22 March


If you have surplus vegetables, pickle them for your hampers or for Small Presents.

And if you have access to a pomegranate tree, make grenadine[1] which is:

  • really easy
  • beautifully red
  • the classic syrup to use in tequila sunrises and other cocktails[2] (and hence you can give it to single adults and not just to households with children)
  • free of artificial colourings (so you can also give it to households which do have children but avoid commercial red cordial)


22 mar 2016.jpg

Here’s what you need:

  • pomegranates
  • sugar
  • a big glass jar[3]
  • a knife, a chopping board and a spoon
  • a measuring cup
  • small, pretty bottles
  • about 2 weeks

Here’s what you do:

  1. Cut the pomegranates into quarters.
  2. Scoop the kernels into the measuring cup. (You don’t have to remove the white stuff between the kernels.)
  3. When you’ve filled the cup, empty it into the jar[4] and add ¾ cup of sugar to the jar[5]
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you run out of pomegranates.
  5. Put the lid on the jar[6] and give it a shake[7] every day for a fortnight.
  6. At the end of the fortnight, strain the syrup into sterilised bottles, seal and label.

I wasn’t originally planning to repaint my dining room window sill because it was already gloss white and it was in good condition but, of course, after the work the carpenter did, I have to and I did the first coat today. (I used low-VOC paint but perhaps I should have gone for old-fashioned “Can’t sleep in this room for a fortnight” paint to fumigate any remaining carpenter ants.)

[1] Not to be confused with St Vincent and the Grenadines which is both a chain of islands in the Caribbean and a terrible pop group from my youth.

[2] Including the zombie which adds four kinds of rum, orange liqueur and apricot brandy to the grenadine and, according to my cousin Russell, adds three new dimensions to hangovers too.

[3] Or a big glass bowl that you can cover.

[4] Or bowl.

[5] Or bowl.

[6] Or cover the bowl.

[7] Or a stir.

21 March

Classic colours

The most Christmassy colours are red and green which echo the green leaves and red berries of the holly in pagan midwinter festivals (so any strict non-druids might want to avoid them but it’s pretty abstract[1] and surely there’s no harm in it) but gold and silver are another common Yuletide combination.[2] You also see a lot of white at Christmas, which is presumably for snow, so if we wanted to adjust that for Australian Christmas we could go for sky blue and sandy yellow[3] or desert orange.[4]

So here are the classic options for Christmas colour schemes:

  • red and green; red and gold; green and gold; red and green and gold
  • gold and silver
  • white and gold; white and silver

Any of these will:

  • look festive
  • be a doddle to add to later on because you’ll easily find things in those colours every year

and hence they’re safe choices for your decoration plan.


21 mar 2016.jpg
Make it red and green and it’s automatically a Christmas decoration.

[1] And abstractly pretty!

[2] The theory here is that they represent the gifts of the magi but I think it’s because they’re shiny and then the wise men rationale was tacked on later.

[3] Which Santa would sneer at, but I think the elves would appreciate a change.

[4] Or maybe even dessert orange: My Auntie Betty does such a fine whole-orange pudding that her grandchildren tried to persuade her to do it on Christmas Day instead of the plum. But they made a tactical error when they hid her dried fruit: that made her so cross that she didn’t cook them orange pudding again for a year.

20 March

Fixing fixings

If you have a quiet Sunday afternoon in front of you, why not get out the decorations you put aside for repair?

  • If a tree ornament needs a new loop of string, replace it with black hat elastic[1] instead: it’s much easier to get over branches and it’s less visible than light thread.
  • Things that have simply come apart or simply shed pieces can often simply be glued together.[2]
  • You may be able to cannibalise one broken decoration to fix another.[3]
  • If children make great lengths of paper chains, they often want to keep them for the next year but the links crush very easily so if you’re looking for an excuse to ditch them, you can probably do it today (when the children’s affection for the chains has diminished) and you can probably do it on the grounds that the links haven’t survived storage.[4]

Anything you can’t fix or that still looks shabby even when repaired, throw out. (Be ruthless.)

20 mar 2016.jpg
Tie, tape it, tack it… or toss it.

