Saturday, 31 March 2012

Slow Living Month 3

Has another month gone by already? Over at 'Slow Living Essentials' blog, Christine is running a Month by Month diary style post of what she has achieved over the past month.
Here are my confessions of how things are going at Monarch Place.  Am I really saving money, paying down debt, slowing down and doing more of the things I enjoy?  It's been a very busy month workwise, so I don't think slowing down is going to be one of the accomplishments this time.

Some new recipes and some old favourites were tried this month.  Old favourites being the 'Pineapple Muffins' and our families 'Secret Salad Dressing', and the new ones were using left over fruits in a 'Fruit Clafouti'.  I also started making our own home made ice-cream again after not doing this for a long time.  It is so much better for you as there are no added colours and preservatives and other nasties. 

The new season vegetable seeds and seedlings were planted out in freshly prepared garden beds as our main growing season has just begun here in the mid tropics.  There are still some grasshoppers around and a few diseases from everything being just too wet from all the rain but on the whole everything is forging ahead and looking great.  In fact I will be picking cucumbers within a week! I must ring Mum for her old 'Bread and Butter Cucumbers' recipe.

I've been reducing the amount spent on buying new clothes by revamping my existing ones and teaming different items together to create new outfits.  A few accessories added here and there can lift a boring outfit to completely new levels.

We had our Climate Smart Home visit by an electrician to show us how we can be more efficient energy users.  He installed meters that display how much electricity is being used at any one time by one or many appliances and also provided some energy efficient light globes.  

I also tried some more green cleaners using white vinegar as the main ingredient.  The fabric softener is working nicely so I will definitely keep making that one.  I also cleaned out my front loading washing machine with vinegar and a hot wash and it has never smelled or looked so clean and fresh.  That is a definite winner as front loaders can take on a mouldy smell quite quickly.

I am enhancing the beauty of our outdoor areas with flowers.  I have collected a variety of objects to use as pot for colourful bunches of Petunias.  They have now just started flowering and things look brighter outside already.
Vegetable seedlings in the garden and some lovely little Sweet Peas for their beauty.  The sweet peas have just started to curl their little tendrils around the strings I tied onto the old room divider framework and they are making their way upwards.  I'm sure that it will soon be covered in a flourish of wonderful smelling and beautiful flowers.

My creativity has been limited to a little bit of knitting, dishcloths mainly and finding unusual things to place in the garden like the different items turned into flower pots and the room divider turned into a plant climber.  I have holidays for a couple of weeks now so I'm hoping to be a lot more creative, especially as I am in the middle of creating a guest room and a craft room.  Stay tuned for next months confessions.

I have discovered that no matter how much covering you have put down when you are spray painting, you have not done enough.  I recently spray painted an old wooden chair and had boxes and drop sheets creating floors and walls around the chair but somehow the overspray still managed to get on the floor and some nearby shoes.  My black work shoes now have a slightly grey tinge to them. Oops!

I've also discovered I'm pretty good with a drill.  I've hung some hanging baskets and brackets, and I've drilled holes in the 'unique' flower pots.

Friends and family have both played an important role in my life this month.  I had friends drop in that I haven't seen in many many months and also we have established a sort of routine where my daughter and son-in-law, and my sweet 6 month old grandson, visit one night per week and stay for dinner.  It is so lovely to be able to see my grandson growing, seemingly right before my eyes.  Just this last month he has learned to roll around the floor, say his first words, work his walker and sit up on his own.  It has really been a month of firsts.  They grow up so fast don't they?


Friday, 30 March 2012

Letter boxes

I find letter boxes fascinating, or rather the things that people recycle into letterboxes.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to meander down some country roads during my work day and saw some very interesting letterboxes and thought I would take some photos to share with you.

This cow one was quite amusing.  There was also a lion further down the road but it was on a busier road and was not in a very safe place to park so I didn't get a photo of that one.

I particularly like this group.  There is something so quaint about a group of letterboxes all clustered together along the roadside.

It seems that any plastic or metal container that can have a hole cut in the side is suitable.  It also seems that the further you get out of town the more inventive the containers get.

This marked the entrance to an antiques shop and tea rooms.  Very fitting and just look at those views out to the coast.

An old plastic oil container nailed to a tree.  How simple and yet serves the purpose perfectly.

I like this one above.   It looks like it was just whacked together with materials that were found lying around and it looks terrific.

Hope you enjoyed wandering these country lanes with me.


Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Revamping Existing Clothes into New Outfits

Sometimes it is good to do an audit of your wardrobe.  Really take some time to view the existing clothes you have and make new outfits from them by teaming things you hadn't thought of together, adding some scarves or belts and other accessories etc.  I have heaps of scarves, pashminas, shawls, belts, earrings, necklaces, handbags and shoes all of which can be teamed together with basic outfits to create new looks.

