28 February 2013

Working at home

During the week a wonderful comment came in on the post about Kevin's Man Made Home. It was from rabidlittlehippy. I started writing a long response but then thought it was too long and I should make a post of it. The comment follows:

I'm a stay at home mum to 3 kids 4 and under and life can be very challenging sometimes. I've also battled with depression for most of my life and ante natal and post natal depression with my older 2 kids. I only share this for context. Since falling pregnant with my youngest who is now 18 months old I have finally found my niche. I am a homemaker and budding homesteader. Greening up our lives, making do, mending and doing without as well as "damning the man" by making at home as much as I possibly can (this is a learning curve and work in progress but we are getting there) and avoiding supermarkets wherever possible has become my life. We moved in December last year to our new home on 1/2 acre in rural Victoria and I realised on Sunday that I am actually happy. :) Not every moment is cotton wool and fluffy bunnies but the satisfaction I gain from baking my own sourdough bread, growing fruit and veggies (not much harvested this season but we've learned a lot) and I'm even learning to take satisfaction and pleasure from the most mundane and despised of tasks. There is incredible satisfaction in getting my overwhelmingly large pile of clean washing folded and put away or clearing the kitchen, even if it's just stacking the dirty dishes neatly. As much as I enjoyed my work before I had kids I am not planning to return any time soon as I thoroughly enjoy my slower life. I just hope we can one day be in a position that my husband can stay home with us whilst the kids are still young enough that we can all be happy together. :)

rabid, I sometimes go through a range of emotions when I read the comments people leave here. When I read your comment it was joy, and from "sunday" onwards, I smiled all the way to the end. I brought it over here so everyone can read it. Sometimes when I talk about happiness, I think many readers believe I'm smiling all through the day or that I have the most wonderful home life, or even that my expectation of happiness is so high, I trip over it.  But you know EXACTLY what I'm talking about. What you've described above is what I feel.

It's a feeling of low simmering contentment and fleeting happiness throughout the day. And it's brought about by the daily tasks I carry out every day. You're right, it's not all cotton wool and bunnies, it's satisfaction, self-reliance and doing the ordinary work of a simplified life that makes it so. When you go about housework by rushing through it, you don't feel this. The slowness of our days seems to magnify it, and makes it tangible.

Pure wool from my wonderful sponsor, Eco Yarns. Their new website is looking great.

Happiness is rarely one big thing, it's a hundred small fragments that come together to make what we feel. Those hundred things can be the tasks we carry almost every day, what we see around us, what we learn or simply knowing that our life is what we make it. Many others look at this life and shake their head in disbelief that anyone would want to make bread when you can buy it, or knit, or be made happy by folding clothes and stacking dishes. What they are seeing is the physical work carried out, but they don't understand that doing those things - knowing how to do them, having the time for them and being content to give that time brings about a level of satisfaction not much else can match. I'm sure there'll be readers wondering what I'm going on about just by writing that sentence. But you and I know. And that's enough.

This way of living gives you a real purpose. You feel that purpose when you know your house work is important and you know that by doing it you help make your home more sustainable. You take control of your domestic tasks, make menu plans, stockpile, work to a routine and a budget, you work with a purpose and to a plan. And during the day, while you're doing all the tasks that bring a family together by providing good food, clean clothes and comfy beds, happiness is always lurking. It's there for all of us, not just the mothers who stay at home; this is not tied to gender, marital status, or whether you live with two cats or ten children. It's there for all of us who work in our homes and love it.


26 February 2013

The best moist chocolate cake recipe

I'm going a bit bonkers. I woke up an hour ago, felt that I'd had a very restful sleep, lay there for a few minutes listening to the rain and got up. I had no idea what time it was but I didn't want to be late this morning, I have to go out later and have a few things to do before I go. I looked at the bedside clock in the darkness, it was 4.45. Damn, I'd slept in. Quietly I went into the bathroom, dressed and came to the computer to finish my blog. When sat down here, I looked at the clock, it was 1.50 am! I debated whether to go back to bed or not, so here I am up and wide awake two hours early.

