Sunset from Hill House, Mount Helen. February 2024

Sunday, October 31, 2021

A Stormy Friday

The power eventually came back in Mount Helen on Friday at 21:30 or so. The loss of power had affected almost all of Victoria and South Australia and took electricity and emergency workers a long time to sort out. Parts of the states were without power overnight. Ours came back just as we were about to go to bed because we were sat in the dark and cold with nothing much to do. I had made dinner early so I could fry flathead and chips while I could still see to cook. I must acquire a large torch before the next electrical emergency.

Having said that there didn't seem to be much damage in our immediate area (which was true, lots of storm debris but no trees or branches down in our street), my emergency alarm went off all day warning of fallen trees and branches in Ballarat. There were trees down everywhere. The State Emergency Service (which is a volunteer organisation) and locals with chainsaws were out in force clearing roads and footpaths and rescuing houses, sheds and outbuildings.

We spent most of the day up at Hill House with Rupert and Hugo. Ian had lit the fire before he went out so the house was warm.  No television or wireless internet of course but I could use my phone to provide internet to my laptop and tablet. The dogs were as much puzzled by the lack of television as the cats at out place were by the lack of activity in their water fountain. Lindsey and Ian also have a gas stovetop so I could heat our lunch and make cups of tea. We were comfortable, warm, fed and watered.

Stella, in Mount Martha, lives in an all electric house. So no hot water, no hot food and no heating for her. Her next door neighbour eventually found his camping stove and provided hot water for cups of tea for the people in the court. Then Jenny across the road found her little Primus stove and made egg and bacon sandwiches. Stella found a puffer jacket in her wardrobe that she had never worn. So by lunchtime she had a hot drink, a hot sandwich and a warm jacket. Thank goodness for neighbourly neighbours! Her power came back around 2pm.

To add interest to an already dramatic day, for the storm hadn't entirely cleared, there was wind and rain on and off for most of the day and, of course, trees kept tumbling down or losing their branches, Ian sent me a message to say that his Cookalong box had arrived and could I please bring it in to stop the ravens, currawongs and other opportunistic creatures eating it. I was just sorting the box out when Ian rang to say that the delivery man had contacted him to say that he had come off their long driveway towards the bottom and was now stuck in a ditch.

I went down to investigate. His van was very definitely stuck in a ditch towards the bottom of the driveway. He must have been going at a foolhardy speed to have skidded off where he did. I could see the skid marks and he was lucky that he fetched up against a small tree and a raised drain before he reached the brick wall. It's a steep and winding track which needs to be driven with caution - partly because it's a steep and winding track, partly because it's a single car track and it is not unknown to meet another car going in the opposite direction to you, and partly because there are often kangaroos loitering in the way who are not always inclined to move. Even in a big white van you really don't want to hit a large kangaroo, or even a small one.

I'm not sure what the van driver thought I could do to help. I had no intention of pushing the van. My little Ziggy doesn't have the oomph to pull a large van out of a ditch. No, I don't happen to have a tow rope or chain about my person. Yes, I can probably provide some cardboard to put under the wheels. But why haven't you rung your breakdown service to come and haul you out? It seems he hadn't thought about a breakdown service - he didn't think he qualified because he hadn't broken down. In my view, if you are stuck in a ditch and can't move your vehicle you have, to all intents and purposes, broken down. He rang his breakdown service who came about 30 minutes later and rescued him.

A group of locals, watching all the drama from the safety 
of the top paddock.
Not that they offered to help at all :-)

Speaking of opportunistic creatures, I was packing the car yesterday afternoon ready to come down to Mount Martha. I went inside to get some more bags and came back to find a very cheeky raven perched on the edge of the boot trying to steal some green beans from one of my bags. Honestly - you can't trust anyone!

The lockdowns and most covid restrictions have now been lifted in Victoria. We are now free to travel wherever we wish within the state (although not necessarily into other states and not yet overseas). Goodbye lockdown - and welcome back road traffic! The traffic hasn't ever been as light this year as it was during the long lockdown of 2020 but it was back with a vengeance yesterday. This is a de facto long weekend in Victoria. Tuesday is a public holiday and a lot of people have taken Monday off as well. By Friday evening they could travel into the regions and travel into the regions they have.

And Jim and I have travelled too.  We would have come to Mount Martha this weekend anyway as part of the family Carer roster. But now we can come as visitors as well as carers. And Freyja and Simon are coming today for a late lunch when Freyja finishes work.  I have remembered to bring her long overdue birthday present with me. I can finally give it to her!

