31 December, 2008

Hazy Crazy Holidays of Summer

Christmas and Hanukkah have passed us by, expanded waistlines and shredded piles of spent gift wrap have been left in their wake. Tonight, the eve of the new year, will conclude my first holiday season in the land down under.

It's been a busy season, jam packed with home project mania and brief forays into the real world for family dinners and shopping trips, but all went beautifully well, in spite of the 33 degree (that's 90+ Fahrenheit) temperatures. Even our garden, chocked full of tender seedlings, weathered the miniature heatwave well. We were so pleased!

Christmas and Boxing Day, themselves, were delightful and filled with more food than anyone should eat in a lifetime. The City Mouse will have to resume her health regime in earnest, post-renovations, to recapture a smidge of lost weight gained over the festivals of food. We did have one adorable companion over Christmas lunch in the form of a fuzzy little Koala, curled up in the cradle of a gum tree just a few steps from our outdoor locale. It was a beautiful sight.

The barrage of home improvements still dominates our every waking moment, but the end is drawing near. Today we pick up a handy-dandy floor sander and begin the process of refinishing our floors. It's daunting, as there are layers of thick, black goo across some of the flooring, but we hold faith that all will glow a beautiful, piny hue when we are done. This new phase of our mad dash toward increased home value means that we will be taking full advantage of the outdoors, this week, with plans to camp out Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, allowing our floors to dry.

Some of the first real harvest has come in from the garden, lending itself to our delicious dinner of green beans and potatoes cooked with ham hock. How else could one serve such a southern treat than with sweet honey cornbread and big glasses of minted iced tea? It was delightful!

During our backyard camp fest, we intend to use up some of the early tomatoes, a few more beans, and hopefully a green pepper or two. I think what I'm looking forward to, most of all, is a camp breakfast of stewed, fresh apricots from our tree. One sunset colored beauty found its way into yesterday's snack time and the harvest promises to be sweetly perfect.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the thoughtful array of gifts we received, this fine holiday, with American treats sent from home, fabulous project books for the hubby and a Ball Home Preserving superbook for yours truly. There were vacuums and shoes, gift cards, seedlings, and bakeware, plus some lovely donations toward our future rainwater tank.

Our own gifts to the relatives were made on a shoestring, consisting mostly of photographs the hubby and I have taken over the last year, packaged for friends and family in envelopes decorated with scrapbooking supplies and sent with much love. Hopefully next year we will be enjoying our holiday in cooler American climes, instead of taking a dip in the pool. Though a good swim is never a bad thing!

Perhaps the biggest gift has come wrapped in another gift all its own. Our present to each other was, of course, our beautiful pup, Laney. But she too had a bit of giving to do and just three weeks after her adoption, she decided to let us in on a bit of a secret. She's pregnant! Yep, that's right. We adopted ourselves a pregnant dog. We estimate her to be in week seven with two to go until these new little critters join our family. We will be keeping one pup and giving the rest away. An inconvenient gift, but one we are growing to love.

For now, we are off for a day of pulling up carpets and sanding down floors. It will be several days before we have net access again, and "vacation" begins January 6th. From that date on, this suburban plotter will be gleefully returning to frequent updates and big news of harvests and kitchen doings. Until then, be well and happy and enjoy your New Year!

22 December, 2008

Comforts, Chaos, and Serendipity in a Can

The mania of remodeling, renewing, and refurbishing continues on the Suburban Plot, holidays notwithstanding. The stack of dramatic before-and-afters piles higher with every day and, still, the To Do List remains chocked full of fun for the whole family.

There was a fair bit of good fortune involved in this weekend's tasks. You see, more than six months ago, even before our wedding, the husband and I chose a medley of colors for the kitchen-dining-living wing of our little house. Each room bleeds into the next, so we were particularly mindful of the visual harmony of all three paints. For half a year those paint chips have remained taped to our dining room wall, never forgotten but financially out of reach, for paint seems an absolute luxury when one is budgeting for sufficient groceries.

