Watch Out! Don’t Get Squashed

Aim high. Reach for the stars. Dream big. The sky’s the limit…

Just some of the many encouraging phrases bestowed on me by my parents during those formative years on the farm. Keen to live up to my mother and father’s expectations, I took it upon myself to ensure that I mastered the art of being a consistent “high” achiever. And so began my diverse and rather unorthodox take on the concept of altitude training. From wheat silos and haphazard hay-bale stacks to peppercorn trees and ten foot high shade clothed fences, if there was a vertical challenge to be had then you could bet your last high ropes carabiner I’d be at the climbing ready to take it on!

Early spring was always the most exciting time of year on the farm. Unfazed by the cool air and ice capped fences, my three brothers and I couldn’t throw the bedclothes off fast enough to compete for first place in the great race that was getting to the calving shed in time for the morning serve of colostrum rations for the newly born poddy calves.

One morning, following a particularly large dumping of September rain, Jimmy and Tommy – my two younger brothers – and I arrived at the feeding troughs to the sight of a sodden and desperately mewing piebald kitten hanging precariously by the tips of it’s outstretched claws from the corner, eave purlin, of the shed roof. Realising this was the perfect opportunity to show off my now well honed vertical scaling skills, I seized the moment and skillfully swung myself up and over the steel hinged, shed gate and rapidly began my ascent along the red-brick wall toward the frightened feline.

Blocking out the piercing wails hailing from above, I heedfully navigated the desultory brickwork, using gaps in the mortar and some spare, stacked fence palings to advance myself upward. Over the years, Tommy, Jimmy and I had become quite accustomed to rescuing stray animals that had taken refuge in various sheds and abandoned machinery about the farm. So as I neared my petrified friend, I was well prepared for the bared teeth and angry hissing that ensued. Ignoring the defensive, claw ridden strikes at my hands, I quickly covered the fist sized fur-ball with the cuff of my jumper and slowly made my way back toward my awestruck, brotherly audience.

Of course the blame for what happened next will always be leveled at the rain soaked, slippery clay soil and not at all because my over-inflated, high rise confidence had hijacked my sense of risk and caution. One moment I was comfortably balanced atop a stack of sturdy, wall-hugging fence posts, the next, I was pinned under a corporate fat-cat sized weight of Ironbark, competing desperately for breathing space through the only remaining gap between the now frantically mewing kitten and an incoming deluge of red-dirt mud.

I’m not sure what was worse, the incessant fang and claw induced maiming penetrating my now saturated Nanna-made jumper or the ultimate dressing down and week long parlour duties I received from Dad when, after what seemed like an interminable paws in time, he lifted me from my cat-tastrophe.

This summer I just couldn’t help myself. Dejected and clinging onto life with all but a tinge of chlorophyll left in the wilted green leaves, I threw the neglected punnet of Cucurbita Pepo into my basket and marched toward the checkout of our local nursery. Three months and a lot of love, weed and worm tea fertiliser later, and I was right back in that calf shed: totally squashed!

squash

Lucky. That was the name our much loved cat who, after much pleading and chore bargaining, was adopted into the family as yet another addition to our motley menagerie of rescued pets. Lucky is how I would also describe our abundance of fleshy, yellow marrow. From curries and pasta bakes to humble soups and sandwich-able preserves, we certainly feel golden to have so many adaptable family recipes that prevent us from finding ourselves in a profuse pickle. For those also flush with yellow funds this summer, I present to you my recipe for sharing the button squash love to all those who have a penchant for pickles…

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Squashed Chutney (makes plenty of tip shop rescued jar fulls!)

In true rescuing spirit, I plunged into that crate full of throw away, reduced price goodies at my local farmers market store to ensure that those over-sized yellowy-green marrows had plenty of motley friends to keep them company in those bottled up jars of summertime love.

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700g button squash, diced
2 green capsicums, deseeded and diced
1 corn cob, dekernaled
2 onions, diced
1 ½ c white vinegar
1 c white sugar
4 tsp ground turmeric
4tsp mustard seeds (brown or black)
½ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp curry powder
2 garlic cloves
2 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients into a large pot with a lid. Bring the mixture to boiling point and allow it to simmer on a low heat for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer for another 30 minutes or until the mixture thickens.

Meanwhile, sterilise those tip shop rescued glass jars. To sterilise the jars and lids, wash the them thoroughly in hot soapy water (use a bottlebrush if you need). Rinse in hot water then leave upside down to drain on a tea towel. Place the jars and lids on a tray in an upright position then place them in the oven at 100oC for 15-20 minutes.

Bottle the chutney into the hot, sterilised jars and seal. Leave for atleast three days before consuming.

Chutney

For those in need of an extra squashy meal deal or a wholesome, lunch box treat for the kids, load up the that homemade bread with a spoonful of the chutney, top with some cheddar and throw it in the toastie maker (…also rescued from the tip!). Viola!

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Oh…and as for those large seeds hidden in the centre of the squash, don’t forget to dry and store them for next summer. It’s the golden gift that keeps on giving!

Happy Hallo-inbet-Ween

The 31st of October for our family – and the many other families in our town house complex – brings with it much hoopla and the usual surge of underworld inspiration. Despite the somewhat hectic schedule of after school and family activities, this years gawesome clambake was no exception to the enthusiastic rule: pumpkins, ghosts and zombie scarecrows being the pick of the haunted harvest crop!

