Friday, November 28, 2008

A Walk with the Dogs

This afternoon my daughter and I took her dogs for a walk around the roads near us. The recent rains have made the grass lush and green. I thought I would share some of the photos with you.

The road seems to wind on forever.

Amber having a rest.

A view to the distant hills.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Afternoon Tea

Its just my son and I home this afternoon. He is 18 and eats A LOT. I'm constantly amazed how someone so thin can eat so much. He has finished school for the year (yeah)and has a couple of weeks off before he starts full time work. Having the human vacuum cleaner (he cleans out the fridge)home means the food bill has soared.

I made a couple of dozen muffins today for our afternoon tea in the hope they will fill him up for a while. Muffins are great because they can be sweet or savory, don't take long to make and don't create lots of dishes.

Mixed Berry Muffins
4 cups SR flour
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinamon
3 cups mixed berries (frozen are fine)
2 1/4 cups yoghurt
2 eggs
1 cup milk

Mix dry ingredients together
Mix wet ingredients together
Combine wet and dry ingredients and mix until just combined
Spoon into muffin tins lined with paper
Bake for 25 mins at 195 Centrigrade

Makes 2 dozen muffins.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Knitting dishcloths

I've slowly been progressing on my knitting but its certainly a slow process. I don't knit as much now the weather has warmed up but I still occasionally pick up the needles at night. I've knitted a few simple dishcloths and now I've progressed to trying out some patterns. I was given a book on knitting for my birthday which has pages of sample squares showing different patterns. I've been knitting the sample squares as dishcloths. I learn a new stitch and gain a useful dishcloth. Pretty good eh? My dishcloths are knitted with cotton yarn so they are wonderfully absorbent. By buying the yarn on special I've saved money and each dishcloth costs about $1.00 in yarn. Not bad for a cloth that can be used many many times and should last years. I throw mine in the washing machine when I'm washing the tea towels etc. Much more hygienic than a smelly old sponge.

Some of my friends will be receiving a couple of knitted dishcloths and some homemade soap for Christmas presents, a simple but useful gift.

The dishcloth above is one of my favourite patterns. Its actually very simple but looks impressive.

Pattern for two colour dishcloth
Cast on 39 stitches in main colour (MC)
Knit three rows
Pattern row 1: Slip 1 purl wise, knit two and repeat until end (MC)
Pattern row 2: Knit (MC)
Pattern row 3: Change colour (CC) knit 2, slip 1 purl wise repeat until end
Pattern row 4: Knit (CC)
repeat pattern until desired length
Knit three rows in MC
Cast off

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Make soap when the sun shines

The sun shone today which was wonderful after the rainy days we have been having. The rain was very welcome but its nice to have some sunshine.

I've been waiting for a sunny day to make soap so that is what I did today. I make my soap outside in the sun. I have an old ceramic casserole dish which I put the oil in and place in the sun. It soon warms up to the correct temperature for soap making. Some pretty nasty fumes come off the lye mixture so you need good ventilation when you make soap.

There are lots of tutorials on the web about soap making. I made my first batch with a friend. Its a very simple process so find a good tutorial and give it a go. Remember though that caustic soda burns. Always wear rubber gloves and goggles for eye protection at a minimum. Make your soap somewhere the kids can't reach it and the pet dog and cat can't access it. Don't use aluminum pots or utensils to make soap, the caustic solution will eat into it. You will need a kitchen thermometer (preferably two), do not use a clinical thermometer. The lye solution gets hot!

Soap making is simple but it does take time. You need to be able to stir the mixture for about 20 minutes and then every half hour or so until the soap traces. The olive oil soap I made today won't trace until tomorrow. I'll stir it every hour or so until tonight and then give it a good stir in the morning. Most soaps do not take this long to trace. The coconut oil soap I made a couple of weeks ago only took an hour to trace.

Olive oil soap (castile soap) is great for your skin. Its very moisturizing. The recipe I use is below. When the soap traces you can add essential oil for a lovely scent , colouring if you wish and other additives such as ground oats to exfoliate.

My soap making work bench.
Always protect surfaces with plastic and have vinegar on hand.
My brown ceramic pot heats up enough in the sun that I don't need to heat the oil on the stove.

