Saturday, July 27, 2013


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Wintry Days

We have had the most amazing weather over the last couple of days. Thunderstorms, endless hours of pouring rain, dark skies and howling winds. It's classic Winter weather, the kind that keeps us indoors. I used to hate Winter but over the last couple of years I have come to love it. I love Winter food, and curling up on the couch with a blanket, and layering skirts and tights and boots, and the fireplace, and mulled wine!

I thought I would share some of the things that have brightened my Winter day, today.

Flowers from my family. The small bouquet is one that Miya picked me from our garden, and the large one was picked by Nath as he walked down to the Post Office to get our mail. I love having fresh flowers on my kitchen windowsill to make smile while I am working.

We stripped the carpet out of the kids' room today, as it was old, stained and still had the faint scent of cat and cigarette smoke from the previous owners. The floorboards underneath are not polished and are pretty marked but I actually like their rustic charm. We picked up a loft bed from Freecycle so we have moved Miya onto that one, Eden onto the pink bunk and Brannen will stay in his cot for now. The loft bed is great because we can utilise the underneath of it as play space. The kids love their updated room.

I am working (slowly) on a patchwork bedspread made out of vintage bed sheets. It is taking me forever to cut the hundreds of squares I need but it will look beautiful when it is done. I bought the most luxurious cotton/bamboo blend wadding for the inside so it will be a lovely warm bedspread (that may not be complete until next Winter!)

 The sight (and smell) of fresh, homemade bread baking - you can't beat it. Even though I don't eat it, being gluten free, I still love having bread baking in the kitchen on a cold Winter day!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Reminiscing and a Lovely Handmade Card Swap.

Ten years ago, Nathan and I made our first major move as a married couple from Perth to the Pilbara mining town of Karratha, about 1500km north. It was our first year out of tertiary schooling and the beginning of our respective careers. Nath was working as a youth worker, and I was teaching. It was a fantastic experience and one I am so glad we had. We eventually left Karratha to travel around the country in a beaten up old Landcruiser but the wild Pilbara landscape still holds a place in my heart.

I was thinking the other night about how different our lives are from back then, ten years ago, when we were fresh out into the workforce. For one, I hated cooking. To me, opening a jar onto cooked pasta was 'cooking from scratch'. I spent as little time as possible in the kitchen, but I did spend hundreds thousands of dollars on Tupperware to make my cupboards look stylish!

I hated gardening, too. We had a very small yard and it was reduced to a dust bowl by the time we left. I had no idea about where my food came from, and didn't care, to be honest. I had never grown anything edible (or anything at all!) and thought people who enjoyed spending time getting dirt under their fingernails were, quite frankly, a bit mad. A friend of mine at the time started a worm farm and I remember thinking worms were a strange choice of pet!

I shopped like crazy back then. I struggled with depression and feelings of low self worth. Every time I felt low or anxious, I would go shopping. I would buy things I did not need, even things I did not particularly want. It was the first time Nath and I had earned a 'proper' wage and I went to town with it. We got into a bit of debt and it took a few years to pay off, and taught me a valuable lesson along the way. I am not great with money even now, but I now know a thing or two about avoiding debt!

The one thing that my time in the Pilbara did give me is a great respect for the environment. Without getting too political, I watched the landscape change over the years with the development of new mine sites and supporting infrastructure. Our trip back last year was bittersweet, as the change was drastic in the years since we left. The Pilbara awakened in me a dawning awareness of the impact human behaviour has on the Earth. I am so grateful that our journey has brought us to place we are now, living a more frugal and sustainable life and teaching our children a different way than we would have if we were parents back then.

In lighter news, my lovely sister-in-law Mezz is hosting a handmade card swap over at her gorgeous blog Mezz Makes Stuff. It looks like a lot of fun, and I'll be joining in! You don't have to be a blogger to join in, so why not give it a go!

One of Mezz's lovely handmade cards.
Tomorrow for us is all about getting those darn fruit trees into the ground! I am sure I am only procrastinating because I know that once they are in, I am not moving anywhere until they have been bearing fruit for a good few years!!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Things I Have Been Learning About Lately.

My head is so full of new information this week! I really should be enjoying this last couple of weeks before Uni starts, not filling my mind with all kinds of topics, but it gets a little addictive. My internet tabs bar is very busy, and I thought I would share some of the things I have been researching.

Registering our property for livestock ownership: The WA Department Agriculture and Food requires anyone who owns livestock to register their property. This is to make tracing and isolating disease easier, and applies whether you own one tiny, little miniature goat, or 20,000 head of cattle. I have the forms here now and am excited at how close we are getting!

