Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Monday, January 27, 2020

Australia Day Weekend

We have just had what might have been the perfect weekend from a weather point of view.  The sun shone. There was a light breeze. The afternoon temperature was in the mid to high 20s.  It was just lovely.

Lindsey brought Stella to Hill House on Saturday, just in time for lunch.  Hugo and Rupert were very pleased to see her.

Photo by Ian
Jim and I went up after lunch to say hello and to do a few things.  It was a gloriously clear afternoon. We could see right across to the Grampians

I was filling Hugo's paddling pool when I noticed that it had developed a crack so wasn't filling up properly

The water on the grass isn't just from the leak in the pool-
I had tipped the old water out.  But the pool was definitely leaking.

I mentioned this to Lindsey and suggested that he needed a new one.  She pointed out that the bath he had played in last summer was still on the other side of the fence, where it had been tipped at the beginning of winter to get it out the way.  Cautiously, not wishing to be bitten by any snakes which might have decided it made an excellent summer home, she and Jim tipped it back over the fence (there were, fortunately, no resident snakes).  We filled it with water.  Hugo was delighted to see the return of his summer swimming pool

Yesterday was Australia Day.  Lindsey, Ian, Stella, Freyja, Simon and our friend Pat joined Jim and me at our place for lunch.  It was another lovely day so I fired up the barbecue to use as a second oven.  In the kitchen oven I had roasting potatoes, roasting vegetables and a chicken pie that Stella had brought from Mornington.  Lindsey had brought cheese and dips. In the barbecue I had sausages and chicken legs. It was a mighty feast.

Here are the feasters:

Freyja and Simon


Ian and Jim

Lindsey, hiding her phone behind a box of delicious

It was a good afternoon.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Summer Days

It's been a funny summer so far.  I know it's been unbelievably hot in various parts of the country, including parts of Victoria. But we have had a few very hot days, otherwise it hasn't been all that hot. We have certainly had some lovely weather but I haven't put away my winter dressing gown, nor all of my winter jumpers. We've had a reasonable amount of rain. Granted, we have February yet to come but so far in Moderate Mount Helen, it's been an OK summer.

We'll see if I'm still saying that at the end of February!

So it's not quite 8:00 on Saturday morning.  It's 13d outside in our garden (not a scientific measurement, just what our outside thermometer says). It's 17d inside. I am wearing my winter dressing gown but not my winter slippers. The sun is shining and it looks as though it's shaping up to be a lovely day.

We haven't really done anything particularly noteworthy in the past couple of weeks.  Lindsey, Jim and i went to the Talbot market last Sunday and had a good potter around. I've been doing a bit of cooking. Apart from the usual going to work and stuff we've just been pottering around.

The Veg garden in boxes is doing quite well. There are green beans almost ready for picking. There are tiny lemons on the lemon trees (they won't ripen until next year, probably). We are beginning to see tomatoes set and there are tiny zucchini coming.  I have potted up some self seeded tomato plants to take up to Hill House to replace the ones the rabbits ate.  I have also bought some late cucumber and zucchini plants to take up there too.  I have fenced off Sister Stella's tomatoes and that seems to have stopped the rabbits from eating those down the ground (they had begun to nibble at them). I'll fence off the tub which the new plants are going in. I know it's a bit late but you never know - we might well get something from the plants.

Today is the start of a long weekend.  Not much different for me. I almost never work on Mondays. But it frees up lots of other people.  So Lindsey went down to Mount Martha after work yesterday and will bring Mother Stella up to Mount Helen for the weekend.  I'll take her back on Monday. There may well be Lunch tomorrow.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Be careful if using a waffle peeler

When I was in Japan I bought what is called a Waffle Peeler. I've used it with carrots and it peels them so they look a bit like tiny waffles, or rippled chips/crisps.

I pondered whether you could use the peeler to make potato chips/crisps.  Then I wondered if you could make the chips in the dehydrator.  I decided to give it a go.

You have to be careful with the waffle peeler.  It is VERY sharp.  And I was careful.  And the potato chips were looking quite pretty.  Sometimes I ended up with potato shreds rather than waffles but I put them into a separate bowl.

Then disaster!!!

The waffle peeler got stuff on a piece of potato.  I tugged it - and it came free.  And took a generous chunk out of my finger ;-(

I dashed to the bathroom and washed it.  Then tried to staunch the flow of blood. Band aids were clearly not going to cut it.

