Sunday, August 30, 2015

Green and Thrifty

Exploiting passive solar heating on a sunny winter afternoon. Posy is eating fried rice for afternoon tea, and for some reason has filled up an old water bottle with milk.. The dog is just blissfully happy.

Mostly, the green and thrifty things I do day by day are small and boring. But the accumulated effect is that in a thousand tiny ways I manage to live cheaper, slower and more sustainably. So here are some of this week's boring green and thrifty moments.

My winter boots are getting scuffed and unhappy because I wear them every single day at work. I have two pairs that take turns. I hate cold feet, so I wear them with thick black tights and skirts, but no-one can see that inside the boots I am also wearing thick hiking socks, which keep my toes toasty and happy. So the hard-wearing boots deserved some love, and I gave them the full shoe polish treatment. I have discovered that with long boots it is so much easier to polish them while wearing them, brushing and polishing the boot with foot propped up on the bath. My boots are now looking shiny and respectable again, and I am sure they will last longer and keep the rain out more effectively.

I sewed up a tiny hole in my newest op-shop cardigan. To be honest, 'a stitch in time' is one of my least favourite domestic proverbs, but really, I should get more friendly with the mending basket, because if I stitch in time, I save a piece of clothing. If I don't, I lose it, and then, horror! - I have to go and buy more clothes. Aargh! Really, I should just get on and do the rest of the mending..

As per usual I ate left-overs from dinner every day for lunch. Did you know that there are people who refuse to eat left-overs? I cannot understand this. Almost every dinner is even yummier the next day..

Thrifty entertainment: Grandma and Rosy have been busy with their giant 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle this week. After completing two 500 piece puzzles in three days last week they needed more of a challenge. Autumn leaves reflected in a lake. Ha. That slowed them down.

I have been crocheting around squares for my afghan rug again, after staring at it morosely for a month and not doing any. Mum always inspires me to start it again, because she has a special talent for being able to sit and knit quietly in a corner through any family upheaval. So now crocheting has become my new substitute for flapping about pointlessly. Can't decide what to have for dinner? Crochet around a granny square. Arguing with the youngest child again? May as well crochet around a granny square; it may give me Zen-like patience, who knows? The advantage is, if I really can't be bothered doing anything else, and all I want to do is curl up in a corner and wait for the world to go away, at least if I have crocheted around some granny squares I can have had a little crisis AND have been productive, so it's win-win really. And now we know why our grannies resorted to knitting every afternoon at about half past four...

This week I chose a library book at random, because I liked the cover and the title. I rarely do this, but this week I was rewarded with Elegance of the Hedgehog. It is a novel about literature and ideas, with a concierge who is carefully hiding her passion for literature and art, a school girl who has decided there is no point in living and who is planning to stage a dramatic suicide on her thirteenth birthday, and an enigmatic Japanese businessman who moves in on the fourth floor. Translated from the French, and immensely popular in France, I enjoyed it as a week end treat. Must say though, that even though the ending worked beautifully from a literary point of view, from a purely sociological passion to see what happens when world views collide, I would have liked to have seen an alternate ending.. which would of course, have required a sequel or a very long novel, but still..

It is Sunday night, and with a full day at work tomorrow (The Girl and I) or at school (Posy and Rosy), we have left-overs stashed in wee glass bowls for our lunch (The Girl, and I) or ready to pop in the thermos (Rosy), or sushi prepped and rolled (Posy). Grandma and Grandpa will be foraging in the fridge for their lunch, and the dog will look soulful, hoping for tidbits, even though he doesn't eat lunch (so why he resembles a barrel is a complete mystery).

Wishing you a joyful week of thrifty delicious left-overs and satisfying library books. Tell me what you have been up to..

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Living Better With... Gardening by the Moon

Gardening by the moon is something I have always wanted to look into, but never quite got around to. Last month Marlene from our Living Better Group shared some of her books and resources regarding  moon gardening.

