Chookonia rises!

It has been a very long time coming.

We first talked about keeping chickens in our previous home. I had the spot marked out, the coop and run designed, and…. well, it just never happened. At that point, we were still doing a lot of travelling on the motorbike and had no trusted neighbours who’d take over chook care in return for eggs while we were away.

The Girls. Three Australorps and three Isa Browns.I miss keeping chickens. I had a nice flock of 6 when I lived in northern NSW, three Australorps and three ISA Browns, which was enough to feed me and have some to sell. I’ve been eyeing various parts of our backyard for years, mentally installing chickens. Again, it hasn’t happened. But in the past couple of weeks, something has changed, some inner switch has clicked over and now, we’re ready. Construction has begun!

The Husband is losing the very slight use of a mostly-empty garden shed. It contains an old lawn mower, some empty paint cans, exactly 4 tools and some planks of wood. It’s also the perfect size for a small flock of between 3 and 7 chooks. I’m proposing 5, on the basis of two laying hens per person plus a spare. You need an odd number, it works better with the pecking order dynamic, I find. I’m hoping to order point of lay ISA Brown pullets from a local supplier called Just Got Laid…!

We have installed vents (we used leaf catchers for ground-water drainage) in two of the shed walls to allow free airflow and let in a bit of light. We have a solar shed light and nesting boxes to instal, and will need to add insulation to the roof to stop it getting too hot inside in the summer. I have a couple of broomsticks for perches, too, one higher than the other, because of the pecking order.

The water tank which collects run-off from the big shed is literally 2 metres away. There is both sun and shade. It has structures on three sides already, so only one fence needed to be built. All we have had to buy is a galvanised bin for feed and the gate (and yes, we could have built one, but sometimes, life is too short and this one will last far longer than whatever our only adequate carpentry skills could produce.

There was a handy pile of bricks from which I constructed the skirt for the fence. They’re laid dry, but it’s adequate for the purpose. It gives a hard line to mow up to, and stops chickens and other animals from squeezing under the bottom of the wire. We already had the wire and the star pickets. There’s some fairly random bricks laid out on the ground for who knows what original purpose which I’m going to grub up to give the Girls more scratching area. There’s a brick path to the shed, and a brick apron out the front of it. The rest will be grass and straw yard. They’ll be let out into the main back yard once they’re accustomed to their new home and come when called for feeding time. The chook house and run comprise 9m², or nearly 100ft², which is almost double what is required for free ranging. Once they’re allowed out into the rest of the back yard, that will increase massively, and they will have extensive green pick to enjoy.

There’s not much in the back yard they can destroy. I have no vegie garden at the moment. But I do have plans to convert the disused orchid shade house into a vegie raising area. It’s constructed of scaffolding pipe, with a roof, a door and shelving. If some of the shade cloth is removed, it will become a very useful caged area, safe against marauding chickens, possums, bandicoots and greyhounds pelting around stretching their legs…

Still plenty to do, and I’ll do an update once we’re a bit further along. We still have to introduce Mouse to the concept, but he has a low prey drive and doesn’t chase either cats or the chickens that casually let themselves out of a chicken yard at the bottom of the street to forage in the surrounding area, trotting off home at the end of the day. I’m not too concerned.

Must brush up on my Chicken-speak. It’s been a while…

Took, took, Bork!

Time Flies…

… when you’re having fun.

And it still is. Fun, that is. Thank you all, old friends and new, for making blogging still a rewarding, enjoyable, funny, hopeful and positive place to be creative, make friends, receive encouragement and share joy and sorrow.

Who knows where we’ll be in another 8 years, but I hope that I’m still blogging, that I still have things to talk about, there are new friends to ‘meet’ and fresh ideas to enjoy.

Thank you all. It has been a blast!

Twilight… fades to black

It’s done.

In the shade apart from a splash of sunshine, where the colours are mostly, but not quite, true to life

Twilight is finished!  It has taken me a stupidly long time to complete what is, after all, not a very complicated quilt, but it has hit me in the middle of a patch of de-motivation, loss of quilting mojo and needing to get other things done. Now that it is finished, I wonder why it took me so long, and I love it and am proud of it.

In the sun. See what I mean about the colours? Not true to life; all the purple has gone brown.

Photos just don’t accurately communicate the lovely sheen on those shot cotton squares, the flashes of double-colour. The values are all wrong and the colours are off. Never mind. I know it looks better than what you see here.

