Monday, 31 October 2011

Straw Bale Beginnings!

by Megan at The Byron Life

Work has begun in on our straw bale garden, which I first blogged about last month on Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op. (You can find that blog post here.)

After some research, I ended up going with a local grower of rose-grass straw bales.  The bales are organic, no sprays or fertilisers used, and after observing massive 12-month-old bales from this grower, saw that no grass seeds had been left in and it was decomposing nicely.

My bales will break down more quickly, however, as they are smaller and have compost nutrients draining through them from the plantings I’ve made.

I’ve been fortunate that the day the bales arrived, it started to rain that afternoon... only after first letting my little ones have a good play with the hose with instructions to soak the bales. (More soaking of the kiddos than the bales!)

In the photo above, the bales are placed so that the straw runs vertically, but I later turned them over so the straw lies horizontally. It means the string around the bales touches the ground, which is not advised if it’s twine, but these bales are tied in strong plastic yarn, so it should be okay and the bales won't fall apart.

I decided to place the bales horizontally so they would retain more moisture and because it gave me more growing surface. Our summers are intensely hot here in Byron Bay, so anything I can do to keep my bales from drying out is a help.

Also, before I put the strawbales in place, I covered the weeds and grass in this area of the garden with a layer of cardboard and newspaper (Left over from our house-moving. Recycling all the way!) so that I have here the beginnings of a no-dig, or no-till, garden. I hosed down the cardboard thoroughly and placed the bales on top.

The seedlings you can see here have been planted straight into the bales in a mixture of organic compost from the nursery, and my own compost made from chicken droppings, rich red soil and broken down straw from the chicken coop (same straw as these bales are made from actually, so I know the bales will compost down well).

I have planted beans, pumpkin, two varieties of tomato, cucumber, squash, basil and lettuce. The seedlings are looking very happy in their new home; so far, so good!

There is still more planting to go... and more strawbales will be delivered soon to start up another garden bed...

It’s a small start, but I’m very excited to see how it all goes. I’ll keep you posted!

M egan

Friday, 28 October 2011

The Vermin Dilemma

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Living in an urban/wildland interface zone, we see (or see evidence of) many wild creatures around our home. I'm a live-and-let-live kinda person. I prefer to fence them out or otherwise protect my home, livestock, and garden over killing of predators and pests if I can.

Sure, I have mousetraps set inside the house and garage, especially this time of year. But if I find a live mouse in the bathtub I'm more likely to trap it with an upended trash basket, sliding a magazine underneath, and toss it outside. This year, the little cottontail rabbits are thick out in the yard every evening. But I've dug trenches down, then out, 'round the chicken pen and garden, and buried 1" chicken wire to keep them out. Likewise, my little orchard (now, after losing a few young trees to wintertime bark stripping years ago) has 3' tall wire cages around every trunk. If we get a snowfall deeper than that, I'll stomp the snow down around each tree so they can't get to the branches by walking atop the snow.

But this fall, I've come up against something different. Caveat: there's always something new - last summer, when Bambi discovered the garden, we had to raise the height of the fence; earlier this summer we had to build a top over the chicken pen, after a bobcat family moved in nearby; luckily, still no bears or mountain lions - knock on wood, we know they're out there.

Rats! A few weeks ago, I started hearing spooky bumping and thumping on the roof a few times in the night. One late night, sitting at the computer, I heard a bunch of thumping and scratching right outside the open window. I shone a light out through the screen just in time to see a rat! a pointy-nosed, naked-tail rat! run across the window sill outside. Ok, that was new! Mice, ground squirrels, the occasional kangaroo rat, even chipmunks, but I've never seen a rat around here before.

And then, about a week later, we were awakened about 3 a.m. by something scratching about in the ceiling above our bed. Oh no, it had somehow gotten into the attic. We checked the roof, vents, and eaves a few times before finally finding a hole scratched into a spot under a soffit where an addition had been made to the original building. We patched that up, stopping anything else from getting in, but still had something scratching above our heads every night.