The theory is, that as the moon affects tides by its gravity, it also affects other bodies of water - like humans, and plants. Now, in my head, moon gardening was very complicated, and it can be if you want it to be, but it can also be very, very simple. When the moon is waxing (going from thin new moon to fat, full moon) its gravity is essentially drawing the water content of the plant upwards. So this is the phase of the moon when leaves, stem and plant will flourish. So this is an excellent time to plant peas and beans and all flowering plants. When the moon is waning, it is a good time to plant seeds of plants you are growing for their roots - beetroot, carrots etc, because it gives them time to establish their tiny rootlets before the moon is trying to pull them upwards again. For the same reason it is also the perfect time to transplant seedlings. There, that wasn't so hard, was it?

Isn't it amazing how something you may have regarded as too complex even to think about for so many years, turns out to be so accessible? There may be a lesson there..

Here is the moon gardening calendar that Marlene uses to know exactly the most propitious days of each month to plant each type of seed. Fun fact - the first time I ever realised that moon gardening was not some weird hippy nonsense thought up in the 1960s under the influence of a weird hippy substance, was when I was re-reading Farmer Boy to the children when they were little. I figured if stern Protestant farmers in the 1850s were using moon gardening there probably wasn't much voodoo involved..

Thanks for sharing and widening our gardening horizons Marlene. We are heading towards the full moon on Sunday, so Monday will be an excellent time to start transplanting all those self-sown Spring flower seedlings around the garden. It's good to have a plan. Oh, and as a bonus of thinking about gardening by the moon I have started to pay attention to the phases of the moon. One more facet of nature is intruding daily (nightly) upon my consciousness. I like it.

Please tell me what you know about gardening by the moon. Do you do it? Have I got it completely wrong? It's highly likely. Please let me know:)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Slow Parenting

Slow parenting. Apparently it's a thing. And for once, I am on the cutting edge of a new trend. Have been for the last 21 years in fact. I am the mother who lies on the couch with a good book or mooches around the garden while the children do - whatever it is that they do. I am the mother who reluctantly drives her children around to a small selection of sports and activities and heaves a quiet sigh of relief when they decide to quit and spend their afternoons teaching the dog to knit instead.

Posy teaches the dog to knit. The dog loves learning to knit.

All this time I thought I was being a somewhat inadequate mother. Turns out I could be poster girl for the Slow Parenting movement. There is a person who calls himself a Slow Coach who got himself on Aussie TV last week, trying to calm down some rather uptight, over-scheduled families. Here are these families before their intervention. In the end, two out of those three families weren't at all convinced that having a slow life was something that they valued. The third, however, found that play was better than competition and that killing the screens meant happy family time and better sleep.

To be honest, I have often felt bad about all the things my kids aren't doing. They really aren't terribly Type-A or competitive, for which I am very grateful, because, well, how exhausting would that be? But am I failing them by not encouraging them to be their most amazing selves? But on the other hand, I really like them as they are, hilarious and sweet, and often under-foot, and already effortlessly amazing in so many unexpected ways.

Some of the outstanding quotes from Slow Coach Carl Honore as I frequently paused the show to note:

Raising a child is not product development. It is not project management.

Healthy parenting is about letting your children live their own lives, and not about living your lives through them.

Last term Posy was miserable, stressed and falling into sad puddles of tears at the drop of a hat. I suggested she drop her three extra-curricular activities for a term. Note - these were activities she chose herself, with excellent and lovely teachers and coaches. But on quitting she calmed right down, and banning screens after dinner has helped her sleep like a baby again (well, much better than when she was a baby, actually..). Last year Rosy decided that six hours a week was too much of a commitment to devote to senior ballet, and quit. Now she is doing one, fun hip-hop dance class with no exams or competitions. Instead they come home from school, and bake, or read, or sit in the sun with the dog. They have time to do their homework and have friends over, and dream.

Now clearly, not everyone is as slug-like as our family, and also it is clear that our family will produce no professional athletes or virtuoso musicians. But you know, I do question our society's passion for perfection. Not long ago I was listening to a radio interview with the women's track and field competitor in the 1936 Olympics (yes, there was just one Australian woman that year). All the competitors were amateurs, in that they all held down other jobs, they trained twice a week and competed on Saturdays. "It was such fun," this lovely lady said. Now when was the last time you heard any Olympic athletes mention how much fun they were having?