I have an easy, frugal, vegetarian recipe for you today - stuffed sweet potato. It's delicious and I'm guesstimating that it cost less than four dollars to make for two people.

Start off by peeling the sweet potato and cutting them lengthwise - you want a larger piece and a small piece, about 2/3 and 1/3. Spray lightly with olive oil. Put them in an oven-proof dish and bake until they're just cooked, about 20 minutes.

When they're cooked, allow them to cool down enough for you to handle them and scoop out the middle of the larger piece, leaving nice, sturdy potato boats that will hold the filling. Add the smaller piece to the filling and mash it all together with a small knob of butter.

Have a look in the fridge and see what aged vegetables you have in there. If it's all fresh, that's even better. Take out what you want to use, chop it all up finely and mash it in with the sweet potato middles. I used red onion, celery, capsicum and corn. If you have people who just can't eat a meal without meat, add a small amount of cooked bacon or finely chopped chorizo. Pile the stuffing into the sweet potato boats, add a sprinkling of grated cheese and bake in a hot oven for about 15 minutes, or until the filling is cooked and the cheese melted.

Just so you're well aware that it's not all angels, love hearts and sweetness in my kitchen, here (below) is the beginning of the ugliest cake I've ever made. I made this on the same day I make my last batch of butter and cultured butter and I used the buttermilk as the liquid element in the cake. This is the recipe I used, the only change I made was I halved the sugar portion. I find North American recipes are far too sweet for my taste and even with one cup of sugar it was sweet enough. As you can see in the photo below, it looked good when the batter was poured into the cake tin.

When it was baked, there was a weird volcano-like lump on the top corner. Ahem. I thought I had some cream in the fridge, I didn't, so after I sliced the top off, I spread it thinly with some of the just made cultured butter and topped that with a spread of cherry jam. Finally, I iced it with a frosting made with icing sugar, cocoa, and the last of the buttermilk.

It was absolutely the worst looking cake I've ever made. 

It sat on the kitchen bench for a couple of hours and then we had a cup of tea and sliced off two portions. No matter what it looked like, we had to eat it. It was without doubt, the best chocolate cake I've . ever . tasted . in . my . life. The cake was richly moist and very chocolately, it wasn't too sweet and for some reason, the hodge-podge of fillings and frosting worked very well. It stayed moist for the four days it took us and our visitors to demolish it. I wish I had taken a photo of it when it was iced and ready to eat. It looked really terrible! Just goes to show that you can't judge a book by the cover. This recipe is now written out in long-hand in my Real Food recipe book. I encourage you to try it and I hope it looks better than mine did. My thanks to Jennifer at Foodess for sharing her recipe.


25 February 2013

Can it really be that simple?

On the weekend, me and my sister were talking about a TV program called Kevin's Man Made Home. Kevin McCloud from the Grand Designs program has this new show about building an off the grid shed in the woods in England. There's been a lot of debate about how self indulgent the project is, that it's not authentic and that building regulations would prevent most people building this way etc. etc. but I see the entire program from a different perspective. I'm interested in the happiness factor.

Of course this is not the first time such a social experiment has been done. I have this quote in my book, written by Henry David Thoreau, who did a similar thing. He went to live alone in the woods for two years on Walden Pond, USA, and then wrote this: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion."

At the beginning of the program, Kevin explains how work, stress, debt and traffic can make life difficult and miserable. He wants to see if living alone, slowing down, making the things he needs in a rural home will make him happier. I think it will and I'll be watching him as he goes about it to see what he does and how he feels at the end of it.

We can all do this. Not in the flamboyant way he is doing it but we can all slow down and take our time. I think that is one of the keys to happiness, or at least contentment. When I moved from working for pay to the domestic work I do now, I realised that slowing down, as difficult as it is at first, made me concentrate on what I was doing and live that moment. It made me look inward instead of outward. I stopped multi-tasking because I wanted to really experience what I was doing. The other key point is to find joy and happiness in your own life, and that includes the simple, small, ordinary, mundane things that go into day-to-day living, as well as the big things, the celebrations and the beauty that make us sing out loud.

