Settling in

Well, we are moved in. We have our beds, most of our clothes, half of the kitchen and little else in the way of furniture but we are now officially residing in Ballan. 😀 We are still lacking things like mail redirection, internet access (pre-paid wireless thingies or over our phones at the moment and I’ve blown my bandwidth allocation in 5 days L ) and we have yet to get a home phone too but hey, these things will come.

I wouldn’t say we are properly moved in yet, not by a long shot, but things are starting slowly to resume normality. Our tiles are nearly complete with 1-2 days more work to finish laying and then grout them and then we can look at bringing up the rest of our furniture. Oh to be able to sit on a couch and put my feet up, even if only for 5 minutes! We now have a completed shower which is making life a lot easier. Baths are very well and good but they do take more time and there is something wasteful about running a bath, hopping in for a quick splash and getting back out again. Baths sort of demand that you soak in them, something I have neither the time nor the inclination to do. Along with the shower screen installation we had the broken windows repaired. The kitchen now has so much more light during the day and more of the wonderful view too. Aside from that, not much else has changed except for Martin just about finished setting up the cubby house and I’ve got a few bits of the greenhouse put together. Now THAT is a fiddly job!

Today was a day of time off for me too. Martin has had a busy few weeks with Christmas parties for work and the afternoons cooped up inside a house with greatly restricted access (can’t walk on the tiles for 12 hours after they’re laid) had taken its toll. I was a cranky Mummy. 😦 I took myself off yesterday morning for some op shopping as there are 2 wonderful op shops in town and I have scored some fantastic bargains. Gumboots for Allegra and Orik, a top for Allegra, shorts and shirts and trousers for each of them, 2 shirts for me, a shirt for Martin, 3 lovely little cups for the kids (matching hot chocolates 😀 ), a few kids books and best of all, a young adults novel I have been wanting for over 20 years as it’s the sequel to a much loved story I have! 😀 STOKED! I came home much happier than I had left.

Waking up on a misty drizzly wet old morning.

Waking up on a misty drizzly wet old morning.

Today’s plans went awry again, thanks to the weather. Yesterday drizzled constantly, with barely a break all day. I noticed this evening that one of my pumpkins has put out a shoot that’s nearly 2 inches since yesterday when I had 5 dry minutes to mulch them. Nothing like rain on the veggie garden! Anyway, today there was a huge band of rain and storms that meant once again our outing to Anakie was postponed. I had planned to head up to the Trentham Farmers Market for a quick shop before we headed off but I ended up having a blissful 4 hour reprieve that included iced chocolate, cherry ripe slice (I know I shouldn’t but YUM) and lots of giggles, chatter and of course, shopping! I hate wandering a shopping centre and all that commercial shopping but given the opportunity to shop at Farmers Markets, well, I love it! I bought a lovely big cauliflower, some potatoes, asparagus, peanut butter (it’s delicious) and some organic white peaches. The best bit though was spending time with my best friend uninterrupted by little people wanting something. It’s a rare thing we get uninterrupted conversation!

This afternoon Martin went to help a friend pull apart a shed he no longer wants and has kindly gifted to us. Looking forward to getting it set up so that Trevor no longer has to cower under a tarp when it rains. Whilst he was out and the kids were playing quietly I had a think about my tomatoes. After seeing pictures of your tomato plants Fran, I decided I would try digging one up and see how the newspaper pots had rotted. They hadn’t! L Explains why my tomatoes were looking very stunted. So, off I set, digging them all up and liberating their roots. They’re all replanted and hopefully, in the compost-rich soil they will get themselves into gear. The good news is that there were a couple of flowers evident so there is hope. 🙂

Happy belated birthday Allegra. Although you had a little party on the day, it took until now to get the cake made. Mind you, 2 parties is always a good thing. :)

Happy belated birthday Allegra. Although you had a little party on the day, it took until now to get the cake made. Mind you, 2 parties is always a good thing. 🙂

