Sunday, January 25, 2015

Green and Thrifty

This week has been actually HOT. Yes, in Tasmania, I know, who would have thought it?
Edited to add: Hot two days ago when I wrote this. Weather has since had a change of heart, and we are back to wearing jackets to watch the Australia Day fireworks.

So the girls have been in and out of the pool (which isn't green and thrifty in the least, but it is there, so we are using what we have..), and then holing themselves up in my study downstairs where it is cool. They and all their friends went 3D with the loom bands. Did you know you can make stuffed animals with loom bands? You Tube is a wonderful thing. Hoping the pesky loom bands will all be used up soon..




Then there were the days of card making. The girls have years of scrap booking supplies sent for birthdays from Grandma and lovely aunties, just waiting for some summer holiday inspiration. Now we have a couple of years' worth of home made cards all ready to go..



After that, a jewellery craze set in, as the girls, armed with a set of long-nosed pliers from the shed, undid their collection of necklaces and bracelets and remade them into charm bracelets, and went crazy with the their bead collections, also well stocked by Grandma. Then, when they ran out of ready made charms, they started making their own from modelling clay..


For one one whole day Posy whined continuously asked ever so politely for a swing. By the next day she and her friends had made their own:


Then they turned the entire family room downstairs into a blanket fort and had sleep overs in it. I think they have had a fun summer, and it has all been about Using What We Have. The more we do it, the more I realise just how much we do have, and how looking at our life with a view to appreciating the incredible abundance in it makes us happy and content. Whereas concentrating on the few things we don't have, and that other people do have, well, that just makes us miserable. It is the same life both ways, different attitude.

This week will be all about Back to School, sadly. We will need to make some purchases. School shoes. Some exercise books. Thankfully we only needed to buy one textbook/workbook this year, due to the availability of hand-me-downs from older siblings. The two girls still at school have enough uniform to start the year, but I will need to keep looking out for secondhand options during the months to come. The problem with committing to shopping secondhand is that it takes so much more perseverance and effort than buying new. It is so tempting just to pop into the uniform shop and spend all the money.. except that I don't really have that option anymore. The budget that was once fairly loose and flexible with plenty of  wiggle room for lazy shopping at the world's most expensive school uniform shop, is now subject to post-divorce stringency measures. Which is excellent really, because now fate is forcing me into doing what I believe is right, laziness having won out over conscience many times in the past.

We have started to fill future lunch boxes by making batches of fruit leather from the plum tree in the back yard. The girls are an excellent labour force, especially for the fiddly job of picking all the plum stones out of the pulp with tongs. This morning a friend gave me a giant bag of big purple plums, so in a minute they will be in the pot, cooking down to make purple fruit leather. How much more fun can school lunch be?

Eating from the garden this week - rhubarb, nectarines, cherry plums, peaches, rosemary, rocket, lemons, cherry tomatoes - the first of the crop. Our zucchini plants are still babies, but those friends who planted theirs in a timely manner are already getting tired of them, and we are getting quite a few gifted zucchinis as well, so there will be zucchini cake in the freezer for school lunches, as well as minestrone and mini zucchini muffins galore. Good times:)

Tell me about your green and thrifty week..

Monday, January 19, 2015

Without Recourse to Retail

So this last week I have been plotting how not to shop for certain household items that I wanted.

My first want was a cupboard in the the loo. It is kind of a necessity in a house full of women. For many years it has been on The Man's list of things to do. He even bought a large piece of beautiful timber to construct it with. However, for one reason or another it didn't get built, and last November I used that piece of timber to get a lovely desk built in my new study. So how to get some storage space in the loo? After prowling around the house several times, I noticed some old CD storage cupboards in Posy's room. I bought them years ago for the girls to store their precious tiny treasures. So, much to Posy's disgust, I annexed one for the loo. Perfect for storing girl essentials.



Want Number Two was a lamp for my bedside table. I did have two in the bedroom, but moved one downstairs to what is now the room that The Man and The Boy use when they come to stay, and the other is now Posy's desk lamp. My first solution involved an extremely expensive, locally made beeswax candle that I bought last year, and a candlestick I found when clearing out a cupboard full of vases. It makes me very happy because I feel like I am living in a fairy tale. However, I must say that anyone in old novels found to be reading by candlelight must have gone blind shortly thereafter. I was not prepared to give up reading in bed, but where to find another lamp. The solution came to me in the shower, of course. I do feel that all the electricity used in long hot showers is absolutely justified in the long run..



