Mindfulness, Fathering and Blue Gloop

Took manhoovers junior (mj) to his new kinder information night last week. It’s just a short stroll down the road and despite it being on past his bedtime (7pm), we thought it was important that he be an integral part of this transitional time.

So off we went on our little adventure down the street, hiding from monsters, dodging aliens and avoiding dragons on the way (mental note: must inform the authorities about the vast number of sharp toothed beings that seem to inhabit our immediate locale. It’s not going to do house resale prices any favors)

Still, we arrived safely, introduced ourselves, signed the various forms that one expects at these types of things and that was it. We could have headed off home 3 minutes later, and in my past life as a self grasping, self involved individual, we probably would, with me dragging the little one out of there, despite all the toys laid out, the highly trained kinder teachers just waiting to impart knowledge and the fact that the evening was actually ALL ABOUT him, not me…

So we stayed, for nearly 2 hours.

We read books together, played with homemade gloop and sludge, and created a city with a friendly (but misunderstood) dragon that insisted on wanting to ride in the back of Barbie’s cabriolet.

I assisted mj to dress as a princess, with a delightful little lilac fur number and matching brooch. The princess then ensured that all was well in the city through an accomplished ‘dragon whispering’ practice that would have made Cesar Milan swell with pride.


Following the taming of an otherwise unruly beast was the making of ‘fruit and custard’ with gloop (apparently made from Lux flakes and water, with food colouring).

We whisked, spooned, ladled, forked, cupped and handled this stuff until it was up to our elbows and we both smelled as if we had been on a 40 degree fast spin cotton cycle.


So, the moral of this story…

Well, not a moral as such, more of an interesting and worthwhile lesson for me, really.

I’ve been doing a bit of reading about mindfulness recently, and more importantly, trying to practice it in my daily life. The books I’ve been reading are written by Dr Russ Harris, an English psycho-therapist who writes about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in an accessible and easy to read way.

He describes mindfulness as “a mental state of openness, awareness and focus“. I see it as being fully committed to the task at hand – actively listening to people and fully engaging in whatever you’re doing at the time.

Part of my commitment to myself in attempting to be a ‘better’ Father (whatever ‘better’ means, of course!) is to be more involved in mj’s imaginative play. Not to feel self conscious by fighting a dragon in the corner of a room or by chauffeuring Barbie across the carpet in a hot pink 4WD. Not to feel childish or immature by running up the street whilst being chased by laser wielding aliens or singing ‘We’re going on a bear hunt‘ as we skip through the woods.

I’m not sure who gained more from that evening at kinder, I reckon we both came out of it with a positive outlook and mj will associate happy times with his new kinder.

Have a super weekend!



The Cider Drink Rules

Now that the weather is heating up and ’tis the season to be jolly, I thought I’d write up a post on a refreshing drink that’s making a bit of a comeback, namely cider. The days of sitting on park benches, sharing a bottle of Strongbow or White Lightning, although not over, are joined by a growing number of boutique cider manufacturers. It makes a nice change from beer, is more refreshing than wine and the acidic finish cuts through the greasy snag or burger that inhabit the BBQ at this time of year.

However, as is becoming a recurring theme in this blog, the cost of these fancy ciders with unpronounceable Scandinavian names is quite prohibitive and what’s more fun and money saving than making your own…


If you are familiar with, or a friend / family member makes their own beer or wine, then you can probably borrow the hardware you need for this recipe, essentially a fermenting bin, bottles to store the cider and the necessary cleaning and sterilising agents.

You’ll need:

1 Brigalow Cider Kit (Big W, around $13)
3 tins pear juice (supermarket, around $8)
4 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, quartered ($2)
1kg brewing sugar (Big W, around $4)
3 cinnamon sticks ($2)

Essentially, you put all the above ingredients into a fermenting bin, using some hot water from the kettle to ensure everything is dissolved. Top up to around 20 litres with cool water. Sprinkle the yeast that came with the cider kit on the top of the liquid.

Forget about it for a couple of weeks.

You then need to get hold of some bottles. Again, if you have a friend that homebrews, they can assist, otherwise, Big W sell boxes of Coopers PET bottles in boxes of 24(?) for around $20.

Fill each bottle not quite to the top and drop in 1 carbonation drop (basically a sugar drop that enables your cider to become carbonated)

Store somewhere cool and dark for a minimum of 2 months.

