Monday, September 30, 2019

It is the little things

This just part of the spring floral display at King's Park. The everlasting flowers are so wonderful when grouped together like this...and that is what we are, all of us, who are living more simply and taking care of each other and the environment in which we live. Grouped together we make a lovely display of hope for the future.

This is the season of Kambarang- the indigenous people see it as the season of birth -when there are baby birds, and possums, and all sorts of things growing. Little things which become big things if the conditions are right!

I have been thinking about the little changes, which when grouped together, make a lovely and powerful change for our world in the face of the environmental crisis we are now facing.

Simple things like not buying or using tea bags, but just making tea with leaves and a teapot or infuser. Why? Check this out -(the link explains the use of plastic in tea bags) and then change to leaf tea and a teapot. No need to add plastic to your tea! In Australia we have one brand of black tea which comes in a simple cardboard box, no plastic lining!

I have several teapots. I have the red one with the infuser basket, which I keep for herbal tea, and a bigger stainless one which makes our morning Earl Grey. I also have a silver one which belonged to DH's mum and Dad, and I have a pretty china one too.

The whole ritual of tea: the boiling the kettle, the waiting while it brews..all invite a slow moment in our day.

We make herbal infusions and also drink commercial ones -if they come without teabags! My own herbal favourites are lemon thyme and lemon grass.

I don't drink tea in shops when I am out because they mostly serve it as a coffee cup of very hot water with a tea bag on the side...and usually don't even provide somewhere to put the teabag after you lift it from the cup.  Not fact a bit ugly and inconvenient. I always return to shops which make me a cup of tea with a pot, and provide me with a strainer and even a pot of hot water...for the second cup!

I loved this post from 1millionwomen  regularly buy second hand clothing.

I try to buy everything I can second hand -if it available when and where I need it. Just by choosing to try to source something second hand as our first option, also has an added benefit: it makes us slow down or even re-think -our purchases. 

I give as an example my idea that it would be good to try the 'haybox' method of slow cooking. This is a traditional method of slow cooking using an insulated box rather than an electrical slow cooker. I looked online and in stores to see if I could buy a modern version -they are often used by caravan and camping folk, who start the night's meal on the stove, pack it in the insulated box and when they get to the other end, they have a hot meal.  I did find a few examples, but did nothing. Now my DH has it in mind that he can make me a 'haybox' with some salvaged wood and a small amount of roll of insulation which was left over from another job. He can make it just the right size for my roasting pan -which I use to prove my bread overnight. In winter I put it in the oven after it has been warmed up slightly. An insulated box could also do double duty as a stool for the table outside.

Now, slow cooking using an electric appliance doesn't use a lot of energy, so swapping to the insulated box won't make an enormous difference to our energy use, but it is part of us wanting to build resilience and generally act respectfully towards the planet. If there is a way of achieving a meal with less energy, it would be good to develop that habit.

Here is a YouTube video of someone making a box using styrofoam. 

This week I am starting a new project -to paint a west facing wall in order to better reflect heat away from our house. Again, it is a little project which I hope will provide us with more internal comfort without the need for electrical cooling like air conditioning. The reasoning is set out here. Our home is double brick with a dark colour. We have already painted the walls on the patio, so we know what it can do for brightening up a space. Painting brick is tough -especially rough faced brick like ours- but it is cheap and I hope will be a good little project for us. I hope to have pictures in my next post!

Sunday, September 22, 2019

What now? What does enough look like?

We have been recovering from our Sustainable House Open Day last weekend, giving ourselves time to just potter a bit in the garden. We are thinking about the list we created about how we might go further into sustainability ( in last week's post) and what we might tackle next. DH is intrigued about electric vehicles...and given the news about the rate of climate change, we might all need to take concrete steps towards changing our lives and our economies, even before it becomes completely cost-effective on an individual level. Every movement needs 'early adopters' who show others the way.