The way modern life has evolved has turned many of us away from our homes, to focus on what is outside. We're told that we can rely on convenience and to buy everything we need, whether we can make it ourselves or not and whether we can afford it or not. To do that you have to work hard for a long time to pay for it. I'm not against hard work, in fact I think it plays a large part in defining who we are. I have always been a hard worker but now my work, if it defines who I am, tells me that my family and home life are paramount and that convenience, for the sake of it, makes no sense at all.  We are encouraged to work to pay for cheap products that break, for clothes that last only a year, for new technology that is quickly out of date. There is little encouragement to buy quality products that last, to look after what we have, to repair and mend, to make do with less.

I am happier now than I've ever been. I think part of that is that I know I can look after myself and my family. I am independent and self reliant and that gives me confidence to do whatever I want to do. All the domestic work we have done here has allowed us to built our relationship with this home and the land we live on. When you step back from it all and think about how you're living, it is very satisfying to know that we, anyone of us, can reduce the amount we need to live on, the junk we live with and the time we need to work for a living to pay for all of it.

I don't know what Kevin McCloud will discover in his quest for happiness. I do know it will be lurking there if he slows down, looks inward, makes as much as he can and connects with the work he does in that English woodland. Can it really be that simple?

Addition: The link in the first paragraph is to iView for Australian viewers. When I looked for international links to it, they were all copyrighted, so I couldn't check them out and therefore can't recommend them. Please google the name if you're not in Australia and want to watch it. If you have a weak stomach, you'd best not watch Kevin's Man Made Home because along with the innovation and all the building, there is a lot of human and animal waste.


22 February 2013

Weekend reading

Joel Salatin at Polyface Farm

Community by Design

Arm knitting - You Tube

Scientists urging to halve meat consumption

The Australian heatwave

Why drag it out?

Moist chocolate cake recipe

Lifemade creations


In  a special place

The Life of Clare

The Simple Life of Us

The seasons seem to be changing here a little earlier than usual. Autumn can't come fast enough for me. Autumn and winter are my favourite seasons. Wherever you are, I hope the weather is becoming a bit milder and if you have snow on the ground, I hope you'll see signs of new life there soon. 

Thank you for taking the time to comment this week. I really enjoy reading what you have to say. Enjoy the weekend. I'll see you again next week.

20 February 2013

Food gardening has the potential to save us all

The first of this season's vegetable seeds were planted in trays and then I stopped because of the rain. We had a drought in the last six months of last year, then all hell broke lose and since then we've had 1078mm/41 inches. About 275mm/5 inches of that fell yesterday. Now the seed trays are undercover because I don't want them to be wet for too long as this stage. Some seedlings are susceptible to damping off at this stage. So we have a tray of pak choi (they germinated in two days), Moneymaker tomatoes, pickling onions and curly kale, soon I'll plant up some sweet peas, and two large cherry tomatoes in pots. I'll need to made a trellis for them but I have the canes from next door's tall grass plant. I'm not sure what it's called but it's long and strong so that's all I need to know. A teepee of canes will hold them up nicely.

Hanno prepared one of the garden beds with manure and organic matter and he has another one dug over and weeded. When the rain stops, that will be were the root vegetables go as they don't like rich soil with manure. This year's root crop will be Derwent Globe beetroot, Chantenay carrots (sent by my good friend Sherri in Canada), Early Purple turnips, Gentle Giant radish and Miyashinge Daikon radish. We'll probably put in a few potatoes too. We eat celeriac, swede (rutabaga) and turnips but they don't grow well here so we'll continue to buy them. We want to put in climbing Lazy Housewife beans and dwarf beans at their base, along with some sugar snap peas. They'll have to wait for the rain to ease off too because they'll rot in the ground if the soil is too wet.

If you're keeping an eye on your money, the cheapest way to grow vegetables if to use heirloom seeds. Heirlooms come in a huge range of different vegetables and at the end of the season you can save the seeds from your best plants and keep them going the following year. If you do it right, you only have to buy one lot of seeds, not new seeds every year. This is how we all use to garden way back when. It's cheap using F1 or hybrid seeds too but you can't save those seeds for the following years. They won't grow true to type. If you can get your hands on heirloom seeds, you'll be on your way to some fine frugal vegetables.  If you happen to have seeds at home now and you're not sure if the seeds are alive, read this post I did a few years ago and test them for viability.

