Saturday, July 11, 2020

You are needed

Three pictures: preserved lemons, pumpkin in a dish and stock

More than a decade ago, I was a full time working mum with two adult children at home and a full time working husband. We were doing the whole thing! Commuting, travelling for work, worrying, working late or at home, trying to get by.  The thing is, I was not happy. My weekends were not enough to reset my equilibrium before the week started again and I was back in the grind.

I started searching for anything which would improve the way we lived. It led me to the Simple Living movement -to bloggers and forums and books. It made sense! We started, very slowly, to change.

One of the best things we did was to put a sign on the letterbox to say 'no junk mail' and immediately we stopped seeing those colourful glossy catalogues which are full of attempts to make us buy things we don't need. We stopped using shopping as recreation. We watched less commercial television so we saw fewer advertisements. We started to learn about growing things, making a lot of mistakes but having enough success to keep going. We started to find new ways to do things for ourselves, and our sense of confidence and happiness grew along with our skills. 

This week has been part of the long and abundant harvest of those changes. It has seen us be happy to be at home, to try to help others where we can, to do things for ourselves. I cut up another pumpkin we grew, and roasted some for a recipe. The peels went into the stock pot with other veggies which were getting tired in the fridge, plus herbs and onions from the garden. I brought the stock to the boil and put it in the hot box for several hours. I put some lemons in a jar with salt and spices to make preserved lemons. I made bread, as usual. We had a lovely chaotic day with the grandchildren and in the midst of it all we made bread together and jam drop biscuits. They picked things from the garden, and sampled edible leaves -some they hated, others were a big hit. DD has been back volunteering at the op shop she works in, DH has been doing the important work he does for another community group and I have been involved in a couple of community based groups too. 

Four purple flowering plants

The rain left us for a few days and we used the time to put some tree prunings through my new shredder and add the result to the compost. My compost is going so much better in recent months as a result. It gets hotter and produces a better, finer compost. We have continued to add flowers to the garden, to support the insects and birds who come here. I was delighted to see a wattle bird in my veggie patch, eating bugs on the rainbow chard. I have planted another Happy Wanderer -the deep purple one-to add to the pink one which grows up a post which holds up our summer shade cloth. 

Geoff Lawton said on a post this week "Flowers are a functional part of pest management in a permaculture garden where pests are confused by colour, scent, patterned form, and predators favoured with perches, ponds and rockeries".

Pinning a quilt on an outside table

I worked in the garden, pinning together a quilt with a garden theme! Now to start quilting it -first with a walking foot and then with some free motion quilting. Nothing makes me quite so happy as doing this in the garden on a sunny winter's day. 

I read a lovely quote this week which I wanted to share with you all.

Remember the earth. Remember your ancestors. Remember your four-legged, winged, crawling relatives. Remember life. Your life, your way of living, that is the only activism you’ve ever had. Use it. Make your existence a ritual that honors everything your body and words touch. The times are troubled and you are needed. Wake up—notice the consequence of every action and non-action. You are needed. You are needed. You are needed.” - Eric Chisler

I hope we can all live in ways that bring our world to the healing we all need. 

Here are some links you might enjoy and be inspired by

Morag Gamble has a new podcast! "SENSE MAKING IN A CHANGING WORLD podcast where I explore the kind of thinking and permaculture action we need to navigate a positive way forward" Find it at your usual podcast app or listen here

Do you read Pip magazine? Lots of wonderful resources here 

Sunday, July 5, 2020

It is the simple things

A table with a cup of tea in the sunshine outdoors

In a world where there is so much anxiety, so much uncertainty, it is good to stop and  focus for a moment on what is good and going well. This means, for me, getting out in the garden, where I always feel calmer and happier. This little table is right by our front door, a sunny warm spot in winter, and created by that corrugated iron clad wall which cut off the passage into the carport. The workshop behind has become DH's happy place, and this 'French cafe at home" spot has been a joy. We often stop for a morning cup of tea, both of us just reflecting and quietly sharing our projects and their challenges and successes. 

