Sunday, December 21, 2014

Let them eat cake!

"Let them eat cake!" she said.

When challenged by Terry the Tradie to make a Christmas cake like his grandma used to make I thought I best rise to the challenge.  Initially I made a version with a bucketload of scotch.  A classic 8 inch fruit cake baked in a slow oven for about 2 hours 20.  I gave him a quarter and asked for an opinion.   He was very happy with the result.  We discussed options like more dates or less grog or different grog.  Different grog intrigued him and we decided the thick orange liqueur Cointreau would he his choice for christmas day.  I set out then to replicate the first, substituting Cointreau but found the it quickly stuck to the bottom of the boiler and needed more liquid so as not to burn.

The second Cointreau cake was a better consistency than the first and so it is the one he will receive tomorrow.

The cake is very easy to make.  Today I am making 4 smaller Whiskey versions and I thought I would blog as I go.

First up you need to soak a kilo of mixed dried fruits in half to a whole cup of grog of your choice.

Then you need to hack 15 or so pitted dates.

Then a about the same in glace cherries.

Into the boiler goes 125g of butter, a teaspoon of ground dutch cinnamon, three quarters of a cup of brown sugar and more liquid.  You need a cup of liquid in total.  It can be all grog, all water or a mix of both.

Throw the fruits in now. The groggy mixed fruit and the dates and cherries.  All in together. Onto the stove top she goes and the butter, sugar and liquid will begin to simmer.  Lots of stirring so that it doesn't catch on the bottom is required if you use all grog, or the thicker liquers like Cointreau.  It needs to simmer for 3 minutes then cool down.

When its cool you need to beat 2 eggs and add the beaten eggs and another cup of grog to the fruit mix.  

They need to all be mixed up well before you add a cup of self raising flour and a cup of plain flour, sifted of course!  Then whack it in the cake tin of you choosing.  Round,  square, whatever.  This mix suits an 8 inch tin.

If you are going to ice it (which I HATE HATE HATE) then the process ends there, otherwise you can pile up more mixed fruit or almonds and cherries or pecan nuts and jazzy up the top.

The tins need to be wrapped in 4 layers of newspaper and tied off with string, then onto a sheet of cardboard and into the oven at about 160 degrees for a smudge over 2 hours.  If the skewer comes out clean, then she's done.

Now most people skewer the top of the cake as it exits the oven and sprinkle over more grog.  Not me.  I use my insulin needles to draw up more grog and inject it directly into the cake.  (eerrr clean fresh unused needles of course) .   You can continue to feed the cake this way for a couple of weeks... depending on how high you want to blow when you get pulled over for a RBT on Christmas Day!

The end result is pretty good and Terry the Tradie agrees.

Friday, December 12, 2014

To tree or not to tree? That is the question!

To tree or not to tree might well pertain to my gardening conundrum.  I do not grow fruit and have one dwarf citrus, but trees steal the sun from my veggies and the lawn.  But I digress, I do not mean fruit trees... I mean Christmas trees!   The silly season.  Home decoration.  As  I live alone, the youngest in our family is now aged 21 and few of my friends have small children, what is the point of the setting up a christmas tree?  Christmas lunch is not at mine this year, I'm not planning any home orientated christmas drinks or parties.  So the question is,  should I bother fighting my way to through the garage to find a 7 foot fake fir tree with 900 hanging points on it AND find 900 baubles to hang on it.. or should I just not bother with a tree at all?

Last year I did hang 3 trees from the ceiling in the office, but this year I'm in the tin shed and I don't really think there is either enough space or sufficient visitors to bother with that.  Home is a different story though.  So the question is to tree or not to tree?

I do have at least 12 Christmas trees in 4 different styles and numerous sizes down in the garage. And yes, I would have at least 5 or 6 HUNDRED baubles to hang off it.  There are at least 6 different star/spiral/angel style tree toppers and tree skirts in 3 different colours!  As for colour schemes I can do a fully silver bauble tree. Or a fully gold babble tree.  Or a vibrant multi coloured tree ... but will I bother?   Should I bother?  Will the enjoyment outweigh the effort?  What benefit is there to a couple of hours hard slog setting up a tree?   I don't feel particularly christmassy.  Will a tree change that?