The best way to store seeds is to package them tightly in their own packet and put as many of the packs into a sealable jar as you can. Then place that in the fridge. They'll keep well for a few years. They'll also store well in the freezer but if you freeze them, do it in a plastic container.

The capsicums/peppers and chilli bushes are growing well and into that bed I think Hanno will add mushroom compost and manure and plant the Moneymakers I've just sown. He has planted two seedlings of Moneymaker that we bought at the market and hopefully they'll be producing fairly soon. What a disappointment the shop tomatoes are. When you're used to the freshest home grown produce, it's a big step down in quality when you have to buy weekly fruit and vegetables. A friend up the road, Fairy at Organised Castle blog rang to tell me she'd leave some Lebanese cucumber seedlings at the gate early Monday morning. Sure enough, they were there and survived sitting out in the rain nicely in their tray and plastic covering. That will save me sowing any cuc seeds and I'll have some to give to Sunny as well.

Our greens include silverbeet, sugarloaf cabbage, red cabbage, Lombok cabbage, Portuguese cabbage, the curly kale already planted and Great Lakes lettuce. It's really a cold climate lettuce but it does well enough here without developing the solid heart. I love it for its crispiness and sharp crunch.

This year's vegetable garden flowers include Queen Anne's lace - for attracting beneficial insects, nasturtiums - for salads, compost material and just for the sheer beauty of the flowers. I have a beautiful pale yellow type with a red centre called Peach Melba. It's so pretty. I still have calendulas in and hopefully some will self-seed as well, I'll have to keep an eye open for them because a certain over zealous gardener sometimes whips out self-sown plants along with the weeds.  I want to pot up a couple of hanging baskets too. I have Jolly Joker pansies and Alyssum Snow Cloth here so I think they'll look beautiful hanging off the side of the bush house. Later in the season, I'll plant up some sunflowers for the chooks and wild parrots.

If your sweet potato starts to sprout, allow the shoot to grow long, then plant them in the garden. You'll probably get a really good harvest.

After a lot of thought, we've changed the way we grow certain plants. Although we still grow tomatoes in the ground, and that is where you always get the best yield, we're also growing some in pots. With the weather so unpredictable, I want to be able to move some tomatoes so if there is a lot of rain we can have them under shelter, or a prolonged drought, we can easily keep the water up to them. I've also moved the thyme and oregano, both in pots, over to the bush house along with the potted blueberries. When the rain stops, I'll get out there, make a small ornamental garden on the corner of the bush house near the sand pit, and then scatter the potted plants around that new garden. It keeps them in one zone where I can keep and eye on them, they're sheltered during winter. I'll add a bit of colour to that zone by planting up a large pot of Sweet Peas - Galaxy, a scented pea. 

We have plenty of compost, straw, comfrey, seaweed extract, manures, water and enthusiasm and we're ready to go. It feels more important than ever to grow our own vegies this year. Food gardening has the potential to save us all so it's good you know how to do it, or you're learning how to. I know many of you join us every year in this journey into self-reliance and I'm guessing there are more and more new gardeners raising their first crops this year. No matter what category you fall into I hope you have a lot of fun in your garden, learn plenty and enjoy abundant harvests. If you need help with your planting and want to ask a question, we have a special section over at the Down to Earth forum. I drop in there most days and will answer questions but there are many excellent gardeners there who will be happy to help you along.


