Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Christmas Came

There are so many things about Christmas that I love. Making the Christmas cake. Twinkly lights. Christmas carols. The Kinder kids in their Nativity Play at school. I followed a small child in a three kings outfit through town this afternoon. He loved that purple cape so much. He kept swishing around in it like a superhero. The Christmas tree. Every year I throw everything we have at the tree - all the decorations made by the children since they were old enough to wield a glue stick and the glitter jar. It generally looks like a particularly cheerful explosion. This year, however, Posy put herself in charge of decorating. She chose a colour scheme of silver, red, white and blue. She took control of the Christmas decorations tub and edited. Rosy and I were only allowed to hang the ornaments that she selected. The tree does look extremely elegant this year, but I am kind of missing the yellow and red cardboard and cellophane star that The Boy made at the playgroup at the Baptist Church hall when he was two, and the Christmas seagull Posy made at Steiner playgroup when she was four (at least, I think it is a seagull).

More things I love about Christmas: home made shortbread from the neighbours. Our Christmas lunch with old friends, family, and lots of local food, including great big salads from the backyard. Having all the children come home and sleeping squeezed into corners of the house. Christmas camping with friends.

The one great big enormous thing I detest about Christmas: the buying of stuff. The part where poor people in far away places spend long hours in mines and factories making stuff that we feel obligated to buy and give to each other. Because it is Christmas. The season of good will towards all men.

As you know, I have spent a number of Christmases now reducing the gift-receiving burden. I realise that this sounds quite Grinch-ish but  I think I am in quite a good place with this. My brother and I have resolved to not give gifts at any celebration because we already have enough stuff. The exception to this is when we find excellent old vintage books in op-shops that we each know the other would love, then we buy and post them at any time of the year. I mostly give my parents food and garden-based gifts. I like gardening and my mum doesn't, so that works well :) I always ask for things like goats from my parents. Because who doesn't need another goat?

Everyone else gets jam, dried herbs or other comestibles. Except the children. I buy them one big thing that they 'need'. Concert tickets, plane tickets for the older ones, magazine subscriptions. This year Rosy got her Christmas present in June - a new down jacket to see her through winter. Then there are the Christmas stockings, filled with wee things from op shops and the Oxfam fair-trade shop. And food. What is Christmas morning without chocolate? Locally made, fair trade chocolate. Wicked expensive, but that is why Christmas has always traditionally been exciting. Because you get treats that you wait for all year. If you have cheap chocolate available all the time, you don't get to be excited about it at Easter and Christmas.

I was very proud of Posy. She wanted to go out and buy lots of new tree decorations to realise her grand decorating scheme. But instead she edited what we already had. She has made small tableaus with her own (quite extensive) collection of girl clutter. We bought candy canes and two candles. And glitter. Lots of glitter. Because no matter how much you simplify, glitter still means Christmas..

I would love to hear the practical details of how you are downsizing Christmas 'stuff'.. do you still do gifts, and how do you do them? I know this is not always an easy thing to negotiate..

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Stoicism for Beginners

There is tomato sauce on my dining room ceiling due to the incident with the exploding sauce bottle. There is brown poster paint on the floor due to the Grade 7 history project.

The weeds that were ankle high last week are knee high this week and will be waist high next week. There is mould in the refrigerator vegie drawer. I accidentally left the sauerkraut in the sun, and it too developed an exciting mould. The builder stepped on a tray of germinating seeds, and every time he turns up he discovers another problem with the roof or drains which will involve tearing up half the garden and maybe selling one of the children to pay for it. In other words, it is situation completely normal.

I am sitting by the open window with a gentle breeze blowing in, watching the evening sunlight glow golden on the garden, ignoring the paint, the sauce, the mould, the weeds, the dirt, the things I haven't done, the things I have done and maybe shouldn't have, and enjoying the bees and the flowers, and the golden light on the spiders' webs that festoon the dining room windows.

This week I am reading the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius was Roman Emperor from AD161 until his death in AD180. For many of those years he fought on the borders of the Empire, commanding his legions and living in camp with them. He was the most important man in the Empire, and yet he believed that fame and power were worthless. Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic. His writings were really notes to self, reminding himself to live a good life and accept what comes. The Stoics taught themselves to live cheerfully whatever their circumstances, to live the simplest life they could, and they believed that much unhappiness stems from restlessly desiring what is out of reach. Their motto might have been: be thankful for what you have, and find the good in it.

Marcus Aurelius began his Meditations with a list of the people who had taught him how to live a good life. Is this maybe the first example of an author acknowledgement page in literature? I am going to use this post to acknowledge my mum, who will soon be celebrating her 70th birthday. It was she who taught me how to appreciate tiny beautiful things. Throughout my childhood she would point out patterns on bugs, flowers made up of other, tiny flowers, dew drops on spiders' webs. She also modelled the importance of appreciating trees, sunsets and good books before worrying about doing the cleaning. Thanks, Mum :)

I like the Stoic philosophy. I would like to be more focussed on inward calm than outward stressors. I don't actually have a life full of big worrying problems, for which I am very thankful. I will practice being thankful for what I have, and being calm about the daily annoyances. Bees and the sunset are easy to be thankful for, and there is possibly even some good in the drainage situation, although I have to admit, I am still looking for it..

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Convict Cemetery

Convict Cemetery in Launceston. A quiet field under the blue sky.

For twenty years or so I have been winding my way up or down a particular hill in Launceston on a semi-regular basis. However, it wasn't until about eighteen months ago that I noticed the sign on a small side road that reads 'Convict Cemetery'. This intrigued me, but it wasn't until last week that I finally found myself with sufficient free time in front of me as I drove down the hill, that I turned off to find out more.

As it happens, I still know little more. The only information provided by the council is a board that reads, you guessed it, Convict Cemetery. Well, yes, but you know, who, what how, when.. I guess the where has been covered. A double row of bricks has been set into the path with the names and details of the convicts who are presumably buried here. I imagine that, at a guess, they have been inscribed by the pupils at the local primary school. This is a charming idea, but not much help if you happen to be doing genealogical research, as many of them are completely illegible. Here is one of the clearest:

Dennis Bien
Age: 23
Ship: Starts with a B
Date of something or other:1848
Sentence: 14 years

Dennis, whose name was maybe actually spelt Denis? To go with his French surname?
I just did some internet research, and the only convict with a similar name who arrived in Van Diemen's Land around 1848 is a Denis Brien. See? This is why you don't get eight year olds to preserve historical data. But it might not be Denis Brien at all. His ship, Boddingtons, as it turns out, arrived in New South Wales in 1793, which is rather early for a death in Launceston in 1848. If that is indeed a death date. And when Denis Brien's age is mentioned, is it the age he was when he died, or when he was transported? So many questions. This is why I am going to be a gardener, not a genealogist.

So let us turn from the cemetery to the woods. There is actually a perfect small forest next to the cemetery.

There is a pine grove, some beautiful oaks,

a thicket of elms.

It's like the Hundred Acre Wood, but it is a one or maybe two acre wood. A perfect pocket of verdant treeness in the middle of the city, and I never knew it was there.

The moral of this story is, always explore down the road that is signposted 'Convict Cemetery'.

In a similar adventure I got lost at a TAFE campus this morning, but in the unregarded tiny parking bay where I ended up, I found a plum and an apple tree. Always a silver lining. Maybe I will remember to head back there in the autumn and pick some well-educated fruit..

