The year that was – 2013

Much to my surprise 2013 has come to a close. And as is natural at this time of year I am reflecting over the year that was.

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Fire and a long week with the kids

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Oh so sweet pineapple chunks in juice and then pineapple juice beside it (the lighting makes it look white but it’s just the solids in the juice settling slowly slowly)

It’s been a long week. In fact it’s been a very long week and not one I would be keen to repeat any time soon. In fact pretty much the only highlights have been the delivery from a friend of some pineapples which I bottled and another blog post from 23thorns that had me chortling away like crazy as I tried to read it out loud to my husband. If you don’t already follow his blog I highly recommend it. Not only educational but extremely well written, witty and as funny as hell!

Last weeks white nectarines and apricots. Golden goodness that the kids have enjoyed on their porridge and with custard.

Last weeks white nectarines and apricots. Golden goodness that the kids have enjoyed on their porridge and with custard.

Anyway, my week has been full of misbehaving and children who obviously need their ears cleaned out or switched on( either way), mishaps, things not going to plan and mercurial weather.

Today has been a hot one. The temperatures this week have ranged from 6 degree lows through to high 30’s which makes it challenging to do simple things like put the kids to bed (summer pajamas or winter ones) and it plays with the mind when it’s freezing cold and you want to light the fire but it’s going to be mid 20’s the next day (we DID light it which just seems so very wrong in mid January). But today is also a day of total fire ban across the state where the fire risks are severe for most and extreme for the Wimmera and North Central which is pretty normal for January here. What is more concerning is the weather itself. Hot weather alone does not a high fire danger day make. But the wind today has been pretty awful, gusting back and forwards, blowing often from the north(ish), and it’s strong! The roof of the kids cubby which hadn’t yet been fastened down, has been blown off which is no mean feat given that it’s made from corrugated iron and heavy timber. I can’t lift the roofing pieces by myself. The trees were bending rather alarmingly back and forwards then side to side and anything not fastened down is probably half way to Geelong now. A pretty bad day for our local CFA’s I am guessing (my husband said they had sooty faces when he spoke to them about getting our fire hydrant refilled). I am just profoundly grateful we didn’t have extreme temperatures today. I have a feeling that had the temps been in the low to mid 40’s we would have had a catastrophic fire danger day. A Code Red day. They’re scary enough when one is living in inner suburbia… But now that we are country dwellers… 😦

It’s one of the bad things about not having the television connected. We’ve made the decision to not install it at this stage and so far, to be honest, we’ve not really missed it. We both feel that most of the news is doom and gloom, shared only to grab ratings but every now and then I realise there are things we are missing. I mean I really don’t care who plays Christian Grey in the 50 shades movies, nor what the Kardashians are up to or even particularly who wins the tennis, football, cricket etc. It just doesn’t interest me (unless it’s World Cup football in which case both Martin and I will be glued to every England and Australia game) BUT keeping up on things like severe weather warnings is becoming more and more necessary.

I read a couple of blogs today about climate change, increased average temperatures, hottest decades, hottest days on record and it frightens me. I don’t claim to be an expert on climate change, not by a long shot BUT the science is showing warming trends, temperatures on average increasing and the weather conditions are most definitely responding with greater severity. Keeping tabs on weather conditions, both locally and further abroad is starting to make even greater sense to me. I know the UK has had another very wet winter with flooding which we keep an eye on, or an ear actually as my mother-in-law always keeps us up to date with what the weather is doing over there (Martin’s brother and sister-in-law also live there as well as other relatives) and my mother’s family are spread out through New South Wales so we like to keep tabs on what’s happening there too.

This week I’ve most definitely been out of touch as our internet is once again gone so I’ve been reliant on the iPhone again – difficult. I’ve only just found out that NSW has had some of its hottest temperatures on record with catastrophic fire days although we’ve kept an ear to the ground regarding the fires near Wagga Wagga (my uncle and aunt live there) and I know there has been the hottest day recorded in Tasmania in the last week too, along with catastrophic fires there too. There have also been fires around Wallan where my sister-in-law works and her boss sent her home (all safe and well thankfully) as well as fires a little closer to our slice of paradise here, both at Ballarat and Daylesford which are both only about 30 minutes drive away. Not near enough to be personally threatening but close enough to want to keep an ear out.

