Saturday, December 31, 2011

Tassie tan

I was never much of a beach goer in Sydney, but you can count on one hand the number of times I've had my legs out in public in Tasmania so far. This week the weather has been so warm I've had shorts on two days in a row! Today we waded in the lovely clear water at Kingston beach again with the dogs. Apologies to anyone who was momentarily blinded by my luminous white Tassie tan.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Huon Jet

We picked the perfect day today for a ride on the Huon Jet Boat. David gave me a voucher for my birthday. It was one of those things where we had driven past it on the Esplanade in Huonville so many times and said 'must go on that one day'. Owner John sure knows how to drive that thing. We narrowly dodged rocks and logs, flew over shallow rapids and did plenty of 360 degree spins. It was awesome fun.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Today's project

In return for butchering some of his trees, the energy company left a huge pile of mulch in our neighbour Nigel's driveway when they trimmed around the power lines recently. He kindly said we could help ourselves if we wanted any. So today David made a few trips over the road in the ride-on mower with trailer to collect a big pile of hardwood mulch, which I have spread out on top of cardboard around the apple crate vegetable beds. The idea is that it will be easier to keep the weeds down and hopefully David won't need to whipper snip the grass inside the vegetable garden anymore. As a bonus, it looks really nice too.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Made with mashed potato, topped with olive oil, sea salt, fresh thyme and oregano. It was meant to be a snack but was so tasty it ended up being dinner. And then breakfast this morning too.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Fun in the sun

On Christmas Eve we avoided the shops and headed for the doggie beach at Kingston. The dogs love it there. Even David and I went in the water... well, we waded in up past the knees anyway. We've had such beautiful weather over the Christmas break this year.


Monday, December 26, 2011

A very merry Christmas

Christmas Day was a whirlwind of friends, food and fun. We started by opening gifts from our family under the tree, moved on to brunch at the beautiful home below, followed by a lovely long lunch with great company at the newly completed masterpiece home of more friends. Luckily there was a break before dessert for a walk along the river and games on the oval. 'Rudolph' pictured here was a handmade Kris Kringle aka Secret Santa gift. There was no way I would have guessed what was inside that well wrapped present. We finished the day by dropping in on our neighbours who were enjoying a few drinks with family and friends on their new deck. Delicious food and great company, what more could we wish for. I hope you enjoyed a wonderful day too.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Don't count your chickens

On Monday night, 12 December, I put these 12 fertile eggs under one of our hens who had been spending most of the day sitting on the communal nest in the chook shed. It hasn't gone so well. At first, she didn't seem too pleased about being shut in a cage when her two friends were off free-ranging in the sun (and the pouring rain... not the brightest chooks). She was sitting on the eggs, but whenever I appeared in the shed she got off the eggs and squawked madly, most upset. Then she settled down happily spread out over the eggs for a few days.

Then one morning she flew out of the brooder box when I opened it to refresh the water. Had to catch her and put her back in. At that point I figured she was not so keen on being mother hen and kept a close eye on her to see that she was sitting on the eggs. Then she broke one of the eggs, and then another, which was difficult to clean up and the remaining eggs were looking pretty dirty. So last night I took the eggs, gently cleaned them and stuck them in an incubator borrowed from our neighbour Nigel. I don't hold out a lot of hope that any will hatch given the bumpy ride so far, but I'll keep turning them a couple of times a day just in case.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lazy Sunday afternoon

Late Sunday afternoons at the Franklin Tavern - otherwise known as 'Kon's pub' - are a relaxed and jovial affair with music by local duo Rumour. A friend is visiting us from Sydney for a few days, so we decided to have a few beers followed by pizza from Franklin Wood Fired Pizza and a walk along the river at Franklin. All up a pleasant end to a busy but fantastic weekend which included a housewarming, a Christmas party at a property right on the Huon River, the Huon Valley Growers and Makers Market, cleaning, mowing, shopping, cooking and generally too much eating and drinking. The festive season is in full swing.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tank water

OK, that's not the tank we drink out of, it's the small tank attached to our chook shed. In addition to this old slightly rusty tank, we also have a modern new one that holds approximately 40,000 litres, with a pump to bring the water to the house. The water that comes from our tap is pure, clean and tastes fantastic. I appreciate it most when I'm interstate for work and refill my plastic bottle from the tap in the hotel. Urgh.

