Monday, January 2, 2023

New Year, old me, same slow living

 Welcome to my first blog post of the New Year and thanks for visiting.

One of the things which happens at the end of the year is that we have lots of birthdays to celebrate, including mine. I always start the year officially older. Our celebrations of Christmas and New Year always spread over several days, to try to give the birthday girls a moment in the sunshine too. We had lunch with friends and lunch with the adults of the family, and a picnic afternoon tea in the park with the grandchildren, just for birthday celebrations. 

Did you give and receive presents recently? One of the things now residing in my house is a new attachment for my Kenwood Chef- it is a food grinder. 

The reason this grinder was on the Christmas Wish list is that I was interested to go further with my experiments in building skills for slow food, slow living. The questions was, would it be cheaper to make my own mince and sausages?  The 2.3 kg pork shoulder I bought was $20. Pork sausages are about $8-9 per 450g this week so making my own would save about half the money of buying 2.2 kg of sausages. (I am using for this example good quality sausages, not the cheap 'goodness knows what is in them' kind). 

I tried it for the first time this week, making a boneless shoulder of pork into mince. I then made meatballs with some of it to serve with pasta and tomato sauce, and froze the rest. I have some sausage casings on order -it will be interesting to see if I can manage the process of actually filling the cases and making sausages. I am also looking into what else I can make with this attachment. The process, though slow-ish, was enjoyable and I will certainly go further with it. 

I already have established several old timey sorts of habits and skills - I can make a pretty good sourdough loaf, most of my cakes turn out fine from scratch, I am now a regular pastry maker so pies and flans are often eaten here. My husband makes yoghurt and jams and chutney. There are pickled onions and pickled vegetables in the fridge for summer salads, which we made ourselves.

Of course we also try to grow food in our suburban garden, and whilst there are some successes -the blueberries have been fabulous-there are also failures. No strawberry has ever made it to ripeness in my garden without some pest eating it before I did! After several years, the mulberry is now producing decent fruit, and the rhubarb we pick is now both chunky and red. 

Summer is well established now. The rains have gone, my water tanks are half full, and the irrigation is the focus of our garden survival. DH thinks we need a new solanoid thingo  and a new controller for it. Shade has been spread around to help everything cope.

DH is a partner in the old fashioned skills, with his fabulous set of tools in the shed. Today he is working on my sewing room door, repainting it after sanding and making it nice again. I have a new sign to go on it when it is done. 

The grandchildren have a swing set in their garden, and one of the components that they loved was a stand-on swing. On Christmas Day it broke, so we brought it home and DH made a new piece for it out of wood, and sealed it. It was a bit tricky due to the ropes involved, which he did not want to undo, but he worked out a design which enabled the new wood to be inserted without undoing the ropes at all. 

The thing about this kind of slow living that many people comment upon is that it seems like a lot of work, and that they don't have time. Yes it is work but my feeling is that the work is the kind that gives deep satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. How else should we fill our days, except with the stuff of being independent and resourceful and practical, about the things which go to a good life without consuming more of the earth's resources than we need or can afford? Now that we are retired, of course we have more time to devote to these things. It would be hard to live like this  in the conduct of a full time job and with young children, unless something were to change -if you could afford a part time job, for example, or if finally the kids were in school all week. 

Finally some resources for you:

Jill WInger the Prairie Homestead -

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Oh look! Newsy post

I have been a bit quiet of late on the blog, but not any more! Here is a bit of what we have been up to lately. 

I recently decided to splurge and treat myself to a subscription to Grass Roots magazine, and wrote them a letter when I got the first copy. They printed my letter and a photo of my back garden.

My husband's insulated 'hot box' cooker was featured on Nev Sweeney's blog here . If you haven't read Nev's blog  Under the Choko Tree, I do recommend it. Nev does a great job of writing up sustainability and permaculture practices we can do wherever we live. 

