Sunday, April 5, 2020

Giving and taking

As we go through this strange pandemic with its requirement for social distancing,  it is good to find ways to contribute and to receive the contributions of others to our own lives.

This week I gave away some produce from my garden, including these gorgeous ruby red pomegranates. In harvest season we get more than we can use. Last year we made up little packets of the niblets and froze them but we still had more than we could use in a year. It felt good to be able to offer them to others.

We were given a trailer load of 'clean fill' -ie garden soil -left over from someone else's building renovation -and took it to DS's place in our trailer to help fill up one of their large raised garden beds.

We found some stables near the racecourse and got 3 free bags of Horse Poo! Gold for our compost and those new garden beds!

I watched some great videos with 'how to' information -one of them on how to make great compost. It inspired me to ask DH for some signs:

I consolidated my compost bins and have instigated the "fill one, stir one" approach which is already having good results. The one I am stirring is now nicely warm and steams when I stir it each day. Compost is such great food for gardens -it is time I got more canny about making it. I am always on the lookout for 'brown and dry" material to add to the compost -our food scraps are too soggy on their own. I hope to get a trailer load of free mulch next weekend from the local council, and add some to the garden and the compost bins, as well as take some over to DDILs garden.

Most of our children are now staying home from school, and the government has closed the playgrounds. In order to entertain children who are going for walks around our streets, many people are putting out their teddies so that the children can go on a bear hunt, or they are chalking rainbows on the footpath to encourage us all in our socially distant exercise regimes. Here is my teddy - I had to give him a rope seatbelt because he was falling off the chair in the wind! DD says it looks like I have him hostage!

We used to have a regular Friday night dinner with some friends, so we have taken it online as 'virtual drinks" and it is good to be able to catch up. I have noticed that friends and family are taking care to keep in touch via actual phone calls! This is good for us all.

We have had over the fence, in the driveway and socially distant conversations with our grandchildren -they hate it that we can't be together, and so do we. Mr DGS1 said "The person making the rules is mean!" and we all agree. However, we can see each other even if there are no hugs at the moment.

Thanks so much for dropping by and reading my little blog. I appreciate the way we are connected -please feel free to add a comment or to tell me how you find yourself giving and taking at the moment.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

More settled

The last fortnight has been quite stressful for many of us, and for me too. 

My son, daughter in law and three grandchildren were in the process of moving from country Victoria to Perth, when all of the pandemic started to unfold! DH went by plane to meet DS and help him drive the family car all the way back to Perth - a distance of 3334 km which took them 5 days. They travelled through the desert but only one day was a bit too hot-nearly 43C, and the rest was quite cool. I was quite stressed by the fact that on two days they found themselves driving into the evening to find a motel with a bed on the way. Thankfully, they did not have any incidents with the wildlife (hitting a kangaroo is not recommended!) and arrived safely.

But then the travel arrangements which had been made for DDIL and our three grandchildren started to look very impractical! The airline industry was in sharp decline and state borders were starting to close. We all were worried about the family being stuck on the wrong side of the WA border! Again, as a result of some good work by some good people, they got a flight into Perth just after the government required all visitors to go into self-quarantine for 14 days. 

A very good friend was able to put the family up for a week-this was a lifesaver because of a third problem.

The house that the family was buying had been discovered to have had a pipe burst and flood the ceiling of a bedroom. Trying to get a set of builders to come and do this insurance work has been an absolute nightmare. The 'settlement date" of the house loomed and my family were anxious -how could they settle a house in such a state? Would the looming 'lockdown" stop work for six months?

One hour before 'settlement" DH and I drove out to the house to check if the fabled builder was actually on site and were delighted to see the van out the back, with his business name on it! YAY! He was there doing the technical fixes for the ceiling and we were confident that, if the worst came to pass and the builder could not return, we were capable of finishing the room with a bit of paint and new carpet.

Here is the moment my grandchildren went through the front door for the first time! 

A really joyful moment!

