Sunday, April 15, 2018

Autumn 2018

"Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there." - Gary Snyder

I keep this blog alive in the hope that all my thoughts and actions will one day focus here and the changes I would like to put in place in our family life, will be visible and inspiring. I am so inspired by a number of people, families, who live their lives with integrity and passion and are committed to low impact living.

After a supermarket shop today, a funk came over me as it often does. On the one hand I think aren't we lucky to have access to food around the corner, and on the other - the more alluring hand, I think there must be another way to feed ourselves, provide what we need, and know that we are contributing positively to our environment. 

I understand that down-sizing; reducing consumption, waste, miles etc is important and I feel that we already live a simple life. We both work in our local area and can ride or walk to work (I work from home). Our children can ride or catch public transport to school. We can walk to shops and conveniences. We have a cheap rental with a huge garden with an increasing amount of produce, bees and chickens. We have some lovely neighbours with whom we can exchange produce and skills. We have one car. We eat relatively simply and about 70% of the things we purchase are secondhand.

I also know that to be in this position is a privilege - to have a place to dig into rented or owned and so I am making the most of it. 

But I still feel like we can do more. What if I could avoid the supermarket altogether and bring zero packaging home. As a consumer that is a big, loud statement to make. What if we could amp up our home food production so that at least 50% of our food came from our garden/ neighbourhood?

There are certain facts I am facing about a low impact lifestyle.
  • Community is vital - a like-minded community that will support each member
  • Going without a car has limitations 
  • Being in the outer suburbs can be isolating without the above two
  • Some money has to be made - while we are renting in the city we will have to pay for rent, small mortgage on our land, bills, school fees, some food, clothing and the odd bit of entertainment

Autumn planting in our urban garden - lettuce, parsley, kale and silver beet.

Martino doing his fabulous thing in shed - inspired to make beautiful things for the plot...

Like these benches made from recycled jarrah and iron bark, which will go out to our shack,

 the footings of which we have put down. It will be small but eventually we will build a second; one for bunks and one for a wood stove and winter kitchen.

This will be an outdoor bench/ table on which to cook and sit around with friends and family.

 The composting toilet went up first. When you have a cleared block, a private place to take care of business is a priority!

Having our plot of land just a couple of hours outside the city, gives us so much joy and hope for a life-style that is more in tune with our hearts. Starting from scratch we are trying to tread very lightly; building with as many natural, recycled and unobtrusive materials as we can; plant indigenous trees to encourage birds, bees and beautify; tap into the community out there; know the angles of sun and shadow so that our garden and house will be as energy efficient as possible.

So more and more this blog will be about that; our family's journey from urban to rural and the other bits and pieces in between!

Listening to Emmylou Harris
Reading The Corrections by Johnathon Franzen
Knitting Rheinlust shawl in Debbie Bliss Luxury Tweed

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Autumn of Less CONtent

An early autumn apple and pear harvest; getting in before the birds. There will be stewed, baked, dried, preserved and fresh fruit.

M has been out in the shed making these cute seedling tray stamps (for making holes to plant seeds en masse!)out of recycled wood. Often he goes out there and comes inside hours later with a wonderful wooden article; a handle for the light switch hanging above our bedhead, a chisel patterned bench for the back door or the kitchen table. Our there working his rustic magic. 

I've begun making a list of all the things we consume in our household; in part as a result of becoming custodians of a piece of land on which to start completely afresh. I thought we were pretty low on the consumer spectrum but we still end up with two full bins on the verge every fortnight. Remember Andy McDowell's character in Sex, Lies and Videotape? The bored and obsessive housewife wondering 'what happens to all the rubbish??'. Even then it rang bells but now with the news reports reminding us of sea birds and Indian shores filled with plastic detritus and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; how can we sleep at night knowing that every one of us is contributing to it, every day?

It's waking me up anyway and I'm determined to do something about it; change the way we shop, eat, store and think about food and material possessions. Already we buy secondhand clothes, books, furniture, electrical goods; these all come free of wrappings (although stickers and tags build up..). Now I'm working on the more detailed list; what we can do without, what we can make ourselves; what else we can buy second hand; what we can recycle; what we can incinerate on the autumn and winter fire. 