Adding non-nano zinc oxide powder to homemade body butter to turn it into a homemade, natural, safe sunscreen. Safe, commercial sunscreens cost about $20 for a rather small tube, so I decided to look into whether it was possible to make my own. Turns out, it is! I found a recipe here at My Healthy Green Family and discovered I could buy the zinc oxide powder on Etsy. Summer is a way off yet, but when it hits, I will be ready!

Making my own vanilla bean paste (saving me a bucket load of money!): This may be extravagant of me, but I just can't do without buying vanilla bean paste. I use it in so much of my cooking, but it is one of the most expensive items on my shopping list, at over $20 for a very small jar. I can buy vanilla beans much cheaper, though, and this recipe I found at Tick Of Yum makes quite a lot of paste. Much cheaper! It is a Thermomix recipe (I do love my Thermomix!) but could probably be recreated on the stovetop.

Making beeswax-coated cotton food wraps: It has been a long time since we have bought plastic cling-wrap, and the food-safe pouches I bought a couple of years ago are starting to be... er... not so food safe! Since I bought mine, they have become all the rage, though, so the prices are a lot higher than I remember! I wanted to recreate them in a much cheaper way, and today I found this tutorial at My Healthy Green Family that uses beeswax to coat the cotton. I have a big block of beeswax, and once we have honeybees, beeswax is something we will have more of. I'm going to give this a go.

Planning and creating a productive permaculture food garden: I have been watching a DVD I actually bought from a friend quite a while ago, and never got round to actually viewing. It's ABC Gardening Australia's Permaculture and Organic Gardening. It documents Josh Byrne (love him!) transforming a 1000sqm Perth yard into a beautiful permaculture dream. It has inspired me so much and given me lots to think about as we move forward with the planning of our own gardens. I highly recommend it if you are gardening-minded.

What to do with a broody hen: My little old silky hen is 'on the cluck' again but this time we actually have a rooster (hopefully) sterilising (obviously I should have written fertilising!!) the eggs that all our girls are laying, so I have decided to let her sit on a clutch of about seven or eight and see what happens. I've marked the eggs she can keep with a permanent marker so I know which ones have been there for a while. If all goes well, this will be our first batch of chicks that we have had hatch out here. The only problem is, she has developed a nasty little attitude and is scaring all the other hens off the nest, so I am going to have to move her to her very own brooding box. I plan on putting her in our chicken tractor, but was worried that if I moved her, she would abandon the nest. A quick google search informed me that if I move her at night time, my chances of success are much higher. Fingers crossed that in a few weeks we will have a little clutch of cheeping chicks running around here!

I do love learning, and i am so excited about starting my Sustainability degree in a couple of weeks' time! I have no idea where it will lead me, but I am going to enjoy the ride! What have you been learning about lately?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Fabulous Friends, Frugal Living, Fruit Trees and a Recipe for Foaming Hand Soap.

 As I type this glorious Winter's day, it is 23 degrees and the sun is shining. After two late nights in a row, all three kids are sleeping and Nath is in the backyard finishing up planting out leeks, onions, beetroot, silverbeet, spinach, cauliflower, garlic, carrots and beans. We have put two new rosemary bushes in the ground and transplanted a third one from where the goats will be to one of the new food-producing beds. Dispersed through the vegie beds are some Sweet Alice seedlings, which attract helpful predators and bees to the garden, helping with pollination and keeping pests in control. We have also planted some pyrethrum, which will repel garden pests, and I can dry the flower heads and steep them in alcohol to make a personal insect repellant. Very useful around here in Summer.

I enjoyed spending a birthday voucher at the garden shop!
My girls are such pretty gardeners!

The garden shed is getting an overhaul today as well, which is just as well because for the almost twelve months that we have been here, it has become a dumping ground for things we aren't really sure what to do with. Time to make some decisions! We will be building a potting bench and setting up the mini-greenhouse so that as soon as the frosts disappear, we can begin propagating seeds for spring planting. I'm collecting all of our toilet rolls in readiness - the seeds grow nicely in them with some potting mix and the toilet roll can be planted directly into the ground when the time comes.

The embarrassingly messy garden shed pre-clean.
We are nearly done, just the shelves to build.
Our growing array of deciduous fruit trees will be planted this week, and the front yard will begin to take shape as the orchard. We will be planting nasturtiums all around the base of the fruit trees to deter common pests and bring in beneficial insects (also, it just looks pretty!) We will plant all the citrus trees in Spring. I can't wait for the apple and pear trees to begin blossoming.

Nasturtium flowers.
 Yesterday, after spending the morning in the garden, I went to a lovely friend's house to help her prepare cupcakes for a kitchen tea while Nath helped her husband change his brake pads and discs. Afterwards, we shared a meal together. A few weekends ago, the same friends came and helped us for a whole day build our fence around the vegie beds and lay out some of the beds. I am loving building great friendships with people who have similar goals to live more simply and make do with what we have, sharing skills and resources and encouraging each other along the way. It doesn't matter if our reasons are to save money, improve our health, reduce chemical load or be gentler on the environment. It's a little like a train; if you are pulling one of those carriages, the others will come along, too. It's exciting to share ideas and learn from each other, no matter which of those values is our 'main motivator'.

