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.


Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

Thanks for sharing your lovely Christmas experience. And very wise to be outside as it was a scorcher here too (35'C). After the turkey and ham I was wilting - but fortunately someone more clever than I thought to bring water balloons and so we were all soon soaked which is the right way to spend a hot windy day in the shade in Central Vic!

Don't laugh, but I've read of people turning pools into giant aquaponics systems - but what would the neighbours say? Hehe!

Nice to see that Benson is doing his best to enjoy the Christmas spirit too!

By about 9am this morning 32mm had fallen here and breathed a big sigh of relief because I was up for much of the night ensuring that I collected every single drop of that rain. Mind you, I went back to bed and woke up later at 11am. Nice to see that you also enjoyed the quiet Boxing Day too - it is a nice day for lazing around recovering from the festivities. :-)!

I do hope the Wye River bush fire doesn't get much bigger.

Sometimes that happens here too. At a guess, I reckon it may be because the sun is fierce but the air temperature remains cool, you don't quite adapt properly to the heat. Dunno, just a guess.


Jo said…
Chris, mmm, water balloons, brilliant! I love the way you say you were up all night collecting rainwater - I am imagining you with a collection of saucepans and buckets on the back lawn, but I KNOW you actually have a collection of rainwater tanks, so I must know - why did
you have to stay up and fill them? As I understand it, rain plus gravity tends to do that job for you??

And bush fires - horrible. Especially on Christmas Day. That is one great thing about living in the suburbs. I see that you have everything prepared on your farm in the bush, down to protecting the chickens in case of emergency..
Anonymous said…
No snow here in Eastern Canada - Christmas Day was 12C instead of the usual 0 - and everyone seemed to be out for long walks with their dogs after dinner. I liked your outdoor pix. The filtered light from the leaves looked beautiful. I am also having a Do Nothing Boxing Day. Happy New Year!
Jo said…
Dar, I can't quite imagine Canada without snow for Christmas. Sounds like you are having a Tasmanian winter this year. That is exactly the temperature we would expect in July. Hope you managed to have a good Christmas, even without snow..
Jo said…
Dar, I just left a comment on your grocery post, which wordpress locked into blogger jail. Maybe you will find me in your spam folder:(
Unknown said…
Merry Christmas Jo, your outdoor party room looks so inviting. I find the sun has more bite these days and with my fair skin i have to finish up playing in the garden by late morning.

Yes, bush fires are a big worry. I had planned day trips sown there over the next week but thinks it better to keep out of the way. Which means that the tourist season from which they make their living will be greatly affected. Assuming of course that others get the same idea. They dont make much out of me.

Anonymous said…

Why not hey Jo? Fish for dinner and still somewhere to swim and stay cool. :)

You've got me thinking about a lovely cool outdoor room now. No trees here that ould work but we could start planting them. Might be a cool place in 10 years. ;) In the meantime, time to finish off our pergola I think.
narf7 said…
It was really hot out here on Serendipity Farm but we drank enough rum punch to not notice it after a while. We have stopped watering the grass and are concentrating on watering what matters. I have never known it to be this dry in all of the years we have been here. I don't listen to the news much so had no idea about the electricity shortages etc. Isn't it lucky that the pulp mill didn't go ahead as they had most of our water supply earmarked for production of wood pulp. Just imagine how dire our electricity situation would be under those restrictions! We had a lovely simple Christmas on our own with the dogs. The dogs did their best to make snow on our 30C deck with thrifted stuffed toys but did their best work when it cooled down a bit on Boxing day. I love the idea of turning your pool into "something else". How about the middle bit an aquaponics pond and the outside productive water wicked garden? That's the beauty of permaculture. You take what you have and you adapt it to your needs. We needed an enclosure for Squeaky and Deaky our rescue chick and her little adopted sibling so that they could do a halfway house sort of thing before we release them to the hens and life outside the confines of Stevie-boys (now stinky) music room. We found an old wire structure we had laying around since we moved in and recovered it with ex fish farm netting and created a perfect enclosure for housing the chicks inside Sanctuary away from Earls questing beak. I love the photo's of Benson. He looks so dignified. The only shots I have of Earl and Bezial are of them making snow and up to their beaks in gift bags, hunting for treats. Neither scenario shows them to their best advantage ;). Next year we will have Christmas under the trees. What a great idea! We were going to head over the Batman Bridge and have a picnic but it was seriously too hot. Hopefully we get regular rain over the next few months as it has been seriously hot, windy and dry all over the place and whether there are power restrictions or not, we all need to seriously think about our consumption of both electricity and water to make sure that there is enough to go round for everyone. Another lovely blog post. Glad you had a really excellent day :)
gretchenjoanna said…
A very happy Day After Boxing Day to you! I love seeing the photos of Christmas dinner in your climate - Merry Christmas, too!
Jo said…
Lynda, the whole Christmas Day bushfire event was just so sad - and it will impact the whole region for such a long time:( If anyone out there lives in the bush, have a look at Chris's Fernglade Farm blog on the side bar. Over the last few months he has been reviewing his bushfire-proof bush house build at the end of each post, and it is nothing short of amazing how incredibly stringent the building code has to be to make a house reasonably fireproof...

Jessie, you are always ready with a bright idea! I am interested... I do have a salt-water pool and had thought of some kind of ocean fish.. but I hadn't thought of making the pool into a natural pond..

Fran, yes, absolutely, use what you have. If only I was the tiniest bit practical I could whip up all sorts of useful things. My goal for this year - become a tiny bit practical.. Glad your dogs had an excellent Christmas snow fight:)

GJ, you know, I'd never thought of that - we in the South get to see pictures, stories and movies of a White Christmas all the time, but I guess you don't get much in the way of images of Christmas in Summer.
Happy Day After Boxing Day to you too:)

Fernglade Farm said…
Hi Jo,

Haha! That was a very amusing image. Very funny. No, the inlet filters on the water tanks can become clogged up with organic matter that has collected in the pipes and on the roof. I keep all of those areas spotlessly clean for the inevitable fire, but also because that stuff doesn't go away. Also, algae grows in the pipes too and depending on the force of the rainfall, it can wash out of the pipes in big flat sheets - like a fruit leather - and that can also block up the inlet filters. If the inlet filters do block up all of the water collected from the roof overflows the inlet filter ends up underneath the tank and that can destabilise the tank. Remember when full these things can weigh over 25t+! Heavy stuff!

Thanks for the mental image of the pots and pans. I saw that in a film once on the rooftop of a London apartment block in the zombie film 28 days later...


Jo said…
Chris, wow, that seems like a lot of hard work in the middle of the night! I grew up with water tanks supplying all our water, but I am pretty sure our family were far more casual about water tank care. On the other hand, who knows what jobs my dad was doing that I wasn't paying attention to:)
narf7 said…
I just saw this most interesting website and thought immediately of your pool. Maybe a future project
Anonymous said…
Sounds like a lovely Christmas. I have always felt like you about venturing out to shade at the bottom of the garden. Too far, too exposed. But I might escape the cool of the house - when I return.

We have not heard about Tassie's water and electricity shortage. I hope all will be resolved shortly.

Now when there is 29° in a few days, I will be able to report on the relative heat of 29° down south vs 29° in the mainland.

See you in a couple of days!!!!

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