In the gutter

Recently I’ve been more vigilant about scheduling things into my calendar in order to Get Things Done, and have been including regular maintenance-type tasks like cleaning the gutters as a monthly event. Our house is surrounded by eucalyptus trees constantly shedding leaves and bark, and if the gutters clog up, we either don’t gather much water when it rains, or the water we do collect is stained yellow from the leaves. It is slightly embarrassing serving a glass of water to someone and have them peer at it silently wondering why it’s yellow. Surprise yellow beverages are never a good thing.

We clean the gutters with a leaf-blower, which is noisy but effective. I am not very fond of heights, but once I’m up the ladder it’s rather fun striding around (carefully, along the lines of bolts) on the roof, blasting leaves away. During a recent cleaning effort, I had made my way towards what I think of as the “back” of the roof (because it is furthest from the ladder). A spiky tree has grown over the gutter in that section, and in order to keep my feet on the bolts I had to push my way through it, a rather unpleasant experience while wearing shorts. I was revving the leaf blower as I went, and came across what I thought was a particularly stubborn clump of leaves. I vroomed the blower loudly at the clump, until a bird suddenly flew away, revealing a nest with some tiny baby birds staring up at me. I immediately took my finger off the trigger, feeling terrible – the birds were awfully small and scrawny, although they did have feathers. I backed away and waited for a bit, but the mother didn’t immediately return. It didn’t seem ideal that there was a bird nest in the gutter, but there didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it – if I moved the nest, the mother might abandon it, and any place that I put the nest would no doubt make the babies vulnerable to predators.

I moved to the other side of the roof and cleared out the rest of the gutters, leaving the nest in place. During the process, I finally found the willie wagtail nest which has been causing the resident willie wagtails to aggressively and noisily attack every large bird in the vicinity of the house – it is perched precariously up on the TV antennae. (It’s still there, and the willie wagtails continue to be very territorial, including towards any humans who wish to use the washing line.)

Once I was off the roof, the mother bird returned to the nest, and I was relieved that all seemed to be well. I took some photos from the ground, and consulted our bird book to discover it was a common bronzewing (a -you will be surprised to hear this – very common pigeon).

Unfortunately a couple of weeks after I blasted the poor bronzewing, we had rather a lot of rain. The first couple of days, the bronzewing was bedraggled but still in place on the nest. However after that, the gutter was empty. It seems likely that the volume of water rushing along the gutter disintegrated the nest, and I need to get back up on the roof soon to check whether there’s any sad little corpses that need removal. Given that I was trying to avoid our water supply flowing over dead leaves on the way to the tank, stopping the water from flowing over any dead birds would also be a fine goal to achieve.

Black Bean Brownies

I tried this recipe as part of my “Lunchbox Treats with Something Extra” experiment – that is, baking sweet treats for the kids’ lunchboxes that aren’t too high in sugar and include veggies (or in this case, beans for extra protein) – and it was a resounding success. I know baked goods with beans sometimes have a slight bean flavour, but the cocoa in these brownies truly completely overwhelms the flavour of the black beans. My children were very sceptical when they helped me make them and saw the beans being whizzed up in the blender, but they loved the end result.

You can replace the coffee with any other liquid – water or milk or tea – but the coffee does help emphasise the chocolate flavour. I made a pot of coffee in the morning then made these brownies, adding a little coffee from the pot as I went. You could also make up a tiny bit of instant coffee if you’re not a brewed coffee drinker.

Recipe from Gluten Free on a Shoestring

400g can black beans (these are often in the Mexican food section of the supermarket rather than the canned veggies section)
2 eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tsps vanilla extract
2 tblsp coffee
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips and a few extra for sprinkling on top

Grease and line a 20cm square cake tin with baking paper. Pre-heat your oven to 160C.

Drain and rinse the beans, then pop them into a blender or food processor. Add the eggs, oil, vanilla and coffee, then whizz away until reasonably smooth. You’ll look at the weird chopped up skins of the black beans and think “my kids are definitely going to notice those in the brownies.” But trust me! They won’t.