Although Hobart is the second-driest capital city in Australia, we get a lot of rain at our place here in the Huon Valley. We have rainforest on our property to prove it, with huge man ferns, bright green moss and colourful fungi in autumn. It seems that as the weather moves in from the south west, the clouds dump all the rain on us as they come over the hill, then keep going. The opposite side of the river at Cradoc is very dry by comparison.

When we first moved here from Sydney with its water restrictions, we kept up the water saving techniques, like using a bucket to catch the water from the shower before it heats up, to use for dog drinking water and the garden... but pretty soon stopped that when we realised that our rainwater tank is constantly overflowing. If we do a few loads of washing one day, it's almost guaranteed that we'll get a downpour overnight and magically it is full again. Even having a few guests to stay hasn't put much of a dent in it. We're tempted to get a few more tanks and bottle the stuff... except that bottled water isn't so great for our environment.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Say 'sheep's cheese'

A home delivered Christmas hamper of sheep's milk cheese arrived today, purchased from Grandvewe Cheeses, for us to enjoy with visitors over the festive season. Yum. Amongst them is my favourite, the White Pearl fresh cheese marinated in lemon thyme and olive oil, and the very tasty Friesland Fog. Plus some whey liqueur which I have not tried before. For more details on Grandvewe (and why sheep's milk cheese is good for you!), check out my article on this Cradle Mountain & Tasmania travel guide.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Weekend chook shed project

On Saturday, it was time to clean out the chook shed. Our three hens are lucky enough to live in a solid old pickers hut that was on the property when we moved here. While the bunk beds were removed to make room for their roost, they still have a table and chairs, proper windows AND a kitchen sink in their house!

Using the 'deep litter' system (maintaining at least 6 inches or 15 cm of hay, straw or other bedding on the floor) seems to have worked really well. After nine months, it was surprisingly clean under all that hay, straw and grass. That said, we inhaled a lot of dust from the decomposed and finely shredded hay and straw in the shed as we removed it and piled it up as mulch around various trees around our place.

Then while I added compost to the vegetable beds and transplanted the tomatoes, David built a fantastic nest box inside the chook shed to house a broody hen. One of our girls has been spending most of the day on the nest (located in the cupboard under the sink) and we're going to try setting some fertile eggs under her. I don't hold out a lot of hope that it will work first go, but it's worth a shot. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rural services

We haven't had many problems with the lack of services up our road. By that I mean no post delivery, no garbage collection, no town water, no mains gas, no phone line. In fact in many ways I prefer it this way. It means we get to drink tank water and collect our mail from the nice people who run the local post office. Even taking our rubbish to the tip has its benefits. I instantly became much more conscious of what I could compost and buy without packaging to reduce our rubbish. Also, there's no garbage truck noise to disturb the peace at 6am.

However, yesterday morning's 'planned' power outage presented some small challenges. In the past, we have received a letter from Aurora Energy to say that the power would be out from, say, 9am until midday on a certain day, for repairs or upgrades. But this time, nothing. At 8.55am the power went out. Hmm. I called the service hotline five minutes later, to be told there was a 'planned' outage until 3pm due to tree trimming on our road. So with laptop battery power and wireless broadband I was able to keep working from home for a couple of hours, until my computer battery died and the mobile phone battery was about to go. The water pump wasn't working, so no tap water or flushing toilets. When we've had warning of outages before, we have filled some plastic containers with water and put the kettle on the gas stove for tea. So I decided to go and work from the internet cafe in Huonville... um, the truck is in the garage and the remote controlled door would need to be disengaged so I could get out. Sent a text to David who was at a customer site in Sandy Bay to explain why the garage would not open when he got home.