Today the family has been moving some basics into the house -some beds and a fridge in particular. We were anxious that they should be IN the house in case a total lockdown was called. Also, the household goods that left the country town in Victoria a week ago are due to be delivered Wednesday this week. The carrier company was afraid that government regulations might prevent them moving this way soon, so we needed to have the house available for delivery. 

I was feeling very frustrated that the Covid19 pandemic has meant that we have not been as helpful to the family as we want to be. DH is 67 and I am 65 and we are advised 'not to have any contact with young children'. He has a history of lung problems so we are taking the advice seriously. This means we can't babysit, as much as we wish we could. 

My DDIL and DS agreed that it might be helpful as they move today if we could send them some basic foods for a day or so. I made up some bags of food from my larder, and made sausage rolls and coleslaw for dinner tonight. This little task made me very happy! We sent them some of our home grown produce and the chutneys and jams DH makes. This is the first time we have been able to share in this way and it feels so good. 

After all this , it is great to turn my attention to my latest quilt and feel settled enough to settle down to it.

 I feel as though, now the family is more settled, even though there is a long way to go to be without some worries and a lot of work to come, we should be able to recover and rest a bit, just like Dora here.

Thanks for visiting and I hope you are all safe and well.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Can we grow some food in a small space?

My son and his family are coming back to Perth and are going to be buying a place near the Swan Valley -about 30 minutes from here.

The house is about 10 years old, and is in a development where all the houses are pretty big but on small blocks. My daughter in law wants to grow some food and has asked for my help. She has the aim of having herbs outside that she can cut whenever she needs them -instead of paying huge amounts for tiny bunches. She wants the kids to be able to eat more vegetables -and they have already demonstrated that they are much more likely to do that if they have grown it themselves.

The house has two garden spaces -on the north side a small walled garden, and on the south a bit of a bigger area- as you can see in the picture above this area has more sun. It has the potential to be a bit windy.

The garden is typical of houses in Perth -poor sandy soil and there are a few struggling plants which used to be connected to a drip line irrigation -now not working. There is a bit of lawn -a bit straggly, and a sunny area on the east that I have my eye on as a possible place for a fruit tree or two.

With the world the way it is, it is going to be important that any gardening we do is as cheap as is possible! We have had some early successes in this regard.

On a walk around the block this week I came upon a neighbour's place which had 4 of these raised garden beds on offer for the very cheap price of $25 each -they are more than $100 each when new. We are very thrilled with these because they can go on some of the paved areas, and are narrow enough not to take up too much space. We plan to put a straw bale in the bottom of them and put potting mix on top. The straw will rot down eventually and we can keep topping it up. We can control the soil quality in them for quick harvests while we work on the rest of the place.

We also have picked up a plastic compost bin -for free- from someone we know. This garden will benefit from lots of organic matter being part of it's future!

There is a small lemon tree in the backyard -I think the compost bin could go nearby and feed the tree. I haven't had a good look at this tree -it may be shooting from its root stock, but we will see.

We have also got 3 vouchers for the local Council's free mulch -they make it from the green waste which is collected once a fortnight from houses in our area. This will be great to help us conserve moisture in the garden beds. 

I have started some seedlings and cuttings in readiness for the garden: mizuna, curry leaf, peas, lemon grass, dill,  warrigal greens, along with some ornamentals. I have just moved their trolley out of the sun -it is still getting hot here and some of them needed a drink after I did so! I also have larger pots of spring onions, celery, mint and parsley. 

There are some online resources which are encouraging us as we start this venture.

This short story from Gardening Australia looks at a small and very productive garden -click here and this one about a share house is also good -click here

While the garden comes together here, we can of course share the produce from my own garden. DDIL is very happy to see my lime harvest begin! She loves limes and lemons, but hates paying exorbitant prices for them -don't we all! I will soon have many more, and the Meyer lemons are colouring now. I also have pink grapefruit which are not too far away from harvest.

This seems like the best time to start a garden -with various lock downs and social isolation, we will need activities to keep us busy, and will have plenty of time at home to do the work.  The kind of savings we can make -and the more nutritious and flavourful food we can grow and eat -are going to be worth the effort. I have been spending a couple of hours per day in the garden -I get a lot of mental health benefits from being outside and helping things grow. I find I can focus on the now, and not worry so much when I am outside.

