Some days

Most days I am able to see the future with a positive set of eyes. Sure the world is going to hell in a hand-basket but I try to believe it will be ok because we humans flourish in times of absolute crisis and we come together to form a strong community to help those in trouble. Some days I can see the future and sure life is harder but it is simpler, purer, cleaner and a much smaller place. Most days I am able to be realistic if not actually optimistic.

Today I am struggling.

I’m not all ‘woe is me’ and ‘why bother’ but today the fear is getting the better of me. Today the fear is overwhelming. Mostly I can keep a lid on my fears for the future but today I struggle to contain it.

Reading through my RSS feed and reading one of the posts from Mother Earth News (great site for all things possibly connected to eco) and it had me in tears. Not for anything particularly specific in the article (it’s here if you would like to read it) but as I said, the fears got too big to handle today.

Today I need a hidey hole. Just for today I want to bury my head in the sand. Today I need to not read any further eco focused blogs or research something else worrying me. Today I need to focus on creating. On dreaming (but not why I’m dreaming it). Today I need to soak in the sunshine without worrying about UV rays and greenhouse gas emissions.

Am I alone?

Does anyone else out there find that some days they have a desperate need to switch off? To step away from the worrying about the world? Not to go back to living a life of ignorance about our planet and its health but to at least step away from the war so to speak? I guess that’s why soldiers were given leave. Time to recoup the senses.

Anyway, today is a day off from the eco worry for me. I need to focus on simpler things, like knitting my cardigan, play dough and trains (separately) with my kids. A cup of herbal tea. 🙂

Well, I’m off to boil the kettle. 🙂

An update and things coming together

It’s all pretty amazing when things start coming together. I mean, you plot, you plan and you dream and you try and cram the plotting, planning and dreaming into reality, dodging around obstacles like time, money, weather, differing ideas, legal requirements and everything else and you hope to come up with a workable situation that hasn’t strayed too far from your first inspired musings.

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Heidi, grandfather and Aunt Dete hurrying away

My initial dreams involved up to 5 acres, an eco friendly house built by my own two hands, robust and healthy children who look liked they had escaped from Heidi, friendly animals, beautifully landscaped (but not rigid) gardens and fresh produce pouring from their richly composted soil. The reality is a little different.

We have a 1/2 acre, the house was not built by my own two hands although I have had a lot of input into the design and materials used and we have been as eco friendly as the budget allowed for (low VOC paints, woolen carpets over recycled fibre underlay and LED lights). My children don’t have the plump legs and ruddy complexions of Heidi fame but they are healthy and happy and sporting somewhat of a tan, testament to their enjoyment of outdoor life. Our animals aren’t quite as keen on us as we are on them but Milly and Molly are getting more comfortable although Mandy still keeps her distance. The baby chicks are well acclimatised to children as they are picked up and carted around by the kids for a couple of hours each day and the silkies are fast becoming favourites (Mrs Silverpants was replaced last night along with her companion Dandelion the white silkie and Goldie or Gold Star the golden silkie). The baby chicks are used to being handled by us too although they still peg it during the day (we go out each night to make sure they’re either sleeping in a nesting box or on the perch which they’ve finally figured out last night too). The gardens are not the verdant oases I dreamed of and their soil, although rich, is not as rotted down as I had dreamed. It’s getting there now though. We do have crops coming along nicely too. I have 2 zucchinis that will be ready in the next day or 2 (they’re taking longer I think due to the still un-rotted garden beds) and my corn are flowering and I can see the beginning of corn cobs. 😀 My watermelons won’t make harvest this year but I will try transferring them even though they hate it. I have nothing to lose at this stage. My tomatoes are still coming along in the garden too. I live in fear of possums discovering them but we appear to have few of those thieving little blighters around thankfully. My broccoli are doing much better since I got up close and personal with them, rubbing the underside of their leaves and squishing all the caterpillar eggs (or are they butterfly eggs – defined by what they hatch into or what lays them?) and caterpillars of the (presumably) coddling moths that had turned their leaves into fine green lace. They still look a little lacy but much happier. My onions haven’t even made it to pickled onion stage sadly but then again I never really expected them to. 😦

The greenhouse garden

The greenhouse garden, marked out with sticks and some used chicken straw for nutrients. I will mulch it when the seedlings are up more. Thanks for the idea Narf. 🙂