Our attic is merely a crawlspace, with some areas we can't really get into. No luck with a snap-trap, nor with the box trap. Rats are too smart, I guess. What to do? Besides the creepy feeling and loss of sleep, we can't have it up there chewing wires or destroying insulation. I don't like using it, and never would anywhere other animals can get to it, but we finally resorted to putting poison up there. Luckily, we live in a desert climate where a dead animal dessicates and mummifies instead of rotting. After a couple more nights, peace returned to our house.

But wait, there's more! We have an outside, underground cellar. In the fall, we open it up nightly to start cooling it down, and store quite a bit of our harvest. The cold air sinks down the cellar steps, and then there's a vent pipe in the opposite corner ceiling for the warm air to rise. We have a screen framework we put over the top of the stairs when we open up the door below, to keep critters and falling leaves out. Always before, it's worked very well.

But this year, a couple of weeks ago, I noticed gnaw marks on my fruit down there - rat-sized teeth marks. Now the whole idea of a rat in my cellar is a bit icky, but I wouldn't mind quite so much if he took one whole apple and ate on that night after night. But he had to gnaw bits out of four or five different pieces every night. Nothing was safe, either. He sampled my Asian pears, apples, the tomatoes and peppers, even an onion and the end of one of the big zucchini. He could either climb or jump even onto the highest wire racks. And the screen didn't stop him. The lower cellar door did. On nights I didn't open it up, I'd find rat poop outside the lower door, so I knew he was managing to get under the upper slanted door, but the fruit inside was untouched.

But I couldn't just keep the cellar door closed - it's still too warm inside right now for keeping stuff, and later in the season it'll be too cold outside at night to open the door. This is the time of year I have to open it up at night if I want to have my winter stores last until spring. So, we tried snap-traps - they were tripped, with the bait gone. The box trap tripped but empty, night after night. I put a couple of rat-sized glue traps along the edges of the floor. And one morning last week, we found half a bushy tail, along with quite a bit of gray fur, on one. This guy had chewed off his own tail to escape! You have to admire that kind of survival instinct, but that's my food you're messing with!

Hmmm. That's not the tail of a pointy-nosed rat rat. Onto the internet, to see what kind of nocturnal beast we're dealing with. And came up with the bushy-tailed woodrat - a kind of packrat. Ok, something different yet again, but I still want him out of my food supply. And then, just this morning, we got him, in the box trap up by the garage.

Oh, damn! Does he have to be so cute? Those big, nocturnal eyes (and obviously, he's our guy, with only half a tail). And damn you Disney! I've seen Ratatouille - you would have to animate rats into something sympathetic. So now, what to do? It's hard to drown something so cute, especially after he's sacrificed his own tail to live. Even though I haven't seen one around here before, they're not endangered. How far would I have to take it before it wouldn't make its way back? Is it illegal to transport rodents? Transporting him probably dooms him to a winter without food and shelter, or a quick death from an owl or coyote. Ah, what to do?

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

You Say Potato...

By Gavin from The Greening of Gavin

The humble potato.  It is one of the most versatile vegetables on the planet and the 3rd largest crop grown around the world.

This is my second year of growing potatoes, with the first year being successful enough, so I thought that I would expand my spud growing operation this year.  This is my patch from about the same time last year.

Anyway, this year I thought a bit bigger.  After watching Gardening Australia last Saturday, and getting a better understanding on how to plant potatoes, I made my bed much bigger and higher.

It is 2.4 x 1.2 metres and should be large enough to get a good crop.  I used a garden fork and dug down about 25 cm into the soil, and then built it up with the compost that I had laying all over the area in two smaller beds.  I sprinkled liberally with pelletised chicken manure, added a few handfuls of blood and bone and some sheep manure, turned it over again and gave it a good soaking with the hose.  Then I dug three trenches and mounded up the sides.

Then I collected the potatoes that I have been chitting for the last week.

Dutch Cream

Toolangi Delight

I kept them out of direct sunlight and the eyes grew so that I could tell which way was up when I planted them out.

The trenches in the spud bed were about 75 cm apart and about the same in depth.  Then I placed the potatoes in each trench with the eyes facing upwards.

Then I covered each row (5cm) with compost from the Aerobin, which was more like worm castings, then some more compost from the other bin that had been sitting for 6 months.  The next layer was about 5cm of soil which I then watered in well.