I have been known to use large clip-on earrings to decorate a plain pair of shoes.  You could use hair clips on shoes too.  These days hair clips come with bows, flowers, glittery jewels, beads and a host of other pretty things on them.   Scarves, ribbons and some beaded necklaces make good belts.  If you have a handbag that the handle has given out on, just cut it off and tie a scarf through each metal loop for a new handle.  With a little thought all sorts of accessories can be interchanged.

I recently saw this youtube video and thought it was a wonderful idea of how to look at using clothes for something completely different that what they were originally designed for.  This young lady shows some very creative ideas for using mens shirts as tops, dresses and skirts.  How clever!

Below is a link to a handy website that shows how to mix and match outfits with various accessories to create a new look.  Maybe you can imagine some of your clothes in place of these ones and some of your accessories and put together a new outfit or two.  Best of all you could end up with a range of new outfits at absolutely no cost just because you took look at your wardrobe through new eyes.

You can go to the 'Create' section and drag and drop items that are similar to your own to get an idea of how they would look by clicking here.

Here is one I made up using pretty basic things I have in my wardrobe.  I'm going to go off and have another play now and see what else I can come up with.  Maybe something more inventive this time.


Monday, 26 March 2012

Sugar Plum Fairy

I started to knit myself this purple sweater last year but as the weather warmed up for the Summer months I had to put it away.  Now that the weather has started to cool slightly during the evenings I think it might be time to start knitting on it again.

I enjoy knitting nearly all year round but during the warm months I tend to knit smaller items like socks and dishcloths so they don't lay all over my lap as it is just too hot and uncomfortable.

Hopefully I will get this finished soon as the plan is to be wearing it this Winter.  The pattern is The Incredible Custom Fit Raglan by Pamela Costello and it is a free pattern that allows you to create a sweater, cardigan, vest or other garment just by taking basic measurements and adjusting as you go.  

It really is an amazing pattern, or rather amazing method, and I've seen it used to create knitted garments for babies, men, women and all sized kids.  You can adjust it to be a sweater or cardigan, have a crew, rolled or V neck, long or short sleeves, or none at all, add patterns and shaping etc.  It really is all up to your imagination. 

My sweater is knit completely in the round, for non knitters that means that I knit on circular needles and just keep going around and around until it is the length I want.  I'm not entirely decided upon the neckline yet but think it will be a simple round curled neck and the same for the sleeves so that it all ties together and looks nice. 

Around the hemline I'm going to incorporate a lacy knitted border, most likely choosing one from this book.  At the moment I like the one in the photo below.

The idea behind my sweater is that it is big and comfortable and I can just throw it over a pair of jeans at home but it is nice enough to wear down the street if I need to pop out for something.  It is knit out of Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino a beautifully soft yarn that is, as it's name implies, a blend of Cashmere and Merino wools.  It is lovely to knit with and hopefully lovely to wear.  I was lucky enough to have been gifted a whole packet of this lovely yarn from a dear friend who is a terrible yarn snob and will only knit with the best but didn't have a need for this colour.

If you are on Ravelry I have made some pattern notes about it on my projects page here.


Sunday, 25 March 2012

Weekly Wrap Up

Wet Wet Wet!  That's what it is like here at Monarch Place but lets find out what else has been happening in this weeks 'Weekly Wrap Up'.


The little sweet pea seedlings are growing nicely although their basically sitting in very soggy soil.  I'm hoping the roots don't rot but so far so good.


With the arrival of my new embroidery threads, I have discovered that my latest crazy patchwork piece that I was going to unpack and work on is still overseas waiting to be shipped home so I can't finish it.  It is a cream on cream cushion that is going to sit on our bed.  I'll just have to wait until July when it arrives.


The homemade ice-cream has had the thumbs up from the family.  I had my daughter and son-in-law up for dinner through the week and they loved it too.  Economical too as basic vanilla version would only cost about $2.50 for 1 litre of healthier 'I know what is in it' ice cream.


A post about killing mould spores naturally and cheaply.  Oil of Cloves is only a few dollars for a small bottle and then you mix it with a cheap carrier oil like baby oil.  I'm kind of hoping some mould will grow now so I can try it out.  I might try it in the shower on the grout.

Have a lovely weekend.
See you all next week

Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Big Wet and Mould

It has been very very wet around here for weeks now but nothing like the storm we had on Thursday night.  The coast areas received over 300mm of rain in just a couple of hours which caused flooding that no one here had seen before.

