Christmas, Customs, Curiosity

Christmas Tree Farm Pine Pagan History

Christmas in Australia is a Travel at Home experience, because almost all of the traditions surrounding the holiday have been transplanted from elsewhere. Roast dinners, images of snow-men and reindeer, songs about a “White Christmas” — all of these are incongruous to our experience of a sweltering, summertime, Christmas Down Under.

So it was in this spirit of doing something outside our normal reality that we decided to visit a Christmas Tree Farm in the lead-up to December 25.

The plantation was located on a bush road about 20 minutes from us, and it was immediately clear that the field of young pine trees did not match the towering, grey gums surrounding it.

Christmas Tree Farm Kids Discover Learn

We observed our surroundings and these differences together and set off to choose a tree under the scorching sun.

The farmer let the kids climb onto his ride-on mower and even hold the chain-saw. They watched, fixated, as he cut down our chosen tree.

Christmas Tree Tradition Farm Kids

It wasn’t especially big and we were relieved to discover that it fit into the back of the car. The tree immediately infused the vehicle with its fresh fragrance, and in the heat we knew it was imperative to get it into water before it “got dead” as the children so eloquently stated.

While driving home I admitted that I didn’t really know why people brought trees into their houses at Christmas time. Some research later revealed that the tradition has many different roots (so to speak!) and that many of them have nothing to do with Christmas.

Christmas Tree Children Learn History Culture Curious Help

Our outing was a fun diversion which got the kids thinking about cultural traditions, particularly since we undertook this activity the day after Chanukkah ended.

Christmas Tree Kids Unschool Science Historic Traditions

It was also a great chance to discuss similarities and differences, and be reminded about what plants need.

(The kids also took the opportunity to kick up a dust storm, and they drenched themselves while attempting to water the tree; full disclosure).

Christmas Tree Learn Science Culture Kids Tradition Religion

Our efforts to erect and decorate a traditional Christmas Tree were not immediately successful.

But as a way to engage curious kids in the world around them, it was a super undertaking.

Christmas Xmas Tree Curious Kids Learn


So Many Cherries Take You So Many Places

Cherries Cherry Recipes Traditional Travel at Home

It is cherry season and we are swamped with little, red flavour-bombs. Nobody here is complaining, although I do have to regularly check the carpet for spit out pips.

Cherry Tree Cherries Rosella Australian Bird

First, we discovered that one of the lovely blossom-trees that we can see from our sitting room window was bursting with cherries. It was the birds that alerted us, because the branches are a bit too high for easy picking.

Cherry Picking Children Learn Home Family Cherries Garden

Over a few days, we observed blackbirds and then rosellas having feathery feasts, and realised that if we waited another minute we would miss out, so we devised a system to gather some for ourselves.

Cherry Picking Season Summer Cherries Children Home Made

I climbed a ladder and bent a branch down to the children below, who happily grasped the tart fruit and collected them in a basket. There was no danger of the birds missing out; we simply couldn’t reach many.

Cherry Picking Slow Living Home Made Recipe Cherries Kids

Our cherries were not quite ripe and very sour so I bought a huge punnet from the green-grocer because we wanted to munch on the sweet stuff.

Cherry Recipes World Tree Picking Season

A few days later, family visiting from interstate chose to go cherry-picking as a day out together. This was a full-blown operation, involving buckets and scales. We laughed about how we would pay for the cherries; at first my little guys assumed the orchard-owners would count the cherries to determine the price.

Cherry Picking Vishnnyovka Children Farm Orchard Cherries 1

So now my kitchen is overflowing with these juicy treasures! I left the ones from our garden out to ripen for a few days and investigated some recipe ideas. Cherries feature in the traditional cuisine of many cultures, notably in Central and Eastern Europe, and there are lovely recipes online including some for the Romanian Cherry Brandy called Vişinată or a similar Russian version called Vishnnyovka. There are also great blog posts showing how to make Polish Cherry Cake or the famous German Black Forest Cake.

Chery Traditional Vishnnyovka Sugar Jar Home Made Recipe

Many of the recipes have ties to the holidays that happen at this time of year, even though our seasons do not coincide: that’s because often they require the addition of cherries that have been allowed to ferment or “pickle” in brandy or vodka for about six months before being used in Christmas or Chanukah recipes.

Home Made Cherry Visinata Vishniak Season Jar

Most of our cherries are disappearing as snacks but in addition to the sour home-grown ones that I am trying to ferment in a jar of sugar, I attempted my own version of a tart with a nutty-crumble topping. I happened to have walnuts in the shell from the farmers market, so I roughly ground those and added some for texture. I relied mostly on the cherries themselves for sweetness. Serve it with cream or maybe some quark, this tart is yummy and satisfying.

Cherry Crumble Pie Recipe Fresh Tart Whole Foods

Here is what I did:


Cherry Nut-Crumble Tart


500g cherries (about 2.5 cups), measured and then pitted

1 or 2 sheets of short crust pastry from the freezer


For the crumble topping:

1/2 cup freshly crushed walnuts

3/4 cup of almond and quinoa meal

1 cup of wholemeal flour

1/2 cup of brown sugar

150g butter, room temperature

1TB Golden syup or honey


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Stir the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the butter and honey, then combine until you have a crumbly mixture (I used my hands). Grease a tart pan and line it with the pastry. I needed the second sheet of pastry because one was not big enough. Spread the pitted cherries around the bottom of the pastry, then press the nutty crumble mixture in around and over the cherries, leaving some peeking through to look delicious. We used the rest of the second sheet of pastry to cut some heart decorations for the top of the tart. Bake for about 40 minutes. Serve with something creamy.

