Thursday, June 21, 2018

Tiny Lights in the Dark

The last light of the day on the longest night of the year for us in the South. I welcome the dark months. They draw us in to the fires on our hearths, the little twinkly lights and lanterns that we light to keep up our spirits in the big dark. We turn inward and deep down, put ourselves to bed early, read and ponder and gather our thoughts and our strength for the bright months ahead as the earth begins its long journey back to the sun.

This evening I stood outside and watched the light fade. In my city cottage I heard the dull roar of traffic as the city began to empty and all the workers rushed hither and thither back to their warm homes and dinner and light. For a moment I saw all of us humans rushing around like little ants, madly building up our wildly teetering castle of civilisation, while just above us the wide spaces of the sky slowly turn from season to season, as civilisations rise and fall and cities crumble and humans pass away like a mist dissolves in the sunlight.

We have such illusions of grandeur, us tiny humans, as we weave blankets and tents and houses and skyscrapers and rocket ships of technology and wealth and safety and security, but it is all a dream. We have little twinkling lights in the darkness, and that is all.

I think it is good to remember that we are really not that important. We have each other, we have a day in the sun, we have a dark night, we are grateful to be here on the good earth. It is enough.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Green and Thrifty

Birch twigs are wonderfully flammable fire starters.

In green and thrifty news this week I collected silver birch twigs that came down in the last winter gale on the side of the road. I am finding them extremely flammable fire starters. I often walk home with the dog and a large bouquet of birch twigs.

For the past few weeks I have been making extra dinner to.. feed the dog. It occurred to me that dog food per kilogram is more expensive than many of our meals. I read a library book a couple of years ago about home made dog food, which pointed out, reasonably enough, that dogs have been eating human leftovers for millenia, and that pet food has only been a thing for fifty years or so.

I went to a salvage place and found two gorgeous cedar four-panel doors for Builder Matt to chop in half to make two sets of French doors for my back verandah and the little office he is building (when I say 'chop in half' I mean, do excellent craftsman-type magic to make old doors look like something gorgeous from a French farmhouse..). Will add 'after' photos when they are installed, when I have painted all the back wall and architraves. While at the salvage yard I also found an old lock which matches the door beautifully, and even had a key that worked! I love using old things again.

When I ran out of dishwashing detergent I used laundry detergent to tide me over to shopping day. I wouldn't entirely recommend this, but it did the job. Sort of.

I made chickweed pesto out of chickweed from the garden and sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds are my pick for all pesto recipes as they are the cheapest of all the nuts and seeds.

I have stayed completely within the grocery budget this week, which is a miracle, due to my not-as-it-turns-out particularly novel system of budgeting with actual cash. I have so many kindred spirits in this system here at Blueday:) I love that I can see the cash dwindling in front of my very eyes, and when the children want more treats I just show them the sad, empty purse with a few lonely little coins jangling at the bottom. Then they go and bake cake instead. I am not sure this plan is going to be at all good for our waistlines.

This morning my neighbour from up the road brought down a bag of Jenny Craig frozen 'treats'. I know, I know. His partner works for Jenny Craig, his freezer was full of them, and he was going to throw them out so he could stash an entire salmon in the freezer instead. Sensible man. Anyway, he thought he would check with us before he threw them in the bin.. because, you know, we say yes to everything:) So now Posy is happy with a freezer full of processed food and I am trying to make myself not read the ingredient labels..

More loaves of sourdough. It is getting better every time I try it. It is so satisfying! I received a very excited email from friend and reader Fran recently about the sourdough she had made from my recipe plus the starter I gave her. She included these gorgeous photos taken by her partner Steve. It looks amazing!

Eating from the garden: kale, silverbeet, beetroot leaves, lettuce, Cape gooseberries, tarragon, sage, parsley, lemons, spring onions. From other people's gardens: rhubarb, limes. From the shed: garlic.
Weeds: chickweed, onion weed (three-cornered leek). Onion weed is a good substitute for spring onions. Although I don't know why you would need a substitute for spring onions as they grow like, well, weeds..

Vegie garden featuring giant, triffid-like spring onions which will go to seed in spring after which I will have approximately seventeen thousand spring-onion plants.

Tell me about your green and thrifty moments this week..

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Life is a Mess, But Also Often Quite Pretty

Hockey child baking cakes amongst the deplorable kitchen mess

This is a tiny conversation in one of the outer galaxies of the internet, but I want it to be a truly useful one, both for me and all who read. We have been discussing in the comments recently about the difference between the face we present to the world, especially on social media, and the dark, ashamed place that we often really inhabit. Can I tell you how much I love the conversations that happen in the comments? So many kind, wise, brave, thoughtful, vulnerable people. I have some rather unconnected but themed thoughts about a few of the insecurities that perfect lives on social media generate for me.

The game: I think that those of us who are women are especially vulnerable to this kind of insidious comparison game. Clearly, everyone except ourselves is living pretty much the perfect life, and the proof? There it all is out there on social media. We are too clever to know that this is true, but somewhere in the depths of our souls, we believe it, because we are convinced that actually, everyone out there has it all together except us. We are the middle-aged lost people who feel that despite decades of parenting and work, and managing to pay the electric bill, that somehow we have failed to adult. But at the same time we don't really want to adult, because it just doesn't seem like that much fun.

Myself: It is excruciatingly uncomfortable for me to expose myself 'out loud'. I think a lot of us grew up in a space where we were encouraged to put our shiny happy faces on for others to see. I have done the same for my children, and regret it now. But they are tough and brave and luckily ignore a lot of what I do and say. I have spent a lot of my adult life learning how to be sociable. I am quite good at it as long as I don't have to sustain it for long. I quickly get out of my depth, and sustaining relationships is tricky. I rely on the kindness of friends, often, to keep relationships going because I am not that great at following up, answering the phone, emails or texts or actually wanting to leave the house. I am even not that good at doing this with my adult children. Although better at it with them than with anyone else (short break in transmission while I call my girl). And my poor mother mostly has to call me, although I am always pleased to hear from her. It's not you, Mum, it's me. I joined Facebook several months ago, but haven't been able to sustain it. All those people saying witty or even just nice things about other people on a daily basis.. and confidently putting it all out there in a format that I can't even begin to decipher. I think I can confidently say I am pretty much a fail at Facebook... but then I roll my eyes at myself, because all the people seem to manage it and run all their creative projects and change the world. And many do it so well with honesty and bravery and vulnerability a well. And here I am walking the dog. 

