Friday, May 31, 2013

Yes, Quite, Quite Mad

And it seems crazy, after only a few months, to buy something in a container that is used only once, to carry an item from one place to another, after which the container is put in a landfill until roughly the end of time. It is something I had never considered before this year, and now it seems like madness.
Dorie's website


So after my little panic attack the other day about the environmental impact of my reheated left-overs lunch, I have decided to evaluate our food one product at a time, to prevent a total manic breakdown. I am going to start with meat. We like meat here at Chez Blueday. We don't want a lot of meat, but we want some. We like meat from animals that have been raised humanely and kindly treated until the end of their lives.

Sometimes that meat arrives in our house on plastic trays, always in a plastic bag (inside my 'green' carry bag, of course!). I will make the trip to our local butcher next week, and discover the simplest way to get our meat without a plastic bag being involved. Maybe I will need to take a glass container to put it in. Because even if it is just wrapped in paper, that paper won't be fit for recycling. Maybe it could be composted...

The marvellous thing about plastic bags is that they are so easy.
But so precious, made with all that million year old sunlight.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

New Zealand in the Garden

So remember in September when I chitted the oca? Well, after that exhausting exercise, I planted it in an unregarded corner next to the compost bins, where it got a little water, but not any more care than that (well, other than being planted in lovely, left over compost).

Oca (or New Zealand yam) is part of the oxalis family, most of which are noxious weeds in Australia. But the yam is the edible silver lining of the oxalis grey cloud. Pink and wrinkly, it reminds me of babies' toes.

Once the first frost has killed off the plant, the underground tubers (or babies' toes) are ready to be harvested. Here are the frost-deadened tendrils...

And those succulent pink toes, just waiting to be eaten..

This isn't a zombie post, really.

There were so many little yams just popping out of the soil that I only harvested the ones I could see, and left the underground ones for another day.

And while I was there I picked the warrigal greens. Joseph Banks discovered this spinach substitute in New Zealand on his round-the-world jaunt with Captain Cook, and subsequently sent seeds back to the new world with The First Fleet. Apparently it was one of the few greens that thrived in Sydney's dry, sandy soil, and helped prevent scurvy in the convicts. They do contain high levels of oxalic acid (the greens, not the convicts), so need to be cooked well prior to eating (again, don't cook convicts. See, grammar is important).

So, a tribute to New Zealand today. The yams I sliced and sauteed with onion and garlic as the basis of a chickpea curry. Even with long simmering the yams stay a little crunchy. They are a brilliant water chestnut substitute in stir fries, and they roast beautifully. The insides go all fluffy, but still retain that slight sour oxalis tang. A very complex flavour. I steamed the warrigal greens, then popped them into the curry as well.

The children were of course, very excited to be eating chickpea curry with their favourite yams and yummy, yummy greens. Ho ho ho. This was a counterbalance to last night's lamb chops and potato wedges. Swings and roundabouts darlings, swings and roundabouts.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Lemons Turn Into Apples, and I Have a Moment

Today I took this to the new (hopefully) weekly produce swap market at the university art gallery.

And came home with this. Lemons and rosemary magically turned into apples and rhubarb.

What a wondrous idea bartering is.

I picked up a friend and we went together, and then we went walking for an hour and we felt virtuous. But then I thought - I could walk to the swap market and back, and that would be an hour's walk, and I wouldn't have driven to an event that is all about reducing the footprint. Mentally smacking myself on the forehead.

And  I wouldn't have to pay for parking.

So, next week. Walking shoes and back pack.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Great Tomato Ripening Experiment.

Several weeks ago I showed you my green tomato experiment. Were they going to ripen from completely green? Well, here is the photo I took a few days ago.

These are all that are left. Every single one has ripened over the last few weeks, and I am so excited to have stretched out the harvest for another six weeks or so. I found that they ripen most on the side turned to the light, so rotated them every few days. Fresh garden tomatoes. In late May! I am loving it.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Fascist Plumbing and Other Ways to Save Electricity

In a choice between the fight-or-flight response, I come down on the side of flight every time. After two days of contemplating the unbearableness of the state of the planet I moved straight into distraction mode. I finished reading a book on the historical roots of feminism that I didn't get through at university... twenty years ago. I did an editing job for a friend. I have discovered some lovely new blogs. I have counted the petals on the chrysanthemum in the vase on our dining room table (fifty six). I am stuck in that place between terror and action where nothing at all I could do seems relevant, sensible or likely to make any difference at all.