As the growing tips poke their heads through the soil, I will cover them up again until the trench becomes a mound.  The soil is very friable, which is just how potatoes love their environment.  All things being well, we will have a bumper harvest this year.  More on this beds progress as the season moves along.

We just love our roast, mash, salad, and jacket potatoes!  A.A. Milne said it best with, "What I say is that, if a fellow really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow."

So in closing I would just like to share this tribute to the potato.  May everyones spud harvest meet their expectations!

I love spuds!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Simple Apple Shortcake

This simple apple shortcake recipe comes from my grandmother's handwritten recipe book. My grandmother grew up on a farm, and then moved to my grandfather's farm when they married in the 1950s. I imagine she made this shortcake many times for the farm staff!
Like most of our everyday farm baking recipes, this makes a delicious but fairly plain sweet to
enjoy after lunch or on a tea break. It's not a decadent meal of a slice like you find in most cafes these days!
Simple Apple Shortcake

¼ lb (115g) butter
1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1½ cups, plus 1 Tbsp (230g) flour

1½ tsp baking powder

two small apples, thinly sliced (unpeeled is fine)

2 tsp sugar, extra

icing sugar, to dust

Preheat the oven to 200°(c). Grease and/or line either a 26x17cm slice/brownie pan, or a round cake tin, depending on your preference.

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg and beat again. Add the sifted flour and baking powder, and mix to a soft dough. Add a little milk if the mixture seems very dry (I didn’t need any). Halve the dough (I find it easiest to weigh it; each half should weigh around 250g). Roll the first half out and press it into your greased tin.

Layer the slices of apple over the dough, and sprinkle with 1 tsp of the extra sugar. Roll out the remaining dough and lay this on top of the apple slices. Prick with a fork and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tsp of sugar.

Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the dough is lightly golden and smells cooked. Leave to cool in the tin before dusting with icing sugar and cutting into squares, bars or, if you used a round cake tin, wedges.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Bug Collecting and Observation

We used to buy fancy little bug domes with cute character themes, matching butterfly nets, the whole works.......

They would always get lost or broken, never to be found at just the right time.

Nothing ever worked as well as a plain glass jar with a few holes poked  in the lid.

Easy to reach hand in, easy to watch, wash, and wait.....

We have a one day, one night rule. 
We have used the jars for crickets, praying mantis, caterpillars, horn worms, tree frogs, and tiny toads.  Easy, cheap, and we always have some on hand. There are a whole line of them in my kitchen right now. It also makes great farm souvenirs....when kids visit and catch a "pet" it is super easy to jar them up for easy transport home. My niece now has 2 happy fat tree frogs in an aquarium habitat!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Making Soap in Time for Christmas

by Linda from The Witches Kitchen

Every year around this time, I make a batch of soap. It's not a huge job but it is one for the list, by the time I remember to get the ingredients and save cartons for moulds, spend an hour or so making the soap then another hour or so cleaning up, remember to stir, then find a place to cure the finished soap away from the creatures that think that it is literally good enough to eat!

So it takes, not so much time as focus, and there's only so many focuses you can add before you start spreading yourself too thin.

It's so worth it though. I get about 50 bars of soap from a recipe. If I double it, it's enough for Christmas presents for everyone and a year's supply for us. I use it in the shower and bath, and the scraps and gratings to make liquid soap for the washbasin. I'm so spoiled by it now that commercial soap feels and smells tacky to me. But it's the Chistmas presents that really make it worthwhile. The commercialisation of Christmas is so far gone that unless I handmake presents, I'm a total Grinch. But Christmas in Australia is in the middle of summer, not the middle of the season of long crafty evenings, so making can turn into a major stress if you're not careful. I've made the luxury handmade soap gift into a kind of tradition now, but it is so nice, such a treat, that people look forward to it.

There are lots of good recipes for home-made soap out there. I posted mine last year, here, if you want to try it.