Also at the Convict Cemetery - olive trees. Worth a visit in the winter..

Monday, October 30, 2017

What Next?

Every time I look at my last post I have a little chuckle. Sometimes, when I am very stressed about one area in my life, I seize on something else about which I know absolutely nothing and care less (sport, for instance..) and get very impassioned on the subject, in a cunning attempt at misdirection. Not misdirecting you, my lovely readers, but me. It makes me feel better to have an opinion about a thing than to be sitting under the bedclothes gibbering about the unknowns in my life. Mind you, I stand by everything I said in the last post. I may not know anything about sport, but I can see when Big Money is screwing a thing up and spitting out its vulnerable victims after it has chewed them well..

Anyway, here I am, and here is the angst I have been avoiding - some of it is child related angst, so I won't go into it, other than to say, oh, my dears, being a parent, who would have thought that the baby years actually weren't the hardest? People did tell me that, back in the day, and I just wouldn't believe them. What could be harder than NEVER HAVING ANY SLEEP? Well, I am here to tell you, parents of tiny babes, sending your kids out into the world is far more terrifying than any toddler tantrum, and trying to make good decisions for them and with them when they are teenagers - aargh. Who can be that wise? Not me. I have the most fabulous young people in the actual world. They are all crazy and brave and brilliant and kind. I wish I could make the world all soft and bouncy for them so it would never hurt them. Remind me why I can't do that? When The Girl was about six or seven she wrote a (short) novel about what the future would be like. When her characters finally got there, they discovered that the future was...PILLOWS! Pillows are everywhere and bouncing is the thing you do in the future. I want all the children, everywhere, to have that future. I can't stand it that we have conspired to make a pretty crap world for our kids to inherit, and that we are steadily making it worse, day by day.

However, some child related angst has been worked through by everyone, and some child related angst is on-going, and honestly, probably will continue for years, that being the nature of us all being human.. and that's ok. Angst that doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

In other news, I walked into work on Thursday and told them I wouldn't be coming back next year. Yes, I quit! I have been second-guessing this decision for weeks and months, and then finally, just did it. I feel a bit lightheaded now. I am going to do two things next year (who knows, maybe more!) - writing, and starting a very small gardening business. I will be offering organic vegie gardening services, and any ornamental garden services that don't require a truck or a chainsaw. I have one tentative client, and the rest is completely in the lap of the gods. When Rosy finishes her exams she is going to design a business card for me, and I will do administrative things to do with tax, and then I can begin.

Jumping off the cliff has the advantage that once it is done, you can't change your mind. You are committed, and the only way is down. To certain death. Hmmm. I don't like where this analogy is going.

There is a Maori proverb, quoted in Ruth Park's autobiography, Fence Around the Cuckoo:

If you climb a cliff, you may die on the cliff. So what?

So what, indeed..

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Ban Elite Sports to Improve Mental Health

Welcome to Mental Health Week. This morning I was listening to the radio on which an ex-elite athlete was discussing the hidden mental health issues he suffered from during his career, and how he was now committed to campaigning for changing the culture within elite athlete circles so that athletes could feel free to 'come out' about mental health issues, and be trained in dealing with their emotions. All good stuff. People talking about how they feel? Especially if those people are elite male athletes who are supposed to be tough and win all the time? That is a great and worthy endeavour..


Nowhere in that conversation this morning did I hear anyone question whether elite sport itself might actually have been contributing to the mental health issues to start with. All I heard was that Australia is a great sporting nation so that sport is a great place to be talking about mental health.. well, yes, but what if the sport is causing it?

If you think about it for a minute, if you had to set up some laboratory conditions to cause mental health problems, what would be more likely to do so than to look for a child with talent, train them up to think that winning is everything, and that their talent defines them as a person, then put them under increasing pressure as they get even better at what they do, so that eventually, not only is their whole life consumed by training for one single goal, also, thousands or millions of people live vicariously through their failures and successes, and if that isn't enough pressure, they wake up one morning and realise that they have become a sock puppet in the hands of the gods, er, the sponsors.

Ah, yes, and now we come to The Money. Elite sport wouldn't exist without it. Televised sport makes SO MUCH MONEY for its sponsors. The whole edifice has been built by money, and for money. And all of it creates intolerable pressure for the frail human beings at the centre of the arena. It is around two thousand years since huge arenas were last built for sport. First time round it was for gladiators. They probably had mental health issues too.

Just think, once upon a time, those elite athletes were eight year olds who liked to kick a footy, or play tennis, or run and run with the wind in their hair. What kind of a cruel society would take such a child and force them to waste their youth by practicing the thing that they love, to the exclusion of every other good thing life has to offer, hour by hour and day after weary day, for the hollow twin prizes of fame and fortune, which they may or may not attain? Is it any wonder that their mental health breaks down?

Australia could be a great sporting nation, but isn't, because most of us only watch sport rather than playing it. And the handful of sporting heroes that we watch on the telly? We are actually breaking them mentally just by watching, because in doing so we are siding with The Money.

Ways for Australia to be a great sporting nation and solve mental health issues in sport? Watch where the money is. If it's big enough to attract money, it's probably big enough to mess with your mind.. Playing footy for your local team on a Saturday afternoon? No money there, so go for it. Likewise Thursday night mixed netball, Monday night Div 2 hockey, bowls at the club, capture-the-flag on your local school oval with fifty of your best friends, and running, anywhere, with the wind in your hair.

Brought to you by Mental Health Week Life - Making Society a Nicer Place So That Mental Health Problems Mostly Go Away By Themselves.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Here is the News

News stories tend to frame issues in such a way as to reduce our will or even capacity to imagine them in profoundly other ways. Through its intimidating power, news numbs.
Alain de Botton, The News: A User's Manual, Received Ideas 8

I don't have a TV, so I don't watch the news. Even when I did have a TV, I still didn't watch the news, because I don't believe that the news is healthy viewing for young children. I briefly had a news feed on the front page of my search engine on my new computer, until I worked out how to turn it off. I happen to think that always knowing the latest news about everything is an overrated aspect of modern life.

For a start, news isn't really actually news, in the sense that we believe that the news is some kind of objective window onto the reality of what is happening in the world. Whatever the news is, it isn't that. Watch any commercial news program, or scan any news feed, and what you will see is a selection of salacious gossip about celebrities, some gratuitous and graphic violence, some feel-good stories involving children and animals, a lot of sports coverage, and some token sound bites from geo-political hot spots. National public broadcasting companies are a little more classy and a little bit left-leaning, but essentially the same beast. When I do listen to the news, almost exclusively our own Australian national public broadcaster, the ABC news, on the radio, I am continually exasperated by how much airtime is taken up by speculation - talking heads predicting whether house prices will rise or fall, what politicians are going to do next, whether international heads of state will start a war or who is going to win the Japanese election. This is not news in any sense of the word, so much as it is fortune telling. But by experts, of course. So it is practically news. Because experts are never wrong.

But this is just nit-picking about content. My huge objection to the news is its insidious project of presenting the world view that it favours as a given. I am not talking about politics, the ideologies of the left or right, or international affairs. These are debated endlessly and you can choose your news outlet to reflect your own views. What I am concerned about is that the news fails to reflect thoughtfully on our way of life at all. The chief project of our society is to not question the way we live. It is to assume that we are fundamentally correct in all our ideas and to interpret all news events through that lens.