But it’s the greenhouse I am most amazed with and proud of in our garden. It’s a Sproutwell greenhouse built from a kit I bought off eBay (they also have a website and the price is the same) and the garden beds I built myself using corrugated iron and hardwood corner posts. The hardwood we already had and the iron, bought from my uncle, makes each bed cost $1.50! WIN! Anyway, I’ve built 3 beds in there and filled and planted 1 of them. I transplanted the tomatoes from the second martie bed as they were very small and not going to make harvest before the frost arrived so I had nothing to lose. I planted my mandarin, banana and lemon trees in there first, then the transplanted tomatoes and transplanted marigolds in there, some beans planted down the side, transplanted capsicums, rocket seeds between them, then planted carrot and radish seeds, some spinach seeds, leek seeds, coriander seeds, transplanted chives and also chive seeds. So far the chive seeds are the only ones I haven’t seen a sprout from yet. I also transplanted in a pumpkin that popped up from seeds I’d scooped out of a pumpkin around Christmas time and planted out mid January. So, although it’s not yet that verdant oasis, it is well on its way to being a nifty little food garden.

Radishes

Capsicums and radishes

A bean

A bean

Carrot wisps :)

Carrot wisps 🙂

Spinach

Spinach

Capsicums and rocket

Capsicums and rocket with a tomato and the beans in the background. The carrots are near the icy-pole stick.

Nice mangel wurzels 😉

I’ve also bought some more interesting seeds – mangel wurzels which are like turnips but they get HEAPS bigger and if harvested small they’re good for human consumption or if left to grow out, great for cattle and chickens. I wanted to try them just because I can! I’ve also finally sourced some black carrot seeds (purple/black inside and out and amazing for antioxidants), kale, rainbow chard and some other bits and bobs. I’m planning some BIG gardens over winter. 😀 And speaking of winter gardens, I’ve started building the garden beds to go in. The existing beds will be raked up to fill the new ones and they’re a little shorter but I can double the amount of beds, greatly increasing planting area overall. I am eagerly awaiting Autumn now, something I NEVER thought I would say. 🙂

But the most fun of all is that Ignisa and I are starting to work together. We’ve had some very unseasonably cold weather this last week and Ignisa, our lovely Gourmet Cooker has been alight for about 44 hours although she’s been resting for the last hour or 2 but I’m getting cold again so reckon it’s time to fire her up again.. We need to organise some hardwood to burn (if anyone local has any they’re getting rid of or selling…?) but in the meantime we have been able to make do with our existing poplar stocks which is marvelous that we can use them up. 🙂 We also had a little bit of plum from a tree that we chopped down after it died at Spotswood. I started off by bringing in our old DVD shelves and then arranged them in such as way as to make a surround or frame for the stove. I’ve now got some space for trinkets, wood, kindling and fire lighting paper. The lamps came out and look lovely too, bringing some pleasant ambiance to the room. The fire guard, half of our playpen is doing duty as a fire guard and at night it makes a great clothesrack too once stoo up on it’s ends. 😀 Multitasking and repurposing at its best. 🙂 I’ve done some cooking with Ignisa too. 😀 I cooked a compete meal on her the other evening, spuds in the oven and then fried off the bacon in a fry pan on top and breakfast this morning was homemade sourdough English muffins cooked on Ignisa and a hot chocolate made with her heat too – another complete meal. 🙂 I also baked bread in her belly the other night but the oven was a wee bit hot (like 350C rather than 200C required). Should be fine once I carve off the top inch. lol

3 bookshelves arranged just so

3 bookshelves arranged just so

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English muffins and hot chocolate – this mornings breakfast

Briquette?

Briquette?

I also did some more unpacking – DVD’s away (not that they will see much use given the lack of tv), my crystal radio set up and working (I need to find a better station with some music although ABC news radio is ok too), and I’ve been knitting away getting clothes ready for winter. The kids each have a new hat and I’ve made a scarf for Orik too. I need to source some more yarn to make Allegra a scarf so it’s time to dig into the stash. I also knitted my first dishcloth using this pattern and I’m happy with how it’s come out. Now to test it and see how it works.

Our food is improving on a weekly, if not daily basis. I’ve committed to making sourdough pasta using this recipe so we are slowly using up our normal pasta which I can’t eat and once it’s gone, that’s it. We’re now drinking real milk, our veggie box arrives each week from Highland Heritage (I highly recommend contacting them if you’re local and interested as their produce is first rate) and I’ve started culturing milk too – milk kefir is like super dooper yakult and it tasted a HEAP better as well as being heaps better for you. Google kefir if you’re interested. I just don’t know enough about it at this stage other than to say it’s very good for you and not unpleasant to taste.