I already have all the gifts bought, some wrapped, but an hours should see the remained all wrapped with with bows and gift tags.  But a tree????  I'm still not feeling the joy of it!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Facebook and it's challenges

There is lots of weird stuff happening on Facebook. Well actually there is a lot of really boring stuff happening on Facebook but once in a while something interesting happens. This week I was invited by a photographer friend to take a FB challenge whereby I post a black and white image everyday for 5 days.

Now I'm not normally one for FB challenges or chain letters or that kinda stuff and I rarely post pics on Facebook,  but this one caught my attention.  So I thought I'd give it a go.

Initially I was going to shoot 5 new shots, but hell, who has time for that everyday.  Instead I looked thru my archives for some pics that would convert to greyscale and hold the viewers interest.  So here they are. I hope you like them.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Peas peas peas!!!

In the last post I talked about sisters floral front lawn no-mow garden makeover.  Well enough of that tizzy girly stuff... lets talk food production!

The veggie patch has now swelled to 12 1200x900mm raised veggie beds. The last three having only been in place and filled for about a month.  Assembly of them is really easy.  Ordering and receiving delivery of the soil from Green Thumbs Garden Centre was also easy.  Carting the 3 cubic meters of soil from the front yard to the back is a whole different story!!  That was hard.  Sister and I knocked it over in under 2 hours on a stinking hot sunday with quite a few rest breaks!!!  It was hot heavy work.

Those new beds now have capsicum, Queensland blue and butternut pumpkin, sugar snap peas and rockmelons growing in them.  Nothing productive yet, but on their way.  New growth is strong and the butternut has already spilled over the bed edge and onto the lawn.  There is still sufficient space to throw in more produce. A LOT more produce!   In other beds I have all the usual suspects carrots, tomatoes, corn, zucchini, cucumber, spring onions, radish, silver beet, garlic and an abundance of sugar snap peas.

The peas are amazing.  I think I planted 16 pea "seeds" and from that I have already well over 1500 edible pods. A second wave of pods is ready for harvest in the next few days, but 3 vines have given up the ghost and will come out today.  Hence a new planting in one of the new beds.

We are in stir fry heaven here!  So many are eaten straight off the vine.  Sister and I like them in stir fries but mum just steams them and eats them whole. The neighbours are loving the excesses of bounty but I need to get into a rhythm of swapping excesses for I chicken out of having chickens!!

The whole veggie garden experience is super easy to maintain.  All the work is in the setting up.  I do wander thru the veg every day.  I water daily when it is stinking hot, but thru the winter months it generally takes care of itself. I have not noticed any spike in the water bills thru watering the food crop.  Weeding is all done by hand.  No pesticides on the food, but I do kill the grass around the outside of the beds with a herbicide to slow the invasion of weeds and grass into the beds.  There are quite a few Redback spiders living in the corrugations of the metal beds.  They get squashed!  I might spent an hour in the veggies every weekend just tidying, trimming and weeding and about 15 minutes some mornings for watering.  Harvesting is in the evening just before dinner.  You can't get much fresher than that!

As per usual a visual reward for reading this far.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Garden makeover

AS you are probably aware the sister bought a new house earlier this year and its internal paint and decorate is nearly complete.  Now that spring has sprung it is time to look at the outside and start with the garden makeover.  Apparently I am the only one in the family that actually enjoys mowing but as I have the classic quarter acre here I'm not so keen to take on hers as well.   So we have decided to create a no mow front lawn.  The plan, well if you can call it a plan, is to kill off the lawn with newspaper and mulch and plants a zillion flowering plants and shrubs to totally alleviate any mowing.  The front yard is not huge, but we intent to make the driveway wider and link it to the front steps on a solid base, possibly pebble, but maybe concrete. Then the rest of the yard will be planted out.  We will leave a rambling walkway of mulch to the far northern side gate, which is not ever used, but it does provide an alternative walkway to the backyard.  Ultimately the house will be painted too because the colour now is a bit ordinary!