19 February 2013

We've given up work but we haven't given up working - UPDATED

I was asked by a reader the other day why I don't do more posts on budgeting and frugal living. There are three reasons: 
  1. The mindset of frugality is as important as how you spend your money. I think I could write about cutting back, paying off debt and wise economy until the cows came home but unless you really "get it" nothing much is going to change. 
  2. Budgeting and frugality are carried out in the context of each life. I understand fully how my own finances work. I know that by doing certain things, we can live well on our pensions and on what I earn and save money every week. While many of you would have budgets similar to ours, most people don't and I don't pretend to know what it's like in 2013 to rent a home, pay off a mortgage or be unemployed and desperately want a job
  3. There is a limit to how much I want to think about money.
Saving money is a life-long activity. While you're moving through life and paying off your home or rent, and all the other things we need through the years, you also need to make provision for your later life. It wasn't so long ago that life in retirement was very short. The idea of having a pension after the age of 60 or 65 came about when most people lived till they were about 70. Times have changed and it's becoming quite clear that most governments won't be able to pay the living costs of all their elderly citizen much longer.  I think that in Australia, when people start retiring after having worked their entire working life paying into a superannuation scheme (pension/401K), the government will start cutting back on age pensions.  Let's face it, many of us will live into our 80 and 90s, not the 70 year mark the pensions were meant to support. Compulsory superannuation was introduced into Australian workers' lives in 1992, so, in theory, all those people who started full time work after 1992 should have enough money on which to retire when they're 65 or 70. A lot of those funds are invested in the stock market. Of course, we all know that things don't always go according to plan. We're slowly emerging from the GFC which started in 2008. Self-funded retirees I know who thought they'd planned well and invested well via their superannuation fund, lost a lot of money in the stock market and ended up almost broke. Luckily Australia has the age pension which acts as a safety net for our citizens.

I don't think anyone should work until they drop but we all have to do our fair share of the work. It makes sense to me to work until you have enough on which to live then you stop paid work, whenever that may be. Our government is encouraging older Australian to work longer and put off retirement. From what I can tell when I ask around, my contemporaries tell me there are no jobs for older people and the jobs that are there always go to the younger folk.

In the past I've talked about a lot of ways to help cut back, pay off the mortgage and save enough for later life. I'm not going over it again because you either have the mind to do it or you don't. Me writing about it here on a continuing basis won't make anyone who is inclined to spend, pay off debt.

I will say though that if you do cut back, make do with what you have, develop a frugal mindset, be prepared to give up working for a living and then start working for a life, you might find yourself where Hanno and I are now.  We might have given up work but we haven't given up working. Not all work must be done in an office, a factory, a shop, a hospital, or a school. Many people make their living from home and even when they don't make as much money as they would working full time in their old job, they turn their backs on 2013 desires, have the time to grow food in the backyard, to shop for specials, to stockpile and cook from scratch. All those things help reduce the cost of living.

I have had some wonderful emails recently from young couples who have either just left the traditional workforce, or are about to. And please don't write in and tell me that if everyone did that the economy would collapse. I am so proud of those people who have confidence in their own abilities, who decide to step back from the mainstream and who believe in themselves and in how they want to live. I know it's not for everyone but for those who chose it, it's a wonderful and enriching way of living.

And after all that carry on above, if you were to ask me what my money advice is, it is this:
  • Buy only what you can afford to pay for in cash.
  • Have an emergency fund.
  • Forget about fashion, style and keeping up with the Joneses. The Joneses are probably up to their eyeballs in debt, and style and fashion as such fleeting, inconsequential things.
  • Stop watching advertising on TV.
  • Stop shopping online and in the shops.
  • Believe in yourself - you're probably much stronger than you think you are.
There were a few requests for the cinnamon rolls recipe so here is where I found it I didn't use their cream cheese icing though, my icing was a mixture of icing sugar, a little melted butter and lemon juice.


18 February 2013

Setting up your garden as a safe haven

Last week I wrote about vegetable garden preparation, maintenance and production but there are many other parts of gardens that are interesting enough to write about. All gardens are a complete little ecosystem and if you want to plant, make the area productive or just sit, you need to take in what goes on out there. Gardens are safe havens for birds, reptiles, spiders and insects. In suburbia, gardens provide useful watering holes, hollow spaces for living, shelter from the weather and hiding places from pets, other wildlife and people.

You can hardly see them here but there are two tiny finches drinking from this container we keep filled with water for the birds.
When Alex and Jamie first started walking, the backyard was where they both wanted to be. Here you can see Hanno showing Alex through the garden.

