Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Highs And Lows Of Living Simply

It's been a while since I posted here... what a busy time of the year! In the past week I have been camping, had two family functions and been to the U2 concert in Perth. With all the busy-ness, I am finding the festive/holiday season quite challenging as I try to live out of our family values and continue towards a greener, simpler life. I think I actually find it harder when Nath is on holidays, not that this is his fault - he is very committed to this lifestyle - but more because our routine and daily rhythm flies out the window. We seem to be walking the tension between soaking up our days in laziness and running around like headless chickens doing the "Christmas thing". I know why they call it the Silly Season!

I thought, then, that I would document some of our triumphs over the past week, as well as some of our not-so-successful moments. I guess the thing about blogging is that it can be easy to slip into the habit of only writing about the good stuff, and not be so honest about where we go wrong. I am, however, far from perfect, but my mistakes along the way are part of my journey towards living simply and more sustainably.

So here goes.....
The Highs.....
    Our grocery shop this fortnight came to just over $100. I am slowly breaking my reliance on the supermarket and learning to either make do or cook things from scratch myself. Google is a marvellous tool in this endeavour!

    At the last sewing night my mothers' group held, I made a skirt entirely from gifted and upcycled materials, costing me a grand total of $2.50. I didn't use a pattern, going entirely on an ever-changing 'picture' in my head and some words of advice from my fellow sewing buddies. I can confidently say my sewing skills are improving weekly! 

    We were lucky to be gifted four two-week-old Indian Runner ducklings, whom we have successfully integrated into the main chicken run with our Silver Appleyards after a couple of days of them in a hutch getting to know the older ducks through the fence. Tonight is their first night sleeping in the lockup coop with the rest, and so far, so good. Still on poultry updates, today we collected our first bantam egg from our silky bantam hen. Miya was very impressed with the miniature size of the egg, immediately delegating it to Eden's plate!

    We have managed two weeks TV free in our household, aside from twenty minutes of Miya ballerina dancing to an Andre Reiu concert DVD! This has been an interesting experiment for us, highly addicted to the TV as we are, but one that I was determined to try as I read more and more about the effects of TV on children and the benefits of a TV-free childhood. I'm not sure we will continue beyond Nath's holidays, but it has definitely been worthwhile. The girls are rapidly becoming more self-reliant and creatively engaged, and Nath and I are far more productive in the evenings too! I also have noticed that I am getting more sleep, as I am listening more to my body in the evening and going to bed when I am tired, rather than when the show I am watching is finished. 

    On the weekend, we went camping for a colleague (and good friend) and my joint send-off. I was blown away to receive a $150 voucher to spend at Spotlight. Spending it was great fun (although I did go a bit overboard and had to put quite a few items back upon checking out!) but it gave me the opportunity to stock up on things I will need as I continue to learn to sew that I would find it difficult to source secondhand. These items will come in very handy, and I am very grateful.

    ...And The Lows.

    It has been difficult to eat as well as we would like, because we have not been home all that much, which means our normal routines of baking bread, making yoghurt and preparing the days' meals has been thrown. Today we caved completely and bought chips from the local fish and chip shop for lunch. I would love to get to the point where the desire to take the 'easy' option of fast food is no longer there... but sadly, sometimes, it is. Miya was quick to lecture us about chips being a 'sometimes' food, though - one of those warm fuzzy parenting moments! (It didn't stop her ploughing into them, though!)

    The cubbyhouse has hit a hiccup - we need more wood to make it completely stable. This means that while it will be painted and usable on Christmas morning, it won't be completely finished. I think I am more bothered about that than the girls will be!

    I've gone a bit soft and have used the aircon over the past couple of days. It has been quite humid here and I can't stand the humidity! I've tried to minimise the environmental impact by running it at 24-25 degrees and closing all unused rooms, but still.... I think I may need to toughen up!
    I ran out of time to make my material (reusable) Christmas gift wrap - so we have resorted to some paper wrapping. It is recycled, but I still feel a bit bad about that. More time in my weeks is what I need!

    On the whole, though, I am happy that this Christmas we have been a lot more aware about our impact on the world and its people... and am looking forward to celebrating with family and friends. To my readers, have a joy-filled Christmas and stay safe. I'll be taking a break from blogging now until after Christmas.