Some of the tasks ahead of me/ us are;

  • making sanitary pads for myself and our daughter. I could buy rad pads but I reckon I could make some if I can source the right fabric second hand. There are patterns here. (Given that I turn 50 this year I reckon I won't even need them for that much longer!)
  • fully fox-proofing our chook run so that we can have chickens again, and be able to go away for the weekend knowing they are safe. 
  • the more challenging location of sustainable dairy products; aside from putting a cow, goat or sheep in our urban yard (just not practical) or giving up the dairy completely (what no cheese!!!?). When I was a kid at school in WA, my friend's family went just out of town each week to bring back a big container of fresh cow's milk. How I wish that were possible at all let alone within an hour of Melbourne! That would take care of our milk and butter needs (but would add carbon footprints). Buying milk in plastic containers is demoralising, even our favourite organic stuff. Elgaar Farm in Tasmania, don't deliver to the mainland at the moment which, while understandable, is a shame for those of us who gratefully bought their wonderful stuff and returned their glass containers, which were picked up by the delivery guy at the store the next week.
  • probably the most important right now is to collect storage containers that I will take to the fish monger, butcher, deli wherein I shall charm customer service into putting all my goods unwrapped therein. I want to reduce the amount of food we buy, as well as have no refuse at the end of putting it all away
  • letting go of upgrading our devices. Seriously, all I need is a phone. Doesn't have to be better/ faster/ stronger every year
 Some of the things we should be doing without or replacing;
  • clothes pegs - In 'My Neighbour Totoro' the father hangs out the washing by inserting bamboo poles through the sleeves and legs of the clothing! 
  • kitchen wrappings - we could make our own waxed cloths and find more storage containers at op shops
  • make our own yoghurt
  • toothbrushes - there are fabulous 100% compostable farmed bamboo toothbrushes out there
  • dental floss Bea Johnson suggests unraveling silk thread. Anything biodegradable in this department still has packaging.
  • toilet paper - go the sensible and hygienic way of the East and use water?
  • shampoo, conditioner, dish washing liquid, laundry powder, face creams, make-up, nail varnish (oh dear I feel giddy). Can vinegar, bi-carb, coconut oil and Castille soap really do everything?
  • hair colour. Perhaps it is time to go proudly grey?
We have been able to provide our own eggs, bread (bulk salt and flour; the latter which comes in cloth bags that make great vege bags, napkins, gift wrapping...)honey, fruit and veg. I reckon we need to step up to candles, dried fruit, yoghurt and mayo, and no doubt I'll wake-up again at 3am with another list....
Despite a few restless nights I don't actually feel anxious, but rather energised and excited by the prospect of simplifying and spending less and doing a very small bit for the planet. 
Who's with me!?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Green February

To be sure it is the greenest February I remember in Melbourne. All the rain and mild weather means green lawns, plentiful fruit (except apricots..too much rain??). A beautiful gift of alpaca yarn from my Tassie-born friend; from The Alpaca Shoppe in Deloraine (craft capital of TAS apparently!)- so soft and lovely to wear upon my head. The pattern is Oaked by Alicia Plummer.

And huzzoo huzzay, we are confirmed happy owners of 10 beautiful acres of land; both of us amazed that 2 and a half years ago we left full time study without a brass razoo to rub together, and now, after 2 years of part time work, a small teaching business and the kindest gift of shares from a dear friend to speed things up a little, we saved a small deposit and will have a very small, manageable mortgage. We could only afford an inexpensive plot, 2 hours from the city. Who on earth can afford an urban house other than clever folk who bought decades ago (while we were gallivanting around the world blissfully ignoring the future)and those who have received inheritance. All around us, the lovely big, old blocks with bungalows and fruit trees, are being bulldozed for ugly units. People don't want food gardens in the suburbs any more it seems. They want  entertainment rooms and air-conditioning and car ports. When we leave this house, it is likely to meet the same fate. Part of my man's work it to co-ordinate a volunteer group that picks excess fruit from the trees of householders who donate it for emergency relief. I fear we may see this fade as the elderly Mediterranean folk leave their big blocks and productive food gardens, unless their families care to preserve them. Let us hope for that.        


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Happy New Year Hiatus

Perhaps the most inconsistent blogger there is anyway, I diverted my attentions to Instagram for a spell to test it's more immediate access. I found, as I did with Facebook, that the novelty has worn off, lovely as it is to follow the gorgeous images posted by friends. 

At the start of a new year which heralds 10 years since this blog began under a different name, I am hoping I may be able to give it new life, exercise my writing skills, experiment with photography albeit from a phone, and inspire my art practice. Most of all I want to document our purchase and cultivation of land - an opportunity for M and I to be jointly creative, to make a beautiful place for our family, to dig in, grow food and inevitably grow old. 

 We have been on many reconnaissance missions to look at land and houses, returning 4 times to one particular plot that we love each time we are there. 10 acres of slightly undulating land, with no power or water; nothing but the promise of a completely clean start. 