If you have children, the backyard can be one of the best playgrounds. When my sons were growing up, they spent a lot of time in the backyard swinging on ropes and a homemade swing, watching the chickens, riding bikes, playing games, camping in the background and, on the rare occasions when it rained, running like super charged maniacs through the water that would pool in the backyard. I often think they were lucky to be born when they were. They had an old-fashioned childhood like I did, full of exploring, physical activity, camping out, riding bikes and playing with their friends. Later on in their childhood, computers came into our lives and from the age of seven and eight, there were computer games, but they were so basic and primitive that they didn't keep them glued to the screen. They were just a small part of life.

Now, with our two beautiful grandsons, we're setting up for children again. Hanno built a sandpit that is covered when not in use and we bought a standard little wading pool for the very hot days. The water from that comes from the tank, and when the swimming is over, the water is transferred, via watering cans, to the garden.

We share this land with a family of about 11 kookaburras. They often visit and watch us as we watch them. There is a family of magpies as well, they sneak in and eat Hettie's food when she's not there.

One of the many things I hope to show Jamie and Alex in the coming years is the amazing variety of insects, spiders, reptiles and birds we have in our backyard. Of course, we'll talk about their safety, as well as the respect, gentleness, water and food these creatures need. Much of it we can provide for them in a natural setting. There is a strip of remnant rainforest running along the creek and that provides habitat for many creatures that visit our backyard. We often hear the cries of Sacred Kingfishers and whip birds and sometimes we'll see a water dragon sunning itself on a tree stump. We must teach our boys not to be afraid, to be wary and respectful and that we share this land with all wild things.

When we first came to live here, we had to orient ourselves to the rising sun in summer and winter, take notice of where strong winds, rain and violent storms came from and, in the hottest months, where the shade and the coolest parts of the garden were. Our chooks taught us both of those places because that's where they went when it was hot. Our chooks live in a fairly secure coop that is rain and wind-proof so their backyard environment is comfortable and safe.

When it rains heavily, watch to see where the water pools and runs off.

Before we set up the garden, we had to know about our soil and where the water pooled in heavy downpours and prolonged rain - something we hadn't been used to in our last home but is quite common here. Hanno did quite a bit of work putting in underground drainage that ran down to our creek. When we moved in we knew the creek hadn't flooded into our backyard in living memory, but we had to live here for a few years before we knew we were safe because the overflow on the other side of the creek was much lower than our side and the flooding rains went there into paddocks instead of into our backyard and home.

Above is our bush house and the water tank we put in when we first came to live here. Below is a 10,000 litre tank we installed a few years ago.
Very early on we decided to put in water tanks. We thought that if we were going to plant a garden that we should be responsible to collect water to irrigate it, so our first tank went in soon after we arrived. A few years ago we added another tank, double the size, and soon we'll add another space saving, narrow tank that can butt up against the wall at the side of the house. With the average amount of rainfall we get now, those three tanks should do us for the front and back gardens in the foreseeable future.

In the bottom left of this photo you can see part of the bench Hanno and I sit on to watch what's going on in the garden. When the sun fades into the west, this is the prime location in our garden.

Backyards can be so many things but one of the most important parts of ours is a place to sit, relax, think and observe.  We don't have enough seating areas but we're working on that. My main seat at the moment is a simple bench Hanno made from recycled timbers, that is under the elder tree. It faces the vegetable garden and chook house so whenever I sit there I have more than enough to look at. Soon we'll move a cast iron table and chairs over near the sand pit so whoever is looking after the littlies will have a table on which to put a sippy cup or a cup of tea and maybe a magazine or seed catalogue. One thing is for sure, a good garden evolves into being its best. You don't move in and buy everything you need in one hit. It takes a few years of observation and living there to see what the garden needs and what to leave alone. And when you get it set up, don't be afraid to change it. Our backyard changes when it needs to. We've put in fences, taken them down again, started with a smaller garden than we have now and, no doubt, that will change in the future. We also bought things when we could afford them. You and your garden will change with your seasons and nature's seasons.