Here is a very important article from George Monbiot: written on the eve of the Climate Strike

"in seeking to prevent climate breakdown, what counts is not what you do but what you stop doing. It doesn’t matter how many solar panels you install if you don’t simultaneously shut down coal and gas burners. Unless existing fossil fuel plants are retired before the end of their lives, and all exploration and development of new fossil fuel reserves is cancelled, there is little chance of preventing more than 1.5C of global heating".

"Individually and collectively, it is time to decide what “enough” looks like, and how to know when we’ve achieved it."

Did you attend the Climate Strike where you are? DH and I were part of a large crowd here in Perth Western Australia. We estimate about 15,000 people were present - a large gathering for our city. Here is a picture I took early on- later the whole of Forrest Chase was packed and there was standing room only.

The challenge is clear. 

Top climate scientists issued a report recently showing that over the last several years, sea-level rise, planetary warming, shrinking ice sheets and carbon pollution have accelerated; a sobering call to action for political leaders headed to New York for summit-level climate change talks this week at the United Nations.  The scientists say that “only immediate and all-inclusive action encompassing: deep de-carbonization complemented by ambitious policy measures, protection and enhancement of carbon sinks and biodiversity, and efforts to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, will enable us to meet the Paris Agreement.”

This is sobering stuff. So it is important that we each take what steps we can, and encourage others to do so too. Our government must make it impossible to, say, open new coal or gas mines and new coal fired power stations. At the moment the Australian government doesn't seem to want to do anything of the sort. We are going to be in struggle for life on this planet, and I think there is a lot of struggle to come. I hope we can, through our own simple living/sustainable living blogs connect with each other and encourage each other on the journey. Thank you for visiting mine. 

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Such a good day! Sustainable House Open Day 2019

We are recovering with a quiet day today, after welcoming 72 people through our place yesterday for Sustainable House Open Day.

There were 45 homes open here in WA, some purpose built and new with fabulous sustainable features. Many of them are 'south of the river'- a smaller number open here in the northern suburbs, which is one of the reasons we wanted to open our home, along with showing people what can be done with the kind of homes most of us live  in. 

We enjoyed sharing our home, and getting such positive feedback from people. Many came to look at the garden: just what can grow in a suburban backyard, how do you do it in our sandy Perth soils, what can I do to make my home more sustainable? There was talk of whether is it worth while to replace single pane windows with double glazing, and how big a solar array to buy. We discussed solar hot water, and if the 'tank runs out". 

A volunteer from the Electric Vehicle Association brought his car and parked it in our driveway -charging up from our domestic supply. It was a great feature, and he was a lovely guy- we ended up swapping marmalade and he gave us a dragon fruit plant! 

We prepared a pamphlet for people to take with them, called "Retrofitting a 1973 Suburban House"

1 Heating & Cooling

What we have done: 

A. Basic level of insulation in roof.

B. Shade-cloth Blinds on external side of  West-facing windows.

C. Pergolas and deciduous vines for shade on North and East (pictured above with winter sun coming in -in summer the vines cover the pergola and we get great shade ...and fruit!)

D. Water Tank also provides shade on west (as well as water storage)

E. Heat-block blinds and heavy fabric curtains for interior windows.

F. Ceiling fans in every room.

G. Outside kitchen to keep cooking heat from house.

H. Shaded screens on outdoor kitchen make a cooler alternative living space

I. Shade from trees.

Other possibilities being considered:

1. Pelmets over the curtain rails

2. Extra layer of insulation on top of ceiling

3. Insulated timber-frame cladding on front western wall (or should we paint in a light colour?)

4. Lift paving from front nature strip and replace with garden/vegetation

5. Seal the gaps – windows, doors, vents, exhaust-fan venting

6. DIY Double Glazing using Aluminium fly wire frame to seal door and toilet window.

2 Reduced Water Consumption

What we have done: 
A. No lawn.