In a large bowl, whisk together the cocoa, baking soda, salt and brown sugar – the lazy/clever person’s version of sifting. Pour in your blended bean mixture and mix together until well combined. Stir in the chocolate chips, saving a few for sprinkling on top.

Pour the mixture into your lined cake tin, and sprinkle your remaining chocolate chips on the top. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the top feels springy and a skewer comes out clean. Let cool completely before removing from the tin and slicing into squares (or fiddly little rectangles if you’re me and you have to try and fit things into the compartments of a Yumbox lunchbox – which I mostly love, but occasionally wish the snack compartments were a little wider).

Everything I’ve learned about hermit crabs

One day last year, my son came home from school and said he’d had a relief teacher who had told the class all about her pet hermit crabs. He proceeded to tell me all about pet hermit crabs, and showed me a list he’d written down of the things you need to house pet hermit crabs. I said that was all very interesting and if he still felt strongly about the matter at his next birthday, we could get some hermit crabs to keep in his old fish tank. Months passed, his level of enthusiasm remained high, and for his birthday we took him to the pet shop to buy two hermit crabs (as they like company), and various branded hermit crab accoutrements.

Hermit crabs sold as pets in Australia are Coenobita variabilis, a native Australian land hermit crab. They live in northern tropical parts of Australia, so they like a warm habitat. Generally they’re kept in dry fish tanks, with containers of fresh water for them to drink, and salt water to splash in.

Above is a picture of our tank right after we bought the two crabs, Nippy and Scratcher. This is what tanks look like if you buy the pet shop basics – it’s a bit of a grim sight. After I took this photo, we added sticks and rocks for climbing on, and I made the bedding a bit deeper using “play sand” purchased from Bunnings. Every time we added something new to the tank, the crabs came over and thoroughly inspected it – they really enjoy exploring new additions to their environment, and it’s fun to rearrange items and occasionally add new things in to give them a bit of a thrill.

Nippy and Scratcher were fascinating little creatures, and it was really fun watching them exploring around their tank, burrowing in the sand and climbing out precariously on sticks. However, about a month after we got them, I inspected the tank and made a rather horrifying discovery – a lone crab leg was lying on the sand and Nippy was wandering around the tank looking suspiciously well and happy. I felt that ominous sinking sensation that occurs when you realise you’re going to have to tell your child that one of their pets has died. I poked around in the sand, uncovering a mostly empty shell with the remainder of Scratcher in it, and tried to think about the nicest way to tell Edward “I think one of your crabs ate the other one.”

If you google “why did my hermit crab die”, you get any number of results assuring you that your hermit crab is probably not dead, it’s just moulting, as moulting hermit crabs don’t move and appear to be dead. You should never on any account actually inspect your hermit crab to check if it’s dead, the websites said sternly, because you might hurt it. Does anything smell like it’s rotting? No? Well your hermit crab is probably just fine, and you should treat it as if it’s still alive. I decided a dismembered leg was good enough evidence that Scratcher was no longer alive, and removed the remnants of his corpse from the tank.

I broke the news of Scratcher’s death, and spent a few days doing a lot more reading about hermit crabs and all the ways they can die. I decided I’d done two things wrong that probably led to Scratcher’s untimely death. Firstly, hermit crabs can only breathe in high humidity – that’s part of the reason why they need dishes of water and a heat pad under their tank. We didn’t have any indicator of the humidity level in the tank, hadn’t been spraying it with water, and it’d been winter (albeit a sub-tropical winter). It was possible the humidity in the tank had been too low. Secondly, when hermit crabs moult they can’t move (hence the whole “are they dead/are they alive” dilemma that hermit crab owners face) and are unable to defend themselves – they bury themselves to protect themselves during the moulting process. While I’d added enough substrate for the crabs to fully cover themselves, it wouldn’t have been enough to defend Scratcher from a curious Nippy.