Spring is sliding into summer and we are now harvesting lots of blueberries, mulberries and rhubarb. The chillies are ripening and I have just picked some to hang up to dry. The zucchini are now growing fast. This one was 550g! I have a lot of basil growing in a water well pot. The passionfruit are flowering and we wait anxiously for signs of fruit set -this will be the first season for this vine and we are hanging out for passionfruit! Of course we still have the rainbow chard and the spring onions and the various herbs. 

The grapevine has almost covered the trellis on the north side. We sit under it to eat our lunch. The pomegranate has started to set fruit, and the quince is looking better than ever. We have some baby apples on the new tree growing in the wine barrels. 

As the garden dries out from spring to summer, the nasturtiums are dying down and everything looks a bit less lush. This is the time for me to begin spot watering if I see plants in stress. The verge garden is not irrigated, so I keep an eye on it, although I have planted very hardy and sun tolerant plants there. . The new jacaranda tree the city council planted on the verge will need extra help this summer in the way of watering on hot days. 

I planted a new passionfruit to grow over the dead Eureka lemon in the front garden. It will get extra water from the outflow of the evaporative air conditioner we installed last summer, so I hope it will do well and cover this rather unsightly dead tree. I am not sure what happened to the lemon, althought the fact that the neighbour took out and poisoned a large New Zealand Christmas Bush not two meters away from it, probably did not help. 

We bought a new set of string lights -which are solar powered and quite pretty- and have hung them up on the patio ready for long summer nights. I am sure they will turn up soon! 

Sometimes I think I don't get enough of a yield from my garden, and then at other times I realise that I do pretty well given the challenges of the climate and the fact that the block is only 700sq meters, and that includes the house. It also gives me a lot of joy, and a lot of good exercise, as well as providing passive cooling to the air around the house. These things are not without value in themselves. 

If you have a moment, here are some links to a couple of good articles about gardening here: 

    Comprehensive description of how to do gardening for free here 

    Lemon Balm -give it a place in your garden -link here

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Food security? Small and slow solutions

 Spring has arrived and we are as busy as can be, whenever the weather is good. With drier weather, and occasional warm days, we are feeling the need to get stuck into some jobs which always come around in spring. With our Australian economy dealing with global energy spikes  and the poor farmers of the eastern states being flooded -some for the second or third time this year, our fruit and vegetable prices have gone up by 14% this year. 

DH renewed the oil on the outdoor furniture. This is a preservative and it gives us a chance to make sure the furniture can stand another year of outdoor living. 

The garden is busy! We flushed the reticulation pipes and repaired the spots that had got broken since it was last used. The reticulation is now on again, two days a week. Our gardens have to be hardy in this climate! I water pots if they need it, and about once a week I water the non-irrigated front verge if anything is looking distressed. The plants out there are chosen for their ability to survive once they have had their first summer in the ground. 

As the annuals in the front garden start to dry off, I am planting perennials like pelargoniums in their place. I have dug up some iris corms and replanted them in other spots. There is warrigal greens ( a native edible)  growing as a ground cover in the front garden too. This garden is both a food garden and an ornamental one. We have a pomegranate, olive, mulberry, lemon and two grapevines here. Tomatoes come up in the compost and I let them grow. Maybe in the future I will be wanting to grow more food out here too. Pumpkins could ramble along under the trees. 

As herbs and flowers are in their prime now, I am drying some and also making sure I leave some to go to seed. I have coriander hanging up to dry, to harvest the seeds for my curries. Lavender is drying to perfume new heat packs which I will stuff with rice.  Mint is known as a good help for digestion and can be good for the brain too, I understand. These may be small harvests, but they are very welcome in my kitchen. Calendula petals can be in a healing salve or tea, or added to risotto. 

 I find herbs to be a very worthwhile group of plants to grow. They are expensive to buy in the shops when you just need a bit for a recipe, but most are very hardy in the garden. Once you have planted them you have fresh herbs for a long time, and they really make a difference to the flavour of the dish you are making. Many of them contain important nutrients too. Herbs I grow include  Basil, Borage, Calendula, Chilli, Chives, Coriander, Curry Leaf, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Lemon Grass, Mint (four varieties), Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme -2 varieties, Verbeena. Most of these grow easily from cuttings so I can give them away for other gardeners to enjoy. 