So if you're about to set up a garden in your backyard, or if you have one that isn't working as well as it might, take some time to walk around and observe where the shade is, where the sun rises and sets, where the water pools in the rain, where the natural runoffs occur. Make sure you check your fences and boundaries because runoff from a neighbouring property might cause a problem in your yard. Having a productive backyard is much more than just planting seeds and weeding. Your backyard is a haven, not only for the wildlife but for family life as well.


17 February 2013

Sarndra's "giveaway"

Just a quick post to let you know that my dil Sarndra is having a "giveaway" on her Facebook page. Sarndra explains what that is on her page. Click here to go there. It ends this evening (Sunday) at 6.59pm Australian Eastern time - that's about 11 hours from now. Good luck everyone!

15 February 2013

Weekend reading

Externalities - A short film (4 mins) by David Suzuki. Thanks to Sarndra for the link.

Humanise it - Seth Godin

The price we pay

How to make a clock

Simple cleaning tips

Too old to work?

Sleeping babies

Bellis in Brisbane, a subtropical garden

Another new virus



Little Retro House

Vintage Folk Painter

There is so much going on in the backyard right now that it's inspired me to continue with the backyard posts next week. I hope you have a lovely weekend doing exactly what you want to do. See you next week!

14 February 2013

Back in the vegie garden

We've started luring Jamie into our gardening ways. He had his first trip to the markets with Hanno and his mum on Sunday to buy seedlings for planting in this season's new garden. Sunny is keen to try her hand at growing a few things in her backyard as well. She's never been a gardener before but she's starting with some favourites, daikon radish and shallots. I have a ginger shoot I planted up last week to give her. I think later she'll venture into the various Asian greens. She's an excellent professional chef and home cook so having fresh greens just outside the kitchen door will be a real bonus in her new home.

Sunny and Jamie helping to water in the new seedlings. 

Most of you know that one of Hanno's tasks is to produce food for our table. We live in a subtropical climate with good rainfall so vegetable gardening is a way we can get extra value from the land we live on. Summer is hot and humid here so we stop gardening over summer to give ourselves and the soil a break in the heat. We stop planting in November, continue harvesting over December, then start planting again in March. This year we've decided to start early so the first of our seedlings have already gone in.

Welsh onions, sage, basil, shallots, calendula, daikon and parsley.

Even though one of our chickens, Lucy, has been flying over the fence to peck through the garden, the curly kale survived the summer, along with a few leeks. We'll keep all this going with extra water and a good feed.

The comfrey has shot up again after it looked dead during the drought. That's the beauty of those fleshy root plants, they can survive harsh conditions. We'll be transplanting some root cuttings of comfrey over to the edge of the compost heap.

This is what the garden looks like now. It's bare and meagre but it will only take a short time before it will be full of life and plants producing healthy crops.

We have good soil, although when we came to live here 15 years ago, it was undisturbed clay. In the first three years, Shane helped me develop the garden and after the addition of compost, cow and chook manure, along with worm castings and comfrey tea and a lot of organic matter, the soil improved out of sight and we are able to grow almost everything we want.

We've had to rethink our vegetable garden because of the drought we've just been through. Even though we have water tanks, we lost a lot of oranges and lemons off our trees in the past few months and as a result we won't have our delicious over-supply of organic oranges and lemons during winter this year. We never use town water on the gardens and as a result of the drought, we've decided to install another tank so we don't have to ration out the water again like we did this year. We all know the climate is changing and I can see more droughts, more frequently, in the future.

I'm not sure yet where these plants will go. There is a bit of re-organisation going on in the backyard, but for the time being, they'll be fine here. These are lemon myrtle, bay, blueberries and an avocado growing from a seed.

We dug up the blueberry bushes and put them in pots a couple of years ago but we didn't look after them properly and they've barely given us any berries since. I've had them in the bush house for the past six month and have nurtured them along and now they're all looking healthy again. This morning I moved them out of the bush house; the two smaller ones are now next to the small tank and the larger ones are outside the bush house. Where they're positioned now will remind me to water them and feed them well and hopefully we'll be rewarded for that with bowls full of blueberries.

I've also potted up the strawberry plants we bought this year from Green Harvest and intend to have them bearing fruit in June and hopefully through to September.


