward, with some trepidation I might add, to a trip to China. This wasn’t just any trip. I had secured a job teaching English in a far north city called Qiqihar. I was oscillating between sheer excitement, huge worry and definite doubt.

Why?

China3 (84)

CHINA! What an adventure!

Well, my excitement was due to the real possibility that this was an adventure I’d been talking about since first visiting China in 1989 (and that has a story all of its own that I must recount one day – it was the year of the Tienanmen Square incident – and I was there). The worry was concerning the propaganda of the media – I worried that the people would be unhappy, there would be starving hordes and that the government had an iron fist. I imagined being hounded by police – I was worried that I would break rules and regulations of a communist country and then be punished forthwith.

The doubt? Well, until the moment I set foot on Chinese land, I was seriously considering that it was all a scam.

Of course, I was wrong on all counts. In fact I now think that our western society is much more regulated than Asia. Here, there are so many rules that it is far easier to be on the wrong side of the law!

My time in China, where I taught for long hours to large classes, wasn’t all fun, but I earned good money (by Chinese standards) and I loved every moment of my time there. I learned so much from living in another culture that it was worth every hour I worked, and even though I enjoyed coming home, I would go back in a second if I was able.

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Only the students at the front paid attention – the rest slept!!

Now that I am home, the property I live on has a hold on me that is difficult to break. I try to emulate some of the practices I saw in China. I milk a cow, I have chickens for eggs and I grow my own vegetables.

I watched the Chinese gardeners, and they work extremely hard, with many hands (the one child policy was relaxed for rural farmers so they had more children to help) and they use human fertilizer that has been composted in shallow squat toilets. (don’t feel too sick! – that’s just a way to use their wastes).

Now, in Australia, this is considered a health hazard, and as I was by myself, I had to find an easier way than all the digging I thought had to do to make a viable vegetable garden. I obviously wanted another viable fertilizer, too.

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The gardens are in a constant state of change (this is a good day – not too many weeds!)

A no-dig garden was the answer!

Now I use fertilizer from my cow and hens. I compost their straw bedding. All of this is added to my garden patch, after first laying down a thick pad of newspapers which I collect from our local rural newspaper office.

My garden takes inspiration from the China I lived in, worked at and loved.

One of these days I will add a new book to my author’s page (viewAuthor.at/MaureenLarter) about my experiences in China. I have my title already – it will be called ‘Board Beds and Sawdust Pillows’.

R.ed, E.vents and D.elays

Well here we are in what I call ‘the silly season’. Suddenly we feel the need to spend money like water, stress out about the family and put on a feed so huge it could feed the world’s starving hordes.

I have always thought this celebration, in the name of ‘Christianity’, to be something of a fraud. At least all the big retailers make a fortune.

Surely, such an event should be more in keeping with the teachings of the religion. I will probably cause an outcry with this post, but, in my opinion, the jolly chubby man in a red suit really isn’t part of the deal?? In years past, handmade gifts, (a new scarf, or a knitted soft toy)

Etty Doll

The knitted doll, with removable clothes, I sell for $45.

and only one each, were the order of the day. The Christmas stocking held little treats – mostly things like an apple, or a few mixed nuts. They were expensive so not a normal household item. Today we cram the children (and ourselves) with a lot of sugary confections and gimmicky toys.

I don’t know if other religions create such a commotion at this time of the year – but I’d like to delay it and it could even be cancelled, as far as I’m concerned.

Let’s get back to the simple things in life – a chance to bring friends and family together in joy and happiness. A chance to give freely of our love and abundance. If you give a gift, try to be aware of the person you are giving to. Books and do-it-yourself models help create an imagination and, if you’ve made it yourself, adds to the love embedded in the gift.

Think of all the others in the world who haven’t got a family, a home or food to eat. Get together and think of ways you and yours could help. Think about the ravages we have caused in the environment of our beautiful planet, and try to be more gentle, caring and aware of everything around us.

Life is short, in the scheme of things, and any little thing we can do to make a better world should be in our thoughts, at this time of year, and, in fact, all year.

Having had my little soapbox rant, enjoy your family and be thankful for all you have (not worried about what you don’t have).

Happy and safe season to you all.

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ENJOY THE BEAUTY AROUND YOU

 

 

R.iches E.nergy and D.ough.

I’ve just finished writing a blog article for my local Killabakh site. ( http://killabakh.wix.com/day-in-the-country ) This is the beautiful area in New South Wales, Australia where I live.

What a view as I sit at my computer!

What a view as I sit at my computer!

When I read it back, I was struck by how many riches I have in my life. I have been living on my property for 15 years now, and it has grown from a patch of grass with a small house on it, to a place I love and will never wish to leave.

Over the fifteen years, as I mentioned in the article, I have had my fair share of grief as well as joy, and, in my humble opinion, I think the good has outweighed the bad.

I have now got my own personal land of milk and honey, with me milking my cow Nellie, and extracting honey from a couple of hives that are situated up on the ridge of my land. I grow my own vegetables (not always successfully – the wild-life often enjoy it) and have a significant stand of fruit trees.