Then a miracle occurred. A genuine miracle of interior design. An intervention of divine decoration! When mixed in proper proportions, two spare cans of paint, one left over from hubby's workplace, another the bare remainders of our hallway work last fall, these two colors blended to a nearly perfect match of our little golden kitchen paint chip! And thus, Kitchen Phase 2 was begun.

I swear, if we get much luckier, I might collapse. The To Do List has become our holy book, its happy little ticky-marks our mitzvahs and commandments done well, its unchecked items our sins and transgressions. Oh yes...we know when we're licked. We are resigned to two more weeks of slavish work and keep only the hopeful results of home inspection and the promised month of break from any home improvement as our beacons of salvation off in the distance.

Amidst the plaster dust and paint fumes, a girl sometimes finds herself in need of the comforts of quieter times gone by, and the City Mouse had a serious hankering for a big, steamy bowl of Chicken and Dumplins. That gooey southern dish just can't be beat for full-on innards-warming grub that lands in the tummy like a load of bricks.

I've struggled, since my immigration, with duplicating the chemical goodness of the Bisquick dumpling and came a step closer, Saturday night, with a baking soda biscuit recipe, homemade chicken stock, and some boneless thigh meat. I still need to find a way to make the dumplings a little less dense and a smidge more breaddy. Experimentation will win out!

But for now, this home renovator must obey her paint can masters and return to the brush for another day of first and second coats, and yet another "after shot" for the stack. I apologize for the delay between posts but, as you can tell, time is a precious commodity these days. Soon, your daily updates will return!

18 December, 2008

Sweet Green Southern-Fried Pride

Few things scream Deep South like the mild tang of green tomatoes. Other cultures dabble in the land of the un-reddened, unripened fruit, but Southerners embrace it with big, wide, opened arms. With the pending harvest of dozens taunting us in its tempting green state, this Southern American girl caved and cooked up a couple green tomato delights, this week, thanks to the enormous third-of-a-kilo greenies we plucked.

Lamb for Two, Over Sweet Pasta Verde
A small handful of raisins (sultanas)
A fair splash of Verjus or a mix of light fruit juice (white grape, apple, etc), lemon juice, and a drop or two of white wine vinegar, for plumping the raisins
1 large green tomato, diced
1 spring onion, finely sliced
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
Sugar, salt, and pepper, to taste
2 servings of your favorite pasta
Olive oil
2 sprigs fresh basil
1 sprig fresh mint
2 servings of roasted, rested lamb (sea salt, minced rosemary, fresh pepper, garlic, and olive oil rubbed over lamb roast and cooked "low-and-slow" at 170C/330F until desired doneness)

Stir raisins into verjus or fruit juice mixture and cook over low heat until the raisins have plumped. Set aside, reserving the juice.

While your raisins are busy plumping, chop, slice and dice the green tomato, spring onion, and herbs. Toss the tomato and onion into a medium-hot pan and saute gently, re-adding the raisins and liquid in once the onions become translucent. Cover and simmer while setting your pasta to boil.

Drain the pasta and keep warm with a lid, drizzling with just a touch of olive oil to prevent clumping, stirring the chopped basil and mint in with the pasta as it cools.

Uncover the green tomato sauce, seasoning to taste with dashes of salt, pepper, and sugar until it makes you swoon, reducing the liquid to intensify flavors. If you have some pan drippings from your roast, add these to the sauce judiciously, as they may be very oily. Stir in the peas and warm through.

Stir together pasta and sauce and arrange in the center of each plate. Lay a few slices of warm, medium-rare to medium lamb over top the pasta and serve. If you aren't a fan of lamb, this recipe would work beautifully with nearly any meat you can imagine, or alone as a summery vegan dish.

Oh, and if you still have a few slices of green tomato left over...whip up a real Southern, down-home meal with some fried green tomatoes. Here's my quick recipe for this crispy, tart treat.