This morning, looking out the window I can see the workers chainsawing and mulching trees on our road and I'm wondering whether there is another 'planned' outage about to happen... at least today I am fully charged and better prepared!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Agrarian Experience

Our day at The Agrarian Kitchen today started with milking Pretty Girl the goat (for the elderflower and vanilla bean goats milk ice cream we made later on). We collected eggs and picked asparagus, herbs, rhubarb, strawberries, broad beans and spring onions. Rodney showed us tricks and techniques for everything from making pasta and Bearnaise sauce to peeling quail eggs. Magically the mess we made disappeared as the kitchen fairy (actually chef Rhys) whisked dishes away and ensured everything was ready for us. We chopped, peeled, whisked, folded, boiled, simmered, baked, grilled and served. Then we sat down and ate a meal so good we couldn't believe we'd made it. You can read all about The Agrarian Experience and the philosophy behind Severine and Rodney Dunn's farm-based cooking school on their web site, so I won't repeat it here. Suffice to say, if you get the chance, do it. We had a brilliant day.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Remote working

Whether you call it teleworking, work-from-home or remote working, that's what I've been doing for the past 18 months full-time. Before that, I used to work from home mostly two days a week and commute into the office on the other days. It took more than an hour on the bus in Sydney peak hour traffic, so including the walk/wait at each end, the trip took more than three hours a day. It was often stressful and a dreadful waste of time, except while I was studying, when the bus trip (provided I got a seat) was great for textbook reading.

I work as a regional director of PR for a US company in the technology industry. That means spending hours on the computer or phone, writing, talking with journalists, finding them information for their stories, arranging interviews with the company's spokespeople, promoting the company's expertise. I also manage a small team in Asia Pacific and Japan. I travel interstate to host journalists at the company's conferences and for leadership team meetings. This kind of work can be done from anywhere.

I consider myself very lucky to work for a company where this is normal. I have met colleagues who work from their home in the Arizona desert, on Vancouver Island in Canada, on Waiheke Island near Auckland, New Zealand, in Perth, Macau and on Scotland Island in Sydney. Everyone in the company has a notebook computer; there are no desktops. With the increase in fuel costs, traffic and natural and other disasters, I think this is a very smart move. In an emergency situation, almost the entire company can do their jobs from home. But even in a company with the technology set-up and culture and experience to support remote workers, being able to do so successfully is still dependent on having a supportive manager and management team, and I'm lucky in that regard too.

Personally, I like working from home. I can concentrate better on the task at hand, I'm in control of my own work environment (no beige cubicle for starters), I don't eavesdrop on everyone else's phone calls, I can stand up and wander around on the phone, the coffee is good (and cheaper), there's less wasted time. I can wear jeans every day. My desk has a nice view (see above). Sure, my social interaction mostly comes from Twitter, instant messenger and the dog, but that has its upsides to be honest!

However, there are things I need to do better:
  • Get out more. Late yesterday afternoon I drove into Hobart for networking drinks organised by the Public Relations Institute of Australia. It was the first time I had met other PR people in Tasmania. Some of these people are in the same situation as me. One suggested catching up for coffee in the new year, so I'll be following up on that idea. I go to local business dinners with David, put on by the Huon Valley Business Enterprise Centre, but there may be other networks that are useful. Also it means I put on a suit! And as much as I dislike being away, I also need to travel to see people more. Relationships are worth investing in.
  • Exercise. In Sydney I had regular appointments to train with the totally brilliant Wild Women on Top, and I always kept that commitment, rain, shine or headache. When working from home I walked the dog every afternoon. Here I have failed to keep any commitment made to myself to keep up the hiking training, and the dogs have a huge paddock to run around in. Sitting at a computer all day long is not doing me any good at all. To change this, I have to set a big hiking goal to train towards.
  • Webinars. I used to attend these more when I was in Sydney, and in the absence of PR colleagues to discuss ideas with, I found them a time-efficient way of thinking outside the day-to-day.
  • Weekly 'team' meeting. Or Friday drinks, like the office-dwellers do. David and I have a regular breakfast booked in at a local cafe, but I need to do a better job of actually using the time to discuss our work.
  • Keep more regular desk hours. With most of my team between one and eight hours behind me (and worse in summer), a lot of the email and calls fall late in the day my time. That's hard because I'd prefer to work early and finish before I am brain dead and inefficient. I don't have a good answer for this one yet. To be honest it was no different in Sydney.
There's more, but with this post I just wanted to share a bit of what it's like working remotely, the good and the bad. I'd love to hear about your experiences if you work from home too.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Views from Franklin