I had another go at sourdough chocolate cake earlier in the week and was less than impressed so I decided to try it again, but measuring closely. THIS time it worked! I iced it with chocolate cream-cheese icing (decadence) and I have to say it’s a success. 😀 It is so wonderful being able to have my cake and eat it too with no repercussions! I’ve baked several loaves of bread too so my house is awash in the heavenly aroma of fresh sourdough. J I feel like I’m truly immersing myself into our wonderful new life now. We worked late last night felling trees and cleaning up the branches and I spent a good hour today pruning more branches, chopping up the fallen ones and piling them up. The chooks and ducks chatted to me and the Dorkings follow me along the fence line begging for scraps. We lob bits and pieces in to them and watch the mad scramble. The ducks and Dorkings are in there for young and old then pegging it off across the pen with their spoils. The Pekins just amble up looking fat, fluffy and mean and take what they want after a few vicious pecks at the current owner of the bounty who usually relinquishes it with a squawk! Our cats are still in quarantine in the laundry, although they have been allowed a few forays into the rest of the house. We’re taking it slowly with our furry boys. In revenge they have destroyed the door stops in both the bathroom and the laundry. Lol 😛 As much as I hate keeping them confined, I hate the thought of losing them so much more. They’re out on parole, meowing around my ankles and purring.

Anyway, I am beginning to really ramble. I’m exhausted (surprise surprise) and ready for bed. Hopefully soon I will have something new to report other than just commuting and moving.

How many sleeps? Part II

Yes, I am continuing to post on that dreaded date that is looming over all of our heads.

This time I want to talk about Christmas food.

Our day before we had kids would entail dragging our backsides out of bed at around 6:30, hauling over to Heidelberg where my parents live (a 40 minute drive around the city) and trying to be there in time for breakfast at 8 before hauling off to church at 9:30. We tried to keep up with that with the kids but it was hard enough to do without kids so we soon gave it up as a bad idea. In recent years we’ve aimed to arrive around 11ish after having opened gifts from Santa in the morning so we can meet up with my brother and sister-in-law who have a chaotic time fitting in seeing her extended family. We’d lunch to bursting and then after snacking throughout the afternoon on food we neither really wanted nor need and then inevitably stay and eat dinner with my parents before heading home with a car so overloaded with toys and gifts that we can barely see out the rear window and bellies several inches larger than they had been. Gluttony to the max.

They each came home with a bag like this FULL of toys last year

In our societies, we are very blessed to have access to food so readily and Christmas is a time that proves the point in fine style. Christmas dinner is usually enough to make the belt buckles need loosening, the shirt buttons pop and the mouth to salivate at the thought of all the delectables reserved especially for this time of year… And that is just thinking about it! The meal itself often includes greater excess than imagined. Roast turkey, pork and glazed ham or some tiger prawns for the less traditional. Apple sauce, cranberry sauce and gravy or seafood sauce. Broccoli, cauliflower, peas, beans, corn, roast potatoes and pumpkin, carrots and parsnip, coleslaw, green salads and of course potato salad. And then there is dessert… Pavlova, trifle (loaded with grog of course), ice-cream plum pudding, plum pudding, brandy butter, brandy cream, custard, cream and ice-cream. Then there are the fruit trays. Being Summer here we have an amazing array of divine fruits. Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, peaches, nectarines, plums, apples, oranges, kiwi fruits, mangoes, pineapples, apricots, cherries and I know I have forgotten a heap. Have I forgotten anything else? Oh yes, the nibbles. Pretzels, nuts, dried fruit, chocolates, lollies (sweeties or candy), a ring of prawns as well as cheeses and meats, cocktail onions and other such pickles. *groan* I think I’ve just gained 5kgs simply typing it all out!

But here is something to think about. When are the fruits and vegetables actually in season which means they are then grown locally and not shipped from interstate or international locations.
Apples – in season from February
Nashi pears – in season from January
Nuts – mostly in season from March, if not April
Grapes – in season from January
Figs – in season from February
Kiwi Fruit – in season from March

And the veggies:
Broccoli and cauliflower – in season from July to November
Pumpkin – in season from March
Carrot and Parsnip – in season from April
Onions – in season from February
Celery – in season from January
Mushrooms – in season from March to November

Now, these are just Victorian peak seasons taken from here and I’m sure there is room for variation depending on growing seasons but it goes to show that many of the fruit and veggies we source for our Christmas dinner may well not be fresh or local. And as much as I would prefer to buy something shipped from Queensland rather than overseas, there are still carbon miles that need to be considered.