There has been a lamp sitting on the sideboard in the dining room for a number of years. I bought it after we renovated because I felt that dinner by lamplight would be soothing and relaxing. However it turns out that my family prefer to see their dinner rather than be soothed and relaxed, so we never used the lamp. It just sat there and I never noticed it except to dust it. Is that not the uncomfortable truth about many of our possessions? Now it is installed next to the bed, and I can choose to live in a fairy tale OR read a book at night. Such riches!



So, two household 'necessities' supplied without recourse to retail. I would love to know what you have been doing to use what you have..

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

How to Declutter Effortlessly and Become Richer Without Even Trying..




Decluttering is a busy buzz word that many people throw around in their New Year's resolution lists. You find yourself with a houseful of crap that doesn't put itself away, and causes you to trip over and not be able to find that important piece of paper, and you get rather cross with yourself, and so you take a deep breath and spend an entire week putting everything away, throwing away a third of all your stuff, and popping down to the closest big box store to buy $300 worth of tubs and baskets to artfully encapsulate the contents of your life.

Then a year later you find yourself doing exactly the same thing. It's like we are helpless babes and stuff just appears in our houses ON PURPOSE to annoy us. Oh, whoops, yes, it actually does. And who brings that annoying stuff into our houses? Oh, that's right, we do, straight from that big box store to our front door, and thence onto our bedroom floors and the dining room table because there is no more room in all the cupboards.

The whole decluttering problem of the entire Western world can be fixed right now, today, by never going shopping again. We all have so much stuff that we could try using what we have, substituting something already in our cupboards for what we think we need so badly until we forget we needed it in the first place. Maybe, eventually, we will discover that we really, really can't live a full and happy life without that particular doodad, but by then it will be a truly considered purchase, and we will at least have planned a place to put it before we go shopping. But beware, going out to the shops is a trap and a snare. Best take your scariest friend along who will not let you buy a single other doodad that is jumping up and down in the shop window yelling, 'BUY ME!' (I am available for all such shopping expeditions)

Perhaps we could train ourselves to ignore the blandishments of pervasive consumerism by waking up each morning and greeting the world by saying, 'I have SO MUCH. I do not need any more.' Maybe, eventually, it will sink in.

Now, by not buying anything ever again, eventually, the piles of things in your house will naturally diminish. If you cancel the newspaper, those piles of old newspapers in the garage will disappear over time, as they are used as firelighters and budgie cage liners. The best dinner set that sits in the cupboard will need to be brought out as your old dinner plates break and chip. The three extra cutlery sets that were such a bargain in the sales and still in their boxes, because who needs three sets of cutlery, ever? will be wrapped up for wedding gifts for all your nieces. See? No annoying trips to the charity shops required, none of this tiresome tossing things into boxes and sorting and making painful decisions about whether we really may need this or that in the future.

So stop buying, and one day, three years from now, your house will be looking quite elegantly minimal, there will be room in the cupboards for everything you need, and your bank balance will be magnificent! Effortless, and suddenly you have loads of time to do all those hobbies, the raw materials for which fill all those crates, because now you never have to go shopping.

Free yourself from the manacles of stuff, become a creator and conserver instead of a consumer, and let your house declutter itself.








Friday, January 9, 2015

Green and Thrifty

Let's have a green and thrifty Friday again shall we? It's been a while..

This week I:

..picked all the apricots from the tree. Apricot trees tend to have a heavy bearing year followed by a light bearing year. This year was a light bearing year, so I was determined not to waste a single precious golden fruit. Every day I have been climbing up the tree with my basket, testing each apricot for doneness, and tenderly harvesting the ones that were ready. I have been eating perfectly ripe apricots for breakfast all week, and stewing the rest, which are so sweet they don't need any sugar. Life is just perfectly wonderful sometimes:) Plus, climbing trees, what a fun way to relive childhood.



..pulled all the jars out of the sideboard to see if I had enough to make more jam. I think I do:) I have been collecting all the passata jars I have used this year so I now have exactly the amount of jars I need to make a year's worth of passata (that would be forty jars). This weekend I will be soaking the labels off, and next week I will be buying boxes of tomatoes for The Great Passata Party.