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Far from it’s end of harvest time roots, Halloween celebrations are snubbed and dubbed by many Aussies as yet another Northern Hemisphere tradition spreading its haunting tendrils into our sunburnt turf. Furthermore, for the environmentally conscious citizens seeking to curb habits of over consumption, the spooky paraphernalia and individually poly-wrapped candy can seem like an unnecessary use of non-biodegradable resources. For Scott and me, seeking to relive our nostalgic North American and U.K. past whilst still being true to our families commitment to living a low-plastic-and-waste lifestyle, finding the happy Hallo-inbet-Ween can feel a bit like recreating Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’s monster.

Stitching together the best parts of the grisly frivolities, our 2019 trick or treat costumes and house adornments saw a murder of crow like children gather at our gates for a lower-environmental impact evening of horrifying fun. For those willing to get in on our terrifying secrets to having it all, say hello to the mysteries of the Hallo-inbet-Ween:

Go grave digging: there is nothing more settling to the anti-thow-away mind than being able to retrieve from the tip-shop’s textiles-bin coffin, some handy sheets and clothing for some quick sew costumes. As for that packaging that encased our new worm farm, well how bout some good ol’ fashioned cardboard box, fency decorations.

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Disect: thanks to K2’s ravenous appetite for chewing through the knees of winter jeans, my sewing room cupboard was replete with truncated denim bottoms (the top halves now hip-cat summer shorts): cut into squares as patches for the scarecrows outfit.

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Stitch: one queen sized flat sheet can go a long way. Folded in half length ways and then draped over K1’s head, I cut and stitched my way to ghost costume Victor-Frankenstien-ory. Finished off using a curvy edge – the off-cuts of which were fashioned into a cover for K1’s brain bucket and a head for the scarecrow – K1 was set to petrify the neighbours into candy giving submission.

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Stuff: well that miniature sized scarecrow – destined for a long working life at our newly acquired, community garden allotment – ain’t gonna fill itself. Doubling as a fun activity for a rare at-home-day-Thursday morning, K2 and I set about sawing, pinning and stuffing with straw those rescued, baby-sized clothes to create our very own charming, carbon loaded scarecrow.

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Enliven: bringing the Halloween celebrations to life is always a little easier with that wonderful ingredient called sucrose. As much as I would love to be that parent who is brave enough to offer dried fruit or jackolantern mandarins (an idea I seriously toyed with), K1 made it quite clear that I was already pushing the “not normal” envelope to it’s sustainability limits and so I went with the bulk buy party pack lollies packed into a paper bag option instead. Throw in a strawbale (and crunchy garden clippings) tunnel, some up-north pumpkins and those fence decorations from upcycled cardboard and skellybob’s your uncle!

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After maniacally battering and entering into over 20 houses in our town house complex, K1 and K2 returned home with a booty of…yep…more plastic wrapped candy than one could poke an electrifying stick at. Given our families strict rule of one sweet per day…it may be an eternity before we see the end of that burgeoning lolly jar!

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Happy Hallo-inbet-Ween!

Light It Up: Lantern Festival

For me, getting out and about in the winter evenings with my two Energizer-Bunny kids, can seem a little like standing in the front row of a fireworks display with a leashed dog suffering from thunderstorm induced, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder! Yet every year, when our friendly and highly enthusiastic Neighbourhood Association puts on its annual lantern festival, I package up my nightmares about K1 and K2 drowning in the local wetlands whilst trying to recover a floating fairy-light display and hit the streets for a night of fire-fueled, community action!

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This year, the scene about our local shopping precinct was nothing short of flaming spectacular. In addition to reuniting with many of my hibernating-for-the-sub-zero-temperature-winter parental chums, there was also plenty of fundraising and entertainment activity to be enjoyed too. As K2 and I indulged in some Community Garden Herb Bread and lantern making frivolities, K1 and Scott took in the serenading sounds of a local and somewhat quirky folk band whilst dining out on an exceptionally long spiral of hot, fried potato.

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When dusk hit the party locale, it was time to light up the lanterns and file forth for a jovial jaunt about the shores of our local wetlands – the venue for the illustrious, Chinese Dragon led, night-light walk. From graveyard gimmicks and floating sea chariots to caroling choirs and living-light escorts, no natural stretch of the waters edge was left untouched by the most animated and luminescent party to hit our town’s winter calendar. At the conclusion of the sojourn, replete in spirit…and gastronomically speaking too, we replaced flame for L.E.D and hit the bike path for a slow cycle back to the homestead, enjoying plenty of post-event debriefing anecdotes along the way!

For those keen to break the mid-winter slump and create a night walking venture of your very own, I present to you the instructions to make a simple lantern from materials found around the home. If you are feeling extra enthusiastic, the activity can easily be up-scaled to include children at your local playgroup or a covey of family or friends: a soul-warming seller!

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Glass Jar Lantern

Resources:
1 large jar
super glue
scissors
paint brushes
scrap, coloured paper (such as old wrapping paper, tissue paper, craft paper etc.)
2 x paper clips (or some wire and pliers)
80 cm kitchen or garden twine (for around the top of the jar)
160 cm kitchen or garden twine (handle)
sand
1 tea light candle
matches

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Take the scrap, coloured paper and cut out pictures (from wrapping paper) or cut the paper into small rectangles (around 3 cm length and width). When you have cut enough paper to cover the outside of the jar, use a paint brush to cover the jar with a thin layer of super glue. Place the paper on the outside of the jar till covered. To ensure the paper is secured to the outside of the jar, paint over the top of the paper with another layer of super clue.

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To secure the handle, loosely wrap the 80cm length of string atleast four times around the top of the jar just below the threaded lip (where the lid screws on). Thread one paper clip through all four layers of the string. The paper clip will be used to attach the handle so ensure that the paper clip is strong enough to hold the weight. Repeat for the second paper clip but on the opposite side of the jar. Pull the string tightly so that the paper clips cannot slip around the rim of the jar. Tie the two ends of the string together.