Castile Soap
500g olive oil
200g filtered water
67g caustic soda

Heat oil to 37 degrees centigrade.
Measure caustic soda. Measure the water into a plastic container (I use an old icecream container). Add the caustic soda to the water NEVER the water to the caustic soda. This mixture gives off irritating fumes and gets very hot. Do not breathe in the fumes.
Allow the lye (caustic solution) to cool to 37 degrees centigrade.
When the oil and lye are at the correct temp add the lye to the oil in a thin stream and stir to combine.

Stir the mixture slowly for about 20 minutes then every half hour after until the mixture traces.
Add colouring and essential oils at trace stage. Pour into greased moulds. Leave to set in a warm place then remove from moulds (could take a few days). Leave to cure for 6 weeks in an airy place.

If a white powder forms on the outside of the soap, scrape it off (wear gloves). If there white powdery bits in your soap do not use - this is caustic soda which has not combined with the oil.

Give it a try, it really is easy, you just need to take care with the lye solution. Keep some vinegar on hand in case of spills. When I'm finished I wash all my soap making tools in a strong vinegar solution to neutralize any caustic.

Coconut oil soap made in moulds from orange drink containers. I scented this soap with lemon oil so they smell yummy. These soaps still need to cure for a few weeks.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Belinda's Back to Basics Challenge

Sowing seed or Planting

  • Blue Lake climbing beans (seedlings)
  • Bush beans (seedlings)
  • Yellow Crookneck Squash (seedlings)
  • Strawberry plants
Planning for The Future
  • Redesigning the vegetable garden to include lots more wicking beds. My first wicking bed is a great success and drastically cuts down on watering.
Working for the Future - storing food, managing stores, preserving, building that home made cob or solar oven, adding house insulation, saving for manual grain mills etc
  • More work on the 'pest proof' vegetable garden. The first row of fencing wire is up so the dogs can no longer get in and trample my precious seedlings. The look on their faces when they bounded down to the vegie garden and discovered they couldn't get in the dig up the nice soft soil was quite comical.
Building Community - volunteering, donations, joining an existing community group, forming your own community group, taking a cake to a friend having a hard time, calling someone you just let drift out of your life, etc
  • Voluntary work with a local youth organization
Learn a new Skill
  • Learning to sew, well at least attempting to sew. This week I learnt to make a very simple dress using shirring. Its simple and looks good and I'm becoming addicted to fabric stores.
  • Making soap - I've tried a new recipe. It is supposed to lather well so I've made a batch for washing the dishes. It smells heavenly (lemon) so here's hoping it works well. I'll tell you in 6 weeks when its cured.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pots of possibilites

We bought these pots a few weeks ago. I love the colours and can't wait to see them filled with colourful flowers. The pots are lined up along the edge of our paving to serve two purposes - the first is to give the area some colour and the second is to define the edge of the paving so no one falls off the edge.

The big question is what to put in them? Something colourful but hardy. Everything in the garden here has to survive two big boisterous dogs, echidnas, wombats, wallabies and rabbits as well as limited water. It has to be tough to survive our garden.

The rose in the background is growing over an arch. Under the archway is always cool, dark and inviting in summer, its the kind of place the fairies would live.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Back again

Where did the time go? I kept thinking I must get back to this blog but time just flew past. It was bad time management on my behalf. Here's hoping I'll be more organized in future (we can hope).

So what have I been doing all these months? Nothing that exciting really. We've been looking around for a new home but haven't found exactly what we want as of yet. With the financial crisis we do wonder if it is a good time to move and take out another loan anyway. For the time being we are staying here.

I had been learning to knit with varied success but as the weather has warmed up I've put the knitting needles down and started sewing. I'm not really what you would call someone who sews. Actually its probably pretty true to say I avoided sewing if at all possible. I did sew on the odd button and did a little hand sewing but that was about the extent of my sewing.

Just recently I was inspired by other people's wonderful creations so decided to get my sewing machine out and wipe off the layers of dust. I made my first ever dress! This will be part of one of my nieces Christmas present. The dress has elastic shirring at the top so no buttons or zips are necessary (which is really good because I don't think I'm up to putting in zips just yet). The whole dress is made with straight lines of sewing - quite a few straight lines. Its easy but looks very cute. There is a great tutorial at

Now to find some more simple patterns to sew creations for my other nieces. My own daughter just glared when she saw the sewing machine and said "you had better not be making anything for me". Don't you love teenagers!