In my utopian parallel universe journalism would exist to unpack our assumptions about our world, to drill deep, to lift the rug and find all the dirt we've swept under there. Maybe to ask the question about where the emperor's clothes have got to anyway.. Now, of course this kind of journalism exists, but it is not generally featured in any kind of major news outlet. You have to go searching for deep journalism, then you have to wrestle with its conclusions and sit quite uncomfortable with its ramifications.

Several years ago I read an article by a journalist who had travelled to West Africa to visit cocoa farms, and the children who were sold as indentured labour to work on those farms. She secretly met with these children who didn't know where their parents were, who had never been to school, whose lives were endless labour in the cocoa plantations. And she took them chocolate. They had no idea what happened to the cocoa pods when they left the farm. They chewed the raw cocoa to keep up their energy to keep working.

This one article, which I cannot find now all these years later, had a profound effect on the way that I think, and the way that I shop. When we, as consumers, discover that chocolate would need to be ten times more expensive in order for cocoa farmers to make a decent living, it becomes clear that something is terribly wrong with the way that chocolate is currently produced.

It made me aware enough to start hunting for evidence about how other food is farmed and processed, and made me want to find out who makes my stuff, and under what conditions. This kind of journalism asks several key questions - how does our society really function? And what kind of stories do we tell ourselves in order to keep its machinery functioning? For instance, when we buy chocolate, what stories do we tell ourselves about the child slaves who made that cheap chocolate possible? How do we push them to the back of our minds as we stand at the supermarket shelves? That is a story I am quite interested in.

Maybe we could ask different questions of experts - instead of endless predictions about events that are going to happen one way or the other anyway, we could ask about how to make things better.

We might ask ourselves questions such as: who benefits from the news, who benefits from the stories it tells, or neglects to tell about our society?

We might think about our relationship to the news. Is the news entertainment, and are we merely consumers of the spectacle that is the nightly news, or are we citizens, receiving important communications about the truths that underpin our society? If the latter, if we are citizens and journalists are actually bringing us vital information, what are we going to do with that? Are we going to let it change the way we think and act?

These are some of the things I think about in the odd half hours that I don't watch the news..

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Green and Thrifty

Green and thrifty fun this week: I made breadcrumbs from the crusts of loaves that didn't get eaten. First I toasted the bread in the oven on low, let it dry for a few hours, then blitzed it in the blender. If you make breadcrumbs like this you can store them in a jar on the shelf and they will last forever. Well, actually, forever is a very long time. It is more likely they will get used up on homemade chicken nuggets first.

I laid another couple of metres of brick path. Now, it does look like this is a path that is leading nowhere, but never fear, all will become clear when my master plan is completed, sometime before 2025, almost certainly.

I pulled out all my celery plants as I need the space for baby spring plants. I cut a lot of the celery and spread it on baskets to dry in the sun. When it is done I will grind it up and add to salt for celery salt to make my soft boiled eggs more interesting. If your celery goes to seed, you can also use ground celery seed to make celery salt. Ground up dried celery is also good to add to soups and stews. It is naturally slightly salty. You can also make celery salt with the leaves of the celery you buy at the greengrocers.

I planted more seeds and moved a bunch of self-seeded seedlings around to fill up the gaps in my flower garden.

My mum brought me rhubarb from her garden and we ate lemons, tarragon, rosemary, rocket, kale and the last of the celery from the garden.

Updated to add: The celery stems turned out way too stringy and stick-like when blended up, but the leaves by themselves worked fine and taste wonderful in tomato-based stews, especially bolognese sauce. Yum!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Cheap Pear Day!

Yesterday morning I popped into the vegie shed (just what it sounds like - a large shed. With veg. It is a farm gate outlet for a local farm. It also sells lots of other local produce at very reasonable prices. It is one of my regular haunts) for apples and carrots and milk. On my way out I saw pears selling for 89c/kg (40c/lb). I don't know if this is cheap for pears elsewhere in the world, but here it is very cheap fruit indeed, where anything under $2kg/90c/lb is a real bargain to stock up on. I walked right back in and bought a boxful.

This is what 11kg (24lbs) of pears looks like.

I ditched my other plans for the day and made pear butter (pears stewed down with lemon juice and zest, nutmeg and cinnamon, then blitzed with the stick blender). Then I bottled it and used my biggest stock pot to preserve them (just a fancy way of saying 'boiled the heck out of the jars for 15 minutes'). This is what 11kg of pears looks like when made into pear butter.

It is considerably reduced in volume. It is a delicious way of storing fresh, local produce in a convenient, shelf stable package. When I run out of room to store preserves in the kitchen, I shove them under my bed! I really like being able to have stocks of food that don't require filling up a freezer. Seeing jars of food in the cupboard allows the survivalist in me to relax and not worry about starving to death if the power goes off. Also, preserves are so convenient. This morning Rosy took yoghurt with pear butter and toasted oats for lunch in a thermos. It took several hours of my day yesterday, but will mean several weeks' worth of fast food.

I have no idea why pears were on sale in the spring. Usually these sales are on at the height of autumn. Maybe they are running out of space in cold storage at the pear farm? No complaints here. I would much rather preserve on a chilly spring day than a hot autumn afternoon! But.. I miss my fruit trees! I miss lots of free fruit to process into a year's worth of free food! I am beavering away at the garden to clear and build some terraces so that next year I can plant fruit trees.

Preserving food is so satisfying, but makes for a long and tedious job of peeling and coring. I amused myself by listening to random episodes from The School Of Life. These five minute videos by British philosopher Alain de Botton address those issues that are vitally important to our well-being but don't generally get covered in academic curriculums; Resilience, How to Forgive, Overcoming Bad Inner Voices and How to Complain are some of the topics you might encounter. Little nuggets of philosophical gold all wrapped up in the soporific tones of the planet's most soothing philosopher. What's not to like?

Updated to add: Pear Butter Recipe as per request from reader:

Peel, core and quarter pears while listening to philosophical essays of your choice.

Put them in your biggest pans - I distributed mine between my two biggest stew pans.

Now, this can only be a rough guide, depending on how many pears you start with - add about half a cup of water, the zest and juice of half a lemon, 2 Tbsp brown sugar, 1/2 tsp nutmeg and 2 heaped tsps cinnamon to each large saucepanful of pears. Cook with lid on for about an hour, or until the pears are soft and taste delicious, stirring occasionally to ensure they are not sticking.

Whiz up the pears with a stick blender or mouli, push them through a strainer, or pop them in a blender. At this point you can reduce the pear butter down further, cooking on low with the lid off to make a more reduced, thicker sauce. I was happy with my original blended sauce and bottled it immediately.

Collect your clean, warmed jars (I pour very hot water into them, leave for a couple of minutes, then tip it out again. You can also warm them in the oven). Put quarter of a tsp of citric acid into the bottom of each jar to ensure that the pear butter is acidic enough to preserve in a water bath. Ladle in the pear butter, leaving about a centimetre (1/2 inch) headspace at the top of the jar. Put the lids on and lower into nearly boiling water in your largest pot, covering the jars by a couple of centimetres (1 inch). A teatowel on the bottom of the pot stops the jars clinking around in the boiling water. Leave them on a quiet boil for 15 mins, then wrestle them out with tongs and a tea towel (I really must buy some proper preserving tongs as I keep dropping the jars using my cooking tongs..).