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To attach the handle, first fold the 160 cm length of string in half. Thread one end through one paper clip. Thread the other end through the other paper clip being careful not to twist the strings. Tie the strings together.

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Fill the jar with enough sand to cover the base to a depth of 2 cm. Place the tea light candle on top. When you are ready to go on your illuminating walk, light a match and drop it into the jar just above the candle. With some tricky maneuvering you should be able to catch the wick: happy lantern walking!

I’m a Barbie girl…

…in a Barbie world…life is plastic…it’s fantastic…

Well…you get the plastic-picture. Or do you?

Unless you’ve been sitting on the back shelf of a Mattel warehouse collecting dust, then you will probably know that last month was Plastic Free July. You know….that month when you take a few moments to examine your life – and realise how hard it would be to function without that highly versatile product of convenience – and then try to do your bit to curb the oncoming apocalypse that is a plastic-waste tidal wave.

Each year the world produces approximately 448 million tons of plastic, 40% of which is only used once. Given that it takes about 450 years for the stuff to biodegrade, that leaves a corporate-giant-sized amount of rubbish accumulating each year on the shorelines of developing countries and in rivers, oceans, and…wait for it…human flesh – in the form of nano-particles. With such massive figures staring us in the micro-plastic (…ever had a look at the ingredients on that favourite bottle of facial moisturiser?) face, mucking in to try and reduce ones own plastic consumption can easily seem like a futile and overwhelming exercise.

I myself am a professed, dyed in the HDPE (in particular) plastic fan. I mean, c’mon, how could you not fall in love with such a robust, rigid specimen that holds up to plenty of repeated bouts of rough and tumble in that spare room cupboard, garage and even freezer! However, when it comes to single-use, soft plastics – and all those hidden petrochemicals found in cleaning products, clothes, cosmetics and food packaging – I give them but a cursory, haughty glance followed by a dismissive SMS: Sorry. Mindful Shopping…that’s just not my style! Whilst I don’t pretend to have a fantastical imagination about ridding the world of all it’s poly-chemical woes, I do believe that life is my creation: I have a duty to my children to teach them how to play and live in a sustainable way.

So you’ve done the cloth shopping bags and you’re getting used to the idea of carrying around a re-usable coffee cup for your latte’s-to-go. Now you’re up for a bigger challenge. Well what better moment is there for a new, plastic-free challenge than that dashing, dine-in-date-night with the love of your life. From preparing the house to donning the glitzy garb, below are some additional tips to add to your expanding, plastic-free tool kit (purse or wallet).

C’mon guys and dolls. Let’s go for a ride:

Setting the romantic scene: for me, nothing sours a dine-in-date-night faster than seeing the kitchen and dining space in a state of disarray. Fortunately, after years of trying a number of commercial equivalents, I have cottoned onto a couple of house-hold cleaning winners to ward off that bitter edge to the night. That is, the trusty old vinegar and bi-carb soda.

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With the exception of our washing powder (the eco-friendly, bulk-buy brand that I get from a local food co-op), these are the only other two cleaning chemicals I use in the house. Scented with some orange peels or garden herbs (there are plenty of free recipes on the web), no floor, bench, window, wall or oven is safe from these super-chemicals (and kid safe) clutches. As for the table adornments; my kid’s nature displays and an elegant bees-wax candle arrangement set the scene perfectly.

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Dolling up: before it’s time to brush your hair and undress everywhere (uh..hmmm), it might be worth taking a look at the ingredients in your favourite tube of eyeliner or men’s deodorant.

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Generally speaking, any long winded chemical with the word poly at the front or -ene at the end is probably going to be a micro-bead plastic. Recently PCCP’s (Plastics in Cosmetics and personal Care Products) have taken center stage in the bimbo-plastics department. And for good reason. Ultimately – after they have escaped from water treatment plants, been taken up by a local river system and then used in agriculture – they wind up in your body, potentially wreaking havoc with your reproductive system and general cell functioning. Yikes!

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Fortunately there are plenty of great products out there in the cosmetics and personal care market that are micro-plastic free…if you are willing to part with a pretty penny. Some of them even eschew the plastic packaging too, such as shampoo bars and bamboo toothbrushes. Otherwise there is always the rustic alternative that is make-up free….with a glass-packaged deodorant paste to match.

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Dressed to impress: continuing on with the micro-plastic theme is that of synthetic clothing. I am a devoted worshiper of the natural fibre and I am constantly raiding tip bins, clothing swap racks and charity shop collections in search of these scarce items. That said, I have plenty of polyester, rayon, spandex and man-made fleeces in my wardrobe and I’ll be darned (see what I did there?) if I’m letting go of my nylon stockings. Once again, the big, bad thing with plastic clothes is the nano-sized particles that break off during the wash and, at the grave stage of the life-cycle, disseminate through land fill. For me, when it comes to that daring, glamour-in-pink, date-night number I follow three rules: natural if it’s new, second-hand if it’s synthetic and always follow the care instructions!

Plating up: now we’re getting to the business end of the night. It’s time to get naked!

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Ok, ok…so maybe your not quite up for that! In fact, unless you’re willing to give up your day job (…no really…it’s a big time commitment), relinquishing food packaging completely is seriously hard work. Besides, not everyone is lucky enough to have a farmer’s market outlet and a whole-foods shop just around the corner. Also, for most busy families, there just aren’t enough hours (and energy) in the day to hand-make all the families key staples such as bread, yoghurt, snack food and home cooked meals each night. There has to be a trade off!

