Monday, December 28, 2015

August, September, October, November, December Accounting

To start with, my usual spiel:

Why not buy new? In a word, externalities. All of us who can access the internet 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.

Clearly, although I might be devoted to not buying new, I am not devoted to regular reporting, although I am quite a devoted record keeper, and write down everything I spend so that now I can provide a belated, boring, but accurate report of my purchases of 'stuff' over the last half of the year. 


In August I bought... nothing. That is not to say I didn't spend any money - we spent a ridiculous amount on groceries, went bowling, The Girl had her wisdom teeth out, I paid bills, but no stuff. Awesome.


Bought new: Paintbrushes, paints and canvases from the local art supply shop for Posy's birthday.
Zips from the local fabric shop for Rosy who has been making pencil cases for her friends as gifts all year.
Chicken wire and some timber for the chicken palace.
A new vacuum cleaner head for the pool, but I found a local pool shop to buy this from, so it was more expensive, but so much better quality than our old Bunnings one. It actually stays attached to the pool hose without duct tape..

Bought second hand: Books, clothes and certain bits and pieces which I put away for Christmas.

Teaset, blackboard, scarf and letters for Rosy.


Bought new: Paint for the front fence, batteries for gizmos and torches. 
Two pairs of shoes for Posy from a local shoe store, which is such a relaxing place, and the service is exquisite. The owner, who served us, kindly put an extra hole in the straps of Posy's sandals to accommodate her narrow feet.

Bought second hand: More books, clothes for the children, and doodads for Christmas.

A wee, vintage pudding bowl for The Girl..

...and a wee Chinese plate


Bought new: A magazine, New Philosopher. I found it at the airport bookshop. Love, love it. Might buy more.
A battery for my old, defunct laptop, which I bought from a little shop that sells batteries for everything. Now Posy has her own electronic device, apart from her dad's old phone that she uses as an ipod. She is very happy. She might write a novel.


Bought new: Socks and undies for the children. From Target. Yes, I know. Damn. Reason being, Rosy was going on school camp, and didn't have enough underwear for nine days in the wilderness, and I hadn't had enough forethought to order any from an on-line ethical undie supplier. While I was there, I bought enough for everyone. Also for camp I bought Rosy some clothes from independent local camping suppliers, and a new bed mat as ours died. We borrowed a backpack, as I couldn't find ours - later I discovered it underneath all the Christmas decorations in the shed.

But, here is the evil thing about department stores - while I was in the belly of the beast I discovered that I also needed to buy a dress  and t-shirts for Posy for Christmas, also PJs for The Girl. And while I was on a roll of destructive behaviour I also went and bought a top for Rosy at Myer, and three shirts for The Boy for Christmas. Candles and stickers for Christmas stockings. Guilty binge shopping!

Just before Christmas a Typo store opened up down town. Our girls have been spending all their pocket money in this delicious faux-vintage stationery store for years whenever they can get to Hobart or Melbourne, so I was coerced into spending some money there on Christmas presents. A calendar, a gift card, a box of wooden letters for card-making, a pen that is also a fan(!), you know, things that are vital to the advancement of the species.

I also bought some clothes for my dad for Christmas from a lovely local menswear store. You know, the old-fashioned kind where a nice old man who looks rather like a gnome, in black pants, white shirt, black waistcoat, with a tape measure slung around his neck, comes and asks if he can help you. I found a shirt that was actually made in Australia. Extraordinary.

Two new books, one for me, one for my brother. Because, you know, books.

Mineral make up and make up brush from The Body Shop

A fold-up, reusable bag and a reusable travel mug for The Girl for Christmas from a little kitchen shop in town.

Kitchen bits and bobs and Christmas decorations for gifts from the Oxfam shop.

Drawing pencils for Posy for Christmas from our art supply shop.

A saving grace for Christmas was the regular, local, pre-Christmas craft fair. I bought pretty things for each girl (and they bought something nice for me), plus some gifts for birthday party presents.

A framed print for Rosy, and a cactus in a home-cast concrete pot for Posy from the craft fair.

Bought second hand: More Christmas knick-knacks, of course. Including some for me:)

A new flower tin. Now there are two, it is officially a collection:)

Thoughts. Apart from my Christmas panic buying, I think this year went quite well. What I have learned is that shopping at those big box stores is all about convenience. We can get what we what at the moment we think about it. Any other option requires more planning, and that seems like an outrageous inconvenience to those of us who believe we should be able to have what we want whenever we want it. On the other hand, is that a character trait we want to encourage in ourselves and our children? Really, no.