What I really wanted to talk about though, is that idea of choosing what to focus on, and spreading yourself too thin. A line from a Frugal Trenches post a month ago has been echoing for me: "I've heard friends, co-workers and people in the media say that they feel overwhelmed at the thought of making their own soap, recycling, composting or cooking from scratch." To me it is all so rewarding that it is worth it, but I can see how it could be overwhelming, how handmaking Christmas presents to avoid contributing to the commercial frenzy could be just one more thing to guiltily not do.

I think the answer is in realising that there is a huge amount of skill and knowledge in living a simple, green,, frugal life. This is not peasant unskilled labour. This is application of intelligence, design, creative thinking, experimentation, research and practice to deeply held values. The first few times you make soap, it will take days of focus - deciding whether it is worthwhile, finding the right recipes, trialing them, figuring out what went wrong, getting the knack, documenting the process so you remember for next time. But by now, if you are me, you fish out last year's recipe, check the notes, add any new ideas that have come up since, and know that it will work.

Step by step, process by process, we learn how to match sustainable ecological processes with sustainable personal processes. Each time we solve a problem, master a skill, learn a system, we do a little dance for joy. Things start to become routine - I make bread twice a week, I plant Corno de Toro peppers every October, I make soap once a year, in time for Christmas. And each routine frees up time and money, so the process is exponential.

Simplicity is often deceptive. Simplicity is elegant, refined, efficient, beautifully designed, and highly skilled. Simplicity is the mark of a master. Don't underestimate it.

Friday, 21 October 2011

some thoughts on the value of food

by Francesca @ FuoriBorgo

Thank you for your comments and thoughts the other week on the cost and wastage of food (here).  I was going to focus on ways to limit the waste of food in our households this time around, but I'd like to share a few thoughts that stem from your comments.

thoughts on food

We all seem to agree that when we pay and/or labor more for our food, we're far less likely to waste it.  I, for one, am guilty of occasionally wasting store-bought bread that's gone stale. It doesn't happen very often, as I normally bake our bread, and only rarely need to buy it.  And I don't actually throw it away, it goes to my neighbors' chickens.  But it does happen: we occasionally waste store-bought bread gone stale.

However, I would never, ever waste the bread I bake, which costs far more than the store-bought kind both in terms of money - as it's made with a variety of organic flours and seeds, and baking increases my electricity bill, and in terms of time - to mix, knead, wait for the dough to rise, and bake.  The money, effort and time I spend baking the bread my family eats is not something I'm willing to compromise on, as I believe they're all an investment in our health, and the health of our planet.  Plus, the result is fragrant and precious bread that is eaten to the very last crumb - fresh or stale (we'll talk about how to use stale bread in a different post).  But the stale store-bought bread?  That I toss.  I toss it because I didn't pay much for it, because it's not very healthy, and because it doesn't taste very good.  I toss it, in other words, because that cheap bread wrapped in plastic that I picked from the shelf in a consumeristic logic is not worth trying to save and make something out of.

I think this is the root of the problem: since when has food been (culturally) devalued so much as to become expendable?   What happened to the concept of food as something precious that nourishes our body and souls?  I say "souls" because food is not just about a bunch of nutrients that we gulp down, it is also a matter of taste, and consuming food is a daily ritual that connects us with the land and the people who produce our subsistance, and the loved ones with whom we share it around the table.  I suspect that the fact that food has become cheap stuff that we pick from the shelf, often unaware of where it comes from, has something to do with the fact that from precious, food has become expendable, and liable to be wasted in colossal amounts.  What do you think?

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Handmade 'Manly' Gifts

By Amanda of Amanda Brooke

Christmas is on my mind, being not so far away and our plans with family have commenced with decisions on who is hosting Christmas and what each of us will contribute in the way of food for the day. We also have our youngest son's 1st birthday to plan and arrange around Christmas will be busy this year!

I started making gifts some weeks ago for nephews and our children. It will be a mostly handmade Christmas this year and although my partner and I do not normally exchange gifts I wanted to make him something too. But what to make the man in your life that's practical and unique? Finding ideas for handmade gifts for men is challenging. Much harder than locating ideas for women and children, so I did some research and this is what I have come up with...

...handmade handkerchiefs made from quilting fabric and backed with an upcycled flannel nappy. I must admit that I would never have thought to 'make' hankies, but with a tissue ban in our house recently taking place, they will definitely be used.