Now before you go all plastic-packaging-ice-queen (or king) on the lovely check-out person or manager at your local supermarket, there are some simple things you can do – in addition to your cotton veggie-huggers and re-usable shopping bags – that put a big smile on the environment’s dial. Firstly, if you have to purchase something that is wrapped in plastic, it can be helpful to think about what is going to happen to that packaging at the end of it’s life time: how recyclable is your packaging?

In an almost-naked nutshell, if you have to purchase an item that is packaged in a soft-plastic – which is not easily recycled and breaks down into mirco, water-polluting particles that re-enter the food chain and therefore your body – try to look for brands that have a zip-lock (or other), closure so that the packaging can be reused. For meat, nuts and other products purchased from the deli, ask if you can bring your own containers, otherwise you could consider offsetting your plastic packaging footprint by choosing a high-end product instead. Farms that identify as being organic or biodynamic adhere to strict practices that have a lower environment impact and therefore reliance on the petrochemical industry. Oh and one last thing, for those of you who love to pick-up the big and hunky, purchasing items in large quantities (such as a block of cheese and a family sized pack of crisps instead of the individually wrapped alternatives) increases the product to plastic surface-area-ratio and hence means less poly-carbon waste in your dustbin.

Feeling set to walk and talk the reduced plastic date-night challenge?

Then act like a star. Have some fun. And go and party! Ah ah ah yeah…the Aqua planet with love you!

Avast…it’s a paarghty!

Ahoy there parental buccaneers!

Searching for the treasure chest that is an affordable, pirate-themed kids party?

Then it’s time to throw sensibilities to the wind, batten down the winter-garb hatches and climb aboard the cheap-kids-birthday-bash ship for a few hours of rollicking piratical action!

When it comes to coveting those hard earned diamonds and doubloons, there are plenty of play-center venues standing at the ready to purloin a sizable portion of your hard earned booty. Being cut from the traditional, whole-family party (as opposed to the more popular drop and free-babysitting-run variety) cloth, Scott and I have become old salts when it comes to keeping the largess of party going crew on an even keel without going overboard and hence sending the family savings to the bottom of Davy Jones’ Locker.

Here’s how we charmed our chums at K2’s pirate themed birthday bonanza last month:

Set sail for an island destination: since Scott and I got a little sea sick at the idea of having thirty odd, overly exuberant guests descend upon the family home, we opted for an offsite, peninsula setting instead: plenty of free BBQ hot plates and public park equipment to swig that excess energy.

Cast all hands on deck: as Captain at the helm I see it as my duty to assign the hard work to the crew. From designing activities to cake decorating, not a single job was left untouched by my diligent crew of child-sized, dab hands.

Invitations

Raised the Jolly Roger…early: weekend time is precious for many families, so I tend to flag notice of a party atleast three weeks in advance. As for the design…well I’m a hard task master. So as to capitalise on my children’s’ creative drawing minds and hone those fine motor skills, I eschewed the pre-made versions of party invitations and made my children execute the designs instead: a great way to kill a couple of hours on a slow, post school afternoon.

Served plenty of grub: replete with cheese platters (including that infamous Waltsana Matilda bread), Scurvy sCures (vegetable skewers), Prisoner Phalanges (snags) and salads to boot, not a single belly was left rumbling…including the adults.

Donned the pirate garb: you can’t very well have a pirate themed party if you’re not going to get into the privateering mood yourself! So just in case some of our party going parents forgot to read the memo…my clever clogs kiddies planned a crafty activity that saw all attendees decked out in a paper hat and telescope: plenty of up-cycling fun was had by all.

Sea Shanties

Bashed out the sea shanties: no pirate gathering would be complete without a bout of vocal dechorus. Both K1 and K2 put their thinking caps on to come up with bucaneering versions of some traditional nursery rhymes. Namely, Old Captain Pugwash Had a Crew (to the tune of Old Macdonald) and If You’re Happy and You Know it Shout…Arrrgh…Raise your cutlass…Walk the plank…well you get my sea-faring drift!

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Rotted the teeth: and let them eat cake…lots of it. That traditional, Woman’s Weekly Pirate Cake, went down the hatch faster than a cannon ball set upon enemy marauders.

Dolled out the dough: so as to keep in good favour with the piratical peers, K2 ensured all guests were paid well for their services: a family sized cache of hand made, Golden Treasure Cookies.

Hoarded the treasure: in the interests of of avoiding the accumulation of unwanted and often poorly manufactured cheap gifts, K2 requested a bequest of gold coins to be placed in a hand made treasure box instead. The largess of cash was spent on a new puzzle…filling plenty of weekend, quiet-activity-time hours.

Land ahoy! Three hours and a little over $100 dollars later, and it’s was time to reground our jubilant crew of filibusters and send them on their merry way home.

As for my kids consensus on the birthday bash…

X marks the spot!

Dressed to Arrest

“You have the right to remain silent…” – excerpt from the Miranda Rights warning.

Farm safety. Not a topic that many who knew me in a previous, outlawdish cowgirl life would feel I was qualified to pontificate about. However after four months in solitary, maternity-leave confinement, I was craving a chance to break the silence and perform an out-of-subject-teaching-area classroom hijack.

Whether it was the wild, what-not-to-do-on-a-farm tales or the over accentuated Aussie accent, my series of Farmwise Forum lessons stole the children’s attention just long enough to see out the twenty minute sessions of die-dactic tutelage and realise an invaluable booty: a pair of “un-local” kindred spirits.