Bertha was also split and fattened up and her daughter, Agnetha has gone to her new home. Bertha will be fed and split again and posted this week to The Eco Mum and Narf so you should see some mail coming your way soon ladies. I had planned to post it today but I haven’t fed her or her babies enough for the rigors of travel. 🙂

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My Bertha, Agnetha her daughter and the tub with my bread in it at the bottom of the picture.

A Dexter. Photo is not such a good one of the cow but gives a brilliant idea of their size.

They come in black (most common) dun and red, polled or horned, short legged or normal. I think these are polled and the black one closest appears to be short legged. Aren’t they pretty. 🙂

My latest project, much to the horror of my darling long-suffering husband is to purchase a house-cow. Yep, a cow! 🙂 Don’t have a cow, she wouldn’t be a full sized one and nor will she be a genetically twisted (albeit via breeding only) miniature cow but a genuine naturally occurring small breed cow, the Dexter. The average Dexter cow, when fully grown will stand no higher at the hip than Jasper. They stand around and just over the 1m mark although the bulls are up to 1.17m I think (44in) so they really are quite small. They’re easy calvers, easy milkers, friendly animals and make excellent lawnmowers! 😀 They also require a lot less pasture space and although we don’t quite have enough land for exclusive grass feeding we may have access to some good local and I believe organically grown hay. It’s also another reason I want to try growing mangel wurzels as they used to be used for winter and early spring food in the UK for cattle. We are big dairy people here with hot chocolates, homemade yoghurt, custard and cheese (not yet homemade) on our menu with frequency. I want to know that our dairy is organic and hence free of hormones, anti-biotics and all the rest of the garbage pumped into many commercial cows (I’m not sure how much of that is dairy cows rather than beef cows which I believe are treated with regularity in factory farming conditions but any of that gunk is too much gunk) and I also want to know that it’s cruelty free. These cows are prolific milk producers for their size and can easily feed 2 or even 3 calves so I figure that there is no need to remove the calf from mother and we can simply milk the excess. No poddy calves! 😀 I also want to know that our milk is local. Full respect to dairies around Australia but I would prefer to support any in the district and preferably my own back yard… Literally. 😀 I also want to be able to give my children raw milk, full of all the wonderful goodness that milk contains, not pasteurised to within an inch of its life. I understand that pasteurisation aims to kill nasty bugs but it also kills many beneficial ones and a single cow raised at home will be much easier to maintain in a sanitary milking condition than hundreds of them all traipsing in manure and mud. And that brings me to another great reason for keeping a cow… I want her manure for my gardens. 🙂 Bonus fertiliser cakes. 😛 Dexter cows are also great for their meat which is reported to be superior – a wonderful duel purpose cow. They can also be trained to pull like oxen, something that will come in handy in a post peak oil world. Any bull calves would be fattened up for organic, pasture-fed, free-range, cruelty free (need to find an on-site butcher) and utterly local beef. It’s a HUGE undertaking though, with initial costs, commitment (10 months of the year they lactate and they live for up to 20 years, even more) and we obviously need to check council rules and permits (definitely required) and whether we have or can access sufficient fodder (I do not want to grain feed except maybe as a treat) and there is also up to 10 litres of milk a day to work through. I would need to make cheese on a daily basis which would be far too much for us to eat) and I’d still have enough left over for custard, yoghurt, bechamel sauce, Orik’s bottles and all the rest. It’s very exciting to dream though and following up on information and researching is keeping the old brain box ticking.. 🙂

So anyway, that’s the updates for now. There is lots happening, lots in the pipleline and many many more things on the discussion table. It’s a busy time and I’m loving it. 😀 What’s the news in your slice of paradise?

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.

Tuki Trout Farm – A family outing

One of the best things about moving to Ballan is the new-found family connection we have already formed. It’s just wonderful. We have come closer together and enjoy spending time doing activities all together. I intend on taking a LOT more family outings over the year and I’ve already earmarked a few activities for us. I am hoping to be able to go somewhere new with the kids at least every 2 weeks, although I may be biting off more than I can chew with that plan. We will see.

A rainbow trout – an introduced species that although it’s not a pest, does cause harm to native species.

Anyway, I love fresh fish, trout in particular. There really is nothing like the taste of a freshly caught, cleaned and cooked rainbow trout in my opinion and I’ve been keen to take the trip to Tuki Trout Farm in Smeaton for some months. However, the trip from Ballan is about 45-60 minutes so adding on another 45 minutes would have made it quite a long trip for the kids.