For a crunchy, tasty tomato, start with some chicken. Don't laugh! I'm serious. Get together a few drumsticks, wings, breasts, whatever you like, some good frying oil and a deep pot. Heat the oil while you mix up some self-raising flour, salt, lemon pepper, cayenne, oregano, marjoram, and whatever else makes you smile. In a second bowl, whisk together egg and a splash of milk.

Once the oil is hot enough to sizzle, but not enough to smoke, dredge each piece of chicken in the egg wash, then into the flour mixture, shaking off all excess. Re-dip into the wash, then again into the flour, then (with long tongs!) lay gently into your hot oil, being careful not to overcrowd.

While the chicken fries, soak sliced green tomato in the egg and milk wash. Add a good sprinkling of cornmeal or fine polenta to the flour mixture, and a little extra salt.

Remove the chicken and set to drain over paper towels, covered loosely with a piece of foil or a warming lid, then double-dip those beautiful green tomato slices just like you did with the chicken. Fry them in the same oil, making sure to evenly brown both sides. Drain and serve with some cool sliced beets, a big pile of steamed peas and carrots, and a tall glass of sweet iced tea, cryin' out "Oooo Lawdy," as you dive into these Dixie dishes.

17 December, 2008

Lining 'em Up and Knocking 'em Down

Scrape and patch, plaster, sand, and paint. That is the rhythm of the week. Another dragon in the forest of Phase 1 Re-dos has been slain! What once was a dingy, lumpy, bumpy bathroom with pink marbled tiles and a blue tub and basin, is now smooth, cool, and blue...with pink marbled tiles and a blue tub and basin. But, that's why it's called Phase 1.

Hubby dutifully smoothed out the walls, getting rid of all cracks and crevices. My task was to take what's old and make it new, rolling on the free blue that falls somewhere between Robins Egg and Seafoam in the Crayola spectrum. It's not a color we'd have chosen for ourselves, but who are we to judge free paint? No one! That's who.

If only that were some kind of final point in our efforts, but nay, the husband has already begun scraping our horror of a toilet, with the laundry to follow soon behind. Eventually Phase 2 of many projects will commence, with paint for the kitchen, and either a re-tiling or repainting of existing bathroom tiles, then finally a terrazzo floor resurfacing, if we can figure out just how one can do that.

I'm pretty happy with the "Green" theme of our renovations. While we're not using soy-based paints or chemical-free anything, we are using second hand products that might've otherwise found their way into landfills. Unwanted paints and cabinets are our best friends in this penny-pinching endeavor and, thus far, the results are looking damn fine to me!

15 December, 2008

Chef du Chien: Meatloaf and Sweet Treats

Yet another report crossed the airwaves, in the past month, telling of tainted ingredients in commercial dog food products. Last time, it was Melamine causing organ failure. This time? Salmonella in the chicken meal used to make a few major brands.

It's unfortunate that folks can't trust the foods they buy for their best furry friends, and it makes us even more resolved to provide good, whole foods for our little pup. So, yesterday, as the husband plastered and sanded the bathroom to prepare for my paint job, I turned our kitchen into a doggie delicatessen, whipping up a couple weeks' worth of food for our Fido.

Chicken and Potato Loaf
1-1.5 kg ground meat, or ground meat and bone (we used chicken carcass)
.5 kg diced potato
.5 kg chopped veggies (we used 2 carrots, 1/2 apple, 1 pear, and filled it out with cabbage)
2 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp Vegemite (For nutritional yeast and Vitamin B)
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/8 cup fine cornmeal or polenta
1/2 cup rolled oats

Chicken and Rice Loaf
1-1.5 kg ground meat, or ground meat and bone (we used chicken carcass)
1.5 cups dry white or brown rice, prepared
.5 kg chopped veggies (we used 2 carrots, 1/2 cup green beans, filled it out with cabbage)
2 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp ketchup (tomato sauce, for Aussies)
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/8 cup fine cornmeal or polenta
1/3 cup rolled oats

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F).

Mix up either recipe, or improvise your own, adjusting liquid levels with water or meat broth, as you like, or adding extra flour if the mixture is too wet.