The lawn itself has a small slope from north to south, so taller plants will be at the top nearest the neighbours fence and lower ones towards the front.   There is already some established plants.  A HUGE camellia, 3 azaleas and a big tuft of french lavender.   To supplement this I have bought 3 more camellias, 4 azaleas and 2 lavenders. The general tone of the garden is in purples and pinks with the exception of one "beachy" style daisy which is bright orange.  There are also 3 big brown Yukkas and a stump!  The stump is pretty much centre of the current lawn and sits about 20cm proud of the lawn.  It is too big to dig out and "mostly" level.  As we can't realistically remove it, it will house a   feature of some sort. Perhaps a wire structure, a hebel sculpture or a big timber birdhouse.  Two roses  and two mankey plastic pots with grey/white strappy leaf plants in them are currently accommodated in the yard, but they will all go.  The grey/white leaf plants will be separated and spread thru the lawn and the roses will make their way to the recycling bin, but everything else stays at this stage.

The current layout is that there is a metre wide flower bed running north south on the front boundary fence.  A single height run of coppers log keeps that in place.  The only other bed is 2x1.5m and runs north south along the front of the house. Its held in place with terracotta edging, the majority of which will be removed.  The edge facing the path and steps will be replaced with something else, possibly brick to tie in with the brick steps.

The soil structure is best described as impoverished.  It is very poor quality, dry and devoid of nutrients, but unfortunately healthy enough for grass and weed growth.   By comparison the back lawn is rich and green, but also in need of a good mow!  The back yard has a veggie bed running the full length of the communal southern fence.  It is only about 400mm wide and has some established veggies.  Nero kale and celery mostly.  It will look good with more planting.  There are two other beds in the back yard that need attention. At the moment the front is the priority.  None of the garden has a watering system and there is no rainwater tank.  The garden when established will have to survive on rain alone.

So thats the plan.  Lets see how it all turns out.
The first shot is day one.  The weedy grass is long and Georgia nearly disappears in it.  Visible are the two rose bushes and the terracotta tile garden bed edging.

This shot was taken after I'd mowed down the weeds!

The next two photos are at the end of the day. Both rose bushes are gone, as is the terracotta edging.  Two new camellias, an azalea and a lavender are planted. The grey/white strappy leafed plant in the plastic pots have been divided and planted under the new layer of mulch.

It is an ongoing project and one I am enjoying thus far!

December update:   We spent another day planting some new plants and laying more mulch and the result is shown below.  Since the initial planting there has been very little weed break through and what has come has been removed instantly so as not to get a toe hold back in the garden.  We calculate we need another 16 or so plants in 8 inch pots or bigger and about 6 cubic metres of mulch for get it finished.  Then we can start on removing the remaining grass and enlarging the drive area.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Facebook ... thanks heaps!

Dear Facebook... I just wanted to say thanks!

Thanks for taking away hours of my week, allowing me to stalk people anonymously,  making me laugh at videos of cats and idiots practicing for the Darwin Awards, but most importantly for bringing together friends both new and old.

A few years ago a Facebook friend request popped up on my screen.  It was from a girl from High School.   I clicked appropriately and we began chatting.  She put me in contact with another old girl. "Old girl" in an educational sense of the word!  Since then we have all chatted endlessly on the interwebby (Facebook chat function).   Not long after rekindling our friendship we met for lunch at the Florida Beach Bar at Terrigal for a catch up.  It was a long way from where we went to school, but close to where we all live today.   We've met quite a few times now and really, these girls have not changed a bit!    The subjects of our conversations have changed, dramatically.  The ease of our conversations has not.  The years have melted away and the conversations are amazing!  The laughter is contagious and I am still learning things about these two that surprise and amaze me (today being no exception).  The people we met along the way must have burning ears and one's obsession with high end toothbrushes is a riot!!

40 years have passed.  Their memories are by far better than mine!  Too much Cointreau in the 80's and having some holes burnt in my brain in 2013 have made it harder for me, but many names do cause the links to come together.  I have a couple of photo albums from the late 1970's hidden away in the garage and I promise I will locate them before our next meet.

I had to laugh when the girls were describing yet another name known to me, that I was unable to put a face to, used the words "long dark hair". They described about 8 blokes this way today and I do laugh... ALL the blokes had long hair back then!!!   There were some people that the mere mention of a name brought an image sharply into my minds eye.  They must have made enough of an impression to still be buried in my grey matter all these years on.   Strange how some memories last 40 years, yet others don't !!!  I recall who had a Sandman Panelvan, Who drove a bronze Torana and the name of the German Shepard Guard Dog in a neighbouring yard!  But people..ppffft  that was way harder!