B. Sub-surface drip-irrigation for garden

C. Water Tank – carries some winter rain into Summer.

D. Water-saving front-loader washing machine

E. Water-saving devices in bathroom renovations

a. Low capacity cisterns for toilets

b. Low flow shower heads

c. No bath

Other possibilities being considered:
1. Would eventually like to harvest grey water for loos and some gardening-council permissions required and are a barrier

2. Additional water storage tanks for the front garden

3 Renewable Energy & Reduced Consumption

What we have done: 

A. One car and we actively try to reduce kilometres in that car – using public transport as well.

B. 2.5kw Solar PVC system – which exports more energy than we use over many months. We bought this 7 years ago, so it has paid for itself now. Many people are putting in much bigger systems now, but our energy use is pretty low and we don't need more at the moment.

C. Solar hot water system  (Electric Boost on timer to use PVC power if available during winter)

D. Bigger windows in Kitchen and Bathrooms.

E. Solar Tubes – skylights – in lounge room. One visitor commented "you don't have any lights on here...our lights are always on!" 

F. LED globes into all old light fittings

G. Kitchen renovation included LED lighting, induction cooktop (replaced gas), energy efficient appliances

H. Growing food – preserving, freezing and drying to extend harvest. Eat locally!

Other possibilities being considered:

1. We probably need to eventually replace gas heating with R/C Air Conditioning -not in a hurry to do this.

2. Electricity storage batteries for Solar Power

3. Fully Electric car – or maybe a hybrid as a transition to fully electric.

4 Reducing Waste

What we have done: 

A. Composting Bins – four around the garden

B. Worm Farm and Worm Towers

C. Separating Waste Streams (batteries, bottle tops, crunchable plastics)

D. Refusing plastics where possible.

E. Re-purposed furniture – coffee table in lounge from Tip Shop for $25 plus a lot of work

F. Buying in bulk – refillable dispensers  for washing up liquid, conditioner, oil for cooking

G. Homemade Washing Powder – 2pts Lux Flakes + 1pt each Borax and Lectric Soda – 2 tbs/load for washing (front or top loader)

Urban Orchard

Our house is on a 600m2 block. The gardens around it are not large.

Here’s a bit of a check list of what we currently have in place:

Front garden:

quince, grapes, fennel,  onions

olive, mulberry, parsley nasturtiums

pomegranate, blueberries, rosemary avocado

lemon, goji berries, tomatoes basil

Side garden:

nectarine, kumquat, fennel, silverbeet,

mint, rhubarb, rocket, elderflower,

celery, tomatoes, onions, parsley,

curry leaf, spring onions, grapes, nasturtiums

Back garden:

grapefruit, tangelo, fig, lemon,

mandarin, lime, bay, kaffir lime,

peas, beans, dill, mint,

mizuna, rosemary, tomatoes, sage,

silverbeet, garlic, Vietnamese mint, thyme,

lemon grass, sorrel, warrigal greens, parsley,

borage, sweet potato, nasturtiums, broccoli,

We have not weighed our crops, but we use a lot in our daily diet – greens and herbs. We preserve the harvest in jams, chutneys, dried produce, and the freezer. We buy in produce at their seasonal peak when it is cheapest to make bottles of preserved fruit as well as jams. We share our harvest with friends, neighbours and the Buy Nothing Greenwood Facebook page.

It was a good day...and the place is looking pretty amazing just now! We are having a 'recovery day" today.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Counting down to Sustainable House Open Day!

I did it! I have finished mulching the whole garden, with three trailer loads of free mulch. 
This is an annual task, which we value for the way the mulch protects the soil and plants from excessive heat, helps keep the precious moisture in, and adds biomass to the soil. 

Mulch is also 'makeup for gardens' - and the garden in its spring finery is looking quite pretty. 

I am pleased the mulching is done, because spring is busy on its own anyway. I have seeds and seedlings to attend to, I have feeding to do, and the occasional clumping annual to thin out. These lovely cannas are in flower now. I donated one clump to a neighbour. 

The bottlebrush are in flower on our western boundary fence. This is a favourite tree for both birds and bees at the moment.