Clouds over Mount Helen, after the storm

Friday, October 29, 2021

Storms and Power

As part of my wish to use less fossil fuel in my daily life I am slowly converting Tani to outside solar lights and indoor solar skylights. I am planning to put in an induction cooktop. I am looking into replacing the gas hot water with either solar powered or electric. This, of course, will all be done as I can afford it. And when/if I can ever afford it I will have insulation put in the roof and maybe even have double glazed windows put in. I use an electricity supplier which tells you what percentage of the grid is powered by renewables, which means I can usually choose to use my greedy power appliances when the grid is cleaner. And I have bought that bench top oven and now a bench top grill so I can cook for two people with small, less greedy appliances. I briefly gave thought to getting rid of the proper oven, but then I remembered that I do quite a bit of batch cooking and even, in a dim, distant memory, have visitors occasionally. 

We have had quite a mighty storm overnight. It started late yesterday afternoon when a storm passed through. Fierce but brief.  Calm returned to Mount Helen. At some point overnight I was woken by wind and rain and banging noises which persisted until around now. At around 5:15 the power went out. By the magic of modern technology (which is to say, my phone) I checked the Powercor website.  It seems that power is out over most of Western Victoria. This is not good! I thought we had a large torch, but if we do I can't find it.  Fortunately the magic phone also has quite a nice, bright torch. Equally fortunately, it gets light relatively early at the moment. It is light enough to see outside but it is very gloomy in the house.

Even more fortunately, we are not yet an all electric household. By deploying the box of matches that I usually use to light the fire, I managed to light the gas stove so could boil a saucepan of water for a cup of tea. If/when we do go all electric I will need to buy a small gas inside burner. We do have a gas barbecue which I could use if really necessary but I wouldn't have wanted to go outside this early morning in the dark, wind and rain.

The weather has settled quite a lot, although it is still windy. There are reports of trees down all over Ballarat, damaged roofs and buildings, a certain level of stormy chaos.  Fortunately in my immediate area there doesn't seem to be much damage, although Brandy and Whiskey are unimpressed that their water fountain isn't working.

The storm is now making its way towards Melbourne and then, I assume, to the east of the state. Perhaps it will blow itself out before it gets there

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Gardening and Food

I've been making slow progress in the garden. I have done a bit more weeding of the patio and planted some more flowers in pots for outside the patio doors.

I pulled the last of the celery and barrowed round some more soil to top that bed up. Then I went inside for lunch.

What do you mean this is a bed for vegetables?
It is quite clearly a sunbed for me,
says Whiskey

Once he moved away, I planted a load of pea seeds, covered them over and put up a wire trellis around the bed.  This should keep Whiskey at bay, possibly also the birds who would enjoy small pea seedlings, and will act as a support for the peas.  In theory at least.

Not the prettiest bit of fencing I have ever done,
but it works

Next, I plan to tackle the warrigal greens, then the runner bean bed which is presently growing a magnificent crop of grass. Plus, there is stuff to do out the front.  Should keep me busy for a while.

I recently bought a Christmas food magazine. One of the recipes is for a deconstructed beef wellington. In principle I should love beef wellington. In practice, I often find it a disappointment. By the time everything else is properly cooked, the beef is, to my taste, very overcooked. If I am spending a lot of money on a nice piece of steak, I do not want it to be overcooked.  This recipe makes an open tart, with the pâté, onions and mushrooms cooked with the pastry. The steak is cooked separately then sliced and placed over the top of the tart.  I thought it looked rather nice and put it on my tentative menu for around Christmas and New Year. Then I wondered how it would work with Yorkshire puddings rather than pastry and gave it a go. I cooked everything separately and combined it all when the Yorkies were ready.

The fillet steak is definitely not overcooked :)

The dishes that I use to make large Yorkshire puddings make LARGE Yorkshire puddings which fill the whole plate. So I had to put the potatoes and accompanying vegetables on top.

They looked and tasted lovely
but really were a bit big
for one person 

Even Jim struggled to eat all of his. I need to get some smaller pie/cake tins. And add this to my entertaining menu. 

It's supposed to rain today. This may curtail my garden plans.  I am most definitely a fair weather gardener!

Monday, October 25, 2021

Lockdowns Lifting

On Friday, after the state met the 70% of the post-16 population double vaccination target, some of the lockdown restrictions lifted. As far as I can tell, this mostly affected Melbourne. There is still a border between Metropolitan Melbourne and Regional Victoria, although this is due to be lifted this coming Friday when the next target of 80% is expected to be reached. When/if the state gets to 90% of the 12 and over population, then I think pretty much all restrictions will be lifted.