Parenting: I am consistently at sea about parenting. I have four very different children and think it is unfair that just as I get used to working out how to deal with one child, then I have to turn around and work out completely different ways of relating to another one. Much as this seems an odd thing to say, I love being a single parent. I am a much nicer person now I am not unhappy and emotionally holding my breath all the time. But still, mess and trauma and shouty voices and slammed doors and anxieties and troubles and ill health, too much driving children about, and even worse, teaching children to drive, and concern about studies and schools and worry about adult children and their concerns and difficulties and all the cleaning, such as it is, and all the cooking, such as it is.. sometimes I feel like I am drowning. And yet.. sometimes also I discover that the children are propping me up as well. They have made me stronger and wiser and taught me empathy and conflict resolution as well as turning me into a shouty, whiny haggard person. No, actually, I did that to myself. They just provided the perfect excuse.

Here on Blueday I do not discuss my children's journeys, because their paths are their own. Sometimes I post a photo or a conversation with their permission. If I don't mention them it is not because I don't want to share the difficulties of parenting with you, it is because I can't do it without co-opting their stories. We are normal, middle-class citizens with an average load of difficulties and challenges. I would really like to try to find a way to discuss some of the down times if I can do it without exposing my kiddos to the internet. 

Where is the real?: Do you know what intrigues me about modern fiction? It can be soul-searingly honest, dark, gritty. It bares the hidden corners of modern life, which I think is admirable, if sometimes quite difficult to read. But you would hardly know that any of these dark corners even existed if you relied on social media for your version of reality. Often people reveal their problems, but only after they have triumphed over them and have a really useful solution to offer. See my last post for a classic text-book example of this. There is nothing wrong with offering useful solutions to life's many dilemmas, of course. But what about when there aren't solutions? What about the demons we battle over and over and over, and realistically know that we will continue to do so for the rest of our lives? It is good sometimes, to hear about these. Good to know that yes, they happen and no, we are not alone. 

And it's not even the big things, often, that we want to know about, but the tiny, annoying things, the mosquito problems that torment us every day. And there, my dears, is where I can be so, so useful. I have in recent times given up caring particularly about all sorts of things that used to worry me terribly, like grey hair and foraging on public roadsides. Well, now I may as well go one step further and share all the abject foolishness of the ways I fail on a daily basis. It will no doubt be very therapeutic. The Stoics would be all over this. In Stoicism you focus on the things that you can change for the better about your life. The areas of life that you can't change you completely dismiss from your list of things to worry about. What Other People Think About You is very high on the list of things that you can't change. So why worry? Well, I will see what I can do..

The photos: And finally, to address the carefully curated photos of my house that I love to post here. Well, I love them because I can almost convince myself that I am living that dream. It also comforts me a little because I can point to that and say, hey, there's me. And it's true for a tiny slice of my life, but not a lot of it. So... because life is never all one thing or all the opposite, I will be forcing myself to share more photos of the mess on the bench around the fresh sourdough loaf. But sometimes I will just go for the beautiful shot, because I like it. And also the happy thought, the uplifting platitude, because life really isn't all about our failures either; sometimes it is about glorious, everyday wonder.

The end: This feels like the most incoherent and badly structured piece of writing I have ever sent out into the world, but in the spirit of getting over my perfectionism, I'll put it out there. Along with a photo of the never-ending dishes. Tell me all about the conversations you really want to have. Be as anonymous as you like. This is, after all, the internet:)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Grocery Spend Solution

For many years I have been regularly over-spending on the grocery budget. This has not mattered all that much as there has mostly been a generous amount of padding in other parts of the budget which has absorbed it. However, now I am living on a tiny income, and although I can still afford some extras, it means eating (literally) into my capital to exceed said tiny income. I really want to keep that for say, mending the house if bits of it fall down rather than frittering it away on groceries. I have resorted to a very handy, very basic method of accounting for grocery expenditure - I get it out of the bank in cash every week and keep it in a separate purse. This way I can't overspend. Well, I did for a couple of weeks, taking cash out of my other purse, but then I had to pay it back from next week's grocery money, which means this week I have about a third of the weekly grocery budget to spend.

What I am discovering is how very easy it is to over-spend. What I am finding useful about this approach is how careful and thoughtful I have to be about food, and how very little waste there will be, out of necessity rather than ethics! Necessity is somehow more compelling.. it is also truly the mother of invention. One of the big spendy items in our food budget has been buying things when people come to visit. This week we have had a family dinner which required producing a vegan dessert, and there was also going to include a dairy and gluten-free afternoon tea, but that was cancelled at the last minute. We also had friends over for dinner. These are the occasions when I would go out and buy because it would feel a bit hard to whip something up from what was on hand. But I managed all of those situations this week! I made a vegan apple cake with chia coconut pudding to go with, Rosy cooked up a chickpea and cabbage spicy thingy for the visitors, which was delicious and went perfectly with the home-grown purple potato spicy thingy that our lovely friends brought over, and I have one packet of gluten free crackers in the cupboard that I was going to serve with all the vegie sticks plus kale pesto from the garden for my gluten-free friend, but now will get time to practice that first which is probably just as well.

Again, we have had food turning up at our doorstep or free for the taking. Paul brought over a giant savoy cabbage last week that he couldn't use, that we have used up finally in the spicy cabbage concoction. Rosy has been making guacamole from avocados, and much to Posy's embarrassment I picked up an extra avocado from the car park at hockey, where clearly it had fallen out of some long-departed car. Posy is going to cease accompanying me anywhere, but the slightly bruised avo made extra guacamole to go with the spicy cabbage, win, win. The apples for the apple cake were the very last of the foraged road-side apples. Matt the builder brought me some of his home-made natural ferment apple cider which is very yum and Paul left us half a loaf of sourdough because he made two loaves. My dinner friends brought me some limes from their tree. Food also leaves the house - I took sourdough bread and pumpkin soup to a friend who has just moved into a new house, lemons up the road to the neighbour, vegie soup to Paul.

I have been very proud of the children. They have a habit of complaining that there is no food in the house, when it is actually full of food, just not easily consumed-with-no-effort food. This makes me feel bad and then I go out and buy snacks, which also makes me feel bad as they are inevitably wrapped in plastic, and full of undesirable ingredients from some far-flung part of the planet. This week Rosy has made roasted spicy chickpeas and kidney beans to snack on and made guacamole to dip crackers and vegies in. She spent an hour the other night cracking a bowl of our autumn foraged walnuts. Posy made chocolate syrup for chocolate milk and has been eating what is put in front of her, more-or-less without complaint. She even cut up some green beans to snack on.. so proud!

