Two bridges rideAfter a week of rain, my cycling excursion now seems a little like a delicious dream rather than a reality. But it definitely happened! Last weekend was sunny and I really did go on my first bike ride in absolutely ages. I even got a bit of a tan!

It was a glorious almost-spring afternoon, perfect for a ride around the two bridges. It’s only a 7.4km loop – although the extra 6.3km (each way) to and from the bridge turned it into a 20km round trip. Not an epic ride, certainly, but a personal best for some time.

As I started down the first hill and started to pick up speed, I felt indescribably free. For no clear reason, the mental soundtrack to my ride was  I’m Free – from the Pete Townshend musical, Tommy.  The opening lines encapsulated the moment perfectly: I’m free… I’m free… / And freedom tastes of reality!

Freedom is generally understood to be the ability to think or act as one wishes, whether an individual, group or nation state. In a world where so many people have so few personal freedoms – where they are denied freedom of movement, religious belief, political outlook and expression – my taste of reality may seem exceedingly superficial.

However, in the particular, freedom has specific connotations for every individual – and I’m very conscious of my good fortune. The freedom to do something like hop on my bike and go for a ride – just because I feel like it – is a gift beyond compare.

        If I told you what it takes / To reach the highest high, / You’d laugh and say, “Nothing’s that simple”.

But, for me, it is. Those two hours on my bike and on the river bank provided me with a mindful appreciation of my environment – which included seeing a small group of dolphins frolicking in the river, exercise, time to think, and renewal. Time well spent.

A friend’s baby turns one this weekend, so I thought I’d make a gift for him rather than buying one. I then spent many (!) minutes scrounging around on craft sites, knitting sites and pinterest, hunting for a simple project. As always, I found the sheer volume of ideas for make-and-do overwhelming and stalled out more several times. But in the end I came across some adorable little crocheted animals. It turns out that they’re called amuragmi – and they’re really cute.

This is about when I reminded myself that the last time I made soft toys I vowed to never do so again… but 2012 is a whilxmasknits_dec2012e ago now… and amuragami are quite small… and there are heaps of free patterns available on the internet…. and I managed to talk myself into giving it a go.

The only tricky part, really, is that I’m not really much of a crocheter. I have crochet hooks, but only because I inherited them. To date I’ve made a few granny squares (in the dim and distant past) and a pair of glovens (last week), so making a crocheted toy was an interesting decision. Nevertheless, I boldly chose a simple pattern for a roly poly cat, then set about a YouTube video to teach me how to make a magic loop – which is the first stage of the process.

A few binned attempts later I now have all the elements crocheted and final assembly has commenced. So far the critter doesn’t look a whole lot like a the pattern, but it is kinda cute and I think 1-year-olds tend not to be too judgey, so I’m hopeful it’ll do the trick. Next time a smaller hook size, perhaps, and finer yarn.

Roly Poly Cat - construction phase

This weekend it was time to harvest all our grapefruit and limes so that the trees can be pruned back. To this end, we bribed Daughter Dearest, Boychilde and their respective partners with lunch… and delicious lime cake.

Harvesting grapefruit and limes_May 2016

The result was a yield of 220 delicious pink grapefruit and 244 limes… and that’s excluding the dozens that went home with the helpers.

Some of our 2016 citrus harvest

I also juiced three dozen limes on Friday (frozen in ice trays for use at a later date) and used three (yes, only three!) limes in the delicious-cake-of-bribing. And most delicious it is too.

I found many variations on this recipe on the Internet and most of them appear to be based on a recipe from the Australian Women’s Weekly recipe. This is my version, as made to bribe the troops. I’ve simplified it, clarified the instructions (by making the cake!) and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it if you get round to making it.

Lime syrup cake with almond meal
For the Cake
200g softened butter
200g caster sugar (1 cup)
4 large eggs
100g self-raising flour (just less than a cup > 1 cup = 125g) – sifted
2 tsp baking powder
100g almond meal (~1 cup)
zest and juice of one lime

For the Lime syrup
50g caster sugar (~ ¼ cup)
zest and juice of two limes (about ¼ cup / 50ml)
¼ cup water

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Line a spring-form cake tin and grease the bottom and sides.

Make the cake
Add all the cake ingredients in a large bowl and beat until they’re thoroughly combined. You can do this by hand but, really, why would you if you have an electric mixer?
Spoon the mixture into a spring-form cake tin lined with baking paper.
Pop the pan in the oven – I found it useful to put a baking tray under the cake tin to catch any seepage.
Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 40 minutes.

Meantime, make the lime syrup:
Add the lime juice, water and sugar to a pan and bring to a simmer, stirring regularly. Add the zest and then simmer the syrup for about 10 minutes – you don’t need to stir it for this period, but keep an eye on it.

The final touches
When a lovely golden colour and firm to the touch, remove it from the oven. Take the cake out of the oven, but leave it in the cake tin.
Using a skewer, stab little holes all over the top of the cake.
Now spoon the hot lime syrup over the top of the hot cake, allowing it to seep in between each spoonful.
Leave the cake to cool, remove from the cake tin (making sure that the syrup hasn’t stuck the cake to the sides…!) and serve.
The cake keeps quite well because of the almond meal, but it seldom has a chance to do so!