On the other, other hand - yes, I have more than two hands because I am a mother - organisation and forward planning are just not my thing, so this method of acquiring 'stuff' is quite painful. Actually going out the door to go to the shops is like... well... do you remember The Little House on the Prairie books, when during the Long Winter Almanzo rides out in the teeth of a blizzard to find enough wheat to save the town until Spring? That is how I feel every time I am faced with the thought of shopping. Up until this year, the only way I could bear to keep my children in clothes and shoes was to brace myself, race around town for two hours, acquire everything I needed in one fell swoop, then limp home exhausted, thankful that I didn't have to do that again for at least six months. 

Sometimes I went second hand shopping, but not often enough for it to be a reliable source of stuff. I think that in order to dress everyone mostly second hand (which I thoroughly approve of) I would need to pop into a couple of op shops at least every fortnight, with a list of needs that is at least six months ahead of when those things are actually needed. For instance, I finally found a new (second hand) rash vest for Posy this Spring.. only nine months after I started looking.

Other thoughts. Shopping at small, independently owned stores is the best. I love talking to the owners about where their stock comes from, and discovering how passionate and knowledgeable they are about books/fabric/ukeleles/shoes/computer batteries. Amazing people. And I want to live in a city filled with tiny retail spaces run by passionate, knowledgeable people who can make stuff, alter stuff, source the best stuff, and provide impeccable service, and also provide dignified jobs for our children and fellow townsfolk.

So am I going to continue Buying Nothing New - yes, and I will be kicking it up another notch. I believe there is a way to revitalise our urban and suburban communities, and it starts with the way you and I live our lives every day. Stay tuned for the 2016 project..

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Saving Christmas


Oh, the joy of waking up on Boxing Day, with absolutely nothing planned except laundry and gardening, and hearing the rain starting to patter, then pour down. You know what that means? Now I have absolutely nothing planned at all, so I might as well stay in bed all day. From the sounds of quiet I expect everyone else in the house has the same idea.

I am also very, very happy because this is the first 'proper' rain we have had in about three months. We have had a very dry Spring, and a hot, dry December, and such rain as we have had has been in half-hearted showers, not a proper downpour. Here in Tasmania, which produces all of its home grown electricity via big hydro dams, we have been importing 40% of our electricity from Victoria for the last few months, via the Basslink cable laid across the seabed of Bass Strait, because our dams are down to around 25% of their capacity. Last week, the cable broke. Oops. It will take up to sixty days to fix it. I was listening to a Hydro representative on local radio who mentioned, as if in passing, that it might be a good idea for Hydro customers (ie, everyone in the state), to consider contingency plans... Mmhmm, you think so??

We are doing our bit to bolster the energy pool by producing about 50kW hours per day from our solar panels, but as they are grid-connected, if the grid goes down, so does our power. We have a gas stove-top and a gas barbecue, so we will be right for cooking and cups of tea (very important for morale), and we can swim in the pool instead of taking hot showers - however, the pool itself worries me, because in summer it only takes a couple of days with no filtration to start growing nasty slime. I'm still cross about that pool. The Man insisted on putting one in, and now he's gone, and I get to spend all Summer cleaning it... I do gaze at it thoughtfully sometimes, wondering if I could turn it into a fish farm, you know, like a medieval stew pond, send the children out to catch dinner..

But anyway, fingers crossed, if electricity does need to be rationed over the next two months, hopefully we get enough to keep the pool from turning into a giant penicillin petri dish.

All this is rather a long preamble to a discussion about Christmas dinner, which was lovely, by the way. What with our own family plus the two other families we always spend Christmas with, plus our grannies and another granny, and one of The Boy's friends who was home alone on Christmas Day, we had sixteen of us altogether sitting down to Christmas lunch, on the hottest Christmas Day I can remember here in Tasmania, topping out at 29C (84F). Usually we have lunch in our sunken courtyard right outside the back door, at a long table under a big umbrella. That is, except for the years when it a) rains or b) hails or c) is so cold that we actually light the fire (disclaimer, ok, b and c only happened once).

Benson wondering when the silly-hat-season will be over

Yesterday was so hot that we couldn't eat inside (no air-conditioning, many bodies) and I thought we would probably also roast like a traditional Christmas dinner in the courtyard (afternoon sun beating down), so I had The Boy and my dad move our table up under the pear tree in the back yard. Actually, we have a pear tree and a plum tree growing close enough together that we normally string a hammock between them, and they provided magnificent deep shade all afternoon for our table plus room for sixteen guests, plus one of the day beds from up at the pool, as one of our guests has recently had spinal surgery and needed to recline.