Chop and steam all the fruits and veggies, steaming them to soften. While the veggies cook, stir together the meat and eggs with any oats, rice, flours, and meals, along with adding flavorings (Vegemite, ketchup, oil, etc). Combine the meat and veggie mixes.

Divide the recipe between two large loaf pans, or one 9" square casserole dish. I like to line mine with a bit of aluminum foil and a light spritz of oil spray for easier removal after baking. Press the mixture tightly into the pans and bake for an hour.

Cool completely, then wrap in plastic or foil and freeze until needed.

Tip: Our local butcher offers 5 kg (over 11 lbs) of ground "chicken frames" or carcass for $5. That makes over half a month's food for our pooch!

Feeding amount: This varies from dog to dog, but our Laney (a 23kg/50lb Kelpie/Hound mix) gets 1/2 loaf, around .75 kg prepared, per day. We will adjust if we notice any weight changes.

Peanut Butter Honey Dog Treats
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup white flour
1/2 rounded tbsp baking powder
1/2 cup milk or water, plus a splash extra if the mix is too stiff
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 tbsp honey

Stir dry ingredients together and set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk up milk and peanut butter until well blended, stirring in honey until smooth. Combine wet into dry ingredients and mix or knead until a firm but pliable dough is achieved.

Turn the dough onto a floured knife-safe surface and roll to 1/4 inch (about 6mm) thickness then slice into bite sized chunks. If you're particularly fancy, or extremely bored, you could use cookie cutters to make little dog bone shapes, or similar, but I opted for the ever stylish rectangle.

Spread the uncooked biscuits across a greased or lined cookie sheet and bake. Cooking time depends on your oven and preferences. Ours were firm and chewy after 25 minutes, crispy and crunchy after 45. We prefer crispy treats for our pup. Good for her teeth!

Cool completely on the tray then seal into an airtight container. This recipe makes about 35 3/4" x 2" treats.

13 December, 2008

Presents, Plaster, and Pie

My, oh my, another busy weekend on the Suburban Plot. The garden has received some unprecedented, and much needed, rain, and thus has lost our focus for the past few days. So, our attentions have remained inward. Though, my daily inspection did reveal fresh wheaty, tasseled plumage sprouting proudly from the 3 Sisters Corn, and a few summer broccoli and cabbage seedlings pushing their way toward the sun.

Christmas is upon us and today I managed, with Bing Crosby's Holiday Inn and Going My Way for atmosphere, to finish up our homemade gifting for the overseas crowd. I'd dearly love to share what we got for my family, but a fair number of them read these entries and I'd hate to spoil the surprise.

The gifts are simple, nearly free, but there is a lot of love wrapped up in those decorated envelopes. Packages take longer than letters, so the seasonal cards will go out early next week. The postman complemented the wrappings, so I hope the American folk enjoy them.

After having accomplished measured recovery of the house from Kitchen Phase 1, we've handily wrecked it again with Bathroom & Laundry Phase 1 and Hardwood Floors Phase 0.25. Ah, the joys of home renovation! It really amazes me how we're somehow doing this without spending much money, at all...as in barely even over $100. Of course, the gift of second-hand kitchen cabinetry helped more than one could imagine.

We will soon search for a good home for our old cupboards and shelves and I'm considering a cheap classified sale or, failing that, seeing if any place would accept them as a charitable donation. I'm curious if Salvation Army takes such things.

One very negative aspect of all this manic toil is the total lack of time and creativity it lends to my cooking. There have been multiple incarnations of homemade bolognese sauce with pasta and veggies crossing our table in the past two weeks, and even a night of take-out pizza. Though, I did attempt a shred of crafty cookery, reworking last week's delectable Rustic Lamb and Pear Casserole into a tasty mixed meat and vegetable pie. The recreation scored 10 out of 10 on the Hubby Dinner Rating Scale, so that's a definite win! Perhaps when we head to the "Salvos," as it's known here, to enquire about donating the kitchen, we'll pick up an old crockpot to aid in my construction site cuisine.

