Mr Tilly and that ‘bike’ word

“Wanna go for a walk”, the master asks quietly. Mr Tilly, who has been sleeping soundly, jerks his head around so fast it’s a wonder he doesn’t get whiplash. From then on he watches Paul’s every move. He follows him around, only inches from his heels as he patiently waits for him to get ready.

The same happens if we mention the ‘beach’ word. It can take anything up to half an hour from the thought of us going for a walk, or going to the beach, before we actually head out the door. We have to get out of bed, shower or wash, brush teeth, pull clothes on and don shoes before heading out the door. All the while Tills looks on, patiently stretching, watching and waiting.

The same whiplash reaction happens when we mention the ‘bike’ word. “Do you want to go out on the bike”, I ask. He sits to attention watching for signs of preparation. Only he’s not so patient. If we take to long getting ready he starts to whine! Yes, going out on the bike is definitely his favourite outing.

He sits in a basket on the back of Paul’s bike, and Paul rides out in front. The basket is a tad small for him but he doesn’t mind a bit of discomfort. He looks right and left as we ride along the beach path, and constantly checks back to make sure I’m keeping up.

Basket is a tad small, but he doesn’t mind a bit

Recently we went for a bike ride with some friends and I wasn’t in my rightful place, behind him, where he could keep an eye on me. Talk about whinge – he wasn’t having a bar of it. A re-group saw him happy again and we could continue our bike ride in peace. As an aside from Tills, what a thrill that was – to phone up friends to arrange an impromptu bike ride. I haven’t done that for well over 50 years – made me feel like a teenager again.

When we first started taking him on the bike we worried that he’d try to jump out when we passed another dog. There’s nothing to worry about there though. He just looks at them as we pedal past with a superior look on his face. He doesn’t know all dogs don’t get to sleep on the big bed with their people, or to snuggle up together as a pack on the couch together as the sun goes down. But there’s no mistaking that look on his face when we pass a dog walking on the beach path. He definitely knows this bike riding gig is something that only ‘canine royalty’ gets to enjoy, he thinks he’s just the bees knees. Perhaps we should change his name from Mr Tilly to King Tilly.

Wish I could take photos of him as we ride along – alas I’m a two hand on the handlebars person.

He loves the wind in his hair as we ride along, and loves that he gets to enjoy new territory. So do I. Riding along on our gorgeous beach path on my new bike, with Paul and Tills up front – what a pleasure!


Are we in the eye of the storm

I can’t help thinking the majority of Australians seem to be thinking we’re over this Covid thing, that our government managed to contain it, and that life can get back to normal. Despite the fact that experts are telling us the virus will be part of our lives for a long time yet to come, there’s almost a feeling here in Australia of jubilation and celebration as if the war on this pandemic is over and we, in Australia have emerged victorious.

Personally I think we’re only in the eye of the storm, a storm that’s gathering momentum. We battened down the hatches as the first phase of the storm hit, and here in Australia we did it well. We locked down early enough which prevented our hospitals from becoming over-run. Our health system used that time to re-group, and the amount of ICU beds and ventilators has been increased. We’ve weathered it well to date. But as we’re all well aware there’s a balancing act going on, a balancing act between the economic health of a country, and the physical health of its people. I think this calm sense of security we’re all feeling is because we’re in the eye of the storm and I think more is coming.

Our restrictions are slowly lifting and people are returning to work. Our new cases of Covid are hovering at or below what is considered to be a manageable amount. Here in WA we currently only have three active cases, none of which require hospitalisation. NSW and Victoria aren’t doing quite as well, but compared to much of the world they’re still doing brilliantly. With the restrictions now being lifted I can’t help feeling it’s only a matter of time until we will again be hit with the full fury of this pandemic. All we can do is watch, and wait, and wash our hands, and stick to social distancing. Let’s not get complacent. It’s not over yet, in fact it may have barely yet begun!