But, if I have learned anything at all in forty two years (forty two? How did that happen?) it's that really, you only have to think about the next thing. Sometimes, it's too overwhelming to do more. The next thing for me is lunch. How could I make my lunch work to lower carbon emissions? Well, it is heated up leftover Chili con Carne. The meat was from the supermarket, wrapped in plastic. I could go to the butcher's and have it wrapped in paper. That means it would also be local, reducing its food miles. The kidney beans were in tins, which are recyclable, but take a lot of energy to produce. I could buy them dry from the wholefood shop and soak them. If I remember. The tomatoes were my own. A win. Yay! The spices I bought home from the wholefood shop in paper bags. The oregano was from the garden. The salsa - made it myself too. Sour cream - plastic pot from the supermarket, brought from far, far away. Will recycle the pot and the foil. I know I could buy it in a paper carton. Can you make sour cream from ordinary cream? At least it could be local then. Then there is the rice, from a long way away. Should we not eat food with the many food miles at all? Should we limit them?

OK, so now I am panicking again.

I know I do not do well thinking about more than one thing at a time. So today I am going to continue thinking about electricity, and another day I will think about food.

Here are the ways we have reduced our use of electricity over the last year or so:

Not using our dryer. Except for the rare domestic emergency (not that domestic emergencies are rare here, just that they don't often involve the dryer. Anymore)
Reducing the number of hours our pool filter is on (we haven't contracted any water-borne diseases. Yet)
Weather proofed and insulated most of the house during renovations.
I've stopped using a hairdryer (and the girls haven't discovered the hair straightener. Yet)
I try to fill up the oven when it is on.
I've discovered I don't need a shower every day during the cold weather (my skin is so much happier about this. I've lost that slightly dry, slightly itchy feeling I was getting when my skin had too much hot water).

Here is what I have been doing over the last couple of weeks:

We have mixer taps in the kitchen and bathroom. You know how you turn the tap to hot, then have to run it for a minute or so for it to get hot, but you get impatient, and just use the cold water anyway? Well, for our 'instant' hot water system, it means it is using electricity to make extra hot water anyway, whether it gets to the tap or not. So our taps are now turned firmly to The Far Right at all times, which makes me really think about whether I need  that hot water or not.

I saw Martha Stewart on some TV show, talking about green cleaning, and she declared that, unless they are really dirty, clothes only need a fifteen minute wash cycle. FIFTEEN! My front loader cycle of choice was fifty three minutes. Well, if it's good enough for Martha... So I have been washing our clothes on the express cycle, fifteen minutes. And they are just fine! The spin cycle isn't as fast, so the washing is slightly damper when it comes out, but that will probably preserve the clothes for longer. They still dry as well, even on the clothes racks downstairs in an unheated room. That saves over half an hour per load, and at three loads, five times a week, that is at least seven and a half hours of electricity a week being saved. I think that must be a win. Also, it is so quick to do the laundry. I keep forgetting about it, but even so, on a sunny day, everything is hanging outside before 9am, to enjoy drying in the breeze. That means a longer drying time, which is so useful in the winter. I am thinking that I will try soaking the 'dirties' for 24 hours, then putting them through the fifteen minute wash, to see if that is effective.

I took Judy's advice and eyeballed the point where one mug's worth of boiling water reaches in the kettle, and have only been filling to there. Kettle boils much quicker!

I don't iron a lot, just business shirts and school uniforms really, but I have told the girls I won't be ironing their school shirts this winter, because they wear jumpers over them; 'Whatevs,' was the response.

Next electricity-saving project: I think the time has come to bravely examine the length of our very hot showers.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Last week our planet quietly and inexorably passed a new threshold, leading to a new future for humanity. Last week, for the first time in human history, a daily average of 400ppm of carbon dioxide was recorded.  It is at least three million years since there has been this much carbon in the atmosphere.