    Tuesday, December 14, 2010

    A Day In Photos.

    Nathan is on holidays. He has a month off work, and we have been looking forward to this break for so long. Aside from a short camping trip over New Year, we do not intend going away. We plan instead to spend some long, slow, quiet days as a family in and around our home, finishing projects, starting new ones, tending the garden, playing together, reading, cooking and relaxing.

    Although this 'holiday' has been much anticipated on my part, I must admit I have struggled to slow my rhythm down and just enjoy being. I'm not used to having less time pressure and not having our weeks revolve, even grudgingly, around work days.

    Today we did nothing. And it was glorious.

    While I slept this morning, Nath took the girls on a nature hunt and they made these beautiful leaf/feather/stick collages. Miya particularly was so engaged by this.

    I went on a op shop treasure hunt this afternoon and found these beautiful, large, festive fabrics for $1 each (each piece is about 4 metres in length) that I plan to cut and hem to use as an alternative to wrapping paper. We do have some gifts wrapped in recycled paper under the tree but I would love to replace the need for further wrapping paper, that will undoubtedly be torn off in a frenzy of gift giving and end up in our recycling bins, with reusable, material wrapping.

    I also found some fantastic patterns for dresses, shirts and skirts in vintage style, which is making a return to fashion, for 50 cents apiece, as well as bags of unused wool which I picked up for my mother in law, who lives overseas and finds it difficult to find wool to sustain her knitting hobby.

    But by far the best find of the day on my op shopping adventure this afternoon would have to be.....

    ..... an old style Soda Stream complete with the original glass bottles. This will come in very handy as I struggle through giving up my addiction to Coke Zero. The best bit, though, was the price tag....

    Armed with my goodies, I came home to tuck a last few items into a Christmas Hamper to be sent overseas to Nathan's parents. Nathan's mum has a great appreciation for treasure hunting in opshops, living frugally and reducing waste, so I know she will be thrilled with their Christmas gifts this year, which, aside from a couple of iconic Australian food items, are entirely handmade or thrifted. Including the box they are being sent in.

    Dinner was Nathan's creation tonight - homemade chicken burgers on damper rolls. There is something so satisfying about eating meals that have been made entirely from scratch - that is, entirely from natural, rather than processed, ingredients. We are not yet at the point where we are producing 100% of our own produce, and won't be until we either own our own home or are settled long term into a rental property, but we grow or barter or receive from the gardens of friends and family roughly half of our fruit and veg, and make almost everything from ingredients in their most natural or unprocessed form.

    Slow days at home - what a blessing!

    Saturday, December 11, 2010

    Happy Birthday Eden Susannah!

     Yesterday marked my youngest daughter's second birthday. It was a quiet event, as we have decided that the girls will have parties in alternating years. Miya had her not-to-be-forgotten pink party this year, complete with a week-and-a-half detox from all the sugars and additives, so to celebrate Eden's birthday we had a family dinner with homemade pizza and a gorgeous cake from the Additive Free Kids' Parties cookbook.

    Celebrating my beautiful daughters' birthdays always leaves me feeling reflective (and, yes, sometimes a little sad) about the passing of time, the speed at which they grow up and the phases of parenting each one of them that we will not get back. This year, though, these celebrations have had additional meaning for me. Miya's birthday and the resulting behaviours from the mountains of junk food we had on offer were the catalyst for our commitment to eat and live more naturally and healthily. Eden's birthday has been the first our family has celebrated since embarking on this more conscious way of life.

    I was horrified this morning when we sorted out the recycling tubs to take to the town recycling bins. After a birthday (even one without a party!) our bins were overflowing with paper, cardboard packaging and cans and bottles from everyone's drinks at dinner. Truth be told, our recycling bin is fairly full at the best of times. It's something I have been thinking about since reading Little Eco Footprints' blog post on this subject. We have managed to reduce our landfill waste quite significantly (in fact, our little half size shire bin is usually only a third full come rubbish day every week - it used to be overflowing) but I hadn't given much thought to trying to reduce our recyclable waste. Recycling requires the use of processes that draw on the Earth's resources... maybe not as much as producing new products, but more than if we were able to reuse the product ourselves, or better yet, not buy them in the first place.

