What a Performance

Chapter 14
What a Performance
Our home is full of oddities.  A mix and blend of all the owners who have gone before us and their idiosyncrasies and hoarding habits, some of which are good and some not so good.  One of the more odd and appealing features of this house when we bought it was the Performance Stage.  How many houses do you know that come with their very own performance stage?  Now I’m not talking a raised dais or platform in the backyard, I’m talking a full three sides and a roof amphitheater!  Our son Lawson has been acting and singing most of his life and this just seemed to fit with us, definitely one of the house’s positive selling features.  
We could tell that the space had seen several incarnations.  There was a curtain in camouflage fabric strung across on a wire that could be drawn across to signal the start of the next performance, a dart board with a chalk board for keeping score on the back wall and a dusty, half working disco ball hung from a beam in the roof.  There was a sheet of white board, the type with holes all through it for hanging tools on and a big electrical chord rolled up and hung on a nail in one corner probably to ensure the missing bar fridge remained cold at all times.
To the left was a wall with a door which clearly hid some sort of little room.  We were so surprised when we opened it on the day of inspection to discover a small, unlined, bathroom with shower, hand basin and toilet!  The space was still quite open to the elements and was littered with bodies of dead insects, gecko poo and old dusty webs.  Also, when we followed the pipes we found the toilet drained into a makeshift holding tank with overflow to the creek so decided this was not to be used until properly plumbed into the septic tank (a future project).  The water to the room that was plumbed in was only cold but there was the signs that maybe in the past or the future there was to be an instant hot water system installed.  But in all fairness the basics of a bathroom was there, if ever the inclination was to create a guest house out of this space.
Given that the house was partially taken over with the business, it didn’t have a space for entertaining or a place to feed more than just the three of us.  Since our inclination was (and always will be) to entertain every weekend the Performance Stage went through yet another incarnation.  First we added our outdoor lounges that we had had for many years, and a collection of random outdoor furniture, a corner unit for storage and a large coffee table with hinged sections under which to store spare blankets, the bocce and badminton sets and numerous tea light candles to illuminated and add ambience to the setting.  Then the  addition of a trestle table on which to prepare and serve meals was needed when they weren’t in use for other purposes. 
Because my husband and my son cant be without some form of media intervention Brent ran TV cables to the deck, made a bracket for the projector and stored a spare laptop, set top box and stereo in the corner cabinet.  We strung up a big sheet of white fabric cut from a roll and hey presto, our outdoor theatre was born!

Eventually we realized that we needed to ask Brent’s Mum and Dad for our bar fridge back.  They had been “minding’ it for us as we didn’t have a place to use it at the resort.  They had used it constantly and now I felt a little like an Indian Giver asking for it back.  Turns out I didn’t have to stress as they recognised the need and offered to buy us a brand new bar fridge for our deck as a house warming gift.  That Christmas I was surprised to be given a great six burner flat plate barbecue, big enough to feed the hoards.  I quickly seconded Brent’s Dad into welding a frame for a corrugated iron bar to hide the BBQ and provide a wind break for the burners.

Together after one of our many trips to Bunnings one day Benny and I built a timber bench to cover the bar fridge and replace the trestle.  On one occasion when we had visitors from the Sunshine Coast our good friend Andy (bored with just lazing about) offered to paint the deck walls (which were forest green) if we supplied the paint.  Quickly before he changed his mind I drove back to Bunnings for the mud colour we had already decided to go with and several hours later it was taking on a much more modern look.
Nowadays we spend an inordinate amount of time on the deck.  When it is cold we light a fire in the half 44 gallon drum on the grass in front, which is very “trailer trash” I know, but it heats the space beautifully and provides the vehicle for toasting marshmallows, an easy desert for visiting kids.  We are even contemplating a “Noosa Fan” to move the air around when it gets a bit hot on Summer evenings, but seriously where does one stop?  
The Performance Stage has on two New Years Eve occasions been cleared of furniture and transformed into a “real” stage to host our ad hoc band by the salubrious name of  “Pond Scum”.  A remnant from our time managing a rural resort up the road which needed entertainment for New Years Eve.  Some local, musical friends came to the rescue and formed a band in a hurry with Brent as drummer.  On our outdoor screen we have hosted concerts by Robbie Williams, Pink and ACDC and danced till the wee small hours on the grass.   Ironically when we went looking for a property almost three years ago we agreed that all we needed was a deck with a toilet and shower and our camper.  We got more than that by far at this property but some weekends the house is almost superfluous.  For on our deck many a beverage has been consumed, many a meal has been devoured, many a person has fallen asleep under the stars and many a good time has been had.