I have run out of my favourite rooibos tea because the wholefood shop is between shipments, so I have been working through the dozens of varieties still languishing here in the kitchen. I have gone through all the chai and vanilla tea, am now drinking one cup of black tea a day and then I am on to the herbal teas. So. many. herbal. teas. I am just going to put this out there - white tea with elderflower and apricot is nasty. Why is it that herbal teas smell so good, and then mostly taste the same, which is Not Nice? The only really drinkable herbal teas in my opinion are the old plain ones. Peppermint. Lemon and ginger. Chamomile. Does anyone have any suggestions as to how to dispose of the elderflower and apricot short of sneaking it into the compost?

So I am happy to date with my new plan of staying within the grocery budget, plus, as an added bonus, I am finding again and again that boundaries, limitations and straight-up necessity are truly a magical path straight to the heart of creativity and finding new ways to do things. I love it!

Friday, June 8, 2018

Season of Self-Expression

It's winter and here I am in the garden in the rain. Reasons I love winter:

Lighting the fire and gazing at it for hours.
Putting all the blankets on the bed. Flannelette sheets. Waking up in the morning under layers of heavy blankets inside a cocoon of fluffy sheets.
Hot chocolate.
Baking bread.
Stomping through the bush in big boots and my rain coat.
Chopping wood.
Pink sunsets and dawns. Dawns that happen at a reasonable time of the day for appreciating.

These are all sterling qualities of winter. But the absolutely best part of winter is not feeling compelled to:

Wear a bra.
Use deodorant.
Shower every day.

Alongside my ongoing lack of interest in wearing make up or dyeing my hair, this means that winter is the season that just lets me be me. Thanks, winter.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Basing My Life On Scenes From Children's Books

From the Brambly Hedge books by Jill Barklem

I have thought long and deep about my last post, and the wonderful, thought-provoking and honest comments that followed it. I love, love, love you community of readers who drop by here and read and add your wisdom and questions and reveal your vulnerabilities. I feel really very honoured to be a part of a conversation with many people who I feel are kindred spirits, quite apart from the generous and kind support I have unfailingly received here over the years.

I have realised that what I look for in the spaces around me is not neatness, but Art. I don't mind disorder, as long as it has artistic merit. When you told me about your hard-working kitchens in the comments of the last post, I could imagine the pleasure of being in each one amongst all the food and home-made bread and the preserves and piles of vegies from the garden, the seeds and the books. That is all good mess. The mess that drives me a bit insane is plastic bags and food wrappers and technology - I have changed internet providers and ditched my unused home phone this week so I had a whole collection of cords and phones and modems sitting in my dining room doing my head in. Now that they are gone and I am looking at bowls of walnuts instead I feel much calmer.

My solution, as per last week, is to get rid of all the things I find aesthetically unpleasing. Then all the messes will be ones that don't bother me.  But it goes further. It is not just a sense of beauty I am looking for, but the kind of beauty. It is the beauty of things that are useful, but also make your heart sing. It is the beauty of tools that have been made with care and handled over and over again, the muddled glory of an artist's studio or a wood worker's shed or piles of garden pots or boxes of seeds. Cupboards full of sewing materials, fishing tackle or pots of jam. Who has read the Brambly Hedge children's books that are about mice living in the hedgerow? Their houses are full of Things and Mess but they are irresistible. They live in hard-working spaces filled with useful things that are beautiful because they are hand made.

From the Brambly Hedge books by Jill Barklem. Rose petal jam mess.

While it may seem a tiny bit insane to base how I want to live on scenes from children's books, I feel I could do much worse, and anyway, it doesn't hurt anyone, makes me happy, plus, it's good for the planet to live like the mice in Brambly Hedge. Everything they own you can buy from an op-shop, and they forage for all their food - very low food miles - and make everything themselves.

Jill Barklem's desk. The nicest kind of clutter.

Places that I am drawn to are studios, workshops and working kitchens - places where you can see that real things are being made. I do like space and light, but I have decided that minimalism is not for me. I will keep removing things from my spaces until what I have left is the functional and the beautiful and it is easy to find what I want without anything falling on my head. I think it would be ideal to know what I own and where everything is. It would be ideal not to buy anything without giving a great deal of thought to when and why and how I would use it, whether I can borrow it instead of owning it, and where it will live when it comes home with me. 

We live in a world where the acquisition of things is disastrously easy, and naturally there has been a backlash against this physical clutter, by making Things the enemy, to be gotten rid of completely in order to be spiritually pure. But Things aren't the enemy. The means of production of Things is the enemy. We can have Things, and make them, and use tools to make them and create beauty all around us if we do it slowly, carefully, thoughtfully, and on a small scale. We can turn our houses back into hubs of creativity instead of being black holes of consumption. 

I feel like I have strayed from the point here, which was housework. I think if I change the way I see the purpose of the house, then housework assumes a different level of importance. Yes, see how Zen this is, the middle path. Clutter and minimalism are two sides of one coin. Minimalism is a rejection of the crazy consumption of modern life, but it doesn't offer a new way of living, just less consumption. What I believe could be a more useful path is to change the way we use our houses - to create, to make, to work. If our houses are workshops instead of exhibition spaces, then housework becomes a different beast. It is more practical and utilitarian. Our houses then become all about what we produce rather than what they look like. 

This is a rather convoluted post, but remember - I am an Ideas Person. I really can work much better if I have an Idea to work by. All my days recently have flown by in a bit of a fog as I work out my over-arching Philosophy of Life to live by. Expect a manifesto any day now. Meanwhile, today I dusted and swept and tidied with my hands while my brain busied itself working on the meaning of life. So, you know, progress...