Breakfast time Mummy! Wake up!!!

Breakfast time Mummy! Wake up!!!

This morning I woke up to find that one of us (most likely me but I don’t want t admit to a moment of sheer stupidity) left the spigot on the water filter in the “on” position. I’d emptied it of filtered water making my ginger beer (I’ll post on that soon) and I’d refilled the water. It takes a while for the clean water to filter through so it would have started dripping slowly sometime around 12:30 or after when I was well and truly in bed (Martin got up to make a bottle though so ha! I can blame him! 😉 ). This morning I had a puddle of water all over the kitchen bench, soaking a few bit and bobs like instruction manuals I had sitting there, and a second puddle on the floor. Topped off with an imminent food delivery, 3 hungry kids and the frustration of discovering we had no butter (there goes the idea of sandwiches for lunch to keep the house nice and cool), well, let’s just say it wasn’t a great way to start the day. Mopped up, kids eating (late breakfast in the end) and my wonderful delivery arrives. It’s my first order and I am extremely impressed! Highland Heritage Farm (Facebook page and blog) delivered, in a lovely wooden crate, my order of organic oats, cashews, own grown red onions, spuds, beans and eggs (a wonderful selection of colours and sizes) as well as some free “glut” veggies of turnips, zucchinis and also some rhubarb (not sure if you can call that a fruit or a veggie). It’s locally grown, home delivered, supporting a family of like-minded people (they also use sourdough and grow organic) and it’s beautifully fresh produce so I couldn’t be happier. I’ve used up our 7 hard won eggs today (I think my hens are broken as that’s 9 days of eggs! 😛 ) Not sure yet how to use the dozen zucchinis I have in my fridge although the rhubarb will served for breakfast I think. The turnips will also be a first time cook for me too. Never had them before. 🙂 Any recipes to share?

I do NOT want to wear this dress Mummy!

I do NOT want to wear this dress Mummy!

The rest of the week has been lacklustre. I baked some bread in Ignisa’s oven when she was lit (may as well make use of the heat I guess), but otherwise, just a bit of online shopping (for organic foods and such, not shopping for fun), dishes, toilet training (*sigh* will it ever be over?), washing washing and more washing and taking out and bringing in the chicks. Just a quiet week on the homestead I guess, punctuated by “I don’t want to wear a dress” tantrums, please don’t climb out the windows moments and all the rest. I am very glad it’s over and very much looking forward to the weekend (BRING IT ON!!!). Jasper, who helped me amazingly with putting away washing will come with me to the Ballan Farmers Market as a treat and he will get some money to spend. He knows it’s not a toy market, but a food market and I told him that they have honey, peanut butter and cheese that he might like to buy. His eyes lit up more and more with each suggestion. Too funny kiddo! 😀 We’ve also dealt with his ongoing processing of grief from the death of John the chicken. 😦 This morning he was beside himself, sobbing that Ellie was dead. It took me 5 minutes to work out what he was saying. Once I had located the missing Ellie, his stuffed toy elephant we had a chat and the world was right again. A challenging conversation.

We've found Ellie

We’ve found Ellie

We’ve managed a little more unpacking, some serious furniture rearranging (I think I have things where they work now) and more processing of larger city house into smaller country house with different priorities (more gardens, less stuff) so it’s all slowly slowly coming together. The old house is nearly empty (although the shed is another thing) The skip is also gone now which involved a very close call with 2 cats whom were unbeknownst to us hiding under the skip. I’m not sure who got the bigger fright, them when their cool hiding place on a hot day suddenly made loud noise and lifted up in the air, or me when first Minnie then Maxxie came boiling out from underneath the rapidly shrinking hole at the end of the skip! Frightened the life out of all 3 of us (they have about 8 left each I think).  Anyway, another full week and I am very much looking forward to bed.

Invaders! Plant problems and a magazine review

Invaders! Invaders! Red alert! Red alert! Red alert!

I picked off the aphid infested leaves for the chooks.