This takes us way past the 350ppm that is the safe upper level for stabilising global warming at two degrees. Since reading Judy's post I feel like I have been in mourning. I keep looking at the children and in my head I am saying, 'Oh my darlings, I am so sorry that we have done this to your future.'

As one of the scientists in the article above said, 400 is just a number - we have been skirting it by a degree or two for some time. But it is psychologically significant. I feel like I have had a blow to the solar plexus. I feel that now - it is impossible not to do something.

I can't understand why this is not on the front page of every newspaper in the world.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Miles of Flowers

Who doesn't love bunches of flowers? I do, but they make me uneasy. Flowers accrue carbon miles just like food does, and most of them are flown around the world, acquiring frequent flyer miles like nobody's business. But why this lust for flowers out of season? A local tulip farm exports tulips to Holland in our spring, their autumn. But do the Dutch really require tulips in Autumn? Could they not acquire a taste for chrysanthemums and rosehips instead? And isn't it rather unimaginative to need to decorate with say, roses, all year round?

However, when a dear friend turns up at the door with a bunch of flowers, do I rant madly at them? Hardly. I thank them profusely, and then husband the precious things to eke out their pretty lives as long as possible. First, I add a teaspoon of sugar to the slightly lukewarm water in their vase, to keep them fed. I trim all the lower leaves, so there are none in the water to go slimy. I cut an inch from the bottom of their stems to give them a fresh, uncalloused surface to drink from.

Every few days I change the water, and remove the spent blooms. Eventually, I have to take out a number of stems, recut those that are left, and put them in a smaller vase. I even remove individual brown petals if the rest of the flower is still nice. The flowers in the photos are the very last remnants of a lovely autumn bunch brought by a friend when my grandpa died, so they have lasted 22 days now, and they are still making me happy, albeit much reduced in number, and in much shorter vases!

And, excellent news - one of the greengrocers I go to is stocking bunches of local flowers. I can have any colour I want - as long as it is a chrysanthemum!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Skeleton in the Closet

For some time now I have been hunting for a tallboy to tuck into the corner of our bedroom, to take on some extra storage for bits and pieces, some overflow clothes storage (not mine, you understand!). We can fit everything in the cupboards we now have, but it is all a bit congested. So I have been trudging around shops (my absolute favourite and my best... not) with my measuring tape. I did find a simply darling antique cedar chest of drawers... but it was a little too long. The problem is, it is a very small corner we are trying to squeeze a largish piece of furniture into.. and I was very bored with shopping. I stood in our dressing room hoping for a solution.

Our dressing room used to be the walk in pantry, back in the day when our bedroom was the kitchen (a lot of our rooms have a history like that..). We have lined it with wardrobes, and the double wardrobe on this wall is our linen cupboard. I was staring at it vaguely, thinking about my mother's linen closet in the house I grew up in. Which was the size of a single wardrobe. Sure we have two more people in our family, but I don't store the towels in mine.. I decided to downsize the sheets.

Here is what I had to start with..

All the sheets, all the mess. The only reason there is a tiny gap on the right there is because I just recently passed on Posy's cot sheets. Yes, Posy who is eight. I can't believe I actually transferred them into the new linen closet last year..

Why is it so hard to get rid of sheets? I think I have manchester anxieties. I appear to have an excessive number of duvet covers, and slightly too many sheets. I took a deep breath and filled up a box for the Refugee Welcome Group.

I just kept going until what was left fit in the single cupboard.

Girls' sheets up the top. Everything in shades of blue and pink, so they can choose pink, or blue, or go mad with mix and match, and it all still looks OK for their control freak mother.

Master bed sheets. All white. So easy. The Boy has brown. And yes, he now only has one pair of sheets other than the one on his bed. In truth, that's all he has been using for a couple of years, because he didn't like the other two sets I had in the cupboard for him. So now they have gone to a better home.

And now The Man can arrange his clothes elegantly in the double wardrobe (as you can see, like me, he doesn't do colours!), and we don't need a chest of drawers in the bedroom any more. So I am thinking of one of those ducky little Edwardian glass-fronted book cases, the ones with the leadlight panes....