At the moment we have a prolific chilli bush and two capsicums and we added another two. We don't expect them to do much during the cold weather but they will over-winter in the garden quite nicely, without producing any fruit, then start off strong when the weather warms up later in the year.  The curly kale survived the hot summer and as it's such a strong strain, and in Hanno's view, the best tasting kale, we'll keep that going too and probably add a few more plants. I have curly kale seeds to I'll sow in the next few days. I hope to have most of our seeds for seedlings planted on the weekend. They'll sit in the bush house until they're ready to plant out. We have seeds for legumes, greens and root vegetables too. Hanno will plant them directly into the soil when it's been enriched and dug over.

We've also started to talk about having day-long workshops here at home. The first would include making bread and soup from scratch, that we'd all have for lunch, and then some outside work to talk about keeping chooks and our way of organic vegetable gardening. It would help new gardeners get on their feet and would bring in a few dollars for us as well. We've only just started talking about this and I guess we're still not convinced there's a market for it. We'll have to wait and see and if all goes well, the first of those might be in June. We've been gardening for many years and have a lot of information to share and as far as we're both concerned, if we help encourage a few more people to produce food, we'd see that as time well spent.

Are you growing some food this year?


12 February 2013

Homemaking - Unique. Remarkable. Joyful. Satisfying.

I was listening to the radio the other day and tuned in just in time to hear a young woman talk about how bored she was staying at home with her twin girls after being in an exciting job in fashion. I thought I'd like to move in with that family for a while and show them how exciting it can be to take control of a home and to introduce the family to sustainability via housekeeping. I'd like to show them the remarkable possibilities and how those possibilities open up life rather than make it boring. Nowadays, many homes are run on the notion that you buy as much as you can to help you save time so you have the time and energy to earn money to pay for all of it. I know that because I used to do it. It was only when I became worn out and sad that I realised what a sorry way it was to live. It wasn't life as I wanted it to be, it was just survival.

In my mind's eye I had this ever-evolving idea of being a successful and happy woman working in her home on a number of projects. While I was still working, I didn't fully understand the complexity of my home's potential but now I do, I wish I'd made my change much sooner. Being at home gives you so many choices, so much power in your hands to have the home that is right for you and your family. Something that fits you like a glove, not a one size fits all. You are aiming for Unique. Remarkable. Joyful. Satisfying. Forget all those stories you read in magazines about boredom, you can reinvent your home life, take the bull by the horns and make your day to day work whatever you want it to be. And it is the homemaker who makes those changes - female or male, married or unmarried, straight or gay, working in the home full time or part time. It's possible for all of us in a variety of ways.

When I came home for good, I threw out all those old fashioned ideas about being stuck at home, buying everything we needed, having a different chemical for each job and food cooked by some unseen person or machine.  I wanted to simplify my life as much as I could by making my home productive and when I got into it, I was shocked and ashamed at how much of my independence I'd given away for the sake of convenience. I wanted to create a new, for me, way of being a homemaker  - one that embraced work at home rather than resent it. I saw it as an opportunity to turn housework on its head and to make my day an exercise in sustainable living that was filled with interest, learning and contentment. As the months rolled by, I could see that I was making myself much more self reliant and our home resilient and strong and capable of nurturing us during the good times and the bad. Our family life improved, and we became healthier and happier.

This is one thing I'm sure of - you make these significant changes to your life by doing one thing, by deciding to change yourself. You start with one thing and as that unfolds, it brings in new possibilities, which lead to something else and eventually the joy of it unfolds before your eyes. It is a small steps proposition where you work at it every day in tiny ways that add up and make life worthwhile and enriching. And you can't buy that anywhere. There is no product that will give you the feeling of satisfaction you get when you create this kind of life for your family. When you finally "get it" and work on making it better every day, that's exactly what happens - life gets better.  So, don't tell me that life at home is boring. It will be what you make it. There are possibilities there that are open to all of us - we'll all choose our own unique mix of what works for us. All we have to do is decide to change, then step up to the work.

In the past few months there were a few people, women and men, who were leaving work to start life as homemakers. If you're still here please let us all know how you're going. What is difficult and what is easy? And, is it what you thought it would be?

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