So on Saturday, with a packed lunch, kids whining about being STAAAAARVING in our ears (please tell me that all 4 year old boys are just an empty stomach on legs like mine is) and the esky with the ice packs in the boot we headed off. We took the scenic route via Daylesford rather than driving to Ballarat then out to Smeaton and it was just lovely driving down the narrow roads with nothing but paddocks and open spaces. It’s all looking so dry although I guess we are still viewing the grass with city slicker eyes. I’m sure it’s not yet all that dry really, just golden in colour. Either way, it was a brilliant drive. As a distraction when I’m driving and Jasper is doing his usual 20 questions thing I sometimes tell him to look for a white horse. So far he’s not seen one… Until Saturday! I hadn’t mentioned the white horse thing for at least a week or more when suddenly he yells out “A white horse! I saw a white horse Mummy!” I can’t believe the memory of this kid sometimes!

As we drove into Tuki the views were magnificent. There was this fantastic hill which was the highest in the nearby area over which the driveway meandered nearly at the top and we could see for miles all around. Spectacular! Then down the other side into the farm itself. The prices are quite reasonable – $8 for adults, $4 for children although our children all got in free given their ages (4 and under), a family pass is $30 for 2 adults, children and 2 rods and  rod hire is $5 which includes a large net to help you land your fish. Bait is included too (sweetcorn thankfully. I am NOT picking up insects, let alone sticking a hook into them!) There are 6 ponds, 2 of them heavily stocked which is great for kids who don’t have the patience to sit and enjoy the beautiful peace and quiet. We started on a lovely pond near the top of the hill but had no luck. We moved up to the 2 top ponds, the heavily stoked ones after we had nothing more than a small nibble as the kids were getting bored. We eventually ended up on the smallest pond which is the most heavily stocked where we had nearly instant success. The look on Jasper’s’ face as he caught his first fish was priceless! He went in with Daddy to have it weighed and cleaned and he certainly learned a few things about where our food comes from. Maybe not the easiest lessons to learn but vitally important in my opinion. He came back out with a lot to tell me whilst Allegra and I caught a fish together. She too was ecstatic to catch a fish although the life lessons were lost on her at this stage. All in all we landed 5 trout, each around 200-250 grams but with a fractious Orik in his pram (the ponds are all quite deep and he’s a liability around water at this stage so he had to stay put sadly) and getting on to dinner time we asked for 3 more trout from the staff there who were trawling the pond for trout to smoke and make into pate (they sell it through their shop and serve it at the restaurant). At $15.50 a kilo for the trout, all cleaned and ready to cook we took home nearly 2kgs of them!

Fishing is a serious business!

Fishing is a serious business! This is seconds before we caught our first fish.

Not so serious for the girls though. ;)

Not so serious for this girl though. 😉

Caught a fish?

Caught a fish?

A father with the patience of a saint

A father with the patience of a saint.

The trip home was via Ballarat with sleeping kids in the back seat and then I had the task of getting dinner sorted quickly for 5 hungry people and then getting 3 into bed quick smart as it was getting late. The trout were far less interesting to Jasper by now although he did admire their beautiful rainbow colouring. I spread some butter inside them, beheaded them before cooking (heads went straight into the stock pot) and sprinkled with dried dill inside too. Martin barbecued them whilst I cooked some brown rice and that was dinner done. It took seconds for Jasper to decide he liked it and he demolished 3 helpings whilst Allegra took some heavy duty convincing. Sadly Orik wouldn’t have a bar of it. Glad I cooked up 2 of the larger fish though. Best of all, no bone mishaps. 🙂 I took out most of the bones before serving them up and Marina and I triple checked what the kids were served. The bones also went straight into the stock pot. Cooking the fish up though was a thought provoking experience and the experience was different for me this time than it has been in the past. I’m a lot less blase about the choice to eat an animal than I have been in the past. The ethics of food I guess.

Now as I write this I have my fish stock in the freezer alongside my duck stock, both of which I eagerly anticipate using (it’s like getting double the bang for your buck so to speak – check out these blogs here and here on the benefits of bone broths or bone stocks) but I’ll need to check up my book Nourishing Traditions for some good recipes I think. I also know we will return to Tuki some day but for now I have 6 more trout to cook at my leisure. 😀

New Years Eve

Well, as I sit here enjoying a rare moment of peace and quiet on this last day of 2012 I naturally fall to reflecting on the year that was. It’s sort of the day for it hey. 😉 and all I can say is wow! What a year it has been. We decided for sure to relocate this year and decided where to move to, bought a house, had it renovated, moved in, bought 18 chickens and 3 ducks, anted gardens, built a greenhouse (I just need the right bolts to attach the gutters), built a chook pen, fenced, chopped down trees and so very much more.

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Our domain!

