22 May 2015

How To Start Learning To Crochet

I've taken up crochet recently... like just a few weeks ago. It's something I've wanted to try for ages, but once the weather turned cold this year, I finally got myself organised to start. So when I was in town I picked up a crochet hook and a couple of balls of wool. It turns out, that I choose the wrong sized hook for the wool - of course!

I then started googling away 'crochet beginners tutorial'. There were thousands of links to all sorts of information. It was overwhelming trying to sift through them all and choose the ones which were actually good. So once I got going, I decided to pool all the resources I used and found useful into one post to make it easier for the beginner to sift through the good, bad, and down right confusing.

This tutorial shows you the absolute basics and is a good place to start! I sat with my hook and yarn and followed along, pausing it every now and then.

Here is a tutorial showing you how to double crochet - so many terms to learn!

Once I had the basics, it was straight to a granny square using this tutorial which was super easy to follow.

One thing I did notice is that there are loads of different ways to hold the hook and tension the yarn. It took me a few goes before I found one that felt comfortable for me. If the first way you try feels super awkward, try another until it feels right.

Basic Patterns

After I got the idea of how to make a granny square, I went straight to the ripple blanket, which is what I really wanted to make. I used this tutorial by Pip from Meet Me At Mikes. She has several other tutorial ebooks for different projects on the sidebar of her page. Definitely look them up.

I also like this link by By Number 19 which lists all the term used in patterns and their equivalents in symbols. Also it turns out that American patterns and European patterns use different terminology. Possibly because they want to make things difficult for those of us trying to wrap our heads around crochet. I found By Number 19 via Pinterest and there are some other interesting free patterns on her site. Take a look.

Hooks and Yarns

Need to know about hooks? Here is a link to a page that can help you out. It seems there are different ways of sizing them, depending on whether they are US, or Australian. To make things more confusing, my mother gave me some of her old hooks, which are different again. I think if you're unsure of the size of your hook, get out a ruler and measure it. If you buy a new one in a store, it will be marked for you, making life easier! I bought a 5mm hook, which was easy to use for a beginner.

The type of yarn you use really does depend on the project you are doing. To begin with I picked up a couple of cheap balls of 100% wool yarn(we are sheep farmers here, so only Australian wool for us!) from the knitting shop in town. I really had no idea about what I was looking for. I think just grabbing a few balls worked well for me, because I was just experimenting and didn't want to invest a lot of money to start off with. Wool is sold by weight, with a small ball being about 50 grams. If you read the label it will tell you how many stitches you get in a 10cm length using different sized needles or hooks.

Once I got the basics down pat on some cheaper wool, I ordered some yarn (yarn is the name for the twisted wool string - see I'm learning) from Bendigo Woolen Mills. They have lots of different types of yarns for different projects, but I just got the regular balls in a couple of colours to get me started. I'm sure I will be heading back there to get more for beanies, slippers, and other projects I have in my head. For me, having the wool delivered is a bonus, but if you live in a town, there is probably a local shop where you can get some wool easily.

So there you have it! How I taught myself (with lots of help) to crochet, and where you can find some resources to get you started. If you're a crochet guru, or even if you know just a little bit, please share your advice and links below so we (I) can build on our knowledge.

Hit me with all your crochet knowledge!

19 May 2015

The End Of An Era....

We are in the process of selling our house in the mountains at the moment. I can't actually believe that I am doing something as grown up as selling a house, but there you go. We are selling a house so I must be an adult after all...

Any how, we are selling our house. It makes sense for us to do it for a number of practical reasons, but it is still like admitting that we aren't going to be going back to the mountains... ever. Of course I know this really. I mean, we have the farm, I have a job in town, we have made friends and put down roots here. We are here to stay, and I have known we are here to stay for over three years.

I think Country Boy have would have happily sold the house several years ago, but we held on to it for my benefit. So I could get used to the idea that I'm not going back.