A possible thirdly was the fact that the branded crab accessories we had were all peeling – the brightly coloured shells and water containers were shedding paint, and I wondered if this might have been poisonous if ingested. I don’t think this is actually the case, however in future I avoided brightly painted accessories and shells to avoid more peeling paint.

Back to the drawing board for the tank (or “crabitat” as hermit crab owners very cutely call it). I made a much deeper substrate/bedding area, coming about a third of the way up the tank – this is a combination of the “play sand” and coconut coir. Bunnings (and other gardening stores) stock bricks of pure coconut coir – both this and the sand are much more cost effective than the tiny bags of “hermit crab bedding” sold at pet shops. You just need to ensure that you are buying pure coconut coir with no added fertiliser. (Bunnings sell bricks labelled as “garden soil”, which are fine to use – the bricks labelled “feed and mulch” have additives.) I broke off part of the block of coconut coir, soak it in water, then mixed it with the sand until I had a nice consistency – around 2/3 sand and 1/3 coir.

On top of the bedding, I put some new netting for climbing, a coconut shell house for hiding in, some more spare shells (unpainted ones this time), two gauges for temperature and humidity, and finally – and a new crab, Outy. A bit later, I put up a “moss pit” – this is a suction cup soap holder stuck to the tank, and filled with sphagnum moss (you can buy blocks of this at gardening shops). Nippy and Outy were thrilled with their new tank decor and had a lovely time thoroughly exploring, and hurling moss about the tank. (Well I presume that’s what they were doing at night when I’d find the moss pit emptied in the morning, and moss strewn around everywhere).

Everything went well for a couple of weeks, and then first Nippy, then Outy, disappeared. I confidently announced that they were taking advantage of their lovely deep substrate and were moulting. I kept changing the water and food, awaiting their return. After a couple of weeks, Outy reemerged for a few days, then disappeared again. More weeks went by. “They’re not very interesting pets, are they?” my brother commented, surveying the empty tank. I became convinced that both crabs were dead – around two months had passed since I’d seen Nippy, and there were no signs of life. Refreshing the water bowls began to feel like a bit of a pointless endeavour.

As the end of the year approached, I told Edward that after Christmas we should probably have a dig around to try and find the crabs, as I suspected they might be dead. He solemnly agreed. Nippy and Outy were apparently listening to me, and accordingly on Boxing Day they triumphantly re-emerged, back from the dead, clambering around the tank as if nothing had happened.

I am hoping that soon they may like to shift out of their garish painted and branded shells and move into some of the slightly larger natural shells scattered temptingly around their tank. It is nice to have them back from their long absence, and according to The Internet, they will probably not moult again for at least another year. Soon we shall rearrange their tank to keep their minds – although surely hermit crabs must have rather small brains – happily occupied with interesting new things.

Zesty Lemon Muffins

What I want most from a lemon muffin, or cake, is plenty of bitey zesty lemon-ness, and these muffins are just perfect. They have a delightful zing from all the lemon zest, and then the addition of lemon syrup poured over the warm muffins gives them the perfect extra lemony twist. The recipe is mostly this one from the Kitchn.

2 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 lemons
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil, such as rice bran
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1/2 cup caster sugar (for the syrup)

Zest the three lemons, then juice enough of them to get 1/2 cup of juice. Set the lemon juice aside.

Pre-heat your oven to 190C (or 170C fan-forced). Grease your muffin tin (as syrup get drizzled over the muffins at the end, it is better to bake them directly into a greased tin than use liners, as the liners will get soaked with syrup).

In a decent sized bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, oil and vanilla essence. Make a well in the flour bowl, pour in the wet mixture, and gently fold together until just combined.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin tin, and bake for 20 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

While the muffins are baking, put the lemon juice and additional 1/2 cup of sugar into a small saucepan and boil briskly for 5 minutes, then take off the heat.

When the muffins come out of the oven, leave them in the tin and poke them all over with a skewer or fork. With a spoon, slowly drizzle the lemon syrup over the muffins – you’ll need to go quite slowly in order for the syrup to absorb, however if it pools a little in the muffin tin, it will soak into the sides perfectly well. Let the muffins cool in the tin, then remove and enjoy their delightful zestyness.