Four home grown pumpkins

One of the successes is that I have harvested these four good size pumpkins. I will let them sit outside for a while to 'harden off' and then use them one by one. The ones with the withered stems are ready to eat, apparently. 

I have a new recipe on my "From my kitchen" page which we enjoyed last night -pumpkin gratin, inspired by Stephanie Alexander's must-have recipe book "The Cooks Companion". If you grow food you eat, you get a great deal of satisfaction from it.  These self sown pumpkins just ran under the citrus trees and looked after themselves. Next summer I want to be better prepared to grow more, and possibly try some melons too. 

A bunch of eureka lemons on a tree

Last year we hard pruned the Eureka lemon in the front garden to get a good shape. I have two compost bins under the tree, and have been taking care of feeding it with slow release fertiliser too. We are going to be rewarded with the best crop for years! I am looking forward to trying my preserved lemons again -the last lot I made with the Meyer lemons turned into a strange ferment, so I threw them out! 

A garden shed in the sunshine

The Shed in the back corner is awaiting a make-over. When we bought it we put it on concrete slabs, but now we wish we had a proper concrete floor. I have been wondering if we could take it down, get a floor laid, and then try to put it back up again? DH is a bit unsure about whether this would work. If we could do it, maybe we could redesign it to have a part for a couple of chickens to live, with a door to a small run outside?  Not sure about this one -it would be great to add eggs to the things we can produce, but chickens are a step up for us- the only livestock we have around here are the worms, and of course our cat Dora! 

A black and white cat is staring at the camera while a tv screen shows a musician

Dora is pictured here, enjoying a momentary visit on my footstool. She looks like she wants something -maybe she doesn't like the music being played on the WASO broadcast? 

a puppy in a coat made of crochet wool

This cutie is a new grand fur-baby called Kaylee, now living with my grandchildren. We babysat the kids on the weekend, and Kaylee was there too. She seems to be good with the kids so far, and we hope she has a long and happy life with them. 

Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you can find some simple things to enjoy too in your life. 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Fun bargains in winter

Last weekend we celebrated Solstice with a bit of a family party. The grandchildren came over the day before to help decorate. We talked about longest days and the way the earth moves around the sun -all sorts of things, and they decorated small trees and we spread candles and greenery around.   The next day DGS1 turned up with his stuffed toy from the Frozen movie -Olaf the snowman! Great idea, as this is the closest we will ever get to snow during out winter! 

Due to the restrictions in place to keep us all safe during the pandemic, we couldn't have our friends over for a Winter Feast but we still had a lovely day. As it happened, it was sunny day and we were able to be outside. Our DD helped the grandchildren to a long painting session -I think DGS2 must have painted about 14 pictures in about an hour. I had made beef cheeks into a pie, and we had an apple and raspberry crumble to follow. 

The weather has been a wonderful mix of rain and sunshine. When we can we get out the bikes and go to the park. All of the kids' bikes we have here have been found at our Tip Shop, which is a social enterprise employing vulnerable people and saving things from landfill. DGS2 loves his balance bike.

DGS1 now has a big bike at our place with trainer wheels -it was $15 at the Tip Shop, and DH just tidied it up, oiled it and made sure the bell worked! He was delighted with it -"it's perfect!" he declared.

In the same vein, we have noticed that we really like the kind of ambiance you get from table and floor lamps on a winter's day when it is grey and cloudy outside. I got the idea that our lounge room could do with a standard lamp, and went online to see what was available to fit our 'traditional/cosy' decor. That meant that we didn't want any modern lights, nor anything too fussy. I found a wooden lamp secondhand on marketplace, and bought a new shade.  The whole thing cost $105 which was a third of the price of new lamps which look like this.

The sunshine and rain have been great for the garden. I have continued to make compost, and am pleased that the new mulcher I got for Mother's day has improved the quality of the mulch a great deal. I have moved some roses and planted some native plants like this one, for the birds and the insects. It is part of my on-going campaign to add flowers to my edible garden, and to ensure that there are mid and lower story plants among the trees. The garden is by no means full! 