..have been watching all the seeds I planted last week popping up in my new vegie garden. Is there anything cuter than dear little baby seedlings? I don't think of myself as having a particularly wide range of talents, but this week I did realise that I have a very useful talent - after many years of planting seeds instead of garden-centre seedlings, not only have I saved enormous amounts of money, but I am also ace at recognising the difference between baby basil and baby weeds. So I have been weeding the baby weeds and not the baby basil, broccoli, capsicums, beans etc. Although you would have to be pretty silly not to recognise a baby bean when you saw it emerging. For a day of extreme entertainment, parking yourself in front of the vegie patch and watching the bean seedlings pop up, and growing upwards by the hour, well, it beats every reality TV show I have ever sat through, for sure.

..have not ventured outside my house except to walk the dog. The only thing we have bought this week is milk. We have had lots of friends visit which is lovely, and the girls have entertained themselves with friends, swimming in the pool, and in cleaning up her room Posy rediscovered loom bands. Remember that brief craze that swept through the primary schools this year? Well, I'm sure there are many, many looms and bands sitting unused in cupboards around the nation as that craze has passed now, but Posy and Rosy have spent days using up those horrid plastic bands, and thankfully, I think I have dissuaded them from buying yet more from ebay, as I am sure this is only a temporary resurgence of interest. When we cleaned up Posy's room, we also discovered I know not how many craft kits that are either half-completed or not even started, so I am hoping that I can keep them both occupied for the rest of the school holidays, Using What We Have.



..ate out of the fridge and pantry and garden. Lots of apricots! In fact, one evening we had stewed apricots and home made custard for dinner, as we had to use up egg yolks left over from pavlova. We have had a few get-your-own dinners this week, which everyone except Rosy enjoys.

'When are we going to have a proper dinner Mum?' she asked yesterday.

I suggested that any time she wanted to make a 'proper dinner' she was very welcome.

'But that's your job,' she objected.

Oh dear, poor Rosy. So misguided. I explained to her, quite gently under the circumstances I thought, that actually, my job isn't 'to make dinner', but is, in common with every other mammal, to bring up my offspring successfully to the point where they can leave the nest and lead independent lives.

'So technically, it IS my job to see that you have all the skills necessary to make a proper dinner,' I finished up, 'and oops, that job is already done. You already CAN make a proper dinner, even if you don't really feel like it. And neither do I feel like it. What are we going to do?'

We both made whatever we felt like eating from what was available.

Tell me about your thrifty green projects this week. And are your children equally as misguided as Rosy as to your role in their upbringing? What life skills are they learning this week?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

This Year I Will Use What I Have

Anyone who has been reading these pages for long will know how cross I get about mindless consumerism. And 'stuff'. An endless ocean of miserably manufactured, 'must have' tat which keeps us all in the malls and up to our eyeballs in debt, and working all the days of our lives to pay for it.

I have never been much of a spender, having been brought up by very thrifty parents, and also because walking around shops and making decisions about buying things is like my worst nightmare.. and yet, somehow, I have effortlessly collected a house full of stuff. It's like there really is a conspiracy.

So, having spent a lot of time over the last few months contemplating, well, everything, I have come to a few tentative conclusions:

1 Our society, organised around global capitalism as it is, exploits the labour of many to benefit the few. Here in Tasmania, I am one of the few. I can buy a kettle from K-mart for $12 or a jar of orange marmalade made in Poland for $1.20. I cannot buy a jar of locally made jam for less than $4.50, and I cannot buy a locally made kettle at all.

As the parent of four brilliant, darling children, I am doing all I can to make sure they have the best chance to find meaningful and fulfilling work. Why should the brilliant, darling children of parents in the developing world not have the same chance of finding meaningful and fulfilling work just so I can have a $12 kettle? And why are the brilliant, darling children of Tasmania condemned to work at Kmart when they could be starting kettle-manufacturing businesses?

2 Our society, organised around global capitalism as it is, exploits the resources of the many to benefit the few. My river isn't being polluted by mine tailings to make a widget to put in my kettle. But I expect someone's river is. I get the kettle. They get the polluted river. I am a bit lucky aren't I?

3 I can't see any way to fix the evils of global capitalism (I am working on it..) but actually, maybe I don't have to participate in it any more. Can I live my life creatively and happily, with much more labour, and also much less guilt, in the cracks and spaces between the monolithic institutions that rule our lives? What if I just try? I can only fail, and then I'll be right back here where I already am. To paraphrase Thoreau, it is better to aim high, and fail immediately, than not to aim high at all.

4 My very first act will be to not buy stuff. In an age where we are all defined as consumers in every sphere of life, I think this might be the most subversive act of all. And also it frees me to lie in the hammock and read my book, instead of going shopping. I am also determined to work out how to avoid grocery shopping, then my life will be heaven on earth.

