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.

Happy.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Lemon Verbena Tea


First the lemon verbena grew into a great big bush in the summer. It lives in a half-wine barrel along my front pathway which is fairly protected from the frost. Lemon verbena is a bit fragile and doesn't cope well with hard frost. Then I dried it for a month or so in my garden shed. Then I put it in a box in my front porch in a giant bunch where it greeted visitors for another three months.



The Girl has been visiting for a week during her holidays so one night we sat at the table in front of the fire and stripped all the leaves from the verbena. The age-old women's tradition of talking and working lives on in our dining room.


And when the working is finished we continue the talking, this time with added lemon verbena tea. We tried it with sugar and without, and decided that without is preferable.


 Lemon verbena tea is rich in anti-oxidants, good for indigestion, heartburn, and lowering fevers. It also tastes good and smells divine. If you harvest the whole leaves you don't even need a tea strainer - just throw a few leaves into boiling water then fish them out with a teaspoon when your tea is steeped to your satisfaction.  This makes it a very practical tea for picnics, the office, and all events at which really terrible tea and coffee is served. A tiny pot of lemon verbena leaves stashed in the handbag, and instant, home-grown, hassle-free lemon tea nirvana is possible wherever boiling water is available.


This is my picnic tea tin. It is an old wedding cake slice tin from my granny. Apparently, once upon a time, brides would send slices of wedding cake in small tins to friends and relatives who couldn't make it to the wedding. This is a magnificent idea, and would make it very tempting not to go to the wedding. I mean, wedding cake - that's the best bit of the wedding. This way you would get the cake without having to dress up or travel interstate and sleep on your cousin's lounge room floor.

Anyway, small tin, lemon verbena tea. Hot water. Bliss.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Potting Up Indoor Plants and Dividing Aloe Vera


In the cold days of winter going outside into the garden is not high on everyone's agenda, but there are really a lot of very useful gardening jobs to do in winter, especially on a sunny afternoon. For such a long time I have been meaning to repot some of my indoor plants, and today was the day. First I collected the pots. I am still not buying anything this year if I can possibly avoid it, so I fossicked through my dwindling collection of terracotta pots and found some the right size. I then prowled around the house to see what else I could find, and took down these blue and white Chinese porcelain pots from the top of my bookshelf. They have been up there doing nothing but looking pretty for years, so now it's time for them to do some actual work.


I have a collection of pieces of broken terracotta pots that I keep to use as covers for the drainage holes in pots. These stop the potting mix from falling out of the pots, and also slow down the water as it drains out of the pot, to keep the soil damp for longer.


This is my poor aloe vera plant. I bought it two years ago when I moved to this house, and it has been in its tiny nursery pot ever since. Luckily aloe vera thrives on neglect, and it has grown several babies. It really is time to separate them now though, so I carefully pried the plantlets apart.


Now I have four aloe plants instead of one! I love plants - they are so generous! Two of these plantlets also have tiny babies, so in a year or so I will be able to divide them again. If you are doing this, make sure that each piece has some roots attached.


Here are my potted babies in their new cosy blankets of fresh soil. I love the shiny leaves of the fiddle-leaf fig. It too was living in its tiny nursery pot for over two years, so should make enormous growth as spring comes along. The two devil's ivy plants came from cuttings from my friend Carla. She cut the stem just an inch above and below a leaf. I left them to root in a glass of water, then potted them up in potting mix for a few months. One is now growing a new leaf, and both had roots sticking out of the bottom of their pots, so I knew it was time to pot them on. I gave one back to Carla, one to my friend Lillian who is making a jungle in her bathroom, and kept two to drape down from high shelves. Devil's ivy drapes beautifully in long, leafy vines. Carla's cat kept chewing her plant, which was why she had to trim it. I use about half potting mix and half compost in my indoor plant pots. I find that all potting mix dries out too much.

The aloe vera I potted up in succulent mix, which drains extra well, and is more bark-like than regular potting mix. Ok, so when I said I am not buying anything, clearly I bought potting mix and succulent mix. I would love to learn to make my own. It's on the list. That would eliminate more plastic bags from my life. But it's food really, isn't it? Not things. Plant food..