It was a wonderful solution - we were quite cool, and caught every breeze, were close enough to be able to watch the children in the pool, and as one of the guests noted, the difference between the shade of a tree and an umbrella is that the tree funnels hot air up through its leaves like a chimney, whereas the umbrella just traps it.

My actual point, which I am finally getting to now, is that previously on a hot day I shut up the whole house to preserve the overnight indoor coolth, and did very little except droop dejectedly in front of a fan. The outside seemed far to hot to venture into. Now I have realised that we have what is effectively a lovely outdoor room under our fruit trees that we can repair to during the long, hot afternoons of Summer. Up to now I have looked out at the shade far away across the burning hot lawn dead grass, and imagined that the house must be so much cooler than anywhere outside, but clearly I was wrong. Sometimes I just love being wrong!

Now, I know many of you are reading this and thinking, "Huh! 29C isn't hot!" But all I can say is that if you haven't experienced the Tasmanian sun, you can't imagine how hot 29C can be. My parents, who regularly experience 40C (104F) days in Adelaide both agree that in the full sun, Tasmania is much hotter than the equivalent temperature in other parts of Australia. Why? No idea. Is it the hole in the ozone layer right over Tassie? Or that we are further from the equator and the angle of the sun is different? Maybe it is our clear blue skies? No idea, but for whatever reason, we try to avoid the sun on hot days here.. it burns, it burns.. we often don't even use the pool on hot afternoons because the deck is so burning hot, even under an umbrella.

So now I am planning some thrifted wicker furniture to add to the hammock under the fruit trees to make use of another space in our little family estate, to expand the hours we can spend in the pool, to reduce the hours we need to spend in a dark room with the fan on. Honestly, I just can't believe I never spent a hot afternoon in the shade of our trees before. It makes me wonder, how many other corners of our property are totally under-utilised right now?

Here's hoping that your Christmas was as happy, warm (if only in the metaphorical sense), breezy and friendly as mine was, and that your Boxing Day is just as relaxing and non-productive as mine is.. left-overs, I just love left-overs..

Finally, a Christmas craft I feel I am really good at - tying string around Mason jars and filling them with baubles.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Pot Plant I Didn't Kill

This morning, as Benson-the-Friendly-Puppy and I took our constitutional, we met a tiny girl out walking with her grandpa. The tiny girl was carrying a red plastic spatula.

"Have you been cooking?" I enquired.

"No," replied her grandpa, "She is taking the spoon for a walk."

On a completely different note, last year I planted privet in the pot at the front door, in desperation as I have so far killed everything I have planted there. No morning sun, and fierce afternoon sun has killed many plants so far, and others have been killed off by blight, pest infestation, or gardener neglect (that would be me forgetting to water). But so far, fingers crossed, the privet is thriving. Here is the privet in December 2014:

Here it is today:

It would be several feet higher but for severe and regular pruning. This is the longest I have kept a plant alive at the front door, so hallelujah! I must admit, I have been watering it daily, which obviously helps. I have a jug on the kitchen bench which is exactly the right size to hold all the cold water that comes out of the kitchen tap while waiting for it to warm up.

The smaller jugs are also receptacles for waste water from glasses and drink bottles, plus the half-cups of herbal tea which I find all over the house. Sigh. Anyway, the privet loves it.

And, I knew you'd ask - yes, privet turns out to be useful as well as ornamental. Should I ever require a green dye, privet will supply it for me, as well as reducing noticeable grey in my hair when I use it as a hair rinse (possibly by dyeing it green??). Also it will cure my bronchitis, pneumonia and other respiratory infections, as well as acting as a powerful laxative. What's not to like?

Meanwhile, if you are tired of being conventional and want to give the neighbours something to talk about, why not rifle through your utensil drawer and take some of your spoons for a walk? This is guaranteed to be more fun than Christmas shopping.

Updated to add: As Fran noted in the comments - all parts of privet are poisonous. I remember when I first put it in feeling a bit like a wicked witch, flanking the front door with poisonous plants - surely very bad feng shui as well! This does not mean that privet is not medicinally helpful - think of digitalin or belladonna from other poisonous plants. However, I would no more munch on privet leaves if had pneumonia than I would make a salad of foxgloves leaves to treat a dicky heart. I am not a herbalist, and none of my posts on useful ornamental plants is meant as medical advice. I am rather hoping to share my wonderment of the enormous benefits of the common plants that grow all around us.

Apparently privet is banned for cultivation in some places as its flowers can cause eczema and other allergies. Also, horses can be poisoned by munching on privet hedges. As I am using mine for ornamental topiary balls, they won't ever have the chance to flower or fruit, and not many horses make it up the six steps to my front door... but maybe take these points into consideration before planting any at your place..