Monday, 21 December 2015

Birds need water in hot dry weather ~ in a safe place

At 35 degrees Celsius it has been very hot day and I noticed it was affecting the birds as well as me: they were regularly coming to their feeding dish on the balcony railing with their beaks open, hopping down to the larger terracotta dish of water which I keep nearby on the deck, and sipping from it before darting away.  They really needed that water and fortunately they knew it was there.  It gets quite a lot of use throughout the year but their use of it today seemed urgent.

Those two terracotta dishes have proved to be ideal for the birds and I highly recommend them: they are heavy enough not to blow away yet light enough to be easily lifted and washed.  Keeping bird dishes clean is important as birds are susceptible to disease like any other creature, and decaying food scraps and fouled water can be a source.  Also importantly they have rims on which the birds can comfortably perch.  

The photograph below was taken at quite a different time of year - in the depths of winter in fact, when the waxeyes were enjoying sugar water (a quarter of a cup of sugar to a cup of warm water) offered to help them through the frosty weather.  You can see how easily they perch on the rim of the dish.

The larger of the two terracotta dishes is perhaps two or three inches deep so holds plenty of water, more than is needed.  I keep the rounded stone in it simply because it pleases me as it serves no particular purpose.  

Both terracotta dishes were bought from garden centres where they are sold as plant saucers for outdoor pot plants.  (They are no good indoors as they are somewhat porous.) 

The deck and its railing are completely safe for the birds as they are well above ground level and there is no access for cats or dogs.  

The water feature shown below is not well placed for birds.  It is simply a glass lamp shade in which I have placed a number of small rocks and, while nice enough in its way, is too low and surrounded by too much greenery to be safe for the birds.  However, it provided a safe enough haven for the young fledgling blackbird when I took this photograph.  It sat perfectly still while it's mother called to it from the tree above. 

You can see what a thicket that dish is in at present.  To be safe for birds it needs to be raised quite a bit and the greenery cut back:

The birds shown in the photo below feeding on the rounds of tree truck were quite safe: there was plenty of room around it and it was of sufficient height that any cats attempting to sneak up on them would easily be spotted.  I later placed a terracotta dish of water in the same place. 

Birds are usually sensibly wary about their environment but at times seem to abandon their watchfulness like these two: far from suffering from the heat they were actually sunbathing!  I took this photo early in the morning.  You can see how dry the garden was at the time:

That summer was very hot and dry and I did a lot of watering.  I like to spray water up into the trees in such weather, to give them some relief.  It is also one way of rapidly cooling the air. One hot afternoon when I was doing this I found I was entertaining a flock of waxeyes: up in the trees the waxeyes fluttered about or simply sat there, obviously from choice so they must have been enjoying it! 

They enjoyed their shower, but most of all, birds, like any other creature, need water to drink - fresh, clean and cool.

My article about how to make birdbaths out of hypertufa can be found here:
My other articles about being in the garden can be found via the link below:

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Elderly and dependent ~ get that bed comfortable!

When my mother, Ellen, moved to the rest home where she now resides bedding was provided as expected, but seemed a rather odd and random selection.  The bedcover was pink, not her colour at all, and I wondered if she was warm enough.  This was the start of a bedding overhaul that took place over a number of months, and looking back I wonder how it took me so long to realise certain things and make the necessary improvements.

In common with many elderly people Ellen's sleep pattern has been fitful and poor.  Despite being weary and in need of sleep she is often awake in the night and restless, so it is vital that her bed is as comfortable as possible.   

Fortunately she already had her own pillows, but a lot else was needed.

I started out by buying a pretty and reasonably priced duvet cover and pillow slip and put her own duvet in it, which was an immediate improvement not only to her comfort but also to the look of her room which is both bedroom and sitting room.  

I asked Ellen whether the mattress was comfortable enough, and she remarked that is was rather hard.  Oh dear!  My first attempt to remedy this was to bring in her woolrest underlay, which has a soft woollen pile formed from tufts of wool anchored in a thick knitted backing fabric.  That was an improvement, but not sufficient. 

Off I went to Para Rubber in South Dunedin where I asked their advice about foam underlaysThey sold me this good quality 'convoluted' one which I see they call an 'overlay'.  It cost over $100 but proved to be well worth it. 