I have my first invaders of the insect kind in my garden. Well, in my gutter gardens to be exact. My gutter garden has been going great guns and we have had several harvests from the lettuce growing there. The rocket is not far from harvest either. It still hasn’t made it to its final home and isn’t even hanging up. My husband – an engineer – felt the existing hooks weren’t strong enough to carry the weight. I have to concur but it isn’t worth new hooks before we move so it’s currently resting on some chairs. So, once we move I will have some strong hooks installed and the garden will be hung up. I can’t even take it up until I am able to get up there at least every 2 days to water it either. Frustrating, as the 4 sugar snap peas planted to grow up the wires, are starting to be in need of some support.I may have to provide some temporary stakes I think. Well, anyway, as I tried to deal with Orik who was feeling grumpy and destructive due to being tired, he grabbed a lettuce leaf and tore it (no big deal as the chooks can have it) but I noticed that there was something on the back of the leaf which wasn’t up to the standard of the other leaves. An aphid! So this is the first time I have had to deal with pests in the garden. Dr Google and Pinterest are always a great help and I found this page with a recipe for a natural aphid insecticide. It is safe enough that it wouldn’t be a problem if my kids ate the leaves, although they may find it doesn’t taste so great. We would still wash before eating but I love the fact that we don’t absolutely HAVE to!

My poor sick lemon tree

I’ve had some other issues I’ve needed to look into too. My new lemon tree which I bought at CERES a few weeks back is looking a little unwell and has lost many of its leaves. Again, Dr Google has helped and I am thinking that my poor plant is probably hungry. Lemons are high nitrogen feeders so time for some grass clippings and a top up of compost I think.

Next health check is for my avocado trees. They have been grown from seed by my parents and I am hoping to be able to supply most of the Eastern Seaboard with fruit from them. My parents tree is a prolific bearer so here’s hoping they have passed that wonderful trait on to their progeny. Well, all three of the trees have some leaves that are looking pretty sick, one in particular. A quick look on Dr Google and it appears I have not sufficiently neglected my tree and I have possibly given it too much water! You have to laugh – killing it with kindness (and not very much kindness at that). Apparently they are very sensitive to change, so a car ride for 40 minutes and the loud noises that emanate from my children have probably sent they 3 dears into full on panic mode! I shall move them to a semi-rain sheltered area on my deck then leave them until the Ballan move. Here’s hoping the drier conditions and easily neglectable position will help them recover before being moved and transplanted out.

The almonds that are no more.

The fourth problem I have had to deal with this morning is more in the nature of a small child. Someone thought it would be fun to pick the growing almonds off my almond tree and throw them around the garden. I have lost several of what was a fairly prolific second crop. Last year the poor thing grew 3 almonds that never reached maturity. This year I was overjoyed and a little dismayed to realise it has like 20-30 fruit growing nicely, and all of good size too. Sadly I now have around 10 less! My dismay at the fruit is due to the fact I had assumed it was not self pollinating or able to fruit and had decided not to repot it in winter to take to Ballan. Now I have missed the chance until probably May next year, by which stage we shall probably have tenants in the house. I’m not sure yet if I will be able to take it with us, which I would dearly love to. If I can, both the almond and the apple (of unknown cultivar) will come with us. Ah for opportunities lost.

My 34th birthday has thankfully come and gone with little fuss again this year (I absolutely despise my birthday). I received a wonderful gift from my family though – a selection of gardening magaines. And it is one of these that I wish to share as I have found it informative and helpful for beginner gardeners like myself. The magazine is Good Organic Gardening and it came with an extra included called The Organic Backyard. It is, as it says, “Your complete guide to growing  vegetables and herbs”. I was able to sit down, with the crop rotation information chart I found on page 26, as well as the vegies A-Z (pages 31-78) and plan out what I was planting where and with what I would plant it. Excitement much?

Carrot top seeds

Sunflowers and pumpkins

Other news to report is that our planted carrot tops appear t be setting seed! STOKED!, my corn and pumpkin seeds are doing well, my watermelon seeds didn’t appreciate being transferred into their newspaper pots so I am hoping they recover before I plant them out in a couple of weeks, zucchinis, more tomatoes (I’m hoping for a glut for canning and bottling), more sunflowers (great for the chooks to eat and hopefully we can have some for us too), tomato seedlings are all doing well in their newspaper pots although they all need a little more sunlight than they get so I have a new tray on a chair that gets moved to the sunlight patches system that seems to be helping. My mandarin is also in full bloom so hoping for a prolific first crop.

3 strawberry flowers!

My seedlings and Minnie cat watching over them

Other than that I am watching Jasper chasing butterflies, Allegra is swinging and Orik sleeping. The sun is shining and it’s a lovely day.

