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.