You see, there are so many benefits to decluttering, and not shopping!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Exploiting the Suburbs

There is one downside to growing in pots under deciduous trees...

And that would be going out each morning to disinter the baby garlic, and lettuce and spinach seedlings from their blanket of butter yellow apricot leaves. At least in a couple of weeks they will be getting a whole lot more sunshine than they do now..

I know that planting seeds now is a bit pointless going into winter, but I am doing it anyway. This weekend, between many child-related social engagements I will finish planting garlic and broad beans. Yesterday I planted more lettuce, spinach, Chinese cabbage, and some cute little red chard seedlings from a friend. I have a little sun trap at the northern corner of the house, on a patch of concrete between the black asphalt driveway, and the white reflective house walls. It is very warm, and I ripened a number of capsicums here this summer, so hoping the winter veg will do well, despite being planted late.

That is another advantage of being a suburban gardener. There are so many microclimates created by hard landscaping that we can exploit for our own greedy (and lazy) ends. I've mentioned before that citrus is not a viable commercial crop here in Tasmania, because it is too cold. But almost every suburban garden can grow a lemon tree against a wall, or in a sheltered sunny corner. I have a little moan quite frequently about the lack of space here for vegetable gardening, but there are many ways to extend the season, and make the most of frost-free pockets in a small garden in a built-up landscape that would be very hard on two acres of exposed paddock.

So here's to the little pockets and corners of our tiny gardens that work hard to feed us and make us happy gardeners.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Autumn Skeleton Wardrobe

It's nearly the end of Autumn, so before we descend into the winter chill and start pulling out coats and boots, I thought I would share my skeleton wardrobe (ie, all the clothes I possess) for that awkward shoulder season, where it is a little chilly, and you need layers, but not coats. Again, I don't have many individual pieces of clothing, but they cover all my stay-at-home mum needs, and make quite a lot of different outfits. My rule for buying clothes is always buy the first (and mostly the second) piece in a neutral, then your whole wardrobe always goes together. Eventually, by the third or fourth piece, I sometimes add colour, but clearly, not always.

First of all, the basic layer, long sleeve tops (well, actually, the first layer, here in Tasmania, is the singlets, shown here in the summer wardrobe, but I haven't shown them, because in winter, you don't ever see them, so they count as underwear). These tops go with every other piece I own. I wear the blacks with the skirts. The top on the right is more 'dressy', ruched and a bit fitted, with a lovely draped neck.

And the pants. There are four pairs, and yes, you can count, I'm wearing one pair. Last year I only had two pairs, a boot cut, and a skinny jean, but then the lovely Lucinda gifted me with two pairs, and doubled my pants collection. Even better, one of them is a soft black moleskin pair, so that gives me a whole different look. So exciting!

The two rib knit turtlenecks I wear with all the pants, and often with my snuggy padded vest, which hardly makes me feels like I am going snipe shooting at all...

I do have a number of cardigans, because a Tasmanian autumn is all about layers. Very chilly mornings and evenings, sunny afternoons. Yes, it is divine, and you should all move here right away.

Look! A colour that is not black! The cardi on the right is my favourite of all time: merino with pearl buttons. It must be about ten years old, and has a number of darns. At my grandpa's funeral recently, my brother, who was standing behind me, informed me that what I fondly believed to be invisible darning, actually isn't. Thanks hon! I need a new one.. but where is there another perfect black cardigan? The stripey sweater in the middle is a recent experiment. I am not keen on sweaters, but this is a thin one, and has so far been acceptable.

And look.. more cardies. My thoughts are that a cardigan can change the whole look of what you are wearing, and if you swap a couple of scarves around as well, you look like you have a lot more outfits than is actually the case. The black one is quite long, with a dippy-down front (technical term). I wear it with canvas sneakers for casual, or high heel ankle boots and a silk scarf for formal. The other cardi is a thicker, moss stitched number, which looks especially yummy with red shoes and my one red necklace.