Are you gardening? Do you have a small garden like this? Any suggestions? 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Women, art, struggle and community

On International Women's Day I attended an exhibition of traditional Palestinian embroidery, made by members of the diaspora who are now living in Perth. They had been brought together to learn to do their cultural designs and in the process learn each other's stories and connect with their community.  It was wonderful to see so many people supporting this, and to meet the women involved.  The exhibition was located in a community art centre, with funds and mentoring from a local art group.

It followed a Unionist rally on the Friday evening before, to speak powerfully about the struggle for women which is still going on. A young female 'sparkie" (electrician) spoke about her insurance for wage support during periods of sick leave, being set up in such a way that a woman with long term problems during pregnancy would not be eligible. Women unionists intervened for her and secured a win for her and for all other women. The wage gap between average weekly earnings for women and men in this part of Australia is a whopping 22% -mainly due to the difference that traditional women's work (child care for example) is paid compared to that of traditional male roles. We all agreed "a woman's place is in the struggle!"

This is important, because the COVID19 pandemic will hurt many people hard -and women are often in very vulnerable positions -they work in the 'gig' economy, they are employed as casuals, they have part time work due to family responsibilities. Many young people too are going to find this hard -people at the start of their mortgages, people who are still trying to get into the housing market, people who are unemployed and other groups like disabled workers.

This weekend we were to go to a lovely concert of orchestral music, which was cancelled. What will happen to the wages of the musicians, the hall cleaners, the ushers, the cafe and bar staff?  Our community choir decided very reluctantly to cancel our rehearsals until further notice -and thus our choir director, whose income comes from groups like ours -suffers a hit. Our quilting guild has suspended meetings -and so the Local Quilt Shops which have displays at our big meetings, will suffer a hit.

DH and I took a 'day off' this week from all the worries and travelled about 90 minutes south to a charming country town to visit the Harvey Art Centre Quilt and Craft show. The picture above is a quilt by Jenny Deering, who said that it was only when she joined the group that she had the impetus to finish a project which began 15 years ago! There were many lovely quilts on show, along with other craft work. We had lunch in a local cafe and then, on the recommendation of a local, found a wonderful garden to explore.

All of this has me thinking about the power of art and community and how they go together.  Art and beauty are part of our soul food - I know they are very important to my well being and my mental health.  Not more than food or shelter or water, of course, but quite close to the top of human needs. You might have seen some heartwarming clips from Italy, where people have been singing from their balconies during their lockdown -an expression of community and art, if ever I saw one! Artists of all kinds do wonderful things for us and deserve our support, especially now when their work is drying up rapidly.

Just as we must try to support our neighbours and check up on them, just as we are supporting local businesses, so we need to offer support to the arts community. If you have any opportunity to do so, maybe buy a piece of art (doesn't have to be expensive) or a music recording, become a patron of a creative person (patreon is often used for this purpose). 

Meanwhile, I will be here while DH travels interstate, in the process of helping our son, daughter in law and grandchildren to move back to Perth. This is hardly a great time for it, but it is what it is. I have my quilting and my garden, both offering creative outlets for when my anxiety levels begin to climb. I have been exploring water colours and I think it is high time I got back to having another go. I have a wonderful collection of music, and always find that music lifts the spirits.

I hope we can all find a sense of community and a lifting of the spirits.

Thank you for reading, and for the comments on last week's post.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

The bed upcycle project is finished! And thoughts about resilience

A few weeks back I wrote a post about second hand and recycled furniture.  At the time I said that DH was working on a project -a baltic pine/wrought iron bed frame which we bought at the tip shop for $40. Here it is in all its glory, after about 40 hours of his work -he sanded the wood back before applying a couple of coats of jarrah stain and then a couple of coats of Danish Oil. He did a lovely job -even painting the heads of the coach bolts a copper colour so they were less visible against the wood.

I can't tell you how lovely this is with the furniture we picked up second hand recently, although I hope you can see for yourselves! I guess we always 'made do' with the furniture in our bedroom -there were always other priorities- and this has really pleased us both to see it come together.