In the dry


It is a very dry spring. Distant fires have burned for weeks, and each week I look eagerly at the weather forecast, hoping that a 20% chance of rain due in days might gradually increase.

The lower dam has dried up. Vivid green grasses and moss are growing in the damp dirt that remains, forming a circle around the bare patch where the last traces of water disappeared a week ago. Deep cracks have formed in the dry mud. The upper dam still holds a little water, but it is the lowest it has ever been in our 12 years living here.


Recently we have had evenings where the air has been thick with smoke from fires, the sun a violent and vivid orange as it approaches the horizon, glowering through the murky air. The humidity is low, the days so hot and dry that you can take washing in a couple of hours after hanging it out.


I saw this koala moving across the ground from the verandah. Squinting at it without my glasses on, I initially thought it was a small dog, but quickly realised my mistake. It climbed a small tree next to the lower dam, and stayed still as we tiptoed closer for a look. Later in the day it moved to a higher tree, comfortably nestled in a crook between two branches, and stayed for a couple of days before moving on during the night. I keep gazing up into the trees each morning to see if it has returned, but I suspect it was moving through the area looking for a mate, and has now journeyed onwards.

Weighted blanket


Frances is not what I would call a gifted sleeper, even though she is now over three and a half, an age at which I think children really should get the hang of sleeping on their own for long periods. It feels good! Why don’t they want to feel good! What apparently makes Frances feel good is lying on top of me on her stomach, her head pressed uncomfortably right up under my chin. She’s like a weighted blanket, if weighted blankets had limbs and tried to pinch the skin of your upper arms and sniffed loudly trying to clear their congested nose. Both the kids have had one of those mild yet irritating “runny nose for weeks” things. I’ve had so much more sleep since weaning Frances, but in the absence of breastfeeding it seems she’s just come up with any number of annoying “going to sleep” habits.

She finds pinching the skin of my upper arms soothing. I would personally love to know why she has chosen one of the most irritating fucking things in the world to do in order to feel soothed. She slowly and sneakily moves her fingers to the skin of my upper arms as she starts to fall asleep (to “roll” the skin, not pinch, she claims – “I’m just rolling it!”, like who could possibly object to that), and in response I clamp her hand underneath my arm and snarl “don’t touch my arm”, my version of a calming lullaby.

I roll her off me once she’s fallen asleep and sneak out of her room. Then later, if the moon is waxing and the wind is blowing from the east (that is, for any number of completely inconceivable reasons) she finds it hard to sleep, and she cries until I come into her room, and then occasionally wakes during the rest of the night to clamber on top of me in order to drop off to sleep again. This is, as you can imagine, not very conducive to a deep sleep on my part.

I recently went away and slept the entire night without interruption, which was just so gloriously restful. It eased my concern that the children had entirely broken my ability to sleep an entire 8 hours without waking up multiple times. I write this because I know that in several years, in my wonderful future full of nights of long deep sleeps, I will read it back and enjoy the feeling of marveling at my rotten daughter and her bedtime battles. “I’m just rolling it!”

A few weeks after writing this – Frances actually slept through the night a couple of nights ago. I am tamping down my near-hysterical joy at this development and hoping she does it again soon.

Well-behaved ducklings


On a recent visit to Mum’s Daintree property, we spent some time in the afternoon sitting in the bird hide next to the main wetland watching the radjah shelducks go about their business. One of them stood guard, standing on the edge of the water looking outwards, while the ducklings stayed hidden in some reeds. The other duck joined the first, and off they flew together. Parental abandonment! The ducklings stayed well hidden for the twenty minutes their parents were away – occasionally standing up and getting themselves re-seated more comfortably, but mostly being the most well-behaved ducklings you could hope for. Mum and I were most fascinated by this, and speculated how on earth the parents impress upon the ducklings the importance of not emerging from the reeds until their return. If my children were ducklings they would no doubt get themselves eaten by an eel the minute my back was turned.