Now you have lovely pear butter to eat with yoghurt or spread on toast or serve with pork or make pear tarts, or maybe just eat straight out of the jar.. :)

Monday, September 25, 2017

Out With the Old

I do like to be thrifty, so I save the seed that I don't use one year and use it the next year, or the year after that. Some seed will survive that treatment, and finally germinate, but it will never spring up with enthusiasm and vigour like fresh seed will. Two weeks ago I planted out a bunch of old seed, and some cornflower seed that I bought this last autumn. The results are in. As you can see, I will have a wonderful crop of cornflowers soon, and not so much broccoli. The children will be pleased. Yesterday, the first buttercrunch lettuce seed finally raised its old and tired little head. It is up, but it doesn't really want to be. I can tell it just wants to go back to bed. I know how it feels. The cornflowers, on the other hand, are like peppy and energetic toddlers, jumping out of bed at the crack of dawn, and rampaging about full of vim and vigour.

The moral is, use new seed. This is a marvellous excuse to order more seed, so there is the silver lining. Seed catalogues, mmm...

Storing seed is of course, something that does need to happen, although preferably for not more than a year. Seeds are best stored in a cool, dark, dry place. I store mine in a basket on a high shelf in my bedroom, which is in the southern corner of my southern hemisphere house. It is the coolest room in the house and never by chance gets the slightest ray of sunshine.

Many of my seeds are collected in the garden in the autumn, and I throw them into a paper bag and into the basket. If I am lucky, I will label it.. the gold standard would be after six weeks or so, when the seed is good and dry, to re-package it in an airtight container - a jar or ziploc bag, which will help it to keep for longer. I mostly do not do this.

As a lazy gardener, often I save seed by just letting the plants seed all over the garden, and then in the spring, moving the plants to where I want them as they pop up as ten thousand tiny seedlings. This does actually create more work than saving seed properly in the first place, but is kind of fun. Right now I have lots of tiny lettuces popping up all over, a million tiny viola plants, seven million baby warrigul greens and about the same number of calendula plants. I am thinking of starting my own plant nursery.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes, looking at seed websites. Such a chore.

Oh, and remember to buy local seed. There is almost always a small local seed company. They will be breeding plants for local conditions. The other place you can find local seed and seedlings is in the gardens of your neighbours. Ask! Gardeners generally love to share.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Green and Thrifty

Daffodils and forget-me-nots. Does spring get any better than this?

For my green and thrifty project this week I used up all my remaining lettuce seeds, planting them in a thick band along the edge of my pea patch. My plan is to be able to cut several weeks of baby lettuce from this projected prolific lettuce mixture.. will keep you updated. After that I can buy new lettuce seed, which is exciting, because although I hate shopping, I love buying seeds. So much promise from such a tiny packet! And one packet of lettuce seed costs the same as a bag of gourmet baby lettuce..

My girls have filled the bathroom drawers to overflowing with all the creams, cleansers and make-up they have been buying over the last few months. I declared a moratorium on buying anything new until everything is used down to the last product (they buy all of this out of their allowance/earnings, although they are very welcome to use whatever plain and boring product I provide for family use..). I offered to use up anything they didn't want anymore, so am now working my way through tubs of 'blueberry' flavoured body lotion and several tubes of sample moisturizers. Posy is very keen on making her own personal care products, which I am very excited about, but it seems wicked to throw out what we already have. So we are aiming for a clean slate after which we will be doing some bathroom product DIY.

I am also using up various other things that people have kindly given us. A bottle of dog shampoo came with a bag of dog treats and dog food sadly left after a friend's dog died. My dog is a delicate snowflake and requires medicated dog shampoo, so I am using the donated shampoo as a floor cleaner. I figure it is all soap, right? So I squirt some in the mop bucket with some eucalyptus oil, and off we go.

When we moved into this house the owners had left various things behind, including a bottle of disinfectant, which is a product I don't normally use, being green and hippy and all that. It has sat in my cupboard for a year, and finally I have broken down and am using it to clean the bathroom just to get rid of it.. maybe this is not so green and I am poisoning the waterways with it? It is thrifty though, and soon it will be all gone and that pesky bottle will be out from under the laundry sink, where it is taking up valuable laundry real estate.

In my yard there is a large, but not yet full-grown horse chestnut tree. I was disappointed to discover it was not edible, and its medicinal value appears to be both arcane and complicated to use as a home remedy.. however yesterday I was excited to find that apparently the horse chestnut can be used as a, wait for it... laundry detergent! It comes from the same family as the tree that produces soapnuts. Soapnuts are an apparently effective laundry detergent (I don't actually know this from personal experience, as I have never used them, but I hear this is the case..). However soapnuts need to be imported from the tropics, and there is a horse chestnut right outside my door. My only problem is that right now in early spring there is not a horse chestnut to be seen here in Tasmania. But for those of you who live in the Northern Hemisphere, it is the perfect time to pop out and collect those conkers before all the pesky children do, and whip up a batch of laundry detergent. If you do, PLEASE let me know how you get on with it. I am dying to know! Recipe here and FAQ here.

Not thrifty - I neglected to take the library books back this week, and I can feel overdue fines accruing.

Also not thrifty - The dog ate the shea butter that Posy and I bought to make lip balm and moisturiser. Sigh. That was a very expensive beauty treatment for the dog. On the bright side, it won't kill him, and will probably make his coat shinier.

Tell me about your green and thrifty projects this week. Or your frugal fails, if they are funnier.. :)

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Green and Thrifty

This week I have been chitting potatoes. Chitting is the best garden job for the lazy gardener. It just means letting your root vegetables sprout out of their tiny eyes before planting, so involves no actual work at all other than taking the seed potatoes out of their string bag and laying them out in a tray in a place that has light but not full sun. Taking them out of their bag is important, because they will still sprout if you leave them in the bag, and the delicate sprouts will break off as you pull them out of the netting bag.. ask me how I know..

I have planted the first seeds of the year, some of which are quite old seeds from the bottom of my seed basket. The only ones which have sprouted so far are the ones I bought this last autumn. Most seeds grow best if they are reasonably fresh, which is why seed swapping parties are the best. I am determined to use up all of my old seed this year so I can buy new with a clear conscience. I also saved a lot of seed last year, which I will either plant or share. Seeds are not resources you can hoard. Seeds have to be grown and saved again in order to keep them viable.

As I was driving a child (forget which one) on some no doubt vital excursion this week I spied a rather large firewood log abandoned in the gutter, so I pulled over and loaded it into the boot of the car, child sinking down in the passenger seat and moaning, "Muuuum, do you have to?" Well, yes, my darling, I do - as a member of the Wombling club it is my duty to be making good use of the things that we find, things that the everyday folk leave behind..

My friend Monique and I swapped some of the many self-seeded goodies popping up in our gardens. I took her love-in-a-mist and violas and she gave me lettuce, kale and parsley. I love sharing plants. Plants are so wonderfully, generously prolific. With a little patience and the kindness of other gardeners, most plants are not something that need be part of the money economy. In autumn I gave away dozens of jonquil bulbs that have been quietly multiplying in my wild garden for decades, and this year there will be dozens more to share. They are growing so thickly they have stopped flowering, but given a year and enough space they will continue growing in other gardens for decades more. Nature isn't going to stop growing plants and we may as well make the most of it and share the bounty around. It astonishes me just how extraordinarily fertile an average plant is, given a little encouragement..