Jim came to see if he could help. You would think that after 15 years of living with me he would know not to come until I summoned him!!  He went away when I yelled at him and came back a bit later when I called to let him know that the bathroom looked very much like Freddie Kreuger had come to visit.

I finally managed to get my finger to stop bleeding with enthusiasm by wodging (clean) handkerchiefs on it, pressing down hard and holding my hand up for about an hour.  That was all much more uncomfortable than the chunk out of my finger was!  Jim de-blooded the bathroom. Eventually the blood slowed enough so I could discard the hankies and use band aids instead.

This was all very well but the dehydrated potato chips really were not very nice. Definitely not worth the sacrifice of blood.  I'll give it another go using cooked potatoes instead but I suspect that dehydrating is not the way to go for potato treats (despite many people saying on Youtube that it worked well for them).

The breakfast rösti stack that I made for Jim this morning with the potato shreds worked well, though.  I microwaved the shreds for a couple of minutes and then stuffed them into silicone rings in the frying pan along with a large mushroom, a rasher of bacon and later a fried egg. Then I made a stack with them all.  Next time i'll add some lightly cooked tomatoes for a bit of colour on the plate.  Jim was a bit surprised to receive a rösti stack for breakfast but he ate it with every evidence of enjoyment.

I'll make rösti again.

I've also worked out a safer way of waffling potatoes, without adding the excitement of a visit from Freddie Krueger.

And I did manage to make the pizzas I had planned for the evening even using only one hand (I didn't want to risk breaking open the wound on my poor fingie)  I made one with loads of vegetables on top and one with prawns and scallops.  Much nicer than dehydrated potato chips!

Thursday, January 09, 2020


There are lots of magpies around at the moment, along with rosellas and choughs. There are also LOTS of rabbits.

My tomato plants in the tubs out the front at Hill House have been eaten away. I suspect the rabbits. Although they haven't destroyed the tomato plants I got from Sister Stella's church fundraiser. Obviously protected by a holy aura :-D I am thinking of closing the gates at the bottom of the drive, blocking up the gap under the gates so nothing can escape and letting Hugo and Rupert out to chase away the rabbits. My tomato plants were doing really well ;-(

Fortunately, the tomato plants down at our place are also doing really well and so far have not been attacked by rabbits.

I refilled Hugo's paddling pool today. He was very pleased. Rupert enjoyed chasing the hose. So far, so normal on warm summer days. Then they went inside for a snooze. Shortly after there was splashing from outside. Hugo went to investigate. To his horror there was A MAGPIE swimming in his pool. He chased it away and then spent about 15 minutes patrolling so no more magpies could be quite so impertinent :) (The magpies do enjoy swimming in the pool - when Hugo and Rupert are not around). For the avoidance of doubt - the pool is a child's paddling pool. We do not have a human swimming pool at Hill House. Rupert, Hugo and the magpies do not know this!

We have also been invaded by cyclists and their bicycles. It is the week of the annual national bike trials. They colonise Buninyong, Mount Helen and various roads round about. Those roads are closed to traffic, for obvious reasons. The event brings lots of money into the Ballarat region. Not only are the competitors here but so are loads of bikey spectators, together with their bikes. There are public cycle related events as well as the trials and road races.

It is HUGELY irritating. My main routes home yesterday evening were closed (to be fair, I had forgotten about the very well advertised road closures ). It makes getting around locally very difficult. Quite apart from the road closures there are cyclists EVERYWHERE. I know, I know it's only a few days. Doesn't stop it being VERY IRRITATING.

I hear that Bendigo is very lovely at this time of year :-D

Though I don't know if there is an extinct volcano in Bendigo for the cyclists to play with.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Smoke and Jam

I am pleased to tell you that by Monday we had had 6 ml of rain according to our (not very scientific) rain gauge.  It was raining when I left for work yesterday morning but that was from Hill House and I haven't had a chance to check it again.  I'll do it tomorrow morning.

The temperature has remained cool in Ballarat. It has been cooler in the fire zones.  It is supposed to warm up again later this week but not unbearably so in Ballarat. It is, after all, summer. It would be surprising if it remained in the teens or low twenties for long.

What we have had is smoke.  It has been unbelievably smoky, to the point that Jim thought that we were surrounded by fires and should we consider evacuating.  It was even worse in Melbourne, I believe.  And the smoke is now spreading its smoky love internationally.  Not just New Zealand now but also South America. You can see why something as catastrophic as a large meteor strike in the "right" place might wipe out dinosaurs.