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Kitchen Just Won't Clean Itself

Last night's dishes

"Mother, dearest, if the kitchen was tidier it would be so much more aesthetically pleasing." This was Posy's contribution to my morning today. And this from a child who literally has to wade through piles of clothing to get to her bed..
I am 47 years old and I still can't keep the kitchen tidy. I have, over the years, developed many elaborate and cunning plans and routines to keep my house tidy and clean. You can see the result up above on the Housekeeping page. These have been useful in that they are generally all that stand between me and the housekeeping apocalypse. I feel bad every time I look at that page, which is almost never, because I worry that it might look like I am an organised person who actually keeps the house clean. I am not. I sort of keep the house clean, mostly by remembering that it is Tuesday and I am supposed to be cleaning the bathroom, and I really ought to because I didn't do it last week. I haven't dusted for three weeks and I can't remember the last time I mopped the kitchen floor. I do like a sparkly clean and tidy house, but I don't really need it to be clean. I am pretty sure that germs are good for us in some way. You know, dirt and studies of microbiomes or something like that. I do keep our living areas tidy by sternly growling at the children periodically about removing their hockey socks from the lounge room floor, and by firmly removing everything from the dining room table nearly every single day..
..but the kitchen.. well, it works hard. There is very little bench space and what there is usually has Important Things on it, like whole cabbages for sauerkraut and bags of spring onions to plant and oranges that I can't think where to put, and all the mail from last month, and jars. So many jars. I have a problem with jars. I can't get rid of them because they May Come In Handy, so I hide them under my bed and Paul trips over them in the middle of the night when he comes to stay and scares the cat.
You may be wondering where I am going with all this, and is there a point? Well, there wasn't, but there might be. If I have tried hard all my adult life to be tidy and haven't managed it by now, then maybe it is time to stop fighting. I do have a tolerance for a certain level of mess - you know, somewhere slightly below lived-in but above actual squalor. It occurs to me that if everything I own is something I just love, then it won't bother me to see it lying about untidily. Posy kept bringing me autumn leaves a few weeks ago and I piled them onto the sideboard. They were still here until I added them to my autumn leaf mulch the other day, and it didn't bother me at all to have an untidy heap of autumn leaves in my house, because they were so pretty. Maybe if I throw away everything I don't like, then I will be left with a mess that is aesthetically pleasing.

The bench-bit-next-to-the-door-mess

First step would be throwing out every single thing in my plastics cupboard, then never letting anything with a plastic wrapper into my house ever again. That would be very satisfying. It would also require the superior organisational skills of someone who was capable, say, of cleaning the kitchen. And, you might ask, why not clean the kitchen instead of spending three quarters of an hour writing a blog post about it? Good question, I might reply. It is because thinking about cleaning the kitchen and coming up with a better way to achieve a clean kitchen are far more interesting than actually cleaning it.. because I am an Ideas Person. It would, of course, be more convenient to be an Ideas Person if I had Staff.

The floor-next-to-the-other-side-of-the-door mess.

Lacking staff, as the children are uncooperative and the cat just ignores me, I will have to resolve this issue myself. I think I will dispose of everything I don't like. This, combined with my resolve not to buy anything, will make my house very bare, which will make me even more happy. As I get older I get less and less attached to things, and more attached to space and light. What a joy it will be to have less extraneous objects hanging about, requiring me to look after them. Well, I will talk to you later then, after I have removed all the ugly and annoying things..

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Whatever the Weather

This morning I walked in the pouring rain to the gym and then to get milk. I imagine that some of the drivers of the cars that whizzed by me felt rather sorry for me, because who wouldn't prefer to whiz around from A to B in a comfy recliner chair in an air-conditioned pod to walking in the rain? Well, me, increasingly. I am rediscovering the joy of being out in all weathers. Being outside and gardening several days a week has reconnected me with weather. Sunshine, rain, cold, hot. As long as you are dressed for it, weather is mostly wonderful. I think maybe we have conditioned ourselves to be afraid of the outdoors because weather and bugs and general unpredictability. But this morning I was snugged up in my raincoat with my big old golf umbrella and having a marvellous time in the rain.

Right now I am sitting on my new back verandah watching the rain cascade down off the roof, which is strangely mesmerising. I don't have a door between the verandah and the house yet, so I had to climb out of the window, but that adds to the excitement of using the verandah. Will I fall out of the window onto my head? No? Well, that's good then.

Yesterday I spent several hours digging giant weeds out of the garden, and then I continued with my project of sourcing alternative (free) mulch to cover it up for winter. For this I wandered up and down the streets around my house with my large plastic recycling bin, filling it up with autumn leaves and hauling it back home again. I decided to do community service at the same time and cleared out huge piles of leaves from storm gutters and off steep steps that get very slippery in the rain with all the leaves. One of my friends found me clearing leaves off a set of steps as he was heading back to his car from his job at the hospital. "Ah, dear," he said, "It's come to this has it? Sweeping the streets for a living now?" Posy thinks I am turning into an eccentric old lady, and shakes her head sadly at me whenever she sees me. To be honest, this is the kind of thing that I would never have done in the past, because, what will the neighbours think? In fact, my dear old neighbour was rather non-plussed, but soon came round to the idea, especially as I was sweeping the leaves out of the gutter in front of her place at the time. Because, truly, no-one really cares what other people do, so worrying about what other people think is probably pointless, and though initially concerning, becomes easier with practice. Well, mostly. There are still moments when I think I really am becoming a bit eccentric. But then I just have to shrug and push on, because what is the alternative? Living the life of a scared little rabbit and never doing what you want. Because of what people might think? Enough of that. Also, the leaves on the garden beds look wonderful, and will compost down over the winter into lovely rich black soil for spring veg.

So here is to a day of enjoying the weather, whatever it is, and undertaking whatever eccentric enterprise takes your fancy.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

On Making Friends With Failure To Achieve

Do you ever have days when you positively absolutely do not get a single thing done? I do, all the time. Well, I achieve such things as getting up. Today I walked into town and performed one, no, two errands, then I came home and did two loads of laundry. I sat in the sun and read a book. I drank tea. I sat in the sun. I remembered that I have to snatch Rosy's latest magazine to read before she cuts it up and sticks bits of it in her art journal (she always sticks in pictures from the other side of the interesting article I am trying to read). So I sat in the sun and read Rosy's magazine. I have literally a thousand useful activities I could be doing, or you know, achieving something or attempting to make a living. I am writing a novel which at current productivity levels will be finished in ten years. I have two lines of thought which follow me through days like today:

My first thought is, "This is so lovely, ooh, look at the sun on the chestnut leaves. Sun on my back, mmm, may just close my eyes now." Then my second thought creeps sneakily in, "You are wasting your life, you are achieving nothing, you are failing again at being a useful human being." Today, as thought No 2 crept in, I happened to be reading this passage:

I go to the park and watch the ducks in the pond as they fluff their feathers. I see how relaxed they look - when all they're doing is fluffing their feathers. They aren't filled with tension trying to become something else. They aren't frantically attempting to build their careers, and they aren't sucking up to the other ducks. All they seem to be doing is enjoying the water, fluffing their feathers, and living their lives. When it comes down to it, isn't that all we really need in our lives, too?
Fumio Sasaki, goodbye, things: on minimalist living, Part 4, I enjoy life more

So, today, I will be like the duck.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Sourdough: The Experiment

Yes, looks like a football. Tastes better.