The idea came from Amanda Blake Soule's, The Rhythm of Family, book. You can make a hanky bag to store your hankies in too, making them accessible to the entire family. I will make one of these later.

Team the hankies with a handmade wallet and I think this is a great 'manly' gift that is practical and sure to be appreciated. I am making these for our nephews.

Some other ideas that I like:

Map coasters and Felt Slippers on Martha Stewart. What I like most about the coasters are that you can use maps of favourite holiday or trip destinations to make them even more personal.

A bin bag for the car at A Spoonful of Sugar.

Here is one for children to get involved with, a personalised daddy cam from Alphamom.

A laptop cover from Sew Mama Sew. This cover is probably one of the sturdiest looking handmade covers that I have ever seen.

Do you have any handcrafted ideas for the men in your life to add to this list? Have you started making gifts for Christmas too?

Amanda x

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

UFO's and Christmas

by Throwback at Trapper Creek

The cats have absolutely nothing to do with UnFinished Objects in my sewing room, except to remind me that I don't have much time to rest if I think I am going to sew gifts for Christmas!

Harvest time is still winding down in the gardens, but night is getting here much sooner these days, leaving me more time for needlework projects.

I have also been thinking of the economy and not really feeling like being much of a consumer this holiday season. Rather I would like to make good on projects I have already started. I have several unfinished projects that would actually make great gifts. A denim work shirt for my husband, a pair of flannel pajamas for my daughter and maybe a new quilt for my bed, fashioned from a quilt top that is crying out for batting and binding. I have spent the money, I need the space, and a lot of the work is already done! What could be more fitting in a bad economy?

Are you thinking along the same lines this holiday season? What projects are in the works in your Christmas basket?

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Taking Stock

Posted by Bel
from Spiral Garden

I don't mean the stock we use for cooking - though we do make bone broth, chicken stock and vegetable stock concentrate at home to cook with, and I can post about that another time!

Living with a large family, on a farm, we tend to accumulate 'stuff' - not through excessive shopping habits, just by keeping what we do have - reusing jars and plant pots, saving hand-me-downs for younger children, etc.

We have recently been changing the way we store things.  The children gave up their unloved old cubby house, which created an instant gardening shed for me!  I was able to sort through all the pots, tools and hose fittings which I previously kept on a table in a dark corner of the shed.  I parted with some of the pots for other gardeners to re-use.  I found that we had a lot of mis-matched hose fittings, but not really a spare full set to fit our tap size, so I bought a nice brass set in the hope that it will outlast the plastic ones which don't seem to cope with our high UV levels here.  With all the spiders sent on their way and everything sorted into piles and open crates, I felt much less overwhelmed by our gardening paraphanalia (bits and pieces collected over nearly 20 years of playing in the dirt)!

The same week, my husband finished constructing a 6m x 3m shed that we'd salvaged from someone's backyard a year ago.  Finally the kids' bikes could be moved from the lean-to at the front of the milking shed, and all their sports gear and outdoor toys could be moved out of the corner of the shed too.  We found some broken toys and outgrown items lingering in the bottom of the drawers and crates - so here was another good chance for a clean out!

And in the very same week we were moving things around and now have storage space for our pantry items.  So I've been taking stock off all our stored food (we order much of our food in bulk every 6 months), the preserving jars (empty and full), emergency supplies for cyclone season (like candles, matches, water, tinned food, etc), and even our camping supplies, clothes stored for the youngest two children (outgrown by the older ones), out-of-season clothes of mine and other 'stored' items.

I hardly know what to do with all this extra space we suddenly have - it's a little overwhelming!  I'm trying to organise our new spaces in an ordered manner so that clutter doesn't build up (I was glad to find that with all the re-arranging there wasn't very much we didn't use - unlike my 9 year old's bedroom last month which we realised was housing bags full of outgrown clothing and toys!).

It seems like this year Spring really is time for 'out with the old' for us, and I'm so grateful for the new spaces (at last) and creative storage options.  Now, if only the rain would stop I'd get back out there and tidy up the old shed, with it's newly emptied corners...

