Putting my garden to sleep over winter.

Well, will you look at this? It’s been about 6 weeks since I last wrote here. Still, no panic. I guess it just means I have a lot to catch you up on. 🙂

Winter is approaching, which means, with my commute, that I’ll be leaving while it’s dark and returning when it’s dark. Given this and the fact that the output from the soil that was put into my new garden beds was so poor, I’ve decided to “put my garden to bed” for winter.

Chopping up plants to use as green manure.

This basically means that section by section, I’m pulling up any plants that are struggling on, chopping them up into little pieces as a form of green manure, adding heaps of sheeps poo left over from Malane st, any other stray odds and ends of fertiliser I have hanging around, then after digging all that in, covering everything with a massive layer of pea straw.

The base of the worm farm.

Some of the garden beds have got added extras, like worm castings full of worms. I finally got around to emptying the worm farm I bought when I moved into The Best House in Melbourne 3 years ago. Well, I had to do something… the plastic legs buckled and twisted, throwing the whole worm farm on a precarious tilt that tipped some of the worms into the garden bed below.

Worms and castings in a bucket.

I grabbed some old bricks to support the body of the worm farm while making it high enough to put a watering can underneath to catch the worm wee/free fertiliser. I separated out the sections of the farm to make it easier to lift, then while it was all apart I emptied out the bottom section and took those worms out into the lower wicking bed and put them in. They are within crawling reach of the worm farm I have there, so if they want to be fed like they were in the old worm farm they can be. I hope they survive… I felt a bit mean putting them out into the big wide world, but they have 6″ of pea straw above them so they should be safe from birds.

One section already bedded down, one in the process.

I put home-made compost into around 3 of the other beds. Remember how I started bringing home the scraps from the Food Tech classes and the canteen? A couple of the barrels of my tumbling compost bins were just about ready, so I put them into the garden beds anyway. I figured they might as well continue to decompose in the ground, rather than take up space in the compost bins that I’ll need for the scraps coming from school over winter.

It’s a very satisfying thing to put compost that you made yourself into the garden. But DON’T do what I did. When I was first putting things in the compost bins, I was wrapping veggie scraps in sheets of newspaper and popping the packages straight into the bin. ARGH!!!

What happens is that the paper gradually solidifies around the food and encases it into an impenetrable layer. I found this out when I dumped the first lot of compost on the top of a garden bed, then got interrupted and left it there for a week before I got back to it. The little packages had dried out by them and were like hard rocks. It took so much time to break them up into pieces that were smaller and more easily able to decompose and release their goodness to the soil – even when I picked as many as I could out of the bed and put them in a bucket of water to soak before trying to break apart the softened bundles.

It took HOURS. Now, every bit of paper is ripped into small pieces to avoid this ever happening again. I don’t care how many podcasts you listen to when you’re doing this – it’s still a very tedious job.

So far I’ve put about half the garden beds to sleep. I aim at doing one a weekend, so by the end of June, the whole back yard will be pea-strawed and silent.

The success stories of the first summer of growing things? Heaps of snow peas and beans, lots of tromboncino zucchini, basil and chillis. Everything else did the best they could, but they struggled.

Hopefully every year will be a bit better!




Posted in balance, gardening, Quality of life, vegetables, wicking beds | 3 Comments

Skinflint Sunday: One more set of essays to mark before the holidays!

My only cucumber!

One more week to go of term time. Gee, this term has flown by!

Last year a woman at work gave me some cucumber seedlings that she couldn’t fit into her garden. I thought my terrible soil killed them all… but one was quietly soldiering on, hidden by the Purple King bean plants. How that the beans are dying off, this cucumber in the photo above came into view a few days ago. I gave it to Ryan24 to eat – he loves cucumbers. Hopefully, the soil will have improved enough by next summer that he’ll be able to eat a lot more.

I’ve been writing on the other blog about whether or not to go part-time at work next year. I know that not everyone who comes here reads the other one, so I thought I’d post the links on here, as I’m interested to hear people’s takes on it. I know there’d be lots of you who have wrestled with the same dilemma.

Here’s the one looking at the pros…

… and here’s the one looking at the opportunity costs.