Apart from the wind and the rain, there is also the occasional hot day and that requires some extra watering. We are on water restrictions so we can't turn the reticulation on yet, but I have a water tank and a couple of watering cans, and can generally keep the water up to things so that they don't die.

Sap is rising everywhere: grapes, nectarines, mulberry, goji berries.

Blossom quickly follows. I am always worried about the strong winds which come at this time of the year, in case the blossom is blown away before the fruit is set, but so far we seem to be OK.

One casualty of the winds was the rather flimsy lid of one of the free compost bins we collected recently. It kept blowing away, and one night it did a proper job of it, and landed on the neighbour's driveway and got run over. Time for DH to get busy -making me a new one. I don't think this one is blowing away any time soon. It is made with some scraps of wood he had in his shed. He says it is very cool as "recycled chic" and I think it has a "junkadelic" kind of vibe. 

DH has also been in his shed this afternoon, sharpening my knives. I do appreciate this very much. My hands now have some pretty painful joints, so the ease with which a sharp knife cuts things is a wonderful improvement. I find a sharp knife is actually safer than a blunt one.

 We are just a week or so away from Sustainable House Open Day  In some EXCITING NEWS, an electric vehicle will be parked at our house for Sustainable House Open Day 2019! A volunteer member of the Electric Vehicles Association will be present to answer  people's questions for a couple of hours.

The other bit of excitement was that on a recent op shop trip, DH and I came home with this lovely picture for our bedroom. It turns out it is by a local artist, and is of a beach near us. I had been looking for a beach scene for some time, as we both love our beaches, but for some reason had no beach scenes in the house at all. The lovely thing about this is that it picks up the colours of my new quilt quite nicely, too. One the Open House Day is out of the way, we have plans to move into a redecorating mode in the bedroom, and this will inspire us on. We want to paint and we want to do some maintenance on the furniture. I am also looking out for a new set of drawers for clothes storage, if we can find some within our budget.

So that is a lot done this week, and we are on track in our preparations for Sustainable House Open Day.

Thanks for visiting. Comments from readers are always appreciated.

Monday, September 2, 2019

How to take a day off from retirement: Monday 2 September 2019

I love being retired. I try not to show off about it too much, because so many of my friends are still workers in the salt mines (poor things), but I love the freedom, the creativity, the flexibility. I am very self-directed, and always have quite a lot of things I want to do. I have some volunteer work and there is always the gardening and the housework and cooking.

Every now and again, though, you just need 'a day off"- change of routine, change of scenery.

DH and I saw the opportunity to do that last week on a day which was quite unusually warm for the end of winter. It was going to be 28C so we packed a picnic full of the leftover nice things from the Choir supper we had provided the night before: cheese, strawberries, cracker biscuits, cut vegetables and a feta dip.

We recently bought a year pass to the National Parks With our various discounts, this was quite a bargain, and will encourage us to visit scenic places nearby, as often as we can. This time we went north to a park that used to be 'way out in the bush' but is now being surrounded by suburbs: Yanchep National Park.

When I was a girl, we went there a LOT. It was a destination, a picnic spot and for my mum and dad, it had a pub where they could get a quiet drink on a long weekend! (Not much used to be open, in those days). 

DH and I walked around the lake and enjoyed the different scenery than the places we usually visit. I was delighted to spot this native orchid -it is quite small but exquisite. You have to keep your eyes open in the Australian bushland. (I might also have been scanning for snakes, but that is another story!)

The wattle is in bloom (hello hayfever!) and it is really pretty just now. Look at that blue sky!

Have you ever noticed that you feel calmer outside? It is easier to slow down, take your time and breathe outside. It is easier to take a long time over lunch, to enjoy a quiet talk with your nearest and dearest, and then to come home feeling refreshed.

Apart from this lovely day we are still getting quite a lot of rain, which is lovely. We are thinking of spring, however, and making plans for our Sustainable House Open Day, which is just 2 weeks away now. Just a bit of preparation and planning to come.