Serve chilled, with friends and some barbecued chicken breast or salmon steaks.

So, excluding hardware, you’ll get the equivalent of 2 slabs of great cider, for around $30.

Experiment with different flavors – strawberries, peach nectar etc.


If the above method all seems a bit time consuming, difficult and reminds you of secondary school chemistry, then this is for you.

Go to this website and have a look at the kits they sell.

Quite simply, you buy one of the 3 litre fruit juices from the supermarket. You want the ones from the drinks aisles, not the refrigerator. I use the Coles home brand apple juice, 3 litres for about $3.50.

Bring said bottle of juice home, drink about 1/2 cup of the juice and pour about 1/2 cup sugar into the bottle. Sprinkle 1/2 capful of the yeast that comes with the OzTops kit into the juice and replace the lid with one of the special lids that comes with the kits.

Store for a week or so.

Put in fridge. Drink.

How easy is that? The apple and blackcurrant juice turns out well, too.

Just make sure the kids know that the apple juice in the fridge is actually mummy/daddy’s falling over water, not their fruit juice for breakfast!

The joy of CH3COOH

In an earlier post, I alluded to my new found love – CH3COOH, or Vinegar. Balsamic or Brown, apple cider or rice wine, I have a love of the sour stuff. What other foodstuff can be a salad dressing one day and a fabric conditioner the next? A hugely important ingredient in a good hot vindaloo, then a cheap and cheerful surface cleanser. It truly is wonderful stuff.

My favorite vinegar, heathen that I am, is good old white. 2litres for just over a dollar at a well known supermarket that rhymes with ‘moles’, how can you go wrong? Just the smell of the stuff has my saliva producing buds going ten to the dozen and wandering off to the nearest fish and chip shop.

However, the main point of this post is not to wax lyrical on French dressings or hot chip accompaniments. It’s to let you know, if you didn’t already, of all the wonderful household tasks that can be completed using vinegar, with nary a chemical in sight and a wee bit of money left over for a tipple of your choice…

We started exploring the whole ‘non chemical’ cleaning world when MJ (manhoovers junior) was spending most of the day crawling on the floor, licking the furniture and eating suspect items under the fridge. Come to think of it, he’s 4 now and still engages in at least two of those… We wanted a host of non chemical cleaners, and whilst you can purchase those ‘environmentally friendly’ products, I’m sure they’re not safe enough to eat, and besides, they can get a bit exxy, even if the dolphins are thanking us.

So, a quick list of what we use vinegar for at our place, a bit of a science lesson and some links to interesting reading:


Get yourself one of those bottles with a trigger spray, fill it half with vinegar and half with plain old water. You’ve now got yourself a pretty powerful disinfectant. I use it for surfaces, toilets, wooden floors, children…

If your washing machine has a separate fabric conditioner section, try vinegar next time. It DOES NOT make your clothes smell of vinegar and it helps keep the internals of your machine clean. Apparently it also assists with getting rid of strong perfume smells on your clothes, and helps makes towels more absorbent.

We’ve been using vinegar as a rinse aid in the dishwasher for a year or so, as well as the ‘half tablet’ approach (see previous post). I have noticed NO difference compared to Finish rinse aid, and there are no chemicals coating your dishes. And same as above, it helps keep the internals of your dishwasher clean. No need to buy those dishwasher cleaner things that appear to be the same cost as saffron wrapped in printer cartridge ink. The effectiveness of vinegar as a rinse aid does appear to be linked to the hardness of your water, so give it a few tries before you dismiss it. If you notice water spots on your crockery, your water may be too hard and you’ll need to use commercial rinse aids.

Spray vinegar on your cooktop, range hood or other really greasy area and then sprinkle bicarb on it. Marvel at the foaming white goodness, as it eats away at your baked on grime!


Vinegar is a weak acetic acid (about a pH of 2-3). Combine this, with its anti microbial properties, and you have a great surface cleaner. It’s non toxic, doesn’t damage your skin (so no need to wear those rubber gloves that make your hands smell like a gimps armpit) and of course it doesn’t matter if your offspring licks the area that has been cleaned!


There is loads of stuff on the intertubes about vinegar, but here are a couple of useful places to start:

Vinegar works wonders – general hints about using vinegar

1001 uses for white vinegar – as it says!

The Vinegar Institute – yes, I had no idea such a thing existed either, but there you go!