I've heard people say that you have to try pretty hard to find a home without a view in Tasmania. Certainly every time we visit friends in Franklin, I am struck by the different perspectives you get from different sides of the hill or road. All equally lovely, but framed differently by the home's windows and aspect. Here is the view from three different friends' homes on the hills above Franklin. Beautiful, aren't they?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bird nest fail

In addition to the highly unsuccessful pair of plovers at our place, this year the beautiful welcome swallows have so far failed to produce a single chick. They decided to build their fancy mud nest in the rafters of our garage. Not that we mind. Even with the mess they leave on the floor and occasionally the car windows. In the morning when we press the button on the remote, two high speed small aircraft shoot out of the hangar as the door opens.

The problem is that if we go out before it is dark and close the garage, the birds are trapped outside and can't get in to their nest. So this morning unfortunately we found the remains of two very young baby birds on the garage floor. Our guess is that they were left alone in there overnight and dead in the nest by the time the parents got back in the next morning. Today we also found a tiny spotted swallow egg wedged in behind a light fitting at the back of the house. While trapped outside, the birds liked to perch on the lights at night and laid it there instead of in the nest. So sad. Last year they managed to raise two lots of babies successfully, including one clutch with five chicks.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Snakes alive

Yesterday a courier showed up at our back door to collect a parcel, and told us he'd just seen a large snake at the bottom of our driveway. That's not surprising, as the past few days of lovely warm sunny weather would have brought them out to bask in the sun. But this news sent David out on the ride on mower to cut the grass in the front paddock. It's kept nice and short in the winter by the army of wallabies that gather there each night, but come spring, everything grows like crazy. David had already mowed inside the house paddock this week, but he didn't want the snakes in the longer grass outside the wallaby proof fence.

Neither of us are particularly worried by snakes, but we are worried about the dogs getting hold of one. I'm not keen on having a snake in the chook shed either. Doesn't the front paddock (our 'sprawling parklands') look great now?

I remember reading in a tourist guide before we moved here that 'there are only three kinds of snake in Tasmania - all venomous'. However, the good news is that they are all quite timid. You are unlikely to encounter a snake in the winter months. Snakes in Tasmania are generally active in the warmer months between October and March. The dark colour of most Tasmanian snakes is an adaptation to the cold climate, as it means they can absorb heat more quickly.

The smallest and least dangerous of the three varieties is the white-lipped snake, also known as the whip snake. They are greenish-grey or olive in colour and grow to around 40cm long. They are quite shy and feed mainly on small skinks. They are most often seen in grasslands or heath and on rocks. I once saw one sliding away through the rocks on the beach near Cockle Creek, where it had been sunning itself. David has seen one along the fence at home.

The lowland copperhead snake lives mainly in swampy or marshy areas where it feeds on frogs, lizards and smaller snakes. It reaches up to 1.5 metres in length. Unlike the tiger snake, it has a narrow pointed head and range from dark grey or black to copper or brick-red in colour, usually with a yellow-white underside and an orange or red streak along the sides. They are very shy and prefer to retreat when disturbed by humans. Copperheads are extremely venomous and capable of killing an adult, but the good news is that their fangs are relatively short, making their bite less effective. Thick socks and strong shoes or boots will provide some protection.

The tiger snake is the largest snake in Tasmania, reaching between one and two metres long. It is found in most habitats in Tasmania and mainly feeds on small mammals and birds. They are known to climb trees to reach bird nests, and so the alarm calls of birds in the area may alert you to their presence. It has a broad and blunt arrow shaped head and comes in so many colour variations that it is unwise to identify them this way. If threatened, a tiger snake will raise its head and may feign a strike, but like most snakes, they will not bite unless provoked. Their venom is highly toxic. We saw one recently on a walk to Billy Brown's Falls.

If you want a better idea of what these snakes look like, visit the Parks & Wildlife Service web site or check out the natural history section of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery for some safely stuffed examples.