Do you have any storage tips?  How do you balance re-using (pots, baling twine, kids' clothes), and clutter?  Does Springtime see you cleaning up and sorting out too?

Monday, 17 October 2011

Dream... and Make Do

by Megan from The Byron Life

Isn't that forest boardwalk just divine? I took these photos a year ago very close to my Byron Bay home, in a nature reserve called Cumbebin Wetlands. My own backyard, although far, far smaller, shares many things with this nature reserve: it's climate, soil type, rainfall and native species. I, too, have paperbarks, ferns and palms and the peaceful, dappled light from tall rainforest trees shades my home in summer. I have dreamed of such a boardwalk in my humble little backyard... obviously on a slightly smaller scale!

And, it's doable... just not right this very second. We have limited funds right now and, even though I would use recycled timber, there would be costs involved... and, well, we have a few more pressing priorities than fulfilling my rainforest boardwalk dreams...

However, I'm all about making do. Working with the resources I have, and making the most of them.

There is a section of my garden (where the dream boardwalk would go!), that is a main thoroughfare for the children to-ing and fro-ing from sandpit to house. It is shaded by tall palms and the path is just bare ground that blows dust into the house, or creates mud in the rain that is then stomped on my carpet. Something needs to be done.

Then, just last week, we discovered this in our neighbourhood: Free mulch!!

A couple of wheelbarrow trips later, I am this much closer to creating a new pathway in that garden section from the free mulch and some spare pavers (also given away freely by a neighbour) used as stepping stones.

Ok, it's not a boardwalk, and it's not even finished yet, but it does the job, and I think it looks pretty. It blends with the surrounds and the little kids are loving it too.   Let's call it a frugal boardwalk.

I'm still dreaming of my amazing, spectacular, backyard rainforest boardwalk...  but right now I'm loving the reality of making do.


Saturday, 15 October 2011

Spending to make up for parenting

by Eilleen

Hello everyone!

I'm posting this a little late. I've had such a busy week with my kids. It was the last week of school holidays in my little part of Oz. I had managed to take a week off work to be with my kids. Its been a wonderful week. We have spent much of the time swimming, going to taekwondo, and being with friends.

Anyway, today, I thought I'd share an older post of mine from my personal blog which was the very antithesis of what I have been doing this week. Its certainly made me smile and I know many out there can relate....
Spending to make up for parenting - 15 May 2009
Now that I'm on leave from work (2nd full day at home!), I've looked around my home and noticed... that my kids have gotten a hell of a lot of toys from me the last few weeks.

Its amazing how when I'm under pressure, I revert back to my old consumerist ways and use spending as a way to make up for what I see as shortfalls in my parenting. See, I know that all my kids want really want is my time and attention.. and when I fail to give it to them, then I feel that the only way I can make up for it is by spending on them.

...and the thing is I didn't even know I was doing it!! Times like these when I realise how far I have to go in this journey to be an empowered and rational consumer - one who joyfully consumes rather than one who consumes to assuage feelings of guilt and anxiety.

The thing is... I don't even know why I should feel so guilty! I know that I can't do it all (unlike Rosie the Riveter below) and that I am doing my best. But that's the rational side of me talking and as I said, my recent spending spree was not rational.
(image from

Funny enough, when I look back I can also see that I was also doing some positive things during those hectic times. I juggled my workload so I can be home to put the children to bed, I made sure we still had breakfast together and for the 2 nights when I ended up working all night, the children went to their grandparents and got plenty of attention there. And despite that I disregarded the value of the positive things and still fell back on using money as my way of showing my children I love them.

So this weekend, I'll be spending some time on myself and letting go of my feelings of guilt... to accept that hectic times will occur and that I do not need to spend in order to make up for my lessened time with the children.
(Image from Tsheko's photostream - displayed here under a General Attribution Licence)

So here's to a quiet and reflective weekend. I wish you the same. :)

Friday, 14 October 2011

Let's Be Careful Out There

by Sadge, at Firesign Farm
Our first hard freeze was looming last week, so it was time to bring in all the tender crops. Two days prior, I'd cut all the squash and cucumbers; the day before all the chiles, peppers, and eggplants. As I snipped apart tomato plants and hauled tubful after tubful of green tomatoes up to the house, Aries was busy clear-cutting the stripped-clean plants and hauling loads up to the chipper/shredder.

