Sunday, 21 June 2015

How to set a fire


I know setting the fire is not something everyone does these days, many people never set one during their whole lifetime. But when my grandmother, Eva, was born in 1888 everyone cooked over a wood fire, baked their bread, boiled water, heated their house, bathed children, dried hair and clothes before an open fire.  During her lifetime (until 1966) she used wood and coal fire stoves, oil, gas and eventually electricity.  She actually preferred a gas stove but mastered them all.
My Dad taught me how to set a fire when I was very young. Later on that knowledge was refreshed by instructions in a cowboy movie and though I survived over 40 years not having to set a fire, when the time came again it was like falling off a bike – sadly I’ve never been very good a riding bikes, I'm much better at fire setting.

The science of setting a fire is to get the flames under the wood. If you throw in a log with a few bits of newspaper on top you won’t get a good fire.
The instructions below explain how I set a fire in a steel firebox but would work in almost any fireplace.

You will need;
TINDER – dry fire starting material like newspaper, old phone books, dry grass/hay, dead leaves, dry tree bark, and twigs.
KINDLING – sticks, smaller than your thumb and some cardboard or heavy paper.
WOOD – sticks bigger than your thumb or larger pieces split open.
LOGS – dry wood from bigger than you thumb up to the any size you can fit into your fire space.
TOOLS – a small shovel, brush and tin bucket to clean out ash, a poker to move burning wood if necessary, heavy gloves for handling splintery or burning wood, a fire lighter or matches.

SAFETY – make sure the chimney is cleaned at the beginning of winter.  
Check your firebox for cracks, rust and crumbling fire bricks.  
Make sure other wood and extra paper is in a container at least a metre from the fire site, you don’t need two fires.  
Keep clothing or damp washing and towels ‘a metre from the heater' – as recommended by our fire service officers.

1 – Open the flue.

2 – Clean the glass door, if you are using a firebox.  Clean out the old ash. A new fire will burn onthe fire in a pan.  If lighting a fire outside you could dig a shallow hole, as a pan, and surround it with rocks, in an open fireplace a single line of bricks across the front holds the fire and in a steel fire box, like we have in our house, there is usually a shallow pan shape formed by fireproof bricks inside.
top of old ash, and a shallow layer is good, but I like to have

3 – Lay a base of cardboard or thick paper (not glossy) or thin bark.   Save cardboard boxes from cereal, crackers etc. A cereal box flattened makes a good base as do cardboard egg cartons, non-glossy magazines, old bank statements, bills, advertising brochures and other junk mail.  Paper will do if nothing else but cardboard, or heavy paper, burns slower.  Junk mail and envelopes inside a large used envelope or paper bag makes a good base for a fire, but not too thick.

4 – Put kindling on top of the base - scrunched up newspaper and parcels of dry leaves, very small sticks and twigs wrapped in newspaper.  Use twisted newspaper to make a ‘wick’ from front to back of the fire box, so that when you light it later it will burn into the middle of the space.

5 – Lay small sticks across the top of the kindling in a criss-cross pattern to allow air movement between the pieces.  Air is fuel for the fire.  The fire box should be about half full.

6 – Now we are up to the real wood. Select some sticks bigger than your thumb but not as big around as your arm.  Lay two or three of these bigger sticks across the top of the pile of the smaller sticks and stand about 8 or 10 more in front of the fire, leaning back on top of the kindling pile i making sure your newspaper ‘wicks’ poke through to the front. Ir this was a camp fire the standing sticks would be in tepee form around the kindling.

So now the fire is ‘set’ and ready to go. 
Light the fire by touching your lighter to the four wicks and stand back, or close the door if you have a glass door firebox.  You should see the fire burning through the paper underneath the bigger wood.

As the kindling burns the pile will collapse and you can add more of the larger sticks and finally the logs. From here on you need some intuition as every fire is different.

If you get a lot of black smoke try opening the door a little.  A little cool air going into the fire box helps to draw the smoke up the chimney.

Close the flue half way when the fire is burning well.

When the large sticks are glowing you can add bigger and bigger logs. The fire will eventually become glowing logs with a few flames and you will feel the heat radiating from the firebox.