My Chicken Schnitzel

Chapter 13
My Chicken Schnitzel

I would like to think that as a mum I have no favourites.  Of course my one and only son is definitely my favorite child, and my one and only dog, well yes he is also my favorite dog, but with my other family of five chickens, whom I raised from day old chicks surely I couldn’t possibly single one out to be a favorite?  That just wouldn’t be right.  However if you look at my photo album, it seems that I do.

My favorite time of the week is around five o’clock on a Saturday and Sunday evening when all the chores are done and I sit on the edge of our deck, chardonnay in hand and watch my chickens clucking around in the back yard.  Watching chickens as it turns out is akin to watching the ocean or a roaring fire.  It’s meditative, relaxing, and sometimes hilarious.  So funny to watch those fluffy bottoms bouncing whilst running to find shelter from an overhead cockatoo, to see them fight over a grasshopper and steal it off each other, or risk life and limb to try to take a peck at the dog’s bone whilst he’s not looking.  
Whilst my husband is quite fond of the chooks too and has learnt how to make some amazing omelets, he is not very tolerant of the “land mines” they leave all over the place.  He is constantly hosing the back carport, back door step and sweeping off the deck.  As the egg production is now starting to slow down in their later years, he has become increasingly frustrated that we have to deal with their mess and buy their feed for very little oval reward!  But the other rewards are that they provide us with a great deal of entertainment.
Those of you who keep free range chickens will know that after many hours of observation, chickens all have very distinct personalities.  Of our five, Omelet is the Boss.  She has also been the one to stray from the herd and at times fly the coop into a neighbors yard.  On one occasion she was unable to be found when it came time to lock the chickens away safely for the night and so she remained locked out.  I cant imagine that would have been fun for her when she came home to find that the gate was shut and she was on the outside of it.  I silently hoped all night that she wouldn’t be taken be a predator.  Seems by the “land mine” evidence left behind that she roosted on the deck with Scruffy (the dog) to protect her.  I know somehow she has learnt her lesson though as she hasn’t wandered far away in the late afternoon for some time now.
Hazel, is the guts, running the fastest when I am approaching with the food and diving head first into whatever it is that I deliver. Consequently she is also the fattest, healthiest chook we have.  Apart from that she is placid and obedient which makes her an easy chook to live with.  Kentucky, is a follower.  She just does as she’s told, gets bossed around by Omelet and sometimes even mounted (a dominant act?).  She is hard to pick up but always comes when called. 
Georgia, our only white chicken was the one that came down from our neighbors house.  Because she was a late comer she has never really fit in.  The other chooks pick on her so she hangs far enough away that she doesnt suffer their pecks too often.  She molts profusely and because her feathers are white they are like a blanket of snow over everything in the back yard.  She doesn’t like to be caught and picked up more than likely a cause of being raised by the two young and not so gentle kids up the back.
The fifth chicken is Schnitzel and she has made herself my pet.  I imagine she is as close to a puppy dog as you can get.  Her main appeal is her amazing curiosity which sees her get in all sorts of places you wouldn’t imagine a chicken wanting to be.  
The front door of our house opens right into the space where I work each day and is adjacent to my office window.  There is no screen on the door to protect us from insects, weird couriers, dogs frightened by lightening or wandering chooks.  During my work day Schnitzel will often wander in and have a look around the house muttering this funny little geiger counter noise that almost seems like she’s using a sonar or radar trying to find a niche the right size to sit in.  I must admit that after two years of having to interrupt my train of thought to constantly chase her out, I now just let her have her wander.  
I have discovered that she will walk around for about fifteen to twenty minutes, her little chicken feet scrabbling on the timber floor trying to find some purchase.  She wanders the house trying any small space on for size, the bookshelf, under my desk, the shelf under the TV, any nook or cranny.  After trying this in a few different places; among the rolls of fabric, in the cupboard with the cotton reels, next to the overlocker, on top of my filing tray, she gets fed up and leaves.  She never deposits a “land mine” in the house, unlike the other chooks and she does clean up all the dropped goodies or stray insects under the kitchen table and on the kitchen floor.
Sometimes though these visits can be a little annoying.  Just recently I had an a saleswoman from Brisbane come to show me the latest uniform designs in her company’s catalogue.  Whilst she was turning the pages to show me the one that corresponded to the garments lying on my desk Schnitzel sauntered her way in to my office and flew up landing right onto the book and samples.  Poor lady got quite a fright!  We did have a laugh about it together but I bet she wont be coming back to see me any time soon.
Just lately Schnitzel has taken to hopping into the boot of the car when I leave it open to bring in the groceries and even the other day the front passenger seat of the car while I was opening the gate.  I swear that if I sat in the driver’s seat and opened the door she would hop onto my lap and let me take her for a ride. 
I can honestly say that I love all of my chooks and I know that as they approach their third year (they only live for four) I will start to see some of them “drop off their perch” which will make me very sad.  I will miss them running to me when they see me in the yard, I will miss their help when I weed the garden, I will miss their clucking, their cuddles, their antics and their eggs, but I will NOT MISS ONE BIT the land mines they leave everywhere!

