Sunday, 19 July 2015

Cooking with stinging nettles

Since I began cooking with stinging nettles, I look forward to them popping up.  If you haven't eaten them yet, I strongly encourage you to give them a try.
They taste a bit like spinach.  They are beautifully soft when cooked, are good for you, are versatile and best of all, they are free!

I used to go outside, don a pair of gardening gloves and pick them leaf by leaf.  I actually really enjoy the process.  It's a gentle and meditative process.

Lately though, I've been feeling time poor so I've become a bit more savvy.  It's much quicker to just break the stalk near the ground and pop it in the basket complete with all the leaves attached.  I give them a rinse in a colander and put them all in a large pot with the tiniest amount of water.  After a couple of minutes over heat, they wilt right down and lose their sting.  Then you can pull off the individual leaves and use them in the dish of your choosing.
You should cook with them before they flower.  After flowering they can apparently irritate the urinary tract. 

I tend to use them with other veggies.  For example, when serving a casserole I might layer some mashed potato topped with nettles and then serve the casserole directly on the top.

I also like to add them to tomato based pasta sauces or make a pasta sauce just using the nettles, onions, garlic, some stock and a little cream.

I make them one of the main ingredients in a soup with parsnips.  Delicious!  The resulting soup is the most beautiful colour of green.

I have used them to steam in a parcel with fish before too and it was one of the nicest meals I've eaten.
If you haven't cooked with them before, you're in for a treat.  Please pop back and let me know what you thought and how you cooked them.  I would love to try out any new recipe ideas!

Friday, 3 July 2015

A balancing act

Today I wanted to write about beginning to regain some time for myself in the process of raising children.  Child raising melded with slow living and all that it involves.  You see lately I've been finding snatches of time to pursue my interests. Things beyond simple living. Things that are not about responsibility but about me!   Something I couldn't even imagine a short time back.
However, whilst planning my words in my head, I realised that I can't simply write about the process, without making this a post about disability.  That is due to the intensity of the recent years behind us.

Many families which include children with Down syndrome make the decision to treat their family primarily as a family first and foremost.  There is so much merit in this and we tried very hard to just be us and enjoy growing with our children.  After all, kids with Down syndrome are just like other family members in their contributions and relationships.

Buddy played with his sisters, annoyed them deliberately just like any other brother, developed skills in a similar order (albeit somewhat slower in many areas), and brought the same feelings of pride and joy as he learned to walk, speak, tidy his toys etc.
However, unlike some of the families I have known who are also travelling our path, we have been HUGELY concerned with getting enough therapy for our son.  I would have liked therapy most days if I had been able to access it.

This placed a lot of pressure on our family.  Locally, therapy in the form of speech pathology, occupational therapy or physiotherapy was only available once a month.  I didn't feel that amount of intervention was going to help my son so we made the decision to travel to access twice weekly therapy.  It placed a huge burden on our family and changed all the children's formative years.
I can't begin to tell you the effect this battle had on me.  I didn't cope well with accepting that I wasn't able to access help locally.  I felt no one cared.  I felt alone and disillusioned with our society to know that a parent wanting to use formal therapy was unable to get help.  I felt let down and very bitter that I had to fight so hard to find the right teaching methods for my son.  I was incredibly forceful in demanding the help I wanted.  It went against the grain to be so persistent and I was left feeling that the service providers must think I was a horrible person.  Still, I had no experience with disability and wanted to benefit from all the experience and effective strategies that had come before us.  I didn't want to reinvent the wheel.

I think I aged overnight and my personality changed.  I wasn't carefree anymore, didn't laugh often or easily, and was burnt out.  But it was NEVER Buddy's syndrome that brought me undone.  It was the lack of support.
No wonder families decide therapy is not the be all and end all!  Others were happily living their lives with their gorgeous children while I was stressed and banging my head very hard against a brick wall.  I made phone calls, wrote letters to politicians, constantly tried to change a system that I saw as blatantly wrong!  It takes a lot of emotional energy to fight.  I also understand that many families believe their children will benefit as much from a fulfilling home life as from intensive therapy and they may well be right.

So why did I do this to myself and my family?  Well because I know for a fact that people with Down syndrome can lead very capable and fulfilling lives.  I've met adults that have given me so much hope that my boy will be an independent adult.  Like all parents, my hopes and dreams are that my boy will  be a good man, capable and happy.

I'm not able to measure how much therapy affects outcome, how much is learnt from life, or how much is just genetics but I'm not prepared to take chances.  I will do everything I can to extend Buddy in any way I can.
I recall a day when Buddy was about two.  I was at our local gym and the kids were in childcare.  I saw a group of adults with disabilities and stood enjoying watching them.  Since our introduction to the exclusive world of disability, my heart is warmed by watching happy adults.  So I was standing there with a silly smile on my face when one young man with Down syndrome ordered food from the canteen with help from a carer.