The papers are at Council being validated, we have kindly been approved the small sum of money needed to own the land, and now we are wait for the next step. There is no rush. We are happy here in our 'Shit' House, affectionately named by our elderly Greek neighbour in whose opinion only a dwelling fashioned from brick, is worth any sort of consideration. A tenant does not always have a choice and we love our ramshackle rental despite its lack of thermal mass. It is the closest thing to a country house we could find in the suburbs, with a huge yard and 7 years of our love and presence have made it home. 

This is the longest either of us have lived anywhere since leaving our respective family homes 30- 35 years ago. Were we not a blended family needing to stay put for our children's' sake (other parents' homes to go to every other week), who knows where we would be. Probably not this suburb, this city, perhaps not even this country. But one piece of wisdom we have managed to gain over the last (often complicated but very good 9 years)is that sometimes, the most unexpected things bring the most peace and happiness. Sometimes life propels you to a destination or a decision and therein lies the most surprising source of joy. I.e a Shit House in a place far from one's Motherland, from which good things have been achieved and wonderful friendships have been made, and two perspicacious and resilient children are flourishing . 

Whenever I find a blog by tenacious tree-changers, and valiant homesteaders, I am very excited and inspired. If anything I put down here can have that affect on anyone else then that is happy reason enough to crack on. If no one out there is following then it remains my happy place to potter and collect and curate as I wish!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

gold from the road

Blue Highway

Love a road trip. Melbourne to Adelaide always wonderful despite the full day's drive. Love the beautiful big sky, ever-changing colours of paddocks and fields, looming Grampians splendor, sheep at pasture, sweet little towns, time to think, time to chat and knit, visiting the family and friends, and coming home to the kids and the menagerie and spring!!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

words and music

 This guy has been on my lap every night throughout winter it seems. He is aging and spending less and less time patrolling the neighbourhood, probably more due to age than temperature. That makes three of us!

I just finished my third Donna Tartt novel, having started with her most recent (The Goldfinch, brilliant), followed by her second (The Secret History, almost as brilliant), and now the third (The Little Friend, possibly the most brilliant). Now I am onto Richard Flannigan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North which comes passionately regarded by several friends. 
There are a number of books I have read twice;
Dirt Music- Tim Winton
The Unbearable Lightness of Being- Milan Kundera
Burial Rites- Hannah Kent
Everything is Illuminated - Jonathon Safran Foer
The Buddha of Suburbia - Hanif Kureshi

..and those I have read three times;
The Razor's Edge - W.Somerset Maugham
Cloudstreet -Time Winton
Bliss - Peter Carey
A Year of Wonders - Geraldine Brooks
Cold Mountain - Charles Frazier
Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez 
Most of which, after some time, I could possibly even read again.

There are some I will definitely re-read;
Foal's Bread - Gillian Mears
The Signature of All Things - Elizabeth Gilbert
The Luminaries - Eleanor Catton
The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt
The Old Man and the Sea - Earnest Hemingway
A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara

I want to love a piece of writing so much that I want to dive into it again and again, re-discover its jewels (a song writing teacher once spoke of Joni Mitchell's lyrics as such. A wonderful analogy). 
I think I am fairly typical in my choice of reading material -if I am looking for books on the shelf without a recommendation, then I am drawn to the ones with beautiful covers. Once that door is open, if I'm not drawn in after the first few pages, it would be rare for me to keep going, unless a trusted source assures me that I won't be disappointed! 

I haven't gone down the kindle path. I accept the practicality of such a device, especially for travel, but the joy of a paper-paged book in my hand is such that I will lug our library of books around into my twilight years. There are so many wonderful books that our kids are yet to discover. And all their beautiful books I will keep for the grand children. 

 I've been hanging out of late with these two fellas, helping them with their harmonies and being a happy guinea pig for their new material which, if you are lucky, you will one day be witness to on the streets or at a festival somewhere. They have that rare and prolific creative relationship that Jennifer Saunders spoke of when she talked about herself and Dawn French - that the minute they sat down to write, their simpatico sense of humour had its own momentum. Nice.

My (not so) little guy went busking for the first time on the weekend. It of course had the miraculous effect of inspiring practice, the results of which were evident. The experience was a pleasure for him; to over come nerves, take initiative for his independence, and see how much people enjoyed hearing him play. 
I'm swapping singing lessons for French lessons - I've been wanting to have lessons for a long time, to rejuvenate the high school French rattling around in my head and to fine tune the French songs I love to sing. Singing in languages other than English is my preferred choice. I love languages and their musical nature - every language has particular rhythm and tone. 

What are you reading, knitting, listening to, taking up, now that Spring is upon us?