I have been working on a quilt, using some gifted panels with a gardening theme. It is almost at flimsy stage -I have found one of the border patches has a hole so I have to take it out and replace it. It is a generous single bed size. 

We continue to experience the house, following our insulation upgrade, to be a bit warmer overnight and less in need of extra heating, although there are of course days when a glass of wine and a fire seems just right.

My state of Western Australia is doing very well so far in the COVID19 epidemic, and we are moving out of restrictions for everything except interstate travel on July 18. As a result, my choir is working on a regime to enable us to sing together in a very modified way, and we are now holding small dinner parties in our homes. This is a wonderful feeling: today I can go to my library and get some new books! 

If you are still in more resticted times, I hope you are coping well and staying safe. None of us can go back to normal yet, but life is still good. 

Thanks to all who leave comments -I love to read about your responses and your different lives. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

We upgraded our roof insulation

What is in your roof in the way of insulation?

Our brick and tile house 

When we bought this house about 25 years ago, it already had blown in recycled paper insulation. This was pretty standard for the time, and was usually installed to the R2 specification.  Over the years, this kind of insulation can become compacted and lose a bit of its insulating properties. It still works though as an insulating layer, and we have not been in any hurry to think of a replacement project until we had done every other possible thing we could think of to improve the thermal properties of our brick and tile home. 

We installed a north facing pergola with a grapevine for summer shade and winter warmth, we shaded our only west facing window, we improved the curtains and blinds. DH recently also went around sealing lots of gaps around doors, and those wall vents which let so much cold air in during the winter time. 

Blown in recycled paper insulation
The old insulation
We decided that this was the season we would upgrade our insulation. A local family owned business came with a huge vacuum and sucked up all the old insulation, and replaced it with "EarthWool" batts at the now recommended rate of R4. "Earthwool" batts are over 80% recycled glass  and use no added formaldehyde in their production.  

The team also installed special covers over the exhaust fans, so that they are sealed when not in use. 

The new insulation and a cap sealing the vent on the exhaust fan

Why did we do this?

This diagram of the temperatures for our city will explain.

Like many places Perth's climate is getting a lot hotter. We wanted to see if we could improve the temperatures inside our home without resorting to the use of air conditioning (this is a last resort for us, but we may have to do it at some point in the future).  Last year the lowest temperature we recorded inside was 14C and the highest was 30C. We wanted to see if better insulation could bring those extremes back a bit-we want to be comfortable. It is early days yet, but even though the past week had outside temperatures down to 4C we did not get lower than 17C inside. We have also not used much heating in the evening. 

Would I recommend this to others?

I think that we need more data to be completely certain we have a Return on Investment  recommendation, though initial results look promising - I will keep you posted! 

Meanwhile I encourage you to watch a blogger named Nev talk about the measures he has taken to improve his place in Western Sydney -also visit his blog Under the Choko Tree 

Monday, June 15, 2020

The power of a good list for the garden

Yellow rose with drops of rain
Rose after a wet morning

Are you a list-maker? I love a good list, it keeps me on track, reminds me of what needs to be done, and I love ticking things off when they are completed.  This week was a pretty good week for me, mainly because I came back to making a list of things I wanted to achieve, and have been reviewing the list regularly. 

Iris in bloom
Iris in bloom

One of the things I have learned about myself and lists, though, is that I often need to break down a task into some smaller bits in order to get the energy to complete it. "Make an apron" is better listed as "choose the fabric to make an apron", especially if that choice is the thing which is holding up the whole process. 

I am also a person who is quite happy doing things in stages. I had the idea that I wanted to totally revamp the garden bed which borders our patio out the back. It is in full shade in the winter, but in full sun in summer, and has a wonderful trellis which needs to be in use.