I haven’t blogged in a while, mainly due to lack of Internet access (I’m posting this from my phone which I am WELL over my monthly data allowance for) and not due to nothing to say. Those that know me know I am rarely without anything to say. 😉 So, here’s an update since my last post.

We made it through the gluttony of my family Christmas which involved frugal and carefully thought out gifts from us and my sister-in-law (although she still spoiled them silly) and a gross spoiling from Nanna who loves to shop. It was a nice day with family though although Allegra loved her birthday gift (my old dolls house my dad had made for me as a kid that mum repainted and refurbished for Allegra) so much she was reluctant to open her gifts or eat lunch too. Funny girl. 🙂

Christmas day for us was a quiet affair with just us. We had our big meal on Christmas eve with roast duck (we didn’t harvest our own but tried to buy ethically), broccoli and cauliflower (organic but full of caterpillars so the chooks and ducks enjoyed them), peas and corn, parsnip and roasted organic pumpkin and teeth breakingly crunchy spuds. The leftover duck was stripped off the bone and into the fridge and the bones went straight into a saucepan with some filtered water to simmer for 24 hours for stock (and a brilliantly gelatiney stock it made too). No waste there.

Christmas day we started with sourdough pancakes, Greek yoghurt and organic raspberries, leftover duck in sourdough crepes with some hoisin sauce I found in the fridge, sautéed grated carrots and sliced mushrooms. Yummo! Dinner was some locally made cheeses I’d bought from the Ballan farmers market, sourdough bread and Fernleigh Farms locally raised and sourced, pasture/free range raised, heritage breed pig, organic ham. Delicious. We ate extremely well yet there was no gluttony and nearly no leftovers aside from the duck (we used all of it up). The kids played with their gifts from us and from Santa throughout the day and as we ate our home are rapadura sweetened custard and sourdough plum pudding we Skype called my mother-in-law, the kids Omi, who lives in London, to wish her a merry Christmas. It was a lovely day.

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Jasper with his cousins at Nanna’s house.

Since Christmas we’ve seen our builder all but finish the house. He’s just touching up the paint on the doors now and about to work on the bathroom window which finishes off he inside! Yay!!!

Our baby chicks are growing up well, all except for 1 of the roosters who was quite ill and we thought we’d lose him. He pulled through but he’s pretty pint sized. I hope he catches up soon. They’re enjoying their first day outside in the old chook pen inside the big pen getting used to it all. They will go outside for good in another 2-3 weeks and then into the big pen a few weeks after that.
Our older birds are clearly distinguishable between hens and roosters now and although the hens a starting to cluck rather than cheep the bits are yet to tune their vocals thankfully. Once they do they’re on limited time.

My gardens aren’t growing as well as I’d thought they might sadly but after mentioning it to our neighbour he suggested hitting it up with blood and bone as it’s likely to be nutrient drawdown. As the Lucerne or straw that the beds are made of toys down it draws down the nutrients into itself and effectively starves the plants. Hence why my tomatoes aren’t as rabid as yours Fran. :)It had me well puzzled! They have had their treatment this morning which I’ll water in well this evening once it’s cooled down and fingers crossed for some action. On the up side, the pumpkin and zucchinis are flowering and the corn is shooting for the sky. 🙂

The kids are all well and loving life. They’ve started sleeping in until 7:30 again too as opposed to the 5:45-6 we’ve had to tolerate for the past few months. We woke up the other day and it was after 8! I’ve never felt more rested. 😀

2012 has been a good year. Yes, it’s been a vey good year. I look forward with anticipation to 2013 as it promises to hold many new and wonderful experiences. Jasper is off to kindergarten this year, Orik will start to speak a lot more although he’s definitely my quiet bubba and Allegra is going to get a lot more one on one with mum time too which we will both enjoy. We’ve got a play group to join, new friends to make, our first harvest (hopefully), building our gardens up more, our first Autumn, Winter and Spring to experience, the return to work with the longer commute for Martin and much much more. More animals maybe? Removing trees and planting new ones.

Well, my immediate goal is some lunch and a clean kitchen before my husband and older kids return so I’d better get moving. See you all in 2013 and happy new year to you all.

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Climate change and changing to suit the climate

Climate change.

Controvertial, no?

Is it real or is it just a hoax?

If it IS a hoax, what is the reason behind the hoax and who does it benefit?

If it is real, how do we sort the truth from the lies? How serious is it? Is it too late?

I only wish I knew the answers but I believe climate change, brought about by man, is real. If it is a hoax it benefits no-one that I can think of bar a few comparatively small companies producing environmentally friendly goods. If we believe it is a hoax however, I can think of a few industries that will reap the rewards (think of mining and drilling).