Mizuna and blueberries 

The garden bed which lines the fence near the driveway is an important garden space. Here I have curry leaf, rhubarb, blueberries and chilli. 

I have planted tomatoes in all sorts of places and I am experimenting with various kinds of supports and feeding regimes. Nearly everyone says that you should not 'over feed' tomatoes in case you just get leaves and not fruit. Jackie French, the Australian gardener, novelist and all round nice person, says the opposite, so I am trying that out in one pot by adding compost and lots of mulch around a cherry tomato plant. 

We are picking asparagus and rainbow chard and cherry tomatoes. The blueberries are a few days off ripening. I had a lovely big handful of rhubarb with bright red stems from my oldest pot this week. 

There is a mulberry tree on the verge near a park in our suburb. DH brought home half a kilo of ripe berries from his walk today! This is very welcome, as my new FODMAP friendly diet requires me to eliminate some common fruits, but the good news is that berries are fine! My grandson had his first ever mulberry today, and announced that he loved them- and why not? As an urban forager, we know that the polite thing to do is to always leave some for the next person who comes along. Meanwhile our own mulberries are weeks away from being ripe. 

This week we will be helping our grandson plant carrots, sweet potato and snow peas at his place.
In the kindy garden where I am a volunteer, we have rainbow chard, rhubarb and strawberries. 
I love helping people discover the joys of growing a little something edible, and hope to inspire a long lasting journey into growing some food to improve food security.
I am also supporting a little "street pantry" where the community leaves food for others, no questions asked.

A lot of people in Australia are food insecure. There have even been cases of scurvy and malnutrition. I would like to think that those who can squeeze a jar of soy bean sprouts onto their window sill in the kitchen, or a pot with rosemary or parsley on the balcony, would be able to get just a small amount of extra nutrition as a result. It is not necessary to use a lot of money to do this -you can grow things in old tins and styrofoam boxes, and just straight in the earth. Compost can be made in a bin or a bag or a bucket with an old house tile as a lid, and compost is what most plants want to grow in.

The only way for people to be food secure would be for the rate of social security to be raised substantially -but that is sadly, unlikely to happen this year. 

Inspiration for hard times: simple ways to garden without spending lots of money  

Make a wild food map of your area here 

Food insecurity in Australia -read here 

Friday, September 23, 2022

Choosing a variable tarriff for electricity? Ummmmm


It all started a week or so ago, when I opened an email in which our electricity company Synergy which offered us a deal whereby, if we had a 'smart meter' we could choose to pay a variable tariff -in which some parts of the day were quite cheap and the peak times quite a lot more expensive. 

Up until now, we have had only a standard rate no matter what time of day you used the power. The details of the offer are: 

    Between 9 am and 3pm the charge would be 8c per unit.

    From 9pm to 9 am would be 22 cents per unit.

    The most expensive time would be between 3pm and 9pm when it would be 0.50c per unit.

Our current charge is 28 cents no matter what time of the day we use it.  

One thing we noted, was that the supply charge per day for the variable tariff has been increased from about 96 cents per day to $1.20 per day. You have to read the information quite carefully to find this out! 

The aim of the proposal is to 'stabilise the grid"- Perth is a great place to have solar panels, so many days of sunlight - but they make a lot of energy during the day when many people are at work, and then when they go home and turn on their TVs and stoves and things, the sun is going down and the grid is at peak demand but without solar input.  This week we got news of a problem with the grid due to a coal mine going bankrupt is here-it is only a small part of the way WA gets energy -we have wind farms and plan to get more. There are a few places where there is a local energy grid using a battery and wind farm combined with solar power for homes.

DH and I considered that we should be in a good place to do change to this tariff -we are retired so at home a lot, we have solar panels and a smart meter. As DH said, we should also be prepared to play our part in this. For decades, enviromentalists have talked about 'peak oil' and the necessary adjustments away from fossil fuels. We are all going to have to live less profligate lives in the energy sphere. Our simple living lifestyle, which we have been working on since this blog was started in 2008, should set us up for success.  