I do question whether it is better to have your kids in the soccer league, or at the nearest park after school playing soccer with twenty of their best friends. Is it better for a child to be practising desperately for her Grade 6 piano exam, or playing with friends and neighbours and starting a band? The difficulty sometimes is though, that there are no other kids available to play with ours in the park, because they are all busy playing a competitive sport.. We are so preoccupied with certificates and trophies and levels and making the team, and winning, but is that what we want our community to be like? Really?

Here is another cracker of a sound bite from Carl:

Every society ends up with a childhood that reflects the strengths, the weaknesses and the neuroses of that society. 

In our society we are excellent at winning. But is that what we really want for each other, and for our most vulnerable wee souls? I think it is definitely worth having that conversation..

Friday, August 21, 2015

Green and Thrifty

I went to visit my friend Karlin and came home with granny bonnet plants for the flower garden, parsley plants (also to be planted in the flower garden), mint plants, and a bunch of mint and some limes. She is a great friend:) A wonderful thing to do with mint is to chop it finely and add chopped, sauteed garlic, salt and lemon juice (or lime juice, of course!) and stir it all into yoghurt. This is divine on salad or lamb, or meat balls, yum!

Local carrots are super cheap at $1/kg during July and August, so I stocked up last week, chopped, steamed and froze an enormous big pot of carrots which are now stashed in the freezer for curries and stews. This is an example of what I like to call fast slow food - local, fresh, seasonal, prepared on a rainy afternoon while chatting to my mum, and now ready to whip out of the freezer and into dinner at a moment's notice - "and here is one I prepared earlier." Having said that, I am not very good at labelling, and am not sure whether the bags at the bottom of the freezer contain chopped and sauteed onion or celery. Oh well, into the soup they go..

I have been experimenting with not using the dishwasher. We ran out of dishwasher powder and have been washing by hand ever since. Despite the 'modern dishwashers use less water than hand washing' lobby I believe I can wash dishes in less water than dishwashers use, certainly using less electricity, and less damaging chemicals. Plus, it takes us all day to fill the dishwasher, by which time we have started to run out of dishes.. can't say the children are very happy about hand washing, but I enjoy the conversations we have while washing and drying.

I have done all my own cooking, cleaning, wheat-free baking, school lunches and gardening. I do this every week, and I am sure you do too. And you know what? We deserve a little pat on the back for that. Hooray for us:)

We are watching our tiny TV less and less these days. A trip to the library replenished Posy's audio book obsession, and she is reading about five books at once at the moment.. mum and dad used my library card, so now we all have books to last us through this rainy weekend. Posy is going to make French toast (not gluten-free.. we are having a morning off tomorrow) and I brought down a carton of jigsaw puzzles from the shed. So far Grandma and Rosy polished off a 500 piece one in two days, so we will have to find a harder one!

I would love to know what thrifty muscles you have been flexing this week.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Gluten Free School Lunches #2

I have to admit that most of our gluten-free lunches are rice-based. But no-one here complains about that. We love our rice! A few months ago Posy had home-made sushi at a friend's house and pestered me for weeks until I arranged to go and learn how to make sushi with her friend's mum. I was gob-smacked to discover how easy and cheap sushi is. And nutritious! All those vegies. Seaweed! I am sure you all make sushi all the time, but just in case you are a sushi newbie like me, here are some tips:

Use sushi rice. It is a special short grain rice that cooks up nice and sticky to stay together in the sushi roll. I have also discovered by accident that sushi rice makes excellent risotto, and is also half the price of arborio rice. But do label your rice containers anyway..

Cook your sushi rice a few hours before you want to make sushi, and store it in the fridge. It will then be the perfect consistency for rolling.

Here is a useful, short You Tube video (by a Japanese sushi master, no less!) to show you how to roll the sushi. It really is this easy.

We use mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine) to flavour our rice, but our friend who showed us how to make sushi used rice wine vinegar mixed with a bit of sugar. I figure mirrin is already sweet so I use that. Anyone else have a preference? We don't use wasabi, and our sushi is still yummy.

We also don't stuff our sushi with expensive raw fish. We are sushi barbarians. Please don't tell the sushi master. This is what we put in our sushi:

Vegies: cucumber, carrot, capsicum, celery, zucchini, spinach etc cut into matchsticks.