Be prepared – part two

Today’s relative affluence compared to the generations before us has perhaps led us into a lifestyle of expectation and almost instant gratification. We don’t need to scrimp and save for several months to purchase anything anymore, we just put it on the ‘card’, or sign up to buy now, pay later, feeling secure that our pay check will be in the bank at the end of the month to pay for it all. However, recent events have shown us that the lifestyles many of us have taken for granted can be lost in the blink of an eye. For many the security of that regular pay cheque has disappeared. Currently the government is bailing many of us out, but what happens if, and when their coffers run dry? It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to realise that a second, third, or even mutating continuing waves of this pandemic could see us all back in lock down with no job, and without the government assistance that has been forthcoming in these early days. To put it mildly – we’d really be up the creek without a paddle!

Enticements to debt – debt that without a job can’t be paid for

We saw the supermarket shelves get stripped bare within just a few days as the possibility of lock down loomed. Clearly it was to late to begin putting food, and other supplies away for such a drastic change in circumstances such as the change that some of us have experienced recently.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought and putting in time researching ‘stockpiling’. There are extremes at either end of the stockpiling spectrum. There are those that rely on restaurants, cafes and take out for their sustenance, often with maxed out credit cards to pay for it. The supplies in their own cupboards would barely keep them going for a day or two. Then at the other end of the spectrum are the doomsday preppers that have five years of supplies and a bunker in which to lock it, and themselves away in, should the need arise. I wouldn’t be comfortable with either of those scenarios. The first because I just wouldn’t want to be that vulnerable if my circumstances should suffer even a small or short downturn. The second scenario – well if doomsday should come, I think I’d rather be amongst the fallen than be living amongst the crackpots who lived their former lives preparing for doomsday.

I’ve taken stock of what’s in my cupboards. Should anything happen that prevented me from restocking regularly, after about one week I’d be out of some things that I’ve come to rely on. After two weeks I wouldn’t have the makings of a normal meal as I know it. By the end of a month I think my cupboards would be almost completely empty. I don’t feel ok about that anymore, I want more! I’m thinking supplies that Paul and I could live on, eating balanced, and appealing meals for around six months is a reasonable amount to stockpile. But where to start….

Current supplies would last less than a month

It makes sense to build supplies around meals similar to some of the meals that we often eat. Rice, pasta, pasta sauces, canned tomatoes, and canned fish will no doubt form the mainstay of my stockpile. Oats, milk powder, nuts, seeds, dried and canned fruits – supplies we use almost daily anyway, so there’s no harm in keeping a good stock of those too. Then there’s crackers and spreads (peanut paste would be our preferred non refrigerated topping). Some lentils, cans and packets of beans – green beans, kidney and black beans, and and I figure we’re well in the way to a sensible food stockpile.

Long lasting, every day items already in my pantry can be added
to to form good stockpile

Having a good idea of what we’d like to be eating should we ever be struck by a disaster of any length of time gives us the opportunity to buy in bulk when products are on special. My recent research has shown me that I can apply filters to search the major supermarket chains so as to find only their 1/2 price specials. I didn’t know I could do that before – bonus! My plan is to build bulk supplies of pantry staples at half price where possible. Then all we have to do is store everything in such a way that makes stock rotation easy in every day life. By having a clear idea on what we’d want to be eating based upon meals that we already eat, by buying in bulk when on special, and by careful rotation of our home supplies, we will be not only putting aside for a rainy day, or for a real crisis, we’ll be saving money in the long run too.

I’ve started by organising some cupboard space.

Racks added to pantry door to free up some space on the shelves

now it’s time to begin….

A new bike

About three years ago I purchased a cute little retro styled bike. I grew up riding a bike with back pedal brake, so when I saw a brand new, replica, retro style bike, complete with back pedal brake, I just had to have one.

Cute little retro bike

I fell off that cute little bike the first time I rode it. Unhurt, I got straight back on, but my confidence never returned. I didn’t know if time and age had taken its toll on my cycling ability, or if it was the bike itself that wasn’t quite right. The bike was the right size for me, but the steering was very twitchy and sensitive. For months at a time the bike would sit unused in the shed before i’d give it another go, and another white knuckled ride would take place. I couldn’t relax riding it, I just didn’t feel safe.

With much trepidation I started browsing second hand bikes. I didn’t want to buy another bike only to discover that no matter how good the bike was, it wasn’t going to be a bike I’d ride. I saw a used bike advertised on Saturday morning that tweaked my interest. Some quick research indicated it could be a good bike for me, so I contacted the seller around 8am. She had listed the cycle for sale only about an hour earlier, but it had already sold. I had heard that cycles had been selling like hot cakes since the beginning of the pandemic. Perhaps now was the time to advertise my own cute little bike.