    Reduce, reuse, recycle. It's time for me to consider how I can implement the first two steps of this great 'healthy earth' process into our household. It may be time for me to quit my addiction to Coke Zero for once and for all. (For this reason, and many others!)

    Wednesday, December 8, 2010

    Under The Christmas Tree

    I went to a Learning Ladder party a couple of weeks back at a friend's house. Learning Ladder is a 'home demo' business that sells children's books and educational games. On the table there I saw something I have been thinking about buying for the girls for some time - a tub of cotton reels and string for threading them onto. As a teacher, I know that threading is fantastic for developing fine motor skills and those early pre-writing skills. However, I could not justify spending the $20 this tub of plastic reels cost.

    It occurred to me that I might be able to make my own beads (See? The whole not-buying-anything-new thing is already starting to kick in!) Nath and I experimented with cooking some beads shaped out of pink playdough that my mum had made with the girls, but only a few turned out usable. I then remembered that I had a cupboard full of old jewellery that I no longer wear (having little babies with grabbing hands cured me of that obsession!) So I spent the girls' nap time today cutting up my motley collection of necklaces and bracelets and saving the beads for Miya.

    I found an old basket that would be great to hold them in, but the gaps in the wicker were too big for some of the beads. At the local markets the other day, I picked up a bag of material scraps for $2, and in it was a lovely pink scrap just big enough for me to make a lining for the basket. Onto the sewing machine I hopped, and half an hour later I had a lovely ribbon-edged lining for Miya's bead basket. I'm pretty proud of myself!

    She will love this little homemade/upcycled gift, and hopefully, with some beading wire and string from my old short lived beading hobby, it will provide her with hours of entertainment.

    Monday, December 6, 2010

    Slow Down, You Move Too Fast....

    ... you've got to make the morning last!
    Kicking back the cobblestones,
    Looking for fun and feeling groovy!
    (49th Bridge Street Song, Simon and Garfunkel)

    It's been a crazy week. I finished work on Friday, and we spent the weekend doing what we do best... gathering bits and pieces for various projects from various places. We are getting used to hitching the trailer up and setting off on trips around the countryside to pick things up that we have sourced from Freecycle, friends and family.
    This weekend, my mum needed some things removing from her yard, so we travelled down and collected some star pickets, an old pond shell (the ducks will love this.... they are getting too big for the baby bath we currently use as a pool for them) and a raised timber garden bed complete with stakes. We will head back down next weekend to pick up an aviary that we plan to use as a larger chook shed, freeing up the moveable one to use on the fallow garden beds.
    We also picked up my old bunk bed that my parents bought me when I was probably six or seven. This has replaced Miya's single bed and Eden's cot, now that Eden is big enough to sleep in a bed. The girls stayed down at my parent's place for a couple of nights, and I can't wait for them to come home and see their bedroom.

    Also on our 'collecting foray' we stopped at my grandparents' house to borrow some tools to help us with our latest project. We were very lucky to find an old cubby house advertised for sale locally, and we plan on 'renovating' it ready for Christmas, with the help of some paint sample tins generously donated to use by friends. Grandad loaded us up with timber from his shed, some power tools and, as a bonus, a Fowlers Vacola electric preserving kit and about 50 Vacola bottles. They will come in handy around here!

    I've also been preparing jars of layered hot chocolate mix for a local Christmas "Cooking Co-op" that I am involved with this year. Seven friends and I have each chosen one Christmas-y food item to cook or make in bulk, that will be shared among us for gifts at Christmas. The premise is that it is cheaper, easier and less wasteful to prepare a larger amount of just one food than it is to buy ingredients for smaller batches of many items. I got the idea for layered hot chocolate at Getting By On A Dime and am very happy with the results. I can't wait to see everyone else's goodies!