Here is some footage of the flooding in Maroochydore and Mooloolaba.

With all the wet and because we are in a semi tropical area it is also warm and humid, perfect weather for mould spores to grow on pretty much anything.

Mould is very destructive, ruining textiles, leather, woodwork and even your health if it is not dealt with.  At our local pharmacy they have a pile of photocopies of an article from a local newspaper warning of the dangers of allowing mould to run unchecked in your home.

It states -
"Health experts and microbiologists are urging people to be vigilant with mould control due to the serious health risks associated with prolonged mould exposure".

I already knew that mould can cause health risks but the part that I was interested in was that you can use Oil of Cloves to kill mould spores.  Down the right-hand side of the article it advises "Add a quarter of a teaspoon of oil (of cloves) to a litre of water in a spray bottle, lightly mist it over the fabric" but I'm sure you could use it on other surfaces too.  The Oil of Cloves doesn't just bleach the mould spores so you can't see them but it actually kills the spores and prevents them from growing back.

"For mouldy surfaces that don't like water (like leather shoes etc) add a 1/4 teaspoon of oil of cloves to 500ml baby oil, give it a good shake and wipe a few drops of it over the shoes."

I haven't tried this yet but I think it sounds promising.


Friday, 23 March 2012

Homemade Ice Cream

Healthier home-made ice cream, Yum!  I have an ice cream maker so this process is super easy for me but even without an ice cream maker it is possible to make yummy healthy ice cream without all the artificial flavours, colours and preservatives in the store bought ones.

Basic ingredients for ice cream are milk, cream, eggs, sugar and flavourings and there are thousands of recipes out there via a quick internet search.

Today I am making mixed berry flavour with a packet of frozen mixed berries I have in my freezer.

Basic Ice Cream Recipe
1 cup cream
2 cups milk
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 tsp Vanilla Essence or flavourings of your choice (I used frozen mixed berries in this one)

Beat milk, egg yolks and sugar together until sugar has dissolved.  Mix in the cream until well blended.  Turn the ice cream maker on and pour in your ice cream mix.

If you are adding powdered or liquid flavourings like vanilla extract, coffee, cocoa powder - add these when you are beating the milk and egg yolks.

If you would like chunks of fruit it is best to have them pre-frozen and add during the last few minutes before removing the ice cream from the machine.  Having them frozen prevents the fruit from turning your ice cream back to liquid.  If you add them earlier they will mush up and flavour the ice cream.  I am doing half and half with the berries.

If you would like a swirl effect through the ice cream you can add that by alternating layers of ice cream and your flavouring (melted chocolate, stewed fruit etc) and then giving just a stir or two with a spoon to 'swirl' the flavour.  Again have your fruit or chocolate as cool as you can before adding.

I stewed up some of the mixed berries with a little sugar and then blended them to make a thick syrup that I added to my ice cream as well as some of the whole frozen berries.

No Machine?
You can also make your own ice cream without the use of an ice cream machine.  Using the recipe and method above but instead of pouring the mix into a machine you can pour it into a baking dish and pop it into the freezer for about 45 minutes.  Check the ice cream and if it has started to freeze around the edges quickly beat it really well and pop in the freezer again before it gets too warm.  Continue to do this every 30 or so for 3 to 4 times throughout the freezing process and then allow to freeze well.

Oh and did you know that you don't have to throw away those egg whites?  You can freeze them for later use.  They whip up just as good as if they were fresh as long as you bring them back to room temperature first.  I'm saving mine to make mini meringues for dessert another night.


Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Good Friends and Embroidery

I love technology.  Applications like Skype, Facetime, Voip phones, Facebook, Twitter and of course blogs, all help to keep us in touch with each other no matter how far apart you are.  This was never more apparent to me than when we lived overseas for a few years.

On Facebook I have found friends and acquaintances that I thought were lost forever as we moved around a lot in our first few years of marriage and with one thing and another lost contact.

A few weeks ago a good friend that I haven't seen for about 6 months, came to visit.  It is always lovely catching up on news of family and friends face to face over a cup of tea or coffee.

This day my lovely friend, who is also a fellow crafter, bought me a little gift of some new embroidery cottons.  We have spent many hours together in years past working side by side on craft projects and so she knew I would appreciate her token of friendship.

As you can see I already have quite a few embroidery cottons in many colours but as any quilter or embroiderer knows you can never have too many shades of the same colour.

Of the ten new threads from my friend there was only one colour that matched exactly to one I already had.  I set about that evening to wind them onto bobbins and add them to my embroidery thread box but found that I only had two bobbins left.