Three jackets. The one on the left is a light linen, that I also wear in summer, and it goes with everything, including the skirts. The denim I only wear with the skirts, to avoid that awkward double denim thing.. and the middle jacket is a heavier drill that I wear all winter.

Here are the scarves that I wear with nearly everything. There is also a lighter grey, which is featured in the summer wardrobe... I think it may be in the washing basket..

Two posh frocks, from summer. I wear them all year round, with the lovely black cardigan in winter, and sometimes a pashmina as well with the dark green. Because really, I have never been to a very formal event in winter that isn't indoors and heated.

And shoes.. what can say? They are shoes..

But, oops, I just realised I forgot the skirts. I distinctly remember getting them out of the wardrobe and photographing them... but I must have deleted that one... Well, if you want to see the skirts, there are two, in the summer wardrobe, and in autumn I wear them with black footless tights and ballet flats.

Again, I have a pair of trackpants and tops for, you know running walking reasonably fast in (inflexible clothing rule - trackpants are only for exercising in. Or, at a stretch, picking up milk from the corner shop on the way to, or on the way home from, exercising. No other public outing of trackpants will be permitted). So excluding trackpants and pyjamas, and including shoes, scarves and tights, I have 34 pieces of clothing for autumn.

Things I would maybe add one day if they magically present themselves to my attention within about five minutes of walking into a shop - a classic trench coat. A white linen shirt. A thin charcoal V-neck sweater. Some formal black pants. One day they will come. Until then, I will get by with what I have.

Are there any autumn classics that you love that I don't have? What are your super versatile pieces that you can't live without?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Pretty Funny

Recently my four year old neighbour popped his blonde, curly head over the fence.
'Hello, Jo!' he said, radiating happiness as only four year olds can, 'I'm going to my grandma's house!'
Then he thought for a moment, and his eyes widened.
'My grandma's name is Grandma, and she is a grandma. THAT'S pretty funny!'
And he laughed immoderately and went off to hop in the car.

And so... to everyone out there whose name is Mum, and who coincidentally is a mum...

Happy Mother's Day for tomorrow...

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sunshine on Front Porch

Wednesday. Remember the housekeeping routine? On Wednesdays I do some deep cleaning (often very little, to tell the truth), starting at the front door and working my way around the house. It sometimes takes months to get all the way around, not because the house is that big, but because I am that slow. Today, as it happens, we are back to the beginning. A quick sweep of cobwebs from the walls, and then I realise that for the last couple of months everything on the porch has been festooned with dead leaves and dust bunnies. Funny how you don't notice what you walk past every day. Well, I don't. Other people surely do, and have no doubt been wondering when I am finally going to sweep the porch.

This is our shoe box. When I tipped it out it contained several pairs of out-grown shoes, some slightly mildewed socks, lots of dust and a big, black spider. Now it is remarkably clean and insect-free, and only contains Posy's gumboots.

I rather like the box. The people over the road were throwing it out a few years ago, and I rescued it. Once it held kerosene cans, now gumboots. I can't decide whether it has gone up in the world or not. As you can see from the photo at the top, our porch is kind of...rustic. Three years ago we stripped the front door, but haven't decided what colour to paint it. Thankfully we had the yellow bottle glass replaced with nice frosted glass.

We still need to decide what to do to to the flaky pink concrete stairs. I like the cowbell door bell that my sister-in-law sent me.

And the wattle bird made by a local craftsman. Wattlebirds like our front garden, and perch in our bottle brush tree. This is my favourite part of the front porch.

The girls made the bead string to hang it. Down below, though, is the empty plant pot, that, until six weeks or so ago, held a mostly dead plant. For, oh, six weeks now, I have been meaning to refill it, and plant daffodil bulbs. At least it isn't full of dead leaves and spiders' webs any more.

The driftwood was a birthday present from The Girl one year. She rescued it from the local river. She's very good at presents.