He approached the counter, blowing raspberries and pointing at the item he wanted.  Well.. in a rush of emotions, I collapsed.  I was shocked that this man wasn't capable of speech.  I burst into tears and raced to the toilets.  I threw myself into a cubicle and slid down the wall onto the floor, sobbing.  Loudly!  I couldn't control my tears and was ashamed to find myself crying in such an obvious display of heart wrenching grief.

I think my emotions were compounded by the unexpectedness.  I was loving watching those people.  Little did I dream that I was going to be confronted by the possibility that my child might never be able to look after himself!  It hurt me beyond belief.

I felt guilt too, for my reaction.  I strongly believe that each person has worth and contributes to the community.  I don't want to live in an artificial world where we only have capable, able bodied people.  I would love Buddy just the same if he wasn't able to speak but it's not the outcome I would choose.  While his worth as a person would be no less in my eyes, he would face many more challenges through life.

I will never know if Buddy is the capable boy he is, because of my efforts or if he would have achieved the same outcome without my help.  Possibly we could have just stayed home and played more, visited friends and family more.

Luckily, the Australian system is undergoing a huge overhaul.  When the National Disability Insurance Scheme is fully implemented, families will be able to access as much therapy as they see fit without the exhausting battle behind the scenes.

Finally Australia is moving forward but I will always wonder if I chose the right path.  On a personal level, we have reached a stage that I am able to relax.  Buddy is a capable and thoughtful young boy.  He makes me proud every day in some way or another.  I'm even proud of his misbehavior if it's developmentally appropriate!
So thankfully we put the experience of early intervention behind us and continue with our private therapy (expensive but worth it) and wait for the introduction of the NDIS in our area.  I am starting to leave the younger children with their father more and do things just for ME!  I can spend more time thinking about my adult children whom I have neglected throughout these years.  Finally I am able to give them the attention they deserve and rekindle the relationships that I so enjoy!
Yep, the eldest is definitely shorter!
I hope as the years go by, families are able to enjoy both sides of disability.  Raising a child while feeling supported and, at the same time, being able to feel like a happy, well functioning family.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Monthly Nine June 2015

Welcome back!  The first month of winter has passed and we march headlong into July.  It happened in the blink of an eye!  I'm sorry to see June go.  It was a cosy month of fires, knitting and rugging up to go and work outside.

Tell us about your June.  What did you get up to?  Please join in with our friendly bunch of bloggers for our monthly linkup.  All you need to do is post regarding each of the nine categories created by Christine from Slow Living Essentials.  Christine's not posting as often these days but her blog is full of ideas and beauty!

You can post at any time during the month as evidenced by Evi's welcome but very recent post for May.  (I'm looking forward to finding time to read it Evi.)  Once you've published, just link below.  Don't forget to visit the other blogs to enjoy the tales and gain inspiration.

June 2015

Soup!  Soup has featured time and time again.  Warming us up on the inside on those chilly winter days.  Pumpkin soup and Italian meat and veg soup were the favourites.  I varied the meat and veg soup depending on which green veggies I happened to have in the fridge or garden.  Sometimes I added broccoli, other times silver beet.  We also dispatched a couple of roosters for meals.  We cooked them up on the same day.  I now know for a fact that they need to rest for a couple of days.   I've never eaten chewier or stringier meat!

I used Rhonda's easy orange cake recipe a couple of times in June.  I substituted half a cup of the flour with polenta which gave it a different, but nice, texture.  I've been busy with teaching the children and working on the farm so quick food like the cakes and soups were very handy.  A double batch at a time gave me even more space to get other jobs done.  We have, however, been taking our time at breakfast.
I also made up a naughty batch of fudge.  It's been years since I made fudge.  I used to fancy myself an expert.  It's all about the temperature you boil it at.  Hot enough to set it but not so hot that you burn it or make it grainy.  Obviously I've lost the knack because it didn't set well but boy, was it still yummy!!
I exchanged some honey for a bag of limes recently.  We made lime slice, lime cake and preserved some limes in the Middle Eastern style of salting and adding juice and herbs.  I'm looking forward to trying them in about a month.

Old saucepans without handles are being used for chook's water.  They have a good base that the chooks don't tip over.