As a kid I remember my mum making her own from cardboard cereal boxes or whatever else she had around and so I set about to do the same.  I had some white card stock from card making and traced the bobbins I already had.  Then just cut them out with small sharp pointed scissors and make a small cut or two in one end to hold the thread ends and stop it from unravelling.

There all done and ready to go neatly into the box with the others.

Monday, 19 March 2012

It's Time for Sweet Peas!

In my humble opinion, Sweet Peas are just the most giving little flower.  They are relatively easy to grow, they flower abundantly given the right conditions, they have the most amazing scent and they make a great cut flower for indoors in a vase.

Where I live it is time to plant Sweet Peas and I had been planning to do that for a few weeks but needed something for them to grow on as they are a climbing plant.  Then at my last visit to the Recycle Centre I saw an iron room divider for only $3 and it was perfect for what I wanted.  All I needed to add was some string for the little Sweet Peas to climb.

It has been raining all day today and I had planned so much to do in the garden which is going to have to wait for another time but I was determined to get this one project done.  Above is a photo of the area where we had some soil for the vegetable garden dumped.  It is nearly all distributed where it needs to go so it just required some leveling out and would then make the perfect place for my Sweet Peas.

A trip to the garden centre during a showery period to purchase some seedlings and I was ready for the next break in weather.

The finished project with seedlings almost drowning in the very soggy soil but the coolness of the day will help them to get established without burning and there is no doubt they will get enough water! Lets hope the sun comes out for them tomorrow.

I only bought one punnet of seedlings but I think I might get another in a different colour scheme and plant behind the screen so they intermingle and I get a lovely flush of multicoloured flowers.  I think it will brighten up this boring old wooden fence in no time.

Now if only the rain would stop so I can get the lawn mowed and the edges done.


Sunday, 18 March 2012

Weekly Wrap Up

It has been a very hectic week so I didn't blog everyday as usual but here is what was happening around Monarch Place this week.


Using vinegar around the home is a cheap alternative to other cleaners.  I'm happy with the homemade fabric softener in this post and won't go back to using regular ones anymore.  This 2 litre bottle of fabric softener only cost me $1 to make myself and takes about 5 minutes of my time


I'm sure you are all tired of hearing me go on about how wet it is here at the moment, but the vegetable garden is just loving all this rain.  The cucumbers and lettuce are growing almost fast enough for you to see it and pretty soon we shall be enjoying some home grown salads.  My bandicoot friend has only made one other visit and did only a little damage this time.  Maybe it's not a bandicoot after all and just the neighbours cat. Hmmm... might have to go on night watch and see who the culprit is.


Well there is really not much going on here at Monarch Place this week.  Rain and a very busy work schedule has kept me out of mischief and out of the garden, the wannabe craftroom, kitchen and pretty much everything else.


A few photos of another scenic part of our local area.  I heard of some work colleagues who swam across this dam in the moonlight for something fun to do.  I doubt that I am brave enough to do that but I thought that I would take a look at the facilities there as it is close by and it is nice to know local areas for picnics and BBQ's to get away for a short break.

Well that's it this week.  I think I will try to maintain blogging 3 to 4 times a week now rather than everyday but if you miss a few posts you can always catch up on the weekly wrap up each Sunday.


Saturday, 17 March 2012

Exploring the Local Area

This week has been very busy with little time to relax and do the things that I love to do, so yesterday after work I decided to get a head start on the weekend and do some exploring in my local area.  We have lived here for less than a year and I've heard of some lovely natural areas and reserves close by.

One is Ewen Maddock Dam which is only about 10 minutes drive from where we live and so perfect for an afternoon stroll and some sunset photos. 

I was pleasantly surprised to find that this dam that I drive past every week, had such a lovely picnic and BBQ area and beautiful boardwalks across the wetlands.  Sunset was probably not the best choice of time as there were clouds of midges or sandflies about but who can resist those lovely colours across the water and the silhouetted trees?

I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I enjoyed taking them.  It certainly helped me to relax and slow down to a pace that I can now enjoy pottering around my home and garden for the rest of the weekend and rejuvenate myself to return to work next week.

Friday, 16 March 2012

What's going on?

I seem to be very time poor lately and blogging has been the thing that has had to go over the last few days.  Things at work are pretty hectic at the moment and I don't have anything left in me at night to write a blog post and quite frankly nothing to write about because I'm not doing anything besides crashing on the couch and trying to get early nights.

It's pretty wet around here too and so I can't get into the garden to do much but at least the new vegetable seedlings and the fruit trees are loving it.  I fertilized the citrus trees a couple of weeks ago and now with all the rain they are just racing along.