Sour dough bread has a bit of a reputation for being difficult to make. However, sour dough is the bread that every single person has baked since bread moved on from basic flatbread some thousands of years ago until brewers in the nineteenth century found a market for one of their waste products, yeast, and marketed it for 'quick rising' bread. Very few of these historical bread bakers had access to digital scales and bread managed to be baked anyhow..

Paul and I have been baking sour dough over the last few weeks and I followed the long and complicated recipes, and Paul just made it up as he went along, and his was better, so here is the result of his experiments.

First, the starter. We got ours from my friend Peter. If you know someone who makes sour dough they will almost certainly be able to supply you with some. It is easy enough to start your own, you just have to add a week or so to the time you get your first loaf. Also, starter does get more potent over time, hence the celebrated hundred-year-old sour dough from various places, however, week-old starter works just fine. The starter is simply a mixture of flour and water which ferments away and attracts wild yeasts from the air to form a natural, living yeast to eventually make our bread rise.

I made sour dough starter once before which worked quite well. Take one cup of organic rye flour (why organic rye? Rye is an old, relatively unhybridised flour, and being organic and whole grain it still has plenty of life in it) and one cup of unchlorinated water (I have been importing water from Paul's mountain creek, but leaving water out in the sun for a day in a bowl will unchlorinate it. Makes you wonder though, what all that town water is killing in our insides, if it is going to kill off the wild yeasts..). Mix this together in a large jar, put a cloth over the top to keep other bugs out, and leave on your kitchen bench, or somewhere that is ideally around 20C/70F. Now, the more often you feed your starter the quicker it will grow. You can feed it every 12 hours, but it needs to be done at least every 24 hours. Recipes will tell you to discard half the mixture before you feed it again. This is the kind of advice that makes me despair of a society that seems to actively dedicate itself to wanton waste. And this in pursuit of making authentic, simple peasant food. Huh. No self-respecting peasant is ever going to waste expensive organic rye flour. This is why I use a large jar, and keep on adding the flour and water mixture. To feed, you only need around half a cup of flour and the same of water. After several days of regular feeding the mixture will start to bubble up enough that you will run out of jar. At this point you can start using the extra starter in your cooking. The simplest thing to do is to add it to pancake mixture for sour pancakes. Yummo.

Now, after a week or so, if you are Paul, your starter will be bubbling up and doubling in size over eight hours. If you are me you will have a bubbly mixture that rises some but never doubles. Don't worry. It still seems to make perfectly acceptable bread either way. The person with the exceptionally bubbly mixture may feel some moral superiority over the person whose mixture is kind of sulky. This is the sort of behaviour it is best to ignore.

Now, the Bread.

Feed your starter in the morning. Let it rise all day, then sometime in the evening, make the dough.

Take four cups of flour of your choice. Wholemeal, spelt, white. It needs some gluten in it to rise well, so if you want rye bread, add half white the first time and work up to the rye portion you like balanced with how much you want the bread to rise.

Add two teaspoons of salt and mix into the flour.

Add up to two cups of starter. This is way more than generally advised. It seems to rise better the more you put in. If you don't have that much, use less. Always leave about a cup in the bottom of your starter jar to keep the starter going. Add one to one and a half cups of warm water. By warm I mean blood temperature. To test this, stick your finger in. If you can hardly feel the water it is the same temperature as you, which is perfect. If you are a bread baker, you will know how much water to add to get a moist, shaggy dough. If you aren't, experiment. Bread is always generally edible, whatever you do to it. Stir the mixture up with a spoon until it all sticks together in a ball.

At this point Paul turns his dough ball over a few times with two wooden spoons. That is the extent of his kneading. I put it on a floured bench and turn the dough into the middle of the ball, quarter turn, do it again, over and over for a few minutes. Doesn't seem to matter much which method you choose.

Then I clean out the bowl, brush it with olive oil, put the dough ball in, turn it to coat it with oil, put a tea towel over the top and leave it to rise overnight somewhere warmish. Well, not that warm after the fire goes out, but it seems to survive ok. So far all of this preparation has taken about ten minutes in total.

Sometime next morning (it is not really critical when) pull the dough out of the bowl, turn it into the centre again a few times, then let it sit on the bench for ten minutes while you wash out the bowl (no-one wants to do the dishes when there is a giant bread bowl on the sink), then brush your tray with olive oil, then sprinkle it with semolina or corn meal to stop the dough sticking. If your dough is very moist still, and you can't imagine it holding together on a tray, pop it in a loaf pan instead.

Sometimes the dough rises a lot, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes you just have to run with what you've got..

The second rising is much shorter, about an hour. You should see that the dough has risen some, but it doesn't need to double. Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F. If you want a bubbly, shiny crust, put a tray of hot water in the bottom of the oven. This will create a lovely steam bath for the bread, but is completely optional.

Just before you put the bread in the oven, slash it twice quite deeply with a serrated knife. This allows the dough to rise up quickly when it is popped in a hot oven. Cook for 20 minutes or so at 200C then turn it down to moderate, 180C/375F so that the centre cooks steadily. Take the steam tray out. I usually bake at 200C until the crust is almost at the point of burnt, then turn it down. To tell if bread is cooked, tip it upside down and knock on the bottom with your knuckles. It should sound hollow like a drum, and the bottom crust should be golden brown. It will probably take 40 minutes to an hour. It is not an exact science..

Bread, whether sour dough or 'quick rising' is something that takes much experimentation. Try it again and again until you start to get the feel of how dough feels when it is 'just right' - how a loaf feels out of the oven when it is perfectly cooked. Sometimes you won't trust yourself, but trust the clock, and it will be under cooked, as happened to me just the other day. Eventually, as with every craft, the bread will talk to you, and tell you what it wants. Then you will be the bread whisperer..

I know many readers will have made sourdough, or indeed, be bread whisperers. Tell me about your sourdough adventures, and ask questions, and hopefully someone here will be able to answer..

Updated to add: Forgot to mention, you can keep your starter in the fridge between loaves, in which case you only need to feed it every five or six days. Then take it out, warm it to room temperature, and start again from the beginning of the bread recipe.