I invited my new Auntie Gwen (who, at the age of eighty, is also my old Auntie Gwen) and her partner Susan round for Sunday lunch today[5] and my sister and brother and both of my children and two thirds of Wendy’s came too and so it was like a family reunion (except that the “re” isn’t appropriate since we’ve never done this before, so it must have just been a family union). I discovered that:

  • When thrown out of home, Gwen moved to Fitzroy and got a job as a nursing aide
  • And then she moved to Sydney and trained as a nurse
  • And met Susan when they were both 27 and were both nursing at the same hospital.
  • They retired at the age of 65 and they moved to the country (Berrigan to be precise, which is the only thing in this story I don’t understand)
  • But they moved to Ballarat a year ago because Susan now needs some fairly serious medicine (which is one of the many things you can’t get in Berrigan).

Gwen and Susan have been together for 53 years! (No telegram from the queen, though.)

[1] I wonder if anyone still uses this for hats?

[2] Unfortunately, while this is usually true for wooden ornaments, it’s seldom true for relationships.

[3] If the two decorations come from the same set and are identical, that is. You’re unlikely to be able to stick part of a clockwork train onto a broken angel and get something that belongs on a Christmas tree rather than in a horror movie.

[4] Although my son Jeremy made chains out of transparent plastic when he was ten and they were both pretty and indestructible. (Or nearly indestructible: they died on the third year when his teenage sister issued an edict saying that plastic chains were awful, that only a brain-dead style tragic could like them and that if they went up again, she’d report us for child abuse.)

[5] Luckily it was fine and we could eat on the deck because, of course, my dining room is out of action.

19 March

Well versed

If you’d like to do a Christmas concert and you have someone who is willing to get up on stage but is not well versed in the performing arts,[1] a poetry recitation may be an option. (They don’t even have to memorise the poem: they can just read it from the book.)

Romantic poetry is unlikely to be a universal favourite but any of the shorter works of Banjo Paterson or Henry Lawson could be successful and “My Country”[2] by Dorothea Mackellar is likely to stir patriotic hearts.

But my favourite is light verse: any of Roald Dahl’s “Revolting Rhymes” are sure to be popular, the pithier Ogden Nash poems are gems[3] and Suess’ “Too Many Daves” is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.

And here’s one of my own that you may use provided you cite me as the poet:

Nativity Scene

Arrange a little stranger in the manger in the straw,

A cow to bow, an ox and sow, a donkey at the door,

Mary (Baby’s dairy), angel-fairy watching her.

Add a star and shout “Hurrah!’: it’s worth its weight in myrrh.


19 mar 2016.jpg
Add a star and shout “Hurrah!”

My friend Carol sent me a flyer for her local church fete: they’re looking for all kinds of jumble and she highlighted the word “books” for me. I do cull my books occasionally but I haven’t done it for a while so I think I’ll accept her suggestion (but not because I’m worried about fires. It’s because I looked at quivering stack of tomes piled high on top of one of my bookcases and thought “The books are winning”).

[1] Like my Uncle Jim who liked to make impromptu speeches. (His children liked to heckle him. This was good-natured and fun so it became quite a family pastime but Auntie Margie declared they’d gone too far when Russell interrupted the grace his father intoned before Sunday lunch with ripostes concerning the dubious parentage of Jesus Christ.)

[2] If you think you don’t know this one, I assure you you do: it begins ‘I love a sunburnt country”.

[3] The song of canaries / Never varies. / And when they’re moulting / They’re pretty revolting.

18 March

Watching the pennies

Making a budget is a very good start to keeping your expenses under control but the spreadsheet won’t do the job by itself.[1] You also need to:

  • Record all of the money you spend on Christmas as you spend it
  • Compare your actual expenses to your predicted expenses as you go
  • Notice if you’re drifting over-budget and take corrective action

Now, unless you can whistle extra money out of thin air,[2] “corrective action” can really only mean “spending less on something else” which is unlikely to be an attractive option. So use your budget to keep you from buying things that you don’t have enough money for: it’s only March and there will be other opportunities.

18 mar 2016.jpg

My friend Carol texted me to say that she had been talking to a firefighter who had mentioned that bookcases full of books add to the fuel load of houses and make house fires more dangerous and harder to deal with. I didn’t reply. (I just settled down on the couch with a good book.)

[1] Perhaps self-driving cars could be followed by self-shopping shopping lists. (I imagine they’d look like supermarket trolleys with a pair of robotic arms to pick up a pair of hand-painted vases to hold them up to a pair of robotic eyes to decide which one would appeal most to Auntie Griselda.)

[2] Which my niece Emma did the year she left home when she realised in December that she had spent all of her discretionary income on cocktails and shoes. So she created made some attractive little booklets of her favourite cocktail recipes, tied them to op shop martini glasses, sold them at the local craft market and earned money to buy her family books for Christmas… with enough left over for a pair of killer scarlet heels for herself.