In order to get that done I had to remove some plants which were not really working there, including a gardenia which had always struggled-it was too hot for it during the summer, so I moved it under at tree.  In the course of several weeks I have removed and replanted some ground covers which were here.  I needed to weed the whole bed, to buy some plants which I hope will succeed there, and to prepare the soil. The plan is to try some roses here, as they are deciduous when it is shady but will cope with the sun. The trellis will have a passionfruit on it and possibly a climbing rose. 

A garden bed with no plants in it

 I am now keeping a sort of 'garden journal" which records what I want to do and what I have done -successfully or not-and I am finding it very helpful. It is just a spiral bound notebook, and all I do is write the date and anything else I find helpful. I stick in seed packets or draw a design for a garden bed I have in mind.

Today's citrus harvest of lemons, limes and grapefruit in a basket
Today's citrus harvest

Today we had a good time in the garden, pruning the citrus. I like to keep my trees quite low, as I am a small person and the fruit needs to be within reach.  Next time I am in the garden I want to give all the citrus a bit of a feed and attention, as they have all given such a lovely crop of fruit this year. The grapefruit has a second crop coming, which is a surprise but very welcome. As a result of the rain we have had, everything is looking quite happy. 

rainbow chard leaf with red veins
rainbow chard

Yesterday I made this recipe for a chard and feta pie using my rainbow chard. It was really nice! I used fresh oregano, parsley and thyme as flavourings. Rainbow chard is a pretty vegetable -mine has lovely red stems, and it copes with our climate very well. I have had this one growing for over 12 months- I just cut it from the outside of the plant and it keeps on putting out new leaves. As a result I am always glad to get another chard recipe. 

snow pea in flower

I planted some more snow peas this week. The ones I planted a few months ago are now putting out flowers and pods. I am hoping for a good crop this year -who knows, maybe some will actually make it inside? I love to eat them right there in the garden! 

How is your garden growing? Do you keep a garden journal? 

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Hard times need soft hearts

Times are tough all over, and we know that around the world we are dealing with multiple problems -COVID19, institutional racism and climate change.

DH and I went to the protest in Perth today in front of the Rio Tinto headquarters, to stand in solidarity with the PKKP people whose Juukan cave site with over 43,000 years of cultural significance, was destroyed by that company recently.  Organiser Josh Eggington said Rio Tinto knew of the land's importance.  "The PKPP (Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura) Aboriginal Corporation has on numerous occasions since 2013 communicated to Rio Tinto the significance of Jukkan Gorge," he said.  

DH and I are happy to stand in solidarity with Aboriginal people as allies, in their struggle for justice. 

I hope you are safe where you are as you read this, and working as we do, in our own space, for systemic change. Everyone has an opportunity somewhere to build the world we want for the future -in our own living, in our friendship networks and in the wider world by what we do and how we use our various powers available to us in the ballot box and in our economies by using our money wisely, building communities and supporting one another. 

In times like these we need to find beauty where we can. DH and I enjoyed a walk in the lovely Walyunga National Park on Friday. The river is low, but there is more water than two months ago. We are still waiting for good winter rains here, but have had a couple of storms of rain.  The land responds to the rain. It makes us feel as though anything might be possible. We supported a local Swan Valley winery by having a leisurely lunch, and enjoyed it very much.

We had DGS1 at our house for a sleepover on Saturday night. Saturday was the day our playgrounds were open again after the COVID19 shutdown, and we celebrated with a picnic in the park. DGS1 is nearly 6 years old, and we had a lot of fun with him. We took torches out at dusk to look at the trees and birds, we found big logs to climb on, we did all sorts of wonderful things!

 DGS1 is keen on all things with wheels, so DH put some wheels on a box he had made, and we had fun playing with it as a bus. Our lovely boy decorated it with chalk, including blue 'go faster' stripes! 

Our usual activities have continued -we are still gardening and taking care of things. I updated my "from my kitchen' page to include a pesto recipe I made using mizuna and peanut butter! 

DH completed my spice racks this week. These are IKEA picture rails with IKEA spice bottles. I now have them in alphabetical order from Allspice to Za'atar! 

