Fire and a long week with the kids

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Oh so sweet pineapple chunks in juice and then pineapple juice beside it (the lighting makes it look white but it’s just the solids in the juice settling slowly slowly)

It’s been a long week. In fact it’s been a very long week and not one I would be keen to repeat any time soon. In fact pretty much the only highlights have been the delivery from a friend of some pineapples which I bottled and another blog post from 23thorns that had me chortling away like crazy as I tried to read it out loud to my husband. If you don’t already follow his blog I highly recommend it. Not only educational but extremely well written, witty and as funny as hell!

Last weeks white nectarines and apricots. Golden goodness that the kids have enjoyed on their porridge and with custard.

Last weeks white nectarines and apricots. Golden goodness that the kids have enjoyed on their porridge and with custard.

Anyway, my week has been full of misbehaving and children who obviously need their ears cleaned out or switched on( either way), mishaps, things not going to plan and mercurial weather.

Today has been a hot one. The temperatures this week have ranged from 6 degree lows through to high 30’s which makes it challenging to do simple things like put the kids to bed (summer pajamas or winter ones) and it plays with the mind when it’s freezing cold and you want to light the fire but it’s going to be mid 20’s the next day (we DID light it which just seems so very wrong in mid January). But today is also a day of total fire ban across the state where the fire risks are severe for most and extreme for the Wimmera and North Central which is pretty normal for January here. What is more concerning is the weather itself. Hot weather alone does not a high fire danger day make. But the wind today has been pretty awful, gusting back and forwards, blowing often from the north(ish), and it’s strong! The roof of the kids cubby which hadn’t yet been fastened down, has been blown off which is no mean feat given that it’s made from corrugated iron and heavy timber. I can’t lift the roofing pieces by myself. The trees were bending rather alarmingly back and forwards then side to side and anything not fastened down is probably half way to Geelong now. A pretty bad day for our local CFA’s I am guessing (my husband said they had sooty faces when he spoke to them about getting our fire hydrant refilled). I am just profoundly grateful we didn’t have extreme temperatures today. I have a feeling that had the temps been in the low to mid 40’s we would have had a catastrophic fire danger day. A Code Red day. They’re scary enough when one is living in inner suburbia… But now that we are country dwellers… 😦

It’s one of the bad things about not having the television connected. We’ve made the decision to not install it at this stage and so far, to be honest, we’ve not really missed it. We both feel that most of the news is doom and gloom, shared only to grab ratings but every now and then I realise there are things we are missing. I mean I really don’t care who plays Christian Grey in the 50 shades movies, nor what the Kardashians are up to or even particularly who wins the tennis, football, cricket etc. It just doesn’t interest me (unless it’s World Cup football in which case both Martin and I will be glued to every England and Australia game) BUT keeping up on things like severe weather warnings is becoming more and more necessary.

I read a couple of blogs today about climate change, increased average temperatures, hottest decades, hottest days on record and it frightens me. I don’t claim to be an expert on climate change, not by a long shot BUT the science is showing warming trends, temperatures on average increasing and the weather conditions are most definitely responding with greater severity. Keeping tabs on weather conditions, both locally and further abroad is starting to make even greater sense to me. I know the UK has had another very wet winter with flooding which we keep an eye on, or an ear actually as my mother-in-law always keeps us up to date with what the weather is doing over there (Martin’s brother and sister-in-law also live there as well as other relatives) and my mother’s family are spread out through New South Wales so we like to keep tabs on what’s happening there too.

This week I’ve most definitely been out of touch as our internet is once again gone so I’ve been reliant on the iPhone again – difficult. I’ve only just found out that NSW has had some of its hottest temperatures on record with catastrophic fire days although we’ve kept an ear to the ground regarding the fires near Wagga Wagga (my uncle and aunt live there) and I know there has been the hottest day recorded in Tasmania in the last week too, along with catastrophic fires there too. There have also been fires around Wallan where my sister-in-law works and her boss sent her home (all safe and well thankfully) as well as fires a little closer to our slice of paradise here, both at Ballarat and Daylesford which are both only about 30 minutes drive away. Not near enough to be personally threatening but close enough to want to keep an ear out.

