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.
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