We've tripped down to Savers (thrift shop) a couple of times in the last month in search of presents and also some clothing and shoes.  We were all starting to look a bit scruffy with holes in the knees of our well worn pants!  I even found time to darn a pair of socks in June.
I've started using the batch of soap that I told you about last month.  I put it into moulds just a tad too early.  The mix had not quite reached trace.  It doesn't lather up as well and it's very brittle and breaks easily.

Hmmm!  Yes, well...  I'm not sure who's been eating from the garden but it wasn't us.  Mum gave me some lettuce and silver beet seedlings which are GONE!  Birds, ducks, chooks, snails??  I don't really know but I've since netted the bed.
We have had silver beet to enjoy from another untouched bed, a little rhubarb and, of course, herbs.  There's not much else ready for eating right now.

Knitting has been the order of the month for both Belle and me.  Belle and I both made fingerless mittens in desperation once our hands began stinging from the cold. I made a pair for myself and a pair for Buddy (which he's already lost) and Belle worked on knitting for Pumpkin and herself.

I'm in the process of knitting a small scarf now.
I've bought two books on pigs by Lee McCosker which I'm devouring at the moment.  Well my version of devouring anyway which is really a matter of picking them up when I have a spare moment and reading a little more.  The pigs are overdue to arrive but I'm nervous so don't want to have them here until I think we are ready.  Sorry Jenna!  Soon, I promise.  Lucky my friends are so patient and understanding!
Cheap hot chocolate thanks to Chris at Gully Grove!
I've also started a MOOC on photography.  I was childishly delighted this morning when taking the above photo of my knitting!  Instead of moving my knitting from the dark spot it was sitting, I was able to let extra light in to get the shot!!  It may not sound much but it was the very first step I've ever taken in having control over what my camera can do.  While not perfect, I influenced the outcome so I feel very photographer-y!  I now have hope I can one day understand how the aperture and shutter speed affect a shot.

A lovely thing happened to me at the library a couple of weeks ago.  We are regular library goers and, on this particular day, I was greeted with a book which was right up my alley!  The staff had done a recent cull of books which they place on a sale table.  They kept a book aside for me because they knew I would love it.  It's so nice to know people are thinking of you!
I loved taking part in our local under ten's football.  It's the first time I've been involved with a football club.  My kids made me proud as I shivered and froze on the sidelines.
Yes, you're seeing it right.  Emus on the footy ground!!

Belle and I also enjoyed a catch up at the movies with my older girls, who I don't see nearly enough for my liking.

Nothing like some selfie silliness to bring on an attack of the giggles!
So that was June in a nutshell.  What did you get up to?  Please link with us below.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Homemade fertiliser

I've used the last of my existing batch of fertiliser so yesterday I made up a new brew.  Have you tried your hand at making it yourself yet?  Maybe you're wondering why you would bother when it's so easy to buy a bottle...

Here are my reasons for making it myself -

  1. It's really, really easy.
  2. It takes hardly any time.
  3. It doesn't cost a cent!
  4. It's good for the environment.
  5. It makes my garden grow.

I make up my fertiliser as a comfrey tea, weed tea or sometimes with manure.  If you want to give it a try, follow the steps below.

  • grab a bucket (I use an old nappy bucket)
  • throw in lots of your material of choice 
  • fill the bucket with water
  • leave for two weeks
That's it!  You don't need to be fussy or precise to get a good brew.  Yesterday, I decided I would use comfrey leaves in the bucket.  However much of my comfrey is very young.  I've recently planted it under most of my fruit trees so the roots can draw up nutrients from deep in the ground.  I found I didn't have enough leaves (but I sure will next year!) so I topped the leaves with grass that was growing on my garden paths.  A touch of accidental weeding.  Don't you just love it when two jobs are achieved in the same task!  
If I use manure I just put a layer at the bottom of the bucket but with plant material I nearly fill the bucket.  You can also place manure in a stocking if you want a clearer liquid but I don't bother.  At the end of the two weeks, the mix becomes very stinky.  This is good.  The bacteria that is breaking it down and causing the smell is the same bacteria that your garden is going to benefit from.
When the fertiliser is ready to use, I put about a litre in my ten litre watering can and fill it with water to dilute.  Then I gently pour it over my plants.  I always make sure the soil is already moist so the plants aren't forced to absorb more fertiliser than they need.  
When my bucket is nearly empty, I just tip the sludge in the bottom onto my compost heap and start again.  I like to have two buckets on the go most of the time so that I don't need to wait for the next brew to reach maturity.  I keep them next to a tap so that I can easily fill my watering can.  I've also attached an empty yoghurt container to the bucket so that I can scoop out the amount I need without searching for a vessel.

So there you have it!  A fertiliser that is free, creates no waste, uses no fossil fuels being transported to the garden beds and takes minutes to make.  Happy gardening!