I started this chicken piñata on a whim a couple of weeks ago, mostly to fill time whilst puppy-sitting. But, as it progressed,  the process started to become quite compulsive. The simple balloon body soon grew a neck, another (smaller) balloon for a head, a tail (constructed in two stages), a beak, plumage and, finally, a pair of very handsome feet.  Wet weather is not ideal for this sort of project, but it can be done. Each stage involved many strips of very sticky papier mâché, followed by some time in front of my hair dryer and/or the heater to dry and harden the layers.

It took us 16 days to shape the body, apply 6-7 layers of papier mâché (some areas needed extra, for strengthening), cover it with two layers of paint, add some fine details, insert strings to hang it up, cut a hatch in the top and then finally fill it with lollies. All in all it took about 40 hours from start to finish.  A long haul, but we both had lots of fun and found it both creative and surprisingly relaxing.


pinata early stages

pinata final stages

pinata completed_7may2016




Over the years I’ve made a total of four of piñatas, all for special events of one sort or another. They were darned hard work, particularly the bigger and/or more complex ones, and involved a LOT of sticky mess and patience.

niks pinatas

The very first one was planned it as a surprise for a 21st birthday party. A rather ambitious project, that dragon was the biggest piñata I’ve made. It required a wire armature to create the basic shape, over which I carefully added many (many!) layers of paper and glue – allowing each layer to dry before adding the next so that it would keep its shape. I had to make the wings and feet separately and attach those – with more paper and glue – before leaving the completed shape to dry and harden. It was a fairly cold and damp time of year, so we had to have the gas heater on to help with the drying process.

I finally got around to painting it and applying the tissue paper scales the night before the 21st birthday party. I then had to wait for that lot to dry before filling the belly with lollies and taping it closed – and finally completed it all about about an hour before the event was due to start. The birthday boy was very happy – and very surprised – and he and his mates set to work on Mr Dragon with a hockey stick… Destruction was swift and decisive. Poor thing.

A few years later, I came up with the idea of creating a themed piñata for GenghisCon – and so Cthulu-piñata was born, with many tricky-to-make dangling tentacles. He bit the dust just as quickly as Mr Dragon. This was followed a year later by a dragon head – also a Genghis-piñata – and my final effort to date, a large fish to commemorate my eldest brother’s 60th birthday. After each one was completed – and then demolished in record time – I promised myself (and Himself, who helped out with all of them) that I wouldn’t make another, no matter what…

However, as is the way of these things – and once a goodly amount of time had passed, plans for an all-new piñata have tended to hatch. At present all I need is to decide on the shape. Perhaps something garden themed? I’m thinking a chicken-of-destruction might be fun to make. With that in mind, I’ve resurrected the notes I put together when making Mr Dragon and they’re actually pretty sensible. I hope you find them useful too.

dragon pinata collage

How to Piñata: You’ll need a couple of balloons, vaseline, papier maché glue  (made  with 1 cup all purpose flour to 5 cups cold water), lots of newspaper, some butchers paper, acrylic paints, paintbrush, crepe paper, lollies/treats & confetti (to fill the piñata).

Preparation: To make the papier-mâché glue, mix the flour and cold water in a bowl until it’s runny. For best results, simmer it for 5 minutes – this is rather like making a white sauce. Allow the glue to cool. While you wait, tear the newspaper into lots of strips, about 2.5cm wide and as long as you like. (Note: don’t cut the strips; tearing ends up with a better, smoother finish to your final piece.) Put down lots of paper or plastic to work on – this is messy! You might want to wear gloves for the next part – same reason.

Assembly: It’s a good idea to know what sort of shape you’re trying for, as this will dictate the sizes of the balloons you use, and how many. Assuming you’ve chosen a shape that requires more than one balloon, inflate a large one for the body and a smaller one for the head. Tie them together and, using a bit of making tape, secure the head to the body. Balance the balloons on an empty ice-cream container while you’re working as this makes things easier. To create a beak/tail/wings – or whatever – cut out cardboard to make the shapes and stick them to the balloons with tape. Drag a strip of newspaper through the papier-mâché paste, making sure it’s well covered, but not soggy; wipe off any excess with your fingers, and place the strip at an angle on the balloon. Place the second strip so that it overlaps the first one slightly. Continue until the balloons have been covered with one layer of paper strips. Allow this layer to dry completely – preferably overnight. Then repeat, applying layers of papier-mache (and letting them dry) until you think your piñata is strong enough. Knock on it with your knuckles – if it’s firm and sounds hollow it should be fine. This generally takes 3-6 layers. Important: make a couple of small holes in the papier-mache so the piñata can be hung up when it’s complete. Make sure the papier-mache is extra thick around the string holes for reinforcement. Note: it’s a good idea to make at least the last layer  of strips from butcher’s paper so that the newsprint doesn’t bleed through your paint.

Before painting: set your piñata aside to dry for a couple of days. When it’s dry, pencil in some rough shapes as a painting guide – then get stuck in and make it pretty.

Painting & completing: use whatever you like, but a pro-tip is that spray paint is a lot quicker to apply than poster paint, makes the structure a little tougher and provides a nice glossy finish. When the paint’s dry, cut a 6cm flap in the top using a craft knife. This will burst the balloon and leave a cavity for you to fill with lollies, etc. Remember to tape the flap closed, then do the final decoration with tissue/crepe paper, draw eyes on, etc.

It’s not hard to make one of these. It’s just time consuming and fiddly… and very, very messy: perfect for your inner-child 🙂