Close the flue all the way and add logs as needed.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Choosing to collect.

I love collections.

I know people who collect frog things, owl things, cat things, odd coffee mugs, souvenir spoons, buttons, cook books, stamps, patches, garden gnomes - almost everything you can think of. And this is not just a female thing - men will collect everything from beer mats to cars.  People enjoy their collections, which satisfy personal needs and help with bonding to family and friends. If you are a collector of post cards you are more likely to receive one from Aunty Val when she goes to Fiji, because she sees them in the gift shop and immediately thinks of you. She might also buy an owl figurine and a snow globe for the cousins who collect those.

I think to be a collector you must have a streak of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).  I have a touch  of that - if symptoms are matching the pegs colours on the washing line, unease that books in a series can't be shelved by height AND author and resorting my button box annually ... size or colour or shape is the big question.  It's just one box.

The experts say people collect for emotional value, not financial. Collecting can provide us with a sense of security, help us cope with anxiety or connect with a person or time that is important to us.  Savage collecting can be a hunt, a quest - a never ending pursuit.  This does not include people who collect to resell for profit, that is business, or hoarders, which I am often called. Hoarders will hang onto anything, empty cat food tins, newspapers, string (well string is good to keep), but not items to treasure or display - and so not really a collection.

And collections do not include stashes for hobbies - piles of fabric, boxes of thread and ribbon or stacks of wood and containers of nails and fixings needed by quilters, wood carvers, toy makers, crafters and artists.  So, my fabric stash is not a collection.

I was given a stamp album when I was about 10 years old. Even in those days I didn't get many letters and had to buy stamps to put in the book until the great aunties cottoned on and started sending me envelopes of their used stamps, but so many were the same and then I found you really should research the different countries and mount the stamps by issue date ... and it just wasn't my thing, at that age. I still find it hard to throw a stamp away, so I cut it carefully from the envelope and slip it into a box to keep, until I find a charity that uses them. That leaves me free to resort the button box.

I started a collection of small dolls when I was about 12 and by my late 30's I had 70 dolls from all over the world - representing over 50 countries. I didn't travel, but other people did and it gave them the idea of bringing home a doll for me and some of the dolls I had dressed myself.

When I reached the point of packing a house and three children to move interstate, I had to shed some things. The dolls represented a carton to carry and my daughter was not a doll person so ...  

I presented my collection to the library of the Primary School my children had attended. The librarian ...ummed and ...arred and obviously didn't want them - how could she not want them, they were lovely and all came from different parts of the world.  I just left the dolls and walked away and tried not to wonder what became of them.

The world is full of beautiful things I would like to collect including, but not limited to, children's books, modern art, period costumes, chairs, tote bags, small decorative containers, rag dolls, and pottery.  Collecting is time consuming and expensive. I had to make a decision to avoid collecting. 

Years after the big move, and a few smaller moves and children growing up and away, I found the Matryoshka doll my mother bought back from Germany in 1974.  It was the one small doll I kept from the box donated to the library.  I've always loved these Russian nesting dolls and really wished I knew more about them. So, I'd found something I could collect and research and treasure and display - something people could identify with me or have in common with me.   

Google brought a whole cyber world of information and history and on-line Matryoshka shops to browse and Babushka kitsch to buy. Some Matryoshkas are signed by the artists who painted them, some are made with stick on faces. The prices vary from about $10 up to $100s for dolls that are works of art.  I now have a collection of doll sets that I love, dolls I've bought on special occasions, some imported from Russian, some bought by family and friends travelling overseas and one special set made by a lovely friend.

Beside the dolls is another collection of related items that are not dolls, including salt and pepper shakers, measuring cups, egg poachers, drinking glasses, coffee mugs, storage boxes, canisters, nail files, scissors, wrapping paper, gift bags, tea towels, fabric pieces, sew on patches, soft toys, key rings, lip gloss holders and more  - the world has gone mad over Russian Matryoshka, aka Babushka, nesting doll stuff - and I am happy about that - because I collect them.


And, this is another Russian Doll,
for anyone who remembers  ........