Convoluted mattress 'overlay' by Para Rubber

I brought it home and unpacked it so that I could leave it to air out of doors on a warm sunny day before taking it in to the rest home.  Once this was done I took it in, stripped off all the bedding, placed it on top of the mattress, covered it with the woolrest and made up the bed as usual.  It made a big difference: the day after I asked Ellen how she had slept, and she responded "I slept like a log".  That didn't continue, but shows what a physical relief it was to have sufficient cushioning on top of that very firm mattress.

I bought a pretty corn-coloured bedspread which I thought would brighten up the room, but found that it was put away in the cupboard having been deemed an unecessary extra. 

I decided to put it to a different use, and when another member of the family produced a good quality sheet she had no use for and which combined well with it I set to work to make a duvet cover and pillow slip set.  It worked out well and is now a favourite:

I used the contrasting sheet for the reverse side of the duvet cover and pillow slips and from it formed a turnback edge on the upper edge of the duvet cover, where I know from experience the most wear occurs.  The pillow slips can be used with either side uppermost, with the corn-coloured side being perhaps more suitable for during the day when the bedroom is effectively also a sitting room.  Here they are with the top one reversed:

A soft mohair blanket was sought out for prettiness and light snuggly comfort.  After trawling the internet I discovered that Masterweave's Windermere range is the one to look for in New Zealand and that Arthur Barnett's (now trading as H and J Smith) was a stockist.  I chose a beautiful blue one for Ellen, but did admire the soft browns and cream of this alpaca throw

This was all satisfactory and added greatly to Ellen's comfort and the elegance of her room.  However, I still hadn't got her a nice set of sheets.  All the ones that had been in use when she was living in her own home were decidedly worn so no longer suitable.  The ones provided by the rest home were okay but not as nice as I wanted her to have.  One day when I was going through piles of old bed linen from Ellen's house one of my sisters happened to mention that Ellen had preferred flanelette sheets.  I was pleased to know this as Ellen hadn't thought to mention it, and I hadn't thought to ask.

For those who haven't come across flannelette fabric it is pure cotton and a little fluffy from being brushed, or at least it is when new.  Sheets are cosy and comfortable and I wondered why I hadn't thought of this before.  In these days of cut-price cheaply made imported goods flannelette, like everything else, comes in all different grades and it's very hard to know which ones are any good, but the labelling should give clues as to thread counts, and when closely examined it may be possible to see whether the fabric is reasonably closely woven and firm.  Lighter, softer and more loosely woven flannelette is unlikely to last as long; and the pile of poorly woven fabric 'pills' (rub into tiny balls) very rapidly.  I managed to find some that looked satisfactory at Farmers and bought two pairs, which proved to be good and have been in use ever since.  They are just as comfortable in summer as in winter and indeed can be just the thing when the weather is so hot that one throws off other bedding.  Annoyingly these are commonly regarded as winter bed linen so are not likely to be stocked by many shops at other times of the year.  

Every item of personally owned bedding has to be name labelled, just like everything else.  Even so it's very easy for these to be mislaid in the rest home's big laundry so it helps if they are distinctive or if staff know to put them through with other personal washing.

One other bedding item needs to be mentioned: just as in hospitals, rest homes commonly put waterproof drawsheets on the bed of anyone who might have an incontinence problem.  Some of these can be uncomforable.  With two good sets of sheets available there is no reason at all for a drawsheet to be placed on top of the bottom sheet - it can go underneath it.  It is very surprising to have to explain this to staff, but may be necessary.  The comfort of the resident is what's important.

When Ellen was hospitalised a few months ago I was once more confronted by the uncomfortable bed situation in which there was a very hard utilitarian mattress and a complete absence of comfort in other bedding.  Now alert to these matters I noticed this the first day she was there and wondered how I could remedy the situation.  

After careful thought I brought in a double-sized duvet lined with a thick layer of dacron, and asked the help of the nurse on duty to help me put it on underneath the bottom sheet folded double.  We carefully rolled Ellen from one side to the other so that we could do this without getting her out of bed.  I had also brought in her special mohair blanket.  This was an immediate improvement.  She was having a terrible ordeal with her illness and every small degree of comfort helped.  She asked for her special yellow duvet and pillows to be brought in as well.  I checked with the doctor that this would be okay, and he heartily endorsed the suggestion.  The doctor said that the familiarity of her own bedding would provide much needed reassurance during her ordeal and so would be helpful to her.  As I expected to be there a lot during her stay there I wasn't unduly concerned that anything would go missing.  All items were of course already name labelled.    