Like us, Leanne and Jack – a Mountie (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) family and the organisers of the forum – were used to having to squash life into a couple of suitcases and re-acclimatise to the idiosyncrasies of new and sometimes hard-to-crack-into codes of community rule. Upon learning of our temporary transition into a close-knit rural Canadian town, our courageous new cronies took us under their experienced outsider wings. For the next eighteen months, I, Scott and baby K1 would regularly be treated to guided, sight-seeing tours of some nearby – within 3 hours drive! – natural treasures: the desert coulee’s of Writing on Stone National Park and the township of Waterton (based at the foot of the Rocky Mountains)…to name just a few.

As with most pious, agrarian Albertan communities, Thanksgiving is a big deal. Drawing the short straw for the public holiday shift, Jack landed border patrol duties for almost the entirety of the harvest celebration. As if having a sixth sense for the mouthwatering aromas of a perfectly cooked, prized Hutterite turkey, Jack walked through the front door. After unbuckling his mid-calf length black leather boots, he flopped in enervated fashion, into his seat placed at the head of the dining room table. After a restorative non-alcoholic glass of on-duty bubbly, he then regaled us with tales about his day of munitions takings. In the interests of hustling to the chase, I thing it was fair to say that the sleepy border town police station’s stronghold had realised a sizable investment of purloined, semi-automatic weapons seized from cowboys hoping to take advantage of a reduced, vacation day police force.

Fare-welling our now familial friends was always going to bear a heavy emotional load. So as to soften the parting blow, when our Canadian venture came to it’s post-doctoral-contract end, Jack presented Scott with a collectible gift: his felted woolen Forces jacket…from a previous life as an intrepid fighter pilot. For almost eight years of subzero, winter morning cycling commutes to work, Scott has donned the formidable blue blazer and successfully kept out the icy temperatures as well as seen off some rather aggressive, bike-hating bullying tactics by many a curmudgeon car driver.

Inspired by Dad’s Canadian habiliments – and an overindulgence in criminally themed Lego blocks and books – a recent fancy dress party saw me raiding my scrap materials bin for a selection of old clothes and used fabrics that would see K1 and K2 dressed to arrest…or be arrested.

For those keen on seizing the prize for the best of the fancy dressed, my whistle-blowing secrets for environmentally conscious Cops and Robber Costumes:

Resources:

2 x pair of jeans (thank goodness for Jean Therapy!)

1 x long sleeve collared cotton shirt

1 x black T-shirt

1 x old, black (or another dark colour) business shirt (adult sized)

1 x baseball cap

1 x flourescent vest

2 x belts

elastic

yellow, nonstretch fabric

old, white singlet

blue permanent marker or paint pen

newspaper

white paper

Handcuffs, baton, duffle bag and mask:

Almost all of this part of the costume comes from a single business shirt.

Handcuffs:

Cut the cuffs off the business shirt. Cut both the length of buttons (starting from the collar) and the length of button holes. Starting from the top most side of the first button, cut into button strips of approximately equal lengths ensuring that you snip just in front of the proceeding button. Repeat for the button holes.

Join one button hole strip and one button strip by zig-zag stitching together the two strips at the points farthest from the button/button hole. Repeat for the remaining strips. Just like Christmas ring bunting, join together each button hole and matching button to make a length of 6 – 8 rings. Attach to the cuffs using button-less strip.

Baton:

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Roll up several sheets of newspaper to make a paper baton and secure with a rubber band. Cut one of the business shirt sleeves down the main seam and lay out flat. Place the baton on top. Leave 1.5cm of fabric at each end of the baton to stitch. Cut a rectangle of fabric that will be large enough to encase the baton (including a 3 cm seam allowance on the long edge). Stitch (right sides together), using a 1.5 cm seam allowance, around the outside of the rectangle, leaving open one short end. Turn to the right side. Thread the newspaper baton into the fabric sleeve. Turn over the top one centimeter of fabric at the open end. Press and stitch closed.

Duffle bag: on a white piece of paper, draw a large (block lettered dollar sign). Pin this onto the yellow fabric. Cut around the outside. On one of the side panels of the business shirt (front), trace around a side plate (of 18 – 20 cm). This will form the base of the duffel bag. Calculate the circumference of the plate and then add 3 cm for a seam allowance. For the body section of the duffle bag, create a paper template using the previously measured circumference (plus seam allowance) as the width. Choose a height length that will allow you to use almost all the back of the business shirt. Pin the template to the back of the shirt. Cut out.

Pin the dollar sign to the middle front of the main body piece. Slowly stitch around the outside of the applique. Pin together the body section of the duffle bag (right sides facing) at the raw edges of the longest sides (height). Using a marker pen, place a mark at the raw edge 6 cm and 8 cm from the top. This will form the casing of the finished product. Using a 1.5 cm seam allowance, stitch down the side of the fabric until you reach the first marked point. Leave the two centimeter gap un-stitched. Stitch the remaining length. Press the seam open. Fold two centimeters of the top edge over to the wrong side. Press. Fold over another four centimeters ensuring that the folded edge does not cover the hole. Stitch together near the base of the folded fabric to form the casing.

To attach the base (don’t mind my tracing error), pin the base and the body together. Right sides facing. Stitch using a 1.5cm seam allowance. Turn the bag in the correct way. Cut a few pieces of string or a cord and thread through the casing by attaching a safety pin to the end.

Mask:

Measure the circumference of your child’s head. Get creative and sketch a mask template (without holes) onto a white piece of paper equivalent to the circumference of your child’s head. Ensure the thickness of the mask at the back of the head is large enough to encase the elastic. Cut out and pin onto the other sleeve of the business shirt. Cut out two masks. Pin the elastic between the two mask pieces at the back. Using a close, zig-zag stitch, go around the outside of the mask. Hold the mask up to your child’s face to approximate the eye holes. Draw, cut out and stitch around the inside of the holes using, again, a close zig-zag stitch.