Monday, 23 March 2015

Surviving grief

  1. GRIEF:  a multifaceted response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone or something that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioural, social, spiritual and philosophical dimensions.

I thought I knew about grief.  I felt it when my grandmother died and definitely when we lost our mother, though my reaction to my father's death left a numbness that has never gone away.  I've felt the pain of loss over the death of family pets and friends and acquaintances, over broken relationships and distance between loved ones, over a close call on my own life  - and I thought I knew all about it .... but I didn't and I don't.

Five months ago a family we have known for a very long time, and who have been both neighbours and work mates, lost a daughter. She was 25 years old and had lived those years with cystic fibrosis.  I witnessed their deep and painful grief through friends, face book messages and on their faces when I saw them.  Their battle with grief continues and like ripples on the pond, has affected everyone who knows them, causing many people to examine their own lives and fully appreciate their family.

We are told that grief is a natural, healthy process that aids healing from emotional wounds but the journey takes us through shock, denial, anger and deep sorrow, and it is not a comfortable ride.

When, less than three weeks ago, our beautiful, friendly, happiest-dog-in-the-world, Rufous, died on the living room floor at 4.30am, in the two minutes of that night we were not in the room with him - we were (and I do not often use this word as it is over used) devastated. We were shattered, shocked, stunned, dazed, traumatised, crushed, overwhelmed, distressed and overcome with the deep sorrow of loss.

We had seen the vet the afternoon before, knowing things were not right - and they had not been right for several months, but, being in a state of hope, we didn't fully realise that. Rufous died a week shy of his 14th birthday. That made him about 98 in people years.  He was more than five years past his use by date after a diagnosis of cancer, he had problems with his pancreas and digestive system, arthritis in the spine and he'd had both knees rebuilt after wearing them out. Regardless of what areas of his little body were shutting down, I feel he died of old age - it was his time, we knew it was coming but would never be ready. I still weep as I write this because I miss him so much.

For three days we hardly ate, we walked around in a daze, crying in anguish.  We thought we were prepared, we had chosen a burial site five years ago and that made the first task a little easier.  But we kept hearing him in every creak of the house and seeing him out of the corner of our eye.  He was in every room, every part of our day.  We suddenly had the first of many, many things - the first mail delivery without Rufous, the first shopping trip without Rufous, the first washing day - the first visitor to not be welcomed by Rufous - our days were full of missing him.

There is no way our loss could be compared to our neighbour's loss, after all they lost their daughter, we only lost a dog. But our pain was the same. Possibly we will adjust sooner .......... whatever sooner is.

But it set me wondering about what we grieve for and I came up with relationship. We have lost a relationship that we enjoyed, treasured and were blessed by.  I feel that relationship with family and friends is the core of emotional life for human beings, especially as relationship is a two way deal.  We have a relationship with God, with animals, with our garden, and the loss is like an amputation as it rips away a precious part of us.

Many people have written about grief with more knowledge and understanding than I have, but I needed to gather my thoughts into words, so I can look at them.

RIP little man Rufous.  
The 14 years we had with you will never end as you live in our hearts forever.  
You were an angel, sent to teach us about life, 
about strength and survival,
about not complaining,
about unconditional love and forgiveness, 
about joyfulness and the miracles that joy can bring,
and we embraced all those lessons.
Thank you.

Rufous B the Happiest Dog in the World,  10.03.2001 - 03.03.2015

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

... and very OLD sweets.

Recently I commented on facebook that after not tasted smarties for a long, long time I was disappointed to find they did not taste as I remembered. A tiny box of smarties was a treat we were given as children - often by guilt driven parents. The box could barely take two fingers and the number of smarties inside was not many, less than 25. The shell colours were as bright and shiny as new toys and children were tempted to line them up and sort into colours and swap with others to make patterns and let the colours stain their fingers and tongues.

Smarties, referred to in the industry as 'hard tablet sweets' apparently began life, in England, as Rowntree's Chocolate Beans in ... 1882! and were renamed as Smarties in 1937, so kids have been enjoying them for over 130 years!