So I do want to thank Facebook for bringing these wonderful people back into my world. I enjoy my life today far more than I did in high school and I am so lucky to have been found by the old girls.

As usual ... some images as a thank you for reading this far.  One diligent old girl found the top two photos, on Facebook of course, and a lovely stranger took the third today.

Monday, August 25, 2014

I've landed a MARLIN!

No no no!!   I've not been fishing,  I've been shopping!

My MARLIN Cruiser 6 was collected from the manufacturer this morning and it's CHOICE!  The wonderful Josh Stunell borrowed a car with tow bar and picked me up about 9.30.  We hit Erina at 10.45 ish and by 11.30 were registered, insured, hooked up and on the road.  By 12.30 she was home, unhitched and locked up in my carport!

I bought this little diamond after seeing her blue coloured sister opened and closed at the February Newcastle Camping and Caravanning Show.  The ease of set up is what sold me on her and today when Josh saw her opened and set up for the first time he was pretty impressed too!   I elected for an August delivery cos there was NO WAY i was going ANYWHERE under canvas thru winter!  So as spring springs into action next week it was time to collect her.

We arrived at Erina,  parked and walked around to the workshop.  I saw this sexy looking sleek black camper trailer waiting for collection and I hoped she was mine.  She was and she looked fantastic!  Thick black 16 inch wheels and spare, lots of checkerplate and shiny chrome stabiliser leg, handles and jockey wheel.   These awesome units are made by Steve and Chris and are made to suit your specifications.  I wanted a side hinge and extended drawbar and a stand up spare wheel thingy and Steve built her exactly as I wanted.

There was some paperwork to attend to, registration and the like. We opened her up, shut her back down and took some photos.  A not too tedious phone call to the insurance company saw us ready to roll. We hit the road and headed off on her maiden voyage!

I can't thank Josh, Steve and Chris enough.  And thanks too must go to the little old man who dragged me into the Cruiser 6 at that February show and pushed me to open and close it myself.  I have no idea who he was but I bought it because it is so easy for me to set up and pull down on my own.  I am so excited by my acquisition.  Now I just need a car to tow it!

Look up Marlin Campers on Facebook or go to their website at

All photos in this blog are by the totally awesome Josh Stunell.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Twenty Two years later!

Way way back in the last millennium, 1992 to be precise, I was transferred from Newcastle Police Station to Belmont Police Station. I didn't really want to be transferred, but it happened and so I went from a 5 minute walk to work in a relatively new station to a 30 minute drive south to an old run down station. My role within the Public Service changed and I was less than inspired by my new duties.  On my first day at  Belmont I met Jenny.  She had been transferred into Belmont about 3 weeks before me and I must say she made my transition an easy one.   We clicked, although we had few obvious common interests.  She was a smoker, loved netball, trashy magazines and P&O cruises.  None of those things struck a chord with me, yet we laughed, a lot.

The years went on and we worked in a series of failing buildings. Staff levels fluctuated and changes were made to suit.   People shifted offices and buildings, filling weird little spaces.  The original buildings themselves were completed in 1964.  Initially 1 police station and 2 residences, but by the time I arrived the residences had been converted over to office spaces. Over my years at Belmont I worked in every building,  the boat shed became brief storage, the carports were enclosed and became exhibit storage.  The original timber dock disappearred to be replaced by a metal and perspex one.   New machinery arrived.  A series of different breath analysis machines came thru,  video cameras appeared in the ceilings of the charge area, a new cell complex was crafted from nothing to provide a safe area for both prisoners and staff.  Gone were the days of cutting out warrants on the weekends. Petrol cards became the norm and our backyard bowser became redundant and was filled with foam. The massive charge books disappearred as did carbon paper.  Fingerprints no longer needed ink.

After the 2000 Olympics Belmont received a second hand fax machine from the task force.  When the station was ultimately emptied before demolition 3 weeks ago, we still had the same machine and it had survived, without servicing and without fail, all that time.  The building were added to, modified, painted in gross colours and chopped and changed to suit changes in legislation and staffing levels.