I have learnt over the years to preserve my harvest and make all sorts of enjoyable edibles, from home-made ginger beer to apple cider vinegar for its health giving benefits. (see how further down this article – it really is simple, and doesn’t cost the earth!). I also found a wonderful old book (‘The Garden Way Bread Book’ by Ellen Foscue Johnson) which saw me making wholesome bread, chapatis and Naan as well as buns and sour dough. (see the recipe for chapatis below.) Many years ago, my mother kept a jar of ‘starter’ on the windowsill. When I asked her what it was, she told me it was a yeast made from potatoes.  After years of looking for a potato yeast, I’ve finally found it in Ellen’s book. Thank you, Ellen! Now I make my own. (see how below).

This is my sour dough starter. It has been kept in the fridge for a couple of weeks, but is still usable.

This is my sour dough starter. It has been kept in the fridge for a couple of weeks, but is still usable.

I’ve discovered the way to eat that has slimmed down my body, and given me energy in abundance. (Thank you Dr. Michael Mosely for your inspirational research into Intermittent fasting) ( http://thefastdiet.co.uk/ )

And best of all, now that I am single, I’ve learnt to be alone and happy with the way I am. My children, son Michael and daughter Tammy have gifted me with grandchildren. Each family is stable and well.

What more could I ask for?

How to make raw potato yeast starter.

1 cup warm water, 1 teaspoon honey or raw sugar, 1 cup plain flour, 1 cup of grated raw peeled potato.

Combine all the ingredients in a glass or ceramic bowl. Cover with a cloth and leave in a warm spot for 2, 3 or more days. When it is foamy and smells a little like beer, pour into a large jar and keep in the refrigerator.  Replace flour, sugar and warm water as it is used in your bread making. You may need to make a fresh batch every few weeks.

How to make Ginger beer. (From ‘Hard Times Hand Book’ compiled by Keith and Irene Smith)

First create your ‘plant’ by mixing 1 teaspoon of dried yeast with 1 level teaspoon of sugar. Add a cup of warm water and a teaspoon of ground ginger. Cover with some muslin and leave on the bench. Each day, for the next eight (8) days add 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of ground ginger.

The next step (after 9 days) :- Put 1 kg of sugar and 1 litre of water in a large saucepan and heat until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Add a further 6 litres of water and 1/2 cup of lemon juice. Strain the plant through two thicknesses of muslin and add the liquid from it to the sugar/water mix in your saucepan. Stir well.

Keeping the mixture stirred between bottles, fill 8 or so empty bottles, Seal each bottle. Leave for 5 days, then refrigerate to stop the bubbling process until you are ready to drink! Meanwhile, divide the dregs in the muslin from the plant into two lots. Add 1 teaspoon of ginger, 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 cup of water to each half. Repeat the procedure as stated above to ‘feed’ the plant, adding to them each day. You now have a ‘plant’ to start your next batch of ginger beer, and one to gift to a friend.

How to make Apple Cider Vinegar.

Chop 5 or 6 large apples (or scraps from about 10 apples) including skin, cores and pips. Put into a large, wide-mouthed

Apple Cider Vinegar ready to strain into bottles to put in my pantry.

Apple Cider Vinegar ready to strain into bottles to put in my pantry.

jar. The apples should 1/2 fill the jar. Fill the jar almost to the top with water, and stir in 1 cup of raw sugar or honey until it is fully dissolved. Cover the top with muslin and secure with a rubber band. Leave on the counter for about a week, gently stirring each day. When the apple no longer floats, or the mixture smells of alcohol, strain out the apples, placing the clean liquid into a clean jar. Cover with a fresh piece of muslin and secure with a rubber band.Now leave again for approximately 3 to 4 weeks. (Don’t be concerned – a ‘mother culture’ will form on the top – this is perfectly normal). Taste to see if it is vinegary enough for you then strain once more into clean jars for use at a later date. (store out of direct sunlight).

How to make chapatis.

Mix together 2 cups white flour, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 cups of either wholemeal, rice or barley flour. Add 3 tablespoons of melted butter and mix gently with a fork. Mix in enough warm water to make a soft but not wet dough ( about 1 and 1/2 cups). Place dough on a floured board and knead for about 10 minutes.Dust the ball of dough with some more flour and wrap it in some waxed paper or a damp cloth. Chill for about 1 hour.

Cut dough into 12 equal pieces then flatten on a floured board into a thin circle.

Preheat your frying pan and lightly grease. Cook each round separately tossing it over after 2 or 3 minutes to cook the other side. Make sure it is still soft and pliable. Serve brushed with melted butter while still warm. Re-grease your pan between each chapati.

If you are interested in self-sufficiency and need help with starting a garden, I have compiled some simple Garden Guides which may be helpful. They can be found as ebooks on my author page (viewAuthor.at/MaureenLarter), or I have printed copies that I can send you. Please feel free to contact me if you are interested at maureenlarter@gmail.com

My Garden Guides

Each booklet covers a season. They retail at $8 each (Australian). Postage is extra