Paul gave the bike a quick clean and we decided to try our luck. In little more than an hour the bike had found a new owner, and at a price I wouldn’t have thought possible for a three year old bike, no matter how cute it looked.

We decided to look at another new bike. Sunday morning of Mother’s Day we headed to Dunsborough for a walk, calling past the cycle shop with the intentions of seeing if they had any in their window. What a surprise, the shop was open. Apparently they had been so busy lately that the owner had come in on the Sunday to try to get some work done. They had a bike that was the right size for vertically challenged me, a bike that he felt sure would feel stable enough for me to enjoy riding. A quick trial ride, and yes, I think he may be right.

An hour or so later we were home again and cycling up our own beach cycle path, me on my brand new bike. I rode it again the next day, and intend to ride it again today. It feels safe, and I’m not gripping the handlebars for grim death. Will I keep riding it? I think I will! It wasn’t a good feeling to be thinking that I’d become to old to be riding a bike at only 64. Busselton is flat and we have so many wonderful cycle paths. In fact I think it’d be safe to call Busselton a cycling paradise for unfit seniors.

New cycle with no ‘twitchy steering’

I think I can relate to the the saying “it’s like riding a bike, you never forget how”, only I’ll add a little proviso to that, “ providing the bike you’re riding is the right bike for you.” I think I’ve found a bike that’s right for me – and I can’t tell you how good it feels to know I wasn’t making excuses when I didn’t want to ride that cute little bike. For me, it really wasn’t a safe bike to ride. The new bike that’s, so far, a joy to ride – what a pleasure!

Preparing for the possibility of harder times – part one

The announcement of the pandemic showed up some peculiar human traits. First came the hoarding, and strangely toilet paper seemed to be the first thing to disappear from the shelves. Then the supermarkets sold out of the things I would have expected, flour, sugar, rice, pasta, and pasta sauces all became hard to get.

Supermarket shelves emptied quickly at beginning of pandemic

Vegetable seeds and seedlings have been selling out within hours of arriving in the plant nurseries. There has been a huge demand for DIY including the materials to build backyard henhouses, and once built, the egg laying chooks to live in them.

Clearly people’s thoughts, perhaps driven by a primal survival instinct, have turned to preparing for a major recession, or worse, another Great Depression. One things for certain, Covid-19 is, and will continue to have a definite, and probably long lasting effect on the world economy. The relatively high standard of living that a lot of people in our part of the world have come to expect, could be about to change.

Some people will sail through the tough times that are no doubt coming with barely a hitch. A few people who just happen to work in the right niche will thrive above and beyond what they would have achieved in the pre-Coronavirus world. Some will bounce back over time and their lives will take up where they left off early in 2020. But some people’s lives may never return to the financial prosperity they had prior to this global pandemic.

Peoples reactions have caused to me to ponder times gone by, and possible changes that could be upon us in the future. We’re almost definitely going to live through some leaner times as a result of the pandemic lock down and the resulting downturn in the economy. But what if that isn’t all…… There is a lot of blame being directed at China, and world leaders are demanding answers. What if it escalates into a war! What if we come under siege! Ok – dramatic thoughts I know. But it wasn’t that many decades ago when if someone had suggested that Sarajevo was about to come under siege, the residents would have laughed. Yet early in 1992 Sarajevo did come under siege, a siege that lasted almost four years

Monument in Sarajevo serves as reminder of siege

Their water and power was cut off early, then their food supplies and medicines run out. Those that survived the siege did so on a basic diet of rice, flour, beans, and canned foods that came from United Nations food drops.

Although I don’t consider that I was panic buying at the beginning at the start of this pandemic, I did, like everyone else, buy things like rice, pasta, and toilet rolls before my home supplies had reduced to their normal replacement levels.