5 I don't quite know how I am going to work this out. As I write, my last black bra that fits is coming apart at the seams, and Posy and Rosy could both use new rash vests for swimming. I can't leave the cash economy altogether, but I can think very carefully about where my dollars go.

6 My first and biggest challenge is to use what I already have. If I were to measure my (quite modest) houseful of 'stuff' against the possessions of most other human beings through time and space, I imagine I would be up there in the 1% . I don't need more things (except a black bra and two rashies ..). I think what I need is to look at what I have with different eyes. The eyes that can see how much I have, instead of the eyes that can only see what the neighbours have, and what all the beautiful people on TV have, and what all the bloggers have in their perfect houses and gardens. What I need is to be able to wake up every morning and say, 'I have enough!'

7 I just examined my bra - with difficulty, as I am wearing it - and I am pretty sure I can mend it. A course of action that genuinely didn't occur to me until I was writing this post. Now I can put off thinking about how to acquire a new one.

8 The children are going to LOVE this:)



Monday, January 5, 2015

Jam on the Barbie..





It occurred to me recently that the fancy-schmancy outdoor kitchens that people like building into their outdoor entertainment areas would be very useful for preserving, because who wants to stand inside all summer stirring pots of jam in a hot kitchen?

I don't have a fancy-schmancy outdoor kitchen, but I do have a picnic table and a barbecue with a gas ring, and that's all I need to do most of my summer preserving outdoors. On the weekend I made jam from the cherry plum tree in my backyard, and I thought I would share the recipe, as practically every old garden in Tasmania features at least one cherry plum tree, and they are fiendishly difficult to cook with as they are mostly stone. But they are so prolific! It seems a terrible waste not to cook with them.



First, sterilize your jam jars in the dishwasher or in the oven (I go for the dishwasher method on hot days, or take the jars outside and pour boiling water into them and let them sit for at least ten minutes or so). I like to pick straight into the kitchen scales, because it easy. Lots of my cooking tips revolve around sheer laziness. I generally preserve in 3kg/6.5lb batches, because that is how much fruit fits in my pan.



So, fruit in pan on gas ring. I add a mug of water, then as it starts cooking, mash the fruit down with a potato masher. Rosy did this for me, and also stirred as the fruit came to a boil. Another advantage of outdoor cooking is the children think it is much more fun to help. Boil the fruit for about ten minutes and the stones come away from the fruit.

Then I add 1.5kg/3.3lbs of sugar, the juice and zest of a lemon, and four teaspoons of vanilla extract. This is half the amount of sugar usually recommended for jam-making, but I kept winding the sugar content back until it stopped 'jelling', then wound it forward a bit, and half the sugar to the weight of the fruit seems to always work for me. I do generally use fruit that is a tad underripe, because unripe fruit contains more pectin, and always add lemon to help it jell. This gives a jam that tastes like fruit, rather than sugar, which of course, is actually the flavour point I am after...

Now I let the jam bubble away merrily for twenty minutes or so, happily heating up the backyard rather than the kitchen, then I start testing for 'done-ness'. I use the wrinkle on the saucer method. Pop two saucers in the freezer, and when you want to test the jam, dollop a teaspoonful onto a saucer, pop the saucer back in the freezer for a minute to cool, then push your finger through the jam. Does it leave a distinct clear line of clean saucer behind it that the jam doesn't seep back into? Is there a distinct bow wave of jam in front of your finger with a hint of a wrinkle to it? Then the jam is done. If not, rinse the saucer and put it back in the freezer. After a few minutes, take the second saucer out (you use two saucers so you always have a cold one handy) and try again. When I test the jam, I don't wait until it is very wrinkly, because I like reasonably sloppy jam. But really, jam is very forgiving. If it is too runny, label it as pancake syrup or ice-cream topping. If it is too hard, label it as fancy-schmancy fruit paste and serve it with cheese and crackers. It is all in the marketing:)



I find about half an hour to forty minutes gives me the consistency I prefer. Now tip your pan of boiling jam Very Carefully through a colander set in another large pan. Very likely you won't get all of it in at once. That's okay, we can do this in batches. Stir the jam vigorously with your wooden spoon to separate jam from plum stones. Tip the stones into the compost, and do another batch. Once all the jam is strained, pour it into the jars.



Remember that all the utensils you use for this must be very, very clean (well, clean before you start mucking about with the jam. After that they will be very, very jammy). Screw the lids on tight and put the jars somewhere the children can't fiddle with them until the lids have popped to form a seal, then label and store and gloat over nine pots of jam that cost pennies to make on a sunny summer's morning in the garden..