Pickled and Preserved

Chapter 12
Pickled and Preserved
I have been collecting jars for a couple of years now silently hoping that one day my soon to be prolific garden would produce an over abundance of fruit or vegetables that would necessitate my bottling the surplus.  Sadly the filter in my dishwasher has been caked with the remnants of sticky jar labels several times over and the bottom drawer in my kitchen is filled to capacity with unused glass jars and lids, as is a whole shelf in my cupboard at the farm.
I’m sure many of you have had the pleasure of growing cherry tomatoes and have seen how productive their sprawling limbs can be.  But my cherry tomato garden is something else!  Firstly it was never planted by me, it just sprung up from the ground after a healthy dose of chicken poop and mulch.  At the end of a healthy crop of cucumber vines I decided to dig up the garden bed, treat it to a nutrient rich face mask of chicken run clean out and let it sit until I could decide what I wanted to plant in there next.  This particular garden bed has the benefit of the warm north facing brick wall of the three bay shed.  This accompanied by the wire mesh trellis that the cucumber vines clung to for the last six months made the perfect niche for a very healthy crop of cherry tomato trees.  Not bushes mind, trees!  
Not being one for having any knowledge about pruning or thinning out the garden I just let the plants do their thing.  I was amazed that without any training they clung to the brick work and worked their way up the trellis to the top of the garage roof!  Once they surpassed the roof the tops flopped over for lack of support but still continued to produce.  As luck would have it many of the tomatoes grew in between the mesh and the brick work making it very hard for all but nimble fingers to work them out without squashing them during harvesting.  Luckily the gauge in the wire was about a four by four centimetre square so it was tough for small fingers but not impossible.
I filled container after container after container of tomatoes.  Some were so big they were like a baby “real” tomato.  I gave away some and ate a few and was still left with an abundance.  So I took the stalks off, washed them and stuck them in the freezer.  Until just recently a power outage and the need to have some of my containers back, meant it was time to get cooking!
On a trip to the USA last year we rekindled our love of Mexican food, in particular the lovely fresh salsa and corn chips they serve up free of charge to keep you quenching your thirst with Margaritas and beer.  I had made a mental note never to by pre-made salsa again and so I googled a salsa recipe once I got home.  I tried a couple of versions and came up with one that Benny approved of and as close to the real thing as I could find.
In the meantime I had been growing jalapeños for the same purpose and whilst not yet at full height were producing a few that I could throw in the salsa.  So with some store bought coriander, garlic, some more chili, and limes we were away.
I love to have a day to myself to cook and so while I was on a roll I looked up another recipe to use up all the dwarf eggplants that one of my crop circles had produced.  We had been given a jar of Eggplant Kasundi (from the Bramble Patch in Stanthorpe) a middle eastern style chutney, from a guest at the resort and we had just scraped the bottom of the jar onto the last sandwich.  Now those of you who know my husband will be well aware that he has an aversion to vegetables, so for me to get him to eat tomatoes and eggplant in any way shape or form is quite a feat.  So google to the rescue and I found a recipe for this as well.  
All the cooking done, I put the jars and lids in our old oven (otherwise know as the crematorium).  Soon an acrid smell started to emit from the oven and I cracked the door to take a peak.  I had forgotten about the rubberised goo they paint the inside of the lids with these days to help make the seals liquid tight and stop corrosion from the inside contents.  This rubbery stuff was bubbling and black and oozing and smelling out my house now that the door was cracked open.  I grabbed the tray with a tea towel and ran it out into the yard to smolder.
Just a word to the wise, jars and lids are quite nicely sterilised by a couple of runs through the dishwasher and as long as you fill them when they are hot and the contents hot (and the right levels of preserving agents in your recipes etc) then they will be fine and dandy to store for a month in the cupboard until opened.  
Well after all my efforts I made four jars of each and put lovely little printed labels on to show that they were home made with love.  Gave away a couple of jars to a friend, served up some at my latest dinner party and now I have more empty jars and more labels stuck to my dishwasher filter.  Oh joy!