Protein: left-over cooked chicken. Tuna from those tiny flavoured tuna cans. Please, please don't tell the sushi master.

I would love to know what you all put in your sushi.

Flavouring: Did you know that those little soy sauce fish that come with your take-away sushi can be washed and re-filled? Just squeeze under water to wash, and squeeze in a bowl of soy sauce to re-fill.

But if you haven't made sushi before, do have a go. Here is how easy it is - since that first day I have never made it. Ten year old Posy is our sushi queen and makes it every week. My job is cutting the matchstick vegies, and she does the rest..

Friday, August 14, 2015

Green and Thrifty

This week I became a dumpster diver! On Tuesday Posy was in a foul mood, so I made her come out to walk the dog with me, because I am mean like that. We stopped at the corner and picked up her buddy to make fresh air and exercise more bearable. At the halfway mark there was a skip full of fascinating building detritus, including a window, which I have been looking out for because I want to make a cold frame, or possibly a tiny green house. Anyway, because this is Launceston, of course the house with the skip turned out to belong to Posy's buddy's cousins, so we went and asked and were given permission to take away anything from the skip, PLEASE, so that is how I ended up walking home with two girls, a dog, and a rather large window, which was quite excellent exercise, actually.

I spent an hour in my gumboots in the rain climbing around the pile of 'may come in handy one day' building-left-overs behind the shed to find Useful Things to build a chicken palace. I found old fence palings and a door, and random bits of wood, plus hinges and door handles and latches in the shed, so when the nice man came to start building we worked out I only needed to buy posts, wire and concrete, so that is an excellent outcome. Thought. Do the chickens need a window?? I have a window..

On the food front Posy made flapjacks for school snacks. Half of the recipe just fell apart when she cut it, as flapjacks often do, so she crumbled it up for granola instead. Yum!

I have been soaking and cooking masses of dried beans which I store in the freezer in recipe-size portions until we want to use them.

A colleague at work is selling eggs from her chickens each Monday, so I have been buying my weekly two dozen from her. At $4 they are $2 cheaper per dozen than the farmers' market eggs, so that is a very green and local saving of $4 a week.

I was given a dill seedling which I stuck in a teacup on the side of the sink, oh, about three weeks ago now. Yesterday I finally took two minutes out of my day to plant it in the front garden. I hope it survives:)

It is a very quiet time in the food garden, because I didn't do a lot of autumn planting. The great thing about gardening is that there is always the complete conviction that next year's garden will be brilliant. This week we have eaten lemons, warrigul greens, parsley and rosemary from the garden.

Tell me what thrifty things you have been up to.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Guess Who's Coming for Dinner (Over and Over Again...)?

Several months ago my parents started talking about retiring an hour south from where they live. And I said, "Why don't you move to Tasmania? Because then I can look after you when you are old, and, well, grandchildren." So they thought about it for a while and gamely agreed to come and look at houses in Tasmania, and just to make sure, they came here in the dead of winter, to see whether the weather was really as bad as rumour has it (they have most avoided visiting in the depths of July). It is. But they found a dear little village and a new church and some lovely new friends. They are such troopers, they put their house up for sale and came to look for a house here, and accidentally sold their house in less than a week. Then they had to rush back home and pack up their house and say good-bye to their old life in the space of three weeks.

Tomorrow morning they will return to Tasmania 'for keeps'. They are currently homeless, but luckily I run a boarding house for homeless parents. They are such brave adventurers, starting a whole new life here, and I feel very happy that I will have some extended family close by.

Now we have to find them a house..

Sunday, August 9, 2015

June and July Accounting

Here I am, halfway through my year of choosing not to buy new stuff wherever possible. You know what? I am so happy. I rarely go to the shops except for groceries. I reluctantly drag myself to the op-shop when I feel I want more things, but do you know what else? I do not need more stuff from Target. Ever. It's great.

Why not buy new? In a word, externalities. All of us who can access the intenet on an electronic device, are more or less the 1% of the world's population who benefit unfairly from the sweat, habitat destruction, pollution, ill health, exploitation and death of the 99% whose lives are degraded in some way so that we can have machines to wash our clothes and make our toast, and have access to cheap t-shirts and chocolate.