    With all this running around, I am once again reminded of how I have the tendency to 'busy' myself, and forget to slow down and enjoy a steadier pace to life. This blog, and my values, are about a healthier me (and family), as well as a healthier Earth. Since finishing work on Friday, I feel as if I have had to begin all the things I have been postponing until I am at home full time, all at once. I want to cook, sew, rearrange, sort, clean and I want to do it all today! I have to remember that I stopped paid work to give myself time to do all of these things, at a steady, sustainable pace, and that my days now will be about finding a new rhythm with the girls that is about things happening naturally, involving all of us. Over coffee today, a good friend said something in the context of a conversation about the 'more, more, more' mentality of many in our society that resonated with me: "It's like we have to go backwards to make progress". This is what I'm after... a relearning of traditional ways of keeping house, feeding the family and finding fulfillment.
    I went to the gym today. It was the first time in months, and a lovely re-affirmation that my non-employment means that I can and will prioritise myself and my family above all other things.

    I am looking forward to a slower, simpler life.

    Thursday, December 2, 2010

    Oh Christmas Tree!

    Today was Christmas Tree Decorating Day in our house, a day late, but I didn't pick our Christmas tree up from my friend who had been borrowing it until last night. This morning, the girls woke up to the undecorated tree up in the loungeroom, and their new advent bunting (flags) strung. The first two pockets had notes in them (for December 1st and 2nd) and the girls were thrilled to find out what it was all about.

    So we decorated the tree together before Nath went to work this morning, and, as it is Miya and Eden's last day at day care tomorrow, the present we will make today will be for their wonderful day carer. Miya wants to make 'lollipops' but the closest I can get to that is toffee, so we will see.

    I was glad to string up the bunting last night. I feel it is important to note here that I am not a 'sewer' so these flags are not something I just 'whipped up', but I guess that adds to a sense of achievement. At best, they could be described as 'rustic'. Observant people will notice that there are only 12 or 13 flags here... this gives me just shy of two weeks to finish the second string of bunting! It's the thought that counts at this time of the year!

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010

    Fresh Baked Bread

    Nothing beats the taste of fresh, hot, wholemeal grain bread straight out of the oven, smothered in homemade apricot jam. We usually bake our bread in the breadmaker, but this week I received three antique bread tins that I had bought off ebay, and I swear the bread tasted better when cooked in one of these!

    Don't forget if you want to win a set of Onya Weigh Reusable Fruit and Veg Bags from Divine Harvest, you need to leave a comment on the previous post before 6pm tonight.

    Tuesday, November 30, 2010

    1000 Page Views! Time For A Giveaway...

    Thank you to everyone who has been visiting my little blog. To mark the occasion of 1000 page views, I would like to offer a fabulous prize to my readers.

    I will be giving away a set of Onya Weigh Reusable Fruit and Veg Bags from Divine Harvest to one lucky reader. All you have to do is comment on this post, and I will the winner tomorrow night (Wednesday the 1st of December) and let you know. If you don't know me personally, please keep checking back to the comment thread to see if you have won.

    Onya Weigh Reusable Fruit and Veg Bags are made from tulle, are see through and strong and reduce the amount of plastics you bring home from your grocery shop. There are five in the set and they can be used to rinse your fruit and veg in before you store it. They are lightweight, so they do not add any weight to your fruit and veg on the scales.

    Thanks to Divine Harvest, a fantastic business operating out of the Wheatbelt in Western Australia, for making a range of sustainable products available to us country folk! Divine Harvest have a great online shop... check them out using the link above.

    Happy reading!

    Monday, November 29, 2010

    A Buying 'Ban'

    I decided a couple of weeks ago, inspired by EcoMILF's pledge, I decided to take up the challenge of buying nothing new for 365 days. I will begin this challenge on January 1st 2011, and end it on December 31st 2011. Nathan has agreed to join me on this journey (and, no, he was not coerced!) so as a family we hope to achieve a few goals:
    • Reduce our environmental impact by keeping things out of landfill, reducing the amount of packaging we bring into our home, and placing our purchasing power behind more sustainable ways of living.
    • Reduce our addiction to consumption and the pull of marketing.
    • Learn new ways of providing... such as sewing, mending and repairing and sourcing things second hand.
    • Save some money - now that we will be on one income, it is important that we readjust our spending patterns so that we can live within our means.
    So what's off the list?