Also I have made bread for years but I am only relatively new to sourdough. I am having successes and failures, but as with every failure in life, you learn something every time. This is the simplest way I have found to make sourdough, but still, I imagine it will take at least six months of making it every week to feel like I really know what I am doing. I will keep updating as I find new things that work or don't work. So far I will say - I think a sloppier mixture has a better texture, but then it needs to go in a breadpan..

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Green and Thrifty

The theme of this post is Using What You Have. It is three years since I wrote that original post and I have downsized my house, given away half the stuff I owned, and yet I am still quite well endowed with the world's goods.

First, food.

People are still giving me apples. I am not complaining about this at all. This afternoon I listened to music and chopped and stewed up a giant pot of apples to keep us in crumble and breakfast topping for the next week.

I have used up several boxes and pots of tea since I decided that 42 kinds was too many. I am here to tell you that tea evidently does not go off, as one of the half-used boxes of chai I finished off was best before 2012. I am now mixing a rather strong chai with vanilla tea as my morning tipple, with milk and honey. Yum. Who said that using up left-overs was boring? What it really does is to stretch ingenuity and force you to try new things. Necessity really is the mother of invention.

I still have half a freezer compartment of frozen venison to use up. I am experimenting with different ways to slow cook it. So far I have done a red wine and tomato casserole with cous cous, and chilli with beans and rice. I think the chilli wins the popular vote so far..

I made sourdough! Only once so far, but it was excellent. I will start the next batch in the morning. The only problem with sour dough is that it takes two days to make. Very little hands on time, but forward planning required.

Posy made a Mother's Day cake for Grandma, and we decorated it with edibles from the garden.

I am also using up the many and varied spices that I have had for years and never used. Just in case anyone has the same spice glut that I do, ground fennel seed is really yummy on roast vegies, including potato wedges, yum. Also, whole fenugreek seeds (why?) can be planted in the spring and eaten as delicious greens. You can also sprout them. I may try that first..

Ok, enough about food. Now, gardens. I have always been an enthusiastic mulcher, and mostly I buy expensive bales of pea straw which do a marvellous job of keeping soil moist and depressing weeds. However, did you see the bit where they are expensive? I am doing some experimentation with alternative mulches. First, autumn leaves. It is definitely the season for gathering these. I am putting a layer onto the fallow winter beds. Why fallow? Because there is a persistent weed I am stubbornly removing, inch by painful inch. It has a tuber that needs to come up so it won't come back. I will not let it beat me! The other mulch is seaweed, or more correctly, sea grass. It is a beautiful mulch that tends to stay where it is put, and it is also full of sea nutrients, which our old Australian soils desperately need. Paul and I went to the beach a few weeks ago and collected some bags full. We made such a tiny dent in the supply that you couldn't even see where we had been. We might pop back and get some more.

During the summer it occurred to me that the reason the polyanthus were looking sad and wilty is that they are woodland plants and they want to live under a tree in the shade, not in terracotta pots in the sun. So I moved them and they are blooming their heads off in appreciation. I am not buying more plants at the moment, but I am moving the ones I do have into more propitious positions, and so far they have all survived. A few weeks ago I made a new bird bath by placing a pre-owned terracotta saucer onto a pre-owned rhubarb forcing pot. Sometimes I do wonder at my former self. Why did I buy a rhubarb forcing pot? Who wants blanched rhubarb?

In other using what I have news - the gate latch broke this week, but luckily I had one in my box of hardware in the shed. It was a fancy brass one that I have had hanging about for years, and have almost got rid of several times, but clearly it was waiting for just this moment.

CDs - remember them? I have a very slim collection but have decided to listen to them all again and see if there are any more I can dispose of. This week I have been listening to Elgar's Enigma Variations. Elgar is a drama llama. He really knows how to make the heart swell. My favourite is Variation IX, Nimrod. I know you will recognise this - it is the soundtrack to many solemn events - funerals, memorials, dramatic bits of movies.. ok, so as you know, Youtube is a rabbit hole. On looking up Nimrod I discovered it is mandatory for this music to tug at your heart strings if you are British, and I rediscovered the choral version, which is my actual favourite, and here it sounds like angels singing. I am continually amazed at what is available to anyone with an internet connection. The whole of all the beautiful art and music and all the words plus how to make compost and sourdough and learn French and also Slovenian. See, I am old enough to remember life before the internet and just how much work you had to put in to find information once upon a time. And here it all is. It is actually a miracle. I keep telling my children this, but I don't think they quite get it..

Over to you for more thrifty adventures..

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

All of Earth's Gifts

Leaves from the bush from Paul accented by jonquils from the garden from Posy

Those were happy years. Jean was an extraordinarily considerate and attentive companion, always seeking to please me, and from him I received all of earth's gifts. I always had the privilege of the first violets he had gathered under the dry leaves, the first strawberries from the garden, the first cherries. For my bedside table, he brought the first roses, and to my plate the first March trout. And so, the man who owned nothing under the sun shone on those around him. Through the warmth he radiated, the gifts he lavished on everyone, Jean Carles dealt out happiness.
Emilie Carles, A Wild Herb Soup, Ch 22

Today is my birthday. A month or so ago Paul and I absolved each other of ever needing to provide birthday or Christmas gifts to each other, because a) neither of us really like or need standard gifts, and b) life is too short to worry about present-giving. Gift-giving is, on the whole, in my opinion, a trap and a snare, cynically manipulated by advertisers and turning love into a consumer commodity.  Also, we are not really people who fuss about things. And yet, Paul is a master gift-giver. Flowers from the bush next to my bed, brown paper bags of dried figs and medjool dates because they are my favourite, email commands to go outside and look at the sunset or directions on how to spy the international space station. Views of parrots or the echidna, a picnic by the river, the gentle insistence that I sit on the couch and read a book while he cooks dinner.

Paul may have slightly violated our gift-giving resolution by presenting me with hand-made ceramic mugs on my birthday. His mum's partner is a ceramicist, and Paul has a number of his perfect tea mugs. I always take possession of Paul's favourite mug at his place. Now I have my own. I think maybe it was self-defence. Anyway, he is forgiven, this once.

Also, after he cooked me lunch he took me to his mum's farm, where they have just taken delivery of nine miniature donkeys. Including a baby. I fed them carrots and gave them cuddles. Best birthday present ever.

Like Jean Carles, Paul deals out happiness, and I am a bit lucky to be in the orbit of that sunshine. 