I'm not really a sentimental person. I don't need to keep lots of objects given to me by loved ones. My memories are enough. But there is a little part of me that is sorry that we will no longer have our house in the mountains. With my parents and sister still there, as well as many friends, we will continue to visit often, but I guess I no longer have a mountains home.

I know I keep coming back to the idea of home on this blog. Home is a feeling. It is where my loved ones are found. It's our refuge from the busyness of life, and where our lives happen. So I guess this farm is now home. Despite the many things I may never understand about it. Its' quiet, yellow summers, and freezing cold winters, its' old farm house and big garden, the wide open spaces, and the long drives to anywhere.

What is home to you?

15 May 2015

How To Store Pumpkins So They Last A Long Time

This time of year is pumpkin picking season (well in the southern hemisphere). Home gardeners everywhere are bringing in their crop, and if you take a drive to the edge of town, I bet you will find a roadside store selling them too.

However you get your hands on some pumpkins, here is how to make them last for the whole season.

Pick them correctly

Wait until the vines are dying. We get frost around here, so usually the first frost kills the vines, and we know it is time to pick the pumpkins. When the vines are dead, it is also easier to see the pumpkins. I have read that a really big frost will damage the pumpkins, but usually the first frost of the season is fairly light. By waiting until the frost., you ensure maximum growing time.

When you do pick the pumpkins, use some secateurs to cut the stem at least 10 cm off the pumpkin, and leave the stem attached. Let the stem dry on the pumpkin and just leave it there until you are ready to use it. This helps to prevent the pumpkin rotting.

Of course if you are buying pumpkins, buy them with the stem attached if you can.

Avoid carrying the pumpkin by the stem so that it doesn't snap off (though your little chap might forget to do this every now and then... fortunately he is so cute that we will forgive him).

Store them properly

Pumpkins store best off the ground, in a cool, dark, airy place. We use our shed. They will rot on the bottom if they sit on a solid surface such as metal. You can use some old wooden lattice to sit them on to allow air to flow underneath. I've also read that spreading a thick layer of straw or some cardboard underneath them can help (though I have never tried this one). We have some bamboo poles set up on which we balance the pumpkins which seems to work well.

Store them in a single layer, rather than piling them up, as this will also encourage air flow. Move them around.

If they are really dirty, it is a good idea to give them a wipe down, but you want to keep them dry. A little dirt will brush off easily after a few days.

You will find that pumpkins with a thicker skin will last longer.

Got any pumpkins? How do you keep yours?

13 May 2015

How Our Three Children Share A Bedroom.... Successfully

Our three children share a bedroom. That's right; all three in one room. I was reading somewhere on the interwebs (and I cannot think where now for the life of me - if you read it too, let me know please so I can link it) about a family who was just starting the whole room sharing business, and were looking for some tips.

Hannah and Meg have been sharing a bedroom since Meg was 7 months old - so just over 7 years. Our house in the mountains had three small rooms, so we popped the two of them in the same room, and kept a spare one. When Toby came along, we decided to put him in his own room once he was sleeping through the night (well sort of), mainly because there wasn't enough room in the girls room for him.

When we moved to the farm, we inherited two very large bedrooms, and a very small third bedroom that was off the back veranda. It seemed logical to put all three kids in the larger room, near ours. The third room became a guest room/ store room for my teaching gear. So all three have been sharing for three and a half years now.

For us the greatest benefit has been the closeness between the three siblings. There are countless nights where all three kids have been lying in bed chatting away for half an hour before they drop off to sleep. They really are each other's best buddies. No matter what the disagreements have been that day, once they are in bed, they are happy to be with each other.

Of course there is the added benefit of a guest room for our frequent visitors.

So down to some practicalities, here is how we manage some of the issues that can arise when kids share bedrooms:

Day sleeps
All three kids are now (unfortunately) past the day sleep phase. When we had two doing day sleeps, we'd usually put the older child to sleep in our bed. This was particularly important when their sleep times weren't in sync. The older child quickly got used to this system, and it was never an issue.