Two other items were to be very much needed during Ellen's stay in hospital: these were eye shades and ear plugs.  The barrage of the noise and glare of hospital wards is an ordeal in itself.  At one stage Ellen, who was upset and confused as well as ill, said to me "Can you turn those people down?", meaning that the volumn at which visitors of the woman in the bed opposite were talking amongst themselves was too much for her.  I went to find a nurse to ask if ear plugs could be provided.  They were.  Eye shades and ear plugs vary, so a set that are known to suit the individual are a "must have" for anyone going into hospital. 

In conclusion: I found it was necessary to revise everything to do with Ellen's bed and bedding, and in doing so to ask her questions, repeatedly over time in fact, to establish exactly what was and was not comfortable about her bed, what was working and what was not, and to find out what her preferences really are.

The need to ask questions, to be imaginative about what is needed, and to take time working out which solutions work best have been strong themes in my mother's care, along with the need to advocate on her behalf.  Like many other frail elderly people she does not necessarily articulate what's important to her, and without spending quiet time simply being with her over a lengthy period I wouldn't have known or even guessed many of the things I now know.  I've had to observe and listen and use my imagination in unexpected ways.

Patient, quiet and undemanding attentiveness can bring a rich harvest.  This exactly describes what my mother gave to me when I was growing up, which I took for granted and didn't really notice.  I realise this in a special way now that I am giving this back to her.  Through my own understanding the circle becomes complete.  I hope I can do my share in passing this on.

But understanding is of little value unless it leads to action, so I encourage you too, to get that bed comfortable, and may we all sleep well!

My other articles in the "Elderly and dependent" series can be found via the link below:

    Saturday, 19 December 2015

    Christmas ~ together time, the Five Hands of Giving, and other thoughts

    In previous years I've been more involved with Christmas preparations and thinking about what Christmas means to me.  This year my wish is simply to have a nice time with such members of the family who wish to share it with me and for it to take as little effort as possible.  We have largely set aside Christmas celebrations and gift exchanges and are focused on spending time together.  None of us ever knows what tomorrow will bring and we want to make the most of every day just as it comes. 

    My mother, Ellen, is elderly and frail.  She is resident in a rest home, and due to difficulties with wheelchair access at my place I suggested we take our Christmas meal to her.  This seems to be a happy solution, and the three of us who will be visiting are each making part of the meal. 

    I have got out the Christmas tree.  It could do with a few more decorations, but after wandering down a whole aisle of these in a big department store I decided that I would make do with those carefully stored from the past.  The ones in the shop all looked cheap and rubbishy - not even nice colours, and if I'm going to buy more I want them to be special and festive.  I am not going to waste precious time and energy looking around more shops.  

    In years gone by I've enjoyed working out a range of gifts.  I like the concept of The Five Hands of GivingThis includes gifts that are:
    • Hand made
    • Hand-me-down
    • Second hand
    • Helping hand (donate)
    • Hand-in-hand (spend time together)
    Giving in this way can take more time and effort than buying something from a shop and having it gift-wrapped, but in my view is way better value.  I've written about it here:

      I first came across this concept here:
      Gift wrapping is a festive part of the ritual of gift giving and adds lustre to the occasion.  I've shared some of my ideas here.  As you can see in the photographs newly purchased wrapping paper isn't nessarily a requirement:

      Since writing that article my preferences have simplified, and for the most part I now use tissue paper, coloured or plain, and bind the parcel up with ribbon.  In the past gold ribbon has been a favourite, but now I want something plainer and more natural.  After I've used up my big roll of gold ribbon I'll be looking for something plainer and in a natural fibre. 

      In New Zealand Christmas comes at a busy time of the year: it's summer, when schools and universities have closed their doors for the summer holidays, people are preparing for trips away, weeds in the garden are growing enormously, and summer fruit is beginning to ripen and need bottling.  A lot of people are tired, needing a break and are rushing about making all these preparations at once.   This is quite different from what goes on in the Northern hemisphere, where it coincides with the depths of winter.  All the bright lights and festivities are just the thing for the darkest time of the year.