The adults flew back in, and then both stood around as the ducklings tidily trotted down and stood in a line on the water’s edge, poking about and finding things to nibble on. The adults stood watch, and when a magpie goose came over to bother them – quite unnecessarily and rudely, we thought – they loudly yelled and moved the ducklings away swiftly to another area. This impressive work is no doubt why they still have seven ducklings of their original eight hatchlings.

Meanwhile the magpie geese goslings were far more undisciplined. The little threesome moved across the pond cheeping away constantly – looking far too big and ungainly to still be cheep-cheep-cheeping in such a babyish way – and the various adults that make up their family group followed them, a couple posted around on other banks and up trees as look-outs. The goslings seemed to tootle along in a very carefree manner, while the adults puttered after them making sure all was well. There was none of the attentive discipline of the shelduck family. The benefits of sharing childcare responsibilities in a large family group. Cheep-cheep-cheeping without a care in the world.

(Mum wrote about these birds in a much more well-informed way here, along with photos).


Midnight reveries

An old piece I found – I think I wrote it when Frances was around 4 months old.

I lie in the dark next to the baby watching her face. We’re lying on the floor of her bedroom on a single mattress, and she is snuggled up against my side. The room is dimly lit by an ancient iPhone plugged into a speaker dock, which plays a two hour track of rain falling on an endless loop. We originally used the iPhone and the rain track for her brother, and when she was first born I didn’t bother to resurrect it. Months later, I set it up again. White noise is one of the first things you try when your baby starts sleeping like crap, an essential element of the equation for seeking sleep. Be lulled by the sound of the rain, little baby.

She is not lulled. She moves restlessly from side to side. I’m tired but can’t fall asleep, and I regret my decision to make a coffee mid-afternoon. I’m always tempted, knowing it will carry me through the dinner and bedtime routine, but then it makes me too restless to go to sleep. I watch her face in the dull light. Her arms swing up and she rubs at her eyes, makes a grizzling sound. I feed her again and she quickly sinks down into deeper sleep, pushing against my side. It’s uncomfortable, but I don’t want to shift around and wake her yet again. I position a pillow next to the side of the bed to try and prevent her rolling off and onto the rug. This is not always a successful strategy, and sometimes I wake to a soft thump and a cry of startled surprise.

When she was still swaddled for sleep, she was like a neat little burrito, taking up very little room in the bed. Freed, she sprawls, rolling from side to side, spreading out her arms luxuriantly. It is much less comfortable trying to sleep next to her now.

Shortly after this, I switched the single mattress to a much larger mattress on the floor, and felt a bit less frustrated. Three years later, I am still woken in the middle of the night by wails of “Muuummy” and I go and collapse on the mattress and feel envious of all the people I know whose children just sleep. Reading this back though, it feels sweetly nostalgic rather than exhausting, and no doubt I will feel the same about memories of the ridiculous floor mattress in… two, three years time? God, I hope my children are sleeping through the night by then. 

Camping at Tumbledown Nature Refuge

We had experienced our most stressful travelling day before arriving at Tumbledown Nature Refuge. One of the kids was feverish and unhappy, and a vital part had fallen off our rented camper trailer while driving over the Main Range, which meant that we had to frantically find an RV supply store for a replacement so that we could inflate the camper to sleep in. Consequently we were all feeling slightly frazzled as we drove through Stanthorpe and out towards Greenlands, where we had booked a campsite at Tumbledown Nature Refuge.

As we drove slowly down the 1.5km driveway, deep into the heart of the property, I felt myself relax. Our campsite, Quoll’s Hideaway, was nestled in the bush, past the dam. When we arrived, a little basket with homegrown herbs and fruit awaited us, atop a treasure chest of thoughtful items just in case we’d forgotten something, and a map of walks on the property. Log seating encircled the fire pit, and neatly stacked piles of firewood and kindling were nearby for our use.