Long term readers will know that I’ve been hustling for extra dollars for years, doing housecleaning, working as a teacher, knitting baby hats and making doll quilts and selling them on Etsy until I found Thermomix and settled into doing that after school and on weekends for 5 years. The decision to let Thermomix go and ‘just’ do teaching was a big step. To think about taking some extra time for myself is a big step… so I’d welcome your thoughts.

Me kissing Oscar Wilde's tombstone

This time last year I was in North Korea. Talk about time flying! The veggie garden was still just a plan on paper and my year 12s were rehearsing ‘Jasper Jones’. This year we’re doing ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. I simply love Oscar Wilde’s plays and ‘Earnest’ is my favourite, so I’m really excited that the kids agreed to do it. (Well… not that they had much choice in the matter, but I let them think they did..!) The photo above is of me kissing the glass in front of Oscar Wilde’s tombstone when I was in Paris.

Speaking of that wonderful 9 week holiday I took in 2015, my beautiful friend Scott, who organised the whole thing for me and travelled with me in some bits, is coming back to Melbourne these holidays. It’s the first time in 10 years that he’s been back and I’m so pleased to be able to catch up in person. Skype’s good, especially with the three hours long conversations we tend to have once we get going, but there’s nothing like being in the same room with someone. We’ll be catching up over the holidays and he’ll be seeing The Best House in Melbourne for the first time, along with the dogs. Come to think of it, when he left the boys were all still at secondary school! Things have certainly moved on.






Posted in Skinflint, vegetables, wicking beds, work | 6 Comments

A long weekend for most Australians – nice for some!!

It’s been two weeks since all the drama of Scout’s brush with death and I’m happy to say that she’s made a complete recovery. I wish I could say that she’s learned her lesson, but I’m afraid it’s going to be the humans keeping an eye out for pips and seedpods, not her!

I’ve been whining about the quality of the soil in my wicking beds, but I have to say that this garden has produced lots of beans and zucchini. It’s been less than stellar with everything else.

Still, I’m continuing to bring home the veggie scraps from the school canteen and Food Tech room and throwing them in the composters and worm farms, so no doubt, over time, things will improve.

The rest of Melbourne is in the middle of enjoying a long weekend… but not me. Tomorrow I’ll be heading into the school, dogs and the thermomixes in tow. The Theatre Studies kids are going to be painting and making sets for ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, so I’ll be making them a hearty vegan lunch, (there’s always one or two vegans every year…) and doing some marking while they work.


Posted in pets, Skinflint, vegetables, wicking beds, work | 5 Comments

Skinflint Sunday: The Scout edition.

We’ve been seeing lots of this over the weekend. Scout was allowed to come home on Friday afternoon.

I couldn’t believe it. I rang the vet on Friday morning and said, “Hi, this is Frogdancer Jones, Scout’s Mum. Is she still alive??”

“Oh yes!” the receptionist said. “She’s wagging her tail, we’ve taken the drip off her and we’re going to be test-feeding her later today.”

She turned the corner overnight, sometime after the vet visited her at 10PM. I was so happy when I went to pick her up and the vet nurse carried out a sleepy, very ‘flat’ looking baby girl.

Here’s the cause – a seedpod from a tree that is just around the corner from us. This thing is as hard as a rock; she may just as well have swallowed a pebble. There’s no way any amount of stomach acid would have broken it down.

It’s an expensive seedpod – the bill ended up being over $3,200.

But she’s still breathing. I prefer it when my pets do that.

It’s a large incision for such a tiny dog. She’s going to take quite a while to recover – it’s not like when a pup comes home from being spayed and they’re bouncing around the next day. She came very close to death and so she’s spending a lot of time sleeping and wanting to be cuddled.

While I was fiddling around taking photos, I accidentally swiped something and the colours went all screwy. I had no idea how to fix it so I took these shots of the others.

This is Jeff, a bit annoyed because Scout gets to eat shredded chicken and rice, while he and Poppy get to eat the low-fat tinned food the vet said I should buy for Scout, but she utterly refused to eat. (I don’t blame her. It looks disgusting. I’m glad I only bought one tin.)

Poppy doesn’t care. She’d eat anything, even her own left leg if it wasn’t securely fastened on.

I owe the local vets a debt of gratitude. When they saw how sick she was, the hired a courier to get her bloodwork to the lab, so they’d get the test results back asap. They had 2 surgeons working on her and the vet visited her at 10PM and again at 5AM. She couldn’t have had better care.