After a break for lunch, he started processing everything for the compost pile. I was down by the garden shed - organizing the cages and trellises for storage, coiling up soaker hoses. Faintly, I heard Aries calling me from up near the house. I poked my head around the shed to see what he wanted. "Get up here! You have to drive me to the emergency room," he yelled down.

I thought he was kidding, and replied, "Yeah, right."

"No!" he said, "I really mean it! I caught my hand in the shredder! Get up here!!"

I ran. He was holding the fingers of his left hand with his right. At least, there was no spurting blood. I grabbed a clean washcloth for his hand, closed up the house (it was threatening rain), and grabbed my purse and keys. The hospital is about five miles away, on the other edge of town. It took me maybe 10 minutes to drive, and they got him into an emergency room right away. I settled in and waited, for hours, as they x-rayed and stitched him up, updated his tetanus immunization plus gave him two massive doses of antibiotics (those two shots, one in each arm, were the only things that brought tears to his eyes) and finally sent us home with prescriptions for pain-killers and more antibiotics.

He's reasonable lucky, albeit in quite a bit of pain. He was sweeping the shredded pile away from beneath the bottom screen, using a piece of board. There's a rounded guard piece there, with nickle-sized holes for the material to fall through. The holes are also just big enough, that when his grip on the board slipped, to let the tip of his middle finger on his left hand slip through. In an instant, it shredded his fingertip, shattering the bone into pieces. Fortunately, it didn't penetrate deep enough to damage the joint. Right now, he has 20 stitches and his hand in a cast, but it looks like the bones will knit back together.

We're ok financially. He has pretty good insurance coverage through work, and we have enough liquid savings to pay the deductibles and emergency room co-pays. His bosses are looking to see if they have any modified light-duty position he could do, but it's not likely. So we're now in the waiting period before his medical leave of absence gets approved. It's looking like he'll be out of work for 6 - 8 weeks.

I have to tie his shoes for him each morning, but since it was his non-dominant hand he's managing ok for the most part. I've had to take over the firewood hauling, and putting the garden to bed. Aries just finished up with the antibiotics, and is cutting back on the pain-killers. He's not the type to just sit around though, so being so restricted in his actions is really getting to him. Plus, I know he's berating himself for getting into such a fix in the first place.

So, could this accident have been prevented? He's always so careful around machinery - wears safety glasses, heavy boots, tucks in his shirt, but hates wearing gloves. In this case, gloves might have been enough to have been stopped by the size of the holes. As I said, it was threatening to rain that afternoon, so he wanted to get everything finished up before it started - maybe he was rushing the job a bit. He'd sprained a couple of fingers on his right hand at work the week before, so he's been using his non-dominant hand more instead. The lack of coordination in his left might have been a factor. We'll make it through this. It's a shock, but not a disaster.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Less toys, more joy

Aurora @ Island Dreaming

Our son turned three this week. Much joy, much cake, many sweeties...even more toys! We have always aimed for a minimalist toy box, having thorough clear outs every few months as new things come in. What we do buy is usually second hand. An army of friends and relatives are on hand to express their love with the latest new novelty toys and games. Unfortunately, very little stands the test of time - lack of interest or initial over enthusiasm usually consigns many toys to the charity shop or dustbin. For this reason, we rarely buy toys ourselves, reserving that money for experiences.

As we are sorting the toy box yet again, we are deciding what  to keep for his three month old sister. She has already been bought toys of her own, which she is currently showing zero interest in. But then why would she? She has many faces to learn to recognise and the antics of her parents, brother and pet cats to amuse her.

As I was finding space for all the new bits and pieces that came into our home this week, I noticed the set of stacking cups I had placed on the mantelpiece. We bought these from a charity shop when our son was just 6 months old. At first they were brightly coloured objects to look at and manipulate. Gradually he learnt to build the tower and to stack them inside each other once again. Then he used them to hide things under. Then to serve us pretend cups of tea. Then they became pretend hooves to clip-clop around the room. Just last week he had one of them in the bath to slop water and to rinse away the shampoo. These will be keepers for his sister.

