pop up choirThis week our local library organised a pop-choir event as part of Adult Learners Week. About a dozen of us congregated in the meeting area at the back of the building, keen to give singing in the library – rather than just borrowing books (etc.) – a whirl.

The branch librarian greeted us all with her usual bubbly enthusiasm, then handed us over to another of the choir master. Brian – a librarian by profession, was wearing his musicians’ hat for the morning. He  was an enthusiastic and gentle instructor, and we set about rocking the library for the next hour or so under his very capable guidance.

We sang what might seem like an odd selection of music, but it was all aimed at being accessible to any level of vocal ability. First up was a simple African spiritual, presumably because none of us would have any preconceptions as to what it would sound like. Brian took us through the verse and the chorus one line at a time, putting the bits together as we gained confidence in the pronunciation, cadence and tune. Then he introduced a second part, a rhythmic dum-dum-da-dum, for the deeper voices, and brought all that together. All enormously good fun.

After that we had a go at Silent Night, The 12 Days of Xmas, a hymn of unknown name (I’ve misplaced the songsheet) and, finally, Take me Home Country Road (John Denver) to end on a jolly note. It was all done A Cappella and, despite the wide variation in voice types and strengths, it sounded great – from where I was sitting at least. I it certainly brought a large number of curious library users down to the back of the library to listen.

On the way home I wondered why I don’t sing more often. I used to… but somewhere along the line I think I may have stopped actively engaging with music. But the act of singing is exhilarating and something that I now realise I’ve missed. My brief session in the library certainly left me feeling happy, with a smile that lasted pretty much all day. I guess that’d be the singing-induced endorphins zipping around in my system.

Whatever it was, I definitely felt more engaged and enthusiastic in general – and was pleased to hear that are plans afoot to run more events of this sort, culminating in a small Xmas concert in the library. In the meantime, the house is once again being subjected to my exceedingly eclectic assortment of music – my more or less tuneful warbling – and my increased happiness-factor 🙂

Our voices have been silent, and it’s not doing us any goodTania de Jong AM.

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

Preparation
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