If you care to try the pie adaptation, whip up a good, strong double-crust pastry of flour, olive oil, salt, and milk, then saute a bit of meat (I used ground beef), an extra carrot, some spring onion, a touch of minced garlic, and tomato paste—season to your liking. Stir in the leftover Casserole and you're ready for some crusty action!

Pre-bake your bottom crust, after venting with a few fork punctures, for 10 minutes at 180C (350F), fill, cover with the top crust, poke a few more holes, and bake at 205C (400F) until the crust is lightly browned. Serve with a dollop of ketchup, sour cream, or fresh and clean!

Steamed Brussels sprouts are my recommended side—the pickle is optional.

11 December, 2008

Dereliction and the Domino Effect

Have you ever begun a project, which led to a project, which led to a project, and the next time you looked up, several days had floated by? Yeah, that's the deal on the Suburban Plot.

In the past few days we've torn out a kitchen, put in another one, rearranged the living and dining rooms, planned out floor refinishing and begun ripping up vinyl, bought gear for turning standard door into a sliding door, refitted pipes on two sinks, sealed a shower floor, bailed out the peppers from within a forest of two-foot-tall weeds and mulched said peppers, purchased and planned holiday cards and gifts, and met with our mortgage broker (no, we're not selling...yet).

Oy vey!

It's been one hell of a week. Due to the chaos, I've been horrible about online contacts. I really must learn better time management so that I can accomplish everything I want, not just one or two bits.

The week's results are satisfying, though. We can boast some shiny new-to-us cabinets and counter tops, a much more spacious flow to our little home, a gorgeous pepper patch, and what we hope will be some nifty, albeit very very inexpensive, gifts for our loved ones.

This weekend is no less jammed with home improvement tasks with sanding the hallway floorboards being highest on the list. Hubby will be busy as a bee doing the things we actually planned for last week had I not been inspired to do the kitchen, and Kitchen Phase 2 (muted curry colored paint, polished wood floors, new back splash) will begin with wall patching and paint priming.

I'm not really sure what's gotten into us, lately! We've become house-mad work addicts. We've stayed up to, or past, midnight every night, this week, and still we sallied forth with each day's duties. All we can hope is that all our slavish labor pays off in the end.

08 December, 2008

Bumper Harvest and Crazy Ideas

Our cherry harvest boomed in, this weekend. All eight cherries of it. But we're really quite happy with that count as we didn't even know we had a cherry tree until two months ago when hubby carved it out from amongst a veil of suffocating vines. There are still another dozen, or so, cherries on the tree, and oh boy are they sweet. Like little balls of honey, these bright red treats.

So, after slaving away to handle the onslaught of cherries, we had planned to patch and paint the bathroom and laundry. Well, hubby was going to do that, and I was going to rip up the horrific 1970's vinyl flooring in the hallway, with all plans set to begin the long hand-sanding process of refinishing our hidden wood floors.

Then I had an idea.

Always a dangerous thing, my ideas.

You see, we've been the proud owners of two full kitchens for over a third of the year, now. Hubby's aunt and uncle's friends (did you follow that?) ripped out their somewhat dated kitchen in exchange for steel and stone, and offered us the rippings. We gladly accepted, as we had painfully dated cupboards and counters of our own.

Unfortunately, we allowed the snowball effect to slow our roll on installing the better-than-what-we-had kitchen. We made a list and decided we'd need to pull the old kitchen, paint all the walls, finish the floor, then install the newer stuff. This meant money. And that's just something we rarely ever have.

So, for weeks upon weeks, the poor cabinets lived in shedded squalor, and we continued to wonder if we'd ever have the perfect storm of money, time, weather, and supplies for the kitchen re-do.

Curious to see what we've done, and why I mention this homestead headache?

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post.

05 December, 2008

Amateurish Estimates of Independence

Anyone who's known me for any real length of time knows I have a sick obsession with spreadsheets. I can do anything, anything, given enough time and access to Microsoft Excel. It takes very little to set me off on a tabular tailspin, entering random figures, thoughts, plans, and daydreams into calculable formats.