One day I woke up and the invisible wake of destruction that trails behind my trips to Target suddenly became unbearable, so I have started on a different path to providing for my needs and wants, and those of my lovely children, dog, two cats and two budgies.

Here are my guidelines:

1 Make do with what I have.
2 Try to find what I need second hand - there is a world of stuff out there that needs to be rescued and used again.
3 Buy from a local craftsperson.
4 As a last resort, buy from a local, independent store, so that at least my money stays in my community.

So how did I go in June and July?

Bought new: One watch battery for The Girl. Oh yes. That is all. This makes me very happy.

Bought second hand: 

One oldey-timey glass measuring jug. "But Jo," I hear you say, "Surely you already have a measuring jug?" Never fear, see below.

One beautiful blue and cream wool blanket.

One small ceramic pot for my bedside table. Turns out 'lepeltjes' is Dutch for 'spoons'.

And I really needed a small spoon pot, so it just goes to show...

And for some reason we keep breaking bowls. Not plates or mugs or glasses, just bowls. So I have been collecting new ones when I see them. Blue and white.

One week The Girl was a bit stressed and overwhelmed with work, and thought that she might feel better if she had her own egg cup. Preferably one with cute ducks. I said I would see what I could do. Well, sometimes I am just the most amazing mother! (note the duck's feet seem to be on backwards..)

My mum and dad came to visit, and Mum and I went op-shopping and I found this nice hippy-librarian cardi that I wear to work with a tweed skirt, also from the op-shop. I really do have an inner-librarian who needs her day in the sun every so often (which is all good. I adore librarians).

I also bought Rosy a top from the op-shop, which she loves so much she hasn't even tried it on yet! If she doesn't show any interest, I will annexe it for myself. I was only being nice in offering it to her first anyway..

Gifts from the Universe: Mum and dad brought with them a collection of china from my grannies, who are no longer with us:( But I now have some of their beautiful china and I think of them every time I use it.

This beautiful pumpkin-and-cabbage-leaf plate from Grandma Hazel that now graces my living room end table.

An afternoon-tea set from Grandma Muriel. Afternoon tea is a very under-rated meal, but from now on comes with its own china.

The Girl also inherited a number of special kitchen bits and bobs from the grannies which she can take away with her to university next year and remember her great-grandmas every time she cooks:) 

Returned to the Universe with Thanks: The Girl has gone on a university tour with her dad, and is also visiting her big brother on the way. I sent a collection of extra-to-requirements crockery and kitchenware to The Boy, via her, including my old Pyrex measuring jug! (Remember the one in - one out rule!!) The Man has also moved out another bunch of his stuff to his new apartment, and I keep finding more stuff for him, hoping he'll take it away:)

So here I am at the half-way point of my experiment, and really, can't imagine ever living any other way. There will always be some things I will need to buy new - for instance, August is 'build a chicken palace' month, so I will be buying wire and posts and concrete, while also re-using as much as I can.. but mindless consumption? I don't think I can do that any more. It feels so good!

Friday, August 7, 2015

It's the Little Things...

If little things can make us happy, then the possibilities for daily happiness increase enormously. It doesn't take much to make us happy here at Chez Blueday, so we are very happy indeed.

A friend invited us over for afternoon tea on a grey, rainy Sunday afternoon. Tea from the teapot with the beautiful family heirloom tea cups. Good conversation, happy children, a bunch of cheerful golden chard gifted to us on the way out through the kitchen garden (well, to be honest, Posy tried very hard to politely decline that, but I overruled her objection).

Picking lemons from my lemon trees in the bleak mid-winter, and piling them up in a bowl in the kitchen to bring the sunshine back in.

Posy found her old 'Songs and Poems' book from years ago, and while we washed the dishes we sang her old favourites, from 'Never Smile at a Crocodile' to 'Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious'.

Posy wanted to drag her mattress off her bed and add all the cushions from the living room couch to make a 'whole room bed' to sleep in last night (with the dog), and I said 'Yes'. Now she wants to make a fort around it, and I said 'Yes' to that too. There is string and sheets and drawing pins and sticky tape involved. Sigh.