DH is not done yet though! I suggested a blanket box for the end of the bed -and he has taken up the challenge to make it to fit with everything else but to use entirely scrap wood left over from our old bed and other bits and pieces of wood in the shed! Watch this space! 

Thank you all for your comments about last week's post about being prepared for the pandemic. I do hope you are all well and in good heart, without panicking! I am astonished that the Aussie news feeds have been full of people who thought a bulk supply of toilet paper was essential to their preparedness. Now I know that I did mention toilet paper in last week's post, but only in the sense that it is good to have a few spare rolls! We buy our TP from Who Gives a Crap -which sends us a box of 48 about every 8-10 weeks. In the ordinary course of events this would be plenty -and even a month of isolation would not use them all up.

I think that it is always a good thing to have a back up plan -should anything happen which is untoward in our lives. Take TP for example -I know that I have several ways to manage without it should it be necessary. A spray bottle of water is a good idea, and used in many countries. I have successfully used squares of old flannel sheets as 'wee wipes" -and washed them with the towels etc afterwards.

This sense of having a back up plan is what we mean by resilience, and it is highly valued in simple living and permaculture households.

For example, like most Aussie households we have a barbecue for outdoor cooking. The one we have uses bottled gas -and we normally keep a big bottle and a little bottle. If one runs out in the middle of a party, we have a spare right here! The BBQ is of course a back up for cooking -especially as we are now cooking with electricity-so that if a power failure happened we can still have an alternative and keep ourselves going. I have made bread in this barbecue though it takes a bit of watching and fiddling -no thermostat means that you need to watch and adjust the temperature and flames.

We also have our water tanks -and if necessary I can boil the water in them and use in the house, although I cannot imagine at the moment why our water supply would be affected by a pandemic. The water tanks are used here for extra water for the garden, and are quite full after a couple of storms recently.

It can be useful to have a few skills or ideas on how to do other things -maybe you usually buy pasta, but I assure you it is really easy to make in a pinch, and you don't need any strange equipment.  YouTube channels have fabulous tutorials about these things. I love Pasta Grannies, for example. I would cheat and use my food processor though!

Maybe you don't make bread and feel a bit daunted -but soda bread is made like scones - or flat bread is not too complex and takes just a few ingredients.

We have a couple of 'go to' recipes for an easy meal, and if we were a bit unwell we could still make a meal out of the cupboard and garden. Check out the Doctor's Kitchen on Instagram or the wonderful Jack Munroe for ideas.   For myself I reckon a good pot of soup is an easy thing to prepare and cheers everyone up. I would put in a lot of ginger and turmeric and garlic and other aromatics if we were struggling with illness-or just pull some ready made from the freezer.

My own page of recipes from my kitchen is also a modest contribution to easy cooking for resilience.

In other news, our family arrives from the Eastern States this month, and we are all excited! It is going to be so good to be only half an hour away from each other.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Prepared for a possible pandemic?

When I was listening to the Health Report on Radio National this week, it seemed to me that the experts were saying that they fully expect that the Covid-19 virus will spread around the world and become a 'pandemic'.  Australia's chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy says that we are a well prepared country. But it should be a warning to all of us to do a bit of thinking about how prepared we are, each of us in our own places, and also in our local areas.

In the light of the terrible summer we have had in Australia, with the fires and then very heavy rain, we are more aware than ever that being prepared for disaster is a good idea.

This is our ABC article about the subject: 

And a bit of an alternative view here 

We all have different situations- DH and I are retired and we have regular income. If we were living on casualised income, with no sick leave, I think being prepared in advance would be even more strategically wise. Maybe these folk need to be trying to save up an 'emergency fund' to have in case they couldn't work for a few weeks. I am not saying it is easy to build an emergency fund on casualised wages- I am absolutely sure it would be very difficult!

Here at "Cottage EMW" we have a pretty strong basis for being prepared anyway-it is the way we live.