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Building compost

I built a compost heap today.

We regularly leave our trailer at a stable.  They have many horses on the property and need to clear the waste.  We take down our empty trailer, they shovel manure and sawdust (which they use on the stable floors) into it, and a couple of days later I pick up my full load.  Sometimes I spread it on paddocks straight from the back of the trailer but other times, like today, I use it for a compost heap.
Our goats sleep in pens overnight and their bedding is straw or hay.  We don't clean it out but add fresh hay on the top.  It's a wonderful method because their beds become more comfortable as time goes and the hay begins to compost under them and creates warmth.  Nature's electric blanket!
Daisy's pen is becoming too high as the layers have built up.  She's almost able to step out of the pen!  It has happened before!  So using some of her bedding and the full load of manure, I've created a heap that will be ready in plenty of time for spring.

I shoveled out heaps of the manure, added a layer of soiled hay from Daisy's pen, watered it down until the hay was moist and then shoveled another thick layer of manure.  I like making compost at this time of year because the manure is moist and the hay is too in some places so I don't use as much water to create a pile as I would in summer.  I continued with my layers until there was no manure left in the trailer and then covered the whole pile with a generous layer of the bedding hay.  It serves to keep the rain from entering the pile and leaching the nutrients.
This pile will heat up over the next couple of days.  I'll be able to feel the heat if I put my hand on the hay.  Sometimes it has rising steam in the mornings.  I'll turn the pile in a few days after it starts to cool.  This starts the heating process again.  Then a final turning of the compost and I'll leave it to sit until I need to use it.  I like the look of the hay covered pile.  A bit like a little haystack hiding secret garden goodness.  However Buddy was helping today and insisted that we cover it with the old picnic blanket.  We use this to cover a pile if we're not working with hay.
When we don't have old bedding material available, I just create compost with two trailer loads of manure, make sure it's moist and cover with the picnic blanket or black plastic until it's ready for turning.  It makes good compost but I much prefer the result from the hay/manure mix.  Of course Buddy wanted to pose with his job-well-done!
My garden will be sooo happy with this brew in a few weeks!  Do you have compost on the go?

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Conscious slowing

I'm often driven by a frantic feeling of rush and tear.  This is partly due to the fact that I'm so determined to live a low carbon life that I try to do it all NOW.  Grow our veggies, cook all our food, raise animals for milk and meat.  Mend, sew, build....  The feeling is compounded by the responsibility of teaching my children at home.

Lately I've been reflecting on our busy lives because I've been panicking somewhat about my children's education. Trying to squeeze in lessons and still get organised in the veggie garden and on the farm.  Life was feeling crazily out of control with me sitting at the pivotal centre point. Pressure!
My scrap paper with shorter lists - what I get done is good enough
However, thinking about my alternatives (school) quickly snapped me out of it. I don't want my children in school.  And I certainly don't want them there just because I'm bad at time management!  That would not be the right reason to make such a major life change for them and for me.

Tossing up all my options had me thinking about the upsides to the way we do things and one of the biggest advantages is that we are not tied to other people's schedules.  We are masters of our own time.  With this in mind, I decided to shrug off that feeling of being constantly on the run.  We can only do, in a day, what is possible.  Besides, all the panicking in the world doesn't help me achieve more. 

We live a beautiful life full of gentle chores like caring for the animals, gardening, preparing food etc.  We go about our days on a hill with views that I love, surrounded by bush, birds, kangaroos and the occasional echidna.  I need to maintain a wider view rather than shrinking it down to all the things I haven't accomplished right here in the house and yard.

With this in mind, instead of trying to do more to achieve the organised, perfect life I feel I should be living (you know, the one with no kid's toys dumped where they played, a tidy lounge and clean stove top) I have decided to enjoy our process.  Each day I have taken the time to make a family breakfast and eat together at the table in a leisurely fashion.  This starts us all off in the right frame of mind.  Life is good!  It's meant to be enjoyed.  
Before the children wake, I put the pot of porridge on the fire and set the table with bowls, glasses, water, honey, yoghurt, some fresh fruit or maybe leftover honey baked quinces...  whatever I can think of to make it an enjoyable meal.  No more letting them get their own puffed rice or simply plonking some porridge in front of them.  They're loving the new routine.  Within a week of 'proper' breakfasts, I've heard them discussing at night what they hope might be on the table the next morning.  How lovely that they go to bed anticipating the next day with pleasure!  The small sacrifice of a little time has completely changed the mood of the mornings.  My children feel cosy and nurtured.