17 March – St Patrick’s Day

Festive spuds

If salads feature on your Christmas menu, there’s a fair chance that potato salad plays a leading role.[1] And there’s also a fair chance that you’ve been making potato salad the same way for years. This is probably good – it’s probably just the way your gang likes it and you’ve probably become quite efficient at it – but there are many potato salads in the world and there may be one you like better. So why not road test different versions throughout the year to see if you can find the best potato salad of all time?

Here’s one from my childhood which came to us from our German friends.[2]

German potato salad

17 mar 2016.jpg 

MAKES : about 1 litre[3]
START : 2 hours before
PREPARATION TIME : 10+2+15 minutes

About 1 kg potatoes                                                           2 tbs parsley

½ tbs white vinegar                                                           ½ small white onion

1 tb canola oil (or any other nondescript oil)              ½  green apple (yes, really!)

GARNISH: chopped chives


Peel the potatoes, cut them into large chunks and boil them. When soft, cool them and then dice them.

Mix the vinegar and oil.

Chop the parsley. Finely dice the onion.[4] Finely dice the apple. Mix the onion, apple, parsley and potato in the dressing.

Decant to a serving bowl and sprinkle with chopped chives.

If you like this, you can see plenty of ways to tweak it if you think they’ll improve it:

  • Instead of white vinegar, use cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar or lemon juice.
  • Instead of canola oil, use olive oil or a flavoured oil.
  • Instead of a white onion, use a red one or spring onions.
  • Instead of parsley, use dill or tarragon.


While waiting for our team meeting to start today, my young colleague Gemma asked, “What crafts can you think of, apart from embroidery?”

“Knitting,” I replied. “Macramé, patchwork.”

“Patchwork is for old people and I don’t even know what macramé is but knitting is cool,” she said and then, seeing my puzzled expression, she explained herself. She recently moved to Melbourne from Perth and she doesn’t have any friends here so she thought she might join a craft group to meet people.

“Look for yarn stormers,” I suggested and then our manager arrived and the meeting started and poor Gemma had to wait for an hour to find out what yarn storming is.[5]

[1] My son Jeremy has a barbecue rating system that gives one star for sausages, another for potato salad and then a further star for each extra salad or dessert, up to a maximum of ten stars. But I don’t know why he bothers with such a long scale because he’s quite happy with a two star barbecue.

[2] The same ones who gave us our first Advent calendar (and also Riesling and Strümpfe (those long hiking socks which go with Tyrolean hats and walking sticks with badges on them)).

[3] I’m not going to say how many that serves because I’ve seen my nephew Jack eat twice his body weight in potato salad in a single afternoon.

[4] You do want it very small or it comes as too much of a surprise when you get a mouthful.

[5] Also known as yarn bombing, yarn storming is graffiti by knitting (with no damage to property) and you may have seen a tree trunk sewn into an afghan rug or a bike rack with a knitted cover and I figure anyone involved in yarn storming must have a few interesting conversations in them.

16 March

I’m dreaming of a green Christmas

Let’s review how you can make the coming Christmas Earth-friendly:

  • don’t buy new cards, decorations or wrapping: you should be able to make all of these from recycled materials[1]
  • plan a menu that ticks all of the planet’s boxes with local, ethical ingredients
  • ensure presents are things that the recipients will use in their normal life and buy second hand gifts where acceptable[2]
  • do plan lots of old-fashioned festivities: carol singing, cooking together and games

See! Christmas doesn’t have to be about rampant greed and doesn’t have to pillage the planet. (So if you just hate Christmas and use excessive consumerism as an excuse for acting like Scrooge, you’ll need to find a new rationalisation.)


16 mar 2016.jpg
Recycled wrapping is old news.

The carpenter fixed the windowsill in the dining room this afternoon… and didn’t find anything else wrong and didn’t break anything. It looks like I can finally get ahead with the painting that I was planning to do right back at the beginning of the year. (Of course, I’ve spent the paint money several times over on tradesfolk, so it’s just as well I budget for repairs.)

[1] My friend Sharon once made a card for me from one I’d made for her the year before from old brochures and gift wrap, which came dangerously close to an infinite loop.

[2] My cousin Brian bought his first beach house as a present for his wife and that’s the kind of second hand present most people would consider acceptable (although Lynette was cross that she didn’t get a say in choosing the house and she decorated the main bedroom with pink roses to pay him back (which may be why he made sure Lynette picked their next beach house (and I can tell you that she is quite happy with their current Portsea mansion!))).