So what now that the supermarkets are all re-stocked, and the rationing of certain products has been lifted! Should we all just return to our normal shopping habits? The current situation hit us completely out of the blue, but what if the situation takes a turn for the worse, or what if another, unthinkable situation were to hit us. What if something came out of the blue, something that threatened our lives, not by a pandemic, but by starvation. I’m sure no amount of preparation would have seen the people of Sarajevo eating a normal diet throughout four years of siege, but some preparation, both mentally and practically, could have perhaps helped in the early stages.

My thinking has led me to start a bit of an experiment. I’m going to see how cheaply I can buy my basic grocery shopping while still shopping for meal plans similar to those that I already follow. That doesn’t mean I won’t buy extras, but any extras I buy over and above what’s needed for basic living, as well as food to stockpile, will be bought in a separate shop. I’m just curious as to how much money we could survive on eating meals similar to the meals we’re used to eating, should the coming downturn in the economy have a major impact on us personally. Of course in the event of a long term drastically changed situation, no doubt we’d end up eating meals drastically different to that which we have become accustomed to.

I’ve always kept a well stocked pantry and freezer and could easily live off the contents for two weeks without any additions, probably up to a month if I really had to. Clearly, from the speed that basic household supplies disappeared from the supermarket shelves at the start of this pandemic, should we ever be hit with a more serious, longer lasting, crisis, food supplies are going to run out very quickly. Should that ever happen I don’t want to be saying, “could have, would have, should have” been better prepared. So, my experiment is going to include pantry supplies that could sustain us for a bit longer than a month. I’m thinking that supplies that could be eked out to last six months would give us a good start if ever the need came.

A good stockpile

 

 

Flaming Fridays

Finger food Friday, a long standing tradition in our household, has been moved aside temporarily. The tradition of finger-food on Friday nights started during our working lives as a way to mark the transition from the working week to the week-end. Fish & chips, hamburgers, pizzas, nachos, or tapas have been common, with the rule that generally that the food will be home made. We came to enjoy our Finger-food Friday’s so much that we’ve kept it up even after retirement.

Covid-19 has changed some of our routines, for how long is anyone’s guess. With intra-state area closures in place it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to have our usual winter escape to the warm sun in the top end. Not being able to escape the cold, it seems like a good idea to make some changes to our routine that embrace it instead. What better way to embrace the cold than to relax with a nice glass of red, or a glass of warm, spicy, mulled wine while gazing at the flickering flames of a fire. Finger food Friday’s have been temporarily shunted aside to make way instead for fire pit Friday’s (providing it’s not raining).

We have a nice little place for our portable fire ring, and we have a camp oven. Our State visitor restrictions lifted from one to ten people this week, which means we can now share our camp fire, and camp oven dinner with friends too. We don’t have space for ten people to meet the outdoor social distancing rules (1.5 metres between), but we can legally space up to six people around our fire. This week we invited three friends around, and the camp oven dinner was to be a hearty beef in red wine stew with chunky vegetables and home made pull apart bread rolls.

Ok. now’s a good time to confess – I forgot to take photos! The photos above have been pilfered from other fire pit nights. Our guests were very kind, and seemed to enjoy this weeks stew, I’m a bit more critical though, and have to admit I haven’t perfected cooking yet in a camp oven on a back yard, portable fire pit. I manage well enough using the fire pits in campgrounds with their anchored hooks that allow the camp oven to suspend above the flames, and to swing out of the way of the flames altogether if the camp oven gets to hot. I also manage very well in a big fire on the open ground when I can rake hot coals to the side of the main fire.

For the stews I use gravy beef, which when cooked slowly at the right temperature makes a rich, flavoursome, melt in your mouth stew. The meat in the one pictured above cooked to quickly, and lacked that melt in mouth result of perfectly cooked gravy beef. Additionally, I added the chunky vegetables a little to late, and the carrots weren’t perfectly tender like they should be in well cooked stew. This week we tried using heat beads while cooking, and added the wood for the fire as soon as the cooking was done. I think we’re on track to get it right, but we still need to slow down the cooking to get the flavour that will only develop with a slow, gentle simmer over several hours. A few less coals I think will do it.

We had planned to have our usual toasted marshmallows, and S’mores afterwards. But one of our guest surprised us with the most delicious honeycomb cheesecake. Our other guests cooked us some lovely mini quiches and sausage rolls to start us off for the night. Between the lovely pastries to start, Paul’s pull apart home made rolls, and that, oh so delicious, cheesecake, who needed a perfectly cooked stew anyway.