And, as if aware of my internal angst, all three children have convinced me that they are learning well.  Pumpkin (8 yrs) has been ravenously devouring books from the library faster than I can borrow them,  Belle (12 yrs) pulls out the lap top in the evening, after milking, and continues research for her project on Peru with enthusiasm while Buddy (9 yrs) has mastered a new skill.  In the last week he has grasped the concept of addition while he works with an online program augmented with cuisenaire blocks.  He uses the blocks to represent the dots that flash up on the screen and then disappear.  He has to remember the dots, group the correct amount of blocks, then counts them up and uses terms like "two and three altogether is..." and "two and five makes...".  The use of the different phrases shows me he truly understands the concept now rather than just learning by rote.  He then enters his answer on the computer to see if he gets a tick.  He was even heard this week exclaiming, "I'm a genius!" as he received a tick.  Yes my boy, you truly are!  Thank you kids for proving, in such a timely manner, that you are indeed learning.
I look around the room at a bench that needs to be tidied, clothes that need to be folded, a floor that needs to be swept.  I know that I will bake today if we are to have snacks.  I will be going to town to the stock feed store.  All these tasks I will complete as I am able, after feeding the chooks, checking water and letting out the goats.  And if I don't get them done today I will do them tomorrow.  I am treating my chores as I would the children.  I'm putting my foot down and telling them not to scream at me.  "Chores, just speak to me quietly, say 'excuse me' and then wait nicely.  I will get to you when I can."

Now if you need me you'll find me outside doing my work whilst stopping to smell the roses.  Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, 16 June 2015


Ah yes... winter!  It has slowly become my favourite season.  As long as we have a fire burning in the slow combustion stove, I'm in heaven.

Occasionally Hubby gets behind with the wood and this is not a happy home at those times.  Let's not dwell on that!  He's played catchup and the wood fire is burning brightly.   It's the main reason I love winter so much.  The fire lends itself to stocks, porridge, kettles and warming soups.  There are also no bushfires to beware, no snakes where children play and a cosy environment in the house.  I'll let you have a little laugh at my best effort at photography in the dark.  I was trying really hard!  Honest!
We've been working hard outside recently.  We're really happy with how it's all going.  We have bought a drake for our lovely Matilda and they seem to be in love.  I really enjoy watching them wander around the yard together.  They make such lovely, gentle noises.  They are also *ahem* doing 'the do' so with a bit of luck we might see ducklings in Spring.
We have chickens growing inside under a heat lamp.  We are hoping to get a decent amount of eggs later in the year.  We've bought Isa Brown chooks because they lay so well.  The rest of my chooks are heritage dual breeds but they don't lay as many eggs as the Isa's.
Yesterday, Hubby and I summoned the courage to have another rooster dispatching session.  It was well and truly time.  We had five excess roosters for this purpose but were procrastinating because the process requires a huge amount of emotional energy for us.  In the meantime, we spent far more than we needed on feeding them unnecessarily.  We were pleased to find that it wasn't as hard as we expected and we are getting much faster at it each time we've had a day of dispatching.  I actually felt a real sense of achievement and am looking forward to the next time.

The cold weather makes it easy to work outside.  Yesterday I shovelled compost onto the garden without breaking a sweat!  How wonderful to work hard and then come inside to the warmth, the smell of stock simmering on the fire (chicken stock of course), and potter in the kitchen.  I've even picked up some knitting recently.  It just feels right at this time of year.  In spring, summer and autumn, I feel lazy and guilty if I stop and knit.  Life is just too busy in those seasons.
I certainly rug up for the outside hours.  I peeled off my layers in the bathroom one evening recently and was amazed at how many items of clothing I'd managed to get on my body.  The pile of clothes was HUGE!

I've been lucky enough to get a break from the children too.  My parents have had them to stay for two days.  I find rest is really important to me now that my children and I are always together.  As much as I love them, the constant responsibility and the neverending talking make me tired.  Feeling rested restores my energy.

The only downside of our current winter is the lack of rain.  If we don't get a reasonable amount in the next couple of days, I will need to order water.  With all the animals requiring water, as well as my family, it's hard to keep up.  We still have a shed waiting to be built on that mental list of jobs I carry wherever I go.  It will provide greater water catchment as well as a good workplace.  We also need to attend to a leak in our spare tank before we can catch more water.
So all in all, I feel good right now.  I feel like we are really on track with the farm, we're happy as a family with the way we are living and spending our time.  Our days begin and end with animal care. Sandwiched between these chores are home learning, then gardening or farm work, sometimes library visits or trips to buy animal feed.  Finally, soon after night falls, we sit and enjoy a meal together while the children entertain us with chatter and silliness and I bask in the satisfied glow of a day well lived.