As I think back on this autumn I am acutely aware of the bounty brought into my kitchen day after day from the garden, from foraging along roadsides, from friends and family. More than ever this year I have tried to rely on the gifts of the earth, and not to waste any of it. In truth, the earth has provided masses of food that I have not even been able to manage to collect, although it is there and free for the taking. I started a journey to see if I could live a little in the spaces between the commerce that demands a price for everything. I am beginning to discover that there is a lot of freedom in those spaces, a lot of places where all of earth's gifts are abundant, and where there are rather splendid humans who know that love and gifts do not come with a price tag..

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Green and Thrifty

When we are home, the girls like to curl up in their rooms like snails, with their electric heaters on. I am trying to find a way to entice them back into the dining room of an afternoon and evening, where there is a fire on anyway, to save electricity. There hasn't been much space in the dining room, because it is a dining room, and has a table taking up most of the available real estate. Today I got Posy to help me move the table lengthways which leaves a good space in front of the fire to perch next to the dog. Then I needed something nice to sit on there. Tempted to run out and buy a little vintage armchair. But no, can't do that. So I wandered around the house until I spied the ottoman in the corner of my room that The Girl had left here when she went to live in a small cupboard of an apartment in the big city. No doubt one day when she finds a slightly larger house she might want it back, but in the meantime, it is perfect in front of the fire. I am so happy to have made our space bigger and refurnished it without spending a cent. Now, to see if my cunning plan works.

I borrowed Matt the Builder's drop saw this week to cut up a bunch off off-cuts from the deck he is making, and also from the fence that was built two years ago when we moved in, so that now I have a lovely big heap of kindling for winter fires. We have wild, windy and cold weather here, and the fire is on all day when we are home. I have the kettle on the fire so that we have free hot water for cooking, dishes and cups of tea.

Matt the builder put up a shelf for me in the laundry, made from spare decking planks. I am so very happy about this, as my old shelf was tiny and too high up for me to reach. It cost me half an hour of builder time, but no materials, as the planks were left over and he re-used the brackets. Now, I challenge any woman out there to refute this statement - the way to a woman's heart is more shelves. Really, It's What Women Want. I generously shared this information with Matt in case he ever needs to impress his girlfriend. I mean, more than he already does.

Here is another project. One of Paul's friends owns a little vintage second-hand shop which is gorgeous and delightful. She bought a set of lovely little chairs at auction and gave Paul the two broken ones, which he gave to me because they don't fit in his shed. Some of the dowels holding the legs together are broken, as is the rush seating. They would be perfect in front of the fire if they were mended, so I am going to sit and look at them for a while until I think of a way to do it without spending any money. I know it can be done. One thought is to cut out the rush seat and put in an upholstered wooden chair pad. My granny used to re-upholster her chairs all the time. I think this might be a good starter project.. any thoughts welcome.

After two years of being totally uninterested, Rosy and Posy have started lighting the fire for me. The catalyst was Paul the fire master telling me that using too much paper to start a fire causes lots of ash, as paper has clay in it.. who knew? So we decided to try and start the fire using only two sheets of our small local paper. I didn't think it could be done, and that was all the challenge the girls needed. They are now totally on top of fire making with minimum paper starters. We are using up lots of twigs instead from our summer fruit tree prunings and the girls have learnt a new skill. We also use walnut shells for firestarters, very effective as they generally still contain a little bit of walnut, and pine cones that come to us from various places, including my mum, who picks them up on her walks and brings me a bagful every now and then. Thanks, Mum:)

Posy made us hot chocolate for a morning in front of the fire treat. She heats up milk on the stove and adds this chocolate syrup which is cheap and wickedly delicious. Secret ingredient is a pinch of chilli powder for an extra hit of heat and warmth.

Paul has been making absolutely wonderful and divine sourdough bread every few days from the starter that my friend Peter gave me a few weeks ago. I killed my starter, so Paul gave me some more. Did I detect a note of smugness at all? Anyway, I am sitting here willing the starter to double in size today so that I can finally get cracking on a loaf of my own. Meanwhile, I have been baking my usual, with (gasp!) storebought yeast. The humiliation..

The rosehips that Katherine and I picked last weekend are bubbling away on the stove to turn into rosehip syrup, and I have been stewing up lots of roadside apples to turn them into apple sauce, which I stashed in pots in the freezer, although Posy keeps sneaking them out and eating them. I figure there are lots of worse things thirteen year olds could be being sneaky about.. By the way, rosehip syrup, though simple to make, is very messy, and makes the kitchen look like a murder has recently taken place. Squashed up boiled rosehips look very... visceral.

Tell me about the green and thrifty adventures at your place this week. I love your stories:)

Later: Benson-the-sneaky-puppy decides that the ottoman is clearly meant for him.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Foraging for Rosehips

Yesterday my friend Katherine and I went foraging for rosehips and apples. There are plenty of old rosebushes growing wild along the country roads of Tasmania, and plenty of old apple trees growing in ditches along farm fence lines as well.

We were on a mission. Last year we picked rosehips and I made a litre or so of rosehip syrup which I used for frivolous activities like making salad dressing. Katherine made six litres of it and took a spoonful every day from May to September and swears it is the reason she doesn't get sick over the winter. It may very well be so. Rosehip syrup is very high in Vitamin C and who knows what other compounds. During World War II in Britain the government sent a request to all the Women's Institute groups to pick rosehips to supply a healthy tonic for British children. It tastes delicious, which must have been rather a relief for the children who were no doubt regularly administered doses of castor oil and other nasty concoctions to keep them healthy and regular.

So, rosehip syrup for health this year. Plus, travelling the back roads of Tasmania and stopping to pick scarlet rosehips while catching up with a good friend? What could be better? As Katherine noted, more fun than a flu shot. When we had picked a sufficiency of rosehips we started hunting for apple trees. Katherine has a new fabulous apple picking doohickey, which is like a basket on a pole to pick hard-to-reach apples. This was excellently efficient and entertaining. I wish I had taken a photo, but we were laughing too much. All the trees seemed to have planted themselves in ditches by the side of the road, generally in the centre of blackberry patches, and it was all we could do not to fall in whilst woman-handling the apple picking contraption. At the first tree we stopped at, a bevy of chickens was milling hopefully about waiting for apples to drop from the sky for their lunch. When we arrived and started picking and dropping apples they were very excited. I am glad to think that we brightened the day for some hungry chickens.

Of course, we brightened our own day too, coming home with bags and bags of delicious apples and lots of rosehips. Apple crumble has now been on the menu two days running already, with more to come.

It may be that you live in a land of rosehips and apples, or maybe not, but wherever you are, there is likely food on the side of the road to be gathered. What do you forage for and glean in your patch of city or countryside?