Breakfast time Mummy! Wake up!!!

Breakfast time Mummy! Wake up!!!

This morning I woke up to find that one of us (most likely me but I don’t want t admit to a moment of sheer stupidity) left the spigot on the water filter in the “on” position. I’d emptied it of filtered water making my ginger beer (I’ll post on that soon) and I’d refilled the water. It takes a while for the clean water to filter through so it would have started dripping slowly sometime around 12:30 or after when I was well and truly in bed (Martin got up to make a bottle though so ha! I can blame him! 😉 ). This morning I had a puddle of water all over the kitchen bench, soaking a few bit and bobs like instruction manuals I had sitting there, and a second puddle on the floor. Topped off with an imminent food delivery, 3 hungry kids and the frustration of discovering we had no butter (there goes the idea of sandwiches for lunch to keep the house nice and cool), well, let’s just say it wasn’t a great way to start the day. Mopped up, kids eating (late breakfast in the end) and my wonderful delivery arrives. It’s my first order and I am extremely impressed! Highland Heritage Farm (Facebook page and blog) delivered, in a lovely wooden crate, my order of organic oats, cashews, own grown red onions, spuds, beans and eggs (a wonderful selection of colours and sizes) as well as some free “glut” veggies of turnips, zucchinis and also some rhubarb (not sure if you can call that a fruit or a veggie). It’s locally grown, home delivered, supporting a family of like-minded people (they also use sourdough and grow organic) and it’s beautifully fresh produce so I couldn’t be happier. I’ve used up our 7 hard won eggs today (I think my hens are broken as that’s 9 days of eggs! 😛 ) Not sure yet how to use the dozen zucchinis I have in my fridge although the rhubarb will served for breakfast I think. The turnips will also be a first time cook for me too. Never had them before. 🙂 Any recipes to share?

I do NOT want to wear this dress Mummy!

I do NOT want to wear this dress Mummy!

The rest of the week has been lacklustre. I baked some bread in Ignisa’s oven when she was lit (may as well make use of the heat I guess), but otherwise, just a bit of online shopping (for organic foods and such, not shopping for fun), dishes, toilet training (*sigh* will it ever be over?), washing washing and more washing and taking out and bringing in the chicks. Just a quiet week on the homestead I guess, punctuated by “I don’t want to wear a dress” tantrums, please don’t climb out the windows moments and all the rest. I am very glad it’s over and very much looking forward to the weekend (BRING IT ON!!!). Jasper, who helped me amazingly with putting away washing will come with me to the Ballan Farmers Market as a treat and he will get some money to spend. He knows it’s not a toy market, but a food market and I told him that they have honey, peanut butter and cheese that he might like to buy. His eyes lit up more and more with each suggestion. Too funny kiddo! 😀 We’ve also dealt with his ongoing processing of grief from the death of John the chicken. 😦 This morning he was beside himself, sobbing that Ellie was dead. It took me 5 minutes to work out what he was saying. Once I had located the missing Ellie, his stuffed toy elephant we had a chat and the world was right again. A challenging conversation.

We've found Ellie

We’ve found Ellie

We’ve managed a little more unpacking, some serious furniture rearranging (I think I have things where they work now) and more processing of larger city house into smaller country house with different priorities (more gardens, less stuff) so it’s all slowly slowly coming together. The old house is nearly empty (although the shed is another thing) The skip is also gone now which involved a very close call with 2 cats whom were unbeknownst to us hiding under the skip. I’m not sure who got the bigger fright, them when their cool hiding place on a hot day suddenly made loud noise and lifted up in the air, or me when first Minnie then Maxxie came boiling out from underneath the rapidly shrinking hole at the end of the skip! Frightened the life out of all 3 of us (they have about 8 left each I think).  Anyway, another full week and I am very much looking forward to bed.

A death in the house and bottling more apricots.