Friends With Benefits

Chapter 11
Friends with Benefits

There have been many friends who have chilled out at our place on the weekend.  Soaked up the sun by the pool, enjoyed butterflied mediterranean lamb on the barbecue and copious amounts of chardonnay, champagne and beer on our deck.  Hospitality runs in our veins as it turns out and I often wonder if in our latter years we should own a B&B to make sure that we are constantly surrounded by people to share our lives and home with.

Now I don’t want to be labeled for taking advantage of our friends, but they sure are good to have around, particularly when you buy a run down, over grown, ramshackle place like ours.  I know it was probably a bit presumptuous and naughty of me but in the first week that we took ownership of the property I put out an invitation to friends and family, not to a “housewarming party” but to a Working Bee!  I figured that many of our friends and family would be curious to see what we had purchased and some if not all wouldn’t mind being a part of the first phase of our renovations.  Being able to see the “before” and be a small part of the “after”.  
We put out the offer of food and grog and protective gear, accommodation if needed and a celebration dinner in the evening if anyone was up to it.  They were to bring no presents but their presence would be much appreciated, as would be their spare chainsaw, rakes, pruning shears, gardening gloves, wheelbarrows etc.  My hunch was right on track as it turns out and we were rewarded with a number of RSVPs from as far away as the Sunshine Coast, Brisbane and of course some local friends.  

We hired a big chipper and borrowed a large box trailer to cart away the debris.  People started arriving early and were given their gardening gloves, a new but cheap pair of garden shears, and told where to find their refreshments which were to be provided by another friend whose back wouldn’t stand the bending, stretching and lifting but still didn’t want to miss out on being a part of the day. 

There were several challenges, so plenty to keep several teams of people busy.  We couldn’t actually see the house from the street because of all the overgrown trees, shrubs, bushes and weeds in the front yard.  There was a bent flag pole to be removed and a stand of seven large golden cane palms which obscured totally the view of the swimming pool from the back yard.  Six massive jasmine vines were entangled in the tennis court fence and at risk of bringing it down with their weight and all the floor coverings in the house had to come out before the weekend was over.  
I may have mentioned that the previous owner had five cats that were allowed to live inside the house and three pet snakes.  Now I don’t mind snakes and they had been kept in tanks so they didn’t leave a mess around the place but I just thought they were worth mentioning.  The cats however were a real problem for me.  There was remnant cat fur and kitty litter everywhere and I am totally allergic and couldn’t even walk into the house without that itchy eye feeling and sneazing all over the place.  So I stayed out of the way while one of our good friends from the Sunshine Coast took the floor covering challenge over with gusto.  He pulled up lino (not stuck down in many places thankfully), lifted and rolled carpet and jimmied up the nasty spiked edge strip before anyone could gouge their feet on it.  The debris filled the trailer so one run was made to the dump.
A team of ladies aided by some of the kids that accompanied their parents, attacked the palm trees.  It was awesome to see the difference that removing all the little low fronds and lifting the canopy higher made to the view to the pool.  The downside was that most of the non compliant pool fencing was relying on these fronds for stability!  Some cable ties and wire fixed this problem temporarily.
Did you know that you are not meant to feed palm fronds into a chipper?  Neither did we, until it jammed!  With it all turned off and the blades disengaged someone had to climb inside and release the tangled mess so that the work could continue. 
One trailer load of chipped foliage was sent to the compost heap to break down over the next six months and inevitably become what filled the pumpkin patch in Chapter 8.  The chipper ran all day turning all the chainsawed trees into potential mulch.  I learnt the first of may valuable lessons about giving detailed instructions to the person most in charge of the chainsaw.  Once I had finished helping the ladies at the back of the house I came round the front to find every plant, and I mean every, all cut to one metre in height.  Now granted they did what I had asked and revealed the front of the house (although in hindsight was it such a great thing to be able to see?) but were very unaesthetic about it!
The Jasmine vines were mainly the job for tall people, my brother being one of them and he neatly pruned each of the vines down to about one metre from the ground and untangled the mess from the tennis court fence.  They remained that way for the best part of six months but now, I’m ashamed to say, they are about the same height and weight as they were back then.   They are extremely beautiful when they flower, the perfume wafts through the house for about a month each year, and as I am not much for pruning we just tend to let them go.  Sorry brother dear!

Many weary people went home that day to bathe in Radox and Dencorub sore muscles but some hale and hearty ones came back to the Resort for beer, wine and a well earned feed.  Little did they know that thanks to them the next BBQ and every one to come, would be enjoyed at our Funny Farm.