People changed too, there was a regular turnover of staff.  Sad to see some faces go, others ... not so much.  Staff married, had children and grandchildren, divorced and died.  Some took their own lives, some took the lives of others.  None without touching us all in some way. I have been to far more funerals than weddings.  Jenny died too.  Constables have left and returned as Sergeants. Detectives have left and returned as Commanders. As I age I can't believe how young they all look!  The years have flown.  I have gone to a lot of parties! I'll never forget that NYE when 2004 turned into 2005 down by the tents in Valentine with Sarabear, The Commodore and The Kent. Nick names ruled and still do!   The crims were many and varied. Often a family line appeared, sometimes a whole family.  Kids followed parents into a life of crime.  There have been some celebrity prisoners and I'll never forget the bloke charged with murder who asked me out on a date "when i get out".

We have continued to work on through some trying times.   Bushfires and storms have caused some grief.   When we have not been able to get home because of fires, flooding, road closures and fallen power lines.  We've slept in cars or in the office because we can't get back to our families between shifts.  I remember that terrible night when two good mates were surrounded by fire and had to shelter in their vehicle until help came.   The work radio brought relentless tragedy. Listening to the urgency in their voices as the search for a missing officer unfolded and the abject despair that overcame us all when she was found.  The radio brought more tragedy on the morning Dave Rixon was shot, it failed to tell us Dave managed to handcuff his killer before he passed.  His heroic last act. The chilling immeasurable sadness the morning Tony Tamplin passed is still fresh in my mind. The radio rarely brought good news.   So many sad, terrifying, horrible times. So many things that are best not dwelt on.  Thankfully, there were many more happy times.

Over the decades architects came and went, measurements were taken and plans drawn, all to no avail.  Then about 2 years ago funding was secured for a new station and whilst many of us believed it would never happen, it has.  The station is no more.  Over the last 3 weeks it has been levelled.  The abundant rodent population has found new homes and the clean up has begun.  The site is not yet ready for the first sod to be turned and, no doubt, there will be a ceremony for that!  Digging the foundations is probably not more than a week or two away.   In the interim, staff have been scattered   to the winds.  Myself and my Prosecutor have moved to a new office and it is working extremely well for us so far.  Deconstruction and demolition does cause the walls to vibrate, the noise can be loud, yet the workers are brilliant.  The chosen construction team, Kingston Building Australia,  are professional, generous and hard working.  Nothing is too onerous for them.  Again, or rather still, my workplace is full of laughter, personalities and genuinely caring people who will go above and beyond ... and I wouldn't want it any other way.

As always... for reading this far you are rewarded with images.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Two years later!

It was two years ago on 19 June that I had my first hemithyroidectomy.  It was, in fact, a right hemithyroidectomy and I had hoped it would be my ONLY hemithyroidectomy.   But this was not to be.  The frozen sections were found to be a malignant form of the cancer and 6 weeks later the very talented doctors opened up the original incision site and extended and straightened it for a total hemithyroidectomy.  So what's happened since then?  Well my treatment has continued and I now take 19 tablets a week to replace the now absent thyroid gland.   The levels of thyroid function are measured monthly and have been stable until this last round of tests.  So it is back to the specialist at the John Hunter Hospital to have that tweaked next month.  After both operations I felt well, although tired.  That hasn't changed.   I am happy and well, except for the constant tiredness.

Seems I have had an uncommon reaction to the Radioactive Ablation that occurred in February 2013 where by my blood count sunk.   This is being monitored a bit more closely and my blood count has risen in the last test, so I'm very happy with that.  The tiredness remains, but I have great faith that this will pass in time.

Apart from the two women I spent a few nights in hospital with, and have had no contact with since, and one guy from work who now works in Western Australia, I don't know anyone else who has been thru this process.  That may well explain why I have had so many people read this blog.  I'm guessing we are out there, but we have no way of connecting.    The United States has a Thyroid Cancer Survivers Group, but here ... nothing.   Even the Cancer Council of NSW has just a single page on Thyroid Cancer.  Yet when I was waiting for the Radioactive Ablation I waited nearly 8 months as they only do one person a week at the John Hunter.  So at least 52 people a year are treated this way in this region.