Medicine and Health practice
According to the experts, we need to be talking to our close family and friends about basic hygiene: washing hands for example, is recommended as a precautionary measure but also making sure we have their regular medications in reasonable supply. My DH and DD both need asthma puffers when they have a respiratory illness -we need to make sure they have a fresh puffer available at least. I will be checking our prescription medicines too. When the next flu vaccine is available we should all get it - and I will be old enough this year to get the government scheme vaccine. Anyone who needs it should consider the pneumonia vaccine too. (I am not a doctor -as your GP about your own health needs).

For a couple of years now I have participated in the Australia wide flu survey. By taking part, we are  contributing to scientific research, and helping to track influenza in our local community and nation-wide. Over the 14 years the survey has been running in Australia (and now in New Zealand) we have grown to over 40,000 participants per week who have collectively completed over 5 million surveys!

A simple online survey that takes less than 10 seconds each week during flu season can tell us so much.

The main aims of FluTracking are to develop a system that can provide:
  • Community level influenza-like illness surveillance
  • Consistent surveillance of influenza activity across all jurisdictions and over time; and
  • Year-to-year comparison of the timing, attack rates, and seriousness of influenza in the community.

Participate in the survey 

If there was a bit of a food scarcity -say there was a ban on movement of food in an out of a region -or if we had to stay home in quarantine for a couple of weeks- then have enough food at home to keep us going for a few weeks would be a good idea.

We are lucky enough to have two pantries and two fridges. The pantry which faces the kitchen was always there, but DH made extra shelves for it so we can store a lot of food in it. The pantry which faces the laundry was once a hot water system storage cupboard, but when the system moved outside we redeveloped the space as a 'larder' for long term storage. My outdoor fridge/freezer stores my seed collection, and extra supplies of perishables in longer term storage. (Normally this is not such a good idea -having two fridges- because of the power costs, but our solar power sort of compensates for this).

For a number of years now I have worked on our resilience by buying in bulk where possible. This food storage capacity in our house is ideal, but you can also store extra items in any useful location -you can squeeze a box of toilet paper under beds or in the garage. Many of us have a suitcase for our holidays -this can be used to store quite a lot of cans of food without taking up any more space. Bulk cleaners can be stored on shelves in the garage or garden shed.

The reasons we buy in bulk are many.  When you buy in bulk you always have a meal on hand in an emergency, and can often save money. At the very least, you keep away from those unintended purchases that happen every time you go shopping! Supermarkets seem to have a price cycle -sometimes an item is highly priced and sometimes it is discounted. By having the capacity to buy when it is cheap and not to buy when it is expensive, we spread out our costs and always have cheaper costs. For example, if I buy 1 kg of the coffee we prefer to buy when it is high in the cycle it costs $24. When low it is $16. If I buy 20 kg a year, at the high price it would be $480. If I always buy at the lowest price it will be $320. That is a big difference!

What to store? 
Each family is different about what they want to have in their long term food storage. Our family greatly values tinned fish -we LOVE the Italian style tuna in oil, jasmine rice, UHT milk (which we use for making yoghurt but in a pinch it would keep our coffee milky) tinned tomatoes and coconut milk.  So long as I have bread flour (I keep this in long term storage in the fridge in the garage to reduce the chance of weevil infestation) then I can make bread or pasta. I find a 10kg bag lasts us about two months, if I am making two loaves of bread per week. DH makes jam and marmalade and from time to time preserves fruit in jars. Don't forget things like toilet paper!

My freezers are used for preserving harvests -our pomegranates or lemons for example, for use when the glut of harvest is over. This time of the year I am most grateful for the lemon juice ice cubes I made months ago, which are carrying me through while we wait for the winter citrus harvest. I have quite a few jars of pesto, using the summer's basil -which would come in handy if we were a bit sick - all we need to do is cook the pasta and the pesto is already there, brim full of wonderful flavours and goodness.

We do have limes ready for picking now though -and I guess that if we were in lockdown they would keep us from getting scurvy, at least! (LOL)  Actually, I think that experts say a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables are what is required for good health -not just limes! If we couldn't shop for a couple of weeks we would still have our garden produce -rainbow chard, broccoli leaves, sweet potato leaves, herbs like parsley and mint etc.