Of course, the best thing about cooking jam al fresco is that the clean-up just involves hosing down the table. Try to not to water the dog, who is completely exhausted after a morning of.. well, sleeping.





Sunday, December 28, 2014

Vegie Futures



I was so pleased when Christmas was over, not because I didn't like Christmas - it was lovely and Christmassy and jolly and there was all the 'Ho ho ho' and tinsel and trappings that are supposed to accompany the holiday, but as soon as it was over I was thrilled to stop faffing about with the wrapping and jollity, and get stuck into digging and arranging my new vegie garden.

I have never actually had a proper vegie garden, just strips of space clawed back from the lawn here and there, and lots of pots, but inspiration hit a couple of months ago. Up above you can see the children's old cubby house. One day it will be a chicken house, and all the space next to it will be the chicken yard, and I will have beautiful permanent raised beds in the sunniest part of the lawn. Until that fair day dawns, however, I have dug up what was once the children's old sandpit, and a fair whack of lawn as well, and claimed it as my own to grow wonderful lush vegies.

I started before Christmas, when Benson-the-Naughty-Puppy started mysteriously disappearing through a locked gate, and past a fence which is taller than me, and without a chink in it larger than a kitten could get through. Until one day I saw him chasing the cat. The cat leaped up on the four-foot high compost bin and flew over the top of the fence, and, ears flapping madly, Benson-the-Flying-Wonder-Dog followed suit.

Heart sinking, I knew the day had finally come to empty the giant, full-to-the brim compost bins, a task I had been putting off for at least a month, as I kept trying to cram more in the top. It took all day, and a million trips in the wheelbarrow, but I moved the entire, smelly collection over to the other side of the house, back into the bins far, far away from any fence. Benson is not pleased to be trapped in the backyard, but I had a huge load of freshly cured compost (two years old, an excellent vintage) which I dumped where the old sand pit had been, and then planned to expand my vegie empire another few feet or so, past the edge of the old sandpit, and into the lawn.

But was stymied by a very blunt spade which wouldn't cut through the grass. I sharpened the spade with a file from The Man's shed, and it was surprisingly effective. So effective that on Boxing Day, when I had a whole day on my own while The Man took the children out for a picnic, I managed to slice straight through a (quite small) water pipe, and started a (quite small) flood. By an extraordinary coincidence, I for once managed to have an emergency when The Man was actually in the state, and by another extraordinary coincidence, the exact joiners we needed were there in the shed, and it took about five minutes to fix. Now I know how to fix water pipes:)

For the last two days there have been absolutely no dramas, just a lot of hauling around bricks (left over from when we pulled down two chimneys several years ago. I knew those bricks would come in handy..), and digging bricks in to make four beds for crop rotation purposes. This would have been excellent for working off all the Christmas baking, except that I keep eating more of it..

Then tonight I had the bright idea of digging in the contents of the bokashi bin under the laundry sink. Bokashi is a compost system quite useful for townhouses and apartments, all sealed in a bucket, no smells etc, which uses a fermented grain to 'pickle' the compost contents. When the bucket is full, you leave it to continue 'pickling' somewhere (under the laundry sink for instance), while you fill up bucket number two. Then you empty bucket number one by digging it into... the vegie garden? Under some fruit trees? At your mum's place, or in your allotment presumably, if you live in an apartment? Anyway, my bokashi sat under the laundry sink for about a year. I had bought the bins several years ago in a phase when I thought I had to buy everything in all the 'green' catalogues to save the planet. I know better now but I have the buckets, so use them in a desultory way. Anyway, yes, a year under the sink.

 'Aha!' I thought, 'I will use that pesky bokashi in the vegie garden, and my pumpkins will be the size of beach balls.' I can tell you now, that even after a year, bokashi is on the fragrant side. I buried it diligently, and then remembered The Dog! Aaargh! Benson-the-Keen-Nosed-Hound sniffed out the wonderful aroma of well-rotted food stuffs from the other end of the house, and hasn't been able to leave the vegie patch alone ever since. I tremble for a) the baby butternuts I just planted, kindly donated by a friend who had an excellent germination rate, and b) for the carpets if Benson manages to dig up the bokashi.

Sigh. I didn't imagine that digging a vegie garden would involve quite this much drama. Vegies in pots are starting to look so EASY.

But I have an actual, real vegie garden. I am so excited:) I will now hop into bed with my garden manuals and plan the ultimate crop rotation..



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