When I think back to what started my green journey I find it really hard to pin point any particular thing. I remember hassling my mum once about buying bleach and she ended up buying vinegar instead. I remember in grade 6 I think it was, doing an in class assignment where you answered multiple choice questions and it predicted a future scenario for you. Even then I preferred a large house in a small country town with an eco lifestyle. Ok, so I no longer want a large house (cleaning the house never entered my 12 yo mind 😉 ) but the rest of the scenario has pretty much played out to be true. I’ve also had that dream of living on a small acreage in the country for as long as I can remember, interspersed with eco dreams too. For as long as I can remember there has always been some level of environmental sustainability or homesteading about my dreams.

So what kicked it all into high gear then? I’ve already mentioned some of my journey of how it’s not easy to be green but it was probably the film The Day after Tomorrow that really prompted me to start making changes. Now, do I think that there will be 3 big storms to plunge the world into a new ice age? No. Do I think that the film is very over-dramatised? Yes. Do I think that the film makes a good point though? Yes. It got me thinking long and hard about climate change and our precious planet. It got me thinking about the impact that my choices and decisions have upon the planet and although it doesn’t touch on even half of the issues out there (deforestation of our jungles, over fishing, landfill, fossil fuel usage and so on) but at least for me it got me thinking. It got me processing. It made me realise that there is a LOT more to the world than just my little piece of it.

Now as I sit here today it’s a predicted high of 38C degrees (about 29 inside at the moment). It’s still November! The average maximum temperatures for Melbourne in November is 22C although the highest on record is 40.9 on November 27 1894 (info found here). It’s a total fire ban in both the Mallee and Wimera regions of Victoria too – the far north and west of the state where it’s already at severe fire danger (info found here). This is unusual for November in Victoria in my memory at least and I suspect that the odd rumours I’ve heard of a long hot summer may well turn out to be true. And after what Ballan locals have said was a long cold winter… Well it just seems to me, in my very unscientific opinion, that things are changing.

I believe things are reaching some pretty critical levels as far as climate change goes. I mean, from a cursory glance at my dear friend Dr Google, it seems the average temperature of the earth has risen less than a degree C which sounds negligible… But is it? I know the last few years here in Melbourne we’ve had some stinking hot days. I remember the new years we waved farewell to 2007 and hello to 2008 it was still a balmy 35C or 95F at midnight. Just over 13 months later on February 7th 2009 and we saw our hottest day on record, now known as Black Saturday because of the horrific bushfires that raged across our state. It changed our hottest ever recorded Victorian temperature to a whopping 48.8C (that’s 120F) recorded at Hopetown (stats taken from here). Melbourne reached 46.4C  or 115.5F (stats taken from here). Even without counting the fires in, it was a pretty rotten day here. Including the devastating fires, it was horrendous.

What melting polar ice?

The point is, the climate is changing and we are going to have to change along with it. I read a wonderful comment this morning on Narf77’s blog The Road to Serendipity about adaption. “I LOVE the positivity of permaculture…no sitting around whinging about how we won’t have citrus trees soon and isn’t it terrible…just straight away looking at the possibilities and adapting. That’s what I prize…adaptation and the ability to look on the bright side. That’s what is noble about the human race…” and it struck a chord. Even if we stopped burning each and every fossil fuel today and set everything right in one fell swoop I don’t believe the climate trend will change overnight. Things have gone too far for that. Arctic ice melting is a prime example. From what I’ve read it works like this. When there is a large amount of arctic ice it reflects back the heat of the sun a lot more, being white it’s reflective, not absorptive. However, when it gets hotter the polar ice melts and then there is less white reflective ice and more absorptive dark coloured ocean to contain the heat from the sun. This in turn melts more of the ice, which in its turn provides more dark ocean to absorb more heat and so on. I’m not sure how that is supposed to stop to be honest because it’s self perpetuating. The melting of the polar ice brings with it warmer temperatures, more water (the melting water surely has to go somewhere although I can’t seem to find anything but arguments about rising sea levels on Dr Google).