We have been watching the SBS series "Food Safari" on DVD - I am always inspired by the cultures of other countries and the way they are able to see something like mint or parsley as a vegetable in its own right, and not just a flavouring. I have a number of places in the garden where the Vitamin C rich parsley grows, sets seed, dies off and then re-grows. Morag Gamble on her YouTube channel often  discusses the many things we grow in our garden and what we can eat -sometimes it is surprising. For example, did you know that all parts of a broccoli plant are edible -leaves and stalks too! The leaves are great in salads and in stir fries. Sweet potato leaves are really good too, even before you harvest the tubers. On Gardening Australia we saw a segment where pumpkin leaves were highly valued by people in Kenya -they stripped the hard strings like you might do for celery-before blanching.

The end of summer is not a great time for lettuce around here but I have just planted rocket and rainbow chard and spinach. Meanwhile we have alfalfa and mustard seeds to grow into sprouts if we are short of a quick fresh green!

Frozen vegetables are picked and frozen within hours and retain much of their original nutrition. While it is somehow seen as 'less than" nutritious to eat canned food, really canned foods are wonderful -they enable the grower to pick their whole crop, not just the perfect ones the supermarkets buy-and extend our reach beyond the harvest season.

Being prepared just makes sense, and always has done. It’s a solid ethical choice, as much as a pragmatic one.  Kirsten Bradley, February 26, 2020 in "Milkwood" =read more here 

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Late summer actvities -garden and sewing room

It is late summer and the frangipani has been stunning, over by the pomegranate tree where the fruit is getting red, hanging like so many absurd Christmas decorations. This is the time of the year when my garden doesn't have many flowers, but after a few hours of rain the other day I think my roses might be thinking of a new flush of flowers. 

I am harvesting basil every few days and making pesto which goes straight into the freezer. As long as I prevent them from setting seed I can get more leaves for a little bit longer. I was pleased that I found some lemon juice ice cubes in the freezer for my pesto, as my Meyer lemons are weeks away from being ripe, and the Eureka hasn't been prolific after it's huge haircut in the winter. 

I set up my seed cart and have been propagating every few days. The marigold seeds I collected have already sprouted! These are for my DGD who wants to grow flowers at her new place when they get here.  It is a wonderful feeling to see your seeds come up -I have just been out to check and I believe the clove basil is up, as are the spring onions. My curry leaf tree has black berries on it at the moment, so I am experimenting with growing them too. Next few days I am going to be making some newspaper pots for further seed raising. 

We experimented with some large olive barrel pots in the hard sunshine near our garden shed -lots of heat and unrelenting sunshine. The tomato I planted was a bit of a disaster, the capsicum is OK but the fruit is getting sunburn. I have moved the tomato with DH's help, to a shadier place (yeah, I know, all the books say 'full sun' but I don't think they mean Perth sun at 43C). I will be moving more pots over the next few days. 

In my last post I mentioned I had set up an ironing station at the end of my sewing bench. This has turned out to be one of those amazingly helpful additions to my sewing room- I can roll my chair to the iron and back to the machine in just a moment. The quilt on the design wall is an improv one I am working on at the moment. 

 We are still going down the beach a couple of mornings per week. This week I found some seaweed with tomato like ends.

I have a collection of shells - they are sometimes on display and sometimes I have to go looking for them. Today I found them in a basket on my potting bench, all covered with spider webs! I am now cleaning them up -maybe it is time for a turn inside again (without spiders of course). 

We were back at DH's sister's place this week. I put up some pelmet/valances I made with the free curtain fabric I picked up a few weeks ago. DH fixed some kitchen shelves more securely so that they won't move if she puts something on one of the ends, or inadvertently bumps them.  

DH is progressing well on the removal of the finish on the bed we bought at the tip. Next step will be putting a darker stain on it and then a wax finish. 

So that is our week's activities, thanks for visiting and thanks for all your kind words about our bedroom furniture from last week's post. 

For your enjoyment: a wonderful segment on a family living on a quarter acre block and being radically permaculture inspired people.  Click here