Police Shirt and Cap, Prisoner Shirt:

Police shirt: once again, get your creative, police badge drawing skills on and create a star shaped template out of white paper. Pin onto the same yellow fabric used to make the dollar sign. Cut out. Place onto the cotton, collared shirt at the breast pocket and stitch around the outside.

Cap: draw a rectangle (wide enough to sit on the front of the cap) onto a white piece of paper. Pin onto the yellow fabric. Cut out. Write the police departments name on the front in paint pen. Pin onto the hat at the center-front. Stitch around the outside.

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Prisoner Shirt: draw (onto a white piece of paper) and cut out a rectangle large enough to sit on the front of the black prisoner shirt. This is the prisoner identification code. Pin this to an old singlet. Cut out. Write the police department at the top using paint pen and then the prisoner identification code below. Pin this to middle-front of the black shirt. Stitch.

Your once darling children are now dressed and ready to steal…or arrest the Fancy Dress show!

Growth Spurt

“Boot’s don’t shrink…feet grow.”

– excerpt from Big Sarah’s Little Boots – Paulette Boureois and Brenda Clark

The story itself was not particularly spectacular. In a gum-nut shell: Sarah had a favourite pair of little yellow boots that she loved to splash in puddles with when it rained. One day she grew out of the boots. Sarah was sad and perplexed. Her mother consoled her, then bought Sarah a new and equally adored pair of shiny red boots. Sarah was happy. The end.

It never seemed to bother my mother that from the day I turned four, night after night, my book request was always the same. Acutely aware of my innate interest in the physical sciences – aerial mapping and observations from birds eye view positions atop silos, roofs and trees being the popular subject of study at the time – mum always presumed that my fascination with the rather tiresome text was due to those aspects pertaining to biological growth and repair…and therefore “length (or rather height)” expansion.

During the early 90’s rain was not a regularly occurring phenomenon at the farmstead and so the idea of needing shoes let alone shiny yellow boots to splash in puddles with was somewhat of a bamboozling concept. Furthermore – putting aside the frequent, scream inducing encounters with drop-tail lizards and Huntsman spiders taking refuge in the insulated cotton lining of my mothers dairy-boots – foot coverings only proved cumbersome when playing my game-winning “get out of trouble by tree climbing” card.

This year, when the flip-flop and sandal wearing summer holidays came to their natural conclusion, it was time to rummage through the depths of the back-of-the-shelf school wear section of the kids closet to retrieve those compulsory, covered-at-the-toes shoes. It was on this day that I was hit with the full force of a Big Sarah’s Little Boot’s, raging thunder-storm-esque tantrum.

Despite my rather adept attempts of the previous 6 months to hold together K2’s highly exalted – pre-loved by a favourite neighbour – glow-in-the-dark shoes, my hand-stitching and Tarzan Grip gluing was no match for the biological forces of a summer holiday sized growth spurt. Finally, when the kicks, howls and screams of protestation subsided, the overwhelming sense of loss was quickly replaced with with a succulent idea to see us out of this rather prickly situation…

All in an adventurous morning’s work: a brand new pair of runners to start the educative year and an ornamental garden addition set to spike the memory bank of those well trodden, pre school days.

For those keen to avoid a future growth-spurt booting: Succulent Shoes (or boots).

Resources:

Old shoes

Succulent plants

Cacti and Succulent Potting Mix

Trowel

Drill and Drill bits

Drilling board

Water can

Take the old pair of shoes and let your little sprout give them one last departing wear or hug…then start drilling!

To create the drainage holes, take a large diameter drill bit (atleast 6 mm), pull the tongue of the shoe back as far as it will go (remove the innersole if need be) and, on an old board, drill holes approximately 1 cm apart. Succulents do not like their roots to get wet so the more holes the better.

Fill the shoes with good quality potting mix ensuring you leave enough room for the plants. Make a small hole in the center of the shoe. Ease the plant out of the pot and gently place it into the shoe such that the top of the plant is level with the top of the shoe. Add extra potting mix if required.

Place the shoes in a sunny position in the garden. Water the shoes whenever the potting mix looks dry. Stand back and reminisce…on all the boot-scooting times past!

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In Animate Rescue

Fatso will always go down in diary-life history as being my favourite cow in our heard.

During the afternoon milking hours, my younger brothers (Tommy and Jimmy) and I would often be found lurking around the dairy. When we weren’t scooping milk from the poddy vat – kept as a back up during high production times for the 10,000 L milk-holding-behemoth and for storing colostrum during calving periods – then you could bet your bottom, parlour-duty dollar we could be found scaling the fences encircling the awaiting 400 head of cattle in an attempt to endear ourselves to the mongrel-breed giants. While most turned away in brazen disinterest or afternoon-heat lassitude, Fatso would always humour our nurtural senses with a winsome nudge of the neck or head into our outreached hands. Fatso was also highly prized by my older, more productivity minded brother Charlie. For despite her age (a sturdy 8 years), Fatso was one of our top producers, was always “in-calf” and had a well formed, tit-cup-enduring udder.

Two days after giving birth to her 5th baby, Fatso developed an unrelenting tremor in her legs. Having been witness to this symptom in calving periods past, Charlie and Dad astutely shifted her to a more comfortable and therapeutic location. While mum disagreed with her apprized native garden being used as a palliative care ward, my more optimistic brothers and I reveled in the opportunity to nurse our Milk Fever (Hypocalcemia) stricken, beloved cow back to good health.