We have watched with great concern about the fuel crisis in Europe and especially in the UK, we have noted that many people will struggle with a low energy future if the rent in draughty, poorly designed homes (if they can afford to rent!) or if they are sick or in need in some other ways and need to use power for life saving machinery. Practicing low energy lifestyles seems like an act of solidarity, somehow. We have the choice -which we know is a luxury- of saving money this way, and helping out our community. Over the years we have been carefully renovating our home and changing our practices to live simply. 


DH loves to work with numbers. In order to decide if we want to change our tariff, we started collecting data on our current use, and put it in a spreadsheet. DH collected the data three times a day. 

The first week we did not change our habits at all. 

The second week we did the following things:

1. As it is still cloudy and raining at times, we have a time switch on our solar hot water system, to boost it with electricity  if the sun has not been shining enough to get the water hot for a shower. We get about 8 months of free hot water from the solar hot water system, so cost of this boosting in the winter this is not a big issue for us. We adjusted the timer to boost during the cheapest period. . 

2. We have checked that there are no chargers left on during the peak period-and this is particularly true for things like tools in the shed and phone chargers in the house.

3. We adapted our cooking -  trying to either cook without the oven, or make bread and use the leftover heat for other things, or cook earlier in the day.  As a baker of sourdough, this means that I need to go back to proofing my bread overnight and cooking it in the morning. I used to do this but winter temperatures overnight made this impractical., and to be honest, I just didn't feel like making bread in the evening. Long hot summer evenings are much more conducive to this. 

The electricity company's  own suggestions include:

1. Setting your washing machine or dishwasher to run during the day instead of at night, to take advantage of super off peak rates. There might also be a ‘delay’ button or timer feature on your appliances to help you to do this.

2. Charging up your consoles and other devices during the day, and switching your chargers off when you don’t need them, particularly during times you’ll be charged at peak rates.

3. Doing the bulk of your cooking or meal prep before you head out for the day, or setting your dinner to cook during the day in a slow cooker, rather than cooking with your appliances when you get home in the evening.

WHAT WE FOUND: surprising

DH found that the first week's average daily use was 16 kw hours spread pretty evenly over the 24 hour period. If we had signed up to the variable tariff this usage would be expensive -more than $1.20 more or at least $62 per year. 

The second week of consiously making changes meant we used the same number of kilowatt hours, but reduced our overnight consumption drastically, mostly by changing the hours of electricity boosting. We also turned off chargers, and computers more consistently when not in use.  Some things were easy enough -waiting to turn on the dishwasher or dryer is not often an issue.

Changing our cooking practices required some thought.  One day I made a vegetable soup -first roasting the veggies for extra sweetness, straight after the bread came out of the oven, after 9 am but before 3. Then I put the soup together and simmered it  on the induction cooktop before 3. Then I put it in our insulated hot box until dinner, when I will blend it and serve it. Most of the cooking was done on what would be the cheapest tarriff. 

Another day, I planned a 'baking day" - making a quiche for dinner and some banana bread in the oven on the lowest tarriff setting. 

IF we  took up the variable tariff, but changed our ways and could keep them up over the year, we would save $40.

Now, in a cost of living crisis, that might be significant, but it required a lot of effort on our part.  

AND what about the other seasons? 

SUMMER  if it is still hot after 3pm in summer and we want to use the power to cool ourselves down -won't that be expensive? We often get sea breezes, but they sometimes come after 4pm or later. Earlier this year we had a 'heat bomb' where the temperature did not drop much overnight for over a week of soaring temperatures. The evaporative air conditioner we installed this year uses a lot less power than a refrigerated air conditioner, however. 

WINTER we are usually pretty active and don't use any heating until evening -and then we sit together in DH's study where a column electric heater and some rugs and quilts is enough. It could be expensive though....In winter you want warm food -and even using our insulated hot box and microwave, and the smaller than the oven convection microwave, you would still use power at the most expensive time of the day.

One of our friends said that most people would not go into the detail of the Synergy offer -I guess that is true. We did, however, and right now we are not signing up.

I am happy to try to save power where we can though. 

Finally -stuff I found on the internet related to simple living! 