 I watered all the pots with a solution of seaweed concentrate. Three capfuls of seaweed concentrate to a nine litre watering can full of water. Seaweed concentrate stimulates root growth. While the pots are draining I get out my seashell collection to make a decorative mulch for the aloes. My seashell collection is the result of many years of family trips to the beach, and all those buckets-full that come home with the children. When they get tired of the shells (two days on average) I store them in a big pot in the shed. They make a very nice mulch for indoor plants.


Now to find new homes for the plants indoors. If you bring terracotta pots indoors it is important to remember to use a glazed saucer as terracotta saucers are porous and will ruin the surface you have it on. I have a stack of plates in the back of the cupboard that are chipped or cracked and use them as plant saucers. I am so happy to have repotted my plants at last. It may have taken two years, but it did happen in the end, and now they should all be happy for another two years at least..


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Places To Go..


Just because I don't have a TV doesn't mean I don't ever watch a screen for entertainment. It just means I get to choose from a far greater range of truly inspiring stories with no advertising... Here are my current YouTube favourites:

You will find the Artist as Family blog in my side-bar. I have been intrigued for some time by their back-to-basics lifestyle. They label themselves as 'neo-peasants' and they live in a small, country Victorian town on a quarter acre block and are experimenting with what they can subtract from conventional suburban life (utilities, cars, supermarket shopping, conventional jobs) and what they can add instead to create a fulfilling life (bicycles, foraging, growing food, collecting firewood on their bikes, fermenting, bartering, growing a community of like-minded people).




I keep revisiting this story and I challenge you not to do the same, because it is impossible to take in the full glory of the re-purposed, re-use aesthetic of this richly textured, Aladdin's cave of treasures. This family has made their home in a school bus, but it is the most surprising school bus interior that I have ever seen...




Now, how to introduce this next show, Venetia At Home in Kyoto? Imagine if Beatrix Potter went to live in Japan in a 100 year old traditional Japanese house and created a beautiful garden and pottered about making old-fashioned English crafts like pot-pourri and rose-water. This is just what English woman Venetia Stanley-Smith has been doing for the last thirty years. In her show she also introduces fascinating Japanese craftspeople and discusses their traditions and past with them. Venetia is the kind of lovely, eccentric woman who does what she wants in her own quiet way, who I absolutely aspire to be like one day. These episodes make for a gentle, beautiful interlude on a day when everything seems a bit too much.






Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sadness Sewn Into the Seams




Asylum seekers being separated from their children at the US border has been a lot of the news lately. It is wrong and inhumane. But there are a whole other category of children separated from their parents as well who have been on my mind lately. These are the 61 million children left in rural China with grandparents, family, in institutions or simply left on their own while their parents work all year in factories in the city. In the largest annual human migration on the planet, at the Lunar New Year millions of people travel back to their villages to see family. For millions of parents this is the only week of the year they will see their children.

This documentary follows one couple on their 40 hour train journey from the city of Shenzen back to the little village where the couple's two children are taken care of by their grandfather. This couple work in clothing factories in Shenzen. They send money back to the village to support their family. They can earn three times as much in the city as in the country. They can't bring their children to the city because they have no residency papers for the city and their children would not be able to go to school there.

The family's farm back at the village is worked only by the old grandfather, who of course cannot keep the farm going by himself. The fields are falling into disrepair. This is farmland which has been farmed continuously for three thousand years in one of the most successful agricultural societies the world has ever known.

This is the reality of the Chinese economy as far I can see - and I would appreciate any thoughts others have on the subject. It is more profitable for China to have its people working in factories than on the land, so workers are lured into the cities with the promise of higher wages, but without any of the privileges of city residency, such as being able to send children to school. When they can't work any more these workers will have to go back to their villages - maybe to take care of the next generation of grandchildren. Where does China's food come from then? Certainly not from family farms any more. China now imports more food than it exports and little villages are no longer self-reliant in food.

In the world's wealthy countries we are implicated in this system because we profit from it greatly. We get lots of cheap stuff from China. Cheap clothes. Lots of them. Cheap cars and toasters. And solar panels. And, well, the list goes on. Again, it is the poor and especially the children of the poor who are being exploited by the wealthy and powerful of the world in a callously unfair system.

And we have bought into it to the extent that even if we want to buy clothes or toasters that are made locally by unexploited workers.. we just can't. The products have ceased to exist.

This is the reason I don't buy new clothes any more. Because they have sadness sewn into the seams.

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:

Rain.
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.
Soup.
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:

Depilate.
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...