So what exactly does the thyroid gland do?  Well I had no idea, but apparently it makes makes two hormones called thyroxine and triiodothronine, but known simply as T4 and T3.  These hormones  are essential for every cell in the body to function normally and are delivered thru the blood stream.  Thus the drugs must be taken daily to do what the gland did before it ended up in a jar!

Lack of a thyroid gland has otherwise meant little change to me.  For the first 18 weeks or so I needed to keep the wound covered when outdoors to avoid dust and dirt and sunlight.  For that I used a variety of coloured silk scarves. Since then I have had to use sunblock daily to protect the scar and now two years on the scar is barely visible.   Also, I can no longer be either a blood or organ donor. Being a malignant cancer it has already escaped into my blood stream and will pop up somewhere else in my body.  That might happen tomorrow or it might not happen for a few years, but the Doctors have assured me it will happen.  So no sharing my blood products with anyone!!

If Medicare didn't exist in Australia the nuclear scans, biopsies, operations, radioactive ablation,  follow up tests and ongoing drugs would have made treatment for me highly unlikely.  Two injections I had in early 2013 cost over $1000 each!!  Luckily Medicare picked up that tab!!

Should you find yourself on the cusp of this diagnosis fear not.  There are great doctors out there, I know because I met a LOT of them.  Success rates are high as are treatment standards here.  Don't self diagnose, or google diagnose.  I tried it and I thought I had tonsillitis!   I did ask my doctor to take some photos of my specific cancer, but he declined.  He did say if I wanted to see the surgery there were examples on You Tube.  I watched them, but I did want to see my own lump!

If you are squeamish look no further.  Selfies follow, one for each op!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

I chickened out!

After careful consideration and much budgeting and financial analysis I have decided I won't be getting chooks.  It was not that the fact that it would take 87 months of regular egg purchasing expenditure to even break even.  It was more the fact that I don't think I could really touch them!!!  They do need their wings clipped and they do attract vermin.  They do get lice and fleas and they do need care and attention that I really don't think I am up for.   They need to be kept clean and have fresh food and water daily...and I don't really have the time and energy for that when I can simply walk into the fruito and buy free range eggs.  It would be fair to say I chickened out!!

I decided that I would rather spend more time growing veggies that dealing with feathers.  I know that those who truly love chookies won't "get" me.  I know that those who are bird phobic will!!  I'm not bird phobic, not like my sister, but I don't really want to deal with them.  I don't want to risk having a fox or dog have a free meal and I don't want to deal with them when they depart this fine earth.

I sold the coop on Gumtree.  It took exactly 8 minutes from hitting the "submit" button to the first phone call.  In fact I wasn't even sure I had placed the advert correctly and was still refreshing and searching for the advert when the phone rang.  Her name was Julie and she had both Bantams and Reds.  She drove down from Mailtand, so the coop was gone from my yard in under an hour from the advert being placed.  Further, I sold it and recouped my outlay and delivery charges in total.  When considering the pros and cons of chooks verses no chooks it came to me that I would rather turn the yard over to more veg than any kind of livestock.  I felt my forte was veg not meat.  So the decision was made that I should sell the coop and invest those funds into my veggies.   So that is what  I did.

Today I took a trip with sister and mother to Masters Homewares at Rutherford.  On entering the store the greeter offered mum a catalogue and there, right on the front page, was the Hills Adda Garden 320's for a mere $49 a bed.   Even more amazing they were the same profile as the 9 beds I already have.  One reason why I had not expanded the garden earlier was that I couldn't find any more beds with the same profile.  Hills produce two types of raised veggie beds with the same dimensions... but they have different profiles.  Mine are the curvy wavy ones, the others are very square and sharp.  So I really needed to get the curvy ones.  I couldn't bear it if they didn't match!!!

So now I have 3 more beds to construct, 3 more loads of soil to shovel and 3 more spaces to include in my crop rotation book.  And I couldn't be happier.  To celebrate I picked some delicious carrots and chillies this afternoon and made a big vat of slow cooked curry.  I can't wait for spring when I can put those new beds into high production mode.  Oh, and there will be less mowing.  That makes life a little easier!