These days, I enforce read and relax during school holidays, and sometimes even on weekends. I let them choose whether to do it in their bedroom, or on the spare room beds. Even when all three are in the one room, they know that they are expected to read quietly and independently and they do so.

Personal space and belongings.
Our kids are fortunate to have a separate play room, so toys are not kept in the bedroom (with the exception of a Teddy or two). The girls each have their own cupboard with drawers and a shelf. They keep their 'precious' personal belonging in their cupboard (think special headbands, craft creations, pocket money etc). Toby does not have a place in the bedroom for his own belongings yet, though it is on the list of things to do as he gets older. His clothes are kept in a chest of drawers, and we have a basket of books for him to read on top of the drawers.

So far as personal space goes, none of the kids particularly seem to want more than they have. Perhaps having lots of room outdoors and in the rest of the house is enough for them at the moment. I can see the time coming, where Hannah (10 years old) will be less happy to share with Toby (4 years), but at this stage they are happy to share.

Different bedtimes, and keeping each other awake.
These days, Toby has a slightly earlier bedtime (7.30pm) than the girls (8.00pm). About two years ago, we found that Hannah was just not tired enough to sleep at 7.30pm and would keep the others awake with her antics. By keeping her up half an hour later (usually to read), we found that they all settled better. These days both Hannah, and Meg stay up till 8.00pm. We have family bible time at 7.20pm (most nights), by which time all the kids are bathed, and in pyjamas ready for bed. Once Toby goes to bed, the girls read a novel in the loungeroom. It's a really nice way to wind down for the day. At 8.00pm the girls head into their room. They don't need to turn the overhead light on to hop into bed.

Sometimes Toby is still awake, and the three of them will chat to each other for a little while. If it gets too boisterous, or goes for too long, CB or I will just go to the door and tell them it is quiet time now. In rare cases (I can't remember when I last did it) I may sit in the doorway for 10 minutes to enforce quiet until they drop off.

Furniture arrangements
We have one set of bunks that the girls share, with Hannah on the top. It is the bane of my existence to change the sheets, and the girls struggle to make their beds properly, but it is a definite space saver. Toby has his own single bed on the opposite side of the room. Besides the beds, there is only Toby's chest of drawers, and a large Ikea modular wardrobe which holds all the girls clothes, plus a whole lot of storage for guest linen, hand me down clothing, and other bits and pieces. I have heard of other families trying to make sure that the kids can not see each other when they lie down, but we haven't had to do this.

Overall, having our kids share a bedroom has been a really positive thing for our family. The closeness and friendship between our kids has far outweighed any problems that have popped up. The issues that did arise we  have managed to solve. We have been able to have a guest room ready for house guests, making the whole process a lot easier. With a house renovation on the horizon, we will be gaining a fourth bedroom. Hannah has said that she would like her own room, when the time comes, but both Meg and Toby are keen to keep sharing for a while yet, for which I am very glad.

Do you have kids that share a bedroom? Have you had any problems? What has worked for your family?

11 May 2015

Caramelised Onions

A few years back I bought a jar of caramelised onions from the farmers market in town. It proved to be popular with the whole family, so I had a go at making some myself. These days it is one of those recipes that I make every year. It takes a little bit of time, and you can expect to cry (a lot) but it is definitely worth the time and effort.

We serve the caramelised onion on sandwiches, with roast meat, on hamburgers and wraps, and even on crackers with cheese. Family and friends who come to visit are always keen to take a jar home with them.