It’s not easy being green

Kermit the Frog is on the money. “It’s not easy being green.” It’s challenging when you want to go the whole way. When you want to be so eco-friendly that trees come past and thank you. It’s also challenging, occasionally expensive and extremely educational and rewarding. It can also be a very difficult balancing game sometimes.

I’m a mum to 3 children under 4. We live in inner Melbourne next to a major freeway but we’re lucky enough to have a good sized house and enough garden space to truly play when we get the time. We have Jasper who is 4 in just under a month. He is a high octane boy with a LOT of curiosity and is definitely an out doors kid. Then there is Allegra. She will be 3 in December. She is definitely a tom-boy, getting out there and getting mucky with her big brother. At the moment she is all about attitude as only a 2 year old can be. Then there is Orik. He was our little home-birth baby and has been our all natural baby in so many ways. He’s nearly 1 which I am finding very hard to believe and he’s giving this walking gig a good go too. He’s a complete snuggle bug and has been my healing baby too. He’s the first child I’ve had where I haven’t been plagued with ante-natal and post natal depression.

Our green journey has been a gradual awakening. My husband, Martin, is mostly happy enough with what I decide if it’s financially viable. This isn’t his pet project, it’s mine and although he agrees with what I’m doing and is all for it, I don’t think he’d have gone down this path if not for me. I think it’s starting to become more personal for him now though. Me, well, I never wanted to be one of those hippies, urban or otherwise and was adept at turning a blind eye to non-vaccinators, organic eaters and non-chemical. I mean, the government won’t sell us poisons will they? But it’s been a slow process of realising that they may not sell us poisons but they will turn a blind eye to those that do and they will make it easy for companies to hoodwink us. Some of it is semantics, some is downright bullshit but I am slowly learning.

I think one of the first things we changed when we moved in to our house (I was 6 months pregnant with Jasper) was deciding to use cloth nappies. I did little research, bought some that looked pretty and were cheap and we went from there. Being lazy I immensely disliked the more frequent changes and the washing required and we soon converted to eco disposables which soon changed to non-eco disposables.

By this time I was using a natural SLS free shampoo and conditioner (Babyscent)  and loving my super soft and silky hair. I was also drinking organic fair trade coffee. Allegra came along and due to rising expenses we tried cloth nappies again with somewhat more success. We love the range from Eenee and although microfibre is man made it does dry super quickly and it was one of the first times I had to sit down and make a conscious compromise. We try to use their cloth nappy range, occasionally with the pad inserts and we have their 100% compostable nappies on standby for back-up. We are using environmentally unfriendly disposables right at the moment though but every day the guilt eats me. I just can’t physically handle the washing at the moment with 2 kids in full-time nappies and 1 at night. If it wasn’t for exploding poo and the fact we are soon moving…

Using cloth nappies led to other green changes. We clean with vinegar and bicarb, use homemade washing powder, softener and my house and clothes smell fresh and lovely because of it. My bathroom is just about chemical free with natural toothpastes, eco toothbrushes, homemade hairspray and natural soaps and it’s the room I’m proudest of aside from my laundry. But it’s been a process to get there. It came down to the “I am using a toothpaste for sensitive teeth because my teeth hurt but every time I use it I worry about its ingredients. What do I do” kind of choice. Then there’s the “I’m using a so-called eco dishwashing liquid but just discovered SLES is an ingredient and I know it’s bad but I don’t have a replacement ready to go so what do I do”. This has now been replaced with Castile soap which works a treat and I KNOW it is safe.

And plastic! I was willing to allow plastic in my home because it’s just too expensive to do otherwise but since the Bisphenol A (BPA) disrobing and the untrustworthy Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) I have learned not to trust the government and there is way too much evidence for ME to be comfortable using BPA products, no matter what the FSANZ says. And if this plastic is bad then who’s to say the others are safe. We have decided to try to nearly completely de-plasticise our house. This has been a tough call in many ways as we had to throw out a LOT of toys and replace them. We scour 2nd hand shops, markets and eBay for wooden or metal toys. And we have found them a metal shopping trolley, wooden trains, my old dolls bed which my dad made for me 30-something years ago, metal cars, etc. It does mean that they outlast the 1-2 weeks lifespan of plastic toys though. There are some things we have allowed though. Duplo, dolls, and later on, Lego, Barbie (eek)­­ and other such toys. Plastic, I know, and it makes me cringe, but I feel there are some things that are just necessary in childhood and I don’t want my kids to be the nerds at school who don’t have anything “cool”.