(Thanks are due to the Husband, who patiently held it up at arms length all around the back yard till I found somewhere that worked, still in his work clothes after a long day and before he’d had a cup of tea, just because I wanted to catch the light. You’re a star!)

The back is nice and simple, just a dark petrol green-blue, and a simple label.

I’ll mail it off on Monday, with love and a sigh of relief!

… and night falls on yet another quilt.

Trying it for size

They’re back.

The sunbird couple are flitting around the nest again. Not constantly, but regularly. Mrs SB spent a good hour this afternoon sitting in the nest with her head out the hole (see her curved beak sticking out on the right?). Whether she was assessing it for comfort, fit, ambience or location I don’t know, but she was there a good while. Maybe she was even laying an egg?

I’m going no closer than I absolutely have to. As it is, we’re reluctant to use the back deck for fear of disturbing her. Mouse, of course, is totally unconcerned, and as this is his route out to the back yard to do his business, he trots happily under the nest without paying it any attention. She ignores him right back… I do hope they’re planning to stay and raise a family. It’s usually two eggs, I believe, so maybe we’ll be seeing a pair of tiny curved beaks opening wide for nectar and insects from the hardworking parents. And of course, situated where they are, they’re safe from both larger predatory birds and cats, and extremes of weather.

On another note, I have one seam left to go on Twilight, always the hardest because I’m wrestling the full weight of the quilt and trying to keep quite tiny seams straight.

Tomorrow should see it done. Once more unto the breach, etc.  I also have the binding made and rolled up neatly, waiting for that bit to start. I need to start thinking about a label!

So, progress on all fronts!

ScrapHappy September

Welcome once again to ScrapHappy Day!

It’s the day my friend Gun in Sweden and I host ScrapHappy, a day for showing something made from scraps.

Here’s Block 13 of the Hopscotch quilt for Days for Girls. I haven’t got a lot done on this quilt in the last month, but one block is better than no blocks. I’ve also traced and cut the pattern for the patchwork tote I’ll be making as another raffle prize, but bits of paper doesn’t make an interesting photo, so for that you’ll have to wait for a month where there’s more on that project to show you.

ScrapHappy is open to anyone using up scraps of anything – no new materials. It can be a quilt block, pincushion, bag or hat, socks or a sculpture. Anything made of genuine scraps is eligible. If your scrap collection is out of control and you’d like to turn them into something beautiful or useful instead of leaving them to collect dust in the cupboard, why not join us on the 15th of each month? Either email me at the address on my Contact Me page, or leave a comment below. You can also contact Gun via her blog to join. We welcome new members. You don’t have to worry about making a long term commitment or even join in every month, just let either of us know a day or so in advance if you’re new and you’ll have something to show, so we can add your link. Regular contributors will receive an email reminder three days before the event.

Here are the links for everyone who joins ScrapHappy from time to time (they may not post every time, but their blogs are still worth looking at).

Today we are also welcoming Jule to the group. She tells me she has a lot of scraps that need dealing with, so I’m looking forward to seeing what she has for us.

KateGun, EvaSue, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy,  Tracy, Jill,
Claire, Jan, Moira, Sandra, Chris, Alys,
Kerry, Claire, Jean, Jon, Dawn, Jule,
Gwen, Bekki, Sunny, Kjerstin, Sue L,
Vera, Nanette, Ann, Dawn 2, Bear,
Carol, Preeti, Edith, Debbierose and Esther

See you next time for more scrappy loveliness.


Having my cake AND eating it

Cake has not been a thing for me for ages

Well, diabetes does that to you. And I love my cake, and I miss it, although I do concede that my sweet tooth has diminished considerably. I tried baking with artificial sweetener, but the amount required resulted in that, ahem, unfortunate side effect they warn you about on the packet when you eat too much sugar-free anything… Plus it didn’t really taste very good. A bit chemical and one-dimensional. All in all, not worth the effort. So I kept looking and trying. Eventually, I stumbled on this YouTube video.

I made her cake, but it wasn’t quite there yet; the Husband and I both found it a bit…. inoffensive. This is the wrong word, but I can’t find a better one. It was perfectly nice, but to our palates it came over slightly flat. No flavour predominated, and we found it lacked a bit of punch. So I’ve tweaked some of the ingredients to make it reflect our preferences. Also, we have discovered that the flavours develop and become much more interesting the next day, so it’s worth holding off rather than diving straight in.