In the meantime, I have been making fridge jam (low sugar, not boiled to within an inch of its life). I have a jar of raspberry and a jar of cherry, made with fruit I got from the market on Saturday. We have given up on the jars of apricot jam we inherited from Tony's pantry.  It's not a cheap brand of jam but all I can taste is sugar. I might take the rest of the jars to work. Someone is bound to eat it. And I'll make some apricot jam of my own when apricots are in season.  One jar :-D  (I'm not sure quite why Tony had so many jars of apricot jam in the pantry when he died. I can't see how he would ever have eaten it all.)

Sunday, January 05, 2020

People were coming into the surgery on Friday and commenting on the smokiness of the air outside.  It was blowing in from the fires in East Gippsland, spreading the smoky love both eastward towards New Zealand and westward towards South Australia. Lindsey and I noticed it when we left to go back to Ballarat but it wasn't too bad. As we headed further on our trip home the smoke got more and more visible - and visibility got more and more reduced.

It made us cough!

Then, as we went up the Gordon hill, the smoke cleared and the air became almost pure.  We were obviously up too high for it to have reached. Yet. No sign of smoke pollution in Mount Helen, although it smelled faintly smoky when I first got up yesterday morning and went out to put the sprinkler on the garden.

The smoky smell had gone when we went to the Bridge Mall Market.  It was a lovely morning, although it clouded over as the morning went on. There weren't all that many stalls at the market - not unusual in January. Tim from Masterchef was there with his toastie oven.  He does fancy toasties which are often a bit too fancy for me at what is more or less breakfast time.  Yesterday, however, among his offerings was a four cheese toastie. Lindsey and I shared one and it was perfect for a sunny breakfast.

Everyone decamped to Melbourne for the afternoon.  Emily and Andre were having an engagement party at Welcome to Thornbury - a place I have often gone past on the tram. I have often wondered what it did. And now I know.  It has a bar and a large outside space. It has food trucks.  There are rooms inside. Emily and Andre had booked some tables outside. Fortunately the smoke had gone and the sun had come out. We could all breathe and see. Everyone who was in or near Melbourne from both sides of the family was there.  So were lots of Emily and Andre's friends. It was good to catch up with Ian's family - I haven't seen them for ages. (It was good to catch up with my family too, but I have seen them fairly recently :-D )

Then Jim and I came back to Mount Helen, where Rupert and Hugo were very pleased to see us.  It was well past their dinner time.

We have definitely had a cool change overnight. It was gloomy, wet and cold when I got up.  It's still raining.  I am wearing my winter dressing gown. Hugo went outside for his morning wee, stopped dead, looked horrified, turned around and trotted rapidly back inside having had no wee. I think he had forgotten about rain.  He was eventually persuaded to go outside but he wasn't very happy about it!

I shall go down to our place in a bit and see if the rain has excited our rain gauge.  It hasn't registered any rainfall since the beginning of December.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

New Year's Day

We began the new year, the new decade (I don't care what other people say, to me decades start on the 0 years), as we hope to go on. We had a luncheon party.

Rupert and Hugo came, walking down the hill, with Lindsey and Ian attached to leads.

We had prawn cocktails to start, inspired by the prawn cocktails Chris served the last time we were at her place.  I had prawns.  I had avocado. I had lettuce. I had mango. I had small bowls.  I didn't have thousand island dressing (Marie Rose sauce by another name) but that was easily acquired.

We had slow roasted turkey breast with roasted potatoes, lots of green vegetables, gravy and wine.

We had mochi sweets that, to my surprise, I found in Coles in Summerhill.

Then Rupert and Hugo took Lindsey and Ian, on their leads, back up the hill to Hill House.

Rupert was a bit on the hot side when he arrived

Hugo found the dog chews and refused to put his down

After lunch with Frannie (Photo by Ian)

Hugo and Rupert pulling Lindsey back up the hill
(Photo by Ian)

I found a redback spider in the garage today when I was putting the Christmas tree away.  I hope that is not a Sign of Things to Come. I can live without loads of redbacks in the garage. Other spiders are more than welcome. Not redbacks

It is a very, very long time since I last saw a redback but I recognised its web and the spider itself immediately. Both the web and the spider have now been removed.  While I was about it, I de-webbed the outside of the house.  There were spider webs and cobwebs all over the place, to the point that someone had started building a web across the laundry door! This was optimistic of it.  We go in and out of that door quite often.