Another garden makeover

Recently I had been thinking that in the coming years my blue garden would most likely have to go. The blue garden, consisting of a lacy, blue plumbago, surrounded by a solid border of blue agapanthus, was planted approximately three years ago. It had been slow to take off, but had a growth spurt this summer reaching almost perfect size by around February with masses of gorgeous blue blooms that almost obscured the fence. By the end of March it was growing so rapidly that it was requiring constant pruning to keep it confined to it’s allotted space.

With the speed it was growing, it was becoming clear that constant pruning would be needed to keep it manageable in years to come. Also, earlier this year the surrounding white stones that enhanced the blue perfectly had become a bit grubby with an accumulation of fallen leaves and other bits and pieces of garden debris. It took almost a week to lift and clean the stones. I figured that by the time the stones were due for their next clean, the plumbago would most likely be needing constant trimming to keep it from overwhelming it’s space. That would be the time for us to consider a garden makeover.

With Covid-19 restrictions keeping us within the confines of our own home boundaries, it seemed like to good an opportunity not to bring the garden overhaul forward by a year or two. Initially we considered artificial turf, but after a bit of research we quickly went off that idea. Apparently, even though maintaining real grass requires water and fertiliser it is still far more environmentally friendly than artificial turf. By the time our research told us Synthetic wasn’t the way for us to go, the picture of our back garden with a small expanse of soft, green turf had embedded in our minds. Three weeks ago we decided that now was a great opportunity to commence the inevitable changes, however with real, soft leafed sapphire buffalo grass instead of the anticipated fake stuff.

We still wanted our raised vegetable beds. First we removed the plumbago along with a couple of other plants. The agapanthus have been moved to the front garden. Next the raised garden beds were dismantled and moved to the back fence line. The newly planted seeds are up, and it won’t be long until we’re again eating homegrown silverbeet, lettuce and coriander. The bulk of the paving has been lifted and stored to be re-purposed later, with the paving under the verandah remaining in place. We raked in a good amount of decayed manure into the sandy base, and levelled the site. Then Paul dug the trenches and laid the reticulation.

Next came the laying of the turf, and fitting and testing the sprinklers.

Life isn’t really that different for retirees living under an imposed level three pandemic lock down. We’ve still been able to source supplies for projects, and the restrictions on personal movement throughout the state has meant we can really get productive with our time on the home front. Our garden looks so much bigger now with its newly laid lawn. Of course, although I claim it to be a joint project, Paul has done 99% of the work. I’ve just supervised (and made coffee). It was the 40th year anniversary on 26th April since Paul and I first ‘became an item’ (I think that’s the term used today). I think he’s still a keeper!

Food, glorious food.

From reading several blogs, and talking to neighbours and friends, there seems to be a common thread to everyone’s new status of ‘stay at home’ citizenship. We’re all cooking. Some are sticking with tried and true recipes, others are taking up new challenges from learning to bake scones, to boldly starting a sour dough culture from scratch.

The oven in our household is also getting a good work out as meals and snacks take a more prominent place in our schedules. Bone stock, normally reserved for the depth of the winter months has commenced earlier than usual this year. You’re all no doubt aware that chicken soup is genuinely good for colds and flus, not the canned or packet variety, but a good home made chicken soup. After a bit of research a few years ago on the benefits of home made chicken soup, it seems the health benefits come from the bone stock. The longer the bones are cooked the more they break done, and the more minerals are leached out into the stock. For mine I use 2 – 3 chicken frames, an onion, a large carrot, 2 stalks of celery including the leafy top, a good handful of salt, and a slug of cider vinegar. Firstly I brown everything on the stove top, then add the liquid and salt, and simmer slowly in the slow cooker for at least 36 hours. I have a sheltered position outside where I can leave it to simmer so as it’s not cluttering up my kitchen, and cooking it outside prevents my house from developing the permanent aroma of chicken soup. I’m not one for passing on exact recipes, mainly because I rarely use an exact recipe. If you want to give your own slow cooked stock a go, the guide I’ve provided may set you on your way, or if you like everything to be listed in precise detail, a google search will bring a good amount of recipes for you to choose from.