There is a blanket of snow on the mountains, and it looks like a scene from The Sound of Music out of our front windows.

When I drag myself out of the front door to walk the dog there is pink blossom and daffodils in neighbourhood gardens. It may nearly be Spring!

It is not my turn to cook dinner tonight.

For nearly twenty years my very dear friend Jane and I have been bringing each other flowers from each other's gardens, when we are sick or tired or happy, or have a new baby, or just because. This week The Girl has been poorly. Her best buddy, Jane's daughter, brought The Girl flowers from her garden. This makes me so happy. A second generation of therapeutic garden posies begins:)

After thinking very hard, I believe that there is only one thing lacking in my life right now, and that is chocolate. But I feel that this tiny fly in the ointment could be fairly easily remedied.. and our happiness will be complete.

Tell me about your small happy moments.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Gluten-free School Lunches #1

It snowed today! While the mountains to the east get prolifically snowy each year, our sheltered town never gets snow. Well, never until today. We had fifteen minutes of dancing in snowflakes in our pyjamas this morning, and wasn't it fun!

Then I came in and cooked a hot lunch for the children. We have been eating gluten-free for a couple of months now. It was on a bit of a whim really - the girls had some stubborn, minor problems that weren't really responding to any GP-prescribed treatment, so we thought, well, it can't hurt to try gluten-free for a while. So far, we have seen a significant improvement in one child's eczema, a disappearance of morning tummy-aches, and an unanticipated increase in emotional resilience in another child who shall remain nameless.. which has been very pleasant.

We went back to eating normally for a couple of weeks just to see what would happen, and back came the itchy eczema, the sad tummies and the tears and tantrums, so now gluten-free is the new normal. Because none of us are actually coeliac we have decided that we will be social gluten-eaters - we will eat the birthday cake or whatever else people kindly offer when we are out, because we are polite like that, and also, chocolate cake is still delicious. But at home we are now gluten-free and although at first the girls thought they might die without bread, remarkably they are all still alive and perfectly happy, and never appear to even think about bread, so that's a relief.

However.... school lunches, right? This was what stopped me from even trying this experiment for such a long time. Rosy always took a salad sandwich for lunch, and Posy had a vegemite sandwich every single day of her school life. Because that's all she would eat. How on earth was I going to make school lunches work now? Especially as - I don't really enjoy cooking. Now I think I've mentioned this before - I don't do fancy food. Just plain, but mostly it tastes good. Some people love food and cooking. I love gardening and reading, so cooking is utilitarian, made with real food, and love of the people who will eat it, rather than love of the process. So the recipes you will find here aren't very exciting, but do fill up hungry tummies with a minimum of fuss.

Luckily, last year I bought each of the girls a thermos. Rosy happily takes dinner left-overs in her thermos, but until recently Posy only consented to take one single dish, as long as I made it to her exact specifications. So here is my recipe for Posy-friendly fried rice:

First of all, the day before, I cook a huge, enormous amount of rice, our favourite basmati, when I am making a curry, something I do a lot.

I also save some cooked chicken from dinner, or cook a slice of bacon. Then the next morning, after playing in the snow I saute some chopped capsicum, add a tablespoon of soy sauce, a teaspoon of oyster sauce and a teaspoon of fish sauce to the pan. A teaspoon of honey, then half a cup of stock. Then a heap of frozen peas and corn, Posy's favourite, well-loved by ten year olds everywhere. Then I add the chicken or bacon. Once I forgot and we went vegetarian, and Posy didn't notice..

Now lunch looks like this:

Next I add the rice, which is good and dry now from its night in the fridge. And we're done. Although sometimes I add a touch more soy sauce to taste.

Next, I boil the kettle and fill up the thermos and pop the lid on for a few minutes. This makes the inside of the thermos nice and warm and keeps the food hot longer.

Then I pour the boiling water from the thermos into my tea cup, as a little gift from the hot lunch gods.

Hot lunch!

Don't forget to pack a fork..

This makes three or four lunches for Posy, and makes me feel very virtuous, because, well, cooked lunch. That is a definite good mother halo, right there. That surely gives me a free pass on cleaning the bathroom this week, right??