Do you have any uses for vinegar that you’d like to share? If so, get commenting!


An enlightened manhoover

Around 6 months ago, i started going to Buddhism and meditation classes at my local neighborhood house. I had always thought of meditation as ‘new age stuff’, that only the likes of Sting and Bono would be involved in, but began to awaken to the fact that my abilities to relate to and deal with the stresses in my life, just weren’t cutting it anymore. My previous methodologies, (much to my wife’s chagrin), were to not talk about a problem (go into my cave, as Dr John Gray would call it) or ignore it and hope it went away.

These methods can work reasonably well when you’re single, living by yourself and only have one person to worry about. But when you have a family, the stubborn ‘i am an island’ approach, tends not to be so well received.

The more i attempted to control external factors in my life – job, relationships, finances etc., the less in control i became, and the less i wanted to talk about it. Vicious circle…

So, during a sojourn to the local library, i noticed an advert for Buddhism classes, and thought that it was worth a shot. After all, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got…

So, fast forward 6 months >>>>

° The couple of hours i spend each week listening to dharma teachings, meditating in a group setting and discussing issues with like minded folk are really valuable to me. I thoroughly look forward to learning something new, a different way of looking at life and better ways of dealing with the everyday stresses we all experience

° Incorporating a sitting meditation into your day, even just 30 minutes in silence, on your own, can be really difficult if you’ve a family. I have downloaded some simple guided meditations onto my phone and listen to them if I’m out for a walk, at the shops etc. This is known as walking meditation and is recommended as a way of incorporating some peace into an otherwise busy schedule.

° Some of the Buddhist literature can be quite heavy. If like me you’re more attuned to reading James Patterson, rather than Sanskrit texts, you could do much worse than reading this, and adopting just one of the suggestions each week, making a determined effort to focus on that in order to improve your, and others, lives

Whilst i am a long way from reaching the stage of enlightenment, i have really fallen for the calmness and kindness that Buddhism exudes, although showing love for all living beings can be testing when the slugs are eating your bok choi.

If you’re interested in finding out more for yourself, there are local drop in classes around Melbourne, have a look here for information. They also run in other major towns and cities, so have a look in the interwebs for more info.

Have a super weekend!


The modern day Op Shop

In between foraging for edible weeds, vacuuming and other riveting household chores, I volunteer at a well known chain of op shops.

Back when I were a young lad, op shops were not a place you wanted to be seen by your friends, as it would be all round school that you were a ‘bin scab’. Nowadays, however, scoring a vintage/retro find at your local oppy is something to be proud of, they have become a new source of cool for fashionistas from Frankston to Brunswick and everywhere in between.

However, with this new found status comes a downside. Are the op shops of today actually supporting and helping the very people they were initially created to assist?

As I was pricing some clothing last week, I noticed an A3 poster attached to the table at which I was working. On it was a list of every designer clothing brand that you could think of. From Armani to Zoo York, the store is expected to increase the price of those goods, compared to a similar product from Target or K Mart. When I saw this, my 2 brain cells rubbed together, and began to question the morality of this procedure. Surely the initial purchaser of the product has already paid the premium attached to a designer product? If it is donated, in good faith, to assist those in our society who need extra assistance, is it ethically right to continue putting a significant markup on the product, compared to a ‘lesser’ brand? How can a product that is deemed to be ‘better’, by virtue of the name on the label, continue to be more expensive when it was donated at the same time as the one from a chain store?

I understand that of course the sales generated by the store will make their way through the grinding wheels of charity and hopefully assist the people that need help most, but over priced Tommy Hilfiger shirts, that STILL can’t be purchased by those in need, doesn’t actually help the man on the street, in need of clothes today.

Most of the brands in the store, of course, aren’t high fashion. They are mainly the standard surf brands, fitness brands and chain store brands. But even within these names, there is a league table. A Nike shirt has more kudos than a Slazenger one. Quiksilver boardies will be more sought after than Body Glove. A Sportsgirl shirt is a good find, but trumped by an Esprit one. So even when faced with ‘normal’ clothing, the ‘nicer’ brands still scream “See, even when we’re cheaper you can’t afford us. Go find the Best & Less aisle”.

I was arranging the men’s suits in the store the other day. Having purchased suits in the past, i do know how much they are in the shops. Picking up a decent one for less than $500 is a fair challenge. In my local op shop, there were suits ranging from $50 – $129, depending on condition, and of course, brand. In my naive opinion, how do these prices help a bloke who is struggling to pay the bills, turn up in a presentable manner at a job interview?