In the first 12 hours, Jimmy, Tommy and I took it in turns to deliver her plenty of calcium rich clover, read her our favourite picture book stories and nestle ourselves into her rapidly collapsing frame in the hope that our love and Dad’s regular, medicinal injections would breathe new life into the highly venerated old Murray Grey-Fresian girl. When we awoke the following day, Fatso had collapsed onto her side. In an attempt to provide relief from the advanced stages of her metabolically-commandeered fate, we hand milked her burgeoning udder.

Jimmy, Tommy and I didn’t wait to see the truck arrive. Forlorn and aggreived, we spent our afternoon bunkered down in the calving shed. When we could no longer stand the wrenching sound of winding chains undignifyingly pulling Fatso into the haulage cart, we busied ourselves at the feeding troughs whence the loud sloshing sounds of colostrum being pressure-hosed into teeted milk-troughs helped ward off the accosting and vivid imagery that would remain with us for days to come.

On a particularly grey day last week, following an uncharacteristically large dump of rain, my morning school cycling troop spied a rather curious addition to the road side vegetation. Having developed a habit of sequestering many a verge-side dumpings into the family home, K1 and K2 felt obliged to investigate. Upon discovering that the item was not made of wood or metal, I issued the standard firm and immediate “No way…that’s just gross and totally unhygienic” repost made to all stuffie (and other fabric related item) rescue requests.

Maybe it was the pleading eyes of my children…or the cute floppy ears… or the winning smile…

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…or maybe it was the fact that for the next two days of seemingly disinterested cycle passings, I couldn’t delete from my mind the fact that Elliot von Snorter, our newest addition to the family furniture collection, had fur almost identical in colour to that of my greatly adored Fatso.

So…for anyone else previously turned grey by the idea of having second-hand stuffies in your home, I can safely say that Rescuing a Stuffie can be done:

Before you even think about bringing potential biowaste into your house, check for condition. If the fabric item has mould spores, tears or any significant areas or fraying, then sadly, you might need to consider providing the once-lovied a respectful burial into your nearest landfill bin instead. Otherwise, once you’ve approved the adoption papers, the revival process can begin.

First, give the fur a once over with a standard comb to remove any burs. Using a quick-unpick tool, unpick enough of the seam to enable you to remove all the stuffing with ease. Place the stuffing into a pillow case with a zip or one tied very tightly in a double knot and throw it into the machine with your next load of washing. Leave to air dry on your hills hoist (or other). Meanwhile, use a stain-removal bar of soap to clean any marks off the stuffie’s hide and leave to soak overnight in a tub of warm water.

Place the stuffie hide into a pillow case and repeat the method used for the stuffing.  Refill your new, now lovie, with the stuffing. When ready to stitch, bring together the two raw edges of fabric – ensuring that you fold each edge inwards slightly to create a neat seam – and pin together. Close the seam using a slip stitch. Give your lovie a once over with the comb or brush to liven up the fur…

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and Elliot von Snorter lives happily ever after as a treasured addition to one of our many reading corners. The End.

Wax lyrical: School wRap

As the sun steams through the curtains,

‘member som’thin’ kinda cool,

it’s time to get my kit on,

it’s da first day back at school.

 

I wolf down all my brekky,

scrub my teeth and brush my hair,

jump on my two wheeled pushy,

racin’ to the school house lair.

 

There’s a rumble in my tummy,

time to break and get some fuel,

aint no plastic in my lunchbox,

cos that’s just kinda cruel.

 

Instead I have my sangas,

all wrapped up in colours bright,

which helps me save the planet,

keep food fresh and sleep at night.

 

Knowing what to put in your children’s lunchbox can weigh heavily on a mothers mind. Throw in a few plastic centered facts – such as, based on current trends, estimates have us (by 2025) putting enough plastic in the ocean to cover 5% of the earth’s surface in cling film each year – and ones already backpack-sized guilty conscience can quickly shift into overload.

I first discovered beeswax wraps a couple of years ago while Christmas shopping for a dear friend who lives in my Riverina, highschool-hometown. Hedda, well known for her exceptional welcome platters with the works – a plethora of fruits, nuts, biscuits and cheeses – quickly put her gift to good use…encasing the only remaining sliver of cheese not devoured by my ravenous children in a sheath of re-useable and compostable waterproof cotton.

The following summer, ensuing a sizable injection of beeswax from my mums’ backyard apiary and some inspirational lessons from my eco-ceptionally talented Toy Library friend Terry, I was ready to pull those discarded, hole-ridden summer dresses out of retirement. A year later and our home-made, up-cycled wraps continue to enrapture my children’s school day…with a few additions to the consumer care list:

  1. Sponge bath the wraps using cool water only…unless you’re a fan of melting moments.
  2. Embrace the heat to revitalise. That is, put the wraps onto a tray lined with baking paper and place in the oven for 5 – 7 minutes at 100oC when you notice the wax starting to break away from the cotton.

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    Well used beeswax wraps ready for revitalisation
  3. Lower the clinging standards. They aint like the traditional plastic film. They work best in warmer weather and the hold around your food item is more like a secure embrace than a stranglingly tight clasp.

Last Tuesday saw an extra loud buzz about the morning routine as K1 and K2 were kitted up, packaged off and pushed out the door for their first day of the school year. While the beeswax wraps swaddling their Bishop Bread sangas will make but a pin sized difference toward reducing the 275 million tonnes of plastic produced annually, I can atleast take comfort in knowing that I am part of a wider community of parents who are also passionate about sowing the biodegradable beads of change among our next generation of eco-warriors.

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For anyone keen on joining the eco-swarm, then forage no further: a method for making your very own Beeswax Wraps.