We have our first death in the household since moving here. One of our 4-5 week old chicks, named John after our builder who first saw he wasn’t well, died last night. I got home about 10pm from bottling (more on that in a minute), got the kids into bed (I don’t normally kep them up that late but Martin was in Spotswood packing up the old house and we had been working hard until then so it was a needs must situation) then I finally got the chance to bring in our chicks. They’re around 5 weeks of age which means they’re nearly ready for life in the big pen but in the meantime they’re being slowly acclimatised by being taken out each morning and brought back in every evening. They’re enclosed in our old chook house, a small kit build one a friend gave me about 2 years ago which is plenty big enough for now 8 small chicks and it gives them time to get used to the other hens and roosters, and them to the smaller chicks too, before they’re in the pen proper. Well, when I brought them in last night John was a pretty miserable bundle of feathers. He was cold and stiff and I was convinced he was gone. Given how sick he’s been and that he hasn’t grown in a couple of weeks I had been fully expecting it and, if I’m brutally honest with myself (and you too of course) I was grateful too. A sick chick IS a lot of extra work AND he would have been so very miserable. Well, as I picked up this cold stiff little bundle of feathers he drew in a very sick gaspy little breath. Unbelievably he was still alive. I bedded the chicks down inside and said farewells to John (I am a sentimental fool I know), knowing full well he would not be with us in the morning. He was not. Orik couldn’t care less of course and Allegra just took it in her stride. It was just another piece of information to her as she’s still a bit young to really comprehend what had happened but Jasper is fully aware of what had happened and was most upset he couldn’t pat John again and couldn’t see him again and so on. We had a pat and said goodbye, both of us with streaming tears and John is currently sitting on top of Ignisa our wood heater, in a small tin awaiting Daddy to come home to perform a funeral. It seems kind of silly to hold a funeral for a 5 week old chick but I think it’s probably a necessary thing for Jasper to complete the hard little life lesson he’s just learned. He knows about death but it’s never been such real and tangible thing, only ever an abstract concept gained from his Granddad having passed years before he was born.

In other more positive news, yesterday was spent up to the eyeballs in apricots, finished off with super sweet white nectarines. I headed over to Phoenix Park, a great caravan park with cabins and a most marvelous hall where we set up the pressure canner, Fowlers Vacola water bath, dozens of jars, bowls and between us, 30kgs of apricots and 5kgs of white nectarines, all organic and absolutely delicious. We had freshly made Vegemite and cheese scrolls and brown rice mushroom risotto for lunch, then got stuck into halving our apricots. I had decided to halve them and if the halves were complete and whole I would bottle them but if they were blemished or bruised etc, then the apricot minus the blemished part would be turned into apricot nectar for drinking. I bottled 16 of the #27 jars of apricots in water and 4 of the #36 jars and a #20 of nectar but sadly I forgot the golden rule and I unloaded hot jars onto a cold bench (in my defense I had only made it to bet at 1:15 the night before with a 5am wake up and I was pretty much exhausted when I was unloading the jars) so I’ve broken 2 of my #36’s and I have a 3rd of questionable condition as it’s leaked over 1/2 of its contents. It’s made me stop and think about several aspects of bottling juice but I’ve not given up yet. It sounds crazy, even to me, but it took us 11 hours to bottle 16 jars of apricots in water, 8 in light syrup, 7 bottles (I think) of nectarines and 6 or 7 bottles of apricot nectar as well as processing 30kgs of apricots and 5kgs of nectarines but we also had my 3 monkeys and a 9 month old in the mix! Not a bad achievement in my books.

So, here are the photos I promised from yesterday.

Sterilising jars

Sterilising jars

First jar of apricot halves . I figured out a better way to stack them in after this one.

First jar of apricot halves . I figured out a better way to stack them in after this one.

Left to right: With lid awaiting clip, clipped and ready to process and jar filled with apricots and water and ring on awaiting the lid and clip.

Left to right: With lid awaiting clip, clipped and ready to process and jar filled with apricots and water and ring on awaiting the lid and clip.