PicturePrawns were to me growing up, a real delicacy. You had a few baby shrimp or prawns in your Chinese Fried Rice take out and they were divided equally and to be squabbled over. I still remember my first ever taste of king prawns in a strawberry sauce when I was in my early teens – my grandmothers 70th birthday I think (she’s nearly 90 now). It was a special food allowed only for a special occasion. I was also allowed to try some barramundi then too. However, prawns and many other fish are over fished or farmed in a way that is damaging to the environment. Others are very slow-growing which means they take a long time to replace those we catch and eat. Check here, here and best of all here for more information on fishing practices and good seafood choices.

What about the meat we eat. Turkey, ham, pork, chicken, beef or any other meat is, at least in our recent history, usually factory farmed. I cannot recommend enough watching this video about factory farming. Factory farms traditionally raise limited breeds which have been bred selectively for fast growth and may have been pumped with hormones to increase that rate of growth. They’re fed corn and soy instead of their natural foods of grass, insects and other free-range available foods, and both soy and corn can be GMO. They are raised en masse and slaughtered en masse too. And due to their crowded conditions, any diseases or infections will spread en masse too so they’re often routinely fed antibiotics to prevent this. The cycle continues when antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria arise and I know in the USA there have been outbreaks that have caused people to die from eating meat products infected from these antibiotic resistant strains. Kevin’s story is one that is more well-known due to being shared through the movie Food Inc. So, how can we enjoy our Christmas meats but not eat foods that are treated with cruelty and disdain? Well, there are options like not eating meat and having a vegetarian or vegan Christmas but this is not for everyone. Restricting your meat intake can go a long way too. Do we really need 6 different meats on our plates? If you do still want the variety and traditional Christmas meats then buy organic and free-range. Certified organic foods will contain neither hormones nor antibiotics. However, this does not necessarily mean it’s slaughtered in a way that is different to the usual processing plants but from the research I have done I’m not coming up with much good news. If you can source direct from the farm itself where the processing has all happened on site it may be different. The best option I can think of if you do choose to eat meat is to raise and harvest it yourself.

Our Christmas meal plans will be for 1 meat only – home raised duck and it will have free-ranging access either in the chicken run which we plan to be of a goodly size, or indeed truly free ranging around our garden. When we do slaughter it we plan to do so as humanely as possible (yes I understand the oxymoron of ‘humane slaughter’) and we plan to not gorge ourselves to excess either so 1 duck will sufficiently feed the 5, or possibly 7 of us and I suspect we will have leftovers for dinner too. I’m planting carrots this weekend but I’m not sure they will be of a size to harvest, even as baby carrots and the peas will go in too along with the rest of our seedlings. Hopefully we get some perfect weather for an early harvest of just a few items. Whatever we haven’t grown in time will be purchased from the Ballan Farmers Market or possibly the Trentham Farmers Market in the 2 weeks before Christmas. At least then it will be locally sourced, keeping the carbon miles low.

Well, that’s enough from me today. Just some food for thought if you can excuse the terrible pun.

Some things you can do to be green

It’s not easy being green, but making a start is not that hard either. There are so many things we can all do that will make a difference in the environmental impact we have on the earth. Starting out to become an eco warrior overnight is a HUGE task and I would probably say it’s nigh on impossible. Well, to sustain such a huge change in habit and lifestyle is no mean feat and it is a venture more likely doomed to failure than geared to success. However the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, and here are some first steps to take if you are trying to green up your lifestyle.

Go the greener cleaner: Shampoos, soaps, toothpastes and dishwashing liquids (in fact anything that foams) quite often contain a substance called Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (SLS) or Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES). To my disgust, even some so-called green products contain it. It’s not good stuff at all. It’s not so much the impact this has on the greater environment, but upon our most personal one, our bodies. There are many products out there made without these nasties. Babyscent is where I started my SLS/SLES free shampoo and soap journey. Another option is to go “poo free“. Your hair will, after some time of adjustment, no longer require the oils to be stripped from it.
Also consider replacing your disinfectant sprays and the like with vinegar and bicarb. Here is a post of my friend Linda cleaning her stove the natural way. It is extremely effective at cleaning and if you use white wine vinegar or distilled white vinegar then the product is natural. Be careful as some vinegars are diluted acetic acid made using petroleum products. But even using cheap white vinegar leaves a smaller environmental impact than all the toxic nasty products in commercial cleaners. Here is some info on vinegar as researched by another friend, The Eco Mum.