As far as I can tell, not that I have looked closely, the only new restriction that directly affects me is that we can now have up to 10 visitors a day in our houses. Other restrictions that have been partly lifted relate to things that I don't do, such as going to gyms or swimming pools. I didn't take advantage of the lifting of the visitor restrictions over the weekend. I took advantage of the lack of plans to get out into the garden.

I have started weeding the patio. The grass that is growing between the cracks is relatively easy to get out. What I think is wood sorrel is harder. It's quite a pretty plant but it seems to have ambitions for world domination which are impressive considering its smallish size. It gets everywhere and is surprisingly difficult to evict. I have it largely held at bay. For the moment!

I braved Bunnings on Saturday and bought some larger pots for trees and smaller pots for flowers, tomatoes etc. I have filled the larger pots and planted a mandarin and an orange tree. I was going to plant them in the long bed I've put along the front porch but Lindsey pointed out that they might prevent the visitors who are now allowed into the house from accessing the front door! The pots are in front of our bedroom window and are not properly centred. A few days ago I threw a handful of poppy seeds out onto the little stones and one brave plant has emerged.  It is EXACTLY where I wanted to put one of the tree pots. I have decided to leave the poppy to its own devices and to move the tree when it has finished flowering

Eventually the pots will be in front of
the outside cream uprights

I have also planted zucchini, cucumber, melon and pumpkin seeds in the long part of the wooden L and corn seeds in the short bit. Now to sort out the veg beds out the back. They need topping up with soil which involves me moving the car onto the road and then wheelbarrowing soil from the front, through the garage and out along the back path to the veg beds.  I am strangely reluctant to do this!  (But I will) I need to sort those beds out anyway. The celery and warrigal greens (or New Zealand spinach) are getting stalky and leggy and need pulling and sorting out and new ones planted. The yellow beans seem to have disappeared shortly after germinating and I haven't planted the runners yet. The snow peas are producing. Must plant more next year. The broad beans haven't started flowering yet, although the ones up at Hill House are flowering with enthusiasm. And I really, really need to find somewhere to plant the potatoes. The tubs up at Hill House may have to be sorted out and brought into play.

Jim and I paid a visit to his geriatrician on Thursday, who says that things don't seem to have significantly deteriorated since his previous visit. I think that's probably right. After that precipitous drop in capacity mid-year the rate of deterioration has settled to a gentle slide. He has another appointment in six months time. There isn't really anything much that the geriatrician can do so no real point in going more frequently. 

Monday, October 18, 2021

Harry's in Hepburn

The Sunday Lunchers have been trying to get together for simply ages. The last time we were supposed to meet, Jim was sick so he and I couldn't go. The others decided that we would meet again earlier than we might otherwise so Jim and I could catch up. And we made several arrangements to meet at Gillie's place in Daylesford.

These were all thwarted by various lockdowns, restrictions, circumstances.

Eventually, Gillie decided that we might not be able to meet in a home for simply ages and booked us a table at Harry's.  And while Jim and I were en route to Hepburn yesterday morning, the state premier declared that from next weekend we could have up to 10 visitors a day in our homes!!!!

No matter.  I like Harry's. You may remember that Lindsey and I had lunch there the weekend that we gatecrashed Freyja and Simon's weekend in Daylesford in August (I think) in a brief interlude between Melbourne Lockdowns. And Harry's is more accessible than Gillie's house for Jim.  No stairs to get in.

It was good to catch up and nice to eat out, though there were time restrictions on our booking that you don't have when you are in someone's house. Next time we are hoping to meet at Tani, assuming home visits are still allowed. I am a bit worried that they have left me to organise the date. I am very, very bad at organising dates!

The end of civilisation as we know it may be sooner than we think. The people at the mushroom farm tell me that they are expecting a national shortage of mushroom compost sometime in the next two or three months. For reasons that are entirely unclear to me, the growing compost for commercial mushroom production is imported from Europe. I have no idea why we can't create our own growing medium but the current problems in global shipping mean, apparently, that the national supply of mushroom compost is stuck in shipping containers in the humidity of Singapore, which I'm told is not good for it.

I had not anticipated a problem with mushroom supply. I realise that mushrooms are not vital to life, although we eat a lot of them. But really, if Australia can't be self sufficient in mushroom production ...

I was also somewhat surprised recently to discover that the very large percentage of our frozen potato products are imported from Belgium.  Why would you import frozen potato products from Belgium? It's not as though we don't grow potatoes here. We have butter, cream and milk. We have food production factories. It's all very odd. I know that I don't have a fundamental need for frozen potato products. I even grow my own potatoes, although I am nowhere near self sufficiency. But it is useful to have chips and mash lurking in the freezer. I have found a brand of Australian produced frozen chips but not yet frozen mash. And I must look more closely at the provenance of other frozen products that I buy.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Cat Boat

I bought the cats a boat on Thursday.  I thought it was a good buy.  $19 for a cat boat at Kmart.