    New clothes, shoes, accessories
    New craft supplies, kitchenware or kitchen appliances
    Home decorating items, including linen, photo frames etc
    New furniture 
    New CDs, DVDs or books (yes, this may be my undoing!)
    toys, gifts, stationery
    Items from party plan demonstrations (eg Tupperware) - sorry friends!
    Gardening supplies

    So what are the exceptions?

    Underwear, makeup (although as I finish items from my makeup bag I will be replacing them with 'greener' brands)
    New items made entirely from recycled materials
    Local handcrafted items
    Pre-loved items from ebay, opshops and markets
    Food and drink
    A laptop - I may not fit this into this year's budget and as I need to relinquish my work laptop when I complete my employment, I am in the market for a new one. I looked at the ecological benefits of buying a refurbished laptop vs a new one from a company that is working to improve its environmental policies and features, and it seems that in this case, new is the way to go.
    Gifts from other people - we realise that this is our journey and no-one else's and do not wish to offend anyone or cause discomfort, so on gift-giving occasions we will be thrilled to receive any gift that has been chosen by our loved ones.

    So join me on what I am sure will be a challenging journey. Those of you who know me well will realise that this is a rather large step for me! Wish me luck!

    Sunday, November 28, 2010

    Spitikos Domatopoltos (Homemade Tomato Paste - Greek Style)

    I borrowed this recipe from here but will write it out in full anyway.

    2 kilos end-of season, overripe tomatoes (peeled)
    1 sweet red pepper (I used a dried chilli instead)
    1 - 2 tablespoons of sea salt

    Peel tomatoes by cutting the tops off, immersing in boiling water for a few minutes, then plunging in cold water. The skins should then peel off easily.
    Place tomatoes and pepper into food processor and blend until well pulped.
    Transfer to a pot and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 or 3 minutes.
    Place mixture in a muslin lined metal sieve and suspend over a large bowl in the fridge for 12 hours, to drain all excess liquid away.
    Transfer mixture to a glass or ceramic bowl and stir in salt. Leave standing until mixture is at room temperature place into oven to dry for 15-20 minutes at 95-100 degrees celsius.
    Spoon into warm sterilised glass jars, avoiding air pockets, and cover with 1 cm of extra virgin olive oil. Let cool then store unlidded in fridge. Will keep like this for a year.

    As the tomato paste is used, add more oil to the top as needed.
    Jars can also be loosely covered with foil (does not replace oil - always use the oil), if desired.

    A note on sterilising jars:
    My method of sterilising is to wash the jars and lids thoroughly in hot soapy water, and dry well. I then place them into a cold oven and heat the oven to 160 degrees celsius, and leave jars in there for 10 minutes after temperature has been reached. Make sure the jars are not touching each other in the oven, and be sure to keep them hot until your preserved product is spooned in, as hot foods being put into cold jars will cause the jars to crack.
    If using screw top lids, I boil these in a saucepan of water until needed, and use tongs to lift them out and place onto jar. Seal immediately, because as the food cools, it will cause the lids to 'pop' inwards, creating a full seal.
    To remove labels from jars easily, I soak all jars in a tub of hot water with some eucalyptus oil, then use a soft scourer to scrape labels off. Make sure jars are then thoroughly cleaned, dried and sterilised as eucalyptus oil is toxic.

    Well, my large box of tomatoes is nearly gone, just a few stragglers remain in the bottom. I am thinking I might oven dry these and use them in the pasta sauce that will be accompanying Nath's freshly caught squid tonight!

    Saturday, November 27, 2010

    Cooking With The Kids

    Miya and Eden both had one of those rare three hour sleeps today, doing wonders for every one's moods. When Miya woke up (even she was surprised at finding out she had, actually, fallen asleep!) the first thing she asked for was whether we could make some biscuits together.
    I recently bought a fantastic cookbook called "Additive Free Kids' Parties" by Tegan Benfell and Rachel Davies Burrows. It is full of fun recipes for treats that don't contain any harmful additives. As Miya reacts badly to additives, this is becoming a well-used cookbook in our house.
    We chose to adapt a recipe from the book and made Wholemeal Vanilla Biscuits (with 'faces' on). The girls helped scoop, measure, mix, pour and spoon (oh! the learning that happens naturally!) and decorate their biscuits with sultanas and almonds.