She’s the luckiest girl in Melbourne – and so am I.


Posted in pets | 11 Comments

Please keep your fingers crossed for Scout.

Scout is in an extremely bad way.

I wrote about what’s happening on the other blog. I wanted to let you guys know about it too. I left my phone at work so the only people I can talk to about it is the boys.

Here’s what’s happening.

Please keep her in your thoughts. She’s the delight of our lives and she needs all the luck she can get right now.


Posted in pets | 9 Comments

Skinflint Sunday: when your version of gourmet is really just leftovers.

I took the washing out to the line and on the way back in I noticed that a few things needed picking.

I haven’t yet cut into this zucchini. It looks too fabulous!

The Purple King beans are dried out, so I saved the seeds. I have quite a few of them still to be picked, so I’ll have more than enough seeds for next year. I’ll give some away at work, or I’ll simply cook some of them up in stews or soups.

Two massive green zucchinis from the wicking beds were hiding under the foliage. I had no idea they were there. Both from the same plant, so at least I got something from the bad soil in the wicking beds! This plant was right beside one of the worm farms, so maybe that had something to do with it.

Of the 4 apples that sprouted on my tree, only 2 made it to maturity. I’m never sure of when to pick them, so I tend to leave things too long. I came out after work on Thursday and found one apple on the bricks. It has a couple of peck marks on the top – but I wasn’t going to waste my precious apple!

I ate around the bottom and gave Poppy the top.

Then I picked this apple and took it into work on Friday to have for morning recess.

OMG. So fresh and crisp. Now I know why I decided to plant these trees. Shop-bought apples cannot compete.

Normally on Sundays, I have ‘Sunday Roast’ lunches where the boys and anyone they want to bring come around. Today, however, they were all busy, so I gave myself a treat.

Bubble and squeak.

I love this dish so much. Haha, I call it a ‘dish’ but all it is is fried-up veggies. I cooked them on purpose but it’s obviously one of those ‘throw-together’ meals to use up leftovers. Mashed potato and pumpkin, with cooked carrots, beans, spinach, peas and brussels sprouts. Personally, I think the pumpkin and brussels sprouts are mandatory, but really? You can use anything you have in the fridge.

You just fry it all up, making sure to caramelise it so that you get that lovely taste. I made enough for lunch tomorrow, so I’m feeling all productive and organised.

Now I’m off to do the ironing! That nap I had an hour ago has really doe wonders for me!!


Posted in cooking, Fruit trees, gardening, Skinflint, vegetables, wicking beds | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Skinflint Sunday: how the day slipped away.

I’m not sure if I’ve blogged here about the new chart I’m doing to try and instil some more productive habits, but a month-and-a-bit in, it’s working like a charm. I had the whole Sunday ahead of me, free of commitments, glittering with possibilities. I made sure to read from this book to tick off one of the squares for today. I’ve only just started it but it seems like a good read.

Then I had to make sure that my iPad was fully charged for the commuting week ahead. If I have to spend 2 hours of my life travelling, I want there to be something interesting coming through my ears.

I just counted. I subscribe to 34 podcasts at the moment. They’re a mix of Financial Independence, stories, comedy, real-life stories and true crime. Isn’t it wonderful that we are so spoiled for choice for absolutely no money out of pocket?

I had over a week’s worth of tea leaves, coffee grounds and eggshells to pulverise and put in the veggie garden. The green leaves you can see are lemon verbena leaves. Bev from foodnstuff gave me a few plants years ago and I found some leaves that I dried 3 years ago, back when we were still in the old place.

They still work. Lemon verbena and mint leaves make a lovely herbal tea. I’ve still got the foodnstuff plants, but I want to use the dried leaves that Past Frogdancer put away.

Garden time. I didn’t have to water because it poured with rain yesterday, but I picked this zucchini for Izzy’s mum. David25 is going to Izzy’s today so I thought it’d be nice for him to give her something.

Nothing says, “Thanks for having me for lunch” more than a vaguely heart-shaped trombocchino zucchini.

It’s getting to the stage when I’m starting to save seeds. These dried beans are Lazy Housewife beans for next year. The peas are dried peas from the plants I grew from a packet of whole dried peas I bought in the supermarket. Most of them went into pea soup, but some were planted and we ate fresh peas.