Saturday, April 28, 2018

How To Not Buy Anything

Apples on an abandoned tree. Another free resource in an abundant universe.

About a month ago I decided to attempt to live with even less and reduce even more the amount of stuff that still somehow abounds in my life, despite rarely buying anything new. This month I have spent money on food and bills, and paying Builder Matt to make me a verandah. Plus I spent $2.20 on a tea towel and two books about pruning from the op-shop. This was an impulse buy as I originally went into the shop to buy some single quilt covers for the girls and there weren't any nice ones..

Here is the best way I have found not to buy anything.... wait for it.... DON'T GO INTO SHOPS. Really, it's much better just to walk past them. Also, it makes trips into town so much more pleasant. I go to the library, I do some tedious admin, I buy some food from little local shops, I enjoy the autumn leaves drifting down in the parks, I say hello to people I know. It all removes that tight feeling I once had in town, that fear that I might be missing some amazing sale, that I somehow needed to buy in order to save?? That covetous feeling of Needing a Thing, a thing that I hadn't needed at all until I went into the shop, and then feeling that I literally could not live without it anymore. For quite some years after I stopped buying new I still coveted lovely lovely things in the shops, but somehow, recently, that feeling has completely gone away. I can't even imagine wanting to buy the things I see in shops now. I think I have unhabituated myself to shopping. It all seems very crass and vulgar and such a terrible waste of precious resources to have shops full of shiny tat that people will cart off to their homes and then send the same amount of stuff from their homes to the op-shop or the tip in order to make room. That is the cycle I see when I look in a shop window now.

Still, needs happen. For instance, this week I discovered I am nearly out of ponytail bands. I thought about this for some time, then made a bunch this afternoon out of bits of leftover elastic from my sewing drawer. When Rosy used to do ballet we had to cut the elastic off her shoes to sew on the satin ribbons. I saved all of that elastic, of course. Today I cut it up the middle then tied a knot in it. Voila, new hair ties. Then I realised I could also tie a knot in my old, broken hairband.

Sometimes I think this could be renamed "Most Boring Blog Ever". I mean, really, hair ties. But, now hair ties are another thing I don't have to buy that uses up something I had in a drawer. It's like living in a slightly different universe. My daughters already think I do that. I think they are right. I used to live in a universe where I 'needed' lots of things that cost money and resources. It was a universe where I often felt slightly deficient because I didn't ever have quite the right stuff. Now I live in a universe where I have enough. I have everything I need and a lot of what I want. If I want or need a thing I can exercise my somewhat atrophied ingenuity muscle to make or remake a thing. Hey, this works for hair ties. It will probably work for lots of things, although most likely not everything. BUT if I encourage my brain to find an alternative way first, then I will leave more of my financial resources for that moment when there is something I really can't cobble together with leftover bits of elastic. Meanwhile, I am loving not going shopping.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Off-Grid Cabin Life

Up on a green mountain lives a tall, thoughtful man who is curious about everything and whose interests include star-gazing, tickling spiders, talking to birds and inventing things. He lives in a small green tin cabin which he built with his two capable hands. Actually, mostly he lives on the wide verandah outside the small green cabin. On one end are chairs and a bench in the sun. At the other end is the boiler and the wood, an old plunky piano and a macrame bird feeder. It is easier to talk to the birds if they are close by. Sometimes the birds and the lizards come up to the front door and peer in to see if there is someone to talk to who is willing to share his dinner.

Here is the old plunky piano. It is apparently a necessity in an off-grid cabin. It also serves as a useful plant stand.

Here is the wood-fired boiler which is the heart of the house. Even though it is actually outside. It is lovingly and carefully tended and it never goes out. Even when Paul comes into the Blueday city cottage for a night, the boiler is still quietly burning away when he gets back the next day. In fact, he starts to get a little twitchy by the afternoon and I can feel the boiler pulling him back to the mountain.. you've heard of the household deity? This is the cabin deity. It heats all the water and it also heats the big old metal radiators that keep the cabin warm in the winter. When it is cold and wet the radiators are often draped in washing or drying the tea towels. On a cold morning there is nothing better than warming up your clothes on the radiator before putting them on. So delicious.

Here is another household deity. One of the many sculptures made by Paul's father that appear unexpectedly around the property, under trees, on top of rocks, peeping around corners. I particularly like watching this rather stoic portly gentleman when it rains. The water runs down his face and drips off his chin and he just stands there and meditates thoughtfully about Life and Rain, and Why Birds Sit On My Head.

This is the current vegie garden. It is spectacularly productive and bursting with kale, spinach, red chard, and of course, tarragon. It has a little electric fence around it to deter possums and wallabies. When it is turned on at night a string of fairy lights also lights up to remind us not to go picking spinach in the dark.

The electricity for the fairy lights and various other things comes from six solar panels in the summer and a water turbine in the creek in the winter. High summer and deep, wet winter are times of plentiful electricity. Right now, when it sometimes rains for a few days and there is no sun, but at the same time the creek is not running gustily enough to leave the turbine running for very long, producing electricity can get very exciting. Tramps up and down to the dam to check the water levels in the dark with a torch. The drama of starting up the water turbine. Constantly checking the lithium battery bank to see how much electricity is magically stored there. Only vacuuming when the sun is shining or else when it is raining and the water turbine is running. I think this is a very satisfactory way to live. It keeps you very aware of how much energy you are using. There is no magic 'away' where the energy is produced. It is made right here, right now, with sunshine and water. Every light globe needs to be thoughtfully considered. It is a very thoughtful, deliberate way to live.

And it is not just energy that needs to be considered. Paul gets his water from the creek which needs to be boiled to become drinkable (one day there will be a fancy filtering system). His waste water is treated in a series of pipes and French drains and a home made septic system. There are no town services reaching his block at all. He doesn't have rubbish collection, so he has learned to produce very little rubbish. Every few weeks he takes a small bag of rubbish and recycling down to his sister's house in the village. To be honest, it is mostly wine bottles. I often help with that..

Of course, when I first went to visit Paul I inspected his book collection very thoroughly. The only book we have in common is Thoreau's Walden. For me, Paul's simple living project perfectly embodies the spirit of Thoreau's own experiment:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Off-grid living teaches a thoughtful, deliberate way of life. Producing energy and drinking water and dealing with your own waste takes time and effort and makes all of those things precious. There is no place for waste or excess. It requires balance, that middle path. Not just taking the path, but creating your own as you go..