Tagasaste or tree lucerne

We MUST take more responsibility for the environment and try to stop the global warming trend but in correlation with this we need to adapt. I for one am glad we will be raising our elevation from about 17m above sea level to much closer to 500m… Just in case. I also plan to try to grow some plants that are not considered suitable for the Ballan climate – Tagasaste (Chamaecytisus palmensis) or tree lucerne is one such tree. It’s a dry climate plant initially from the Canary islands and doesn’t like waterlogged soil but I am hoping by growing it in a raised bed in the chook pen that it will thrive and help provide food for the chickens. I am also going to try growing sweet potatoes next year. They’re not good in cold climates and not so great in temperate climates either (I tried to grow them a few years back) but I reckon it’s worth giving them a crack inside the greenhouse. I’ll probably also try ginger and turmeric too. The Tropical Hippy, a friend in both the blogosphere and real world who lives in tropical climes is giving sweet potatoes a go now if you’re keen to try them.

For me that adaption is to try and grow things locally so that I can reduce our food carbon miles. If I can’t grow it locally (bananas, mangoes, pineapples and other tropical fruits for starters) I need to weigh up the value of having access to these foods (bananas would be a big loss to my kids) versus their mileage. With many of our tropical fruits coming from Queensland they’re not as bad as they could be, but dates (which we use in cooking and as snacks – a huge loss to me) may well come from Iran or other local countries so their mileage is huge. I guess for me if I can localise as much as possible then buying some things with carbon miles isn’t so bad. I hope that the miles our tomatoes will travel will be about 20 metres from the veggie garden to the kitchen via shanks pony. 🙂 They will then be bottled which will use some gas or electricity in the processing but it’s much less than buying a can of imported tomatoes.

Anyway, this is becoming a bit of an incoherent ramble which I’m going to blame on the heat frying my brain (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it 😉 ) so it’s time to sign off. We’re having a tv day here in the interests of keeping the kids calm whilst being locked inside away from the sun (not my favourite kind of day but needs must).

Reflections and looking forward

We are into the final countdown of the saga that has become moving. November 11th was pinged as moving day, and indeed we did begin to move our possessions up there that weekend, but sadly, we are still living in our house here in Spotswood. Things have stretched out, mainly due to us adding extra renovations (like the bathroom) so no blame on our builder John who has been amazing. But as we enter into the final days of our city life I find myself reflecting more and more on the year that has been and how it is that we have reached the point we are at.

When I stop and think about what changes this year alone has brought… It was January 1st or 2nd when Martin gave the go ahead for the move to country Victoria and it was only Melbourne Cup Day last year (November 1st 2011) that we camped with friends in Trentham (nearly freezing ourselves solid in the process) that I started seriously pushing this ludicrous idea on my husband. Since then we’ve researched locations, (Trentham, Woodend, Kyneton, Lara and finally Ballan) building materials and fruit and vegetable varieties. I’ve delved into natural fibres vs synthetics, polyurethane, polyethylene, shellac, VOC’s, then chicken breeds, goat breeds, species of trees, natural vs herbicides/pesticides and all sorts of other things. It’s been an incredible journey of knowledge and my poor husband has been awoken from sleep several times by my exclamations of disgust or surprise at all hours when I’m researching because I can’t sleep. On occasion I’ve actually woken him to share some new knowledge I’ve come across that simply cannot wait until morning. He usually isn’t too appreciative of that but hey, you get that. 😛

Martin too has had changes to get his head around, more than just the financials. He’s been the one who’s got his head around all the mortgage details, who has just added extra time to his commute to work, who is doing the heavy lifting and the hard yakka even now and he’s done so much research into Trevor, our tractor, both in looking into what we needed for mowing and also in fixing Trevor. He’s actually spending the night in Ballan tonight to start bright and early on fixing Trevor and mowing before the snakes decide our garden is their ideal habitat (saw one dead on the side of the road today). (And he has just called me so I can listen to the sound of his little engine chugging away merrily. Still some to do but he is working, YAY!:D ) Martin has been my absolute rock as I’ve dived head first into all of this, listening to my eco-ranting, huge dreams and plans for the next 1,2,5 and 10 years. He’s not put down my thoughts of goats, more acres, sheep, chickens, ducks and all the rest, just brought the voice of reason in regards to timing and practicality. He’s dealt with most of the builder queries, allowed me my perfect kitchen (although he still won’t let me call it MY kitchen) and promptly, although not necessarily cheerfully, paid the bills as they’ve come in. He’s also watched the kids whilst I’ve been shopping for tiles and carpet, helping to entertain them, feed them and keep them safe whilst I’ve dug gardens, planted seeds and then he has helped handle the machinery or lifting that I can’t do, digging holes for posts, cementing them in and also happily chainsawing off branches I’ve deemed in the way (although I think he’s enjoyed playing with his new chainsaw there 😉 ). He has been incredible, sharing our story with work colleagues and finding similar dreams, shared experiences and bringing home sage advice from those that have been there done that. He’s also listened to me moan and groan about sore muscles and aching bones, despite being 11 years my senior and probably aching just as much (sorry honey, I couldn’t resist that one 😉 ). Just cos I don’t say it enough, thank you for being absolutely the best husband and girl could ask for and for your amazing support and belief this year. I love you.