So, Wednesday, sit in sunshine on clean front porch. DONE.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Good Life

What a joy to be back home in my own dear house on a sparkling autumn day. Posy was up half the night deciding whether to be sick or not, so she spent her first day of the school term at home, sleeping in (nice for some), pottering about with her lego and her drawing, and having me read to her. When I was allowed off duty I went to visit my garden. There was an enormous storm the afternoon that I left for the funeral, and I was told in awed tones about the hail that was so thick that the kids in the street rolled it into hail balls to throw, and made hailmen. Luckily by that time I was in Melbourne, where it was raining, not hailing, otherwise I may have refused to set foot in another plane, and never got to the funeral at all.

Anyway, upon inspection, all my large leaved plants - the brassicas, the rhubarb - looked like they had been slashed with shards of glass. Some of the lettuce seedlings didn't survive. And, like the Whomping Willow in the Harry Potter movie, the big pear tree and my golden silver birch had lost all their leaves in one fell swoop. So I had a lovely afternoon raking the leaves off the lawn and onto the garden beds, and sniffing in lungfuls of essence of damp-autumn-leaf., which is very restorative after plane travel.

One of the nice moments of being away was meeting the darling new baby of my very dear cousin. He was Grandpa Ken's tenth great-grandchild, and only five weeks old. I know I don't really do craft, but I do occasionally knit, and I had made him a wee hat. Unfortunately, it was one of those patterns that requires a particular yarn, without specifying the ply, and I also don't really do tension squares, so the hat turned out a bit large, but I am hoping his little head will fatten up before the end of winter.

There is also a slightly bigger sister, and a brother, slightly bigger again. We all know how annoying it is when other people get presents and we don't, so I did a little more knitting. The cousins have real chickens in their backyard, but I made some inside chickens, for when it's raining.

These are seriously the easiest knitting projects ever. A square of plain knitting, folded over in a triangle, stuffed and sewn up. A little embroidery for beak and comb, a button for her to stand on. My children have a number of these in their farm set, because they are easier to knit than sheep and donkeys..

So having celebrated the end of a life, and the beginning of one, I am back in the garden, enjoying the middle (I hope) of a very nice life indeed.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The List

Well, it is the second week of the school holidays. The Man is home. We were planning picnics among the autumn leaves, a trip to the beach. But instead I will be flying back to Adelaide for Grandpa's funeral. It is good, because I want to be there (although I wish I didn't have to fly. Hate flying). I want to be there for him, and for my parents. But I don't want to leave home. I am a little house mouse. I could stay curled up in my home forever. I think adventures are for other people. Sigh. So what to do when you have to leave home unexpectedly? Write a list, for comfort.

Things To Do - Tuesday
Extra washing, to catch up, with The Man bringing a suitcase of washing home with him and all DONE
Clean the bathroom DONE
Make dinner with the pumpkin in the fridge, which we all know no one will cook with while I am away DONE
Plan some meals for while I am away DONE
Write a list for The Man of children's many social engagements. Stick it on prominent place on the fridge DONE
Pay bills DONE
Buy birthday presents for parties DONE
Nag gently encourage children to wrap said presents and make cards DONE
Organise Mother's Day present for Mum DONE
Organise birthday present for sister-in-law
Go to library and find absorbing books so I can pretend I am not on a plane DONE
Finish present for cousin's new baby (will get to see lovely cousins and breathe in darling new baby goodness. Definitely a silver lining!) DONE
Make all the children try on winter uniform, as will be returning night before school starts DONE
Pick remaining apples and stew (dreaming)
Do the ironing and watch Downton Abbey DONE (still haven't caught up to the end of the season. Two episodes to go. Must do more ironing)
Mend hole in black cardi for funeral

Things to Do - Wednesday
Wrap two presents
Find that elusive present for sister-in-law? She is such a good sport. It was her birthday last month..
More washing
Make Posy clean her room (maybe that would be a lovely project for her and daddy?)
Decide what curtain sample I prefer so The Man can take them back to shop, and order them.
Pack black embroidery thread and needle so I can mend cardi at brother's house.
Hug children and husband
Think wistfully about how nice it would be to not get on a plane Get on plane..

How about you? Do lists make you feel more in control in a stressful situation? I would panic if I didn't have it all down in black and white. And I love the feeling of crossing off items as I go. It is the nearest I ever get to feeling that I have some closure in my free ranging, amorphous days..