Bag the bag: Plastic (polyethylene) bags leave a huge impact on the environment. Marine animals can ingest them after mistaking them for food, disintegrating bags tar into small pieces which are then distributed everywhere by the wind and landfills are full of them. They are also a waste of our dwindling crude oil supplies and unnecessary. So-called “green bags” are an alternative, although in my opinion they’re not much better than plastic bags as they are made from non-degradeable polypropylene bags and have a large carbon footprint, both in their construction and in their location of construction. Here is a Choice report on them. I have rid our house of the majority of them (passing them on to family to use) and instead we use calico bags. Although cotton is a very water hungry plant which does not endear itself to me for growing in Australia and cotton can be bleached and chemically treated, it is at least a natural resource and can be re-grown. Calico is also not as heavily processed so it will have a lesser impact. To replace other sorts of plastic bags, there are reusable sandwich bags available made from oiled cloth and we use reusable cotton bags I made from fabric scraps and an old bed-sheet for holding fruit and vegetables (replacing “freezer” bags). I can’t always use these but in most cases I can.

Water usage: Cutting down our showers to four minutes and conserving water is another great thing to do for the environment. If you can collect and use your own rainwater in tanks, even if it’s just for your gardens, you will not only cut your water bills but it helps conserve water. We are hoping to put in several tanks which we should be able to run our house off but this is not always possible for everyone. But conserving water with shorter showers, stopping the water whilst brushing teeth, rinsing vegetables in a sink of water rather than under the tap, making sure the washing machine and dishwasher are water efficient models and only running when full are all great ways to cut down on water usage.

Local food: Buying locally grown food and eating “in season” foods are also a great help t the environment. Food imported from half way around the world requires refrigeration to keep it fresh which uses energy and it also comes with travel fuel costs giving it a much larger carbon footprint than a locally harvested product. Food that is in season is also going to be at its nutritional and favour best as well and hasn’t the carbon footprint from cold storage for months. Shopping at farmers markets (have a look here for your local market in Australia)  is also a great way to support local farmers and even make a few friends. I check in all the time with our local farmers market Spud farmer and orange growers and we trade children stories and Thermomix stories too. It makes grocery shopping so much more than just a chore. And if you have the space to grow your own, even just a balcony pot for herbs then the carbon miles are nearly non-existent. And the flavour will be at a premium!

Transport yourself: Travelling to and from work or wherever our destination may be is a huge contribution of pollution into the environment. And in some cases there are alternatives to lessen our impact. Can you carpool? If 5 people are all driving in their cars to the same (or close by) locations there are 5 individual contributions of pollution into the environment but if all 5 can share 1 car then there is an 80% decrease there immediately. Not to mention the fuel savings. Imagine only spending around 20% of your normal petrol bill. If carpooling is not an option, public transport may be a solution. Sadly, our buses, trams and trains are just not recognised by our government of being as worthy, or in my opinion, worthier of funding and development as roads. A train may cost a lot more power to run but that cost is divided between a LOT more people making each individual transport footprint MUCH lower. If you work relatively close to home and you’re within riding distance, a bike will keep your transport costs to a bare minimum. Once you have your initial set up needs covered (bike, helmet, any necessary riding clothes, etc) then you’re pretty much done apart from upkeep on your bike. Bike parking is free and you will also get a great workout too. And last but certainly not least, good old shank’s pony is a wonderful means of transport for short distances. Walking is another free transport option and apart from carbon dioxide expulsion (you need to be breathing anyway so no difference there) I cannot think of any pollution it causes. It can also be, in some cases, faster than driving. For me to load 3 children and our various bits, bobs and bags into the car along with a pram, drive the 800m to childcare, unload all of the aforementioned and get into childcare, it takes me at least 10 minutes, if not 15-20. However, if I sling Orik into my Ergo harness, the bags onto the shoulders of their owners and grab 2 hands, we can walk to childcare in 15-20 minutes, or if Allegra goes in the pram and Jasper walks, we can get there in 12-15 minutes. The added bonus of walking there and back for the kids is they sleep a lot better when they’re worn out from a full on day. And I get the 3.2kms there and back twice to chalk up to exercise too.

Anyway, there’s just a few ways to start on an eco journey. If you have any other easy ways to change to a greener lifestyle, please share. I’d love to hear any other suggestions.