Resources:

A4 sized pieces of scrap or new cotton or linen fabric

Pinking shears (optional)

Beeswax (you can purchase this from most health food stores if you don’t happen to have a personal cache)

Grater

Baking tray (atleast as wide as an A4 sheet of paper)

Baking paper

Clothes horse (or other to hang the wraps to cool)

Wooden pegs

To get in on the hive of activity about making your own beeswax wraps, you’re gonna have to accept that things will get a little messy. I recommend purchasing (or rescuing from your local tip or charity shop) a tray that you use only for making beeswax wraps…you are never gonna get the stuff off.

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Before you begin waxing, neaten the edges of the fabric using pinking shears (optional). Set up your clothes horse. Place a large sheet of baking onto the base of the baking tray. Lay your fabric flat on the surface of the tray. Using a grater, grate 10 g of beeswax. Sprinkle this evenly over the surface of the fabric. Place the tray into an oven at 100oC for 5 – 7 minutes or until completely melted.

 

Moving quickly, remove the tray from the oven. Pick up the fabric at two of the adjacent corners and hold it in the air, over the tray, for 30 seconds or so to allow the fabric to stiffen and any excess wax to drip free. When stiff enough to carry, peg to the clothes horse. The wrap may at first look a little yellow in colour but will lighten after further cooling. Repeat with your remaining fabric pieces.

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When your busy brood are ready to fly off to school, secure their sangas (or other) in the wrap, and encase them snuggly in the protection of a good quality lunch box. Waxtastic!

Jean Therapy

After nearly 10 years of experimental research, I’ve made the holey grail of discoveries: slowing the rate of those rapidly aging jeans!

My embryonic secret was out the day I contacted Leslie. In addition to being a multi-talented laboratory technician, she was also known for her creative moonlighting habits in the sewing department. Three days and two retrofitted pairs of black, work slacks later and I was set to see out my last eight weeks of deception in comfort. As it turned out, I needn’t have bothered. My shrewd colleagues were quick to note my sudden passion for lurching my students into the age of independent learning as the rapidly developing, in-vivo K1 saw fit to see me chained to the school house lavatory.

Raising a family on a single post doc salary in a foreign country has it’s psychological blessings. Rotting food is a meal half full and used-by-dates equal guidelines only. Heating in -30oC temperatures gains luxury status. And ripped clothes and rags mature into fabric dividends. Not wanting to let an out-of-work, pre-baby 6 months go to landfill, I quickly put my lime-green, retro Brother to stitching work, whipping up nappies, rompers, sleep suits and other such baby DNA (Definitely Non-negotiable Attire).

By age two, K1 had begun to express characteristics of his mothers phenotype: a predisposition to premature, tear-lomeric degradation of jeanetic material. Invoking the creative powers of Leslie times past, I began to tinker with excising junk cloth and splicing this elemental textile with other durable equivalents.

The results…

Well depending on how I choose to translate the repaired jeanotype, I either go punk- rocker style (above left) and patch behind the hole or over the top for the confident, D.I.Y. suave finish (above right).

Of course, by the end of the winter season, my very active little mutants have outrun the sewing room’s rate of repair such that only one course of action remains to keep the jean-dream alive: amputation.

OK…so it might not be a Nobel Prize winning revelation or worthy of a spread in hard Times magazine…but atleast my kids are now decked out for a Hot-Pants summer of poolside commutes or broiling sessions in the mud pie kitchen.

The details for Patching those Britches and Making Denim (and other) Hot Pants has been spliced below:

Patching those Britches

  1. Using sewers measuring tape, measure the length of fabric patch that you will need to cover the hole (I always add an extra inch or so above and below and half an inch either side).

  2. Using scrap paper, make a patch template equal to the width and length measured. Truncate the corners by rounding them out for a smoother finish.
  1. Using a similar (or contrasting) colour fabric of durable strength (I always use denim, corduroy or any other type of heavy cotton), cut out two patches for each leg of the pants (a double thickness patch seems to see the pants through to the end of the season).
  1. Using a quick unpick tool, unpick one side of the pants starting from atleast one inch above where you wish the patch to sit and end atleast one inch below (I always go for the side with the least stitching). Ensure you remove all the thread scraps lest they get stuck in the machine when sewing.

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  1. Pin the patches over the hole (or underneath if you prefer) ensuring that you do not accidentally pin through to the back of the jeans. Using a basting stitch (the largest stitch width) sew (about 1 inch from the edge of the patch) the patch in place, removing the pins as you go.

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  1. Using zig-zag (or decorative stitch if you prefer) stitch, slowly sew (on a wide width and low stitch length setting) around the edge of the patch ensuring that you do not catch the back of the jeans as you sew. Repeat for the second patch. If choosing to go underneath the hole (for the punk rocker look) then also sew around the hole so that the fabric sits tighter onto the patch (and is less likely to get snagged on obstacles during play).
  2. Unpick the basting stitch. Sew up the side seam and zig-zag stitch the raw edges to finish.

    Whack them back on your little mutant for their next bout of textile testing play!

Making Denim (and other) Hot Pants

  1. Place the jeans onto your child and mark on the outside of a leg seam (using a washable sewing pen), where your child wishes for the shorts to finish. Add an extra 3 cm to this length. Repeat with the opposite leg. Sever the jeans ensuring that your cutting line is approximately parallel with the seam at the ankle.

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  1. Turn the (now) shorts inside out. Turn over 1 cm of the raw edge. Press. Turn over another 1 cm. Press and pin in place. Repeat for the opposite leg.

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  1. Sewing as close as possible to the outside seam, sew around the leg hole ensuring that you stretch the fabric as you go so as to avoid the seam being too tight around the leg. Sew a second seam ¼ inch from the first. Repeat with the opposite leg.

    Eureka! Some Hot-pants for those sweltering summer days.