I have been enjoying some low key thrifty adventures in the garden this week, how about you?

PS In other news, the article I wrote for Earth Garden was bumped from the spring to the summer edition. I will have to wait another three months to see my name in print :( But it will happen!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Community 101

Katherine brought me flowers from her garden. Spring!

You probably didn't notice because, well, I expect you have other things to do, but I have been away from these pages for Quite Some Time. Reason being: technology. Katherine, a dear friend of mine, volunteered her partner, the very kind and long-suffering IT genius, Matt, to take a look at my old laptop which had being saying NO to quite the number of computer-expected activities, like looking at email, for instance. Matt valiantly struggled for most of one Sunday afternoon with my laptop, while I helped Katherine cut out a sewing pattern (well, let's just say, I tried to help), and visited her chickens and her broody turkey.

Matt updated and reinstalled everything that could be updated and reinstalled, and I ended up with a laptop that worked much more efficiently except that it refused to load blogger for me. The computer said NO. Then on Friday night Matt and Katherine came for dinner, bringing one of Matt's 'old' laptops with him (when I say old, I mean newer than any laptop I have ever owned!) which he had loaded with all the programs I need to function, and which magically lets me write blog posts! I am so very lucky and blessed with a richness of kind and very accomplished friends.

I often plough on through life, taking certain things for granted until a life event pulls me up short and I am forced to stop and examine a state of affairs that I normally accept without thinking about, and this week Matt's kindness, patience and generosity made me stop and think about friends. I have an absolutely stirling set of friends, a circle which waxes and wanes over time - mostly waxing I am pleased to say! We are in and out of each others' houses and lives, and we have a pretty fluid notion of 'things'. Our kids inherit all the clothes of all the other kids - last week I passed on a denim jacket to a friend's daughter and I traced its provenance through at least three mutual friends until it reached this wee poppet, and I am sure it will continue on past her as well. I love that our kids all love sharing clothes! We adults share clothes between us as well, and when I moved from a large house to a small cottage I gave away half my furniture, so I walk into my friends' houses and see my old couches, tables and sideboards and enjoy the bounty from other households at my place (my friend Sandra and I swapped dining tables as I needed a smaller one and she wanted a bigger one). I also took all our camping gear to Sandra's place as she had storage space and no camping gear and I had camping gear but no storage space. Who does that camping gear belong to? Well, neither of us and both of us and everyone else who wants to borrow it, really.

What I love is that we don't hesitate to borrow or lend or give stuff away. Last week my spade broke when the handyman who was working for me accidentally heaved an enormous sleeper onto it. When I visited my friend Monique to swap some seedlings with her, I asked to borrow her spade for an afternoon's gardening, as I hadn't got to the market yet to look for a new (secondhand) spade. She lent me her spade, then sent me a text later telling me to keep it as she had two. To be honest, she is not sure where the second spade came from. It may actually belong to one of our other friends..

Of course, friends don't exist just for the reason of sharing stuff around. We are there for each other in good times and bad. We share endless cups of tea and a listening ear. We provide meals and clean each other's houses in a crisis. We look after each other's kids and have parties and order bulk toilet paper together.

Really, we are a bunch of people who like each other, but we also provide a mutual safety net. I think one of the reasons I feel so optimistic about my life, is that whatever happens, there are people who have my back. And I have theirs. Friendship isn't always easy, and helping friends and family often requires a great investment in time and energy. I expect Matt could have found something more pleasant to do with his Sunday afternoon than helping me with my computer, and spending more hours loading programs onto his old laptop for me. And yet, what he did, I won't forget. Friendship and community doesn't work on the basis of credit and debt, it works on the basis of what goes around, comes around. Kind deeds and shared work cements friendships and creates a web of 'knowing who you can rely on' and 'being the kind of person other people can rely on'. Individuals sometimes fail but the web keeps holding us all up anyway.

That is what my community looks like, and I feel very blessed to have it. Tell me about yours..

Friday, September 1, 2017

Time to Plant Peas

As for Miss Marple, once she had caught a glimpse out of her bedroom window of Lucy Eyelesbarrow really trenching for sweet peas in the proper way, she had leaned back on her pillows with a sigh of relief..
Agatha Christie, 4.50 From Paddington

The wattle is yellow on the hillsides, and the daffodils are blooming their heads off in the garden, which can only mean one thing - it is time to plant peas. Peas are very hardy and are one of the first crops to go into the spring garden. However, if you live somewhere cold, where the soil is still definitely sulking, your peas will be much happier for being trenched.  They will stay warmer in early Spring, and their roots will stay moister as the weather warms and the soil dries out.

Trenching peas involves exactly what it sounds like - digging a trench along the row where you want to plant your peas. The 'proper' depth for the trench is 30cm, or a spade's depth, but my soil is fairly light and free draining, so I just dug a trowel's depth instead.

Into this I tipped a layer of compost from my compost bin, then a layer of weeds. It wasn't difficult to find a bucketful of fresh, juicy spring weeds to sacrifice to the greater good of happy peas. The layer of weeds will slowly rot down, providing first warmth in the cold spring soil, then an open airy space for the peas' roots to penetrate, and then the trench will collapse slightly as the weeds' volume compacts down, and there will be a nice trench to fill with water as the weather gets warmer and drier. The weeds and compost also provide a sponge effect to retain moisture. This very simple little trench provides many benefits to the lucky peas.

Another layer of compost, and then returning the soil to fill the trench up to the top.

I soak pea seeds overnight before planting them to give them a head start in the ground - this also allows you to see which pea seeds will be viable. The good ones plump up, rehydrate and sink, while the duds stay wrinkly and float on the surface of the water.

Pea sticks are always useful for the pea vines to twine up. I use prunings from the apricot tree. There. The first garden job of spring. Done.

Updated to add: My friend Katherine noted that I missed a step above.. after you have soaked the peas you plant them in the top layer of soil above the compost. A rule of thumb for planting seeds is to plant them at a depth of twice the diameter of the seed. Ironic isn't it.. a post on planting peas which misses out the part where you plant the seeds.. thanks Katherine:)

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Green and Thrifty

Over the winter I have been drying orange peels on the wood heater. They make the most marvellous fire starters, as they are full of oils, and they make the house smell lovely as they dry. Actually, they generally get slightly scorched when I dry them on the fire, but I figure they will get a lot more scorched when I use them as fire starters..

And look at my new kettle! I have been hunting for a second hand stovetop kettle for ages, and was just about to give up and buy a new one when my friend Katherine found this adorable whistling kettle at the op shop. Actually, it is more of a shrieking kettle. When it boils it shrieks like a toddler having a temper tantrum at the supermarket, and it makes me laugh every time. I keep the kettle on the fire for endless cups of tea.. it never gets to shrieking point on the fire, but burbles away happily to itself. I pop it on the gas and it comes to a shrieking boil in a few seconds. It is very companionable, it's like having another pet :) When I am not using all this lovely free hot water for cups of tea I periodically take the kettle outside and pour the nearly boiling water on the weeds attempting to grow between the pavers in the courtyard. Nothing discourages weeds quite so much as a kettle of boiling water.

When the fire isn't on I am continuing to use the vintage kettle I bought a couple of years ago. Several months after I bought it, The Boy accidentally killed it by neglecting to cover the electric fuse mechanism thingy with water. But then a few months later I found a spare fuse in an op-shop, and The Boy bought me another jug at Christmas time, so I have back ups. I am not sure that this is strictly thrifty or green as I am sure it would be using a whole lot more electricity than a modern kettle, but it gives me so much joy. I love the simplicity of it. It is literally a jug, with the most basic electrical mechanism attached. I was reading a book recently, written in the 1960s in New Zealand, and the author mentioned 'plugging in the jug' to make a cup of tea, and I remembered that phrase from my childhood. These types of kettles were mostly gone then, except from church kitchens and old people's houses, but the phrase remained.

The girls and I made a bean trellis. When I moved in here one of my fences was a wire and iron dropper one, which was not at all dog proof. I had it replaced, but kept the old fencing as I knew it would come in handy one day, and it has. I plan for it to be dripping with green beans come summer. As you can see I did not do anything so tedious as measuring matching spaces between the poles..

I have been removing plants from the strawberry patch to decongest it a little and have transplanted them to make a new strawberry patch. The first little self-seeded lettuces are beginning to pop up, so I transplanted them to a safe place next to the strawberries, so that they won't be accidentally weeded or stepped on. The first self-seeding baby rocket plants have popped up among the garlic, so I will leave them there for a while to enjoy our first baby greens for the year. I am so excited because it is nearly Spring and there are jonquils and daffodils out, and the next door neighbour's plum tree is in blossom. There are bees! Spring is so thrilling!

What green and thrifty projects have you been up to this week?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Technology All Died

Well, my camera died, my phone is on the way out and my laptop is dying as well. Now, you know me well - the last thing I want to do is to run out and buy a bunch of new technology that is a) very expensive, and b) using up remaining limited stocks of rare earth metals and whathaveyou in its insides. I did buy the camera new, many years ago. It is one of those point and shoot digital types that is now so passe what with phone cameras being better and all - but my phone, which used to belong to The Girl, worked well for most things, even took photos, but refused to transmit those photos to any other device. I have never had a new phone. I always happily received very old phones from whoever was getting rid of them. Generally my phones had been lying about in drawers for several years before their owners passed them on to me as the last stop before the recycling bin. My laptop came from the husband of an old friend of mine who in the course of his work rescues unwanted laptops from schools and government departments and refurbishes them for anyone in the community who needs one. He is one of my personal heroes. This laptop has been brilliant - it has a Linux Mint operating system installed, open source software, a concept which I love, and which has worked wonderfully. However, now I want to do some writing, and the hard truth appears to be that publishers require Windows documents. And this laptop has a completely dead battery - I can only use it when it is plugged in. And sometimes just dies,which is worrying. The Girl gave me her old school laptop, and that works fine, but its battery is dying too, and, get this, I can do anything on it except open up blogger! It refuses to let me in. Which is a bit awkward.

So I rang The Boy to ask if he or any of his technologically sophisticated friends had a laptop or phone to sell. Turns out he had an iPhone 5 sitting in a drawer that he thought would make a good late birthday present for me, because he is so lovely, so I now have the phone/camera problem all sorted. Well, I will when I ring the phone people to get them to send me a new, tiny sim card. I hate ringing the phone people. Sigh.  But I have made a pact with myself that I can't eat lunch until I ring the phone company. It will be interesting to find out whether I want lunch more than I want to not ring the phone company..

I have to say I am very tempted to run out and buy a new laptop. It just seems so convenient to walk into a shop, plunk down money, and there you have it, a brand new shiny thing.. but I probably couldn't even bring myself to that. And where would the excitement, the serendipity, the story be in that? Nowhere, that's where. And life without uncertainty and thrill of the unknown? Completely unbearable. I'll keep you updated:)

PS I am trying hard not to think of all the photos that I never got around to taking off my camera before it crashed to the floor and stopped working forever. Go store your photos somewhere safe now! There won't be any new photos for a few days, but enjoy this portrait of Benny-the-tired-puppy by my brother from last year.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Compost: Food Waste Turned Into More Food

In the continuing war on waste, at a household level by far the most effective strategy I have for reducing our municipal garbage output is composting. I have a very simple and comprehensive composting system.

Three large compost bins. One is filled and has been spending several months quietly composting away. One is nearly full, and one is waiting to be filled.

These bins are recycled plastic and made in Australia. They are the simplest type of compost bin - they have no base, are placed directly on the soil, they have a hinged lid. You don't need to buy compost bins - you can use any old lidded bin of any size, cut out the base and away you go. Now these bins won't make your classic turned, hot compost. They are too small to heat up properly. To make a hot compost that kills pathogens and weed seeds you need a heap that is made all at once and is at least 1 cubic metre (35 cubic feet) in size. This is generally not practical in a small suburban garden. My plastic bins are not compost bins so much as large worm farms. They produce what is called 'cold compost' but is actually pretty much worm castings, and the process takes at least a year in our temperate cool climate. If you live somewhere warmer than Tasmania the process will go quicker, and if you have snow in the winter, it will take longer.

There is no secret or complicated method to producing cold compost. You start with a bucket full of kitchen scraps on the bottom of the bin, and add some compost worms (these are the worms you buy for your worm farm. Or ask a friend with a worm farm or compost. If you live in Launceston, ask me). You will need a double handful of worm-filled compost to start. Then add all your kitchen scraps, soft weeds, autumn leaves and vegie garden prunings. Anything that isn't actually sticks can go in. Sticks take longer to break down. I throw in all my kitchen waste, even the things that you aren't supposed to put in compost bins and worm farms, like meat, bones, dairy, onions and citrus skins. The worms in my bins have never seemed to care. Mind you, I don't have rodents or a dog that digs, so I know that what goes into the bin stays in the bin. Other things I put in the compost: hair, dust and dog hair from the dust pan, a small amount of fire ash, paper towel, natural fibres of any kind, tissues that haven't been used for anything nasty. Cold compost will not kill pathogens, so I don't put anything in it that will spread germs, like cat or dog poop, or snotty tissues. Tissues I flush down the toilet. Guinea pig and rabbit poop is fine though, and their bedding, and the newspaper from the bottom of the budgie cage. Another thing cold compost will not do is kill seeds, so do not throw in seeding weeds, or plants like ivy which will cheerfully resprout under any condition whatsoever.. this also means that you will have hundreds of tomato, pumpkin, zucchini and cucumber seedlings popping up when you spread the compost in the garden. This may be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. I do admit it is very difficult to be hardhearted and hoe all of these baby plants back into the soil.

After a year or so the compost looks like this:

The only identifiable ingredient is eggshells, which is kind of bad news for when I get chickens, as chickens who peck at eggshells can become egg eaters. From now on I will be drying and grinding up the eggshells, and saving them as a chicken feed calcium supplement for my (as yet hypothetical) chickens. Otherwise the compost looks exactly like potting mix, but has more heft to it. It is wonderful, magical stuff for the garden. It adds nutrients, but also adds organic matter to the soil, helping it to become better draining and making it a more hospitable place for plants to grow.

Things to remember - site the bins in the shade so you won't kill the worms. Keep the compost damp in the summer. Worms like alkaline, so add a little fireplace ash or garden lime occasionally. If a cloud of tiny flies fly out when you open the lid, add another handful of lime and some garden soil. You will sometimes see an explosion of tiny white wriggly worms in the bin. Do not panic. They are the baby worms, and will grow up to do important composting work like their parents, so feed them well.

For further reading, here is a list of 100 Things You Can Compost.

There are so many different ways to compost. How do you do it?

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

My New Curtains Made From Painters' Drop Sheets

I have all the new curtains thanks to the kindness of my friends. When I moved in to our new house I had a quote done for curtains and blinds in three rooms. $2000. I thought again. Curtains. They are hemmed rectangles, right? I can hem a rectangle, I thought to myself. Then I hauled myself around town looking for the exact rustic weave, natural linen fabric I was after (none of the curtain-making places could produce this for me. The $2000 quote was for fabric that was synthetic). I figured it would cost a bomb, but hopefully less than $2000. But there wasn't anything that I wanted, at any price. Then I went to the hardware shop for paint for Rosy's door. And I found a shelf full of marvellous unbleached cotton fabric in a canvas weight, and it turned out to be painters' drop cloths. Brilliant! I bought enough fabric for the three windows that needed curtains, and it sat on my bedroom floor. For a year.

Until my clever and kind friend Katherine from the Living Better With Less Group said, "Why don't we come and help?" and I said, ever so gratefully, "Oh, yes please!" So they did. Katherine sews lots of her own clothes, has never sewed curtains, but was game to try.

Cindy actually knew what she was doing, being an experienced producer of curtains. The rest of us tried to be useful by handing over the scissors and making lots of tea. I was already at the point of wilting due to having had extensive conversation with the lady at the curtain shop, who was very nice but she also seemed rather doubtful that I had the least idea of what I was doing (she was so right) as she sold me blockout lining, header tape, hooks, and then I had to return because I forgot to buy thread. Still, we measured twice and cut once, and apparently did all the right things, because curtains happened.

 Benson-the-curtain-making puppy helped immensely. He lay on his bed and had naps and didn't stir even when we accidentally dropped curtains onto him. Oh, wait, he says he was holding the curtains for us until we needed them again.

I tried all sorts of cunning tricks to avoid having to actually help sew. I made lots of tea, and served blueberry muffins and a cheese platter, and then more tea, and had run out of excuses and had just sat down to start hemming at the insistence of everyone, when there was a knock at the door... a couple who were just visiting Launceston had deduced that this was the wife's grandmother's house.. of course, I offered to show them around and discovered that a nice old lady called Dulcie Harris lived and died in this house about thirty years ago..

The others were convinced that I had arranged the whole affair in order to get out of sewing... but look, here I am, actually sewing, with photographic evidence. And so, thanks to the kindness of my friends, I can now sew curtains. And, no, it is not just theoretical knowledge, because this week I have sewed curtains for Posy's room, all by myself which is an actual miracle.

During the course of the sewing afternoon Cindy said, "We don't ask each other for help enough." It's so true. I hate asking for help. Most of us in our society can afford to buy help, so we do that. In our Living Better With Less Group, and in my wider circle of friends, we are attempting to turn that tide by learning to rely on each other a little more, giving and receiving help for all sorts of projects and learning and teaching so many new skills. And the truth is, being part of a community and doing things together is just more fun, as well as providing a practical safety net for each other.

Oh, and no surprises, my house is now much warmer. I can't believe I lived for over a year with no curtains in the house. Especially on the biggest window which is right next to the woodheater. Now we are cosy and warm. And if anyone wants help with curtain making, give me a call. I will make the tea..

Do you have a community of friends or family who volunteer to help with the quilting, the canning and the barn raising? How do you begin to become that kind of community?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Complete Rubbish!

Australians are completely rubbish. But not quite as rubbish as the Americans. Australia follows the USA as the second highest producer of rubbish per capita in the world. On average we produce 1500kg of rubbish per year. Each. Our household waste is nearly half organic waste, and a quarter paper and cardboard. Apparently we buy 27kg of textiles per year and send 23kg of that to landfill.

Australians use 3.92 billion plastic bags a year. There are only 24 million of us. I cannot fit enough zeros on my calculator to do that maths (to be honest, I don't actually know how many zeros there are in a billion), but really? That is a lot of bags.

I can tell you right now, our household is not contributing nearly that much to landfill per year. Oh, it probably used to, although even at the height of our rubbish production the neighbours would always use our bin as first port of call to stuff extra rubbish bags in. Over time, as I have become less and less excited about buying new things, very much less enthusiastic about plastic, and have become very enthusiastic about composting, our rubbish production has bottomed out. So much so that in our new kitchen, when we moved into our wee cottage last year, I noticed that there was no intuitive place to put a bin. So I decided to have a benchtop bin. See that small canister above? The one next to my teacup that is there for purposes of comparison? That is my bin. The large canister is the compost bin (I had to move all my dirty dishes to take this photo! The bins live right next to the sink). There is also a small bin in the bathroom, and the girls each have a desktop bin about the same size as the kitchen bin. They empty theirs about once a month. I empty the bathroom bin once a week. The kitchen bin gets emptied every two or three days.

We have a 104 litre (27 gallon) wheelie bin and we put it out once a month, for a family of three. We could probably stretch that to five or six weeks, but monthly works well, as our recycling bin only goes out on alternate weeks, so it is easy to put them both out once a month.

Here is a sample of what our kitchen bin contained, pre-Plastic-Free July. First, the carrot bag bin liner:

Next, the contents:

Note the single rubber glove? I save the other one and eventually I get a pair again! The biggest item in the bin is the cryo-vac packaging from farmers' market meat. And that is the reason I used a plastic bag to line the bin. Now that I am buying my meat plastic-free from the butcher's down the road, I haven't needed to use a lining in the bin. There is a rice cracker packet. The lid from a plastic milk bottle. Now I am toasting sourdough instead of using crackers, and buying milk in one litre cartons. Which is expensive and annoying, as they get used up really quickly. The can lids? Well, this is embarrassing. I always worry that the recycling centre employees will cut themselves on the sharp can lids. I am everybody's mother. When I told a friend this, she looked at me strangely. "They wear gloves," she said. "If you're really worried, stick the lid inside the can and squish the top together." So now that's what I do.. After I took this photo I realised I could use the cardboard clothing labels as fire starters. The labels are from a shirt I bought from the op-shop that still had its labels attached.

My girls are away from home this week, and this is almost a week's worth of bin contents for just me, in full Plastic-Free July mode:

I bought a small pot of natural yoghurt as a starter for making home-made yoghurt, as I killed my last batch (added the starter while the milk temperature was still too high and killed the yoghurt bugs. Sorry, little guys). The black plastic circle is the thingie you pull off to get the lid open. There is the sticker from my meat purchase in my own container today, a sticker I pulled off the furniture (thank you Posy) and some bits of candle wax I scraped out of a jar I was using as a candle holder. There were also some till receipts but I added them to the newspaper fire starter yesterday afternoon (I haven't been recycling till receipts because I thought they were below minimum size for recycling, but I just researched that and discovered that it is only shredded paper that is too small for recycling. So recycle your till receipts and put your shredded paper in the compost. The cardboard labels up above could have been recycled as well).

So hey, at this rate it will be two months before I have to put the bin out.

I know that reducing and refusing plastic is the goal of Plastic-Free July, but my friend Katherine sent me some information on the weekend about what I can recycle at our local tip, sorry, Waste Centre and Transfer Station. It is pretty schmick and organised now, and it is free as long as you are recycling and not dumping waste to landfill. It even has a cool tip-shop. Anyway, the point is, I discovered I can recycle soft plastics there. That is, things like bread bags, plastic bags, plastic wrap, chip packets, lolly packets, pet food bags etc etc. Now mostly I don't buy things in plastic BUT frozen peas! Cat food! Hurray, now I will be able to recycle those last pesky items that reproach me with their plasticness. I already have half a bag of plastic bags with holes in and empty frozen pea and corn bags in the pantry, because I knew if I waited long enough I would find a way to get them recycled. And here it is!

One thing I do put in the rubbish bin that I shouldn't, is noxious weeds. I have a messy corner at the bottom of the yard where I throw all my green waste. Next year I want to plant some fruit trees there, but until then it can accumulate green goodness. I hate having potential soil fertility leaving my yard, so I hoard clippings, prunings and weeds because really, they are green gold. But then there are noxious weeds like oxalis and ivy and grass which grows on a rhizome under the ground, all of which shoot and sprout from every tiny little piece given half a chance. All of them go straight in the bin. I have gleeful thoughts of the entire Launceston landfill site being overtaken by ivy, oxalis and twitch grass. But it will probably sit and mummify for a century underground, and then spring back as cheerful as ever in the far distant future when landfills are mined for goodies.

What could I do with noxious weeds instead of putting them in the rubbish? Well, I could put them in a lidded bin and cover them with water for.. a very long time. This would theoretically kill them and then I could compost them. But I'm not sure I trust that method. Would they really be dead?

Soon, a green waste collection is starting in Launceston, to encourage residents to put all their kitchen scraps and garden waste into a bin which will be collected weekly to make municipal compost. This is an excellent plan. I don't think I will order a bin though, because I hoard my kitchen scraps and garden waste to make my own compost. And the more I turn my jungle into garden, the less noxious weeds there will be. What I need is to find someone else with a green bin, and make some judicious deposits. It will be just like the neighbours used to do with my wheelie bin, except it will be composting which makes it all fine, doesn't it?

What do you put in your bin that you wish you didn't? Bare all, and maybe other readers will have some good ideas about ways to keep things out of landfill.

PS I just had a brainwave! I pulled the candle wax out of the bin and put it in a jar. Posy makes candles so I will keep all the stubs and wax drips for her to experiment with. If I keep the aluminium tea light holders, we could even refill them. Posy has lots of candle wicks..

PPS I went to put the candle wax in Posy's candle-making drawer and she already has a bagful of scraps. She is way ahead of me.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

One Hundred Years of Solitude And The Privileges of Simplicity

This week marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It is a fascinating parable of society, wild and magical and disturbing. A man sets out into the jungle with his friends and family and founds a town in splendid isolation. The novel follows the fortunes of this family and their town over the course of one hundred years.

In this, my favourite quote of the novel, Colonel Aureliano Buendia, son of the town's founder, is reminiscing about the best days of his life, many years before when he had been a simple metalsmith creating golden fish in a tiny studio behind his house:

He had had to start thirty-two wars and had had to violate all of his pacts with death and wallow like a hog in the dungheap of glory in order to discover the privileges of simplicity almost forty years late.

The Colonel himself might be a parable for own society. How many wars do we have to start, how much wallowing in the dungheap of glory before we discover the privileges of simplicity?

I love the term 'privileges of simplicity'. Simplicity is not regarded with great enthusiasm generally. It is mostly seen as a state in which we choose to go without something we might otherwise have rather enjoyed. Like ease, convenience, nice things.

But what are the privileges of simplicity? Well, for me, what I aim for in seeking simplicity is peace of mind. Living simply on less means not worrying so much about money. It means having time to pursue creative projects, stand in the vegie garden and daydream, and drink tea with my friends. It means deciding that 'wallowing in the dungheap of glory' will not be a life aim, which then means that my ambitions can be purely for my own entertainment. Nice.

In respect to the wider world, the privilege of simplicity for me would be not being morally responsible for wars, famines, corruption, or death, ill health or miserable lives for other people so that I can have ease, convenience or nice things.

The privilege of simplicity for nations would mean giving up our hysterical attachment to growth, not sending our citizens off to war on a regular basis for reasons of empire or oil, living within our means and not giving a damn about cutting a figure on the world stage.

Mind you, a nation of folks quietly going about their business and doing whatever interests them for its own sake, and not in thrall to governments, banks or corporations would be a mighty thing.

Anyway, enough of grandiose philosophical visions, let's talk about me. This week I received an email informing me that an article I submitted has been accepted for publication in the Spring edition of Earth Garden, one of my favourite magazines ever! Can you imagine my state of extreme excitedness?? The article is about edible weeds, which I love particularly at the moment, as my garden is a complete wilderness, but has produced an enormous crop of chickweed, which I am making into lovely, lovely pesto. Happy days all round :)

Friday, July 14, 2017

Safe Toilet Tissue - Paper Wrapping Not Actually Recyclable

For years I have been buying this toilet paper because it is recycled and wrapped in paper. Brown paper. So wholesome! But just last week I realised that the inside of the paper was shiny. I have extra-sensitive plastic detecting sensors at the moment because it is Plastic-Free July. So over the course of the last week I have been having this conversation with the sales department people at Encore Tissue:

Hi, just wanted to let you know I have used your toilet paper for years because it is recycled and packaged in paper, and sustainability is the thing I look for first in a product.

A quick question - I have noticed that there is a shiny lining to the paper packaging on the Safe toilet paper. Is that a plastic lining? Is the packaging recyclable?



Hi Jo,
Thank you for taking the time to contact Encore Tissue regarding your below enquiry.
The shiny lining is in fact a plastic layer which helps the paper bind and stick together when being sealed.
Both elements are recyclable.

Sales At Encore

Thanks for getting back to me. Good to know both elements are
recyclable. Just to clarify, does this mean I can put the paper Safe
toilet tissue packaging in the council recycling bin or recycle it
wherever paper recycling is available?

Regards, Jo

Hi Jo, 

After looking into this further, as there is a plastic layer behind the paper - it is to go into landfill.

Sales at Encore

Thanks for looking into this Sales people.

It is disappointing that the paper wrapping for a recycled toilet paper product needs to be binned, and I would really appreciate it if this is something that your company could look into to make Safe Toilet Tissue a truly sustainable product.



I am really unhappy about this outcome. I am grateful to the Sales Department (I did actually talk to a particular person with a name, but didn't publish it here) for looking into the matter for me, but really, Safe Toilet Paper people.. if you put a product into brown paper packaging it seems to me to be a reasonable assumption that it is paper, and therefore recyclable. Paper with a sneaky plastic backing? What is the point? And why? Why not just put it in brown paper? Sigh. I will now be sharing my friend's Who Gives a Crap toilet paper order.

PS I do apologise, but despite trying multiple times I cannot get all the text on this page to remain the same size..