I took it home.  The cats looked aghast. A boat? You expect us to get in a boat?  You must be mad!

The OT liked it when she came to visit on Friday morning. She also liked that we had implemented all the suggestions she had made at previous visits. The cats remained suspicious.

On Friday evening I lit the fire, put the boat in front of the fire and put one of their little mats inside the boat. Brandy decided that he rather liked the idea of a cosy boat, with extra mat, in front of the fire.

Pirate cat ☠

I don't think he's going to be a very successful pirate!

Whiskey remained suspicious.

This morning, Whiskey decided he was going to hop in the boat, while Brandy was in the bedroom helping me make the bed

Brandy came back.  That's mine, he clearly thought. So he jumped up on top of Whiskey and more or less kicked and shoved and wriggled and squiggled until Whiskey gave up and moved out. Clearly, we need another boat. So after Lindsey and I had been to the mushroom farm we went back to Kmart to buy another. The pet bed shelves, which had been almost full on Thursday, were more or less empty!

I did buy another, much less exciting bed (for half the price!) but wondered how on earth they had managed to sell all those pet beds, including about 40 boat beds, in less than two days.  I have a feeling the boat beds might have been put out too early. The website says that they are new stock but there are none available in any store that I ever go anywhere near. 

I had almost decided not to buy another:

Two cats in a boat

But I think I might, if there are any available the next time I am in the Kmart pet section. You really can't have too many cat boats.

The cat boat was absolutely an impulse buy. It was not what I had gone into Kmart for.  I have, for some time, been considering buying a bench top oven. It is not unusual for me to want to use the oven but only to have something small to cook in it.  Obviously, sometimes there are alternative cooking methods that work. But not always. I had, about my person, a $50 gift card which could be used, amongst other stores, in Kmart. Kmart has bench top ovens at the size I wanted for $59. I deployed my gift card and got my oven for the princely sum, to me, of $9.  Plus $19 for the impulse boat.

New little oven.
So far it's heated two chicken parcels
for dinner last night and
baked a pizza for lunch today.
Reckon I've already got my $9 worth.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Trundling Along

Things have been trundling along, mostly fairly quietly.

I didn't go to any markets, farm shops or mushroom farms over the weekend.  I couldn't really be bothered and didn't urgently need anything.

I have now run out of mushrooms and fresh vegetables 😂

Brandy and Whiskey have been enjoying the spring sunshine

and the morning light from our front porch has been golden

 The front "cottage" garden is blooming

On Tuesday afternoon, this was delivered:

The delivery man said I would need to shift it all by day's end to avoid the storms he said were due on Wednesday.  I laughed.  He suggested that I cover it with a tarpaulin.  I haven't got a tarpaulin. It's just going to have to take its chances.  Nothing got washed away the last time I got in a load of soil and some of the things I want this lot for won't be ready for a little while. But in the meantime I have filled up a load of pots, planters and small troughs, plus I have filled the L shaped box by the porch. And now it looks like this:

I think I have used about a quarter of it

We didn't get the forecast (by the delivery bloke, not by the BoM) storm yesterday but we did get over 14 ml of rain last night. I'm hoping that the rain will have compacted the soil in the wooden box a bit, then I can plant the mandarin and orange trees in the short bit of the L.  The long bit will eventually have hellebores, when they arrive. I might put in a couple of zucchini plants and perhaps a cucumber. The hellebores will only be tiny and may enjoy sharing with some friends, as long as they don't get swamped. I've got pots on the porch ready for tomatoes. They didn't do particularly well there last year but I don't know if that was because it was a very odd growing season or whether it really isn't a happy place for tomatoes. I'm going to put a couple of pots in the courtyard as well and see how they do.

The temperature has dropped again. It's cold, damp, grey and gloomy.  I am hopeful that spring will re-assert itself in the next week or so!

A light quiche made with a mountain of
left over vegetables, three small eggs, 
milk and cheese,
served with a cheerful spring salad

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Saturday Evening Dinner (and Sunday Lunch)

During the various lockdowns in Melbourne and the regions, restaurants and cafes have diversified their offerings. When they can't offer sit down dining, or when the number of diners they can have is severely restricted, many of them have started offering take away meals and some are doing cook at home meals.

The Shared Table in Buninyong is one local restaurant/cafe which is offering both.

Ian and Lindsey have enjoyed their cook at home meals and last weekend bought one for themselves and one to take on our monthly care visit to Stella.

It was very delicious!