Growing veggies -encouraging tips here 

Rhonda's wise words on reducing expenses here 

Green Godess sauce here

Baking zucchini slice in the slow cooker here 

Enjoy this wonderful Youtube channel in Ireland called Bealtaine Cottage

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Djilba- everything is growing!

Just part of my garden.

After a lot of winter rain and some warmer days, it is clear that Djilba is in full swing. I am really enjoying the lushness of the garden -there are so many flowers, so much abundance. Djilba is a transitional time of the year, with some very cold and clear days combining with warmer, rainy and windy days mixing with the occasional sunny day or two. Our water tanks have been full for months now. 

We are harvesting rainbow chard, asparagus and snow peas. The rhubarb is growing. Deciduous vines and trees are budding. The parsley has self-seeded, and so of course have all the herbs and annuals. We have bees back in the garden again- all over the rocket flowers and the happy wanderer vines. 
There are also a lot of very active birds! We are delighted with the tiny honeyeaters and the parrots and the wattlebirds which are zooming about among the flowers. They are picking off the pests from my plants too. One embarrassing moment for our cat Dora was when she went out casually (she is never out for more than 5 minutes) to drink from her favourite bird bath, and got swooped by the wattle bird! She had to beat an undignified retreat! 

The Derbyl Yirrigan is full and flowing nicely up in the hills. We had a lovely trip out here on a very rainy day, then popped into a pub in Guildford for lunch. Sometimes you just need to break with the routines of retirement life! 

Djilba is the start of the massive flowering explosion that happens in the South West. This starts with the yellow flowering plants such as the Acacias. Also colours that are around at this time of year are creams, combined with some vivid and striking blues.  We went for a walk through King's Park Botanical Gardens recently -where so many flowers are massed from the various regions of the state, and it is quite glorious. 

The Araluen Gardens have a different display -massed tulips planted by their volunteers -which made a great day out too. 

There is no doubt that, with so much going on in the garden, and available for free in national parks, we feel very rich indeed. 


Tuesday, August 16, 2022

My Kunanyi quilt is done

Here it is, on our bed -the quilt I call Kunanyi, after the mountain in Hobart which often has snow at this time of the year. After all the quilt is made from 'snowball' blocks!

It is lovely to wake up to, on one of those sunny but freezing mornings we get at this time of the year.

I made it with fabrics which were given to me at Christmas time one year. It features Nordic designs -pine trees, hearts, stags. There are snowflakes too -so I guess it is a Christmas quilt! Sort of "Christmas in July" which some people do in Australia, to give an excuse to eat all the traditional Christmas fare which is inappropriate when it is hot in summer, our actual Christmas time. 

 It is a big quilt so I got a longarmer to do a lovely swirly pattern -sort of like the wind which swirls at the top of Kunanyi.

Here is a link to more information and pictures about Kunanyi -Mount Wellington.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

New Design Wall- with how to do it yourself


Twelve years is a long time for a temporary design wall to work. This  design wall (above) is a piece of batting, sewn to abacking, and hung from curtain rods in my sewing room, just behind the door.

It worked pretty well, but it was small and flimsy. I often had to use pins to keep heavy pieces on to it.

My dream was to one day have one of those design walls I saw on quilter's blogs- made with some kind of insulation foam blocks covered with batting.  The love of my life (apart from my garden and quilts) Mr DH, heard my call, and started to work out how to do it. The design brief included the idea that the boards should be relatively easy to dismantle -ie no sticking the boards to the wall with glue.

He did the research. He made the plan. Five boards. Four stuck together horizontally with gorilla glue and tape. One cut down the middle and stuck vertically. 

He created a solid shelf for the bottom of the design wall to sit into. He created metal brackets for the top, to hold it in place.

We had a bit of a blip when we realised that the piece of batting which I had saved for the project was about 20 cm or 10 inches too short! Quick trip to a shop, and we were here stapling the batting to the back of the boards, and using tape to secure the corners.

Here it is in all its glory! Solid, smooth, not wobbly or flimsy.

I love it

Thank you Mr DH! 💗💗