Instead of sugar or sweetener, this recipe uses date purée. Now, before anyone reads the ingredients list and jumps online to comment about how dates are full of sugar too, I should just point out that they’re low GI, being full of fibre, and also offer several nutritional benefits: significant levels of antioxidants, B6, potassium, iron, manganese and calcium. Which is not, of course, why I was using them, but it helps!

Here we go, then. I bring you Chocolate Date Cake. 200Kcal/836Kj per cupcake. Well, it IS cake…

700g/24oz date purée, made from:
500g/18oz pitted dates, soaked for 1 hour in:-
200ml/8oz boiling water
3 dessertspoons of instant coffee
2 teaspoons of bicarb soda
¼ teaspoon of cinnamon.
Blend all together with stick blender. Should result in 700g/24oz of finished purée
250g/9oz wholemeal self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
80g/3oz cocoa
5 eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla extra
250ml/9oz vegetable oil or melted butter

Make the purée. Set aside to cool completely.
Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F.
Line two cake tins with baking paper or or two cupcake pans with cupcake cases. I like cupcakes because portion control!
Blend the eggs, vanilla and oil/butter.
Sift together the flour, baking power and cocoa into a large bowl.
To the flour mix, add first the date purée, then the egg mixture. Mix well by hand, then beat either by hand or with a mixer until the last of the flour is absorbed.
Scrape down with a spatula, then spoon into the cupcake cases or lined cake tins. Do not overfill, the mixture rises well.
Place in the centre of the oven and bake: 30-35 mins for cupcakes, 40-45 mins for cake tins. Test with a skewer or toothpick to ensure they are done in the middle. Best left overnight before eating for maximum flavour development.

Makes 24 cupcakes or two layers of chocolate cake.

I won’t be making this often, since even the individual cupcakes are 200 calories each and that just doesn’t work well in a diabetic diet, but for an occasional treat it’s a reasonable compromise. I have frozen half the batch and will wait and see how they survive the process. Bringing out one at a time is a much better way to deal with cake cravings than having a whole batch sitting in a box on the counter, and of course, the fact that they need to be defrosted gives you a chance to tame your snack inner monster!

The Husband would like you to know they work well with ice cream. I wouldn’t know… 😇

Slow, like a slow thing

…. that’s very slow.

Which is a fair description of my progress on Twilight. It’s getting done, but in short bursts. Unfortunate, because QAYG needs concentration and a decent chunk of time applied to each section. Still, at least there is progress.

I have two thirds of it assembled. You can see the top and middle sections are put together, the bottom one is still to be done. After that, I will have the two long seams to do, always the worst part because the sheer weight of the thing drags and makes sewing accurate small seam allowances difficult to maintain. It’s my main reason for assembling it the way I do; minimise the number of long seams you have to do, and you minimise the potential issues as well as the definite stress! I know people who do their QAYG assembly row by row, and I don’t know how they do it!

I really like how the very dark blue sashing makes the colours pop and gives definition to each individual block as well as bringing the whole thing together.

Not much to report on Chateau Sunbird. They added the porch, a little lip that sticks out over the entrance hole, and then apparently went on their honeymoon. Either that, or they decided it wasn’t quite perfect, or they didn’t like the neighbours, or something. Time will tell if they come back and move in.

Oh, and one tiny landmark. I have now lost 20 kg (44 pounds) since the beginning of May. My doctor is thrilled! I’m pretty thrilled too, as I can now wear lots of old clothes I’d put away sadly, thinking I might never get into them again. I have a waist once more!

Back to the sashing strips, I have a quilt to finish!

Being thankful

Thanks for this day, for all birds safe in their nests, for whatever this is, for life.
Barbara Kingsolver (2008). “Prodigal Summer

I’m thankful. For my life, the fact that I’m alive, for small triumphs in adversity, for peace and plenty (not merely ‘enough’). I’m thankful that in my small circle of life I have lost no friends or family to rampaging lunatics, or fanatics, or war, or disease, poverty or desperation. I’m thankful for independence, bodily and legal autonomy, for peace and modest happiness. I’m thankful for abundant green life, for sunshine, rain, and the beautiful earth.

And the birds.