DH also renovated our outside lights. He had to repair one, and the technology had changed but he worked out how to use some of the old system and some new bits to get a nice wash of light at the front of our place.

He also renovated my secateurs, after seeing a story on Gardening Australia about a repair cafe. He sharpened the blades, lubricated the spring and fixed the lock mechanism. 

Finally, to encourage your gardening, a bit of reading! I hope you stay safe and well till next time. 

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Makuru: Winter in South West (Australia)

It has been wet and cold (in relative terms!) for us this week. The garden is refreshed and the water tank a third full again. Hopefully we can get more rain to fill it up again before winter is over. 

We have been experimenting with the use of the new "Hay Box"  (above) that DH made for me.  
Since my last post, DH painted the Hay box and it has found a permanent place in my laundry. 

 It is great for proofing my sourdough overnight. Last winter I used to wrap the bowl in a blanket on the kitchen bench, or heat the oven very slightly and put the bread in there. With the Hay Box I just put the bread dough in an oiled saucepan and tuck it in to the Hay Box. The method of making sourdough to this stage does not, of course, have any heat, so as I have a microwaveable stone pad, I heat it slightly in the microwave for 1 minute on medium, then put that underneath the dough in the saucepan. The last step is to tuck a cushion I made from a leftover curtain, stuffed with more leftover Earthwool insulation on top before I add the lid. The couple of times I have used the Hay Box the bread has risen beautifully by morning. 

The first of our pumpkins was harvested. I weighed it as 6 kilos! If you have bought pumpkin from a supermarket (or bought it in a can, as apparently happens in some places) you have really never experienced the wonder that fresh pumpkin can offer, cut on your kitchen bench with the fragrant perfume of ripe orange flesh which is dripping with juicy goodness. It is of course pumpkin season, so pumpkin is only $3 a kilo at the moment, but still, that one is worth $18 and all I did was let it run rampant under the citrus in the back yard. There are 5 more out there! 

With 6 kilos to manage, I had to get busy in processing it. I roasted some and it went into the pumpkin soup, which I started on the stove and heated to boiling and put it in the Hay Box for about 7 hours. When we got it out for dinner the internal contents were +60C which is fine. I blended the soup and heated it a bit on the stove before serving, adding a squeeze of lemon to take the edge off the sweetness. 

Some of the pumpkin was just steamed in the microwave and frozen for later use. 

My granddaughter (aged 8) came over and we made pumpkin scones, and then the rest of the family came to help us eat them. 

Another use of the Hay Box was that I cooked some jasmine rice in an equal volume of boiling water for 5 minutes and then tucked the pot into the slow cooker for about 90 minutes. When I pulled it out the rice was beautifully cooked by the absorption method with no dried overcooked rice on the bottom. I can see me thinking twice about the electric rice cooker -maybe it could go, and this would become the favourite method around here from now on. 

If you are interested in Hay Box cooking, you might find this link helpful - about Hay Boxes and temperatures here 

This weekend is a Long Weekend in our state, for the "WA Day" holiday. It is also National Reconciliation Week. "We strive towards a more just, equitable nation by championing unity and mutual respect as we come together and connect with one another. On this journey, Australians are all In This Together; every one of us has a role to play when it comes to reconciliation, and in playing our part we collectively build relationships and communities that value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories and cultures".

I have been reading Layla Saad's book "Me and White Supremacy". It is a difficult and thoughtful work. We have much to do here in Western Australia to overcome our terrible history of oppression and marginalization and dispossession of the Indigenous people of this land.  Watching the USA in terrible conflict over race relations is scary and sobering. 

I was much saddened by the terrible news about the destruction of a 43,000 year old site of Aboriginal culture THIS WEEK by RioTinto, who blew it up to extend a mine, and did so 'legally'. Sure, they got around to apologising, but there is no way to compensate the traditional owners, let alone all of us, for the loss of this site of world significance. 

I leave you with this thought.