A couple of months ago I did a St. John’s first aid course and the instructor, a paramedic of many years standing, reliably informed us that no-one has died from snakebite in Tasmania for around 40 years. I’ll take that as an encouraging sign.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ye Olde Oyster Cove Store

It's a bit of a drive from our place unfortunately, but if I'm in the area I always pop in to this gem of a store. Heading south from Hobart, Oyster Cove is between Snug and Kettering on the Channel Highway. You can pick up everything from local meats, cheese and wine to good quality organic fruit and vegetables to seedlings, straw, hay and mushroom compost for the garden.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Surprise salmon delivery

Last week I was at a work conference on the Gold Coast and a colleague who lives on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada was telling me about some of their local food specialties. One was a whole side of salmon cooked over a fire on a slab of freshly cut cedar. With all the great fresh salmon here in Tasmania, I thought that sounded like a good idea, and got to thinking about eating it again... then this evening a neighbour who works at the nearby fish farms dropped by with a whole gutted salmon for us, fresh from the Huon. How nice is that! He saves those that might otherwise be thrown away in the testing and quality control processes. I looked up an online video to work out how to fillet it, David sharpened a knife for me and I gave it a go. I left a little too much meat behind, but it wasn't too difficult. Below are the before and after shots. Now we have 2kg of boned, skinned salmon fillets to eat... who's coming over?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Garden inspiration

It has been a weekend of garden envy... oops I mean inspiration. On Saturday, a local garden enthusiast in the valley one road north of us opened his garden as a fundraiser for charity. Now I absolutely love a good stickybeak in other people's homes and gardens. I believe this condition is hereditary, my mum loves it too! So this was something I couldn't resist.

For a $5 donation, we wandered around admiring the beauty and the hard work that has gone into creating such a garden. In just 11 years, Rick (aged 73) has transformed abandoned pine forest, gorse, bare fields and thistle into a little oasis. There's a dam full of tadpoles and frogs, ponds with lilies, native and introduced trees like Canadian spruce, rhododendrons, roses, hollyhocks, plenty of quiet places to sit, sculptures of birds and Buddhas and the beginnings of a ferny glen with local giant manferns planted. Like all such gardens, it is a work in progress. But unlike other serious gardeners I have met, he had a healthy attitude regarding the success of plants - if they die, they weren't meant to be there. He does only minimal weeding.

Today's garden envy was entirely different. I attended a 'poultry breeding masterclass' at breeder Paul Healy's place in Judbury, a follow-up to the workshop I went to back in March. I didn't really take much of a look at his garden, but this one is not about aesthetics. It's all about plants with a purpose, food, herbs and organic insect control. He's currently writing a book about it. But what interested me more was the housing of his Barnevelder chooks. Everywhere I looked there were small innovations, the result of many years' experience, trial and error no doubt. I'm glad I went to the class today, it gave me more confidence in being able to breed and manage my own small flock of birds.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hurtling hens

I am constantly surprised by how much ground the chooks cover each day. One minute I see all three of them dashing about in the front paddock, the next, they're charging along the fence up behind the house, then out in the driveway pecking around the water tank. And when they spot me on the way to the hen house at dinner time, they sprint. I had no idea how active hens are. For some odd reason, I expected them to peck about quite sedately. Anyhow, I expect to learn a lot more about poultry on the weekend at a 'poultry breeding masterclass' with Paul Healy. I'm thinking about picking up a young cockerel for the girls... but I'll wait to see how I feel about that after the workshop.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Yukon here to stay

A different boat appeared recently in Franklin. We could see her tall masts as we drove down the hill towards the Huon. On the weekend we went down for a closer look. It turns out to be the Yukon, built in 1930 in Frederikshavn, Denmark, a private vessel on a round-the-world voyage... and according to their online logbook, the family has decided to break their journey for a year and stay here in Tasmania:
We have made no secret of the fact that Tassie has long held an interest for us, as an alternative to Denmark and it seems crazy to sail past it, especially when we have our sea-going home with us. Tasmania has an active wooden boat fraternity; this is partly due to the cooler climate. We found a good place for Yukon in the town of Franklin. Here is a boat school for wooden ships and the Wooden Boat Trust is also situated here. It’s a very friendly and active community. The boys’ school is in walking distance and our friends from the earlier years live just over the hill in Cygnet. 200 years ago people were sailed around the world to Van Diemen’s Land for doing something wrong. We fortunately stopped here by choice, to experience this lovely island.

It's quite a tale. Below are a couple of our photos, and the Franklin Marine blog has a photo of her arriving.