I can't wait to be able to pick our own home grown citrus.  We have a lemon, kaffir lime that were planted out about 6 months ago and a washington naval orange that was planted only 2 months ago and knocked about a bit by the dog so its growth has been slower but I'm quietly confident it will soon establish well and start some good growth for fruiting next year.

It's good weather for ducks, but the weather forecast is for less rain over this weekend so hopefully I will be able to get back out into the garden.  I also have some furniture makeovers I am dying to get to but with the humidity in the air it is not good painting weather either.


Wednesday, 14 March 2012

In the Vegetable Garden

Planting has begun for this years vegetable crops and I am having to rethink how much I usually plant out now that there are only two left at home.  It is a good thing to have plenty of peas or beans and other vegetables that can be blanched and frozen but too many lettuce, celery or cucumber can be a different matter.  I could make cucumber pickles but not sure about anything I can do with a glut of lettuce except bless the neighbours.

Mixed punnets of vegetable and herb seedlings
While buying some seedlings at the Prep School Kitchen Garden Project I picked up some punnets that had a variety of seedlings rather than getting eight of the same plant.

Unfortunately one punnet was just named 'Stir Fry' and I'm not entirely sure what some of the plants are.  I think I planted out 2 cabbage, or cauliflower, 4 bok choy or pac choy and some other strange vegetable seedling.  See photo below and let me know what it is if you recognise it.

Unidentified stir fry vegetable
I also planted some tomato seedlings and a punnet of mixed herb seedlings which seemed to contain, purple and green basil, curly leaf parsley, something that looks like it might be fennel and 3 leeks, onions or spring onions or possibly chives.  There was also a potted Mexican coriander that I hadn't seen before and thought I would try that this year rather than the usual Asian coriander I have grown before.

Garden bed #1 with lebanese cucumbers and lettuce
The lebanese cucumbers and lettuce I planted out last weekend have really taken off with all the rain and warm weather despite my night visitor that dug up all the little lettuce seedlings and burrowed into the garden bed.  I went out the next morning to little lettuce seedlings laying haphazardly all over the place and little holes throughout the garden.  I think I may have a bandicoot.  Thankfully he has only made the one visit and since replanting the lettuce they are now doing well.  The photo below is of a Long-nosed Bandicoot, the type that we get here in Queensland.  It is a stock photo to show you what a bandicoot is, not a photo of the one in my backyard.

Long-nosed Bandicoot
I have cabbage and leeks that I raised from seed that will need to be planted out in another week or two and then there will just be room for some bush beans and the two garden beds will be full until I can harvest the lettuce.  I would ideally like another bed as I still have plenty that I would like to be planting.  At the moment there is no room for peas or snow peas or pumpkin and other vine plants that require a lot of room.  Maybe next year.


Monday, 12 March 2012

Vinegar - Green Cleaner

I know there are hundreds of blogs out there that show you how to make your own laundry liquid or soap but recently I found one that had a recipe for homemade fabric softener and I thought I would try it out.  I've played with the measurements a bit to fit into a 2 litre bottle.

Homemade Fabric Softener
  • 4 cups hot water
  • 2 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup hair conditioner (cheapest brand you can find)

  • Mix conditioner & hot water well, until conditioner is dissolved completely.
  • Add the vinegar, and mix well.
  • Store in a large container (empty fabric softener container, empty large vinegar bottle etc)
Use approx. 3 tbsp in the fabric softener spot in your washing machine

I have a new front loading machine and was reluctant to try homemade ingredients in it but after 
researching more I have found that they seem to work just fine as they are not high sudsing.

You can also just use a cup of white vinegar on its own as a fabric softener.  The vinegary smell doesn't last on your clothes once they are dry, but I like a very light fresh smell that fabric softeners leave. 
This 2 litre bottle of homemade fabric softener only cost me $1.00 to make. I bought a cheap conditioner from the supermarket bottom shelf for $1.49 and used half of it.  The vinegar cost $1.09 for a 2 litre bottle and I used about a quarter of that. 

Cleaning your washing machine
Front end loading machines also have a tendency to get a mouldy smell to them if closed up while still damp inside.  To eliminate this you can use white vinegar to clean your machine (works well on top loaders too).  Just put a cup of white vinegar into the soap dispenser and another cup inside the 
machine.  Throw in an old towel for some scrubbing action, and wash on a hot cycle.

I use white vinegar as a rinse aid in my dishwasher too.  I just fill the rinse aid dispenser with straight vinegar and use as normal.  

It is a good idea to give your dishwasher a clean once every couple of months by tipping one cup of white vinegar into the bottom of the dishwasher and running it on a long hot cycle.  Done regularly this should keep any build up or mould from growing inside your machine.

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