The bones almost completely break down, and when strained I end up with about 3 litres of a very cloudy, very tasty stock from my slow cooker. I store it in the fridge leaving the fat to settle on top which helps to preserve it. It lasts me for 4 – 5 days and gets used in gravies and soups, added to stews and casseroles, and I cook my rice in it. I started adding bone stock to our daily winter diet approximately two winters ago, and neither Paul nor I have had a cold since. We used to get at least one each winter. Maybe coincidence, maybe not, but I like to think it’s doing it’s job by giving our immune system a great boost. I figure starting on bone stock a little earlier this year with the Covid-19 pandemic raging through the world can’t do us any harm.

As we all know, one needs to eat a balanced diet for good health. Our diet is completely balanced with A good amount of protein, bone stock, our five serves of fruit and veg, grains, etc on one side of the scales, and all the naughty stuff on the other side of the scales. I don’t think that’s how the experts recommend the scales should be weighted, but that’s how it is in our household. One delightful addition to the naughty side of the scales recently has been a couple of batches of Cinnabon’s, a very special cinnamon bun. If you’ve had the pleasure of indulging in a treat from one of the Cinnabon shops throughout the world, you’ll understand me when I say that to eat one of those sweat, cinnamony, sticky, buns could easily be described as ‘food porn’. Anyone listening to all the oohs and aahs that that seem to come with every delicious mouthful would be forgiven for thinking something other than eating was going on.

Cinnabons

We came across our first Cinnabon store In Dubai several years ago, and experienced one of the most memorable food experiences we’ve ever had. The sweet, yeasty scrolls are served warm with a sticky cream cheese icing, and they are, oh so delicious! A google search for a Cinnabon recipe will bring up countless choices. Having a thermomix, I chose a recipe that used my machine to do the kneading for me. When I make a batch, we give away a few, freeze some for later, and eat far more than we should on the day they’re baked. Last time I baked them I made two dozen and sent an email to the ladies from my walking group advising the ‘drive through’ bakery was open. Several ladies drove by to pick up one or two for their morning tea. In the days of social distancing it enabled us to have a brief face to face catch up, albeit through the car window. Just another novel way to catch up with friends without breaking the rules. I hope everyone else is managing to fit in some catch ups with friends while still sticking to the guidelines. Would the idea of a drive through bakery work for you and your friends?


Writers block

I promise myself every week that I’m going to get back into blog writing. The week passes, and still no posts to publish. A new week begins, and another promise to myself, only to be yet another broken promise by the weeks end.

I did a small writers course many years ago. Two things stuck in my mind from that course, firstly, “if you want to be a writer, you first must be a reader”. The second thing was, “if you want to be a writer, you must write”. I can hear those sentences in my mind as clearly today as when I heard them then.

Sounds pretty simple, and basic doesn’t it. I rarely read of late, and I rarely write. Week after week goes by with barely a page in a book turned. Very few of the much loved blogs that I used read avidly even get opened. As for blog writing, I start a draft every now and again, but become so overwhelmed with the feeling that I have either nothing to say, or so much I want to say that condensing it into a blog is impossible. The writing quickly becomes a jumbled mish-mash of almost incoherent words.

Something I realised many years ago, in the days of letter writing, was that it’s much easier to write letters to someone if you write them often. If to much time goes by between letters all those little things that make up one’s life seem to become unimportant with the passage of time, and don’t seem worthy of a mention. Without the little things there’s rarely anything left to say. Momentous happenings in people’s lives are, fortunately, few and far between. I say fortunately, as if life was full of momentous happenings we’d no doubt never get time to read, or to write. How stressful would our lives be if day after day was filled with only momentous happenings.

I’m finding it the same with blog writing. Frequent writing about the little things that happen day to day is easy. Trying to condense lots of little things, or to pick just one or two little things out of the months that have gone by is an impossible task.

So, this weeks promise to myself. I must read both blogs and books, starting today. And I must write. As always I notice that when a lot of time goes by between blogs, the posts initially don’t seem to flow well. But if I’m to get my writing mojo back, I’m going to have to get through the writing rapids of tumultuous waters until I reach the calm flow of putting words together comes again. Providing I make good on my promises, I’ll get there.