      I've often thought it would make sense to have a festive mid-winter Christmas here, but each time the calendar has ticked round to that time of year I have found... that I just couldn't be bothered.  Rather disappointing but there it is. 

      A lot of people don't enjoy Christmas, but it's hard to opt out when family, friends and neighbours are all swarming around with what might be considered to be obligatory jollity.  What is that about really?  For those who do want to opt out and just have a normal day it's never quite normal.  I've tried this myself.  It helps to have a focus, something particular to do and to think about, even if it's quiet and solitary.  I've written about one such Christmas here:

      Late that day the weather put on a stupendous display, which, if I hadn't stirred myself to put on a raincoat and taken my camera out for a walk, I would have entirely missed! 

      Nice food can give the day distinction.  I don't have the time or energy for making elaborate food, so straightforward and tasty food is the order of the day.  

      My recipe for a Christmas cake stand-in can be found via the link below.  It is best made the day before, but is so simple that it requires very little effort.  It has only a small number of ingredients.

      On Christmas Day one of the dishes we are likely to take to the rest home is:

      The other dish we are likely to take is:

      That gooseberry shortcake is a favourite though, and it is exactly the season for it now that gooseberries are clustered thickly on their prickly branches and swelling every day.  My recipe is here:

      My other food recipes can be found via the link below:

      The neighbours' pohutukawa trees are budding up well.  Soon they will be clad in their glorious red flowers - now that's festive!  

      I wish you all a peaceful Christmas and good fortune in the year ahead.

      Sunday, 13 December 2015

      Whiten yellowed wool ~ with white vinegar

      If I hadn't seen it I wouldn't have believed it: white vinegar really does whiten yellowed wool, as you can see in the 'before' and 'after' photographs below.  The ingredients and method are simple, thrifty and effective.

      This dreadfully yellowed cami-top had been brand new just a week before - I had been so pleased to buy it for my mother.  The garment itself is a lovely merino wool which had been pale cream; the lacey overlay across the bodice is a stretchy synthetic, and discoloured perhaps only marginally.  How could this have happened?  Exposure to sunlight while drying, hot water and hot tumble drying, even general aging, can all cause this sort of yellowing in wool and silk. 

      What had happened in this instance was that staff at the rest home where my mother now resides had put it through with the general wash.  This means hot water and then the heat of tumble drying.  I was so annoyed and wondered if it was a complete disaster or if something could be done about it.  At least shrinkage was minimal.

      Labels on the bleach and laundry detergents I had to hand stated firmly that they were not suitable for soaking wool or silk.  A scout around the internet produced instructions for using white vinegar, which seemed safe enough, so I decided to give it a go, and was delighted to find that it works!  

      Using the suggested ratio I adapted the method so that I could simply put the garment in a bucket of cool or tepid water and white vinegar and leave it to soak.  The first soaking was very effective but some slight uneveness of the cream remained so I repeated the process.  The result was a great success as can be seen below: the creaminess of the lace is now matched by that of the wool, and the garment looks exactly as it should!

      The ratio of white vinegar to water used is as follows:
      • For about half a bucket:
        • 3 litres of water - cool or tepid
        • three quarters of a cup of white vinegar.
      •   For smaller amounts the same ratio of vinegar to water is
        • 1 cup of water - 250 mls - cool or tepid
        • 1 Tablespoon of white vinegar - 15 mls

      The article I worked from, which suggests a slightly different method, can be found here:
      My other articles about housekeeping can be found here:
      My articles in the series 'Elderly and dependent' can be found here:

      Sunday, 6 December 2015

      Salad delectation ~ capsicum, cucumber, tomato, mint and cheese

      This really is one of the nicest salad combinations I know, as well as being easy and packed with the goodness of summer veggies.

      It's great to have cucumbers available again.  I love capsicum too, but find it's more digestible if cooked, so the beautiful orange capsicum you see in the photograph has been lightly baked.  Other ingredients are raw.  I devised this salad at the suggestion of a friend who said that Israeli friends of his had introduced him to it.  I don't know how closely my combination resembles theirs but the result is certainly mouth-wateringly delicious as well as satisfying.  And what a feast for the eyes as well!