    The results were impressive, and I caught the girls on numerous occasions sneaking out the back door having stolen one or two from the cooling rack... with only 1/2 cup raw sugar for the whole batch, I feigned shock and horror while revelling in the joy of watching my children enjoy a food journey from beginning to delicious end.

    Wholemeal Vanilla Biscuits 
    (adapted from 'Additive Free Kids' Parties' Vanilla Cream Biscuits recipe)

    2 cups wholemeal plain flour
    1 tsp baking powder
    1/2 cup raw sugar
    1 tsp natural vanilla essence
    2 eggs
    4 tsp milk (more if needed)
    Sultanas and/or nuts to decorate

    Preheat oven to 160 degrees and line or grease baking tray
    Place all ingredients into mixing bowl and mix. Tip mixture out onto floured workbench and knead until all ingredients are well combined - adjust consistency with flour and/or milk
    Roll dough out with a rolling pin until it is approximately 3mm thick
     Use a circle cookie cutter to cut biscuits. Place them on baking tray and decorate with sultanas and/or nuts.
    Bake for 12-15 minutes or until edges brown
    Cool on wire rack

    Thursday, November 25, 2010

    My Bedside Table Booklist

    I love books. I have books shelved in nearly every room in the house, scattered on coffee tables, kitchen benches and bedside tables, and face down, much to my mother's disgust, on the floor, the bed and the couch.

    I don't just read one book at a time. I might have on the go books about cooking, parenting, gardening, spirituality (and the odd trashy novel to keep me grounded).

    Nath is buying me my current wishlist of books for Christmas, so I am clearing space in the 'important places' for my new offerings to my collection. This means reshelving the odd assortment of books I have scattered around the house, which, of course, means reading them - again- before I do so, to make sure I haven't missed anything!

    My current wishlist:

    Coming Home To Eat - Wholefood Cooking For The Family (Jude Blereau)

    Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (Barbara Kingsolver)

    Seven Times The Sun (Shea Darian)

    The Creative Family (Amanda Blake Soule)

    Handmade Home (Amanda Blake Soule)

    Creative Play For Your Toddler (Christopher Clouder)


     Sew Darn Cute (Jenny Ryan)

    Wednesday, November 24, 2010

    Time For Me

    I am passionate about feeding my family nutritious, whole, natural foods.... and yet I struggle with my own weight, and often make poor food choices.
    I am intentional about planning time where the girls are outdoors, being active and engaging with nature.... and yet I rarely prioritise my own exercise.
    I engage the children in creative, soul-feeding activities, such as reading, singing, dancing, drawing and making... and yet I push my own creative needs to the bottom of the list.
    I make sure that Miya and Eden interact and socialise with children their own age... and yet it feels so difficult to take 'time off' to be with my own friends.
    I diligently protect my children's rest time, making sure they have enough sleep to fuel their bodies for their active days... and yet I seldom feel justified in pausing in my own tasks.
    I actively seek opportunities for Miya and Eden to experience learning, and make the most of the incidental chances for learning to occur naturally... and yet I feel guilt over the time I spend reading, researching and pondering.
    To be a mother is to be so many things.... the most important of which is to be one's self.
    I pledge to take the time to be selfish, to be reflective, to feed my soul, to nourish my body, to grow my mind, to be me.

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    Peace For Yuletide

    I was researching today the origins of the word 'Yuletide'. Tide was easy... this means season, or time. Time for what, though?
    The word 'yule' has contested origins. Most sources merely state that the meaning of 'yuletide' is 'the Christmas season' or 'the period extending from Dec 24 to Jan 6'. It seems that the 'christianisation' (and commercialisation) of this festival has resulted in a loss of meaning, not just of the event itself, but even the literary roots of its name. In fact, the Oxford dictionary reportedly will only accept the meaning of yuletide that relates specifically to Christmas, despite the fact that the winter festival that Yuletide originates from predates Christ by a few centuries.