What a privilege it is to watch this tiny master builder constructing its extraordinary nest. It’s over 30cm (a foot) long, and the bird’s barely 5cm/2 inches.

This nest is literally 50cm/20 inches from our door onto the back deck. Despite the regular comings and goings of ourselves and Mouse, the bird has simply ignored us as though we weren’t there and plugged on with its enormous task.

I’ve put out some offerings, and am truly touched and honoured that some have been accepted. He hasn’t gone for the dryer fluff, residue from the Husband’s cotton singlets. He’s had a bit of dog hair, but not much. By far his favourite nesting material has been my colourful thread ends, which are hopefully lining the nest – the clump at bottom left disappeared overnight. Since the nest is fully under cover, I didn’t worry about the cotton fibre absorbing too much moisture and staying soggy.

He flies to and from from the backyard with bits of vegetable fibre, fragments of dead leaf, bits of spider web and so on. The whole world is his salvage yard, and he is the ultimate artist/ sculptor/ builder/ architect/ homesteader.

I have a lot to be grateful for, including the time to watch and marvel.

“Just enough to make the grass grow…”

We’re having the first rain for weeks.

I grant you, winter is the Dry season, but it has been ages since we saw anything but a tiny trickle. It started raining yesterday evening, it rained all night, and it’s still raining now. The rain gauge is half full. It’s sorely needed in domestic gardens, in grazing paddocks, in cane paddocks where they’ve tilled and planted next year’s crops. Where they don’t really want it is in cane paddocks yet to to be cut, and from the Husband’s point of view… our lawn. Yes, it’ll become green and beautiful once again. But it will also grow nearly fast enough to see. And it’s wet and the forecast is for more rain on the very day he planned to cut it. Husband is not pleased.

Doggo is not happy either. It has inconvenienced him in his morning prowl around the back yard. His fur is wet. Even after I dried him, he is sulking and is rejecting his breakfast (a passing fancy, I assure you!). I am getting Olympic-level side-eye from the depths of his floof, whence he has retired to sulk.

Me?  I’m happy! It smells lovely. All the dust is being washed away and the flowers and leaves are bright and sparkling. Although the sky is grey and gloomily overcast, it’s not at all cold and the air is fresh. It’s going to put a hold on my plan for a longer walk this morning with The Boss, but there will be other day, and I say this with all possible love, that dog needs to take a teaspoonful of cement and harden up.

Looks like a bit of sewing is on the cards!

Quilting, and housekeeping

Hello there, I’m still alive!

I’m so sorry it’s been an age since I checked in. A lot has been going on behind the scenes. First, some good news. My relative with bowel cancer has been given the all clear after surgery, no chemo or radiotherapy required. Huge relief all round! The family have had a tense wait for all the pathology to come in, but totally worth it. More good news. My own annual cancer checkup has shown that the Little Bugger lurking on the other side is still snoozing. No change in size or condition. Another six months’ all clear until the next MRI.

And so with that out of the way, I finally buckled down and got on with Twilight. I’ve finished all the sandwiching and quilting, and have cut all the sashing strips to start assembly, which begins today.

As always, I’m breaking the task down into manageable chunks, but I hope to have the assembly all done by the end of the coming week. That leaves just the label and binding.

As you can see, it’s only lightly quilted in my No. 2 fallback pattern, crosshatch. This keeps it very soft and drapey, which combined with the lovely hand of the fabrics will ensure a really snuggly finished quilt. I think I’ll be binding it in the same inky dark blue as the front sashing.

And finally, the housekeeping bit. The Olive-Backed Sunbirds are back, and flitting around our front and back porches, looking for a suitable place to build their amazing sock-like nest. Mr Sunbird has been dismantling/destroying the nest they started and abandoned last year, right beside our back door, with the result that it’s a sad, tattered rag and the ground below is strewn with bit of dead leaf, dried grass, fluff, hair, twig, thread and who knows what. I’m leaving it for now in case they want to recycle it, and I have put out a container of fluff, dog hair, thread and whatnot, but so far this has been ignored.

He’s also spending considerable time admiring himself. I see his point, because he is exceptionally colourful and handsome. Meanwhile, Mrs Sunbird, who wears much less showy feathers , is darting here and there, and is probably doing most of the work!

So now you’re all caught up. I expect there’ll be a bit more to tell you soon, because I have various activities planned, but until they happen and i have photos, they’re on the back burner.

Till then.