Don’t get me started on the sought after homewares. You know, the stuff that is always tagged with retro or vintage in the eBay adverts. I can kinda get my head around that stuff being more expensive than its less expensive brethren, after all, no-one really needs a 1984 Tupperware water jug, when a plastic one from Target does exactly the same job, and of course, we can use exactly the same argument for expensive v. less expensive clothing. No-one needs a brand name shirt, but I do feel for the kids that pick clothes off the rack, only to be told by mum that she can’t afford it, just because the jeans have a fancy name on the back pocket.

So, what do you think? Are op shops pricing out the vulnerable and in need, or is it good marketing by the charities?

Let me know your thoughts


Scottish frugality #1

So you may be aware that the Scots have a dreadfully unfair reputation as a race that is tighter (with money) than a ducks ars#.

As much as i would like to say that this is completely undeserved, i have been known to secrete 5c coins away in the hope that they will reproduce 50c pieces, and i do get a recurring sharp pain in the wallet area when the family shower more often than once every other day…. it all costs money, people… 🙂

So, when i was put in charge of all things domestic, i took it upon myself to ‘rationalise the use of available resources’, as Qantas would say…

So, in a new series of blog posts, based on the theme of Scots being tightars#s, here’s a few suggestions to stretch that dollar/pound/Euro a bit further…

1. We have a dishwasher. And a small child. As such, it is used at least once a day. We use these tablets, from a supermarket that rhymes with ‘moles’


It turns out that you can cut them in half (the tablets, not the moles) with a sharp knife, and there is NO depreciation in the quality of the washed dishes, when only using half a tablet.  Hey presto, at least $10 saved, which equals a reasonable bottle of NZ Sauvignon Blanc.

2. On the theme of dishwashers, have you tried using vinegar as the rinse aid liquid? No? Then give it a go. No chemicals on your washed dishes, and depending on the hardness of your water, there may be no discernible difference.  Maybe a nice Pinot Noir, this time…

3. And on the theme of vinegar, i will write a more comprehensive post on this wonderful nectar, but you can also use it as a surface cleaner, fabric conditioner in the washing machine and it even tastes pretty good on a fried blue grenadier with minimum chips.

Have a great weekend, y’all.


Cup Day Dinner

We all know that Melbourne Cup Day calls for some special food. Party pies, cheese kranskies and footy franks have been known to grace even the Emirates tent at Flemington, and what socialite hasn’t sipped a Becks whilst nibbling from a cheese and pineapple hedgehog?

Well, at the Manhoovers household, we’re trying to rely on the land a little more for our sustenance, rather than the local supermarket. Reducing our carbon footprint as well as the damage to the wallet, and enjoying the fine free food that there is in our local environment.

So with that introduction, I present to you the Melbourne Cup Day Dinner of 2012:

Plantain and mallow gnocchi with a walnut and rosemary sauce
Lemon sago pudding
Apple and Blackcurrant fruity punch


This is common plantain. Use the smaller, tender leaves. The older ones, like people, can become a little bitter…
We used mallow in the last post, so i won’t post another pic of that plant


Here’s my mallow and plantain leaves, ready for blanching.

So essentially, it’s a standard gnocchi recipe, with the addition of these greens. Blanch the greens for a couple of minutes in boiling water and then plunge straight into iced water, to retain the lovely green color


Add to your mashed potato, flour, egg yolks, salt and pepper and make into a dough


Break into sausage lengths, and then into bits about the size of your thumb. Press a fork into one side to create ripples. Apparently it allows the sauce to stick better…


Ready for boiling 🙂

The sauce was rosemary and mushroom in sour cream, with fresh parsley added at the last minute. Grated parmesan finishes it off.


I’ll write up a post later about the drink, but if you’re keen, have a look here, these things are fantastic for making easy ciders and wines. Great things.

Sago pudding, well, if you needed a recipe to take back to the mid 1980s, sago pudding would be it. Bringing back memories of school dinners, rampant bullying and pea shooters made from biro pens.

Dead easy to make, boil sago in water until cooked. Grab lemon from tree, squeeze into sago (zest too if you’re feeling groovy), add a couple of tablespoons of sugar and a blob of honey. Cool a little. Job done.

Get out there and go for a forage!