Cherry Pie Crumble Tart Seasonal Baking Recipe Wholemeal

Baby, You Can Drive My Car

children driving steering wheels wooden toy

Both of my young fellows are back-seat drivers and recently I had an idea to make them their own steering wheels, both for safety reasons and for fun.

Since they upgraded to their “bigger kid” car seats I have had to regularly tell them to sit back, because they enjoy gripping the back of the seats in front of them as they pretend to control the vehicle. I hear the kids chattering away behind me about how they are participating in a race, rushing in an emergency vehicle or leaning to take a turn on a motorbike. Rather than continuously reprimanding my children for not sitting properly, I decided to encourage the imaginative play by making it possible for them to “drive” while safely strapped in.

kid craft make steering wheel

This was the thriftiest possible project. I found the wooden plates for twenty cents each at the local second-hand shop and I simply used a large nail to hammer a hole through the centre.

children home made steering wheels paint craft make car steering wheel easy craft kids

Once the holes were done, I set about painting some “steering wheels” based on pictures I found on the internet. It took me quite a while to complete them, from start to finish, because I simply added a layer of paint and detail whenever I had a chance and hid them away to dry; I wanted the finished products to be a surprise for the kids.

easy fun craft car drive children kids

When I was happy with my final paint work, I strung the wheels to the back of the car seats using elastic.

back seat drivers steering wheel car kids

I made large knots on the front and then pulled the ends through the hole to the back. Couldn’t be simpler.

kids driving steering wheels wooden hand made

The kids are utterly rapt with their new steering wheels. Funnily enough, there is now very little chatter from the back seat when we drive, and when I glance at them in the rear-view mirror I see very serious faces. They concentrate! They really drive along with me, turning their wheels at corners and watching for obstacles on the straight stretches.

It took me some time and effort to make these steering wheels, but these simple home-made playthings really fit into the category of cheap thrills.

twins back seat drivers kids make car wheels



Travel on the Page: “La Vie Est Belle” by Henrietta Heald

La Vie Est Belle Henrietta Heald Travel at Home

Books have the magical power to transport us almost anywhere and while it goes without saying that words are vehicles for the imagination, beautiful photographs can give our hearts a lift too. In particular, I adore cook books written about regional cuisines because they often contain more than just pictures of food on a plate.

Certainly, I should be learning a few culinary skills from these books, but I am most often guilty of just browsing and dreaming of eating in faraway places. A book that doesn’t focus entirely on the food, but explores various ways of experiencing another culture — including its cuisine — seems like a fantastic idea to me.

A lovely book by Henrietta Heald, La Vie Est Belle, does just that. Filled with photographs of light-washed farms, Parisian pied-à-terres, and country “brocante” stalls, the book reinforces a Francophile’s dreams while providing recipes, stories and travel tips. With information about traditions and insights into French culture and habits, La Vie Est Belle is a travel-at-home experience to keep on your bookshelf.

The mouth-watering photograps of ‘tarte tatin’ in the pages inspired me to make a cheat’s version of this classic French dessert. (By the way, did you know that you can still stay or eat at the Hotel Tatin where the famous upside-down cake was accidentally created in the 1880s by the Tatin sisters?)

Tarte Tatin Apple Easy Cheats La Vie Est Belle Travel

I simply peeled and sliced some apples, then cooked them in a shallow pan with butter and brown sugar until the whole lot caramelised in the most delectable and fragrant way. I spooned this mixture into some pre-prepared (read: shop-bought) pastry that I had placed into small metal baking dishes then baked the tarts for about 20 minutes. Note: if you try this you should definitely learn from my mistake and line the dishes with baking paper; the whole thing becomes very sticky.

So easy and utterly delicious. Probably scandalous.

Tarte Tatin Apple Easy Recipe Many Cha Cha Travel at Home

The Day My Kids Became Free-Rein Pharaohs

Pharaoh Mask Egyptian Ancient Craft Children Kindergarten

My children are fascinated with the imagery of ancient Egypt, and one afternoon they asked if they could be Pharaohs. They seemed a bit surprised when I responded with a bright “yes!” and immediately set them to work making masks.

We started with an image search, an activity which has become a regular starting point when we have questions about the world. It was great to gain some shape and colour inspiration, but I didn’t see any need to provide complicated explanations about mummification or ancient history. Pharaohs are the “kings” of the pyramids in Egypt and that’s enough for three-year-olds, I think.

Pharaoh Mask Craft World Kids Activity Travel at Home

Our supplies for the project were: stiff white cardboard saved from a box (because I am that kind of hoarder), poster paint, gold glitter glue and some hat elastic. Each child had his own requirements for his mask: one wanted peep-eyes only and the other wanted his whole face to show. I drew and cut out the mask outlines, we mixed some appropriate colours and then the kids had free rein to design their mask however they liked.

Pharoah Mask Children Craft Paint Activity Egypt Learn World

This project provided an example of why it is best to let go of control. It would have been easy for me to try and dictate how a pharaoh should look, particularly when one of the boys basically painted his mask black. I was itching to tell him to do this and add that… but once the paint was dry and he added the gold glitter glue, his mask looked incredible and I was so glad I held my tongue. He was also pretty proud of it.

The other kid often spends more time mixing colours, for the fun of the experiment, than he does painting. In this case, he ended up with gorgeous turquoisey-teals that were entirely in keeping with the colours of a jewel-encrusted sarcophagus.

Pharoah Mask Egyptian Culture Craft Children Kindergarten

This was a quick and easy activity but it provided heaps of fuel for conversations, and the outcomes were clearly satisfying for the kids because they achieved something lovely on their own terms.

Pharaoh Mask Ancient Egypt Kids Child Craft Culture Activity