The belief that children need dedicated plastic play props for every imaginative scenario - play kitchens, shops, stables, beauty salons and space ships - is not founded in evidence, but by advertising budgets running into the hundreds of millions. Pretend play is good, but then pretending is the fun of it, and rooms full of dedicated props distract from that.

Some things don't need to be pretend anyway - our son doesn' t pretend to sweep, I actually let him sweep with our dustpan and brush. We also bake together, he watches me cook and when he was younger he played with our actual pots and pans and utensils. Imagination can be left for the things we can't actually do - adventure on the high seas, for example. Getting out of doors, running around, exploring and collecting things is also essential to our children's - and our own - well being. It is free and costs the earth nothing.

There are a few things other than the cups that have stood the test of time, that are still being played with and will be kept for our daughter. A lot more will be given away. Occasionally I feel that we are being stingy (usually when I have been told as much by loved ones who are buying lavish toys). Resist that feeling at all costs, especially in the face of opposition. I have realised now that exposing my son to an endless stream of influences that suggest to him that his life is somehow lacking will only make him dissatisfied and me feel like a terrible parent. We avoid supermarkets and toy shops, we watch DVDs not television, so as to limit our exposure to advertising - and now we are beginning the task of explaining how precious our time, our money and our environment is - far too precious to waste on throw away possessions.The best gift we can give our children is the knowledge that happiness cannot be built on a rising mountain of possessions.

What toys have given you the best value for money? How do you pass on your material values to your children?

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Ditching the Tumble Dryer

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin and Little Green Cheese

I have a confession to make.  We had an electric tumble dryer!  It used to use to be rated at 1800 watts on the warm setting and 2200 watts on the hot setting.  Such a guzzler of electricity, and it was the cause of some very high winter electricity bills.

The good news is that it broke over a year ago when the element burnt out, and I only took it off the wall a few weeks ago and took it to the metal recyclers.

The even better news is that we did not replace it with another electric clothes dryer, even though our clothes drying needs have not changed.  We still need to dry clothes when it is raining, or cold in winter, or humid in summer.

The best news of all is that we have learnt a few tricks and tips that we can now share with you, now that we have managed to go dryer free for over a year.  Here they are.
  1. Don't replace the broken dryer.  Billions of people on the planet survive without this energy wasting device.  You will save a stack of money by avoiding the purchase, have lower electricity bills, and a much lower carbon footprint.  Even if you use GreenPower, you are still saving loads of money.
  2. Look for a good airer/clothes rack/horse that holds at least one load of washing.  We bought two for those big washing days.
  3. Use solar passive in winter to dry your clothes indoors.  We put the airers into the front room which we close off and it gets nice and toasty in there.  It drys the clothes in a day or so and you don't have to brave the elements to hang them out. 
  4. If you use a heater of some sort in the winter evenings, then place the clothes airer a safe distance away from the heat source.  Your clothes will be dry by morning.
  5. Plan ahead.  If you know the kids need their school uniforms for Monday, then do a quick load on eco-mode (don't forget the soap nuts) and load up the airer on Friday night.  They will be dry by Sunday.
  6. String up some cord beneath an under cover outdoors area, preferably one that gets a good breeze.  Your laundry will be dry in a day, even when it is wet outside.   If it is sunny, then use the hills hoist if you have one.
  7. Install a retractable clothes line in your laundry using the space that used to be taken up by the dryer!
  8. Celebrate your successful transition from clothes dryer addict to green, clean, laundry machine.
Here are some pictures of our laundry drying techniques.  Simple yet effective.
    Clothes Airer
    Undercover clothes line

    Retractable indoor clothes line (in)

    Retractable indoor clothes line (out)
    I give most of the credit to my wife Kim, who could have just told me to go and buy a new one when our old dryer broke, but it was her idea to try life without the electric dryer, so I did not suggest otherwise.  Well done to her for going against the grain of the normal societal trend.

    Dry clothes the natural way is the only way to go.  Our electricity bill has never been so low in winter, and our clothes last longer and don't have that static cling you get from using a dryer.

    Have any of you ditched the dryer and switched to indoor or outdoor methods?