Caramelised Onion
12 large red (Spanish) onions
3T olive oil
1/2c brown sugar
1/2c balsamic vinegar
3 bay leaves

1. Peel, halve, and slice the onions about 5-7mm thick - too thin will cause the onions to burn. I used a Japanese mandolin because it makes slicing so much faster (and thus less teary), but be careful not to slice your fingers off!
2. In a large saucepan, heat the oil on a medium heat.
3. Add the onions and stir regularly for 15 minutes until they are soft and beginning to collapse.
4. Reduce the heat to low, and with the lid off, add the bay leaves and cook until the onions start to go golden coloured. Stir occasionally. This could take a while.
5. Add in the brown sugar and balsamic vinegar. Stir until well combined and the sugar dissolves.
6. Place the lid on and continue to cook on a low heat for 15 minutes before removing the lid again. This allows the vinegar to be taken up by the onion rather than evaporating immediately.
7. Continue to cook until the onions are a rich, dark brown colour. Remove the bay leaves.
8. While still hot, spoon into sterilised jars and seal well.
9. For the best taste, let the onions sit in the jar a couple of weeks to mellow before you serve.

Are you a fan of caramelised onions? Have you made your own before?

8 May 2015

In Which I Show My Superior Sheep Wrangling Skills.... Well Sort Of...

Shearing started on Monday. It doesn't take that long since my father in law sold some of his property a few years back, but it is still one of the big events that mark the progress of the year around here. In the weeks leading up to shearing there is work to do, clearing out the sheds, and making sure the sheep are in the right paddocks to make moving them easy.

On Saturday afternoon there was a mob of sheep in our home paddock ready to be put into the sheep yards on Sunday night. Both CB and his parents were away at different things. They both rang me to say that where they were, there was rain, so could I put the sheep in the shed. Sheep that are wet cannot be shorn, so we needed to keep them dry.

Now I've often helped move sheep with CB, but until then, I had never done it completely on my own. On top of that, I knew that none of the farm dogs would work for me, so it was up to me, and Hannah. That is it.

Hannah jumped on the quad bike, and I rode a motorbike. We managed to push the mob up to shed, running backwards and forwards to keep the mob together. We got them into the shed with surprisingly little trouble.  It's amazing what you can do if you have to.

I was pumped!

I was super impressed with myself. I rang CB and told him how awesome a farmers wife I was (it never hurts to remind him :) ), and he was also proud of me. I even put a comment on facebook boasting about my farm chick prowess.

We then spent the rest of the afternoon doing bits and pieces.

When CB came home, he decided that it no longer looked like it was going to rain, and went over to the shed to let the sheep out...

... except that they weren't in the shed anymore...

It turns out you also need to latch the door of the shed once you put them in, if you don't want them to escape. The whole mob had got out of the shed, and ran past the house to the far end of the paddock out of sight of the house, without me even noticing.

So perhaps not quite the farm chick I thought I was!?!

5 May 2015

Homemade Natural Muesli

Country Boy is a big fan of muesli for breakfast in the morning. I guess it gets him filled up for a day of physical activity. Unfortunately most of the pre made mueslis are high in oats and bran sticks (which are cheap) with not much of the good stuff. Not many fruits or nuts. After a few times buying the premade version, we decided to have a go making our own. We have been making it for many years now, and it is quick to make and delicious to eat. The nuts and fruit we put in change from time to time, but the basic idea remains the same. 

Homemade Natural Muesli
1.5kg rolled oats
500g rice puffs
300g bran sticks
100g mixed pepitas and sunflower kernels
200g nuts (I used pecans and macadamias)
200g sultanas
200g dried apricots (use the Australian ones - much darker orange and stronger flavour.
150g dates

(You can try different dried fruits eg cranberries, apple, banana, raspberries, and nuts to mix it up)

1. In a large bowl or cereal bucket, pour in the rolled oats, bran sticks, rice puffs, pepitas, and sunflower kernels, and sultanas.
2. While the nuts are still in their bag, bang them with a mallet or rolling pin to break into small pieces.
3. Use a knife to chop the apricots and dates into small pieces.
4. Place the nuts, apricots, and dates into the dried ingredients, and toss to combine.
5. Store in a airtight container until needed.

This quantity filled and 8.5L cereal bucket. Enough to keep CB in muesli for the next couple of weeks.

What do you like to eat for breakfast?
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