Back in the days when Rowntree's made Smarties they had a thin candy coating that melted in the mouth allowing the sweet chocolate centre to flow over the tongue. Sweet and creamy. It was possible to eat them one at a time and really enjoy each one and as kids we were convinced that the colours had different flavours. 

Then Nestle took over Rowntree's and, not content to leave yummy enough alone, they changed the recipe in 2009. The motivation may have been to make them healthier - if any  sugar coated chocolate thing can be healthy - but the colours faded to almost pastel and the chocolate changed texture and tasted stale.
The Smarties web site explains there are eight colours, pink, red, orange, yellow, blue, violet, green and brown AND the orange Smartie is flavoured with natural orange oil.  Hmmm, so what are the other seven colours flavoured with?  

The other little treat we had from time to time, in our house, was a two bar Kit Kat, also a creation of Rowntree's. An interesting little story is - the chocolate bar we know today was developed in 1935, after a suggestion by a worker in the York factory, to make a snack that 'a man could take to work in his pack'.

The Kit Kat is composed of a block of two or four fingers that can be snapped apart. Each finger is made with three layers of wafer and cream covered in an outer layer of chocolate.  
Kit Kat has been enjoyed all over the world since 1940 and everyone knows the 1958  advertising line, 'Have a break, have a Kit Kat'.

And as above, Nestle bought Rowntree's in 1988 (but not in the US where it is owned by Hershey). So, what did they do to Kit Kat?  Well, they added a flavour range from orange, caramel to almond flavours, and a choice of dark, milk or white chocolate coating. There are chunky versions, snack pack sizes and Kit Kat easter eggs as well as 'Pop Choc' pieces, square 'Kubes', praline-filled 'Senses' and Kit Kat pieces in yoghurt or iceceam cones.  In Japan a Bake 'N Tasty mini Kit Kats Custard Pudding Flavour was launched in 2014  - you bake that in the oven and the outside caramelizes. O M G

So, apart from ONE SINGLE EASTER EGG per year, and the occasional very small block of Cadburys chocolate or a coconut rough in a show bag, and the occasional half-penny's worth of mixed lollies at the corner shop, the above treats were just about all we had in those good old, healthy days when everyone was a size medium. That might be difficult to understand in the 21st century.

We had cake of course, and they were always homemade, using real butter and actual sugar and locally milled flour and real cream and often homemade jam or lemon curd - all good stuff and you could almost live on Aunty Mab's jam and cream filled sponge with a beaker of homemade fruit cordial or a cuppa, and a few homemade sausage rolls, dipped in sauce cooked up from Uncle Harry's tomatoes - add a stick of celery and you've got all the food groups covered.  No tortes or mud cakes back then.

My life in the outer suburbs, without TV, limited my early experience of sweets. I can actually remember the day when, at the age of 21, I took a short cut through Sydney Central Station on my way to an Art Class, and stopped at a mobile newsagent (it was a tiny cream caravan) to buy a magazine and I bought a Polly Waffle.  I'd never had one before but I liked the name and so I bought it and ate it over two days.  And no, I did not repeat this often, it wasn't until years later, after having babies, that I discovered we need a daily hit of chocolate.

Google tells me the inventor of the Polly Waffle, in the year I was born, was Abel Hoadley of Hoadley's Chocolates in Melbourne.  Polly was a waffle wafer tube, filled with marshmallow (yummy) and coated in compound chocolate (Yuk, I didn't know that).  Compound chocolate is made of cocoa, sweeteners and  cheap vegetable fats that are not cocoa butter. And back then a Polly Waffle had a sugar content of over 50% !!! Wow.

Eventually Hoadleys was acquired by Rowntree's and in 1988 - one guess - by Nestle.  Nestle managed to change the waffle wafer to a more sugary, and probably cheaper, brittle wafer in 2009 and sales dropped off.  I wonder why? It also developed a flat bottom where it had once been round.  Polly Waffle was discontinued at the end of that year.  Poor Polly.

Sadly the Polly Waffle legacy is the use of the name for something similar in looks that might be unwelcome when found floating in a swimming pool. Again, poor Polly.

Cover art work by Barry Rockwell