Snow pea seeds are in the back bowl, along with some heirloom bean seeds that Blogless Sandy gave me.

While I was fluffing around taking photos, Scout and Jeff were keeping an eye on me. One of the squares on the chart is “Walk the Dogs.”

I made myself a herbal tea, (you know which sort) and began ripping up the empty wine cask packaging to go in the compost.

Evan23 came into the kitchen, laughed and said, “Which dog do you think is most interested in what you’re doing?”

She has such a distinctive outline.

I was on the phone to Mum when a text arrived from Evan22. He and some uni mates are down in Melbourne for the weekend on their way back to Ballarat from Phillip Island. They hired out an air bnb a couple of suburbs away because they were going to a party on the Saturday night and he and a couple of friends popped in yesterday and spent a few hours here.

“Hi, we’re leaving the air bnb now and heading to (insert my suburb name here) for chips and beach and maybe people will come around to see the dogs if that’s alright.”


“Up to like 13 people.”

So for 3 hours today, I had 13 kids lolling on the front verandah. They were lovely. They wandered around the veggie garden, they played with the dogs and we all just chilled. They were certainly in no hurry to go – I thought they’d come here, pat the dogs, then disappear down to the beach but that didn’t happen.

Evan22 and I came inside at one point and had a long chat about what’s going on in our lives. It was lovely seeing him 2 days in a row.

He left with another zucchini and a bag of assorted groceries that I had doubles of; things like chilli oil, peanut butter, salt, olives and a big bag of spinach.

It’s nearly 6 PM now and I can hear the man next door playing in their front yard with his little kids. He’s rigged up a toddler-sized bike track and they’re riding around on it. Ryan23 has just finished cleaning the kitchen and he’s heading out to put the bins out.

I’ll finally take the dogs for a walk and then I’ll have to do some ironing for work. I have meetings 4 nights this week – ugh!


Posted in books, Children., family., gardening, pets, Quality of life, reading, Skinflint, vegetables, wicking beds | 3 Comments

Thoughts upon starting a new school year.

Well, it’s now the second week of the school year and life is back to normal. I’ve met all my students and they all seem like lovely kids. Well… most of them, anyway!

I’m doing the 10 minutes of silent reading or writing with my year 8s and one of them asked me to put some writing prompts up on the board.

  • The day my dog ate a budgie.
  • The colour purple…
  • Sleeping in – what does it feel like?

Most kids are reading but there’s probably 6 or 7 of them who are writing. This class was the ‘feral’ class last year in year 7. Apparently, some boys have been moved out to other classes this year but there are around 4 boys that I’ve marked as having to keep an eye on. Not 1 minute into today’s 10-Minutes, I moved one from the back to the front of the room for talking. They’ve been good up till now, but they’ll start testing out their teachers for the next few weeks. That old saying of treat ’em mean till Easter holds some merit!

I’m really lucky in that the kids at this school are beautifully behaved. A ‘feral’ kid here means that they won’t stop talking and they might be a bit cheeky. That’s nothing compared to what some teachers have to put up with. I remember, years ago, when I went to a school in Dandenong as an Emergency teacher. I was given a prep class that day, (5-year-olds), and a kid kicked me in the knee. A PREP!!! Thankfully, nothing like that happens here.

It’s now the next day and I’m in front of the same class. The writing prompt I put up for them today was: “If you could only speak 100 words in a day, what would you choose to talk about?”

It’s a funny relationship that I have with my job. I love some parts of it, yet when it becomes time to retire I know I’ll leave it behind without a second’s thought. This job gave financial security to me and my family when I gained a permanent position here and I’ll be forever grateful for that, but leaving home at 7 AM and not getting back until 4:30 PM at the earliest is losing its lustre…

I’m wanting to have more control over how and where I spend my time. Maybe it’s a ‘getting older’ thing? Anyway, I’ll be here at the school for a few more years yet. Today, once the 10 -Minutes end, I’ll do a fun lesson with the kids. Continuous writing, where they start a story, write the opening sentence, then they pass the paper to the person on their left, who writes another sentence in the story, then they pass the papers along again and so forth. After about 20 minutes or so I collect the stories and read them out. All the kids are eager to hear how their story developed and, though they don’t realise it, it makes them do around half a page of writing.

Sentence by sentence, it all adds up.