      The full list of ingredients is as follows:  I haven't given quantities as you'll know what looks right to you.
      • Capsicum - chopped and baked for ten or so minutes in a little melted butter and lightly salted
      • Cucumber - chopped.  I peel mine, but probably not necessary to do so.
      • Tomatoes - chopped
      • Cheese, finely chopped, of whatever sort strikes your fancy.  I use Edam, which is low fat, or feta, which is salty and a delicious contrast to the mild fresh crunch of the vegetables.
      • Mint leaves, plenty of them, finely chopped 
      • Cider vinegar and vegetable oil in small and equal amounts, just sufficient to toss the other ingredients.  When I made salad for three I used a teaspoon of each.
      • Salt, a small amount for seasoning. 

      This salad combines particularly well with felafels.  My recipe for these tasty savouries can be found here:

      To find my other recipes and articles about food you can click on the link below:

      Mosgiel Shoe and Leather Repairs ~ my personal recommendation ~

      'Mosgiel Shoe and Leather Repairs' is firmly on my list of important service providers, and I highly recommend it.  I have an orthotic raise on one of my shoes, which has been a source of difficulty and frustration over the years, restricting my choice of footwear and the raise often seeming disappointingly obvious.  Not any more - I wish I had known about this place years ago!  The work I've had done there is the best I've come across, and the charge relatively modest.

      Other people I know are cottoning on and presenting their own shoes for more ordinary repairs.  Thoughtful advice has been given and repairs made with unusual finesse.  

      With good footwear the problem is often that the soles, or part of the soles, wear out before the uppers, so what can be done?  A friend of mine had this problem with a much loved pair of shoes which looked likely to have to go in the rubbish.  I suggested she take them in and at least ask for an opinion.  The result is that they have been beautifully re-soled and look set to last for years yet. 

      I think that ideally, the way to get the most out of quality shoes is to get protective treads put on at the outset, so that when these get worn they can be replaced at a modest cost without affecting the structure of the original sole.  

      It's disappointing that over the last few decades the standard of footwear for sale in this country has declined and that shoes are not made here any more.  If it can be managed the investment of buying good quality footwear can be prove worthwhile over time, made possible by the expert maintenance provided by outlets like this one. 

      'Mosgiel Shoe and Leather Repairs' is situated on Gordon Road near the intersection of Bush and Factory Roads.  It's down an alleyway and occupies what used to be a bakery.  The entrance to this is almost opposite 'Shop on Taieri', another place I've recommended:

      To find my other articles about shopping and housekeeping you can click on the link below:

      Hot water for insect bites ~ get rid of that stinging itchiness!

      Insect bites from mosquitoes, sandflies, and fleas can be extremely sore, itchy and maddening.  Hot water really is the best way I have found to stop the itchiness and pain.

      Ouch!  Look at that redness!  My skin is sensitive and untended bites can drive me nuts!  I had left these two overnight, and would have been much more comfortable if I had attended to them as soon as I became aware of them.  Fortunately the treatment I describe here works just as well on old bites as on new ones.

      For this hot water treatment all you need is sufficiently hot water in a bowl - just as hot as you can stand it without flinching, a soft cloth to wet and apply it with, and a towel to pat it dry, so it's very cheap as well as effective.

      It may be hard to believe that this simple method works so well but I can assure you that in my experience it does.  In any case trying it out costs next to nothing so there is little too lose, but please don't overdo the heat of the water and hurt yourself!  Always apply the hot water with a cloth that is cool enough to comfortably handle!

      The method is so simple:
      • Heat your water, either in an electric kettle or pot.  
      • If boiled take it off the heat and allow it to cool somewhat so that you can comfortably squeeze your cloth in it.  Pouring it into a bowl or cup will help it cool sufficiently.
      • Put your cloth into it and squeeze it slightly so that water doesn't go everywhere!
      • Hold it on to the bitten area, until it has even slightly cooled.
      • Wet the cloth again and once more hold it on.  Keep up that heat!
      • Repeat this for about five minutes.  

      By that time the itch will probably be gone for good.  The redness and swelling may remain, but the itch is unlikely to return.  If it does, treat it again the same way.

      Having said that, it is not always convenient or even possible to do this.  For such times I also keep a tube of antihistamine ointment in the cupboard.  It's much less effective though, and requires repeated applications over a period of days.  

      When I have access to hot water and ten minutes or so to spare, the treatment described here is certainly the best I know. 

      To find my other articles about health and suggestions for the household medicine chest you can click on the link below: