Tuesday, November 27, 2018


A year ago I met Paul and we began a conversation that has never really stopped. He is that rare person, someone who can listen. My thoughts rise up to meet his and together we do some remarkable journeying of the mind.

He is interested in absolutely everything and meandering along the river on a sunny afternoon we make forays into astronomy, the habits of birds, geology, the formation of fossils, the technical aspects of photography, botany, history and..

... well, it took us three hours to complete a forty-five minute walk. We had to keep stopping to clamber up or down to look at trees, fungi, rocks, bugs, spiders.

We stopped and took numerous photos of leaves and flowers to identify later. I have a new giant book of Tasmanian flora, and am so happy to meet someone who can stand still long enough for me to count the petals on tiny flowers.

We spent twenty minutes walking back and forth trying to discover the source of an elusive scent that reminded Paul of travels in the Daintree, and also of coffee. We discovered later that it was the scent of the Stinkwood bush, which made me very happy indeed.

Tiny beautiful things cause us to stop completely in our tracks. A pink robin, fish finning lazily in the pool below the waterfall, skinks in the sun, tiny cup-shaped lichen.

I am continually delighted by Paul's own delight in every lovely and fascinating leaf and rock and creature and cloud and shaft of sunlight. If there is a single thing on this planet that doesn't interest Paul, I have yet to find it.

 I am rather humbled to be able to share this journey with a gentle, kindred soul. I am learning much along the way, but best of all is to be with someone who can stop and listen and wonder. Thank you, Paul.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Stoicism and How to Be Happy

I have thought about happiness a lot over the last few years. Going through a divorce, along with almost any other major life change, especially a negative one, tends to concentrate the mind marvellously on What Really Matters. I must admit to not reading a single one of any of the many contemporary manuals on the subject, but I have done much personal research from the depths of my hammock, and also read some Stoic philosophy here and there. Stoicism might not seem at first glance to have much to say about happiness. It is generally thought to be about bearing up under privation and various unhappinesses with a stiff upper lip. 

However, I am coming to understand, that actually, it is a way of defining What Really Matters, also, a devotion to Doing the Right Thing, accepting that What Is, Is, and appreciating every single, wonderful good thing with joy and thankfulness.

First, bad things are bad things, and this world is full of terrible, awful examples of ways in which we are unpleasant to each other. And don't forget the general categories of Bad Things That Just Happen, such as losing a job, losing all your money, fire, earthquake, plagues of locusts, the death of someone you love, missing the bus, being invaded by barbarian hordes, being married to the wrong person, not having your novel published, the cat throwing up on the rug, and supermarkets.

This is what Stoicism says about Bad Things:

Be the best person you can be. The kindest, greatest, bravest version of yourself. This resolves many problems, especially interpersonal ones.

Accept that Bad Things happen. They do. All the time. Often to kind, brave people. Railing against Fate is tiring and unproductive. Remember that you have a limited amount of control in your life. There are many, many things you can't change. And again. Railing against Fate is tiring and unproductive. If you can change it, then change it. If you can't, do the best you can in your circumstances. Also remember that changing other people is impossible. Just don't try it. Much of my unhappiness in life has stemmed from extremely unproductive attempts to Change Other People.

Don't be a victim. Really, this is not going to help. Ask me how I know. Accept responsibility for your actions, and find ways to keep moving forward whether the Bad Things that happened were your responsibility or not.

Deliberately Court Hardship. Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor. He grew up wealthy in a patrician family, but as a teenager he chose to sleep on the floor, wrapped in a shepherd's blanket, and ate 'poor' food, like lentil porridge. This really annoyed his mother. However, it meant he never feared poverty, and was well prepared for his many years of campaigning against the barbarian hordes, living on the front lines with the army. 'Going without' is a fabulous strategy for gratitude for what you have. If you feel restless and antsy and unhappy with your life, if you think that more things, or better experiences would make you happier, try going without some modern conveniences, technology, or food other than rice or beans for a few days. You will be so excited about that hot shower or movie, or chicken salad at the end of the week. It is a strategy of subtraction to make you happy, rather than the pursuit of endless addition, which is how our consumer culture wants us to seek happiness.. Also, you might discover that less is just fine, and that becomes your new normal, which again lessens the probability of your being unhappy.

Another experiment you might try here is being alone. If you are single, instead of hunting for a partner, become comfortable with being single. Cheerfully turn up at parties by yourself, invest in family and friendship, become happy in your own skin, learn to be independent, become skilled at looking after yourself and others. The nearly four years I spent alone after my divorce were the very best preparation for being in a relationship.. however, that wasn't my intention. I was actually preparing myself for a rewarding lifetime of happy singledom. This is the very best protection, by the way, against ending up with the wrong person. If you are happy alone, then only the possibility of a truly marvellous partner for you will tempt you out of your contented single state.

And even if you are happily together with someone, I believe it is still important to cultivate your inner self and learn how to function independently and alone.

Remember that everything is temporary. Life. Love. Wealth. Even plagues of locusts can't go on forever. Because even locusts run out at some point. Also, roses and fat baby knees and chocolate eclairs are all fleeting. The good and the bad. All we can be sure of is today, this minute. So let's kiss the baby knees, smell the roses and learn to make healthy, protein-rich locust flour.

Gratitude. I believe a lot of studies list gratitude as important to happiness. Well, yes, but.. I don't think you can start with gratitude. I believe that gratitude, like happiness, is actually a by-product of all the other things I've written about. If you are striving to do the right thing in your community, if you can embrace discomfort and accept trouble, take responsibility for your shortcomings, and recognise that everything in life is fleeting and fragile, you will be grateful every day for every single wonderful good thing. You will be content with what you have, you will be able to make plans for the future while accepting that they may never come to pass. You will not be dependent on what others think of you because you are following your own inner compass.

What if you still aren't happy? See above. I think that if you follow these principles you are as likely to be happy as you will ever be. But maybe you won't be. There are so many factors at work. I have always been a fairly happy person. Clearly genetics plays a part. Hormones. Mental health. Upbringing. Physical health. Life circumstances. All these play a part. But so much unhappiness is caused by ourselves. If we can eliminate self-induced unhappiness, there will be that much less to contend with, and maybe enough room for wee glimpses of joy to make their way in.

This is clearly a very limited and imperfect meditation on the subject of human happiness. It is really Notes to Self, So Far, For What It's Worth. Please discuss:)

Friday, November 9, 2018

How To Be Free


Modern life is absurd. How can we be free?

Many years ago I read this book and found it charming but slightly mad. Subsequent readings have convinced me that, no, actually, this is some of the most sensible advice I have ever encountered. You can imagine how compelling I found the chapter titled Death to Shopping, or Fleeing the Prison of Consumer Desire, let alone the seditious temptation of No More Housework, or the Power of the Candle.

Tom Hodgkinson believes the modern world to be unnecessarily ugly, rude, wasteful and bureaucratic. His solution? Step away from the whole unpleasant system, and create you own small, pleasant world quite apart from the dreadful modern institutions that plague us. He has many practical suggestions (throw away your watch, smash usury, play the ukelele, embrace poverty, bake bread), and in the spirit of his earlier book How to be Idle, he encourages his readers to renounce ambition, career and getting ahead, and instead to pursue freedom, merriment and responsibility. To be truly free we must take back responsibility for our own lives instead of turning them over to the many-headed hydra of modern institutions. And having recovered our freedom, we can be merry and free of care at last. 

Wanting more money removes us from enjoying the present; we should celebrate what we have. Wanting to be rich is actually the first desire that must be cast off in the pursuit of freedom.. Learning to live within limited means gives a great sense of security, because you become free of wanting more and therefore free of struggle.
Ch 27 Depose the Tyrant Wealth

The chairmen of the board think it absolutely hilarious that their staff will work their guts out and compete with one another for low wages and with minimum supervision. It leaves them so much time for playing golf and chuckling together in boardrooms.
Ch 8 Stop Competing

Above all, to be free of debt, we need to abandon our fear of poverty. I don't advocate pauperism, in other words, being homeless and starving. But genteel poverty, having enough for wants and needs and the bare necessities but limiting yourself when it comes to wants and desires, is a laudable state.
Ch 9 Escape Debt

Life can be different, according to the Gospel of Tom. We can throw off the 'mind-forg'd manacles' (William Blake). We can refuse to get entangled in the wily coils of banks, supermarkets, the media, the swings and roundabouts of careerism, the mindlessness of television, the dreariness of 'fun' that is bought with dollars. There is a better way. It involves living better with less. It offers the joy and hilarity that ensues when you free yourself from needing to be busy/important/wealthy. It is a little bit anarchist, a little bit punk, a little bit back-to-the-land, a little bit make-your-own-fun. 

It is a little bit of a blueprint for the life I am trying to create for myself here in the cottage on the hill.
I am up to Chapter 29: Stop Working, Start Living..

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Loafing and Idling

Never start on an expedition without the trusty thermos

Paul and I have many things in common, and one of those is the passionate pursuit of the idle life. We like slow. We like quiet. We like pottering and wasting time. We like stopping and chatting. Paul is a champion chatter and can talk to just about anybody about anything, at great length. We never go to the movies, or to restaurants, because we just don't feel like it. We like messing about in the garden, and if we are doing a job, we stop a lot to make tea, or because it's wine and cheese time.

When we go out somewhere, we take a picnic and a thermos, and a picnic blanket and some rugs and some cushions, and sometimes a book. Then it is an expedition, which is exciting, because who knows what will happen? We planned an expedition on Sunday. We planned the picnic, and what we were going to bring, but not where we were going. When we got in the car we still didn't know where we were going.

"Where are we heading?" I asked.
"No idea!" said Paul, happily.

We meandered aimlessly up the river, going by all the back roads and looking at the boats and Paul told me about his little boat and where he had moored it, and when I asked what it had looked like we were driving past the boatyard where he used to work on it, so we turned in and mooched around the quiet Sunday afternoon yard, with its litter of ropes and lines and piles of scrap, paint tins and the old tractor that tows the boats up the hard. Paul showed me the little clinker-built boat that was like his, and told me about the working bees they would have on the boats that turned into parties at which more drinking than working was done. We talked to a nice old man about his cray boat that he fishes from out of St Helens, we inspected an old Chinese junk being smartened up and repainted, we watched the old boats slowly rusting into the ground in front of our very eyes.

Further up the river we discovered Patricia's Beach, a little spit of sand and bush. Just big enough for a picnic blanket and a nap while watching tiny birds in the flowering tea-tree, cormorants and seagulls flying by, and the white sails of yachts tacking up the river. The Tamar is a tidal river and we watched it come closer and closer until we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and packed up to come home.

I remember I was going somewhere with this tale, but there has been so much meandering I have temporarily lost my bearings.. loafing and idling - yes, and the value of doing nothing. This expedition is was one of the more energetic ones we have undertaken. Sometimes we walk a hundred metres from Paul's mountain cabin and lie on a giant boulder for the afternoon and listen to the birds. After twenty years of sitting on a mountain listening to birds, Paul can actually speak Bird, and he tells me what they are saying. Today he rang me to tell me that the birds had been yelling that there was a snake, and he went outside, and sure enough, there was the snake. It takes a lot of years of idling and loafing and listening carefully to learn to speak Bird. Since I have had my verandah built I have been spending many hours watching and listening to my city bird friends. I can recognise them all now, by their calls, and have noticed that some of them are seasonal. Who knew? Birds say different things at different times of the year.

Another wonderful thing I have started to do up on the mountain is to find out what the wild flowers are called, and write a list of when they flower. Paul has set up his microscope so I can look at the flowers in minute detail. I have discovered that a single wattle blossom looks like a bouquet of orchids under the microscope. It is a whole new world of marvellous.

There is a whole world of busy out there for those who want it. There are endless ways to spend money in order to have 'fun'. Me, I love to spend what time I have to spare lying about and listening to birds, idling away an afternoon on a picnic blanket with a cup of properly brewed tea. I say, if you are tempted by the idle life, create some space for loafing about. Turn off your screens and lie in a hammock. Find a small, absorbing, cheap hobby that takes you outside. Birdwatching, finding out the names of flowers, identifying edible weeds, looking at creatures in rock pools, star gazing, finding shapes in clouds, reading poetry under a tree.

Hammocks make idling at home into real luxury. I recently put up our old hammock between our new verandah posts, and life suddenly got so much better. Idling is now possible just a step outside the back door.

Idling and creatively doing nothing very much seems to be a bit of a lost art in a world devoted to productivity. But I commend it to you as a way of sinking slowly back into yourself, finding pleasure in the small and insignificant details of life and rediscovering the joy of naps.

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Great Tomato Catastrophe of 2018

Six weeks ago I planted out my first tray of seeds. The daffodils were blooming, the wattle birds were hanging upside down on the crocosmia outside the window. It was cold and the nights were still frosty. Now the daffodils have finished and the herb robert and the foxgloves are blooming pink in the garden.

This spring I am determined to grow all my vegies and flowers from seed. No more plastic punnets from the garden centre. No, I have plenty of plastic punnets in the shed. I have plenty of seed, and I have used so much of it this spring, even the really old stuff. I replanted the beetroot three times. After the first two times I realised that the packet of seed I had just wasn't going to sprout, but luckily I saved my own beetroot seed from last year, and that sprouted within a couple of days. Fresh seed is the best! Having said that, some of the very old seed is sprouting pretty well, too. It all depends on the plant and how well the seed is stored as to how long seed stays viable. I keep mine airtight in the coolest room in the house. Paul gave me a bucket of seed from his place the other day. It is all ancient, and stored in a hot shed, but you just never know. I will plant it and see.

One month ago I had two trays of seedlings living on the kitchen table. I planted out the hardiest ones in the garden - first the peas. It was either the pigeons or the blackbirds which pecked the tops of every.single.seedling overnight. I then made a twig fortress to protect them, but to be honest they have never quite recovered from that first setback. A whole packet of snow peas!

Then came the Great Tomato Catastrophe of 2018. I planted out forty-two tiny tomato plants into pots of compost. I have plenty of compost. But this is fairly woody compost, maybe not cooked quite as long as it needs to be for planting into. Which is ok in general as I am using it as a mulch.. but the poor little tomatoes turned up their toes, turned yellow, and died. I think the woody mulch drew too much nitrogen out of their little leaves..

Lesson learned - don't use the compost as a planting medium by itself.. but.. forty-two tomato plants! aaargh! I have replanted, but straight out into the garden this time. Fingers are crossed. If frost threatens, I will run out and put jars over the little babies. Gardening, such a gamble. Maybe that is part of the excitement.

So far this spring I have planted out lettuce, rocket, broccoli, kale, zucchini and cucumbers into the garden. I have capsicums, more lettuce, beetroot, basil, chilli and a whole tray of flowers still on my table. I take them out for an airing in the sunshine or rain every day, to accustom them to Weather.

I love having the seedlings on the dining room table. Baby plants are utterly adorable. I talk to them at every meal and every time I open my laptop. I think they like me. Although the tomatoes still haunt me with their reproachful little yellow leaves..

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

What I Did On My Holiday

So the girls flew away to have adventures with their dad, and I, well, you know how it is.. I decided this was the perfect opportunity to paint the bathroom. It's always difficult to paint the bathroom because it is always in use and anywhere along a continuum from damp to wringing wet, so for three days I painted in the daytime and commuted to the mountain cabin to use Paul's shower and have him cook for me. Oh, the bliss. Apparently I am an Extravagant Wastrel in Paul's kitchen, and turn up the gas too high under the pot, and cut off too much of the vegetables and put them in the worm bucket. Honestly, those poor worms would never get a square meal if I didn't visit regularly. Anyway, for my sins I am banished to read on the couch while Paul cooks. It is very hard.

Then Paul pours the wine and suggests we have a little wander down to the creek to see how the fires are burning.. we won't stay for long, he promises, just a little look and then we'll be straight back up to finish dinner. He puts his pleading puppy dog eyes on. We go and inspect the fires. They are very little fires, smouldering during the day under a blanket of ash, with more sticks and little logs, piles of bark and dried grass thrown on in the evening when the humidity rises and the wind drops. The cool spring night keeps the fires from getting away and burning the trees all around. Paul is clearing a fire break around his house and making a clear path down to the water turbine along the creek. Not long ago I read a list of the most fire-prone native plant species. Paul has them all. So to eliminate brush where he wants paths and a clear space near the creek, he makes these little fires in the spring and autumn. They provide nutrients in their ash for the big eucalypts, and encourage the native grass to grow, so that where he has burnt starts to look like a manicured English park. Well, except for the giant eucalypts and the bush all round. This very small, localised style of burning was practised by the First Peoples of Australia for millenia, to create grasslands for encouraging kangaroo grazing grounds, and to create beneficial conditions for growing useful crops like the yam daisy, which looks like a smaller, more delicate cousin of the dandelion, with an edible root.

Also, they possibly did it because it is enormously fun. Of course, no sooner are we at the fires than Paul seizes the shovel leaning handily against the nearest tree, and starts shovelling on more debris. Up crackle the flames and the sparks fly in the twilight gloom. "Shall I set this patch of cut grass alight?" he asks himself meditatively. Cut grass grows in huge clumps and is immensely flammable. Paul digs out a shovelful of glowing embers from the base of a fire and tips it into the middle of a cut grass clump. It smokes like a chimney, then smoulders, then busts into a column of flame and sparks. Paul's eyes begin to gleam insanely in the firelight. "Maybe that one over there as well? While we're here.." Soon it is deep dusk and periodically a man jogs past me with a shovelful of live coals, cackling with the glee of a confirmed arsonist. I peer interestedly at a tree, wine glass in hand. "This one seems to be on fire," I mention. "Should I do something?"
"Bash it with a shovel," comes back the advice from the pyrotechnics expert. "Then rake the burnt bark out."

It really is the most addictive kind of fun. Just one more branch on the fire, one more tea tree seedling to uproot, one more pile to light up. Eventually I remember the dinner, which must be saved. Clearly it is up to me, kitchen ban or no kitchen ban. The cook is too busy lighting another clump of cut grass. I look back and see the fire licking upwards, with Paul leaping like a demented goblin in black silhouette in front of the flames.

Dinner will be slightly late tonight.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Why I Quit The Gym

Last week I had 3 cubic metres (about 4 cubic yards) of lovely organic compost delivered. It is very nice compost and I hope it will grow me all the vegies I can possibly eat this summer, because it almost killed me getting it down to the vegie garden.

I don't have any off-street parking, so I had the compost delivered in the street and then shovelled it into the wheelbarrow then barrowed it down 17 steps and around 6 corners to get it down to the bottom of the block. Then I did it again. And also again. For six hours. Next time I am planning to order less than 3 metres of compost. Much less. I made these raised vegie beds in the bottom garden. I am going to make paths in between them with bark chips. Currently, the unplanted garden beds look slightly sinister, like graves. At some points on Monday afternoon I thought I was going to need one..

But then I remembered I am practising Stoicism, and began to enumerate all the virtues of my situation. I am strong and healthy enough to barrow compost onto my garden all afternoon. What a blessing!  I am only going to remain strong enough to barrow compost if I continue to barrow compost. I am a fortunate person who has the means to buy compost and the ability to grow organic vegies for my family. The rain gods went somewhere else for the afternoon so I could barrow compost in the sunshine. I never in my life worked as hard at the gym as I do at barrowing compost, but lifting weights at the gym never contributed in the slightest to the production of organic silverbeet. In fact, the gym cost me $12 a week, and now I work in other people's gardens and my own, get an amazing workout and earn money instead. Ha! I try not to feel smug as I work in the sunshine in other people's gardens and get to play with their lovely dogs and talk to their chickens and listen to birds and develop great back muscles as I shovel mulch onto their gardens, and get a very nice shoulder and upper arm workout while pruning their apple trees. And all the while they are working in an office somewhere. Poor poppets.

At sunset, my lovely neighbour from up the road brought me a glass of wine and we sat on the back deck and watched the sun go down and the stars come out and I looked at the quite large pile of compost that is now at the bottom of my garden instead of in the street, and planned my next vegie beds and was very quietly happy. Then I went to bed and slept for thirteen hours straight.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

A Table to Grow Old With..

So here is the beautiful centrepiece of the kitchen - a hand-crafted table made entirely of pre-loved timber. The table top is one slab of Huon pine, which is the Holy Grail of Tasmanian specialty timbers. This piece had been sitting in the builder's shed for years and he is pleased it has gone to a good home. The side rails also came from the back of his shed, and the legs were hardwood sleepers left over from my retaining wall project two years ago. The builder and I were deliberating over how to find re-used posts for the table legs (fence posts?) when he saw my pile of unused sleepers in the front walkway, and ripped them down to make posts. There is a lot of character left in all this timber, and a couple of coats of oil just makes it shine.

It was only hours into its life as a table that Posy started using it to whip up pancake batter. It is wonderful to have extra bench space, because as you can see, we tend to spread ourselves around on horizontal surfaces.. although sometimes I do actually do the dishes and tidy stuff. Here are the beautiful proteas gifted by one of my garden clients from her prolific giant protea bush.


Yet again, I am thrilled to have commissioned a beautiful piece of furniture from a local craftsman, a piece that will no doubt outlive me and be just as beautiful in a hundred years.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Politics, Or I Have a Cunning Plan

Australian politics is having a crisis this week. For a while there we didn't have a prime minister. Now we do, but it's a different one to the prime minister we had last week. It's hard to keep up. I have been doing what I can, which isn't much. I have written to my local politicians letting them know how they could be running the country so that I would actually vote for them. I am helpful like that.

My main points: stop stabbing each other in the back long enough to come up with some useful policies on climate change: hint - leave the carbon in the ground.

Stop torturing and locking up asylum seekers.

Let's live within our means. Let's begin this process not by cutting welfare payments, but by making sure that corporations pay their taxes, and let's create jobs, not by subsidising large corporations, but by getting out of the way and allowing people to create their own businesses. Let's cut back on globalisation and favour our own locals with our business. Were tariffs really so terrible?

And while we are in the mood for change, let's cut politicians' salaries to the point where they would only possibly be in politics because they want to serve their country, not because they want to play power games or be best buddies with rich mining magnates.

That's probably enough to go on with.

Carry on.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Shelf Upgrade

These are the old wonky shelves in my kitchen. They were shed shelves at my old place, and for two years they have held onto my kitchen paraphernalia quite adequately, albeit in a fairly wobbly and precarious manner. One of the first things the builder did when he came to build a verandah for me back in February was screw these shelves to the wall, right after he nearly knocked them over while drinking tea near them. Fast forward to last week when I asked him to build me a small table for the centre of the kitchen. I have a small house with a large kitchen that has very little bench space. What were the previous owners thinking? Well, the builder suggested narrow shelves on the wall to create more floor space, and somehow, the project morphed into this:

Posy and I spent three days painting. Posy allowed me to photograph her arm for the blog:)

And then we added a beautiful recycled tassie oak benchtop:

When I say 'we' I mean I said to the builder, "Please can you find some pre-loved timber to make a lovely, lovely benchtop?" and he did all the actual work.. well, I spent ten minutes oiling it to make it look pretty.

And now replete with all the jars:

I am so excited to be the possessor of this most beautiful piece of furniture. It has caused a revolution of efficiency in my kitchen - instead of getting down on hands and knees to haul out casseroles or soup bowls from the bottom of cupboards, I just elegantly whip them off the shelf..

But wait, there's more - just inside Rosy's bedroom door (to the right edit, left of the dresser in the photo above), up the precipitately steep stairs on the way to her attic room, is a void of a space that up until last week held a large, untidy, precariously balanced mass of food in various containers. We called it the pantry, but it was more like a robber cave. Here it is after I cleaned it all out prior to shelves going in:

Now with shelves:

This is so thrilling because I have been able to haul all the jars of preserves out from under my bed, and the backs of cupboards, and put them all in one place so I can see whether I have any salsa left. I discovered two jars of fig jam. My favourite! I also now have places to store the big stock pot, the dehydrator, the preserving gear. Bliss. There is also space for big buckets which are storing my bulk dried goods - chickpeas, lentils, pasta, flour, rice. Come the zombie apocalypse I won't have to search under the bed to find the lentils. The children will be pleased.

What I love about all of these new shelves is, well, shelves. Can you ever have too many shelves? I think not. But more than that - they were made by a local craftsman and all round nice person. We have used some nice old timbers for parts of the job. Everything has been measured to fit. We were there with the tape measure measuring my jars, wine glasses, the potato box - everything was designed to fit perfectly.

This kitchen revamp has been rather expensive, and tomorrow comes the next part - the kitchen table that started this whole process - but the money has been spent on locally made sturdy furniture which should last as long as the house does, and which will be a beauty and joy to use every day for as long as I live here. I call that a very good return on investment.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Green and Thrifty

Another week, another slightly wholemeal sourdough loaf. I am fairly unimaginative with my bread, but it is consistently satisfying and good. Except that Rosy doesn't like sourdough and pleads for bread with actual storebought yeast in it. Which just goes to show.. something.

I have been growing ugly carrots, small parsnips, leggy broccoli that has been grown in the shade, and perfect beetroot. Pretty much all the veg I grow would fail the supermarket test, but we don't discriminate against ugly veg here, because it's all beautiful on the inside, right?

 My favourite way to eat ugly veg is to chop it all up and roast it with dabs of ghee, olive oil, salt, spices (cumin, ground fennel), rosemary and sage, 200C (390F) for 15 minutes, then turn it down to 180C (350F) until done. Each veg has a different cooking time, so you have to keep checking and taking out the done veg with tongs.

Then (and this is the good bit, but no photo), you make a salad with everything green from the garden, the roast veg, and sunflower seeds that have been dry roasted in a frying pan for a couple of minutes. My favourite salad dressing on top, and there is lunch. You can add all the other salad veg, quinoa, chick peas, boiled eggs or anything else that takes your fancy. Yum.

In other thrifty news, I think sometimes it is good to re-examine our social habits and maybe notch back the spendy side of them while keeping the social part. I do brunch with some excellent girlfriends every couple of months at a cafe, but this month I invited them over to mine, and we had a delightful and satisfying brekky this morning, with everyone bringing something. This worked out well because the busy full-time worker can still pick up her contribution from the gourmet deli, but we all have the choice to cook from scratch on the cheap if we want/need to.

Today I went to visit my mum, and goodness, I never come home from hers empty-handed. Half a packet of out-of-date brown sugar (2016) which she decided she was probably never going to use, an Agatha Christie novel from the op-shop (The Mysterious Affair at Styles - her first novel, and I didn't have it), packets of blank cards for the girls to make cards with, which came from.. someone at Craft Club?? Just guessing here. Some cellophane bags to put Christmas goodies into when Christmas baking season comes round again. A jar of jam. Some slices of fruitcake. It's sort of the opposite of Red Riding Hood. We come home from Grandma's with the basket of goodies..

I love the going around and coming around cycle of goods that travel back and forth between friends. You know how at some point you start getting hand-me-ups clothes from your teenagers? Well, this week I was given a pair of hiking shoes by Posy's friend, who had grown out of them. This is a child I have known since she was born, whose feet are now bigger than mine... anyway, it was wonderful serendipity, because my decade old hiking shoes are literally falling apart and I was wondering if I was going to have to break my six month streak of buying no clothes, even second-hand ones. I will have to soon though, because I have no jeans left without holes. Either op-shopping, or creative patching is in my future.

This week I have have had lots of free reading matter to hand. Library books, of course, three Monthly magazines from a friend, books borrowed from another friend's book case, the offer of new reading matter from yet another friend who just arrived back on Australian shores from the US, with, as far as I can work out, a suitcase full of books. All of that, along with the Agatha Christie novel from Mum equals a cornucopia of literary happiness.

For the last week I have been over the moon to - be doing the washing. My washing machine broke three weeks ago, and I have been lugging baskets of dirty washing around various kind washing machine owners. The part finally arrived, and the nice washing machine repairman fixed it up for me, and two-and-a-half minutes after the front door shut behind him I had the first load on. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder. I love my washing machine. And I love clean sheets. And even though it is way more inconvenient than going out and buying a new washing machine, I love that my machine could be fixed with a tiny metal part, rather than throwing away 70kg of metal and plastic. That feels good.

And more free food - I walked the dog right past a box of free lemons on the pavement outside someone's gate. Ooh, yes, lemons. I took three.

From the garden this week: lettuce, broccoli, broccoli leaves, parsley, rosemary, sage, kale, carrot, beetroot, parsnip.
Dried: lemon verbena tea
From the shed: garlic
From other people's gardens: limes, lemons, apples, kale, rhubarb

Tell me about your green and thrifty adventures this week.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Mending Dishcloths

Today I got my gardening job done early because the rain was coming. I came home and filled up the woodbox in the back porch, walked the dog, collected an armful of birch twigs from the street around the corner which is lined with birch trees, used them to light the fire, then sat down for lunch and watched the rain clouds rolling in.

I am not a person who sews. I can thread the machine and sew a sort-of-but-not-really straight line. However the machine has been sitting on the dining table for days. Rosy has been shortening some of her t-shirts, because apparently short t-shirts are in this week, and Posy made a heat pack for a friend's birthday out of one of her old hoodies. So the sewing machine is just sitting there, taunting me, and it's raining so I can't go out into the garden, and if I'm not doing something a little productive I might feel constrained to do some housework, so instead I get out my stack of dishcloths to hem.

I must have bought these dishcloths seven or eight years ago. I have at least twenty two of them, not counting the ones in the wash. I use several a day, then throw them in a hot wash with eucalyptus oil. After all these years of hard work they are looking completely dishevelled, with their stitching coming undone. Some of them have holes. They are a sad shade of grey (they were white once). They are a disgrace.

So I have spent a rainy afternoon mending my dishcloths. I have trimmed and hemmed the edges, and run the machine back and forth over the holes in zig-zag stitch. I now have a stack of 'done' dishcloths, ready for another few months...years... of service.

I feel so productive! The only problem is.. there are four to go and I have run out of bobbin thread. I just cannot stand threading the bobbin. Why must it be such a painful and fiddly exercise?? I have tried and failed to bribe the children, so I think there is nothing for it, I must go to bed and read a book, I mean, wind that stupid bobbin myself. Or teach the dog to do it.

Benny-the-wonder-puppy will do anything for cheese. I have a lot of cheese..

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Things I Haven't Been Doing

I keep meaning to grind up the eggshells in the blender before they go in the compost.
 It does happen. Eventually.

Today I have for you a little list of things I really want to do, but actually have not been doing.

Making yoghurt: It is months since I made any yoghurt. I don't know why because making yoghurt is very easy. I am lacking in yoghurty get up and go.

Driving less: Ok, so in the last year Rosy has year Rosy has acquired her license and I have acquired a partner who lives half an hour's drive away up a mountain. Neither of these acquisitions has contributed to using less fossil fuel in my car.

Using less electricity: For some mysterious reason we are using more electricity this year than we did last year. Is it Posy's twice a week bath habit? Is it us getting a bit slack with our overall electricity use? What to do?

Getting enough work: At the beginning of this year I started a wee garden maintenance business. It is so wee it is not so much a micro-business as a nano business. It nearly, but not quite, covers my living expenses. This is, of course, mostly my fault as I am procrastinating about organising advertising. All I need are some business cards and flyers. I have not quite got around to producing these yet..

Writing much: I am writing a bit. There are a few articles written and at least one accepted for future publication. Hooray! I need to do more and be more adventurous with where I send them. I can do this. Then there is the world's slowest novel. Here is my thinking though - a novel a decade is a lot more than no novels a decade. Am I right?

Making less rubbish: I thought I was getting really good at this, and I was. I am doing okay - the girls see no reason not to bring large amounts of plastic packaging into the house, although they are starting to bring their own bags places, which is a good start. I am also letting more packaging creep back into my food buying habits. I really want to do better. I can do better.

Parenting Well: I have not been the parent I want to be this week. There has been shouting. There have been fights over mess and school attendance. I am better at conflict resolution than I once was, but I still have some way to go. Being a parent is not easy. Being a teenager is not easy either.

I could seriously go on and on with this list, but I'll stop now and hand over to you. Any confessions?

Friday, July 27, 2018

Places To Go

Ok, so I am going to go and wash the dishes now, but you all entertain yourselves with fun from various corners of the internet. Enjoy:)

Diary of number 13: Our very dear friend Hazel who fills the Blueday comment section with sage advice and friendly encouragement, has started her own blog. It is wonderful and useful. Today I made her 30 second mayo, and it is true to its name, and very delicious. I am so excited to see Hazel blogging as I have benefited greatly from her knowledge of herbs and wild foods and her determination to head towards a waste-free family life.

Washing your hair with rye flour shampoo: Washing my hair with rye flour instead of shampoo over the last few weeks has worked like a dream, and I am so happy to finally leave the world of shampoo behind. For those with lingering questions, here is a QandA post with all the answers.

Earth Overshoot Day: Imagine the boffins of the world get together and work out what is a sustainable rate of resource use for us to continue living on Earth. They come up with a lot of numbers that represent the maximum amount of resources we can consume in one year. Back in 1970 it took the world's population 13 months to use up that amount of resources. Yay! Well, within budget. In 2018 it took us 7 months to use up that amount of resources. Yesterday was the day we exceeded this year's budget of world resources. Now, who can see the problem here??

Urban Self-Reliance: I have enjoyed this little Kirsten Dirksen film, rewatching it several times over the last couple of years. A dedicated young couple transform their rental unit into a productive hub with a lush garden, chickens and preserving. It is cheap, functional and beautiful.

Forager: Especially useful if you live in the UK or Europe, but with some wild ideas for the rest of us who have had European weeds and plants migrate to our shores. Recipes for the wild plants we love to forage for in our backyards and roadsides. Yum.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Jungle Garden

There are two sections to my suburban garden. One is the section I have been working on since I moved in to this garden-with-attached-house two years ago. I like to take photos of it because I have tamed it (somewhat) with paths and weeding and planting. I built a retaining wall! The other half of my garden (it is bisected with a set of wonky concrete steps) is The Wild Side. I have ignored it completely while concentrating my energies on the other side which has now become a productive garden.

Here is The Wild Side:

Some of those acanthus plants are huge, taller than I am! This can be a problem as the only garden tap for the lower section of the block is to the right of this photo, between a tree, a pile of firewood, and under a triffid-like acanthus. I do worry that I'll venture in there one day and not come out..

Above the wild jungle there is another section, which I believe was once a stone-flagged terrace. The neighbour says there was a pond at one time. Now it houses a friend's cement mixer, and the ramps he uses to get it on and off his ute:

Above that section is a hugely unaesthetically pleasing mound of fill - gravel, soil, blocks of cement - which was dug out when the verandah was built. This space will, the gods willing, become a lovely deck upon which to put a table and some chairs and have civilised dinners whilst enjoying the view. Currently it is fast turning into another jungle. It is extraordinary how fast the plants take over. It is like post-apocalyptic jungle, right outside my kitchen window:

That tree up against my neighbour's wall is the avocado I had cut down last year. It has returned from the grave with a vengeance and is about to invade my poor neighbour's kitchen. I am about to take the pruning saw to it. Don't feel sorry for it. It produced one avocado in ten years, which is not quite enough to save it from execution. I feel like a Stalinist dictator with a clip-board and production quotas, but standards must be maintained! Also, it stole all the sunlight from my kitchen. This particular quadrant will be the future home of deciduous trees only.

Over the next few months my plan is to wade into the jungle equipped with gumboots and machete (actually, I don't have a machete. But I think I may need one) and create a series of hugelkulture swales on the steepish slope. I will use all the vegetation that I cut down, plus the large pile of apricot tree prunings already in place as the basis of the swales, and top them with soil and gravel from the large pile of fill up above. Next winter I will be able to plant fruit trees into the partially decomposed swales, on the up-hill side so that they will receive the rain-water which will be funnelled downhill by the swale design. But first, in the summer I will be able to plant pumpkins and other big vegie plants on the mounds. I am also attempting to work out how to add chickens to the mix, without them eating everything in sight. I am so excited about all the garden plans, if a little daunted by their scope. Still, it took me two years to get thus far, and if it takes me two years again to make a garden from the jungle of this half of the garden, well, at least it will be two years of high entertainment, fresh air and exercise!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Waste Not...

I was just now cutting up pumpkin for soup for dinner and idly wondering how it would be if instead of throwing all those seeds in the compost, I saved them and ate them instead. I mean they are pumpkin seeds, after all, and I actually go to the shops and buy pumpkin seeds. How do you get the green pepitas out of the shell? Is there a machine? Or a gadget like a nut-cracker? I did, of course, just this minute google that very question, and what do you know, you can crack pumpkin seeds on your very own kitchen bench with a rolling pin, then you can boil them, and just like that .. MAGIC! Hulled pumpkin seeds. There goes another hour of my day.. but.. point is, it is possible. I could theoretically do this. And, that red wine that I am drinking? Theoretically the bottle it comes in could go straight back to the winery to be refilled. Why not? Reasons, apparently. I imagine it has something to do with it being cheaper to put wine in freshly minted new bottles each time. This is capitalism, after all, and capitalism is all about the race to the bottom for profit. There may also be a health regulation or some such thing about refilling bottles, as if sterilisation wasn't a thing. Point being, both these reasons (which I have completely made up, they may be true or not, who knows?) are excuses, as is my reluctance to eat pumpkin seeds from the pumpkin, which sounds like a tedious process, rather than buying them from the bulk-food bin at the whole food shop, where they have come on a slow boat from China where they were grown organically without chemicals then shipped non-organically with planet-warming greenhouse gases.

My dear reader, do you see where these thoughts are tending? No? Well, I'll make it clearer. We make things so complicated in our society. We waste so much. Pumpkin seeds and glass bottles and who knows what else. As I chopped up pumpkin for soup I thought about all the waste we make. It has only been possible for all of us to become wasteful in the last couple of hundred years, since fossil fuels began to be made into staggering mountains of things. And then plastic. The most staggering mountain of all. Prior to the industrial revolution, things were precious. Food was precious and often uncertain. Everything was used, all the parts of a plant or animal, and any bits that couldn't be used were recycled via the earth. Even now, vast portions of the world's population live with very, very little, but even in those places, plastic turns into a huge burden because what do you use it for once you have used it the first time?

It is fascinating and interesting to contemplate what a no-waste society would look like. We know, of course, what no-waste societies used to look like. But how would our own society look if we shut down waste? How would my own life look if I used and re-used everything I have instead of allowing it to join that giant landfill mountain? These are questions that are dripping slowly through the caverns of my mind right now..

In other no-waste news, I learned a new thing this week - you can eat broccoli leaves! I sort of knew this, as I chop up the little leaves on the broccoli that I buy and put them in the stir-fry, but I hadn't transferred that knowledge to my own home-grown broccoli plants. Broccoli leaves taste like broccoli, funnily enough, and will be harvested and eaten up for dinner forthwith!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

So I've Been Washing My Hair With Rye Flour...

It being Plastic Free July and all I decided to attempt a waste-free shampoo solution. I have been wanting to try this for ages but couldn't find a recipe that appealed to me at all.. until now. Rye flour. Water. An apple cider vinegar rinse. This is so ridiculously simple I decided to give it a go. After all, I could just wash again with shampoo if it didn't work, right?

It worked.

I have been washing my hair with rye flour for a couple of weeks now, and my hair is happy in its own fairly normal, boring and going quietly grey kind of way. So how, you might ask, do you wash your hair with rye flour? Good question. I got all my information from Wasteland Rebel, but have played around with amounts, ie am using less flour than recommended, because, you know, thrifty.

First, locate some light rye flour. Whole rye flour has bits in it that are hard to rinse out of your hair..
I use two teaspoons of flour and enough water to make it into a shampoo-consistency paste. Apply to wet hair like shampoo and scrub through your hair. I rinse and repeat for the not very good reason that this is what I do with 'normal' shampoo. Anyway, it's fun and a good excuse to stay in the shower for another three minutes. Warning: rye flour in your hair feels like a mud pie in your hair. It feels not at all like shampoo, as you can imagine. Persevere. Rinse well. Now conditioner. I have been using one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a litre of warm water, and slowly pouring it through my hair while scrubbing my scalp again to make sure the flour is all rinsed out.  Now rinse out the vinegar. Done.

I washed my hair this afternoon and it is feeling soft and silky. I am going four days between washes. I think it took a few washes to get the shampoo residue out, and now I have completely odour-free hair that feels like, well, hair.

Photographic evidence:

Here is a photo I took a few weeks ago, while I was still using shampoo in plastic bottles:

Here is a photo I took a few days ago, a couple of weeks in to my rye-flour experiment:

Now, clearly my hair will never be glamorous because I am not a glamorous hair person, and my children complain that I make stupid faces when I am taking selfies, and also I need a haircut. Granted. However, I think you may agree that the hair just looks like, well, hair. I defy anyone to guess that it wasn't washed with something that came in a plastic bottle from the supermarket.

So hey, give it a go. Let me know if it works for you. It is so very, very simple. And cheap. And effective. And oddly satisfying. Another set of plastic bottles can leave the bathroom now.