Posted in work | 4 Comments

Some links you may be interested in. (Or not – who am I to judge??)

This garden may be pretty awful, but at least we’re getting heaps of beans and zucchini. I have 35 bags of chopped zucchini in the freezer at last count, with 8 monster zuccs still on the vine. It makes me hopeful for the future when I’ve nourished the soil and plants have a sporting chance of producing.

The weekend is over and a full work week commences. *sigh*

I’ve been blogging on the other blog and there are a few posts that long-term readers might be interested in.  I have no idea if there’s any crossover between the two blogs and it seemed almost rude that I’d write about these things somewhere else and not include you guys.  So here they are. Grab a cuppa…

Remember when we would drive to the bakery for free bread when the kids were little? Saved us thousands of dollars over the years. Here’s something that happened a couple of weeks ago that made me come full circle.

Here’s one for those who want to see how the backyard veggie garden looks. It’s a fun piece comparing the path to financial independence with gardening, but if you don’t give a tinker’s cuss about that, just look at the photos. 🙂

Here’s the honest-to-God Secret to Happiness.  I’ve learned this week that it’s now called ‘mindfulness’, but I call it ‘noticing the little things.’

For those of you who’ve been following the boys as they grow up, we had some news about David25’s girlfriend.

It’s not all bad news!  Evan22 has been living and studying away from home in the country. Here’s an account of how he’s going.

When I went nuts and spent $1500 on clothes. I won’t lie – so much fun.

And this is the post I was scrolling back to find – The Scariest Financial Decision of All. This is a post I’m really proud of and I hope it helps people who are wrestling with the same decision I did – do I leave my marriage or not? I made my decision 21 years ago, but some moments in life stay as vivid as the day they happened.

Anyway, I thought I’d post these links here because these posts might be of interest to my Dancing With Frogs readers. They have to do with my life and they deal with things that I’ve written about previously,  so I thought I’d bring those who are interested up to speed.

Back to regular programming next week!


Posted in balance, Children., friends, gardening, memories, pets, Quality of life, vegetables, writing | 4 Comments

ARGH!!! Last day of the holidays! WHY?!?

There’s been a bit too much of this going on these holidays.

It’s a travesty of justice that the summer holidays have ended and I have to go back to work again tomorrow. The weeks have flown by. It doesn’t seem possible that February is nearly here.

And there’s so many things that I wanted to get done!

Before Christmas I bought the coconut oil to make soap over the holidays, seeing as I gave the vast majority of soap I’d made away for Christmas presents.

It just never seemed like a soap-making day…

I was going to have the bottom drawer of the freezer FILLED with balls of raw pizza dough for easy dinners.

I ended up getting 5 bases done, probably because I knew I was going to write this post. That’s better than nothing, I guess.

After I finish here, I’ll have to water all of the plants. It’s going to be 33C tomorrow and I won’t be here for long enough in the morning to do it then.

I bought this bougainvilia to plant outside the kitchen window, also before Christmas.

Literally 4 feet to the right, the post is still bare.

It’s not fair. I need more tiiiime…

I bought sour cream for a recipe. I don’t usually use it. It was going to be used up by the end of the holidays. I have no idea what to do with it.


I still have to get the ironing done for work. It’s 4 PM.

I didn’t laze around and do nothing, though. Here are some of the books I finished.

And I got some electricians to come and install my Christmas present to myself – wall sconces for my bedroom. They swivel so you can get the light to fall EXACTLY on the book you’re holding. I’ve wanted them for years.

But I have to say, I’m really going to miss these little people.

Poppy, on the right, never leaves my side unless someone is in the kitchen with food.

Jeffrey, in the middle, sticks to me like glue. Except for the hottest days, he always has to be laying down beside me, touching.

And Scout? Scout is a joy and a delight. When I’m not here she’s with Ryan24, but when I’m home she’s with me.

I won’t miss throwing that damned ball for her all the time, though!

(This post is for Blogless Sandy, who no doubt expected me to write it. I’m so predictable.)

EDITED TO SAY: Blogs are really good. After I wrote this, the sour cream was on my mind. Tonight for dinner we’re having the Skinnymixers Butter Chicken, but instead of cream (yuck) or yoghurt, I’m using the sour cream. Winner winner chicken dinner!!!


Posted in pets, Quality of life, vent, work | 9 Comments