Today's obsession came in the form of estimating the total amount of food, in kilograms, we consume in an average year with "we" being equal to one young adult male, one semi-young adult female, and one mid-to-large breed dog.

To the best of my abilities, I listed every major item of food we consume on a regular basis, obviously missing several along the way, but I think most bases were well covered. I then looked up acreage required to fuel our consumption of edibles, added these to the building space necessary to house us and to process all the treats on which we subsist.

Days like these make me wonder if I don't have a touch of the ole' O.C.D.

The totals were mind-boggling. I mean, in theory, I'm aware the average healthy human adult eats round about 1.5-2 kg of food, give or take, each day. But good grief! It's far less an intellectual understanding when you see the actual sums. With a wide margin of error, I'm sure, we eat 1200+ kg of food per year, and drink about 1400 litres of items like soda, coffee, tea, and fruit juice.

Upon seeing those average, yet still startling, numbers, I was prompted to delve deeper into what it would take to feed our small family without commerical assistance. None. No stores. At all. Point of fact...no way could we do it.

Oh, the space requirements aren't too bad. Around 5-10 acres would provide more than enough space for a couple milking goats, 60+ egg and meat fowl, 2 beef cows, 2 pigs, 3-5 lambs, a decent fishing pond, a honeybee hive or two (Ha! As if I'd raise bees), small fields for oats, wheat, and other grains, a large fruit grove and vegetable patch, and a little place for us to live, as well.

But the time, knowledge, energy, and dedication required to host such a variety of animals, to produce so many things like cheeses, oils, etc...it's all far too much for we two small folk.

Sure, we could go vegan and spare ourselves the hassle with meat, dairy, honey, etc...but that would suck nearly all our personal joy out of eating, so scratch that idea.

Alas, consumers we are and consumers we shall remain. Short of founding a mid-sized commune, I don't really see a way we'll ever reach that level of sustainability and self-sufficiency. Perhaps if we were old school, planning on five children who could each be assigned to various chores--But, we want one, maybe two kids, and enjoy too many things about relative urban life to go so far into the land-life.

Where does that leave us? Right where we started, I think. Trying to grow what we can. Trying to prepare for our few little chickens. Trying to buy local produce, if at all possible. Yeah...trying.

Perhaps this new found knowledge will serve to inform our eating habits. Maybe a few vegetarian meals per week wouldn't kill my carnivorous husband. Perhaps a little less milk in my coffee would do. After all, knowing is half the battle, right?

04 December, 2008

Rustic Lamb and Pear Casserole

On the rare, drizzly Spring day in South Australian, one is inspired to forget that the seasons are reflected in this hemisphere, and that forgetfulness allows you to pretend your way back to Autumn with its rich, hearty flavors.

Today was just such a day. The fridge, bursting as it was with veggies soon to go off, tempted me into satisfying my craving for a meaty, sweet dish of dark day comfort food. A lightly fruited peasant dish of lamb, vegetables, and fruit is what came of that craving.

The recipe is enough for four ample serves, but if cooking just for two, follow our lead and turn the leftovers into a wickedly beautiful lamb pie.

Rustic Lamb and Pear Casserole

1.5 cups diced lamb
Cornflour (cornstarch)
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
1 carrot, chopped
4 small potatoes, in large dice
1 overripe pear, chopped
4 white mushrooms, sliced
1-2 cups broth or stock
1 tbsp blue gum honey (or other mild variety)
1 sprig each fresh mint, oregano, and sweet basil, coarsely chopped
1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped finely
3 bay leaves

Preheat oven to 200C (400F).

Dust the lamb in cornflour and just brown in a skillet, then set it aside and cover to preserve the steam.

Chop all the veggies and, in a small amount of oil or oil spray, lightly sautee onions, carrots, celery, and potatoes to mingle the flavors.