The kids have been included in all the changes too. They’ve been up to their elbows in compost, planted seeds, pulled out plants and weeds, clambered around tyres, helped us cement in posts, watered plants, carried things, dug holes (they particularly like the digging bits 🙂 ) and so many other things. They’ve learned to collect eggs, feed chickens and they’ve helped me pick up our chicks and put down bedding for them. It’s a time of huge change for them and they have coped marvelously with changes in their routine, meals on the run, hours spent in the car, repeated episodes of Thomas to keep them content, changes in childcare and making new friends too. I am so proud of each of them. Despite their voicing that they don’t want to move (it’s a stubborn streak I am well familiar with as I know where they inherited at least half of it 😉 ) I know they absolutely adore the freedom and space to play at Ballan. They have come so far in their confidences too – Jas was even playing with (albeit not quite touching) 2 friendly border collies last weekend after their owner introduced them (one was called Jasper). He screamed blue murder about 2 much smaller dogs just a few short months ago. Allegra has grown in confidence too, although she still has her “daddy daddy” moments as only a 3 year old daddy’s girl can have. She loves to help with watering and helped me plant out some flowers today too. She likes ” fwowers” so I can see that I will have to look further into friendly bug mixes which contain many plants and flowers enticing to the predator bugs we want in our gardens. And Orik has grown up with freedoms and fun that the other 2 have only just discovered. He’s had battles with chickens, specifically Okku to whom he has taken a shine. Sadly, she is a moody fat feather duster with a sour disposition and the score so far is Okku 4: 0 Orik. That’s how many times he’s been pecked. 😦 He’s also had free ranging freedom in the garden that I would not have dared to give the other 2 at his age, not because he is any different to them but because I am different.

And the changes in me have been profound. I’ve dealt with and am continuing to deal with my phobias, facing up to parenting fears and discovering a food intolerance.  I’ve given up coffee and cut down/out chocolate and refined sugars. I’ve learned about fats and oils, cooking sourdough and read up and dreamed about making my own cheeses and deli meats. I’ve changed the way I view so many things and I know that my thought processes are still in the middle of massive upheaval. So much of what I have taken for granted I now question, and so many things I used to love I now can’t stand and so much I believed and trusted to be true I now struggle to readjust to a world where I know they are not.

I don’t write all this here as I plan to sit on my laurels and nor am I expecting praise or rewards or anything. I have my rewards already in my improved health and happiness and in the health and happiness of my family. I am merely reflecting out loud so to speak on the year that has nearly come to a close (only 32 days until Christmas and 39 until 2013) and the journey that has lead us/me to this point where we are moving.

I actually never thought I’d move again until into a retirement or nursing home. In fact I seem to recall uttering the words “over my dead body” to Martin on more than one occasion, but here we are over half way through moving. I’m up to my eyeballs in packed and half boxes, unpacked stuff that I don’t know when to start packing, sleeping on mattresses on the floor, living with half a wardrobe (I packed most of our summer clothes in anticipation of moving a month ago) and I’m tired of not remembering if something is here in Spotswood or there in Ballan. I’m also tired of having limited cooking supplies as I’ve been trying to use up what we have and not buy more as it’s just more to move. But we have now got a date when the carpet will be down, and the tiles will also be finished and we will be able to start sleeping in our new house.There may still be things incomplete or unfinished – we still await completion dates on our wood heater, solar hot water system, gas connection and final plumbing details but we can work around these things if needed. Thermy will help with the cooking and I survived for 2 weeks washing in kettle heated bath water during the gas crisis in the late 90’s so I’m sure we can do that again. It won’t be for too long anyway and I know the kids will love the adventure. lol

And once we have moved we will be able to pick up life again, visiting friends and inviting them over to visit too, having all my household goods available and the kids will get to enjoy 2 Christmases, the actual 25th of December one and the bonus one they will have when they get to open up their boxed up toys. I’m also looking forward to joining our local play group, meeting other kinder and childcare mums as Jas starts 4yo kinder next year and Allegra will have a day of childcare. It’s going to be a mega busy year next year with a lot of changes and big adjustments, but since 2013 contains the number 13 it should be my lucky year. Bring it on!

Jas doing papier mache last year.

Allegra about 12 months ago

Orik at about 3-4 months old

And my big boy now

Such a great helper

And my (not really anymore) bubba