    So what could I find out? Traditionally, yuletide marks the festival of the winter solstice, when the sun reaches its southernmost point. Some believe that the word yule has its origins in the Nordic jol (wheel), which may be derived from ancient Indo-European word meaning 'to go around', the assumption being that yuletide refers to the turning of a season, or the time at which the year is at its low point, ready to come round again.

    Whatever it truly means, my research today has served to highlight that our contemporary society has lost the ability its predecessors had to mark with celebration the passing of time, to join in meaningful festivities that bring together communities in rejoicing in the most mundane of daily and yearly tasks, to find value in the ebb and flow of communal life.

    On a personal level, I am entering this festive season with these things on my mind, having made some significant decisions over the past couple of weeks. Last Friday, I resigned from my employment, and will finish up there next Friday. I have been working three days a week for the past (almost) 18 months, while the girls have attended day care locally, at the town day care centre initially, and more recently with a fantastic home family day carer. I have decided to return to being a full time, stay at home mother, wife, home maker and woman. Our family is looking forward to this change, and I am so excited about settling into a precious rhythm with the girls, and being able to spend more time learning, exploring and creating with them.

    It feels like the end of an era for me, one that was rewarding in a lot of ways, but one that also had its challenges and limitations. It truly does feel as if our family life is coming into a more settled, peaceful period, kind of like the wheel at its low point, ready to come round again. I very much look forward to seeing what the next turn of the wheel will bring.

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    Home Made Tomato Sauce

    This sauce is just so delicious... I will never buy tomato sauce from the shop again.
    I adapted Sally Wise's recipe from her book "Out Of The Bottle". My adaptations are in green.


    6 kg fresh, ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
    1 kg onions, peeled and chopped (I used red onions, as I like their flavour)
    750g sugar (I used raw sugar)
    2 cups white wine or cider vinegar (I used organic brown rice vinegar, because that is what I had in the cupboard!)
    120g cooking salt
    1 1/2 tablespoons whole cloves (I ground these in the mortar and pestle, along with a whole star anise)
    1 1/2 allspice berries (I just used ground allspice) 
    1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used a very ready dried chilli instead)
    1 tablespoon tamarind paste

    Combine all ingredients in a large pan and bring to the boil, then simmer, stirring regularly, for four hours. Strain mixture through a sieve (I disregarded this, being the 'whole foods' girl that I am, and just stuck a hand blender into the pan instead) into a clean saucepan. Bring to the boil over medium heat and then simmer for five minutes. Pour into warm sterilised bottles and seal immediately. Invert bottles briefly.
    Store in a cool, dry and dark place for up to two years.
    Makes approximately 7 litres (more like six in my opinion)

    Sunday, November 21, 2010

    Loquat and Lemon Jam

    Loquat and Lemon Jam

    1kg loquats (stones removed)
    2/3 cup water
    1kg white sugar
    juice and rind of two lemons

    Add loquats and water to large pan and simmer until soft.
    Mash or blend until desired consistency is reached.
    Add lemon juice and rind and sugar, dissolve sugar into loquats.
    Bring to full rolling boil and boil and set is reached on a cold saucer.

    Pour into sterilised jars and seal.

    Slow Sundays

    Eden sleeping to the mellow sounds of Angus and Julia Stone
    After a crazy couple of days, it's nice to slow down and enjoy a lazy family, house-y day. It's a funny old day today, weather wise, with alternating rainy, stormy patches, and bursts of golden sunshine in between. The thing with lazy days, is I usually end up achieving much more than on those rushing-around, busy, un-relaxed days.

    Today I have had my two little helpers underfoot on hand, lending their assistance wherever humanly possible. It can be so tricky to harness this enthusiastic energy and desire to contribute with everyone coming out the other end unharmed and un-yelled-at. Miya is at a great age now to be set to a task, and it be an enjoyable experience for her. So far today, she has sorted the clean washing into family members' piles, shredded the silverbeet pilfered from her great-grandad's garden into a saucepan for cooking and freezing, and 'helped' me with my list making.
    On my list for the day is nappy washing, tomato sauce making (picked up a box of WA tomatoes for $8 yesterday at the Sawyers Valley Fruit and Veg market), loquat jam making (fresh loquats!! Such a wonderful childhood memory...), sewing (continuing the Christmas bunting for the girls I started at my mothers' group sewing night the other night) and descaling the $10 old stove top teapot I picked up at a second hand shop yesterday in Guildford.