We started with canapés. They were intended for two but we shared them among the three of us. A nice, light start to dinner

Little tarts with asparagus, mushroom and radish
Savoury shortbread biscuit with French onion dip
Cucumber with wagyu tataki, ponzu and sesame

We waited for a while before having the main course, so we would all be hungry and enjoy it properly

Wagyu ragu with lots of veg and a 5 spice sauce
accompanied by mochi gnocchi

We decided to keep the dessert for Sunday lunch.

There was leftover ragu but no leftover gnocchi. So for Sunday lunch we had the ragu with potato gems, sweet corn and peas

Not quite as fancy as mochi gnocchi
but very tasty nonetheless 

The dessert was a pear and chocolate pudding with raspberry and pumpkin crumb and a chocolate and black garlic ice cream.

I took the ice cream out of the freezer a touch too early
so it more or less melted.
It was delicious anyway

It was a very tasty weekend. Many thanks to Ian and Lindsey for the foodie treat

Stella very much enjoyed her weekend

Her gardener has done a very good job clearing up  and planting the garden beds out the back

Jim seems to be more or less fully recovered from his bout of breathlessness on Thursday. He certainly tucked into his food over the weekend and seems happy enough.

And we seem to have been plunged back into winter, despite the clocks having moved onto summer time on Sunday morning. The temperature has plummeted, the wind has picked up and yesterday we had hail, rain, hail and more rain. I even lit the fire! The rest of this week is forecast to be cold and wet. Just as well I didn't sow the tomato seeds during the recent sunny and warm spell.

Friday, October 01, 2021

Happy Gotcha Day ...

... to Brandy and Whiskey who Lindsey and I collected from the Ballarat Animal Shelter exactly one year ago today.

They seem to have settled in well 😊🐈🐈

Citrus trees and ambulances

I went to the Formosa nursery earlier in the week to look at their citrus trees.  When I got there the car park was absolutely jam packed and even the on street parking was full.  I decided I didn't want to look at citrus trees that badly and, since I was in the area, went to look at an independent supermarket that I drive past from time to time but have never been in. It has some things that the big supermarkets don't have, but probably isn't interesting enough for a special trip. Our local IGA has many more interesting things.

I was telling Lindsey about this and she suggested that we go out to Avalon yesterday afternoon.  Avalon has an enormous tree selection and would certainly have lots of citrus trees for me to look at. So out we went. It was slightly alarming to see all the cars parked out the front but we drove in to check out the car park (which you can't see from the road) and there was plenty of parking and there weren't too many people wandering around. I came away with a mandarin tree and a blood orange to plant in the new boxes out the front.  I am intending, in the fullness of time, to plant a couple of apple trees on the front lawn. We don't really use the front garden and rather than just scrubby grass I thought we might as well have something productive as well as my rather pretty garden beds.

Jim added a certain level of excitement to the late afternoon by deciding that he couldn't breathe properly. He had had a very brief episode of dizziness and shortness of breath during the morning when the District Nurse was here but it was, as I said, very brief and none of us had paid it much heed. This seemed to be significantly worse, plus he became very pale and slumped and he couldn't talk.

I called an ambulance.

The nearest ambulance station is only 3 or 4 km from here and a first responder turned up very shortly after my call, followed not many minutes later by a proper ambulance with two more ambulance men and a student.  I can't say I was expecting quite so many people or, indeed, vehicles.  I think I was probably expecting a first responder to assess the situation and then to call for reinforcement if necessary.

I have never described our lounge room as particularly small but by the time you have four ambos with all their kit in it, plus Jim and me, it did seem ever so slightly cramped! They ran a whole series of tests and decided that they couldn't find anything significantly wrong. By then his colour had returned and he was talking and sitting up, but he was still quite breathless. So they took him away to the hospital for further investigation and observation.

Not long before 9 pm a nice doctor rang and said that they still couldn't find anything particularly wrong but that they might keep him in overnight just to keep an eye on him. At 10:30 they rang back and said that he reallyreallyreallyreallyREALLY didn't want to stay overnight and there didn't seem to any point in upsetting him for not much gain and sent him home in a taxi. Whereupon he went to bed, and there he stayed until around 8:00 this morning when I took him in a cup of tea.

I think he must be more or less alright this morning. He's a bit subdued but he happily tucked into a proper cooked breakfast and is now getting dressed. I don't know what they decided was wrong with him, if anything. They didn't send a discharge summary home with him. I'll ask his GP to send for one the next time we see her then we might find out what was going on.  Or not, as the case may be. It may just have been one of those things.

I was wondering what Brandy was watching through the window this morning and went to investigate.  I'm not surprised he was paying attention:

One cheeky currawong