Given that Nath only has nine working days left (yay!), I have ramped up the money-saving activities around here. Yesterday I made a lavender foaming hand wash and put some citrus peels in to steep in white vinegar, which after two weeks will become a citrus spray-and-wipe-style cleaner. I was so pleased with how the hand cleaner turned out, I wanted to share the 'recipe' with you.

Using recycled jars - not as pretty but definitely cheap!
In a small saucepan half filled with water, I grated some Velvet soap. I used a leftover piece from making laundry liquid, it probably would have been about a quarter of a bar. I stirred it over medium heat until the soap was dissolved, then strained the mixture through a sieve into a bowl and left it to cool.

When it's cooled down, this liquid solidifies into a jelly-like substance. To this I added a splash of lavender oil (available in the cleaning aisle of the supermarket) and about a cup of water. I poured it all into a blender and 'jooshed' it for a minute or so, until all blended.

I poured mine into a foaming dispenser I have from a previous shop-bought hand soap, and had enough left over for three more refills. You could use any pump dispenser but the foaming ones use less than regular pump ones. All up, it would have cost me only a few cents and feels lovely on my hands.

I hope you are all having a lovely, productive weekend, and if you have any more frugal, DIY tips, I would love to hear them!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Backyards, Bees, Buttons and Having Husbo At Home!

This little creative space of mine has been so neglected lately. There is no very good reason for that, just the days slipping so quickly past us and a dodgy camera cord (blogging without photos seems a little boring!)

I guess the big news for us is that Nath finishes full time work on the 19th of this month, and then only has two weeks of part-time work until he is done for good! This is a hugely exciting change for us, as it will free up so much time for us to work together on our goals and family values, work in the garden, produce more of our food from home and enjoy our children growing up. Nath and I will both be studying - Nath will completing his Masters in Mental Health Science, and I will be commencing a new Bachelor course in Sustainability. We will be living on Austudy and Family Tax benefits and making do with what we have. It will be tough, but we have been doing a lot to prepare and we feel we are up to the challenge!

One of the biggest things we have been working on is transforming our backyard from an expanse of resource-thirsty lawn into a landscape capable of producing much of our own food. We have been dipping our toes into the principles of permaculture (and loving the learning around this!) and have created a series of raised, no dig garden beds around mulched garden paths. Most of the materials we used were 'found materials' - horse manure and used straw from a friend's farm, newspaper and cardboard from our local recycling skips, bricks for garden edging from Freecycle, and compost, leaf litter and chicken manure from our own garden. Nath and a good friend built a fence from recycled copper logs, chicken wire and old timber palings from the property's original boundary fence. This fence will (hopefully) keep our free-ranging chickens out of the food producing section of our garden, allowing them access to the orchard and most other parts of the yard.

Before we began, after killing most of the grass off over summer.

Starting the paths with free mulch from the local tip.

Two of the beds built up and waiting to compost down.

Two gorgeous garden helpers.

One side of the garden, done.

Mum watering in the mulch on the newest bed.

Backyard landscaping complete, ready for planting.

Our new fire pit.

Nath building the fence with some 'helpers'.

So cheap and so rustic!
 Speaking of chickens, our chooks are all co-residing happily in the big pen at the back now, free-ranging during the day, and the temporary pen has been dismantled in readiness for the arrival of our mama goat and her baby. We culled all of the roosters except one, and he has taken to his role of flock caretaker with relish. We are being rewarded for our love of these dear creatures with four to six eggs a day.

We are extending our 'livestock', as I have written about before. This week, I ordered our first swarm of bees and a beehive to house them in. We are all very excited about this, especially Eden, who is now a bee 'expert' after spending a term at kindy learning all about them. Hopefully our buzzy friends will be joining us in November. Our mama goat and her yet-to-be-born baby are due here in September.

In other news, I recently took part in a Button Swap that was held over at lovely Taz's blog Butter and Buntings. My swap partner is not a blogger, so I can't link to her, but she perhaps should be! She is a beautifully creative person, and the sister of a very beautiful friend of mine, and I would like to share with you some of the loveliness she put into my bundle of buttons. (I'm afraid my return parcel wasn't nearly as pretty or creative, so I won't share photos of that!)

So beautifully packaged.

So many buttons! All stitched onto vintage-inspired card.

I absolutely love these wooden buttons! So cute!

My button collection has never looked so pretty!

Thanks, Taz, for the fantastic swap, and thanks, Erin for my beautiful buttons!
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