We’ve almost completely cleared out the pantry and storage container cupboard of plastic including original and vintage Tupperware which I got from my grandmother, (some contain BPA – 2nd last FAQ), other plastic containers, and other sundry plastics. Some are special but to me, not as special as the safety of my family. They went to my mum who was warned what contained BPA, and what she didn’t want she passed on to a friend of mine who was also subsequently warned. The other non-BPA plastic food storage containers (recycle code 5 etc) have also been passed on to a friend who is in the know so I know she is also safe. In their stead I have spent quite a bit and bought glass containers. They do have plastic lids but all are confirmed to be BPA-free. The lids aren’t heated either which reduces the amount of plastic toxins released to what I consider acceptable levels. My pantry is full of glass jars with stainless steel lids, home preserved pasta sauce and tomato puree and I am almost rid of the cans in there. I am constantly looking for ways to replace canned food with homemade and I’m nearly there. I even bought a vintage stovetop Fowlers Vacola preserver and jars and am as proud as punch of the 12 jars of pasta sauce gleaming redly back at me. I’ve also preserved nectarines, peaches, apple and in large amounts, tomatoes. I’ve also recently bought a canner which, when we move I will break out so I can safely can vegetables and legumes etc. It’s not safe to preserve these using the waterbath method. Only pressure canning will do.

Going green with our food has been the easiest part of our journey surprisingly. I am lucky enough to own a Thermomix which is pretty much every possible kitchen appliance rolled into 1 with a few other bits thrown in for good measure. Rarely a day goes past where I don’t cook with my Thermy. He (yes, in our house he is a member of the family) allows me to make my own of so many things. I make my own bread, butter, sauces, spreads and can cook delicious meals like Butter Chicken in about 30 minutes without using a jar of paste or sauce. It makes me feel good knowing I am also serving up nutritionally superior (it cooks at a much lower temperature which doesn’t destroy all the nutrients), low or no preservative food that tastes divine. I take no credit for my cooking skills either. I enjoy baking but I really hate cooking so Thermy is my lifesaver.

I still feel guilty not using certified organic all the time but at the moment we need work out how much we are saving on our food bills with bulk and raw buying and then we can consider organics. I do buy organic where I can – herbs and teas are a great place to start. It is a bit dearer than non-organic teabags from the supermarket but the extra taste is well worth it. We also live near a market where we go probably every 2 weeks and buy up dried fruits and nuts in cotton and calico bags so no plastic wrapping. Gladwrap and foil sit in my draw and grow dusty and I have some reusable tin liners which replace baking paper, and we also make our own yoghurt and ice-cream from scratch. And I make both with Thermy’s assistance now so I can reduce the carbon miles and packaging there too. Our local farmers market is a big deal for us too.  It’s such an important family outing for us all. I also dry my own fruits, vegetables and I’ve even made beef jerky and yoghurt roll ups. Homemade fruit roll ups, home dried banana, apple, apricots, peas, the list really is endless as to what I can do. I’m so excited!

If I sit and look around my house I see so many things I still want to change. I’d love to wear organic and natural fibre clothing, avoiding cotton for its water-hungry properties, buy local produce only and keep our carbon miles low, reduce our rubbish low (this has improved but not enough for my liking), lower our power reliance and bills, get our veggie gardens going, fruit trees producing and so many other things. Many of these are earmarked as urgent jobs for once we’ve moved. It’s overwhelming and it’s constant. But, I’m learning that compromise is ok when you’re starting. I’m learning that it’s a step by step thing and that if you try to do it all at once it’s not sustainable to mind or wallet or lifestyle. I’ve learned that sometimes it is ok to fall off the wagon (like our current disposables phase) and that you need to forgive your lapses and sometimes necessary choices. I’ve also learned that there will be setbacks, like Sunday when I found that my deep freeze containing nearly 1/2 an organic lamb had been switched off and unplugged and the entire lot was off. Heartbreaking! However, the environment understands that in today’s society there is a LOT to change and that it’s not easy starting to be green and she is grateful for what you ARE doing to help.