Sprinkle additional cornflour onto the cooked veggies and add one cup of broth and the honey. You can use any broth, really. I had a mix of chicken and lamb stock on hand. Stew vegetables until stock thickens to a light gravy, adding more broth as you see fit, seasoning with salt and pepper, to taste.

Stir in herbs, pears, and mushrooms, cooking for only a couple minutes. Add the full mixture, plus the lamb, into a large casserole dish. Bake for an hour, checking occasionally to see if more broth is needed.

Serve with thick slices of wholewheat bread and steamed greens or a crisp salad.

03 December, 2008

No Junk Mail

The scene was grim, Tuesday afternoon, as I sorted through the piles of junk mail we'd received in the past three weeks. Piles and heaps and heaps of piles of tree pulp turned into ads promising the best deals on holiday food, toys, roof repairs, and consumer electronics.

Consumer. Consumption. That's the word for it. We are voracious consumers, and no matter how much we avoid playing into the "spend, use, and spend some more" game, it is nearly impossible to avoid. The dictionary defines consumption as, "The act or process of consuming by use, waste, etc.; decay; destruction." I think that says it all, really. We consume, whether we realize it or not. We consume every tree pulled own for the production of the junk mail we then consume again by throwing it out.

In 2004, alone, Australia delivered to homes 8.2 billion pieces of junk mail, with the average household receiving 20 items of unaddressed mail per week and 15% of addressed mail coming from soliciting companies, as well. Keep in mind, the population of Australia is around a mere 20 million.

So, what can be done with all the junk? Some suggest mulching one's plants with the mess. Alas, most of the mail we receive is on glossy paper and uses excessive colored inks, which make them less than beneficial to our garden. I suppose abstract art is an option, but frankly, I don't have the time or urge. And thus, into the recycling bin it goes. All three armloads full.

Photo by Everita

It angers me each time I pull the pages upon pages of nonsense begging for our nonexistent money from our mailbox. Now I am in the process of figuring out how to make it stop. We will be installing the tacky, yet unavoidable, "No Junk Mail" sticker on our letterbox. We will also be registering on the Australian Direct Marketing Association's Do Not Contact list, and e-mailing companies that continue to send soliciations. But this only addresses our unaddressed mail. What can we do to fix the problem on a grander scale?

Perhaps Planet Ark or ACF would be helpful. I don't know. I'm a relative newcomer here, a non-resident, and not eligible to vote, so I feel a bit powerless. I will have to make a real effort to figure this one out.

Birthdays, Beaches, and Big Boxes

Another decade has passed, this one coming in with a roar and going out with something like a meow. Given all that has changed since my last birthday, I'm pretty grateful for such a peaceful exit to my twenties.

In the last year, I've moved half way across the world, married my hardworking man, become a homeowner, begun a greener lifestyle, and have become doggy-mom to the best behaved canine alive. That's quite a lot for one little year to take! So, the year and I needed a mellow retrospective, rather than a raucous sendoff to commemorate such a time.

Hubby did his best to ensure that I relaxed the whole day long. He made a lovely breakfast, an we lounged about most of the day, watching old movies and decorating our beautiful Christmas tree. Early in our easy day, he and Laney brought me my beautiful gifts—A small shamrock charm for the necklace he began for me last year, and the mystery project he'd been building, all month, in the shed.

It was a cold frame potting table! Just for me! Even now I can envision the seedlings it will sprout, and the lettuces and cherry tomatoes it will bring during colder months. He did a beautiful job. Now we just have to find a way to wrestle the beast back to the garden walk.

Later in the day, we shared my traditional birthday sushi dinner at a small restaurant on the beach, then it was a windy seaside view of the sunset, ice cream cones in hand, and a stroll along the annual Christmas display at West End Brewery.

There were phone calls from family near and far, cards from my parents, and plans for using the lovely gifts I'd been given the week before. Now that all the celebrations have ended, it's back to work for these two revellers. There is a dog pen to construct, a garden to tend, a patio to dig, and finances to sort.

All totalled, though far quieter than most birthdays I've celebrated, it was a truly lovely day. Hopefully it is a foretelling of the year to come.