     On yesterday's treasure hunt with my good friend Bec, I also managed to grab an entire pane of glass for a miserly $2, to be used for the solar oven, and Bec picked up a glorious wooden dollhouse with removable front for $20. These forays into secondhand and opshops are likely to become a regular event, as I have started seeing 'junk' in an entirely different light! I used to hate the clutter and non-uniformality of opshops, now I see treasures hidden in all of the dark and poky corners of these shops, and begin to imagine uses for objects I could not even begin to name!

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Turning Up The Cool...

    Today in our town it is 38 degrees, and will be for the next three days. I have resisted turning on the air conditioner up until today, but this morning the beast went on, and will probably stay on (during the day) until Saturday. If it was just one high temp day, I probably wouldn't have bothered, but three hot days in a row means that the house doesn't cool down again in between, and as we are in a thin-walled, uninsulated fibro house, the rooms heat up so quickly and cool down so slowly. I set our air conditioner to 25 degrees, close all unnecessary doors, keep the windows and curtains shut, and turn it on early so it uses less energy to get down to its set temp.

    As if to alleviate my guilt, our power bill arrived today. It's our first one since we started making changes to our energy usage, and I was keen to see the results. While we are far from 'low' electricity users, we have definitely made progress. Last year in the same billing period, we used a staggering 1800 units. That averages to 30 units a day. This year, we have halved that for this billing period, to 15 units a day. This will increase again soon if we make no other changes, due to warmer weather and the use of the air conditioner. But I am still fairly pleased with that. I just need to now train the rest of the family to turn off lights when they leave the room (Nath), decide what they want from the fridge BEFORE opening the door (Miya) and remember to take the next night's dinner out of the freezer to defrost rather than using the microwave (ahem, me). Does anyone else have some electricity saving tips they have found to have made a difference that they can share with a beginner like me?

    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    Chickens, Shower Paddles and Moonshine.

    My husband and I enjoy a fine beverage or two and recently discovered that our favourite tipple *ahem - Bundy* rated poorly in the Ethical Shopping Guide. This was one of those situations where a little bit of information proved to be just the tip of the iceberg, and the more research we did, the more questions we ended up with.
    A friend's husband stills his own spirits, and they kindly allowed us to 'sample' a (1.5litre) bottle of 30% alcohol (no names here, given the questionable ethics/legalities of this arrangement. I believe the long arm of the law may refer to this as 'bootlegging', and apparently this is frowned upon.) It looks like vodka, and the idea is that you add an essence of your choice to flavour it. It had such a clean, crisp taste, and was lovely with a bit of coconut essence mixed through it (like Malibu). We sampled that small amount over the weekend, and, having not quite decided whether to pursue stilling our own alcohol, came away from their place today with an 8 litre bucket full. I can now say I am quite convinced that buying a still will prove worthwhile. Dear Santa.......

    Last night we were faced with the unpleasant task of killing one of our chickens. It had been looking unwell for a couple of days, and yesterday began hobbling unsteadily, and its rear end was caked in poo. We stunned it and killed it quickly, buried it and sprayed the yard and coop with vinegar. Today, one of the other chooks has been a bit wobbly and subdued, and didn't lay today, so I think this will be a task revisited sooner than we had hoped. This brings us from three layers down to one, and I am praying that whatever it is doesn't infect the Silky Bantams and ducks. I am now on the hunt for some more layers, as it has been so handy having our own supply of fresh eggs.

    Yesterday we received our shower paddle in the mail, and Nath installed it easily last night. The idea is that once you have reached the right temperature, while you are 'soaping up', you hit the paddle and it cuts the water off to the faucet, and when you hit it again, it flows again at the same temperature as you had set it. This will save money and water, especially when the girls are showering, as it can require a gymnast with eight arms to get them both washed and shampooed. Not that they don't take water conservation seriously... Eden particularly can be obsessive about making sure EVERY drop of water makes it into the bucket....

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