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A path with a sign pointing to the “Thunderbox” leads to a sweet little shelter which contains a marvellous composting toilet, ingeniously built into a wheelie bin, and a camp shower you can fill with water. Signposted walking paths tempted us to explore. A short walk around the dam from our campsite led to the homestead, and its neighbouring building containing a camp kitchen, a solar-heated shower, and another composting toilet.

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Jayn, the owner of Tumbledown, has built all of the structures on the property, including the homestead and a delightful little log cabin. She is a thoughtful host, happy to assist with anything we needed. She clearly puts so much thought and work into her management of Tumbledown, and learning more about her custodianship of the land makes the property seem even more special.

48288484617_adc904e729_kThere are 12kms of bushwalking tracks over Tumbledown Nature Refuge, and we only explored a few of them. We followed the Granite Walk one afternoon, which is marked by a mixture of tree markers, and stone cairns where the track goes across slabs of granite. Edward really enjoyed this experience of finding and following the trail, and eagerly became our trail leader, leading us past stunning views and winding through the trees. We felt like we were the only people in the world – the only sounds that of the birds, the wind, and our footsteps (and less idyllically, Frances occasionally grizzling in my ear that she was tired, even though I carried her the entire way).


Tumbledown is only a 20 minute drive from Stanthorpe, and it was the perfect base to explore some of the touristy delights of the area. We had planned to go into Girraween National Park, but we were enjoying exploring Tumbledown so much that we did more of that instead, to make the most of our time there. On our last evening we took the track to Sunset Rock and sat there with a drink, looking across to the sun setting behind the distant mountains, bathing us all in orange light. 

I cannot recommend Tumbledown Nature Refuge enough as a spectacular camping spot in the Stanthorpe area. It is a unique experience on a very special property, and is a showcase of the amazing forests in the Granite Belt area.  The Tumbledown homestead and the log cabin are also available to stay in, and next time we plan to hire the homestead for a quick weekend stay so that we can enjoy more of the area.

Tumbledown Nature Refuge doesn’t have an internet presence as yet, but you can contact Jayn on the details below to enquire about booking campsites, the homestead, or the log cabin.

tumbledowntumbledown log cabintumbledown homestead

In the rain

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We had been at the show for about 15 minutes when it started to drizzle. The Tamborine Mountain showgrounds are small, with one pavilion building and one arena; a nice size for making your way around slowly with kids. We had come prepared with a motley collection of raincoats and toddler sized snow jacket, and the rain did little to dampen our enthusiasm as we bought a jar of finger lime marmalade, and a packet of sweets, and watched a snake handler casually display a number of poisonous snakes, and talk about how he goes into anaphylactic shock when bitten. It has been so dry recently that any rain is an exciting novelty, even when it’s dripping down the back of your shirt.

I really love going to little country shows, even the expensive rides and the ridiculous games where you’re guaranteed to win a terrible prize which will fall apart 5 minutes after you receive it. I like walking around and looking at the exhibits, reading names and wondering about the identity of the people who have carefully put together the plate of French jellies (what on earth are French jellies) or a decorated set of commercial biscuits. The artwork is always an enjoyable mixture of the quite good and the rather terrible.

As it rained, a mist descended – the mountain no doubt covered in cloud from the perspective of the lowlands. We sat on wet seats and watched a car-pulling competition, with a good-natured selection of motley teams doing their best to haul a car the fastest over 20 metres, the wet ground causing its fair share of slips and falls.

The kids wanted to go on a deserted and soaking-wet bouncing castle, and they jumped around gleefully shrieking, clambering up the slippery ladder and hurtling down the slide into a puddle of water that had gathered at the bottom. They came off as thoroughly wet as if they’d jumped into a pool, hair dripping in their eyes, both talking at the same time. “Did you see me…” “Did you see when I…”

We drove home on the winding road, through thick patches of cloud, trees looming up dark and imposing on each side of the road against the whiteness, the occasional car’s headlights gleaming up through the mist. The rain had stopped, and the kids were damp and silent in the back seat, listening to the tyres swishing on the wet road.