After processing. 10 successfully processed jars, 1 that appears to have sealed but with a LOT of air in it in the fridge and a small jar (#20) of nectar.

After processing. 10 successfully processed jars, 1 that appears to have sealed but with a LOT of air in it in the fridge and a small jar (#20) of nectar. Clips will come off tomorrow.

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Halving apricots and 4 well-behaved kids (with a very tired Orik who fell asleep within 5 minutes of taking the photos.

Broken jar. I put it on the bench and no sooner had I moved my hand away (thankfully) than POP! Vomit! What a mess!

Broken jar. I put it on the bench and no sooner had I moved my hand away (thankfully) than POP! Vomit! What a mess!

My other broken jar. :( The white you can see is actually VERY fine bubbles creating a path through the puree heading to higher ground.

My other broken jar. 😦 The white you can see is actually VERY fine bubbles creating a path through the puree heading to higher ground.

The same leaky jar with my other unsuccessful jar of nectre in the background. Only half full so it may not have sealed adequately with all the space (air) in the bottle. One to be used quickly.

The same leaky jar with my other unsuccessful jar of nectar in the background. Only half full so it may not have sealed adequately with all the space (air) in the bottle. One to be used quickly.

This morning was a very slow start after the late night we’d had. Orik slept until 7:30 (although he came in for milk at some ungodly hour of the night before dawn), Allegra after 8 and Jasper slept until almost 9. I think he would happily have stayed in bed longer except for his sister being insistent he get up accompanied by a grumbly tummy. As we broke our fast at around 9:30 10 I went out to take the chicks outside and was greeted by a couple of visitors I hadn’t expected to see. I knew we had kookaburras around as one had been visiting and eating the resident skinks from my potato beds and compost heap and then had returned that evening with a friend whereupon they’d caught the mouse Minnie had rejected the day before and another skink or 2. Given their predilection for snakes and other reptilia they are so very welcome. 😀 In fact we will be encouraging them to come visiting.

This morning's visitors. He took flight just as I hit the button but it's not every garden that has 2-3 kookaburras come and visit and not many that have a kookaburra perching on the edge of the trampoline. I think Martin's a little sorry he missed seeing them.

This morning’s visitors. He took flight just as I hit the button but it’s not every garden that has 2-3 kookaburras come and visit and not many that have a kookaburra perching on the edge of the trampoline. I think Martin’s a little sorry he missed seeing them.

The other kookaburra.

The other kookaburra.

The fellow on the trampoline flew off a little so I followed after him and was blessed to be able to stand about 3 metres away from him. They really do have the most amazing glossy hard black eyes. Predatory, without being cruel if that makes sense. Sadly I didn’t get laughed at (never thought I’d say THAT in my life) but I was snickered at, a slow craaaak… craaaak… craaaak… but not the full-throated belly laugh. Is there any other bird in the world with such a distinctive and joyful call I wonder? It is simply marvelous to hear them chortling and chucking away in the trees across the creek and it never fails to make me smile. 🙂 If you have never heard a kookaburra’s laugh, check out this link. Well, Mr Kookaburra was warmly welcomed and most cordially invited to drop in whenever he fancies and no need to call first. In fact he was told he’s welcome to make himself at home whether or not we are at home BUT he was warned off the baby chicks (not that he can get to them at the moment anyway but still). What a wonderful cheer me up after John’s discovery this morning. I just wish my photos were better but with limited zoom and an iPhone only and being a less than average photographer… Oh well.

Sitting in our silver poplars next to the house.

Sitting in our silver poplars next to the house. Sorry for the crappy photo.

And finally, I put my kids down for naps this morning as I could see they were cranky from too little sleep and although I know they’re not very eco at all (we’re getting back into cloth again but we have been using sposies just whilst we got settled 😦 ), Allegra who is just toilet training went back into a nappy for her nap. Jasper was being helpful and went to fetch it for me…

Stick em up and give me all your chocolate!

Stick em up and give me all your chocolate!